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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello, Ron.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ron,” Hermione said, “I – er-"

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

“What – how would you - Hermione!”

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

“But – you – can’t!”

“Why not? I can look after myself.”

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

“I know. He didn’t do it.”

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

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

“Polite?”

“Yes, if evasive.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t –“

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

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

“Aha! Trying to suss you out – “

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

“And why would he, if he’s guilty?”

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

“I have! Five corpses – “

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

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

Don’t use that word.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Aren’t I always?”

“No,”

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

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

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

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

*


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

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

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

“He still annoyed?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

*


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

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

“Good morning,” she said.

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

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

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

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

“A vampire?”

“Yes.”

“Why did he want to kill you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

“Who? Can they corroborate your statement?”

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

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

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

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

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


“By whom?”

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

“They say you told them nothing on questioning.”

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

“Not wise of you.”

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

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

“I may have been.”

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

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

“You were frightened?”

Cyngus’ eyes flashed. “No.”

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

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

“Four.”

“Where are they now?”

“Hiding, if they have any sense.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A little.” She replied.

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




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

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





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