I do not own Harry Potter or any of its characters; J. K. Rowling does. In addition, I do not make any profit from this fanfiction. I would like to thank my betas - Glorioux and Iwalters5. A special thanks goes also to my consultants Ignaty and Lima Bean.
"Reckoner" by Radiohead sets just the right mood. Try it :)
Still Waters Run Deep
Theodore Nott felt tired. A dull ache behind his eyes was practically killing him.
Slowly, he took in the nauseatingly-familiar crowd around him. It was one of those banal Ministry functions. He couldn't even compel himself to remember the occasion. At some time during the last fifteen years, which was exactly how long he had been working in Magical Law Enforcement, he had developed a strong feeling of disgust at these so-called soirees.
Everything was always the same — the same hall, same faces, same cheap food and drinks, same envious whispers and fake smiles. There were far too many ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends, and every other possible ex in one poorly-decorated hall. So, naturally, it would be too naive to hope for even the slightest hint of sincerity in their common pretended joy.
An acute and sudden desire to throw up momentarily engulfed him, and he was forced to take an urgent and life-saving swig of his drink. Somehow, this felt like more than just his habitual disgust. He hated to be a part of this farce with every fibre of his being. He wasn't sure exactly what it was. The Ministry functions had never before elicited such a strong reaction from him.
Maybe he was just exhausted and a bit more wound-up than usual. His position as the chief of Criminal Investigations was not exactly helpful in his quest for relaxation. It was true that he had begun tiptoeing on the emotional edge long before. Actually, it had been so long that now it seemed as if he had always been like that — always as taut as the string of a bow, always ready to spring, always on the brink.
On the other hand, maybe it was the finalisation of Draco's divorce, which his blond friend had announced to him just a few minutes ago. It might very well be that. It was weird how instantly and irrevocably his friends' divorce had thrown him out of balance. They were both his friends, Astoria and Draco. Moreover, he loved Scorpius deeply. He was his godfather, after all, and over the years he had developed a true connection with the lad. It was hard to watch how his godson had turned from a happy, smiling, and properly-spoiled Malfoy boy into the sad-eyed, confused teenager who obviously wasn't ready to choose between his mother and father. "Damn," Theo cursed under his breath. "Bugger!"
He was a bloody detective. Every day, he was surrounded by different degrees of awfulness, which went hand in hand with death and pain. It was his job. He ought to have toughened up by now. However, the everyday criminal routine didn't hit as close to home as Astoria's tears or Draco's growls.
Maybe it was simply that wretched middle-age crisis about which everybody around him had been buzzing for a few years now. Who knows, he sighed inwardly. He would be forty next month. Maybe now it was his turn to do something stupid and outrageous. Luckily, he was single, so at least there was no divorce looming over his head. He frowned, thinking, trying to determine his feelings about his impending birthday. The number was round and nasty. Yes, he acknowledged that, but crisis? He couldn't detect the signs of any freaking crisis in the depths of his soul. No. He decided that the approaching midpoint in his life wasn't the reason for his more than slightly unpleasant mood today.
When that quick internal investigation proved utterly fruitless, he glanced around, trying to figure out what exactly had triggered his negativity to such an extent. He knew his mind well, and it had detected something awry. There must be a reason for his discomfort hidden somewhere around him. His trained, dark-blue eyes slid over the well-known faces with suspicion, looking for a clue.
First, he carefully examined his friends sitting near him. For a moment or so, he focused his gaze on Pansy and her new bimbo Zacharias. Watching them, he wasn't able to hold back a wry smirk. It seemed to him that Pansy still couldn't get over her obsession with blonds. As a friend, he had lost track of her blond lovers long ago. Hmm, that had happened probably right after Draco. However, her newly acquired beau managed to annoy the hell out of Theo. Zacharias's snobbish demeanour and idiotic way of pronouncing everything through his nose, which was awfully insignificant for a man, made Theo cringe every time he saw or heard him. But Pansy looked happy, and it was enough reason for Theo to keep his opinion to himself. Sometimes he felt a genuine envy for Pansy's easy-going attitude and determination to enjoy her life to the max. She was forty and unmarried. Her blokes were changing every other month or so, and frankly, she was not giving a damn about all that middle-age rubbish. Even now, here, at this gloomy party, she had found a way to have fun. Lucky wench, Theo thought.
