Where the Magic Is
Why do you rob banks?
Willie Sutton: Because that's where the money is.
Sheila's feet hurt.
"Wear comfortable shoes," Christopher the manager had said when he'd hired her. Well, she was, wasn't she? This morning she'd put on the very ugliest, most scathingly sensible pair she could bring herself to wear. My goodness, the heel was less than two inches. What more did they want from her? But even shoes as sensible as Solomon would have been no match for the five gruesome hours she'd just spent on her feet.
She slipped one kitten heel off, rubbing her sore right foot against her calf behind the counter. When her parents had asked -- all right, insisted -- that she take the job at the Midland Bank, she should have said no, that's all. It wasn't like they couldn't afford to take care of her. She didn't spend that much money. Not nearly as much as her friend Sophie, for instance. One Harrods weekend a month was all she asked. My goodness, it wasn't as though they were poor.
So here she was, fresh from the whirlwind of corporate training -- exciting in very nearly the same way rust was -- freshly scrubbed, neatly dressed, hideously shod, and in sole proprietorship of Window Five, the last on the left. Her name was even on a horrible little card propped in front of her.
The whole dreary day customer after customer -- "guests," Creepy Chris insisted on calling them -- slithered up to her window. Deposit my cheque, tell me my balance, give me money. Money, money, money. She was heartily sick of the stuff. It was all so sordid.
And dirty. Her hands smelt like banknotes. And her manicure was in shreds. Sheila hadn't known handling cash could be so sick-making. She sighed. So much money. And none of it hers.
One could rob the place, she considered. Easy. Slip into the vault on her break, grab the goodies, then say she had a headache and leave early. Why not? My goodness, she deserved the money as much as this squalid little bank did.
At least the day was finally drawing to a close. Only a few straggling customers polluted the floor. She scanned the queue warily.
Well. Things were perhaps looking slightly up.
He was completely lovely. Late twenties, slim and tall. Pale blond hair slightly mussed in an artfully careless way that said, I don't have to spend a fortune on my hair; I do it to enrich the world's aesthetics. Impossibly long, black lashes from under which gleamed grey eyes that harmonised like a choir with his immaculately cut charcoal grey suit.
Sheila knew clothes. That suit was Savile Row, from one of the finer tailors, and two-thousand pounds if it was a penny. He wore it the way God had intended clothes should be worn. It skimmed his figure like a caress. Lucky suit, Sheila thought.
He stepped forward, glancing at her name card. "Sheila," he said, and smiled. She was suddenly aware of her heart beating.
She was meant to ask if she could help him. That's what came next, but she was having trouble breathing.
He seemed to understand. "Sheila," he repeated quietly and she felt a rush of heat. "I want you to do something for me." He smiled a secret smile. "We're going to have a little adventure. I'm going to rob your bank."
Oh. Well, it wasn't her bank. He mustn't think she would have anything to do with the shabby little place if it was up to her.
He smiled again. Oh. Rob the bank. He was a bank-robber. How exciting.
"Now, I don't want you to be frightened," he continued conversationally. Frightened? Was she frightened? Sheila considered the question.
"I'm not frightened," she answered truthfully.
"Good girl." His smile brightened and he looked straight into her eyes. Oh, he was lovely. "And I don't want you to think about pressing that alarm button under the counter. Or the one near your right foot. I may have a gun, and if the alarm goes off, I may shoot everyone here."
"Do you have a gun?" she asked breathlessly.
His laugh was warm. "I think it would perhaps be best for you to assume that I do. You'll feel better in the long run. And it will make the story more thrilling for your friends."
Well, after all she didn't want anyone to get shot. Even Creepy Chris, who, by the way, had told her that in real life banks never got robbed. She found herself smiling back at the handsome thief. My goodness, this was too exciting.
"Now," he continued smoothly, smiling a smile only for her, "I want you to meet me by that door. I'm going to give you a satchel, and you're going to go into the vault..."
Sheila was only half-listening. What would he do next? Should she really cooperate? She looked into his calm grey eyes. Well, why not?
After all, it wasn't her money.
