Well hello! This is my first go at a Harry Potter fanfic. I hope that you guys enjoy it. Any feedback is of course appreciated, and I feel like I should warn you – I have a penchant for darker themes.
Thanks to the fabulous FMD for betaing this chapter. Much love to her.
Disclaimer: I am not making any money by writing this, and all of the characters that you recognize belong to J.K. Rowling. This disclaimer stands for the rest of the chapters in this piece of fiction as well.
"How was it received?" Lucius asked, though he likely already knew the answer if his bitter tone was any indication.
"They were thrilled to receive the donation, Lucius, but you must have expected they wouldn't be too happy about its origin," Kingsley answered bluntly. "You must have anticipated some back lash once they found it was you that donated the money, whatever the amount or intention."
Lucius nodded his head and tapped his cane against the outside of his dragon leather shoe for a moment. Calculating. "It seems I can do nothing to convince the rest of the wizarding world that the Malfoy family has separated itself from the Dark Lord." He closed his eyes briefly. "I'm growing impatient, Shacklebolt."
The large man laughed harshly. "You may need to reconsider your approach then. I don't think anything short of marrying your son to a muggleborn is going to restore your image, Lucius. Even then, people will still maintain their suspicions," he said quietly. "You know better than anyone that old prejudices are hard to destroy."
Lucius' lips drew back into a deep frown.
Kingsley considered the man standing tensely beside him. A couple of summers ago, Harry Potter had come out of hiding after spending six months hunting for the key to defeating Voldemort. Convinced that the answer lay within the ancient walls of Hogwarts, Harry, Hermione, and Ronald had enlisted the staff and students to search for the mythical Diadem of Helga Hufflepuff.
Voldemort learned of Harry's whereabouts and laid siege to the school. The battle that ensued was enormous in scale and cost hundreds of lives – and with neither side willing to give up any ground, the outcome had looked uncertain, until the actions of Lucius Malfoy and his son, Draco turned the tide in favor of the members of the Order of the Phoenix.
But that battle, while won, only cemented each side's resolve.
With the Diadem destroyed, Voldemort had not since been seen above ground. Regardless, his shadow loomed large over the whole of Great Britain – wizards and muggles alike felt his insidious pull.
There were a great deal of people that owed their lives to Lucius Malfoy. But it was impossible to forget the evil he took part in. The lives he had destroyed. It was possible that there was no amount of good, no sacrifice the Malfoys could make, that would restore the public's faith in them.
"Owl me if you need anything, Lucius. Otherwise, I suggest you stay as far from the Ministry as you can." He paused as he looked over his shoulder. "You still make people around here nervous, you know. And it certainly doesn't do us any favors that there's a story in the paper every time you come near."
Lucius scowled, but then schooled his features and nodded his head in return. "I'll be in touch, Shacklebolt." Lucius inclined his head towards Kingsley, then wheeled around, knowing his way through the halls of the building well enough. Leaning heavily on his silver cane, he held his head high as he took one long stride; his left leg following heavily behind him.
Kingsley shook his head. The sacrifices they've all made – some, have paid more heavily than others.
"You asked to see me, Kingsley?" Hermione pushed the office door fully open.
"Ah, Miss Granger. Yes, please do come in and take a seat." He gestured to the chair opposite his desk, and watched as she silently cast a few nonverbal charms on his door, giving them complete privacy. It was standard procedure these days, even within the Ministry walls. There were no chances taken, no details overlooked.
Kingsley glanced over Hermione quickly. She looked tired, as they all did. Fighting to maintain control had taken its toll on all of them. The dark purple circles under her eyes and her slight form was indication that Hermione was indeed feeling the stress of her diligent research and field work. Her missions for the Order were, of course, secret – but Kingsley was privy to some of the more delicate information. She was absolutely essential to daily operations, which is why he could hardly believe what he was about to ask her.
He lamented once again the decision the Order had come to. The loss of Hermione Granger from the inner workings of their operations would be a blow to the cause. But who was he to argue?
They wouldn't admit it, but they were gambling. They had rolled the dice and decided that a distinct change in strategy was what they needed. They had barely been able to keep the madness at bay for the last few years, and that was largely due to Hermione's keen mind – despite what McGonagall may think.
The old woman had apparently chosen a different champion, pinning her hopes on Harry Potter.
But really, pinning all your hopes on one individual was a desperate, dangerous proposition.
