"Hermione! I'm always happy to see you." He positively beamed as she stepped into his office. He greeted her with a warm hug, then walked to a wooden table upon which rested a tea service. He poured her a cup and handed it to her. "One lump with just a bit of milk, exactly how you like it." Percy had made it a habit to remember such details about people. She accepted the cup and held it with both hands. The smile had never left his face. "You really should come around more frequently, Hermione. You know you're always welcome here."
"Your secretary asked me to wait two weeks to see you." She smiled, "Else I'd have come to see you a while ago." She sipped at the tea.
Percy's smile faded a fraction, "Yes, well, the Ministry keeps me very very busy. Although, I have always told my staff to find time in my schedule for those I hold dear. You do know that includes you, Hermione." He smiled as if trying to coax a positive answer from her. He beamed again like the consummate politician he'd become when she nodded her head. "Splendid. I take it that this is more than a social call, however." She nodded again and he continued, "Well then, what can I do for you?"
She set her cup down, considered her words for a moment and began to speak. "I'd like to find the name of a certain wizard who does modelling work in an evening art class."
"The Department of Magical Games and Sports maintains lists of all who fill such positions." He smirked. "Really, Hermione, I'd have thought you'd know to look there."
"I have looked there. In fact, it was the first place I looked. Interestingly, they have no record of any models for the art classes."
"Of course, they do. All wizards and witches who assist in those interest/education classes are properly documented." His temple twitched ever so slightly.
Hermione noted it but did not call attention to it. She knew it to be a sign that he was hiding something, something that made him feel guilty. "There is no record of this wizard."
"Do you have a name for this wizard?" Percy's voice had cracked a little and he coughed in an effort to cover it up. Hermione wanted desperately to know what he was hiding.
"No, I don't."
Percy seemed a little more at ease. "What about a description? What does he look like? If there are any wizards doing under the table work, the Ministry needs to find that out…standards, regulations and such must be upheld, you understand."
"His face is always hidden behind a disillusionment charm." Hermione watched Percy closely. His face visibly paled at her words. She began to think she may have stumbled onto something quite big in scope and judging by Percy's reaction, something the Ministry wanted kept quite clandestine.
Percy took several deep breaths, walked to a window and looked out for awhile in silence. Finally, he spoke. "Just let it go."
"Pardon?" She could not believe her ears. "Why would I do such a thing?"
Percy turned to her. "Just let it go, trust me on this. Whatever interest you may have in this…'wizard'…just let it go." He walked over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. "You don't want to mess with these wizards. Please believe me. I'm speaking to you as a friend here."
"That's funny. Those are the words he told me to tell you. He asked me to give you 'warm greetings from an old friend'."
Percy's face froze in a look of dread. "Y…you spoke with him?"
"I followed him to Knockturn Alley and spoke with him there."
"Y…you went to Knockturn Alley." He spoke the question more as a phrase. He was visibly flustered. "Did he tell you anything?' Percy found whatever courage had placed him in Gryffindor all those years ago and looked at Hermione.
"Only to extend his warm greetings to you." Hermione huffed a bit angrily. "Why don't you tell me what this is all about Percy? You're acting like he's a former Death Eater who has evaded Ministry persecution."
"Prosecution," he corrected her with a laugh. "We did not persecute anyone. We prosecuted those who deserved it."
"Then why the cover-up of a group of men who earn their keep as nude models in an evening art class?"
"You don't understand, Hermione. There is so much more to it than a group of lowlife scum who are fit only to stand naked before a crowd of adoring little witches."
"You know about them, don't you?" she asked, taking a step towards him. His patronising words had angered her. She struggled to keep that in check. He became visibly unnerved by her proximity. "You know who they are. You've as much as admitted that just now. Clearly, you believe them to be guilty of some heinous offence, maybe even of being Death Eaters. And yet not a single one of them is officially on any Ministry payroll only we both know for a fact that they are not working under the table. The Ministry knows about it."
"You can't tell anyone about this, Hermione! Please, let it go!"
Percy had long been known for his charity work. He'd launched numerous charities almost as soon as the war with Voldemort had ended. As time went on, he'd expanded his charity work…and helped his family…and done quite well for himself on the side. A flash of intuition filled Hermione. "It takes a lot of money to do what you've done since the Victory. How much of their earnings are you taking? What else have you taken?"
"I've done good work, Hermione. I do good work not only for myself and my family, but for all wizards in Britain."
"You're taking it all, aren't you? You've taken everything they had and everything since." She remembered the booklet she'd seen, the one Dennis had shown her. The odd code letters suddenly made sense. It hadn't been AK (Avada Kedavra), but rather KA (Knockturn Alley) written next to a string of two words…names. "You're running a whole ring of them aren't you?"
Percy had gone white, but looked resolute. "I don't know where you found this information, Hermione."