"It's him." Hermione Granger slapped the Muggle video cassette down on Kingsley's desk.
"Who?" the Minister of Magic asked with a puzzled frown, then saw her face. "Oh. Malfoy." He sighed. "Where?"
"Bank. West End. Three days ago."
Kingsley picked up the tape, inspecting it curiously. "Has Arthur seen this?" He turned it over in his hands, then squinted at it closely, bringing it an inch from his face. "He's been wanting to get his hands on a vodeo tape."
"Video tape," she corrected impatiently, recognising Kingsley's attempt to distract her, and annoyed with herself for falling for it. "Multi-cam surveillance from the Midland Bank, London Branch West."
"Ah," the older man leaned back in his chair, watching Hermione carefully. "And Malfoy is definitely on it, is he?"
"Yes." The Minister raised an eyebrow. "Well," she continued, "it's the best possibility so far."
Kingsley opened his mouth but Hermione raised a hand against his words. "Three days ago someone walked into the bank in the middle of the afternoon, told the teller he had a gun --"
"A Muggle weapon." She kept her voice carefully under control, resisting the suddenly desperate urge to gnash her teeth. "He walked out seven minutes later with almost half-a-million pounds in notes and securities. He obviously knew where the cameras were, and he was careful not to let himself be photographed head on. But it was Malfoy or his twin."
Kingsley shuddered. The prospect of two Draco Malfoys was too horrible to contemplate. He placed the tape back on his desk.
Hermione drew her wand and tapped the cassette. "Exhibeo." A grainy image hovered in mid-air above Kingsley's desk.
He leaned forward with interest. "So that's how a vodeo tape works."
The amorphous image showed the well-dressed man stepping up to the counter. In Kingsley's opinion it looked rather more like a flirtation than a hold-up. Then the man -- who could be Malfoy, Kingsley admitted, or any other too self-confident blond -- disappeared from the image, to re-emerge moments later walking out of the bank with a valise.
"That's Muggle thievery?" Kingsley watched the image flicker into nothingness. "Rather anti-climatic."
"It's not always that smooth," Hermione replied grimly. "Well?"
Kingsley regarded his employee contemplatively. "I don't have to remind you that the majority of the wizarding world believes Draco Malfoy is dead?"
"I've never believed that."
"Yes." He motioned her to sit. She did so reluctantly, perching on the chair's edge. Kingsley could see the pent-up energy threatening to explode.
"Yes," he repeated. "I know. There was last year in South Africa, and the year before that in New York."
"Those were solid leads," she muttered, but Kingsley saw she had the grace to look embarrassed. That was a positive sign.
"Hermione --" he began.
"Kingsley," she insisted. "It's him."
"You know we value you at the Ministry," he continued as if she hadn't spoken. "You're a rising star in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. There's been some talk of a promotion."
"Kingsley," she repeated, the calmness in her voice disturbing him more than her earlier intensity had. "You were an Auror. Please don't go bureaucrat on me now."
"Draco Malfoy hasn't been heard from in ten years. If he's not dead, he's as close to it as matters. This obsession of yours --"
"Obsession is hardly fair --"
"Hermione, I say this as a friend --" He stopped himself and took a breath, shaking off the last vestiges of the politician and looking at her frankly. "You may be hurting your career at the Ministry with this fixation. There's no warrant for Malfoy. If he were alive he'd be covered under the Former Death Eater Amnesty Act. There's no official grounds to look for him."
"I simply wish to investigate an allegedly Muggle crime that I believe may have been committed by a wizard. That's the essence of my job description." She smiled wanly. "Please, Kingsley. If it's not Malfoy, you'll never hear his name from my lips again."
He looked up in surprise. "I promise," she added, meeting his eyes.
He sighed. "One day. Find out what you can. And if you discover reason to believe it is Malfoy, the Ministry will have no official standing in whatever steps you choose to take. You have some holiday time due, I believe?"
"I hope you won't have to use it," he continued. "I plan on holding you to your promise, Hermione." He rose and opened his office door for her.
"You'll understand if I don't wish you luck."
