Hermione Granger stood in the middle of a murder scene. The body was barely cold, sprawled on the floor and unidentifiable; blunt force trauma to the head, the Muggle policeman had told them.
“At least we have a weapon this time,” her partner muttered.
“Finally.” She did not look at him as he came to stand beside her. “What was it?”
“A lead pipe.” He held up a bloodied length of metal, contained in a plastic evidence bag.
Hermione screwed up her nose. “I don’t understand.”
“Nor do I.” Draco Malfoy sighed, rolling his shoulders. He knew it was imperative to keep a low profile while working alongside the non-Magical community, but he did loathe the stiff shirts he was forced to wear during such cases.
Without moving her lips, Hermione cast a muffliato. “Witches are dying at the hand of a Muggle serial killer; that’s what the Department wants us to report.” Hermione wiped the back of her gloved hand over her brow.
“What shit.” Malfoy snorted. “This is clearly the work of a Magical Mastermind.” He bent to examine the body more closely.
The girl was young, probably in her mid-to-late twenties, if the killer’s usual modus operandi was any indication. She was the usual type as well; dark, curly hair, pale skin, wiry build, and though they couldn’t see them at the moment, Hermione would wager that her eyes would be dark.
“Well we have just under a week to prove it.” She crouched beside him, using a gentle finger to push some of the matted hair from the victim’s face.
It was clear that the lead pipe had been used to utterly disfigure the poor woman. Hermione could barely make out where her features were, so shattered was her skull, covered beneath a thick layer of blood. A pang of sorrow, followed by the usual fire of determination flared in her chest.
The case had been open for nearly two months, the perpetrator beginning with the murder of Holly Green, a former Ministry employee who had worked in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes. Shockwaves had run through the Ministry, and nearly the entire Auror department had been forced to work the case.
Holly was found in the garage of the apartment complex she lived in downtown London. She had been stabbed, repeatedly, in the neck and stomach. The coroner’s report said she died from blood loss...obviously.
The second victim was Natasha Fairweather. She had no connection to the Ministry, but had transferred to the magical University in Cambridge from Australia. She had been strangled with a length of rope in the shared kitchen of her dorm room. The Aurors had had a field day trying to tie down the witches and wizards who shared the vast living corners, cross checking alibis and interviewing possible witnesses. All leads had turned cold.
By the time Mary Miller had turned up, shot in the chest at close range, in her bathroom, the morale in the Auror department had hit an all time low.
It was this, Hermione was sure, that had prompted Harry to invite Draco Malfoy to join her on the case. She had worked with him on cases before, but she preferred to partner with Katie Bell or even Neville Longbottom; the blond prat was far too arrogant and refused to follow normal procedures. She hated to admit that he was bloody good at his job, and held the record for the fastest solve, but that didn’t mean he could disregard the rules in every situation.
“Granger?” Her head snapped up to meet his cold gaze. “I said, -” he emphasised each syllable “- what do you think this means?”
He handed her a small black card with a question mark on it. Hermione’s jaw dropped as she took it between thumb and forefinger. “Where did you find this?”
“In her hair,” Malfoy made a face as he looked down at the victim; her hair was slick with her own blood and brain matter.
“It’s a game,” she said quickly.
“I guess that’s one way to look at it.” Malfoy frowned down at the body again.
“No.” She stood, holding the card towards him. “This is from a Muggle board game, Cluedo.”
“Yes. And I think the killer is using the game as their M.O.” She began to pace, one hand on her hip and the other clutching the card to her chest. “The first witch was killed with a dagger, in the garage; the second with the rope, in the kitchen; the third with a pistol, in the bathroom; and this one -” she glanced back at the body “- lead pipe, in the games room.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Come on, Malfoy,” she scoffed as she stood, removing her gloves and placing them in the closest rubbish bag. “Surely you’ve heard the sayings - ‘Colonel Mustard, in the study, with the candlestick.’”
“Are you feeling quite alright?”
“Just because it’s a Muggle concept, -” she rolled her eyes “- doesn’t make it insane.”
“You’re right, Granger,” he drawled. “What makes it insane is that it’s murder. ”
“Every other time he’s -”
“- taken the weapon with him.”
“So what went wrong this time?” Hermione ignored Malfoy’s interjections, and tapped her forefinger to her lips as she began to pace around the body.
“You don’t think they left it on purpose?”
“Have you ever worked a serial killer case, Malfoy?”
“No. Have you?”
“No.” Hermione moved away from him, towards the enchanted pool table. “But I watched a hell of a lot of Criminal Minds when I was younger, so I feel like I might be more qualified to speak on the matter. Unless -” she smirked over her shoulder at him “- you want to admit to watching it as well?”
“Speak English, woman,” he growled.
“It was a television show,” she explained as though this should have been obvious. “It followed a particularly good looking group of forensic detectives as they solved murders committed by serial killers and other equally disturbed individuals.”
“Speaking of disturbed individuals…” he muttered under his breath.
Hermione ignored him. “Serial killers only change their M.O for two reasons; one -” she held up one finger “- because they’re trying to send a message -” she waved the card around for emphasis but did not look back to check if he understood “- or two -” she held up another finger “- because they were interrupted.”
