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Chapter 18 : Uncovering the Undercovered
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02/22/2010: This chapter was just updated based on a few comments by reviewers. Thanks guys =)
Once Malfoy had gone, Hermione apparated wearily up to her room and kicked off her boots, falling asleep nearly immediately once she climbed into bed.
Hermione didn’t dream often, but when she did, they were rarely pleasant.
She dreamed that she was staring into a mirror, but the person in the reflection was not her. It was a ravaged version of her; cold, cruel brown eyes gazed at her from a face that was hers and yet not hers. Her mouth twisted in a bitter sneer. Everything about her seemed harder, more lined.
“This is what you will become,” whispered a voice that sounded like hers. “This is what will follow if you never accept help, if you put duty before compassion and your head before your heart.”
Hermione tried to speak, but a crushing pressure pushed on all her limbs, trapping her speech inside of her. “No!” she tried to cry, but nothing came out. She couldn’t speak—she couldn’t breathe!
Hermione woke up, tears and sweat running down her face. She really couldn’t breathe. Her clothes were too tight, restraining and choking her. It took her only moments to remove her clothing. She had forgotten to change clothes before going to bed, and when she had changed back to her own body sometime during the night, Brooke’s corset was much too tight.
Shaking from the horrifying dream, Hermione put on a pair of her own pajamas and slid back into bed. She fell asleep relatively quickly and when she woke up the next morning, could not remember the dream that had disturbed her so badly.
Hermione spent the morning carefully writing down the events of the previous day in a journal that she had bought just for this purpose. Everything she had heard, done, and noticed was meticulously recorded so that she could look back on her notes for further analysis. She could not remember the nightmare that had woken her up, no matter how hard she racked her brain.
Once she had finished writing everything down, she took a long, hot shower, reveling in the feeling of being in her own body. Brooke’s body was delicate and pampered; it had nothing of the stamina and muscle of Hermione’s body.
Once she was showered, she reluctantly took a dose of the Polyjuice Potion, watching in the mirror as her body changed right before her eyes. After eating a quick breakfast in her room, Hermione decided she’d go back to 62 Gordon Circle for reconnaissance. That was her only lead as of yet, and it certainly wouldn’t do any good to just sit around all day and do nothing until her dinner date with Malfoy.
Dressed in all black (as if Brooke wore any color besides black), a few potions tucked in her boots, Hermione disapparated.
As she approached the small building where the previous night’s auction had been held, Hermione cast a Disillusionment charm on herself. The day was rainy and overcast, which greatly enhanced the effect of the spell. Hermione saw very few people on the streets, and none of them even glanced at her.
Hermione had been trained well, and one of the rules that the Aurors had drummed into them was “Never use the front door.” Bearing this in mind, Hermione headed around the building, watching carefully for any guards or watchmen. There were none. As she’d suspected, a small back door stood at the back of the building. The door was made of thick iron, and was shut tightly. Hermione stood outside of it for a moment, perplexed. The front door was just wood, yet this one was many times stronger. It didn’t make sense.
“Alohomora,” she whispered, aiming her wand at the lock on the door. With a soft click, it unlocked. Hermione carefully pushed on the door. It opened easily, making no sound.
Holding her breath with trepidation, Hermione crept into the building into a dark room. She closed the door behind her, wincing at the slight thud that it made.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she quickly reached into her left boot and fumbled for the vial of potion that was there. Her fingers quickly closed around the small glass container. Once she’d gulped it down, she let out a small sigh of relief as her pupils contracted and allowed her to see more clearly in the darkness.
She was in a small, empty room. A set of stairs to her right led downwards into darkness. There were no other doors in the room; the only way she could go was down. Her wand held in front of her, she descended the stone stairwell. The stairs seemed to go on forever; the deeper she went, the more cold and damp the air felt.
She finally reached the bottom, ending up in a large square room. The basement she was in was much larger than the upstairs room she had just vacated, and probably stretched the length of the building. Groans and cries met her ears. With the influence of the Cats-Eye potion, she saw cages lining the room. Every one was filled with a living creature. She couldn’t see the exact forms of the prisoners; the darkness was too intense. Even her enhanced vision could not penetrate it.
