…as crying.

Stupid worthless female. Stupid mudblood. Sit there and rot.

Hermione hugged herself, watching her last link to human civilization disappear through the trees in a cloud of poofy arrogance.

She was caught somewhere in a cycle of fury and terror. Part of her was screaming 'Good riddance to bad rubbish!' as she watched him walk away and wondering idly how long before he got mauled or eaten by the local wildlife. Another part of her was screaming that she was now officially alone in the middle of the forest without her wand, without any sort of protection, and that she was going to starve to death or freeze to death or get eaten by wild animals. And she was furious with herself for wishing that Draco Malfoy would return.

But the boy had disappeared.

She let out her breath and turned in a slow circle.

The woods were quiet, serene. Birds were singing, blossoms were floating in the air and a little brown rabbit hopped out of its hole under a knotted cluster of tree roots to get a drink from the stream.

In a different situation she would have been quite enchanted.

What was she supposed to do now?

" Think Hermione." She muttered to herself.

Logic and her upbringing declared it was wisest simply to stay put. She put little stock in the nonsense Malfoy had spouted. Someone would come! She was sure of it.

Surely the person who lost their portkey would report it. Then with Malfoy and her missing someone would put two and two together. It was quite simple. All she needed to do was wait.

But until help came she needed to take care of herself.

She had read a few books about wilderness survival but not many. In reality she'd thought that studying that sort of thing was pointless after she'd gotten her wand. Not extremely farsighted of her and arrogant of her too if she wanted to be brutally honest.

She quelled her rising panic with deep, even breaths. There had to be something around here to help her.

" This is just another puzzle." She said calmly, "Okay, first things first. Malfoy said this is a magic forest. How would he even know?"

That last sentence sounded bitchy even to her, but she hoped he was right. It was true that there were far fewer dangers in a natural forest, but there were also far fewer resources. A magical forest would be fraught with magical plants and animals that she might be able to utilize.

She began exploring the clearing, making note of the campfire remains as she circled the area, her sharp eyes taking in every detail. She circled twice before she finally stopped, hands on her hips with a satisfied smile.

" A ring of Golden Elder trees."

It was true. The clearing had apparently been very specifically chosen. Elder was extremely protective against magical forces and a ring of Elder around the campsite would keep most magical creatures out.

Hermione instantly felt much better. She was not as exposed as she had thought she was. Aragog himself could come scuttling by and he would not be able to get to her. She was incredibly pleased with herself for listening to her instincts and not leaving the clearing with Malfoy.

It proved that this was a magical forest. But she did not think, not for a moment, that Malfoy had known enough to recognize the circle of trees and their significance. He was far too dense.

So how had he known?

She took another look around the clearing. It took her several minutes to see what Malfoy had apparently seen. A small sound gave it away, a little hiccuping 'chirrup' sound. Looking up, she frowned and after several minutes of holding still she saw them. And then she laughed.

" Rooala!" she squealed in delight, seeing the miniature koala-like tree-bears climbing around on the Golden Elders.

Her squeal sent them scuttling up their trees in alarm.

They were tiny, about a handspan tall, with black fur and bright yellow tufts and they fed exclusively on Elder leaves. She'd never seen them in real life. They were much too harmless for Hagrid to ever take an interest in. But they were absolutely adorable.

And they were also said to be good luck.

Hermione grinned, "Magic forest, ring of protection. Check. Next, gathering supplies."

The only reason Hermione ventured out of the ring of Elders was because it was still daylight out, but even then she moved slow and had to gather her courage to take that first step. It was silly but she was half afraid something would pounce her the instant she left the protective circle.

She circled her campsite, taking stock of all the plants and listing off what their uses were. She was utterly delighted to find a whole bed of Sphagnum moss nearby.

Sphagnum was a water purifier. While Hermione had been incredibly grateful for the stream, she'd been a little uncertain about drinking from it. Still, dirty water was better than no water. But now that she had Sphagnum she had nothing to worry about. She gathered several handfuls and rushed it back to her campsite, leaving it near her backpack.

Even more fortuitous was an entire rock wall of firestone at the base of a small slope on the North side of her camp. Several large chunks already lay on the ground and the wall itself had large gouges where she could see someone had dug out chunks to use for building fires. She actually shrieked with joy when she found it.

This clearing was apparently chosen for more than just the protective Elder trees. It was an absolutely perfect campsite. Completely self-sufficient. Perfect for someone who wanted to get away from civilization. Hermione dumped several chunks of firestone next to her Sphagnum moss and turned to go back and gather firewood when a sudden thought halted her in her tracks.

This campsite was well stocked with natural resources. Someone who knew how to survive in the forest could do so easily and do it well. Even the weather was favorable. From the warmth of the day she could tell that the nights were going to be cold but not freezing. If this was such a perfect campsite, with all the natural resources a woodsman needed, did that mean Malfoy was wrong about any people being nearby? Was the person who owned the portkey an expert woodsman who didn't need any modern conveniences?

And what of Malfoy?

She wondered at the confidence that allowed him to go stomping off into the woods alone without any sort of supplies or protection. What was he going to do when it was too dark to see? What was he going to do about food, water, and wild animals? Had he even thought of those things? Maybe he was an experienced woodsman and she just didn't know about it. Or maybe he was just that stupid.

Hermione shook her head and went back to gathering wood. It didn't matter. Someone would be along soon to collect them.

She gathered a lot of wood, not wanting to have to go out and find more in the middle of the night. With the essentials taken care of, she felt incredibly relieved. Humming she began gathering other things that might be useful to her. She even found a few things to eat, some edible roots that were nice and crunchy and a good two handfuls of juicy Toddy berries. She was almost happy by the time the sun sank behind the trees and she returned to her campsite to build a roaring fire.

Then, as the air cooled, the crickets began to sing and the night animals began to prowl. A few times she saw glowing eyes at the edge of the circle of trees, staring in at her. But whatever animals lurked just outside her circle of light, none could venture in. It was a little frightening, but Hermione, with an air of nonchalance and determination, simply pulled her textbooks from her backpack and began to do homework by firelight, while awaiting her inevitable rescue.

