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Chapter Four

A dribble of blackcurrant drips off the side of the surface, a low sounding trickle splashing to the mouldered orange linoleum floor. Hermione’s back upstairs, examining that apple. She wants to take it as a sample of evidence, to check if the DNA of the blood matches to that of Goyle’s. Furthermore, there’s skin scrapings in the covers of the bed, hairs dressing patterns across the floor, saliva from the rim of glasses and cups. But nothing seems to show that an intruder has been here. Well, nothing but the visible struggle in the bedroom, the dead body downstairs in the kitchen and the writing on the wall.

So, the revolver. Pinpointing which direction the shot came from isn’t hard, but it also isn’t a job I feel I want to do, especially at 3 a.m. in the morning. That’s right - we’ve been here for hours, and now I’m sick of the damp, dingy conditions. Fact is - Gregory Goyle was a lazy arse. His house shows evidence of that.

“Come on,” I say to Granger at last when three thirty four strikes and my eyes are becoming bleary. “Lets get some coffee.”

She reaches the edge of the stairs and peers into the kitchen, her eyebrows risen and a disapproving manner falling across her face. I laugh suddenly, stepping backwards almost onto the corpse until I’m stopped by the woman’s scream, and quickly straightening myself and correcting my area of direction, I pass Granger a wry grin.

“What’s so funny?” she demands, her voice bordering harsh and her brow furrowed with increasing annoyance.

“Funny?” I rebuke her sharply, reaching around to pull my jacket further about my chilled body. “Nothing. Just the fact that having a coffee startled you so much.” I wave a dismissive hand around the kitchen - or rather, crime scene, before rolling my eyes and taking a step towards her. She backs away and allows me to pass on into the hall. “I don’t mean have a coffee here. Hell no, that’s sick and wrong. Lets go into town.”

“You realise, don’t you, that its almost four a.m.?”

“And? There’s always somewhere open.”

“I doubt that very much.”

She follows me anyway. We shut the door firmly behind us, fastening a locking spell upon the doors and windows, making sure the scene cannot be disturbed. Heading out into the early morning, dawn has yet to cut across the sky. The darkness is laced with indents of stars, the misty moon already contemplating its surrender to the approach of a bright morning. The clear sky tells us that tomorrow is simply a dream away, or rather in our case - a couple of hours doing nothing.

Granger’s right. There is nowhere to go. All the shops are boarded up for the night, safely stashed and locked away, their contents with them. We walk along Broad Street, as far as Virgin Megastores, before turning back and finding our dull, grumpy way into the Oracle. Expansive as it is, even the shops by the steaming misty river Thames deny us entry. In the end, Granger stops, sighs, and turns around to face me.

“Look. They’re all closed.” I mutter something moodily in response but she ignores me and continues. I hate being proved wrong. “Lets go back to mine. Its only an apparition away, and besides - we may as well restore our strength and find what little sleep we can before morning arrives and we have to return here.” Her nose in pinched heavily in disgust as she glances around, but I don’t question it. The invite pleases me somewhat, although I have no idea why. Surely it would be easier for me to return to my own apartment, but her eyes quickly narrow as if reading my thoughts. “You simply can’t go back to your flat. I know you’ll never wake up. You need someone to kick you into action.”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t kick,” I grumble, but she ignores me and hurriedly gives me a quick description of her house, before giving up at my puzzled, tired frown and quickly reaching for my wrist, tearing me away from the deserted desolation of the shopping centre and away into what I can definitely assert as being named Oxfordshire. I suppose the rolling countryside helps.

Granger shoves a key into the lock, twisting it and forgetting that she could more than likely just blast the whole place open with magic. Outside, the garden path is neatly curved and fringed with dripping leafless trees, naked and exposed to the oncoming Winter, and a light dazzle of misty rain has formed over the fields that stand to the rear of the house, the sound of trickling water echoing from a snaking river that flows gushing and silver across icy shards of rocks.

“Are you coming?”