“Why would a serial killer try to leave clues for us?”
“Maybe he wants to be caught.” Hermione shrugged as she lifted a couch cushion. “Not everyone who commits heinous acts is inherently evil, you know.”
He did not respond to that. Hermione astutely ignored the niggling feeling in her gut that accompanied a realisation that her statement probably hit a little too close to home for her blond partner. Though she purposely avoided having to work with him as much as possible, she sometimes caught the way his eyes reflected regret when the past was brought up. This was no different, his iron-coloured eyes shifting downwards as he moved to do another sweep of the perimeter of the room. Hermione tried not to feel guilty; any sign of empathy towards Malfoy would only be used against her, of that she was certain.
“Malfoy?” she called a second later. “Come and look at this.”
He moved to stand next to her, behind the couch. His eyes grew wide as he took in the sight before him.
“Holy shit,” he exhaled. “What does this mean?”
“Beats me.” Hermione shrugged. “But we’re going to find out.”
She took the magical camera from her bag and crouched to get a better angle. On the floor, almost concealed beneath the shadow of the junction of the victim’s neck and shoulder, were two letters, clearly spelling out the initials “C.C”. Hermione moved around the body, taking photos of the writing from all angles.
“It’s definitely blood.” Malfoy screwed up his face as she worked. “The victim’s, most likely.”
“We should ask one of the Muggles to do a DNA test for us.” Hermione stood and capped the lens, letting the camera hang from her neck as she placed her hands on her hips.
“Or,” Malfoy started, a wicked glint in his eye. Hermione huffed one strand of hair away from her face and watched as he bent down as if to examine the initials.
“Malfoy!” she hissed, suddenly realising his intention. “Put your wand away!”
“Relax.” Malfoy rolled his eyes and stood, his wand safely in his back pocket once more. He stretched, using the movement to make sure the Muggle policemen were out of earshot. “It’s a match for the victim,” he whispered.
“You are the most irresponsible, insufferable -” Hermione pointed an accusing finger at the blond’s chest, but her rant was interrupted by a rotund man sporting a bullet-proof vest and a policeman’s cap.
“Excuse me,” he said as he came to a stop between them. “Did you drop this?” He held out a chubby hand, his palm facing upwards to reveal what looked like a small piece of grey plastic. “It looks like it came from your camera.” He nodded at the one around Hermione’s neck.
Stunned, Hermione glanced down and blinked at the Ministry camera; it looked intact from where she was standing. “Um…” she stammered.
“Thank you,” Malfoy said, stepping forward and taking the piece of plastic from the man. “It may have come off during my partner’s mad photo-taking ritual.” He mimicked a few deep lunges and odd yoga-esque poses; Hermione huffed indignantly.
“No problem.” The policeman hitched at his belt and offered Malfoy a questioning look, but then seemed to pass off the blond’s odd behaviour as normal for someone who worked predominantly on murder cases.
When he was out of ear shot, Hermione caught Malfoy’s sleeve and dragged him to the other side of the room. “What in Merlin’s name do you think you’re doing?” she hissed.
“Saving your arse,” he bit back, forcing the bit of plastic into her hand. “If the Muggles take the evidence, we’re screwed, Granger.” His tone suggested that she was an invalid. “It may be just a piece of plastic, but it could also be the key to this whole fucked up mansion of a serial killer’s mind. Get it together.”
With that, he stalked away from her, leaving Hermione practically foaming at the mouth. She swore under her breath as he signalled for her to follow him, raising his left hand and crooking two fingers; he continued until her tell-tale stomps filled the room.
If Malfoy assumes he can swan into my murder scene and start calling the shots, Hermione thought as they politely excused themselves from the room and made their way to the Apparition point, he has another, very long, hard think coming…
Back at the Ministry, Hermione immediately locked herself away in her office, which had been magically expanded to accommodate the long evidence table which now ran through the middle of it. A range of photographs - victims, crime scenes, and potential suspects - hung in the air against the windows, effectively blocking the view of London below. Golden string, glittering beneath the warm torches moved languidly between the pictures, trying and failing to find connections.
Hermione sighed heavily as she wandered over to the far corner where the list of dead ends continued to expand; she fingered it lightly, the yellowing parchment flimsy beneath her touch. Since joining the Auror department straight out of Hogwarts, Hermione had not worked a case she had not been able to solve. She knew logically, of course, that this was bound to happen one day, but she had not thought it would be so soon...and such a horrible case as well.
“Women are dying,” she muttered to herself. “He’ll slip up eventually, surely...and I’ll be there to catch him when he does.”
Hermione jumped, having been so absorbed in her musing that she had not heard the door open and shut behind her. Turning, she came face to face with a smug looking Malfoy who had changed out of his Muggle detective gear and was now standing in grey trousers, a white button down with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, holding two steaming mugs of coffee.
“I figured you’d need this.” He raised one of the mugs in a sort-of-toast before setting it down on the long table before him. Hermione arched an eyebrow but did not respond; she was loathe to admit it, but the coffee smelt amazing and with the way her evening was panning out, she could probably use the caffeine.
“Thanks,” she said, her tone more snappish than she had intended.
