|The Gnawing of a Guiltless Conscience
Author: ofabeautifulnight PM
Hermione Granger sets out to find the killer of her parents. Somehow, Draco Malfoy is involved. -3 years after Battle of Hogwarts, canon up to 7th year, EWE. Rated M for strong language and explicit sexual content.-Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Mystery - Draco M. & Hermione G. - Chapters: 25 - Words: 102,331 - Reviews: 275 - Favs: 101 - Follows: 166 - Updated: 05-03-12 - Published: 12-03-11 - id: 7604504
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Okay so I know I'm still in the middle of publishing Temptation (and don't worry, I won't forget it!) but I just started this fic and wanted to give it a try as well. Okay, hope you like it!
Hermione Granger didn't categorize herself a particularly sad person.
She liked to think she had a generally happy disposition. She ought to, really. Many could say there was not a single witch in all of the wizarding world who deserved to be happier than Hermione Granger. She was the brains of the golden trio, the shining threesome, the glorious trifecta. She was a third of Voldemort's now infamous downfall. She ought to have been radiating happiness like a bloody sunflower.
And she was. Happy, that is. For the most part.
But constant happiness was neither a realistic nor possible expectation and Hermione found there lay two specific exceptions to her firm grip on contentment. One was the Muggle film Titanic (which Hermione deemed near to torturous and had her in tears every single of the twenty six times she'd seen it). And the second (and arguably far more depressing of the pair) was September 15th.
This year it fell on a Monday and, like each and every other September 15th of the past three years of Hermione's life, she woke with a stomachache.
Stomachache was not a word to be taken lightly, not this type anyways. It was not the sort of irritated grumble a body would use to announce its hunger, nor was it the dull ache of one too many slices of treacle tart. No, this was the type of pain that started in the very pit of Hermione's gut and threaded its iron fingers up to twist her stomach into indescribable knots that would refuse to untangle until the following day.
She lay there, very still in her own bed, as if by refusing to move, time might do the same.
But time was cruel and did not stop for anything and (contrary to what was said by most) did not heal anything either. Three years had passed, and Hermione still woke feeling exactly the same as she had the night she had found out her parents were dead.
Draco woke up sore.
He'd woken up sore every morning for three years now and the familiarity did nothing to dull the pain.
It had been exactly three years since he'd been thrown unceremoniously into Azkaban, three years that he'd endured the bone crushing chill that hosted no escape. Three years since Voldemort's defeat.
He remembered it quite like it had passed the day before. Voldemort's face, crumbling before him. The roar of triumph. The flash of black cloth as Death Eaters disapperated around him, midnight colored cowards.
Draco had made no attempt to run. To this day, he still did not know why. But he had simply stood there, among the wreckage that was his school for seven years, and did nothing at all. He remembered still the cold feeling of magical handcuffs around his wrist, the naked vulnerability of standing wandless among the hundreds of others captured before the wizarding jury. Having been linked to no more than the poisoning of Katie Bell and Ronald Weasley and the attempted assassination of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Draco was sentenced to simply three years of Azkaban. He alone was the only one who knew the extent of what he had done. And it was far more than petty poison attacks, far more than a boy his age ought to have done. But he could be firmly linked to nothing more than the attacks, and was therefore sentenced to only three years.
Though short in comparison to the span of a lifetime, Draco quickly found that three years could also be very, very long indeed.
And now, as his sentence drew to a close, Draco woke feeling almost no different than he had the one thousand and ninety four days before. It ought to have been a moment of pure bliss, a moment that would delight Draco like a bloody first year, but it did no such thing. The only differentiation he could make was the slightly lighter sensation in his chest. He would not go as far as to call the feeling happy, per se, for he wasn't entirely certain he even knew what happy meant any longer. Draco knew nothing but the rattling breath of a dementor, nothing more than the empty feeling that resided where he supposed his heart used to live. But today it was lighter, something was lighter.
