Living in the Shadows

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Written December 2003
There was a nervous tension in the air that was practically visible. No one spoke as they prepared in their own way for the battle that was to come. Hermione Granger watched as her best friend, Harry Potter, paced restlessly beside her. He always took exactly five steps before turning and repeating, his left hand moving through his thick black hair as his green eyes looked at the ceiling above. She knew he was scared, pacing and trying not to look nervous. It was the way he nibbled on the left corner of his bottom lip, something so simple but said so much. Harry knew, just as she did, just as they all did, that this was going to be the Final Battle of the Second War. Coffee colored eyes looked away from Harry as Hermione looked at the other people in the room, knowing that this might be the last time she saw some of them. With every battle, they lost someone else. She guessed the first had been Cedric, back during their fourth year. Sirius had been next; the first death that truly had an impact on them. She had known Cedric, of course, but he'd not meant anything particular to her. Sirius, on the other hand, had become a friend over the years and his death had been a sudden reminder that heroes didn't always win, that the good guy could die, and that the bad guy was even more dangerous than they'd thought.

Following Sirius' death, sixth year at Hogwarts had seen a slow increase in attacks by Death Eaters. By that summer, there had been over a dozen raids with a final death toll of two hundred and forty-five, mostly muggles from small towns that proved easy targets for Voldemort but also wizards, witches, and a few members of the Order. With Snape being discovered as a spy, the Order had not had any inside information into Voldemort's actions. Dumbledore had continued getting bits of news, she personally suspected that someone had provided Snape with the information, but it had been decided finally that it was beneficial to send someone in to spy so they an insider in Voldemort's Inner Circle. That was how Ronald Bilius Weasley had become a Death Eater. For over a year now, Ron had been undercover as a loyal follower of Voldemort, reporting back to the Order following the meetings he had attended. They had been able to monitor Voldemort and remain aware of what was happening in his Inner Circle because of Ron, preventing several would-be massacres and successfully capturing some of Voldemort's more dangerous allies.

She was proud of Ron for accepting such a responsibility, having seen during seventh year that he had matured from a silly boy into a brave man. She had only seen his dark mark once, the redhead always keeping it concealed. She'd touched it and watched him flinch, his brown eyes almost sad when he looked at the mark. She'd given him a hug, thanking him for undertaking such a dangerous task and had never mentioned the mark again. Tonight, he was playing his part so he was with Voldemort preparing for what the Death Eaters assumed would be a raid on Kirington, a small village in the countryside. She knew they would be surprised when they arrived to find themselves confronted with what was going to be the Final Battle.

Hermione wondered what Ron was doing right now to prepare for the battle. When he had been called, he'd grinned at her and given her a kiss on the cheek before telling her to be careful. He'd then given Harry a nod before he'd left. The plan was for him to get into the middle of things under the pretense of being on Voldemort's side and then remove his mask and help Harry get closer to Voldemort. Molly had put a lining of gold on his black robe so they could know him during the fight, not wanting her youngest son harmed by mistake. According to Ron, Voldemort would have roughly forty Death Eaters with him, over a dozen recent graduates from Hogwarts. Most of the new Death Eaters were from Slytherin, which was not very surprising, but there had been a few from Ravenclaw that had also joined Voldemort's ranks. She knew that Malfoy had joined Voldemort even before Ron, never seeing the mark but receiving confirmation from the redhead that the blond wizard was already in a position of authority by the time he joined, trusted by Voldemort to help plan strategy and acting as a leader amongst men twice his age.

Ron had gone to Voldemort claiming he was tired of being the forgotten support behind the great Harry Potter, convincing Voldemort that he was willing to trade information and keep an eye on his former friends in exchange for a place in the Dark Lord's Inner Circle. Voldemort had agreed, thrilled for an opportunity to have someone so close to Harry amongst his followers. He didn't know that the information he was getting was approved by Dumbledore or that Ron was still their friend behind closed doors. Malfoy's involvement with Voldemort had forced a few changes in their initial plan. Because of the Slytherin's involvement with Voldemort, Ron had been forced to act as though he barely tolerated them and was only around to gather information, not daring to be naturally friendly for fear that Malfoy would get suspicious and tell Voldemort something that might jeopardize his cover. He had been polite and remained close enough to warrant Voldemort trusting him to get information about Harry but not so friendly that he could be mistaken as an Order spy by Malfoy. It had been strange not having Ron as part of their group, even more so when she'd catch sight of him exchanging pleasantries with Slytherins that were loyal to Voldemort.

