They stumbled back against the wall in an almost panicked state, as if both were afraid the other would vanish in a moment. Her arms wrapped about his neck as the kiss went from gently moving to desperately fierce. He had her firmly by the back of her thighs, gripping so tightly that she cried but refused to break away. There was too much to lose by doing so. He pressed against her, needing to feel her in a way that inflamed his skin and boiled his blood. All he could think of was having her. He needed to have her right now.

He pulled her up into his arms, forcing her to wrap her legs around his waist as he felt around blindly for the way to the bedroom. But her skin was so warm and his patience too thin. He set her up on the little end table in the hallway, yanking up the sides of her dress. She pulled away, gasping and groaning as his hands moved over the soft pink skin of her inner thighs. He captured her lips again, refusing to let either of them breathe. He needed her. He could not be restrained one more second and unzipped his pants, not even bothering to drop them as he pulled her into him.

Her cries filled the empty house and pierced his heart, but he did not relent. Her grip on him tightened as her back hit the wall, the little table barely supporting their actions. He gripped a door that rested against the wall, her screams of exhilaration fueling his conquest.

Not content with this one moment, he stayed his rampant desires enough to carry her to the bedroom. There, they laid into each other again. But this time he heard pain in her gasps. He gripped her face, looking into her eyes.

"If I'm hurting you-"

She shoved his hands away, kissing him so fiercely that he almost forgot he was worried. "I want this," she whispered. "Nothing you do could ever hurt me."

They continued well into the wee hours of the morning then lay in each other's arms. Two lovers, husband and wife, sharing unbounded intimacy until dawn. Then he would disappear underground and she would return to the cold bed of another.

"Claire, please!" Hermione hurried once more as the little girl again made for the cabinets. "Mummy cannot reiterate enough how much you must stay away from there!"

"But Lilith says-"

"Lilith is not your mummy." She smoothed out the pale gold curls that bounced about the round face of the upset toddler. "Do not pout. Your face will stay that way."

"Will not!"

"Do not argue with me. If I say it's so, then it's so. Now, stay away from the cabinets or I will glue you two the corner."

Great full lips pushed out further and the beautiful round eyes of her daughter glared up at Hermione with all the fury a four year old could muster. Hermione smiled stood up straight.

"Fine, I warned you." She pulled out her wand, but Claire dashed to the little tea table on the opposite side of the room before any incantation could be spoken. Hermione pocketed the wand, watching as the girl pretended to pour tea for several stuffed animals. It was midday, so rays of sunlight filtered into the multicolored bedroom, revealing the many sides of the toddler. Beside the tea table sat multiple broken brooms from the little girl's early attempts at flight. The room was strewn with various dresses, shorts, bandanas, boots, and some waders for when she decided to invade the creek in the forest behind the estate. Quaffals and dirt were mixed in with dolls and glitter, making the whole room look a bit bipolar. But Hermione loved it.


She turned to the door. A tall, stern woman of middle age stood there, the pinched look on her face telling Hermione she was in some sort of trouble.

"Mr. Craven wishes to speak to you."

Her fingers went cold and she stole a look at Claire. "Why?"

Lilith's eyebrow rose as she entered the room, setting a purse on the vanity. "I shouldn't care why. But he wants to see you, so you should go."

"Did he say-"


She flinched at the bellowing voice that originated from somewhere downstairs. Claire looked up from pouring tea, an unnaturally dark look on her face.

"He sounds mad."

Hermione hurried out. To tarry would be unwise. The mansion was a brightly lit place, beautifully decorated with expensive furniture and important portraits with links all over the world. The corridor outside Claire's room had some tapestries whose occupants were very friendly, waving and playing all the time for the purpose of keeping Claire entertained. A great tapestry hung on the wall directly before the elegantly curved double staircases, depicting the master of the house's long and noble family tree which traced back to his ancestor Rowena Ravenclaw and beyond. Down the stairs she flew, hurrying into an expansive library that would have given her such pleasure at any other time but now. The whole room had a single focus point, the desk made of an ancient wood and the man who sat at it.

"Come here, Hermione," came his smoothly cold voice. She glanced nervously behind her before approaching. He set down his quill and turned a pair of sharp molten black eyes on her. "Explain."

"I don't know-"

He threw a paper across the desk and she took it, quickly scanning its contents while paling considerably.

"This is a mistake."

"Really? I can hardly see how."

"Craven, I didn't go to any of these place."

"The reports from the charm I placed on you say otherwise."

She was ashen as she placed the paper on the desk, barely pulling enough nerve to look at him when he stood. He was a grand, impressive creature, with decisively attractive features and a long trim build that had been well preserved from his Quidditch days. His tastes were fine as his robes were of the purest, most expensive quality but they were tasteful, like everything else he owned. But his face, for all its striking greatness, was impassively cruel when it came to Hermione. He moved slowly and deliberately around the table, hands clasped behind his back as he regarded her as a lion regards a gazelle.

"What do you say to such a mistake?"

"I don't know-"

Her own scream cut her off as he snatched by the collar, pulling her straight up to his face.

"I warned you about those people," he whispered. "I warned you what I would do."

She struggled furiously, managing even to glare despite the fear she felt. Lip curling in derision, he dropped her and returned to his chair.