Draco pondered all of this in the span of a dozen seconds before he sat slowly up. Every part of him hurt, as it had for a while. He thought it'd feel rather odd if it didn't.
"Oi," called a voice roughly. A guard peered through the bars of his cell and Draco raised his gaze to stare emptily back. "You. Let's go," the guard grunted.
Draco stood. His bones felt hollow.
The guard grabbed him roughly around the arm. Draco did not try to resist. He allowed himself to be led down the aisle by the firm grip around his upper arm. The hall was thin, no more than two wizards wide, but with ceilings so high that even with his head tossed back, Draco did not reckon his vision could scrape the top. The sides of the hall were lined with tall cells identical to Draco's. Their occupants sat huddled within the corners, eyes closed and still as the stone that surrounded them. It struck Draco they could die right before him, and he would not be able to tell the difference.
The hall ended abruptly. It took a sharp turn to the right, with a counter in front like the teller of a Muggle bank. The wizard sitting behind the glass eyed Draco and his guard with lazy eyes. "Name?" he stated flatly.
"Draco Malfoy," said the guard.
The wizard behind the glass slid a single leaf of parchment across the counter. A quill sat on top, a long and stiff black feather with a rusted tip. Draco picked it up in his hand. His fingers trembled horrifically and for a heart-stopping second, Draco forgot entirely how to write his own name. But the second the tip of the quill hit the parchment, memory flooded Draco's body like a glass of Firewhiskey and he signed the indicated line in his signature looping writing. A small wrinkle in the D, a tiny shiver in the top of the F. These were the only indications of Draco's time in Azkaban.
The wizard tapped the parchment with his wand and it promptly rolled and sealed before him. He pushed a brown package across the counter next and Draco's reached for it with a shaking hand. Through the wrappings, he could feel the small, thin roll of his wand.
"There will be further paperwork at the Ministry before you are free to go," the wizard recited monotonously. "Have a good day."
Draco found a gut smearing sort of irony in this statement and did not attempt to return it.
His guard prodded him further down the right hand hall. At the end was a magnificent door, tall and silver in color. Draco's eyes traced its intricate design, probing at it curiously with his gaze. The guard placed his palm upon the surface of the door and with a groaning rumble, it melted away beneath his touch.
Within lay a smaller room. It was bare completely except for a small fireplace that burned before them, its flickering flames innocent in the backdrop of Azkaban. Draco wondered if it would even hurt to touch them. He almost longed to feel them lick at his fingers, longed for the pain. Maybe then he could feel something.
The guard threw a pinch of power into the flames and they roared up an emerald green. His grip still firm on Draco's upper arm, he pushed him into the flames. He was leaving, he was really leaving after three torturous years and yet Draco could not have felt less.
"The ministry!" shouted the guard and they spun together into the darkness.
There was a knock at the door. Hermione stared warily at it, as if her gaze alone might open it.
She had yet to change from her night clothes, seated at her kitchen counter in nothing more than a t-shirt and pair of shorts. The weather was still sticky and humid, the last trails of summer lingering before their disappearance. Hermione had finally gotten up from her bed to drag herself downstairs for a cup of coffee. It was now nearly noon.
She had found out of the death of her parents the same day of Voldemort's defeat. She supposed there lay some sort of humorless irony in that, but she did not care enough to divulge in it. Upon seeing Voldemort defeated, the greatest threat of all time dead at her feet, Hermione had set immediately upon the task of locating her parents and attempting to lift the memory charm she'd put on their minds. She apparated straight away to Australia, Ron and Harry supportively at her sides, and arrived at the doorstep of the house she'd sent them to. Hermione remembered more than anything the feeling she'd had standing before their door. A sort of shaking in her knees and stomach. Unable to do it herself, Ron had leaned over her shoulder and knocked on the door for her. For some reason, Hermione remembered quite distinctly the front of their door. It was red, the same bright red of a stunning spell, with paint peeling from its surface. An old and rather large man that was most definitely not her father had answered the door, and upon questioning, had informed the three young wizards that the house's previous occupants were dead.
