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Seized by HeyMrsPotter

Format: Novel
Chapters: 25
Word Count: 58,412
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: Mystery, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Ginny, OtherCanon
Pairings: Draco/Hermione, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Draco/OC

First Published: 12/10/2013
Last Chapter: 09/10/2015
Last Updated: 09/10/2015


Beautiful banner by peculiarme @TDA

Astoria Greengrass has been kidnapped. Draco is so desperate to find her that he enlists the help of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. With a growing list of suspects, and Draco keeping secrets, finding her seems an impossible task. And if they do find her, how will she react to the friendship that is blossoming between Draco and Hermione?

Chapter 1: Prologue
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Chapter image by me.

They came in the evening. It was early in hour but the sun had long since set and darkness surrounded the great house.

The group of hooded wizards passed through the magical wards guarding the house effortlessly and began their silent ascent up the path to the front doors. A non-verbal spell cast by the leader of the group unlocked the heavy wooden doors which were then pushed gently open to reveal a large hallway and a grand staircase.

The figures separated as they entered the house and as soon as the door was closed behind them, chaos ensued. Spells were cast blasting doors off their hinges, smashing irreplaceable heirlooms and shattering glass in windows and mirrors. Some of the group made their way up the twisting stairs and wreaked similar havoc in the rooms on the upper floors of the house. No bedcover was left unturned, no door remained closed and no room unsearched.

The only occupant of the house at that time was a young woman. She had been sitting in the library on the third floor when the first explosion echoed through the house. She placed the plate holding the toast she had been eating and the book she had been reading down on the table in front of her, and sat very still. She listened as each room of the beautiful house in which she lived was blasted apart and ruined. The noises grew closer and closer and yet she did not move. She knew who was in her house and she knew what they were looking for, or rather, who they were looking for. They had come for her, as they warned they would and trying to escape from them would be impossible. Her best hope was to show no signs of futile resistance and pray that the life she had worked so hard for would not be taken from her.

The blasting sounds began to quieten and the woman held her breath as she heard someone running up the stairs beyond the door her eyes were fixed on. Whoever was approaching slowed down as they walked down the corridor to the only door on that floor of the house, their heels could be heard clacking on the solid wood floor, louder and louder as they grew nearer to her.

The door to her left was shattered with a huge blast. She shielded her face with her arms, and was thankfully not hit with shards of wood that flew across the room with the force of the spell. The man who had cast the spells stood still as he waited for the smoke to clear and dust to settle, never lowering his wand. She sat up in her seat and took a deep breath in, thinking of the man she loved and how it was entirely his fault that she was in the situation.

When she could finally make out his face, she could see he was smiling; a row of yellowing teeth surrounded by a filthy beard.

He chucked manically before shouting, “She’s here!”

Chapter 2: Who Ever Said Relationships Were Easy?
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Two months earlier…

“Hermione, you have got to be kidding me. We’re supposed to be at Mum and Dad’s in an hour!” Ron stared at Hermione as she brushed the floo dust from her grey work robes carelessly onto the rug.

“I know, I know. I’m sorry Ron but I really can’t get out of this. You know how work has been lately…” she said in a feeble attempt to justify cancelling their plans.

“A bloody nightmare. That’s how it’s been, but that’s not an excuse. Mum’s been looking forward to this for ages, the whole family round for dinner. That includes you!”

Hermione sighed. She had known as soon as her boss, Loretta Fleets, stepped into her office just as she was packing up to leave that she would have to cancel on Ron. Again. She had worked her way into a senior position in the Department of International Law at the ministry, and as a result her relationship with Ron was suffering.

“Please, Ron. I promise I’ll be there next time. It’s just we’ve got this meeting coming up with the new head of Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and I really think this might be the person who finally listens to my department about House Elves. It has to go well, and that means working a few extra late nights.”

“A few?!” Ron asked incredulously. “Hermione, you’ve worked late every night for the past few months. I’ve hardly seen you and you promised that you would come tonight-weeks ago.” His face was turning redder with each word he spoke; a warning sign Hermione knew well. She chose her next words carefully and spoke softly.

“And I feel terrible, honestly I do. I was looking forward to dinner with your family and Harry so much, but this meeting is just too important for us not to prepare for properly.”

Ron threw his hands up in exasperation; Hermione’s gentle approach had not worked. “Merlin, Hermione I have tried to understand but you’re choosing this bloody…spew stuff over me, again!”

Now it was Hermione’s turn to be angry. She raised her voice for the first time since her arrival in the flat. “Spew stuff? Ron this is so much bigger than knitting hats at Hogwarts, this is changing a wizarding law as old as magic itself! I’m sorry that you think my work is trivial, and I’m sorry that I can’t come to dinner, really, but I can’t and that’s that.”

She turned back to face the fire and grabbed a handful of the green powder from the pot on the mantelpiece, before throwing it vigorously into the fireplace and returning to the ministry, leaving a furious-looking Ron behind.

 She stormed angrily to the lift and pressed the button for the fourth floor harder than necessary. As the lift began its ascent to her office, Hermione contemplated her argument with Ron. Perhaps she had been a little harsh on him. After all, this wasn’t the first time she had cancelled plans on him lately, and she had been so adamant that she would finish early enough to attend dinner at Molly and Arthur’s house. She hadn’t even had time to tell them herself that she wouldn’t be able to make it, which would fall on Ron now, no doubt making him angrier.

Though, he had been far too blasé about her work, did he not realise how important it was to her? She had been working in International Law for three years now, having been offered a job there as soon as she completed her NEWTs at Hogwarts. She, Harry and Ron had been offered jobs at the ministry as Aurors almost immediately after the war. Ron and Harry had delightedly accepted, but Hermione felt the job was undeserved without all of the proper qualifications.

Spending the best part of a year apart from her two best friends had not been easy, particularly as one of them was also her boyfriend. Ron met her in Hogsmeade at every visit, however, and she spent all of the holidays at the Burrow with him. Her parents, having had their memories restored, and being most displeased with Hermione initially after she had told them how it came to be that they were on the other side of the world, had decided to remain in Australia. As a result, Molly had offered Hermione a permanent bed at the Burrow, much to Ron’s delight.

At the end of her year at Hogwarts, Hermione had decided that the Auror job wasn’t for her; she’d had enough of Dark Wizards and fighting to last a lifetime. So she applied for a job in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and spent several months trying to improve the working conditions of house elves. After her pleas fell on deaf ears there, Hermione transferred to International Law, determined to get her wishes, and had become an irreplaceable addition to their team. This was proven by how close they now were to changing the laws regarding house elves, proposing a new ‘Dobby’s Law’ in which house elves should be offered pay and holidays. Evidently, this was something which Ron Weasley just did not understand.

Her thoughts of Ron were pushed to one side upon her arrival at her office and the stack of parchment which greeted her that had not been there when she left. Hermione shared the large office with two of her staff, Lance Gregor, a short, balding man who always smiled and had a booming laugh that could be heard three offices away, and Melina Wiggins, a young enthusiastic girl who had only just left Hogwarts. Her desk sat directly opposite the door, under the false window which was currently showing a beautiful sunset, and was the largest of the three. The other two desks sat either side of the room. The only other furniture in the room was a muggle filing cabinet which Hermione herself had placed an undetectable extension charm on. Word had quickly spread about this particular item and now most of the offices within the Ministry held one, thanks to Hermione’s spell work (though she avoided the questions regarding how she had learned such a complex spell at a young age, never mentioning the beaded bag).

Sighing, Hermione sat down at her desk and began to read the notes that had been compiled in preparation for the meeting the following Monday. It consisted of everything the International Law team knew about the new head of Department, Corrigan Riggs, the research they had spent the last year carrying out (since Hermione had been promoted and suggested the new law), and their proposal containing the recommended rate of pay and number of holidays per year for house elves. It was going to be a long night and Hermione prayed that Ron would be asleep by the time she did make it home.


It was evident the following morning that Ron was still angry with Hermione. It had been almost midnight by the time she arrived home and, as per her wish, he was fast asleep and snoring loudly when she crawled exhaustedly into bed next to him. When she woke he was already up, the first sign that something was wrong, and when she joined him in the kitchen for breakfast he did not speak to her, he simply finished his breakfast and stormed out of the room, slamming the door closed behind him. Hermione was not alarmed by his behaviour; it was fairly normal in their relationship for them to be fighting, and she had done her fair share of stomping petulantly around their flat recently too.

As she sipped her coffee, she caught sight of the gold and diamond ring on her left hand. Ron had proposed to her almost a year ago, just after she had been promoted at work. He had stumbled over his words and dropped the ring in the grass at the Burrow where he had asked her after a family meal for her birthday. He’d spent five minutes crawling on the ground before he finally found it again and presented it to a teary-eyed Hermione who had accepted.

She smiled sadly at the memory. At that time everything in her life had been completely perfect; work was exciting, with the promotion she had started to feel as though she could truly make a difference, and things with Ron had never been better, they had been living together for a while and now they were engaged. From that point, it seemed as though everything was slowly going downhill. Now work was constantly busy, not that Hermione minded, but it was having a huge impact on her relationship with Ron. They fought more than they ever had about the hours she worked, the little time they got to spend together, the amount of work she would bring home with her and mostly the fact that she wanted to hold off on planning the wedding until she had more time to do so.  

Hermione shook her head, trying not to dwell on her troubles with Ron, and telling herself that things would get better as soon as things calmed down at the Ministry. She carried her breakfast dishes to the sink, and washed them, and Ron’s, by hand. When they first moved in together he would tease her about this, repeatedly asking why she didn’t use magic, and never understanding her response that it reminded her that she came from a Muggle background. Often the discussion would always lead to Hermione smearing bubbles from the sink on Ron’s face, and he never learned to expect it. She missed that playful side to their relationship; now he just rolled his eyes at her when she would fill the sink.

She dressed quickly in a comfortable pair of jeans and one of her many Molly Weasley-made jumpers and returned to the dining table with a pile of parchment that she had not managed to get through the night before. About six sheets into the stack, Ron stuck his head around the kitchen door and mumbled something about going to help George in the shop, something he often did on weekends when Hermione brought work home.

She managed another few pages of reading before a voice shouted from her living room.

“Hermione?” it called. She recognised it immediately as Harry and groaned as she remembered the plans she had made with him earlier in the week.

“Hi, Harry,” she said as she exited the kitchen and saw him stepping out of her fireplace.

“You forgot didn’t you?”

“No!” she protested feebly. “I didn’t, honestly...How did you know?”

“You have a quill in your hair and ink on your nose. That means you’re working from home again.”

She smiled and waved her wand at her nose, casting a silent cleaning spell, then pulled the quill out from her ponytail and put it on the coffee table.

“You know me too well. Let me just grab my coat and we’ll go.”

Minutes later the pair left the flat and apparated from the doorstep into the Leaky Cauldron. The old bar and inn was still owned by Tom but he now had help in running it since hiring Hannah Abbott, a friendly girl whom Harry and Hermione had gone to Hogwarts with. The main bar was still fairly dark and contained an eclectic mix of furniture and décor, but it was significantly cleaner and looked much brighter as a result.

Hannah waved at the pair as they crossed through the bar to the door that led to the courtyard and wall that would take them to Diagon Alley. Harry tapped the right brick with his wand and they stepped back as the small hole that appeared grew larger until the huge entrance arch was formed.

The wizarding street was as busy as it ever was. Four years had passed since the defeat of Voldemort and the street was returned to its former glory; most of the old shops had been restored, and new ones stood in place of those whose owners had died or simply not returned.

On the left hand side of the street where Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlour once stood, there was now a coffee shop by the name of Cortessa’s Café. Harry often chose to go to Cortessa’s when he was in Diagon Alley, always telling Hermione that though he didn’t think the desserts were half as good as Florean’s sundaes (although that never stopped him ordering a banana split), the coffee was good and, unlike Madam Pudifoot’s, there was no pink paint or furniture in sight. The small café was their first stop that morning, Harry had asked Hermione earlier in the week if she wanted to go with him and have a long overdue catch-up.

The weather was warm and the sun shone in a cloudless sky so Hermione and Harry chose a table outside, she sat down whilst he went inside to order their drinks and his usual desert. They chatted a little about work, Hermione more than Harry and he, like Ron, told her she was working too much and too hard.

“It’s fine, Harry. I’m fine. Once this meeting on Monday is over and done with things will calm down, Loretta is just pushing us to make sure it goes well, and she’s absolutely right to.”

“I get that, but is it so important that you’ll let it come between you and Ron?”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “What has he been telling you?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Harry stammered. “It’s just you weren’t there at dinner last night, and Ron looked really angry. I asked him was he alright and he mentioned you’d been fighting again…” he drifted off at the furious expression on Hermione’s face.

“Ronald needs to learn to keep our private life to himself,” she said indignantly.

“Don’t be like that, I know for a fact you’ve complained to Ginny about him. He just needed to let off some steam that’s all. He didn’t say anything I didn’t already know. I’m concerned about the two of you, everyone knows you like an argument but not this much.”

“Ron and I will be fine, Harry. Please don’t worry. As soon as this next week at work is done I’ll have a lot more free time, and Ron will cheer up. Now enough of that, you seemed very insistent when you asked me to come for coffee today, so what did you want to talk about?”

“Is there anything you don’t know?” Harry chuckled. “You’re right, I did have another reason for dragging you away from work. I wanted your opinion on something.”

He reached into the inner pocket of the grey jacket he was wearing and pulled out a small black box. Hermione gasped as she realised what it was.

“You’re proposing?!” she squealed.

“Hermione! Keep it down,” Harry hissed while looking around frantically to see if anyone had heard. “I don’t want the Prophet telling everyone before I’ve even asked.”

Hermione apologised and he slid the box across the table. Inside was a beautiful platinum band with a cluster of rubies and diamonds.

“Oh, Harry, it’s perfect. Ginny’s going to love it.”

“Are you sure?” he asked nervously, taking the box back and putting it in his pocket.

“Absolutely. When will you ask her?”

“I’m not sure yet, it’s taken me weeks just to pick the ring out. You and Ron will be the first to know when I ask though, I already told him I bought the ring. Ginny’s practicing late tonight because the Harpies have a big match tomorrow, so I’m going to see Arthur tonight and ask his permission.”

Hermione beamed. “That’s so romantic. Arthur and Molly will be beside themselves with excitement. You’ll finally be part of the family properly!”

“If she says yes,” Harry said nervously.

“Harry James Potter that girl has been madly in love with you since she was ten years old, there’s no way she’ll turn you down.”

Harry grinned and Hermione couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of his and Ginny’s relationship.


A/N-edited 7/6/15

Chapter 3: Could the Timing be Any Worse?
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When she arrived home after two more cups of coffee, and some brainstorming of proposal ideas with Harry, Hermione found the flat still empty. She headed straight back to the kitchen and picked up where she had left off with her paperwork, determined to have it finished before Ron arrived home.

Fortunately for Hermione, he was later than usual in coming home. Not only had she finished her work, she had also made his favourite dinner of beef stew and roasted vegetables, and had it on the table with an open bottle of wine by the time he appeared in the fireplace.

His stony expression softened when he followed Hermione into the kitchen and saw the candlelit table.

“Let’s not stay angry at each other Ron, I hate to waste our time together fighting,” she said handing him a glass of goblin made white wine.

“Me too. Dinner looks amazing, thank you.”

 He kissed her softly on the cheek and pulled a chair out for her to sit down. Hermione smiled at him, happy that he was no longer angry, but was very careful not to mention her work as they ate.


The morning of her big meeting with Corrigan Riggs, Hermione woke earlier than usual.  The sun was only just rising when she looked out of her bedroom window, being careful to only open the curtains marginally so as not to wake a still sleeping Ron.

She flicked through the notes she had compiled for the meeting one last time over her breakfast of cereal, a banana, and a strong cup of black coffee before showering and dressing for work.

When she arrived at the ministry, it was exceptionally quiet; just the way she liked it. She was the first of her department to arrive though it wasn’t long before her boss joined her.

Loretta Fleets was a tiny woman with wildly frizzy hair that she changed the colour of on a regular basis, thinking it made her look younger than she actually was but more often than not, it looked ridiculous. She also had the temper of a Hungarian Horntail if anyone got on her bad side. Fortunately for Hermione, Loretta liked her, and was always enthusiastic about the work Hermione had done, and was doing for the department. In light of the impending meeting, her hair was a respectable shade of brown but Hermione suspected it wouldn’t remain that way for long.

“All set for this morning Hermione?” Loretta asked.

“I think so, I went over all the notes you left me on Friday and I’ve summed them up to use as pointers in the meeting. I’ve made a copy for you, Melina and Lance, they’re on each of your desks.”

“Excellent, excellent. If this meeting goes well we could change a law that’s-“

“As old as magic itself,” Hermione finished with a smile.

“Exactly! I’ll head to my office now and check those notes over, though if I know you they’ll be perfect and then some. Make sure Melina and Lance do the same when they get here and then I’ll meet you back here at quarter to, the meeting doesn’t start ‘til nine but I’d rather be early.”

Hermione nodded in agreement as Loretta left the office and headed to her own next door. The time between then and the meeting went far too quickly for her liking. Lance and Melina arrived shortly after Loretta had gone and Hermione briefed them by going over her notes with them. There was time for one more cup of coffee, and then Loretta was back at the office. They left immediately and went to the fifth floor where they found Corrigan Riggs waiting for them in his office.

Hermione had seen him around the Ministry and knew who he was, but this was the first time she would be formally introduced to him. He was a formidable looking man with a heavy-set brow and jet black hair that was perfectly combed. He wore a pinstripe muggle suit as opposed to wizarding robes and sat very straight and still in his chair.

“Mr. Riggs, I’m Loretta Fleets. This is Lance and Melina, they’re juniors in my department and this is my right hand woman-“

“Hermione Granger. I know who you are, everyone in the wizarding world does,” Corrigan said, eyeing Hermione for a moment before breaking into a huge smile. “It’s an honor to meet you Miss Granger.”

He shook her hand and then greeted Hermione’s colleagues before offering them a seat and refreshments, which were brought by a very nervous looking young wizard Hermione had not noticed standing by the door they had just entered.

It turned out that Corrigan was the perfect example of the muggle phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’. He was delightful, his enthusiasm was infectious, and he was eager to hear their plans for the change in the laws regarding house elves. He, like Hermione, was a muggle-born and did not understand the concept of a house elf working so much for no pay at all, and never having a day off. He and Hermione had a lively discussion about the injustice suffered by the magical creatures, and her well thought out notes lay forgotten on the desk until Loretta brought them to Corrigans’s attention.

By the end of the meeting Hermione was confident that Dobby’s Law would be active by the end of the month. She and her colleagues left Corrigan’s office feeling elated and Loretta, in an extremely rare gesture, gave them the rest of the day off.

Hermione flooed straight back to the flat, intent on spending the rest of the day cleaning the flat by hand rather than magic, it was so rare for her to have the time to do it. She decided to have a quick cup of tea and read that morning’s Daily Prophet before starting, and so headed into the small kitchen. She sighed as she entered, seeing Ron’s breakfast dishes still on the dining table. Even though it would only take him seconds to clean them with his wand, he rarely did. She moved them on to the bench, boiled the kettle and sat down with her tea. The paper was still on the table, Ron having already read it, and covered it with toast crumbs. She picked it up and shook it out before setting it down again and starting to read. The picture on the front showed a face Hermione recognised all too well though not one she particularly wanted to see. Draco Malfoy. He was smiling and waving as he sat next to a beautiful woman whom Hermione also recognised as Astoria Greengrass, a dark haired beauty who had been one year below Hermione and Draco at Hogwarts. Astoria’s face bore a dazzling smile that almost outshone the huge diamond ring she was very deliberately showing off by touching her face in an attempt at a shy gesture. Hermione read the headline and then the article that followed on the second page.


Draco Malfoy, 22, and Astoria Greengrass, 21, are pleased to announce their engagement. The pair met when they were children and spent much of their childhood together at high society wizarding events. After the second wizarding war, Draco and his family were faced with a difficult time. He and his parents were summoned to the Ministry to face trial for their involvement in the war. While Draco and his mother were both released without imprisonment after Harry Potter gave evidence of their assisting him in the defeat of Voldemort, Draco’s father, Lucius Malfoy, was sentenced to a minimum of ten years in Azkaban. Narcissa and Draco both donated a large sum of galleons to help restore Hogwarts after the damage caused by the battle.

After this, both Draco and Astoria returned to Hogwarts to earn their NEWT’s where they began dating. Since leaving school, Astoria moved into Malfoy Manor and Draco began working at the Ministry of Magic in the Auror department alongside Harry Potter.

Astoria Greengrass gave this statement regarding the engagement: “Draco and I are thrilled, we’re childhood sweethearts and cannot wait to be married. We’re already planning the wedding and hope to have it in spring next year.”

Hermione was not surprised by the over-the-top announcement; the Malfoy’s had desperately tried to regain favour with the wizarding world since the end of the war. After Lucius went to Azkaban, barely a week had passed before Narcissa and Draco were pictured in the paper at Hogwarts accompanied by the story of her generous donation. Hermione remembered reading it and being thankful that it was unlikely she would ever have to see Draco in person again. That was until she returned to Hogwarts.

 She hadn’t seen him on the train or the thestral-drawn carriages, not that she had expected to. So when she walked into the Great Hall for the welcome feast, and saw him sitting alone at the Slytherin table she almost passed out from the shock. Never in a million years had she expected him to return, and to this day she still couldn’t understand why he did. He spent the full school year barely talking to anyone, with the exception of Astoria. Much to Hermione’s annoyance, he spent most of his time in the library doing homework or preparing for the NEWTs, as she did.

She also remembered, as though it was just yesterday, Ron coming home from work in a fit of fury when Draco had been introduced as the newest member of the Auror Department. Hermione had never known a person’s face and ears could go such a deep shade of red and they seemed to get darker with each word he shouted about Malfoy. Again, Hermione could not understand Malfoy’s actions, an ex-Death Eater accepting a job as a dark wizard catcher was unfathomable. That was three years ago and he was still there. Fortunately, though they were not on speaking terms by any standard, both Ron and Harry had been forced to be civil and arguments between the three (though admittedly, it was usually Ron and Malfoy), were now in single figures per month.

Realising she had spent the last few minutes staring at Malfoy and Astoria’s moving photograph, Hermione shook her head and turned the page of the newspaper and continued to read, though there were no stories of any particular interest to her. Ron’s Quidditch team had lost again at the weekend meaning he would be complaining to her over dinner later, and the decision had been made that the next Quidditch world cup would be taking place in France.

Having finished reading the paper, Hermione set to cleaning the flat. It didn’t take as long as she had anticipated, the flat only had two small bedrooms, an even smaller bathroom, kitchen and living room. She was done long before Ron arrived home even with a break to have a sandwich and banana for lunch, leaving her plenty of time to catch up on reading she had been unable to do with her recent workload.

When he finally stepped out of the fire an hour later than he usually arrived home, Hermione could tell immediately that Ron was in a bad mood. His mouth was set in a hard line and his brow furrowed, he ignored Hermione when she said hello to him and stomped into their bedroom, reappearing ten minutes later in his pyjama bottoms and a holey white t-shirt. Hermione knew him well enough to wait until he decided to talk rather than attempt to strike up a conversation with him.

Sure enough, he threw himself down on the sofa next to her and sulked for a few minutes before speaking.

“Rubbish day,” he mumbled.

“I guessed as much,” Hermione replied, putting her book down on the oak coffee table in front of them. “What happened?”

“Read the paper this morning to see the Cannons lost, again. Got to work to find a ton of paperwork on my desk that should have been done last week but hadn’t been, and because Harry and Malfoy had a case to investigate, it fell on muggins here to do it. Then Harry got to go home early after they finished and he didn’t even offer to help me so I ended up finishing late.”

“That doesn’t sound like Harry.”

“And? Doesn’t mean he didn’t do it,” Ron snapped.

“I know, I was just saying it’s unusual that’s all,” Hermione defended.

“Well he’s been bloody useless since he decided to propose to Gin anyway, his mind isn’t on the job at the minute. I wish he’d hurry up and do it so I had some help at the office again.”

“Couldn’t Malfoy-“ Hermione began.

“Don’t talk to me about him,” Ron interrupted. “He didn’t offer either. The stupid git was too busy lapping up all the attention today because of his stupid engagement.”

“Yes, I read about that.”

“You and the whole world. Everyone is getting engaged, first Malfoy then it’ll be Harry and Ginny. Draco bloody Malfoy will be getting married before us.”

Hermione’s head snapped up; she was alarmed at the turn the conversation had taken.

“I’d better put dinner on,” she said in a feeble attempt to change the conversation. “What do you fancy tonight?”

“That’s right, avoid the talk about our non-existent wedding again. What is the point in us being engaged Hermione?” He glared at her.

“Ron, I-We’ve talked about this. I thought you were happy to have along engagement. That was always the plan. I want to wait until things aren’t so busy at work before we start planning, I just haven’t got the time right now.”

“You never have the time for anything but work, dinner at Mum and Dad’s last week proved that.”

“Oh, not that again,” Hermione sighed, beginning to get annoyed. “I thought we’d forgotten about that.”

“You mean like the wedding?”

“The wedding has not been forgotten about, Ronald. You’re being ridiculous. I’m going to make dinner.” She stood and turned away from him to go into the kitchen.

“Don’t walk away from me, we’re not done here,” Ron said, standing too.

“What more is there to talk about Ron?” Hermione threw her hands up in exasperation. “You asked me to marry you and I said yes. That means I have every intention of marrying you. I barely have any spare time at the moment as you’re always reminding me, meaning I cannot possibly plan an entire wedding. Unless you would like to marry me in our living room with no guests whilst I’m dressed in my pyjamas? As soon as work has calmed down, which I suspect will be very soon-my meeting went brilliantly today by the way, thanks for asking-then I will start planning.”

“Your work will never calm down Hermione, we both know that. You get far too involved in whatever you’re doing there and never seem to be able to leave it at the Ministry. You need to learn to separate your work life with our life, and soon.”

“Or what, Ron? Or what?”


But Hermione didn’t get to hear the end of the sentence, for at that moment green flames burst into the fireplace and a figure appeared, shortly followed by another. Harry and Ginny dusted themselves down before looking at Ron and Hermione with huge grins on their faces.

“We’re engaged!” they exclaimed in unison.


A/N-edited 9/11/14

Chapter 4: Must All Good Things Come to an End?
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A/N For some reason when I uploaded this chapter half of it was cut off, I've reposted it now. Sorry!




 "That's-that's fantastic!" Hermione stammered. "Congratulations, both of you."

She stepped forward and hugged the pair in turn.

"Great news mate, congratulations Gin," Ron said unenthusiastically, shaking Harry's hand and hugging his little sister.

"So how did you finally do it?" Hermione asked.

Harry gestured to Ginny, indicating that she could explain and Ginny began to speak excitedly. "Well I didn't know but Harry left work early today, so by the time I got back in from training, he had cooked a full three course meal for us. The kitchen looked as though someone had tried to blow it up but thankfully we ate in the dining room in front of the fire. He had lit lots of candles and gave me a huge bunch of flowers as soon as I walked in the door. We ate dinner, well I ate and harry pushed his food around his plate until I finally cracked and asked him what was wrong, at which point he got on his knee and gave this big lovely speech before giving me the ring."

"So romantic!" Hermione grinned. "Have you told your parents yet Ginny?"

"We've just come from there. Mum was still crying when we left. I don't think she cares that her only daughter and youngest child is getting married, she's more excited that Harry will officially be a part of the family, kept telling him he was going to be a Weasley!"

Everyone laughed, apart from Ron whose mouth barely formed a smile. Hermione glared at him but fortunately Harry and Ginny seemed to be too deliriously happy to care.

"Do you have to rush off?" Hermione asked. "I have a bottle of sparkling wine in the fridge, we could have a glass to celebrate?"

"Sounds great," Harry replied, Ginny nodding in agreement.

"Help me with the glasses Ron?" Hermione gave him a look that told him not to argue and he followed her begrudgingly into the kitchen.

"Ronald Weasley," she turned to face him as soon as the door was closed, "that is your sister and your best friend in there, they have just got engaged and the way you're acting you'd think someone had died. Can you at least try to forget about our fight for now and pretend to be happy for them?"

"Fine," Ron said, taking the glasses down from the top cupboard and going back into the living room without another word to Hermione.

She took the wine out of the fridge and fixed the smile back on her face before joining the group who were now sat down on the sofas. She poured the wine into the glasses Ron had put on the coffee table and he handed them out as each was filled.

"To Harry and Ginny on their engagement, we couldn't be more happy for you," Hermione said, raising her glass. They clinked the crystal glasses together and Hermione took a deep drink out of her own that left it only half empty.

"So, any idea when you'll set the date for?" Ron said, finally breaking his own silence.

"As soon as possible," Ginny replied. "We're thinking early next year. That gives me enough time to plan and not enough time for mum to drive everyone insane."

"Early next year," Ron repeated. "You'll probably get married before me and Hermione at that rate."

He laughed humorlessly and Hermione chuckled nervously. Harry and Ginny exchanged a glance that suggested they had finally sensed the awkward tension in the room between their friends. They drank a lot quicker after that, their eagerness to get home was apparent even further in their hurried goodbyes.

As soon as the flames had vanished from their fireplace, Ron left the room, leaving Hermione standing alone. She sighed heavily, picked up the glasses and bottle, and took them into the kitchen, clearing and cleaning them with a wave of her wand, having no energy to wash them by hand.

She was both physically and mentally exhausted, the events of the day finally taking their toll on her. She went into her bedroom, eager to have an early night, to see Ron already in his pyjamas. To her surprise, he snatched his pillow off their bed and glared at her as he left the room. Perplexed, she stepped out of the room behind him and watched him enter their spare bedroom and then slam the door behind him with a bang.

Tears formed in her eyes, as much as they had fought lately, and it had been a lot, Ron had never once slept in the spare bedroom. Even if one was angry at the other they would still go to bed together and usually Hermione would wake in the morning to see Ron, open-mouthed and snoring with his arm weighing heavily down on her stomach.

Their fight hadn't been bad in comparison to some they had had lately, tame in fact. It hadn't helped at all that Harry and Ginny had burst in with news of their engagement, and, as happy as Hermione was for her friends, she couldn't help but be frustrated with their timing. Salt had been added to Ron's wounds further by Ginny's plans to get married sooner rather than later, and as bitter as Ron had sounded when he said it, it did seem very likely that they would be married before Ron and Hermione.

The rest of the week did not see an improvement in Ron's bad mood. Hermione tried on more than one occasion to speak to him, and to try and get him to come back to their bedroom with her every night but he would not budge. He snapped at her, made passing comments about their non-existent wedding and was generally foul. Ginny and Harry visited again a few days after their announcement to invite Ron and Hermione to dinner at the Burrow at the weekend to celebrate, furthering Ron's anger, he was quite clearly not in the mood to celebrate but was forced to accept.

On the day of the dinner, Ron left early in the morning to help out at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes and did not return until ten minutes before they were supposed to be at his parents' house. Hermione was dressed and sitting on the sofa when he arrived home, he did not greet her but instead went into their bedroom, got changed and stepped back into the fireplace to travel to the Burrow. She took a deep breath and tried to ignore the feelings of unease in the pit of her stomach before following, her voice shaking slightly as she shouted her destination.

When she stepped out of the fire at the other end, Hermione followed the sounds of animated chatting and laughter into the kitchen, which was already crowded. Molly was in her usual position in front of the stove, wand being flicked toward multiple pots and pans that were steaming and then to the chopping board and back again, in between batting Arthur's hand away as he tried to pinch a spoonful of whatever was cooking.

Bill and Fleur were there with Victoire and newborn Dominique, who were being fussed over by George and a heavily pregnant Angelina. At the opposite side of the table, Percy was whispering nervously to new girlfriend Audrey, a mousy-haired, timid looking woman who was meeting the family for the first time. Next to them sat Harry and Ginny, the former had a turquoise-haired Teddy sitting on his knee whilst Charlie showed him models of toy dragons he had brought home on his latest visit.

Ron was already sat at the table too, absentmindedly peeling the label off a bottle of butterbeer. No-one seemed to have noticed his arrival, for they all seemed surprised to see Hermione there and then asked her why Ron wasn't with her, she simply nodded in his direction and breathed a sigh of relief when he actually stood up to greet his family.

