CHAPTER 1: Memories Best Left Uncelebrated
The extravagance of the whole affair was fairly nauseating. She stood high above the decadent crowds of beaming faces and bodies adorned in silk and other rich fabrics. The colorful gowns of the women stood in stark contrast to the black and charcoal grey dress robes of the men around them, and she took an almost neutral point of observation to their movements as though she were a scientist studying bacteria in a petri dish.
Well that's unfair she admonished herself, furrowing her brow as she leaned over the marble banister of the balcony that had offered her a moment of reprieve from the gossip and false worship of those below. She had stolen off with the excuse of needing to use the loo, but in reality she had snagged a glass of champagne and found refuge high above the ballroom.
It wasn't that she didn't like lavish affairs. True, she was often considered to be plain in her tastes, and perhaps the years she had spent flanked by her two male best friends had given her a touch of roughness. Nevertheless, she liked an excuse to tame her curly hair, adorn herself in a nice gown and test herself against the dangers presented by a sexy pair of stiletto heels.
No, it wasn't the classiness of the event that perturbed Hermione Granger. It was the reminder of all that had been lost. It was what this whole affair represented. While she would never classify herself as angst ridden or besotted with the traumas of war, she was a veteran by all definitions of the phrase, and this annual celebration of the downfall of Voldemort could only create a certain feeling of apprehension for those who remembered the bloodshed and terror it had cost them.
The Ministry had wanted to honor its heroes, and this tradition of the Battle of Hogwarts Memorial Ball had originally started as a small ceremony to restore morale, but now that five years had passed since the battle, there had been a certain degree of escalation in frivolity. For many who had fought in the battle and remembered the horrors of that night, the event felt out of sorts. It was mostly a bunch of adoring wealthy witches and wizards and petty government officials lavishing their affections on those who had fought. And if that wasn't enough, the media was a head splitting shit show.
Some didn't seem to mind so much however. For example, she could see her best friend and now ex- boyfriend Ron far below enjoying the company of half a dozen supermodel-esque women who seemed to cling to his every word. Hermione smirked in spite of herself, remembering that it had not been so long ago when women like Fleur Delacore would positively turn their nose up at a boy like Ron Weasley. But he had grown into his gangly figure, and even his freckles gave him an attractive, boyish appearance. Although, perhaps it was his new fortune they most admired as he had helped bring Weasley Wizard Wheezes to a new level of profit in the past few years. Or, maybe girls were just suckers for war heroes.
Surprisingly, her split with Ron had caused very little friction between the two of them or the Weasley clan. In fact, the incessant bickering between the two had left many of Weasleys quite glad when the couple decided to go back to being "just friends". There was still no "just" about it though- nobody went through the things she, Harry and Ron had experienced without developing a deep bond. Just that morning she had joined the Weasley family in bringing flowers to Fred's grave, and they had all cried and held each other with the intensity the only those who have experienced death together can share.
Ron seemed to be past his grief however, as she watched him casually tuck a strand of hair behind one of the girl's ear and she laughed flirtatiously. Hermione rolled her eyes but smiled in spite of herself. Ron's grief was never truly behind him, but he had found comfort in the knowledge that Fred would never have wanted him to miss out on the pleasures of life. Ron had re-found his sense of humor almost as a way of reconnecting with his deceased brother. Ron suddenly looked up at her, squinting as though to make out a distant object. She was quite high up. She waved calmly back and he smiled, raising his glass to her in a short salute before returning to his conversation.
"I have never been much good at these things" said a familiar voice from behind her.
"Hello Professor" she said with a smile, not turning around as she sensed a tall man approach her side.
"Oh, don't call me that" the brown haired man blushed. "I'm better off just plain old Neville Longbottom."
"But I've heard you're doing great things for the herbology program at Hogwarts" she said, admiration clear in her voice as she turned to look up at the now tall and slender man who had once been an awkward, pudgy faced boy. Neville still retained an element of awkwardness, but it had a certain sweetness to it.
"I can only hope to be half the teacher Professor Sprout was" he disagreed with great humility.
"Oh Neville, when will you learn to take a compliment?" she laughed, bumping his arm playfully.
