"Welcome, welcome!" The Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, eagerly pumped Harry Potter's hand, and then Hermione Granger's as he welcomed them into the magnificently decorated ballroom.
"It is such a pleasure to have you here tonight. Especially you Ms. Granger, for you are the guest of honour!"
"Thank you Minister, but of course without the Ministry endowments and private donations this night might never have come. I can't thank you enough for your unwavering support in building the new Paediatric Hospital," Hermione smiled warmly at the Minister before Harry took her gently by the elbow and ushered her into the room.
For the last five years since Harry defeated Voldemort, Hermione had completed her training as a Medi-Witch and had dedicated her life to opening a wing of St. Mungo's that focused solely on the needs of children. The hospital was eager to implement Hermione's plans, but funding was of a main concern. The hospital was already struggling financially, and part of Hermione's plan included providing healthcare free of charge to low income and orphaned children who might not otherwise have access to healers. The Wizarding hospital relied on several outside benefactors just to stay afloat as it was, and Hermione did not want to see healthcare to become expensive, especially for those who could not pay. Now that the money had been raised to open the wing, grants would have to be written every year to supplement the hospital's income, and a benefit would be held each year as well. That evening Harry and Hermione were attending the first such benefit, and it would be followed by the ribbon cutting at the new wing.
Couples were already swaying gracefully over a highly polished dance floor. Hermione breathed in awe at the lovely dress of all the women. She had never seen so many elegant people in one place before. Hermione surreptitiously glanced down at her own frock, a lovely jade sheath made of flowing chiffon that draped over one shoulder, clung to her curves, and hung gracefully to her ankles. Her long hair was pulled into an elegant twist and held in place with a silver hair comb that was studded with diamonds and emeralds. It was the most expensive and beautiful thing she owned, and Harry had given it to her especially for the event.
"Hermione, you look stunning," Harry breathed into her ear as he watched her glance self-consciously at her attire, "you always do. Look, there's Ron and Pansy."
Harry pointed to the couple who were dancing closely at the edge of the dance floor.
"I can't believe they're engaged," Hermione breathed, "but they really are perfect for each other. I still can't believe I ever thought Ron was right for me."
Harry could not agree with her more, but he wisely kept his mouth closed. Instead he wrapped a protective arm around her waist and led her to their table at the head of the room. Since the war had ended, Harry and Hermione had grown increasingly close seeking solace from each other, but never a relationship. They both used the excuse of work as a reason for not pursuing relationships with others, but that was only true for Hermione. Harry was busy with work being very near the top in his department, but he had wounds that would not heal. Ginny had lost her patience with him years ago and had moved on, and only Hermione knew how much that had actually hurt Harry. He was afraid and Hermione understood, but she wished he would give love a chance. Hermione knew that Harry would gladly engage her in a relationship but she wouldn't allow it, and he quietly acquiesced. As it stood, they were each other's stand in dates for any event that might require one.
Pansy noticed Harry and Hermione watching them and gave a small wave. Ron reluctantly broke apart from her and walked toward Harry and Hermione's table.
"This is quite some event, isn't it?" Ron declared gesturing toward the dance floor and then the stage.
In the front, next to the podium, was an enormous plaque with the list of public and private benefactors for the hospital engraved upon it. Among them were the estates of Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore, who Draco Malfoy and Minerva McGonagall managed respectively. Hermione imagined that both men would have heartily approved of donating to such a cause.
"Hermione, are you nervous?" Pansy asked, "I absolutely love your gown. I told you green would suit you."
Hermione smiled and allowed Pansy to lead the rest of the way to their table so that Ron and Harry could catch up. Hermione wasn't sure if she would ever be really close to Pansy, but she did consider her a friend and was pleasantly surprised at her ability to change and let bygones be bygones. Hermione adored how she made Ron feel, but she was still too gossipy and girlie for Hermione's tastes.
"I am glad you talked me into it," Hermione replied kindly, patting her dress down.
"Are you nervous to give your speech?" Pansy asked again as she flagged a waiter with a tray of champagne over.