NEXT TIME: Check back in at Diagon alley. Is everyone still sitting around waiting for Hermione? What's Harry going to do when he finds out Draco and Hermione have vanished? What's Lucius going to do? Looks like the Ministry is going to have to prevent a fistfight on top of searching for the two missing teens.

A/N: Well geez! How's this gonna be Draco/Hermione if Draco gets eaten by guppies, or worse yet, actually finds a town and takes a taxi home?! Don’t worry. His little self-imposed exile won't last long.

BTW, Elder is a real tree of course but there may or may not be a tree called Golden Elder. When it comes to the plants I'm sort of winging it. Making up some, taking some from the area Draco and Hermione are camping in (not going to tell you where that is yet) and choosing others for their mythological "magic" properties. So please don't get all offended if I put together two plants that normally thrive in different climates or only grow on opposite sides of the Earth. It is a "magic" forest after all. Sphagnum is a type of peat moss used in horticulture. I just used it as my water purifier cuz I felt like it. Don't go using it like I'm going to use it in this story.

Dorothy: Hee, peaches for reviewing twice. And I am now officially terrified of making grammatical errors cuz I know you'll catch them. I'm tickled that you think this story is good but if you want real talent you should read:

Blanche Dubois: I promise some fluffiness eventually but things are actually going to get worse before they get any better. But then we don't exactly need them to like each other for there to be 'steam'. Heh.

Thalion: I'm trying to keep him balanced. He's kinda pissed in this chapter but I'm trying to get his perverse sense of humor too.

ArMaNi: Draco is a selfish, petty bastard and you ain't seen nothing yet. He may eventually soften a bit towards Hermione but I'm going to try and keep him from becoming Mr. Mush.

Chapter 4: Kill the Messenger

A/N: I’m so sorry about the month-long wait. There was finals week and then FF.net was screwing up (I lost two reviews somewhere in the great vastness of cyberspace) and then I went on vacation. I’m still on vacation which means I’m not at home, I’m sharing a computer with four other people and I’m going to the beach and to the movies and shopping etc. So basically I’ve been busy. This chapter was also incredibly hard to write just because of organizational problems.

And then of course, I had to read Order of the Phoenix. It took me about a day and a half and now I wish I didn’t read it that fast because I really didn’t get time to savor it. I’m still kind of reeling. I’m not going to change anything in this story to suit Order of the Phoenix. When I write this I’m just going to pretend I haven’t read it yet. There was some really cool material in it though so it may influence this story a bit. Just a bit.

The door to Beryl's Beauty shop slammed open and three teenage girls ran screaming into the streets, disrupting the crowd and causing several people to crash into each other and others to leap out of the way and stare in surprise.

Lavender was too busy wailing and shrieking to notice that the minute she stepped into the sun, the snakes in her hair turned back into purple silk ribbons. Padma didn't notice that the course black fur sprouting in thick patches on her chest and throat turned back into blue glitter sparkles and Parvati was too hysterical to realize that the fur scarf she'd been admiring had stopped squeaking and trying to attack her. In fact, having not been paid for, the scarf had disappeared from around her neck and reappeared back on its shelf in the store.

Inside the shop, three teenage Slytherin girls stood frozen in shocked silence until the leader put her hands on her hips and turned to her friends with a disdainful sniff.

" That was rude." Pansy Parkinson said as if greatly offended, "They didn't even say goodbye!"

Pansy was a tiny pixie of a girl with a short, sleek cap of honey-blond hair that hung to her chin and narrow, denim-blue eyes that were usually as hard as granite.

" You know those Gryffindors." Millicent Bulstrode dismissed in a lazy drawl, "There was probably a kitten up a tree somewhere. They had to go save it."

Millicent was tall. The top of Pansy's head barely reached her shoulder. She was heavy-set, thick around the middle and solidly built. If she were any shorter, she would have been as round as a bludger, but her height kept her from bulging much in any direction. Her hair was a shoulder length wave of the darkest brown, and her eyes were a startlingly light brown.

" Gryffindors are so noble." Pansy whimpered, wiping a mock tear from her eye.

Blaise Zambini giggled helplessly, " Padma’s a Ravenclaw. Give credit where credit is due!"

Blaise was taller than Pansy but not as tall as Millicent. She was curvy and soft where Pansy was slim and lithe. Her skin had a golden burnish to it that could have been natural or could have been from tanning. Her eyes were large, expressive and liquid black and her waist-length hair was black as raven wing.

Pansy turned sharply, hands still on her hips, to face the counter and the shop's mistress, who lounged gracefully behind it.

" That was extremely entertaining, Beryl."

The gypsy woman gave an elegant shrug, causing the beads and charms on her necklace to make a soft tinkling sound. She was a gorgeous woman with ruby lips, dark bedroom eyes and mounds of curly dark hair.

"No one says such things about Slytherin while I'm around." She purred in a husky contralto.

" You'd think those Gryffindor chits would warn each other about insulting Slytherin while in Beryl's shop." Millicent rolled her eyes.

" Its not just Gryffindor." Blaise said again, "Beryl blasted a couple Hufflepuffs when I was in here last week."

" Its like I said, they’re all against us." Millicent muttered.

" Well, I don’t know about you, but Beryl’s fight for truth, justice and the Slytherin way is a tradition I'm going to miss." Pansy said stoically.

" What's stopping us from coming back next year and watching it happen all over again?" Millicent asked.

" Milly, your logic is impeccable. I commend you."

" Oi! What did I miss?"

The girls looked over in amusement to the skinny young boy swaggering towards them. His close-cropped dark curls were covered by a flowery, yellow and purple bandanna and his hazel eyes were hidden by an outrageous pair of pink sunglasses, several necklaces hung around his neck and a pair of blue sparkle earrings were clipped to his ears. He gave them all a blinding smile.

Beryl laughed softly.

" Oh, for the love of all that's holy! Sky, you moron!" Millicent snapped in disgust, marching over to peel the ridiculous accessories off her younger brother.

" Let's get out of here." The boy demanded with a frown, while meekly allowing his sister to rip the bejeweled necklaces away, "This is all girl stuff."

Pansy laughed, " It's all girl stuff so you decided to try it on?"

" No I didn't! It attacked me." He tugged at the bandanna and shot Beryl an annoyed look.

The gypsy smirked.

