Disclaimer: Any/all recognizable characters, spells, storyline belong to JK Rowling. No profit is being made.
Note: This is my newest story. I encourage constructive criticism and compliments, I learn from it all. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 1: Blind Date
I had a bad feeling about tonight.
It's true I could be worrying over nothing. Ron always joked that I was going to give myself heart failure if I kept worrying the way I do. Someone has to worry. Someone has to think realistically. And realistically, tonight could go badly.
For one thing, I was already late.
A special edition of the Evening Prophet had distracted me. Three members of Rightblood, a hate group dedicated to purifying the Wizard race by any means necessary, had been captured. They only still existed because they masqueraded as a political group rallying for fair treatment of purebloods. According to an ancient decree of the Ministry they had every right to do so. No one had been able to find any crime done in the name of Rightblood, until now.
Three Muggle-born women had gone missing. The women all had one thing in common; they were married to prominent pureblood wizards. Two of them had been found, dead and mutilated. The third woman is still missing. I remembered Harry telling me they had a promising lead. I guess it had been really promising. The three suspects had insisted that they acted alone. Of course their memories had been modified and there was no evidence to prove otherwise. It wasn't surprising that I had been distracted.
Now, I stared into my bathroom mirror, fussing with a tube of mascara. It wasn't that I didn't know how to apply mascara. It was quite simple; smear black paste onto one's eyelashes with a wiry, pointed brush. That part was easy. The problem was that I had to wear it at all, not to mention the several layers Ginny suggested. She said it was to make my beautiful brown eyes stand out. My eyes stand out just fine on their own, thank you very much. Any man that was really worth my time wouldn't care how well applied my make-up was anyway.
Instead, he would stimulate my mind with his conversation. He would be effortlessly stylish with just a hint of ruggedness. He would be handsome and behave as a perfect gentleman. Such a simple requirements, and yet, either the man that fit that description was already taken or just plain did not exist. Still, here I was allowing myself the torture of a blind date, clinging fiercely to the hope that this might be the one.
This wasn't how I imagined my love life would turn out. I don't anyone thinks they'll be alone at twenty-three. My mum always said things happened for a reason. Maybe. Or maybe some things really suck.
I sighed heavily at the fantasy of my ideal man before pulling myself back to present. I grimaced as I stared at my face in the mirror: light lipstick, heavy eyeliner, uncharacteristically sleek and shiny hair. I barely recognized the face staring back at me, but it would have to do. I adjusted the strapless black cocktail dress, then slid my wand into the tight thigh holster. It too was one of Ginny's suggestions. Great, make a wrong move, and red sparks could fly right into my crotch.
The Magick Spot was right in the heart of busy Diagon Alley. Over the years, many of the shops that first helped introduce me to the world of magic no longer existed. Knockturn Alley's dark magic shops had nearly all been forced out of business and the practical shops, like bookstores and apothecaries, that once lined Diagon Alley had moved. Diagon Alley had been rebuilt into a much swankier district with boutiques and restaurants. The Magick Spot pulled much of the new business. It was posh and easily the most expensive restaurant in the area. Anyone who mattered wanted to be seen dining there, especially this weekend … it was the Quidditch World Cup semi-finals. I was the exception. I wanted no such thing.
The magical world was much smaller than the Muggle world in which I had been born. With Muggles, I was anonymous … invisible even. I could be no one at all. Here, along with the Weasleys, and Harry, I was a celebrity. Everyone knew my name, my favorite food and some even knew my wand core. I have a hard time believing it myself; I am famous for trying to stay alive. I do not consider myself a war hero. But I can't complain about the attention. If I were a celebrity, Harry was quite legendary. At least I wasn't on a Chocolate Frog card. He complains about it, but I think he secretly thinks it's quite the honor.
I Apparated to a vacant lot between two shops. As I approached the restaurant, I could tell it was already crowded. On eve of the Quidditch semi-finals, the Spot was packed with famous athletes and their high-end fans. As a matter of fact, my blind date was a Quidditch champion or so I'd been told. Harry had refused to tell me who exactly he had set me up with, insisting that it would be a pleasant surprise. I was probably going to regret it, but I trusted him. Harry is not one to get involved in my love life, so I suspect Ginny put him up to this.
