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Hunting The Hunters by FutureAggie09
Chapter 23 : What does this all mean?
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 37

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Thank you, lovely readers, for your patience. In return, I give you....the longest chapter yet! Enjoy, because I had fun writing it ^_^

“I know you don’t like the method, but if this helps us get Gary back, won’t it be worth it?” Harry asked logically, jogging a bit to catch up to Hermione as she headed for the elevator that would take her out of the Ministry of Magic.

Hermione ignored him until she entered the elevator, pressing the button marked “L” for Lobby. Once they were both in the elevator alone, she answered coldly, “It won’t get Gary back—he doesn’t know anything.”

“How do you know that?! He was the one who kidnapped you, wasn’t he?”

Hermione didn’t answer him, looking away. She had no idea what to say. There were so many secrets that she was keeping from him—one wrong word could give them all away.

“Hermione,” Harry pleaded, grabbing her shoulders and forcing her to face him. “I can’t help you or him if you don’t tell me what’s going on. Please help me understand—I know that you’re hiding something!” His green eyes blazed with desperation.

Forced to meet the gaze of her best friend who clearly cared deeply about her, Hermione’s resolve weakened. “He rescued me from them,” she said helplessly, her shoulders sagging. The weight of carrying this alone was simply too much for her. The temptation of telling her familiar, kind friend was too great. “We’ve sort of been working together on this.”

“What?” Harry’s expression of utter amazement would have been comical had this been any other situation. Whether it was shock that she had disobeyed the law or shock that she was actually working with their childhood nemesis, Hermione didn’t know. “Hermione, if you had told me you wanted a partner I would have given you one. You know that you can’t work with a civilian on Auror business!”

“He’s not just a civilian,” she protested, her quick mind working hard to come up with an excuse for working with Draco Malfoy. If she told Harry that Malfoy was part of the Hunters, it would mean Malfoy’s permanent imprisonment, as well as Mark’s possible freedom. “He’s a bounty hunter,” she blurted out, waiting with bated breath to see what Harry would say. Would he believe her?

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Licensed?” he asked suspiciously.

“Of course,” Hermione scoffed, bending down to retie her shoe in order to conceal her reddening face. She really hated lying to Harry.

Bounty hunters, while not technically a part of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad, were allowed to bring in wanted criminals for a reward. A rigorous written and live test had to be passed in order to be licensed—anyone who brought in a wanted criminal without it did not receive the bounty for that criminal and was heavily fined. The number of criminals on the Wanted list was small and consisted of mainly small-time criminals—scam artists, petty thieves, etc. The bounty hunters were one step above a civilian. An Auror working with a bounty hunter wasn't strictly illegal—just frowned upon.

Harry didn’t look altogether convinced, but by then they had reached the lobby of the Ministry of Magic. Harry stepped out of the elevator. “I’m going to grab a bite to eat in the café, d’you want to come?” he asked, holding the door of the elevator. The lobby was quiet—the rush of people leaving for the evening had calmed down. Only a few wizards and witches milled about the room.

“I can’t,” she said wryly, remaining in the elevator. “I’m undercover, remember? I've got to try to get back to the group. They’ve changed headquarters.”
Harry nodded, still looking worried. “Be careful, understand? If you hear any information about Gary, let us know—do not go after him yourself. And if what you told me is true, I’ll work on getting Malfoy out of interrogation.”

“I understand.” Hermione flashed Harry a smile that was much more confident than she felt.

“You can take a few days off, Hermione, you know that,” Harry persisted. The lines of worry in his face had deepened over the past few months—being the head of the Auror Department and having the kind of temperament that he had wasn’t easy. Harry worried too much and cared about everyone; he took the burden of keeping everyone safe solely on his shoulders. Right now he was worrying about Hermione, Gary, Tonks, and his new baby boy, amongst many other things.

Hermione resisted the urge to fall into his arms and tell him everything. “I already had three days off in St. Mungo’s,” she said lightly. “I’ll see you later, Harry.” She pressed the button for level two, and the elevator closed before a frustrated Harry could say another word.

