A flash and a rumble.
Sudden, heavy rain, bouncing off puddles...
Gingerly, the woman raised her head.
She was wet, lying in water, and—Oh god!—it hurt.
She forced herself to rise, inch by agonising inch, gradually righting herself. Her head was throbbing, her body aching. She wiped the wet hair from her face and realised that her knuckles were grazed.
On her hands and knees, she looked about her—Concrete walls, locked doors, dustbins, bits of soggy cardboard, a crooked manhole cover...
A back alley, somewhere.
She spotted a shaft of light and crawled along it, following it into a deserted High Street.
I'm stranded, she thought and, although she had no idea why, she raised a shaky hand, as though summoning a taxi.
There was a deafening BANG, and an enormous purple bus screeched to a halt beside her. Its conductor jumped off.
“Welcome to the Knight Bus,” he said, “emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board, and we can take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Stan Shunpike, and I will be—”
“Granger?” A second man elbowed the conductor aside. “She's lying on the ground, half-naked, you moron! Can't you see she's one of mine?”
The newcomer crouched beside her—“What in Merlin's name's happened to you, Granger?”—and examined her thoroughly, poking and prodding.
The woman watched him curiously. He was beautiful in a haughty sort of way, with large, grey eyes, a sensual mouth, and pale, silky hair, falling almost to his shoulders. He took her hands and, after scrutinising their palms, turned them over, and examined the backs, tutting. He seized her head and, with firm fingers, probed her scalp.
He was dressed immaculately in a dark, figure-hugging waistcoat, made of some expensive stuff that sparkled in the street lights, well-fitting black trousers, and a silky black shirt, open at the neck. His wide sleeves were rolled up, just so, and there was a faded tattoo on his forearm.
I'm being rescued, the woman thought, by an aristocrat—by Sir Percy Blakeney!
“Looks like she's taken quite a beating,” she heard him say to the conductor. “Tell Prang we're going to St Mungo's, then come back here, and help me get her inside.”
There were no seats in the bus, just half a dozen brass bedsteads, and curtains at the windows, and candles...
Terrible fire hazard, the woman thought.
The men laid her on the nearest bed.
“That'll be eleven Sickles,” said the conductor. “Firteen if yer want 'ot chocolate.”
“I've told you,” said Sir Percy, “she's one of mine.”
“Suit yerself. 'S your money.”
The woman began to shiver.
“Here,” said Sir Percy, covering her with a blanket. “We'll be there in a minute. My passengers get top priority. No, don't go to sleep”—she'd closed her eyes, the better to cope with being thrown about as the bus careered through the traffic—“look at me—yes, that's it.”
His hand, warm and reassuring, cupped her face. “Stay with me, Granger. That's right.”
She gazed into his eyes.
“St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries,” the conductor announced.
“Good,” said Sir Percy. He looked up into the empty space above his head and addressed an imaginary companion: “I'm just getting off for a minute, okay?”
Tactfully, the woman pretended she hadn't seen.
The bus had stopped beside an old-fashioned department store, closed for a refurbishment that had obviously never taken place. Sir Percy helped the woman down to the pavement, and led her to one of its grimy windows.
She watched him lean in close to the glass, and say, “Dropping off a casualty,” and then—as if things weren't already weird enough—she saw one of the dummies give him a tiny nod, and beckon.
“Come on,” said Sir Percy, urging her forwards.
The woman struggled, but Sir Percy was strong, and she passed through the dirty window as though it were nothing but a sheet of water, and found herself standing in a hospital lobby. She glanced at the people waiting to be seen, thought I'm hallucinating, and looked away.
Sir Percy led her to a desk marked INQUIRIES.
“Casualty picked up on Oxford Street,” he told the receptionist. “No obvious spell damage and no broken bones, but cuts, grazes and extensive bruising, and it looks as though she's had a bad whack on the head. She's a bit vague—needs a thorough looking-at.”
“Take a seat,” said the receptionist.
Sir Percy sat the woman down on one of the chairs. “Right,” he said, “I'll leave you in their capable—”
“No!” She grabbed his wrist. “Don't leave me here alone!” Further down the row of seats, a man with an elephant's trunk raised it, and trumpeted. “Please!” she cried.
“I can't stay.” He tried to free himself. “It's my sentence, Granger, honest—five years, riding the Knight Bus, providing aid and comfort to the dregs of... Oh, bollocks!” He sat down, defeated. “Present company—well, you know.” Then he turned towards her, leaned in, and added, in an urgent whisper, “They watch me, Granger.”
The woman latched on to the only bit that made any sense: “They?”
“The Department of War Crimes Atonement—Department of Tit for Tat. They watch me. Twenty-four seven.”
“Even when you go to the toilet?”
“Well...” He shrugged. “I assume they look away for the gross bits. But I'll bet they watch the sex.”
The woman felt herself blushing. “What did you do?” she asked, changing the subject.
“What d'you mean?”
“I mean... What did you do?”
“You being funny?”
She shook her head.
“You really don't know?”
“Merlin!” He leaned in so close, she was forced to gaze into his beautiful eyes. “D'you know who I am?”
“D'you know who you are—d'you know your own name?”
That was a question she'd carefully avoided asking herself, hoping that the answer would come to her if she gave it time. “Um, no. Not really.”
Sir Percy rose purposefully and headed for the Inquiries Desk but, after a few steps, he stopped, and seemed to be thinking. He turned back. “D'you still have your knickers on?”
She looked up at him, confused.
“Your knickers—are they still... on?”
Making sure that no one else was watching, she hitched her skirt up to her knees, reached under it, and felt. She nodded.
“And you've not—you know—been interfered with down there? Generally?”