As Hermione took a step forward, she realized that she was standing in a thick pool of blood. Terror and revulsion washed over her. “Lumos!” she whispered, unable to stand the darkness any longer as the fear overcame her. Her wandtip ignited and light flooded forth. Her eyes immediately located the light switch in the corner and she flipped it on, fully illuminating the room.
A waking nightmare met her eyes. The cages lining the room were filled with humans. Blood leaked steadily from nearly all of the cages, leading to a large drain in the center of the floor. A panicked gasp escaped Hermione involuntarily. There were at least thirty cages, each filled with the barely-recognizable body of a human. At her gasp, one of them looked up; Hermione realized with an icy jolt that it was the man she’d seen at the auction. The light illuminating the room reduced the effect of the Disillusionment charm to practically nothing. It barely made a difference to the man now looking at her.
“How c-could you?” the man whispered, his voice nearly silent as he spoke through bloody, inside-out lips. His brown eyes peered out of a sunken face that was nearly skeletal; he was clearly close to death.
Guilt, horror, and disgust coursed through her body in nauseating turns. She wanted to run as far away from this place as she could, but her legs refused to move. “I—I’m trying to help…” she whispered, wanting to reassure this poor tortured man, but the fear stole her voice and rendered her speechless.
The woman in the next cage had no eyes; only empty, bloody sockets. She stared blindly outwards in Hermione’s direction. “Who’s there?” the woman called out, voice hoarse from screaming.
At hearing Hermione’s desperate hush, other people, all hideously deformed in some gruesome way, began stirring in their cages. Some called out for help, begging her to set them free, while others cried threats and promises.
The cacophony grew louder, and Hermione ran from cage to cage, begging them to keep quiet. She fought hard not to vomit as she saw the effects of each curse. As she passed the cage of a once-burly man with no eyes, ears, or mouth, she felt a vicious jerk on her arm. The man had thrust his hand through the cage and grabbed her in an iron grip; with the absence of his other senses, his sense of perception must have intensified to the point where he’d been able to grab her. Her feet slipped on the slippery ground and with a startled shriek, she fell hard, landing on her back. Her arm twisted viciously as the man held on tightly. Her wand skidded away across the floor.
“No, let go,” she pleaded, tears running down her face as she struggled with the man that she had no way of communicating with. “Please,” she cried, nausea building up in her throat as blood from the floor she was lying on soaked her back and hair. She struggled to her feet. A terrified scream built up in her throat as she saw and felt the blood dripping from the prisoner onto her. Terror consumed her and she began wrenching at her arm to get away, not even noticing when a loud pop sounded from her left shoulder.
“What the hell?” hissed a powerful voice from behind her. “Finite!” The Disillusionment Charm on Hermione was deactivated, leaving Brooke’s body perfectly visible.
“Malfoy,” sobbed Hermione, recognizing the voice. Strong arms grabbed the prisoner’s arm and swiftly broke his grip on Hermione. She stumbled backwards, hysterical sobs ripping from her chest. She clung tightly to her rescuer.
To his credit, Malfoy said nothing about the blood she was soaked in, which was getting all over him as well. He wrapped an arm around her and guided her out of the hellhole. The journey was a blur to Hermione; she dimly recalled walking up the stairs and out the heavy iron door, but she was barely conscious. The fingers of her right hand were locked around Draco Malfoy’s waist, but her left arm hung uselessly by her side.
Once they exited the building, Malfoy quickly realized that Hermione was close to fainting. With a frustrated groan, he turned in a sharp circle and disapparated, taking Hermione with him. The familiar pulling force as they neared their destination alerted Hermione to the fact that they were going to Malfoy Manor, but she was past caring.
A slim man that Hermione vaguely recognized as one of the Hunters ran up to Malfoy, looking concerned. “Boss! Do you need any—”
“Hush,” hissed Malfoy, guiding Hermione away from the man and through several rooms. The fact that she wasn’t speaking and could barely walk was worrying him. He led her to an enormous bathroom and helped her sit on a comfortable cream-colored futon.
