Rules of Engagement

Chapter One: The Familiar Chase

The mind is a strange and complicated instrument. Seeming to wander in the most insignificant or as was Hermione's case; dire situations. She ran her finger along the bruise on her wrist, recounting the exhausting last few hours.

She was running, her breath coming out ragged as she slid around the corner of a cobblestone building and made her way down the alley. These streets were narrow, she liked that. This small Italian town would fit perfectly into her plan. The strategy was basic: three pursuers, one prey. Lead the prey by one pursuer into a cross section as the other two took the adjacent streets on each side, forcing the prey into the middle; a simple herding technique. The man they were chasing was by all accounts an animal after all, responsible for countless deaths during and after the second war. He was an oddball of sorts; not particularly important in the planning as much as he was a peon, in laments terms: insignificant. But none of that mattered to her, she was determined; they had history.

This "man" Penko Stoyan; had been a particular thorn in her side for the past year and a half now. His case had merely come to her by pure coincidence, a simple job really, a pick and drop as the ministry calls it. Her mission was simple: pick him from his hideout in France and then drop him straight into Azkaban. It wasn't the mission itself that proved problematic but the hours after they had completed it, he had a rather skillful talent for escaping. So there she was for approximately the tenth time, out of breath and out of patience; careening through narrow street ways to capture him.

She slid to a stop at the edge of a church, hearing the multiple hurried footsteps of Stoyan and Ron's boots echoing through the empty cafe plaza. The plan had worked perfectly, this was a dead end; he would have nowhere to go. Her eyes gaze upward towards the building tops; Seamus finally having caught up had taken his post behind a large column. Stoyan's feet skidded to a stop, turning swiftly as he drew his wand from his jacket pocket; leering up at Ron who had in turn drew his.

"You really need to work on your exercise Weasley. It seems I am benefiting more 'Dan you are from 'Dese frequent chases." Stoyan mocked with his thick Bulgarian accent.

"Don't you worry about me Penko; I can keep up with you. No matter how long we do this dance you will fail; every time." Ron sneered, his breath coming out ragged as he tried to steady his hand.

Stoyan's laugh echoed around them as he lowered his wand, slowly closing the distance between him and his pursuer.

"Why do this? You already know 'De outcome. I don't need my wand for you; 'De weasel has chased 'De tiger into a situation he cannot possibly control." Ron held his footing, gripping his wand tighter as Stoyan closed the distance between them, standing directly in front of the red headed wizard. Stoyan's nose flared in defiance as he dared the Auror to refuse his challenge, leaning into the tip of Ron's wand.

Hermione cursed under her breath, Penko was playing to Ron's weakness: his pride. She glanced up at Seamus who had already started to move forward, his eyes pleading to make a move but Hermione shook her head curtly; gesturing him to fall back. If they moved now Penko would see them, if Ron could get him to just move a little further up they could be out of Stoyan's peripheral.

"All right, its old fashioned you want then, is it?" Ron glared as he lowered his wand back into his breast pocket, slowly backing up as he readied his fists. Stoyan gave a crooked smirk as he delivered a left hook into Ron's stomach and then a right uppercut to his jaw causing the young wizard to fall on his back.

"You seem out of practice, maybe Granger would have put up a better fight." He chuckled, slowly moving forward as Ron back peddled with his hands on the steep gravel road. This was there chance, Hermione signaled towards the roof top as she sprang from behind the church, a blue bolt shooting from her wand as Seamus followed suit.

Penko turned swiftly, dodging and blocking the blasts and returning his counters in kind. Seamus barely avoided a cutting spell as Hermione shielded herself and rolled behind one of the buildings for cover; shooting stunning spells blindly from the corner. She knew she couldn't stay there for long; the notion becoming quite clear when Stoyan's Bombarda charm blew off part of the buildings side, narrowly missing her head.

"Come now Granger, I haven't seen you in weeks and 'Dis is how you greet me? You send 'de Weasel?" Penko taunted before kicking the Redheaded Auror at his feet in the stomach. Ron's bellow of pain echoed around the empty plaza as Hermione peaked from around the corner; her eyes narrowing in frustration. Her gaze quickly found Seamus' and a silent plan was formed as she sprung from her hiding place, hands held up in surrender.

"Stop! I'm here…just stop hurting him, please."