When he returned to his seat, Hermione sat down next to him nervously and tried to take hold of his the hand which rested upon his knee. He snatched it away and Hermione felt as though she had been punched in the stomach.

"Ron please…" she whispered, glancing around to check that the family were distracted once more.

"Leave it Hermione," he replied curtly.

"No, we can't go through an entire dinner without even looking at each other, never mind not speaking."

"I can try."

"Ron!" she scolded quietly. "Please, we need to talk about this. Let's go upstairs and just sort it out, we should be enjoying celebrating our best friend's engagement."

"Fine. Let's go."

They both stood up and slipped out of the room, unnoticed by the rest of the group, and went up the stairs to the third floor and Ron's childhood bedroom. The room had not changed in the slightest since Ron had moved out. The bed still bore the same Chudley Cannons bedspread in the ghastly shade of orange that was associated with the dreadful team. The players still whizzed around the old posters, fumbling the quaffle and making clumsy catches. The room also still had a very faint trace of the smell left by the ghoul after his time spent there when Ron left to search for Horcruxes with Harry and Hermione. He had long since been evicted from the room, Mrs. Weasley finally snapping and hiring a team of highly-trained wizards to make him leave the house.

Hermione closed the door behind her and crossed the room to sit on the bed, which creaked due to the months of not being used.

"Ron, I-" she began, but Ron interrupted her.

"Hermione, I can't do this."

"Do what?" she asked, confused.

"This. Us. Fighting. I just can't-no, I don't want to do it anymore."

"Are you saying you don't want us to be together anymore?"

Ron looked down at his feet, his ears turning red. "I think so."

His words hit Hermione like a ton of bricks. She had known that this fight between them had been worse than the others but never once had the thought crossed her mind that things were so bad that Ron didn't want to be with her anymore.

"Ron, please. You're talking nonsense. I'm sorry that I haven't been prioritising us and that we haven't started planning the wedding but that doesn't mean I don't want to marry you. I do, I promise, I do."

"It's not just that," Ron said with a defeated sigh as he sat down on his old bed next to Hermione. "We've been fighting since we first met, and when we got together, I didn't mind it. I didn't mind because after each fight I could see the end of it, the good part, you know. But lately, it's been different. Since we got engaged and you got the new job it's like we're fighting and then there's no good part to make up for it, there's just another fight. I know you, Hermione, I know that once you're done with this thing with the house elves there'll just be something else that you'll put all of your effort into, you can't help it and I know that, but I can't do it anymore. I can't wait for hours after you say you'll be finished work for you to actually finish, I can't keep making plans and having them cancelled and I can't keep looking at that ring on your finger and know that our wedding will never be your first priority."

The tears were streaming down Hermione's face as she thought about what Ron was saying. A small voice in her head told her that he was absolutely right, that her work would always come first, but every other cell in her body was telling her that she had to ignore that voice and tell Ron he was wrong. She opened her mouth to speak but the words would not come.

"You know I'm right, Hermione. That's why you're not arguing, for once. Ironic, eh?"

A small giggle burst through her lips and she cursed it, now was not the time for laughing.

"We can fix this, Ron. I know we can. We can't just throw away the last four years. I won't."

"It's not throwing them away, I don't regret being with you Hermione, never will. We're just not right for each other anymore, we're not the same people we were at Hogwarts."

Again, his words stung, but Hermione knew he was right. "When did you become so smart Ron Weasley?"

"Spending four years being in a relationship with you has obviously rubbed off on me." He smiled at her but the smile did not reach his blue eyes: they were sad and on the verge of tears.

"So that's it then?" Hermione asked. "We're over? Just like that?"

"We've been over for months, we both know that."

With the last of her dignity, Hermione got to her feet and turned to face the man who she had spent the last seven years loving, took off her engagement ring and placed it in his hand. She left the room without another word and descended the stairs in a daze. She managed to make it into the living room without being seen and just succeeded in saying her address aloud so she could floo home where she fell on to the sofa in hers and Ron's living room before succumbing to the wave of emotions.

Chapter 5: Is Something Dead Worth Trying to Save?
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It had been two weeks since Hermione's break up with Ron. Ron had moved out of the flat and back to the Burrow, Hermione had come home from work the Monday following their split to find all of his things gone without a note. She had been visited by Harry and most of the Weasley's, all of whom had told her that Ron was an idiot and he was just having one of his tantrums; that he would come around soon enough and the pair would be back together before she knew it. Hermione knew Ron and their relationship well enough to know that there was no truth in this, his decision was final and there would be no going back from it. She also insisted that she was absolutely fine and she completely understood and agreed with Ron's reasons for wanting to end their relationship, and she handled it the way she handled any form of stress in her life; by throwing herself into work.

Inputting the new 'Dobby's Law' had required more work than Hermione had anticipated but she was glad to have the distraction. She had met with the Wizengamot and had needed to outline the full implications of the law to them before they gave their consent to it. She also had to speak further with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in order to obtain a list of all known wizarding houses and establishments that had house elves working in them and send them all an invitation to a conference where the new law would be explained to them. For those that didn't attend, she had to send letters explaining with an attached form to say they had read and understood the changes and then for those who didn't reply, she and the rest of her team had to visit personally to explain. She was working just as many hours as she had been and every now and again the thought crossed her mind that Ron would have been furious had they still been together.

She had been making the effort to arrive at the office early every morning and she was always the last to leave at night, with the exception of the security wizards. As soon as she arrived home every night she would put on her pyjamas and curl up in bed, counting the minutes until she would be back at work and distracted from her own thoughts.

She knew beyond reasonable doubt that her and Ron breaking up was for the best, there was no point in wasting time in a relationship that was spent mostly having arguments and each making the other unhappy. She could fully understand and accept that. What she was struggling with was adjusting to being alone, not having someone to go to bed with or be there when she woke up, no-one to greet her when she did eventually make it home from work and no-one to look after. She was determined to get used to it though, this was how her life would be for a long time and there was no use in being miserable about it.

The alarm on the bedside table rang and Harry groaned as the sound penetrated his ears and seemed to hammer his brain. He was sure he had only been asleep for five minutes and yet the little silver clock did not lie, it was morning and time to get up for work. He rolled over and looked at his sleeping fiancé, wondering how the damned alarm clock never seemed to make her stir. Her red hair was wild, splayed across the white pillow beneath her head. Her mouth was slightly open and her breathing so heavy she was almost snoring. He kissed her gently on the forehead and climbed out of the bed being careful not to wake her on a rare midweek day off.

He buttered himself some toast and made a cup of tea, then sat at the round dining table in the kitchen of his and Ginny's house in Godric's Hollow. Two thirds of the way through his cup of tea there came a sharp tapping sound at the window and Harry stood to retrieve the Daily Prophet from the tawny owl outside. He slipped a knut into the pouch it wore and took the paper, unfolding it as he resumed his seat.

He scanned the paper whilst he finished his cup of tea, looking for an article that would alert him to a possible new assignment at work. It seemed the weekend had been quiet in terms of suspicious magical activity and Harry hoped this meant he would have the time today to catch up on the mounting pile of parchment that sat on his desk. The paperwork had been an unexpected aspect of the Auror job, Harry realised now how naïve he had been going into the job thinking he would be catching Dark Wizards every day. In actual fact he spent most of his time reprimanding petty criminals whom always reminded him of Mundungus Fletcher and then hours after filling out full reports of the arrests.

He dressed in his work robes that he had laid out in the spare room so as not to wake Ginny when he got ready, and then left the house, apparating beyond the gate to the public toilets that would take him into the Ministry.

When he arrived at the office, Ron was already in the office the two friends were lucky enough to share, head bent low over the copy of the Prophet that Harry had not long finished reading. He hadn't noticed Harry's arrival, giving Harry the chance to study his best friend for a few moments. Since the break-up with Hermione, which Harry was sure was only temporary, Ron wore a permanent look of exhaustion on his face. He was pale and his cheekbones were sunken, dark circles lined his eyes and it seemed he had given up on shaving for a heavy red stubble covered his chin. He had moved back into his old bedroom in the Burrow, assuring Harry and his parents that it was only temporary measure and he would be finding a place of his own soon. Harry sincerely hoped that this would not be the case, Ron moving into his own flat would mean that their separation was permanent and Harry simply couldn't imagine his two best friends not being together.

"Harry, please stop looking at me or I'll have to tell my sister that I think you fancy me," Ron said, making Harry jump.

"Sorry mate, I was miles away. Anything interesting in the paper?" he asked quickly, keen to change the subject of his staring.

"Nah, hopefully we'll have a quiet one. Malfoy's been half-arsing everything over the last week so Robards has asked me to re-do his paperwork. Smarmy git, I bet he did it on purpose."

"Probably," Harry agreed, though he did not think this was the case. He had noticed Malfoy's strange behavior over the last week, his heart and mind hadn't been in the cases he had been given which was most unlike him. As much as Harry hated to admit it, Malfoy was good at his job.

Harry sat down at his own desk, opposite Ron's and pulled the first set of paperwork from the pile. No sooner had he started reading, the head of the Auror Department, Gawain Robards entered the office.

"Morning Potter, Weasley. I wonder if I could have a word about a new case we've just had in. It's bigger than we've had in a while and has some, ah, complications, bit of a sensitive one you see."

Harry sat up a little straighter in his chair and watched Ron do the same. Big cases were rare and always promised excitement.

"Go on," Ron prompted.

"Well, er, I'm probably not the best one to explain it. Malfoy?" he called, peering his head around the still open door.

Malfoy came into the room, looking even more exhausted than Ron, the purple bags under his eyes much more prominent against his pale skin.

"I'll let Malfoy fill you in. Do keep me updated on this one boys," Robards said as he left the room, closing the door behind him.

"Well?" Ron demanded rudely when Malfoy didn't speak.

"Astoria is missing," he replied simply.

"Missing how? Packed a bag and left?" Harry asked.

"Not quite. Kidnapped actually. I need your help to find her, both of you." He looked desperately at the pair.

"How do you know she was kidnapped?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, she could have just left you, no-one would blame her," Ron added unnecessarily.

"Get lost, Weasley. Firstly, we've just gotten engaged, she wouldn't have left me. I think you're confusing me and Astoria with yourself and Granger."

"Leave me and Hermione out of this Malfoy," Ron growled, tightly gripping his wand.

"Then don't make this personal. I know Astoria has been kidnapped because the people that did it left a note, along with a complete mess in my house."

"Any idea who might have done it? List of potential suspects?" Harry asked.

"I have a fair idea. Ever heard of the Knights of Walpurgis Potter?"

Harry nodded, his eyes narrowed in skepticism. The Knights of Walpurgis were supposedly a group of Dark Wizards who had been in agreement with Voldemort during his height of power but weren't ever actively supportive, they didn't fight with him and they weren't branded as Death Eaters. The stories that Harry had heard of them so far said that they were plotting a take-over of the wizarding world, to rid them of Muggle-borns as Voldemort had wanted and then to gain power over Muggles. Harry had heard plenty rumors of the Knights of Walpurgis but continued to doubt their existence, it was his job as an Auror to rid the magical world of such groups and neither Harry nor any of his colleagues had ever found any evidence of them.

"Of course. They don't exist though."

"I beg to differ. I think they do exist and I think they have something to do with Astoria going missing."

"Sit down Malfoy," Harry said, gesturing to the seat on the opposite side of the desk. "You'd better explain from the start."

Malfoy nodded and took a seat, then took a deep breath and began to speak. "Remember on Tuesday, we had that case with all of those idiots we caught in Knockturn Alley selling that poisonous dragon blood and we had a mountain of paperwork to do for it?"

Harry and Ron nodded and he continued. "Well, by the time I finished by share it was after six when I got home. As soon as I got through the gates I knew something was wrong, the door was wide open. I knew it wouldn't have been my mother who had left it, she told me in the morning she would be out from the afternoon until quite late. Astoria had planned to go shopping in the afternoon but said she would be back long before I got to work and she wouldn't have left the door wide open behind her. So I took my wand out and when I got in the house it was completely wrecked. Doors blasted off the hinges, furniture damaged and everything broken in every single room of the house, except the library. There was a glass of water and a banana peel on one of the tables in there so I assume that's where Astoria had been when they got there."

"Hang on," Ron said, interrupting. Harry had a feeling he knew what Ron was about to say, there was already something wrong with Draco's story. "This happened on Tuesday? Six days ago?"

"Yes," Draco replied.

"It's taken you six days to tell anyone that your fiancée was kidnapped?"

"Yes. I can explain why though, just let me finish."

Ron gestured with a wave of his hand, indicating that he could continue.

"So, the library was the only room that wasn't wrecked. There was also a note on the table, from the kidnappers."

"That still doesn't explain why you took so long to say anything though," Harry pointed out.

"I know, you'll understand when I show you this," he said, pulling out a torn piece of parchment and handing it to Harry.

The writing was scribbled and hurriedly written , the ink was smudged slightly and it took Harry a few attempts to decipher the full thing:

Your fiancée is safe, for now. We want information on Potter. Get close to him, track his every move and send it to us through your patronus, it'll know where to find us and, as you know, cannot be tracked. If your information proves valuable, we'll give her back.

The KoW.

Harry passed the note wordlessly to Ron, who squinted at it for several minutes before his jaw dropped.

"So, let me get this straight," he said, "the Knights of Walpurgis are an actual thing, they want you to get information on Harry and pass it on to them, probably so they can kill him, and you waited almost a week to tell us all of this. You were thinking of doing it weren't you?"

For once, Draco had no smart remark. He hung his head and furiously avoided eye contact with Harry. Ron stood up at his desk, his fists balled and his face red.

"You bloody coward! You spend a week trying to decide whether or not you're going to help have Harry killed and then you ask for our help? Well, I tell you what you can do, you can fu-"

"Ron!" Harry yelled. "Just, calm down, alright?"

"Calm down? Harry have you gone mental? Did you read that note?"

"Yes, Ron, I did, but his fiancée has been kidnapped, he must be desperate. If that were Ginny, or Her-" he paused. "What I'm saying is, I can understand why he took so long to do the right thing, and what matters is he did the right thing by speaking to Gawain."

"Thanks, Potter. Weasley is right though, it shouldn't have taken me so long," Draco said quietly.

"That's the smartest thing you've said since you walked in here," Ron grumbled.

"Look, drop it," Harry warned. "Let me grab some parchment and a quill and I'll start writing some details down. Ron, can you go down to the file room and find everything you can about the Knights of Walpurgis, possible members, rumours, stuff like that?"

Ron nodded and left the room, glaring at Draco as he went. Harry pulled a blank piece of parchment towards him and dipped his favourite quill into the inkpot.

"Right, tell me from the start, everything that happened that day."

Draco began to speak and retold the story of his actions the day Astoria had been taken. When he finished Harry scanned the parchment to check he had all of the relevant information.

"You said your Mum was out, do you know where?" he asked.

"No, she didn't say. I can find out if you like but I don't see what difference it would make."

"It's fine, I was just wondering," Harry replied. "Did you fix everything at your house?"

"No, I left it. I waited in the hallway until mother got home and we left, didn't pack a bag or anything, I didn't want her there in case they came back for her. We're staying in a flat in Muggle London now, I figured it was the safest place."

"Good," said Harry. "Can we arrange to go and look at the house then?"

"Yes, I'll have to tell you how to get past the wards though."

"That's fine. Hang on-" Harry paused. "How many people know how to get through them?"

"Just me, mother and Astoria. Well, father too but he's in-well, you know."

"And they were up when Astoria was kidnapped?" Harry questioned.

"Yes, that's why I was so worried about staying there, someone obviously figured out how to get past them."

"Doesn't seem likely, you know as well as I do they're almost impossible to crack."

Draco nodded but said no more on the subject. Harry scanned the notes again for anything he may have missed, this was the first serious case Gawain have given him and Ron to work on without his supervision and he wanted to be thorough.

Ron arrived several minutes later with a huge stack of files hovering in front of him, which he dropped abruptly on Harry's desk.

"That's every single file that has any mentions of the Knights of Walpurgis."

Harry divided them up into three piles, passed some to Draco, and some to Ron before turning his attentions to his own pile and sighed. He knew it would be a late night.

Chapter 6: Must Friends Always Meddle?
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A/N for some reason whenever im posting my chapters it's cutting the ends off. I think I've fixed them all now. Sorry!

With Dobby's Law finally passed and all of the owners of house elves informed, Hermione went into the office on Tuesday morning wondering what her next project would be. She was looking forward to the excitement of something new and prayed that it would be just as good a distraction as the last one had been.

She was pleased to find Loretta (her hair a ghastly shade of candy floss pink) in her office when she arrived there, and also surprised to see she was accompanied by Harry, who was avoiding her eye contact as though he had done something wrong. Hermione eyed him skeptically.

"Good morning, Loretta…Harry…"

"Morning, Hermione!" Loretta chirped happily. "I have some news I think you will be most excited about. As you know, Dobby's Law is now in effect thanks to your incredible hard work over the last few months. Things are going to be quiet around here for a while, so quiet that I think myself, Lance, and Melina will be able to handle things on our own."

"You're not firing me, are you?" Hermione panicked.

"Don't be ridiculous! The Ministry could use more witches like you; we're not going to let you go any time soon. Harry here came to have a chat with me about a new case the Auror department are working on and he begged me this morning to let me loan you to him until it is solved, and well, who could say no to the savior of the wizarding world, eh?" she said with a giggle and a blush that was most unlike her.

"So I'll be working with you?" she asked Harry.

"Yeah, isn't that great?" he said happily, though still not quite meeting her eyes.

"Just you? “ she asked, knowing what was coming.

"Er, not quite. Why don't we go to my office and I'll tell you all about it?" he replied glancing nervously at Loretta.

"Yes, let's," she replied menacingly.

"Well, I'll let you two get on with it then," Loretta said cheerfully. "Make sure you pop down and visit us from time to time Hermione, and Harry-thanks for the-"

"Not a problem!" Harry interrupted loudly.

He waved and ushered Hermione out of the office and into the lift opposite.

"Harry James Potter," Hermione scolded as soon as they were inside and the lift was moving, "what did you do? I cannot work with Ron, you know that!"

"You have to Hermione, I need your help on this. We both do. It's huge, Malfoy's fiancée was kidnapped by the Knights of Walpurgis."

"Alright, going over my head and speaking to my boss to get me to be around Ron is one thing but making up stories? I'm disappointed. We both know that the Knights of Walpurgis are just a lot of silly rumors probably started by some kids at Hogwarts."

"I thought so too, but I'm not making this up. They left a note in Malfoy Manor after smashing the place up and taking Astoria with them."

"Really?" Hermione asked, curiosity getting the better of her.

"I'm serious. I'm in over my head with this already, Hermione. I really do need your help."

They stepped out of the lift and began walking down the corridor to Harry's office.

"So this has nothing to do with me and Ron?" Hermione accused.

Harry looked down at his feet.


"Fine, call it killing two birds with one stone. I can't do this without you, and if you and Ron finally see some sense in the meantime then that's a bonus."

She glared at him but said no more at they were now at the door of the office that bore his and Ron's name. Her stomach lurched when she looked through the translucent glass and saw the familiar red hair of her ex-fiancé. She took a deep breath as Harry opened the door.

"Morning Harry. Hermione? What are you doing here?"

"You didn't tell him?" she hissed to Harry.

"Er, I meant to…" he mumbled. "Hermione is going to be helping us out on the Astoria case. We need her brains for this mate, you and I both know that."

Ron looked blankly for a few moments and then shrugged before returning to the files he was looking at.

"So," Hermione said, trying to inject some confidence into her voice, "what happens now?"

"I'll give you the notes we have so far from what Malfoy has told us and a copy of the note that was left and as soon as you've gone through them we're going to go to Malfoy Manor for a look around."

Ignoring the feelings of unease at the idea of going to Malfoy Manor, Hermione nodded and sat down in Harry's desk chair, accepting the hand-written notes he handed to her and began reading. Even with Draco's story and the accompanying note she still couldn't quite believe that they were dealing with the Knights of Walpurgis. Ron had told her the rumors of them in his cases and they would laugh together when the real culprits turned out to be a petty criminal trying to scare people. She opened her mouth to remind Ron of this and then remembered their current awkward situation and decided against it.

"Okay, Harry. I'm done reading," she said to Harry instead.

"Excellent. I'll go and let Malfoy know we're ready to leave."

"Malfoy's coming?" she asked in surprise.

"Yes, to get us past the wards. He was going to tell us how to do it but he said he wanted to pick up some of his and his mothers' things anyway so it made more sense that we all go together. Besides, he can walk us through what happened."

With that, he left the office, closing the door behind him. Hermione placed her hands in her lap and looked down at them, hoping that Harry and Malfoy would be back soon, the tension in the air between her and Ron was almost unbearable, neither of them speaking or looking up at one another. Thankfully, Harry appeared moments later closely followed by Malfoy. He gave them each a copy of the floor plans he had drawn up for the Manor and then they were ready to leave.

The four travelled down in the lift together to the main entrance of the Ministry building and went through a door at the opposite end of the floor that took them to a designated apparating point that was outside of the anti-apparition charms but away from prying Muggle eyes.

"We'll have to do side-along," Draco said once they were outside.

He took a firm grip of Hermione's arm, who in turn held Harry's hand. Luckily, this left Ron to hold on to Harry. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut waiting for the uncomfortable sensation that came with apparition to pass. When she opened them again, she was standing at the end of a path opposite a large manor house which was painfully familiar.

Malfoy Manor had not changed much since the last time she was here, though it looked less formidable in the sunlight. The closed cast iron gates had the Malfoy crest woven into them, beyond them there was more of the same path with perfectly manicured grass either side in place of the yew hedges that had stood tall the last time Hermione had been there. The albino peacocks strutted on the lawns and even Hermione had to appreciate their grandeur, even if she did think they were unnecessary, and a ridiculous form of décor. The house itself was huge and well deserving of the title 'Manor'. The exterior was all grey, the colour of the brickwork matching the slate tiles on the roof, and it was three stories high, not including the cellar that Hermione knew was below.

Draco took out his wand and cast non-verbal spells to take down the wards. Hermione felt a shift in the atmosphere around them and knew that the spells had worked. He then began to walk up the path towards the gates which did not open but allowed Draco to pass straight through them. The trio followed him up to the front door, where he paused.

"Don't touch anything if I'm not there, don't repair anything and if anything doesn't look right or you think it might be something to do with Astoria going missing then call for me, okay? I'll grab the things I need and then help you look and answer any questions you might have."

"Fine," Harry replied.

Draco pointed his wand at the front door and there was a gentle click as it unlocked. He did not need to touch the door, his presence caused it to swing open unaided. He went inside and headed straight up the huge mahogany staircase without another word to the group.

"I'll start in the library, since that's where Malfoy found the note," Harry said, pulling the plan that Malfoy had given him earlier out of his pocket and consulting it.

Hermione was disappointed, Harry sensed it and grinned at her. "Don't look at me like that, if I let you go to the library you'll spend more time looking at the books than looking for some indication of who we're dealing with."

"Fine," she conceded. "I'll start down here then."

"I guess that leaves me with the second floor then," Ron mumbled.

He and Harry followed in Malfoy's footsteps up the stairs, leaving Hermione in the hallway. Not bothering to look at her floor plans, she went straight to the first door she came to down the corridor past the staircase and pushed it open.

She found herself in a living room as grand as the rest of the house. There were two huge red leather sofas, one in the bay window that looked out to the side of the house and one in front of the biggest fireplace Hermione had ever seen, with a beautiful marble mantelpiece.

She imagined that the room had once been a thing of beauty, but unfortunately Astoria's kidnappers had seen to that. Stuffing poured from the cushions and the sofa itself, clean tears slashed through the material. The ornaments that had presumably once sat proud above the fire, and on the side tables and cabinets were smashed and scattered across the wood flooring and the woven rug in the middle of the room.

Hermione looked around the room, treading carefully so as not to cause further damage to the expensive trinkets, but found nothing that would be of any use or help in finding Astoria. She exited the room and continued her search next door, in the dining room, which was in an equally ruined state. Wood splinters lay around the room amongst pieces of white patterned china and glass from the doors of a large cabinet that stood in one corner. The room was mainly dominated by a long dining table which Hermione guessed could seat at least twenty people.

Next came the kitchen, which reminded Hermione of one she would find in a restaurant rather than a home, with the exception of its size. The worktops were made of a shiny silver metal, as were all of the appliances, and everything was at least two foot smaller than it should have been. Hermione realised in disgust that this was to accommodate the house-elves that must have done all of the cooking in the Manor. She wondered idly where they were now with the house in its current state of danger.

There was only one more room on the bottom floor for Hermione to search now, and her mind was so preoccupied with the missing house elves that she didn't stop to think which one was left. The door was ajar, she gave the bronze handle a gentle push to open it fully and gave a gasp. Frozen to the spot she could not tear her eyes away from the drawing room she had suffered nightmares about long after the war was over.

The walls were still the same shade of dark purple and the wood on the floor was the same as that which ran through the rest of the downstairs rooms. The large mirror with the intricate golden frame above the fireplace was smashed and the glass lay scattered below it. The crystal chandelier that had been destroyed the last time Hermione had been there had been repaired to its former glory and was once more hanging in the centre of the ceiling.

She fixed her eyes on the middle of the floor where she had been convinced her life would end. The pain she had felt when Bellatrix had tortured her was unimaginable, and the madness in the woman's eyes was something Hermione would never forget until the day she died.

"Granger, come away from there," a voice came from behind making Hermione jump.

It was Malfoy. He held two large bags in his hands which he set down on the floor before approaching Hermione.

"I'll search that one, just leave it." He leant past her and pulled the door closed.

"Thank you," she muttered, a blush creeping up her cheeks, embarrassed that he had caught her in a moment of fear.

"Don't mention it. I assumed you would have left that room, all three of you. Why did you go in?"

"I didn't look at the plans you gave me, and then I went into the kitchen and I guess I was busy thinking about the house elves and just…forgot," she finished pathetically.

"You were thinking about house elves? Why?" he asked, perplexed.

"Well, the kitchen…" She thought that was self-explanatory but Draco looked blankly at her, so she continued. "Your kitchen is obviously made for house elves to cook in but there aren't any here."

"Oh," Draco responded unhelpfully.

"So, where are they?"

He sighed heavily. "They're dead. Whoever took Astoria killed them."

Hermione gasped and clapped her hands to her mouth. "That's awful! This is why the whole idea of having house elves disgusts me, they're just replaceable aren't they? No-one cares as long as their cleaning and cooking still gets done. I suppose you've already got new ones?" she accused.

"Actually, no. I told mother that we don't have the room or the need for one in the flat."

"Oh…" Hermione blushed again. "Well, what did you do with the others?"

"I came back after I found mother and I a place to stay, and buried them in an unused part of the garden."

Hermione stared blankly at him, that was the answer she had least expected from him: it was such a humane act.

"That was very decent of you, Malfoy," she said finally.

"Whatever, I couldn't exactly leave them could I? Anyway, I should look in there," he said gesturing to the door behind Hermione. "Go upstairs and see if Potter and Weasley need any help."

She nodded and walked away briskly, wanting to distance herself from the drawing room and any further awkwardness with Malfoy. She climbed to the top floor and walked along the corridor until she found an open door. Assuming Harry was in there she entered the room, disappointment hitting as she found Ron on all fours searching under a double bed. She cleared her throat gently, causing Ron to jump and bang his head on the wooden frame and swear loudly. He stood up rubbing his head, his face falling as he realised who had joined him in the room.

"Um, I'm done downstairs, I came to see if there was anything up here I could help with, I thought Harry-"

"What are you doing here, Hermione?" Ron interrupted.

"Helping with the case, Harry asked me, you know that."

"And you didn't think to say no?"

"I couldn't, he already spoke to my boss. He said you both needed my help." Even as she said it, she knew that it wasn't true.

Ron gave an exasperated sigh. "Of course he did, Hermione, and you fell for it. Can't you see he's just trying to get us back together? Did you even think how painful this would be, to spend all day working with you?"

"Hold on, you were the one who said you didn't want to be with me, if anything this was going to be hard for me, and I'm trying to be an adult about it."

"The adult thing to do would have been to stand up to Harry and say no. You shouldn't be here, Hermione," he said through gritted teeth.

"Fine then," Hermione snapped, throwing her hands up in frustration. "Fine. I'll go."

"I think that's for the best."

She turned on her heel and stormed out of the room, cursing Ron under her breath, not noticing Harry walking towards her and stomping straight into him.

"Umph! Oh, sorry, Harry," she mumbled and stepped around him.

"Hermione, wait!" he called after her. "What's wrong? Where are you going?"

She was at the bottom of the stairs now and made a beeline for the front door. "Back to the office to beg Loretta to let me get back to my own job. I'm not wanted around here, Harry. Good luck with the case."

"I don't understand," Harry panted as he tried to keep up with her. "Has something happened?"

"Ask Ron," she said as she passed through the large gates.

She saw Harry open his mouth to protest but disapperated before he could get a single word out.

Chapter 7: Are there Answers in Azkaban?
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Harry spent the next three days trying to convince Hermione to come back and help them with the Astoria case but she was adamant that they could manage without her. He had asked Ron repeatedly what had happened that had made her so mad but his response always came in the form of a shoulder shrug or an abrupt change of subject. Harry surmised that they had had some form of argument, as they always did, but without knowing what had been said he was unsure how to go about fixing it, and so it seemed he and Ron were on their own once more.

As per Harry's request, Draco had brought his mother into work with him the day after their search of Malfoy Manor so that he and Ron could ask about her movements on the day Astoria was kidnapped. She told them she had been shopping and then for dinner but both Harry and Ron suspected she was keeping something from them. She told them with absolute clarity that she had told no-one how to get past the wards protecting the manor and Harry was sure this was the only thing she had been completely truthful about during their chat. Once she had left, Draco with her, Harry and Ron discussed what would be their next steps.

"I think we need to speak with Lucius," Harry suggested.

"Why?" Ron asked, looking thoroughly disgusted at the idea of being in the same room as Lucius Malfoy.

"Think about it, only four people knew how to lower those wards. Draco and his mum have both told us that they didn't tell anyone, and I believe them, and Astoria isn't exactly available for questioning. That leaves us with Lucius. What if someone wrote to him or visited him in Azkaban and he told them?"

"Good point. We'll have to run it by Gawain, first I reckon," Ron replied and Harry nodded in agreement. "I'll go ask him now."

Ron was back within a few minutes bearing the news that their boss had approved the visit to Azkaban, providing he could accompany them and assist with the interview. Harry then wrote to the wizarding prison to inform them that they would be arriving early tomorrow morning to speak with Lucius Malfoy.

Since the war, and much to Harry's relief, the prison was now run by burly security wizards as opposed to Dementors. It was one of the first changes Kingsly Shacklebolt had made as the new Minister for Magic after they had proved their disloyalty during the war. Harry didn't know what had happened to the Dementors after their dismissal and he never wanted to find out, he was just glad that they were no longer at Azkaban as his job called for frequent visits there.

Harry and Ron spent the rest of the day compiling a list of questions to ask Lucius and so, when the following day arrived, they were more than prepared for it. Malfoy had point blank refused to go with the group, telling Harry he had not seen his father since his trial and intended to keep it that way.

Getting to Azkaban wasn't easy due to its heavy magical protection; one couldn't simply apparate straight to the front door. First they had to use the Ministry's designated apparition point to travel to the wizarding town, Flaggherty Loch, which was by the sea in which the prison was situated. They then had to walk to the dock which was manned every hour of the day by one of the security guards from the prison, who would verify they were who they said they were by checking their wands. A local boatman would then transport wizards and witches one at a time to the cliff face, where they were escorted by another security wizard into a lift that had been built there, up to the prison gates and into the entrance where their wands were checked once more.

The whole process had taken the best part of an hour to get all three men across the sea and past the security checks. Finally, they were escorted into a small white room containing a table and four chairs. Harry and Ron sat at the table and Gawain moved his chair by the door, wanting to simply observe at first.
A short time later, the door opened again and Lucius Malfoy was ushered into the room by a seven foot tall wizard with a shaven head and no neck. He had his wand pressed into Lucius' back and guided him to the table.

"Sit!" he barked in a deep voice.

Lucius did as he was instructed and Harry took his first proper look at him. Azkaban had changed him entirely. His once immaculate presentation was gone without a trace, his hair was lank and dirty, the ends ragged and uncared for. His skin was even paler than it had been, it was now an unnatural shade of almost grey, his lifeless blue eyes looked lost in their sockets as they stared at Harry. He was a pitiful excuse of a man and there wasn't even an echo of his former arrogance left.