Hermione tapped her foot impatiently as she waited to arrive at her level. The moment the doors opened, she was outside the elevator, striding quickly towards her desk in the rows of cubicles that made up the Aurors’ department. It was just past 8 o’clock, judging by the clock on the wall, and the Auror offices were deserted. In times of crisis like this when one of their own was missing, the Aurors used the conference room as a place to confer and spread out all the information that they had on the long tables. Light and muted voices came from the conference room, but Hermione paid it no mind. She would be long gone before anyone realized that she was there.

Grabbing a quill and ink from her drawer, Hermione slid her filing cabinet open and swiftly flipped through the files. “Amulet Tests, Book Requisitions...Breeding Permits...aha! Bounty Hunter Licenses,” she muttered triumphantly, pulling out a blank form.

Her pen moved furiously across the page as she carefully and meticulously filled out the license form with Draco Malfoy’s information. She knew most of the information that the form required from her research into Malfoy when she suspected him as being the leader of the Hunters. Long minutes passed while she completed the three-page document. When she was finished, she dated the license for the previous year and stamped it with the crest of the Ministry of Magic.

Just as she put the finishing touches on the license form, she heard footsteps coming down the hallway from the elevator. Hermione fled into Harry’s office, slipped the form into the file behind his desk with all of the other approved bounty hunter licenses, and ducked down behind his desk.

If she was caught, it would certainly mean the end of her career. Falsifying a Ministry document was a sure way to get fired. Even her close friendship with Harry wouldn’t be enough to save her. She crept under the desk, holding her body as still as possible, as the footsteps neared Harry’s office. Dust choked the stale air under the desk, making it difficult to breathe easily. Her heart hammered wildly in her chest, so loudly that she feared the person would hear it.

Hermione watched in fear as the person walked around the desk towards the cabinet against the wall. Black shoes were all she could see as they halted directly in front of her. The cabinet swung open with a creak, followed by the soft sound of papers being shifted around.

“Let’s see,” Harry’s voice murmured softly. Papers rustled. “Malfoy, Draco—licensed for over a year now...”

“Harry, we just received some information you need to see,” came Neville Longbottom’s voice from outside Harry’s office.

“Of course,” Harry said gratefully. The papers he was holding fell with a whoosh on the table.

Hermione watched in relief as Harry left the room. The moment he was gone, she scrambled out from under the table. After checking to make sure she was alone in the office, she went to the fireplace and grabbed a handful of Floo Powder out of the jar on the mantle. “The Leaky Cauldron,” she whispered as she crept inside the roaring flames.

The main floor of the Leaky Cauldron was so busy this time of evening that no one even noticed Hermione Granger as she stumbled out of the dusty fireplace. She unobtrusively made her way to the stairs and to the floor that her room was located on. Once she was safely in her room, she collapsed on a chair and breathed a sigh of relief.

Her web of lies was growing perilously tangled. What she would do if she was caught, she had no idea. I need to find Gary, she thought firmly, willing herself not to contemplate things that hadn’t even happened yet. She pulled out the silver key Malfoy had given her and gazed at it curiously. It was simply an ordinary key that could go to any lock anywhere in the world.

To find out where it led, she performed the same spell that she had used to find the Surrey Slasher. Scrutinizing the map that had materialized in front of her, Hermione let out a groan when she realized what the key went to: a specific room in Malfoy Manor.

What could Malfoy possibly want her to find at his mansion? Even if she knew what to look for, it would take her ages to search the expansive rooms. Plus, it was probably crawling with Hunters.

Hermione’s stomach growled loudly in the empty room, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten in some time. Hastily grabbing an apple, she looked closer at the map, squinting to read the tiny print in a little bubble that appeared next to the X that marked the door that the key went to.

“Wolfsbane,” she read aloud. Juice from the apple dripped onto the parchment. Hermione wiped it away impatiently. Malfoy locked rooms in his own house? That seemed odd, but then again, if he had his Hunters sleeping in his house, he probably needed his privacy. Why would he have given her a key to his bedroom? What could possibly be in there that would help her find Gary or help Malfoy prove his innocence? And what was “Wolfsbane,” besides the name of a potion? Was it a password, or a clue as to what she was looking for?