Hermione stared at the floor, unable to move, unable to speak, barely able to breathe. Silent tears fell from her eyes.
“Brooke,” Malfoy said quietly. Hermione made no reply. He carefully eased off her outer robes, leaving her in black jeans and a black t-shirt. The blood-soaked robes were tossed into the bathtub. “Tergeo.” The blood on her arms disappeared. Malfoy repeated the charm several more times until all of the blood was out of Hermione’s hair and clothes.
“Brooke,” he said, a little more firmly. He gave her a slight shake, unprepared for the scream she let out. Malfoy was so startled that he actually jumped.
After that one scream after Malfoy had jostled her injured shoulder, Hermione was silent again, staring at the floor. Malfoy pushed back her sleeve and saw that her left shoulder was dislocated. Black bruising was already beginning to form. “This is going to hurt,” he warned her, though he could tell that she barely even heard him.
Grasping her shoulder firmly with one hand and her arm with the other, Malfoy swiftly jerked upwards, popping her shoulder back into place.
Though it must have caused excruciating pain, Hermione made not a sound. “Brooke!” snapped Malfoy, trying to get her to look at him.
Hermione made no reply.
She could feel Malfoy take her face in his hands and look into her eyes, but there was a wall of icy terror in her brain, preventing her from speaking.
“Hermione,” Malfoy said sharply.
Hearing her name finally broke through the barrier in her head. Hermione seemed to snap back to reality. “Oh Merlin,” she whispered, her eyes focusing in on him. “All those people.” Sobs wracked her body.
Malfoy was shocked. When he’d been sent to investigate an alarm at the place where the prisoners were hidden and had found Brooke there, he’d suspected that she wasn’t who she seemed. The fact that she’d called him “Malfoy” when he’d rescued her had also been a pretty good indication. Still, to find out that he was right was a bit of a surprise, he’d only been about 70% sure of her identity.
“You have a lot of explaining to do,” Malfoy stated grimly.
Hermione’s eyes met his. The emotional and physical trauma she had just gone through made her face as white as a ghost. The girl in front of him was a mess; her entire body was shaking and tears streaked her face. She looked small and lost.
Malfoy realized that this had probably been the most gruesome experience of her entire life. He braced himself and sighed. “If you hit me, you’re out of here,” he muttered, but there was no venom in his tone. He doubted very much that she even heard him anyway. He carefully sat down beside her on the futon and put an arm around her, pulling her against his body.
Hermione needed nothing more at that point than for someone to hold her. She knew it was Draco Malfoy—potentially untrustworthy, rude, criminal Malfoy—but he was there. He was there for her. The warmth of his body took away some of the chill in her soul. He carefully brushed away her tears with the pad of his thumb; his fingers were soft and gentle. The shaking in her limbs finally began to subside.
“Why?” she whispered, still incapable of complete sentences. She wanted to ask him why it was necessary for people to do such horrible things.
“Money,” Malfoy murmured in reply, understanding what she wanted to say.
“No,” was his firm reply.
Silence fell for a few moments, during which Hermione tried to regain her composure. Images of the mutilated and tortured prisoners kept running through her brain; she couldn’t seem to shut it off. “I need to go back there and save them,” she said suddenly, pulling away from Malfoy.
“Good idea,” Malfoy agreed.
Hermione stared at him, not expecting him to have agreed with her.
“…If you’re suicidal,” he added, glaring at her.
“Malfoy, I can’t just let them die!” she cried fiercely, standing up with her hands on her hips. She ignored the twinge of pain that was all that was left of her shoulder injury.
“Listen, Granger, we both want the same thing: whoever is behind this,” said Malfoy, relaxing lazily on the futon. “Perhaps it’s time we came clean with each other and worked together.”
The two (former) enemies locked eyes, each trying to read the other’s thoughts. Hermione met Malfoy’s cool eyes unblinkingly. Could she trust him?