"Claire will be removed to the country."

"No!" Hermione rushed to his side, grabbing his arm as her expression became much less hostile and much more worried. "Please, you can't!"

"You will learn that there are rules and that there are punishments for breaking such rules," he said, brushing her away. "Edward."

A tall brute of a man lumbered in, two smaller but just as cruel men following after. "Yes, sire," said the taller of the bunch.

"Take my love here to her room. If she argues, you may do what you will with her. But do not leave a mark. There is a dinner tonight and I must have her able to walk."

Edward grinned stupidly and nodded, taking hold of Hermione's arm. She thought about spitting in his face, but decided it was pointless in light of Craven's words. They passed into the foyer just as Claire appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Mummy," she called, gripping one of the rail posts with her tiny hands. When Hermione looked up, she frowned, seeing her mother's distress. "Mummy, what's wrong?"

Hermione turned away, tears welling in her eyes. "It's okay, Claire," she called over her shoulder. "Just be a good girl, okay?"


"You gonna be a good girl?" Edward inquired, his putrid hot breath flowing over the back of Hermione's neck while his fingers fondled the back of her skirt. She ignored the urge to vomit, knowing that would only make the man behind her hornier than he already was. Claire's sudden cry of dismay caused her to pause and turn.

"Please, don't hurt her," she whispered, heart burning in her chest as every muscle willed her to sprint to her daughter's side. "Please."

Harry darted between the crowds of people, nimbly avoiding contact with everyone as he made his way towards the platform. It was a particularly busy time of the day, so everyone was trying to catch a train or find whomever it was they were trying to pick up. Harry was almost tempted to draw his wand and curse everyone in his path, but that would defeat the purpose of why he was at the station in the first place.

He got the correct platform and spotted a familiar redhead lurking by a pillar. "Don't glare at them like that," he said and Ron turned to him. "They'll call security."

"It took me thirty bloody minutes to get here, do you know that?" Ron snapped as they continued down the platform to a train that was getting ready to take off. "Thirty minutes. I would have left if you weren't coming."

"No, you wouldn't have. But I understand the sentiment. Come on, this is the one."

The indicated car was empty so they sat in some seats towards the middle. A trolley came by and Ron purchased some pumpkin pasties before the train pulled off. The two men exchanged conversation over some new cases they had at the Ministry to pass their time alone, as nobody entered. It was not until they passed Grantham that someone passed into the car. Ron scowled.

"Took you long enough."

Draco glared back. "When one is a publicly loathed figure and being hunted by two governments, it takes one a while to get anywhere, Weasley."

"You should have planned ahead. We were here on time."

"You were late, Ron," Harry muttered, pulling a package from his pocket and sliding it over to the blond. "There's three hundred quid in there, so don't lose it."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Yes, I can afford to lose my monthly allowance. You two are so generous."

"You're lucky you get anything this time!" Ron's face flushed as an unwelcome memory surfaced. "You nearly had me sacked!"

"It worked out well enough," Draco muttered, counting the money before pocketing it. "I suppose you're not here to dig up old wounds, though."

"Ministry is leaning on us pretty hard to pick Sloan up."

"I already told you, he's untouchable. Too well protected."

"You let us worry about that. Just tell us where he is."

Draco leaned back in his seat, smirking. "Not for three hundred quid."

Ron puffed and his eyes narrowed. "You listen here, Malfoy. We already talked about this. No more negotiations."

Harry nodded. "Ron's right. No more money. You give us the information or we get off the train."

"Or throw you off, whichever," Ron grumbled, folding his arms over his chest. Draco's smirk fell off.

"How do you expect me-"

"We don't have anything else," Harry snapped. "They cut our funding. Either we get Sloan or we're off the case."

Draco shook his head but leaned back in, conjuring up some parchment and a quill. "Here. But there's quite a bit of magic about the place. Not very friendly, Sloan. Doesn't like people."

"And you two don't get along?"

Gray eyes rested on Ron and his irritable disposition. "He manages to be on an ever growing list."

Harry took the parchment, reading the address quickly before burning the paper. "Thanks, Malfoy. We'll get in touch if everything goes well."

"And I'll read about it in the Quibbler if it doesn't."

The meeting was officially over, but nobody got up. There seemed to be some unspoken question lingering about and Draco's constant gaze did not make it easy for Harry or Ron. They exchanged looks before Ron rolled his eyes.

"Ask Harry. I've been on holiday for the last two weeks."

Harry shifted before shrugging. "Fine, I suppose. Both of them. Look, Malfoy, it's not a good idea-"

"For what?" he snapped, standing abruptly. "For me to see them?" He tossed the packet of money back at them. "I'll be seeing you gentleman later."

Harry and Ron watched as the worn and angry Malfoy walk away, pulling a dark cloak over him as he went. Ron shook his head.

"You shouldn't have said anything."

"Why? It's his business to know."

"No, it's not. You know how he gets. He'll go on a bender and then be completely useless for the rest of the month."

Harry scowled. "I didn't see you offering any suggestions."

Ron shrugged, reclining his chair. "I should be on holiday with my wife. Instead, I'm here with you and Malfoy. What makes you think I have any suggestions worth mentioning?"