Hermione quickly took a long drink of the sparkling liquid before nodding, "I am nervous. There are so many leading medical researchers here. I don't want to embarrass myself. And so many rich people too, that I feel out of my element."
"Well, you'd have to be rich at two hundred galleons a plate. Although, this is quite lovely. I used to abhor events like these when I was younger but now I quite enjoy them. Oh, Draco's just arrived, I must go say hello." Pansy excused herself and made her way toward the entrance.
Hermione turned in her seat to see Draco hand off his cloak to the wizard in charge of the cloak room. He then very politely took off his date's cloak and passed it on as well. Hermione studied the woman with feigned indifference. She was a typical Draco Malfoy date, tall, blonde, probably American or French, and exquisitely beautiful from her perfectly coiffed hair to her manicured toes. Draco Malfoy was an enigmatic man in all ways but his taste in women. Hermione had seen him with many women that all looked similar, but none of his relationships seemed to last. Apparently blonde and beautiful was his comfort zone, but Hermione often wondered what held him back from finding a keeper. He publicly renounced his old ways, and had personally seen to it that his own father received a life sentence in Azkaban, and he ran a very successful antiques and rare artefacts business. He was often featured in the Wizarding media for finding something rare, or for selling something in auction for a ridiculous sum. He'd also donated a sizeable chunk of galleons from his personal account to the new wing, along with the donation he'd sent from Severus Snape's estate.
"I see Pansy saw Draco arrive," Ron commented as he sat down heavily in the chair next to Hermione.
Hermione just nodded again finding it very difficult to speak. Her impending speech had her stomach twisting in knots.
"Who's he with tonight?" Harry asked taking a sip of Hermione's drink.
"I believe Pansy said her name is Eliza Hamilton," Ron replied.
Ahh, so not French,Hermione thought.
Ron continued, "She's doing a semester abroad at Merlin's Magical University, but I think he said she goes to Salem normally."
American then,Hermione confirmed her earlier suspicion. She was familiar with the school, having done a semester abroad on the Massachusetts campus herself.
"So, the usual then, eh Ron?" Harry joked about Draco's date.
Ron laughed but Hermione interjected.
"She's probably brain dead," Hermione quipped sarcastically not really knowing where the snide remark came from. She never cared one jot before what Draco's dates were like and didn't see any particular reason to start caring then.
"Nah, supposedly this one is better. She's a magical history major and Draco's been dating her for almost a month," Ron replied finishing of Pansy's champagne and flagging down another.
"Eh, who cares?" Harry replied eager to change the subject. Hermione was still watching Draco's date with a hint of an angry gleam in her eye and he did not like the implications one bit. Hermione, for one, did not even realise she was doing it. "Are you alright Hermione?"
Hermione snapped her attention back to Harry. "Of course, I'm just a little queasy. If you'll excuse me I am going to visit the ladies before I have to give my speech."
"Certainly," Harry replied standing up as Hermione left. Ron politely stood up as well and Hermione inwardly smirked. Pansy had been teaching Ron class, a feat Hermione once believed to be impossible.
Hermione smiled politely and greeted many important people on her way to the loo; her nerves increasing more and more with each dignitary she met. The last five years of her life had been dedicated to the sole purpose of providing healthcare for children, and she was star struck by all the faces of people whose research and accomplishments had inspired her own. Hermione passed Pansy, who was still chatting with Draco and his date near the door.
"Leaving so soon, Granger?" Draco asked a little sarcastically as they neared.
"Be nice," Pansy admonished playfully.
Hermione gave Draco and his date the same nervous smile she'd given everyone else she'd greeted that night. "Just going to freshen up before my speech, Malfoy."
Hermione waited for him to make some sort of reference to there being nothing she could possibly do to 'freshen up' since she was so permanently dirty, but of course no comment came. Draco had not made fun of her blood status in more than five years, but for some reason she always expected it. Draco discreetly observed Hermione from head to toe and made a mental note of appreciation, but he made no move to introduce his girlfriend. It was as if he had forgotten she was there even though his arm was wrapped firmly around her waist. Eliza cleared her throat gently, finally capturing Draco's attention.
