FATED MEN

Chapter One

In which friends are reunited and plans are made.

A faint wind blew threw Grimmauld Place, bringing with it the tepid, sticky heat of midnight in June. An overturned rubbish bin had spilled paper across the street, which swirled around the ankles of the cloaked figure walking briskly down the road. The orange light of the street lamps cast a long shadow down their face, seemed almost absorbed by the night-colored hooded cloak. Footsteps clicked, echoed in the thick summer night, as the figure approached a stately house with peeling paint, wedged in between numbers eleven and thirteen.

They climbed the stairs, stood in front of the doorway. After searching the empty street behind them, they raised a slender, graceful hand to knock on the heavy oak door.

A clearly man-made window slid back, two mismatched but equally suspicious eyes glaring through the darkness at the cloaked figure. "Password?" the doorman asked gruffly.

"Hecate."

"Hmph," the gruff voice responded. "Show me the tatrue, then."

The figure sighed and pulled back a sleeve to bare a thin wrist, an interweaving pattern of lines spiderwebbing across the inside in a circular shape. "How many times do I have to tell you, it's a tattoo, not a tatrue?"

The only reply was a grunt. The window was shut, and the door briskly opened. "Come in, then," said the doorman, revealed in the flickering candlelight to be a grizzled man with a wild mane of grey hair. "Hurry it up."

Shutting the door behind her, the woman pulled off her cloak and hung it on a peg next to the door. In the flickering candlelight a young woman of about twenty was revealed. Curly brown hair was pulled into a loose bun at the nape of her neck, and honey brown eyes twinkled at the older man. Trapped in that middle land between tall and short, the slight woman had to look up slightly to smile at the older man. "Paranoid as ever, Alastor. Constant vigilance, eh?"

Moody narrowed his eyes, but his expression softened slightly as he took in the woman. "Shut your mouth, girl," he grumbled. "You know you can never be too careful."

She snorted. "Good to see you again too, Professor."

"How many times to I have to tell you I was never your bloody professor, Granger?" He shook his head, but though his face gave nothing away, his eyes showed something strangely close to a smile. "Meeting's in the kitchen," he scowled. "Go on, then."

Hermione smiled. "Thanks, Moody." With quiet, graceful steps, she made her way through the narrow dusty corridor and into the kitchen of Number 12, Grimmauld Place.

There were fourteen other people seated around the large table, and they all looked up when Hermione entered. Thirteen hands went to their wands--all but the dark-haired man standing at the head of the table. "Stand down," Harry said clearly. Wands went away. He smiled. "Good to have you back, Hermione."

"Good to be back," she said, returning the smile and sinking into an empty seat next to a stocky man with a ruddy complexion and hair more orange than red. "Hey-o, Bill." She grinned at the woman across the table, who was currently sporting lime green hair and electric blue eyes. "Wotcher, Tonks."

"Wotcher, Hermione," the ex-Auror said with a toothy smile.

"We'll get started in just a few minutes," Harry said, "As soon as Remus gets here."

Hermione nodded and used the time to observe each of the wizards sitting around the table.

Standing was Harry Potter, head of the Military Division of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore's second in command. The lightning-bolt scar on his forehead was hidden by messy black hair, but was now matched by a faint spiderweb of scars across the corner of his right cheekbone, remnant of a raid gone wrong. His glasses had become more of a hindrance than anything else in the battlefield, and he'd gone through a few healing sessions with Madame Pomphrey, the result being emerald eyes uncovered by glasses or contacts. His wand was in an easy release holster on his wrist, the newest Weasley twins invention and required armor for all field operatives of the Order.

Along the rest of the table, the field operatives were seated; Fred, George, Bill, Charlie, and Ginny Weasley; Emmaline Vance; Nymphadora Tonks; Neville Longbottom; Fleur Delacour; a dark-haired man the Hermione didn't recognize; and Kingsley Shacklebolt. The chair to Harry's left was empty--no doubt reserved for Remus, his Second-In-Command and Tactical Advisor--but it was the occupant of the next Chair that gave Hermione pause.

It had been six months since she'd last seen Draco Malfoy. His near-white hair had darkened to a more healthy shade of blondish-brown as the result of leading so many missions in the field. He'd allowed it to grow down to his ears, and his bangs fell into his face, partially obscuring his stone-grey eyes. His skin had taken on a somewhat more healthy pallor as well, she noted, but what drew her attention were his hands, steepled on the table. A long scar ran across the inside of his left palm, barely visible to her. She shivered. Too many memories, and none of them good.