“So.” Malfoy took a gulp from his own cup and smacked his lips together. “What do we know so far?”
“Not a lot.” Hermione sighed, moving to pick up her coffee and savouring the warmth between her fingers. “I thought that today may have made things clearer, but it’s still mud.” Her eyes flickered again to the list of dead ends as she brought the mug to her lips and blew on the contents.
“You’ve given up already.” Malfoy observed, wandering around the room with one hand in his pocket, eyeing her notes.
“I have not!” Hermione turned to him, wide eyed.
He came to a stop in front of her, his gaze never wavering from her face as he reached for the offending piece of parchment and plucked it from the air. “Sometimes,” he said in a low voice, “dead ends can make for really good starting lines.”
“That is the stupidest -”
“Uh-uh.” He shook his head. “Let’s see.”
He began to read over her list, his lips moving soundlessly as his eyes skimmed. Hermione wanted to protest; she wanted to stamp her foot, rip the parchment from his perfectly manicured fingers, and possibly shove the crumpled up reminder of her incompetence down his arrogant throat.
“That’s it!” he declared suddenly, effectively cutting short her violent musings. “Where are your crime scene photos? Specifically of the victims.”
“You’re sick.” Hermione recoiled at the eager glint in his eyes.
“You’re pronouncing smart wrong, Granger.” He grinned, but the action didn’t quite reach his eyes; Hermione felt a savage sense of pride curl in her gut as she realised she was beginning to annoy him. “Ah!” He spotted the whiteboard and strode towards it, his eyes roaming the pictures. “Do you have a magnifying glass?”
Hermione choked on a laugh. “Sure, Watson; I keep it with my tweed cape and deerstalker.”
Malfoy narrowed his eyes but did not rise to the bait. Instead, he stabbed a long finger towards the photo of the first victim.
“I want to check something.”
With that, he waved his wand and a small, crystal object appeared on the table. Hermione frowned, leaning forward to get a better look at it before Malfoy snatched it away. He sneered as she met his gaze again, and she crossed her arms in a huff.
Malfoy brought the object to his eye and leaned forward until it was pressed against the photograph.
“Seriously?” Hermione ground out. “A loupe?”
“Shush, Granger,” he chastised, squinting his free eye and moving the little piece of crystal over the square. “I’m about to solve your case.”
“I’d like to see -”
“There!” He cut her off and turned, throwing his arms wide in a triumphant gesture. He pointed back at the photo, but did not take his eyes off of Hermione; she thought she may vomit from the look of sheer arrogance on his face.
“What?” She spat.
“C.C,” he replied. “It’s tiny, but it’s there, right near the girl’s shoulder, just like today’s victim.”
Hermione let out a strangled sound and lunged for the loupe. She felt slightly ridiculous as she pressed it to her eye, copying Malfoy’s movements, and pressed the cool glass against the photo he had indicated. It took a few seconds to find it, but sure enough, the same initials they had found today had been left at the first crime scene.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” Malfoy grinned wolfishly at Hermione.
Hermione considered retorting with a scathing remark, but then thought better of it. He may be irritating, and an arrogant git, but Malfoy had discovered an important clue - one that she had missed - and Hermione Granger believed in giving credit where credit was due.
“What?” she said, an undercurrent of irritation lacing her words.
“The twisted fuck probably left their initials at all of the other crime scenes.”
Hermione arched an eyebrow but did not reply. Instead, she turned back to the windows and began to remove all of the pictures of the victims, laying them out along the table. When she had finished, she brought the loupe to her face once more, and bent over the line of photographs.
Part of her wanted Malfoy to be wrong, though the stronger, more logical part of her knew that was petty and childish; she could not help the swoop of disappointment mixed with the thrill of finding a clue as she spotted the initials in each of the photos.
With a sigh, she sat back and placed the loupe in front of her. “The initials have been drawn larger each time; it was good thinking to get the magnifying glass; we wouldn’t have found them otherwise.”
Malfoy rubbed his hands together, and Hermione felt a tingle roll up her spine as she rose from her position at the table; he watched her as she moved.
“Now we just need to find a suspect with the initials C.C,” he said.
“It might not be a name,” Hermione countered, frowning up at him.
He rolled his eyes. “What else could it be?”
“It could stand for Cluedo.” Hermione jutted her chin out defiantly, though she knew the words sounded ridiculous as they left her mouth.
Malfoy scoffed. “What does the second ‘C’ stand for, then?”
Hermione was silent. “I don't know. But that’s what we’re going to spend the next few hours trying to figure out.”
Many hours later, the department was empty except for Hermione and Malfoy. Soon after the last person had left, Malfoy had arranged for the delivery of Chinese takeaway, and white cartons still half-full of noodles, rice, and varying meat dishes were scattered across the evidence table. Coffee cups mingled in the mess, the blond having summoned a new cup every fifteen minutes - for both himself and Hermione, though she still hadn’t finished the first one - and Hermione was close to developing an eye twitch.
“Must you be so filthy?” she groaned as Malfoy leant back in his chair and placed his dragon leather boots onto the table.
He gave her a look which clearly meant that he could try a little harder to be absolutely disgusting, and Hermione deflated; she had more pressing matters to attend to than Malfoy’s housekeeping skills.