"You admit it then?" She interjected.
"It's all for a good cause."
"It's blackmail and even wizards have laws against that."
"They're scum. They're Death Eaters. They haven't earned a right to anything. The wizard world is better off without them infecting us with their brand of poison. You know what they did. You were there when Ron died!"
Hermione paled for the first time, yet her voice was calm. "Don't speak to me about Ron in the context of you orchestrating a pimp circus and convincing yourself that such endeavors are worthy of honour."
"Hermione…," he tried to explain.
"If they are Death Eaters, then they belong in Azkaban, not standing naked before an adoring crowd!" She tried to take it all in, everything she had just learned or realised. "How many are there?"
Percy shook his head and sat down. "There's only a couple still actively in service." He gave her an imploring look. "Only one who will remain so for the foreseeable future."
"The one I seek? Your old friend?" She looked at Percy with disgust etched on her face. "What is it you're holding over him?"
"He's a former Death Eater."
"It has to be more than that." Percy looked questioningly at her. "Why else would the other former Death Eaters in your 'employ' be excused from their debts?" She quirked an eyebrow waiting for a response. "What are you holding over him?"
Percy spat out, "Why do you care? Do you fancy yourself in love with him?"
Hermione laughed out loud. "What if I did? Would that bother you?"
Percy adopted a conciliatory approach. "Hermione, he'll hurt you like he's hurt others before, many others. Don't let him do that to you. Please?"
"Will you stop doing this, Percy?"
He looked contrite, then chastened. "I'll see that they are properly compensated for all their work, all right? And for what it's worth, Hermione, I'm sorry."
She held his gaze, and then looked at her teacup. She picked it up, raised it to her lips and commented softly, "It's gone cold."
"Would you like more?"
"No, thank you." She rose. "I really should be going."
"Hermione!" She turned to him. "I really am sorry." She smiled at him and walked out of his office and the Ministry. It was all too much. She berated herself for believing that he'd changed, that the wizard world had changed even if just by some imperceptible little bit. In the end, she realised, it had been she who had changed. She now accepted things she never would have accepted before. She made her way to Diagon Alley, never noticing the wizard trailing her.
She wandered aimlessly through Diagon Alley for some time, unsure of her wants and desires. She felt an attraction of sort for the wizard with neither name nor face, yet the rational part of her railed against such a leap of faith. She knew nothing about him aside from the unpleasant fact that he'd been a Death Eater. She wondered whether Percy had been truthful about that, then decided he likely had been. The circumstances around her wizard were damning enough for such an eventuality to be true. He stayed in Knockturn Alley, worked somewhat grudgingly for the Ministry…an employ the Ministry had clearly taken great pains to completely cover up and officially deny. Hermione knew all of this and it angered her. It stirred up feeling she'd not felt since the days of SPEW and yet like that time of so long ago, any attempt now to buck tradition for what she believed to be the morally correct thing to do would likely result in many innocent people being hurt. Percy Weasley had been correct in his assessment that his charity work had benefited many of those in need. Could she really risk cutting off their aid, even if only short-term, because she felt bad for…felt an attraction to…an unknown likely former Death Eater? Oddly, she believed she could. Several times she found herself within sight of Knockturn Alley and several times she backed away only to return minutes or a half-hour later. 'Oh, what the hell' she thought and entered the dark alley just as night fell.
The dingy alley seemed unnervingly familiar to her this time. That thought emboldened her and her pace held a resolve that heightened her senses. She heard footsteps behind her, instantly chastising herself for being paranoid, then for thinking she shouldn't be worried. Knockturn Alley was not bustling but neither was it deserted. Furtive figures darted in and out of scarcely lit dwellings. Faces were nearly always hidden. A glimpse of dark cloaks and stringy hair represented the sum total of her attempts to observe as unobtrusively as possible. She grasped her wand firmly within her own robes. She stopped in front of the building where she'd spoken to the faceless wizard. How she knew it was here, she wasn't sure. She'd been unconscious when she'd been taken in and she hadn't stopped to admire the vicinity upon leaving either. Still, a nagging certainly played on her mind…and heart she realised. She knew it couldn't be love. She didn't have even a name. Yet, she felt something and wanted to do what she could to help him. Then again, maybe it was to satisfy some deep need within herself. Harry had always possessed that need to help others. She had always admired him for it, more so in the years of his absence.