" Sure it did, Button." Pansy sighed, shaking her head.

The nickname came from the phrase 'cute as a button'. The little guy was so adorable that Pansy could just die. It wasn't just the bright, innocent eyes or the slightly crooked grin either, it was the sunny personality and sweet, simple mannerisms. It was hard to believe he was Slytherin. Even Professor Snape seemed to think the boy was hopeless but Pansy disagreed. All the qualities were there, they were just hard to spot.

Sky turned his frown on Pansy as Millicent yanked off the sunglasses, "I'm fourteen now. You shouldn't call me that anymore. Everyone will laugh."

Pansy rolled her eyes, " No one will dare. You know hanging out with me makes you ten times as popular as any of the other fourth years. And you know Draco would beat the shit out of anyone he thought was bothering you."

This only made the boy's frown darken to a full blown scowl," I can take care of myself! I don't need you or Draco to protect me!"

" You most certainly do, you ungrateful brat!" Pansy yelled, temper flaring, " Anyone else would kill for what we've done for you! Do you know that last year every single third-year got a midnight dunking in the lake just after Halloween? All the third-years except for you that is! And that's just one thing Draco and I have done for you! You've had sixth-year privileges since your very first year!"

" I know, I know Pansy! I just don't want to have a silly nickname." He whined.

Millicent finished peeling the fashion accessories off the boy and cuffed him on the back of the head, "Next time you decide to dress in drag, you make damn sure you match, you little fashion nightmare."

Sky blinked big pretty eyes at her, " I love you, Milly."

Against her will, Millicent's cold hard visage melted into a small, warm smile.

It worked every time.

" Don't you dare try softening me up, brat." But the harsh words were ruined by her smile.

Sky's face immediately brightened with pleasure, proud that he'd made his sister smile, "Lets go! I'm hungry!"

Beryl chuckled again, "Boys his age, they are always eating, no?"

" More like gorging." Pansy drawled, "I'm changing his name to 'Bottomless Pit'."

" Does that mean we're going to eat now?" Sky asked eagerly, practically hopping up and down.

" I don't know. Blaise? Millicent?"

" I'm finished." Blaise said, setting a fancy purse back down on its display, "And food sounds good about now."

Millicent nodded, " We've got our supplies, we've terrorized some Gryffindors, I think we're done. Its getting late."

" Fine then."

The group paid for their items and headed into Diagon alley. They pushed through the crowds roughly, ignoring the yelps and angry glares they received, while arguing loudly and violently over where to eat and periodically throwing in rude comments about what other people were wearing. Per usual, the argument was Millicent and Pansy versus Blaise and Sky. And, as usual, Millicent and Pansy won but Pansy suggested an inventive compromise because she couldn't stand to see Sky pout.

With full bellies and full knapsacks the group called it a night and decided to head back to Blaise's for a sleepover. They were nearly to the Floo Station when Blaise tugged Pansy's robes.

" Malfoy senior dead ahead and he's looking at us." She whispered.

Pansy sneered and Millicent immediately donned her patented 'stone face'.

Malfoy was standing, tall and regal, out in front of the Leaky Cauldron and he was indeed watching them.

" Miss Parkinson!" the blond man called, "Miss Parkinson!"

" Oh mi gosh, he called me 'Miss Parkinson'." Pansy hissed out of the corner of her mouth, "He wants something. You three stay quiet."

Pansy screwed her face up into a cold snarl and gestured for the others to follow her. She sauntered over to where Malfoy Sr. was waiting and struck an insolent pose with a mocking smile. Millicent stood next to her, her face blank and her eyes empty, not a person but a mindless crony. Blaise hid behind them and Lucius ignored her. Sky smiled at Lucius the same as he smiled at everyone but he might as well have been invisible.

" Lucy." Pansy greeted snidely, "Wonderful to see you. How is Narcissa?"

Lucius' lip curled angrily and Pansy could have sworn his fingers twitched towards his wand but he checked himself. In Pansy's opinion, Lucius and Draco were a lot alike, Lucius simply had more self-control.

"I must say I'm disappointed, Miss Parkinson." Lucius purred sweetly, " I thought time spent with more distinguished families," his eyes flicked to Millicent, " would smooth out your rough edges and might even cause you to develop into a proper young lady. Apparently I was wrong. But then, you know what they say: You can take the peasant out of the lower class but you can't take the lower class out of the peasant."

Ah yes, the Malfoy tongue. Its many extraordinary talents included shredding dignity and cutting through solid steel.

Pansy quickly fought the flush that wanted to rise to her cheeks and sneered at him instead, refusing to give him any kind of embarrassed reaction.

" It isn't wise of you to antagonize your elders." The man continued with the barest hint of threat to his voice, "And it is especially unwise for you to antagonize me."

Pansy gave a light little laugh and tossed her hair, "You're such a kidder, Lucy sweetheart. You know if you do anything to me, it will make my parents angry and you know if you make my parents angry it will make your boss angry. We're your boss' favorite people right now." And she gave him a charming smile.

Lucius looked as if he'd swallowed something foul, but, knowing himself outmaneuvered, quickly changed the subject, " As much as I'd love to exchange pleasantries with you, darling child, I'm afraid I called you over here to discuss other matters."

" Such as?"

" Where is my son?" He said it coldly, almost accusatory.

Pansy felt her jaw drop in surprise and answered with complete honesty before she could stop herself, "I haven't seen the Unholy One since Hogwarts let out for the summer. What's the problem?"

There had to be a problem and it was a big one. Lucius wouldn't have ever bothered speaking to her, let alone asking after Draco, if there weren't a problem.

Lucius looked even more annoyed at her descriptive epithet for Draco, but continued, " The boy was supposed to meet me here over two hours ago. I have repeatedly cast a Calling Charm but he has yet to reply."

The Calling Charm caused an item belonging to the spell-receiver, usually their wand, to light up or make a specific sound to let them know they were being called. The charm was mostly used by parents to call for their children.

"I sent Narcissa home to see if he'd already returned to the mansion but she has just sent word that he's not there."

Flustered, Pansy realized that she should have been angry with Lucius, she should have been furious. After everything he had done, she should have been spitting mad that he was talking to her like this. He'd caught her off guard, was all. She needed to collect her wits.