All of a sudden, the dream she’d had the night before suddenly came back to her. The words rang in her ears: “This is what will follow if you never accept help, if you put duty before compassion and your head before your heart.” Was this what her dream had meant? Was she supposed to accept Malfoy’s help? “I don’t trust you,” she said bluntly.
Malfoy laughed. “Granger, look at yourself. You’re pretending to be another person! If anyone’s untrustworthy, it’s you.”
Hermione glanced downwards at the body that wasn’t hers and thoughtfully bit her lip. “You may have a point,” she said grimly. “Do you have my wand?”
“I do.” Malfoy pulled her wand out of a pocket inside his coat and tossed it to her. “Before you attack me, do remember that you’re in my house.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and aimed her wand at herself, murmuring a few words. She closed her eyes in discomfort as her body slowly shifted back to her real body. When the changes stopped, she opened her eyes to see a very interesting expression on Malfoy’s face.
“Why in Merlin’s name are you smirking like that?” Hermione growled, looking down at herself. “Oh.”
The t-shirt that she’d put on Brooke’s body had been loose-fitting and comfortable, but now it clung to her body, emphasizing her breasts. The jeans still fit, but they were a little tighter than Hermione would have preferred. Malfoy’s expression was nothing short of lascivious.
“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “I think I like you better in your own body.”
“Pervert,” she growled, reaching into the bathtub for her robes. With a startled cry, she dropped them as she realized they were soaked through with blood.
“Are you all right?” Malfoy asked with some trepidation, afraid that she’d go into shock again.
“Yes,” Hermione whispered, staring blankly at the robes.
Malfoy rose and put his hands on Hermione’s shoulders, breaking her locked-on gaze with the robes. “We need to talk, but this is clearly not the time or place for it.”
Hermione nodded, shaking her head in an attempt to rid herself of the violent images that were in the forefront of her mind. It didn’t help that Malfoy’s shirt was spotted with blood where he’d touched her.
“Why don’t you meet me at La Lantera tonight as we had planned?” Malfoy suggested.
Hermione hesitated just a moment before replying. “Okay.”
“I’ll have your robes cleaned and returned to you,” Malfoy said, leaving no room for argument.
“Thank you so much,” she sighed. Malfoy saw relief flood her features for just a moment before her guard shot up again and her familiar determined expression dominated her face.
“I’ll take you back to your flat,” he offered, guiding her out of the bathroom.
“Oh, I’m staying at the Leaky Cauldron,” she corrected, shrugging away from his grip.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow.
“We can talk about this tonight,” muttered Hermione, striding ahead of Malfoy to reach the front door. With an awkward wave, she disapparated the second she made it outside.
The second Hermione made it back to her room, she sprang into action. It took mere seconds for her to remove Brooke’s clothing and don a comfortable pair of jeans and a long-sleeved thermal shirt. She made the decision that it was time for a rescue mission.
“Expecto Patronum!” she said, thinking back to her days at Hogwarts with Harry and Ron. Happiness flooded through her, and a silvery otter burst forth from her wand. “Harry, I need you here now,” she said, sending her Patronus off to find him.
She paced her room anxiously as she waited for Harry. Doubt filled her mind; would she be jeopardizing her mission to find the person behind making these curses by launching a rescue posse to save the tortured prisoners?
“Hermione?” Harry sounded out of breath as he spoke her name the second after the loud crack that had signaled his apparition. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” she assured him, hugging her friend. “I have an update for you, and you know that I wouldn’t have called you if it wasn’t important.”
Harry nodded, taking a seat in an armchair while Hermione paced.
“They test their curses out on live humans,” she said, trying not to think of their faces.”I found where they keep them after they’ve hurt them; the people are horribly mutilated, but still alive! I want to launch a rescue mission.”
Harry’s jaw dropped at hearing this surprising information. “How many are there?”
“At least thirty.”
Harry nodded, thoughtful.
Hermione knew he wanted to run off and save them just as badly as she did, but like her, needed to think about any possible consequences. They could never forget that their ultimate goal was to bring down the monster that was creating these curses.