Hermione had little interaction with most of those Slytherins by seventh year, few of them choosing to take advance classes, but Malfoy had been in a majority of her classes, usually right beneath her in marks. He was highly intelligent and cunning, two traits she usually admired but that she found particularly frightening when possessed by an enemy. She'd been relieved when Anthony Goldstein, a Ravenclaw, had been appointed as Head Boy since she had been sure Malfoy had earned the position, not wanting to have to work closely with someone she *knew* was a Death Eater. After graduation, Ron had attended a meeting and seen over twenty former Hogwarts students take an oath of allegiance to Voldemort and receive the mark. He, as well as Malfoy, watched the proceedings, having both already received their marks. They'd received an exception to Voldemort's usual rule of not marking anyone until they were of age, Malfoy being the youngest to receive the mark, presumably entering Voldemort's Inner Circle following Lucius' death not a month after being sent to Azkaban, before sixth year began. Ron had received the mark during seventh year, after being a member of the Inner Circle for nearly nine months and proving his allegiance to Voldemort by supplying the approved information about Harry and the Order.

She noticed Neville Longbottom waving his wand and muttering to himself, obviously practicing silent curses. Fred and George Weasley were both silently playing a game of wizard's chess, nervously tapping their feet on the floor as they paid little attention to the game, most likely worried about their little brother. The other Weasleys were also quiet, Percy reading a newspaper and trying to act as though he belonged there. She didn't much like Percy, not able to forget his betrayal years ago and not caring if he had come back repenting for his actions. Bill was watching the twins play chess and Ginny was watching Neville. Charlie had been unable to make it home for the battle, and she'd seen a look of relief flash in Molly's eyes when she'd said that at least one of her children was safe from harm's way. Arthur was whispering to Dumbledore, the elderly wizard looking even older than normal. During the last face off against Voldemort, right after graduation, he had been hit with a curse that, while it didn't kill him, had taken a lot of his energy to overcome. There had been arguments regarding him remaining out of battle that evening, but he was too stubborn to listen.

Lupin was sitting quietly with his eyes shut, looking as if he were napping but she knew he was centering himself, meditating and preparing for the upcoming battle. Snape was sitting across from him, stoic and serious, lips curved into a familiar scowl of concentration. Had Tonks been there, the atmosphere might have been lightened by a funny joke, but Tonks had died nearly a year ago. Moody had soon followed. A dozen others had died in the last four years, but tonight would hopefully be the end of it all. She was either going to see Voldemort defeated tonight or she was going to die, the brunette witch was comfortable with that knowledge. She had told the people she cared about that she loved them, in case her fate was the latter, and had no hesitation in sacrificing her life in the fight against Voldemort.

"It is time," a soft voice spoke, drawing the attention of the people gathered in the Great Hall.

Hermione looked at Minerva McGonagall, seeing her former Head of House assist Dumbledore to his feet. For a brief moment, tears filled her brown eyes as she again looked at the faces of the people that had become a family to her over the years, having spent more time with them at school and at War than her own parents. She hoped that they survived tonight unharmed but was realistic enough to know that some of them would not be returning, even if they did defeat Voldemort. She shook her head, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as she took a deep breath and stood up, gathering her courage and strength for the task that lay ahead.

"Hermione," Harry spoke softly from beside her.

"Yeah, Harry?" she looked at the man that was the hope of the Wizarding World, her lips curving into a loving smile as she went into his arms and hugged him tightly.

"Promise me you're not going to go get yourself killed," Harry muttered into her hair, tightening his hold on his best friend and the person he loved most in the world. She was his sister, his best friend, his confidant, always supportive and encouraging, the love they shared far more meaningful than any passing romantic feeling. They were soulmates, he and Hermione, even if they weren't in love with each other.

"I promise," Hermione whispered, looking into his eyes as she said, "You promise to be careful and not do anything daring. One day I plan to be Godmother to your children, Harry James Potter so you can't get yourself killed! Do you understand?"

"I understand Hermione Jane Granger!" he smiled slightly before he looked around the room. He sighed as he repeated McGonagall's words, "It's time. Let's get this over with."

An hour later, Hermione ducked to avoid a curse flung in her direction. She saw someone fall after being hit with an Avada Kedavra, watching as Dean Thomas, a fellow Gryffindor who had just joined the Order after graduation, fell to the ground dead. Everything had gone terribly wrong. Voldemort had not been surprised by their attack, having over seventy people with him, prepared for a fight to the death. She scanned the crowd for sight of Harry, finally seeing him dueling with a Death Eater, his glasses broken and barely on his face. She ran through the crowd, jumping over the fallen bodies, refusing to look down and see who was captured or dead. She couldn't dwell on the loss, not yet. Harry needed her, her caramel colored hair coming free from the ponytail she'd put it in before the battle as she ran. She raised her wand, sending a curse at the Death Eater fighting Harry, receiving a thankful smile from her friend before he sighed and looked around for Voldemort, spotting the bastard fighting with Snape, Dumbledore, and Lupin.

