Hermione lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. It was Wednesday morning; she had two days left to tell Harry of her decision and three days to tell Draco. She had already made her decision—the only matter remaining was how to tell them. She didn’t want to hurt either of them, but Harry was practically a puppet of the Ministry and Draco was headstrong and arrogant.
“Well,” she sighed, “no use in putting it off any longer.” She showered and dressed without further delay and was off to the Ministry of Magic in a flash, carrying a very important letter in her hand.
As Hermione entered an empty elevator to take her to the Auror’s floor, she tripped over the space between the elevator and the lobby floor. She pitched forward, throwing out her hands to break her fall, but a strong arm wrapped around her waist, steadying her.
Hermione caught the smell of expensive cologne and grinned, turning to face her rescuer.
“Miss Granger,” Draco said, nodding to her as he pushed the button for level two. He winked at her. “Don’t worry, I have that effect on many women.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest imperiously. “What brings you to the Ministry, Mr. Malfoy?” she said, matching his formal tone, though her eyes twinkled.
“I’m on the board of trustees for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, remember?” Draco replied, tapping a name badge that was pinned to his robes.
“Ah,” Hermione said, remembering back to the night she’d discovered that particular piece of information at the Ministry’s benefit for St. Mungo’s. “What exactly do you do?”
“In a nutshell, I attend a multitude of boring meetings and have input on issues like Auror training and who gets what assignments,” Draco answered, sounding bored as he leaned casually against the wall of the elevator as it finally began to move. “I mainly use it to get information for my...hobby.” The elevator was empty except for them, but Draco was clearly taking no chances of incriminating himself.
“Don't you have any input on, say, which criminals get prosecuted and which are pardoned?” Hermione asked innocently. She really was curious why Draco didn’t just use his influence at the Ministry to get his Hunters released.
Draco’s eyes narrowed as he took in her meaning. “Not when the Minister has taken a special interest in them,” he answered tightly.
“Well,” Hermione said as the doors opened on level two, “have a splendid day, Mr. Malfoy.” She turned left, heading for the Auror department.
“Three days, Hermione,” Draco called after her as he turned right towards his office.
“Hermione!” Harry exclaimed as she entered his office.
“Harry,” Hermione said, nodding her head. She held out the letter she’d brought with her.
Harry’s face fell as he unfolded the paper and scanned it quickly. “You’re resigning?” he asked disbelievingly. “Bloody hell, why? No one said you had to resign! Just accept or decline the promotion.”
“Even if no one was going to fire me, I can’t work for people that condone bribing me not to do the right thing. I’m sorry, Harry—I won’t work for anyone at the cost of my own morals.”
Harry dropped her letter of resignation onto his desk and slumped back in his chair, looking shocked. “You love this job. What else are you going to do? Does this have something to do with Malfoy?”
“It has something to do with you being the Minister’s puppet,” she retorted. “How can you just accept it when he tells you to do something that’s obviously wrong?”
“In our sixth year, who was the one who refused to be the face of the Ministry because of the way they were treating people? Me!” Harry exclaimed angrily. “I have to pick and choose my battles carefully, Hermione. If these were innocent people, you know I’d be the first one fighting for them!”
“Who are you to deem who is innocent and who isn’t?!” cried Hermione. She surprised herself by how ardent her defense of them was. But in her time of trouble, when she couldn’t get the help she needed from the Ministry because she was wanted for arrest on ridiculous charges, the Hunters had been the only ones to help her.
“They attacked you—that’s enough! Merlin, listen to yourself! You don’t even sound like an Auror!”
“Good thing I’m not one anymore, then.” Hermione placed her badge on the desk and headed for the door.
Still furious, Harry said nothing as he watched her go.
Fired up and empowered from quitting her job, Hermione decided that she might as well kill two birds with one stone. She strode down the hallway opposite the one that led to the Auror department. She rarely had the occasion to go down there, since it held the bureaucratic offices for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, such as the Head of Department, the Chairman, and various others.
The doors were all made of heavy wood and imbued with magic so that no sound came in or out, except for a small area above the door knob where visitors were to knock. Hermione tapped lightly on the door that had “Draco Malfoy” engraved on the gold plaque. She wondered vaguely why he even had an office for the position he held, but chalked it up to his wealth and influence.
“Enter,” Draco called lazily.
Hermione pushed open the door and stepped inside. The office was startlingly bare compared to its opulent counterpart at Malfoy Manor. Aside from the bare essentials of a desk, a bookshelf with several standard Ministry tests, and a filing cabinet, there was little else.
