"Tell me where it is," Draco hissed, shoving a frail looking Dean Thomas against a wall. Dean, however fragile he looked, glared at Draco coldly.
"I don't know what you're talking about," He replied in monotone, refusing to look away from his assailant. Draco took a deep breath and composed himself before relinquishing his grip on Dean. Fishing in his pocket, he took out a small golden coin. "I know when you're meeting next. It's only a matter of time before we find out where." He paused. "Don't make this harder than it has to be." Involuntarily, Draco's mind pictured the wrath of Voldemort if he came back empty handed.
"I'm not scum like you," Dean spat angrily. Draco flipped out his wand and Dean gave a hard laugh. "Torture me all you want, it's not like your pals haven't tried to get information out of me already." Draco raised his wand higher. Suddenly, he thought of Hermione waiting for him. Guilt flipped in his gut, but he quickly pushed it away and sent a jet of red out of his wand. He watched Dean screamed and fall to the floor, hunched over in agony.
"I'm going to ask nicely one last time," Draco said, lifting the curse. His tone was deadly. Jabbing his wand into Dean's neck, he asked, "Where is it?"
Hermione rubbed her eyes and squinted at the clock. It had been two hours. She sighed. He wasn't going to come back. It had been two hours and she knew why he had left. He wasn't going to come back.
Wearily, she started to clean up, throwing out the two Firewhiskey bottles with a little more force than necessary. Why had she even entered into this with him? It wasn't like she didn't know who he was and what he was capable of. She knew that the terrified sixteen year old boy had been replaced by something much more dangerous and unfeeling.
But he wasn't really unfeeling, was he? She couldn't think that after he saw her with Biddy and how he was with Hermione tonight. He was a good person. Maybe "good" was too strong of a word. He wasn't like the other Death Eaters. He seemed genuinely repulsed by Greyback. He had helped her with their assignment –
He had probably stolen her Galleon.
Hermione sat down on her couch and put her head in between her hands. A year ago, she wouldn't have hesitated before hexing him if she had thought he had stolen something that valuable from her. Her feelings were interfering with what was truly important. Sometimes, Hermione wished that she could just be neutral territory, but she knew that was impossible. She prided herself in standing up for her beliefs and what was right. She thought of Harry. Tears welled up in her eyes and she impatiently brushed them away. She knew what Harry would say if he found about Hermione and Draco.
But things had changed, hadn't they? They weren't the same kids they were back in Hogwarts. Some part of her knew that Draco had changed, although his actions never reflected it. She knew that he didn't want to keep doing what he was doing.
Hermione inhaled deeply and lifted her head. She walked to her bedroom and a small smile spread across her face as she saw Biddy sleeping under the covers. She made her way over to her the bed and crawled under the covers. She fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Hermione woke up to Biddy shaking her awake. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes blearily and glanced at her alarm clock. Realizing the time, she hastily clambered out of her bed. Flipping out her cell phone, she punched in Ginny's number while tripping into her jeans.
"Hey, Gin. Sorry to call you so early, but could you watch Biddy until the babysitter comes to my apartment? I forgot to call her last night to come in today."
"Of course, 'Mione. I'll be there in a minute," Ginny replied reassuringly.
"Thank you so much!" Hermione exclaimed, pulling on her sweater and casting another glance at the clock.
"Don't mention it," Ginny replied and hung up the phone.
Hermione sorted herself out and looked at herself in the mirror. "Well, that's as it good as it's going to get," She muttered.
"I think you look pretty, 'Mione," Biddy chimed in sweetly. Hermione grinned and scooped up Biddy in her arms.
"Not as pretty as you," Hermione said, kissing Biddy on the cheek. "Listen, Bid, 'Mione has to go to work really soon, so Aunt Ginny is going to come spend time with you until Melanie gets here, ok?"
Biddy furrowed her eyebrows. "Aunt Ginny? I want Drake." Hermione kicked herself mentally. In hindsight, having Draco see Biddy yesterday was a bad idea, she realized.
"But you love your Aunt Ginny," Hermione reasoned, keeping her expression pleasant.
Biddy's face cracked into a wide grin. "Do you think she'll take me to get ice cream again?"
"You'll just have to ask her yourself," Hermione replied as she heard a faint crack outside her front door. With Biddy still in her arms, Hermione jogged over to the door to let Ginny in.
"How's my favorite girl?" Ginny asked as Hermione place Biddy into her arms.