But again, who was he to argue?
Split up the trio and take the offensive – that was her master plan.
Kingsley sighed heavily.
Hermione was beginning to shift uncomfortably under his intense gaze, so he removed it from her and focused instead on the files on his desk in front of him. What he was about to suggest was going to be hard for her to swallow. It was dangerous in the extreme and nearly impossible to achieve. But that was precisely what she was good at. She was simply the best at making things happen, despite the odds.
"Kingsley?" she asked, quietly. "Has something happened?"
"No, no," he answered firmly.
A long pause ensued.
Somehow he just couldn't conjure up the strength to say the words. They were lodged in his throat – restricting his breathing, and all he could think was, this is all my fault.
"Just spit it out already, Kingsley. What's happened?"
He nearly laughed, she was certainly quick tempered these days but he could hardly blame her. "We have had long discussions about this, Hermione. And we've come to the conclusion that you are our best option for the task I am about to present to you." He paused to study her expression, but then averted his eyes once more. Guilt flooded him.
Hermione raised a single brow at his words, straightening in her seat. She regarded him critically, probably wondering what it was that had him so uneasy.
Good news came in small tokens, but bad news abounded.
Kingsley sighed once more.
He had her undivided attention. He saw the shift in her demeanor. He saw how her brilliant mind picked up the scant information he had given to her and was already processing the possibilities. He saw her interest, and realized that she was approaching this from an academic standpoint already. She was approaching it logically. Like she would a difficult charm or potion.
That's what they'd hoped for.
"There's an opportunity for us to gather information on a number of pureblood families and determine their loyalty and allegiance; possibly gain their backing. But it requires that we insert somebody into the household as a spy." He watched as her mind processed the information. He could practically see the ideas flit across her eyes before her.
Hermione's hand came up to cup her chin thoughtfully, her eyes alight with possibility.
There was, of course, countless ways of going about getting information – some far more dangerous than others. He knew Hermione was intuitive enough to recognize that this was nothing like previous missions. They were thinking outside the normal boundaries on this one – their solution was of the more enterprising sort.
Kingsley pursed his lips and leaned forward onto his elbows. "What I'm about to tell you cannot leave this room, do you understand?"
A quick nod of Hermione's head sufficed. Although, judging from her expression, they both understood that nearly everything that was spoken about these days was to be kept silent. He didn't need to remind her of that.
"I'll admit to you right now – I take full responsibility for putting you in this situation. Lucius Malfoy has been attempting to get his name back into good standing, as I'm sure you're aware. He was here the other day as a matter of fact, and I told him that the chances of the Malfoy name being returned to its prior status are slim to none."
Hermione gave a very unladylike snort. "For him to even think donating loads of money would just make people forget, is crazy. The whole lot of them are scum, took them long enough to realize Voldemort was an unhinged maniac."
"Yes, well," Kingsley paused, turning over a file in his large hands. "Be that as it may, they have played a significant role in postponing the Dark Lord's rise." He cast her a heavy look. "And you and I both know you owe your life to the young Mister Draco Malfoy."
It was a low blow, he knew that, but he could already see that she wasn't going to be particularly amenable to this new plan.
Hermione mashed her teeth together audibly. "Regardless, a few good deeds do not acquit a person of a life–time full of underhanded and ghastly doings," she snapped.
That flash of anger – of pure malicious spite, made Kingsley realize the futility of the mission they're be sending her into. It would, quite literally, be the death of her.
He would take on McGonagall's wrath, but he would not ask Hermione to do this. It was simply too much to ask a young woman who had already sacrificed so much.
But even while he was secretly pleased that the mission was laid to rest before it even began, another part of him despaired over the hatred and anger that fuelled Hermione's words. There was a time, not too long ago, when Hermione might have considered forgiveness and displayed her open-mindedness – but not now, not after everything. This is what war did to people. This is the cost of their survival. Anger and hatred and prejudice. Vengeance is what they all craved, and nothing short of death and devastation would appease them – but only for a time.
Kingsley shook his head slowly. He began to gather up the files on his desk, loathing the idea of searching for another within their ranks to take on this burden. McGonagall would not let this opportunity pass, he knew that much. They'd simply have to find someone better suited for the mission.
Because while Hermione was certainly the best candidate, there was nothing he could do – they'd be asking her to quell her hatred for her childhood tormentor; to gain his trust.