Next to Pansy sat Draco, who looked, if not entirely sloshed already, then at least well on the way. Draco's face was sombre, detached. Their eyes met for a moment, and Theo's friend of many years made an attempt to smile. A weak shadow of the famous Malfoy smirk ghosted over his lips and vanished, not quite making it. The suddenly intensified clamour in Theo's ears and pressure in his temples was the cue for him to turn his face away from Draco and his pained eyes. His glance slid briefly over Marcus, Blaise, Astoria, Daphne, and his other fellow Slytherins. It seemed odd and somewhat pathetic that, even after twenty-two years, they still grouped themselves primarily by houses. Old habits die hard, Theo chuckled to himself.
There was one objective reason for them to stick together, though. Slytherins were typically presented at the Ministry functions as patrons. They didn't work at the Ministry. They provided the monetary support, so to speak. After the war, it had been a necessity for those who had managed to avoid Azkaban — they had needed to gain a respectable standing once again. Thus, they had paid their dues, and they were still paying them now. Wizards like Theo were a rare exception in the Slytherin crowd.
The people who actually worked in the Ministry were mostly on the other side of the hall. Slowly, he turned his gaze to them. There sat his colleagues. Sure enough, all four detectives who worked under him were there, along with Potter and his Aurors and, of course, the rest of the department. Unsurprisingly, even after nearly sixteen years of working in proximity, Potter had never become Harry for him. They still kept calling each other by their last names. Old habits, indeed, Theo thought with a smirk.
It had been an insane glitch of fate that he, Theodore Nott, had been invited fifteen years ago to work for the Ministry, and for Magical Law Enforcement, no less. Fate's intervention had had a face, of course — the face of the Granger girl. Had she become a Weasley by then? Hell, that hadn't mattered to him — he had never cared much for the bint – too pushy, far too loud for his liking, and with horrible, horrible hair. She was the one who had found his small private-investigation practice when she had decided that apparently Potter had a need for a real detective — one who had been properly trained and had actually studied the art of deduction.
It had been that infamous case of the water poisoning in Hogwarts. Miraculously, none of the children had been hurt. However, five Hogwarts elves had died from it, and that fact had explained Granger's involvement to Theo. The investigation had ground to a complete halt. The Aurors hadn't been able to find any clues for weeks. The parents' uproar had been unimaginable. The school had been brought to the brink of closing, and Potter had been at his wit's end for days. So, naturally, Granger, always the saviour, had found Theo and asked him for help.
Now, fifteen years later, Theo still could not explain to himself why he had agreed to take the job. But he had taken it, and, together with Potter, they had solved the case. After that, Potter had offered Theo the chance to work with him in the Ministry, and he had, once again, agreed.
Theo nodded to Potter when their eyes met. Then he made a quick salute to his team of detectives, who always sat together with the Aurors, and continued his examination of the hall. Near Potter, there was the Weasley clan, of course. He didn't pay too much attention to all the redheads and moved his gaze further away. However, at the end of a long line of bright red, his peripheral vision caught something unusual — a face. A woman's face, to be precise. Was it a new face among the Weasleys?
He knew for a fact that all the Weasley men had settled down, and he hadn't heard any divorce news from that particular side. Being a detective, he did pay close attention to rumours. After all, the lion's share of all offences and crimes were conducted in the domestic field.
Intrigued, the ache behind his eyes and his nausea forgotten, he focused his blue eyes on a face he couldn't recognise immediately. The woman had a pale, soft complexion and dark eyes. She had a pixie haircut, and her curves were clad in a little black dress with bare shoulders. Alas, the idiotic, tasteless bouquets and dishes on the table concealed all other details from him. She was jammed between Ronald and Percy Weasley, and, with her extremely short hair and pale face, she looked, to Theo, like a complete, but extremely intriguing and alluring, alien. Watching this stranger carefully, he couldn't shake the peculiar feeling that he indeed knew her. Yet he couldn't quite put a name to the face.
