208-209 High Holborn WC1, London
Draco stared down at the slip of paper and committed it to memory, then burned away any evidence of its existence with a quick, wandless Incendio. That precious information had cost him half his fortune, three months of careful detective work, and several unpleasant interactions with the shady folk who loitered in the shadows of Knockturn alley—or at least what remained of it. However, every painstaking minute would be worth it once he found her.
As he walked down the cold, empty streets of Muggle London, he mentally kicked himself for overlooking the address of her current location. A few months ago, he entertained the notion that she'd come here, but since he was certain she wouldn't be so obvious, he'd disregarded it and wasted time searching elsewhere. He'd thought such a simple move was beneath a witch of her caliber, but perhaps it was simplicity that made this location all the more brilliant. Besides, he should've known she'd be here; she was part muggle after all, it only made sense that she would hop back and forth between the worlds.
Though, he had to admit, this shoddy muggle bar was a few shades away from her usual style.
Nevertheless, Draco approached the seedy building with steely resolve and a clenched jaw. This was his last chance to save himself. If he had the presence of mind to reduce his situation to a metaphor, then he was figuratively up to his chin in the middle of the Atlantic, a swarm of sharks were approaching, and his only chance for survival was a small lifeboat that might or might not help him. Not to mention that particular 'lifeboat' hated his guts and would most likely attempt to stun him on sight. And as if that wasn't daunting enough, he also had several very dangerous "colleagues" suspicious of him and ready to jump at any chance to slit his throat. If any of them had an inkling of who he had been covertly searching for these past few months or why, they'd kill him in the most inhumane, agonizing fashion possible.
Suffice to say, Draco was a bit tense
Kudos to the witch, because she was wearing one hell of a concealment charm.
The woman at the bar was short and plain: an unassuming dirty-blonde headed woman with hunched shoulders, smudged glasses, and two fingers of whiskey sitting before her. She was in her early twenties—judging by the slimness of her physique and smooth, youthfulness of her complexion—though she might've seemed even younger if it weren't for the the heavy dullness of her brown eyes. They spoke of hidden scars, trauma, and some indiscernible brand of weariness. Morose aura aside, she was nothing to look twice at. If it weren't for Draco's keen eyes and impeccable internal radar, he would've glanced right over her.
Unfortunately for the woman in question—and fortunately for Draco—there was one incriminating flaw amidst her otherwise perfect disguise: the shield charm glimmering around her. It was fine as thread and nearly imperceptible, but to someone who had been trained to search for details, it was clear enough, and once Draco spotted the faint but powerful magical aura floating around her, it wasn't difficult to conclude that the plain muggle at the bar was not just a plain muggle at a bar. She was a witch, and more importantly, she was the witch he was looking for.
Since she didn't seem inclined to show her true identity, he decided not to make himself vulnerable by showing his. With a muttered spell, he cast a temporary yet sufficient concealment charm of his own. It was nowhere near as detailed and precise as hers—it only elongated his nose, softened his sharp features, and turned his pale hair brunette—but it would do for the next ten minutes or so. He tucked his wand deep into his trouser pocket and made his way over.
"Hello, love," he greeted with a disarming smile.
When she didn't lift her eyes from the bar, he ordered a drink and took the stool beside her, undeterred. Up close, he recognized something distinctly familiar about her, something rippling beneath the charm, but he couldn't place it. Such a phenomenon was unfortunately quite common with even the best concealment charms; there was always one feature or undefinable trait that the spell couldn't disguise. As he stared at his reflection in the wall-sized mirror behind the bar, he decided his "tell" was probably his smirk—an expression he wore as the next words flowed from his lips. "So what's a woman like yourself doing in a run-down bar like this?"
Her shoulders visibly tensed and she swiftly knocked back another shot, forgoing eye contact in favor of continuing her stare-down with the bar. After swallowing a sufficient amount of liquid courage, the woman muttered, "Drinking. Just like you and everyone else here."
He nodded thoughtfully and traced his fingers around the rim of his glass. "You know," he said quietly, leaning in, "they say people who go to places like this—old, dirty, nameless holes in the wall—are hiding from something. Would you agree?"
At that, her entire body tensed so viciously that she almost flinched by the end of his sentence. Gripping her glass with white knuckles, she slowly grit out, "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."
He took a casual sip from his glass and left her bubble of personal space, much to her apparent relief.
"Sure you do," the wizard assured flippantly. "I for one am hiding from a bad man and his parade of slightly-stupider bad men." A gross oversimplification, sure, but not a lie. "I assure you, their plans for me are not for the faint of heart." Also not a lie. "There. Now you know a bit about me, so how about sharing something yourself? Why are you here?"
Her nostrils flared and the lights above the bar shook and flickered. The rest of the patrons seemed content to blame shoddy electricity, but Draco knew better. There was a faint burning tinge to the air, the kind of smell that either proceeded or followed involuntary magic. He grinned at her. Clearly, she was growing angry, which was wonderful because anger often led to thoughtlessness, and he'd certainly need her off-balanced if he wanted to have the upper hand.
