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Chapter 3 : Neighbors
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"Stupid Weasley." Her head throbs. "Stupid Malfoy."
The cold water soothes her throat but it doesn't help her head, or ease the stab of pain in her heart at the sight of Ron's toothbrush.
I could use it to clean the toilet, she thinks bitterly, putting the glass down and turning to leave the bathroom.
Because of a limited amount of time to do laundry lately, she only has a few selections in her wardrobe and out of everything, she picks a silky beige dress shirt and black trousers. She bends down to get black high heels out of the bottom of her closet and then throws her hair up into a loose bun.
While grabbing a muffin out of the pantry, Hermione wonders for a moment whether she will encounter Ron today. What will she say if she does? The thought is almost repulsing to her because she doesn't desire to come across him, at least not right now.
When she first walks out onto the porch after finishing a small bite to eat, she is distracted by voices before she even attempts to apparate. There is a young couple standing on the front porch of the house next-door that was sold just a day or so ago. One of them, the man, has blonde hair and the younger woman next to him has long, silky chestnut brown hair down to her bottom. The woman is one of the most beautiful women Hermione has ever seen.
Hermione watches the woman kiss her significant other as she says, "have a good first day at work. Sorry about last night, love."
When the man returns her kiss and turns around, Hermione's heart feels like it almost stopped. Her new neighbors are none other than Draco Malfoy and who she assumes to be his girlfriend, Astoria, a Slytherin, two years younger than their year. She has previously seen the girl in the Prophet on Malfoy's arm with the announcement he was released. Finally turning away from the shocking site, Hermione apparates with a frown firmly planted on her face.
"Why would he buy a Muggle house?" Hermione thinks aloud to herself, as she enters the Ministry in some sort of hungover daze. She walks in a fast pace toward the middle elevator in the Atrium and scrambles to push the button to get her to the second floor where the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's offices are located.
It is a Sunday, so the Ministry isn't as crowded as usual because most witches and wizards request the weekends off to be with their families. Family time is a very important thing to most, especially after the war.
"Good morning Harry," Hermione greets her best friend, who jumps into the elevator right after her. He is one of the only ones to come to work on Sundays because he is attempting to finish up his Auror training after two years and always tries to get ahead on work anyway. This is not unlike Hermione, who is also finishing her Detective training which takes just as long. Ron isn't as serious about finishing his training because he also works part-time at Weasley Wizard Wheezes, so he knows that he will be okay financially if it takes a little longer to finish joined with Hermione's income.
"Hey, are you holding up okay after last night?" he wonders, surveying Hermione with concerned eyes. "You look a bit tired and you didn't owl me."
Hermione isn't about to tell Harry about her trip to the Leaky Cauldron, so she just smiles at him and says brightly, "just a little bit of difficulty sleeping after last night's events. I'm okay though, honestly."
"Good. We haven't seen Ron since he left last night, so we have no idea where he is."
"I know where he probably is. Either at Lavender's or his mum's," Hermione says bitterly, shaking her head in disgust.
"Yeah, probably. What a git he can be sometimes. I don't know what's gotten into him. Honestly, I am surprised you didn't break it off," Harry says with raised eyebrows.
"It's hard," Hermione admits with a frown. "I love him a lot."
"I know," Harry replies with a nod, understanding completely, as he thinks of when he had to make the decision break it off in his sixth year with Ginny because it was the right thing to do at that time.
"Well, I have new neighbors," Hermione announces, when the two of them step off of the elevator onto the second floor. She doesn't want to dwell on the subject of Ron and herself.
"Oh really, do you know them?" Harry wonders curiously.
"I do unfortunately because it's Malfoy and his girlfriend," Hermione drawls with a roll of her eyes. "I saw them saying their goodbyes this morning before he left for work."
"Oh, that is just bloody wonderful. You are always welcome to come and stay with Ginny and I," Harry says jokingly.
"Thanks for the invitation but, as long as they don't bother me, I should be alright. Malfoy doesn't scare me," Hermione assures with a grin, following Harry into the Department.
"Well that's good," Harry says cocking his eyebrows. "Because I believe he’s starting in your Detective Office today. It's part of his probation to work for us, so he can prove he is truly on our side now and somewhat pay for what he's done. It was part of our agreement to let him out early for his 'good behavior’. I overheard your boss and mine talking about it yesterday before I left. There are no Auror trainee spots left, so that leaves the Detective Office."
Hermione gapes at Harry in disbelief. Is Malfoy everywhere she is now? First at the pub, then in her own neighborhood, now in her work too? Her worst nightmare is beginning to happen.
"Why didn't you share this with me last night?" Sneers Hermione.
"Well erm... I was going to, but the other things happening kind of delayed things a bit," Harry grins in reassurance at his best friend and places a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure it will be okay. Just keep your distance and he shouldn't bother you. He definitely got a taste of his own medicine in Azkaban."
Hermione shakes her head again and then smiles at Harry. "Have a good day then, see you later."
