Chapter 9 : Auror Unhinged
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Back in Harry's office....
“Let’s see what you have to say once I get this into your foul, lying mouth,” said Harry angrily, forcing a vial of clear potion towards Malfoy’s mouth while Malfoy fought against the cords binding him to a chair.
“Hermione!” Harry cried in shock, dropping the vial—it shattered on the wood floor.
“He’s a Hunter,” Hermione gasped out, dropping Marcus’s unconscious body onto the floor of Harry’s office.
“Ractor, Gary—in my office for Criminal Transport!” Harry yelled out the door.
“No!” Hermione cried as she heard Ractor’s name, slumping into a chair as she tried to ignore the pounding pain in her joints.
Gary bounced into the office, followed closely by a sauntering Ractor. Ractor’s eyes widened when he saw Malfoy bound to a chair and Marcus unconscious on the floor.
“You traitor!” Hermione hissed, aiming Marcus’s wand at Ractor. Ractor threw up his hands, an incredulous expression on his face. “He’s a traitor, Harry! He’s been working for the Hunters—that’s why they’ve been able to avoid capture. Ractor tells them everything.”
“Mr. Potter, she’s clearly undergone some emotional trauma,” Ractor said, his hands still up in the air.
Harry looked from the harried young woman to the calm and collected Hayden Ractor.
Malfoy had stayed silent throughout this entire exchange and seemed content to simply watch for the moment.
“Hermione, put the wand down,” Harry said gently, stepping between Hermione and Ractor.
Hermione’s wand arm trembled as she aimed it at Ractor, who was smirking behind Harry’s back.
“Harry, he’s one of them. So is that man on the floor—his name’s Marcus,” Hermione said pleadingly. “You have to believe me. They all live in Malfoy Manor. Malfoy's their leader!”
Malfoy flinched—his name had come up at last.
“We’ll send Aurors to his house to check it out, all right? If he’s a Hunter, we’ll find out, I promise,” Harry said reassuringly, pulling the wand out of her hand. “Hayden, take Neville and go to Malfoy Manor. Gary, take this scum to questioning.” Harry nudged Marcus with his foot.
“In the office—the green office—there are file cabinets. There has to be records of their kills,” Hermione told Harry.
Ractor nodded and left the room immediately. Gary levitated Marcus into the air and walked out of the room, giving Hermione a pitying glance.
“You have some explaining to do, Malfoy,” Harry said quietly, handing Hermione her own wand, which he had recovered from Malfoy earlier.
“Potter, is it my fault if she comes on to me? She keeps appearing at my house, wanting to talk to me about ‘Auror Business,’ which is just an excuse for her to get inside to harass me. She has some kind of obsession with me—thinks that I know who the Hunters are,” Malfoy explained calmly. “She’s finally cracked under all the pressure from you and losing Weasley. She’s obsessed with me.”
“Obsessed with you?!” shrieked Hermione, rising from her chair angrily. “You lying monster! I’ll kill you!”
Harry caught Hermione as she rushed towards Malfoy and held her close, silencing her tears with murmured reassurances.
“It’s sad, Potter, it really is,” Malfoy said pityingly. He kept his voice calm and resisted the urge to run. “Today I had to take away her wand just to keep her from hurting herself. She snuck into my house tonight while I was sleeping and started ranting about how she’d finally found proof that I’m a Hunter. I had to call my friend Marcus to help me keep her at bay. She was trying to kill me! I would have told you this earlier, but I was trying to keep her reputation from being tarnished. Truth be told, I pity her.”
“You’ve hated the both of us since Hogwarts years, Malfoy,” Harry spat. “Why should I believe you now?”
“Because what I’m saying is something that you’ve thought yourself,” Malfoy replied, playing on Harry’s fears. “You’ve delayed giving her a real assignment because you were afraid that she wasn’t emotionally strong enough yet to handle going after hardened criminals. Losing Weasley must have been tragic for her. I assume that she chose me to go after in a desperate attempt to get your approval. I must have been the perfect choice, seeing as she’s hated me ever since you two knew me.”
“Harry, he’s lying,” whispered Hermione, tears flowing down her face at the mention of Ron. “He’s the leader of the Hunters—he pays Ractor for information! I came to his house to arrest him, but he kidnapped me instead. You have to believe me!”
Harry looked down at her, his eyes full of sadness. “I do believe you, Hermione. Let’s just see what happens when Ractor and Neville get back.”
As if summoned by their words, there were two loud cracks and the two Aurors in question appeared in the room.
