Caught off guard as she was distractedly browsing the Counter-Curse section of the Aurors' Library, Hermione's wand flew from her fingers, clattering to the floor some ten feet away.
"Silencio." The voice was male, and familiar. Hermione had no time or inclination to place it as she scrambled for her wand, just catching a glimpse of a tall shape in the shadows. "Accio wand," he added, and Hermione groaned inaudibly as her wand darted past her, too quickly to intercept.
Or perhaps he was just quicker. His left hand caught the wand and his right arm caught her, winding swiftly around her throat and clamping tight. She dug her fingernails into it, kicking behind her, hoping to catch him in the shins. He responded by lifting her completely off the ground and tightening his grip on her throat until grey light flickered in the corners of her vision.
The fight left her, and Hermione went slowly limp, fighting unconsciousness and knowing there was nothing she could do. Yet. Not many people, Muggle or Wizard, had the stomach or patience to truly choke someone to death.
Her captor pulled them both back into the shadows, muscles beginning to tremble in his arm from the effort of keeping them flexed taut. He reached into his pocket, and something jerked behind her belly. Hermione had a panicked instant to think, a portkey?
The arm turned her loose and she whirled, backpedaling rapidly across a shadowy glade.
The last person she expected to see was Draco Malfoy.
The last thing she expected him to do was start stripping off a shirt that had seen much better days.
"You can try to run," he said grimly, "but then you'd make me chase you down and petrify you. I'm not going to hurt you, so you might as well sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up. Retroago."
"–cowardly Death Eater murderer..." Hermione said, her voice abrupt and loud in the silent glen, and rounding off nicely the curses she had been hurling at Malfoy. His mouth twisted.
"No points, Granger. Not even one out of three. Come here."
"What? Why did–"
"I said come here," he snapped, sliding the shirt off his shoulders. "Did you think I brought you out here for a fucking chat?" The third obscenity, from the lips of Draco Malfoy, was oddly galvanizing. Other than the greatly overused Mudblood, Hermione had never once heard him descend below condescension and sheer viciousness. And he had a point–and her wand. Taut with tension, she approached.
The moon was thin and wan, but bright enough to ripple over the planes of his chest, shadowing nicely on the ridges of his abdomen. Both arms outthrust, he watched her through narrowed eyes that were nearly colourless in the moonlight.
It took a moment for her to realize what he was showing her. Bare arms. Pearlescent skin, nearly glowing in the darkness.
And there was no mark.
Malfoy rotated slowly, showing her unadorned broad shoulders, a sinewy back that was as pale and smooth as the rest of him, and just as unmarked. At least, absent of the Dark Mark. Lines of an even paler white stretched over his shoulders, curved down to his spine, licking around slightly prominent ribs.
"Satisfied?" He asked coldly. "Unless you want to check my bum, too, Granger."
"Voldemort isn't branding his cattle anymore?" She retorted. "Do what you're going to do, but don't play games with me, Malfoy."
She spat his name like an oath, and since the raid that had killed Minerva McGonagall, it was. Lucius Malfoy, exposed as a Death Eater and running from the Ministry, was still as deadly as a snake when he struck. And from earliest acquaintance, Draco had been the proverbial chip off the old block.
Draco stared at her for a moment, something she couldn't identify flickering in his eyes. It was gone, but it was not contempt, nor was it anger.
"Sit," he said, rubbing his eyes. She didn't move. "Goddammit, I said sit!" He said, pointing at a nearby tree stump.
A Muggle curse, no less. It was that more than anything else that made her sit warily. If he'd bewitched the tree stump to swallow her, it wouldn't be the worst way he could kill her.
"Now." He breathed the word, struggling for control, "will you be still and listen?"
As if some celestial puppeteer had tugged a string, Hermione felt her head nod.
"I am not a Death Eater. And the things I'm going to tell you will help you find them and kill them. All."
All, including his father, and she saw the muscles in his jaw work as he clipped off the end of the word.
"Why?" She asked simply. "You hate Muggles and anyone with a drop of Muggle blood in their veins. You're a Malfoy. You've hated me for years."
"Hated?" He repeated. "Tell me more about myself, Granger. You seem to know most of the salient points."
Rebuked, she scowled at him.
How his anger could just bleed away, she didn't know, but she could see it flow out of his eyes as he approached, dropping to one knee in front of her. Even kneeling, he was taller, his head cocked slightly as he met her gaze squarely. It was a long moment as she stared into Draco Malfoy's face. A face that was familiar and alien; the face of a man now, filled out into a broader jaw than she would ever have credited to the pinch-faced little boy who'd tormented her.
"There are things you don't know," he said gently, as patient as if he were informing her that water was, in fact, wet, despite all she might have heard to the contrary. "Like the fact that my father and the rest of the Death Eaters are so intent on keeping their power, their money, their status, that they haven't noticed that no one's trying to take it away from them. That they blame Muggles for the evils of the world because they fear them and they fear Muggle Science. They..." He cut himself off there and stood abruptly, staring into the sky as if he saw more than stars there.
"They're looking for an artifact in Romania. Like the Philosopher's Stone, but I don't know what it does."
"You're spying on them?" She blurted, and he glanced at her with one eyebrow raised, a feat that had always irritated her.
For an instant, the old Draco crawled up from the grave.
"You're not usually this slow, Granger," he drawled. "If you're the best Gryffindor had to offer, then I must have vastly overestimated that whole House."
Hot words bubbled to her lips, and he quelled her with an upraised hand.
"We don't have time to argue."