“Can I help you, Auror Granger?” Draco asked, adopting a haughty, formal tone as a Ministry official walked past the open door.
Hermione shut the door. She turned back to face him and replied coolly, “It’s not ‘Auror’ anymore. Just Granger will do. Or perhaps you could even use my first name. It’s ‘Hermione,’ if you didn’t know.” By the time she finished, her voice was shaking with misplaced anger.
Draco at least had the grace to look properly shocked. “You got yourself fired?”
“They offered me a promotion if I stayed away from the Hunters’ trials. They just want to convict them all and give them life in Azkaban for Unforgivable Curses without having to bother taking into account the fact that they helped bring in Lorelei’s gang,” she exclaimed. “It’s wrong. I refuse to work for an institution which believes that’s okay.” She halted abruptly and obviously.
Draco looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to continue. “And?” he prompted.
Hermione sighed before revealing the other reason why she’d quit, which would clearly show whose side she’d chosen. “To prevent me from attending both, the Ministry scheduled the trials for Lorelei’s people—which I have to attend—at the same time as the Hunters’. The Hunters’ trials are merely a formality, as the proof of their crimes is in their wands. Since I fully intend to show up to help plead the Hunters’ cases instead of doing my job and attending the others, I had to quit. I don’t enjoy being manipulated.”
Draco’s eyes widened. Whatever he’d been expecting her to say, it wasn’t that. He looked slightly torn, however. While he needed his Hunters free, he also didn’t want it at the expense of setting free the woman who’d nearly killed him. “Are Lorelei and her men in any danger of being released if you don’t testify?” he asked cautiously.
“None,” Hermione replied, smiling. “If I’m not there to testify, they’ll just have to dip into their expensive store of Veritaserum to get their answer.”
Draco was pleased and (if forced to admit it under oath) a bit touched. “You’re giving up your career,” he stated, walking slowly towards her; a soft smile transformed his normally calculating and tense features.
“Yes,” Hermione replied calmly as he approached. She’d made her peace with what she had decided. It no longer upset her—she knew that she was doing the right thing.
“All that you’ve worked for and trained for.” He had almost reached her.
“Yes,” Hermione repeated, a smile playing about her lips. He seemed almost in wonder that someone would sacrifice that much for a group of people she hardly knew.
“You are...amazing...” he said, a faint blush infusing his cheeks. He was rather unused to complimenting people sincerely, though he excelled at insincere flattery.
Hermione grinned. “Thank you.” She tilted her head back as Draco lowered his head to hers and kissed her deeply. He pulled her close to him as he showed rather than told her how he felt about what she had done.
Hermione reluctantly broke the lovely kiss, though she remained in his arms, her arms loosely around his waist. She rested her head against his chest as she said carefully, “I want you to do something for me.”
Draco’s chest rumbled against her cheek as he answered lightly, “Anything.”
Hermione’s heart fluttered as she heard him say the word. She knew he meant it, but she kept it simple. “You have to let me testify at the Hunters’ trials before you do anything drastic. Let me try to get them legally released before you turn yourself into the most wanted man in Britain,” she pleaded.
They didn’t have any kind of future together if Draco broke the Hunters out of Azkaban (assuming he could actually do it). Harry Potter’s best friend, the girl who had helped defeat Voldemort, could not—and would not—go into hiding with the renegade leader of the Hunters, no matter how thrilling the situation would seem to the author of a romance novel. She couldn’t disillusion Harry and the rest of the Wizarding world.
Besides, if she allowed Draco to help the Hunters escape, she would be responsible for any crimes they may or may not commit any time in the future. Hermione couldn’t have that hanging over her head for the rest of her life.
Draco hesitated above her, his fingers tapping her sides lightly as he thought. “All right. But it’s going to be much more difficult to get them out once they've been sentenced than it would be if I did it during the trials.”
“We need to talk about that, too,” Hermione replied, pulling away from him so that he could see how serious she was.
A knock on the door interrupted them before Draco would reply. He glanced at the clock and cursed. “I have a meeting to attend.” He strode to the door and opened it, revealing a red-faced young man holding a stack of papers balanced precariously in his arms.
“Just take them to conference room B,” Draco ordered, shutting the door in the man’s face. He turned back to Hermione. “Can we talk about this later?” he asked hurriedly, grabbing his outer robe off the chair and straightening his tie. “I have to convince nine other men on the Board of Trustees that I am, in fact, not the devil.” Though he wasn’t being prosecuted for his role as the leader of the Hunters since he had nearly died at the hands of Lorelei’s gang while helping Hermione, he was still under suspicion and facing a forced resignation of his position on the Board of Trustees.