“Harry,” Neville said confusedly, “we didn’t find anything in Malfoy Manor. The place doesn’t even look as if anyone’s lived there but Malfoy. I—I’m sorry, Hermione.”
Ractor said nothing, an apologetic look on his face. Harry looked at Hermione, his green eyes troubled.
“Without any proof, I can’t arrest him,” he said softly. “My last bottle of Veritaserum broke when you apparated in here. Hermione…I have to let him go.”
Hermione pulled away from Harry’s arms and sank into a chair, despondent.
“Thank you Neville, Ractor,” Harry said, his words a clear dismissal. The two of them left the room quickly.
A split second after Harry released Malfoy from his bonds, Gary burst into the office.
“Mr. Potter!” he gasped, his face red. “The Hunters struck again! They captured Bellatrix Lestrange!”
“Bellatrix Lestrange?!” Harry breathed, his face turning white. “Thank you for letting me know. Malfoy, you’re free to go. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
Malfoy sneered and straightened his jacket, going deliberately slow.
Gary stood, breathing hard, looking to Harry for guidance.
“Secure Lestrange immediately,” Harry ordered, his eyes alight with excitement.
“Hermione, I’ve been looking for her for years!” Harry interrupted her, striving visibly to keep his voice calm when all he wanted to do was interrogate and sentence the woman who had killed his godfather. “Look,” he said, his voice softening, “I know this has been hard on you, but stunts like what you just pulled can get you fired! As it is, I’ll have to put you on probation—you can’t go around accusing people of major crimes with no proof. Malfoy can’t be a Hunter if the Hunters just captured someone else! We know for a fact that they always wait for his approval.”
“Harry,” Hermione whispered, not able to believe what she was hearing.
“You’re officially on fully paid medical leave, Hermione,” declared Harry, not looking Hermione in the eye. “Use it to get yourself back on track. Your job will still be here for you.”
Forgotten by the Aurors, Malfoy realized that this was the best thing that could possibly have happened to him—Potter was so concerned about Granger’s sanity that he was taking her off the job!
“Being an Auror is all I have,” Hermione said softly, refusing to let herself cry.
“I’m sorry,” muttered Harry. “I have—I have to go do my job.” He swept out of the room, Gary on his heels.
“Looks like no one believes you now, Granger,” hissed Malfoy, a smirk on his face. “I’ve been keeping my dear auntie in the dungeons for just this sort of occasion."
“Malfoy,” said Hermione, her voice deadly, “Auror or not, I will come after you. You’ll regret doing this to me.”
Malfoy winked. “Oh, I know you’ll come for me. I’m actually counting on it.”
Hermione lunged at him, fists raised, but Malfoy ducked her blows and caught her wrists. Holding her struggling body still, he murmured into her ear, “Don’t think for a second that I forgot about last night.” He laughed quietly as he felt her shiver. Was she shivering with lust, revulsion, or something else? “The very next time I find you in my house, I promise that you won’t leave until we’re both satisfied.” He released her, smirking, and strode gracefully from the room.
Hermione let out a shuddering gasp once he left and fell into a chair. She had failed so completely at the assignment that Harry had given—and failure was not something that Hermione Granger was used to. So Harry thought that she wasn’t fit to be an Auror? So Malfoy was untouchable by the Aurors? Well, since it seemed that she wasn’t an Auror anymore, perhaps this was what she needed in order to bring down Draco Malfoy.
As she threw Floo Powder into the fireplace in Harry’s office, Hermione realized that she had just given Malfoy a major advantage in their battle. Now, nothing she said about him would be believed by Harry or the Ministry of Magic—therefore, he had no reason to fear her. From the sound of what he had said to her earlier, he was now regarding her as a game rather than a threat. No matter—she would soon change his mind.
After completing the dizzying journey home, Hermione curled up in her bed. She fell almost immediately into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Many hours later, Hermione woke up and felt better than she had in the past week. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep will do for you! she thought. Then, with all the force of a speeding train, memories of the day before crashed into her head. She groaned and fell back into bed, closing her eyes tightly.
The knowledge that she was no longer an Auror was crushing; after Ron had died, the only way that Hermione had survived was by pouring her life and energy into becoming an Auror. Once she had received her Auror shield, she had focused her considerable talents on every task that had been put in front of here. As a result, her research and reports on criminals were the best in the country; a great number of criminals had been located and arrested due to her efforts.
Now that all that had been taken from her, Hermione realized that she only had one choice: take down Malfoy, leader of the Hunters. But she couldn’t just take him down—he had made her realize that she needed proof of his involvement. Malfoy was very clever and talented at covering his tracks—Hermione had to admit that.