She felt the sickening sensation of anger rising in her stomach, but quickly forced it back down. After having been out of the field for so long, she wasn't going to jeopardize her position by letting her emotions get the better of her again. Malfoy was a good field operative, a great one. That was the very obvious reason he was one of the two Senior Field Operatives, along with Kingsley. It only made sense.

She was going to have to interact with him. She was going to have to get over this.

Finally, Remus arrived. She shot him a smile as he sank into the empty chair, Moody following him in to sit on Hermione's other side. "Alright," Harry said. "We're all here. Luna, the shield?"

The blond nodded, screwed her face up in a momentary expression of close concentration. "Intact," she said dreamily a moment later. "You may proceed."

"Thank you. I call to order the 167th meeting of the Tactical Division of the Order of the Phoenix. Tonight, as you know, we will be planning a raid." He pointed his wand to the blank wall behind him; lines began to slither across it, forming a map of a familiar location. "The Ministry building," Harry said. "The aim of this raid is to retrieve a series of ancient objects recently recovered by the Department of Mysteries." A tap, and the map closed in on the lower levels of the Department of Mystery.

"Our possible entry points are here-" a tap on a back staircase-- "here--" a tap on the main staircase-- "and here--" a tap on the elevator. "Now. We have sixteen members, as you know." Another tap, and the map was overshadowed with a picture and name for each of the members present. "Alastor, I want you running comm and transport." 'BASE/COMM' showed up, again in red, over Moody's picture.

"Kingsley," Harry continued, "You're going to need to sit this one out. I think the Ministry is starting to get suspicious; you need to be in the group that responds to the alarm." The black Auror nodded curtly. "Fred, George, I'm going to need you two to keep working on that project, so you're out two." The brothers nodded mysteriously. Hermione drew her brows together. What project? "And Fleur, Madame Pomphrey has requested that you go to Hogwarts to help her with some healings." Black lines crossed off each of the aforementioned people from the photos on the screen.

"Questions? Right. Now, on to our team. I'm going into the field on this one." Their was a brief commotion, which Harry staved off with a raised hand. "I'm not going to argue about it. This one is important, guys. And I need to be there." Hermione noted wryly that she'd never realized a silence could be grudging before. "That said, Remus, how many teams do you think we should take in?"

The map returned to the forefront of the screen, and Remus stood, pacing in front of it. "Honestly, Harry, I think we should utilize all of our possible entrances. Three groups; the group on the elevator will enter through the main building entrance, ride down, and come out in the lobby of the Department of Mysteries. It should be abandoned this time of night, but that group is going to need to be able to get through Ministry sensors without setting them off. I would suggest Malfoy to head up that team. He doesn't need to disguise himself to get into the Ministry. And Tonks should be flanking; Metamorphagi won't set off the alarms either." He looked at Harry questioningly, who nodded.

"Sounds good. Draco, you're leading Field Team One."

"Alright," Malfoy said briskly. His demeanor had changed in his years in the Order. Gone was the superior drawl of their childhood; when he spoke now, it was in clipped tones, straight and to the point.

"I would suggest, Remus," Harry said, standing to join the werewolf, "That you lead the team coming down the back stairs. That entrance is through an alleyway; it will be easiest for you to overcome their species-recognition wards there."

"You want me to come, Harry?" Remus asked, somewhat surprised.

"Yes. I want you leading Field Team Two. We need your experience on this one. I hate to put you in danger like this, but I don't see a way around it."

"Alright," Remus said bemusedly. "Do you have specific plans for my team?"

"I want you to bring in Hermione," Harry said seriously. He turned to address the full group again. "For those of you who haven't realized, we have Hermione Granger back with us on Field Ops. Her study of runes is going to be invaluable in this mission. Now, I don't think Voldemort realizes we have her back from Research yet, so I want to keep her as secret as possible. Neville, I want you to go with Remus and Hermione to help them disable the wards and get in undetected." He looked over at Remus. "I'll be leading Team Three then. Any thoughts?"

"Well," Remus said thoughtfully, "The main staircase can be accessed from a number of points. But if you come in on the roof, you can bypass the security checks. Who are you bringing?"

"I only need one flanking, I think," Harry said slowly. He looked out at the room. "Any volunteers? This is going to be a dangerous one, you guys."

Charlie raised his hand. "I'm always game for danger, mate. Count me in."

Bill nodded. "And me. Two redheads are better than one, you know."

Harry let out a little snort. "Alright, if you're sure? Okay. I've got Bill and Charlie, then. Anyone not have a job?" Emmaline, Ginny, and the dark-haired man raised their hands. "Right then. Ginny, I want you backing up comm and working any healings needed, Jason, I want you running division with Hogwarts, and Emmaline, will you escort Fleur to meet with Madame Pomfrey?"