"Please forgive me, Hermione Granger, this is Eliza Hamilton."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Hermione replied shaking the woman's hand. She was very tall and tan despite it being February. Hermione was reminded for the second time that night that she was not a 'girlie girl' and fought back a stab of jealousy. The next morning Eliza would probably wake up as sleek and gorgeous as usual, while Hermione would wake up with a mad tangle of plain brown hair matted to her head, raccoon eyes, and dragon breath. Eliza would most likely wake up next to Draco, while she would most likely wake up alone. Hermione briefly entertained the thought of propositioning Harry, but quickly quelled the idea.
"Likewise. I have heard many wonderful things about you," Eliza replied kindly.
Hermione immediately warmed up to the woman despite her stunning beauty. Around them, however, people were being shepherded slowly to their seats signaling to Hermione that if she was going to make it to the bathroom; it would have to be right away.
"That's very kind, perhaps we can talk later?" Hermione said edging way. Eliza nodded eagerly and waved as Hermione made her way out of the ballroom, finally.
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief that the ladies room was empty. She quickly used the loo, and used her wand to retouch her hair and makeup. For a full minute Hermione stared at her reflection in the mirror, but the longer she looked, the more nervous she became. Taking a deep breath, Hermione left the bathroom and walked to the front door of the building. Perhaps a bit of cool, fresh air would calm her nerves enough to get through the speech. When Hermione stepped outside she was pleasantly surprised to see a fresh layer of clean new snow covering the ground. Large white flakes were falling heavily from the sky and the brightness of it made any outdoor lighting unnecessary. Hermione pulled out her wand to cast a repelling charm on her body so the snow would not make her wet when a strong arm wrapped around her, frightening her, causing her to drop her wand, and before she could even utter a scream, her captor apparated them away.
Hermione's wand fell silently to the ground and was quickly covered with a smooth layer of freshly fallen snow.
Meanwhile, in the ballroom, all the guests of the benefit were seated at their tables listening to the director, Susan Mainwaring of St. Mungo's, give the welcoming speech. Harry looked around him worriedly wondering what was taking Hermione so long. He hoped desperately that she hadn't buckled under the pressure and done a runner. It would be completely unlike Hermione to do something like that, but stress could do strange things to people.
"…and of course none of this would even be taking place tonight if weren't for the dedication and determined hard work of Hermione Granger. The Arianna Dumbledore Paediatric Ward is the brainchild of Ms. Granger and due to her unwavering perseverance she saw it to fruition. Whilst pursuing a Master's level certification in Magical Medicine Hermione wrote the grants and propositioned the right people to see the ward built, and we are now honoured to have her as the Head Healer in charge of the new ward. Not only is she of course the first Head Healer of the ward, but she is also the youngest in St. Mungo's history."
The crowd applauded warmly as the director paused in her speech. Ron nudged Harry and gave him a 'Do you see her?' expression and Harry shook his head no, feeling even more apprehensive. By that point even Pansy was scanning the crowd, a look of concern gracing her features.
"Without further ado," Susan Mainwaring continued, "please give a warm welcome to our guest of honour, Ms. Hermione Granger!"
A magical spotlight immediately lit down upon the seat that was supposed to be Hermione's. Harry was clapping uncertainly along with the crowd, but after a moment the applause died out and a few people started whispering.
Susan scanned the room quickly before announcing Hermione again. After a moment, she announced her a third time. By that point the whole room was speculating on what happened to Hermione. Harry quickly got up and walked up to the stage gesturing for the director to lean down and talk to him.
"Where is Hermione?" Susan demanded angrily.
"I don't know! She left to freshen up and never came back. This is very unlike her. Stall, have the Minister give his speech, I am going to go look for her," Harry said his ire rising and his Auror mode turning on.
Harry turned abruptly from the stage and motioned for Ron to follow him, passing Head Auror Dawlish's table they signaled for him to follow as well. Draco watched with mild amusement as the three quickly left the ballroom. Granger's finally cracked,he thought to himself. But it would not be truthful if he said he wasn't just a little concerned. Even Draco knew Hermione would never miss the opportunity to experience this moment, no matter how nervous she was. The crowd affably quieted as Kingsley Shacklebolt stood up to give his speech instead.