Those lips, which she had only seen sneering or twisted with rage, were tight and grim now. It threw her. This whole situation threw her. When Malfoy had vanished from Hogwarts in the middle of sixth year, everyone had assumed the obvious. For that matter, she was still assuming the obvious: that this was an elaborate trick, and the other shoe would drop any moment. Most likely beginning with crucio and ending with avada kedavra.
"Why should I believe you? Give me one good reason to trust you. You were horrible to me from the moment I first met you, and you've given me no reason to believe you've changed." Which wasn't strictly true, but he had confused her. She hadn't seen him in six years. For all the trademark silver eyes and pale hair, he was a stranger.
And a dangerous one. She was on her feet and a step back before the menace in him reached her conscious mind, and by then, he'd already gripped her chin in fingers that clenched painfully tightly. He was abruptly furious, and she could no better figure his sudden moods than his sudden shift in allegiance.
"I do–not–have time for this," he growled. "You're a Legilimens. Look."
She drew a deep breath and focused on those pale eyes, which met hers without flinching. Flipping pages in a mental book entitled Legilimancy, Occlumency, and the Possible Dangers Thereof, she sighed softly.
"Legilimens," she said.
A group of men, masked and hooded, speaking in low tones around a magical campfire...
The cold plane of a heavy oak door, his ear pressed to the keyhole as he listened...
Flight, wandless and terrified, as he crashed the bracken of a dark forest, stumbling, rising, running...
The magical crack of a lashing-spell as he ground his teeth to be silent...
Worse and worse, until Hermione didn't want to look, didn't want to know any more. He made no effort to thrust her out of his mind; let her burrow as deep as she dared, dig into the darkest corners of his memories.
His skin was trying to crawl off his body when she released him, his breath in rapid pants that puffed white, his whole body shuddering. He had not tried to look away from her, and didn't now, gazing down at her with neither pride nor shame in his face. Nonetheless, his proximity abruptly made her nervous. Sweet Circe, he got big, she thought involuntarily.
As if he, too, could page through her thoughts, Draco swung away and wrapped his arms around himself. For the first time she realized that in his thin shirt and worn trousers, he was most likely cold.
"You've been spying on us," she said, too confused to think of most of it, and thus sticking to facts. "And we never knew."
"You've been spying on me."
"You were planning this before you ever got your Hogwarts letter."
A short bark of laughter. "Yes."
"Why me?" Hermione reached tentatively to touch him, make him look at her again, and he flinched away.
"Who else would have listened?"
"You didn't give me much choice."
Now he looked, and actually seemed to see her. "True, but I didn't worry so much about you trying to kill me with your bare hands. Having to hex Potter or Weasley into a stupor would have tainted the experience for all concerned. And neither of them are a Legilimens."
There were a million tiny pieces that began to fit together as he spoke, and, Merlin save her, she believed him. She had seen him spying on her in his memories, but never once had he appeared in the Foe-Glasses that spanned the walls of her flat. Had he even for a moment pondered harming her, every room would have erupted in an unholy din of shrieking, beeping, whistling Dark Detectors.
"What are you proposing?" She asked, sitting back down on the tree stump.
"I need to be able to contact you whenever I find out more. You know what to do with what I tell you?"
She nodded. "Moody is head of Intelligence at the Department. He'll be sure that something is done."
"Good." Malfoy sighed, though his shoulders were still tight. "You can't tell them who you heard this from."
Hermione said nothing, but met his eyes quizzically, mutely demanding an explanation.
"Someone will talk. There are spies on both sides. What I'm doing is already dangerous enough."
"How do I contact you?"
"You don't. I'll contact you."
She snorted. "I'd rather not be kidnapped every time you want a chat, Malfoy."
His lips quirked in something very near a smile. "No, I have a better way. Take off your robe."
"What?" Hermione clutched it and retreated. Malfoy rolled his eyes.
"I said your robe, not your clothes. Merlin. It's too cold to go commando, Granger."
He'd picked up a lot of Muggle expressions, she thought grudgingly, and slipped her deep green robe from her shoulders, shivering in the chill. She still wore a jumper and jeans, both a great deal thicker than Malfoy's clothing. He had to be freezing.
"This will burn when I want you to come back here," he said, "and it will protect you from some of the Unforgivable Curses...or at least, decrease their power. I can't do anything about the Killing Curse." He was circling her as he spoke, wand loose in his hand, and he brushed her long hair over her shoulders, baring the back of her jumper. "It won't hurt," he added, and touched his wand to her back. "Adseropictum Confatalis."
It didn't hurt, but it was uncomfortable–a heat that built and burrowed, was absorbed into her skin, clung to her spine. Hermione fought not to squirm, clenching her jaw, her arms straight at her sides.
"Why are you doing this? You could just find me. No one's noticed you spying yet."
"They would eventually. This is safer. And I'll take all the safety nets I can get."
Goosebumps broke along her shoulders as his breath stirred her hair, and again, she noticed his proximity: his hand on her shoulder to hold her still, his broad body at her back as his wand hummed. At long last, the wand fell silent, and Draco drew away, stumbling slightly. His face when she turned was inscrutable.
"Lucius Malfoy's precious heir," she said softly.
"Not anymore. Sit back down. There's a lot more you need to know."
Author's Notes and disclaimers:
These characters are obviously not mine. All appropriate obeisance to JK Rowling's brilliance. Applause also to the Harry Potter Lexicon, without which this story would be impossible. Please review–knowing how a story affects my readers is what keeps me writing.