The screen had turned back to the photographs, which had been updated with each person's job title. Hermione felt a mix of disappointment and pride to see herself listed as "Runes Specialist." It hadn't always been that way, working with the Order. It had been nice to see "Auror-in-Training" next to her name in the good old days. She'd finished the accelerated training programme with Harry and the others two years out of Hogwarts, but she'd never had the chance to use her license; the Ministry had been taken before she'd been on any official missions.

She was drawn back to reality as Harry and Remus began to discuss the particulars of the mission, and she forced all other thoughts to the back of her mind as she committed the plan to memory.

--

"Hermione," Harry called after the brunette as the meeting was adjourned. "Hold up, will you?"

She stopped, tensed up, back still to him. The others continued to file out, heading towards the front door or the fireplace.

When everyone was gone, she stepped forward and closed the door before turning back to face Harry, arms crossed. "What's up, Harry?"

He smiled, leaning back against the table. "Relax, Hermione, I'm not going to bite your head off."

It was a stupid, pointless joke, but she chuckled slightly, some of the tension leaving her form. She was looking more healthy, he thought. Still thin, but fit-thin, not starving-yourself-thin. And there was some color back in her face, and some light back in her eyes.

"You're looking good," he said, without really meaning to.

Awkward pause. It could have gone either way, but she smiled again. "Thank you. You too." She drew her brows together. "What was it you wanted to talk to me about?"

Harry sighed, ran a hand through his hair. "Just wanted to check in with you, I guess. I haven't seen you in what, four months?"

"Something like that," she replied guardedly. "Seriously Harry, what is it? You going to ask me if I'm okay to work in the field? Dumbledore's word isn't good enough for you?"

"No, that's not it at all," he hastened to say. "I wanted to ask you if you'd be okay working with Draco."

An thick silence descended over the room.

"I know you never had a real problem with it before, but I just need to make sure that these teams will have each others' backs."

"I'm fine with Malfoy," Hermione finally said. "I'm not going to pretend I like him, or that I like being around him, but we went through the same training, Harry. I can and will turn off any dislike I feel towards him when we're in the field. I'm not going to jeopardize the mission."

"I'm less worried about the mission and more worried about you," Harry said quietly. "How are you doing?"

She sank into a chair and put her hand on her forehead, leaning her elbow against the table. "I'm okay, Harry." He sat in the chair next to her, watching her intently. "I'm learning to cope. I still see him everywhere, and I cried when I finally gave his old clothes back to Molly, but I'm alright. It gets a little easier as time goes by."

"I miss him too," Harry said quietly, taking her other hand. "I know it's not the same thing, but..."

"I know, Harry. I know."

--

Sitting in the alleyway behind the Ministry of Magic, Remus contemplated how quickly things could change. Hermione was crouched next to him, wand at the ready, looking up and down the alley as Neville worked on dismantling the wards.

The last time he had seen Hermione Granger, she'd looked awful. Bags under her sunken eyes, bones clearly visible through her skin--physically, she'd been a mess. That was what had gotten her the six month hiatus and transfer to Research, in the end; too many stupid choices, slowed reaction times from lack of nourishment and sleep. But as she left Number Twelve, a small box of her knicknacks under her arm, it wasn't her physical state he was worried about; it was her mind.

He knew what it was like to lose people. The empty, dead look in her eyes was all too familiar to him. She'd lost a piece of herself when Ron died, a piece that she'd never truly recover. But as he took her in now, he realized that she'd been learning the same lesson he'd had to learn when Lily and James died; you can't regain lost pieces of your soul, but you can become more confident and comfortable with the pieces you do have left, until that hole only aches when you're reminded of its existence.

She looked much healthier, now. A bit more meat on her bones, a bit more confident in herself. And her eyes had regained most of that sparkle, that life that had made her so original and unique and Hermione. It was good to see her again, to see her being herself.

"It's ready," Neville said, a faint sheen of sweat covering his face for his efforts. "Wards are down, but no alarms. We can go in."

And so Ministry Raid Number 67 began.

--

Overall, Draco reflected, the raid had been incredibly successful.

The three teams had met in the lobby of the Department of Mysteries and made their way through twisting corridors until they found the storage facility they were looking for. There had been a moment of worry when a late-night guard showed up as Neville worked his way through the wards, but a quick Stunner from Harry and an Obliviate from Remus had set him straight. They'd retrieved the artifacts and left dummies in their places; hopefully, no one would notice for a few days.