Reporters were lined up outside, eagerly snapping shots of the famous guests as they arrived. Suddenly, I was very aware of my appearance, and wished I had something to at least cover my shoulders. My legs felt wobbly as I stepped toward the restaurant in my black pumps. Ginny had said they were supposed to elongate my legs. My legs are long enough, thank you. I should have worn something I felt more comfortable in. Too late now, I was already here for my date.
My blind date.
I nearly turned back when I realized exactly what I was getting myself into, again. I'd always had that fear that a blind date would take one look at me and then disappear, claiming to have to leave because of some ridiculous story involving a herd of hippogriffs, or something. It's never happened before, but I can never be completely at ease. What if he's short? Worse, what if he's rude? However, I must have wasted too much time thinking because before I knew it, I was past the gauntlet of reporters and being stopped by a snobby, young maitre'd.
He gave me a once-over, clearly not recognizing me. "Good evening, Miss. I'm afraid we are by reservation only this weekend…" He all but shooed me away with his hand.
"Oh, I have a reservation. Granger, party of two." Harry had slyly put the reservations in my name to keep the identity of my date a mystery. Did I mention that I don't like surprises?
The young man lazily flipped through his stack of parchment, and then flushed red as recognition dawned on him. "Oh, Ms. Hermione Granger! Ah yes, I apologize, Ms. Granger. Right this way, Ms. Granger."
I sighed, and followed him as he continued to chatter. I barely heard anything he said. I tried to concentrate on walking in the death traps strapped to my feet. There was barely room to move, and despite my best efforts, I found myself bumping several people as I made my way on unsteady feet.
The host stopped at a private table set for two.
"Your server for this evening will be Randolph. Please enjoy your meal, Ms. Granger."
"Thank you very much," I said as politely as possible. If he said my name one more time I was going to cast a Silencing Charm on him.
The young man flashed one last smile, and then vanished into the crowd.
I sipped from my water glass and looked around. Apparently, I wasn't too late; I had beaten my date after all. That, or he had seen me and taken off. Either way, I was glad that he didn't have to witness me hobbling to the table. Everywhere I looked, beautiful women were flashing their best smiles and batting their eyelashes, all with the hope of snagging the attention of an athlete or some rich aristocrat. I was so engrossed in the scene before me that I hardly noticed a tall, broad-shouldered man approaching my table. He was easily one of the most attractive men I had ever seen. He seemed familiar and then I remembered.
"Oliver Wood?" I made a mental note to thank Harry Potter. Perhaps buy him a gift, something very expensive. Yes, that seemed appropriate.
I stood and offered him my hand. He smiled and reached in for a hug, carefully keeping our bodies an acceptable distance apart. "Hermione Granger. Good to see you."
"Just Hermione is fine."
"All right then, Just Hermione." He smiled again and sat down across from me.
Actually, now that I really saw him, he looked nearly the same as he had at Hogwarts, except even more masculine. Closely cut brown hair, hazel eyes and that dimple …. Only his physique had changed. Even beneath his robes, I could see the outline of solid muscle. He must have spent hours exercising; all the Quidditch in the world would never produce a body so fit. I blushed as I momentarily pictured him engaged in various shirtless fitness activities.
Bringing myself back to the present moment, I continued to sip from my water glass while trying to think of something to say. An awkward silence had descended like a rain cloud upon us. Then something occurred to me.
"Forgive me, but you don't seem surprised to see me. Were you expecting me?"
Even though Oliver and I were not friends during school, I knew of him, if not just because he was one of England's most popular Quidditch players. That's why I had recognized him, but he had recognized me had been a surprise; certainly he hadn't paid that much attention to me at Hogwarts. After all, I was only a child at the time.
"Oh yeah, I knew I would be meeting you. I'm only in London for the remainder of the Quidditch World Cup games, then going back to Ireland. I told Harry I needed a date for this weekend, so he set me up with you. I requested it be a blind date though, didn't want reporters or anything to 'happen' to catch us together." He winked at me.
I blinked several times trying to gather my thoughts. I felt myself getting angry, especially if he meant what I thought he did. "You—think I would set up cameras? Is that what you're saying? Just to be seen with you?"
Perhaps he didn't realize who exactly he was speaking with, for Oliver looked like he'd thought just that. My heart rate picked up a little, and I took a few calming breaths. I didn't want to hex England's best Keeper … especially not this weekend. And then I realized that obviously he didn't know me. Anyone who did would know I shy away from publicity. I was not conceited, but I was a celebrity in my own right. I certainly didn't need to be seen with Oliver Wood to attract unwanted attention. I opened my mouth to tell him just that when a pretty woman with shiny, jet-black hair approached our table.
