I looked around the room, my heart pounding in my chest. Everything looked like it was going well so I should, theoretically, be able to relax. That was not happening, though. There was still so much that could go wrong. The Minister and his wife could slip on the stairs as they came down to join the rest of the crowd, the musicians could miss their cues, the hot food could get cold and the cold food could get hot. Just thinking about everything made my breathing quicken.
"Relax, Hermione," murmured Henry, my boss, as he slipped beside me. "Everything is going swimmingly."
I smiled at him but didn't relax. "My job isn't to relax, Henry," I reminded him. "My job is to ensure that everything is perfect and everyone is enjoying themselves."
"Well, you've failed at the enjoying part of it. You look absolutely miserable standing over here."
I sighed and closed my eyes, going to a calm place inside of me to try to relax. I took a couple of deep breaths and then opened my eyes. I felt slightly less tense than I had before.
Henry was laughing at me now. "You're very capable at your job, Hermione, never forget that. But you also need to enjoy being young."
"I'm 27, Henry," I reminded him. "Some would hardly call that young."
"I consider anything under 35 young," he said with a laugh. "Besides, you're not married, you don't have children, you can still be young."
I forced a smile. "True."
We turned to watch the party in front of us. Everyone really did seem as if they were having a wonderful time. The snow outside the tall windows reminded me of Hogwarts in a way and added to the general festiveness of the gathering.
Suddenly, the music signaling the entrance of the new Minister and his wife started. Henry smiled at me and stepped forward. I followed at a distance, as was my position, and we watched.
I'd put a non-slip spell on the marble stairs earlier but I was still relieved when they made it all the way down without a problem. The Minister smiled at the crowd but beamed at his wife. I felt a little pang in my chest as he lovingly slipped his hand onto her waist and started to twirl her around the dance floor. I missed Ron.
Before I had a chance to really dwell on that and start feeling sorry for myself, Henry turned to me and bowed, holding out his hand.
"May I have this dance?" he beamed up at me.
I laughed and took his hand, allowing him to lead me out onto the dance floor.
Henry was the best boss I could have hoped for. He was about my father's age and he treated me as though I were his daughter, something I greatly appreciated. He beamed down at me like a proud father as we twirled around the floor. I smiled and nodded at everyone who I made eye contact with. Being a diplomatic assistant was definitely something I could see continuing with. I really did enjoy the people aspect of it.
On one turn, I caught sight of a platinum blonde head towering above the rest. I frowned and searched the crowd on the next turn, hoping to find it again.
"Everything all right?" asked Henry with a bemused look on his face as the dance ended and I looked past him, trying to find the blonde head again.
"Fine. I just thought I saw someone I knew."
"You probably know half the people here, Hermione."
I smiled. "True. I just meant someone I knew before the war. Someone from school."
"Well, by all means go find her."
I smiled again and curtsied before exiting the dance floor in the direction of the last place I'd seen the blonde.
I spotted him again, weaving through the crowds, nodding at people as he passed them. I frowned, frustrated that his back was to me and I couldn't see his face. I didn't want to shout his name across the crowded room; that would be incredibly inappropriate.
I rudely ignored the people who touched my arm in an attempt to talk to me as I struggled through the crowds. The huge bustling skirt was beautiful on and yet incredibly cumbersome when trying to chase someone through a crowd. I pulled my wand out and muttered a bustling spell, feeling the weight of my skirt shift slightly and at the same time free up my movement.
The blonde stepped out onto the balcony and I followed him. There were much fewer people out here due to the snow and cold temperatures. He spoke briefly to a man who then disappeared inside. I shivered as I stepped out onto the balcony through a different door. The blonde stood at the other end from me. He was holding something in his hands and all I could see was his profile. It was enough.
His head shot up, startled. He stared at me in shock. His mouth opened and I swear he was forming the word Granger. "I'm sorry?" he said instead.
I started towards him. "Draco Malfoy."
He frowned, his face clearly showing confusion. "I'm afraid I don't know who you're talking about. I'm James Zathur."
I stared at him. "No you're not. You're Draco Malfoy. I went to school with you for six years. You tormented me mercilessly. I'd know you anywhere."