With a clenched jaw and clenched fists to match, she replied, "Sir, obviously I have no interest in whatever game you're playing here, so kindly leave me alone."
"Fine, fine." He rose partially from his stool and gave the impression of retreat. "One question, though, just one and I'll be on my way."
"What?" she snapped, gaze stubbornly fixed on her glass. Time to hand her the bait, he thought to himself.
He leaned forward, positioned his mouth behind her left shoulder, and innocently asked, "How are Potter and Weasley?"
The transformation that followed would have been amazing if it weren't so utterly fucking terrifying. In an instant, her tense, irritated appearance exploded into full-blown rage as she flew from her seat—knocking over a stool in the process—and took the front of his shirt in a fist. With an inaudible mutter, the entire bar full of muggles froze in place, the front door sealed shut, and all of the window shutters fell, leaving the two of them completely alone in the silent building. If he wasn't so shocked by her power, he would've said something snide—and probably unwise—about her desperation to get him all to herself. However, the words never made it past his lips because he was struck dumb by not only her impeccable display of wandless magic, but by the ease in which she used it. The sheer force behind each of her spells vibrated in his veins and sizzled in the air, filling the room with the pungent, metallic scent of powerful magic.
"Who the hell are you and what do you know?"
It was only when their faces were inches apart that he realized what the "tell" of her disguise was: her eyes. Despite the heavy bags and artificial gloominess the spell supplied, the fire crackling behind her irises was unmistakable. There was no longer a single iota of doubt that the woman standing before him was the witch he sought.
She was just about to hiss something threatening again—he could see the words pulling at her lips and building on her tongue—but he didn't give her the chance, because the moment that she inhaled to speak, he grabbed her arm and apparated.
When they landed haphazardly in the alley outside, he wasted no time in pinning her to the brick wall, relieved that he'd regained the upper hand and annoyed that he'd lost it in the first place. He didn't have long to revel in victory, however, because her disorientation faded fast—far faster than he anticipated—and before he knew it, her vinewood wand was pressed into the fleshy underside of his chin.
Breathing hard, she hissed, "I do not enjoy repeating myself, but I'll ask you again; who are you?"
He swallowed and felt the tip of the wand move with his convulsing throat. "See and here I thought you were a good witch. Tsk tsk, magic around muggles? The ministry isn't going to like that…"
She blinked, floored by his impertinence. The surprise didn't last, though, and her glare returned with vengeance. "The ministry is useless. Now, you have two seconds before my patience disappears entirely."
He leveled her with his calm gaze and smoothly replied, "It's a shame you don't recognize me. Perhaps it's time we both shed our disguises then?"
She laughed, but the sound lacked humor. "As if. Now tell—"
Without another word, he cast a revealing charm under his breath and waited for her reaction as his features melted and stretched back to their original form.
Her look of satisfaction gradually waned to doubt, then recognition, and finally landed somewhere along the spectrum of "horrified".
He smirked. "Lovely to see you too, Granger."
"Wh—what?" she sputtered, uncharacteristically blindsided. It was in this moment of weakness that he pried her wand from his throat and barred an arm under her chin, putting himself in power once more. He allowed the vinewood to remain in her fist, knowing full well she wouldn't dare cast a spell after he shared his next bit of information.
"I'm not trying to hurt you, Granger," he explained patiently, though he couldn't entirely begrudge her look of doubt, considering the rather threatening position he was in. "And I advise against hurting me either."
She narrowed her eyes at him. Despite his warning, he could feel an impending wave of wandless magic surging within her. Just as a spell was posed to leave her lips, he stopped it by locking her in a full body bind. Before she fell unceremoniously to the alley floor, he caught her and propped her stiff body against the wall, holding her in place by the shoulders.
"I told you not to try that, Granger," he snapped. "You're not the only one with wandless abilities. Now, I know you can get out of that bind rather quickly, so I'll make this brief. If you attempt to harm me in any fashion, whether by physical or magical means, I will touch the inside of my left arm and within seconds we'll be surrounded by death eaters. Understand? I couldn't care less if they take you--" complete and utter lie "--but as long as you're willing to listen to me and comply, I see no reason to involve the Dark Lord."
Her face was frozen from the spell, but her eyes were practically boring holes into his, her murky irises glowing bright with anger. "Now," he said slowly, "I'm going to release you and then we are going to chat like the nice, reasonable adults that we are, okay?"
She exhaled loudly through her nose, which he decided to take as agreement, though it could have just as easily been a growl.
With a quickly muttered counter-curse, Granger was reanimated beneath his hands. As soon as her limbs were once again in her control, she jerked her shoulders out of his grip and shot him a glare that might've killed lesser folk. But she made no move to brandish her wand and that was good enough for him. He would take what he could get.
"What the hell do you want, Malfoy? Come to kidnap me and torture me for information? Because I can tell you right now, it'll be a waste of time."
He grit his teeth so fiercely he could hear his molars gnashing together. He stared up at the night sky and counted to five before returning his gaze to the fuming witch in front of him. "If this were a kidnapping, we sure as bloody hell would not be having a civilized chat right now, okay? I'm not here to take you or torture you. I'm here to help you, if you can believe it."