She shook her head.
“Well, that's something...” He went to the Inquiries Desk and, although he was obviously trying to keep it quiet, the woman could hear snippets of his argument with the receptionist: “When?”— “This is urgent!”—“It doesn't take a Healer to see she's had a fucking-great whack on the head!”—“I wasn't swearing at you, I was describing her fucking injury!”—“Look, I'm in a hurry, okay?”
He came back and threw himself down beside the woman, folding his arms and stretching out his long legs. She could see that he was fuming, but was trying to keep himself under control.
“You know my name,” she said.
“You keep calling me something. What—?”
“Granger. Your name's Hermione Granger. You're a Mud—a Muggle-born witch. You...” He turned to look at her. “How much do you remember?”
“I'm a witch?”
“Nothing,” he sighed. “Well, that explains it—fucking hell, where's that fucking Healer!” He jumped up and strode to the nearest wall, turning his back on the waiting area.
“Look,” he said, to the space above his head, “this isn't my fault—I'm between a rock and a hard place—I'll get a penalty if I don't get back on the bus; I'll probably get a penalty if I leave Granger here on her own. I can't win! She's obviously been roughed up—you need to get someone to check that out. And you'd better send one of her friends—Ron Weasley or Harry Potter. Yeah, that's it: send his Almighty Aurorship Potter, and kill two birds with one stone. And...” He sighed. “Be quick, okay?”
He came back to the woman. “I'm going to get a pumpkin juice. D'you want one?”
The woman—Hermione, she thought. My name's Hermione—Hermione was suddenly very, very thirsty. “Yes, please.”
They were still sitting side-by-side, in companionable silence, waiting to see a Healer, when a stranger came through the doors, and Sir Percy immediately leapt to his feet and drew him aside.
Hermione watched their urgent discussion.
They're two of a kind, she thought. One's open and friendly-looking, whilst the other's proud and disdainful, and one looks like a brother, whilst the other looks...
But they both have the same power.
Perhaps, she thought, they're wizards.
“This is your best friend,” said Sir Percy.
“Do you recognise me?” the stranger asked.
Hermione shook her head.
“I'm Harry,” he said.
“Harry,” she repeated, experimentally.
“Right, Potter,” said Sir Percy, “I'll leave her with you. Good luck, Granger.”
The stranger—Harry—shook his hand. “Thanks, Malfoy.”
Sir Percy shrugged. “'S my job,” he said and, with a final nod to Hermione, he headed towards the doors, out of her life.
But, just before he disappeared, he turned. “Potter,” he called, “send me an owl. Let me know how it goes.”
The Healer examined Hermione's cuts and bruises, pronounced her “a very lucky witch”, gave her some little jars of stuff to rub on her wounds and some little bottles of stuff to swallow, told her that her memory would return in due course, and warned her that on no account was she to try to restore it herself.
“By magic,” Harry explained, when he saw her confusion.
The Healer discharged her, and Harry took her back to his own house and installed her in one of his spare rooms. “Just until you're feeling stronger,” he said. Then he went to her flat, and fetched some of her things.
The following morning, over breakfast, he explained that he was an Auror—a sort of magical policeman—and that she was a lawyer, who worked in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, with a special interest in the rights of magical creatures. He told her that her parents were alive and well and living in Australia, but that she no longer had any contact with them, which he promised to explain to her when she was feeling stronger. He showed her strange, moving photographs of her friends—all of whom seemed to have red hair—and explained that she had recently been through a reasonably amicable break-up with the one called Ron.
“What about Sir—I mean, the man who took me to hospital?” she asked. “He seemed to know me, and he obviously knows you. Is he a friend?”
“Draco Malfoy? No.”
Hermione tried to hide her disappointment.
“...so it's all a bit complicated,” Harry was saying. “But best not to go into that until you're feeling—”
“Stronger,” said Hermione.
“Exactly. The most urgent thing,” he said, “is to find out what happened to you.”
He took her to the Auror Office and, after a slightly uncomfortable introduction to Ron, she spent the rest of the day with one or the other of them, going over what little she remembered of the previous night's events.
Harry questioned her colleagues in Magical Law Enforcement, but no one could tell him what she was working on nor say, exactly, when they'd last seen her. When he tried to examine her notes, he found that she'd magically encrypted the scrolls, in clear breach—as her boss was at pains to point out—of departmental policy.
Ron took a photographer to the alley where Hermione had woken up and bombarded it with diagnostic spells, looking for magical residues whilst the photographer photographed every inch from every conceivable angle, but they returned with nothing conclusive.
Harry examined the clothes she'd been wearing—a figure-hugging gown of black satin with a plunging halter neck, and one strappy, black stiletto—
“Do I normally dress like that?” Hermione asked.
“Not normally, no; but you have been known to turn heads, on occasion,” he said, smiling.
He found several snags and tears in the fabric, where the satin had obviously been dragged over a rough surface—“Particles of brick dust,” he announced, “and... coal”—some blood that proved to be Hermione's own, a smear of lipstick, also Hermione's own, and some spots of red wine, but nothing belonging to a third party, and no traces of magic.
“I mean,” said Harry, “no traces of magic; not even yours.”
It was perplexing.
“We'll check the census records,” he decided, “and, if there are any Squibs in the area, we'll do a house-to-house.”
“Are investigations always like this?”
“Baffling? At the start, yes. Often.”
“Tomorrow,” she said, “I'll go to work. I won't be able to do much—at least, not at first—but it'll get me back into a routine, spending time with people I'm used to being with, and something may jog my memory. And, if not, I may still notice something significant.”
“That's a good idea,” said Harry. “But wouldn't it be better—”
“—to wait until I'm feeling stronger?”
