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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded. “I understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know,” he said, not looking away.

*


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

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

“You’re late, Granger,”

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

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

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

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

“I’m afraid I don’t see your point.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can go.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

*


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How you can persist in this idiotic-“

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

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

“That’s correct.”

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




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


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