“Well, I concede,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for the initials to be linked to the game.” Malfoy grinned but said nothing as he brought his current coffee cup to his lips. “But if they are initials…” She bit her lower lip in concentration. “I have no idea how we’re going to find out who they belong to.”
“Ye of little faith,” Malfoy scolded, rising from his relaxed position on the other side of the table. “We’ll figure this out; we have me on the case.” He winked, drained the last of his coffee and threw it over his shoulder without watching where it landed, amid the ever-growing pile of trash in the middle of the table.
Hermione was about to rest her forehead on the cool wood in front of her, but remembered just in time that it was currently covered in Merlin-only-knew-what, so she settled for threading her fingers into the hair at her temples and pulling until several strands snapped.
It was almost dawn, and Hermione was contemplating switching sides - in all of her career, she had never sympathised with any of her murderers, but as she leant against her desk watching Draco Malfoy pace between the evidence table and the windows, muttering to himself in a constant stream of absolute drivel, she was beginning to appreciate their motives.
“C.C,” he muttered. “C.C, C.C, C.C…” Hermione was sure words would soon hold no meaning as the soft sound reverberated in her ears and skull, leaving imprints like nails down a chalkboard. “Your initials are C.C and that can stand for…”
Hermione opened her mouth as he turned at the far point of the office and began making his way back towards her. She had every intention of giving him a good telling off, her patience having officially worn thin, but then he stopped suddenly and lifted his gaze to hers as if seeing her for the first time.
“Cho Chang!” he said triumphantly.
“Excuse me?” Hermione’s tone had taken on a whiny quality and she bit down on her lip as the sound registered in her ears.
“C.C,” Malfoy said, still standing stock still four strides in front of her. “Cho Chang.” He enunciated each syllable, as if this made it clear.
“You think -” Hermione squinted and brought a hand to her chin “- that Cho Chang is the killer?”
“She could be!” Malfoy insisted. “Her initials are C.C, she’s kind of crazy - she dated Diggory, after all -”
“I beg your pardon!” Hermione said. “Cedric Diggory was -”
“- and,” Malfoy continued as if he had not heard her interjection, “- you can’t deny that she wasn’t exactly your biggest fan, and in case you hadn’t noticed, the victims all tend to have the same... features. ”
He gave her a pointed look and Hermione’s mouth dropped open; did he seriously think all of the women looked like her?
“Are you mad?” She grinned, the expression manic. “Cho Chang may not have been my best friend at Hogwarts, but she hasn’t carried a vendetta for all these years, and she certainly isn’t the type to target witches using a Muggle board game to send me a message!”
“You’re far too naive, Granger.” Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Chang hated you after what you did to her friend. I think she has a very good motive, and -”
“The victims don’t look like me!” Hermione shouted, effectively - finally - silencing the blond. “They look like Bellatrix; I’ve already identified that.”
Malfoy was silent for a moment, his eyes widening as her words registered. “Bellatrix?” he repeated. “As in Bellatrix Lestrange? My crazy aunt who -” His breath caught on an inhale as his gaze flickered to her exposed forearm. The scar still stood starkly against her skin, but Hermione often forgot about it nowadays. Having Malfoy bring back the awareness snapped something within her.
“Why are you so intent on believing that this murderer is a woman?” she said suddenly.
“I’ve told you; it could be! Aren’t you for all that gender equality stuff?”
“Of course I am! But that doesn’t mean that I’m limiting my scope to just witches!”
“No, just wizards!” Malfoy spat back, advancing a step towards her, his eyes crazed. “Granger, you can’t tell me that you have the sole idea of a man in your head when you picture the killer.”
“Statistically I’m correct!” she fumed.
“Statistically I’m correct!” he repeated in a high pitched, sing-song voice. When Hermione only glared back at him, he took another step forward until he was close enough to reach out and touch her. “Face it; whether the killer is sending a message to you, or to Bellatrix, I could be correct. I know that it hurts your inferior brain, but -”
“Cho Chang was a pureblood,” Hermione bit out. “Or half-blood. She definitely wasn’t Muggleborn, and we know that the murderer must be Muggleborn because they’re using a Muggle board game to kill witches off in varying scenarios! Their M.O is that they don’t have a damn M.O! So I don’t understand -”
“A half-blood may still have been exposed to Muggle culture!” Malfoy countered.
Hermione scoffed. “Oh, well look at you all willing to believe that wizarding families dust off the old non-violent, explosion-less versions of their magical games in favour of the Muggle classics.” Her tone dripped with disdain, and she marvelled in the way Malfoy’s eyes turned a glossy silver at her implication.
“Just once,” he murmured, his hot gaze locked on hers, “I would like to work a case which doesn’t end in me binding a sick bastard in rope and asking him why he did it; because she was asking for it; because she reminded him of his mother, or sister, or the girl who once rejected him. Men are powerful; society has known that forever. But where’s the fun in always chasing the same thing?”
For a split second, Hermione’s brain ground to a stop; was Draco Malfoy, the biggest bigot their generation had produced, defending women?