They both grinned.
“I don't know why I bother,” he said. “You never take my advice. Look, I've got some paperwork to finish before I can go home. Shall I get someone to fly you back to Grimmauld Place?”
“No, it's all right,” said Hermione. “I'll make my own way.”
She might not remember much about herself, but she did know she wasn't the sort of woman who needed mollycoddling.
Besides, she'd had an idea.
Outside the Ministry building, she held out her hand.
Few of the ordinary passers by—Muggles, thought Hermione—seemed to notice the sudden appearance of a purple bus, and those who did seemed to think that a triple-decker was a normal sight in the middle of London.
“Welcome to the Knight Bus,” said the conductor, “emergency transport—”
“Granger!” Draco Malfoy appeared beside him. “What's wrong?”
“That'll be eleven Sickles then,” said the conductor, testily. “Firteen if yer want 'ot chocolate.”
“No hot chocolate, thank you,” said Hermione, handing him the coins as she climbed aboard.
“Where to?” he asked.
“Just drive around for a while.” She turned to Malfoy. “I, um, I'd like to ask you a few questions, if that's okay.”
Malfoy looked around the empty bus, and shrugged. “Yeah...” Then, to the space above his head, he added, “As long as no one else needs me, obviously.”
“Thank you,” said Hermione. “Would you like some hot chocolate?”
“Merlin, Granger, no. If I never smell that stuff again it'll be too soon.”
Hermione grinned. “Well... Shall we sit down?”
They sat side-by-side on one of the beds.
“What do you want to know?” he asked.
Hermione gave him a brief outline of the little Harry and Ron had managed to uncover. “I wondered if you might have noticed anything. I mean... When you picked me up, was there anyone else nearby?”
“Not that I saw.”
“Have you ever rescued anyone else from the same place—another woman, perhaps?”
“No—I'd remember that.”
“Did I do anything strange—say anything strange? Did anything give you pause?”
Malfoy thought for a moment. “I noticed you'd lost a shoe,” he said.
“Yes. Ron searched for that, but couldn't find it.”
“I also noticed that you were wearing Muggle robes—very sexy Muggle robes.”
Hermione blushed. “I was, wasn't I? D'you think that's important? I don't know how I usually dress.”
“Well, at school, when you weren't in uniform, you mostly wore what you're wearing now.”
“Jeans,” said Hermione.
“Maybe you were on the pull,” he said, with a faint smirk. Then he added, more seriously, “There's something else, though, isn't there?”
“The real reason you came to see me?”
Hermione gazed into his clear, grey eyes. Because I want you to ravish me, she thought.
“Everyone keeps talking about my magic,” she said, “but I've no idea what they mean. It's not that I don't believe them—in fact, it's surprising how unsurprised I am by the idea of magic. But I don't know how to do it. Can you show me?”
Malfoy shrugged. “Don't see why not. Where's your wand?”
“Like this.” He drew a slender, wooden stick from his sleeve. “Where's yours?”
“I don't have one.”
“Merlin's balls, Granger! Does Potter know you've lost it?”
When she shook her head, he called to the driver: “Take us back to the Ministry, Ern!”
“Harryyyyy!” Hermione ran past several startled Aurors, sitting in their cubicles, and bowled into her friend's office. “I've lost my wand!”
“How in Merlin's name,” said Harry, gesturing towards a seat, “did we overlook that?”
Hermione sat down, and—breathlessly—explained how she'd been riding the Knight Bus, talking with Malfoy. “Draco says you can use a Global Positioning Spell to find it.”
“Oh, Draco does, does he?”
Harry had opened a cabinet and brought out a large, parchment scroll, which he laid on his desk and unrolled, anchoring its corners with various heavy objects. It was a map of London, drawn by hand in deep brown ink, showing, simultaneously—Hermione wasn't sure how—the city in both plan and elevation, above ground and below. Traffic was moving in the streets, and the river appeared to be flowing.
Hermione watched, fascinated, as Harry drew his own wand—less elegant than Draco's, and with a rough, bark-covered handle—and cast a spell, swishing the wand in a complicated pattern and uttering the strange phrase, “Magicis Revelio.”
Immediately, a host of glowing symbols—tiny people, strange creatures, weird objects—appeared, floating above the map.
“A Global Positioning Spell,” said Harry. “The wands, um, represent wands.” He cast another spell, and the wand-symbols rose, hovering a couple of inches higher than the rest. There were more than a hundred of them, and the majority were concentrated in the Ministry of Magic, but a significant proportion was scattered across the city.
“Which is mine?” Hermione asked.
“Yours...” Harry swept his wand back and forth, scanning the map. “Yours doesn't seem to be here, Hermione; but look at this!” He pointed to an alley running parallel to a street labelled OXFORD STREET.
“It's like a black hole,” said Hermione, for, whereas the rest of the map was teeming with symbols, the centre of the alley—the exact place, as far as she could judge, where she'd woken up—was completely empty and, as they watched, several magical items, including a tiny, glowing figure with a wolf's head, slipped into the void, and disappeared.
Harry called a meeting of his most trusted Aurors.
After showing them the map, he outlined a theory: that Hermione had discovered the magical anomaly and had gone undercover to investigate it, acting alone because—he reasoned, given the magical encryption she'd used to protect her notes—she suspected that someone in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was involved...
As she listened to Harry's briefing, it became more and more obvious to Hermione that her top priority was to recover her memory. Excusing herself from the rest of the meeting, she left the Ministry and, after hesitating on the pavement for a few moments, she held out her hand.
“What is it this time, Granger?” said Draco, helping her climb aboard; he seemed amused to see her again so soon.