Hermione emerged from the tube station onto a snowy London street. She always preferred to use Muggle transportation on her investigations. Apparation seemed somehow unfair and could, on occasion, alert a wrong-doing wizard.
There'd be no danger of that this time, she thought to herself grimly as she trod carefully on the icy pavement. Malfoy had been gone for three days -- rather, she forced herself to be fair, the bank-robber had been gone. But it was Malfoy, she was sure of it in her bones. Hermione discounted the idea of Witch's Intuition as being as silly as Divination -- this was her years of Magical Law Enforcement experience speaking.
She'd joined the Ministry the day after the War had ended, nearly nine years now, she realised in some amazement. Harry and Ron had wanted to take some time -- travel, have the carefree childhoods that had been denied them all. There'd been reward money for being one of those who'd killed Voldemort -- she didn't have to work, perhaps ever, but she felt restless, incomplete. She'd needed the distraction of work, though she'd never been quite clear on what she needed distracting from.
"That's our girl," Ron said, shrugging as he and Harry had left on their "Voldemort is Bloody Dead This Time and Not Coming Back Ever So Don't Bother Us for at Least a Year World Tour," as he called it. He'd insisted Harry call their trip that as well, but Hermione, the grown-up, was allowed to call it a holiday. She could already feel the chasm starting to grow between herself and her two friends.
Harry had eventually settled into a life of professional Quidditch -- not, though, with the Chudley Canons, who as Ron pointed out ruefully, couldn't afford him -- with intentions of becoming an Auror when his athletic career came to an end. Ron had moved to Romania to work with dragons alongside his brother -- taking along his new wife, who retained her maiden name of Padma Patil.
Hermione had found herself a member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's new Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Muggles. It galled her that Muggles needed protecting, but since the end of the War, and especially after the passage -- in the new spirit of peace and wizardly brotherhood -- of the Death Eater's Amnesty, unscrupulous wizards had been making victims of Muggles more and more often.
It could take many forms. Sometimes Muggles were sold fraudulent Elixirs that promised to bring wealth or grow hair. i Honestly, Hermione had thought, if wizards were going to go to all that trouble, why not brew a working potion? Or Muggles could find their valuables magicked off their person or out of their house, a quick Obliviate ensuring no witnesses.
There was the bank now. Hermione stopped, hugging herself against the cold, and inspected it from across the street. Malfoy had entered through the front door. There, she observed. Why bank-robbery, she wondered. Something so essentially Muggle? For now she'd have to chalk it up to the eternal mystery that was Malfoy.
He'd run from Snape almost as soon as the professor had spirited him away after Dumbledore's death. He'd joined his father, who'd escaped from Azkaban around the same time, and the Death Eaters briefly -- for less than a month, Hermione knew -- then vanished from the wizarding world. His disappearance had been complete. There'd never been sight nor story of him, and after a few years of idle curiosity, most wizards had been glad to think him dead.
Why would he cut himself off from his world? If he hadn't wanted to be a Death Eater, he could have joined the other side. He could even have remained neutral; the Malfoy fortune would have allowed that. Why hadn't he surfaced after the Amnesty? Not because he was dead, Hermione was sure. The longer the question remained, the more it ate at her insides. It was always there, nagging her in the background like a sore tooth, or a cancerous growth. Why would he leave magic behind?
She had to know, and she would ask him personally.
"Handsome. Fit. Dishy." Hermione looked up from her notebook. "That's how you would describe the robber?"
"Oh, yes." The vapid blonde nodded enthusiastically. "And ever so desperate. He pointed an absolutely enormous gun at me."
"Really?" Hermione kept the scepticism out of her voice. "The surveillance tape must have missed that."
"Oh, yes. And he was so polite."
"Polite," repeated Hermione. "But desperate."
"Yes." Sheila nodded. "It was too thrilling."
"I'm sure." Hermione put her notebook away. She only used it as a prop to enforce the impression she was a Muggle detective. This was the important part. "Sheila, I'm going to show you a photograph."
Through trial-and-error, Hermione had years ago discovered she could use a modified Stupefying Charm to freeze wizard photographs for almost an hour. She produced one of Malfoy taken by Colin Creevy back at Hogwarts.