The task, put in those terms, seemed even more impossible.
But he should have known that Hermione would not back down when she recognized a challenge.
"Don't you dare, Kingsley. Don't you dare just shove me out of here. You may have gotten friendly and cozy with Lucius Malfoy, but I for one cannot forget what he and that entire lot are capable of." The name seemed to leave a disgusting taste in her mouth, and she quickly licked her lips. "Now, tell me what it was that happened, and what this mission I've been chosen for is all about." She now stood leaning over the table, her hand firmly planted on the files he had been attempting to organize.
He had to admit that he was quite taken aback at her jab, but chose instead to overlook it. He considered her for a moment. It was unpleasant business either way he looked at it. The best he could hope for, was that he's lay the mission out in front of her and she'd decline to participate.
"Fine," he ground out quietly. "The mission Miss Granger–" he leaned over the table closer to her, looking the part of a conspirer, "—is for you to enter the Malfoy Manor under the pretense of marrying Draco."
He was expecting a reaction similar to the one a few moments ago, but was baffled when all Hermione did was glare at him and avert her eyes to his shoulder. He witnessed the color drain from her face rapidly, and was about to suggest that she sit down, when she began to laugh. It wasn't the laugh he was used to. It wasn't the warm, tinkering laugh he had heard less and less frequently over the past few years. It was devoid of mirth. Devoid of humor.
She collapsed into the chair behind her, holding her sides. And he found himself frozen at her behavior.
Hermione looked at him through teary eyes. "You cannot be serious, Kingsley. For a moment there, I thought you were honestly suggesting that I marry that prat, Draco Malfoy."
The silence stretched between them. Their eyes locked. The smile slowly slipped from her face as she took in the seriousness of his expression.
After a few moments, she seemed to conclude that he was, indeed, serious. Studying his features intently, she finally managed to ask him the question he had been dreading. "You said this was your fault. How exactly did this come about?"
"I had suggested jestingly to Lucius that the only way for his name to be returned to good standing would be for him to marry off his son to a muggleborn." He returned to his seat. "I honestly could not have expected for him to consider it seriously, let alone make an offer."
Hermione stared blankly at her hands. "What do I tell Viktor?" she asked, seriously. "And who else knows about this? You said you had been discussing it with others. Lupin? McGonagall?"
Kingsley paused. "Yes. The offer was made only yesterday, so we have been discussing it extensively since then. And as far as Krum goes, I can't tell you how to handle that situation, Hermione. But you can't tell him you're going undercover. Only a few privileged people will be able to know about it."
Hermione closed her eyes. "And they asked you to deliver the news?" she said ruefully.
Kingsley scoffed. "Yes, well. This is somewhat my fault, and with the recent redeployment," he paused to make sure Hermione understood. "It was me, or McGonagall, and I think we all know you have no great love for our illustrious leader."
Hermione choked out a laugh.
Kingsley watched the various emotions play across her face. "You've got about a week to decide, Hermione. That's when Lucius wants an answer. So don't rush it, but everything you need is in these files, here. You can take them home and look them over. They include the legal documents that were drafted up that both you and Draco will have to sign."
"And what if I choose to not take the mission?"
Kingsley smiled at her kindly. "I'm sure McGonagall has a backup plan."
Hermione sighed. "Meaning she'll choose someone else, who's unlikely to make it out of that snake-pit alive."
Her words echoed through Kingsley hollowly, unlikely to make it out alive.
He forced a bitter smile. "Have a little faith, Hermione."
She was suddenly shaking her head ruefully. "You know this isn't going to work, Kingsley. Draco will never go through with marrying me. Marrying a muggleborn might not be too bad, but considering the amount of loathing and hatred we have for one another, I doubt it will work. There's a lot of… history there."
"We'll see about that. A notice was sent to Lucius this morning, right before you came over to let him know who we had in mind for Draco to marry. I think you underestimate Lucius' desire to return to his former place in society. And I think you can be fairly sure he is going to be making this decision, not Draco."
"An arranged marriage then? How ironic. Just one of the many pillars of pureblood society I adore." Hermione snatched one of the files from his desk and glanced through the contents. "How long does the marriage have to last?" she asked, he voice detached, her mind already processing the information and opportunities before her.