Her thoughts had wandered. A bolt of green light pierced through the gathering darkness, obliterating the doorway. She dropped to the ground, momentarily startled out of her reverie. The blackness around her pulsed with lights of varying colours and the sounds of glass and wood shattering. The dampness of the wet ground began to seep through her robes. Her face was both singed with heat from the blast's debris and cold with splattered grime from the ground. She tried to stand, her wand in hand, but collapsed almost immediately with the wind knocked out of her. She couldn't catch her breath. A stunning spell? Another blast of light hit her prostrate form, sending her hurling backwards against a wall. For a moment, she saw flashes of light and was unsure whether the flashes were spells or merely the result of hitting her head against a wall. She tried to clear her thoughts. She raised her wand, unsure of what to do, as she could see forms but could not discern friend from foe, if indeed any of them were potential friends. Suddenly, she went stiff. 'This is why I didn't want to be an Auror' she thought with a laugh that remained unvoiced. She'd been hit with a Petrificus Totalis. The ground beneath her seemed to be moving. It took her a moment to realise that she was the one moving. She could not see who was guiding her frozen body or where they were headed. The sounds of the pitched battle behind her grew dimmer. Had she been moved that far or was it ending as quickly as it had begun? She heard 'Finite Incantatem' and her body dropped to the floor like a sack of stones.
Placing a hand on her forehead, she looked up into the face of a tall wizard. She stared for a moment, trying to clear her vision. His face was blurred. "It's you!" she gasped.
"I asked you to not return here."
"Why did you bring me here? Those were your spells back there? You could have killed me with that first blast!" Hermione noted that she was in unfamiliar surroundings and seemingly at the mercy of the still faceless wizard. Yet, she was in no way bound, magically or otherwise.
He stood in silence gazing at her with eyes she couldn't see. She felt his gaze, but did not feel threatened by it. "Pick up your wand." His voice was barely more than a whisper.
She looked around, confused at first by his words, and then spotted her wand where it had fallen from her fingers. She quickly snatched it up never taking her eyes from the form that had once more turned away from her.
"I can show you another way out. The passage will lead you to a hidden spot in Muggle London. In possession of your wand, you should be safe there."
"No," she stated plainly. "I will not leave until you tell me what's going on here. I know it involves former Death Eaters. I…"
"Meddlesome fool! Don't you understand, girl? There is nothing you can do. You've already done more harm than good by coming here! You put everyone at risk!" The harsh words could not hide what she knew to be genuine fear.
"What are you hiding?"
"It is not me who hides."
"Then who? The Ministry? Is that what you're saying? The Ministry hides the fact that you stand naked before an art class every so often. Why is it necessary to hide that? There is no shame in what you do."
The faceless wizard chuckled softly. "So naive," he shook his head. "Standing nude before an art class is the least of what has been done, dear girl. Others have fared far worse."
"Then you are a former Death Eater?" He raised his sleeve and revealed a large, ugly mass of what looked like badly healed melted skin. Hermione stared in horrified revulsion. "That…that's not a Dark Mark. After Voldemort was defeated, the Dark Marks all faded. No one has a scar like that."
"The Dark Lord did not do this," he spat bitterly. Before she could question further, he replied, "The Ministry did."
"There were trials of former Death Eaters and those who aided them. They were sent to Azkaban. The first of them, those who had unknowingly assisted, are now being released." Hermione, like everyone else, had followed the accounts and trials with rapt fascination. She had testified in quite a few cases herself, even arguing for leniency in one case…that of Draco Malfoy. The verdict in his case had been a not entirely unexpected 'Guilty', though the Ministry had sealed all documents pertaining to his case and had refused to divulge where he was being held, claiming it to be protective custody. No one had seen or heard from the younger Malfoy since the trial. No one had seen or heard from the elder Malfoy in an even longer time, she realised. The entire Malfoy Estate had been claimed by the Ministry along with those of several other prominent families that had been linked to the Death Eaters.
"And the Ministry always does right." The anger and bitterness in his voice were unmistakable.
She pointed to the hideously scarred flesh. "You want me to believe the Ministry did that as some sort of retribution?"
"It was never official policy, I assure you and nor will you ever find any official record of it."
"Is Percy Weasley involved in this somehow?"
"Who do you think tried to kill you this evening?"
The words hung in the air between them. Hermione shook her head from side to side. "No, no…Percy may be quite unethical at times, but he'd never have anyone, me, killed!"
"A dear old friend. How long have you known him, Miss Granger? I take it you spoke with him at the Ministry? Yes, of course, you always were diligent about completing assignments early or so I'd heard. You went running to him right away, didn't you? What did you tell him or more importantly, what did he tell you?" The faceless wizard stood directly in front of her.
"He said he'd see that you were compensated for everything and that he was s…s…," the words died on her lips. He couldn't have meant that. She refused to accept in her heart what her rational mind already screamed. "He said he was sorry." The words tumbled out in a rushed gasp.
The faceless wizard reached a hand out to caress Hermione's face, wiping away a tear as he did so. "Betrayal is always bitter." His hand lingered on her face. It felt good to touch a woman again. His breath caught in his throat when she placed her hand on his, grasping it softly. "You don't know who I am," he whispered.