"Well, you're the one who deserves the praise. The Ministry was in great turmoil after the war, you've done a lot already to amend some of those archaic laws."
She shrugged, "you just need to have a stomach for politicians and a stubborn will. And I am nothing, if not stubborn." He grinned now, knowing this was quite true from her many adventures with Harry and Ron, and having seen the way she could go at it with Ron in an argument. There was nobody quite like his friend Hermione.
She drained the remnants of her champagne glass and wrinkled her nose with distaste at the waltz beneath them. "Is it bad that I just cannot bring myself to dance?"
"I thought you liked to dance?"
"I do... but not tonight."
He nodded with solemn understanding. Few people had lost more at the hands of Voldemort than Neville Longbottom. He had never been much of one for dressing up and accepting praise, but this memorial ball was even worse than all that. He wanted to celebrate the triumphs of that night, but somehow he always found his mind buried beneath the losses. He eyed her empty glass and realized his own Butterbeer was a bit light in his hand. "Refill?" he asked and she nodded with a kind smile.
As Neville retreated from the balcony she found herself lost in watching those below her once more, making a game of trying to spot out her friends. So many years she had spent growing up with these people; sharing meals in the Great Hall, late nights buried under homework in the library, or chilly afternoons crowded in the stands of the Quidditch pitch. She knew many of her friends more closely than most siblings would ever really know each other. Yet, since the war it seemed they had all been scattered off into different directions. It was as though each had been too tormented to stand the reminder presented by the faces of their own friends.
But maybe that's just me she thought sullenly as she picked Ginny out from the crowd, her fiery hair flowing as she swirled across the dance floor with Seamus Finnegan. Hermione was willing to admit that she was one for overthinking things, and the relative calm after the storm was nearly maddening. She had buried herself in mountains of work just to keep from letting the silence creep up on her. No more late nights solving riddles in the library, or adventures under the invisibility cloak, her heart beating furiously beside Ron and Harry...
Harry she thought with a pang. Her best friend with his raven black hair, his fierce green eyes and his unwavering courage. She had never known anyone like him. It wasn't just that he had defeated Voldemort, it was that he had taught them all to be better. He was the little, unloved orphan boy who grew up to love and be loved by so many. He had overcome each obstacle and rarely allowed himself a moment of pity. She had learned more in her seven years of knowing Harry Potter than she did from the countless books she had read.
She didn't miss being scared, or watching him nearly die. She didn't miss the sleepless nights of feeling that her, Ron and Harry were the only barrier between good and evil. And she certainly didn't miss all the nights of camping and searching endlessly for the horocruxes, and watching Harry change as he came closer and closer to the reality that he would probably not live. But God she did miss Harry when he was gone, and he was almost always gone.
Hearing someone approaching from behind her she tried to shake her sadness and was thankful Neville was back with a drink for her. "That was quick" she smiled softly.
"Quick? I don't think many would agree" said a voice that was very clearly not Neville Longbottom. She turned quickly, shocked to recognize Harry Potter, standing there dressed smartly in a black tuxedo, his green eyes watching her with a degree of caution just barely masked by an easy smile. He still couldn't hide his feelings from her.
"It's been six months since I've heard from you!" she sputtered, suddenly wishing she still had her empty champagne glass to hurl at his head. "This is certainly the last place I would expect to see you."
"Are you not happy to see me?" he asked, his tone filled with all the sadness of an orphan brought up to feel unloved. This, however, simultaneously made her heart break while once more wanting to hurl something at him.
"Of course I'm glad to see you" she sighed, turning away, unable to look at him much longer. He was such a complex source of happiness and pain; it was easier not to be pulled in by his familiar face and pleading eyes.
"I only came because you asked me to" he responded, his footsteps indicating he was drawing nearer. "You know how much I love dancing."
She smiled lightly, remembering the look on Parvati's face as Harry repeatedly squashed her toes at the Yule Ball. Sensing her grin, he moved slightly closer and she felt herself relax in his presence. It had always been hard for her to stay mad at him for very long. "I've missed you" she said suddenly. "I would have sent you about a thousand howlers if I'd known where you were."