"Good luck gettin' him to talk mind," the guard warned. "This one hasn't said a word since he got here four years ago."

"Thanks," Ron said sarcastically and the guard grunted.

"Mister Malfoy," Harry said slowly, "do you know who I am?"

Lucius looked at Harry but said nothing.

"Lucius? Do you remember me?" Harry asked a little louder.

Still no reply came. Gawain stood up and walked over to the desk.

"Lucius," he said, looking straight at the man, "this is important. Your son's fiancée has been kidnapped. Draco's fiancée? We think it could be down to the Knights of Walpurgis, we need to know what you know about them."

At the mention of the mysterious group, Lucius twitched.

"Mister Malfoy?" Gawain said a little more forcefully. "Do you know something about the Knights of Walpurgis?"

Lucius looked at Gawain and quickly shook his head, his lips pressed into a hard line as if to reinforce his silence.

Ron sighed. "Looks like this was a waste of time. Bet he would have spoken if Malfoy were here."

Even the mention of his son's name didn't invoke a reaction from Lucius.

"Gawain, Ron, can I speak to you both outside please?" Harry asked.

The two nodded and they all stepped outside into the deserted corridor and closed the door behind them.

"What are we going to do? He won't say a word." Harry looked at the other two for answers.

"We could force it out of him," Ron suggested. "Give him some veritaserum?"

"I'm not sure," Gawain said slowly.

"Come on, why not? It's obvious he knows something about those Knights and it's even more obvious he's not going to say anything without some persuasion."

"Ron's right," Harry agreed.

"Alright boys, this is your case so I'll allow it. Be warned that this is a very rare case and that is the only reason I'm agreeing to this, under no circumstances are you to use veritaserum without my permission, do you understand?"

"Yes," Harry and Ron said in unison.

"Good. You two wait here, I'll head back to the ministry and get it. There's no point in all three of us going, it takes so bloody long to get here."

He went back into the room and told the guard that Lucius could be returned to his cell for now, said goodbye to Harry and Ron and then left. The pair went back into the interview room to wait for his return and were brought coffee by one of the guards.

"So," said Ron, "do you reckon he knows something?"

"Without a doubt, did you see how he twitched when Gawain mentioned that group? He knows something for sure. I just hope it's something that helps us find Astoria, I'd hate to have wasted this whole day for nothing."

"Me too. Plus we haven't really got anything else to go on have we? There was nothing in the house other than a load of mess."

Harry agreed and sipped his coffee. "I bet Hermione would have found something by now…" he mumbled quietly.

"Drop it Harry. She's not helping us and that's that. I don't even know why you asked her in the first place, she isn't an Auror and didn't want to be, remember?"

"She had agreed to help," Harry argued.

"Yeah, but only because her boss told her to," he countered. "Why did she tell her to anyway?"

"Because I asked her to…"


"And what?"

"Harry, we've been best mates since we were eleven, I know when you're lying because you're a rubbish liar. What did you do?"

"I may have let her take a photo of me with her kids because they're deluded and think I'm some sort of hero," Harry said quickly.

"Hah! Well then it serves you right that it backfired then."

Harry ignored his taunts and stared into his coffee cup which was now almost empty. He hoped that Gawain would be back soon, he was eager to find out what Lucius Malfoy was hiding. Fortunately, his wishes were granted when Gawain entered the room far sooner than expected after just one more cup of coffee.

"Did you get it?" Ron asked keenly.

Gawain held up a small vial of clear liquid in an unspoken response to Ron's question.

"Excellent!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands together.

"Let's get him back in then," Harry said, leaving the room to speak to the guard.

When Lucius had resumed his seat opposite Harry and Ron, Gawain stepped forward to administer the veritaserum and Lucius finally spoke.

"No! NO! Please! PLEASE, NO!" he screamed and thrashed around in his chair as the startles guard tried to restrain him to no avail.

"Petrificus Totalus!" Ron finally yelled and Lucius was still, thankfully mid-scream so his mouth was open.

"Good thinking, Ron," Gawain praised. "Right, two drops should do it."

He tipped the tiny bottle until a couple of drops fell into Lucius' mouth. Ron cast the reversal charm for the freezing spell and harry conjured ropes to wrap themselves around Lucius arms, waist and legs so that he was tied to the chair.

"Right, shall I start?" Harry asked the other two men who nodded. "You are Lucius Abraxas Malfoy?"

"No," Lucius replied.

"What? Is your name Lucius Malfoy?" Harry asked again, more slowly.

"No," he repeated.

Harry looked at Ron and Gawain, confused.

"Then what is your name?"

"Stanley David Shunpike."

A/N dun dun duuuuun! Thoughts so far?

Chapter 8: Does Hermione Granger Know Everything?
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"I'm sorry, you're who?" Ron spluttered.

"I'm Stanley David Shunpike," Lucius said again.

Harry looked blankly at the man in front of him. Stan Shunpike was a scrawny and spotty young man, or at least, he had been when Harry had last seen him during the trials of those accused of Death Eater activity. He had been found innocent and his involvement put down to being under the imperius curse. Harry hadn't heard anything of him since then, and had met his replacement conductor of the Knight Bus, so he assumed that Stan had moved away to seek a quiet life after the traumas he had suffered during the war.

"Dodgy veritaserum?" an equally shocked Ron asked a puzzled Gawain.

"Not possible, it's made by a Ministry approved potioneer, he's worked there for years and never gotten a potion wrong yet," Gawain replied. He turned to Lucius, "If you're really Stan Shunpike then why do you look like Lucius Malfoy?"

"Body switchin' spell," he said. The voice was Lucius' but Harry could hear Stan's familiar broad cockney dialect and realised now why he hadn't spoken for so long. "Lucius knew 'e was goin' to get sent 'ere when they sent them letters out 'bout summonin' the Death Eaters to trial after you-know-who died. Said if I came instead of 'im, 'e would pay me thousands of galleons when I got out. Said it would be easy now them Dementors weren't 'ere no more and if I was good I'd be out in a few years."

"There's no such thing as a body switching spell," Gawain said angrily. "I've worked as an Auror for twenty years and I've never heard of one."

"I dunno 'ow 'e did it, but 'e looked like me and I look like 'im so it musta worked," he replied.

"I've heard enough of this," Harry groaned. "Take him back to his cell, whoever he is. We need to get back to the office and test that veritaserum you gave him and then find out as much as we can about body switching spells if they actually exist."

The guard nodded and took the man, Lucius or Stan or whoever he was, out of the room. Harry, Ron and Gawain all looked at each other, identical looks of stress and confusion on their faces.

Hermione had been back in her own department for four days now since her argument with Ron. Her boss had thankfully, accepted her return with few questions asked. It had been exceptionally quiet in terms of workload and Hermione found herself wondering if Harry had gotten any further in investigating Astoria's disappearance.

As with the previous few days, she arrived home from work early and had only just taken her coat and shoes off when Harry appeared in her fireplace.

"Hermione, great, you're home."

"Harry, I've already told you, I am not working with Ron no matter how much you beg," she sighed.

"No, it's not that, listen…"

He began to explain the story of his day, how they had interview Lucius and then forced him to talk using veritaserum only for him to tell them he was actually Stan Shunpike.

"…he reckons they did a body switching spell but no-one in the department has ever heard of one and I'm just in over my head with this investigation already," he finished.

"Wow. So there's a chance Lucius Malfoy is on the run somewhere?" Hermione asked.

"I really don't know. He can't be though, Hermione. There's no spell in the world that can make people swap bodies. There's only polyjuice potion but that's temporary, whoever that man is, he's been in Azkaban for four years, no polyjuice in the world lasts that long. And he said spell, not potion."

Hermione thought quietly for a few minutes. She was sure Harry was right about there not being a body switching spell, but magic had taught her that almost anything was possible. If someone had told her before Voldemort came back that a spell had helped him store parts of his soul in a snake she would have laughed. It was ancient and dark magic that few people in the wizarding world knew existed but it still did. Inspiration struck.

"Harry! The Horcruxes!"

"What about them?" Harry asked, looking at Hermione as though she had gone mad.

"Wait here," she gasped and ran to her spare bedroom.

She opened the doors of the wardrobe and rummaged around in the bottom of it, beneath the spare bedding, until she found her old Hogwarts trunk. She heard Harry calling for her impatiently from the living room but she ignored him. She dragged the trunk out and then knelt on the carpet in from of it, turned the key that was still in the lock and pushed the lid open. Inside the trunk lay a collection of books that Hermione had hoped she would never have to see again but had kept just in case. She grabbed one from near the bottom that was heavy and had a thick spine, it was bound in wrinkled black leather and had the words 'Dark Magic and its Ancient Roots' on the front cover in deep red curly letters.

Leaving the trunk still on the floor she raced back into the living room and sat down on the sofa next to Harry, who looked frustrated.

"A book," he said, "I should have known."

"Do you want my help or not?" she snapped back. He nodded fervently. "Remember just before we left Hogwarts, the day before Dumbledore's funeral I summoned those books from his office, the ones about Horcruxes?"


"Well one night in the tent, when it was my turn to look out, I started reading one of the books. This book. I only got a few pages past the Horcruxes bit before I stopped, some of the spells in there are truly awful," she shuddered. "Including, this one."
She handed him the open book and watched as his face contorted into an expression of horror.

"The body switching spell…" he read aloud. "…enables the castor and participant to switch appearances until the spell is reversed…extremely painful…human sacrifice required?! Hermione, this is some seriously dark and disturbing magic. Surely Lucius can't have been that desperate to avoid Azkaban?"

"Well, the Malfoy's aren't exactly known for their bravery are they? It's not a very Slytherin quality."

Harry laughed humourlessly. "No, I suppose not. You think this was it then, the spell he used?"

"It seems like it."

"So then that really is Stan Shunpike in Azkaban…"

"There's one way you could find out for sure…"

"The reversal spell?" Harry said as he looked down at the open book on his lap.

Hermione nodded. "There's an incantation there, and you only have to cast it on one of the people who were swapped. Just point your wand at his face and say Corporis Minime Verto."

"I'm going to go, now. Thank you so much, Hermione, you don't know how much you've helped me. This is why I said I needed you on this case, please reconsider. Don't give me an answer now, but promise you'll at least sleep on it. Okay?" he implored.

"I'll think about it," she agreed.

"Thank you. I'll come back soon to tell you what happened." He gave her a brief hug and left through the front door, apparating from the front step.

The sun was starting to lower in the sky and there was a chill in the air when Harry apparated that had not been there when he left work. He set off at a brisk pace as soon as his surroundings materialized in the direction of the pier he had already been at twice earlier that day. The guard did not look surprised to see him again but did carry out the same security checks before letting him climb into the boat with the old boatman. The salty smell of the sea was stronger as Harry crossed the sea to Azkaban than it had been a few hours ago and he fondly thought of travelling in the tiny boat with Hagrid some hours after he had first found out he was a wizard.

The bump of the boat against the rocky cliff pulled Harry out of his thoughts of his childhood and he thanked the old man before climbing out of the boat onto the small stone platform where his wand was checked again before he began the ascent up the cliff in the lift with the new security guard.

When he reached the inside of the building and the front desk inside, the guard seated there barely had time to open his mouth to ask what Harry was doing back there, for Harry began to speak.

"I need to see Lucius Malfoy again. Quickly, please."

The guard held his hand out and grunted, "Wand."

Harry sighed at the delay and handed over his holly and phoenix feather wand whilst the guard checked it.

"Fine," he said finally. "Follow me."

Harry obeyed and followed the man who led him to the same interview room they had been in earlier, though that now felt like days ago. He did not sit down at the table but stood next to it, tapping his foot impatiently on the linoleum floor until the door opened and a new guard appeared with whom Harry was now convinced was Stan in front of him. He was seated and he looked up at Harry, fear in his eyes.

Harry gave no warning as to what he was about to do. He quickly raised his wand, which was still in his hand from the weighing, and pointed it at Stan.

"Corporis Minime Verto."

At first, nothing happened, and Harry was momentarily disappointed, but then the seated man gave a gasp of pain.

"My skin!" he yelled. "My skin is burinin'! Make it stop! Please, I'll do anyfin', just make it stop!"

Harry thought back to the human sacrifice part of the spell that had obviously been cast, the chosen witch or wizard who was to be sacrificed had to be set alight before the killing curse was cast, this part of the reversal was clearly some sort of sick penance for that.

He continued to scream at the invisible flames licking his skin, so the man didn't notice his features were beginning to change now, the filthy blonde hair seemed to be shortening, and turning more of a sandy shade of blonde. Pimples were appearing on the face that was considerably less pale and the jawline becoming far less prominent. Harry was disgusted and yet he could not tear his eyes away.

Stan's screams started to subside and became more like whimpers and Harry knew the process was nearing an end. He looked at the guard for the first time: the previously fearless looking man was now a pale shade of green and was clutching the back of a chair for support, had the situation not been so serious, Harry would have laughed.

Silence filled the room and Harry stared into the petrified face of Stan Shunpike. Miles away, in a filthy bathroom, Lucius Malfoy looked at his reflection and let out a furious scream.

Chapter 9: Haven't You Heard that Big Boys Don't Cry?
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The Azkaban guards were unsure of their next actions. For four years they had been under the impression that Lucius Malfoy lived in cell number six, and now they had discovered that it had been a completely different person, one whom they believed to be innocent.

Stan was too stunned for words that Harry had revealed his true identity. He was physically shaking and vomited on several occasions. Harry and the guards had decided to return him to his cell. Even though Harry had a whole list of new burning questions for him, he didn't think Stan was in any shape to answer them. Plus, he needed to tell Ron and, more importantly, Draco what he had found out.

Harry visited Hermione first, he felt as though she should be the first to know simply because he would not have found out the truth without her. He apparated to her doorstep and knocked the brass letterbox three times. She answered the door within seconds, having obviously been expecting him.

"Well?" she demanded before he had even had the chance to close the door behind him.

"It worked, it's definitely Stan. It was horrible to watch though, and he was sick on my shoes after. Have you got any firewhisky? I could really do with a strong drink.

"Of course, sit down and I'll go get it. I'm sure I have some left over from when Ron-" she stopped herself and disappeared into the kitchen, returning moments later with a bottle and two glasses.

"Here," she said handing him a half full glass and then picking up her own. "So it's definitely Stan?"


"But that means-" Hermione began.

"Lucius Malfoy never went to Azkaban and has had a four year head start in hiding," Harry finished.

"Have you told Malfoy yet?"

"No, I came straight here. I thought you should know first since it was down to you that I found out. Plus I needed some time to get my head together, you know? How do I tell him Hermione?" He studied her face closely, as though expecting the answers to appear written on her face.

"Just be honest, tell him the whole story and don't leave out any details. Well, maybe leave the part about you coming here first."

"You're right," Harry replied, draining his glass and setting it down on a coaster on the coffee table. "Thank you Hermione, for knowing everything as usual. Don't forget, the offer still stands for you to come back. Think about it."

"I don't need to," Hermione said quietly.

"Come on Hermione, you said you would," Harry protested.

"I know, and I have. I'll help, I want to. Just, try not to leave me alone with Ronald please?"

"Deal." Harry grinned. "Thank you so much. You are truly a lifesaver."

He stood up and hugged her, crossed the room to the fireplace and took a handful of floo powder before throwing it at his feet and shouting the address for Malfoy's temporary home.

Malfoy stared blankly at Harry once he had finished explaining the situation with his father, he looked as though he had lost the ability to speak. Harry said no more, he knew that Malfoy needed time to process and so Harry waited for him to speak.

After what felt like an hour of silence, he finally spoke. "Thanks for telling me, Potter. You can go now."

Harry looked incredulously at the blonde haired man. "That's it? I tell you that your father has avoided Azkaban and been god only knows where for the last four years and you say 'thanks for telling me'?"

"What do you want me to say Potter? Do you want me to cry? Tell you how I'm feeling? Sorry but I don't think I'm that sort of girl," he said sarcastically.

"Obviously not but I thought you would be a little more concerned," Harry countered.

"Well I'm not but I appreciate your concern. Like I said, you can go now."

He ushered Harry into the fireplace he had arrived in and threw floo powder at his shoes. When Harry simply stared at him in shock, Draco raised an expectant eyebrow causing Harry to shout 'The Burrow!'

As soon as Harry's figure had disappeared from the fireplace, Draco began to pace in front of it. His mother was still not home and for that he was thankful; it gave him more time to think. He was unsure whether or not he should confront her about the information the guard at Azkaban had given him, and been paid for in exchange for both the information and his silence. Now he had everything Potter had told him on top of that and the whole situation was becoming a mess.

By the time his mother arrived home from dinner with her friends. Draco was still unsure of what he should say, or not say, to her. She closed the door behind her and hung up her coat and handbag before turning to face him with a smile.

"Hello, darling. How was your day? Did you find anything that might help you with Astoria?"

"You could say that," Draco replied through gritted teeth, finally making his mind up.

"That's good," she hesitated, "isn't it?"

"Well that depends what your idea of good is. It's certainly interesting that's for sure."

"Well, what is it?" Narcissa asked tentatively.

"It's about Father."

"Lucius? What about him?"

"The man in Azkaban isn't him. It's that idiot Stan Shunpike. Apparently he and father did some sort of body switching spell before the trial and Shunpike has been serving his sentence for him in exchange for a lot of gold."

Narcissa's jaw dropped and panic crossed her face. "That's not possible, there's no such spell. You must have it wrong," she said quickly.

"There is, it's old and extremely dark magic, but it exists. Potter already performed the reversal spell on Shunpike and he's back to his own body, which means Father is too."

Narcissa clutched a hand to her chest, sank down on to the sofa, and began taking deep breaths.

"I don't know why you're so surprised," Draco said coldly. "You knew didn't you?"

His mother's head snapped up and she looked at him questioningly. "What?"

"Don't play stupid with me, Mother. I had an interesting chat with one of the Azkaban guards earlier. See, Gawain came to speak to me after they had first used veritaserum on who they thought was Father, he told me the crazy story that he had come out with, but said they were sure he was lying somehow. That was before Potter found out the spell and reversed it. As soon as I found out I went to speak to one of the guards about him, I wanted to know if 'Father' had had any visitors in the time he had been there, anyone that might link to Astoria's disappearance. Can you guess what he told me?"

"No, how would I?"

"Because, Mother," Draco said, standing over her, "he's only ever had four visits, one a year, and they were all from you."

Narcissa shook her head. "No. No, that's not right. He's lying. Draco, son, I promise you I haven't seen or spoken or even written to him the whole time he has been in there. I don't want anything more to do with him. You were there at the trial, the things he confessed to, I didn't know about all of the people he tortured, killed even. You have to believe me."

"You're lying," Draco spat. "He had the proof there, all visitors are logged you see."

"Please, Draco," she begged, "you have to believe me. I couldn't even be in the same room as that man, you know that. I told you when he left Azkaban I would divorce him and I stand by that."

Draco eyed her carefully. He thought that he knew his mother well enough to know if she was telling the truth, and he really thought that she was, but all of the evidence was against her. The security checks to get into Azkaban were so thorough; there was no way to get past them without having the right wand. Then again, they had imprisoned the wrong man for the last four years. That was proof that they could be fooled on occasion, but gaining access into the prison as a visitor required the correct appearance and wand check.

Draco sat down next to his mother, who was sobbing quietly, and rubbed his temples. Finding Astoria seemed to be becoming an impossible task. The situation with Stan and his father had only caused more complications, now there were the mysterious visits paid to him by Narcissa to factor in and none of it seemed relevant to discovering who had taken his fiancée and where they were hiding her.

He stood up, walked to the front door, and pulled his coat down from the stand.

"Where are you going?" his mother asked.

"Out. For a walk. I need some space to think."

He closed the door behind him and took a deep breath of the crisp evening air as he began walking down the quiet street. He wasn't sure where he planned to go, but he knew that he needed to walk until things started to make more sense in his head.

A/N Any thoughts so far? I'd love to get some feedback :)

Chapter 10: Can a Leopard Change it's Spots?
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Hermione was glad that Friday had arrived. The week had been long, not to mention bizarre, and she was looking forward to a quiet weekend at home. She met with Harry, Ron and Draco after lunch that day to discuss the circumstances with Lucius and Stan and how, if at all, they affected the case with Astoria. Harry had filled Ron in the night before so everyone was up to date when they gathered in Harry and Ron's office.

"So," Ron began, "do we all think that we can add Lucius Malfoy to our list of possible suspects?"

"I think so," Harry agreed. Hermione nodded and Draco grunted.

"Don't you agree, Malfoy?" Ron asked him.

"The note that the kidnappers left was signed KoW, not Lucius Malfoy. Besides, what reason would my father have for kidnapping Astoria? Surely he didn't go to such drastic lengths to avoid Azkaban, only to commit such a big crime a few years later?"

"Maybe he's part of them though, the Knights of Walpurgis," Hermione suggested. "If their main goal is to kill Harry and ultimately gain power they sound like the sort of people he would associate with."

"You could be right, Hermione," said Harry, scribbling Hermione's theory down on the corner of a piece of parchment on which their case notes were written.

"Fine, let's say she is," Draco conceded. "What happens now?"

"We need to gather a list of all of your dad's friends, associates, any purebloods he knew. Is all of his stuff still at the Manor?" Harry asked.

"Some is at the flat but most is still there. Mother put it all in the cellar, it's definitely still there, I saw it when we searched the Manor the other day. I'll bring it to the office, can't imagine either of you two want to go back there," he said to Harry and Ron who exchanged dark glances and then nodded.

"I'll go back to Azkaban and see if Stan has had any visitors whilst he was posing as Lucius," Ron added. "Surely if he is part of this group they would want to check that the spell was still working."

"No," Draco said as he stood up abruptly, earning him three alarmed looks. "I already asked."

"You did?" Harry asked, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

"Yes, after you left last night. I forgot to mention it." He sat down again on the end of Harry's desk and began fiddling with a quill, not looking at the other three.

"And?" Ron asked.

"And what?" Draco countered.

"Did he have any visitors?" Ron's tone was impatient.

"None in the whole time he's been there." Draco shifted in his seat and started picking the feathers from the quill he was still holding.

Harry sighed. "We'll just have to hope there's something worth finding in his stuff then."

The door to the office opened and Gawain's head peered around the door.

"Potter, Weasley, didn't you ask me for this afternoon off? What are you still doing here?"

Harry gasped and checked his watch. "Ron! The robe fitting for the wedding started ten minutes ago. Ginny is going to kill us!"
He quickly grabbed his coat from the back of his chair, Ron copied him and they rushed out of the door past a startled Gawain.

"Hell hath no fury like a bride scorned," he chuckled. "I'll let you two get on."

He left the office and closed the door behind him. Hermione and Draco both looked expectantly at each other, both waiting for the other to say what their next step was.

"Well, I suppose I'll go and have a look through my father's things at the flat," Draco finally said.

"Okay," Hermione replied.

There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence before Draco said, "You can come if you want. It'll get done quicker if there are two of us and there's nothing more to be done here."
"Okay," Hermione said again, this time in a hesitant tone.

They headed down to the ministry fireplaces in the main entrance hall in silence, Draco only breaking it to tell Hermione his address before she stepped into the green flames and shouted it.

In the few moments she was alone before Draco appeared behind her, Hermione looked around at the small flat. It could not have been any more different to Malfoy Manor, not just in size but in décor too. A comfortable looking beige sofa took up most of the space in the small living room and an oak coffee table was the only thing between it and where Hermione stood in front of the fireplace, which was unusually large for the size of the room: Hermione suspected it had been magically enlarged for flooing purposes. A tiny dining table and two chairs stood in one corner of the room next to an almost empty bookcase. She could see a door to the left which she guessed led to the kitchen, and a corridor to the right, presumably leading to the bedrooms and the front door.

"It was already decorated and furnished when we moved in," Draco's voice came from behind Hermione, making her jump.
She walked around the coffee table and stood by the sofa, the close proximity to Malfoy making her feel uncomfortable.

"I guessed," she replied.

"You can sit down," he said, gesturing to the couch. "I'll go and get Father's things."

Hermione took a seat on the sofa and waited for him to return. When he did, he was levitating three large black boxes in front of him.

"This is all there is. After he was sent to Azkaban, or we thought he was, Mother put most of his things in the cellar. I wasn't sure if she was going to leave it there for him to collect when he was released or if she was going to get rid of it, so I went down one day when she was out and took some of it. It's mostly books and photographs so it's probably useless." He set the boxes down on the coffee table before taking a seat next to Hermione.

"You never know," she replied, "there might be something that gives us a clue as to who we're dealing with."

Draco shrugged and opened one of the boxes and started flicking through the pages of the books that it contained. Hermione pulled one of the other two boxes towards her and found it full of photo albums. She picked the top one out and placed it on her knee. It was bound with bottle green leather and had a silver snake printed on the front of it. She rolled her eyes at the evident references to the Malfoy's Slytherin pride and opened the album to the first page.

There were two pictures on every page, each one with a hand-written note beneath it. It turned out to be an album of Lucius' days at Hogwarts, from his first day; a picture of eleven year old Lucius with his parents on Platform nine and three quarters, to his last; a group of eight students waving happily, all wearing Slytherin school robes. The pictures in between showed Lucius and his friends at various points of their school lives: in Hogsmeade, at Quidditch matches, throughout summer holidays and at Christmas. Hermione easily spotted Lucius in the pictures, his blonde hair standing out no matter the surroundings in the photo. She couldn't help but notice the startling resemblance Draco bore to his father, though Lucius' face was far more expressionless.

There was one boy that appeared in most of the photographs that Hermione recognised easily, the greasy hair, large nose and sallow face of Severus Snape was unmistakable. The others that stood by Lucius were unfamiliar to Hermione, but their names were not, she had seen them in the paper countless times, and even fought them during the war.

It took hardly any time at all for Hermione and Draco to go through the three small boxes, a task that gave them no new leads in finding Lucius or Astoria.

"Well, that was a waste of time," Draco said with a sigh as he sealed the boxes once more with his wand.

"There are still his things at the Manor though," Hermione reminded him, "don't lose hope just yet."

"I doubt we'll find anything helpful in there either. Father isn't stupid, his stunt with Stan proved that. He wouldn't leave a trail to wherever he's hiding, or where Astoria is if he's involved in that too."

"We'll find them," Hermione said reassuringly.

Draco said nothing but sighed, resumed his seat on the sofa, and put his head in his hands.

"You must miss her," Hermione said, and then mentally kicked herself. Of course he missed her, she was his fiancée.

"Like a hole in the head," he mumbled.


Malfoy's head snapped up as though he had just remembered who he was talking to.

"Nothing. Never mind," he said quickly.

"But you said-" Hermione began.

"I know what I said," he snapped.

Hermione looked at him. She was puzzled, but said no more on the subject. "We should probably be getting back to the office now."

"I'm going to stay here. Tell Potter I'll pick up that stuff tomorrow and he can come over on Monday morning to go through it. Not that it will help at all," he said in a clipped tone. Hermione couldn't help but notice he was furiously avoiding her eye contact.

"Fine" she replied, equally as frosty.

She stood up and walked to the fireplace, Malfoy followed and handed her the small ceramic pot that held the floo powder. He made a move to take the lid off and then hesitated.

"What I said before, about Astoria-" he started, but Hermione interrupted him.

"Forget about it," she said quickly with a wave of her hand.

"I just wanted to say I didn't mean it how it sounded. I do want to find Astoria, I want her to be safe."

"It didn't sound like you didn't want to," Hermione told him hurriedly.

"Good, because it's definitely not what I meant." He stopped talking but Hermione suspected there was more he wanted to say, he opened and closed his mouth and unnecessarily moved one of the photographs atop the fire surround.

"Is everything alright Malfoy?" she asked against her better judgment.

He sighed heavily, let go of the photo and let his hand drop by his side. "Let's just say Astoria and I weren't exactly getting along before she was kidnapped."

"Oh," Hermione responded most unhelpfully.

"Yeah. She didn't exactly agree with a lot of things that I did, work mostly."

"How so?"

"I work with Potter and I sent a lot of wizards to Azkaban for crimes against Muggle-borns. Not exactly in keeping with the infamous Malfoy reputation, is it?" He gave a hollow laugh that did not reach his grey eyes.

"That's a good thing though, surely she could see that and support it?"

"Well, I guess we can't all have perfect relationships like you and Weasley." He gave another humorless laugh.

"Um, Ron and I aren't together anymore," Hermione said awkwardly.

Draco's eyebrows raised in surprise.

"You didn't realise?" she asked.

"Well Weasley has been more unbearable than usual lately, I thought it was just a fight you'd had, not a break up," he said pensively, though with an air of being pleased at Ron's misery.

"I didn't mean that, I meant when we've all been in the office together. Surely you noticed that Ron barely speaks to me?"

"Funnily enough, Granger, I've had other things on my mind," he said in a sarcastic drawl that reminded Hermione of the Malfoy she remembered from their school days.

"Of course. Well, I'd better be getting back. I'll see you on Monday, Malfoy."

She took the lid off the pot and grabbed a handful of the green powder and vaguely heard Malfoy saying goodbye as she shouted to go to the Ministry.

Chapter 11: What is Draco Malfoy Hiding?
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Hermione thought a lot over the weekend about her strange encounter with Malfoy; she couldn't help but feel there was more that he had to say. She found it odd to begin with that Malfoy had told her about his relationship problems with Astoria. What was even stranger was that since he had discovered the news of his father, Draco seemed more concerned with finding Lucius than his fiancée. At first, Hermione thought that it was because he was convinced that his father was somehow involved with the Knights of Walpurgis but they had no evidence that suggested so.

Hermione also thought of her relationship with Ron, and how she would have felt if it was him that had been kidnapped. Even though they were no longer together the idea gave her a sickly nervous feeling of worry in her stomach. Each time he had been involved in a particularly dangerous assignment at the Auror office she had worried from the moment he left until the second she saw him again. Draco didn't appear to have any of those feelings at all regarding Astoria's disappearance, and for an unfathomable reason, it annoyed Hermione.

She hoped that a distraction from her thoughts would come along and when Harry appeared in her fireplace on Sunday morning asking for a favour, she was relieved.
Unfortunately, his favour would do nothing to stop her from thinking about Malfoy, as she soon found out.

"I planned to go to Malfoy's flat today to get a start on the boxes of Lucius' stuff from the Manor but completely forgot I'd promised Ginny we would go and choose flowers for the wedding this morning, she'll kill me if she finds out I forgot. Is there any chance you can go to Malfoy's for me?"

"Oh, Harry. I don't know…"

"Please, Hermione. Apart from the interview with Stan next week, this is the only other lead we've got and now that we know Lucius is on the run, I'm worrying that the more days that go by the further away he could be."

His expression was sincere and desperate, and Hermione couldn't say no to it. "Fine, I'll go to Malfoy's."

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "You're a lifesaver Hermione, I owe you one."

"Yes, you do," she replied with a smile.

"I'd better get going, Ginny's in the shower and I want to get back before she notices I'm gone and realises I forgot." His expression was apologetic and he kept glancing behind him as though expecting an angry Ginny to appear there.

As soon as he was gone from the fireplace, Hermione stepped in after him, wanting to get her time with Malfoy over with sooner rather than later. She reluctantly shouted his address and sighed as she stepped out at the other end. A quick glance around the living room told her that he wasn't there.

"Malfoy?" she shouted but no reply came.

"Draco?" she tried again but still heard no answer.

She walked to the door that stood on the left side of the room and pushed it open, revealing a small kitchen. Draco wasn't there but a box stood on the table, similar to the ones she had searched through two days previously.

Wondering if it contained more of Lucius' things that Malfoy had brought from the Manor, Hermione took a seat at the kitchen table and removed the lid. She decided to get a head start whilst waiting for Draco to arrive home; keen to lessen the time she had to spend with him.

The box was full of old copies of the Daily Prophet, Witch Weekly and other magical magazines that Hermione did not recognise the titles of. Of all the publications in the box, the Daily Prophet was the only one which Hermione had ever read, or had the desire to read. The rest appeared to be along similar lines as Witch Weekly; idle gossip magazines which held little or no real fact or news.

Hermione assumed the box belonged to Narcissa and picked up the lid to replace it. Just as she was about to do so, a headline on the front of one of the magazines caught her eye and she set the lid down and pulled it out.