The feeling these words produced from Hermione had been quite distinct, quite distinct indeed. She'd felt rather like she was floating an inch from the ground, not really there at. Merely a figment of herself that felt nothing and saw nothing and comprehended nothing at all.
"I'm fine," she had told Ron and Harry. She was just fine, thank you.
So they had apparated back to Britain and only hours later, with her face buried in the dark crevice of her own pillow, did Hermione allow herself to cry until she felt she could cry no more for the rest of her life.
Three years later and she felt precisely the same. She didn't want to do anything. She didn't want to see anyone. She knew it was pathetic, but all she wanted to do was sit and stare at nothing and drown in her own misery.
One day. Surely she was allowed one day.
The knock sounded again and with a groan, Hermione pulled herself from her seat to open the door.
Ginny Weasley stood at the door, a determined expression on her face.
Hermione stared at her for a bit. "What do you want?" she asked weakly and without preamble. Ginny knew, she knew what this day did to Hermione.
"Good afternoon to you too," Ginny said dryly. She stepped over the threshold and smartly closed the door behind her before Hermione could utter a word in argument. With a frown, Ginny marched towards the windows and threw open the curtains previously drawn tightly.
Hermione squinted against the light, moving a hand to shield her eyes. "What do you want, Ginny?" she repeated.
The redhead was now opening the windows altogether, and a light breeze tickled Hermione's chin.
"Well, first I want you to change. And take a shower. And then we're going to get lunch," Ginny said firmly.
Hermione let out a long moan. "Ginny," she said crossing her arms. "This is ridiculous. I appreciate the help, but I am fine—"
"Yes, and that is why you are sitting inside with all the shades drawn and still in your nightclothes at—" Ginny glanced at her watch. "—twelve thirty in the afternoon."
Hermione glared at her. "I'm fine, Ginny. Merlin."
"Then you should be fine enough to go out to lunch with me."
Hermione paused and her lower lip slipped between her teeth nervously.
"C'mon, Hermione," said Ginny quietly. "It's good for you. Just a shower and lunch, that's all I ask."
"I can't," Hermione whispered. "I just…I can't, Ginny."
Ginny said nothing for a while. "I know," she finally.
Hermione bit her lip and looked down. "I know it's been three years," she said shakily. "But it still—they still—"
"I know," Ginny repeated. Then she added fiercely, "And that is why you have to change and shower and eat, Hermione. You can't let that little bastard know he got to you." Hermione wiped angrily at her cheek, as if with intent to punish the tears that betrayed her. "C'mon," Ginny said gently.
"Three years, Ginny," Hermione whispered desperately. "It's been three years. And I still have no idea who did it, not a bloody inkling—"
"These things take time, Hermione—"
"Three years!" Hermione exploded. "One thousand and ninety five days and I am nowhere close to knowing!"
"You're going to find him," Ginny said firmly. "I promise, you'll find him."
Since the moment she'd learned of their murders, Hermione had dedicated every last bit of her strength to finding the wizard who had killed her parents. Three years had passed in this manner and she knew close to nothing. She could have a prestigious position at the ministry with just a snap of her fingers, she'd defeated Voldemort for Merlin's sake. But Hermione did not want that. She would feel no relief, revel in no title of honor until she had the son of a bitch that had killed her parents at her wand's tip. She was Harry Potter's best friend, easily the most well-know witch of her time. And she found zero peace in any of this.
She had to find him. Her ambition had morphed to obsession and it rather frightened Hermione to think that if she ever encountered their killer, she might just turn into one herself.
"You'll find him," Ginny repeated.
Hermione let out a shaky sigh and pushed a hand through her hair.
"Now," Ginny clapped once and Hermione started. "Shower," she said firmly.
With a groan, Hermione padded down the hall towards the bathroom and Ginny grinned to herself.