I lift my eyes to catch Granger regarding me with amusement. My eyebrows furrow and I shrug, following her inside, noting her neat cream carpet and quickly kicking my shoes off. What am I supposed to call her outside of the work environment? Hermione? Plain Granger? Boss, Miss? Entirely confused, I brushed the thought aside and settle on avoiding voicing her name altogether, fingers wandering over the softly partnered pastel-hued wallpaper, following the woman further into the hallway and coming to a halt in the lounge. Granger waves me towards a seat and I accept, watching as her hand flicks on the lights by a simple Muggle switch, stirring electricity, charged by electrons - or so I studied at school. The woman disappears again, leaving me alone as I hear the hiss of the kettle and take the opportunity to glance around.

The mantelpiece holds a dozen pictures framed in silver, each one showing some captured antic of the past. One seems particularly brighter than the others, and my eyes find it immediately. I recognise them all - the two Weasleys, Granger and Potter. Ginny’s hair is bright and vibrant in the array of sunshine falling across it, marking it in fiery crimson, one tanned and freckled hand resting across her stomach. She’s sat with colourful fruit-juice beside her, a smile spread across her lips, yet it is an expression that does not quite reach her eyes. She looks young still, probably still in school. We had a fling once - me and her. It didn’t end too well. My eyes travel to the figure besides the girl, Potter, older than when last I saw him, yet his eyes are shining with happiness, the old familiar scar cutting its mark across his forehead. Granger and Ron Weasley are also sat at this white laced table, fingers entangled with one another and a ring glittering superbly against the clear-cut blue sky that fringes the detail of the picture. All of them move, Granger obviously amused about something, and her eyes drift towards her partner - Weasley, beaming before turning once more to face the camera. Rather than creamy, her flesh is lush bronze, contrasting superbly against the lilac of her dress.

Other pictures include late nights in the park, Granger and Weasley walking through glittering escapades of frozen water, mountains glaring at their backs. In one of the pictures is a baby - a young child wrapped in the warmth of a cream blanket, eyes wide a dark with tufts of dark hair visible behind a bonnet. A hand flashes into existence for a moment, the child clutching one finger around its own minuscule ones, before the hand quickly disappears once again and the picture turns blank. I frown, peer and watch the motion again, before shrugging and moving on to view the next, although the child is still strong inside my mind.

The clearing of a throat startles me to turning around, leaving me facing a pair of strong, cold eyes and a flinty tone of voice. “Finished prying yet, have you?”

I bite my lip anxiously, determined to make a joke of it, but for once words fail me and I stare levelly back at Granger. “I was merely interested. The photos are on display. I didn’t touch anything.”

She says nothing and turns away, placing two steaming mugs on the varnished coffee table between the pair of us. She runs a wary hand through her hair and with that one movement, the tension melts away. I drop into the seat nearest to me, pick up the coffee and begin to sip, saying nothing. Granger does likewise and peels off her shoes, lifting her feet with a comfortable sigh as she sinks further against the sofa. Silence ensues, but it is a warm sort of pause, a brief hesitation to allow us time to breathe. My eyelids droop and I finish my coffee, tossing the dregs into the fire Granger has set to burn. She follows my movement but still says nothing.

We sit in companionable silence until the outside world seems to warm. A large flat of bay windows offer a highlight of silver gold as the sun begins to climb in it rise. Suddenly everything is alive with heat, a refreshened awakening as the day begins to fall into place. I turn my head slightly to catch sight of Granger. Her eyes have fallen closed, the length of her eyelashes casting shadows against one side of her pale face. The other side is captured by the arrays of liquid gold, the very light soaking through her hair and causing her to look like a goddess. I frown and scoff at myself - this is Hermione Granger, Mudblood and one of the triumvirate concerning Weasley and Potter. She’s not pretty and alluring. She’s just a dirty nobody.

Shaking my head at myself, I still can’t help but to enjoy breathing in the faint fragrance of the woman’s perfume that drifts across the air. I tell myself I’m just hungry for a woman - and Granger is female. Its no surprise I suddenly find her attractive. Sinking further against the sofa, I feel my eyes slowly close, burning into the dark that rests behind them, slipping through into the delight of sleep.

