Blackness had become his closest friend and his worst enemy. How long he had been tethered in the same place, he did not know, but if he had learned anything from his father, it was to calculate each and every situation. Carefully, he listened to his surroundings. Wherever he was, it was certainly cold, and the breeze of the outdoors licked his skin and salted his wounds. Perhaps, he was still in the Forbidden Forest, but it felt like he had been dragged so much further than that.
Swollen eyelids had left him unable to see more than a sliver, and even that was too blurry to make out anything other than darkness. Wriggling in his spellbound chains had already proven futile, so instead of trying that again, he saved his energy for his next plan—whatever that was.
There had to be something—anything that might help him escape.
"You must think, Scorpius," his father had insisted, broom tucked under his armpit as he tossed a Quaffle up in the air. "It's not about where it is. It's about where it is going. Imagine if this were a real Bludger."
Scorpius had heard horror stories of Quidditch players that were hit by Bludgers. He had no desire to become one of them.
"One, two, three, go!"
Scorpius kicked off the ground and shakily ascended into the sky. His father, who was much older and more skilled on a broom, raced around the courtyard, zooming down into the lilac bushes and then back over the roof. There was no way to tell where the Quaffle was going to go—not when his father flew like a maniac.
Then, just as the Malfoy patriarch rounded a great willow tree, Scorpius saw it. A tiny, fluttering pair of wings was probably ten yards in the distance—a mere flicker of shimmering gold. Hastily, he flew towards it. It dodged his first attempt at catching it, dipping two or three feet downward. He had nearly forgotten about his father and the faux Bludger as he chased after it, anxiously darting up and down and left and right. Then, finally, with one final feint, the small bird-like object was within reaching distance. He seized it, but just as he did, he felt the Quaffle hit him in the right shoulder. His father jerked his head towards the ground and Scorpius followed, his brief glimpse of triumph overshadowed by his father's apparent disappointment.
"That would have been a dislocated shoulder at best, shattered bones at worst."
"But I did catch the Snitch," Scorpius replied, pointedly. "That counts for something, doesn't it?"
His father's eyebrows shot upward in shock as Scorpius revealed the minuscule winged ball. "Well, I suppose congratulations are in order. In nine games of ten, you would've just won the game!"
Scorpius was beaming. "Did I do well, then?"
"More than well." His father ruffled his hair. "You learned the next lesson! Sometimes, you have to seize an opportunity. It might be risky, but if it pays off, it could still be the right decision. If this were an important game, d'you think a couple of hours in the hospital wing would be worth the win?"
Scorpius thought hard. He did not like the idea of broken bones, but as he reeled all of his father's stories of Slytherin victories, he finally grinned and nodded. "I think it would be."
"Well, there you have it. A win means you get a special treat. Double dessert for the star Seeker! Go tell your mother!"
Scorpius weighed out his father's two lessons. Firstly, he needed to determine not only where his captor was, but also where he was going. The only things that Scorpius knew for certain were that he was a man and that he was able to survive in the Forbidden Forest. Unfortunately, neither fact was of much use to him.
Footsteps were approaching. He knew the wizard had left him alone for a short while, but he did not trust his internal clock to determine that he knew how long it really had been.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
The footsteps were drawing closer, and it was then that Scorpius realized exactly where his captor was going. The man was headed towards him.
Rita Skeeter giddily spun in her favorite chair, chatting amicably to her Quick-Quotes Quill. It had been years since so much juicy gossip had come from the Ministry of Magic and her readers were eating it up like Cauldron Cakes. The Minister for Magic refused to end her questionable affair. Ronald Weasley was sent to Azkaban for holding her hostage. Then, she was sent to Azkaban for the death of Perdell Parkinson. Now, Harry Potter was releasing her, which, as far as Rita knew, was a direct violation of laws she signed into legislation. It was a good day to be a reporter.
"Minister's Love Triangle Has Room for One More—Ex-Boyfriend Harry Potter," she pitched. "No, no, scratch that." The Quick-Quotes Quill scribbled out the headline. "Out-of-Touch Head of Magical Law Enforcement Releases Criminal Minister from Azkaban—Political Cronyism at its Finest? Oh yes, I do like that one."
Being an Animagus had many perks. Hermione Granger had far too much hair to notice when Rita flew into it, which became quite a common occurrence after she discovered Draco Malfoy's place of living. Landing in Draco Malfoy's hair, however, was certain suicide. The man was far too impeccable not to notice her.
"Hmm," she purred, tapping her chin. "Oh, let's try this. 'It seems the Ministry's corruption has no end. In lieu of the Minister for Magic's arrest for murder, one of her many childhood sweethearts has come to her rescue. While Death Eater, Draco Malfoy, and drunken husband, Ronald Weasley, battle for her affections, a new contender has stepped up: Harry Potter.
"'You may remember that Harry Potter and Hermione Granger had a short relationship when they were just twelve years old—one that led to an unhealthy rivalry between the would-be war hero and Quidditch star, Viktor Krum. It seems that Harry Potter, despite being married to former Holyhead Harpy, Ginny Potter née Weasley, is not finished fighting for his former girlfriend.
"'Draco Malfoy—'no. 'Wealthy Dark wizard and master of the Imperius Curse, Draco Malfoy, was found sobbing by Hermione Granger's cell when Harry Potter first approached him. Azkaban guards claim that Malfoy has barely left the Minister for Magic's side since her incarceration, which is not surprising since she killed Perdell Parkinson in Malfoy's secret cottage—a dank, hollow place with Gothic antiques and a strange room full of illegal family heirlooms. Harry Potter, who is the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, decided that he could take advantage of Malfoy's vulnerability. The Malfoy heir would have done anything to see his lover released, and Harry knew this, so he made a deal with him—all while the Minister for Magic slept soundly in her cell—where some, such as Pansy Nott née Parkinson, think she belongs.'"