She crossed her arms over her chest and bought a couple of moments with a delicate snort and a roll of her eyes," Why is this a problem? Draco's a big boy. He knows his way home."

Lucius hesitated, regarding her carefully before continuing, " I left Draco in Knockturn alley with…questionable company."

Pansy went still, her mind flashing back to the end of fourth year and finding Draco unconscious and covered with hex-marks on the train ride home and then back to the year before and the bruises and blood on Draco's face after the Wonder Duo had gotten done with him. Those hadn't been the only times of course, just the worst.

" Tell me you did not leave him alone with Scarface!" she hissed, lowering her voice.

Harry Potter. Hogwarts' golden boy. He wasn't anything special as far as magic ability was concerned, but he had powerful friends and the ability to worm his way out of trouble and that made him dangerous. Reputation, association and cunning were things that, as Slytherins, they understood the power of.

Lucius shook his head, "Not Potter. The Mudblood girl. She was alone."

Pansy felt her eyes widen, "Granger? That may be even worse."

Lucius looked surprised, "How?"

Pansy laughed coldly, "That's exactly what happened last year. Malfoy men don't learn, do they?"

He gave a strained chuckle, " I suppose not. I'd be very grateful if you would be a dear and go to Knockturn alley and collect him."

" Ah, the gratitude of a Malfoy. I suppose this means I'll get to live another day."

Sky hastily turned a snicker into a cough.

Lucius scowled at them and Pansy quickly took a step back.

" We'll just go check Knockturn alley. We'll be back shortly," she looked at the others and jerked her chin over her shoulder to indicate they should follow.

They were silent as they walked away.

" That was just weird." Blaise said finally, with a glance over her shoulder to make sure Lucius was out of sight.

" Why are we doing this?" Millicent asked in a bored tone.

" Because something is definitely going on." Pansy said grimly, "Lucius is worried."

" But if he's worried, why doesn't he go look for Draco himself?" Blaise asked.

Pansy snorted, "That's just it, Lucius doesn't worry about Draco. Lucius worries about Lucius."

" But you think something's wrong with Draco." Sky stated.

" I don't know." Pansy muttered, refusing to meet his eyes.

" The question is why do you care?" Millicent snapped.

Pansy and Millicent glared at each other. If there was one thing the two of them never agreed on, it was the subject of Draco.

There was nothing unusual down Knockturn alley. The group walked the length of it twice, passing several other witches and wizards going about their business.

" This is a waste of time." Millicent complained mutinously, leaning against the wall.

" There's nothing here." Sky agreed.

" I thought for sure we'd find Draco lying half-dead on the ground." Blaise said in what sounded like genuine disappointment.

The others turned withering glares on her. She smiled.

Pansy snorted, "Cast a Location Charm, Blaise."

" Why?" Millicent snarled, "He's not here. Let's go."

" We're not leaving till we find him." Pansy growled so dangerously that Millicent looked away.

" Right!" Blaise chirped and pulled out her wand, "Expiscor Draco!"

She was instantly whipped around, wand facing back down the alley, "Oh." She said, voice breathless with surprise, "The spell says he's in Knockturn alley. But we've been all over, he's not there!"

Pansy bit her lip thoughtfully and began wandering slowly down the alleyway. The others hesitated then followed.

" Do you think he's in a shop?" Sky asked.

" No, you idiot. Blaise says he's in the alley." Millicent told him, "If he were in a shop, she would have been able to name it."

Sky shrugged.

" Blaise," Pansy said after a moment, "Cast a Calling Charm, everyone else look for a flash of light or listen for a bell sort of sound."

Blaise raised her wand, " Arcesso Draco!"

Everyone went still, eyes darting about the alley, but none of them saw or heard anything.

" Let's walk down the alley. Everyone keep looking."

They hadn't gotten too far when Blaise stiffened with a squeak.

" I hear something!" she said excitedly.

" I hear it too!" Sky walked in a circle around them, listening intently.

There was a faint hum filtering through the air.

Pansy stilled, trying to pinpoint the sound, and Millicent walked ahead of them.

" It's further down here." Millicent motioned them over.

Sky shut his eyes to hear better and walked slowly towards her.

To their left the brick wall of the building came to a corner and moved inwards, making a niche that widened the alley. A stack of splintered boxes and rubbish had been haphazardly mashed into the space there and the boy came to a stop in front of it. Pansy and the others came up behind him.

Sky squatted down, "Its coming from here, under this crap." And he started tearing at the boxes, throwing them out of the way.

" That's weird." Blaise said as she knelt down beside him to help.

Millicent shot Pansy a confused look and saw that the other girl's face was pale with worry.

Blaise and Sky made short work of the pile and then Blaise was standing up with a humming wand in her hand. The noise quieted the moment she touched it, the spell subsiding.

" Here it is!"

Pansy snatched the wand from her and looked it over, "This is definitely Draco's wand. Why…?" she trailed off and looked up at Millicent, " He wouldn't just leave it lying around! Why the hell is his wand in a pile of garbage? Where is he?"

" Calm down." Millicent held up a placating hand, " Maybe Granger got it from him and hid it. It's just a prank. Let's…"

" But where is he?" the blond girl interrupted furiously.

" Maybe he's out looking for his wand!" Millicent shouted angrily, "Just shut up, okay!"

" Hey look." Blaise straightened up from the trash, and held out her hand, "There's another wand here. It's broken."

" Let me see." Sky took the piece from her and examined it while she began sifting halfheartedly through the garbage again to look for the other half. Not finding anything, she brushed her hands off on her robes and stood up.

" Another wand? But whose?" Pansy asked.

Millicent shrugged, "It could just be an old wand someone threw out."

" Maybe its Granger's." Sky said.

" This isn't making sense." Millicent snapped, "Okay, we know they were both down here. We're almost certain they had some kind of showdown. But who won? And why would the winner leave their wand here?"

" And where is the loser?" Blaise asked.

" Granger won." Pansy gasped in realization, "Draco wouldn't have left his wand here if he won but Granger had no reason to take her wand back because it was broken."

" How could Granger win with a broken wand?" Millicent rolled her eyes.

Pansy laughed bitterly, "The same way she won last year."

Millicent raised her eyebrows, "Okay, so then what? Where's Draco?"