Kingsley gave a shrug. "As long as we need it to. The only thing that concerns me is that both you and Draco will have to consent to a divorce. There won't be any room for magical coercion. So that's something you have to consider." He watched her carefully, and noted that her face had regained its healthy parlor – well, it had regained some color, but her skin had become pale from all of her late nights and work for the Order. Hermione was far from the bright and radiant young woman that she used to be. Her countenance, like everyone else who was working undercover to maintain normalcy, had shifted in the times of desperation and fear.
It was necessary to make sure she had all of the facts, so he continued. "More importantly, though, is that we need you to watch Draco – carefully. We've been hearing for quite some time now that the Dark Lord is trying to acquire some sort of weapon that can be used against us. You know as well as I do that the rumors are most likely true – he's frantic to get his hands on whatever it is, and we simply cannot allow him to have it. The Malfoys may not be directly involved in anything illegal, but they still associate with the same people that clung to them before they switched sides. But don't mistake the situation, Hermione. It will be your most dangerous mission to date. Not only are you going into the home of your old enemies, but you're going to be exposed to people we know are involved in the Dark Arts. It is going to be risky and you are going to have to use every bit of wit and cunning you possess. We aren't going to be able to offer you much protection without arousing suspicion."
Hermione nodded her head once more. "But don't you think they'll know that you've inserted me in there for the purpose of spying on them? I'm the best friend of Harry Potter. I'm close to a good number of aurors and I'm a member of the Order. How do you expect them to trust me?" she countered.
"That's just it. Having you, specifically, marry into the Malfoy family will afford them some legitimacy. Although, I think there will be some skepticism – and perhaps even some fear that the Dark Lord has gotten to you. But that's where your superb acting skills are going to come in handy. It will only take people a little while to realize that the loyal, courageous, and brilliant Hermione Granger is entering into a marriage with Draco Malfoy as a way to secure the family's allegiance and support." He said with what he hoped seemed like sincere enthusiasm.
He watched her think it over, and gave her the time she needed to process everything. But she still looked skeptical. Leaning forward, he urged her on. "Hermione, you can pull this off. The public trusts you. They trust the Golden Trio." He allowed himself a small laugh at that, and was pleased when a smile graced her lips.
"You are the most brilliant witch of our age. Don't mistake that. Your regular articles in the Daily Prophet give people hope. Your reports of progress and constant insistence on a nearing end to this war help people feel like they can get through this dark period."
She seemed more at ease and was idly running her hands up and down the legs of her robes. To say that Kingsley admired her was an understatement. He meant every word he said. The world would be a much different place if it weren't for Hermione Granger. He was certain of that. It was because of her constant vigilance, and her ability to stay one step ahead of everyone else that made her unstoppable.
"So of course the Malfoys will be aware that you are part of the Order – most people suspect it, even though they can't exactly prove it, any more than they can prove that such a thing as the Order of the Phoenix exists. But we have to tread carefully if you intend to do this." He watched her and found that she had her lips set in determination, and her shoulders were once again forced back in a more confidant position.
"While the Malfoys are going to suspect that you are spying on them for the Order, you need to convince them that you have no interest in what they are up to, only in what they can provide our side with, and promoting better relations between the pureblood families and the rest of the world."
Hermione smiled at his motivating words. "Well, Kingsley, you speak as though you think I've already made my mind up on this." She flashed him a shrewd look accompanied by a modest smile. "You know just as well as I do this won't be an easy decision for me. Viktor only moved here six months ago, and his only reason for doing so was to be with me. That is the part I'll have a hard time reconciling." She let out an exasperated sigh. "Who am I trying to kid here? Like not having someone in my life would have made the idea of attaching myself to Draco Malfoy any easier." She threw Kingsley a dark look. "I absolutely abhor that slimy git."
She gestured suddenly to the stack of files on his desk. "Let me have those. I've got a meeting with Harry and Luna at nine." She kept it at that. The less anybody else knew, the better. And that included Kingsley.
He piled them into her arms and then walked her to the door. His hand rested on the knob. "Remember, you can't tell anyone about this discussion, Hermione. It's imperative that everyone thinks you're doing this for the sake of support and unity," he stressed.
She raised an eyebrow at his assumption. "You mean if I decide to go through with this?" She smiled at him good-humoredly. "I've got one week, right?" At the nod of his head Hermione gestured for him to open the door. "Good. I'll be back to you before then, I'm sure."