Hermione started in that direction after Harry, her brown eyes trying to find Ron in the crowd of black robes. It was impossible to see the gold lining, most of the Death Eaters having robes lined with one color or another. They had been aware that it was difficult to locate him, that being the reason Arthur had insisted Ron remove his mask as soon as the fighting began, not wanting his youngest son harmed by mistake. She hadn't seen Ron at all since they'd arrived, but it had been hectic and impossible to know what was happening around her, her focus always on whoever was trying to kill her so she just had to hope he was okay. She saw a Death Eater aim his wand at Snape, her hand raising as she prepared to stop the curse.

To her surprise, a figure in a mask and black robe edged with silver sent an Avada Kedavra curse at the wizard, halting an attack against Snape. She hesitated, not sure if he was on their side or not. She'd suspected a second spy in Voldemort's group besides Ron, but no one had told them anything about it and she'd never asked. She heard a shout from her right and turned, uttering a curse and saving Fred Weasley. She got a nod from the redhead before he went to help George, who was trying to fight two wizards at the same time. When she turned back, she was shocked to see the Death Eater's mask on the ground and Draco Malfoy's pale gray eyes watching her. She aimed her wand at him, disbelief in her eyes as she tried to determine if this was possible. Malfoy was on their side?

She watched him smirk and bow slightly, seemingly pleased at her stunned reaction, before he turned and began fighting his fellow Death Eaters. His arrogant smirk snapped her out of her shock, her eyes narrowing as she decided to trust her gut instinct that he could be trusted. She turned and made her way towards Harry, her eyes alert as she tried to stay focused on battle, unable to stop herself from dwelling on the surprise of seeing Malfoy fighting on their side. If they survived this, she was going to have a chat with Snape about the art of sharing with the group and letting them know that he had a spy of his own, especially when it was Malfoy. She still couldn't believe Malfoy was helping the Order, wondering if she was mistaken and shouldn't have cursed him, if only to repay him for years of calling her Mudblood and being a condescending, conceited, rude bastard. As she reached the part of the field where Harry was trying to fight Voldemort, she sighed, pushing all thoughts of Malfoy out of her head as she focused her attention on the matter at hand, helping Harry fight Voldemort and the Death Eaters that were protecting their Lord. She was about to run to join that fight when she heard someone call her name.


"Ron?" Hermione turned, relieved to see her friend smiling at her. He was wearing the black robes lined with gold and his mask was nowhere in sight. She hesitated in joining Harry for a moment, telling Ron, "Thank Merlin you're okay. I hadn't seen you and worried you might have been hurt."

"Don't worry about me, Mione," he said as he reached her, flashing her a grin. He looked around, asking, "Where's Harry? I thought I saw him earlier but lost sight of him once the fight started."

"He's right over there, finally facing Voldemort," she gestured, "I'm going to help him and the others."

"Ron, Hermione, come on," Percy urged as he moved past them, headed to the area where Harry and the others were facing Voldemort and a group of Death Eaters. He flashed them a smile as he said, "Harry can use all the help he can get."

"Bloody hell," Ron cursed as he surveyed the situation. Voldemort was facing increasingly difficult odds, Harry being joined by other Order members as the fighting slowed down around the field. The Death Eaters were being captured or killed, the defense around Voldemort weakening as Harry began to move into position to face the Dark Lord one final time.

"Come on, Ronnie, let's go get that bastard," Percy said as he took Ron's arm, looking rather pleased that he'd said something so daring.

"Let go of me, Percy," Ron said as he tried to free his arm.

Hermione noticed movement to her left and turned to face a Death Eater, dodging a curse and hitting him with her own. She watched as he fell, thankful that she still felt a sense of unease whenever she killed someone. She usually avoided using the killing curse, preferring capture to murder, but tonight she'd had to kill and didn't like the feeling at all. She turned back to Ron and Percy, surprised to see Ron glaring angrily at his older brother. As she watched them, everything else seemed to fade away. As if in slow motion, she saw Ron raise his wand, her eyes seeing his lips form the words as she stared in horror, feeling as if someone had kicked her hard in the stomach as she saw Percy look surprised before the killing curse hit him. She couldn't move when Ron turned and looked at her, no longer the amusing and carefree boy she had known for eight years. His eyes were cold and frightening, his lips curved into a small smile and he didn't seem bothered at all that he'd just killed his own brother. In fact, he seemed to have enjoyed it, his dark red hair falling over his forehead as he raised his hand, aiming his wand at her.

"Wish you hadn't seen that, Mione," he said casually, "didn't want to have to kill you myself."

Before Hermione could say anything, not that she had any idea what to say, she saw him starting to say the words. She was still frozen, unable to fight back, unable to curse him, shocked that her childhood best friend, the boy she had briefly snogged during sixth year, the boy that was like a brother to her was planning to kill her. She braced herself for the curse, finding it sadly ironic that her death was being delivered by one of the few people she trusted and cared about in this world. Before the curse could hit her, she felt arms go around her waist as she was knocked to the ground. She landed hard, a weight on top of her as she let out the breath she'd been holding. Confused brown eyes watched as Ron glared before dodging a curse, snarling something to her savior before smirking and running across the field towards Harry and the others.