Hermione paid the conductor his eleven Sickles. The bus was empty and, when she sat down on one of the beds, Draco came and stood beside her, leaning on the overhead rail.
Hermione looked up at him. “What am I like?” she asked.
“You know me—the me I was before I lost my memory—what am I like?”
“Well...” He shrugged. “At school, you were a bossy little know-it-all, always squirming about with your hand in the air”—he raised his own hand, like an enthusiastic child—“always trying to attract the teacher's attention—me! Me! Pick me! You came first in every exam we ever took, and I came second—mind you, you worked around the clock, whilst I—”
“You skived off?” she said, smiling.
“I had a life, Granger. I played Quidditch, I had girlfriends, I...” His expression changed. “During the war, you were brave. You and Weasley, and Neville Longbottom—you all had Potter's back.”
He sat down beside her.
“Harry didn't find my wand,” she confided. “But he did find something else. Something really strange.”
“I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say.”
Draco sighed. “Suit yourself.” He got up, and walked down the bus.
“Can you take the rest of the evening off?” she called, over the rattling of the bedsteads.
He turned back. “You asking me on a date, Granger?”
“Of course not!” she said. Though, under different circumstances... “I just want to go back to the alley. I want to see it—see if it jogs my memory. But Harry says it's too dangerous, so... Will you come with me?”
“Potter says it's too dangerous,” said Draco, “so you're asking me; Merlin, Granger, you don't remember me at all, do you?” He sat down again. “Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to socialise with my clients.”
“Oh...” She thought for a moment. “What if the client needs ongoing help?”
“Clever, but not in my job description.”
Hermione sighed. “Okay. Plan B, then.” She waved to the conductor. “Take me to Oxford Street, please,” she said.
Ignoring Draco's protests, Hermione got off the bus, turned down a side street, and slipped silently into the alley. Rain was falling heavily and, in that narrow space with its deep shadows and its colourless concrete, it was easier to imagine herself in the world of Sam Spade and the Maltese Falcon than in a world of magic...
She sensed a movement behind her and tensed, until some sixth sense told her what it was.
“You changed your mind, then?” she whispered.
“I must,” Draco growled, “need my head exam—”
They crept forward.
“When Harry cast your Global Positioning Spell,” she told him, softly, “this entire area”—she indicated the extent of the anomaly—“was completely blank. Then a tiny little figure, with a wolf's head—”
“A little figure”—she held up her forefinger and thumb—“about this big—”
“A werewolf!” Draco grabbed her arm. “A fucking werewolf, Granger! You might have mentioned that before!” With one arm wrapped around her, holding her close, he drew his wand and swung it overhead. “Protego Totalum!
“Right,” he said, slipping the wand back in his sleeve, “be quick, and do not take a single step outside the shield.”
“But how can I possibly—umph!”
He'd clamped a hand over her mouth.
Eyes wide, Hermione watched as a big, burly man emerged from nowhere and walked towards them. With each step, she was sure he must spot them, yet he seemed to be looking straight through them. That spell Draco cast, she thought, has made us invisible, somehow...
Silently, Draco eased her backwards, out of the man's path, but the man stopped, turned, and—looking directly at Hermione—sniffed the air, like an animal.
Hermione held her breath. His face was feral—sleek, greyish fur covered his forehead, cheeks and chin, his eyes were stony and, when he sniffed, his nose wrinkled like a wolf's muzzle and his lips parted to reveal a mouthful of pointed, yellow teeth.
Draco's grip tightened.
The werewolf sniffed again, leaning closer—so close, Hermione could have touched her forehead to his.
Then he shook his head, muttered something about tender morsels, and walked off.
Hermione felt Draco's body sag.
Then he released her and, after a long moment, groaned, “Finite Incantatem.
“That werewolf,” said Hermione, collapsing onto one of the beds, “felt familiar, Draco. I think I must have seen him before.”
“You have.” Draco sat down beside her. “His name's Fenrir Greyback, and”—he sighed—“during the war, my family and he... They were allies, you see, and... And Greyback wanted you, Granger.”
“Wanted me? What do you...?”
“Wanted to bite you—rape you... I don't know, exactly. How do werewolves get off?”
Hermione closed her eyes. Something Draco had said...
But it's not during a war, she thought, mentally groping for the memory. It's... It's... It's something recent!
“AAAAAGH!” She buried her face in her hands.
“Granger?” She felt Draco's hand on her back. “What is it?”
“I... Ohhhh, I can't remember anything! I need—I need—”
“Hot chocolate,” he said.
She looked up at him, frowning, her frustration defused and replaced by confusion: “You said the chocolate was disgusting.”
“No, I said I was fed up with it. But it's just the stuff to calm your nerves.”
Hermione spent the rest of the night curled up in bed, watching Draco take care of his clients.
He wasn't a natural Samaritan—in fact, Hermione could see that he was uncomfortable touching or being touched by people he didn't know—but it was heart-warming to see him make the effort, and to see how much most of them appreciated his help.
In the lulls between clients, he came and sat beside her.
“How long d'you have left to serve?” she asked.
“Just another eight months, provided I don't get too many penalties.”
“What on earth did you do during the war?”
“I was on the losing side,” he said.
“Yes, I realise that, but...” She sat up, plumping her pillows and making herself comfortable. “I mean—”
“I was ordered to kill someone, Granger,” he said. “I bottled out—when it came down to it, I didn't have the balls to do it—but I'd already let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. And then I tortured people.”
“No,” said Hermione. “No, I don't believe that.”