“Have you gotten any closer to finding the creator of the curses?”
“I’m getting closer to one of their henchmen,” Hermione revealed, keeping Malfoy’s name a secret from Harry yet again. This time, she was doing so as a courtesy to Malfoy for saving her life once more; little by little, she felt some of her animosity towards him fading away. All the same, a part of her wanted to laugh at what she imagined Malfoy would say if he knew that she was calling him a henchman. “But I don’t know who the creator is yet. I have a suspect though,” she said darkly. Malfoy had called him a “fool,” but she still wanted to check out August Sappington. “Have you heard the name August Sappington before?”
“No,” Harry replied after thinking for a moment. “I’ll look through our records when I get back though. The main question is: Is a raid going to jeopardize your cover?”
“No,” Hermione said, realizing that Brooke’s identity would be relatively safe. “No one knows that I found the location where the prisoners are kept.”
She knew that Malfoy knew, but she decided that this would be the perfect test. The second Malfoy heard about the raid of the prisoner hideout, he would know that she was behind it. If he revealed Brooke/Hermione to the rest of the gang, then he wasn’t to be trusted. If not, then she would be one step closer to trusting him. There was always the danger that he would reveal her, putting her life in danger, but Hermione realized that the number of times he had saved her life truly showed that he didn’t want her dead in any way.
Harry’s lips were pursed and he was thinking hard. Hermione stood, tapping her fingers on the counter softly as she waited for her friend and boss to speak. She had already decided that even if Harry said no, she was still going to do everything in her power to rescue the prisoners.
“We’ll raid,” Harry said finally, looking Hermione in the eye.
“I’m coming with you,” Hermione stated. Her eyes were hard and left no room for argument.
“Definitely not.” Harry was just as determined as she. “You’ll really jeopardize your cover then, since we’re likely to meet resistance when we break in, and if they see you there—”
“As myself, not Brooke,” interrupted Hermione, holding her hand up to stop him. “There’s no connection between Hermione Granger and Brooke Locke, so even if they see me there, Brooke’s identity will still be safe. There’s really no reason for me not to go. Besides, have you forgotten your promise?”
Harry looked like he was mentally cursing himself for making the promise long ago. “All right,” he finally said. “It’ll take some time to get everyone ready, so we need to wait until tonight to strike.”
Hermione nodded. “Thanks, Harry.”
“I just hope you’re ready for this,” he muttered, standing up. Hermione’s eyes flashed angrily but she kept quiet. “I’ll need the specifics of the location to take back to the office.”
Hermione grabbed a piece of parchment from the counter and returned to Harry. She touched her wand to her head briefly. When she removed it, a silvery wisp of memory clung to the tip. She gently touched the strand to the paper, which quickly absorbed it and flooded with color as a perfect image of the basement appeared.
“This is the basement at 62 Gordon Circle,” she explained, professionalism entering her tone as her training kicked in.
The rules of reporting to a superior officer had been drilled into her: Be Precise, Be Concise, and Be Clear. The image on the parchment was as clear as if it had been taken by a camera, but was as still and unmoving as a muggle photo. The technique used to recreate the memory of a place had that limitation. It was a wide view of the room, showing in perfect clarity the cages lining the walls, as well as the pools of blood all over the floor.
“There’s only one entrance to the underground part,” she continued, circling it with her quill. “Around the back of the building is an iron door. Through the door and down the staircase is this basement.”
Harry’s green eyes followed Hermione’s pen as she quickly sketched the outline of the outer building. “Any sort of guard there?”
“Not when I was there,” Hermione mused, thinking carefully. “But there may be some kind of silent alarm, since I was only there for about five minutes before someone showed up. I left before I was seen, though.”
“All right,” Harry said. “Well, I’d better get back to the Ministry to begin planning this, then.” His tone was dismissive; he was clearly upset about her wanting to go, but didn’t feel like discussing it.
“Where and when will I meet you tonight?” There was a note of stubbornness in Hermione's voice. She wasn’t taking any chances that Harry would leave her behind.