She wanted to stand up and shout a warning to Harry, alert him to Ron's betrayal, but she was frozen in shock. It wasn't long before she heard shouts of triumph accompanied by the twins singing a strange version of the song from the Wizard of Oz, a movie she'd had them watch the previous summer during a trip to her house. She heard others join them in singing "Ding dong the bastard's dead" before trailing off as the reality seemed to hit them all. She couldn't breathe, still stunned that Ron, sweet funny Ron, had killed Percy and tried to kill her. She just couldn't believe he'd turned on them, knowing that he must have become too involved during his spy games, wondering how she had missed the changes that must have taken place in her old friend.

He had acted strange, certainly, but she had assumed it was part of his act and she'd also known that he'd had to participate in some raids and had probably had to do some horrible things to prove his allegiance, but she'd never once considered that Ron would willingly choose to follow Voldemort, choose the Dark Lord over his friends and family and everything that was good in this world. She saw a hand appear in front of her face, brown eyes staring at it dumbly as she wondered how she was going to tell Molly and Arthur that Ron had killed Percy, how she was going to tell Harry that he'd defeated Voldemort but lost his best friend, how she was going to accept that someone she trusted and loved had betrayed her, betrayed them all.

Finally, she took the hand, squeezing it as she slowly stood, finally looking into the face of the wizard that had saved her life. Gray eyes were watching her carefully, cold but not dull and lifeless like Ron's had been, just pale gray and indecipherable as always. He was frowning, giving an impression that he might be somewhat concerned, though she had to assume she was just imagining that. She whispered, "Thank you for saving my life," before she looked at Percy's body, tears filling her eyes as she looked around the field, seeing dozens of people who would not be getting up. She took a deep breath, blinking away the tears. She couldn't break down, not here, not now. Others needed her to be strong, to be tough, to support them as they cried.

"Hermione!" Harry cried out in relief as he reached his best friend, pulling her into his arms as he hugged her tightly.

"Harry, you did it," Hermione whispered as she clung to him, "he's dead."

"We did it," Harry corrected, pulling back and looking into her eyes, his eyes sad and wet as he said, "Ron's gone. He, oh God, he killed Professor Flitwick and then tried to get Dumbledore."

"He killed Percy, right in front of me, just killed him and then smiled like it was fun," Hermione said quietly, "he tried to kill me, Harry. He said the curse but Malfoy knocked me out of the way."

"Bloody hell," Harry tightened his hold on Hermione, green eyes looking up and noticing that Malfoy was having a heated discussion with Snape. He looked back at Hermione, "He was on our side all the time, wasn't he? That's who was giving Dumbledore the information that Ron didn't even know."

"I don't know," Hermione sighed as she turned to look at the blond wizard in question. Under different circumstances she might have appreciated the irony of the situation. She'd just been saved from a death curse given by one of her best friends by someone she'd always considered an enemy. She hugged Harry as she admitted, "I'm glad Voldemort's dead and that the fighting is finally over. Selfishly, I'm glad that I'm alive and you're alive and we didn't lose more people than we did. I still can't believe Ron turned on us and we don't even know why and Voldemort's finally dead and I don't feel like celebrating at all!"

"Ron escaped, Hermione," Harry said softly, "he apparated away before Snape's curse hit. There were a few dozen Death Eaters that got away after Voldemort fell, we couldn't get them all, but we will get them. I don't understand what happened with Ron and, honestly, I don't even care why he turned on us and sincerely joined Voldemort. He made his choice, just as we all did, and now he's going to have to live with it. We hadn't been particularly close since he started spying and, bloody hell, I'm exhausted and mentally stressed and I feel like sitting down and simply crying."

"It's been a hellish few years so I think you deserve a good cry," Hermione said as she looked away from Draco and Snape, her brown eyes surveying the field. There were a few dozen bodies, the majority Death Eaters, but there were several familiar faces that she would no longer see smiling or laughing or alive. She sighed when she looked at the Weasleys, seeing them gathered around Percy's body, crying and looking as stunned as she, herself, felt. They had lost two sons that day, one to death and one to darkness. She took Harry's hand and walked to the family that was like her own, knowing that her tears would wait until she was alone and able to just grieve for the people lost, the friendships gone, the deaths she had caused. She was enveloped in a hug from Ginny before she reached them, the girl's tears soon soaking her shirt. She looked at Harry and saw him hugging Molly, silent tears running down his handsome face as he mourned for those lost that day.

They all went back to Hogwarts for the night, a few less than what set out but the number surprisingly strong. The injured were taken to St. Mungos, the bodies of the dead would be taken care of by the Ministry, the prisoners taken away, tears had been shed, and then the recalling had begun. Stories of what happened to everyone as they'd fought, tales of bravery and courage in dire circumstances, tales of heroic actions from fallen friends, even some tales of humor and love that caused smiles from the weary fighters. Hermione listened for as long as she could, finally telling Harry she wanted to take a shower and would see him at breakfast. Dumbledore had opened the school for them for the evening, seeming to know they'd want to share each other's company following the final battle of the war.