- - - -

I left Granger pouring through the crime scene early this morning, attempting to find any evidence that might prove of worth and lead us to our killer. I, on the other hand, travelled to Knockturn Alley, passing through the familiar pub - the Leaky Cauldron, and disappearing down the winding cobbled street that leads into familiar darkness.

I was awoken early this morning by the soft touch of hands running through my hair, the heat of breath against my cheek. Stirring, I moaned faintly and blinked open my eyes, a smile already formed on my lips, only to find the room empty. Frowning, I sat up and stretched a yawn. Granger could be heard clattering about the kitchen. The clock informed me it was six a.m. I couldn’t have had more than an hour’s sleep. But that wasn’t what concerned me - it was the longing and feeling I woke up to.

I dismissed it, forcing myself to prevent such stupidity. It was just the tendrils of a dream hanging over me still.

Now, the chill threads icily through my cloak that tries to offer a drench of warmth, something defeated by the uprising wind that tears through the narrow alley. Like most of the travellers passing through this area, I keep my hood up, my eyes glinting faintly beneath such a formulation of velvety shadow.

“Borgin,” I greet the oily mutt who is shuffling about his shop, piling the odd potion against a shelf, waving a duster to polish bottles to a gleam and waving his wand here and there. What a stupid git. He’s been stuck here for years.

He turns at the sound of my voice, his eyes widening vacantly before he begins to scratch at his eyes in recognition. “Zabini? That you? I didn’t hear the opening of the door.”

I inline my head and glower at the floor with annoyance. How did he know it was even me? True, I used to hang out here a lot as a kid, whilst Draco marvelled over variations of poison, but we rarely bought anything, and when we did, it was cheap but deadly. The old sod used to get pissed at us and shove us out the door. He sniffs disgustingly and leers at me so that I have to gnaw my lip in an effort not to fidget.

“You buying this time? ‘Cause if not, you can get out.”

“I’m looking for a potion,” I snap irritably, my eyes running across the many shelves where vials contain bright, twisting hues and smouldering colours. Each potion looks dangerous and rare in its own way, but with so many to choose from, I’m more than certain that I need Borgin’s help, unless I wish to be stuck here for years. He’s shifted away from his counter now, following me with his arms folded and his eyes narrowed suspiciously. I turn and face him sharply. “If I wanted to clear something away without using a wand, what potion would I select?”

“You’re not very specific, are you boy?”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. “My fingerprints are all over something they shouldn’t be. If the Auror’s catch any hint of me being there . . .” I pull my hood down and regard him seriously. “I’ll pay double the price if you can just recommend something to me. I need to remove fibres of skin, fibres of everything, and I can’t use magic, because more than likely they’ll perform a detector’s rinse, to check for the last spell.” With elegance, my fingers trace the vials, and Borgin’s eyes follow my movement, his anticipation easy to sense in his less than cool composure.

“You gettin’ at something boy?”

“Eh? What?” I frown, feigning confusion.

“Someone else -” He pauses and shakes his head, quickly cutting himself off at realisation.

“Where’s the potion?” I enquire impatiently, and he hands one to me, a tall vial of ebony liquid that probably smells like - “Wait, you said something about someone else . . . This portion has been tested before, right? It’s not just a scheme of yours . . .”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he seethes, straightening and holding his chin tall and proud. “Loads of people have bought this before, and I ain’t had no complaints -”

“Did anyone buy it recently? In the past couple of days, maybe even weeks?”

He looks nervous, and points me towards the door with a gnarled finger. “I don’t know what you’re on about. It’s none of your business, now go on, get out, or I’ll inform the authorities of everything you and that Malfoy used to buy, and that wouldn’t be too good for your non-too clean record, would it? Get out!”

Well, at least I didn’t have to pay for the potion, even if I failed in receiving any suspect names. Scowling, I walk away from the shop and through the winding alleys, the cold starting to drive in.

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