Granted, she thought as her synapses began firing again, he’s hoping to find a female killer while preaching feminism, but still…
Part of her wanted to continue down the path for possible understanding of Malfoy and his ideals which were - apparently - so similar to her own, but then she remembered that he was a pain in the arse and her desire to rile him up won out.
“So -” Hermione canted her head, a smirk toying at the corners of her lips “- what you’re saying is that you think a female serial killer would be sexy?” Malfoy froze, and Hermione fought back a laugh as the high points of his cheeks turned an interesting shade of magenta. “Seriously?” She choked. “That’s sick -”
Malfoy moved so fast, a ghost of a smile was still on Hermione’s face as he pressed himself against her. His hands landed on the desk either side of her hips with a slapping sound, and his breath danced across her lips as it left his lungs in warm, rapid bursts.
“You have no idea,” he growled, “just how sick I can be, Granger.”
Hermione was sure in that moment that he was going to kiss her. His eyes flickered from her own surprised gaze to her lips, and back up again. One of his hands hovered over her waist, sending delicious tingles throughout her abdomen as she waited for his next move...
It ended as soon as it started.
One moment, Hermione’s eyelids were fluttering closed and she was running her tongue over her lips to prepare them for the inevitable assault, but then the next, Malfoy had jumped backwards as if she had hexed him, a loud bang followed by a hissing noise startling both of them from what could have been.
“Shit!” Hermione swore as she arrived back in the present and noticed the pile of smoking plastic resting on the floor by her feet. “My camera! Harry’s going to kill me!”
“Hermione?” As if he had been summoned by the uttering of his name, Harry Potter appeared in the office doorway, a frown denting his forehead above his signature round spectacles. “Is everything alright?”
“It’s fine, Potter,” Malfoy grunted. “Granger is just clumsy, is all.”
“I - you -!” Hermione flushed bright red, glaring at Malfoy with an expression which clearly suggested that he would pay for that lie later.
“The camera fell off my desk,” she said, turning to face Harry. “Unfortunately I don’t think it can be salvaged.” She dropped her gaze to the broken mess, which was still smoldering; wrinkling her nose at the smell, she looked back up imploringly at Harry. “Sorry.”
Harry squeezed his eyes shut and pursed his lips. When his gaze locked on Hermione again, she noted the ire behind his glasses.
“Bloody hell.” He sighed. “Those things don’t grow on trees, you know.”
Hermione shot daggers at Malfoy, but the prat’s countenance remained cool and aloof.
“Clean it up.” Harry nodded toward the mess. “If you need a camera over the next twenty-four hours, there’s a spare one on my desk; it belongs to Dennis, but I’m sure he won’t mind you using it.” His tone still held some of the bite, but his eyes had softened as he regarded them in turn.
“Thanks, Harry.” Hermione said. “Sorry...again.”
“It’s fine,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Just...be more careful. Have you found any more leads?”
“No,” Hermione said at the same time Malfoy muttered, “Yes.”
“Okay.” Harry frowned. “Well, I’ll leave you to it, then.”
After Harry left, the rest of the Auror team began to trickle in for their shifts. Hermione knew that it would probably be prudent to go home, take a shower, and get a few hours of sleep before returning to the case, but as she turned to mention this to Malfoy, the blond cast a Scourgify on himself and clapped his hands together.
“Perhaps we should get out of here,” he suggested. “We could go and look at the records to see if anyone is on file for criminal activity who matches the initials C.C.”
Hermione longed to argue with him. She thought of a steamy shower and her soft bed, and had almost formulated her disagreement when she realised that even if she left, Malfoy would insist on working on the case without her - and she could not let that happen.
“Fine,” she snapped. “But you need to clean this place up first.”
Malfoy did as she asked, but his telling smile as he used his wand to clear the mess he had made on the evidence table suggested that her reaction was everything he had been hoping for.
When they arrived in the records department, Hermione could not help but feel the slightest bit grateful for Malfoy and his idea. While the room did not offer much in the way of warmth or comfort, it was silent, and it smelt like parchment and ink.
“The ‘C’ file is over here.” Malfoy pointed with his wand, the tip of which he had lit with a Lumos spell.
Hermione said nothing, but obediently followed him towards the cabinet marked with the letter C. Malfoy pulled out the second draw down and clamped his wand between his teeth.
“I’ll work from the front,” Hermione told him when she was certain his mouth was out of commission. “You work from the back.”
Malfoy shot her a glare which suggested he wanted to argue, but Hermione was already digging through the front of the draw, rifling through the sectioned folders using the tips of her fingers.
With a huff, the blond began to do the same from the back. Hermione noticed that he purposely kept the wand light raised and pointed towards his work space, but she wasn’t too bothered - her night vision wasn’t terrible and it was only dim in the records room.
Their fingers worked across the files like a pianist playing a particularly upbeat tune. The rustling of parchment swirled around them, until their fingers came to rest on exactly the same folder. Hermione looked up, her gaze meeting the steely eyes of her partner.
An unspoken agreement was reached within seconds, and Malfoy let go so Hermione could pull the bulky object from its confines.
“I should have guessed.” Malfoy shook his head.
“I didn’t know his first name started with a C,” Hermione murmured as she used her index finger to skim over the contents of the file.