The magazine was called Magical Musings. It had a picture of a pretty witch in pink robes on the front, holding a baby wrapped in a bundle of blue blankets. A glance at the largest headline told Hermione she was a famous singer who had just had a baby with an international Quidditch player. This story, however, was not the one that had caught her attention. Down the left side of the page there was a picture of a solemn looking Draco Malfoy bearing the headline 'My Devastation at Kidnapped Fiancée.'

Intrigued, Hermione opened the magazine to the contents page and quickly scanned down the list until she found the page number of the article. It turned out to be an interview that took up two full pages. There was a larger version of the picture from the front cover at the top of the page and the title of the article in bold writing next to it. Hermione began to read the article, not sure of what to expect.

Draco Malfoy, twenty-three year old former Death-Eater has spent the last four years since the Second Wizarding World War attempting to rid himself of his dark past. As a young boy, still at Hogwarts, Draco was unwillingly thrown into the dark world surrounding Lord Voldemort. His father Lucius Malfoy (currently serving a sentence in Azkaban), forced his wife, Narcissa, and his son to become supporters, going as far as letting his son being branded with the infamous Dark Mark.

After the defeat of Lord Voldemort and his father's imprisonment, Draco and his mother have worked to regain the respect of the wizarding world; Narcissa publicly disowning her husband and Draco accepting a job alongside Wizarding hero Harry Potter as an Auror (Dark Wizard catcher).

Draco recently announced his engagement to Astoria Greengrass and finally things were going well for him, that is until she was kidnapped. Draco has agreed to an interview with Magical Musings' reporter Talia Hergle, to speak of his ordeal.

TH-Tell us from the beginning Draco, when did you first realise Astoria had gone missing?

DM- It was just over two weeks ago, on a Tuesday.

TH-How long did it take you to notice she was missing?
DM- Not long, I knew as soon as I got home that something wasn't right.

TH-How so?
DM- Well, the house was completely wrecked for starters.

TH-We know it must be difficult, but can you talk us through what happened? Our readers will be keen to know…
DM- Well, I got home later than usual from work. When I got to the front door, it was already opened. Every room in the house had been ransacked. Furniture, ornaments, everything was broken, the place was a mess. I shouted for Astoria and didn't hear anything, so I looked in all of the rooms in the house and there was no sign of her. There was a plate of unfinished food in the library and that was when I knew she was gone.

TH-Heartbreaking. You must have been terrified?
DM- I can't explain how I felt. I'd seen houses like that before, at work, you know? I prayed that she had just gone out and not told me, but as soon as I saw the library, I knew she'd been taken. Nothing in there was broken, whoever took her obviously stopped blowing things up when they found her.

TH-And you've no idea who would want to take her?
DM- None at all. They left no clues.

TH-There has been some speculation that some of Voldemort's supporters are still out there and angry that Harry Potter is still alive. Do you think you working with him and Astoria going missing is linked?
DM- Who knows? It would make sense, I suppose, why else would anyone want to take Astoria? She had no enemies at all, it's impossible to not love her.

TH-Wow. You really love her don't you?
DM- Of course.

TH-Tell us what happened after you realised she was missing.
DM- I waited for my mother to come home, I knew that she was planning on being out that night. As soon as she arrived, I took her to the Leaky Cauldron and booked us a room for the night. The next morning I found us somewhere else to live. You understand I can't tell you where, but it's safe and that's all that matters. I told my boss shortly after and he assigned the case to Harry. There's a team of us working around the clock to get her back.

TH-And there are no leads so far?
DM- We have some, I can't really talk about it. I will find her though, I can tell you that.

TH-Well, thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us today, we understand how difficult it must have been.
DM- Thank you. I'll do anything that might help bring Astoria back.

If you have any information regarding the disappearance of Astoria Greengrass please contact Harry Potter or Draco Malfoy at the Auror department in the Ministry of Magic.

Hermione read the article several times, and each time caused her confusion to grow. She set down the copy of Magical Musings and picked out a copy of the Daily Prophet from the previous day. She scanned the pages and found a brief few paragraphs on Astoria's disappearance that was positively modest compared to the interview Hermione had just read. She put the newspaper down on top of the magazine and pulled another out of the box. She read several more over the next few minutes and in each one she found an interview similar to the first she had read. She was halfway through another when the door swung open and Malfoy appeared, making her jump up and drop the magazine.

"Granger!" he exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Waiting for you," she replied quickly. "Harry said he couldn't make it to go through your father's things and asked me to come instead."

"So you thought you would just go through my stuff while you waited? You didn't think to go home and come back later?" he demanded.

"No, not at all. I saw the box on the table and just assumed it was one of your father's."

"Well it wasn't," he replied curtly.

"No it wasn't. Can I ask why you've done interviews in just about every magical publication there is?"

"To raise awareness, of course," Draco said coolly.

"Or to try and convince the world you're innocent?" Hermione asked.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" He folded his arms across his chest and raised his eyebrows at her.

"Exactly what I said. You see, I've been thinking about Astoria's disappearance a lot and there are some things that don't add up."

Draco took a seat at the small dining table, leant back casually in his chair, and motioned for Hermione to sit down. She resumed her seat and he spoke.

"Enlighten me, Granger."

"Well firstly, the fact that it took you a week to report her disappearance, that you were conveniently working late and your mother was out meaning she was home alone. Harry told me you barely reacted when he told you about the stunt your father and Stan pulled, that you were barely surprised. Now I get here and see that you've done all of these interviews, why didn't you tell Harry and Ron that you were raising more awareness? Why don't you mention in any of them at all that you had the note signed Knights of Walpurgis, or that you waited almost a week to tell anyone?"

"Hang on, are you trying to tell me that you think I'm the one that kidnapped Astoria? Why in Merlin's name would I do that?" he asked incredulously, sitting forward in his chair and losing his devil-may-care attitude.

"Publicity? Trying to get the sympathy vote so that the wizarding world finally loves the Malfoy's again? Or could it have something to do with the fact that you weren't getting along?"

She raised her eyebrows at him and he gave a loud, hollow laugh. "I've heard it all now, Granger."

"Explain then."

"You know, as do Potter and Weasley, why I waited so long to report Astoria's kidnap. Yes, I regret that it took me so long to come to the right decision, but I still did, didn't I? I can't help that I was working late, it's part of the job I do, a late case comes in and I have to stay to deal with it. As for my mother being out, I'm counting that as a lucky coincidence because she might not still be here if she had have been home."

"Fine, that makes sense, but what about the interviews?" Hermione questioned.

"Raising awareness, like I already said," he replied simply. "I didn't tell them about waiting to report her missing because it doesn't exactly make me look good does it? I didn't want the whole world suspecting me like you obviously do. And yes, I didn't tell them about the note, because people either doubt that the Knights of Walpurgis exist or completely fear them, neither would invoke a very good reaction would they?"

"So then why have an interview in every single magazine but not the Daily Prophet? It's the most read by wizards and witches and yet it only has a tiny story about her disappearance. You've got pretty much the same interview in how many magazines?"

She started picking them up and dropping them on the table in front of him as she counted. "One, two, three…"

The pile in front of Draco grew as she continued. Once she had shown him all of the ones she had read, she reached back into the box and pulled more out. "..eight, nine different magazines, but not the Prophet. Didn't you want Harry and Ron to know that you were being so great in 'raising awareness' for their case? Hang on, is this another one?"

She reached back into the box after a piece of paper caught her eye. It turned out not to be a magazine article, but a hand-written letter on a piece of parchment.

"NO!" Draco yelled and stood up, making an attempt to grab the parchment from Hermione but she was too quick for him.

She pulled out her wand and quickly cast a leg locker curse on him, making him freeze on the spot. He pulled his wand from the inside of his robes, but again, Hermione was faster than him. She disarmed him and caught his wand in her left hand in a move that Harry would have been proud of. Then she jumped out of her own chair and stood in front of the sink so that she was far enough away from him that he could not reach her.

"Granger, let me go. Don't look at that, please," he begged.

"Let's see what you don't want me to read, shall we?" she asked him before looking at the note again.


This is now the fourth time we have written to you, and it will be the last before action is taken. Your reluctance to join us proves what a disgrace you are to your fellow pureblood wizards. Think of what your father would say should he find out that his own son is working to help Mudbloods and with Harry Potter, the man responsible for the fall of the Dark Lord. We wish for you to join with us and help to rise to power and rule the wizarding world as it should be ran, starting with the downfall of Harry Potter. Rest assured, if you decide not to join us, there will be consequences.


Hermione finished reading and stared up at Malfoy, who was avoiding her gaze, an extremely guilty expression on his face.

"When did you get this?" Hermione asked slowly.

"About a week before Astoria and I got engaged."

"Have Harry and Ron seen it?"

"No. Please, let me explain-" he pleaded.

"Explain what? I've figured it all out now Malfoy. You joined the Knights of Walpurgis after they sent this, and faked Astoria's kidnap so that you could get closer to Harry, to kill him!" she shouted and waved the letter at him.

"No, that's not it at all. Please, Granger, just let me explain."

"Not a chance Malfoy. I'm leaving you there and going to find Harry and Ron, they need to see this."

She crossed the room, his wand safely in her pocket and hers gripped tightly in one hand, the letter grasped in the other. She had just reached the door and pushed it open when Draco shouted.

"It was my mother's idea!"

Chapter 12: Does Anyone Win When You Compromise?
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Hermione spun around to face Draco, who was still standing helplessly, his head twisted around so that he could see whether his revelation had worked or not.

"What did you say?" she asked.

"The interviews. They were my mother's idea. Please, Granger, just come and sit down and let me explain everything. If you still want to run to Potter and Weasley when I'm done then I'll let you go."

"Fine," she said apprehensively and took a seat at the table.

"Will you unlock my legs so that I can sit down too please?"

"Yes," she said, taking out her wand and silently casting the counter jinx, "but I'm not giving you your wand back."

"That's understandable. I'm not going to try and run though. I want to explain," he said sincerely.

"I'm listening."

"Okay. Yes, I did have four notes from the Knights of Walpurgis before Astoria went missing. All of them said pretty much the same thing as the one you've just read, that I should join them and use my job at the ministry to help them get to Harry. I ignored them all, including that one. Mother read them too, and she agreed with a fair amount of what they said, killing Harry aside."

"Then what did she agree with?" Hermione asked, puzzled.

"That I was disgracing the Malfoy name by working in support of Muggle-borns alongside Potter. She said we should have spent our time associating with the high society lot who hadn't actively supported Voldemort, trying to regain the reputation we had ten years ago. Apparently I was going the complete wrong way about it."

"How so?"

"Well, when I left Hogwarts she wanted me to work closer to the Minister or in magical law or something like that, something respectable. I told her that I wanted to do something more proactive for the wizarding world, I wanted to maintain the peace that everyone had fought so hard for in the last war. When the job came up in the Auror department it seemed perfect for me, Mother couldn't have disagreed more. We fought tirelessly for days about it, she argued that I should get a job that wasn't associated with Muggle-borns and find a nice high society girl to marry."

"That's preposterous!" Hermione exclaimed.

"I couldn't agree more. I told her that it didn't matter who your friends were, who you associated with or what your blood status was anymore-"

"I'm sorry, what?" Hermione interrupted, confusion in her voice.

"You heard me. I know this is the most we've spoken to each other in our whole lives, especially since the war, but surely you must have realised I'm not a small-minded prat anymore?"

"Well, you haven't called me a Mudblood in the last four years so I suppose that's something."

He shook his head. "It's not just that. When my father was sent to Azkaban, or I thought he was, I finally had the chance to think for myself, to have my own opinions. The fact that I was the only Death Eater who survived the war and wasn't sent to Azkaban hit me hard. I only ever joined because of my father and he was out of my life, so I made sure I didn't waste my second chance. I went back to Hogwarts and spent a year not speaking to anyone and constantly being whispered about. There were so many times I wanted to leave but I knew I had to get my NEWT's if I wanted a job at the Ministry."

"I remember the whispering well, a fair share of it was about me, Ron, and Harry."

Hermione sighed at the memory, the year after the war had been much harder than she had anticipated. Once they had suffered the pain of attending all of the funerals of their friends, and in Ron's case, family, Hermione had assumed the hard part was over, but she had been wrong. The first time the trio had gone to Diagon Alley after the war, there was complete pandemonium. Every witch and wizard there had wanted to meet them, to thank them, and many even wanted to have their photograph taken with them. Harry had received the most attention, naturally, but Ron and Hermione hadn't been far behind. For a few months after that, all three were scared to return and instead had taken to given members of the Weasley family a shopping list whenever they needed anything.

The behavior of the wizarding world hadn't come as a total shock to Hermione, she had expected some attention. What surprised her completely was how the students had acted upon her return to Hogwarts. There was a huge amount of whispering and pointing on her first day back and it barely let down until at least after the Christmas holidays.

She was given the position of Head Girl but quickly became frustrated with the prefects using their meetings to bombard her with questions about her involvement in the war, or the girls asking if she would introduce them to Harry (no matter how many times she told them he was dating Ginny). She also received a lot of unwanted attention from the boys, to her horror. The few who had returned from her own year thankfully treat her as they always had but those in Seventh year who were the same age as Ginny, and some of the sixth years did not. She was asked out on twelve separate occasions in her first week back and took to hiding in her dormitory when there was a Hogsmeade visit coming up after the first announcement led to her being followed around the corridors in between lessons.

"At least your whispering was positive though," Draco said in a bitter tone, bringing Hermione out of her thoughts. "I was called a Death Eater on a daily basis, and that was the kindest of their insults."

"But what does all of that have to do with the magazine articles?" Hermione said, remembering the reason she was still sitting in the small kitchen.

"I'm getting there. So, Mother and I argued about the Auror job, she was adamant that it would do nothing for her reputation. Eventually we came to a compromise and I applied, never in a million years did I think I would get it, but I did, as you know."

"What made her change her mind?" Hermione asked.

"That's not important," he snapped.

"Sorry I asked," Hermione said indignantly.

"Forget it. Anyway, I started getting those letters about a year ago, not long after Astoria and I started going out. Mother was on her high horse about it, told me that she knew I shouldn't have taken the job et cetera, et cetera. I thought it was just a joke, I didn't think the Knights of Walpurgis existed. We'd had a couple of reports about them at work but it always turned out to be some fool trying to be a big tough wizard and scare people. Then the next two came and I started to wonder if they really were out there somewhere, I was more alert at work and any cases that came in where they were mentioned, I took it, determined to find out who was sending the letters. Then the last one arrived and Astoria went missing a couple of months after, about a week after we got engaged. They all mention my father, that's why I'm so convinced he's part of it now I know he's not in Azkaban. He's the only other person who knows how to get past the wards at the Manor, mother didn't bother changing them after he went to prison because she thought we were safe." He paused.

"The interviews?" Hermione prompted.

"Right, I'm getting there. After I found out Astoria had been taken, as you know I moved here with mother. I showed her the note and she was the one that wanted me to think it over. She was furious that I went to Gawain, Potter, and Weasley without telling her I was going to. That was when she suggested going to the magazines, she said it would help people realise that we weren't awful people anymore, and it would make people feel sorry for me and maybe forget what I used to be. I thought it was a stupid thing to do but it kept mother happy and who knows, maybe someone would find out something that would help me get her back? I refused to go to the Prophet because I didn't want Potter and Weasley to find out in case they suspected me, as you rightly did. I know I'm not exactly blameless; they came after Astoria because I wouldn't join them, but I swear though, Granger, I had nothing to do with her disappearance."

"Why didn't you just tell them though? Surely if they find out like I did they would be more suspicious?" Hermione asked.

"I realise that now. I'll tell them first thing on Monday. Does that mean you believe me?" he asked hopefully.

"Honestly, I'm not sure what to believe. What you've said makes sense but you have to admit you haven't exactly acted innocently in all of this?"

Malfoy sighed. "I know. One hundred percent honesty from now on."

"I think that's for the best," Hermione replied.

"Thank you, Granger, for letting me explain. I've got those boxes from the Manor in the living room, if you still want to help me go through them?"

"Of course."

He smiled at her and gestured for her to head into the small sitting room of the flat. The sofas were surrounded by boxes of various shapes and sizes and there were far more than Hermione had anticipated.

"I thought your mother threw most of your father's things out?" she asked Draco.

"She did." He smirked. "My father had a lot of useless stuff."

"Excellent," Hermione groaned. "I guess we had better get started then?"

Several cups of coffee and countless boxes later, Hermione and Draco had finished going through his father's remaining possessions. Their search had, for the most part, been a complete waste of time. Hermione had learned that Lucius Malfoy owned far too many pairs of utterly hideous but expensive looking robes, several books on how to be rich and successful in the wizarding world and multiple albums full of photographs and newspaper clippings that boasted his own achievements and large donations made to various companies and establishments. The only thing they had come across that would possibly be slightly useful to their investigation was an address book, though a brief glance through it told them that most of the contacts were either dead or imprisoned as a result of the war.

Hermione helped Draco to return everything into a box and he declined her offer of help to take it all back to the Manor.

"You've helped enough, I can take these back later, just get yourself home."

"Only if you're sure?" she asked him.

"Positive. Before you go though, can I ask you something?"

"Go on…" Hermione said tentatively.

"Do you think we'll find her?"

Hermione groaned internally, she had hoped he wouldn't ask her that. The longer someone was missing, the less chance there was of finding them and it had been almost three weeks since Astoria had been kidnapped.

"I have every faith in Harry and Ron," she answered truthfully.

Chapter 13: How Stupid Must a Person Be to Be Outsmarted by Stan Shunpike?
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When Hermione arrived at Harry and Ron's office the following morning, she found Harry already there. He was bent low over a piece of parchment scribbling furiously on another with a quill in his hand.

"Good morning, Harry," Hermione said cheerily.

"Oh, morning, Hermione. Sorry,I didn't hear you come in."

"You look busy, is that something for the Astoria case?" She headed over to his desk and peered down at the parchment to see what looked like a hastily written letter. Harry's brows were knitted and he was narrowing his eyes at the parchment as though it had done him wrong.

"Yeah, I'm writing to Azkaban again to try and arrange a time to interview Stan but the guards are being really difficult about it. They keep saying they're not sure what to do about him as they've never had a case like this, plus it took him a long time to recover from the spell reversal the last time I was there so they don't trust me to go back. I think I'm going to have to ask Gawain to write to them and tell them we're going in whether they like it or not. Can you start putting together a list of questions to ask Stan please?"

"Of course." She smiled and then paused. "Um, Harry? Is Malfoy in yet?"

"Yeah, he is, I saw him pass by my office about twenty minutes ago. Thank you for going to his on Sunday by the way, have I mentioned you're a lifesaver?"

"Only about a thousand times since we met." Hermione smiled and then cleared her throat. "Did, um, did Malfoy come and speak to you at all?" she asked tentatively.

"No, why?" Harry asked, looking at her questioningly.

"No reason. I'd better get on with these questions," she said quickly.

"Use my desk," Harry told her, "I'm going to see Gawain about this interview with Stan."

He left the room and Hermione sat down at the seat he had just vacated. She had just pulled out a blank piece of parchment, quill, and ink pot when Malfoy flung the door open and stepped into the office.

"Potter, I-" he began, and then realised that it was not Harry sitting at the desk. "Oh, Granger. Sorry, I thought Potter was in here."

"He was," Hermione explained, "but he left to speak to Gawain. Something about the Azkaban guards not wanting him to interview Stan Shunpike. Were you coming to tell him what we talked about yesterday?"

Draco nodded as he stepped into the office and closed the door behind him.

"I don't think you should tell him," Hermione said quickly.

"What?" Draco asked incredulously. "But yesterday you were so adamant."

"I know, but I thought about it a lot last night and I've changed my mind. I know Harry and Ron, and I know their feelings towards you. I think if you tell them they'll be convinced that you had something to do with it and they'll spend all of their time trying to prove it, rather than finding the real culprits."

"But you said-" he began.

"I know what I said," Hermione interrupted, "but yesterday I was angry that you had been keeping things to yourself that were related to the investigation. Now you're not, because I know, and I don't think any of that will lead us anywhere new. Our best hope now is that Stan tells us something about your father that will lead us to the Knights of Walpurgis."

"Are you sure?" he asked tentatively, walking closer to the desk she was sitting at.

"Positive. Let's just keep this between the two of us."

"Thank you, Hermione," he said sincerely, startling Hermione with the use of her first name.

They looked at each other for a few moments, neither sure of what to say next and neither aware that the office door had just been opened.

"What's going on here?" Ron stood in the doorway, his arms folded across his chest and an accusatory expression on his face as he looked between Hermione and Draco, each looking equally guilty.

"Nothing, nothing," Hermione stammered. "Dr-Malfoy was just helping me to write some questions down for us to ask Stan when Harry gets permission to interview him from the Azkaban guards. He's in Gawain's office now."

Ron's eyes narrowed as he processed Hermione's story. "What's he doing with Gawain?"

"Um, the Azkaban guards are being difficult about us going in so Harry is getting Gawain to write to them."

Ron gave a non- committal grunt as though he wasn't sure whether or not to believe Hermione's story. It occurred to her that this was the most the pair had spoken since their break up and though it had been a far from pleasant encounter, she couldn't help but hope that his frosty behavior towards her was thawing.

The atmosphere in the small office was extremely awkward over the next few minutes. Hermione, Malfoy, and Ron all visibly relaxed when Harry finally entered the room. He arrived with the news that Gawain planned to visit Azkaban in person rather than write to them to get their meeting planned sooner rather than later, he had left immediately so the foursome could do nothing but wait for his return.

Thankfully, Gawain was back in just over an hour and had successfully managed to get them an interview with Stan that afternoon. They had all put together a strong list of questions to ask him and were all hoping that it gave them some new leads as this was their last line of investigation.

They decided to break for lunch and then head straight to the wizarding prison immediately after. Harry left to meet with Ginny, mumbling something about different types of parchment for the invitations, and Ron followed him without a word, leaving Hermione and Draco alone once again.

"Do you-" Malfoy began, "I mean, I'm going to get lunch downstairs if you want to come?"

Hermione wasn't sure how uncomfortable a lunch hour with Malfoy would be, but as she usually ate lunch with Harry and he wasn't there, it certainly beat an hour alone.

"Sure, why not?" she replied, hoping her face didn't give away her skepticism.

They left the office in silence and headed for the lifts. On the ground floor of the Ministry, through a door beyond the front desk, there was a large cafeteria for the Ministry workers. It was a plain room with white, undecorated walls and wooden flooring. Several long tables and benches filled the centre of the room and down the left hand side there was a counter that stretched the full length of the wall and held dishes of food and trays of tea, coffee, and pumpkin juice that magically refilled themselves.

Hermione helped herself to a plate of chicken casserole and vegetables, and a glass of pumpkin juice, Draco opted for sausages and mashed potatoes and a cup of coffee, they paid a witch at the end of the counter and then sat down, still never saying a word to each other.

"This is wierd, isn't it?" Malfoy said, finally breaking the silence about half way through their lunch.

"Thank goodness," Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. "I thought it was just me!"

He chuckled. "Not at all. Though let's face it, neither of us expected we would ever sit down and have lunch together, did we?"

"Most definitely not," Hermione agreed.

"I have to say, sitting in awkward silence with you is definitely better than eating alone in my office."

"You do that every day?" she asked.

"Not every day. Sometimes I have lunch at home with Mother, and I used to meet Astoria on Wednesday's and Friday's."

"What about the other day's though? Aren't there other Aurors you could eat with? I mean, I know you don't get along with Harry and Ron but they're not the only people you work with."

"True," he replied, swallowing a mouthful of food, "but the rest of them don't exactly trust me, that's the downside of being an ex-Death Eater I'm afraid. When Gawain hired me they all thought I had confunded him or something, most of them still do."

"I had no idea…" Hermione said quietly.

"Well, being hated isn't something I shout about," he teased.

"Of course not. I just meant, I didn't realise how many people still held grudges, that's all."

"Well, I can't exactly blame them, can I? Every witch and wizard in Britain was somehow affected by the war, either they lost their homes, a family member or friend, or they were tortured, all by Death Eaters."

"You're very understanding of them," Hermione observed.

"I don't have any right to be angry with them. I just wish they weren't," he replied simply.

Hermione said no more, but considered his words as she finished her lunch. She could understand perfectly why the people Draco worked with did not trust or like him, everything he had said about the Death Eaters was true. The logical side of her was telling her that she should be behaving the same way towards him, especially after the way he had treated her in school and then his actions in the war. The problem was, there was a very small but rather loud part of her brain that was making her feel sorry for him. He had no friends in his life, his father was on the run, he was being threatened by a group of dark and dangerous wizards, and his fiancée, the one person who loved him in spite of his past, was missing.

"We had better get back," Draco said, setting down his knife and fork on his empty plate.

Hermione looked at the clock on the wall above the door and saw that there were only ten minutes remaining of their lunch hour, where had the time gone? She nodded and stood from her seat, Draco mimicking her actions. They returned their trays and empty plates and cups to a separate counter, where they vanished, and then headed back out to the lifts.

Harry and Ron were already waiting in the office when Hermione and Draco got there. Harry smiled but Ron's expression was thunderous.

"What time do you call this?" he demanded.

Draco rolled the sleeve of his robe up and checked his watch. "Twelve fifty seven."

"It's after one," he replied, pointing, but not looking, at the clock on the wall that also read three minutes to one, "you were both supposed to be back by one so we could leave straight away," Ron scolded.

"Ron, calm down," Harry said, looking confusedly at his best friend. "Let's not argue over a couple of minutes, everyone's here so we can go."

"Finally," he mumbled grumpily.

Hermione shot him a glare and he averted his gaze to the floor.

The journey to Azkaban was awkward to say the least. Ron continued to mumble about any small annoyances he had along the way, Hermione sighed in frustration at him, Harry kicked him, and Draco smirked at him which caused him to complain further.

It was Hermione's first visit to Azkaban and she had been incredibly nervous for it, but by the time she arrived there she was relieved that there was some form of distraction for all of them.

Once past the final security check, the group was led to a basic room that contained only a table and a few chairs either side of it. It reminded Hermione of the muggle police interview rooms she had seen on television programs, the only difference being the lack of the two way mirror.
Harry thanked the guard and sat down on one side of the table, Ron sat next to him, leaving Hermione and Draco to sit next to each other opposite them.

"Right," Harry began once everyone had sat down, "let's figure out how we're going to go about this before we ask the guards to bring him in."

"I want to ask the questions," Draco said abruptly.

"You're joking?" Ron asked him.

"No. I'm deadly serious, why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, for starters you're not technically working on the case. You're a witness, a victim, not an Auror on this one."

"I think Ron is right," Harry added quietly.

"This guy posed as my father for four years, surely I've got a right to interview him myself?" Draco said, looking at Harry and Ron incredulously.

"That's the exact reason you shouldn't be the one to interview him, you're too connected to him personally. Just let Ron and me do it, yeah? You can stay in the room if you want."

Draco thought for a moment before shrugging his shoulders in a gesture that said he didn't want to agree with Harry but knew he was fighting a losing battle.

"Do you think he'll cooperate?" Hermione asked the group.

"Why wouldn't he?" Ron snapped.

"Well, because he didn't last time, when he was Lucius. If he didn't give anything away last time what makes you think he will today?" Hermione replied curtly.

"We don't," Harry said truthfully.

"I say we use veritaserum again," Ron announced.

Harry shook his head. "No. Definitely not, remember what Gawain said last time? We can't use it without his permission."

"What he doesn't know won't hurt him," Ron said dismissively.

"Are you stupid?" Draco piped up. "Who says we'll even need it?"

"Why waste time finding out?"

Malfoy shook his head. "Look, Weasley, if you and Potter are any good at your jobs, and I hate to admit I think you are, then you won't need a truth potion to get what you need out of Stan. Aside from anything, I would rather keep my job, thank you very much."

"I agree with Draco," Hermione said.

"Of course you do," Ron muttered childishly under his breath.

"Let's not start arguing again," Harry said in a raised voice. "I'd like to keep my job too so let's forget about the veritaserum for now, if he's difficult we'll ask Gawain. I'm sure Stan will give us something to go on though, he's not exactly intelligent is he? Now, me and Ron will do the interview, you two can stay in the room but please don't interfere."

The three nodded at Harry who then told the guard that he could go and fetch Stan. The large surly man grunted and then left the room. Draco and Hermione stood from their seats and moved them to the corner of the room by the door, Hermione summoned another chair for Stan to sit in opposite Harry and Ron.

The door opened again moments later and the guard that had just left, and a new one, ushered a young man in the room who was completely unrecognisable to the boy Hermione had met on the Knight Bus several years previously. His acne was gone and his pale skin looked fragile as it stretched over his bones. His sandy coloured hair had either fallen or been pulled out, no doubt due to the stress of having his true identity revealed, and patches of his scalp could be seen. Hermione felt a great surge of sympathy for the naïve man, who had been cruelly tricked into serving a sentence he hadn't earned.

He shuffled across the room, his feet barely being lifted from the floor, and his eyes darting around nervously. He flinched each time his gaze fell on Draco, who was staring at him with an anger Hermione had never seen before. He sat down in the chair and intertwined his fingers before fixating his eyes on them.

"Stan?" Harry asked tentatively and received a whimper in response.

"Stan, we're going to need you to talk to us," Ron said slowly.

Stan looked up at the two nervously. His hands were shaking and when he spoke his voice was barely above a whisper. "What's gunna happen to me?"

"Pardon?" Harry said.

"Now you know what I done. What's gunna happen to me?" He was restless in his seat, rocking slightly, and the hands that were on the desk in front of him were shaking.

"That hasn't been decided yet," Ron told him. "We're here to talk to you about Lucius Malfoy and the Knights of Walpurgis. We want to know everything that you know."

"I don't know nofin'," he replied stubbornly.

"Stan," Harry said, looking him straight in the eye, "just bear in mind that what happens to you after today will depend greatly on what Ron and I tell our boss, the rest of the Auror department, and the Wizengamot."

Stan processed Harry's words and gave a small but defeated sigh. "What d'ya want to know?"

"Everything," Ron replied. "From the beginning. When you made your pathetic deal with Lucius Malfoy and he did the spell, was anyone else there?"

"A few others, I dunno 'oo they were though, they had cloaks coverin' their faces."

"Recognise any voices?" Harry asked.

"Nope, all blokes though."

"Where were you when they cast the spell?"
Ron had a quill poised in hand, and was writing the answers as Stan spoke. "Haven't a clue, some house."

"You're going to have to be more specific, Shunpike," Draco growled from the corner and Stan jumped a little at his interjection.

"Malfoy, you're here to observe remember?" Ron shot at him. "Stan, how did you get to the house? What did it look like?"

"Slide along apparition, Lucius did it. Told me 'e didn't want me to know where we was goin'."

"Tell us about the house, anything you noticed in it?" Harry's voice remained calm but Hermione could tell by the way he was leaning forward slighlty that he was getting desperate for a scrap of information they could use to find Astoria.

"I only saw one room, it didn't have no furniture or nofin' an' the windows were blocked up. Only light came from the wands."

"So they did the spell," Ron said, skipping over the awful details, "then what?"

"They made me stay, I slept on the floor in that room then went straight to the Ministry the next mornin', straight to trial. Lucius told me just to nod an' not say nofin', that's what I did."

Harry and Ron both looked down at their list of questions before looking back up at Stan and asking the next question in unison. "Why?"

"Why what?" Stan replied.

"Why did you do it? Was it really worth the gold Lucius offered you?" Ron asked incredulously.

Hermione had been thinking the same thing and was glad that Harry and Ron had asked him despite it not being one of the questions they had written on their list. She too leant forward in her seat and noticed out of the corner of her eye that Draco had done the same thing.

"'Course it was. I needed money an' he had it. This place in't so bad now them dementors 'ave gone. An' I didn't have anyfin' keepin' me from doin' it."

"Nothing?" Harry asked. "No friends, no family?"

"Nope, I'm just like he who must not be named innit? 'Cause he killed them all in that muggle house," he said knowledgeably, and then quickly added, "Not that I killed mine, Dad left when I was a young 'un and Mum drank 'til 'er liver packed in."

Hermione felt a pang of sympathy towards the pitiful man sitting across the room from her, but then she caught sight of Draco next to her, his head in his hands, and remembered why they were all there. The feelings of sympathy quickly disappeared. She sat up a little straighter in her chair and listened to Ron's next question.