He stiffened. "I'm sorry miss, but I'm not who you think I am. If you knew what was good for you you'd go back in to the party."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "You are him. I don't understand why you're pretending not to be. And who are you to tell me what's good for me or not?" I stepped forward again and he shook his head and turned.
"I'm sorry. You're mistaken." He walked away from me quickly. I frowned and started after him.
In spite of my skirt being bustled, it still slowed me down. He was able to move much more quickly in his tailored tuxedo. His long legs were carrying him very quickly away from me so I did the only thing I could think of to stop him. I pulled off a shoe and heaved it at him, neatly clipping him on the back of the head.
He stopped and turned, a stunned look on his face.
"What the…?" he stared at me. "What was that for?"
I put my hands on my hips. "You are Draco Malfoy and for whatever reason you won't admit it or that you know me."
He started towards me. "I told you, I'm James Zathur and I don't know you, now leave me alone, Granger." His face was dark and he looked angry.
I grinned triumphantly. "I never told you my name."
His jaw dropped as he realized his mistake. He swore under his breath, then grabbed my arm and started to drag me after him in the direction he'd been going when I threw my shoe at him. He stuck out his hand and muttered something, my shoe flying into his hand. He tucked it into his pocket and glared down at me.
"When will you ever learn to keep your nose in your own damn business Granger?" he growled as he pulled me along. "You almost ruined everything by calling me by name."
"Ruined what?" I demanded, trying to dig in my heels and stop. It was difficult since I only had one shoe and we were walking on marble.
"Nothing," he muttered, looking around almost frantically. Suddenly, a green burst of light flew past us. He swore and pulled me against him, apparating away.
I stumbled as he released me when we arrived wherever it was we were. I looked around as I tried to regain my bearings. "Where are we?"
"In a shit load of trouble," he grumbled, striding across the room to a small bed. We looked to be in a muggle hotel room, something incredibly fancy. I'd expect nothing less for Draco Malfoy.
He threw something at me and I caught it. It was a pair of brown trousers and a large cream colored sweater. I stared at it then looked up at him. "What am I supposed to do with these?"
"Put them on," he sounded irritated. "We've only got a few minutes before they get here and we've got to clear out before then."
"Put them on," he ordered.
I scowled at him but turned my back to him. I waved my wand over myself, undoing the fastenings on the dress and slipping out of it carefully. I pulled on the pants and sweater and was practically swimming in them. Malfoy wordlessly handed me my other shoe and I slipped it on, waving my wand a few more times and making the pants and sweater fit me and shrinking my dress down so that it would fold up and fit in my still large pockets. I'd spent a fortune on it; I wasn't leaving it behind in some random hotel room.
I turned and studied Malfoy. He'd changed into black trousers and a blue sweater that made his eyes look blue. Funny, I'd always thought they were gray. He'd pulled on a big black overcoat and had switched from dress shoes to some that looked a bit more useful for traveling. He was stuffing a few things into a small bag. He must have put an expanding spell on it because while I watched, he clearly put more in there than would normally fit. I walked over and wordlessly handed him my dress. He gave me a look and I narrowed my eyes at him.
"I'm not leaving it."
He scowled and shoved it in with everything else. "Come on, we have to go."
"Are we Flooing?"
He snorted. "No. they'll be watching the Floo Network. We have to do it the Muggle way."
I stared at him. "What do you know about Muggles?"
"More than you realize."
He started towards the door and then paused, looking back at me. "I'm sorry to drag you into this, but it's for your own safety. They saw you with me and they'll be after you. They probably think you're someone I care about."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you. I did manage to make it through quite a bit in the past without your help."
"Not this, Granger."
His tone of voice scared me a little. I sighed. "Do I at least get to know who we're running from? Or why?"
"Not now. For now, we need to move."
I nodded and followed him out the door. We were in a Muggle hotel for sure. There was a feeling of normalcy to it, no slight underlying vibe of magic that I had learned to recognize at strictly magical places. Our footsteps were muted by the thick carpet underfoot as we walked towards the lifts at the end of the hall. Malfoy pushed the down button and we waited for a silent moment before the golden doors slid open. We stepped in and he pushed the button for the first floor. I stepped a little closer to him out of habit. I had a recently developed an irrational hatred of small enclosed spaces since the war. It didn't make sense, it was just a late development of all the stresses I'd gone through in seven years. He looked down at me curiously and I flushed, stepping away. Normally it was Ron or Harry or Henry, sometimes Ginny if she could get out of the house. Really, I just had begun to avoid lifts completely.