She angled her body toward Wood, completely ignoring me and the obvious date we were having.
"Oh my, you're Oliver Wood!" Her robes were opened low enough to show the deep 'V' between her breasts. I cringed at the cooing that was apparently the woman's "seductive" voice. "Mr. Wood, could you please take a picture with me?" she asked through a curtain of Glamour-charmed eyelashes.
He apparently didn't think it was rude to indulge the young woman, for he thrust the camera into my hands. For a few seconds I stared, astounded at his nerve. But unwilling to cause a scene and draw attention to myself, I obliged. That didn't stop me from cursing him long and loud in my head.
Fifteen minutes and three scarlet women (as Ron would call them) later, I had decided I couldn't take it anymore. He had barely talked to me and when he did, it was to talk about Quidditch. This had turned out exactly the way I thought it would. Between the next woman and conversation about Quidditch, I thanked Oliver for a wonderful evening and excused myself to the "ladies' lavatory." I felt no remorse. I had decided to ditch him when he'd promised another woman a "spin on his broom" if the Puddlemeres won the cup. Unbelievable. On my way to the exit, I realized the restaurant was even more crowded that it had been when I first arrived. And several old classmates had been added to the crowd. I didn't see any of my friends. I decided to keep my head down and walk as quickly as my shoes would allow, hoping to escape without being seen.
No such luck.
I winced, and turned towards the voice I knew to belong to Lavender Brown, but one didn't live with Lavender for six years and leave unable to identify the excited squeal. Under different circumstances, I would have been happy to chat with her. I hadn't seen the girl since the end of the war five years ago, but tonight I just wanted to escape.
"I thought that was you. Don't you look gorgeous this evening," she said as she eyed me from head to toe. I felt the heat flooding my face as I shifted my weight.
I managed a small smile; after all, I did live with her for six years. It was nice to see an old acquaintance. "Thank you, you look great yourself," I finally managed in a voice that I was sure sounded more confident than I felt.
As that dreaded cloud of silence descended upon us when I noticed the other people sitting at the very large table. To her left, I recognized Blaise Zabini, a beautiful, brown skinned wizard sitting with his arm draped around her shoulder. My eyes swept over the rest of the table and nearly all the party had been schoolmates at Hogwarts. There was Pansy Parkinson (who was rolling her eyes in my direction), Gregory Goyle, Daphne Greengrass and Draco Malfoy.
They were all impeccably dressed and looked like a cast of models from a high-fashion magazine. I felt even more out of place. Even though Hogwarts days had long passed for all of us, it did not escape my notice that a former Gryffindor dined with five former Slytherins. More importantly, some of them were sons and daughters of Voldemort supporters.
"Hermione?" Lavender said.
"Oh, sorry. You were saying?"
"Oh, I was asking who you're here with. Harry? Ron? I'd love to see them," she said looking in the direction from which I had come.
"No, no, I'm not with them," I replied.
"Oh," Lavender said, slightly crestfallen. "Well then, who did you come with, you look awfully nice after all."
Just like the mark of a bad liar, my eyes darted to the left, giving me time to think of a story. When I looked away, my eyes fleetingly met with Malfoy's. He wore a knowing smirk and glanced over at Oliver, who now had some new dark-haired woman draped over him. Malfoy looked at me again, still smirking before he raised an eyebrow and turned back to his own date. It lasted mere seconds and I shifted my focus back to Lavender before anyone noticed.
"He's … not here. Actually, I think this place is too crowded. We're going to meet some place else and I'm late. Good seeing you Lav. I really must be going."
I didn't need to look over my shoulder to feel six pairs of eyes glued to my back. Perfect end to a perfect evening. Maybe a good jinx is what Harry deserved after all.
I did everything I could not to break into a run. I reached deep inside my reservoir of confidence and grabbed a handful. Gripping it tightly, I held my head up and walked briskly from the building.
I didn't slow down until I was far enough down the street that the photographers had stopped following me. A single Hermione was less interesting than a drunk Quidditch player with a date. That was fine with me.
I finally made it to a vacant lot. I couldn't wait to be home and out of these awful shoes. I was ready to Disapparate, when something in the shadows caught my eyes. I almost didn't see it, but it was somehow darker, denser than the darkness of night. I stepped closer and thought it almost looked like a person. But there was a stillness about the mass that humans don't have, unless … I inched closer, squinted, and realized it was a person. A very dead person.