Harry squeezes Hermione's shoulder once more, before taking off in the opposite direction towards the Auror Offices and Hermione turns and does the same toward the Detective Offices. She arrives at her office just in time to face her boss, with a stunned smirking Malfoy standing beside him.
"Miss Granger, how are you?" Troy Barkner greets, throwing out a hand to shake her's.
Hermione accepts the exchange and then says with a crack in her voice, "Good, and you sir?"
"I am well, very well. I expect you know this dashing young man beside me?" the old man asks, beckoning his hand toward Draco beside him.
Draco must have received a haircut since last night at the pub. Hermione guesses his girlfriend probably cut it this morning before sending him off. Hermione has to admit, reluctantly, that he looks quite attractive with a small soul patch and his bright eyes. His hair is cut short now with a slight natural spike to it.
"We know each other, yes," Hermione answers, as confidently as she can muster.
"I am sure you’ve also heard from Mr. Potter, that he will likely be joining us today?" Barkner goes on.
"Yes sir, he just told me actually."
"Excellent. Well then Miss Granger, I think there is no better candidate than you to train him, since you are one of the top trainees in the program and this will show us just how much you really know about the department by training him. I want you to show him the basics of the department, how to scope things out and when to pass it on to the Aurors if needed. Also how to do the reports," Barkner tells Hermione sternly.
"My pleasure, sir," Hermione forces herself to say, but she really wants to throw a jinx or two his way when he pats Hermione's shoulder and takes off the opposite direction, leaving Malfoy with her.
"I knew I could count on you Hermione!" he calls back to her, before turning a corner.
"Don't think for one second that I will listen to a word you say Granger," Malfoy spits, crossing his arms in defiance.
"I guess that you don't need to be here then. Just sit by me and look like you're listening so I can keep my job but I'll speak to Barkner at the end of the day." Hermione threatens.
"What makes you think that I would even want to sit in that office of your's?"
"Do you think I want an ex-con in my office? Do you think that they want to share the department with you?" Hermione asks, with a look toward her co-workers, making him shut up as a few people around them start looking on with glares.
Hermione refuses to argue any longer and motions for him to follow her into her office when she successfully shuts him up. Malfoy sits in a chair across from her desk, and she notices him briefly looking over her figure after she finishes picking up a stack of papers, making her a bit flustered.
"This is our cases. I have finished about half of them and passed the ones on to the Aurors that I had to. If possible we handle things unless they get too much for us and then they step in," Hermione starts to explain, opening some of the huge packets of parchment with faces of possible suspects on them and ignoring what she just witnessed.
Hermione looks down and begins to read the first one aloud,
Neighbors have reported to muggle Police that this woman, aged 35, had been threatening her children that she would "use the Cruciatus Curse on them if they don't quit disobeying". Muggle neighbors are concerned that the woman is practicing 'voodoo' or 'witchcraft' and claim that the children are also heard screaming in pain from time to time. Muggle police are not sure how to continue in this investigation-
Malfoy reads with Hermione and shakes his head. "Ridiculous," he sneers.
"Yes it is. So now all we have to do is get some parchment together and go to her house to investigate where the Muggle police couldn't. This case is most likely a minor one and therefore will not have to be reported to the Aurors," Hermione tells him, getting up and crossing the office to get a binder full of parchment.
"What do you want me to do Granger?" Malfoy asks, confused.
"Just stand behind me and act like you are listening intensely," Hermione tells him unenthusiastically. "Take notes. Shouldn't be that hard, Malfoy."
"This is rubbish. Maybe the kids deserve to be cursed?" Draco grunts, rolling his eyes.
"Leave then! If it weren't for you having to train with me, you would be in much lighter spirits about it. And no child deserves to have the Cruciatus Curse set upon them! What is wrong with you?!" Hermione bellows at him.
"I have no choice but to be here with you, mudblood. If you think for one second I would ever enjoy being in the same room as you-“
"I wasn't saying you would, just never mind. Come on Malfoy, you have no choice or you can head on home and go to another trial," Hermione threatens, with a frown on her face because she is attempting to hold her tongue. Having Malfoy around is just as bad as she thought it would be. She is in no mood to fight with anyone, especially him, after having the fight with Ron the night before.
The two of them leave the office and Malfoy drags slowly along behind her, obviously not wanting to be there.
The weather is cool in the street that Hermione and Draco walk into after apparating into a secluded area.
There are cars parked in the street and the atmosphere is damp from a recent rainfall. The place isn't too far out from London and it seems oddly familiar to Draco, but he can't pinpoint why.
The two of them stay uncomfortably close together as they make their way to the house, which is located a little ways down the street. They arrive at the front porch and Hermione knocks nervously on her door.
"Who's there?" A female voice calls out.
"This is Officer Granger and Officer Malfoy from the Ministry, here to ask you a few questions about your case we have received," Hermione tells the woman through the door, hoping she doesn't recognize either name.