"I'm sorry" was all he said in response, his tone heavy. After the war he had become quickly wrapped up in life as an Auror. Voldemort was gone, but all evil did not follow him to the grave and Harry's expertise in such matters became heavily sought out from across the world. At first he argued very extensively that his evil fighting days had always been a team effort, and that he would be useless without Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley at his side. But he did not want them to get involved, and ultimately could not stand to think that people anywhere in the world were suffering.
Hermione, for her part, had no interest in chasing evil anymore. It had left her weary in many ways, and not quite herself. Many nights she would wake up screaming, remembering the faces of the dead or reliving the pain of old wounds. She found herself better suited for the battles of the Ministry, which were equally exhausting on many levels, but less bloody.
She looked at him now, leaning against the railing of the balcony, his eyes studying those moving below with a sort of detachment. He had changed significantly since the last battle. Physically, he had grown into a more manly stature with wide shoulders and the dark shadow of recently shaved stubble. But it was his eyes that told her of all the horrors he had seen.
"I wish you would stop" she said abruptly, sliding her hand into his unexpectedly. Over the years their friendship had adjusted to take on a strange sort of physical comfort. Harry had always been uncomfortable with being embraced, but something about her allowed him relax. When he wasn't away fighting evil it wasn't uncommon to see one grab the others hand, or for him to put his arm around her. Even when they walked there was always a comfortable proximity as her arm might brush against his and such. To them, it was such a normal closeness that neither seemed to even give it much thought.
"You say this every time" he reminded her. "You know I can't just... stop helping people."
"You could, if you realized how much damage you're doing yourself. You won't be in any shape to help anyone if you wind up dead. Or for that matter, insane."
"I'm fine" he scoffed, nudging her gently. "Do I look like I'm dying?"
And now she turned to look fully into his face and it was almost painful for a moment. Of course he didn't look like he was dying. He looked handsome and healthy; his black hair carefully brushed for once, his mouth curved into a perfect smile as he looked at her. But it was the look in his eyes, as though he was dreadfully tired that worried her. She looked away from his eyes and back down to the dance floor.
"What?" he asked, his tone tired.
"Nothing" she replied shortly. She knew it would do no good to get into it with him. She rarely saw him anymore, he was always off fighting some darkness and even when he was back it was never long before he had to go again. She tried to smile to lighten up the mood. "Let's try to have a good night."
She couldn't help but remember the last time she had seen him. It was scarred into her mind, and she didn't know how he expected her to be okay after it all. She had spent the last months caught between worrying that he was mad at her and worrying that he was dead. And now he came walking in like it was just any other day. But at least was able to walk. And breath. And live. She remembered it all so vividly now...
She kicked the door open to her flat with a grunt of exhaustion. She had a pile of books in her arms so heavy that her biceps were screaming in agony and it was times like these when she wished she had a boyfriend to help her carry her belongings in and say soothing things about her day. Instead, she was greeted by blood on the floor.
She dropped the books heavily, but silently, on a nearby table in the hallway. She carefully drew her wand, listening to the quiet house. If it weren't for the blood she wouldn't have known anyone had entered. The house was soundless, and everything was precisely where she had left it. Clearly, it hadn't been a break in, which meant only one thing. Harry.
Feeling panicked she began to follow the blood trail, paling as the dark red puddles grew in size as she approached the staircase. She heard the shower turn on from above, the first sound since she had opened the door, and she let out a heavy sigh of relief. He wasn't dead.
Storming up the stairs she hastily opened the white door separating her from her best friend. She was not concerned about him being naked; at this point they had each seen a fair share of each other between changing and healing wounds. He was already in the shower, and she could barely make out the blurry silhouette of his darkened figure through the glass of the shower door.
"Are you alright?" was the first thing she asked.
"Yes, I took some of that healing potion you keep brewed in the medicine cabinet."
"I keep brewed for YOU" she responded, an edge coming into her voice. "And aren't you lucky for that? Otherwise, would I have come home to the pleasant surprise of my best friend laying dead in a pool of blood?"