“It makes sense.” Malfoy frowned and shoved his hands deep into his trouser pockets. “He was one of the more violent Death Eaters.”
Hermione pursed her lips and assessed the blond from over the top of the folder. “It doesn’t make sense for it to be Castor Crabbe; he was pureblood.”
“He loved tormenting Muggles, though. Crabbe Senior may have been just as dimwitted as his son, but he was very good at playing with his prey before consuming it.”
Hermione’s face grew cool as the blood drained from it, watching as Malfoy turned slightly green. She had the sudden urge to reach for him; she knew that he did not like to talk about Vincent Crabbe, his friend who had met an untimely end in the Room of Requirement, and while they had not been on the same side of the war, she understood the loss of a loved one only too well.
“It might be something,” she finally said, feeling that though she wasn’t sure their tentative truce extended to physical contact, she could at least comfort him by agreeing with his theory. “Perhaps we should return to the crime scene; we’re going to need more evidence if we mean to connect Crabbe to the murders.”
Malfoy did not verbalise his response, but simply nodded before sweeping from the room, leaving Hermione trailing behind.
She returned to Harry’s office first to pick up the new camera before collecting Malfoy. They walked in uncomfortable silence to the Apparition point, Hermione’s brain performing backflips as she attempted to reconcile all that had transpired between them today.
Grateful for the distraction, Hermione immediately let go of Malfoy’s sleeve when they landed near the latest murder scene and began the short walk to the building. Once inside, she put as much distance between them as possible, something for which she felt Malfoy was appreciative.
The Muggle forensic team had long since cleaned the scene, though the yellow tape they used to keep unauthorised personnel out was still in place. The faint chalk outline of the girl’s body was visible on the floor, and Hermione bent easily under the tape to get a closer look.
Apart from the white lines, there was no trace of anything; no blood, no hair, and definitely no other evidence that may link someone to the crime scene. Though she had known from the start that returning would probably yield no results, Hermione could not help the sinking feeling in her gut; how many more women would have to die before they caught the killer?
As if he had read her mind, Malfoy appeared behind her. “Find anything?”
Hermione jumped and turned quickly to face him. “No,” she said. “You?”
“Nothing.” His tone was bitter and his eyes had taken on a dull quality.
She knew it wasn’t his fault, but in that moment Hermione latched on to the only other living being within a ten foot radius and unleashed the frustration which had been building over the past two months.
“Great!” she spat, throwing her arms wide. “Another murder and we’re no closer to the killer; how many more women will die, Malfoy, before we crack this Godric-forsaken case?”
“Why are you yelling at me?” He shot back. “I just arrived yesterday; you’ve had weeks to ponder, and you hadn’t even located the fucking initials!” His voice increased in volume with every word he uttered until he was shouting, his face flushed and his eyes wide.
“The initials are a square peg you’re trying to force into a round hole! Cho Chang? Castor Crabbe?” She snorted with derision, her gaze flickering up and down his body as if disgusted by his mere presence. “If you force it anymore, the whole concept is going to snap!”
“That makes no sense!” he roared, now advancing towards her with a manic glint in his eyes. “Perhaps if you stopped and thought about every possibility instead of just the stereotypical obvious, you’d have prevented the last two deaths!”
“How dare you!” she screeched, her hair beginning crackle as her back hit the wall; Malfoy was still coming toward her but she could not dwell on the way heat pooled in her abdomen while she was so irate. “Here we go again with your sick obsession with female serial killers!”
Malfoy growled as he came to a stop less than an inch from Hermione’s face. His warm breath ghosted across her cheek and she was starkly reminded of their almost-kiss earlier in the morning. She expected him to make another witty retort, but after a few seconds of silence she was unsure if the desperation coiled in her chest was due to her wanting to continue their heated argument, or her desire for him to close the gap between them.
In the end, he chose the latter.
His tongue was demanding and insistent, entering her mouth without build up or waiting for permission. His hands rested either side of her head, splayed across the brickwork, while Hermione’s automatically found the front of his shirt and threaded the material between her fingers.
She found herself kissing him back with a kind of frenzy she had never before experienced, not with Viktor, or Ron, or even her most recent ex-boyfriend, that Healer from Saint Mungo’s who, while very intelligent, had little more knowledge about pleasure than a forty-year-old virgin.
His lips were soft despite his forceful movements, and as a satisfied moan rolled its way up his throat and vibrated passed Hermione’s lips, she melted into the front of him, wishing that the kiss would never end.
She gasped as his hands threaded into her hair, tilting her head back to allow him better access. Shuffling forward, he pressed himself against her, the weight of the camera digging uncomfortably into her middle. Hermione reached down to move it to the side, intent on continuing this snog-fest without dwelling on who she was actually snogging, when a sharp pain shot through her middle finger.
“Ouch!” she hissed, effectively breaking the kiss.
Glancing between them, Hermione brought her hand up to get a better look at the damage; a ragged cut ran up the side of her finger, blood blossoming and spilling over the digit like miniature red waves on a lazy ocean.
“Dammit!” Hermione automatically brought it to her mouth, sucking away the blood to better assess the damage.