“I guess I’ll find out,” she murmured, finishing up the last of her apple.

It was late afternoon by this time. Her body protested, but Hermione made herself get up out of the comfortable chair in her room. It had been too long since she’d just relaxed and taken it easy. But Malfoy certainly wasn’t relaxing right now—he was undergoing torture, and Hermione would be damned if he suffered even a moment longer than he had to. It was time to make preparations to go to Malfoy Manor.

A woman dressed all in black snuck through the late-evening shadows that loomed over the massive courtyard of the equally-massive Malfoy Mansion. The fall evening was hot and sticky; even the fallen leaves on the grass didn’t have the strength to break loudly underneath the careful steps of the intruder as she crept towards the front door. The hooting of a nearby owl was the only noise that rose above the crickets’ chirping somewhere in the grass.

“Alohomora!” Hermione Granger whispered. The door unlocked immediately at her spell. She expected something a bit more secure than a mere locked door, but headed inside with no complaint.

The large house was ominously silent, though the chandeliers were lit and shining merrily. Her wand at the ready, Hermione quickly walked through the seemingly-empty house, her eyes flicking back and forth between her surroundings and the parchment map. She reached the East Wing of the house without seeing another soul, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw the door at the end that had to be the one she was looking for.

She’d nearly reached it when four doors all around her suddenly opened at the same time.

“Oh no,” Hermione breathed, realizing that she was surrounded by no less than eight Hunters, two in each doorway. The rooms behind them looked to be empty, as if they had been lying in wait for her. She dropped the parchment, her wand at the ready. Her free hand slid into her pocket automatically.

Marcus, the enormous black man who was the first Hunter Hermione had met, flashed white teeth at her in a feral grin.

“Back again?” said Shorty, one of the two Hunters who had come to her apartment after she’d escaped Malfoy Manor months ago.

“After your last intrusion here, Mr. Malfoy added a few additional alarms to the house,” another Hunter informed her, grinning menacingly through crooked teeth. “He’ll be most pleased when he finds out that we captured an intruder.” He turned to his left, speaking to a short Hunter with gnarled fingers and a tangled beard. “Merlin knows we’ve had precious little else to do in the past month while he’s been working on that damn ‘secret mission.’ Right, Ed?”

“Enough talking,” growled Marcus, stepping forward before Ed could respond. “Get her.”

The Hunters closed in on both sides—Hermione had no choice but to run. Pulling her hand out of her pocket, she hurled the potion she'd brought with her on the ground. The fragile glass vial shattered on impact, sending a whoosh of gray smoke into the air to hide her. She charged forward towards the end of the hallway, only a hundred feet away.

The yelling of the Hunters followed her down the hallway, mixed in with thuds and arguing as they all shoved past each other in pursuit.

Hermione ran for her life, reaching the door that the map had depicted faster than she’d thought was possible. Her shaking fingers pulled the key out of her pocket and slid it unerringly into the lock. She tried twisting the key, but it just turned uselessly all the way around in the lock—there was no sound of it actually unlocking anything. The Hunters were seconds away from catching her, but her lightning-quick brain remembered the word that had been written on the parchment.

“Wolfsbane,” she gasped desperately. The lock clicked instantly and the door opened under the pressure of her shaking hand. Hermione stumbled inside the room and slammed it shut behind her, turning the lock securely. She collapsed on the carpet, her back against the door. There must have been some sort of Silencing Charm on the room, because she could feel thumps against the door behind her, but no sound made its way into the room.

Not knowing how long she had until the Hunters managed to break the door down, Hermione began her exploration of the room. She was in what she remembered as Malfoy’s bedroom. A large, comfortable bed took up a third of the room. A desk in the corner was covered in papers and books. Next to the desk was a glass cabinet upon which potions were neatly arranged. A portrait of a beautiful blonde woman that Hermione assumed was Narcissa Malfoy gazed down on her imperiously.