She gave him a blank look and then did something he truly had not expected—she laughed. A long, loud bark of laughter that smacked of cynicism, bitterness, and honest-to-god disbelief. "Wow, Malfoy, I really…I really never thought you'd try this," she said in awe. "I mean, I know you're arrogant and fancy yourself something of a god, but to think you hold yourself in a high enough esteem to believe you could play for both sides and the pick the one most likely to win? Well, that's just plain stupid. You're wasting your time here and fooling no one—except for perhaps yourself."
Merlin's bleeding beard, did she really think this was some pathetic attempt to play double-agent? Did she truly believe this is how he would approach such an endeavor--by cornering her in a fucking alley and attempting to have a chat?
She apparently wasn't finished. "I mean, I know you're desperate, you've always been to some extent I suppose, but the fact that you'd work for both sides just so you could figure out which 'horse' is the best bloody bet—that's low even for you."
His eyes flashed and he raised a hand to silence her. When that proved to be useless and she continued griping, he raised his hand again and literally silenced her, this time with a wandless hex. "Silentium Confuto!"
When she opened her mouth to protest and found that she couldn't, her eyes widened and her hands immediately scrambled to her throat, clearly convinced he'd permanently removed her vocal chords (which he'd very kindly refrained from doing, thank you very much).
"Relax," he snapped. "Your internal systems are all still intact, I assure you. It's just a harmless silencing spell I created a few summers back; I'll gladly remove it as soon as I've had my due time on the soapbox."
He cleared his throat and crossed her arms, leveling his silver gaze on hers. "I will not deny that what I am doing is in my best interest, nor should I have to: everyone does what will benefit them, it's human nature. I am here for three simple reasons, two of which I will gladly share. One," he took a deep breath, "I'm not entirely sure if light or dark will win, but I do know that a world run by the Dark Lord is a world I have no interest in inhabiting. I thought…at one point I believed in the cause with utter certainty, but after seeing—and occasionally partaking in —useless bloodshed and murder, it dawned on me that his whole belief system is flawed. And I don't mean I woke up one morning suddenly loving all muggleborns, I mean I woke up one morning and asked myself what the fucking point of all this was—why I was killing myself and sullying my soul over this whole damn thing. To achieve a pure society? Fine, okay, but then there's the crucial fact that our own bloody leader isn't even pure himself! A pure society cannot exist with an impure entity at its helm; that's just illogical and I detest illogic. So then I asked myself, alright, Draco, then what's the other reason for all of this? Because surely there had to be more than one ambition here, you know? Well, after having a long, hard, fruitful think over it, you know what I came up with? Nothing. No fucking reason.
"Once that thought occurred to me, it didn't take long to poke other holes in the 'cause' that I had been fighting tooth and nail for. I won't bore you with the details, but I will say that one shining disproof of the whole 'mudbloods are less" concept is you, Granger. You are the most adept witch I know—blood be damned—yet there are dumb sods like Crabbe and Goyle tottering around with their respective three-fourths of a brain cell, thinking they are superior just because they're pure blooded. You know what that is? That is bullshit. People are superior or inferior based on intelligence, ability, and strength. The purity or lack thereof of blood means absolutely nothing when it looks the same streaming out of you. And I should know, I've seen more than my fair share.
"Now I've really put my life on the line to seek you out, okay? I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think it was absolutely necessary. And let's face it, you need people on the inside—I've heard about the Order's dwindling numbers and I know for a fact you all suffered greatly after the ambush in Sussex. You can't afford any more surprises, right? Well that's what I'm here for. I'll help you by giving as much information as I can, and you help me by taking me in and getting me the hell away from the Dark Lord and his army. This will benefit us both, Granger."
There, he'd said his piece. The only thing to do at this point was to wait and see what Granger would have to say.
"You know what I think?" she asked mildly, her expression unreadable.
Draco willed his thudding heart to slow down. He clenched his fists and bit the inside of his cheek in anxiety. If she said she wasn't interested, he'd just given her a huge amount of ammo to use against him—Merlin, if she said no, he'd have no choice but to return to his ranks and submit to a life as one of the Dark Lord's bloody henchmen.
"I think," she continued slowly, "that we ought to see what the others think before we make any sort of deal."
He frowned in confusion. "The others?"
"The Order, I mean. I'd like to run this by Harry and Lupin first, and since I can't just leave you here, I suppose you'll have to come with me."
"Why can't you leave me here? And what do you mean come with you? Are you really that careless, Granger? Not saying that I would, but I could do a lot of damage if I knew the location of the Order."
She dropped her voice and leaned in slightly. "Well, first of all, I can't leave you here because that man across the street has been staring at us very intensely for the past three minutes and I highly doubt he plans to use the goblin-heartstring wand in his back pocket for good purposes; and second of all, I'm not careless because you're not going to learn the location of the Order."
"Well I do have functioning eyes, so—"
"Right," she said, suddenly stepping very close. "But who said you were going to arrive conscious?"
Before he had the chance to protest, Granger pressed the tip of her wand to his temple and Draco fell into a dreamless, blank sleep.