“It's true. Yes, I was under duress and, yes, I had been tortured myself, but I didn't stand up to him, Granger; I didn't refuse. That's the point. Luckily for me, they took my upbringing into account, so my sentence is pretty light, and the work's supposed to reform me, and strengthen my moral fibre.”
“War Crimes Atonement,” Hermione murmured.
At work, the following morning, Hermione combed her files for any information about Fenrir Greyback, but all of the most promising records were magically encrypted, and she couldn't remember the key.
Over lunch, she asked Harry and Ron how the investigation was progressing. They told her that, having conducted a wand-tip search of the alley and discovered nothing more, they were planning to bring in a specialist in Heavy Duty Disillusionment Charm breaking. (Hermione presumed that their plan would have made more sense to her had she still had her memory).
It all seemed hopeless.
And then, that same afternoon, whilst washing her hands in the Ladies' loo, she glimpsed herself in the mirror, and something about her reflection triggered the whisper of a memory, which grew louder and louder and louder, until, by five-thirty, she was desperate to see Draco again.
“I know,” said Hermione, climbing aboard with her money ready, “you're Stan Shunpike, and you want eleven Sickles.”
Draco grinned at her over the conductor's shoulder. “Can't stay away from me, Granger?”
Hermione hoped the candlelight hid her blushes. “I've remembered something,” she said. And when he didn't prompt her for more, she added: “Dancing. I remember dancing! It's only a fleeting impression, but I'm sure it's real.”
“Okay. So...” He sat down beside her. “You're—what?—waltzing round a ballroom?”
“Well, no, not exactly.” Her blush deepened. “I'm, um... I'm pole dancing.”
“No. No, pole dancing.” He looked baffled. “It's, um, it's a Muggle thing, Draco.” She changed the subject: “The thing is, Harry thinks I was working undercover, and I remember doing something that seems weird. And it can't be a co-incidence that I woke up just outside somewhere magically hidden—”
“Somewhere a man like Fenrir Greyback likes hang out,” said Draco, thoughtfully, “dressed like an opera singer—yes, and you looked like a high-class tart!”
Their eyes met and, despite the insult, Hermione felt the pleasure of two well-matched minds meeting.
“So,” she said, “there must be a way to get inside this place—”
“Merlin's nutsack, Granger!”
“I'm not”—she laid a hand on his arm—“asking you to come with me, Draco, I'm just—can you help me find a way in?”
“Merlin's hairy, fuck-ing...!” He got to his feet and, using the hand rails to steady himself, walked down the bus.
Hermione watched him, anxiously.
He came back to her.
“No way,” he said.
“This,” said Draco, several hours, and a lot of pleading, bargaining, and bribing with the promise of free legal representation, later, “is called Transfiguration. At Hogwarts,” he added, “you were pretty much the Transfiguration Queen.”
He cast the spell, and Hermione's sweater and jeans turned into a copy of the slinky black dress she'd been wearing when she'd woken in the alley, and her trainers into shoes a dominatrix might have considered too much.
She looked down at her cleavage. “Um, haven't you made this neckline a bit low?”
“No, that's exactly how you were, Granger.” Then he added, under his breath, “A real prick tease.”
He sat down beside her. “For the record: I think that what you're about to do is crazy—not only are you sticking your own head in the fire, you're getting me to stick mine in as well.” He glanced upwards. “I'm surprised they haven't already swooped in, and whisked me off to Azkaban.”
“Did they penalise you for following me into the alley?”
“So they're happy for you to help me.”
“That hardly follows, Granger—Merlin!” He got up, and walked down the bus.
Hermione, recognising his nervous tic, smiled at him, fondly. “The truth is, Draco Malfoy,” she called, “you care.”
“The truth is,” she heard him mutter, “you've got me thinking with my dick...” He came back to her. “Okay—do not ask me how this is happening—I'm coming with you.” He drew out his wand and cast a Transfiguration Spell over his own clothes.
Hermione watched his shirt collar close and his top button morph into a bow tie, his belt turn into a matching cummerbund, and his waistcoat become an elegant dinner jacket.
He looked stunning.
The Knight Bus dropped them at the end of the alley.
“Wait here,” said Draco “and don't listen.”
From a safe distance, Hermione watched him cast spells into the magical void, and found herself fascinated by the mechanics of the magic. The power's inside him, she thought, and the words and wand-work just direct it.
If only I could find my own power...
A doorway appeared in the previously blank wall. Hermione could see nothing remarkable about it, except for the neon sign above it—flashing and popping erratically—which read, Pussy Galore.
A night club?
She ran to Draco.
“Death Eater magic,” he said, shucking his cuffs. “Piece of cake.” He looked up at the flickering sign. “Charming.”
“It's the name of a character in James Bond.”
“You're sure you want to go in?”
“My memory's in there.”
“Okay.” He offered her his arm and, together, they walked up to the door and knocked. A panel slid open and a pair of dark, suspicious eyes peered out.
“The name's Malfoy; Draco Malfoy,” said Draco, as though his aristocratic name were an Open Sesame.
The eyes examined him, examined Hermione, and disappeared. The panel snapped shut and, after a few long, nerve-racking moments, the door opened.
Hermione followed Draco inside.
“Leave yer wand at the desk,” said the doorman.
The 'desk' was a sweeping counter of shiny black and chrome, bathed in a smoky light that threw the rest of the foyer into shadow. Behind it, stood a young woman, dressed, Hermione noticed, like a Playboy bunny, complete with collar, cuffs and ears.
“Your wand, sir,” she said to Draco, with a little curtsey that showed off her bosom to great advantage.
Hermione nudged him; reluctantly, he handed it over. The girl laid it in a velvet-lined box, closed the lid and placed the box in a pigeon hole. She gave Draco a numbered token.