“Of course,” Hermione replied, smiling a bit at his words.
“Dinner, seven o’clock, at The Ivy?”
Draco pressed a lingering kiss to Hermione’s lips and headed out the door. Hermione touched her lips, smiling absently.
Then she made her way back to her apartment to relax on the sofa. A cup of tea and sandwich later found her deep in thought on the sofa with Romeo purring beside her. She had heard of the restaurant that Draco had named—an upscale establishment just around the corner from several theatres. She decided that she would wear the only nice, formal dress that she owned; it was the dress she’d worn to Ginny’s wedding and she was quite fond of it.
In the meantime, however, she needed to focus on her financial situation. Now that she was without a job, she’d have to rely on her savings until she found another. But what sort of job was available to an ex-Auror? She doubted that she’d ever be able to work for the Ministry again, especially after she defied them by testifying at the Hunters’ trials.
She had graduated Hogwarts with N.E.W.T.s in Defense Against the Dark Arts, Arithmancy, Potions, Transfiguration, Charms, Astronomy, and Herbology. Her grades alone were enough for her to pursue any career she wanted, but she needed to decide what interested her.
Any career that required a long training period would be problematic, as she didn’t have the financial means to support herself for more than a couple months without any income, what with rent, food, and utilities eating away at her savings. She was a frugal person by nature, but she hadn’t been able to put aside much money, since the Aurors did not pay very generously. She had been in the Aurors for the spiritual gratification it brought her, not the compensation.
I’ve always been good at healing, she mused. Before she had decided on being an Auror, she had thought about being a St. Mungo’s. It would be a challenge that she thought she would be equal to, as she showed more than adequate proficiency at healing spells. Another career she had seriously considered was attempting to get a researching position for the Ministry or St. Mungo’s. She truly excelled at reading books and picking out the pertinent information.
She sighed, relaxing against her sofa cushions with a glass of orange juice in hand. “What to do, what to do,” she murmured, picking up her battered copy of Hogwarts, A History from the end table. This book had been her favorite all her life and held fond memories of a little girl reading it for the first time inside a magical castle with a rich and colorful history. As a naïve eleven-year-old, she’d believed that she could do anything she wanted. Real life wasn’t like that, she mused morosely.
Sitting beside her, Romeo suddenly meowed indignantly and batted at her book. The logical side of Hermione’s brain knew that the cat was irritated that she was reading instead of petting him, but the romantic part of her felt like he was somehow telling her not to give up, that she could be whatever she wanted to be.
Hermione cuddled her cat enthusiastically and settled back into reading, deciding to dwell on this another time. The day slipped by and before she knew it, it was almost evening. She glanced in the mirror above the kitchen sink as she washed the few dirty dishes that had accumulated over the past few days. She had a little over an hour before she had to leave her apartment. She planned to take a taxi to the restaurant since it was far from her apartment and she didn’t know a nearby apparation point. Also, she wasn’t sure if it was a wizard or muggle establishment, so Flooing could have disastrous results.
A firm knock on her door startled Hermione out of her thoughts. Assuming it was one of her muggle neighbors, she trudged to the door, looking around to make sure nothing looked magical before opening the door.
“Draco!” she exclaimed warmly, surprised to see him there. And oh, did he look good.
He wore a grey suit that accented his eyes with a cream-colored silk shirt beneath it and a light blue tie. His hair looked recently cut and framed his face attractively. He smiled as he took in her appearance.
She was wearing a pair of faded muggle jeans and a shirt she’d had from Hogwarts that said GRYFFINDOR in large, sparkly letters. She looked down at her clothing and frowned at how out of place she looked next to him.
Draco’s smile faltered. “May I come in?”
“Of course!” Hermione snapped herself out of her self-conscious thoughts and let him in, frantically glancing at the clock on the wall. Was she late? “I thought you said seven?” she said as they took a seat on the sofa. Romeo streaked across the room and leapt onto Draco’s lap.
Draco easily moved the cat off his expensive pants. “Easy, Cannon,” he said absentmindedly as the cat purred, nuzzling the man’s side. “I did say seven, but—”
“Cannon?” Hermione inquired, confused at his familiarity with her cat.
“I was obsessed with the Chudley Cannons as a child,” he answered defensively.
Hermione still looked confused.
“Didn’t you realize that I sent him to you with your wand after I repaired your apartment? It was no small feat, let me assure you.”