" They probably dumped him somewhere."

" Dumped him somewhere?" Millicent cried incredulously, " But Pansy…"

Pansy ignored her, turning to the boy, " Sky, I want you to run as fast as you can and get Lucius. Tell him what we've found."

Sky nodded eagerly.

He had only taken two steps towards Diagon alley when the broken wand in his hand gave a piercing whistle and began blowing red sparks out of both ends. Blaise screamed and Sky yelped dropping the wand in surprise and then catching it again before it fell too far.

" Whoa!"

" What the...?"

Pounding feet sounded behind them and the group whirled around.

Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Ginny Weasley and a man Pansy recognized as Arthur Weasley came bounding into view, their faces concerned. They halted in surprise when they spotted the Slytherins and their expressions turned grim.

There was a frozen moment when no one moved and the wand in Sky's hand continued its whistling scream and then Ron Weasley took a step forward. He and Potter whipped their wands out and pointed them at the group, their faces twisted with hatred. Pansy and Millicent went for their wands a moment too late and now didn't dare draw them.

" Boys, wait!" Arthur put an arm out to stop Potter and his son.

" That's Hermione's wand." Ron said in outrage, "Where's Hermione, Parkinson?"

" Are you sure that's Hermione's wand?" Arthur Weasley asked, eyes turning to the Slytherins, "Finite Incantum!"

The wand stopped shrieking.

" Arcesso Hermione."

The wand blazed up again.

Sky opened his mouth, shut it. The three Gryffindors and the Ministry worker turned dark, accusing faces on them.

" Finite Incantum.." Arthur said again, softly…and drew his own wand to point it at the Slytherins.

" They must have done something to her. They broke her wand." Ginny said.

" We didn't break it!" Sky yelped.

Ron took another step forward, "Where. Is. Hermione."

Millicent took a step forward her face threatening but Pansy shook her head as the boys in front of them gripped their wands tighter.

" We don't know where your little Mudblood girlfriend is." Pansy sneered.

What the hell was going on? Granger was missing too? That didn't make any sense. Pansy was certain Potter and Weasley had something to do with Draco's disappearance. Granger had to be with them, didn't she? But if she wasn't…

Pansy wondered suddenly if Draco and Granger had blasted each other to smithereens and that was why no one could find them.

" Then what are you doing with her wand?" Harry Potter asked quietly, green eyes dangerous.

" We found it."

" Where?" Arthur Weasley asked, his voice calm but decidedly cold.

" It was buried under this trash pile here." Sky said.

" Sky!" Pansy hissed, " Shut up! Let me talk."

" Buried in the trash?" Ginny asked, her disbelief evident as she folded her arms across her chest, "And you four just decided to start digging through the garbage and found it?"

" We were looking for…" Sky started but Pansy interrupted him quickly.

" You should know all about dumpster-diving, Weasley." she taunted, "It's how your mum keeps you fed."

The faces of all three Weasley's reddened and Potter's eyes narrowed in fury.

" Answer the question." Ginny said coldly, with as much dignity as she could muster, "Why did you go digging through the trash?"

" And why are your wands out if you aren't hexing people?" Potter growled.

Leave it to Potter to ask a damning question.

" Our wands aren't out." Pansy replied firmly.

" That girl has her wand out." Ron Weasley yelled, "Don't sit there and tell us we aren't seeing what we're seeing."

" Oh?" Blaise looked startled, she glanced at Draco's wand in her hand," This isn't mine." She pulled out another wand, "This one is mine." And she tucked her own wand away again.

" Then whose wand is that?" Ginny sneered, "Another Gryffindor you jumped?"

" What are you talking about?" Pansy yelled, outraged, "We haven't jumped anyone."

" Hermione Granger has been missing for several hours" Arthur Weasley started but Ron interrupted.

" And now we know why!" he shouted, "You jumped her and broke her wand. NOW WHERE IS SHE?"

" Ron, calm down." Arthur Weasley snapped, then turned back to the Slytherins, "If you can't tell us where Hermione is, I'm going to have to ask you four to submit to a Ministry interrogation."

Millicent turned to Pansy in alarm.

This was getting worse by the second.

What would the Ministry make of this? Mudblood Granger was missing and they were standing in Knockturn alley with her broken wand that they had 'allegedly' found after digging through a pile of trash. Millicent had several illegal items in her bag and Pansy herself had something she shouldn't that didn't actually belong to her, but that wouldn't matter to the Ministry. Blaise had Draco Malfoy's wand in her hand. Oh and Draco Malfoy had just gone missing as well. Now that looked innocent didn't it? The Ministry workers wouldn't think Draco was running from something would they? Or maybe they'd think Pansy and her friends had blasted Draco and Hermione. Either way, Hermione Granger's disappearance was going to be blamed on a Slytherin.

Millicent went stiff suddenly, eyes going wide, "We've been set up." She said quietly, a small ironic smile curving her thin lips, "I'm just not sure by whom."

Pansy gaped at her, "What in the world are you talking about?" she hissed.

" Granger and Draco are missing. So unless they ran off together," she rolled her eyes, to show what she thought of that theory," one of them is responsible for the disappearance of the other. Potter and the Weasleys are going to want Draco and the four of us to look guilty. Lucius is going to want Granger to look guilty and maybe us too. Ten galleons says Lucius knew exactly what we'd find down here."

" I don't understand." Blaise's voice trembled.

" You're not making any sense!" Pansy hissed at Millicent.

" Hey!" Ron Weasley shouted.

He and Potter took another threatening step forward, brandishing their wands, obviously itching to cast some curses.

"Are you going to tell us where she is or are we going to call the Ministry?"

Pansy took a step back, eyes narrowing, "We need to get back to Lucius." She hissed.

" We're making a break for it?" Sky whispered with a dark grin, "Cool."

" We stun them and run. Got it? Blaise? Blaise!"

The black-haired girl was staring at Mr. Weasley, at Potter and Ron Weasley whose wands were trained on Pansy and Millicent. Staring at them…or something behind them.

" Expelliarmus!" Blaise hissed suddenly, pointing Draco's wand.

" Blaise NO!" Pansy gasped.