I spun around, and dry heaved. The smell was putrid, like the body had been in the lot for days. Only, it hadn't. Certainly I would have seen — this. I was suddenly grateful that I'd barely had a supper. After several minutes of retching, I finally forced my watery eyes to look at the body. Or what was left of it.
I could tell that it had once been a blonde woman. Beyond that, she was nearly unrecognizable. She was positioned as if someone had just thrown her down, discarded her like a pile of rags. My insides quivered threateningly when I realized that she'd been skinned from the waist up. No, not skinned, but more like her skin had just melted, but she wasn't charred as if she'd been burned. She was all exposed bone and flesh that had began the process of decay.
Crying, I ran all the way back to the restaurant to Floo for help.
Law Enforcement and the Portable Healing Unit had arrived in no time. Unfortunately for the woman, there was no rush. She wasn't going anywhere.
They worked quickly because they hadn't wanted the press to publish photos before they could thoroughly inspect the body and scene. Officers snapped pictures and healers carted off the body before the mob of reporters was aware that anything had happened. It helped that we were hidden in the shadows between two buildings. If it had gotten out that a body had been dumped just blocks from the restaurant, I'd imagine things to be much worse.
Lawrence Luchtenstein, Lucky for short, was Chief Investigator for Magical Homicide. He was short and square with very shifty eyes. If I didn't know him, I certainly wouldn't trust him. I'm pretty sure I still don't trust him even though I've known him for years.
He approached me, the third officer to do so in less that an hour. His black hair looked like he'd run his hands through it countless times since he'd arrived.
"Hermione," he said. His mouth was set in a grim line and he pulled out a parchment pad and a self-inking quill.
I blinked at him. "So, what?"
"So, tell me everything you know."
"I've already told two other officers, certainly they took good notes." I didn't mean to be rude. But, my feet hurt and it was late and I was ready to go home.
He rubbed his eyes with his middle finger and thumb. "I don't have time for this. Just talk."
"Fine, after leaving the restaurant, I came here to Disapparate. I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was—was her and you know the rest."
He didn't look up from what he as writing. "Why did you leave the restaurant so early?"
"I was ready to go home."
He looked at me and raised an eyebrow.
"I was on a date, he was a—it was unpleasant and I left early," I said.
"Did you happen to see anyone when you came out here?"
I thought about that. Had I seen anyone? I was too lost in my own thoughts to notice much. Besides the photographers, I wouldn't have noticed a soul. "No."
He nodded slowly. "Did you use this lot to Apparate here?"
"Did you see the body then?"
What kind of question was that? "Of course not, Lucky. If I'd seen her then I would have called the authorities sooner, don't you think?"
He gave me a look that said he didn't.
"So, someone brought the body out here during the time you were inside. Yet, she's been dead for some time. Why do you think someone wanted you to find this body, Hermione?"
"I don't know."
Lucky closed his parchment pad and put his quill away.
"Do you know who she is?" I asked, staring at the spot where she'd once been.
He didn't answer. His lips were a tight line across his face. He did know. Then it occurred to me.
"It's her isn't it? The third woman. She was the Muggle-born."
His silence was answer enough.
"I thought that case belonged to the Aurors? If a dark wizard and not just some regular loony is behind this, they should be here. Why haven't you called for them?"
He asked, "How do you know about that?"
I didn't answer because Harry and Ron could be in deep trouble if they'd been telling regular civilians about the case, even if I was the regular citizen. I was only supposed to have knowledge about a case if it concerned Muggles. So, until the Minister himself talked to me about it, everyone had to remain silent. But, really, he should know.
After a few seconds, I think he did. He gave a hard look, then said, "We — I have notified the Aurors. Harry and Ron were actually inside the restaurant. They went ahead to St. Mungos to have a look at the body."
We stood in silence for a very long time. My friends must have arrived after I left. Oliver and I would have joined them, at some point, but I just hadn't been able to make it that long. Odd to be thinking about a silly date at a time like this. It must be shock.
Had someone planted this body here for me to find it? Not likely, any number of wizards or witches could have used this lot for Apparition. There was no way to ensure than I would be the one to find it. I was suddenly tired. I could talk to Harry later.
"Can I go now?" I asked.
He nodded and turned his back as I Disapparated from the scene.