Though she knew that whatever she was searching for was probably not on the bookshelf, she found herself drawn to the two immense bookshelves that took over an entire wall of the room. They were completely filled with books of all sizes and length. Hermione scanned them, reading the titles. Some she recognized, some she didn’t. She did notice, however, that there were quite a few who were on the Banned Books list at the Ministry.

A delighted gasp escaped her as she came upon a copy of “William Octavius: Theories on Transubstantial Transfiguration.” Hermione couldn’t help herself from pulling the book down and eagerly opening the rare tome. “I thought all of these were destroyed in the cursed fire of 1488!” Her hands shook as she read the first page of the ancient book, realizing that it was indeed an original copy of the book.

A vibration roiling through the room made her realize that she couldn’t waste time. The Hunters were trying to get in with all their might. With regret, she replaced the book on the shelf and moved on towards the desk. The simple desk of dark wood was covered in scratches beneath the papers that were scattered across it. Moving aside the spare pages of parchment and Daily Prophets as she looked for something that would aid her in her mission, Hermione found a black, leather-bound journal.

The cover had once been embroidered with “My Journal,” but the words had long since been scratched out. Hermione opened it slowly, wondering what she would find inside. There was a fine line between searching Malfoy’s room for clues and invading his privacy, but Hermione couldn’t help herself.

The first page had a newspaper article taped inside of it. The large picture at the top showed Draco Malfoy with his parents standing on either side of him. His mother smiled brightly, while his father and Draco shared the same wry grin. Below the picture, in dark letters, were the words: Flying Coach Crash Kills Couple: Son Survives.

Hermione read on; Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy had been killed two years previous when their flying coach was cursed out of the sky by an unknown witch or wizard. The coach had fallen hundreds of feet from the sky into a deep lake. The Healer who had examined the bodies said that Narcissa had died immediately on impact, while Lucius Malfoy survived just long enough to push his son’s body from the wreckage before perishing himself. Draco Malfoy’s unconscious body was found on the edge of the lake by mediwizards just twenty minutes later, but it was impossible to save his parents.

Hermione turned the page with numb fingers; she’d had no idea what had happened to Malfoy’s parents. When the tragic event had unfolded, she had been in Auror training and had no access to the newspapers that would undoubtedly have made this their prime story.

The next article, dated a week after the first, was merely a recap of the previous one, but added that the identity of the attacker was still unknown. The articles pasted inside the leather journal became shorter and shorter as the weeks went on and no one knew who had killed the elder Malfoys.

Tears in her eyes, Hermione closed the book. The reason Malfoy had begun the Hunters, why he was terrified of deep water—it all made sense now. He must have started the Hunters in response to the Magical Law Enforcement Squad's failure to find the persons responsible for his parents deaths.

Tremors rocked the room beneath her, shaking Hermione out of her revelation. Malfoy must have done a terrific job making his room impervious to force, but surely it would eventually reach its limit. Seeing nothing else of importance in his room other than a collection of ordinary potions, Hermione wandered into the bathroom.

It was larger than any she had ever seen before, except for the prefect bathroom at Hogwarts. There were two sinks, but only the bigger one had a mirror above it. The large bathtub made her cringe with jealousy, but besides that, nothing useful was revealed. Just as she was about to leave the bathroom, a small indentation in the wall above the smaller sink caught her eye. It was the size of a Knut, no larger.

Hermione curiously touched it with her finger; the inside wasn’t solid, like the wall around it. Instead, it felt like sand. Soft, silky sand that began pulling her finger in slowly and inexorably, sucking her hand in next.

Hermione let out a startled shriek and tried to pull away, but the pressure on her hand and fingers increased, pulling her in faster. The sand soon took over her entire arm and began taking her shoulder in with it. Panicking, Hermione grabbed a hairbrush off the counter next to her and began banging it against the wall in a last-ditch effort to break free. This last resistance caused the wall to hasten its pulling and before she knew it, she was completely inside the wall. Seconds later, she was released from the sand and deposited lightly on the floor on the other side of the wall!

Hermione dropped the hairbrush and smoothed her shirt with her hands, stunned by the fact that there was no sand anywhere on her or the ground. She was now on the opposite side of the bathroom wall, in a small room that was teeming with random things. A small path through the room was the only clear area apart from the area by the wall she'd come in through.