“Is this your first time at the Pussy Galore, sir?” she asked.
“The entrance is over there.” She pointed to a doorway. “Just walk through it, like any other door. You may feel a little discomfort at first, but that's perfectly normal, and—rest assured—it's completely reversible. You can change your money once you’re inside.”
“Well,” said Hermione, squeezing Draco's hand as they approached the door, “here we go...” She felt him return the squeeze.
Hand-in-hand they went inside, passing through an invisible curtain of ice-cold razor blades.
“What the fuck...?” Draco held up his wand hand, regarding it with horror. “My magic's gone, Granger!”
My god, thought Hermione, is that what happened to me? Had she lost her magic—and perhaps her memory, too—by passing through the door? But the girl had said—
Beside her, Draco was panicking. She grasped him by the arms and forced him to make eye contact: “It's all right,” she said. “It’s reversible. That’s what she told us. Completely reversible.” She shook him, gently, and watched his terror subside.
“It’s perverted,” he huffed, trying to hide his fear with contempt. “Why would anyone want to... neuter themselves like this?”
Hermione looked round the club. There was more spotlit black and chrome; there were more girls dressed as Playboy bunnies, flitting between the crowded tables; there were bottles of Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, and Bombay Sapphire gin behind the busy bar; there were packets of Marlboro in the cigarette girl's tray; and there was an old-fashioned jukebox, playing Goldfinger, beside the dance floor...
“It’s Muggle,” said Draco, echoing her thoughts. “Everything's Muggle. Even the girls are Muggle. People come here to play at being Muggle! Why—?”
“'Mione!” A drunken wizard stumbled towards them. “'Mi-o-neee!”
“You went undercover using your real name?” said Draco.
“So have you,” Hermione retorted.
“Dance for me,” the wizard pleaded, brandishing a fistful of Muggle banknotes. “Dance for me, 'Mione!”
“Yes, 'Mione,” said Draco, treacherously, “why not dance for us?”
The drunk was causing a commotion, and people were getting curious—especially the barman, who seemed to be taking a particular interest, and something told Hermione that that was a thing to be avoided. There was a little podium at the centre of each group of tables. She climbed onto the nearest and grasped the pole. Her drunken fan had found a seat at a table, Draco sat down beside him, and several other people, instead of losing interest as she'd hoped, were crowding in to watch her.
Hermione closed her eyes and listened to the music. I've done this before, she thought. I can remember doing it, vaguely.
She shut out the club—its noise, the people—and let the music fill her until her body was thrumming to its rhythm, then she began to dance, letting the upright pole stand in for something else, getting bolder and bolder as she lost herself in the sensuality, holding the pole with one hand and riding it, leaning back and flexing her thighs, enjoying the feel of the pole's hardness between her legs...
The song ended, and she was startled back to reality, flushed and panting.
People were applauding.
Embarrassed, she jumped down from the podium.
“I'll get a room, 'Mione,” the drunken wizard pleaded, stuffing banknotes down her cleavage. “Last time, you promised—”
“'Mione’s with me,” said Draco, shoving him away. “I’ve paid for the entire night.”
The drunk reached for his wand, realised he didn't have it and, thinking better of provoking a younger man, grabbed some of his money back and tottered off, disappointed; the rest of the crowd transferred its attention to another girl.
Hermione sat down.
“Merlin, Granger,” said Draco, loosening his bow tie. “That was—whew!”
“Has humping your special friend brought back any memories?”
“Maybe you could try doing it again?”
She slapped his arm.
“You can't blame a man for—yes, okay.” He looked around. “This place is pretty sleazy, and there's a serious misuse of Muggle artefacts thing going on, but I can’t see any magical creatures being exploited.”
“Nor can I.”
“Maybe you’re just a good time girl after all—”
“—or maybe there’s something here we’re not seeing. I did notice a couple of extra rooms that look as though they might be reserved for special patrons.”
Hermione was impressed. “Great!” she said. “We'll split up—”
“No way.” Draco grasped her arm. “You're my client, and I'm not losing you—I don't think,” he added, quietly, “they can see us in here, Granger.”
“They...? You mean the Ministry watchers? Isn't that a good thing?”
“No, ironically, it's not, tonight; I was counting on them to send backup if we need it.”
He got them into the first of the exclusive rooms using an imperious look and a flash of money.
The place was packed with Muggle wannabes—the men dressed like James Bond and the women done up like Bond girls—excitedly betting on a roulette wheel, or playing blackjack, or feeding coins into fruit machines.
“Could the games be fixed?” Hermione whispered, after they'd been watching for a few moments.
“Nah, there's no need,” said Draco. “In games like these, the odds always favour the house and, if anyone starts to win too much, they get kicked out—no, I can't see anything you'd have been investigating in here, Granger. Let’s try the other room.”
The men at the second door took one look at Hermione and let them pass.
The 'room' turned out to be corridor, and a symphony of grunts and groans and sudden, orgasmic cries told them exactly what was going on behind its closed doors.
“I think we've found the pussy in Pussy Galore,” said Draco.
“Mm,” said Hermione. A memory was stirring at the back of her mind, A memory of... of...
Of a game of cat and mouse, she thought. But what does that mean?
She couldn't quite reach it, and the harder she tried, the harder it became to ignore the sex going on all around her, and to ignore Draco, standing beside her—
“C'mon, Granger,” said Draco, “we need to get away from this place before I do something you might regret.”
He took her by the hand and they hurried back towards the door but, as they reached it, Fenrir Greyback stepped out to block their way.
“I thought I smelled my tender little morsel,” he said, reaching out with a huge, paw-like hand to cup Hermione's cheek.