He didn't respond, the hiss of the shower continuing as hot steam filled the room. "I could honestly kill you if I weren't so happy you're okay" she mumbled in frustration.
He grabbed a fluffy white towel from outside the shower and stepped out with it wrapped around his hips. She glanced at him a moment, noticing the way the water made his black hair stick out even more wildly than usual. He still had the slender, athletic build of a seeker, but auror training had coupled that with hard muscle. His work as an auror had also added a fair share of scars to the mix.
Realizing she was staring at him her eyes drifted up to his emerald green gaze. He looked exhausted, and she wasn't surprised, he had lost a lot of blood. But more than tired, he looked deeply sad. "I'm sorry" he said softly. "I just don't have anywhere else to go."
It wasn't entirely true. The Weasley family would gladly take him in any time. But she knew that he felt guilty for the loss of Fred. And aside from that, he really had no family left.
She wanted to embrace him, but his apparent lack of clothing made her think better of it. She left him alone to get cleaned up, but once in the solitude of her own room, she slumped to the floor in a feeling of despair. What if she had forgotten to brew some healing potions? What if he hadn't been able to make it back at all? His life was so tenuous, and while she'd never tell him, it was physically and emotionally exhausting being the only person he really trusted.
"Harry Potter!" exclaimed a voice, and they both turned to see that Neville had arrived with drinks in hand. Hermione had nearly forgotten about him. "This must be the first time you've made it to one of these elegant galas."
"Well you know... work" Harry finished lamely as Hermione eagerly took the champagne flute he was offering. "But it's good to see you Neville."
"You too Harry" he grinned. "Makes me glad I bothered to come out tonight."
"Not one for the spotlight eh?" Harry asked, knowing perfectly well that Neville Longbottom was far from the fancy sort.
"You're the hero" Neville muttered. "Not me." Harry paled at this but said nothing. Hermione knew that despite all he had been through, Harry did not think of himself as a hero. In fact, she was probably the only one who knew that secretly, Harry thought himself a murderer and could not get past the blood he felt was constantly on his hands.
They lapsed into silence as they drank. "Did you want to dance?" Harry asked Hermione.
"No" she said sadly. For the thousandth time that month she felt like she didn't know herself. Why can't I just move on? she pondered. Books and cleverness... that's all I ever was.... all I'll ever be. The rest have moved on- found love, found purpose. But I'm still stuck.
Sensing her mood, Harry suddenly took her hand. The gesture was almost surprisingly protective- Harry's emotions had always been difficult to read. Somehow he had survived the Dursleys without becoming bitter and cruel, but love did not come as easily to him as some might imagine. He had never had a real role model for loving relationships growing up. Still, he was capable of being very sweet towards her, and at times she wondered about it.
They bid farewell to Neville and apparated back to Hermione's home, her hand still in his. "Do you mind if I stay?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"The guest bed is made up for you as usual" she responded, pulling her stiletto heels off and chucking them to the floor in an uncharacteristically lazy manner.
"Are you drunk?" he asked, his tone half laughing and half concerned.
"A little" she sighed. "I'm mostly just... tired."
"Tired? Sounds like more than tired."
"It's a hard time of year" she shrugged. Harry silently nodded his agreement. He gave her a curious look, and opened his mouth as though he were about to say something important, but all that came out was "good night".
There was a screaming, so terrible that it seemed to pierce through her soul. "There's no hope" she thought, "darkness always wins."
She awoke suddenly, clutching to her blankets as a cold feeling of hopelessness spread through her. It took her a few moments to realize that the screaming had not ceased. She sprung from her mattress, navigating the darkness with ease as she made her way to the guest bedroom at the end of the hallway. She opened the door and the noise escalated. It was Harry, and his screams had subsided to a raspy shout, "they're all dead" he kept saying over and over again.
She shook him hard, trying to awake him, not realizing she was crying as she did so. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open and his hand was around her throat. She choked, reaching to his hand, trying to pry it from her. "Harry" she barely managed to whimper, as his green eyes stared into her unfeelingly.
Suddenly, the pressure was gone and she was coughing uncontrollably. He blinked hard, and then blinked again. Slowly he looked at his hand and a look of horror spread across his features.