"Has anyone visited you since you've been in here as Lucius?"

Both Draco, and the Azkaban guard tensed. Their movements went unnoticed by Harry, Ron, and Hermione whose attentions were focused entirely on Stan, who paused for a moment before answering.

"Nope. No-one."

"Tell us what you know of the Knights of Walpurgis?" Harry asked abruptly.

"I ain't never heard of 'em."

Harry and Ron studied his expression carefully, as though they were trying to work out if he was telling the truth or not. Apparently content with his answer, Ron asked their final question.

"What can you tell us about the disappearance of Astoria Greengrass?"


"Astoria Greengrass, she's Draco's fiancée," Harry explained.

"Never met her," he said shrugging his shoulders.

"That's not what we asked," Ron snapped. "Do you know anything about her going missing?"

"I didn't even know she was missin'."

Having asked all of the questions they needed, Harry gave a small nod to the guards. The man who had shown them to the room earlier took out his wand and jabbed it into Stan's back. Stan stood up and was guided to the door.

"Wait!" he shouted as Hermione opened the door to let them out. "What's goin' to happen to me? You never said."

"Let us know if you think of anything you might have forgotten to tell us today," Ron replied and gestured to the guard that he could take Stan away.

Stan's shouts of protests could be heard as he was ushered out of the room and back to his cell.

"Fat lot of help he was," Draco complained once the door was closed again.

The other three murmured in agreement.

"What now then?" Hermione asked.

"I need to speak with the head guard to let him know that Stan will be taken to trial again and a new sentence decided for him, Gawain asked me to pass the message on before we left. Wait for me here, I'll only be a few minutes," Harry said and left the room.

Ron turned to face Hermione. "Can I talk to you outside? Now?"

Hermione was apprehensive, his expression was very serious. "Um, can't it wait until we get back?"

"No," was Ron's short reply.

Hermione took a deep breath and followed him as he stepped outside into the corridor.

Chapter 14: Who is Keeping Secrets Now?
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Draco watched Hermione and Ron leave the room, idly wondering what was so important that the Weasel couldn't wait to tell her, or to tell her in front of him. He did not have the time to dwell on whatever relationship problems the two were having though, he had more pressing matters to discuss with the guard who remained in the room.

"Corbin!" he barked, and the surly guard whipped his head around to look at Draco, who lowered his voice. "Shunpike lied on one of those questions. Why?"

"You mean the one about the visitors?"

"You know I do," Draco hissed impatiently.

"Well, since you paid me so much to keep quiet about your mother visiting, I figured you wouldn't want it coming out now." He stood up a little taller, evidently proud of his quick thinking.

"So, what, you threatened him? Told him to lie?" Draco asked.

"Not exactly. I didn't think they would ask him about visitors so I didn't have time to warn him."

"Then how did he know to lie?"

"I had my wand in my pocket, had to cast the imperius curse, didn't I?"

"In a room full of Aurors?!" Draco was finding it difficult not to raise his voice. "Are you completely stupid?"

"No-one noticed, they were too busy watching Shunpike. I thought you would be a little more appreciative." He raised his eyebrows in expectation.

Draco, understanding the meaning behind his words, sighed and pulled out his money bag from inside of his robes. He pulled out a handful of galleons and placed them in Corbin's waiting outstretched hand.

"No more stunts like that, have you got it?" Draco threatened.

"Loud and clear," he said with a mock salute.

"What is this about Ronald?" Hermione asked as soon as she was in the corridor and had closed the door behind her.

"I want to know what's going on with you and ferret boy in there," he said jabbing his thumb towards the closed door.

Hermione stared blankly at him, unsure of whether or not she had heard him correctly. "What?"

"You and Malfoy, something is going on and I want to know what."

"Please enlighten me as to how on earth you managed to come to that positively absurd conclusion?"

He rolled his eyes. "It's so obvious. First of all you two are all pally in the office this morning, next thing I know you're having lunch with him, then you completely took his side on the whole using veritaserum thing before."

"Rightly so!" Hermione exclaimed. "Stan spoke to you and Harry without being forced to. Using veritaserum without Gawain's permission would have lost you all your jobs, and probably mine too."

"Fine, but what about all of the time you're spending with him? Have you gotten cosy with him in all the time you've spent at his flat?" Ron accused.

"Working, Ron! Working on your case, helping you. And how do you know I've been at his flat anyway?"

"Harry told me. Said he had asked you to go around because he had wedding stuff to do with Ginny."

"Right. And if Harry had gone over there to go through the boxes, would you have accused him of 'getting cosy' with Draco?" Hermione demanded.

"Don't be ridiculous! Then again, Harry doesn't call him Draco. Tell me, how long have you been on first name terms with Draco?" He said the name like an expletive.

"I'm not even sure why we're having this discussion. So what if I had lunch with him? We're working together for the foreseeable future and I would like to get on with at least two of my colleagues."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You know fine well what I mean Ron. You've barely said two words to me since we broke up, or rather since you broke up with me. Now you decide to change that and it's just because you think there's something going on with me and Draco. Might I add if there was, which there isn't, something going on, it would have absolutely nothing to do with you!"

Not giving Ron a chance to reply, Hermione turned on her heel and swung the door to the interview room open with so much force that it slammed against the wall behind, making Draco and the guard still inside the room jump.

"Sorry," she mumbled.

Ignoring the looks of alarm on the two men's faces, Hermione sat down on one of the chairs at the table, put her elbows on the desk, and rested her head in her hands. She felt movement next to her and heard the scape of a chair on the wooden floor.

"Everything ok?" Draco's voice came from her left hand side.

"Fantastic," she replied sarcastically.

Draco sensed her tone and decided not to question her further. She heard the door open again and was relieved to hear Harry speaking.

"All sorted. Let's get out of this awful place, shall we?"

Hermione and Draco stood up quickly from their seats and were out of the door before Harry had had a chance to thank the guard for his time. They walked quickly down the corridor and through the reception area into the cold that waited for them outside.

Hermione willed the lift and the boat to go quicker but it seemed they were going deliberately slow in order to prolong the extremely uncomfortable journey back. Ron kept shooting angry glances at Hermione and murderous ones at Draco, who seemed too preoccupied to notice.

When they finally stepped out of the tiny wooden boat at the other side in Flaggherty Loch, it was late enough in the day for it to not be worth going back to the office and so Harry suggested that they all go home and look over the notes from the interview. Hermione made copies with a few waves of her wand and passed them out to the group, Ron snatching his from her without a single thank you.

Harry and Ron apparated together as they were both going for dinner at The Burrow. Hermione felt a small twinge of jealousy, she missed the Weasley's and especially Molly Weasley's cooking. Giving a small sigh, she prepared to turn on the spot but a hand grabbing her arm stopped her.

"Are you sure everything is alright?" Draco asked, still holding her arm. "You've been exceptionally quiet since you finished your conversation with Weasley, and don't think I didn't notice the looks he was giving you."

"It's fine, Ron's just being…well, Ron. He'll soon get over it and go back to ignoring me completely. If you don't mind, I'd really rather not talk about it. I just want to go home, have a hot bath, and curl up with a good book."

"Okay, well, you let me complain to you at lunch earlier and yesterday so I owe you. If you want to complain about Weasel I'd be more than happy to listen and even join in."

Hermione laughed. "Thank you, I'll certainly bear that in mind."
Realising he was still holding on to her arm, Draco quickly let go and the pair said a slightly awkward goodbye before they each apparated back to their flats.

Having spent the night going between dwelling on her argument with Ron, and looking over the seemingly useless notes from the interview with Stan, by the time she arrived at the Auror offices the following morning Hermione was tired and extremely irritable.

For once, she was the last to arrive. When she opened the office door, she found Ron and Harry already there, and lost in a pile of files and parchment. She took a seat opposite Harry and cleared her throat to get his attention.

"Sorry Hermione, I didn't hear you come in."

"It's fine, you looked busy. Has anything new come up?"

"Nothing," Harry said with a defeated sigh. "The interview with Stan was our last hope and it was completely useless."

"We have to be over-looking something," Hermione said. "I think we need to go over everything we've learned since the case began, and speak with Narcissa again. Plus we've got Lucius Malfoy's address book that has a couple of people in we could speak to."

"Since when?" Ron snapped; speaking for the first time since Hermione had entered the office.

"Since when what?" Hermione asked him.

"Since when did we have Lucius Malfoy's address book?"

"Draco and I found it when we went through all of the stuff from the Manor. I meant to tell you yesterday but it slipped my mind with the last minute visit to Azkaban."

"Something that important shouldn't have slipped you mind, Hermione. We could have been organizing interviews with those people right now!"

"Ron, calm down," Harry interjected but looked rather frustrated. "Hermione, where is the address book?"

"Draco has it, but I'm not sure how useful it will be. At a glance at it, most of the people in it are either dead or in Azkaban."

"Still, I'd like to go through it and double check. Can you go and get Malfoy, tell him we need him in here to go over everything and to bring the address book please."

Hermione nodded and headed out of the office. She could have sworn she heard Harry telling Ron off for his attitude towards her as she closed the door behind her. She shook her head in exasperation at her ex-boyfriend and walked three doors up the corridor to Draco's office. She tapped lightly on the glass and opened the door when she heard him shout to go in.

"Morning," he said with a smile when she entered the room.

His office was much smaller than Harry and Ron's and he must have had the room to himself, evident in the fact that there was only his desk and one single filing cabinet in it. The window behind Draco's head depicted a sunny day despite the heavy rain that had been falling when Hermione had left her house that morning.

"Hello," she replied. "Harry has asked if you'll go along to his and Ron's office. They want to talk over everything we've learned since Astoria's disappearance and to go through your father's address book if you've got it with you?"

"I have, it's in my drawer. I meant to give them it yesterday and completely forgot," he said apologetically.

"Don't worry, I already got the telling off for that one. I forgot to tell them about it too."

"Weasley still in a bad mood then?" Draco asked with a grin.

"Unfortunately for me, and it's not funny either!" she scolded.

He tried to change his expression to a more serious one but the corners of his mouth were still twitching as he opened the top drawer in his desk to retrieve the small red leather bound book. He motioned with his hand for Hermione to leave the office first, and then followed her out closing the door behind him.

When they arrived back at Harry and Ron's office, the furniture had been moved around to accommodate a large flip chart stand with a huge piece of parchment attached to it, which Harry was standing next to holding a large quill. Ron and Harry's desks had been pushed together on the opposite side of the room and Ron was perched on one of the desks, facing Harry.

"What's all this?" Draco asked as he and Hermione entered the room. He sat down on the other desk and Hermione sat on a chair in front of him.

"I want to write down everything we know on this, at the moment we have piles of random notes and half of them have no useful information related to Astoria at all. This way we can organise our thoughts and work out where we go from here."

The group spent the next hour, lost in the aforementioned piles of notes, figuring out what was relevant and what was not. After that, they used their new, much smaller collection to transfer it all on to the large piece of parchment on the flip chart so that it was all on one piece of paper. By the end, it looked like this:

Astoria Greengrass. Missing since 03/04/2002
Victim was taken from home (Malfoy Manor) on Tuesday 3rd April 2002. She was the only person in the house at the time. Draco Malfoy (fiancé) was working-confirmed by colleagues. Narcissa Malfoy was dining with friends (unconfirmed) Lucius Malfoy is the only other person who could pass through the wards protecting the house.

House was severely spell damaged in every room other than the library (third floor). This is the room Astoria was assumed to be in at the time of her kidnap (left over food and no damage to the room other than the door suggests this). Note was left next to the food:

Your fiancée is safe, for now. We want information on Potter. Get close to him, track his every move and send it to us through your patronus, it'll know where to find us and, as you know, cannot be tracked. If your information proves valuable, we'll give her back.
The KoW

KoW is presumed to be the Knights of Walpurgis. The group is rumored to be a collection of wizards who were supporters of Voldemort's beliefs but NOT ex- Death Eaters. Their aim appears to be gaining power over any one not 'pureblood' and the murder of Harry Potter. No evidence confirming their existence. There has been no other contact from them.

Lucius Malfoy is main suspect involved in the kidnapping of Astoria Greengrass due to recent discovery of his body switching spell with Stan Shunpike prior to his imprisonment. Shunpike remains in Azkaban and has been interviewed, claims to have no knowledge of the KoW, nor of Mr. Malfoy's whereabouts.

After searching through Mr. Malfoy's possessions we now have the name of three wizards to contact (other contacts in address book are deceased or imprisoned)

No other leads to pursue currently.

"Is that everything?" Harry asked once he had finished writing.

"I think so," Hermione said slowly as she scanned the notes again.

"There doesn't look much on there," Ron said, voicing Hermione's thoughts.

The other three nodded and Hermione fidgeted in her seat uncomfortably. There was a chunk of information missing that only she and Draco knew about: the other letters from the Knights of Walpurgis. She tried to shake the gnawing feeling in her stomach and firmly told herself that the other letters wouldn't make any difference to their investigation, nor would it help to find Astoria.

Chapter 15: What is the Definition of the Word 'Friend'?
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After a break for lunch, Draco returned to his office and Hermione went back to meet Harry and Ron. They had managed to get just two names from Lucius Malfoy's address book, and decided to pay visits to them sooner rather than later. Harry and Ron would be going alone to one address, and both had agreed that Draco should accompany Hermione, despite her protests. They had argued that firstly, she was not a trained Auror, and though neither of them doubted her magical abilities, if something did go wrong, they would be held responsible for going out alone. Secondly, the friends of Lucius Malfoy weren't likely to be thrilled at the idea of speaking to a muggle-born, especially not one who was famous for helping to bring down Voldemort with Harry Potter.

Draco had told Hermione he would be happy to go along with her as it meant getting out of the office and away from the paperwork he had to complete, but had groaned loudly when she had told him they would be visiting Markus Parkinson; Pansy's father. As it turned out, Pansy had tried tirelessly since the war to get in touch with Draco and rekindle the romance she was convinced they had shared during their time at Hogwarts. She had also sent him a particularly high pitched howler after the news of his engagement to Astoria had been published in the Daily Prophet, something which greatly amused Hermione.

"Stop laughing or I'll make you go alone, and Markus Parkinson is a complete bastard, trust me."

Hermione took a deep breath and managed to compose herself. "How come?"

"Typical pureblood, high society type. He thinks he's better than everyone and everything."

"He sounds delightful," Hermione said sarcastically.

"Hmm, depends on your definition of delightful I guess," Draco chuckled.

They set off from his office and down to the apparition point just outside of the Ministry building. Both glanced at the address Hermione had scribbled on a square of parchment before turning on the spot and apparating.

When they arrived, they found themselves face to face with a house that was every bit as large and grand as Malfoy Manor. The layout of the land was fairly similar too. Large cast iron gates guarded the building, the only difference to the Malfoy's was that there was an intricate letter 'P' in the centre as opposed to an M. Two huge white stone fountains stood either side of the gravel pathway that led to the black front doors and the grass below was perfectly manicured.

"How do we get to the door?" Hermione asked, sensing the magic that surrounded the gates.

"Like this," Draco said.

He walked the few paces between where Hermione stood and the gates, took out his wand, and tapped them three times. She joined him and could hear a loud ringing sound from the house and soon the doors swung open. A tiny house elf rushed down the long path and greeted them at the gates. She was the smallest elf Hermione had ever seen, and she had seen plenty. A pink knitted tea cosy sat on her head, and a white patterned cushion cover, with holes in for her arms and legs to stick out of, covered her from her neck to her toes.

"Sir, Miss, how can I help?"

"I'm Draco Malfoy, this is Hermione Granger. We're here from the Auror Department at the Ministry for Magic, can we speak to Mr. Parkinson please?"

"Wait here please," the little elf squeaked and raced back up the path to the main house.

"When we get in, let me ask the questions, alright?" Draco said, and Hermione had a feeling he was telling her rather than asking. She nodded.

They stood in silence for the next few moments until the huge gates began to open on their own, allowing Hermione and Draco to make their way up the path to the house where the elf was waiting for them just beyond the open front doors. She led them down a corridor on the right hand side of the entranceway and through a door at the end.

They found themselves in a dining room. A long oak dining table stretched the full length of the room, and sat at the top of the table was Pansy Parkinson: as pug faced as she always had been, and a man Hermione presumed to be her father. He had a full head of jet black slicked back hair and a matching handlebar moustache that Hermione thought looked ridiculous. His eyes were dark and beady, and gave Hermione a great mistrust of him.

"Ah, Master Malfoy, it's been a while," the man said.

"Markus." Draco bowed his head.

Your visit is a surprise, as is the company you keep," he said eyeing Hermione. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Miss Granger and I are here to ask you some questions. Might we talk in private?"

"Pansy, darling, please excuse yourself and head into the drawing room. Pour me a firewhisky, I'll join you in there shortly."

Pansy stood from her seat and very slowly crossed the room in what Hermione could only assume an attempt at an alluring walk. She narrowed her eyes at Hermione as she approached the pair still standing in the doorway, and very deliberately pressed herself against Draco whilst she passed him, despite the fact that there was more than enough room for her to pass through them without touching him.

"Drakie…" she murmured in his ear.

"Pansy," he replied curtly.

"Always a pleasure to see you. I was so sorry to hear about Astoria going missing," she purred unconvincingly.

"I'm sure you are."

She stroked his arm and then left the room without another word. Draco rolled his eyes at her and then looked back at her father who gestured for them to join him at the table. Hermione hesitated and Draco placed a hand at the small of her back in a reassuring gesture, and she smiled at him in thanks before sitting down at the table.

"Tell me, Draco," Markus said once Draco had sat down too, "what is this about?"

"My father."

Markus tensed. "What about your father?"

"It seems he is not in Azkaban as he should be. I can't give you all of the details but he wasn't the one who attended the trial and hasn't served any of his sentence. We're not sure where he has been or where he is now."

Markus visibly relaxed and Hermione eyed him suspiciously. "So, you think I might know where he is?"

"You and two others were the only people in his address book who aren't dead or in Azkaban, we're just exploring any possible leads that might help us find him," Draco said calmly and Hermione couldn't help but find herself impressed at his professionalism.

"Well, I'm afraid I can't help you. I haven't seen nor heard from your father in a very long time. All that business with him being a Death Eater, he didn't exactly make very good company, you see. Something you might know about." He eyed Hermione once again with a smug expression and Hermione found it difficult to bite her tongue.

"I'm not sure I understand what you're implying, nor do I want to. Tell me Markus, have you ever heard of a group called the Knights of Walpurgis?"

"I'm sorry, who?"

"The Knights of Walpurgis," Draco repeated.

"I've never heard of them. What does that have to do with your father?"

"Never mind, that's all I needed to ask. Thank you very much for your time, Markus."

Markus simply nodded as Draco and Hermione stood up and walked toward the door. Draco's hand just touched the door handle when the man at the table spoke again.

"Oh, Draco? I do hope you find Astoria, but if not…there's always my Pansy. She's a better choice by far in my opinion." He chuckled but the laughter did not reach his eyes.

Hermione snorted derisively and Draco quickly ushered her out of the room and dragged her by the elbow back out the way they had come in. It wasn't until they were beyond the gates that he finally spoke again.

"Are you mental woman?"


"Don't antagonise Markus, trust me he is not someone you want to get on the wrong side of," he said in a low voice.

"I think I'm already on the wrong side of him apparently, surely you heard the sly remarks about 'the company you're keeping?'" she asked.

"They didn't go amiss," he said dryly.

Hermione checked her watch. "Well, there's no point in going back to the office, Harry and Ron said they weren't going back so we can all just share any new information first thing tomorrow morning. I just hope that they found something a little more helpful than we did. All I've learned is that Markus Parkinson is as horrid as his daughter."

Draco laughed. "I think Pansy might actually be worse. I swear a part of me dies inside whenever she calls me Drakie."

"You know, I think Drakie suits you…" Hermione teased earning her a glare from Draco.

"So, home then?" Hermione asked him, quickly changing the subject from his ridiculous nickname.

"I'm going to the Leaky for dinner, actually. My mother is always out on Tuesday nights with her friends and I hate sitting in that tiny little flat."

"Oh, alright," said Hermione uselessly.

There was a few more seconds of awkward silence, neither knowing what to say to the other.

"You could come if you like?" Draco finally spoke.

"Pardon?" Hermione asked, unsure if she had heard him correctly or not.

"To the Leaky Cauldron. The food isn't brilliant but the drinks are good. It would be nice to have some company, and I don't know about you but I could use a drink after that." He jabbed his thumb in the direction of the Parkinson's house.

"Um, alright then," Hermione replied quietly.

Draco grinned and then turned on the spot and disappeared with a cracking sound, Hermione following suit.

In all of the times she had been in the Leaky Cauldron it had never been quiet, that evening was no different. Though the pub was a little unclean, not particularly well lit and served very questionable soup, Hermione couldn't help but love it. It was always such a fascinating place to go, with magical beings of all varieties always filling the place. That night's guests included two goblins, a hag and what Hermione sincerely hoped was not a vampire, though the glass of deep red liquid on the table in front of him suggested otherwise.

"Not dining alone tonight, I see?" the old landlord, Tom, croaked as he hobbled over to the pair.

"Not tonight, Tom. I'll still have my usual table though," Draco replied.

Tom led them to a booth in the very back corner of the bar, summoned some menus and left with a promise to return and take their orders.

As they ate their dinner of lasagna and salad, Hermione and Draco, for the most part, sat in silence; save for a few passing comments about the food and wine. When Tom came back once more and cleared their plates, Draco finally broke the silence.

"So, Parkinson wasn't any help at all. Do you think the other two found anything of use?" he asked.

"Honestly, I don't think so," Hermione said with a frown. "If anything important had cropped up they would have come to find us straight away. Maybe when we look over each other's notes tomorrow one of us will pick up on something the others have missed."

"I really hope you're right," Draco said, though he looked like he thought she was wrong. "That address book was our last lead, if it gives us nothing then we're at a dead end."

He put down his almost empty wine glass on the heavy wooden table between them and put his head in his hands. Hermione watched him for a moment.

"I'm sure we'll find her, Draco," she said.

He sighed and lifted his head but kept his gaze fixed on the table as he spoke. "I'll never forgive myself if we don't."

"Hey!" Hermione scolded. "This isn't your fault."

"Isn't it? I had all of those letters from those bastards and I did nothing. I knew they would come after me somehow, I could have told Gawain earlier but I chose not to. I did absolutely nothing to stop this from happening. Not to mention-"

Draco stopped talking; a shuffling sound came from the right hand side of the table and Hermione sat back in her seat, realising then that she had been leaning far in towards Draco. Tom was smiling at them and waving a bottle of the same wine they had been drinking, offering them refills. Hermione nodded at him, trying to hide her frustration at his interrupting of Draco. She had a feeling he was about to tell her something important.

Tom filled their glasses, bowed slightly and then left to tend to the table at which the Goblins were still sitting. Hermione turned her attentions back to Draco, who was taking a large swig of his wine.

"I know you regret not doing anything about those letters, but even if you had gone to Gawain, the Auror department would be struggling just as much as we did to find the Knights of Walpurgis. They would have taken Astoria anyway. Aside from that, we're still not even sure this group actually exists, a few months ago neither of us would have even considered it, it's no wonder you didn't take them seriously. This really isn't your fault."

"Trust me, it is. If I hadn't have been with Astoria, none of this would have happened to her."

Hermione smiled kindly at him. "Well that's just ridiculous. You can't help who you fall in love with."

He looked her in the eyes. "I can. And I did."

She tilted her head slightly and looked at him in confusion, prompting him to continue. He drained the rest of the drink in his glass, slowly set it back down in front of him and began to explain.

"Remember I told you about my mother not wanting me to take the Auror job, I said we finally came to a compromise?" he asked, and Hermione nodded. "Well the compromise was, if I took the job, I had to be with Astoria. I've never loved the insufferable woman, and never will."

"What? But…I don't-" Hermione spluttered, "the interviews I read, they said you and her have been together and in love since school."

"Not true. When we announced our engagement Astoria said that her supporting me through my last year at Hogwarts sounded better than me just turning up on her doorstep out of the blue and asking her out." He looked as though he thought the idea was preposterous. "I couldn't love someone like that, she's bigoted and small-minded, everything I used to be. She's obsessed with living her life by the Pureblood rules, she wants us to get married and for her to stay at home planning ridiculous dinner parties like the ones we used to go to when we were kids. She has no ambition, no drive and no passion."

"So why on earth were you engaged to her then?" Hermione couldn't help but ask. Being with someone just because your mother thought it was a good idea was a completely ridiculous plan in Hermione's opinion, but to then ask them to marry you was incomprehensible.

"I asked her after the letters started to arrive, I hoped that it would prove I was loyal to Astoria and everything her family represented-Purebloods and money. I thought if the people sending the notes, whether they were actually the Knights of Walpurgis or just some bigoted Purebloods, heard about it they would leave me alone." He hung his head guiltily.

Hermione stared at him, unsure of what to say next, so instead she drank the contents of her own glass and they sat in silence for a while.

"I don't understand you, Draco," she said finally. He looked up at her questioningly. "Why go to all of that trouble? Why not just move out and do the job you wanted to? It would have been far easier than being with Astoria just because your mother wanted you to."

"She's the only family I have left. Besides, she already lost her husband, I didn't want her to lose me too."

Hermione nodded, fully understanding that sometimes a person did things for their family even if it made that person unhappy. Hadn't she done that for her parents when she modified their memories and sent them off to Australia?

When Tom ventured to their table once more to offer to refill their drinks, Draco politely declined and explained to Hermione that he had to be leaving. She glanced at her watch and was surprised that it was after nine o clock already, agreeing with Draco that it was time to go home. They walked out into the quiet courtyard that lead to Diagon Alley, beyond the wards that protected wizards and witches from apparating directly out of the pub, and were met with an awkward silence.

"Well," Draco finally said as he looked at the cobbles beneath his feet, "I guess I'll see you at the office tomorrow?"

Hermione nodded and took a step back preparing to apparate.

"Granger?" Draco said before she could leave. "It goes without saying but please don't mention any of what I told you to anyone, it doesn't exactly give a good impression of me and I'd rather not have to explain the reasons for my actions. I want to thank you, though, for listening and not judging me-out loud anyway."

"You're welcome," Hermione replied, taken aback by his sincerity.

The shock she felt at his words, however, were nothing compared to what she felt when he stepped forward hesitantly and then briefly hugged her before disapparating without another word, leaving her standing in the courtyard alone and confused.



A/N Hello readers! Just a quick note to say the updates for this will be coming a lot slower now, this was as far as I got during NaNo so now I have to start actually writing again. If you've gotten this far, I'd really like some of your thoughts on the story up to this point. Thank you so much for reading and to those who have left reviews so far, they mean a lot :)

Chapter 16: What Happened to Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
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The Auror office that Harry and Ron shared was quiet. Draco and Hermione had not returned from visiting Markus Parkinson. Ron and Harry had decided to go back after all, having hit yet another dead end with their contact from Lucius Malfoy's address book (the man had been working in France for the last three months). They agreed it was best to go back to the Ministry and go over the case notes for what felt like the hundredth time. It was lucky they had, because not five minutes after they had sat at their respective desks, Gawain entered the office with some case-changing news for them.

"Thank Merlin you two are here. Got some information on the Lucius Malfoy case I think you'll want to know," he said closing the door behind him. Harry and Ron sat up in their chairs and set their quills down.

"I've just come back from my monthly meeting with the head guard at Azkaban, Rodger, he's an old friend. He asked how things were getting on here, he likes to brag about how easy both of our jobs are since the war ended." He nodded his head in a gesture of thanks to the young men who were eager for him to continue. "Anyway, I told him we'd been a bit busier around here what with the Astoria case, and how we suspect Lucius Malfoy is involved somehow, now that we know Stan has been covering for him. This is where it gets interesting, Rodger then made some passing comment about Narcissa Malfoy not visiting anymore and how he'd always thought she was a handsome woman and so on. Turns out, she's visited him once a year every year that he's been in the place."

"You're joking!" Ron exclaimed whilst Harry gaped at his boss, not quite believing what he was hearing.

"He had the visitor log books to prove it, wand verification and all."

Harry ran a hand through his unruly hair, once again feeling a sinking in his stomach that was an undeniable sign of an impending late night at the office. "Did he not think to mention this sooner?" he asked, having found his voice.

"My words exactly, Potter. He said that he never questioned a wife visiting her husband, and why would he? After it was revealed Lucius was actually Stan, he just assumed Narcissa wouldn't come visiting again."

"Makes sense, I guess," Ron shrugged. "So, what now? We bring Narcissa in?"

"No," Harry said slowly. "No, I think we should follow her for a bit, see if she's acting strangely at all now that she knows about Lucius. If she thought she'd been visiting him all this time, there are obviously still feelings there, at least on her part. Maybe now she knows he's on the run, she might try and find him."

"Or, even better, he tries to find her," Gawain added.

"Brilliant, it's been ages since we've trailed anyone. How are we doing it? Disillusionment charms?" Ron asked Harry excitedly, getting up from his desk and pulling his robes from the back of his chair.

"Polyjuice, I think. If she goes out anywhere it'll be easier than trying to avoid stepping on people's toes. Gawain, can you do me a favour while we're out? I need you to go back and talk to that friend of yours."

Twenty minutes later, Harry had explained his request to Gawain, who had promised to carry it out. Harry pocketed his Muggle mobile phone, with a nod to his boss, and a hope that he wouldn't have to wait long before it rang.

"Get going boys," Gawain told them as he headed out of the office, "and find out what that handsome witch is up to!"
The Auror offices had a constant supply of Polyjuice potion, available for use only with Gawain's permission. There was also a cabinet full of hairs from unsuspecting Muggles, labelled with a full description of the person it came from. Harry had never wanted to know the answers to the many questions the cabinet had raised in his mind, but was very thankful for on this occasion. He and Ron each chose vials with hairs that came from young men with heights similar to their own, dropped them into their goblets of the thick, grey potion and twisted their faces when one turned a dark shade of green, and the other puce. They clinked their glasses together with a sarcastic 'cheers' and quickly drank the contents.

Moments later, one bald man, and one man with mousy brown hair walked out of the Auror supply cupboard wearing Harry and Ron's robes. Thankfully, the two boys hadn't needed to change into the slightly moth-eaten spare robes in the cupboard, having made their choice of hair wisely. The mousy-haired man turned to the other.

"Where shall we start?" he asked.

The bald man raised a hand to his head and groped the air above it. "I need to remember my hair isn't there, being bald is weird. I think we should start at Malfoy's flat, he told me how to get past the wards, I can sneak in under my invisibility cloak and see if she's home. We'll go from there."

They left the Ministry of magic building and apparated into a deserted alleyway that was a five minute walk from Draco's flat. When they arrived at the block, Ron waited in a small café, that contained no other customers, across the road while Harry snuck into the flat. He returned five minutes later with the good news that Narcissa was home. They had covered all bases so that they would know if she left her home, a contact in the Floo department had agreed to send word with a patronus if she used her fireplace to travel, and where she was going, and they knew that she couldn't apparate from directly in the house due to the wards.

They positioned themselves in a window seat in the café, ordered coffees and cake, and began their wait for Narcissa Malfoy to appear. One sip of the coffee was enough to tell Harry why there was no-one else in the café with him but thankfully, their wait wasn't a long one. Narcissa soon appeared at the front door, though not of her own accord, for a man had rang for her on the intercom system that were always found on blocks of flats.

The man was dressed impeccably in a pinstripe Muggle suit. He had jet black hair that looked the same colour and consistency of oil, no doubt due to the amount of product in it, and a matching moustache. He greeted Narcissa with a formal peck on each cheek and she stepped out into the street with him.

"Let's go," Ron said, stuffing the last of his carrot cake into his mouth as he stood up. Harry pulled out a handful of Muggle change and left it on the table to cover the bill for the coffee they hadn't drank and followed Ron out of the café.

Narcissa and the mystery gentleman led them down the quiet street. Harry and Ron had agreed it was safe to use disillusionment charms for the time being so that they could get close enough to hear the conversation.

"…insist on going to these forsaken Muggle restaurants," the man was saying.

"You know why. We can't be seen. Draco cannot know about this," Narcissa replied.

"I understand that, but rubbing shoulders with Muggles, really? I find it so hard to resist just hexing them for their stupidity."