Hermione gasped, for her memory had begun flooding back...
Roughly, the werewolf pulled her close, his thumb caressing her lips until she was forced to part them and he could push its tip inside.
Draco sounded incredulous and, afraid—not for herself, now, but for him—Hermione turned her eyes on him, trying silently to warn him, but his horrified gaze was fixed upon her mouth, and upon Greyback's thumb...
“Fuck,” he said.
“You didn't have to hurt him,” said Hermione, the moment she and Greyback were alone in his private office.
“Do I have a rival?” he growled.
“No, of course not.”
“Then why”—he loomed over her—“did you bring him here? Mm? Why did you take him into the back rooms? Did you think you'd make me jealous?”
“He—he insisted I bring him,” Hermione stammered. “He said he'd heard that the girls weren't happy here. It's something to do with War Crimes Atonement,” she added, quickly. “He has to show them he has a social conscience...”
Greyback, though, had already lost interest in her story. Seizing her in his powerful arms, he bent her over, licking her from cleavage to throat before grazing her neck with his teeth. It was intensely physical; it made Hermione shiver...
Still nuzzling her neck, Greyback lifted her off her feet, forcing her to wrap her legs around him. She heard him grunt as his erection pressed into her body, and the smell of his arousal almost overwhelmed her.
Damned werewolf pheromones, she thought. It was all coming back to her! Werewolf pheromones, sprayed into the air, flooding the back rooms... They were affecting me and Draco out in the corridor and, behind the doors, they're turning the paying customers into sex maniacs!
They're giving Fenrir Greyback a hold over some of the most influential men in the Wizarding world!
The werewolf slid his hands down to her hips and, cupping her buttocks, rocked against her, sending shudders through her body.
She'd infiltrated the club because one of her informants had told her that Greyback was keeping two dozen werewolves—all low-ranking members of his own pack—chained up in the basement. But her investigation had quickly uncovered more villainy—Greyback was also taking Muggle girls off the streets of London, forcing them into prostitution, and then, once their bloom had gone, imprisoning them with his werewolves, to keep the werewolves in a constant state of arousal, secreting pheromones for harvesting...
Then she'd discovered the blackmail.
Sucking and snuffling, Greyback buried his face in Hermione's cleavage, and she felt the points of his teeth tease her breast.
His weird obsession with her had been an unexpected bonus. She'd been dancing on the edge with him for almost a month, giving him just enough to keep him interested, and make his pack treat her as the alpha female, so that she could collect all the evidence she needed. So far—thank god—he'd respected her boundaries. She suspected that being denied satisfaction was what turned him on—
Someone rapped at the door. “Boss?”
Greyback raised his head. “Fuck off!”
There was a moment's silence, then the someone opened the door a crack. “Sorry boss,” he said, apologetically, “it can't wait. The Head of the Being Division doesn't like his girls. He insists on seeing you.”
Greyback let out a deep, throaty rumble: “Stay here,” he said to Hermione.
Hermione watched him leave. I've got about ten minutes, she thought, to rescue Draco and get back before—
The door opened.
“Draco! How did you get free?”
“The advantage,” said Draco, using his hip to wedge the door open, “of having people think that you're a spineless coward”—he bent over a prone figure, trying to get a grip on the man's jacket—“is that they don't think twice about turning their back on you, and inviting you”—he gave up on the lapels and, grasping the man's wrists, tried to drag him through the door—“to hit them—give me a hand, will you, Granger?”
Hermione helped him get the unconscious man inside.
Draco went out again and collected up the pieces of a vase. “Art Deco,” he said, dumping them on the man's chest. “Pity.”
He turned to Hermione.
“This is not how it looks, Draco,” she said. “Honestly.”
“You can explain it to me once we're on the bus,” he replied. “Is there a back way out of this place?”
She shook her head. “No. There's an ancient coal chute—I remember squeezing through it the other day, when Greyback nearly caught me trying to get into the basement. But it's narrow. By the time I got out, I was black and blue—”
“Looked like you'd been beaten.”
“—and I'm pretty sure there's an Obliviation Curse on it.”
“Because you lost your memory...”
“Yes—and, besides, if you don't leave through the main door, you don't get your magic restored.”
“This just keeps getting better and better.” Draco looked around the room. “Okay,” he said, going over to the fireplace and picking up the poker, “let's go and give that doorkeeper a nice surprise, shall we?”
“I'm not leaving.”
“What?” He let the poker drop to his side. “I can't rescue you if you don't co-operate, Granger.”
Hermione smiled, for it had suddenly become clear to her just how much she adored him. “I haven't finished my mission yet, Draco.”
“Are you talking about the girls in the basement?”
“I've already set them free. They should be storming through the bar at any minute. We can follow them out.”
“Ohhhh!” Hermione flew to him and threw her arms around his neck.
“Not in any way wishing to discourage you, Granger,” he said, “but d'you think you could wait until we're safely back on the bus?”
When they reached the bar, the place was already in an uproar—feral-looking girls, dirty and dressed in rags, were wrestling with the staff, and some of the customers seemed to be helping them. A few of the girls had already made it to the foyer.
Fenrir Greyback and a couple of his henchmen came running from the back rooms.
Draco grabbed Hermione's hand. “Time we left, Granger!”
They ran through the magical door, enduring the curtain of icy razor blades and crying out as their power re-entered their bodies, making them shudder in a sort of magical delight.
“Merlin,” gasped Draco, “it was almost worth it for that! You all right?”
“Yes,” Hermione panted, “I can feel my magic!”
“Congratulations, Granger! Now let's get out of here.”
Some of the girls had got outside, but the doorkeeper, having recovered from their attack, was blocking the open door, holding back the rest.