She would have her old room, eyes flashing with sadness as she remembered that Anthony had fallen in the battle following graduation. She walked to the second floor, drawn to the window seat overlooking the castle grounds. It had been a favorite spot of hers when she'd been a student at school, a sort of secret place where she could go to be alone and no one ever looked for her. She'd sit and read in the sunlight and look at the forbidden forest. She leaned her head against the wall and looked outside, brown eyes lingering on the shadows. She found comfort in the shadows, her arms moving around her waist as she felt a tear silently fall from her eye. She stiffened when she felt a presence behind her, wondering if Harry had followed her. She slowly relaxed when an arm went around her waist, pulling her against a tall, slender body.

"I've got you, Granger," a soft voice said from above, "you can cry now."

Hermione tried to resist, knowing that she couldn't cry in front of someone, especially not *him*. She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the comforting feel of his muscular arms around her, reminding herself of all the reasons why she shouldn't trust him, even if he had saved her, knowing that most of them weren't valid because she had never really known Malfoy beyond the arrogant conceit and rude behavior, he was a bit of a bastard, though intelligent and cunning and sarcastically witty as well as being an obnoxious prat. He'd saved her, true, but that didn't make them friends, didn't give her any reason to like him any more now than she had during seven years of school. She knew some people thought she was a bit cold because she kept a tight reign on her emotions, and she didn't mind that belief. She liked being the strong one, the one that was needed, the one that could be counted on to remain stalwart and serious and not be hindered by silly emotional outbursts. She blinked away the tears, staring at the shadows outside as Draco simply stood and held her in the same way Harry or Neville might, her mind refusing to think about Ron for the moment. If not for Draco, she'd have died tonight, killed by her childhood best friend. He had saved her life, another tear falling down her pretty face as she tried to keep her emotions controlled.

"Let it go, Granger," Draco urged quietly, "I've got you."

Hermione leaned back against him, her fingers entwining with his around her waist. She felt safe, standing here with Draco holding her, following his soft request and finally letting it all go. She sighed softly, the sound coming out like a soft sob. She felt the tears in her eyes as she allowed herself to think about everything that had happened in the last few hours, days, years. A tear fell as she thought about Sirius, remembering his mischievous smile and amused black eyes as he'd tease them or tell a silly joke. Another tear fell as she thought about Tonks and rainbow colored hair and how the woman always knew what to do to lighten things up. Another tear fell as she thought about Moody and his sneering comments regarding their training and how they'd never be as good as he was if they didn't focus and pay attention, his voice gruff, constant vigilance echoing in her mind, his intentions sincere. Another tear quickly followed as she thought of others they had lost, some friends, some just colleagues with a similar belief that muggles and muggle-borns deserved to live.

By the time she got to Percy's death, she was crying openly from thinking about the last few years, her nose running and soft sobs coming from her lips as she leaned against Draco for support, finally letting it all out. She cried more when she thought about Ron, wondering if they had somehow let him down by not seeing that he was beginning to believe Voldemort's claims or if he had always been a risk and they'd just been oblivious and accepting, not even caring because she had lost one of her best friends. He wasn't dead, not physically, but he was lost to them. She cried until there were no tears left to cry, and through it all Draco Malfoy held her silently, letting her cry and simply keeping his arms around her to support her. She felt better, she realized, sighing as she leaned her head against Draco's shoulder, her eyes still looking outside. She could see the horizon starting to change color, realized that it must be nearly dawn. It was a new day, some things had changed while others had not. There had been casualties, but not nearly as many as she had honestly expected. Voldemort was dead, the Death Eaters would be caught, and, no matter how cliché, life would go on.


The street was bustling with activity as dusk approached. Hermione Granger sipped her tea and nibbled on a pastry as she watched the pedestrians from her table outside the small café. She blended into the crowd around her, looking like a normal student possibly taking a break from studying for exams. She was twenty-one years old, her caramel colored hair falling to her waist with a natural loose curl to it. Today, she had braided it, leaving a few strands framing a face that could be considered pretty. A bit plain, her eyes the color of dark coffee, her lips slightly thin, her nose not distinctive or cute, her complexion was smooth and blemish free and slightly tan.

She would never be beautiful, not stunning and gasp-worthy, but she was quite content with how she looked. She was above average in height, having always been a bit taller than most the girls in her school, but was not as tall as most the men she knew. Her body could best be described as shapely. Her breasts were full and, while not overly large, were more than enough for a handful with a bit left over. Her stomach was not entirely flat because she liked a good meal and had a weakness for chocolate. She was somewhat athletic, her job requiring her to keep in shape and take care of herself. She wasn't one to fuss over her appearance, rarely wearing make-up unless it was a special occasion and not bothering with the extensive preparations most of her female friends went through every day. Hermione wasn't one for such nonsense, preferring to use that valuable time to read or work. Besides, it wasn't like she had anyone to impress with such drastic actions.