"What did I do?" he asked, his voice so filled with pain that he reminded her of a little boy. She had regained her breath and she tried to reach out to him, but he moved away quickly, his eyes wide as saucers as he looked from his hand to her. "Oh God" he whimpered.
"It was an accident Harry" she said, her voice still hoarse.
"No... no..." he stood up from the bed in panic and then turned from her quickly, packing his things that were scattered on the floor. "I'm becoming like him."
"Like who?" she asked, alarm filling her. He didn't respond. "It was an accident Harry!" she shouted.
"Something is changing in me" he said hurriedly, and then he disappeared into thin air.
Draco Malfoy noted with faint disgust that he had stepped in a puddle of blood and had tracked red footprints several paces across the glossy hardwood floor. He gazed down at the mess, the orange smoldering embers of the nearby fireplace casting an eerie glow across the otherwise shadowy library. By the standards of many, the estate of Atonin Dolohov was considered impressive. The library was a circular room with shelves of books that rose up to an incredible height, a large dark wood antique desk, and a massive hearth adorned with silver serpents and dragons. This was all very luxurious, but to Draco Malfoy it was a faint glimmer of what Malfoy Manner had to offer.
Draco cleaned away the footprints with a quick wave of his wand. He did not need to leave evidence of his less than pleasant visit. Surely the aurors would arrive shortly, and if there was one thing the Malfoy name did not need to be associated with it was a murder. The fact that it was the murder of a Death Eater could only further complicate matters. As defectors, the Malfoy name was no longer loved by Death Eaters, but forgiveness was also far from complete on the side of "good".
What is "good" anyways? Draco scoffed to himself. He had never known the answer to that question, and doubted that the dead body of Antonin Dolohov would provide any further insight. With a quick sweep of his black cloak Draco turned into the darkness and vanished into the night.
Harry had apparated from Hermione's house to the only place he could think to go; Grimmauld Place. Appearing in the darkened hallway the scent of dust and cobwebs and decay rose to his senses. He rarely ever came here anymore. There were far too many ghosts left behind- it was a place of darkness and sorrow. Often Harry wished he could burn it to the ground, but then a part of him realized it was the last remaining connection he had to Sirius, and so on occasion he found himself wandering the halls; just another ghost.
He pondered sleep but knew it would not come, so instead he made his way to the gloomy kitchen where he scoured the empty cupboards until he found what he was looking for; a half empty bottle of Firewhiskey. It was a remnant from Grimmauld Place's previous owner, Sirius Black. Harry poured himself an ample glass and raised it in salute to the invisible presence of his Godfather. "Here's to you Sirius. I sure wish you were here... or my parents... or Remus... or Dumbledore..." he trailed off with a burning gulp of the fiery liquid.
It didn't help to list all the dead, but he couldn't help but feel a stinging sense of loneliness. He had always had someone to turn to when the questions became difficult to answer. For years it had been his exceedingly wise Headmaster, and then there had been his Godfather and even his werewolf ex-professor. But now he was truly on his own, and there was no doubt that darkness was on the rise again.
He wanted to have the comfort of Ron or Hermione at his side, but asking them to join him in his missions was unthinkable. The fact that the two of them had survived their teenaged escapades was nothing short of a miracle, and his time as an auror had further cemented that realization into his mind. He could not bring them back into the line of fire, not only because he couldn't bare anymore blood on his hands, but because they were not trained for this sort of fighting.
Without a doubt, Hermione and Ron could hold their own in duels... especially Hermione who was not only fast but filled with a compendium of knowledge when it came to spells. Nevertheless, these recent attacks Harry had been investigating were different. He couldn't fully explain why but there was sense that the magic was something old, something unusual, and something very deadly.
He thought about this and what he ought to do next as he sipped his drink. There was also the issue of his own sanity, an issue which had become perfectly evident with his actions that night. He shuddered as he remembered the look of shock in Hermione's eyes as he choked her. What she didn't realize, and what he never wanted her to know, was that he had been fully conscious for a good portion of it. He had known what he was doing, had felt the pulse of her heart racing helplessly in his palm... and he had liked it.