The Quick-Quotes Quill stopped, hovering just above the many parchments on Rita's desk.
"Find the quote I took from Pansy Nott. It was actually quite good—won't need much tweaking..."
With a memory as sharp as its owner's, the Quick-Quotes Quill expertly scribbled down what Pansy Nott said.
"Oh! She really is just a gem, don't you think?" Rita gushed. "'My father was a respected man in the magical community for his entire life. Hermione Granger deserves to rot for what she did and Harry Potter should be relieved of his position for letting her go!' Always speaks the truth, that Pansy Nott... Scribble out the first bit about her father being a respected man in the community. It's just not very editorial, is it..."
She leaned back and racked her brain for a long moment, deciding which angle she wanted to take. Potter, in reality, had traded Granger's freedom for a strengthened case against Geraldine Bulstrode. Too many might have agreed with his sentiments, so she needed to put the classic Skeeter spin on it.
"Ah!" A red smirk adorned her lips. "Oh, I do think I have it now... Scrap everything after the second paragraph. I think we can make this better—much better."
Hermione Granger's relationship with Fyodor Sokolov was about to make her look very, very bad—and Harry Potter would be going down with her.
Willow Ale Court felt cozily familiar after being in Azkaban. The Minister for Magic had been shocked to wake up in Draco Malfoy's bed, covers pulled up to her chin and warm, silk pajamas hugging her slim legs. Not long after that, Draco had come into the room to explain that her best friend, Harry Potter, was waiting to explain everything to her in the dining room. The last time she had seen him, he placed her under arrest.
Once Harry explained all of the details to her, she was left with a quill, ink, parchment, and a letter from her old friend, Fyodor Sokolov. Harry left—not without giving her a strict deadline—and Draco brought her a cup of piping hot tea.
"How long did I sleep?" Hermione finally asked the question she had been desperate to ask since she awoke. She could not believe she managed to stay unconscious during her release from Azkaban, let alone during travel.
"A long time," Draco replied, taking a sip from his cup. He pulled out a chair and sat across from her. Suddenly, she realized just how unusually informal it was for him to drink tea before being seated. "Potter had to be here for six hours and I suspect it took us about three just to get back here. It was terribly awkward, actually. Have you never used Dreamless Sleep before?"
The warm, inviting taste of tea reminded Hermione what freedom was like. Nothing had ever tasted sweeter. "Mmm," she hummed. "I used to, after the war. This tea is wonderful, Draco."
"It better be," he chuckled. "It costs more per ounce than basilisk venom."
"Buying lots of basilisk venom, then, are you?" Hermione joked. She took another small drink, savoring every little bit of it. "You know, I do feel a lot better now that you aren't alone here. I don't exactly like the idea of Iadeth Travers coming by and catching you in your sleep."
Draco offered her a tight smile. "Yes, well, I didn't sleep much while you were in Azkaban."
Hermione felt her face flush. "You know, you really shouldn't have taken advantage of Harry like you did. He was just trying to do his job. I passed those laws, after all."
"You also passed a law stating a Ministry official couldn't do Ministry business if they were imprisoned," Draco pointed out. "Either he used the extenuating circumstance clause or you both broke the law. He was watching his own hide—probably was going to lie to the Wizengamot about it too."
"So you were blackmailing him?" Hermione asked, disapprovingly.
Draco shrugged. "I might be a different man than I was twenty years ago, but I'm still a Slytherin, Granger."
"Well, I don't like that you did that. I just want to go on record saying so." She turned her attention to the letter beside her teacup. "I suppose I should be getting to this, then. Fyodor will be happy to hear that we aren't going to press charges against this Irina Petrova woman."
"I suspect Irina Petrova will be happy to hear as much too," Draco said, bemusedly. He took another sip of tea. "I imagine she could be facing some pretty horrendous charges if it wasn't for this little deal she looped Potter into."
"She's a victim. You're no stranger to the terrible things fathers can make sons and daughters do. She deserves amnesty, just as much as you did. Besides, I owe her a bit of a favor, don't I? She is the reason I'm not still in Azkaban."
"I suppose you have a point," Draco conceded.
Hermione dipped the quill in ink and conversationally inquired, "So what's happened since I've been gone? Is Ron out yet?"
"Not that I've read. Speaking of which, I do ask you to refrain from reading anything Skeeter's written. She's been on a sort of stint with Hermione Granger-related news. All of it skewed, of course."
Hermione knit her brows together. "What has she been saying?"
He sighed. "I mean, what do you expect? She's on about you being some kind of—I don't know—slag? Saying you're involved in some kind of Russian conspiracy and Potter was breaking you out because he's in love with you. Anyone with half a brain would know better than to believe it."
"Russian conspiracy?" Hermione snorted. "That's rich."
"Mm, quite," Draco agreed. "Go on. Get that letter out so we can go get you showered up."
Hermione giggled. "A shower does sound nice, but I don't think you'd want to join me. I couldn't tell you how many rat droppings I found in my hair when I—"
Suddenly, the telltale whoosh of flames interrupted her. Hermione and Draco both drew their wands, preparing for a duel with the intruder. To their relief, the only person that walked into the dining room was Narcissa Malfoy.
"Draco," she breathed. Her wide, fearful eyes darted to Hermione, and then back to her son. "Scorpius has gone missing."
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