"Ooh," Sheila's eyes lit up, "that's him. But he's older now." She looked at Hermione with new respect. "You're much cleverer than the last lot of police were."
She reached for the photograph. "Do you think I could have this? To remember my horrible ordeal?"
"No!" Hermione grabbed it back quickly. "It's evidence," she added at the other woman's crestfallen look.
"Oh." She sighed, then rallied. "It's rather a funny picture anyway. What is that he's wearing? A college gown? He was dressed ever so much better the other day."
"Really," Hermione noted absently. Her mind raced with possibilities now that another living being -- even Sheila -- had confirmed the existence of Malfoy.
"Oh, yes," the girl prattled on. "He was wearing the most beautiful suit. Henry Poole or Anderson & Sheppard, I'd say. Crime must pay. Still, you wouldn't think a robber would want to spend all that time on Savile Row getting it fitted personally. Don't they usually hole up in caves, or hide-outs or something?"
"Savile Row?" asked Hermione, listening again. "How can you be sure?"
The girl looked startled. "Oh, you can always tell a Savile Row suit." Her look changed to something like pity. "I don't suppose you meet many well-dressed policemen."
"And he would have to go for a fitting personally?"
"Several times for a cut that fine." The pity intensified. She added, in a helpful tone, "Perhaps you'd meet better-dressed men if you joined Scotland Yard."
"I'll think about it," Hermione replied.
She'd been to nearly every tailor on the Row. Henry Poole. Huntsman. Gieves & Hawkes. She hadn't found Malfoy, but she'd got quite an education. "Bespoke" is different than "made-to-measure." James Potter -- no relation, Hermione assumed -- first introduced the Tuxedo to America. A "skeleton baste" is not, as one might assume, an unsatisfactory cooking method, but a type of fitting.
What no tailor was able to tell her was where Malfoy was. When she showed them his picture, most were quite firm in their conviction that Malfoy was not a customer. A few insisted their clients were "confidential," but Hermione could tell they'd never seen Malfoy before.
There were very few tailors left to visit. Sighing, she pushed open the door of a smallish one that called itself "Kilkenny's," if the sign on its facade was to be trusted.
It contained the by-now-familiar bolts of worsted ("English worsted is the finest in the world," Hermione had been assured), as well as a rainbow of threads behind the dark wood counter and two rather ominous-looking, blank-faced mannequins wearing finely-made suits (dinner jacket, peaked lapel, Hermione could now identify). One form behind the counter wore a half-made jacket of a district-checked tweed.
There was only one worker, a balding middle-aged man who coughed deferentially, "May I help you, madam?"
"I'm trying to find a man who may be one of your customers," she replied.
The deference reduced by about half. "You must understand that our client list is exclusive and confidential."
She could tell he wouldn't be impressed by a common detective. "I represent the firm of Markham, Lawton & Entwhistle," she tried. "This man has been left a rather substantial legacy by an important personage. Between you and me, a royal personage," she added when she saw she'd caught his interest. "And we need to locate him. Perhaps you'd look at a picture?"
He did so, reluctantly drawn by his curiosity. "I'm sorry, Madam. He is not known to me." But she'd caught the telltale widening of his eyes, and seen the way they'd moved briefly to the tweed jacket behind the counter.
"A shame," she feigned disappointment. "Still, I hope my visit isn't completely wasted. I'm looking for a gift for my husband. Perhaps you'd care to show me that plaid with the lavender stripe?"
While he was fetching the bolt -- chosen by Hermione for its inconvenience -- she used her wand to Summon a swatch from the tweed jacket. She felt a pang of guilt, but, after all, she'd tried to do it the easy way.
He returned with the bolt. She examined it briefly. "Oh. Thanks awfully, but I'm afraid this isn't at all what I want."
She turned to go. His voice followed her out. "Is Madam sure she knows what she wants?"
That, Hermione reflected, was a very good question.
"I've got him."
Kingsley Shacklebolt looked up from a tiresome report on the changing migration patterns of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack to see Hermione's head protruding from his office fireplace.