The blast struck the ground at Mr. Weasley's feet. Mr.Weasley leapt back, raising his wand and in half an instant Ron Weasley, Ginny and Harry Potter were hurling a volley of spells at Blaise.

Blaise dodged the spells, ducking into the garbage filled niche, and started shrieking at the top of her lungs, " HELP!! SOMEONE HELP!! WE'RE BEING ATTACKED!"

Pansy and the others leapt for cover and Blaise kept screaming.

" HELP!! THEY'RE GOING TO KILL ME!!" she shrieked in what sounded like utter panic and terror.

Sky laughed outrageously and joined in, "HELP!! SOMEONE HELP!! STOP IT! STOP IT! PLEASE DON'T HURT US!"

Arthur Weasley must have caught the thread of what they were doing because he was shouting at the Gryffindors to stop the spells.

" Impedimenta!" the spell, cast by someone with a deep voice, came out of nowhere.

Arthur Weasley shouted as the spell struck his son from behind, flinging him forward. Potter and the others whipped around in shock, raising their wands.


The spell struck Mr. Weasley, bowling him off his feet.

Coming towards them from the front of the alleyway, wands raised, were Lucius Malfoy and four high-ranking Ministry officials.

" What in the world is going on here?" one of them Ministry workers shouted, sounding horrified.

Blaise burst from her hiding place, sobbing hysterically. She ran past the stunned Gryffindors and threw herself into the arms of one of the Ministry workers. Pansy had to raise an appreciative eyebrow at Lucius when she realized the man was Blaise's cousin, Jinn Wylie.

" They…they….attacked us! It was awful!" she sobbed into the man's robes, "They were going to kill us!"

" Blaise!" the man hugged her tightly, "I doubt they were going to kill you." He said gently, "Everything's going to be okay."

" I…I was so scared!" she peeked out from his robes and gave the stunned Ron Weasley a wicked grin. The boy snarled viciously.

" Will someone explain what's going on here?" a large, balding Ministry worker demanded.

" What are you doing here, Lucius?" Arthur Weasley glared at the blond man, getting painfully to his feet as he recovered from the spell.

" I am looking for my son." Lucius said coldly, "He failed to meet me at the appointed time and I sent his friends," He gestured to the girls and Sky, " to collect him. When they did not return either, I called some friends of my own to help me discover what had become of them. Apparently they did not return because they were being viciously attacked by you, your children and Harry Potter." Lucius sneered at the dark-haired boy who was clenching his fists in hatred, "I can only assume you are responsible for my son's disappearance as well. What are you and your brood doing down Knockturn alley to begin with? Did you lure my son here? Is that why he was down here despite my specific instructions to remain away from this dreadful place?"

Arthur sputtered in outrage, "Don't give me that, Lucius! I know for a fact you come down here at least once a week!"

" Let's hear what the children have to say, shall we?" Lucius cut him off, "Miss Parkinson?"

Pansy stepped out from the niche, fat, prize-winning tears rolling steadily down her cheeks," You haven't found Draco?" she asked with a delicate waver in her voice, "I'm so worried about him!"

" Come off it!" Ginny shouted, "She’s faking it!"

Lucius sent a cold indignant look at the other girl then gave Pansy what would have passed for a kind smile on anyone else," Everything will be okay, dear child. Just tell us what happened."

" Well.." she sniffled, " We were looking for Draco, like you said. A Location Charm said Draco was in Knockturn alley. We..we were scared to come down here but…it was a little exciting." She blushed and looked down at her feet as if ashamed.

" Its okay, Miss Parkinson. We all understand the lure the forbidden has on the youth." A young Ministry worker with long brown hair and a scar over his left eye, said kindly.

" We walked up and down the alley but we couldn't find Draco even though the Location Charm said he was here. So we used a Calling Charm. We heard Draco's wand humming. It was under this pile of trash here. We were trying to figure out why Draco's wand was here when they," she pointed a trembling finger towards Arthur Weasley and the Gryffindors, "Came up and started yelling at us and trying to hex us. I don't know why."

The Ministry workers turned furious gazes on Mr. Weasley.

" That's not what happened!" Ginny cried.

" This is ridiculous, Lucius." Arthur's face was brilliant red.

" They tried to hex us first!" Ron shouted.

" They don't even have their wands out." Lucius snapped accusingly, "But the lot of you do. And we know what we saw."

" Yes, these children were hiding while you threw curses at them." The balding Ministry worker accused.

" Look!" Harry shouted angrily, "Check her wand!" he pointed at Blaise, "She cast a disarming spell at Mr. Weasley! They tried to hex us first!"

Jinn looked down, "Blaise?" he asked.

Blaise wiped her eyes, "Its not my wand, its Draco's, and I didn't try to hex them." She said softly.

" Hmph." A black-haired Ministry worker took the wand from her gently, " Prior incantum."

" See!" Harry snarled when the wand proved it had indeed cast that particular spell last.

" But there's no proof that Blaise cast it." Lucius said coolly, "In fact, I see this as evidence that you witnessed the last spell my son cast. A spell he cast in a desperate attempt to fight off the four of you."

" Are you implying that we attacked your son?" Mr. Weasley asked in disbelief.

" You're crazy!" Ginny shrieked.

" You attacked my son the same as you attacked these children." Lucius bellowed at them, "Where is he? I know you've done something to him!"

" We haven't even seen Malfoy today!" Harry shouted back, " We were out looking for Hermione!"

" Hermione!" Ginny gasped, "Oh my gosh, that's it!" she turned to the Ministry workers, "Don't we get a say? Don't you want to hear why we're down here? I think Draco Malfoy attacked Hermione Granger! I think he attacked her and ran off and that's why he's missing! That's why his wand is here and whole and Hermione's is broken!"

" Don't bother, Ginny." Arthur spat, "Lets get some more Ministry officials down here. Some officials who aren't in Malfoy's pocket."

" I don’t know." The black-haired official snarled, " I rather think we have enough evidence to arrest the lot of you right now. You can tell your story from Azkaban."

Harry Potter’s eyes narrowed, " You should be very careful deciding what you’re going to do." he said softly, " You do know I’m followed everywhere I go, don’t you? That means someone has already been sent to get Dumbledore."

There was instant silence.