“How did that happen?” Malfoy was still standing incredibly close, one hand now braced against the wall while the other hovered around Hermione’s midsection.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I just went to move the camera…”
Her cheeks warmed as she glanced down at the offending object, noticing the large, jagged hole in the top near the button.
“Let’s see?” Using her uninjured hand, Hermione held the camera out to him. Malfoy smirked. “Did Potter attend the last crime scene?”
“Yes.” Hermione nodded as the camera settled back against her middle. “He was first on the scene, before the Muggle police force arrived, and before we were called in. Why?”
“Honestly, how you people became Aurors is beyond me,” he drawled. He turned, beginning to move towards the exit.
“I beg your pardon!” Hermione huffed and followed him, feeling begrudgingly grateful that this new topic of conversation was easing some of the awkwardness following their kiss.
“Well first you break a camera -”
“That was you!”
“- and now we discover Potter destroyed Ministry property - in the same day no less! I can’t wait to see his face when we confront him, after his little hissy fit this morning.”
There was a definite skip in his step as he took Hermione’s hand in his and practically dragged her to the Apparition point.
Malfoy was still carrying on about the broken camera as they entered the elevator in the atrium. “Can I carry it?” he asked. “Please, Granger, I want to be the one to confront him.”
“Did your mother drop you often when you were an infant?” Hermione snapped, sighing as she gave in to his whim and untangled the camera strap from her hair as the cool elevator voice announced that they had reached the second floor.
“Only once,” he replied happily, cradling the camera in his arms as if it were the most precious of treasures.
“Hermione; Malfoy,” Harry greeted them as they entered his office. He was standing behind his desk, collecting parchment together. “What can I do for -?”
“Potter!” Malfoy boomed, drowning out Hermione’s attempt at a preemptive apology. “I have a very important issue I wish to discuss with you.”
“Er, sure...what is it?”
Hermione watched as Harry’s hands stilled, allowing the parchment to settle back on to his desk as Malfoy’s grin grew impossibly wider, his eyes glinting with unbridled mirth.
“This!” With a flourish not unlike a magician revealing the cliched ‘sawing a woman in half’ trick, Malfoy thrust the broken camera into Harry’s chest.
“What the -?”
“You deigned to have a go at us this morning when that other camera shattered - a complete accident, clumsy Granger and all that - yet, you , sir -” he paused, pursing his lips for dramatic effect “- have not been the role model you claim to be, perched there on your throne of irresponsibility, resting with your crown of -”
“Malfoy!” Harry said loudly.
“- mis- ” He groaned, twisting his features into a petulant frown. “Merlin, Potter, can’t you just let me have this one time? It’s not every day you get to chastise your boss and quite frankly, you deserve it, so -”
“It’s not that.” Harry sighed, pinching his nose between thumb and forefinger in an expression that clearly depicted his quickly depleting store of patience. “I didn’t break that camera.” He gestured to the object now sitting innocently on his desk. “I don’t take crime scene photos; that’s your job.” He glanced between them, his green eyes uncharacteristically hard.
“But -” Hermione frowned, speaking up for the first time since Malfoy had begun his rant “- if you didn’t take it to the crime scene, how do you explain the piece of broken camera the policeman found this morning?” She inclined her head towards the camera. “It’s with the rest of the evidence at the moment, but I’m sure it’s the right size to fit that hole.”
Malfoy snickered, and Hermione elbowed him hard in the ribs.
“I don’t know,” Harry said slowly, his face grave. “That’s Dennis’ camera; it’s not Ministry property. And there’s no way Dennis would have been at the scene - he doesn’t have clearance.”
The three of them looked at each other, Malfoy’s face the epitome of devastation; just like when they were at Hogwarts, his attempt at getting one over The Boy Who Lived had been thwarted. It was perhaps this feeling of despair that caused his brain to move slower than the other two, though Hermione landed on the conclusion seconds before Harry did.
“Shit…” she whispered, her eyes wide.
“You don’t think -?” Harry said, a small and disbelieving smile curling at the edges of his lips. “But...it can’t, it just doesn’t make -”
“Sense?” Hermione interjected, her eyes still glazed and unseeing as she fixated on a spot above Harry’s right shoulder. “Unfortunately, it does.”
A small knock from behind them startled the trio; Hermione whipped around, her gaze landing on the slight frame and mousy features of Dennis Creevey.
“Er, Harry?” he said as he entered the room, eyeing Hermione and Malfoy cautiously. “I’ve finished that filing you asked me to do, so if it’s alright with you I’m going to head -” his face fell as he took in Harry’s expression “- home?”
“Dennis,” Harry said in a serious tone. “Can we ask you a few questions?”
The mousy-haired man seemed to grow smaller as they stared him down, Draco with loathing and disdain, Hermione with barely concealed desperation, and Harry with utter shock.
“You figured it out,” Dennis whispered, breaking the tense silence.
“So it’s true.” Harry blinked; his knuckles were white as he clutched the back of his desk chair for support, and Hermione wisely used her wand to shut and lock the door of the office.
“It was me,” he continued in the same feather-light voice. “I’m the Cluedo killer.”
“Why, Dennis?” Hermione asked, blinking back tears.
“I don’t know,” he answered, his eyes wide and fearful. “I only just found out myself, if I’m honest with you.”
