Author's Notes: Finally, after waiting so long I've managed to read OoTP… and personally I thought it was great! However, the only motivation I had for not putting that enormous book down was my fervent wishing that there would be some moments between our favorite couple… well, there were some moments but…. Arrggghhh, not enough to satisfy the little D/Hr shipper in me! Oh, what the heck, at least there's still the fics… ;)

Ahem. Anyways, this chapter is dedicated to avri, DazedPanda, Befuzzled, halosangel and that wonderful reviewer who goes by the name of Elissa Echo (you aren't, by any chance, be Agent Steph from the TLW Board, are you? If you're not then feel free to dismiss this for I am suffering from total confusion, heehee). I also dedicate this chapter to The Ultimate Otaku. I meant what I said in the e-mail I sent you, and I thank you deeply for your reviews (not just in this but on the others as well).

If the spells that I used on this chapter are wrong, please do not hesitate to tell me. I appreciate constructive criticism… ;)

Bitter Cold

Chapter Three

The silence around the once busy and bustling place was deafening. The eerie stillness, the strange darkness that surrounded the outskirts of Diagon Alley was a veritable sign that something disastrous had once struck this place; that something so horrible occurred in here that it left the area deserted, dead, decayed. Shops were closed and abandoned by its owners; the well-worn path treaded on before by eager students and parents was now covered in moss and sickening mildew from all those years of misuse. There was nothing left of it, really; just the shadows and grief, just the haunting, gaunt look on the face that once boasted of its life and energy, of the hustle and bustle that made it alive in all those past years.

Suddenly, there was a dull, reverberating sound that was gradually becoming louder… before long, a swirling mass of wind appeared at the center of the place, and after the passing of another moment, there was the unmistakable manifestation of a figure from the midst of nothingness. The dull, reverberating sound occurred once again, and then the sharp sounds of the wind came, then soon after that another figure appeared. The sudden apparition of these two would have been a sight to see, but unfortunately there was no one there to behold it.

It had been years since Draco last saw this place, and the last time he did, it was nothing like this; never like this. The devastation, the destruction of Diagon Alley was nothing but a reflection of the drastic changes that occurred in their world once Voldemort was alive and well again. "Diagon Alley, you say." He said, his voice iced with dryness, with disgust as he surveyed the remnants of the place. He made a grand gesture around them. "And where, may I ask, is Potter among all these… junk?"

Hermione glanced idly at her companion before she took a step forward, her eyes taking in everything, every piece of trash and worthless material left in the area. She scanned the rooms above the ground floors as well: those quarters, with their broken windows and dingy appearances, looked too dirty to be inhabited, too foul to be used as a sanctuary. She consulted the small cup she had in her hand, and she watched with obvious distaste as the red liquid gradually became blue; an indication that the object of their pursuance is no longer in the area. "They were here," she said, almost imperceptibly, almost dejectedly.

And yet he heard those words. Draco crossed his arms in front of him as the result of it. "Where?" he asked again, the stress in his voice apparent.

"You weren't listening, Draco." Hermione told him patronizingly. "I said they were here."

Draco stared at the woman for a moment before his face twisted into his usual, signature smirk. "And now they're not."

"Ten points to Slytherin for making such an obvious observation." Hermione then carelessly threw the cup away, its content immediately disappearing as soon as they touched the floor. The sound of the metal cup that was thrown against the wall seemed to have waken the sleeping inhabitants of the place; immediately, rats and other lower forms of filth began to scuttle around, obviously distressed by the sudden appearance of life above theirs.

"So are you saying that your little detection potion was defunct? Useless? Nothing but a piece of—"

Hermione turned around to regard him, the glint in her eyes betraying that she was almost amused. "I am saying no such thing."

"But this situation is implying it." Draco retorted as he cocked his head to one side, the smirk in his face never leaving its home. "It's obvious that your potion failed. Why else would we be brought here instead of Potter's real hiding place?"

"Perhaps a little birdie told him?" Hermione suggested, the lilt in her tone noticeable. "Perhaps he learned that I was onto him through a spy, and that he managed to disappear before we apparated here?"

Draco snorted. "A spy?" he said. "Now you're really reachin', Granger." He uncrossed his arms and walked towards her. "I'm going back to the manor. All these minutes of mine wasted on such a pointless journey… imagine what I could have done instead of being here with you."

A spark of annoyance appeared in her eyes, but her face remained pleasant and calm. "Yes, I most definitely could imagine what you'd be doing… like fucking the wits out of Pansy. Not that I'm saying there's any to begin with."

He stopped walking and then faced her, a malicious glint evident in his eyes. "I won't even point out the fact that you just said you imagined me doing the dirty deed."

"You just did."

Draco grinned. "I did, didn't I?" He shook his head. "Fantasizing about my sexual abilities, Hermione? I should say that I'm flattered…"

"Don't be. It was meant as an insult, really." She deadpanned with a flutter of her eyelashes.

He was about to retort to that when he saw her body suddenly go rigid. He looked around them, trying to discern what could have frozen her on the spot, when he heard it: faint scratches on the walls, faint intakes of breath… faint indications of human life.

Hermione silently moved forward, her feet taking her to where the sounds were coming from. She could hear Draco's footsteps as he followed her movements, and so he mimicked her when she stopped in front of an old bookstore. She glanced at him before she spoke. "I think I heard some noise coming from—" with both hands, she seized the large sign that was blocking the door of the bookstore, and then threw it effortlessly on one side, "—here." She finished.