He sighed and left his desk, settling in the armchair he kept by the fire for such occasions.
"I'd really rather not know anything about it, Hermione."
She looked chastened. Even after all these years the Cleverest Witch of Her Age found it difficult not to share anything she'd recently learned.
"I'm going to need that holiday time, Kingsley."
He sighed. "How long?"
"I'm not sure."
"All right. Take what time you need. Your job will be here." He paused. "For a while."
She nodded, and was pulling back to her side of the fire when he spoke again.
"Hermione -- If Malfoy truly isn't dead, then he's been gone for ten years voluntarily. I can't think he'll want to be discovered." He stopped, leaving something hanging in the air.
"Yes?" she asked finally.
"Why is it so important that you find him?"
Hermione bit her lip, seemed about to answer, then vanished in the flames.
They'd blindfolded her, first off. No, she amended, first they'd taken her wand, snapping it before her eyes. Next they'd bound her hands behind her back and tied her to a hard, wooden chair.
They hadn't cursed or hexed her in any way. Why would they need to, she thought bitterly, she was completely in their power.
How could she have been so stupid? She'd known she was a target. Not because of any innate wonderfulness of her own, but as a close associate of Harry Potter. She was always warning Harry and Ron to take precautions, why hadn't she?
A book! She'd just wanted to take a quick trip to Diagon Alley to buy a first edition of an obscure spell book she thought might come in handy during their search for the Horcruxes. The boys hadn't been available to go with her. And she'd hated imposing on Harry since Dumbledore's death anyway.
Perhaps her own grief had made her incautious. She'd always counselled the others not to go anyplace alone. The bitterest pill was having her own advice proven right, too late. Still, it had been broad daylight, and a crowded Diagon Alley. She should have been safe.
She'd just found the book, in a musty and seldom-travelled corner of Flourish & Blotts, when she'd been grabbed from behind. She was conscious of being yanked back, then nothing until she woke up in this dank, windowless room. A basement somewhere, she supposed.
She'd made a vain attempt to flee the hooded Death Eaters, knowing it was useless in the small chamber. One had backhanded her hard across the jaw. Even now the right side of her face felt numb, and blood still trickled from her mouth. Two of her molars were disturbingly loose. All right, she reordered in her mind, the blow had come first. Then the wand, then the tying-up.
In the beginning, she'd heard them moving around her from time to time. The fact that she could see nothing made it worse. I will not be scared, she told herself firmly. Once she'd heard a laugh. Lucius Malfoy, she was sure.
After a while, she'd been left alone in the room. Her bonds had proved unbreakable, and she'd had nothing to do but think. Her one consolation was that she had demanded -- and received -- promises from both Harry and Ron that they would never give into any of the Death Eaters' demands should she ever be captured. Harry was pragmatic enough to keep his promise, she thought. She doubted Ron was, but Harry could keep him in check.
How long had she been there, tied up in the tiny, black room? Days, she felt sure. Three? Four? She was no longer hungry, at least. Sweat had formed on her skin, especially around her bindings, then dried, leaving her chilled and shaking intermittently. Her ears buzzed and she kept feeling herself fading in and out of consciousness. That was for the best, she supposed.
Was that it then? They were just going to let her die in that room? Hermione knew she should be grateful. It could have been much worse.
A sound. Creaking. The door opening, she realized dimly.
"Half-dead already, aren't you, Granger. I'm disappointed. I thought you were made of stronger stuff."
Draco Malfoy. She managed to rouse herself and sit up as straight as she could with her bound arms and legs.
She heard him laugh musically. "That's better. Die a hero."
The blindfold was lifted from her eyes. She blinked against the searing light of the torch-lit room, then screwed her eyes firmly shut. He was silent.
After a moment she felt able to open her eyes and look at him.
He looked terrible, she noted with grim satisfaction. He'd lost weight; that was obvious even through his robes, and there were purple bruises under his eyes. Poor little Malfoy, she felt like saying, is your daddy being mean to you? Are you having trouble killing your friends?