“The park opposite Gordon Circle, 10 p.m. We’ll go over the plan briefly for you once you join us,” Harry said, tucking the parchment into his pocket as he made to leave. “It’s just too risky to have you at the Ministry right now when the official story is that you’re on holiday.”
“I understand,” Hermione said. Before her undercover assignment, they had agreed that it would be a good idea for her to not live a double life: being an Auror during the day and Brooke at night could be dangerous if someone were to follow her and realize that she was playing two roles. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Harry had time for just one more worried glance before he disapparated.
Once Harry was gone, Hermione vented her frustration by getting out her cauldron and potions ingredients. Her potions stock hadn’t been replenished for some time, and now was a perfect opportunity to do so. She preferred to make her own potions instead of buying them from an Apothecary. Besides the fact that it was cheaper to make them herself, she also liked the certainty of knowing that they were made correctly.
I’ve saved his life countless times, she recalled angrily as she began grinding up beet root for her Cats-Eye potion. Harry had become less protective as of late, but his reluctance to allow her to go on a raid was nothing short of infuriating. Hopefully, once she went on this raid, he would relax a little further and trust in her abilities to fight and defend herself.
Hermione spent the new few hours making potions that she frequently found useful. Making the potions occupied her mind and body and allowed her to put off thinking about what she would say to Malfoy that evening. Before she knew it, it was six o’clock and time for her to get ready.
“May I help you, miss?” said the smartly-dressed maître d, staring politely at the young woman who had just entered the busy restaurant.
“Yes, I’m supposed to meet someone here…” Hermione looked around, craning her neck to see if she could spot Malfoy anywhere. She surreptitiously slid her hand into her coat to feel the reassuring texture of her wand.
The fact that this was a muggle establishment meant that she could had to be a bit more covert than she normally would have been when meeting Malfoy. If she didn’t have to worry about being discovered, she might have entertained all sorts of ideas of ways she could threaten him. However… She was jolted out of her thoughts as she realized that the host had asked her a question. “Sorry?”
“What is your party’s name?” the man repeated, glancing down to a sheet of paper on which names were written.
“Malfoy,” replied Hermione, keeping the scorn out of her voice.
“Ah yes. Right this way, please.”
The maitre d led her through the quiet dining room. The inside of the restaurant was dim, lit by simple candlelight. Waiters in tuxedos moved gracefully through the romantic establishment. Most of the people there were couples, though Hermione did see one man sitting alone, facing the window, looking out almost desolately as he listlessly ate his food.
Before they got halfway across the room, Hermione could see where they were heading. Malfoy caught her eye as he sat at a corner table near the restrooms. “I see him,” Hermione said, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder to halt him. “Thanks.”
The host gave her a strange look but shrugged and headed back to the front of the restaurant to resume his place.
Malfoy's mouth twisted in an expression of distaste as he took in her appearance. Hermione smirked as she sat down. “Is there a problem?” she asked sweetly, shrugging off her jacket. She made sure that it was in her lap so that she could get to her wand easily.
“Besides the fact that you’re twenty minutes late? Yes, there is,” Malfoy retorted. “Why do you insist on this ridiculous façade? I already know who you are.”
Hermione looked down at herself with a smirk. She was once more in Brooke’s body and was wearing a short black dress that clung to her body. It wasn’t something she would choose to wear, but this dress was the nicest garment that Brooke owned, and it wouldn’t do to wear jeans to a restaurant like La Lanterna. “I thought you liked women in tight clothes, Malfoy,” she said lightly, meeting his gaze.
“I like women with actual curves, he muttered, rolling his eyes. He looked rather attractive in a well-fitting black suit. His cuffs were trimmed with shining silver thread, and he wore a silver ring on his right hand that bore his family crest. His hands, casually clasped together on the table in front of him, showed evidence of perfectly manicured hands. Surprisingly, the effect was one of aristocracy rather than femininity. Only a Malfoy could pull it off.