Since the defeat of Voldemort three years ago, she had thrown herself into her new job and correspondence courses at University that could be done around her hectic schedule and spending time with her friends. She had a rewarding life and didn't need a romantic partner to feel happy and complete. The brunette witch took another sip of her tea, coffee colored eyes subtly moving to look at a table not far from her own. Her lips curved into a slight smile as she saw her partner arch a brow and grimace slightly, seeming to ask if it was time to go yet. She shook her head subtly, covering a laugh with a cough as he gave her a glare worthy of Professor Snape. Poor baby wasn't happy with their latest assignment, presently sulking like a spoiled child and scowling at her as if it was her fault he was having to play nice with their suspect. She watched him roll his pale gray eyes when she smirked at him, the frown fading from his face as his companion came back to the table. She watched him smile a dazzling smile at the witch, pouring on the Malfoy charm and flirting expertly.

She still found it a bit difficult to believe that Draco Malfoy was her partner, had been since they'd both joined Auror training right after Voldemort's defeat. Because of the loss of Aurors during the Second War, an extensive, accelerated training program had been set up. Within four months, she and Draco had passed all of their necessary tests and exams, finishing three years of training in a sixth of the time. It had helped that they had both devoted all of their time and energy to their training, naturally drifting into a partnership when it was obvious that they both wanted to finish their training as quickly as possible. Their work during the War had been beneficial, also. They'd tested out of a majority of their required subjects, giving them less material to cover. They studied together, practiced together, and had both passed their exams at the same time. They'd been sent out immediately to help round out the few Death Eaters that had avoided capture by that time, continuing their partnership in the field and working very successfully together.

They complimented each other well, having similar traits in some areas and just enough differences to balance their partnership. They had a perfect success record, which wasn't very surprising. They were determined and tenacious and refused to accept defeat. They thrived on challenge, loved solving puzzles, and were both highly intelligent. Over the years, they had gotten to a point where they could practically read each other's minds when they were working on a case, often completing each other's sentences and thoughts. Draco was an expert flyer, had a knowledge of spells and charms that even surpassed her own though she still refused to admit his superiority in that area, and could charm just about anyone if he really wanted to.

He was also arrogant, opinionated, sarcastic, cynical, and had a tendency to be rather aloof and callous when working on an assignment. He did not become emotionally involved in any of their cases, no matter what the offense, and maintained a detached view that allowed him to see every angle of their case. She was a horrible flyer, still having an uneasiness regarding heights, but she knew potions and transfiguration just as well as he knew charms. She, too, did not allow emotion to interfere with their work, though, depending on the case, she did use emotion to allow herself to think like their victim or suspect to gain some insight into the investigation.

When Arthur Weasley had become the Minister of Magic, he'd put the majority of focus on capturing the Death Eaters that had escaped and, by the time she and Draco were promoted to Aurors, most of the escapees from the Final Battle were dead or in custody and only the worst of the worst had remained. She and Draco had joined the search, successfully locating each of their assigned suspects. They'd been working as Aurors for three years and were very well respected for their hard work, determination, focus, and success record.

Their assignments varied, consisting of everything from simple captures to solving difficult cases. She preferred the assignments involving the puzzling cases that did not have obvious solutions, enjoying the research and mental activity required for the more difficult assignments. Their work was steady and enjoyable and kept them busy. When they weren't working on assignments from the Ministry, they both participated in the University's correspondence program. They spent nearly ever evening either working on their latest Auror assignment or studying for their classes.

Since Voldemort's Defeat, Draco had become one of her closest friends, knowing her nearly as well as Harry. It hadn't happened overnight, the history between them not merely forgotten because he'd saved her. They actually didn't talk about the past very often, it being one of the few subjects that neither of them particularly wanted to discuss. Their friendship had begun rather tentatively, a bit awkwardly. He'd saved her and she owed him her life, he'd been there when she needed him, and she'd realized the night that Voldemort died that she had never really known Draco Malfoy. She thought she'd known him, just as she thought she'd known Ron, but she was proven wrong on her perceptions of both, one of the few times she had ever been wrong. From that day forward, she'd done her best to learn who Draco was, letting him know her, and their friendship had gradually grown into something strong and meaningful.

Most nights would find them at the flat she had shared with Harry for the last three years. It was located in a wizarding area of London, surrounded by Muggle flats, restaurants, and shopping, not too far from the Ministry building, where she and Harry both worked. The flat was their base of operations, where she and Draco studied and worked, and the blond rarely left. Over two years ago, in fact, Harry had finally just added a room to their flat after finding Malfoy asleep on the sofa again with his books around him. Draco had clearly been surprised by Harry's actions. Her two best friends were no longer enemies, but they weren't exactly friends, a competitive rivalry existing between the two men that they both seemed to enjoy. Draco had quickly covered his surprise with some arrogant remark and a smirk before immediately moving some of his belongings into their place. Draco had not moved into the flat completely, refusing to consider himself a roommate of Harry Potter, but he was always there and often spent the night in his room at the flat and not his room at Malfoy Manor.