“I—I suspected, yes,” Hermione stammered. “But—but he was a kitten when you gave him to me; how could you have had him as a child?”
“Cats have nine lives,” Draco said, as if this should be obvious. “He’s only on his second.”
Hermione stared at him suspiciously, unable to tell if he was making fun of her or not.
“Anyhow, I am here to assist you in putting the wards back up that the Ministry removed from your apartment when you resigned.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “I completely forgot about that!” she gasped, cursing herself for her carelessness. It was akin to leaving her front door unlocked in the wizarding world.
“It was brought up at our meeting before they rounded on me,” Draco said, his mouth twisting slightly.
“How did that go, anyway?” She and Draco stood back to back as they began the complicated series of charms to ward a wizard’s home against intruders.
“I’ve been removed from my position,” he said coolly between charms. “It appears I’ll have to get my cases elsewhere, if I can even continue my work.”
“Why can’t you continue?”
“Because—” He paused to weave a spell into the warding charm that Hermione had never heard before. “Even if you get them released, the second that the Hunters bring in another criminal, they’ll be arrested again since the Ministry knows who they are. I’m sick of the damn Ministry anyway—might move to America after this,” he said angrily.
Together it took them only a fraction of the time it would have taken Hermione to put the wards back up around her apartment. “Thank you for helping,” Hermione said once they were done.
Draco nodded, pinching the bridge of his nose distractedly. Hermione could tell how stressed he was over his future in addition to the exhaustion that came from putting up the wards. “Why don’t we stay here?” she said without thinking, a light blush infusing her cheeks as he turned around. “I don’t feel much like going out, do you?”
Draco shook his head. “Not really, but I don’t want you to have to—”
“I enjoy cooking,” Hermione interrupted. “Let me just go do something real quick.”
She rushed to her bedroom, quickly stripping off the clothes that were so at odds next to Draco’s. It took her only five minutes to select and don a black skirt and light pink sweater that went just low enough in the front to give a hint as to her cleavage without being obscene.
She hurried into the bathroom next and aimed her wand at her hair, charming the messy ponytail into loose curls that tumbled down her back in an orderly sort of chaos. She didn’t bother with makeup other than a little eyeliner.
Draco was standing near one of her bookshelves when she returned, absentmindedly reading the spines. He turned as he heard her approach, a slow smirk spreading across his face. “Lovely,” Hermione thought she heard him murmur, but she couldn’t be sure. He normally only saw her in her Auror uniform or wearing slutty clothes in the guise of Brooke Locke. She was beautiful, standing before him relaxed and in a skirt that revealed just enough of her leg to make his blood rush—
He realized she’d spoken and mentally shook himself for his lack of control. He, Draco Malfoy, was always in control. “Sorry, what?”
“You’re not allergic to anything, are you?” she repeated patiently, heading for the kitchen.
“No,” Draco replied, biting back a scornful comment about how purebloods weren’t allergic to anything. He watched interestedly as she began taking food ingredients out of cupboards and even a strange white box that contained cold food. His eyes widened as she deftly maneuvered a wicked-looking butcher knife to chop vegetables, wincing when the knife came down close to her slender fingers.
“Why don’t you use magic?” he asked, holding his breath as she made another slice.
“I find it relaxing to do it by hand,” she replied.
Draco watched while she finished with vegetables, unable to think of anything that he would find less relaxing. He had never cooked in his life; house elves had always prepared his meals for him and he’d never really thought about where they came from.
Hermione was aware of his intent observation of her. His interest didn’t abate as she began thawing the chicken in the microwave. “Stop staring at me; you’re making me nervous!” she said finally, laughing a little nervously. His intense gaze was really starting to unnerve her since she was unable to tell what he was thinking.
Deep in thought about how the microwave could possibly work without magic, Draco quickly refocused on the young woman who was speaking to him. “Oh, am I?” He seemed genuinely curious.
“I’ll be back, then,” he said, smirking as he walked into the living room. Hermione heard him disapparate seconds later.
He didn’t return until Hermione had nearly finished cooking dinner thirty minutes later.
She heard Draco’s knock just as she finished setting the table. She opened the door to find him standing there, a bouquet of deep red roses in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. The flowers had come from a wizarding florist, she knew, since gold and silver sparkles shimmered and danced among the petals.
“It wouldn’t do to arrive to dinner empty-handed,” Draco murmured, holding the flowers out to her.
“They’re beautiful,” Hermione whispered; she’d never been given such exquisite flowers before. The scent radiating from the leaves was intoxicating as she put them in a vase with water.