The Department of Mysteries was always the easiest place to break in to the Ministry, even after security was upped when Lucius had been "elected" Minister of Magic. The Department of Mysteries was its own entity, and the general attitude in the Ministry was "live and let live;" if they ignored the odd experiments going on in their basement, the odd wizards wouldn't work against them.

It had been... interesting, seeing Hermione again. She was off to Hogwarts now, to catalogue the artifacts with Dumbledore. She'd been looking good. Healthy, again, for the first time since...

He wasn't going to let himself go down that path.

She'd mostly ignored him. He'd like to pretend it hadn't hurt him.

Ah, well. It wasn't as if she didn't have the right. With a sigh, he rolled over in bed, stared up at the ceiling. Kreacher was screaming again, but Draco was too tired to deal with it. Twelve Grimmauld Place wasn't the most wonderful place to call home, but it was certainly better than living in Malfoy Manor after everything that had happened.

His own demons chasing circles in his head, Draco fell into a fitful sleep.

--

After the raid, Hermione returned to Hogwarts; soon, she might move back to Grimmauld Place, if she continued to be involved in raids, but for now all of her things were here, and it was easier to just go back and forth.

It had been strange being back in the field, and so different without Ron by her side. The two of them had had a rhythm, a unity when working, and she'd kept turning around and expecting to see the lanky redehead having her back. But there was no point dwelling on these thoughts; the past should stay in the past, and if she allowed herself to continue down this road she'd never fall aslee. She needed the rest, so she laid down on her bed, hopeful. But the chance for sleep never arrived; just as she started to nod off, an owl swooped through her window.

Ms. Granger,

Please meet me in my office when you get the chance. There are some runes on the artifacts from last night's raid I am not able to identify; also, help in catalouging would be much appreciated.

Albus Dumbledore

She sighed. No sleep for her tonight. Although she missed being her old self, the thought of identifying unknown runes began to stir the smallest semblance of passion, passion that had been denied to her since Ron left.

--

After being at Hogwarts most of the night and into morning, catalouging the identifiable objects--including a sword, two ancient wands, fourteen different kinds of hats, and one bag--Hermione was ready to examine the runes. Much to her dismay, Dumbledore would not let her near them until she had put some food into her body. Dobby brought her a well assorted tray of sandwhiches, of which she took two.

Onto the table in front of her, Dumbledore placed a box covered in runes and pulled out the sword, a wizards hat, a staff, and a full set of armor. "While each of these objects are eaisly identifiable, many of the runes they display are unknown to both myself and Professor Babbling. How long do you think it might take you to translate them?"

Hermionie mulled it over. "If they're runes I've seen before, I should be done in the next couple days. If there are a majority that I haven't seen before, it could take weeks, or even months if they're very complecated. But I'll get to work right away."

Dumbledore nodded and Hermione gathered the items into the box and took them to her room in the West Tower. When she got there, she lost herself in her work. She easily identified many runes for protection and containment on the box that were Nordic in origin. It was no wonder that Dumbledore and Bathsheba had missed them; few people studied the Nordic runes anymore. Most common runes were Celtic or Egyptian in base, as was the Common Runic Alphabet, but Hermione had been very thorough in her runic studies over the last six months. It had been the best way to keep her mind off things.

After several hours working on the box, she was ready to admit defeat and set it aside for another day. Many of the runes were complex and layered, mixing different languages in a way she'd never seen before. Instead, she moved on to the rest of the objects Dumbledore had left her.

Hours later, she'd managed to decipher the basic runes on each of the other items. For the most part, the runes were interlocking with each other to make single spells. The armor was riddled with protection and fire mixes, while the blade of the sword had runes for sharpness, precision, and cleanliness carved neatly into the metal, which was in itself interesting; Hermione had never seen it before. The hat seemed only to feature runes for concealment and protection.

It was the staff that interested Hermione the most. At the very top was a rune she could not for the life of her seem to identify, but which seemed to be a trigger of some sort to set off the array of fire, water, air, shield, healing, and stunning spells that covered the entire smooth surface. Who would need this many spells so quickly at hand, and how did they control what spell they were attempting to cast? Those were the sorts of questions best left to Dumbledore. She looked out the window; sunset already. She'd spent a full day working. Quickly, she scribbled a note to Dumbledore and sent it off with Hoor, the barn owl she'd recently required, before finally curling up on her bed and falling into a deep and mostly dreamless sleep.

--

AN: And we finally begin! :) Updates may be on a rather random schedule, since we need to coordinate two authors, but we do have every intention of seeing this through.

-Aerin and Megan