"What would you do without me, Hermione?" she called out in a sing-song sort of tone down the hall.
"Maybe get some peace and quiet," Hermione grumbled without turning around.
Draco stopped spinning but felt rather like his stomach had not.
"C'mon," said the guard. He guided Draco down the hall, which Draco drank in all the while. The walls were not the monotonous gray of Azkaban, they were not built from the rough stone that shredded his skin when he ran his fingers along them. The air smelled of nothing at all, instead of the damp reek of his cell. The carpet muffled his steps rather than screaming them back to him in booming echoes. He was in the Ministry, host to the world's most valuable wizards and certainly a stark contrast to where they kept the least valuable.
A ministry worker sat behind the wooden desk at the end of the hall and watched Draco with a gaze laced with suspicion.
Most likely some Gryffindor git.
"Name," spat the worker as if he did not recognize every loathsome inch of Draco's face.
Draco smirked down at him and spoke for the first time since exiting Azkaban, perhaps the first time in the last three years of his life. "Draco Malfoy."
The guard slid a roll of parchment and the worker ripped it open, scanning it as if he did not believe a word upon it. Finally deeming it passable, he slipped it into a file upon his desk and produced another leaf of parchment and a small, thin quill.
He shoved both across the surface towards Draco. "You will assigned one month of community services—"
"Of what?" Draco asked in disgust.
"Community services," the worker repeated slowly, as if Draco were a small child. "Good deeds," he specified flatly.
Draco narrowed his eyes. "Any other options?" he snarled.
The worker glared back. "Either a month of community services or a year of ministry assistance."
"I think I'm going to pop into work for a bit…"
"Hermione, you're allowed one bloody day off, for Merlin's sake!" Ginny said.
"But it's Monday! I should be at my office—"
"It's September 15th," Ginny whispered fiercely. "I think you'll be excused."
Hermione flushed and threw back her shoulders. "Exactly why I should be there," she said forcefully. "Today of all days, Ginny."
Ginny gave a loud and short sigh. "Are you sure?" she asked finally.
Ginny mulled this over for a bit. "Fine," she sighed. "If that's what you want."
"Of course it's what I want," Hermione said quietly. "I want to find him and I want to end this—this pathetic misery he's put me in."
Ginny nodded. "You'll find him."
Hermione threw a pinch of power into her fireplace. "I'll be home in a few hours."
Ginny gave her a small wave and Hermione stepped into the flames, disappearing with a whoosh.
Draco said nothing for a beat, before speaking. "I'll take the ministry assistance."
The wizard's eyebrow shot up. "A year of ministry assistance over a month of community services?"
"Are you deaf?" Draco snarled. "I said I'll take the year."
The worker eyed him for a good minute and a half before blatantly leaning over the table and hissing, "What are you playing at, Malfoy?"
Draco smirked. "I choose the year," he repeated slowly.
The young wizard did not speak. Finally, he slowly slid the sheaf of parchment back into his file and produced another. "Sign," he said shortly.
Draco picked up the quill and scrawled his signature across the bottom of the page. Community services, his bloody arse.
Five, head-spinning seconds later, Hermione stepped from the fireplace in her office. She brushed off her skirt, frowning as ash littered the carpet.
She immediately headed to her desk, sitting before it and pulling open a drawer. Within was her personal collection of files, all suspects. The majority were ex-Death Eaters, others simply witches or wizards who might have been against her parents (though she could not think for what reason). There was an endless list of possibilities and for the past three years, Hermione had dedicated time to independently and thoroughly researching each. She opened one file, scanning her notes and flicking her wand casually at the small cluster of fluttering parchments above her desk. The enchanted memos began to read themselves to her in the slightly muffled voices of her various co-workers. There was one suggestion about a particular file she should take a look at (as if that wasn't precisely what she'd been doing for three straight years), a reminder from Harry of her appointed questioning of Blaise Zabini that afternoon, and a request from Seamus Finnigan for dinner that Saturday night.