"Goo-ooood," Biddy responded, delighted at all the attention.
"You're good to go?" Hermione asked Ginny. "You know where everything is?"
"Yes, Hermione. Now, get going or you'll be really late."
Hermione shot her friend a grateful look and gave Biddy one last kiss. "I'll see you at the end of the day, sweetheart." Hermione waved goodbye to both of them and Disapparated. She arrived at the Ministry slightly out of breath and power-walked to her desk.
"Cutting it a little close, aren't we?" Ron asked with an amused expression. Hermione jumped in her chair swiveled around to mock glare at him.
"I overslept," Hermione replied stiffly. Ron only shook his head and smiled.
"Ginny told me," He replied, still smiling to himself. Hermione narrowed her eyes.
"You're awfully chipper this morning," Hermione grumbled. She caught Ron looking over his shoulder at one of the pretty breakfast stand girls. "Is that why you're so happy?" Hermione asked, smirking.
"What?" Ron asked distractedly. "What? No, no, of course not," Ron mumbled, fighting to keep a smile off his face.
"You have me convinced," Hermione replied sarcastically.
"Can you blame me? I had been hung up on you for ages."
"Ron, I'm happy for you. Really," Hermione smiled. She was relieved that he had moved on with someone who was uncomplicated. Ron returned her smile.
"Me too, Hermione. Me too." Ron blushed faintly as he shot one last look at the girl and wandered back to his desk.
Ron's good mood was infectious and Hermione couldn't help but sport a smile of her own as she worked. She examined her new case files and her good mood began to ebb. Muggle deaths had become so commonplace that the Ministry had put into place protocol that dealt with these murders in the most efficient way possible. Hermione found it disturbing that the government had become so jaded about these murders. Hermione sighed and filled out a couple forms that delegated this investigation to a couple junior Aurors.
Hermione jumped for the second time, her stomach flipping. She would know that voice anywhere. Deliberately putting down her pen, she met his silver eyes. He looked exhausted. Inhaling sharply, she asked, "What?"
Draco shifted uncomfortably for a moment. He leaned over Hermione's desk. "Could I talk to you for minute?" He asked quietly, intensely aware of Ron trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. "In private?"
Hermione fidgeted with her shirtsleeve before deciding to get up. Ron looked as though he wanted to follow her, but Hermione shook her head once. Ron reluctantly turned away from them. Wordlessly, Hermione led Draco to a deserted corridor. She crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows, daring him to speak first.
Draco took a deep breath. "Look, I'm sorry - "
"If you apologize, I will throw something at your face," Hermione stated. She expected a heated retort or even a glare. Draco's face sank into lines of exhaustion. Hermione did her best to block out her conscience.
"I am, though. Truly."
"What are you sorry for, exactly?" Hermione asked slowly. Draco looked puzzled.
"I'm sorry for not coming back, obviously."
Hermione looked down and pinched the bridge of her nose. She took a deep breath to calm herself. She dimly registered Draco walking towards her, unsure of how to bridge the gap between them.
"I know that's not the answer you're looking for," He admitted, taking one of her hands and folding it in between his two palms. Opening her eyes, Hermione drew him closer to her. His arms wrapped around her and Hermione fought to keep her composure, her mouth pressed into a thin line. She linked her hands around his back and rested her cheek against his shoulder. She would try and enjoy this moment before she destroyed it. Draco's lips pressed against her cheek. She was afraid, but she knew she had to ask.
"Did you take it?" Hermione asked, her voice raw.
"Did I take what?" Came the muffled response. Draco felt the tension in her body and leaned back to look at her face. His tone was too soothing, to calm and reassuring for her to completely believe. A small tear escaped from her eye as she reluctantly loosened her grip on him.
"You took it. You took my coin, my Galleon." Hermione felt Draco's arms abruptly let go of her.
"Hermione, I don't know –"
Silently, Hermione flicked her wand and Draco's right pant pocket burned bright red. Alarmed, he tried to move away from Hermione and cover the red. Hermione's Galleon singed a hole through his pants and flew into Hermione's hand. Anger replaced her tears and Hermione's expression hardened. She whirled away from him and started back towards her cubicle.
"Please, Hermione -" Draco grabbed her arm. She stopped walking momentarily, cold fury emanating from her body.
"Let me go if you want to keep that hand," She hissed. Without a word, Draco dropped her arm and Hermione marched back to her workspace to find Ron.