"Markus Parkinson!" Narcissa scolded, and finally the man's identity was revealed to Harry and Ron. "You'll do no such thing. Besides, Muggles they may be, but the food is undeniably delicious here and you know it."

The place they were talking about turned out to be a small Italian restaurant by the name of Bella Italia, which they reached not five minutes later. It was small, and fairly quiet; only two more couples were sat at round tables with candles atop, plates of pastas and pizzas in front of them. Harry and Ron watched from the doorway as Narcissa and Markus were seated at a booth in the corner of the dimly lit room.

Harry glanced up the street and stepped to the side of the restaurant building to remove the charm that was concealing his body. Moments later he was joined by the figure of the blonde man who he knew to be Ron. Ron raised his eyebrows and let out a low whistle, expressing his surprise at the turn of events.

"Tell me about it," Harry said in agreement. He checked his watch and noticed that almost an hour had passed since they had left the office. "Best top up" he said to Ron.

They both reached into the pockets of their robes and pulled out vials of Polyjuice potion they had saved from their earlier visit to the supply cupboard.

"Shall we swap?" Ron asked. "You can have a go at having a warm head again."

Harry laughed and held his vial out for Ron to trade with his own. It was a small bit of fun to have whilst they waited for Narcissa and Markus to come back out of the restaurant. They emptied the contents of the bottles into their mouths and Harry welcomed the feeling of hair on top of his head once again, even if it was the wrong colour.

They waited almost another hour before the couple stepped back out into the street. By that time Harry had noticed tufts of red hair appearing on Ron's bald head and so they cast the disillusionment charms on themselves once again so as to remain unnoticed. They followed the pair back to Narcissa and Draco's flat where they disappeared into the building.

"What now?" Ron asked, appearing suddenly by Harry's side outside of the block.

Harry waved his wand and lifted the charm from himself. "We go home, I guess. Maybe try again in a couple of days if we don't hear anything?" He pulled out the mobile phone from his pocket and saw that he had missed no calls.

"Fine by me. I take it we'll not be telling Malfoy that we thing his mum is snogging Pansy Parkinson's dad?"

"Definitely not. That's not our business and he'll only be furious that we followed her. Let's wait to see if we get something on her before we tell him anything."

Ron nodded and they both began to walk back down the street to the alleyway they had apparated into, until Harry heard a door closing behind them and stopped Ron in his tracks.

"Wait!" he whispered harshly and pulled Ron around a nearby parked car, peering over the bonnet at Narcissa. She had left her home once more, this time alone. She glanced briefly up and down the street before disapperating.

"Where's she going?" Ron asked. "And where's Markus?"

"No idea," Harry replied, standing up straight.

It was at that moment that a buzzing sound came from Harry's pocket. He began fumbling around to move his robes out of the way so he could get to the pocket of his trousers where the mobile phone was.

"It's him!" he exclaimed, and pressed the green button to answer the call. "Hello?"

Only two words were given from the other end of the phone call before Harry ended it.

"She's here."

The man on the other end of the phone was Rodger, the head Azkaban guard. Before Harry and Ron had left their office what felt like a week ago, Harry had raced to a nearby Muggle mobile phone shop and purchased one, then went to his house and picked up his own. Ginny had learned about mobile phones fairly recently and loved the idea of them. She had practically forced Harry to buy them one each and then spent hours texting and calling him from different rooms in their house.

After a quick lesson for Gawain on how to make a phone call to the only number Harry had programmed into the new phone, his own, Harry had asked him to take it to Rodger and insist that he called Harry if Narcissa ever returned to Azkaban now that she knew the man in cell number four was not her husband. He was under strict instructions from Gawain to act completely normal with Narcissa.

The phone call had come despite Harry's uncertainty of it, and it confirmed that Narcissa Malfoy was up to something. And he would find out what it was.

"Bring her in for questioning tomorrow?" Ron asked.

"Bring her in," Harry confirmed.

I am SO SO SO sorry this has taken so long to get up. Major writers block! Hope you like it, if you do-leave a review! If you don't-leave on anyway!

Chapter 17: Why is Everyone in Knockturn Alley?
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The sound of an owl tap-tapping on her window woke Hermione before her alarm clock had the chance to. Disgruntled, she untangled herself from her duvet and stumbled half-asleep towards the window where she was surprised to see Harry's tawny owl, Godric, perched on the outer window ledge. She opened the window, let him in, and removed the letter from his leg as he obediently stood on her dressing table. She pulled the small piece of parchment out of the envelope and unfolded it, smiling at Harry's ever-the-same untidy scrawl.


Me and Ron are going on a trail this morning, following a lead we got last night-will explain properly when I see you. Take the morning off and I'll send another owl this afternoon with an update.


She read the note a second time, trying and failing to find more information in the few sentences of information Harry had given her. He had found another lead-that was good news, but what was it? Who were they trailing? She sighed in frustration at having to wait for further news and grabbed a quill to respond to Harry.

As it turned out, Hermione had a lead of her own to follow, and so was glad for the free morning she now had. After Draco had left her at the Leaky Cauldron the night before, Hermione had opted to visit her favourite bookstore in Diagon Alley rather than returning home. It was one of the few in the street that remained open late in the evenings. The shop was now in the hands of Edwin Drella, who was no relation to a Flourish or a Blott but had acquired the shop recently and kept its name.

Hermione liked Edwin greatly; he was highly educated and could tell a customer everything about any book the shop sold, and those it didn't; he had a passion for literature that rivalled even Hermione's. She had spent hours of her free time discussing magical books with him and their discussion the previous night had proved rather useful. She had shown him the spell book that contained the information about the body-switching spell, having taken to carrying it around with her in the hopes that she would open it and find something on the two pages that she had missed before. It was then that Edwin had told her that the copy she had
was a first edition of the book and there had been several more printed after that date.

Being a respectable bookshop, Flourish and Blotts did not sell the latest, or any, versions of 'Dark Magic and its Ancient Roots', however Edwin was able to tell Hermione, in a whispered tone, that there was a bookshop in Knockturn Alley that she might have more luck in. The street known for attracting untrustworthy magical folk was not a place Hermione wanted to be at such a late hour, and so she returned home with plans to go there as soon as she could, not expecting it to be the following morning.

An hour after being woken up by Harry's owl, Hermione arrived in Diagon Alley, dressed in a heavy black cloak. She was glad for the grey skies and the continuous fall of fine rain that meant she wouldn't stand out by having her hood up as she took the left turn down Knockturn Alley. Being one third of the group that saved the wizarding world was certainly an inconvenience on a day Hermione needed to be unrecognisable.

Pulling her hood further down over her brow, an action that had nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with the surroundings, Hermione headed toward the shop bearing the sign 'Moribund's'. Its exterior gave the impression that it was closed down; there were no friendly signs advertising a sale, or even a clue as to what was sold there; no large window with a display; in fact, there was only one small window above the door that indicated something beyond it was giving off an orange glow.

The interior was just as welcoming as the outside, only Hermione's resolution to purchase the more recent version of the book in her handbag stopped her from immediately leaving. A counter was the only thing in the small room that she had entered, with a huge oil lamp atop it, casting just enough light in the room for Hermione to see the man standing behind it. He had grey wiry hair that covered both his head and his chin, and neither looked as though they had ever been washed. His eyebrows were thick and black, and they were raised as his beady eyes surveyed the woman that had just entered his establishment.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" he barked at her in a harsh tone.

She approached the counter nervously and took the book out of her bag. She placed it down on the counter and tried not to inhale any of the thick dust cloud the action had caused.

"I need the latest version of this book, I was told I would find it here." The tremor in her voice was audible when she spoke.

"Never seen you in here before," the man said. He hadn't looked at the book in front of him: his eyes were still fixed on Hermione.

"I've never had a need to be, until now," she said a little more confidently. "The book?"

He finally glanced down, flipped the book open to the inside of the cover, and then grunted before disappearing through a door behind him. There was no way of telling what the grunt meant; either the man was refusing to serve Hermione because she was unlike his usual clientele, or he had gone to get her the book. She waited several minutes, all the while praying that no-one would join her in the dark room, until finally the shop keeper returned. He slammed a book down on the counter and held out a filthy hand.

"Fifteen galleons."

"Fi-fifteen? That's rather a lot, don't you think?"

"I'd say that was a fair price to pay for me to keep my mouth shut about Mudblood Granger being in my shop buying a book about dark magic." Hermione gasped and the man continued. "That's right, I know who you are, and fifteen galleons is a special price just for the girl who helped Harry Potter kill the Dark Lord."

His tone and choice of words told Hermione all she needed: pay the money and get out. Quickly. She rummaged in her bag for her coin purse, handed over fifteen gold coins, grabbed the two books from the counter, and stashed them in her bag as she rushed out of the shop without another word.

Out in the street, the rain still hadn't stopped but it was considerably brighter than it had been in Moribund's, so it took Hermione a few seconds for her eyes to adjust. In the ten minutes that she had been gone, the street had gotten a lot busier; there was an assortment of strange and untrustworthy looking witches and wizards entering and exiting the shops. She wanted to be back in Diagon Alley now more than ever, so she adjusted the hood of her cloak once more and headed up the dark street.

She could have sworn that halfway up the dank street someone called her name, but she told herself that she was being paranoid. She ignored the voice in her head that was telling her the man in the shop had told someone who he had just sold a book to, but the voice shouted louder and there was no mistaking someone knew she was there. She picked up her pace slightly and tutted loudly at a puddle she had missed that filled her shoes with water when she stepped in it, and still the voice called for her.

She had taken a few steps in Diagon Alley when she finally found the courage to turn around and see if she could work out who had been shouting her name. The last thing she had expected was to find her face buried in someone's chest. The someone grabbed her shoulders and gently pushed her back.

"Draco!" Hermione gasped when she saw the face of the person she had bumped into.

"Finally, she stops," he replied. "I've been calling your name for ages!"

"That was you?" she asked, and he nodded. "Why were you in Knockturn Alley?"

"Gawain gave me an assignment to do with one of the shopkeepers. Question is, why were you in Knockturn Alley?"

"Trying to find your father."

Draco gaped at her, so she began to explain about finding out the book she had was an older edition, and how Edwin had told her where she could get an updated version of it.

"And?" Draco asked. "Did you find anything new?"

"I don't know. The man in the shop recognised me, so I left before I had a chance to read it, and then I bumped into you. I was going to grab a coffee at Cortessa's café and read it," she explained.

"Can I come with you? This case Robards has me on is a lost cause, at least for today anyway, and I'd like to know if there's more on this spell."

Hermione nodded and smiled, and the pair walked the short distance to the café that had once been Florean Fortescue's. Draco offered to buy their drinks; he headed to the counter whilst Hermione sat down on the squashy purple sofa that was near the window. When Draco returned with two large mugs of coffee, Hermione had already taken the book out of her bag but left it closed. He had barely sat down when she started flicking through the pages to find the part about the body-switching spells.

"Here it is!" she exclaimed.

Draco shushed her and glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching. Thankfully there was only one other customer in the café: a witch who appeared to have fallen asleep at her table, her cup of tea next to her head was still stirring itself. He looked back down at the book and they read it together. Most of the entry was identical to the version they had already read, with the exception of a small note at the end of the two-page entry.

Testing of the spell has indicated that it will last one year from the date of casting. The incantation only (corporis commercium) must be repeated if caster wishes the effects to continue.

Hermione shut the book and looked at Draco, who had gone whiter than she ever expected his pale skin could go. She asked him what was wrong and he responded by swearing under his breath.


"Shit," he repeated, louder this time. "Shit, shit, shit! What have I done?"

"Draco, you're starting to scare me," Hermione told him firmly. "What on earth is the matter?"

"There's something I haven't told you," he said quietly. "Something I should have, but I didn't think it mattered, I thought it was a mistake. She lied to me, and I didn't even see it. How could I not have seen it?!"

"Seen what?" Hermione was getting impatient.

"My mother."

He took a deep breath and began to explain to Hermione how he had asked the Azkaban guards if anyone had been visiting his father, and how the guard had told him that once a year Narcissa had visited. He told her how he had confronted his mother, and that she'd sworn she hadn't seen Lucius since his trial and had no desire to.

"He was visited once a year, and this was why," he said, pointing at the book. "Someone needed to cast the spell again."

He put his head in his hands.

"She swore she hadn't been visiting, and I believed her," he finished, looking at Hermione for the first time.

"Draco-" Hermione began, a stern expression on her face.

"No," he cut her off and took one of her hands in both of his, looking her sincerely in the eye, "Hermione, you have to believe me. I know my mother, or I thought I did. I would have bet my own life that she was telling me the truth that day. If any part of me thought she was lying I would have told Harry and Ron straight away. Please tell me you believe me?"

She took her hand from him and placed it in her lap. "Even if I did, which I'm not saying I do, you should have told Harry and Ron. Whether you believed your mother or not, they needed to know this. You've kept far too much information to yourself in this case, Malfoy. Your relationship problems, the interviews, your mother's supposed visits to Azkaban-don't you see how guilty it makes you look?"

"I know. I know. I'm such an idiot."

"Wait," Hermione reached into her bag and pulled out a stack of parchment, "why would Stan not tell us that he'd been visited? Here, look, this is the transcript of the interview we did. He said no-one had been to see him, but why would he lie? If he knew there was a chance he would get in more trouble?"

Draco shifted in his chair and averted his gaze once more.

"Tell me you had nothing to do with that, Draco Malfoy!"

"I didn't, not really! It was the guard, Corbin. He was the one that told me mother had been going there, and I paid him to keep quiet about it. When the question came up in the interview he silently cast the Imperius Curse and made Stan lie."

"He cast an unforgivable curse? For a few Galleons?" Hermione's tone was increasingly incredulous with everything Draco told her. "Didn't you think that was a bit extreme?"

"At the time, no. I was just relieved he had kept the visits a secret."

"Well I think it's odd. An Azkaban guard is there to guard those who have done things like using the Unforgivable Curses, and he doesn't think twice about using them? I think we need to speak to Gawain, and Stan again."

"Why Stan?" Draco asked.

Hermione took a deep breath, and placed a hand on top of Draco's. "You say that wasn't your mother visiting, and I believe you. We need to find out who it really was, and I bet Stan knows."

Chapter 18: When is the Timing Ever Good?
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Adrenaline coursed through Hermione as she and Draco rushed from the Ministry of Magic fireplaces, through the bustling ground floor, and over to the lifts. She pressed the button several times impatiently and tapped her foot on the marble floor as she waited for it to arrive. She knew they were close to a breakthrough that would solve the Lucius case, and she knew that it was linked to Astoria's disappearance somehow.

"Come on," she mumbled at the lift doors.

"Hermione, calm down. We don't even know that the guard has anything to do with either case."

"He does, Draco, I know it. I can feel it."

Draco shrugged his shoulders rather than argue with her. The bell announcing the lift's arrival finally pinged, and Hermione had pushed her way into it before the doors had fully opened. The people already in the lift tutted loudly as they passed her and stepped out, but Hermione paid no attention as she was now hammering the gold button for the second floor.

When the doors opened once more, she rushed out and began speed-walking down the corridor to the office bearing Gawain's name and title of Head Auror. She knocked loudly three times and resumed her foot tapping. When he didn't answer she knocked again, this time louder, but still there was no answer. She had just raised her fist to bang on the glass again, when an angry-looking woman stepped out of the office next door. She had perfectly straight jet-black hair, an extremely pale face and a rather pointed chin. She scowled at Hermione before noticing who was standing behind her.


"Hi, Magda," he replied. "We're looking for Gawain, have you seen him?"

"He's out all morning, won't be back until at least one."

"Typical!" Hermione huffed and began to walk back down the corridor.

Draco thanked Magda over his shoulder as he set off after Hermione. When she abruptly stopped outside of Harry and Ron's office, he bumped into her.

"Sorry," he spluttered. "What are you doing now?"

"Seeing if Harry and Ron are back," she explained as she opened the door. She looked around at the empty office and sighed loudly. "They must still be out trailing their mystery suspect."

"They've got a suspect? They didn't tell me." He sounded disgruntled.

Hermione explained about the owl Harry had sent her. "He obviously didn't want me coming in when there wouldn't be anything to do here. You're not actually on this case, remember?"

He gave a non-committal grunt that told Hermione he was still annoyed, before turning away from her and heading back toward the lift.

"Where are you going?" Hermione asked as she followed him.

"Lunch," he replied, pressing the button for the lift, "coming?"

"But what about-"

"Gawain isn't going to be back for at least an hour, we'll come back up then."

"Fine," Hermione said, stepping into the lift. She was frustrated at the idea of having to wait, but saw no alternative option as they had no idea where Gawain was to find him.

They headed to the Ministry cafeteria and each bought sandwiches and a drink before finding and empty table by the door to sit at. They ate in a comfortable silence and Hermione found herself wondering how her life had taken such a funny turn lately, one that resulted in her separation from Ron and a developing friendship with Draco Malfoy.

"What are you smiling about?" Draco asked suddenly.

Hermione hadn't realised that she had been, but she explained her thoughts, making him chuckle.

"Yes, it is a bit odd isn't it? I mean, I've been working with Potter and Weasley for years and we can only just about tolerate being in the same room as each other. Then you come along and in just a few weeks we're having lunch, dinner, and coffee together. Friends with Hermione Granger," he mused, testing the foreign phrase.

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," she teased and he shot her a glare over the top of his coffee mug as he took a drink.

Just then, a loud chortle came from the doorway to the cafeteria and made the pair look up. Fellow ex-Hogwarts student, Michael Corner had come in, with a very pretty blonde girl, and he was laughing a little too hard at something she had just said.

Draco narrowed his eyes at Michael's retreating back. "You know, I've never had a conversation with him in my life, but I really don't like him."

Hermione laughed, "Yes, I can imagine a lot of people feel that way about him. I don't know what he's like now but he was awful in our Hogwarts days."

"No need to tell me that. Don't you remember the library?"

Hermione knew the moment Draco was talking about. She remembered it well, and it had crossed her mind several times recently, having spent so much of her time with Draco since starting the Astoria case.

It was just a few weeks after Hermione had returned to Hogwarts to take her NEWTs. She had just finished dinner and had left the Great Hall promptly to get to the library and start on a particularly challenging essay Professor Slughorn had set on medicinal potions. She had walked past Michael Corner and his group of friends, who were sitting in front of an abandoned pile of blank parchment, quills, and books. She resisted the urge to use her Head Girl privileges to make them stop laughing and focus their attentions on their obviously not yet started homework, or kick them out of the library altogether; assuming that Madam Pince would soon be along to save her the argument.

Instead, she headed to the section just behind them, in which she knew she would find the books she needed, and began to browse.

Once she had a stack of books that would at least get her through the introduction of her essay, Hermione turned to come out of the section and head to a table, levitating the books in front of her. She was at the end of the row when she heard a snippet of the whispered conversation Michael and his friends were having.

"…don't know what he thinks he's doing coming back here. He's far from welcome."

Hermione paused, curiosity getting the better of her.

"Exactly," one of the girls agreed. "We're finally rid of You-Know-Who and things are getting back to normal then a Death Eater comes back to school!"

"Please, Claudia, call him Voldemort. He's dead now, there's nothing to be scared of," another girl said.

"Yeah, just one of his followers walking around the school as if he's got any right to be here," Claudia snapped back.

It was clear to Hermione now who they were talking about. Draco Malfoy's return to Hogwarts had been the subject of gossip since September First and there were no signs of it letting up. Though Hermione had been surprised to see him back, she felt as though Claudia's opinion that he had no right to be there was a little harsh. He had been a shell of his former self every time Hermione had seen him in classes or around the castle. His head was always down, he rarely spoke unless spoken to, he was always alone rather than surrounded by Slytherin cronies; he sat alone, walked alone, and worked alone. It made her curious and she felt uncomfortable that she caught herself thinking about him so often. She continued to listen to the conversation, against her better judgment.

"He's got some nerve. All the kids that go here who have lost family because of him and the people he supported, Merlin knows how they must be feeling having to see his face every day."

A shuffling movement from behind Hermione made her jump; she quickly turned around preparing to scold whoever had been sneaking up on her. When she saw who it was, however, she quickly stopped herself. Draco Malfoy was staring at her, with a set of books in front of him just like Hermione. His expression was pained: he had heard the conversation too.

They continued to stare at each other for several moments. Hermione had an overwhelming desire to do something; to say something to comfort him, but she was unsure what, or why. Why should she make him feel better? She didn't completely disagree with what the group was saying: it wasn't fair on the students who had lost family at the hands of Voldemort or his supporters to have to have the constant reminder in the form of Draco. But then, he was different now, there was no denying that. And then there was the way he was looking at her now; like she was the only person in the world that could help him; like his future happiness depended on what she did or said next.

Hermione took a tentative step forward and reached out to Draco's hand that hung limply by his side. She gave it a squeeze and walked away without another word, her stack of books hovering behind her.

Draco stared at Hermione intensely from across the table and she realised that it had been several minutes since he had spoken.

"You remember that?" she asked, pulling herself from the memory.

"Of course. When I was listening to that conversation, I was telling myself that I should just leave Hogwarts, that getting my NEWTs wasn't worth all of the whispering, the looks, the feeling of being unwelcome. I was going to go to McGonagall and tell her I'd had enough…and then you squeezed my hand. I knew that if you were willing to comfort me, even in a tiny way, after everything I'd done, then somehow the rest of the wizarding world would one day realise I was sorry."

"I don't know why I did it," Hermione blurted out.

"I know. I could tell. But you still did it, and that made all the difference. I wouldn't be here now if you hadn't. I wouldn't be doing a job that I love, even if it is with Potter and Weasley," he joked, trying to lighten the situation.

Hermione reached across the table and, mimicking her action from four years ago, she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "I didn't know whether I believed it or not then, but you really have changed. I can see that now."

He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand and smiled at her, before quickly realising what he was doing and giving an awkward cough. "Er-we should go and see if Gawain is back yet."

"Yes," Hermione said quickly, pulling her hand back. "It's after one now, he should be."

They cleared away their lunch dishes and made their way back up to the second floor, both avoiding eye contact and neither speaking to the other. Hermione was relieved to find Gawain in the corridor as soon as she stepped out of the lift and she quickly made her way over to him, Draco hot on her heels.

"Draco? What are you doing here, shouldn't you be in Knockturn Alley?" The head Auror asked as soon as he saw the pair.

"He wasn't there. I'll go back tomorrow. I ran into Hermione while I was there though and-"
Hermione cut him off. "I need to go and see Stan Shunpike, now."

"Shunpike? What for? We've already interviewed him twice, he's not going to be any more use to us."

Hermione explained as quickly as she could about the updated version of the book she had found the body-switching spell in, and her suspicions about the guard. She cleverly avoided mentioning Narcissa, or Draco's involvement, instead telling Gawain that someone must have visited Stan to do the body-switching spell.

"Okay, calm down, Hermione. You can go, I'll owl the head guard now to tell them to expect you."

He turned to leave but Hermione stopped him. "Wait! Can you tell them that we don't want Corbin to be the guard that escorts us, and that he can't know we're going? I know he's up to something, and I don't want him to do anything that will jeopardise what could potentially be the strongest lead we have."

"As you wish," he said, before turning his attention to Draco. "You'll escort her? I can't send anyone to interview an Azkaban inmate without a trained Auror, no matter how brilliant they are."

Hermione blushed and Draco nodded.

"Good," Gawain said, "now get going, I'll send the owl."

He entered his office and the door clicked closed behind him. Hermione and Draco went in the opposite direction, back into the lift for what felt like the millionth time that day. Once again, the feeling of rushing adrenaline filled Hermione as she pressed the button for the ground floor. She and Draco were about to take a big step in the right direction, she knew it.

AN-Hello dear readers! I'd like to dedicate this chapter to the lovely Erica, who not only helped me with the flashback in this chapter, but has also left me a wonderful review on each chapter, and also gave me the kick up the bum I needed to write this one. (I'm sincerely hoping she likes it :D)

Also, to my other fellow Hufflepuffs, who continue to just be wonderful.

Please leave a review and let me know what you thought of this chapter.

Chapter 19: Is Anyone Who they Say they are?
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Hermione and Draco were stood outside of the Ministry, in the designated apparition spot. The door behind them had barely closed when Hermione began to turn on the spot to apparate to Flaggherty Loch, but Draco grabbed her hand and stopped her.

"What are you doing?" she asked him impatiently.

"I just-" he sighed. "Don't get your hopes up about this, okay? Gawain is probably right, we've interviewed Stan twice, there's probably nothing more he can tell us."

"Wrong," she replied. "We've interviewed him twice with Corbin there. If he's involved in this somehow then who's to say he didn't cast the Imperius curse both times to keep us from finding out something important?"

"Maybe. Like I said though, I just don't want you to get your hopes up. It seems like a weak lead if you ask me."

"Well, I didn't ask you," Hermione snapped. "I always trust my intuition, and I'm almost always right. Why are you so against this? You do want to find Astoria don't you?"

"Of course I do!" Draco's voice was slightly raised and his indignation was evident. "How can you ask me that? You more than anyone should know that just because we weren't the perfect couple she made us out to be does not mean that I want her to be in danger. Let's go."

Before Hermione had a chance to respond, he apparated without another word, leaving her standing open-mouthed and alone in the narrow alleyway. She tutted loudly and followed suit, and by the time she arrived in the wizarding village, he was already sitting in the boat with the guard. He was staring pointedly at the calm water that led to Azkaban, with his arms folded across his chest. Hermione climbed into the boat and mirrored Draco's position, earning her an eye roll from him.

They travelled to the prison and endured the countless security checks in complete silence, neither entirely sure why they weren't talking but both adamant they wouldn't talk to the other first. At the final wand check they were told to wait in the dimly lit entrance hall for the guard who would escort them to the interview room.

Moments later, they were joined by the tallest man Hermione had ever seen in her life. His grey hair brushed the door frame as he made his way through it, beaming at the pair waiting for him. His blue eyes twinkled when he looked down at them, and Hermione was reminded fondly of Dumbledore.

"Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, I presume?" he said in a deep voice. "I'm Rodger Filburst, the head guard here, Gawain told me to expect you. Though, his letter seemed rather rushed, is everything okay?"

"We're not entirely sure," Hermione told him honestly. "We'll know better once we've spoken to Stan. Did Gawain explain our, um…concerns?"

She chose her words carefully and glanced nervously at the guard at the front desk whom she could tell was only pretending to read the paper.

"Ah, yes, though I'm sure they are unwarranted. Who am I to say no to Hermione Granger though?" he winked at her and Hermione took that as his way of saying he was not annoyed that she doubted the integrity of one of his staff.

He turned to go back through the door he had just entered and beckoned with an enormous hand for them to follow. They were led to the now all-too-familiar interview room and they took seats at the table in the centre of the room. Rodger left and reappeared moments later with Stan.

"What's this all about?" Stan demanded as Rodger marched him into the room and forced him into the seat opposite Hermione and Draco. "I ain't done nofin' since the last time you was 'ere! Been on me best behavior so you lot will let me outta this place, tell 'em Rodge!"

Rodger, who was now sitting on a chair at the back of the room responded in a threatening tone, "Quiet, Shunpike. You'll answer any questions you're asked and you'll answer them honestly. I'll know if you're lying."

His demeanor had completely changed: there was no longer a twinkle in his eyes or a smile on his face. It was clear now why he was Head Guard at the prison. Stan whimpered slightly and nodded.

"Stan," Hermione began in a soft tone, "you haven't done anything wrong since we last visited. We just want to clarify some of the things we asked you the last time we were here."

She pulled out the stack of notes she had been compiling since starting on the case from her bag, and flicked through them until she had the transcript from the last interview that Harry and Ron had conducted on top of the pile.

"So," she said, sitting up straighter, "the last time we were here you told Harry and Ron that you hadn't been visited by anyone, remember?"

Stan gave a small jerk of his head that Hermione took as a nod.

"Can you tell me the honest answer to that question now? Because I know that isn't it."

He didn't answer immediately, instead he turned around in his seat and looked at Rodger, who told him sternly to answer Hermione's question.

"I lied."

"Why did you lie?" Hermione asked him. Excitement was building inside her but her expression did not betray that.

"I had to!" Stan exclaimed loudly. "It weren't my fault, I swear. Corbin made me do it, cast the Imperius curse 'e did!"

"He WHAT?!" Rodger shouted. He walked over to the table and put both of his hands on it, looked Stan in the eyes and spoke very slowly to him, "You tell me everything and you tell me now, Shunpike. What in the hell is going on with Corbin?"

"I will, Rodge! 'E's one of them, one of Lucius Malfoy's lot. I only found out on me first day in 'ere, 'e came to see me in me cell and said I'd better keep me mouth shut if I knew what was good for me."

"And you didn't think to tell me?" Rodger demanded. "To tell one of the other guards?"

"Course! But 'e was always one step ahead of me, said that if I did I'd be dead soon as I got outta 'ere, but not before every one of them in that group did the Cruciatus on me! I was scared, you understand that?"

Rodger opened his mouth to speak but Hermione placed a hand on his arm to stop him from shouting again. He nodded to her and resumed his seat at the back of the room. Hermione smiled in thanks at him and then spoke kindly to Stan, wanting to keep him on side.

"I understand. Can you tell us why he cast the Imperius curse on you?"

"So I didn't give anything else away, if I told you who had been visitin' an' why, you would have figured out I knew more than I was lettin' on an' used Veritaserum on me again."

"Tell us who was visiting you, Shunpike," Draco spoke for the first time.

"We know that already," Rodger snapped. "It was Narcissa Malfoy, I told Gawain that."

Stan very quickly shook his head but pressed his lips together as though to stop himself from speaking.

"Please, Stan," Hermione said. "You're safe from Corbin now. We'll find him, and everyone he works with as long as you tell us everything you know. He won't be able to hurt you as long as you tell us the truth."

"Markus Parkinson," Stan said in a voice so quiet it was barely above a whisper. "'E's been pretending to date Narcissa since I got sent 'ere. Every year 'e gives her a sleepin' draught, steals some of 'er hair to make Polyjuice potion, and 'er wand so 'e could come and cast the spell on me again to make me look like Lucius. 'Cept the last time after I was back to normal, he came to tell me to keep me gob shut about everythin'."

She glanced sideways at Draco to see how he had taken the news that his mother was not guilty as he had suspected. There was no relief on his face, however, his mouth was pressed in a hard line, his eyes were dark and his brow furrowed: his expression was unmistakably furious.

Stan was looking down at the desk as though wondering whether or not he was making the right decision now and Hermione couldn't help but pity the man opposite her. He was just a few years older than her and his life couldn't have been more different. How had he ended up in such a position? Hermione cleared her throat and he looked up at her once more.

"You said 'didn't give anything else away', what did that mean?" she asked.

"I'd already said too much to Harry an' Ron. Earned me a lot of the Cruciatus curse when 'e took me back to me cell after the interview. Think that's why he did the Imperius when they asked me about visitors, didn't trust me enough to lie for 'em."

"Yes, but what did you give away?" Hermione asked him again, beginning to feel frustrated.

"Well what I said about You-Know-'Oo and 'is family," Stan replied as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Draco banged his fist on the table and everyone else in the room jumped slightly, except Hermione who's eyes were now rapidly moving from side to side as she scanned through the transcript of the last interview; trying to find a reference to Voldemort. She was tired of trying to figure out what his unhelpful responses meant.

"Will you just answer the damned question, Shunpike?!" Draco yelled. His face was flushed red with anger.
Stan opened his mouth to reply but was stopped when

Hermione gasped and stood up so rapidly that she chair she had been sitting in was knocked over behind her; she ignored it. "Oh my goodness, I know where she is!"

A/N Short chapter, I know and I'm sorry! I did have this combined with the next one but it ended up being waaaay too long. Anyway, let me know what you thought :D

Chapter 20: Hasn't Anyone Heard of Communication?
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At the very end of the hallway that held the Auror offices in the Ministry of Magic, there was a small windowless interview room. The bare walls and the threadbare carpet were the same shade of depressing grey, and the only furniture was a single filing cabinet and a table with three chairs around it. Narcissa Malfoy was currently sat on one of the chairs; picking at a stray thread on her robes and wondering what on earth she was doing there.

She had awoken that morning, feeling extremely well rested, to find a note on her bedside table from Draco saying he had left early for an assignment at work. He hadn't explained what the assignment was, he never did; not since she had told him she cared not for the details of the job she hadn't wanted him to take.