After he had moved in with them, Draco had surprised them by arranging for both her and Harry to have a room of their own at Malfoy Manor, opening his home to them in a similar way that they had opened their flat to him. He had been particularly smug when he'd shown them their rooms, enjoying the fact that he had shocked them. They would often go to the Manor for one weekend a month, enjoying the countryside and a chance to relax, sometimes joined by other friends and occasionally planning picnics and other group activities. She loved Draco's family home, the library amazing, and she actually really enjoyed visiting with Narcissa. The blonde witch still looked haughty more times than not, but Hermione had learned that the woman was actually quite intelligent and pleasant to be around. She had not particularly shared her husband's view regarding Muggles and Muggle-borns and was now in a position to do as she wished.


Hermione's thoughts drifted to her childhood best friend as she continued to sip her tea and keep an eye on Draco and the suspect. Harry had been an Auror for half a year, completing his training in six months, finally confessing to her that he wasn't happy and that he had spent years fighting and living with his life in danger and really wanted to just settle down to a boring life for a while. He had become an Auror because he'd considered it a likely career choice when he'd been at Hogwarts and because it really was expected because he was Harry Potter, and he'd enjoyed the risk at one time. However, by the time his training was complete and he'd given it six months, he realized that it was not the future that he wanted.

He'd resigned as an Auror and transferred to a different department in the Ministry, happily content with his desk job and the sporadic travel it required. He still liked an adventure, though, and would occasionally assist her and Draco with a case if they needed another opinion or a third set of eyes. Harry had just recently started to date a little. He was keeping things casual, not interested in starting anything serious at this time. He'd told them after one particularly dreadful date that he was a bit hesitant to get too close to anyone because he wasn't sure if they wanted him for him or because he was the Man That Defeated Voldemort.

Draco had suggested that Harry wear a mask because it would not only make him much more attractive to the women, but it would also prevent him from interrupting their work by whining endlessly about all the witches ready to drop their knickers because he was Harry Bleeding Potter and not just some normal wizard who worked in a low paying job at the Ministry. Of course, in the years they'd gotten to be friends, Hermione couldn't recall Draco ever dating, always busy with work or school, just like her. He'd told her once that dating was a silly game he didn't want to waste time playing at this point in his life, the women usually interested in him because of his wealth or the Malfoy name or because he was a handsome, confident, sexy wizard, if he did say so himself. That had earned him a laugh from her as she reminded him that not all witches were impressed by such things as wealth, family names, or good looks and that it was fortunate he was also intelligent and somewhat amusing. Thinking about that conversation, Hermione looked at the table where Draco was smoothly charming the witch that was suspected of murdering her husband by the rather mugglish manner of poisoning his dinner.

They had gathered evidence to support the theory, even locating the supplier of the potion materials and having him identify the woman who had purchased them nearly three months ago. She had obviously been planning her husband's murder for a while, premeditation removing any claims of a crime of passion once she was arrested. This case had not initially been assigned to them, having been given to another partnership three weeks ago after it had been committed. They had suspected murder but had been unable to find a motive or proof, both Aurors being new and inexperienced. So, last week, she and Draco had been brought in to take over the case and show the new team 'how it was done', as their boss, Remus Lupin, was fond of saying.

After Arthur had taken over as Minister, one of his first actions had been appointing Remus as Head of Aurors, confident that Remus was the right man for the job. After some hesitation and serious consideration, Remus had agreed to accept the position, never imagining that he'd do wonders for the tolerance of werewolves in the Wizarding World by proving himself over the last three years as a competent and successful leader. He was a great boss, tough but fair, honest and well liked. He had to be out of touch for a few days a month, true, but he ran a great department and had a fantastic relationship with his Aurors.

She loved working for Remus, not finding it difficult at all to work for the quiet wizard that had been a good friend since she was fourteen, tending to think of him as a favorite uncle who was caring but sometimes a bit overprotective. When she and Draco had presented their case to Remus yesterday, he'd agreed that they had enough to search the witch's flat and had proceeded to get the necessary documents from the Ministry. That was why they were now sitting in this café and Draco was playing the part of handsome flirt, to keep the witch away from her flat while Neville and the team searched for the ingredients for the poison or possibly the poison itself. The witch had been under surveillance since the murder of her husband and had not really been given an opportunity to properly dispose of the poison so Hermione suspected that it was well-hidden Finally, she noticed Neville appear from the alley and give her a grin, nodding as he put his thumb up and gave her the sign. He had joined the Aurors when she and the others had, completing his training around the same time as Harry. She smiled at her old friend, letting him know she'd seen him, watching as he disappeared into the alley.