"It doesn't matter." She leaned into him, burying her face in his robes. "I know it's true." The sobs she'd been suppressing burst forth. His arms encircled her trying to offer whatever solace he could. She embraced him, pulling him closer. Her sobbing slowed, and then stopped. Neither he nor she made a move to draw apart. His fingers played with her hair.
"I can show you the way to a safe spot in Muggle London," he whispered.
She looked up at him, still red-eyed. "Can you kiss me even if I can't see your face?" She closed her eyes. Moments later, she felt warm lips on hers. She pulled him tighter to her and began to caress his shoulders and back. Her hands inched lower to touch him. She thought it felt good to touch a man again.
"If you continue, I will not be able to restrain myself."
"Please. I don't want you to." Her admission startled her a little, yet she had desired this wizard since first laying eyes on him during the first art class. The more she'd learned about him made her believe he had paid dearly for whatever role he'd played in Voldemort's service. She wanted and needed him, even if only for one night. She drew back and looked at the blur of his face, then pulled away from his embrace. With a sly grin, she undid the catch on her robe and tossed it aside. She began to undo the buttons on her blouse smiling demurely as she methodically undressed before him.
"Miss Granger," he started to speak, clearly aroused at the sight of the naked girl before him.
"Hermione," she said softly, "call me Hermione." She moved to him and quickly removed his clothing. Her hands reached for and descended on his shoulders, gently tracing a path down his arms. She held his hand in hers, lifted his arm to her lips and softly kissed the horribly scarred flesh. Her tongue traced a wet path from the scar tissue to his wrist. Her fingers opened his as she guided his hand to her breast. He needed no further encouragement.
His hand caressed her causing her to gasp in bursts of pleasure. In a fluid motion, he deftly scooped her into his arms and retreated to another room. A solitary candle burned at one end casting scant light on the threadbare blanket. He lowered her gently, and then laid himself beside her. He claimed her lips in another kiss, probing her mouth with his tongue. She met him with her own as her fingers danced across his back and chest. She wanted to touch him everywhere at once. She knew it was pure lust, but did not care. All that mattered was the here and now and the faceless wizard now lavishing attention on her.
Her breathing became faster, her pulse rate soared. His lips crushed hers… she opened her eyes. She could feel his body, but his face remained blurred.
"Will you allow me to see your face?"
His head moved lower, nipping her neck with increasing pressure. He would leave a mark. He was not her first, but it had been a while. The raw pleasure coursing through her blinded her to all but the feel and scent of the wizard in her arms.
Hours later, she awoke alone in the bed, a soft sigh of disappointment crossing her lips. She sat up and looked around, only then noticing the wizard standing by a small window, naked with his back to her. "I thought you'd left."
He turned to face her and she smiled in warm appreciation of his near perfect body…his legs, his hips, a small line of fine hair beginning just over his navel and reaching ever lower, his abdomen and chest wonderfully chiseled, strong arms, though one was horribly scarred, and broad shoulders…his face… She froze. The disillusionment charm was gone. He stared back at her. She struggled to not gasp in horror. "Will you tell me your name?" She managed to ask, her voice far calmer than she felt. His face was as scarred as the melted flesh on his left arm, his hair scorched whitish stubble.
"Do you not recognise me, Miss Granger?" He had not moved since turning around. She shook her head but maintained eye contact with him. Slowly, one step after another, he approached her. Holding out his right hand, he spoke, "Then allow me to introduce myself, Lucius Malfoy." He spoke his name in a near whisper.
For a moment, Hermione was not sure she'd heard correctly. Had she just spent the night with the elder Malfoy? Was this pitiable creature that stood before all that remained of the once proud and haughty Malfoy Sr.? The man who had saved her from the Ministry hit wizards. She had no doubt that she'd been targeted. Was this the man who had so tenderly loved her the night before? She looked into his ruined face, smiled and accepted his hand, pulling him down to her on the bed.
"I do not want your pity, Miss Granger." The sadness in his eyes belied his words.
She reached a hand behind his head, lifted herself a little and kissed him. "Who said anything about pity…Lucius? And my name is Hermione, please remember that!" She kissed him again. Her arms wrapped around his shoulders. He began to respond, opening his mouth to her. His arms moved to encircle the young witch in his arms. They lay together for hours until long shadows once again began to fall across the room.
"You can't stay here, Hermione."
"You don't have to stay here, Lucius."
"Challenging the Ministry will be a most unpleasant venture, possibly worse than going up against the Dark Lord. Neither my reputation nor my appearance will be of much assistance to you."
Hermione shrugged it off. "I faced down a mountain troll in my first year at Hogwarts and Voldemort in the seventh. Percy Weasley won't be a problem. You can take my word on that."
Lucius Malfoy smiled, feeling real hope for the first time in years. The long nightmare would end at last.
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