Arthur Weasley grinned at the look on Lucius’ face, " Dumbledore has a lot more pull with the Ministry these days." he practically purred at the Ministry officials, " You four might be seriously endangering your jobs messing with Harry like this."

The four exchanged glances.

" I think everyone should just remain calm until we get the some more Officials out here." Mr. Weasley said airily, "And the Aurors of course too. They’ll straighten everything out, I’m sure." His grin widened, "I think Moody will be happy to see you, Lucius."

The Ministry workers muttered darkly but dropped their eyes and lowered their wands. It looked like no one was going to be doing anything until the rest of the Ministry arrived.

Pansy clapped her hands together, "Great, wonderful," she sneered, "Can the four of us leave now?"

The Gryffindors glared at her.

" I’m afraid not." Mr. Weasley said coldly, "I told you, you are going to have to submit to an interrogation."

Pansy glared furiously at him and then tossed her hair, making a disgusted sound.

" Whatever." she snapped, "That’s perfectly fine since we don’t know anything. Way to waste everyone’s time, Wealsey."

She stalked brazenly past the Gryffindors, knocking into Potter hard enough to make him stumble and giving him a nasty smile, daring him to retaliate. She went to stand next to Blaise and the Ministry workers. Millicent and Sky followed.

" This looks so familiar, doesn’t it." Millicent whispered to her friends, irony heavy in her voice, "Who do you think the Ministry is going to believe? I’m telling you right now, we are in so much trouble."

" I’m just glad Lucius decided to help us out." Blaise muttered.

" He put us here in the first place." Millicent snarled, "He’s using us. And if he doesn’t pull this off, we’re all going down with him."

NEXT TIME: Dumbledore, the Ministry, Narcissa, Pansy and Harry. Everyone comes to their own conclusion about what has happened to Draco and Hermione. And what will happen to our poor Slytherins caught in the middle?
A/N: Heh, I’ve got a soft spot for Slytherins. I think they get a bum rap, so I’ve adopted them. This whole section turned out much longer than I thought it would, thus it got hacked into two chapters. The next chapter should be out pretty quick.

A/N: I have been so sick the past week. It was awful. There was a point where I lay shriveled in bed, unable to communicate with the outside world or even write my own Last Will and Testament and my friends were borrowing my clothes and raiding my supplies and using my cell phone and driving my car cuz I couldn’t stop them and I didn’t have the strength to turn the channel on TV and ended up watching really bad Mexican Soap operas (No, I’m not bagging all Mexican Soap operas, there are some really cool ones…. O.o ) for hours and hours and I took so much Nyquil that now I’m addicted and…anyway, I’m better now…

BTW: The Powers that Be tried to destroy this chapter no less then four times. It makes me mad cuz they waited till I was sick, then they jumped me.

Chapter 5: Kill the Messenger Part 2

Diagon alley was dark and quiet.

The air was still warm, the afternoon heat having baked deep into the cobblestone streets, all of the shops were closed, with the exception of the Leaky Cauldron, which was always open, and moonlight daubed the rooftops with silver highlights. Stragglers swept quietly along as they made their way home, maybe hesitating, but only for a moment, to gawk at the huddle of official-looking wizards that stood murmuring gravely to each other at the entrance to Knockturn alley. On the whole, the atmosphere was calm and relaxing.

Harry Potter was about to go screaming mad.

He stalked back and forth, radiating tension, barely leashed violence. His eyes flicked from the group of Ministry Officials that included Moody, Mr. Weasley and Lucius, to the four Slytherin students sitting across the street from them and then to the moon, watching its slow progress across the sky. Watching their time slowly tick away.

Ginny and Ron were standing with their backs against the wall behind him, Ginny hugging herself and glaring murderously around as if Hermione’s abductor was lurking about somewhere and Ron slumped over in defeat, having used up all his energy hours ago screaming at various people. One of the more daring Ministry workers had actually cast a Silencing Charm on him at one point and nearly got tackled. Ginny had removed the spell instantly but Mr. Weasley had warned them that if Ron didn’t shut up, he’d replace it and make damn sure they couldn’t take it off.

A few hours ago the place had been a madhouse. Ministry officials had blocked Knockturn alley off before they started their investigation, much to the chagrin of business owners, and that had attracted a crowd.

Smelling a story, the Daily Prophet had blasted in like a tornado, snapping a billion pictures and questioning anyone who would stop to talk to them, which never happened to be anyone official. There was no telling what kind of insane story they would print the next day. No one really knew what was going on.

He didn’t even know what was going on.

He hated this.

He hated that no one was doing anything. They shouldn’t be standing around talking! They should be out looking for Hermione. Hell, they should have found her by now. The longer they waited, the worse their chances of finding her became.

He couldn’t understand why they were taking so long and why they were making him wait while they did. It wasn’t like he, Ron and Ginny were doing anything productive. Why not let them go search?

He would have left a long time ago to search for her, with or without permission, but Moody had apparently predicted he would. The first thing Moody did when he arrived on the scene was take Harry’s wand and growl a warning to stay put. It had taken Harry a few minutes to realize why Moody had taken his wand and then he was outraged. Every once in awhile Moody’s magic eye rolled towards him, making sure he was still there.

He wanted to punch the bastard.

It was bitter irony that he got along better with the Barty-Crouch-Moody-Imposter who wanted to kill him than he did with the real Moody who wanted to keep him alive.

Stupid fucking Ministry!

The least they could have done was include Harry, Ginny and Ron in their little discussion. Instead the three of them were kicked to the curb. It pissed him off. They were legally of age and Harry had probably been through more dangerous situations then any of the men there, barring Moody of course. Hell, he’d faced Voldemort on so many occasions it was ridiculous. But that apparently didn’t account for anything with men who considered themselves more able than him because they’d been pushing papers for the last ten years and had successfully made it through their mid-life crises.

His eyes flicked again to the Slytherins.

Three of them looked bored out of their deranged little minds but Pansy Parkinson was staring at him. She was watching him fiercely, with a gleeful little smile curving her lips. As he watched, she looked up with exaggerated attention to the moon, then over to the ministry, then to her three Slytherin companions and then sneered at him, laughing.