She was running low on hair potion and floo powder so decided to pay an early morning visit to Diagon Alley. It was always quiet in the mornings and she preferred it that way. It was there, just outside of Madame Primpernelle's shop that Harry and Ron had stopped her and told her she would be escorted to the Ministry for questioning. She was most disgruntled at the insinuation that she had done anything to warrant being questioned but had left with the pair so as not to cause a scene. Half an hour had passed since they had bundled her into the miserable room and told her they would be back soon.

The door finally opened and the two young men sat down opposite her and folded their arms across their chests in an identical motion. Narcissa resisted the urge to smirk at their obviously well-rehearsed act and instead spoke before they had the chance to.

"Can you please explain why my shopping was interrupted so that I could be brought to this disgusting room only to have been left for almost half an hour, without being offered so much as a glass of pumpkin juice?"

"We think you know why, Mrs. Malfoy," Ron replied calmly.

"Clearly not, young man, otherwise I wouldn't have wasted my breath asking, would I?"

"Can you tell us where you were at nine-thirty last night?" Harry asked.

"In bed, sleeping," she replied.

"Try again," Ron said.

"I'm not sure what answer you're looking for Mr. Weasley, but that is the only one I have."

"Drop the act," Harry told her, "we know exactly where you were last night. And where you have been going once a year since Lucius was sent to Azkaban."

Narcissa's calm expression faltered for a moment at the mention of her husband's name. Harry and Ron glanced at each other and smiled at their slight upper-hand.

"Touched a nerve there, did we?" Ron said. "Tell us, Narcissa, if you know that the man in Azkaban is not your husband, why did you still visit him last night?"

"I did no such thing! I haven't seen my husband since his trial."

The shock on her face was nearly convincing, and Harry couldn't help but be momentarily impressed. He shifted in his chair, making himself more comfortable and preparing for a long interview. It was going to take a lot to get Narcissa Malfoy to crack.

Hermione and Draco were once more racing through the Ministry of Magic entrance hall. After Hermione's realisation at the prison, she had left the room abruptly, shouting an apology and a thank-you to Rodger as she left. Draco had been hot on her heels demanding she explain where Astoria was and where they were going, it wasn't until they reached the lift that would take them back down the cliff face and to the boat that she finally told him.

They were now headed back to the Auror offices to tell Ron, Harry, and Gawain what they had learned. The latter, as it happened, had been heading to the cafeteria for a mid-afternoon snack when Hermione had run straight into his chest.

"Hermione!" he gasped. "What's the hurry?"

"Need to. Speak with. You. Harry and Ron," she gasped breathlessly.

"They're still upstairs interviewing Narcissa Malfoy, what's-" he began.

"They're what?!" Draco interrupted.

"Interviewing Narcissa, didn't they tell you? They followed her last night after they found out she had been visiting Lucius."

Draco's face flushed red and he barged past Gawain and headed straight for the lifts. Hermione made a move to follow him but was stopped by Gawain demanding to know what was going on. She sighed heavily and began speaking very quickly to tell him what they had found out at the prison.

Moments later, the door to the interview room flew open, crashing against the filing cabinet behind it and causing a loud banging noise that made everyone inside the small room jump. Draco stood in the doorway, his robes hanging off of his left shoulder, his chest heaving and breathing heavy as though he had been running. His appearance caused somewhat of a commotion, and everyone spoke at once.

"Malfoy!" Harry and Ron yelled in unison.

"Draco?" Narscissa asked.

"What the hell are you two doing?" Draco demanded.

Harry stood from his seat behind his desk and approached Draco. He gave a quick glance over his shoulder at Narcissa, who was still sitting in her seat wringing her hands, before speaking to Draco in a lowered voice.

"Malfoy, let's go and talk in the corridor, yeah?"

"No, Potter," he spat, "we'll talk here. We'll talk about why you and Weaselbee stalked my mother and why she is in here being questioned. You're wasting valuable time that should be spent trying to get my fiancée back!" He took a deep breath in, having said the entire rant in one go.

"Listen," Harry said calmly, "I get that you're annoyed about this but this is about Astoria. At least, it is if her disappearance has anything to do with your dad. Your mother has been visiting him."

At this point Narcissa began to protest her innocence once more, until Ron shushed her and Draco spoke again.

"She hasn't, listen-"

"No," Harry interrupted, "you listen. We followed her last night and watched her leave the house, then the guard at Azkaban told us she turned up at the prison. I've got the exact time she arrived there, look, twenty-three minutes past nine." He was holding the mobile phone up to Draco's face, showing him the call he had received the night before.

"I have no idea what that thing is or how it backs up what you're saying, but I know for a fact that isn't true. Mother was in bed fast asleep when I got back from dinner with Hermione last night at half past nine. And as I was saying before-"

"You had dinner with Hermione last night?" Narcissa asked, anger flashing across her features. Ron wore an identical expression.

"Can I please just finish what I was saying?" Draco raised his voice.

"Malfoy, there is nothing you can say that will change the fact that we watched your mother go out last night with a man and then go to Azkaban afterwards."

Draco's temper finally boiled over, he stood up straight, clenched his fists and yelled, "IT WAS MARKUS PARKINSON AT AZKABAN YOU IDIOTS!"

Harry and Ron gaped at Draco, whilst Narcissa began to stutter, "Draco, when did you…I mean…How do you know about Markus?"

Before he had a chance to explain, a red-faced and panting Hermione ran into the room and knocked Harry sideways. Draco grabbed her shoulders and steadied her before she fell.

"Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry. Are you alright?" she breathed.

Harry nodded as he adjusted his robes and Hermione quickly turned her attentions to Draco. "I can't believe you just ran away from me like that! I had to explain everything to Gawain before he would let me go! We were supposed to tell Harry and Ron together, you know, since it was me who figured out where Astoria is."

"You know where Astoria is?!" Harry and Ron exclaimed in unison.

"And you thought rather than telling us that first, you'd have a go at us for bringing your mum in?" Ron accused.

"I forgot, I was so pissed off that you had followed her without telling me!" Draco snapped in response.

"You forgot that your fiancée was missing?" said Harry.

"Well, not forgot, I just-"

"STOP!" Hermione shouted, and the three boys looked at her in alarm. "Judging by Draco's yelling and the fact that he hasn't told you about Astoria yet, I can only assume there has been a serious lack of communication going on here. Let's start from last night, shall we?"

She conjured up some extra chairs and had everyone take a seat before launching into an explanation. Her conversation with Gawain had filled her in on what Harry and Ron had thought they had witnessed the night before. She explained this to Draco more than anyone else, and he continually tried to interject angrily until she threatened him with a silencing charm. She then went on to tell Harry, Ron, and Narcissa what she and Draco had learned in their visit to Azkaban. As she had done with Gawain earlier that day, she left out the real reason for her suspicions about Corbin, instead telling them about the Imperious Curse as though she had learned it from Stan.

"…and that was when I realised, he had given us a massive hint in the last interview we did with him. 'I'm just like He Who Must Not Be Named, 'cause he killed them all in that Muggle house'," she finished.

Ron narrowed his eyebrows deep in thought for a second, and then gasped. "Astoria is in the old Riddle house!"

Harry's jaw dropped, Hermione beamed at him and even Draco looked impressed.

"Well done, Ron," Hermione said. "So, are we going then?"

The next hour was extremely chaotic. Harry and Ron needed to speak with Gawain to plan the next steps in their investigation, and to start putting a team together to take to the Riddle house. Narcissa caused quite the fuss wanting to go home, but now that they knew Markus Parkinson was involved with Lucius and quite possibly the Knights of Walpurgis, the team had all decided she was much safer remaining at the Ministry. They did, however, let her wait in Harry and Ron's office rather than stay in the interview room. She and Draco got into a very heated argument about her dating Markus for so long without him knowing, him having dinner with Hermione, and the fact that it was his suggestion that she stay in the Auror department.

There were further arguments shortly after that, this time between Draco, Harry and Ron. The two had returned from their meeting with the Head Auror, bearing news that their team for the raid on the Riddle house had been assembled and neither Draco nor Hermione were part of it.

"You're joking, right? You're actually winding me up?" Draco demanded. "Hermione single-handedly figures out where she is and she's not allowed to go? And Astoria is my fiancée and I'm not allowed to go?"

"Hermione isn't a trained Auror, and we don't have the time to go through the proper raid procedures with her. And you aren't on this case, Malfoy. You're a victim, Auror or not. We can't trust you to be professional on this case, especially not if your father is involved," Harry told him.

"Hermione, please tell them this is ridiculous," he pleaded.

Hermione hesitated and looked down at her feet. "Actually, I think they have a point."

Draco stormed out of the office mumbling something about 'stupid Potter'. Harry followed to go and gather the team, shaking his head as he did, leaving Hermione, Ron, and Narcissa. Hermione wandered over to the magical window at the back of the room and stared out at the cloudless blue sky it depicted. She had been there for a few moments when she felt a gentle tap on her shoulder, and was surprised when she turned around and came face-to-face with Ron.

"Can I have a word in private?" he asked her quietly.

She nodded and followed him out into the empty hallway, where he paused and stood silently for a moment as though gathering his thoughts.

"Ron?" Hermione finally prompted. "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah. Well, er, no, not really. I, er-I wanted to say sorry. I've been a bit of a prat lately, since, you know…" he glossed over the subject of their break-up and continued. "It was childish of me, so…sorry."

Hermione said nothing but leaned forward and hugged him tightly.

"Thanks," he mumbled, his ears going red. "Listen, before we go, I just wanted to say something else. Be careful with Malfoy, okay?"

"Ron, please don't start this again," Hermione sighed.

"I don't want to argue. I just don't trust him. Something tells me he's been keeping stuff from us with this whole Astoria case, I don't know what it is but I'll find out. Please, just promise me you'll be careful?"

His blue eyes bore into hers and the sincerity of his words was clear. He wasn't warning her because he was jealous, or because he thought there was something going on between the pair: he really was worried.

"I promise," Hermione replied, "but for the record, I really think you're wrong about him."

Ron looked at her sadly. "I was worried you would say that."

He turned away from her and Hermione watched him enter Gawain's office where the team of Aurors was getting ready to leave. She returned to her position by the magical window, in which the rain had started to fall. Her eyes followed the droplets as they hit the window, made their way down it and then disappeared. Everything about them seemed real and Hermione was momentarily distracted from her conversation with Ron by the wonderful things magic could do.

Someone standing next to her and nudging her shoulder slightly pulled her out of her trance. She looked to her right to see Draco standing next to her, his solemn face telling her he was still sulking.

"So, you're being careful with me then?" he said without looking at her. He spoke in a voice barely above a whisper so that Narcissa would not hear him, though he knew she would be watching them closely.


"I heard your conversation with Weasley, I was just leaving my office when he started talking about me."

"It's rude to eavesdrop, you know," Hermione scolded.

"He shouldn't have been talking about me then, should he? So, what exactly will you do to be careful around me? Is it okay for me to be standing within a foot of you or should I move?" he teased.

"Oh, behave," Hermione hissed. "Ron was just looking out for me. It's the first time he's been nice to me since we broke up, I didn't want to spoil it."

"I don't know why you're so bothered, but whatever. Thank you for defending me though, you really didn't have to."

Hermione looked up to see he was staring intensely at her. "I meant what I said, Draco. I trust you, even if Ron doesn't."

A/N Two chapters in two days! I'm on a roll ;) Hope you all liked this one :D

Chapter 21: Who Said Anything About Being Friends?
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"Draco, please, let me go home. The flat is safe, you put the wards up on it yourself!" Narcissa Malfoy pleaded with her son.

"Yes, and then you told Markus Parkinson how to get past them."

"Then change them so we can go home! I have a headache and all I want is to lie down, is that so much to ask?"

The argument had been going on since Harry and Ron had left and Hermione was starting to get a headache, too. She was feeling anxious and impatient at having to wait for news from her best friends and to have them back with her safely.

"Draco, maybe your mum has a point," she finally conceded. "Surely you can go and change the wards so that she can go home? You can wait there with her and I'll come and get you as soon as the boys are back."

Draco rubbed his temples as he thought about Hermione's suggestion. "Fine. But you're coming with us. I want to know what's going on as soon as they're back. Leave them a note and tell them we'll be at the flat."

Hermione opened her mouth to argue but realised his idea was a far better alternative to sitting in the office waiting for Merlin knows how long listening to Narcissa complain. She nodded and Draco left to go and alter the wards, promising he would be back as soon as possible. As soon as he was gone, Narcissa spoke to Hermione.

"My son seems to be developing feelings for you."

"I'm sorry?"

"You heard me perfectly well. He might not realise it yet, but I have. I know Draco better than anyone. I see the way he looks at you, he never looked at Astoria that way. And the way he listens to you, trusts you…it's unsettling. Not to mention his flirting with you before, don't think I missed that. I was embarrassed for him." She was eying Hermione as though trying to understand the attraction.

"Well you can't know him that well," Hermione replied shifting uncomfortably in her chair under Narcissa's stern glare. "Draco and I are…friends. That's all." Even though what she said was true, saying it out loud seemed strange. The phrase seemed foreign and that was evident to Narcissa.

"It doesn't sound right, does it?" she asked. "You and him being friends? You know, all of the times he complained to me about 'Mudblood Granger' when he was home for the holidays, or wrote to me. If someone had told me then that he would end up having feelings for you-well, it's laughable isn't it?" There was no trace of humour in her voice, or expression. She sat straight-backed and still in her seat, her rigid form reflecting her attitude.

Hermione flinched internally at the use of the word but did not acknowledge it in her response to the woman. "The idea of Draco having feelings for me is preposterous, Narcissa. You have nothing to worry about. Now, if you'll excuse me for a second, I need to speak with Gawain about something." This was a lie but Hermione needed to put some distance between herself and Draco's mother. The longer she spent with her, the more insufferable Narcissa became.

She stepped out of the room, gently clicked the door closed behind her, and leant against the wall next to it. Her mind was plagued with a multitude of thoughts and she hoped that the silence in the hallway would help her to organise them. A glance at her watch told her that Ron and Harry had been gone less than an hour. There was no telling how long it would take for them to search the whole house and then return. She tried to ignore the nagging voice that was reminding her it wouldn't be that simple; Astoria would not be there unattended, and whoever was keeping her would be unlikely to give her up without a fight.

She knew that she would have to return to the office and Narcissa before long; if Draco returned and saw she had left his mother unattended he would be furious with her-not that Narcissa could have gone anywhere without passing Hermione. Yet, she couldn't bring herself to move: going back into the room would mean Narcissa possibly resuming the conversation Hermione had walked out on. She was still in disbelief at even the suggestion that Draco had romantic feelings for her; just a few weeks ago they weren't even on speaking terms. It was true that they had been through a lot recently, and had spent almost every day together, and that they had become close friends, but that was the extent of it. That is, if she didn't count the hand holding, the hugging and-had he been flirting with her after he'd overheard her conversation with Ron? He had been awfully playful and lighthearted which wasn't a side she had seen of him before, especially not since he was possibly about to be reunited with his fiancée.

Hermione pushed herself off the wall she had been leaning on. "Of course he wasn't flirting," she mumbled to herself and turned to go back into the office, shaking her head at the annoying voice in the back of her mind.

"Who wasn't flirting?" a voice from behind said.

Hermione jumped and turned her head to see who had spoken, her hand still on the door handle. "Draco"!" she gasped.

"What are you doing out here? And who wasn't flirting with whom?"

"I just…stepped out for some air. Your mother can be a little over-bearing. I know I shouldn't have left her but I was only here and-"

"Hermione, relax," Draco said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I didn't ask you to babysit her, she wasn't going to go anywhere now that she knows she can go back home. Now, the flirting?"

"Oh," Hermione felt her cheeks burning, "nothing. Just your mother getting in my head." She shrugged his hand from her shoulder, but immediately regretted it when hurt briefly flashed across Draco's face.

"My mother was talking to you about flirting?" he asked. "I wasn't aware it was in her vocabulary. Care to explain?"

"I really don't, especially not to you," Hermione said quickly. "Come on, before she comes looking for me." She pushed the door open and stepped into the office, leaving Draco standing slightly open-mouthed for a moment in the corridor.

"Okay," Draco said as he entered the room seconds later, "the wards are all changed, I've been to the Floo Regulation Department and have them keeping an eye on our fireplace for the next few hours so we can get there from the fireplaces downstairs rather than apparating, and Potter and Weasley can when they get back. Let's go."

"Draco, are you sure-" Hermione began.

"Yes," he interrupted, "I'm sure you're coming with us. I want you with me. Leave a note telling the others where we are so they can come and find us as soon as they're back."
His serious expression told Hermione that it would be best if she didn't try and argue further, but she gave him a glare that told her she wasn't happy about his plan as she grabbed a self-inking quill and some parchment.

When they arrived at the flat shortly after, Draco insisted that he go first to check the place over one final time. When Hermione got there, he was coming out of one of the bedrooms, his wand firmly in his hand and stretched out in front of him.

"You were supposed to wait until I came back to tell you if it was safe or not!" he scolded when he saw Hermione.

"You're over-reacting, Draco," Hermione told him. She walked over to him and pushed his arm dwon forcing him to lower his wand. "Markus isn't stupid, he wouldn't come here if he didn't have plans with your mother and she already told you they weren't supposed to be meeting until next week."

"I hate to say it, but Miss Granger is right," Narcissa's voice came from in front of the fireplace, making Hermione and Draco jump. Hermione realised she was still holding his arm, and was very aware that Narcissa was looking at it with narrowed eyes. She dropped her hand limply by her side and watched Narcissa clear the soot from the bottom of her robes with a wave of her wand. She then walked straight past the pair. "I'm going for a lie down, wake me when you have news please, Draco," she said over her shoulder.

Draco nodded at his mother and watched as she entered her bedroom and closed the door behind her. He gestured to the sofas indicating that Hermione should sit down, and then left to make them each a cup of tea. Hermione heard the whistling of the kettle just as Draco stuck his head around the kitchen door.

"It wasn't Weasley was it?" he asked.

"What wasn't?" Hermione replied, confused.

"The person who wasn't flirting."

"What? No, of course not. Ron and I are barely friends again, I'm not even sure we are friends again actually. We're…speaking, definitely not flirting."

"Good," he said, and disappeared back into the kitchen leaving Hermione perplexed.

He returned moments later with two steaming mugs in his hands. He set them down on the coffee table, and sat down next to Hermione. They drank their tea in silence until Hermione finally spoke after Draco checked his watch for the third time.

"They'll be back soon, stop tormenting yourself."

"They should be back by now."

"Not necessarily, we don't know how big the house is, or who is there. I'm worried too, but watching the clock won't make it move quicker." She hesitated. "Can I ask you something?"

Draco nodded for her to continue. Hermione paused, wondering if she should ask the question that had been plaguing her recently, and increasingly so since they became so much closer to possibly finding her. "What will you do when you see Astoria again?" she finally asked.

"What do you mean?" he asked with a puzzled expression.

"Well, after all you've told me about her…and you. Are you just going to pick up where you left off? Carry on with the engagement and marry a woman you don't love?"

Draco didn't respond straight away. He looked down into the bottom of the empty mug he was still holding with both hands as though expecting to find an answer at the bottom of it. "I really don't know," he said eventually. "Honestly, the longer she was missing the more I didn't expect we would ever find her. Now there's a good chance that we might and I don't know how to feel. Of course, I'll be pleased if she's safe, but beyond that…"

"Beyond that?" Hermione prompted when he didn't continue.

"I can't marry her. I shouldn't marry her. But how will that look? All of those interviews I did, then she's found and I dump her?"

"So you're going to marry her then?"

"No. I know it's going to make me look bad, and Mother has tried so hard to build up the Malfoy reputation again after last time, but I don't want Astoria, I never did. And there are more important things in life than status, if this whole ordeal has taught me anything it's that. If I'm going to spend the rest of my life with someone, shouldn't it be someone I at least like, someone I connect with? It was never exciting with Astoria, you know? She was so unambitious, all she ever wanted was to be a pureblood high society wife, nothing more. She was shallow, and just…not what I want."

"What do you want, Draco?" The words were out of Hermione's mouth before she knew why she had thought to ask him.

"I want excitement." His eyes were locked on Hermione's now. "I want someone who has ambition, who wants more in her life than status and blood purity…" He shifted in his seat so that he was closer to Hermione, his knees turned towards hers so that they were touching.

"You never know, Astoria might not want to marry you after all of this," Hermione joked trying to diffuse the tension that seemed to be filling the room as Draco moved ever closer to her.

He didn't laugh, he didn't even smile. His face inched closer to hers and she did nothing to stop it, she couldn't have even if she had wanted to. A million thoughts rushed through her head in what felt like the hours it took for Draco to close the gap between them and press his mouth to hers gently.

"Draco, I-" she mumbled against his lips.

"What?" he breathed back. When Hermione couldn't think of how she had intended to end her sentence, Draco took her silence as a desire for him to continue, and so he kissed her again, a little firmer this time. One of his hands rested on her thigh and the other he brought up to face to brush her hair from it and then place it on her neck to pull her closer to him. Against every thought in her head that was urging her to stop, Hermione's lips began to move with Draco's. It was only when he pulled away from her for a second to catch his breath that Hermione came back to earth with a bump and remembered where she was and who was kissing her. When he leaned back into her, she quickly stood up out of her seat.

"Hermione? What's wrong?"

"We shouldn't be doing this. We can't be doing this. I'm sorry, Draco, this was a mistake," Hermione stuttered.

"It certainly didn't feel like a mistake." He too stood up and stepped towards Hermione, placing a hand on his waist which she quickly batted away.

"You're engaged, Draco. And I'm…well Ron and I have only just separated. Neither of us have a clear head for romance at the moment. We've obviously sought comfort and company in one another and confused our friendship for something more."

"That's not what this is and you know it. You're lying to yourself as well as me. You're single, and I will be too, very soon. Not that Astoria and I ever had a real relationship." He made another move to pull her closer and Hermione took another step back, bumping the back of her legs on the coffee table.

"No, Draco. Just stop, please. This isn't appropriate. Let's just forget about it." Her tone was firm.

Draco opened his mouth to respond but a burst of green flames from the fireplace made him stop. Harry stepped out wearing a sombre expression, his face covered in tiny beads of sweat and his robes hanging loosely from his shoulder. "Back to my office, now."

A/N-Soooo, 21 chapters and there's finally a kiss! I know, I dragged it out ;) Thoughts on this chapter?

Chapter 22: Haven't You Figured it out Yet?
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A/N- I am soooooo sorry for the lateness of this chapter. I recently started a new job and my life has been so crazy. I do hope this chapter makes up for it to anyone still following this story! Leave a review and tell me what you think! the quote ‘You see that house upon the hillside, Potter? My father lived there.” belongs to JKR not me and is from Chapter 33 of Goblet of Fire


Three hours earlier…

Harry tapped his foot impatiently as he stood in Gawain’s office, wondering what Ron was doing that was holding them all up. He glanced around the room at his boss and the five colleagues that would be going with him to the old Riddle house. Eight of them against an unknown number didn’t seem like many, but Harry had seen each of the team in action and knew how highly skilled they were. In the pit of his stomach he felt the mix of anticipation and excitement that always came with a big raid. Being an Auror involved a lot of petty criminals and even more paper work, but every so often they would get a chance to be a part of a big raid like this one and it was like Christmas to the team. This was evident in the fact that there was no air of fear in the room. Instead the group were chatting animatedly, some were drumming fingertips impatiently on the desk as they spoke, and the only female of the group, Julia Gilbert, was polishing her wand.

The door clicked open and Harry grinned at his best friend as he entered the room, the smile was not returned but there was no time for Harry to ask what was wrong before Gawain started to speak.

“Okay folks, you all know why you’re here so let’s just get on with the plan of attack.” He waved his wand and a large piece of parchment appeared in the middle of their circle. “This is the layout of the house we believe Astoria is being held captive in. It’s owned by a Muggle family but has been unused for years. The ministry check up on it every year or so because of its history. For those of you who don’t know, the house used to belong to Voldemort’s family. It’s where he murdered them all.”

There was a shiver throughout the older members of the team at the use of his name. It irked Harry but he said nothing: he knew these people had grown up in fear of that name. Gawain ignored them and continued.

“He used the house again around the time he came back but didn’t return to it after that. Stan Shunpike has more or less told us this is where Astoria is being held so we can also assume the Knights of Walpurgis are using this as their base. Presumably Astoria will be in the basement of the house, here.” He pointed his wand at a section of the parchment. “There is only one way in and out of it so it will be heavily guarded. The doorway to it is in the Drawing Room so Potter, you and I will take that.”

He proceeded to divide the team up into pairs and assigned them to different areas of the house to search once he had performed the necessary anti-apparation spells. They were instructed to stun and bind anyone they found in there, Julia and her partner, Andrew, were given the job of taking Astoria to St. Mungo’s once all rooms had been searched.

Not being one for motivational speeches, Gawain nodded his head at the team as an indication that he was finished and that they should leave. He led the way out of the room to the usual apparition point, where he handed out a slip of parchment with the address of the old Riddle house on it.

“Let’s go,” he finally said when the parchment was handed back.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut and thought of his destination, trying to ignore the sensation of being pushed through a rather tight tube. When his feet welcomed the solid ground beneath them, he opened his eyes to find himself at the bottom of a hill.

“You lot wait here, I’ll go and cast the anti-apparation charms.” Harry heard Gawain’s voice and a stirring in the air next to him told him that his boss was under a disillusionment charm.

Harry looked up the hill to the house they would soon be entering. It was decrepit: there was no other word for it. The setting sun cast enough light on it for Harry to see most of the graphite tiles had fallen off the roof, all of the windows were boarded up, and a thick coat of moss covered the brickwork. The grounds around the building were in a state of disarray; there were bushes and weeds reaching up to and beyond the windows on the ground floor.

“Harry? Is that…” Ron’s voice made Harry turn away and follow his line of site.

Ron was looking in the distance left of the house at what Harry immediately recognised as a graveyard. He knew that it was the same one that Cedric had died in; that Voldemort had come back to life in. He could hear the cold, high voice pointing out the house to him.

‘You see that house upon the hillside, Potter? My father lived there.”

He nodded at Ron’s unfinished question and turned away, not wanting to dwell on the night any longer. It had been over seven years but Harry still remembered every detail of what had happened in the graveyard.

A sudden whisper next to him and the appearance of Gawain made Harry jump.

“Let’s hope you’re not that nervous inside, Potter. Everyone ready?” he asked, looking at his team one by one, who nodded in return.

Gawain turned quickly on his heel and started heading up the hill at a quick pace, his robes billowing out behind him. The group followed behind, keeping up pace and they reached the door in moments. Harry pointed his wand at the door and tried to unlock it but the door appeared to be concealed with stronger magic than alohamora would break through. There was only one other option that would get them in the house.

“Stand back!” he ordered, and pointed his wand once more.  “Confringo!”

The old wooden door blasted into thousands of splinters which Harry shielded from his face with his cloaked arm. There was a rush of movement either side of him as the group made their way into the building, heading in different directions. Ron was stood on the left hand side of the door they had just entered, preparing to stop anyone that tried to get out. Harry bumped Ron’s arm with his fist as he ran forward after Gawain who was already at the door to what he knew was the Drawing Room.

Gawain kicked the door open, knocking down a man who had obviously been standing on the other side of it. Harry stunned him before he could get back to his feet and sent a stream of ropes from his wand that bound the man on the floor. There were three others in the room with him who immediately began sending green and red jets of lights at the Aurors. Gawain darted forward and made quick work matching two of the men spell for spell while Harry placed himself behind an armchair and began trying to stun the third man he immediately recognised as Markus Parkinson.

There was no doubt that Markus was far more skilled at dueling than the other two, for Gawain already had one bound on the floor and seemed close to finishing the other off. Harry was firing two spells for every one Markus managed but the man’s shield charms were undoubtedly powerful. Harry ducked behind the threadbare chair just as a green light was cast so close to him that he felt it move the hairs on his head. He changed his tactic and aimed his wand around the side of the chair rather than over the top and hit Markus’ ankles with a trip jinx. Markus fell to the floor with a loud thud, and a clattering noise told Harry that he had also dropped his wand. Taking his chance, Harry stood up and sent a bundle of ropes over to bind Markus in the same way he had done with the other man.

Gawain now had both of his opponents bound. One of them, along with Markus, was shouting a stream of insults and demands to be let go. The other was repeatedly yelling ‘I know not! I know not! ’ with a thick accent that Harry though sounded Russia. Gawain flicked his wand at them all, immediately silencing them. The fourth man by the door was still knocked out under Harry’s stunning spell.

They searched the room thoroughly before making their way to the door in the corner that led to the basement of the old house. Gawain held his wand out and slowly opened the door. He tried the switch at the top of the stairs hoping for a light but it merely clicked unhelpfully. They both lit their wands and began the descent down the stairs. A quick scan of the room when they got to the bottom showed no signs of anyone being down there, or it being somewhere a hostage would be kept. There were several cardboard boxes in various sizes, a few old and broken pieces of furniture, and not a lot else. Gawain motioned to Harry to check the right hand side of the room while he took the left. They met at the back having found nothing more than spiders living down there. Frowning, Gawain led the pair back up the stairs and once in the room began levitating their captives one by one into the entrance hall where Ron and his partner were still guarding the door. Ron jerked his head to a body to his left and grinned.

“Lucius Malfoy,” he said, not bothering to hide the pride in his voice. “Caught him as he was legging it down the stairs. Coward”

Harry couldn’t help but grin back. He turned to ask Gawain for his next instructions but was momentarily distracted by his own reflection in the hallway’s dusty mirror. There was a cut on the top of his right ear and several scratches on his forehead, presumably the work of the door when he blasted it over. His robes had torn slightly around his neck causing them to hang loose over one of his shoulders, and his face was dusty and sweaty. He was thankful that there were no sounds of dueling coming from up the stairs as it was a good indication they would be leaving soon and he could get cleaned up.

Sure enough, the rest of the team made their way down the stairs in the next few minutes, six more bound wizards, including Corbin, the Azkaban guard, and three witches hovering in front of them.

“That’s fourteen,” Gawain said, as they were laid down alongside the others. “Any sign of Astoria? She wasn’t in the basement.”

There was a murmur of disagreement in the group that only made the Head Auror frown more. “That’s not what I wanted to hear. Go and have final checks of your areas. Once you’re done, take a hostage each through the fireplace in the Drawing Room, I’ve linked it up to the floo network and there’s powder there. Go straight to the Department of Magical Law, they’ll keep the hostages in their holding cells until we’ve interviewed any we need to and then ship them off to Azkaban.”

It was a long process and by the time Harry got back to his office he wanted nothing more than to go home, have a bath and curl up in bed with Ginny. Astoria’s disappearance had caused so many late nights and long shifts for him that he felt as though he barely saw her. Unfortunately, he knew that tonight would be another late one, for now he had suspects to interview and there was still no sign of Astoria.

He was joined in the office by a dejected-looking Ron, obviously his feelings of having captured Lucius had worn off with the realisation of there still being a lot of work that needed doing.

“Gawain wants you to interview Parkinson. He’s had a brief chat with Lucius who confirmed everything we already knew about the body switching spell. Apparently he’s denying all knowledge of Astoria’s whereabouts but Gawain reckons he’s lying just to be awkward. He knows he’s already looking at spending the rest of his days in Azkaban so why should he help us?”

“Prat,” Harry grumbled. “Markus hasn’t had any previous convictions, I’m sure we can convince him to tell us where she is.”

Not bothering to tidy himself up after the raid, Harry headed to the interview room in the Magical Law department where Markus Parkinson sat waiting for him. His hair and thick black mustache were far less neat than the last time Harry had seen him as a result of their earlier duel. His face, unlike Harry’s, was neither dirty nor scratched, and wore an expression of utter boredom.

“Markus,” Harry greeted him with a nod as he sat down.

“Mister Potter. I feel as though I should be asking for an autographed picture. Please excuse my state of appearance, usually I have time to clean up when I meet celebrities but I’m afraid our meeting was a rather unexpected one.”

“Look, I’m going to cut to the chase,” Harry said bluntly, ignoring Markus’ comments. “You know the information I need from you, and you’re going to give me it. I’ll stand up at your trial and tell everyone that you were extremely helpful with our investigations and you’ll get a reduced stay in Azkaban.”

Markus studied Harry for a few moments, and Harry didn’t break eye contact, or show any emotion at all. Finally, Markus sighed, his shoulders dropping heavily as he slumped back in his chair in defeat.