As minutes passed, he grew more and more agitated every second. The question 'Who is she?' bolted through his mind. Brown hair, probably brown eyes, pale skin, a slightly pert nose ... He closed his eyes, analysing the clues. Aghh, he knew who she was: the answer was there, swimming on the surface of his consciousness. He just needed one little push, and he would catch it.
"Is that Granger? What has she done with herself? She is almost unrecognisable. Theo, look, I cannot believe it's Granger." Draco's drunken drawl abruptly ended Theo's guessing agony.
Yes, damn, of course, it is Granger! Theo's eyes flew open, and he saw that apparently, while he had been trying to identify the witch, she had stood up, and now seemed to be walking briskly toward their table. Her curve-hugging little black dress was fully visible, at last, and, quite oddly, Theo's throat instantly dried out and his heartbeat noticeably increased its tempo at the view. He watched intently how she manoeuvred between the tables, easily navigating her way towards him.
Absurd thoughts jostled through his mind. Why is she coming this way? The loo is on the other side of the hall. Did she notice that I was staring at her?
When she was almost near him, he began feverishly to seek the right greeting in his tired and aching mind. However, she didn't stop. She simply walked by, gave him a fleeting smile and a slight nod, and then exited the hall through the back door.
Blast, Theo growled with chagrin as the bitter taste of disappointment came to his mouth. Inexplicably, he had an irrepressible urge to follow her, and instantly sprang up, almost tipping his chair over in the process. The last thing he heard before going after her was Draco slurring again: "Where are you going Theo? You are not leaving yet, are you?"
Theo turned to face his friend and muttered: "No, Draco, no. I just need a breath of fresh air. I'll be back in a sec, mate. Don't worry, I'm not leaving you here alone." With that, he patted Draco's slumped shoulder and went after the mysteriously- and almost unrecognisably-altered Granger.
When he made it outside, he found her leaning against a column and languidly smoking a cigarette. On hearing the sound of a heavy door slamming shut, she turned to face him. She didn't say anything and didn't do anything. She just stood there, leisurely puffing a long, slim cigarette and watching him with her calm, chocolate-brown eyes.
For a while, he simply stared at her, not inclined to talk just yet, either. She honestly looked different. Her face had changed, her eyes, her figure, her cleavage — everything. The last time he had seen her this close, not across the hall at the Ministry function, had been seven or eight years ago. He hadn't had his own room then, and she had been visiting Potter regularly. She had always seemed too plain to him then, too boring, or too unsophisticated, perhaps. She had lacked that unique charm, that intoxicating air of mystery around her. Moreover, her immense head of hair had annoyed him immensely.
Now, with her hair out of the way, he finally saw Hermione Granger. Slowly savouring every detail, he drank in her stubborn jawline; her full, wilful lips; her well-defined cheekbones, and her high forehead. Her eyes, however, were not as sparkly as he remembered. Her sharp wit still shone through, of course, but now her gaze was laced with a hint of weariness, maybe even slight annoyance. Was it boredom? He actually wasn't sure how to read it.
Her haircut was extremely short, and to him it looked bloody brilliant on her. There was no sign of her customary wild curls, and now her neck and all her soft curves were exposed to his eyes. And she was quite curvy, all right. The dryness in his throat returned with renewed strength, and his heartbeat changed to a staccato pace.
It was bizarre how a mere haircut could change one's whole demeanour and make a person utterly unrecognisable, how instantly it added a mystery where it had not been before. It was unbelievable, completely bonkers.
I didn't recognise Granger — sheer lunacy, he chuckled inwardly with amusement.
"Please, Theo, do tell a joke. I would love to share your excitement. "Granger's voice simultaneously stopped Theo's musings and killed the laughter right in his throat.
He didn't answer, still gazing at her intently. Then he flashed her a crooked smirk. "Do you have another cigarette, Granger?" he said, stepping closer to the column on which she was leaning.