We rode in silence and when we reached the first floor, Malfoy pulled me out through the huge double doors and into the now blizzard like weather. I shivered as a cold blast of air hit me, sending goose bumps up and down my body. I reached for my wand but Malfoy put his hand on my arm.
"No magic until we're safe."
"None?" I asked with surprise.
"None." He shrugged out of his overcoat and draped it around my shoulders. "If anyone asks, I'm James Zathur and you're now Milly Zathur. We're on our honeymoon."
"What name would you prefer?"
I shrugged. "Probably something that doesn't remind me of Slytherin."
He rolled his eyes. "Lavender?"
I punched him on the arm lightly. "Or my boyfriend's exes."
He raised his eyebrows. "You're still with Weasel then? Not married I see."
"I'll be Emma." I faced away from him. I was not going to discuss Ron with Draco Malfoy.
"Right. Emma and James. Simple enough."
I nodded and stared straight ahead. The mention of Ron started the hole in my chest to aching. I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered again. My hair was still pinned up and my neck was freezing. Malfoy reached over wordlessly and placed a large warm hand on the back of my neck. I sighed softly and stepped closer to him.
"Why are we standing here?"
"We're going to catch a cab."
I nodded and shivered again. "Where are we going?"
"In a cab?"
He gave me a look and I raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm hoping to get to the train station. They won't look for us there."
"Would you look for us there?"
"Depends on why I was looking for you in the first place."
"They won't think to check there first. They'll check the Floo, then they'll try to track apparating wizards. By the time they realize we've gone Muggle, we'll be on our way. We'll have to change modes in Germany I'm sure, but as long as we stay at least one step ahead, we should be fine."
I was completely confused but before I had a chance to ask any more questions, he was ushering me into a cab. He gave the driver instructions for the train station in flawless Russian. I raised my eyebrows at him but he didn't see it in the darkness of the cab.
A terrifying 20 minutes later, we arrived at the train station. Malfoy strode purposefully to the ticket counter and I started for the lone shop in the place. They were selling coats so I quickly bought one for myself along with scarves and hats for both of us and a pair of gloves and shoes and socks for myself. With no idea what size glove Malfoy would need, I opted to let him be. Luckily I'd managed to keep my purse with me in the mad dash away from the Winter Palace. I paid and took my purchases over to the bench where Malfoy was now sitting. He raised an eyebrow at me as I settled beside him. I dug into the bag and pulled out the socks and shoes, slipping out of my heels and into them with a grateful sigh. He shook his head as I handed him his coat and pulled on my new one. I made a face at him as I handed him the scarf and gloves.
"Red, Granger? Trying to turn me Gryffindor?"
"Red is a color that will suit you very well, Malfoy. And aren't we pretending to be normal? Call me Emma."
He scowled at me and wrapped the red scarf around his neck while I wrapped the blue one around my head. My hair was still pretty, so I didn't really want to mess it up with the hat. Vanity, thy name is Hermione…Emma. I scrunched down in my seat.
"So where are we headed James?"
He grinned at my use of his cover name. "Well, either Italy, France, Poland, or someplace east of here in Russia." He held up a handful of tickets. "To throw them off when they finally catch up to us."
"Won't they know we'll be heading towards London?"
"But by which route?" he tapped the tickets and grinned at me. "I also got on the phone and bought plane tickets."
I shook my head. "I still think apparating would have been quicker."
"Maybe, but not safer."
This made no sense to me but Malfoy wasn't in a mood to discuss anything. It also made no sense to me why I was going along with all of this. I should be trying to get the hell away from him but something in his tone of voice made me believe him. Someone was after him and would come for me now that he'd been seen with me.
We boarded the train and took a small compartment that was empty. Malfoy stretched across one bench seat, leaving me the other, and promptly fell asleep. I fought it for as long as I could but gradually, the rocking got to me, too, and I drifted off to dreamless sleep.