“This is where he keeps all his Dark artifacts,” Hermione realized aloud as she saw the shriveled Hand of Glory sitting on top of a banned Dark Arts book. “Anything in here could be cursed...” Pulling out her wand, she waved it in a looping pattern and said, “Cursus Revelio!”

Immediately, a red halo of smoke settled over a corner of the room where a table stood, various objects arranged carefully on top of it.
Hermione made a mental note not to touch any of those items and instead perused the rest of the room. Having a room like this could send Malfoy to Azkaban for the rest of his life, she knew, gingerly picking up a glass ball with white powder flowing around the inside. She had no idea what most of these items were, but if Malfoy had gone to this much trouble to hide them, they were probably illegal. Suddenly, a particular piece that she did recognize caught her eye.

“No,” she gasped, grinning as she picked it up. A medium-sized piece of metal, it had one end shaped like a horn and the other end was a small bowl. There was a small black switch on the side of it. Hermione gently blew off the dust that coated the object. Highly illegal, this was a medieval-aged device that could drag any person or creature from anywhere in the universe. All it needed was some part of the person that the user wanted transported.

Hermione brought the device back to the front of the room where she had entered. The hairbrush she’d hastily grabbed still lay on the floor. A few blond strands of hair were caught in it. Hermione carefully untangled the hairs and placed them in the small bowl at the end of the device.

Voices suddenly made their way through the wall from the bathroom.

“—got to be in here somewhere!” growled an angry voice. “The Locator spell is pointing right at the wall!”

“Well she’s certainly not inside the wall, you fool!”

The Hunters must have made their way through to Malfoy’s room, Hermione realized. Whatever she did, she would have to hurry. Her finger hovered uncertainly over the switch on the device. If it still worked, it would transport Malfoy right in front of her. He would disappear right from under the Ministry’s nose, which could get him in huge trouble for “escaping.” If it was discovered that Hermione was the one behind it, she would go to jail as well. She wrestled with herself for long minutes. Was Malfoy worth it? Then she remembered the dream she’d had, and the words echoed in her head, “This is what will follow if you put duty before compassion and your head before your heart.” She sighed. Malfoy had saved her countless times, and she knew what he would do if she was in trouble. Job be damned—Hermione flipped the switch.

The device whirred to life, the blond strands of hair disappearing before her eyes.

“Look here!” cried a voice from outside the secret room.

She could hear the sand in the wall behind her sifting as it pulled one or more of the Hunters through it, but her gaze was on the vibrating device in front of her.

“Got her!” called a voice. Dirty hands from behind grabbed Hermione roughly. She was pulled close against the Hunter named Ed’s chest, her wand ripped from her grasp by another. She was suddenly surrounded by Hunters, all of them sweaty and angry from trying so long to break into Malfoy's locked room.

The device didn’t seem to be working properly. Creaking noises emitted from the end of it as it shuddered in its efforts to work.

“Malfoy’s going to be pleased that we caught you,” hissed Marcus. He held her wand mockingly above her head. “And you’re going to tell him that it was you who broke a window to get into his room, not us,” he threatened furiously, bringing back his hand to slap Hermione across the face. She took the slap without crying out, though a cut opened up on her cheek where his enormous gold ring hit her.

“Before you go to the dungeons, we’re going to make you wish you were never born,” he whispered, licking her ear slowly.

Hermione shuddered but kept her cool, already working on a plan to reach her pocket, where she had yet another special potion that she’d brought along for just this situation.

A pulsating beam of light finally spewed forth from the horn-shaped end of the forgotten device and with a deafening bang, Draco Malfoy appeared in the center of the light. His arms were still bound behind his back and his legs didn’t seem capable of supporting him very well, for he dropped to his knees. He looked worse than he had when Hermione had last seen him. Haunted grey eyes took in the scene in front of him.

“Boss!” cried Marcus, utterly shocked.

The rest of the Hunters rushed to their leader, helping him to his feet. Marcus and Ed remained next to Hermione, making sure that she didn’t move to escape.