As he admitted this to himself he felt like he might vomit. His best friend, possibly the person he loved most the world, had been hurt by his own hands and he had felt satisfaction and a cold sense of malice. For the first time in his life, he had known the sick lust Tom Riddle must have felt for pain and cruelty. No, it wasn't the first time he admitted, draining his glass.
A week before he had investigated the crime scene of a murdered former Death Eater. The body had been severed open with a spell that nobody could detect, but was clearly dark magic. Blood had spilled out across the lawn where the Death Eater had attempted to flee, and as Harry looked down at the slick blackened blood glistening in the moonlight, he had realized he was smiling. Upon realization the smile felt strange upon his face- rigid and cruel- the same smile he had once seen on Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets.
When Harry had watched Voldemort die, it had been with a mixture of shock, relief and even pity. But never happiness. Something was changing in him, something that had manifested into his dreams; dreams of blood of murder and screams of torture. He needed help, but he didn't know what could even be done. I'm going mad he decided, refilling his glass.
As he attempted to drown his fears in another glass of alcohol there was a sudden burning at his wrist. Nothing painful, but a warm sensation radiating from a band that he wore there. This band was a symbol of the aurors and could be removed by nobody, magic or otherwise. It grew hot when an auror was being called in to the office. So much for a few days off he thought, but without much disdain. Work was really the only place he felt right anymore, the only place he could escape all the ghosts and the memories and fears and nightmares. He slung his jacket back over his shoulders and apparated from the quiet house, leaving the ghosts to wander alone once more.
After Harry had left, Hermione found sleep equally impossible. At first she was flustered about what had happened, then enraged that he had just left without the chance to talk to him about it, then worried about what was wrong with him and scared that she may not see him for a very long time, and that he might not be okay.
Thus she found herself doing the only thing she ever did when upset; she studied. Her house was everything she had always dreamed it would be. As many little girls often will, Hermione Granger had spent many hours daydreaming about her ideal home. She had pictured a place with character; an old house with wooden floors, Oriental carpets, and antique furniture. She imagined a cozy place that was warm and filled with books, plush sofas and lots of windows to let in light. She envisioned a large back yard near a babbling brook with old, shady trees and lots of quiet gardens. She had imagined a giant kitchen with gleaming clean appliances and cooking utensils. And she had gotten all of that. Of course, she had also imagined a man who she would cook for in that giant kitchen, who she might open a bottle of wine with on that plush sofa, take walks with around the massive yard, and make good use to her large bed with. But a girl can't have everything she thought dismissively, making her way to her study.
Besides, she was plenty busy with her work; she hardly noticed the harshness solitude can bring to many. And when she wasn't piled in legal motions and other ministry related battles, she was dealing with Harry bleeding all over the place. Her life was not full of too many dull moments. Nevertheless, on nights like these the house felt too big for her, and she wondered if it was mistake getting it. She had not been in the market for a home, she was only 21 when she had bought it... or to be more accurate, Harry had bought it for her.
She had been visiting the wizarding village of Avonville to deal with an issue of magical creature rights. What had started as a battle for House Elves had lead into a slur of other concerns such as proper licensing and housing of magical creatures, protection of muggle born status in the wizarding world, and even fair trial representation for minority groups (squibs for example). The case in Avonville was nothing particularly exciting, simply a meeting about the proper treatment of confined Hyppogriffs. While there she had decided to take a walk to clear her head and get some fresh air while taking in the quaint village's surroundings. As she strolled aimlessly about, she found the house for sale, and immediately she recognized it as everything she had dreamed of as a girl. Of course, the ministry wasn't renowned for having high paychecks (one could just ask Mr. Weasley to attest to this), so with a heavy heart she realized she would never be able to afford it.
It had been Harry who insisted on buying it for her when she mentioned it to him in passing. Harry was absurdly wealthy, though few would guess by his typically humble attire and quiet lifestyle. She was firm on dismissing his offer, but he managed to battle it out with her logically, maintaining that it would be good for him to have an occasional place to stay and that he had no desire to own a house of his own since he would always be gone.