The Bulgarian stopped mid kick and turned to her, a Cheshire cat like smile slinking across his face as she approached.

"Ah! 'Der you are, I was beginning to worry. Your wand Granger…now."

He held his hand out when she reached him, smile still in place but eyes flaring as if daring her to defy him. With her gaze fixed on the hunched over wizard at his feet; the witch extended her hand out and placed her wand onto his calloused palm.

"Good…very good."

His fingers curled over the handle and he pulled suddenly, bringing her into him as he grabbed her throat.

"Now… The other Auror, where is he?"

He squeezed before she could answer, her throat contracting under his grip.

"There is no one else, it's just Ronald and I."

"Liar! 'Dere's always three."

He kicked her out from under her feet then, a well-practiced take down Hermione noted as her feet left the ground. He followed her movement as he knelt with her momentum, all the while his grip still securely around her neck. Her back hit the pavement with a plum of dust settling around them and the air promptly leaving her lungs. Before she could get her bearings he moved his other hand two her wrist, still gripping tight with her wand and descended upon her. Hermione could do nothing but turn her head away in disgust as he hovered over her, his nose running along her jaw and to her ear.

"Make him reveal himself or he'll watch you die… right here."

She yelped when the hand that was still wrapped around her wrist with her wand twisted violently, the muscles becoming strained. Penko's deep chuckle tickled against her ear as his nose moved from her jaw to her hairline. It was then she saw it; out of her peripheral. Seamus silently kneeling just a few feet away, his wand and other hand slowly levitating a group of cast iron chairs from the café.

"You know…I've always wondered what it would be like; to have you on your back."

"'re going to have to wonder some more." Hermione's foot collided with his stomach as she rolled out of the way as Seamus sent the objects flying. Stoyan tried to recover, deflecting a few of the chairs before one crashed into his side sending him backwards. At the same moment Hermione recovered her wand and made her way behind the criminal, the tip of her wand pressing against the back of his head.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

Stoyan's whole body stiffened, his eyes glassing over as he fell forward; dust from the street pluming around him. For a moment they stood there, their breath coming out raggedly. It was Ron's groan of agony that finally snapped them back to reality.

Hermione rushed to his side.

"Did we win?" He coughed as she cradled his head.

"You're a fool you know that? Stoyan is six foot two and nearly two hundred and fifty pounds. You couldn't have possibly expected to be any match Ronald." Hermione chastised as she and Seamus helped him to his feet.

"Oh I know that, but I had to get him into position, I knew he'd only get a few knocks in before you saved me 'Mione. Well…that's what I had hoped anyway." Ron quipped, shooting his lopsided grin as he arched his back, cracking it.

"You're a right daft codder you know that? But I guess brilliant all the same. I really thought our plan was done for back there." Seamus breathed as he kicked Stoyan's unconscious body.

"I messed it up, my mind…I don't know. I was off." Hermione rambled solemnly as she stroked the bruise on her wrist.

"I should have dodged it, I could have…"

She felt Ron's hand gently squeeze her shoulder. "It went how it went. All that matters is we've got the bloody bastard. Now let's call the round up team and be done with him. He can't escape where he's going."

Hermione was jarred out of the memory as Ron sat down across from her, sliding a cup of hot brown liquid towards her. Her nose turned up offensively at the cups contents in front of her.

"I know you asked for tea but believe me it was ghastly, the coffee I've heard isn't bad though." He said, giving her an apologetic glance as he took a sip from his cup.

"Any word from the ministry?" Her tone was quiet, exasperated.

"Yeah, they're gonna hold him for the sentencing, you know the same old routine. We'll take the floo in the morning."

Her response was only a sigh as she looked out towards the ocean. The sun was setting now from the ocean side café they were sitting at. Her finger's nimbly circling the rim of her cup as she returned to her thoughts. This had been happening more frequently now, her senses and reflex's dulling when she relied on them most. She was exhausted from the last few days, she knew that. Maybe when she returned to London her mind and body could rest properly. At least that is what she hoped.

"You've got to be joking!" Ron bellowed, his arms waving wildly in the air as he glared at the judge.

"Ron…" Hermione interjected, her hands trying to push down his arms as he scoffed but pulled out of her grasp.

"No Hermione. This is rubbish! It has to be a joke because this whole hearing has become completely mental."