A tapping on the window distracted her. A tawny owl fluttered outside, a letter tied to its leg. Hermione opened the window and detached the letter, but the owl perched on her shoulder and refused to budge.
“You must have been told to wait for a reply,” she murmured, stroking its beak.
She opened the letter, scanning it quickly, her eyes darkening with anger as she realized what it was: a formal declaration of her leave of absence, requesting that she return her badge with the owl until she should return. The letter also stated politely that she was not to return for at least two weeks, and it must be with the approval of a wizarding psychological Healer. “Harry, you bloody git!” she snarled, snatching her badge off the nightstand and chucking it in an envelope. “Here.”
The owl ruffled her feathers at her rudeness, but it picked up the envelope and flew swiftly through the window.
Her hands shaking with anger, Hermione poured herself a cup of tea to relax. Four cups of tea and one bathroom break later, she decided to go to Diagon Alley for a bit to cheer herself up. Maybe she would visit Fred and George’s joke shop—that was always good for a laugh or two.
And that’s how Hermione found herself staring at her reflection in a mirror an hour later, marveling at the fact that she had whiskers and pointy cat ears.
“Um, this reminds me of certain activities from second year that shall remain nameless,” she laughed, turning to face a beaming George Weasley.
“Yeah, but these’ll be hits at Halloween once we get them perfected!” chortled George, handing her a pill to swallow.
Hermione’s face quickly turned back to normal.
“You guys have got to be rolling in the Galleons,” she marveled, looking around the packed joke shop. She waved at Fred, who was showing a small girl the new colors of Pygmy Puffs.
“Hermione, we aren’t in this for the money—we’re just trying to make the world a better place, one prank at a time,” replied George, a huge grin on his face. His face suddenly took on a note of seriousness. “I heard about yesterday. I just want you to know that Fred and I are here for you if you need help or someone to talk to.”
“Did Harry tell you?” she sighed, all of her enjoyment gone.
“No,” George said uneasily.
“It was in the Daily Prophet…”
“Show me,” Hermione ordered, her lips tight.
“You probably don’t want to—”
George led Hermione into the cluttered flat above the joke shop. A folded Daily Prophet lay next to a sink overflowing with dirty dishes.
“Er…let me know if you need anything,” George said quickly, disappearing back down the stairs.
With some trepidation, Hermione glanced at the front cover, which sported a picture of her threatening Ractor with her wand in Harry’s office. “Who took that picture?” she whispered to herself, her heart sinking.
Auror Prodigy Unhinged
Tensions ran high yesterday in the office of celebrated Head Auror Harry Potter, when Auror Hermione Granger, a lifelong friend of Potter, accused a fellow Auror and prominent wizard of outrageous crimes against the wizarding world in a very unorthodox way. Granger threatened both an Auror and a nameless citizen with a wand while screaming hysterically at the Ministry of Magic Head Auror Office. “I truly feared for my life,” says Hayden Ractor, an Auror with 15 years of Ministry of Magic experience under his belt. “She’s desperate for Mr. Potter’s approval so that she can get a pay rise.” Sources also say that Granger has been “cocky to the point of excess” when it comes to arresting criminals. “She’s always been a little out of it since her friend Weasley died a few years back,” Ractor explains. “No one knows how she has made such a name for herself in the Ministry of Magic, but many suspect that it has more to do with her fame as Potter’s friend than her actual ability.” Granger has been suspended pending a psychiatric evaluation and it will remain to be seen whether [continued on page 6]
Hermione dropped the paper, her mouth open in shock and disbelief.
“Hermione, are you—”
Hermione pushed past George on the steps and threaded her way through the crowded joke shop until she reached the door. She stood outside the store, panting, her heard pounding fast. How could they have printed that rubbish about her? How could Harry have not stopped Ractor from talking to the Daily Prophet about her? Once she dealt with Malfoy, Ractor was definitely going to be next on her list.
“That’s her,” she heard a young woman whisper, nudging her husband as Hermione walked past them.
Hermione pretended not to notice, though tears pricked her eyes. Rather than walk all the way back through Diagon Alley to the Leaky Cauldron, she decided to take a shortcut through Knockturn Alley.
Knockturn Alley was nowhere near as crowded as Diagon Alley, and no one there appeared to pay her much attention. Hermione walked quietly past dingy storefronts and creepy people, fearing no one. At least, not until she got lost.
The winding and twisting alleys finally got the better of her, and Hermione found herself standing at a completely deserted dead end.
“When did this get here?” she muttered irritably, turning around to go back the way she had come.
“Lost?” asked a soft male voice from off to her left.
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