"I'm nearly always away on work" he had argued calmly. "Just keep a guest bedroom for me; it will be a great help to me in the end."
"You could just buy your own place you know. You could buy a dozen new places if you wanted" she laughed, allowing him to win her over.
"I still have Grimmauld Place" he responded with a shrug, something in his tone clearly suggesting this was not a place he wanted to stay anyways.
Finally she agreed that she would allow him to loan her the money on the condition that he also allow her to pay him back. He acquiesced, and each month she transferred money into his account, slowly repaying the debt. Of course, she doubted if he even noticed the money being added.
And so she was 23, single, and owner to a large, quiet house. I should just get a dog or something she thought with a small amount of amusement. Her parents visited occasionally, but ever since she had restored their memory something was slightly off. They knew she had hundreds of dark, dangerous secrets she could not tell them and it had made their relationship strained.
She had arrived at her study, a cozy room with bookshelves crammed packed and a large, very clean and organized desk. She had a stack of work to get through that nearly went past her head, and so she dug into the first file, a case in which a squib was claiming that he had been unfairly framed for theft through the use of the imperious curse.
After about a half hour of reading through the files she determined that it was all a farce and nothing that added up to a civil rights case in terms of "unfair treatment". The squib in question was a notorious thief and had been of clear and present mind when the actions were committed. She rolled her eyes and was about to move onto the next folder when there was a scratching sound at her window.
A black owl with large golden eyes hooted at her, and she opened the window cautiously, permitting it to enter. It dropped an envelope at her desk and then swooped back out the window without a moment of hesitation. She wondered if it was from Harry, but there was no name on the envelope to determine handwriting by. Carefully she opened it and nearly gasped. Written in bold, dark handwriting it said:
IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE, UNSEAL THE DEATH EATER DOCUMENTS. THIS IS NOT A REQUEST. DO AS WE SAY OR YOUR HAND WILL EASILY BE FORCED.
The Death Eater Documents she thought, her mind racing. An odd outcome of her position at the ministry had required that she protect the civil rights of those Death Eaters who had been pardoned by the ministry. At first she had protested, claiming that she could not be unbiased in protecting the rights of those who had once conspired with a group who that killed her friends and led her to much suffering. But it had not been in her power to refuse the assignment, and so she had helped ensure that court cases involving former Death Eaters were fair and equal. In doing this, she had sealed all documents detailing their testimonies and past involvement. While some Death Eater families (like the Malfoys) were too prominent to escape the ridicule and judgment of others, many Death Eaters had been quiet about their involvement. Hermione had sealed the documents so that no employers, medical professionals, school systems, etc. could judge them based on past transgressions.
Unlike in the muggle world, a sealed document was truly inaccessible except to the person who had sealed it. Had anyone needed to access these records (take for example, an auror), only Hermione could show them, and they could only be seen in her presence. Otherwise, they would appear as a bunch of blank pages. They were kept in a vault at the ministry, and only through a complex spell could she permanently unseal them. Who would want this information? What could they possibly be planning?
One thing was for sure- whoever wanted the documents was not warm and fuzzy, and they seemed to mean business. Hermione was not used to death threats on her. It was usually Harry receiving them, and while that had been bad enough it was somehow worse when she was directly on the receiving end. She felt sick and frightened, and that made her in turn become annoyed and angry. The owl had come to her home... she wasn't sure how much longer she would be safe there and so she tried to think of the best place to go and get help.
"I still have Grimmauld Place" she heard Harry's words echo in her mind, and then she was gone.
It was another bloodbath at the scene of this crime. Harry couldn't say he was sad to see Dolohov dead. He still remembered the feeling of panic he had experienced when seeing that curse hit Hermione at the Ministry of Magic all those years ago. Still, while he took a slight grim satisfaction in Dolohov's murder he was more relieved that he did not feel that sickening pleasure he had been experiencing of late.
Dolohov had somehow escaped after the Battle of Hogwarts and while the aurors had put some effort into finding him, he had never been top priority. He had been very quiet about his actions, and it was speculated he had gone into hiding for good after the fall of the Dark Lord. It was clear that his hiding had not eluded everyone.