She cleared her throat painfully. It felt like she was swallowing past razors. "What do you want, Malfoy?" she rasped.
He smiled. "My father and his... colleagues are out for the evening. As I was given guard duty, I thought I'd take the opportunity to visit a schoolmate."
"We're neither of us in school," she spit out. Her throat was on fire.
"Granger," he shook his head in mock pity. "Do you really want to spend your last moments arguing technicalities?"
"What. Do. You. Want?"
His smirk faded momentarily. An indecipherable expression ghosted across his features. Before Hermione had time to guess at its meaning, the smirk was back full force.
"Well," he said. "As a matter of fact, Granger, today's your lucky day."
The rough laugh that burst from her throat surprised Hermione. Malfoy looked pleased.
"That's the stuff," he said encouragingly and pulled his wand out of his sleeve. For the first time, she felt fear.
His eyes travelled her body slowly. It had been a summer's day, so long ago now, and she'd gone out in a Muggle-style tank top and light cotton skirt. Now her white shirt was soiled with blood and dirt and dried sweat. She knew she was filthy and foul-smelling and hated herself for caring.
He was still looking at her, taking his time. Now he stepped forward. Hermione felt the breath catch in her throat.
He touched her bare knee lightly with his wand. Then trailed the tip up her thigh, her hip, her stomach, between her breasts, her neck. It was excruciatingly slow. His face was unreadable. He was leaning down, standing so close that she could feel his breath.
She was sure he wanted to kiss her. For a wild moment she thought about kissing him back.
He brought the wand up to her lips, then removed it. He hovered there a moment, lips nearly touching hers.
Then he stepped back. "Liberatio."
Her bonds disintegrated. She slumped forward, utterly surprised.
In her weakened state, it took her a moment to recover. She stood slowly up, needing to support herself against a wall. Run, she told herself, but her muscles refused to obey. Instead she watched Malfoy warily.
"I said it was your lucky day, Granger, and I meant it." He gestured toward the door. "Go."
She looked at him incredulously.
"Oh, for Mordred's sake. How you lot have survived this long, I'll never know. There's no one here but you and me." He rolled his eyes. She almost laughed to see such a familiar Hogwarts gesture here. "Unless you'd rather wait for my father to come back."
It would be folly to trust him. But there was nothing else. She staggered slowly to the door, her legs threatening to give out at any moment. Don't fall in front of Malfoy, she thought idiotically.
Because she needed a moment to rest as much as anything else, she turned back at the door. "Why?"
He smirked and looked deep into her eyes. "You must let me keep some of my mysteries, Granger."
He'd disappeared himself that night, vanishing before Lucius Malfoy and the Death Eaters returned. The wizarding world had never heard from him again.
Hermione sat on the floor of her small flat and rubbed the piece of checked tweed between her fingers. It felt smooth and buttery, its texture subtle as a secret. She tried it against her cheek, then stopped, feeling ridiculous.
She had everything ready for the Locator Spell. The tweed, of course -- it was vital to have an object that had been touched recently by the subject, within a few weeks if possible. That's why Malfoy's school things or possessions from the manor were useless in trying to find him.
She unrolled an enormous map of the world, spreading it on the bare wood floor in front of her, and weighed down the corners with stacks of books. Luckily there was plenty of room. She'd moved into the flat nearly a year ago but had never felt like personalising it much in the way of furniture or decorations of her own. Harry said she lived like a nun, which had made Ron scratch his head and ask, "None? None what?" But she was never there much anyway. It was serviceable, what else would she want?
She had made sure to Floo Kingsley before doing the Location Spell. She hadn't wanted to tell him exactly where Malfoy was. Somehow she felt like keeping the information to herself, at least for a little while. She hadn't expected him to show no curiosity.
Grasping the tweed firmly, she rubbed the fabric against her wand, up and down three times, then, taking care to swirl the wand counter-clockwise over the map and at medium speed, whispered, "Locus."
A tiny spot on the map glowed dully but unmistakably gold.
"Huh," she said.
A/N -- Concluded in Part Two -- Feedback is deeply loved. The feedback dance is performed. Thanks for reading!