Hermione closed her eyes briefly at the last. She had told Seamus more than once (more than a dozen times, she reckoned) that enchanted memos were for strictly business purposes only, but he continued to insist on using them as social invitations. Not to mention the poor boy had been asking her out regularly and without fail for the past two weeks. She'd been able to dodge his responses, making hasty excuses of plans with Harry or the Weasleys and even flat out lying at times, but the bloke did not seem to know a hint if it head him round the head. She felt bad, she honestly did, but Hermione did not think she could go out on a date with Seamus Finnigan.
He was nice. He was nice and courteous and friendly and bright and not bad looking either. And that was precisely the problem. Seamus deserved a wholesome, happy witch, not a witch who'd seen more death than half the wizarding world put together, who'd watched the darkest wizard of all time crumple before her, who carried more emotional baggage than the Hogwarts Express. He deserved someone plain and someone who would make him happy. And Hermione was not that witch.
And to be perfectly frank, she had zero interest in Seamus Finnigan anyways. He was nice but not too nice and friendly but not too friendly and overall just the right amount of everything. He was bland, the equivalent of plain yogurt, and Hermione did not much like the bland type.
With a sigh, Hermione flicked her wand again and the memos disappeared. She began to write back her replies (yes, she would check out the file she practically had memorized for the eight millionth time, and yes, she would not forget her appointment with Zabini that afternoon, and bugger, she would have to decline Seamus's invitation due to prior plans, although she really did mourn the loss) when she was interrupted by a sharp knock on her door. With a frown, she put her quill down and with a flick of her wand, opened the door.
"You will shadow a ministry worker for twelve months," the worker continued. He quickly checked his watch. "You can meet her now, although she won't be expecting you," he muttered.
"Surprised at my choice?" Draco smirked.
The ministry worker glared. "You struck me as a 'the less work, the better' type."
"As tempting as community services sounds," Draco said dryly. "I'd much rather put my skills towards the greater good of the ministry." He smirked.
The worker narrowed his eyes. He spoke as if he'd known Draco all his life and indeed Draco had to agree the worker had a vaguely familiar face. It was inarguable that he knew Draco, his eyes flickered over him with a hate too powerful to have been built in the span of the last five minutes they'd been in each other's company.
The worker stood.
"I'll take it from here," he grunted at the guard.
The guard tipped his head in response. "Later, Finnigan," he said gruffly before disapparating. The worker (now deemed Finnigan) began to stalk down the lusciously carpeted hall and Draco followed.
Finnigan? The appearance of the worker's surname only strengthened the itch of recognition in the back of Draco's mind. He was close to positive he'd heard that name before.
"Who exactly is it I'll be shadowing?" he asked lazily.
Finnigan did not answer, acted as if he had not heard a word Draco had said, and Draco rolled his eyes at the wizard's unresponsive back. They arrived at the familiar golden gates of the Ministry elevators and stepped inside. Finnigan punched the button for the fifth floor.
The fifth floor, Draco realized with a sinking sensation in his stomach, was for Auror offices. He might just crucio himself into obliteration if he was forced to shadow one of those bloody Order lot.
With a sharp ding announcing their arrival, Finnigan stepped promptly from the elevator. Draco followed him, winding their way through a maze of cubicles and corridors until they arrived at a small, ordinary looking door.
Finnigan rapped smartly on its surface. Twice. The door swung open with a light click.
The room within was small and somewhat plain, the main attractions the desk in the middle and the fireplace behind. A small, bushy-haired witch sat at it and she looked up upon their arrival. As her gaze locked with Draco's, her eyes a glimmering sort of honey color, he felt his stomach flip entirely within him. He could not possibly shadow her, what on earth Finnigan was thinking Draco did not know—
He managed to choke out a single, strangled word. "Granger?"
A/N: Reviews are the best, best, absolute best.