“That didn’t seem to bother you before,” purred Hermione, thoroughly enjoying herself. It was surprisingly easy to slip back into the pattern of behavior they’d had at Hogwarts, one of teasing and mockery.
“I needed to get close to you before to ascertain whether or not you were a threat. Nothing more, nothing less,” said Malfoy coldly. He did not look amused, so Hermione sighed and dropped the act.
“I’m Brooke tonight because if anyone were to follow you here, it wouldn’t exactly be good for whatever you’re doing if you’re seen having dinner with an Auror, now would it?”
Malfoy glared at her, but he couldn’t refute her logic. “Very well,” he drawled. “Now, would you care to explain to me what the hell you’re trying to get yourself into with this Brooke business?"
“Before we start spewing our innermost secrets to each other, how do I know that I can trust you?” Hermione said warily. “Maybe you’ve forgotten, but I seem to recall you betraying me to Mark in order to save your pathetic skin.”
A flash of anger crossed Malfoy’s face, but he remained calm. “Did you or did you not get your job back?”
“I did, but that’s not the point—”
“Then you’re welcome.”
Before Hermione could reply heatedly, a well-dressed young man wearing a waiter’s uniform approached their table. “Welcome to La Lanterna,” he began, saying the words as if they’d been well-rehearsed and said a thousand times. “I’m Jacob and I’ll be your server this evening. Can I get you two something to drink?”
“Wine,” Malfoy said, before Hermione could say anything. “For both of us. Is that all right, darling?”
His eyes danced with a mix of mockery and malice. Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Yes, sugarplum—that’s perfect.” It was Malfoy’s turn to flush as the waiter smiled and walked away, hiding a smile.
“’Sugarplum?’” Malfoy said disgustedly once Jacob was gone.
“’Darling?’” Hermione replied in kind.
“If you call all your boyfriends that, no wonder you’re single,” he said, shaking his head. He had meant it mostly as a joke, but saw Hermione’s face fall terribly. “Oh bloody hell.”
Before he could try to apologize, Hermione’s guard flew up and she fired off a question at him, forcing herself to put Ron out of her mind for the moment. “What are you doing working for those people?”
“The same thing that I assume you are; I want the bastard responsible.” Malfoy looked her dead in the eye; he was telling the truth. He still felt a bit guilty for the boyfriend comment, but plowed ahead anyway. “Now spill it.”
Hermione sighed. “I’m undercover for the Aurors. I’m trying to get into the ranks of these monsters,” she murmured, looking around to make sure that no one could hear her. It was unlikely that they would be overheard, however, as the couple nearest them was deeply involved in their conversation as they held hands lovingly across the table. “I’m staying at the Leaky Cauldron so that no one can follow me and realize that I’m an Auror if I go straight back to my flat.”
“How did you fool my Legilimency?” Malfoy asked, leaning towards her. It was clear from the intensity of his gaze that he was extremely curious to know how she had bested him.
“Brooke’s memory implanted in a Memory Charm,” she said, a hint of gloating in her voice. “Clever, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps,” Malfoy said noncommittally.
“That’s why the Hunters have brought in so few criminals over the past month,” Hermione realized suddenly. “You’ve been busy infiltrating this gang.”
A smirk played on Malfoy’s lips. “Guess you lot have had to actually do your jobs for yourself, haven’t you? Must be tough.”
“The Aurors did just fine before you, and they’ll do just fine once I’ve arrested you,” Hermione blurted out defensively.
“Ah, so there it is, Granger,” Malfoy growled. “Going to arrest me once I’ve helped you get your bloody curse maker? I’m afraid we’re going to have to make some kind of deal before I’ll even consider working with you.”
“You used the Imperius Curse on me,” hissed Hermione quietly, leaning towards him so as not to be overheard. “You’ve used the Cruciatus curse in front of me! How can I not arrest you?!”
“Then I suppose you’ll need to decide what’s more important to you,” Malfoy said offhandedly, as if he didn’t care whether she arrested him or not. What Hermione didn’t know was that he was gripping his wand very tightly on his lap, ready to attack if she tried something. “Arresting me, or actually doing some good by arresting real criminals.”