Once outside the ballroom, Harry immediately gave orders to Ron and his boss. Normally Dawlish would not have approved, but this was unofficial business, Harry was a rising star, and he knew that Harry was in love with Hermione and had seen her last.
Let's split up. Ron, you check every ladies room in this hotel. Dawlish, you go to the desk and see if she checked into any room, I am going to go to her house and see if she is there. I will be right back."
Harry didn't wait for agreement he just rushed off to the lobby's Apparition point and disappeared. He Apparated directly into Hermione's flat, but it was quiet and dark. The only sound was the mewling of Crookshanks who was clearly displeased with the loud crack of Harry's arrival. Seeing it was just Harry and not his beloved human, Crookshanks rolled back into a ball and fell asleep again. Harry ran through the house calling for Hermione, knowing full well she wasn't there. Spinning in a circle as if that would inspire him, Harry Apparated to his own house just in case she went there instead, but he was met with the same results.
When Harry arrived back at the benefit, Ron and Dawlish were waiting by the Apparition point.
"No luck, mate," Ron said before Harry could even ask, "we even looked outside, but there is so much snow we can't even see footprints."
Harry growled in frustration, his heart beginning to burst with worry. It'd been ages since he'd felt such gut wrenching trepidation and he was not welcoming it.
"Well, let's go outside again," Harry said racing for the exit doors. They burst out of them nearly knocking over Draco, who was leaning against the building smoking a cigarette and watching the snow fall.
"Draco did you—"
"No, Potter, I didn't see her. Any clue where she might have gone?" Draco asked with an air of indifference.
"No," Harry said curtly as he and Dawlish started casting spells looking for her magical signature, but there were too many witches and wizards about to make it useful. Ron was melting the snow around them looking for clues.
"Harry," Ron said as he bent down to pick up something he'd revealed, "I found her wand."
Harry and Dawlish ran over to Ron and inspected the wand. Priori Incantatem revealed the last spells to be the Impervious charm and a freshening charm.
"So she did go to the bathroom," Harry confirmed, "she must have stepped outside for some air and then whatever happened next, happened here."
Harry walked in a slow circle around the spot where Ron found Hermione's fallen wand. Dawlish put a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"She would not have just gone anywhere without her wand. Something bad has happened to her," Harry said desperately, his ability to think clearly being clouded by the whirlwind of possibilities swirling through Harry's head, none of them positive.
"Let's go to Headquarters so that we can begin an official investigation. Mr. Malfoy, will you please let the Minister and Director know that Ms. Granger's gone missing? Tell them to keep her disappearance quiet, have them tell the crowd that she has ironically fallen ill or something, we don't want chaos in there," Dawlish instructed.
Draco nodded and disappeared into the building as the Aurors left for the Ministry.
When Hermione and her captor arrived at their destination she was thrown unceremoniously across the room. Hermione landed with a hard thump on a cold stone floor. The smell of decay and mould burned her nose and made her stomach churn.
"Accio wand," her captor growled, his voice echoing around what felt like a vast room.
"I don't have it. I dropped it," Hermione whimpered.
Hermione screamed as pained ripped through every nerve ending in her body. From her hair follicles all the way to the skin beneath her toenails she was aware of the fire in each and every one. Nobody forgets when they are being subjected to the Cruciatus Curse. Hermione's body twisted and contorted uncontrollably as the curse racked through her.
"I didn't tell you to speak, girl."
Hermione went limp as the curse was lifted; the residual ache from the spell causing her muscles to twitch involuntarily as she lay on the floor. Hermione snapped her mouth shut for fear of inadvertently making any sort of noise her captor might misconstrue as speech. Whoever it was cast a Lumos charm, and Hermione narrowed her eyes at the light.
Her captor walked closer to her and looked down on her, the light from his wand illuminating his face eerily. Hermione stifled a gasp as she recognised the face of her captor.
"From now on, you're going to be a good Mudblood and do what your told, and then maybe, just maybe, when I get what I want, I'll let you live."
A/N: This story obviously does not start out as a Dramione but it will get there. I hope you all enjoy, and please review, it is very helpful.