"Mr. Weasley, I assure you this is no joke. The French have full right…"

"Full right to what? To our hard earnings?" Seamus's fists tightened as he took a step towards the bench.

Judge Lamont heaved a long sigh as his fingers pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked past them towards Hermione hoping to find reason.

"We are merely…confused, sir. It was under our presumption that Stoyan would have already been placed in Azkaban prior to our arrival. A lot of magical effort went into preparing his new cell. Now it all seems for naught." She spoke softly, even though underneath she was seething. What business did the French have with Stoyan?

"I'm sorry that you were misled. But the French have presented enough documentation to transfer Mr. Stoyan into their custody."

"Well that's not rubbish now is it? It's complete Bullocks!" Boomed Ron, slumping down in on the chairs, his arms folded over his chest. Hermione remained calm as she moved her way up to the bench, moving past Seamus's scowling form as Judge Lamont leaned forward towards her.

"If I could simply take a look at this…documentation, as you call it. I'm sure my partners and I will have a better understanding as to why this is happening."

"'Zat will not be needed Mademoiselle Granger, 'ou can 'ave my full confid'ance that Monsieur Stoyan will be 'andled with the up most security my country can provide."

They turned towards the door as a man dressed in dark blue silk robes strolled lightly into the courtroom. He was tall with a medium build, his dark black hair neatly cut short with a streak of white in the front. He glared at Ron and Seamus as he passed them, his nose upturned until he reached Hermione, a Cheshire cat smile spreading across his lips.

"I 'ave 'eard so much of your adventurez, past un present. I am 'umbled to take this...'ow you say? Menace off your 'ands."

Hermione could not help roll her eyes, who was this man? His condescending tone was what broke what little she had of her resolve.

"And you are?" She replied curtly.

"This is Monsieur Toussaint; he is one of the heads of the French Ministries Auror department." Beamed Lamont, obviously impressed by the man's presence. But Hermione refused to be swayed.

"Mr. Toussaint…"

"Please, call me Marcel." His smile grew wider, his tone laced with charm.

"…Marcel." Hermione continued, sighing in annoyance.

"Our team spent three days tracking Stoyan. Three days in a dingy, rat infested hostel. Two practically sleepless nights tracking this mans every move. I cannot recount to you his horrid pass times, but I can stress enough that these past few days have not been kind to us. We put in a lot of effort to capture him and it seems rather opportune for you and unfair to us that you can reap the rewards of all that work."

Toussaint's smile never faltered as he picked a speck from his robes and gazed from Hermione to Lamont, obviously unmoved by her words.

"We appreciate 'zee efforts of zee Aurorz department un 'ave taken your 'ard work into account. But 'is crimez first occurred under our jurisdiction, a very studious intern 'as informed me of that fact, it seemz as zou 'zese documents 'ave been buried for quite some time. I'm sure you will excuze our tardiness in recognizing 'zis matter."

"Tardiness? You're bloody two years tardy" Ron retorted from his seat, scowl deepening. "You can't honestly tell me that you intend to be able to hold him. He's escaped from Azkaban over ten times in the last two years; I really don't think a facility with a name that practically describes "resort" can do much better."

Toussaint's smile faltered a bit, his head slightly turning but never fully acknowledging the seething red head behind him as his attention focused back to the judge.

"I assure 'ou Gwenaël is more 'zan capable of 'andling mossier Stoyan. From what I recall from 'is case file; Azkaban 'as had a hard time keeping 'im as well. Maybe a different setting would prove more successful, Non?"

Lamont nodded in agreement, giving Hermione an apologetic gaze. "He does have a point Miss Granger, there's no use in fighting this, you can't argue it anyway his documents have been cleared. He is the French's problem now. You will do well with this, I assure you. It's over now, you lot can move on.

She slightly shook when his gavel came down, sealing the finality almost. Her eyes closed as his words sunk in. They could move on, she could finally be rid of this nuisance and move on to the next case, something easier perhaps, something not so wearing on her mind. She looked over to Ron and Seamus who were practically seething as Toussaint made his exit; cursing under their breath and delivering less than kind hand gestures as he pushed past them. This is good. This is an ending. She told herself, slightly nodding to Lamont to thank him for his time as she followed Ron and Seamus out of the court room. It wouldn't be till later that she would realize she was wrong, this would only be the beginning.