“Get these fucking handcuffs off!” Malfoy ordered furiously. He turned his back to them so that they could reach his hands.

Hermione wasn’t the only one who gasped as his back was revealed.

The back of his shirt had been shredded by what looked like lash marks. The skin of his back was marred with many bloody lines that looked like they were from a whip. Shorty and another Hunter cast several spells to get the handcuffs off.

“B-boss, I can’t!” whined Shorty after a moment. “They’re Auror handcuffs—I don’t know how to get them off!”

“Hey, she’s an Auror.” Marcus’s deep voice spoke up before Malfoy could respond. He shoved Hermione forward while Ed continued to hold her arms behind her back. Hermione nearly fell, but managed to keep her footing while Malfoy turned around to see who they were talking about.

“Granger!” he growled. Though he had much more to say to her than that, he had a more pressing question on his mind. “How did you get into my room?” Malfoy asked, his voice weak but deadly. His question was directed not at Hermione, but at the Hunters.

“We followed her,” Marcus answered. “She broke a window to get in and we followed!” The insistent tone of his voice wasn’t believable in the slightest.

“You’ve done just a marvelous job,” Malfoy said, his tone saying otherwise. “Let her go so that I can handle her.”

Torn between concern for Malfoy and anger that he was acting so ungrateful, Hermione couldn’t speak. Several strands of hair had fallen across her face from her ponytail and she blew them out of the way impatiently.

“Um, boss?” Shorty said hesitantly, clasping his hands in front of him defensively. His ruddy face was red and slightly sweaty. “What happened? Did they find out about us?”

“No,” Malfoy said shortly. “Now get out of here.”

“But you’re unarmed!” protested Marcus, his fingers digging into Hermione’s shoulder as he refused to let go. “What if she attacks you?!”

“Are you saying you don’t think I can handle her?” Draco asked dangerously. His eyes narrowed, making him look threatening even though his arms were bound behind him and his legs were trembling as he leaned against a cabinet full of forbidden books for support.

This was enough for Ed, who let go of Hermione’s arms. Marcus, however, remained unconvinced. “I think you should let me stay here,” he stated firmly.

“If you all do not leave this room this very second, I will make sure that you do not survive another day,” Malfoy replied, giving the Hunters a look that made most of them pale. Every Hunter in the room except for Marcus disapparated.

“We captured the intruder,” Marcus said stubbornly, searching for praise. Though he sounded strong, Hermione could feel his hand tremble on her shoulder as he stood up to his leader.

She took her chance. Marcus’s attention was solely on Malfoy, so he was completely unprepared when Hermione ducked away from his restraining arms and hooked a leg behind his. Jerking her leg forward, she tripped Marcus, who fell heavily towards the ground. As he was in the process of falling, Hermione snatched her wand from his shirt pocket.

By the time Marcus hit the ground, Hermione had her wand at his neck. “If you move, I swear I’ll arrest you on the spot,” she growled, breathing hard.

Marcus groaned, feeling his head where it had connected with the floor. He glanced over to Malfoy, who had a half-smirk on his face.

“Leave,” Malfoy ordered once more. “I’ll be fine.”

Marcus made no more protest. With the air of a dog with its tail between its legs, he got to his feet, turned on the spot, and disapparated.

The moment he was gone, Malfoy sagged against the bookcase, as if he had spent the last of his energy putting up a brave front for the Hunters.

Hermione ran to him. Up close, she could see that he was shaking. Whether it was from exhaustion, cold, or fear, she didn’t know. “I’ll get these off,” she promised quickly before he could say anything, tapping the handcuffs with her wand and murmuring the spell to unlock them. She gently pulled them off of his wrists, wincing as she saw the infected sores where they had been. Malfoy brought his hands gingerly in front of him, biting his lip at the pain.

“Here,” Hermione said, taking his hand gently in hers and rubbing his palm soothingly with her thumbs as the blood slowly returned to them. She massaged both hands for a few minutes, easing the pain. When his hands were a healthy pink once more, she let go. “How do we get out of here?” she asked, wanting to get Malfoy to a chair. His legs wouldn’t support him much longer, she knew.