Hermione stood up and tossed some money on the table, walking directly past Draco's table. She discretely caught his eyes, nodding slightly before she continued outside. She made her way to the alley to wait for Draco and the suspect. She spoke briefly to Neville, confirming that they had been successful with their search of the witch's flat. He was the one that had found the remainders of the poison used, rather proud that he had managed to locate an item she had hidden quite well. Neville and his partner, John, would often assist her and Draco when needed, providing support and back-up when the case warranted assistance. Once he passed along the information regarding the findings from the search, he gave her a smile before he apparated back to the Ministry. The entire exchange, including the tentative plans for them all to meet for dinner the following evening, which she needed to remember to speak to Draco and Harry about, took less than five minutes.

It wasn't long after Neville left that Draco entered the alley with the witch, no doubt hinting at drinks at his flat, though the witch was trying to grab his arse and didn't look like she wanted to wait for the trip to his flat. Draco was looking very annoyed and doing his best to avoid being pinched on the rear by the suspect. Hermione waited until they were further into the alley before she stepped from the shadows were she had concealed herself to wait. She confirmed to Draco that the search had been productive before she moved forward and took the wand from the startled woman's pocket. Draco took hold of the prisoner's arm as they apparated to the Ministry, the assignment successful.


"I feel so used," Draco sulked as they entered their office in Level 2 of the Ministry of Magic. Running a hand through his shoulder length white blond hair, he shuddered dramatically, "She kept looking at me as if I was dessert."

"Poor baby," Hermione snorted, "you know you love the attention, you conceited prat."

"I do not appreciate a woman old enough to be my Mum trying to pinch my arse," Draco grimaced as he put his expensive robe on over the casual clothes he'd worn to the café. He gave her a mild glare as he added, "And I would like a little support from my partner regarding my emotional distress at the moment."

"Hermione, Draco, good evening," Remus greeted them from the door, "how did it go?"

"Neville actually found the poison. She hadn't had a chance to dispose of it yet so there was enough proof to detain her," Hermione smiled triumphantly.

"Hermione took her wand while I was being groped by the silly old cow," Draco informed his boss, still not very happy about being forced to charm the suspect instead of being able to search the flat. He was not above using his looks and charm when needed, but he honestly didn't think this case required such a distraction. He'd have rather he and Hermione have performed the search, preferring to use his mind to using his good looks.

"She was so busy batting her eyes at Handsome over there that she was completely shocked when we took her wand," Hermione said seriously, though she was doing her best not to laugh. She noticed that Remus looked a bit distracted, the amusement fading from her eyes as she asked, "Is everything okay, Boss?"

"Just been a stressful day," Remus smiled slightly, "Good job on this case, you two. I knew you'd be able to solve it if there was something there."

"We are the best," Draco said confidently, rather pleased that such a statement was honest. He and Hermione were the best when it came to figuring out such cases. He loved what they did now, enjoying the research and action and solving the case. When they'd first started as Aurors, they, along with everyone else, had been assigned to locate the rogue Death Eaters and the final supporters of Voldemort. It had been extremely dangerous, but they'd been damn good, facing some of the worst and capturing them. Once most the Death Eaters were caught or assigned to other Aurors, he and Hermione had begun to work normal cases. They had excelled at this area of their job and soon were being given the more difficult cases to solve. They were a great team, the brunette witch being his first real friend, his best friend. He had become an Auror because of his personal vow to see Voldemort and all of his followers dead or imprisoned, honestly never planning to stay an Auror once the last of the Death Eaters had been caught, but things had changed over the years. He enjoyed his job and working with Granger and got a sense of satisfaction from solving their cases and capturing the guilty party.

"Yes, you are," Remus agreed softly, "now, go home and get some sleep. I met Harry for lunch and he said you two were up all night going over the case and confirming the information you already knew to be true a dozen times."

"We like to be thorough, Boss," Hermione grinned as she stood up and stretched, "C'mon, Draco. Let's grab some dinner and go home before Remus decides to give us another assignment."

"I hope Potter has a date. I think I might hex him if I'm forced to listen to him whine about his love life or lack thereof," Draco muttered as he stood and smoothed out his robe, "I'm too tired to be polite to the annoying prat."

"You must be tired a lot," Hermione smiled, "since you're rarely polite to Harry."

"Cute, Hermione," Draco smirked before glancing at Remus, "You should listen to your own advice and get some sleep, Boss. You look tired."

"I'll try, Draco. You two have a good night," Remus said before he left.

"Can we get Italian tonight?" Hermione asked Draco as she gathered her stuff for the trip home. Their apartment was close to numerous Muggle restaurants that had a variety of different food. Draco still wasn't overly fond of Muggles, but he did love all the food.

"As you wish," he smiled at the beautiful brunette witch as he took her bag before they apparated home.