The woman slowly opens the door. Her appearance of age looks to be in the mid-thirties and there appears to be no kids home at the time. Being so young, the children still probably go to primary school because they would not yet have received their Hogwarts letters.
"What do you want? What have I done wrong?" The woman asks in a low voice, opening the door more, so that they can see her full figure. She is not a beautiful woman but she is indeed pretty. She has red curly hair and brown eyes and kind of reminds Hermione of Ginny.
"We just a have a few quick questions for you. We will be leaving shortly," Hermione tells the woman. "Can we come in?"
"Yes," the woman agrees, stepping aside and letting them both come in. She seems to have a very hard stare on Draco which Hermione feels is suspicious.
"Please sit," the woman offers, pointing a slender arm in the direction of her couch. There are kid's toys scattered all throughout the woman's living room. Pictures of a child with a toothless smile sits on the end table, beside the sofa Hermione and Draco are directed to sit on. Hermione notices a table with a huge portrait of a handsome man and a candle is lit in the front. She can't help but wonder if he was killed in the war but she won't dare ask.
The two sit down. Draco keeps an obvious distance away from Hermione and refuses to make eye contact with the woman in front of them.
"Go on with what you’re here to say then young lady," the woman sneers, with a glare at Hermione. She is not enjoying their company.
"I am here on behalf of the Ministry of Magic located in London, United Kingdom. I was sent here today because of a complaint filed against you by the neighbors that live near you."
"They said that they hear various screaming’s and threats coming from you against the children. It was reported that your Muggle neighbors have heard you say that you have been threatening them with the Cruciatus Curse which is, as you of course know, illegal." Hermione speaks to the woman softly and carefully, eyeing her every move. She continues to stare at Draco who looks extremely uncomfortable.
"Why is that boy out of Azkaban? I saw in the Daily Prophet that he got out just yesterday!" The woman asks Hermione, with a vicious glare Draco's way, her hand is on her wand in the left pocket of her jeans.
"I am the one asking questions right now Mrs. Harmonda," Hermione tries saying calmly but her eyes widen at the woman's sudden distress.
"That boy was with the lot who killed my husband! I saw him! He was with them!" The woman explodes, her dark brown eyes start to bug out as though a flashback of a terrifying memory is consuming her and tears fill her large eyes.
"Mrs. Harmonda!" Hermione pleads. "Please calm down. It must have been somebody else!"
"No, no... The man who took away my wand was him. He was the one who restrained me from stopping them killing my husband! And you let his lot into the Ministry? How dare you step into my house!" The woman yells, pointing a shaky finger at Draco.
"I assure you it must have been someone else!" Hermione practically screams, panicking now.
"I recognize the eyes, Officer. It is him indeed!"
"Mrs. Harmonda, if you don't sit down right now and finish this questionnaire with me, I may be forced to restrain you! You may have seen someone like him but it was not him!" Hermione threatens warningly as Draco stands up, alarmed by the woman who is now raising a wand at him but lowers it once more, as Hermione finishes scolding her.
Mrs. Harmonda shakes her head violently. "As you wish, Officer Granger. Maybe I am mistaken but I won't let someone who might have helped kill my husband stand in my house and I surely don't wish them out of Azkaban. They deserve to die just like my Victor did. And they will."
Draco cautiously sits back down by Hermione, looking extremely pained, as though he may be seeing the exact same thing the woman did in that moment as he swallows hard. And Hermione knows then that Mrs. Harmonda is speaking the truth, Draco's eyes tell her that.
The woman admits to threatening her kids with the Cruciatus Curse, but only out of innocent anger. She promises that her children are disciplined as any young children should be and that the neighbors were mad old folk anyway. In Hermione's opinion, Mrs. Harmonda needs help herself and possibly Draco too.
It is misting as Hermione and Draco walk down the street. Draco doesn't have the usual trace of a smirk on his face and Hermione wonders what he is thinking.
"Did you do what that woman accused you of?" Hermione wonders, feeling scared to ask but wanting to know very badly or it will eat at her.
"That's none of your business," Draco snaps at her harshly. His eyes are so pained when he glances at her that Hermione thinks that he may cry.
"I know you hate me Malfoy but I won't judge you, just tell me."
"I don't wish to share anything with a mudblood such as yourself. We get off at six, right? Because I'm done with this today," Draco concludes, looking at a handsome black watch on his left wrist, showing Hermione his Dark Mark tattoo accidently. He quickly pulls down his jacket sleeve and glares back up at her to wait for an answer.
"Yes," Hermione answers quietly, a little shaken by their assignment today.
With a sharp pop and not another word, Draco is gone.
A/N: So Draco is working for Hermione now.. and he's her neighbor. How much worse can things get?
Hopefully things will get better for Hermione. But right now they are looking pretty poor.. It all gets more intense from here ;)
and a special thanks to my beta, Kirsty for her hard-work in editing my story ;)
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