“Just push on the wall where you came in,” Draco replied, leading the way with slow but sure steps. He leaned against the wall, appearing to slowly sink into it.

Hermione was alone in the room full of Dark objects. For just a moment, she toyed with the idea of leaving before she got herself in deeper to this crime of helping Malfoy. The thought flickered away just as soon as it came, and she leaned against the wall where Malfoy disappeared. Moments later, she found herself back in the bathroom, standing next to the sink.

Malfoy was at the larger sink, trying and failing to turn on the water with weak, shaking hands. “I need water,” he gasped.

“Here, come sit down,” Hermione replied, alarmed by his weakness. She pulled Malfoy’s arm over her shoulder and half-dragged him to his bed, carefully avoiding the scattered glass from the shattered window.

Draco slumped against his pillows, his lips dry and chapped. Though she found it a bit ironic that he was begging for water just a little while after being tortured with it, Hermione obliged. She leaned over Draco, held his head gently with one hand, and she murmured, “Aguamenti Minimo.” A thin stream of water spouted from the end of her wand and directly into Draco’s open mouth. Malfoy swallowed water for a good minute before he sighed and relaxed against the bed.

Hermione brought him a potion from his table of potions marked “Replenishing Potion.” Malfoy drank it immediately, feeling the potion nourish his empty stomach and return some strength to his limbs.

When Hermione moved to heal the sores on his wrists though, he pushed her away, saying quietly, “It can wait until later. I want to sleep.” He refused to look at her, gazing instead toward the portrait of his mother on the wall.

“Draco,” Hermione said softly, taking his hand in hers. “Are you all right?”

Though his face was turned away, Hermione could feel his breathing quicken.

“I know how they tortured you,” she said, guilt choking her words slightly. “It must have been—”

Draco Malfoy pulled away from her at these words, facing her straight on. “How can you even imagine what they did to me?” he said quietly. Pain lurked behind his grey eyes, threatening to come to the surface and consume him. His face was dirty and unshaven. The usually clean and shiny blond hair was dirty and matted. He still exuded an air of power and strength, but he was clearly wounded emotionally as well as physically. “For three days, they repeatedly drowned me in water while I was chained to a chair. They shocked me with lightning every time I fell asleep. I was given no food or water, except what I swallowed by accident during the torture. They forced me to my knees and whipped me over and over again in front of a mirror, forcing me to watch my own humiliation.” He broke off as he choked up. It took a moment for him to recover.

Hermione said nothing, transfixed by the raw emotion on his face; the mask he usually wore was completely gone. “They knew everything about my past—everything that could hurt me. There were no holds barred—no law or sanction to protect me. The only thing that they cared about was breaking me so completely that they could extract the information they’re after from my defeated mind.” Draco glared at Hermione defiantly, his jaw set with fury.

Hermione could barely meet his intense gaze. The first response that jumped to her mind was her knee-jerk ardent defense of the post-Voldemort laws that made such interrogations possible, but she pushed past it. The words that she said next surprised them both. “It’s completely and utterly wrong,” she said fiercely, her brown eyes blazing with passion.

Draco froze, thrown off guard that Hermione Granger had gone against what she’d believed in.

“And I’m sorry about your parents,” Hermione continued softly, hoping that this wouldn’t set him off again. The anger bled away from Draco’s face, leaving grief in its wake. Before his anger could flare up again, Hermione reached for his hand, saying quietly, “Let me heal you.” A veil was slowly lifting from her eyes. Draco had gone through extraordinary torture when he could have made it stop in an instant by telling them that Hermione had recruited him to help her. It may have been simple self-preservation, if he feared she would then reveal him to be in the Hunters, but somehow she didn’t think so. She knew at that moment that she could never hate him again.

“I can do it myself,” Malfoy replied, his voice regaining its normal haughty tone.

“With what wand?” Hermione retorted, pulling out hers.

Malfoy didn’t protest again. Hermione took the initiative to pick up one of his wrists cautiously. With a quietly-spoken spell, she healed the gashes on his wrist. Another charm reduced the bruises until they were so faint they could barely be seen. Then she did the same with the other wrist. The entire time Draco just watched, silent, while she carefully healed him. When his wrists were entirely healed, Hermione moved on. “Turn over,” she directed, her voice hesitant. She had no idea whether he would listen to her or not.