She put the vase at the center of the table and turned around, nearly running into Draco, who had approached without her noticing. Hermione met his lips with hers.
“It smells delicious,” Draco noted as they parted. “Didn’t poison it, did you?”
“With the latest from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, actually,” Hermione said with a straight face. “I can’t wait to see what it turns you into.”
The two of them began to eat the meal that Hermione had cooked, saying little as they ate and drank. “Not to mix business with pleasure,” Hermione began as Draco poured her a glass of wine, “but there was indeed something that we need to talk about.”
“The Hunters,” Draco stated, sliding his knife through the tender chicken breast with ease.
“Yes. I really would like—”
A forceful pounding on the door startled them both. Hermione and Draco exchanged troubled looks, drawing their wands.
Hermione opened the door slightly, her wand at her side. Draco stood just inside the door, which opened inwards, so that he couldn’t be seen. Two officers from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad stood outside her door.
“Miss Granger,” stated one of them, a grim, powerful-looking man with dark brown, neatly-kept hair.
“Yes?” Hermione was wary. What were they doing here?
“I’m Officer Davidson with the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. You’re under arrest for treason. Please surrender your wand.”
Hermione’s eyes grew very wide. She immediately held out her wand, ignoring Draco’s angry groan from her left. “Who is the order from?” she asked faintly, wincing as Officer Davidson pushed the door fully open while his partner pushed her against the wall and patted her down for additional wands.
“The Minister of Magic,” replied the other officer, whose badge read “Walker.”
Officer Davidson had spotted Draco by this time, who was leaning insolently against the wall, his wand carelessly in hand. “Don’t think we don’t know who you are, Mr. Malfoy,” Davidson said menacingly. “Leave the premises immediately while you still can.”
Draco hesitated, his wand still raised. He looked devastatingly dangerous and appeared to be deciding whether or not he wanted to take on the two officers.
“Draco,” snapped Hermione, her face white, “leave please.”
It was the “please” that did him in. With a frustrated roll of his eyes, he pushed past the other men and stalked out.
Hermione knew that the best thing for her to do was to keep her mouth shut; anything she said could and probably would be used against her. The officers handcuffed her and marched her into the hallway, where—after casting a spell to hide themselves from muggles—they apparated away.
Hermione felt where they were going before the sensation had even left her body. A grey sense of despair seized her body as they landed outside the massive grey stone structure that made up Azkaban Wizarding Prison.
Hermione had been to the prison thrice before, but those times she had been questioning prisoners with the protection of her otter Patronus. The two officers beside her weren’t immune to the effects of the Dementors prowling the perimeter either; their mouths were set in thin lines and their grips on her arms tightened involuntarily.
Hermione was taken through the doors of the prison and released to a pair of guards into what she recognized as the room where they registered new prisoners. The atmosphere of the room was thankfully lightened by the Patronuses of the guards walking around.
Hermione went through the booking process as if in a daze. She was in shock, unable to believe that this was actually happening to her. Her wand was weighed, examined, and registered before being taken from her sight. Guards cast several detection spells to reveal any hidden charms or deception that she might have concealed on her person.
She answered their biographical questions numbly: name, address, birthdate, wand type, etc. She was informed that her lawyer would be by within the next few days to speak with her, and her questioning was scheduled for a week later. She was not yet a prisoner, but would remain in Azkaban until her trial.
The guards and officers were polite but efficient as they went through the booking process. They showed no pleasure or sympathy for the former Auror; they acted as if they didn’t even know her, though one of the guards had spoken to Hermione on many occasions when she had needed prisoner information.
She was made to change into one of the red jumpsuits that had the word “PRISONER” emblazoned on the back in large black letters. Her former clothes were taken away. Now thoroughly entered into the system as awaiting questioning and looking like a criminal, Hermione was led to a cell. Out of the protection of the guards' Patronuses, the gloom caused by the Dementors mixed with her own despair and Hermione Granger curled up on the bare floor, sobbing helplessly.
A/N February 18th, 2010: Well, guys, I screwed up. I was a trusted author for four years and it was revoked today for my story Trophy Wife, which I wrote a couple years back. Long story short, I deleted Trophy Wife since I didn't feel there was any way I could edit it without changing the story entirely. I'm leaving the sequel up though.
So what this all means for this story is that my readers will have to wait a bit longer for updates now since I have to go through the queue once more. It's my fault, no one else's, but it's a sucky situation and I'm kinda depressed about it. I shouldn't have been so lax about going back to edit that story once I noticed the site rules had changed.
Thanks for reading, I love you guys.
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