When the sign was removed, the scene that unfolded before them was a scene that involved a hunched form of a man trying in his damnedest to deform his large frame so that he could hide in very small crevices. When this unfortunate man heard the frightening sounds of his only refuge being torn away from him, he quickly moved to run away; only his escape was blocked when a binding curse was thrown at him. He fell down to the floor with a thud.

Draco watched all these, not without a small amount of awe. "I have to say, I'm impressed, Granger." He drawled, making the statement sound like he meant the exact opposite of it.

Hermione threw him a haughty look. "You haven't even seen anything yet," she said. She then lowered the wand she held in her hand and walked towards their captive. "Hello," she said conversationally, knowing fully well that the man, though immobilized, had no problem hearing her voice. "I'm really sorry about the hex I threw at you, see, it's something I had to do because I needed to ask you something."

"Why are you even talking to him?" Draco asked impatiently. "Just use the Imperius curse to make him tell you what you want. Or are you telling me that you don't know how to cast that particular curse?"

She glared at him. "You're making assumptions again, Draco." She warned him. "You know very well that I could cast that damned curse. Why, I could cast that very same curse on you to stop you from talking. Heaven knows its taking a lot of my strength to stop myself from doing it."

"I'd like to see you try it." He challenged her.

"Perhaps later," Hermione said, dismissing him and his silly insinuations. "Now, back to our guest…" She kneeled so that she could be nearer to the fallen man. "As I was saying, I would like to ask you some questions, seeing that you, unlike all the others, are still… living here." She pointed her wand at him, and whispered, "Finite Incantatem."

As soon as she spoke the words, the curse that bound the man disappeared. As soon as he realized this, he leapt to his feet, pushed Hermione out of the way and ran.

Draco straightened himself as soon as he saw Hermione fall. He lifted his wand and said, "Serpensortia!" Immediately, a large snake appeared out of nowhere and blocked the man's path to his freedom.

"That was rude," Hermione said as she stood up. Her face still contained its odd calmness as she walked towards the man.

Sweating profusely, he looked at her, at Draco, and at the snake that was moments away from attacking his leg. He swallowed a heavy lump on his throat before he spoke. "What… what do… do you want…?!"

"We just want some answers, which was what I was about to say before you rudely pushed me away." She took pity on the man. "Let's see… I could make that snake disappear if you give us what we want. If not, well… you know what's going to happen next." As though proving her point, the snake hissed loudly at him.

"Anything… anything!"

Draco glared at the man. "Poor excuse for a wizard, you're not even going to try to defend yourself against us, aren't you?" He eyed the wand that was tucked into the belt of the man.

"I know I don't stand a chance against Death Eaters like you, so why should I even bother?" the man spat at them, even as he cautiously stepped back when the snake advanced on him.

Hermione nodded at him. "Wise man," she commented under her breath. "Now, about my question… have you seen Harry Potter around this area?"

The man blinked at them in alarm. "Ha-Harry Potter? The Boy-Who-Lived? Around this area?"

"Yes. Have you seen him?" She asked.

"I… well, I—"

"HERMIONE!!!"

She whirled around to face Draco, alarm coloring her face when she heard the panic in his tone. "Draco, what—" The words died on her lips, for what she saw stunned her: Draco had his wand drawn out and pointed at the man, and he had just closed his mouth after uttering the killing curse. The Killing Curse. "NO! Draco, no!" But it was already too late, for when she looked at their captive again, he was already slumped over the hissing snake, completely and utterly dead.

Draco lowered his wand and breathed deeply, his energy somewhat spent after saying that curse. Another flick of the wand and a muttering of "Finite Incantatem," and the snake disappeared.

"YOU IDIOT!" Hermione screeched at the top of her lungs, her voice disrupting the silent ambiance in the area. She curled her hands into fists as she turned to face him again, her eyes flashing dangerous sparks of brown and gold. "You fucking idiot!" she said again, as she pointed a finger at his face. "Why in hell would you do something as stupid as that? You know very well that—"

In a space of one breath, Draco had her hand pinned to her side, his face dangerously close to her own. Silver eyes glinting with annoyance, he said softly, "You have no idea what I have just done," he told her, his hand painfully applying pressure to hers. "I just saved your ass, Granger. You should be thanking me."

She glared at him, her eyes meeting the danger of his own. She gave no indication that she was feeling any pain. "Why should I thank you?" she asked, her voice equaling his in its intensity. "You just killed the only lead we have. I should be killing you, that's what I should be doing."

His brows quirked up. "I'd like to see you try." He said. Then, Draco moved away from her, and pointed at the fallen body of their captive. "I saved you," he told her firmly. "This pathetic excuse for a pureblood was about to draw his wand and kill you. He was trying to distract you with his stuttering." He smirked at her contemptuously. "You never saw that one coming, didn't you? You Gryffindors truly are a trusting lot." He shook his head.

Hermione glanced at the man and then resumed her glaring. "I don't believe you."

"Believe what you want to believe, Hermione, but the truth is that I just saved you." Draco smiled at her. "You owe me big time, and I expect the payment to be… pleasurable."

And before she could say anything, he already disappeared.