Draco dropped his poker and, turning towards the wand-check desk, yelled “Accio wand!”
“Yes,” cried Hermione, remembering the Summoning Charm, “Accio mine, too!”
Two boxes slid from the shelves and, as they fell, two lids opened, and two wands flew into two waiting hands.
“Stand aside,” said Draco, with a flourish.
The doorkeeper didn't move—his fear of Greyback was obviously greater than his fear of Draco's magic—but, when Hermione raised her wand as well, he was sufficiently intimidated to allow them to push past.
The moment they were in the alley, Draco summoned the Knight Bus.
“I had no idea,” said Hermione, trying to catch her breath, “that a bus would fit in this alley.”
“Magic,” said Draco, climbing on beside her.
“That'll be eleven Sickles each,” said Stan Shunpike, as a tide of Muggle girls piled on behind them.
“Piss off,” Draco told him, crossly. “They're damsels in distress.”
“And he,” said Hermione, smiling, “is our Knight on a Purple Bus.”
After a slightly heated debate—St Mungo's or the Ministry?—which Hermione won, they took the girls to the Ministry of Magic.
On the way, Draco reported to his watchers and, by the time they arrived, Harry was waiting for them, accompanied by two Ministry Healers. Ron, he told them, was putting a team together and would be storming the Pussy Galore in a matter of minutes.
“What will happen to them?” Hermione asked, as the Healers led the girls off to the Healing Rooms.
“We'll patch them up,” said Harry, “and take their statements, and then, well”—he led her and Draco to the lifts—“I thought that you might want to handle repatriation, Hermione.”
“Returning them to their families,” said Hermione, thoughtfully, “with a suitable cover story—they'd need careful Obliviation, of course... Yes, I'd like to do that.” She felt Draco squeeze her hand, and realised they'd been holding hands since they'd got off the bus. She smiled at him.
“Good,” said Harry. “Malfoy,” he added, as they stepped into the lift, “I need you to brief Ron on the magic you used to penetrate Greyback's wards.”
“That'll impress the Ministry,” Hermione assured him, quietly.
Whilst Draco was briefing Ron and his team, Hermione told Harry about Greyback and his patrons.
“The Head of the Being Division,” he said, incredulously. “That little chap with the comb over?”
“Yes. But most of them are just functionaries who happen to be in strategic positions, like the wizard who issues alcohol licences, and one of Kingsley's private secretaries. Plus, there's Hogwarts's new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor.”
“The sly dog!”
“It's sad, really. They were just lonely people, looking for—”
“Sex,” said Harry.
“Well, you can't blame them for that, but they should have come clean the moment Greyback started blackmailing them. I took copies of his records—his blackmail bible—”
“That's what's in the encrypted scrolls?”
Hermione nodded. “I'll give you a key.”
“Brilliant. We'll round them up tonight, before word gets out that the club's been shut down. But you”—he put a brotherly arm around Hermione's shoulders—“should go home—with Malfoy, apparently—and get some rest.” He winked, and they exchanged affectionate grins. “Once we've done our bit, Hermione, you're going to be working round the clock.”
“Merlin's balls,” said Draco, as he and Hermione left the Ministry, “it's been six hours! Those buggers'll penalise my arse off! I'm going to spend the rest of my life on the fucking Knight Bus!” He stuck out his hand.
Hermione paid Stan Shunpike.
“Draco,” she said, sitting down on one of the beds, “remember what I promised.” She was referring to the bargain they'd struck when she'd persuaded him to help her. “You've just rescued me, and you've freed a few dozen Muggle girls, and you've helped expose corruption at the highest level of Wizarding society! Harry and I will go before the Wizengamot, and we'll get you time off for good behaviour—if we don't get your conviction overturned altogether.”
Draco sat down beside her. “You do know that I only did it to impress you, don't you?” he said.
Hermione grinned and—without either of them needing to say anything—they came together, Draco pulling Hermione into his arms, and Hermione laying her head on his shoulder.
“I suppose you remember everything about me now,” he said.
“I remember you were a complete arse to me at school, if that's what you mean,” said Hermione, smiling. “Ginny always said it was because you fancied me.”
“The Weaselette's cleverer than she looks,” said Draco. “But I meant the other stuff.”
“What other stuff?”
“The stuff I did during the war.”
“We all did stuff during the war.”
“You did good things, Granger.”
“You did good things, too, Draco”—she twisted in his arms so she could look him in the eye—“like telling your father you didn't recognise Harry, Ron, and me... Anyway, you've changed since then.”
“I'm just... I'm atoning.”
“No,” she said. “You've changed.”
“Bless you, Granger.” He kissed her forehead.
Then, as he drew back, his eyes met hers and his expression grew serious; leaning in again, he kissed her mouth, softly at first but, when Hermione slid her arms about his neck, his kiss became more urgent, and he lowered her onto the bed.
Hermione felt her excitement building. His body was lean and energetic, promising her a pleasure sharp and intense. She wriggled beneath him, getting her hands between them, fumbling with his trousers—
“No!” Draco broke the kiss and pulled away from her. “I'm sorry, Granger,” he panted. “Not here, not with them watching. I want you—want you more than anything—but I want to give you something better than this.”
He turned away from her and, slumping forward, buried his face in his hands.
“Maybe,” said Hermione, desperately, “if I ask them, they'll give us some privacy.” She got on her knees and, clasping her hands together, fixed her eyes upon the air above her head, as though praying: “Please,” she said to the Ministry watchers, “please can Draco just have a few minutes—”
“Minutes?” Draco raised his head, frowning. “A few minutes? What bloody lightweights have you been shagging, Granger?”