Malfoy did as she said, lying on his stomach, the shredded strips of his shirt tangled beneath him. In order to see better, Hermione vanished the ruined shirt entirely, letting out a sympathetic gasp as she saw the whip marks on his back for the second time. Dried blood lined the edges of the criss-crossed lash marks.

Psychological torture was the specialty of the interrogators. For physical torture, they were indeed allowed to use the Cruciatus Curse, though most preferred psychological torture as a way to break their subjects. For proud, arrogant Draco Malfoy, being forced to watch himself as he was whipped mercilessly—and on his knees, no less—was devastating.

The actual gashes on his back were very thin, designed to cause extreme pain, but not enough to put the victim in danger of passing out from blood loss. Hermione waved her wand slowly across the marks on Draco’s back, speaking a complicated incantation to heal them while minimizing scarring. The lash marks slowly shrank and disappeared.

Realizing that Draco was probably not in any condition to stand and go take a shower, Hermione cast a Cleansing Charm on him, removing all of the dirt, sweat, and blood instantly from his body and hair. Not saying a word, Hermione watched as Draco’s clean back rose and fell slowly with his breathing. Without thinking,she reached out and gently touched his now-healed back. His skin was warm and smooth—Hermione’s breathing quickened, though she didn’t quite know why.

At her touch, Malfoy slowly turned over so that he was lying on his side, his eyes searching for hers. As their eyes met, Hermione found herself blushing slightly. “Does anything still hurt?” she asked hoarsely, off-guard by the intensity of the moment. Her hand now rested on his abdomen.

Draco shook his head in reply. He sat up, and Hermione quickly moved her hand away. Draco caught that hand, however, and pulled it back, bringing Hermione close to him. Perched on the edge of the bed, Hermione found her face inches away from Draco’s. Draco had a look on his face that Hermione had never seen before: a mix of lingering hurt, a tinge of gratitude, relief, anxiety, and something else that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Her eyes were locked on his. Her hand burned in his grasp as heat from her blush traveled down her body.

“I have to—” Midway through Hermione’s half-hearted excuse to leave, Draco closed the distance between them, his lips pressing against hers.

Hermione’s lips parted instinctively as she let out a surprised gasp. Draco—when had she started calling him Draco??—pulled her into his lap. Hermione found herself straddling muscled legs and pressed up against Draco’s chest as his mouth devoured hers. The kiss was insistent and powerful as Draco poured all of his emotions into it. Hermione found herself kissing him back. She had really come to care about him—seeing him tortured had been nearly unbearable for her, especially since he was the one who had risked his life just to save hers. Draco was wounded—emotionally, though no longer physically. She knew that he needed her.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, letting out an involuntary moan. Kissing him this time was different than the others. The first time she had hated him and the second time had been out of surprise, while the third time had been out of an adrenaline rush. This time, she knew that she had developed some feelings for him.

Draco leaned backwards against the pillows on the bed, taking her along with him without breaking the kiss. Heat burned between them as Hermione lay on top of him, stroking his hair gently with her fingers. Something wet touched her cheek, and she opened her eyes for just a moment to see a tear slide down Draco’s face to hers. She clung to him all the more tighter, trying desperately to ease the emotional pain that she knew he was feeling from the torture.

They kissed hungrily for long minutes, their heavy breathing the only sounds in the room. It was more than sexual—it was two people clinging to each other for dear life. Their kisses grew slower and slower, longer and longer, until Hermione realized that Draco had slowly drifted into sleep. She drew back, watching Draco’s lips remain parted as he breathed slowly and deeply. His face was relaxed and peaceful in sleep—he must be exhausted after three days of not being allowed to rest for even a moment.

Hermione kissed him once more on the forehead, wondering what this had all meant. Before her mind had a chance to begin analyzing the past night, she found herself falling asleep curled up against Draco’s warm body.

Thanks for reading! I hope you liked it :)

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