"Last one, sorry," she murmured, watching him with interest. "Here, we can share this one, if you don't mind." Something bordering on a challenge sparkled in her eyes.
Theo arched a single eyebrow at her, and, with a touch of a smile, said: "I don't mind, Granger. You?"
"Obviously I don't, Theo. I do mind your calling me Granger, though. It's childish, really." And she extended her bare arm, passing him the cigarette she had been smoking. He took it and put it in his mouth, feeling his heart pulsing its staccato beat, not quite in his chest: much lower, in fact.
They smoked her last cigarette in silence, looking at each other. He found the act disturbingly arousing. By the time they finished, he felt almost undone.
She turned to put out the cigarette, and his breath caught short at the sight of her backside clad in black silk. Oh, Merlin's beard, when did Granger become that curvy? Starkly defined by her fitted dress, the steep slope between her narrow waist and her luscious hips made him want to groan. He could imagine now what it would do to him, just to be able to trace that steep line, first with his fingertips, then palms, then tongue.
Argh, don't be ridiculous, it's Granger, he scolded himself, watching her.
The situation was positively surreal. He, Theodore Nott, was suddenly overcome with desire for Hermione Weasley. He wanted her, maybe even urgently needed her. That idea, insistently pulsating in his brain, caused a noticeable throbbing in his trousers. He shook his head in bewilderment and stuffed his hands into his trousers pockets, hoping to obtain at least some sort of control over himself.
"I like your haircut," he said.
She didn't face him. She simply stood there, on the stairs, silently looking into the darkness. Crisp, night air began to nibble at her skin, and she shivered, hugging herself in a futile attempt to keep herself warm. He couldn't tear his eyes from her. Her skin shimmered softly in the yellow light of the gas lamps. At the nape of her neck, he noticed a few loose locks. Lonely and cut short, they still curled proudly and wildly, as reminders of the true nature of their owner.
And – oh bugger – he was certain those little curls were calling him. Unwilling to restrain himself, he stepped toward her and pressed his lips to those provocative, shamelessly enticing locks. He deliberately left his hands trapped in his pockets. He was not about to allow himself to grope Granger – aghh, Hermione – here, on the stinking back stairs.
Understanding the utter senselessness of his behaviour, he still stubbornly kissed and nibbled at her neck, awaiting her rebuke any minute and maybe even a painful blow to the face. Her volatile temperament was well known in the Wizarding world.
However, after the few first seconds, neither had come. Her breath became shallow, and Theo, suddenly hungry and greedy for more, freed his hands, turned her to face him, and kissed her lips. She didn't answer, but she didn't stop him either. Somewhat encouraged, he circled her waist and pressed her to him, demonstrating loud and clear the extent of his need for her.
That did it. Hermione finally sprang to life. To Theo's surprise, she didn't push him, hex him, or hit him; instead, she did quite the opposite. Her fingers roughly pulled his hair to her, and this time her lips pressed themselves urgently against his. The kiss quickly escalated into a mutual, passionate exploration, and his fingers began to inch towards her silk-covered breasts. His mouth ventured lower on her neck, and she let a soft moan float free into the night.
Alas, in the next instant, the couple were rendered motionless by loud bangs and shouts coming from the hall. Theo came to his senses first, and wand in hand, sprinted inside. Some wizards and witches ran by him in panic. When he burst into the room, he found a scene of complete chaos. Broken chairs and pieces of porcelain china were scattered on the floor. A thick crowd had gathered in the centre of the room, and he could clearly hear Potter's voice shouting orders.
When he finally made it through the crowd, he saw four bodies on the parquet. Draco sat nearby, on the floor as well. Potter's green eyes were dark, his hair wild. The sickening feeling and dull ache behind Theo's eyes came back. There, on the floor, was the reason for his earlier agitation. He knew it. He had felt from the beginning that something was off, and he could probably have prevented this from happening. However, he had stupidly chosen to fondle a married woman in the back alley instead.
"Damn," he cursed. With that, he took his familiar notebook from his chest pocket, tightly clenched his jaw, and walked toward the victims and the mad-looking Potter.