Hermione huffed angrily and grabbed her menu in an attempt to avoid his gaze. Using it as a shield between the two of them, she closed her eyes tightly and tried to think. Like it or not, she needed him. He was her link to the curse maker. Without him, who knew how long it would take for her to actually find out who it was?
“Are you ready to order?” their waiter said, returning with two glasses of red wine.
Malfoy looked at her questioningly, and Hermione nodded. “I’ll have the chicken piccata,” she said, naming the first item that she saw on the menu.
She paid no attention while Malfoy ordered. Instead, she finally came across a compromise in her head. “Listen,” she said once the waiter had gone. “If you help me catch whoever’s making these curses, I won’t arrest you. And I’ll stay off your back as long as you don’t use any Unforgivable Curses either on me or in front of me. But if I see you use even one, I’m going to have to arrest you.”
Malfoy swirled his wine thoughtfully and took a sip. “I suppose that is an acceptable compromise,” he acquiesced finally.
Neither of them said anything for a few minutes. Malfoy was making himself very busy with examining the tablecloth while Hermione merely gazed around the room as she tried to get up the courage to say something that needed to be said. “I also wanted to say…thanks,” she said quietly, trying not to look Malfoy in the eyes.
He looked at her quizzically.
“For helping me out today, and any other times that I haven’t thanked you for. But especially today. I was a real mess today.”
She expected Malfoy to make a rude comment or to insult her in some way. She expected him to be condescending and snotty.
Instead, he reached across the table and covered her hand with his, saying quietly, “You’re welcome.”
Dazed with shock, Hermione froze. Malfoy removed his hand seconds later, a flush tingeing his cheeks. “So…” he murmured. “We should probably talk about how we’re going to do the whole working-together thing.”
The tension between them vanished as they began to talk strategy.
By the time that Jacob brought their food to the table, they had agreed that Malfoy would attempt to speak to August about getting Hermione a job there. With both of them infiltrating the gang, they would have twice the opportunity to find out valuable information that could lead to the identity of the curse maker. “After all,” Malfoy said with a smirk, “Ariana doesn’t work there anymore, so there's a job opening."
“Why not?” Hermione asked, not understanding his smirk. She took a bite of her chicken, which was absolutely delicious.
“August had her silenced for not returning to get you on time.”
“Memory modified and sent to another country with no recollection of who she is,” Malfoy clarified. “Seeing as she was a whore who couldn’t keep her hands off me, I can’t say that I’m quite sorry.”
“That’s horrible,” Hermione gasped, thinking of the poor girl wandering a strange country with no memory. “And surely you’re not serious about not wanting her hands on you. She was very lovely.”
“Looks aren’t everything, Granger,” Malfoy informed her, taking a sip of wine.
The hypocrisy of this statement made Hermione nearly choke on her food. “Malfoy, you hit on a girl 2 minutes after she was almost raped and murdered,” she pointed out in disbelief. “Remember the Surrey Slasher?”
“That? I only needed her to come with me so that I could erase her memory of me,” Malfoy explained calmly. “It generally doesn’t make sense for me to allow her to remember that the Auror who rescued her was assisted by a man who Crucio’d her attacker!”
Hermione fell silent, thinking. A strange sense of relief went through her at hearing this explanation.
Before she could figure out the reasoning behind that relief, a man walking by the table suddenly did a double take and approached her. It was the man that she had noticed earlier eating alone.
The tall, slender man had large blue eyes and jet-black, curly hair, but Hermione only had a second to notice this before he suddenly grabbed her by her shoulders and yelled in her face, “Brooke? Why the hell haven’t you been returning my owls?! And who is this?! You’re cheating on me?!”
Thanks for reading! So, how'd you like it? I know I'm being an evil author by leaving you with a cliffhanger, but this seemed a good place to end this rather long chapter. Love it? Hate it? Let me know! Thanks again =)
A/N: If you missed the announcement at the top of this chapter, then FYI: this chapter was updated and edited on February 22, 2010.
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