“What do you want to know?” he asked.

“Everything. Let’s start with you and Narcissa Malfoy.”

“Oh, Narcissa,” he smiled fondly. “She has had her uses this year. Of course you know about Lucius’ little stunt with the Shunpike boy. Well, someone had to go in every year and recast the spell. It would have looked suspicious if Lucius had gone in to visit as Stan. The Azkaban guards would have never suspected a wife visiting her husband. Not that it mattered if they did; we made sure Corbin was there whenever I went in.” He let out a little chuckle, pleased with their plan.

“So you got yourself nice and cosy with Narcissa. Then what?” Harry prompted.

“Then I started slipping her a sleeping potion on the night that the body-switching spell needed to be recast on Stan. I’d slip it in her cup of tea before bed and wait for her to fall asleep.  Then I’d pull out a couple of hairs for the polyjuice potion and take her wand with me. It all checked out with the security on the way and then Corbin would be in the room when I cast the spell. “

“Okay, that all fits with what we know so far. So what about Astoria Greengrass?”

“She was an unexpected part of our plan. Lucius was sending letters to Draco for months, trying to get him on our side, trying to get him to use his job to get us information on you. After all, you’re the reason he’s in this mess. Draco seemed to be having none of it, unfortunately. He didn’t reply to any of the letters. So one night I was at Malfoy Manor, sneaking out after a little rendezvous with Narcissa and I overheard Draco and Astoria arguing. She was trying to get him to quit his job, telling him how bad it was for the Malfoy reputation for him to be working with you and against all of the people his father used to associate with. Draco didn’t like that at all, he stormed out and I stepped in.” Markus shrugged, as though Harry knew how the story ended so he didn’t need to continue.

“So you kidnapped her and tried to bribe Draco,” Harry confirmed.

Markus sat up straight once more, chuckling at Harry. “Kidnapped? No, Potter.  Haven’t you figured it out yet? This whole thing was Astoria’s idea.”

Chapter 23: Where do we go from here?
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Hermione stared at her best friend. He was filthy and dishevelled but for the most part seemed unharmed.

“Back to my office, now. Your mother too, Malfoy,” he said, and turned back to the fireplace, scooping up the pot of floo powder.

Draco shouted for his mother, rather than going to her room. She appeared in the doorway almost immediately, looking tired and irritable. She opened her mouth to speak but Hermione cut her off.

“Harry, wait!” Hermione gasped. “What happened? Astoria-did you find her?”

 “Not here,” he said sharply, and saying nothing more, Harry threw the floo powder into the fireplace and disappeared with a yell and a blur of green flames and his black robes.

Hermione took a deep breath and followed Harry’s lead. She could feel Draco’s eyes watching her every move but refused to meet them. Finding out what had happened to Astoria was her main priority now. Their kiss was a temporary lapse of judgement, and there would be no more talking of it.

When she stepped out of the fireplace in Harry’s office, he was pacing the floor in the centre of the room, one hand running through his hair and the other gripping his wand tightly at his side.

She felt a hand brush the bottom of her back, indicating Draco’s arrival. She quickly darted away from him and perched herself on the edge of Ron’s desk. Narcissa thankfully arrived last and missed the moment between Hermione and her son.

“Harry, can you please just tell us what’s going on?” Hermione asked.

He stopped pacing and turned to face her. “We haven’t got Astoria.”

“What?!” both Draco and Hermione asked in unison.

Harry launched into an explanation about the raid, the members of the Knights of Walpurgis that were arrested, and his interview with Markus, who had revealed that there were more members that weren’t at the Riddle house that night. He had also told Harry that they had means of communication in the group, and that the other members would know by now about the Auror raid. Harry voiced his suspicions that the Knights of Walpurgis had access to something along similar lines to the Death Eaters’ dark marks, or Hermione’s fake Galleons.

“So, that’s everything,” he concluded. “We had to bring you both here because if they have managed to get messages to other members that weren’t at the old Riddle house, then your safety is compromised. I’d rather have you here.”

He said this last part to Hermione rather than the other two, but Hermione had quickly turned her attention to Draco after she had heard about Astoria’s betrayal. He had taken a seat at Harry’s desk on the other side of the room, both of his elbows were placed on the desk and he was rubbing his temples. His forehead was lined as was usually the case when he was deep in thought. Hermione found herself wondering what could possibly be going through his mind. She was barely able to process the idea herself and Astoria was nothing to her.

“What’s the plan now then?” Draco asked, finally lifting his head up from his hands.

“Gawain and a few others have gone to get Astoria. Markus told us, after some persuasion, she’s been hiding at his house the whole time.” Harry said the last sentence through gritted teeth. Hermione could tell by this and the heavy dark bags under his eyes that he was more than ready to be done with the investigation.

“I need a strong cup of coffee,” Narcissa announced and Hermione remembered that she too was in the room. She had made no comment and given no indication about how she felt about the recent developments. She swept out of the room, pausing momentarily to touch her son lightly on the shoulder.

Harry watched Narcissa close the door gently behind her and then turned to Draco. “Are, er…you alright?”

Draco raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Are you talking to me?”

Rolling his eyes, Harry replied, “I’m looking at you aren’t I? You haven’t had much of a reaction to the fact that your fiancée, who you thought had been kidnapped by dark wizards, has actually been faking the whole thing.”

“Well, I’m pissed off, obviously,” he replied dryly.

“Are you?” Harry asked. “Because it doesn’t seem like it. If anything you looked relieved.”

“I’m sorry, should I be yelling? Throwing some furniture around?” Sarcasm dripped from Draco’s every word. “Of course part of me was relieved, it’s nice to know my fiancée hasn’t been murdered and that the scum I call my father has been returned to Azkaban where he can rot. Of course, the fact that she was in on it all along is a bit of an inconvenience but I’m not going to behave like a three year old having a tantrum. Whatever you’re getting at, Potter, just spit it out.”

“Fine. I think you’re relieved because you’ve got an excuse now to get out of your engagement with Astoria and worm your way in properly with Hermione.” Harry said bluntly, and Hermione gasped.

“Harry!” she exclaimed. Harry ignored her and kept his eyes firmly fixed on Draco, who had now stood up but kept his expression calm and slightly amused.

“This case has gone to your head, Potter. Fancy yourself as a private investigator now, do you?” Draco spat.

“It wouldn’t take a private investigator to work out you two fancy each other. Do you think I didn’t notice the way you two jumped out of your skins when I got to your flat? Hermione’s face was as red as Ron’s hair. I know that look, she’s been my best mate since we were eleven. I saw her go through all of this with Ron, the silly arguments, the looking when she thinks you’re not watching her, the way-“

“Harry James Potter!” Hermione shouted, interrupting her friend’s analysis of her behaviour. “Even if anything you were saying had a shred of truth to it, now is not the time! Don’t you have some work you should be doing? Or at least getting yourself cleaned up? You’ve got wood splinters in your hair.”

“Fine, but don’t think for a second this is over, Hermione,” Harry told her stubbornly. He shot a last scathing glance at Draco before leaving his office, shutting the door a little too hard behind him.

Hermione made a move towards the door, as if to follow Harry. Her hand was on the brass handle when she changed her mind. She turned on the spot and leaned against it instead, sighing heavily as she did so. Things had gotten too complicated. The kiss with Draco gave her enough food for thought when it was just between the two of them, but now it seemed as though Harry knew exactly what he had interrupted and it seemed to magnify the problem a hundred times.

Draco stepped out from behind Harry’s desk and walked slowly towards her. He took both of his warm hands in hers and pulled them to his chest. Hermione didn’t have the mental strength to protest.

“Hermione…” Draco whispered. “Look at me, please.”

She lifted her head but couldn’t bring herself to look into his grey eyes. She knew all too well what had happened the last time she had done so. Instead she focused on his nose; a safe area.

“Why are you resisting this?” Draco asked her. “Even Potter can see there’s something between us. You can’t even look me in the eye because you know it’s true. I’m more certain than ever about this, things are more than over between me and Astoria.”

He rested his forehead on hers and Hermione could feel his warm breath on her face. It was familiar and comforting…and wrong. She pulled her hands and head away from him and slipped around his left side before crossing the room to stand by the false window. It was dark outside, stars dotted the magical view in the cloudless night sky.

“Hermione, please. I’m-“

But exactly what Draco was, Hermione didn’t find out. The door clicked open again, Draco jumped forward out of its way. It was Harry again.

“Gawain and the team are back. Astoria is in one of the interview rooms with Julia questioning her, it won’t take long though, there’s probably nothing new she can tell us. She’ll be going to Azkaban soon.” Harry’s tone was sombre, professional. He was Harry the Auror now, not Hermione’s friend who was angry with her.

“I want to speak to her,” Draco demanded, and reached for the door handle behind Harry.

“I thought you would. Not on your own though, you’ll need one of the team with you.”

“Bollocks!” Draco exclaimed. “I’m a fully trained Auror and she’s wandless. I’m pretty sure I can handle myself.”

“You’re not an Auror on this case. You’re lucky Gawain is letting you in there at all, in any other case like this you would have to wait for visitation at Azkaban. Take what you’re offered and don’t argue, Malfoy.”  Harry spoke in a softer tone now; advising Draco, not ordering him.

Draco sighed and nodded in defeat. He and Harry left the room without a word to Hermione.

Astoria Greengrass sat alone in the cold, grey interview room. Her eyes were on her hands in her lap, picking absentmindedly at the blood red polish Pansy had painted her nails with just two days before. She had been so relaxed then, confident that Draco would give in to the ‘demands’ for her return soon. She wanted to look her best for their reunion, distraught and relieved, but still pretty. Pansy had been giving Astoria some weight loss potions she’d acquired in Knockturn Alley so that she would look as though she had survived on the bare minimum of food, not the three course meals prepared by the Parkinson’s house elf she had actually been eating.

Her efforts had been for naught, it seemed now. Perfect Potter and his team had done their job well, and Markus Parkinson had spinelessly given her secret and location up. Now she was facing a sentence in Azkaban and potentially lost Draco for good. She wasn’t going to give him up without a fight though.

She heard voices just beyond the door and immediately began to fill her eyes with tears. Fake crying had always been a talent of Astoria’s. She had used it to get out of Slugohorn’s potions homework on many occasions at school, to get her parents to insist that Narcissa Malfoy arranged a get together for her and Draco, and more times than she could count to get her own way in her relationship. Sadly, they had failed her when she tried to convince Draco not to take the Auror job with Harry Potter that started this whole fiasco.

When the door to the room opened, it was Potter himself that walked in first, closely followed by Draco. She had forgotten how handsome her fiancé was. He was wearing the Muggle jeans she loved him in, they hung low on his hips, paired with a dark grey shirt, long-sleeved and collared, with the top buttons opened and revealing the top of his pale chest.

“Draco, darling,” she half-sobbed and half-gasped. It came out even better than she had anticipated. She certainly couldn’t have predicted his response, however.

He crossed the space between the doorway and the table and chair opposite her in two strides, grasped the table with both hands and flipped it in one swift move. Astoria screamed and leapt out of her chair, dashing to the far wall and pressing her back against it.

“YOU BITCH!” he yelled.

He managed to pick up a chair and hold it above his head ready to launch it before Harry reacted, whipping out his wand and casting a full body-bind curse on Draco. The chair clattered to the floor at his feet. His eyes darted wildly between his captor and his fiancée as he was levitated out of the room and Astoria was left alone once more.

Back in Harry’s office, Hermione had seated herself at a desk and helped herself to a quill and piece of parchment. She was mindlessly drawing a pattern and casting nervous glances at the open door every now and again. Eventually, she was interrupted with the sight of Draco’s body being levitated into the room, feet first, followed by a furious looking Harry with his wand stretched out in front of him.

“What on earth?” she stammered.

Harry let Draco down on the floor, a little rougher than necessary, and cast the counter-curse for the body bind. Draco immediately leapt to his feet with his fists balled by his side. He made a move to charge at Harry who responded by pointing his wand at Draco’s face.

“Don’t even think about it,” Harry warned, “or I’ll bind you again. Care to explain what the hell that was about back there? You were so calm outside of the door and then you decide to start chucking tables and chairs around?”

“What?!” Hermione rounded on Draco now. “Are you stupid? Whatever would possess you to-“

“Are you really going to finish that sentence, Granger?!” Draco snapped. Hermione winced at the use of her surname. “That witch faked her own kidnapping, sent me threatening notes, worked with a group of dark wizards including my father who I thought was in Azkaban, then I walk in there and she calls me darling? How did you think I was going to react?”

“Draco, you-“ she began, but again he cut her off.

“No, Granger. You don’t get to tell me what I can and can’t do, or feel. I am not your problem and you’ve made that quite clear. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I am stupid after all!” And with a look of disgust, he stormed out of the office leaving Harry fuming and Hermione’s eyes brimming with tears.



A/N- I know, I'm the worst at updating. Sorry! Forgive me? 

Chapter 24: Is There Anything Left to Say?
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It had been one week since Astoria had been found hiding in Markus and Pansy Parkinson's house. Astoria was still being held in the Ministry cells awaiting trial, which would begin in two days. Harry and Ron had been overwhelmed with paperwork once more; there were a lot of statements to take from suspects and witnesses alike. Draco had been coerced into taking personal leave by Gawain, but he knew this was as a result of his actions in his brief reunion with Astoria. He couldn't be trusted to be in the same building as his ex-fiancée.

Draco had spent the last week helping his mother to restore Malfoy Manor and flooing back and forwards with boxes of her belongings. He had made the decision to stay in the flat in Muggle London, much to his mother's horror. He explained to her, in an extremely heated argument, that he was twenty-two years old and it was high time he moved out of his family home, and told her he would visit her regularly. He suspected it was more about the location than the fact he would be leaving her to live alone for the first time in her life, but he kept those thoughts to himself. If he was honest with himself, a big part of his decision was down to his lingering anger with his mother because of her dealings with Markus Parkinson, whom Draco felt was largely at fault for the situation he found himself in.

The morning Narcissa fully moved out was also the morning Draco was due to go into work and give his official statement to Harry. He had given his mother a fleeting hug with a half-sincere promise to see her that weekend, before watching her disappear in a swirl of green flames and black robes. Wanting something to keep himself busy until he had to go into work, he had made himself a cup of coffee and proceeded to pace in his kitchen with the drink going cold clutched in his hands.

His pacing had very little to do with the statement he was about to give, and a lot to do with fears Hermione would still be around in the department tying up the loose ends in the investigation. He bitterly regretted the way he had treated her after his run-in with Astoria; he knew he had taken his frustrations out on the wrong woman. As busy as the last week had been, it hadn't helped take his mind off Hermione at all. Everything reminded him of her, even here in his tiny kitchen he could picture her wild-haired and red-faced with anger as she bound him to his own dining chair after finding the notes from the Knights of Walpurgis.

He chuckled in spite of himself. The girl had barely changed since Hogwarts and yet she was a completely different person to him. There was no denying how much he had enjoyed working alongside her over the last month, she was intelligent and passionate and everything Astoria wasn't and would never be. He didn't need his mother or Harry telling him how they thought he felt about Hermione: he already knew.

But of course he had gone and put his foot in it with her, what was he thinking calling her Granger? The look of shock on her face as the name had escaped his lips told Draco exactly how much he hurt her in that moment, and he had been internally kicking himself ever since.

He glanced at his silver wristwatch which showed five minutes to ten, his meeting with Harry was at ten, so he set his cold untouched coffee on the bench and made his way to the fireplace.

When he arrived at the familiar department, he could feel the eyes of his fellow Aurors who lingered in the corridor on him as he passed, obviously news of his outburst had spread and he had become somewhat of a spectacle to be watched. He lifted his chin up a little; he would not be forced into feeling shame from the colleagues who had mostly ignored him since his first day on the job.

Harry's office door was open when he reached it. He was seated at his desk with a stack of parchment in the tray to his left, furiously scribbling on a piece in front of him. His forehead was lined in concentration, or possibly frustration. Draco cleared his throat and Harry looked up.

"Oh, sorry, Malfoy. Bloody paperwork is never-ending on this case. It's a shame you weren't officially working on it, you owe me and Ron big time from those Knockturn Alley deals we covered for you when you got enga-" he quickly closed his mouth to stop from ending the word.

Draco gave a humourless laugh. "You can say the word, Potter. And I'd have gladly helped with the paperwork if it meant actually being here."

Harry looked as though he wasn't sure how to respond, Draco had made his feelings clear to the whole Department how he felt about Gawain's personal leave suggestion. He opted for a change of subject. "Shall we get on with your statement then? Yours is the last one I need before we go to trial. Gawain reckons it'll be a short one, thankfully. We should just be able to present our case and then Astoria will be charged, she's already given a full confession. That means no need for anyone else to stand in court."

Draco knew by 'anyone else', Harry meant him. He was thankful for the news and for him sharing the information. "That's good," he replied. "How do you want to do my statement then? I can just write the whole thing out to save you asking the questions, then you can get on with that," he gestured towards the stack of parchment.

Harry happily agreed and handed Draco a quill, ink pot, and several blank parchment pages and the two sat scribbling in silence. Draco was careful to include only things in his statement that Harry was aware of, leaving out his deal with Corbin and other transgressions he had made throughout the investigation.

When he finished, he signed his curly signature on the bottom and skim-read it once more before handing it over. Harry thanked him and then returned to his work, though Draco continued to hover in front of him.

"Something wrong?" Harry asked when he finally realised Draco was still there.

Draco took a deep breath before saying, "I want to see Astoria."

"Absolutely not. Out of the question. Not after last time," Harry told him bluntly.

"Potter, please. I'm much calmer now, I know what I did last time was wrong. I need to hear why she did it."

Harry shuffled around in one of the desk drawers by his left leg, pulled out a file and handed it over the desk. "You can read her statement."

Draco pushed it back towards him. "That's not the same. Look, I know fine well if I blow up like last time, I'll be out of a job. I won't make that mistake."

The two men studied each other carefully for a moment, before Harry sighed and his shoulders dropped in defeat. He begrudgingly agreed and gave a final warning to Draco before leaving the room to take Astoria from her holding cell to the interview room. He returned ten minutes later and motioned for Draco to follow him.

"It won't just be your job on the line if you can't control your temper, Malfoy," he said as a final warning before pushing the door open.

Astoria's expression was one of cool boredom when Harry walked into the room, as though she was tired of the routine. It was clear that he hadn't told her why she was being interviewed again because when Draco followed Harry in, she quickly dropped her act and she stared open-mouthed at him.

"Draco? What's happened? What's going on?"

He sat down opposite her and gave Harry a pointedly calm look before speaking. "I need to know why you did it, Astoria."

She cringed at the use of her full name; she had always insisted he called her Tori, particularly in public. Ever conscious of the image they were presenting.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," she said with a shrug.

Draco balled his fists up under the table in frustration. He took a deep, calming breath and tried again. "That act isn't going to work on me. Our relationship might not have been perfect but I at least know when you're bullshitting me."

Astoria gave a sharp, hollow laugh. "Might not have been perfect? What we had was a train wreck from the beginning."

"So, what?" Draco asked. "You faked your own kidnapping to get revenge?"

"I did it to make you finally realise you needed me!" Astoria snapped. "It was never about revenge, Draco. I wanted you to love me the way you acted like you did whenever we were around other people. Don't you see how perfect we could be together?"

It was Draco's turn to laugh now. "This,he gestured to the pair of them, "is anything but perfect. How did you think this little plan of yours was going to play out? I'd hand over all of the information about Harry and then welcome you back with open arms?"

"I thought me being in danger would make you realise that I actually meant something to you." Astoria spoke to her hands in her lap; all signs of her bravado had been dropped. Draco felt a pang of sympathy towards the woman he had spent too long pretending to love.

She continued, "The night this whole thing started…we'd had that big argument about your job, remember? You wanted to celebrate that big arrest you and Potter had made, the one with the muggle kidnappings? You were so pleased. Oh, Astoria, you should have seen Potter duelling those two bastards at once? I'd never say this to him but he's some dueller."

Draco heard Harry chuckling in the corner and silently cursed Astoria; he would never live that one down.

"I couldn't bear listening to you talk about him that way," Astoria went on. "Pureblood habits die hard, I suppose. Then I stupidly made a comment about how embarrassed your father would be if he heard you talking like that, and the next thing I knew you stormed out and in walked Markus. He told me all about his relationship with your mother, and I told him about how frustrated I was with you. How, even though we were engaged, I knew you didn't really love me the way I loved you, and our whole relationship wasn't how I pictured it. We talked for ages, eventually he confided in me about your father not really being in Azkaban and the letters you had been getting from the Knights of Walpurgis. I realised then that I could use their plans to my advantage, and that was when I suggested faking my kidnapping. I didn't care about them getting to Harry, I just wanted you to love me."

Draco sat silently, reeling from the new information. How was he supposed to respond to that? There were so many things he should have said to her; that he wanted to say to her. He wanted to tell her how furious he was with her for not telling him straight away about his mother and Markus, and his father and Stan. He wanted her to know how deluded he thought she was that she ever thought her plan would work. Most of all, he wanted to say that he never had loved her, and that he never would. But he knew that saying that wouldn't make a difference at all. He felt an overwhelming sense of pity for the woman sitting across from him; she was suffering enough already. He stood up out of his seat and looked her straight in the eye, finally knowing what to say to her.

"Goodbye, Astoria."

Chapter 25: Guilty or Not Guilty?
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Courtroom six was crowded on the morning of August eighteenth; both Ministry officials and members of the public alike filled the high-rising, black stone benches. Against his better judgement, Draco Malfoy found himself entering the ominous room just moments before Astoria’s trial was due to begin. Though he knew he was not required to be there; his statement was enough evidence for the Magical Law department, he had to see for himself how the bizarre chapter in his life would end.

His father had been sent back to Azkaban with an extended sentence, one long enough to ensure his final days would be spent in the wizard prison. Markus and the other members of the KoW had been trialled the day before. Draco hadn’t attended, but Harry had owled him when it was over to say they had all been charged with ten years for their conspiracy, and Markus had received an extra seven for his involvement in Astoria’s fake kidnapping. Pansy had also been given seven years, much to Draco’s delight.

His eyes performed a quick scan of the room before he took a seat on the end of a bench directly by the door he had just entered. Harry, Ron, and Gawain were front and centre, along with eight members of the Wizengamot. Rita Skeeter sat on the row behind, wearing a dragon skin suit in a shade of green so vile Draco thought it should have been illegal, her acid green quill hovering viciously over a blank piece of parchment. She was leaning forward in a not-so-subtle way, presumably to listen to the whispered conversation Harry and Ron were having.

Further up the bench, huddled together and dressed all in black as though they were attending a funeral, were Astoria’s family. Her mother was dabbing at her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief, while her father patted her knee in a comforting manor. Daphne looked positively bored, and as though she would rather be anywhere else. Draco prayed that they wouldn’t look his way.

The one person he did want to see didn’t appear to be there. He was sure that Hermione would have been there, having played such a big part in the investigation, but she was nowhere to be seen. ‘What did you expect to happen if she was here? Hermione suddenly forgiving you and snogging your face off in the middle of your ex-fiancée’s trial? ‘ a voice in his head asked wickedly. He knew it was right, of course. Hermione had ignored the seventeen owls he had sent her; she was still angry.

The door immediately to Draco’s left swung open and the sound was followed by the clicking of heels. They faltered as they passed him, making him glance up to see who they belonged to, and he was met with the slightly shocked face of Hermione. She was wearing a set of smart, charcoal grey dress robes, with her usually wild hair pulled back into a bun. A folder hung limply by her side as she continued to stare in disbelief at Draco.

“Hermione!” Harry whispered, loud enough to make her jump.

Hermione promptly pulled the folder she was holding up to her chest and made her way over to the seat next to Harry. She handed him the folder with a shake of her head and Draco heard her scolding Harry for being forgetful.

Less than five minutes later, the door at the other side of the courtroom opened with a loud creak. Draco knew that this door led to the holding cells, and sure enough two ministry guards marched in either side of an extremely irritated looking Astoria. Though she was dressed in her best and most expensive robes, she was a shadow of the woman Draco knew her to be. Her face was bare of any make-up, and her dark hair, usually cared for with the use of only-the-best hair potions, hung limply over her shoulders.

The guards frog-marched her to the seat in the centre of the room. Astoria looked nervously at the cuffs on the arm of the chair before slowly sitting herself down. Luckily for her, the court hadn’t deemed her to be a flight-risk as the cuffs remained open and she was free to place her hands in her lap instead.

The chief of the Wizengamot stood up from his seat and the quiet murmur of conversations stopped abruptly. “Please confirm for the court that you are Astoria Celeste Greengrass, of Greengrass Manor, Surrey?”

Astoria rolled her eyes. “That’s me.”

“The charges against you are conspiracy and perverting the course of justice through your own false kidnapping. Do you accept these charges?”

“I do, and I did two weeks ago. Can you just get on with it please? We all know how this is going to end.”

“The court has an obligation to oversee all evidence before sentencing, Miss Greengrass. Your patience and cooperation would be appreciated.”

It took another half an hour and a lot of complaining on Astoria’s part before they got to the sentencing. All of the evidence from the Auror department had to be presented to the court, this turned out to be the file that Hermione brought in for Harry. Astoria had no legal representation, and pleaded guilty to all charges against her, which made things easier for the court. There was a ten minute break where the council members gathered to decide her fate. On their return, Astoria was asked to stand.

“Astoria Celeste Greengrass, you have pleaded guilty to all charges against you. While the Wizengamot appreciates your honesty, we feel that you show very little remorse for your actions. While we are aware of Markus Parkinson’s involvement with the group that refer to themselves as the Knights of Walpurgis, and in turn, your involvement with Mr Parkinson, we do not feel you were linked in any other way with the group. We therefore sentence you only for the offences in relation to the kidnap. For this you will spend eleven years in Azkaban with no opportunity for a reduced sentence.”

Astoria barely flinched at the news, but loud sobs came from her mother in the stands as Astoria was led out of the door she had entered though. Draco knew from there it would be straight to the apparition point to Azkaban for his ex-fiancée. He felt oddly discomforted by the thought. Though he knew it was nothing less than she deserved, he couldn’t help but feel a small level of concern for Astoria; girls like that weren’t made to cope in prison. He felt a small comfort in the fact that the place wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been before the war; Kingsly had quickly seen to the removal of the Dementors and introduced real guards.

Some of the Wizengamot had begun to leave, and the rest of the court were following suit, pushing all thoughts of Astoria out of Draco’s mind. He wanted to try and get Hermione to speak to him before she left so that he could apologise to her face to face. She had lingered behind to speak to one of the Wizengamot whom Draco didn’t recognise, so he left the room but waited on the other side of the door so that she would have to walk past him on her way out.  Astoria’s family walked by him, thankfully without noticing he was there. Harry gave him a nod as he left with Ron, who very pointedly ignored him. Hermione and the witch she had been talking to were the last to come out.  

“Hermione!” he shouted. The witch waved to Hermione and made her way to the lift at the end of the corridor.

“I don’t want to talk to you, Draco,” Hermione snapped.

She tried to walk away from him but he wasn’t prepared to let her go without saying what he needed to. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back so she was facing him.

“Hermione, please, just give me a minute. Just one minute and then if you still hate me, I’ll leave you alone.”

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and then replied, “Fine. One minute.”

He loosened his grip on her arm and gestured to the lift. “My office? Julia and Andrew will probably be out for lunch.”

They rode the lift in complete silence. Draco kept glancing up at Hermione to see if her expression had softened at all, but she was looking away from him. As soon as the doors opened, Hermione was out of the lift and marching towards Draco’s office. By the time he got there, she was already perched on the edge of his desk, her arms folded across her chest.

“Your minute has started,” she said stubbornly.

“Oh, come on, don’t be like that. Look, I’m not one for apologising usually, and I sent you seventeen ‘I’m sorry’ owls. I know I was a total prick to you after Astoria was finally found, but you have to see it from my point of view. I would have been a prick to anyone in that moment. And yeah, I shouldn’t have taken it out on you, but in that moment I just wanted to be allowed to be angry with Astoria. I didn’t want to hear that I shouldn’t have reacted like I did. But how was I meant to react? Astoria really put me through a lot of shit, the worry that came with each new threatening letter, the stuff with that Azkaban guard, finding out about my father and Stan. The only one good thing that came out of this whole thing is that I got to know you better. I thought we were friends. I thought we were…” He shook his head. “What I’m trying to say is I’m really sorry.”

It was only then that he realised he had been talking to his shoes the entire time. He finally looked up at her and relief washed over him when he saw she had unfolded her arms and was almost smiling.

“You were a prick,” she agreed, and he resisted the urge to laugh at how odd it sounded to hear her swear. “But…I suppose I forgive you. Eighteenth time’s the charm, eh?”

He wanted to cross the room and take her in his arms, but he knew that would be pushing it. Instead he settled for a grin, which she reciprocated, and before they knew it the pair were laughing.

Hermione managed to compose herself long enough to tell Draco that she needed to go back to work. Loretta had come begging for Hermione to come back to her own department as soon as Astoria had been found.

“Okay, I guess I’ll see you later then?” Draco replied.

Hermione nodded and stood up from her seat on the end of the desk. She crossed the room toward the door behind Draco, pausing when she reached him for the second time that day. She thought for a moment and then threw her arms around him in a hug that almost knocked him sideways. When she let go, she was very red-faced, and left the room without another word.

Draco tried, with great difficulty, to catch up with some long overdue paperwork over the next half an hour, but he just couldn’t seem to focus. His mind was somewhere else, and somewhere else was two floors below in her own office.

He sat for another five minutes, achieving nothing, before he got frustrated with himself and headed out of the room. He wasn’t sure what he planned on saying to Hermione when he reached her, but he knew that he needed to speak to her.

He flung her office door open without knocking. “Hermione, I have to-“

The office was full. Hermione and two of her colleagues were seated at desks, quills in hand, eyes on Loretta Fleets, who was standing in one corner of the room next to a huge board full of notes in her messy handwriting.

“Can I help you, Malfoy?” Loretta asked. One eyebrow, purple to match her hair that day, was raised in amusement.

“Oh, er-no. I was just coming to speak with Hermione...something about the Astoria case,” he lied quickly. “It can wait though…”

“Nonsense! We can wait. Hermione, out you pop, this sounds important!” Draco got the impression from the wild woman that she had seen directly through his lie.

Draco stepped back out into the hallway, Hermione followed him and clicked the door closed behind her. She began firing questions at him about Astoria, concern washed over her face. Draco quickly reassured her that everything was fine and the case was still wrapped up, but wasn’t sure where to go from there.

“Well, what’s wrong then?” Hermione asked impatiently, and then when he didn’t reply, “Draco?”

“I just had to…”

“Had to what?  I’m missing an important meeting here, Loretta was just talking about a new law she wants to bring in about muggle-borns and you’re making me miss it so that I can stand out here for absolutely no reason and-“

She was ranting in a way that told Draco she wasn’t going to stop any time soon, so he stopped her the only way he knew would work. He kissed her. For a moment, Hermione froze, but when Draco grabbed her hips and pulled her closer, her body soon responded. Her hands were on his back, and then in his hair. Her lips moved in time with his and her throat made a low moaning sound she had never heard herself make before.

It was Draco that broke the kiss, stopping only to tell her what he had wanted to when he burst into her office. But Hermione spoke first.

“Draco, we can’t keep doing this.” It was like a punch in the stomach for him. “Not because I don’t want to. Merlin, it’s about time I admitted that to myself… but it’s too soon. There’s no way you’re ready for anything to happen between us, and I won’t be a fling to distract yourself from Astoria.”

He started to argue but she stopped him again, “No, please listen to me. Let’s just…give it a while? Stay friends for now and she how you feel in a few months?”

“I know I’ll feel the same,” he said quickly before she could interrupt.

“And I hope you do,” she said with a small smile. “But I need to know that for sure and this is the best way.”

“A few months then? Shall I put a date in my diary?” he asked in an attempt to lighten the mood.

She laughed, “If you like. In fact, how about you come with me to Harry and Ginny’s wedding in October?”

“As your date?”

“I guess we’ll know then, won’t we?” And after a swift peck on his cheek, she made her way back into the crowded office. 

A/N- I know, my updates are taking an AGE. Hopefully the next one won't be too much longer, but I'm sad to say it'll be the last one! *sniff* Anyway, let me know what you think of this one!