He looked back at her emptily, wondering idly at the deep, gut-tearing hatred that rolled through him like searing lava in the back of his skull. He didn’t hate her because she was making fun of him, or because she’d been a vicious, annoying bitch for the past seven years, he didn’t even hate her because she was Draco Malfoy’s girlfriend. He hated her because she was sitting there happily obnoxious and completely carefree while his best friend was probably being murdered somewhere and he was helpless to stop it.

He hated people like her, people who found humor in the pain of others, people who would sit silently, grinning their heads off while someone else was being hurt.

She probably knew exactly what was happening to Hermione.

His fingers itched to take her by the throat and shake the information from her. He and Ron had actually discussed doing just that earlier, but they’d been headed off again. Jinn Wylie was standing sternly over the Slytherins, protecting his dear cousin from the wrath of Harry Potter. Well, they might think they were safe but he could wait. Harry would not forget their part in this. If anything happened to Hermione, he’d kill them.

He hadn’t wanted to believe that anything was wrong when he and Ron couldn’t find Hermione at the bookstore she’d been so excited about. She was Hermione, after all. Hermione Granger didn’t get into trouble. It was against the laws of nature. He figured she’d gone to another bookstore or found a good book and holed herself up somewhere where she could read it comfortably. She’d probably simply forgotten the time. They’d waited around over an hour but Hermione never came. Ron finally questioned the clerk at the counter, a man who knew all three of them, and was told that Hermione had never even been in the store at all.

And that sent alarm bells ringing through both of them.

Ron was instantly panicked and started demanding they find her immediately, but Harry still tried to rationalize Hermione’s absence. Maybe she’d been sidetracked by some friends, or maybe she’d been there but just hadn’t said hello to the clerk. This was Hermione they were talking about, geez! How many ways was there to say it?

Ron wanted to call his father in but Harry calmed him down and suggested they just look for her. So they started searching the bookstores, asking after Hermione, and Ron became more and more agitated. They’d quickly run out of bookstores and started searching other places Hermione might be. They ran into Ginny in a clothing store and told her what was going on. Ginny had absolutely freaked, much to Harry’s surprise and confusion, and that had thrown Ron into an even worse panic.

The three of them had searched Diagon alley from top to bottom before Ginny remembered the Location charm. Ron performed the spell. His wand whipped him around and his face had gone chalk-white as he got his answer.

“ Knockturn alley.” He’d choked out, “ No way!”

Harry felt his stomach clench in shock and disbelief. There was no way Hermione was down there of her own volition. Something was terribly terribly wrong.

He and Ron didn’t stop to think. They just turned and ran as fast as they could.

“ NOO!” Ginny screamed after them, “Wait! It could be a trap!”

They hadn’t listened to her; they couldn’t even hear her through the rush of pounding adrenaline screaming through them. The boys had darted into the alley without hesitation, yelling for Hermione. But the alley was empty. They were still searching twenty minutes later when Ginny came to find them. She’d gone to the Floo Station and called for their dad. She screamed at them for being reckless and forced them to go back to the Floo Station with her to meet Mr. Weasley.

Harry had been in something like a numb haze. All he could think was that he never should have left Hermione alone.

When the three of them and Mr. Weasley had returned to Knockturn alley and found the Slytherins holding Hermione’s broken wand, Harry had been frightened. But when Lucius had arrived and he found out Draco was involved, it seemed like his worst nightmares were coming true. If the Malfoys were involved then Hermione…

Hermione, please be alive.

“ Harry.”

Harry looked over to see Ron straightening. Harry followed his friend’s gaze to the Ministry workers. The group was breaking up. Mr. Weasley was coming towards them, his face pale and haggard and angry.

“ Well!” Harry demanded as Ginny and Ron came to stand beside him.

Mr. Weasley’s lips thinned into a tight line, “ The official verdict is that the two are missing. Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger have vanished.”

“ Uh, we know that!” Ron snapped, “ Don’t tell me they haven’t gotten past that part yet. What are they going to do about it?”

Mr. Weasley ran a hand through his hair, “ They’ll make a statement to the press tomorrow, spread the word, start a full scale search…”

“ But what are they going to do now?” Harry demanded, cutting him off.

Arthur’s face crumpled in defeat, “ They’re going to go home and go to bed.”

“ What do you mean their going home?!” Harry shouted, “They haven’t found out what happened to Hermione yet!”

“ Harry.” Arthur Weasley said gently, “There’s nothing else anyone can do tonight.”

“ There’s plenty they can do tonight! They can arrest Lucius. Or give him Veritaserum. Give Parkinson and her little friends Veritaserum! Have them spill their guts. They’re right there!”

“ It doesn’t work like that. You can’t just go around giving people Veritaserum. There are laws and believe me when I say Lucius knows his rights. And in all honesty, Harry, there’s no real evidence that Lucius or those kids have done anything wrong.”

“ No…no evidence?” Ron gasped, outraged, “And what about Hermione? Are they saying there’s no evidence that she’s missing?”

Mr. Weasley closed his eyes, “Some of them are saying this could be a runaway case.”

“ WHAT?” Ron roared.

“ Oh that makes perfect sense!” Ginny shouted, throwing her arms up, “ What in the hell does she have to runaway from?”

“ They aren’t going to do anything?” Harry’s mind just couldn’t grasp it.

Mr. Weasley rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, “ If they arrested Lucius because Hermione was missing, they’d have to arrest us too for assault on the Slytherin kids.” He gave a bitter laugh, “In fact, there’s more evidence against us then there is against Lucius.”

“ That’s ridiculous!”

“ Are you saying we’re under suspicion?” Ginny gaped.

“ Probably. We’re accusing Lucius. He’s accusing us. It’s his word against ours. There are no witnesses, no evidence. We might have had some evidence against Draco had we been able to check the last spell on his wand. But that Blaise girl erased his last spell when she threw that Disarming spell at me. It was brilliantly done.”

" No…" Ron shook his head, "No, no, no!" he lurched around and kicked one of the wooden crates into the wall, "DAMN IT!"

“ But we don’t have time to waste! We have to find her now!” Harry shouted.

" We can't lose her. We can't…" Ginny swallowed back tears of fury and frustration.

Mr. Weasley sighed heavily, "I'm sorry, but its time to head home."

" NO!" Harry and Ron shouted together.

" There's nothing more… Продолжение »
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