“You only just…?” Malfoy canted his head to the side. “What?”
“It’s a long story, and I don’t have all the information.” Dennis continued to glance at each of them in turn, his soft brown eyes imploring them to understand. “I will tell you everything I do know, though.”
Malfoy curled a hand around the back of the closest visitor’s chair and dragged it towards him, angling it so it was facing Dennis, and then plonked himself down in it. He folded his arms and continued to stare at the other wizard, an expectant expression on his face.
Slowly, Hermione and Harry mimicked his movements, though their postures were much more relaxed; Dennis remained standing.
“I’ve been seeing a Mind Healer since the end of the war,” he began, “and up until recently, I’d say I was coping quite well...but then I began to feel like the Healer wasn’t really listening to me and I planned to stop seeing him.” He took a deep, shuddering breath and Hermione’s heart clenched painfully. “I sent an owl to his office two weeks ago, stating that I felt that I needed to try to deal with my issues on my own; I felt good - liberated, even.” Dennis paused to lick his lips, and his eyes settled on Hermione. “But then I received a return owl, from the Healer; his letter said that I had not attended a session with him in months. I was confused - I remembered those conversations. I owled back immediately to set up an appointment for the next day, and it was during this session that I realised that I’d been experiencing psychotic blackouts for a while now.”
He had whispered the entirety of his monologue, but Hermione still flinched as she absorbed the new information. At this movement, Malfoy’s hand came to rest on the back of her chair, the heat from his palm soothing against her neck.
“Did they come back?” she asked. “The memories?”
Dennis shook his head forlornly. “Not all of them,” he said. “And I blacked out again, as you know -” he gestured towards Hermione and Malfoy half-heartedly “- just a few days ago, only this time I caught pieces of what I had done.” He swallowed thickly, and Hermione noted he had gone very pale. “I didn’t mean to,” he stammered as his eyes filled with tears.
“I understand,” Hermione said, tears of her own beginning to slide down her cheeks.
“You targeted Bellatrix look alikes?” Malfoy pressed, unmoved by the sudden and overwhelming display of emotion.
“Yes.” Dennis nodded. “I think because of Colin…” he trailed off, his shoulders now shaking with the force of his sobs. “I knew I was missing him, b-but I -” he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, though it did little to stem the salty flow “- I never thought I’d try to a-avenge h-him!”
“C.C,” Hermione said. “Colin Creevey; your brother.” Dennis nodded. “And the camera?” Hermione continued tentatively. “You broke it during the last murder?”
Dennis winced as her mouth formed the word. “Yes,” he said. “I remember coming around after...after it had happened. I dropped the camera, and then everything went black again; I realised it had broken when I came to, once I’d arrived back home, but I couldn’t remember how ...not until this morning.”
“Why didn’t you confess?” Malfoy asked.
“B-because I was scared.” He shook violently, and Hermione stood, looking from Malfoy to Harry.
“I think we should continue this tomorrow.” She indicated Dennis with a pointed inclination of her head. “Harry, would you contact the Mind Healer Dennis has been seeing, and arrange an evaluation to be presented to the Wizengamot so we can get him the help he needs at Saint Mungo’s?”
Harry nodded. She turned to Dennis next, who had crumpled as she addressed Harry.
“Dennis,” she began. “I’m not going to pretend that what you did was okay; it wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination. But I do know that you are not in the right state of mind to be tried and convicted as a psychopathic villain. We’re going to help you, and you will be okay.”
He nodded, though he would not meet her gaze. She turned to Malfoy next, holding her arm out in front of her and crooking her index finger in a gesture to indicate that he should come with her. He obliged, arching one eyebrow as he rose to his feet and stretched his arms over his head.
They moved quietly to the door and Malfoy opened it with his wand so Hermione could exit before him. As she crossed the threshold, she suddenly turned back, having remembered one detail she still didn’t understand.
“Dennis?” she said. The wizard lifted his gaze to meet hers slowly, but gave no verbal indication that he had heard her. “Why Cluedo?”
Against his will, a small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “Colin and I would play it all the time as kids,” he said wistfully.
Back in her office, Hermione allowed the emotions she had successfully contained during the confrontation with Dennis to bubble to the surface. Standing with her back to the door, she gazed unseeingly through thick tears as they sped from her eyes, down her cheeks, and dropped onto the front of her blouse.
Her shoulders shook and she placed a hand over her mouth to prevent the telltale sounds of her obvious distress from escaping. She did not hear Malfoy come in, but she did not startle as his strong arms wound around her waist and he buried his face in her hair.
“You did so well,” he murmured through her sobs. “He’s going to get the help he needs, and now the streets of London are safe again.”
“I know.” She hiccupped, turning slowly so she could face him.
He kept one arm around her, pressing his palm into her lower back and using his free hand to tilt her chin up, giving him access to her lips. As he kissed her, Hermione allowed her mind to cleanse itself of the work she had done over the last few days, and what she had witnessed in Harry’s office.
It was not like their previous kiss, all clashing of tongues and desperate hands. This was sweet and slow, and though she could not pinpoint when Malfoy had stopped being the biggest pain in her arse, to the one she wanted to comfort her through times such as these, but right then she wasn’t going to question it.