"Someone chopped him up good" said a female voice with a strong Irish accent. Harry didn't need to turn his head to know that it was Caitlin O'Rourke, a tall woman with dark red hair. She was a few years older than Harry; they had met each other at auror academy and slept together for a while before they both lost interest. She was a powerful witch, and Harry respected her but she could also be a touch insensitive.
"Same curse as was used on the last one" he nodded.
"Why is someone killing Death Eaters?" she asked, carefully circling the puddle of blood. "First it was Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, then that old man we found in the grass, and now Antoine Dolohov."
Harry pondered this. Originally Harry had thought it was a Death Eater seeking to get even for betrayal to Voldemort. The Malfoys had prominently defected in the end, and the old Death Eater found dead in the grass was someone they had never even heard of. But if it was about traitor payback, they certainly wouldn't have gone after Dolohov. As far as Harry knew, Dolohov had been in it until the end. "Whoever it is must have been part of the inner circle" Harry deduced aloud.
"Why do you say that?" O'Rourke asked, casting spells to search for evidence.
"Very few knew where Dolohov's estate was located. It was protected by wards and secrecy. We tried to find it for a while, but none of our informants were very helpful."
"Surprise, surprise" she smugly responded. "Maybe we should drag the youngest and only Malfoy in for inquisition. He might have an idea on who's behind all this."
"If he did I should think he would have shared... after all, his own parents were killed by the same person who has been doing this."
"I have a theory on that" O'Rourke mused, stopping what she was doing and settling her pretty dark eyes on Harry. Her voice was like a purr, in fact, many things about her were cat-like, from her graceful movements to her playful, aggressive nature. "I think Malfoy killed his parents."
"I doubt it" Harry frowned. "You never heard how in love with his father he was during Hogwarts. `When my Father hears about this' was the single most frequent phrases I heard him utter" Harry joked, imitating Malfoy's drawl. "That and, `I'm a prissy little git with a pointy chin'."
"I doubt you ever heard him say those exact words."
"No, but he should have said them often because it was what everyone else was thinking."
"Well, maybe what you were thinking, but not what I heard. A handsome boy from a wealthy, pure blood family, and a seeker to boot; his reputation preceded him even in other parts of the world..."
"I've heard enough about Malfoy's reputation thank-you very much" Harry interrupted, narrowing his eyes. "Can we get back on track?"
"Yes, but do consider what I said. It may be true that Malfoy adored his father growing up, but relationships with parents can become tumultuous. Maybe Malfoy was ashamed by his parents' act of cowardice in fleeing during the final battle. Maybe being tapped by the Dark Lord to kill Albus Dumbledore as a teenager left Draco a bit fucked in the head, maybe he had a stronger allegiance to Voldemort than he let on, and just maybe he's out seeking vengeance on other Death Eaters."
"Maybe" Harry sighed, not sounding convinced. "Dolohov was never a traitor to his master though."
"Not that we know of anyways" O'Rourke shrugged. "Remember what they told us in training? Never make assumptions. Something may have happened during or after the battle that made young Malfoy suspect Dolohov as a traitor."
"It's a possibility" Harry nodded, slowly trying to open his mind to O'Rourke's theories. "But the magic used... it's something very rare and untraceable. How would Malfoy be able to do all this?"
"Was he not the same conniving teenager who used the Vanishing Cabinet to bring a team of Death Eaters onto Hogwarts grounds? I would not start making assumptions about what he is and isn't capable of."
Harry realized that this was all too true. Malfoy was a more powerful wizard than he was often given credit, he was no stranger to dark magic, and he was also a member of the inner circle- one of the few still alive who may have known where Dolohov's home was concealed. Is it possible that being chosen by the Dark Lord as a leader during the war was such an ego boost that Malfoy is still maddened by his quest? On one hand, that did not seem likely of the scared Malfoy Harry had witnessed in those final days, shrieking "don't kill him!" in the room of requirement. One the other hand, people could change; Harry was learning about just how much a person could change first hand.Document created with wvWare/wvWare version 1.2.7