Draco Malfoy was late.
This was something that almost never happened.
Ever since he was young, Draco had had the virtue of punctuality drilled into him by his punctilious parents. That and a whole host of other etiquette-based traits that had become second nature to him.
Of course, how to compose oneself after declaring to a muggle born witch that you would have fought a half-deranged mad woman, who was also coincidentally your aunt, on her behalf, was a topic that had not been covered during those teaching moments.
It's not that Draco had been facetious when he had said it; in fact, he had meant every word. It was just that now, he somehow felt that he had overplayed his hand before he could wrap his head around what he had made up his mind to do.
The air had been charged with something hitherto unknown to him, after he had said those words.
Granger's face had shown a remarkable range of emotions, one after the other, before settling on a gentle half-smile which she gave him before she had turned to leave.
What had really unnerved him however, was the fact that instead of leaving, Granger had turned around again, walked over, wrapped her arms around him and given him a brief hug.
He had frozen on the spot and had stood stiffly stock still while she had done that and then turned and left.
Intelligent though he might be, Draco had no idea why she had done that or what she had meant by it.
He also had no idea what that meant for what he had made up his mind to do.
Draco shook himself slightly as he feverishly laced up his boots and took stock of what it was that he had come to.
He, Draco Malfoy, last in the long line of pureblood Malfoy's, heir to the Malfoy legacy, had somehow, entirely unconsciously, and inexplicably become attracted to a muggle born witch.
He didn't know whether it was because of her raw magical power, her vulnerability, her intelligence, her expressive face, the fire in her amber eyes or the sheer grace with which she moved, or a combination of all the above factors but whatever it was, he couldn't get her out of his mind.
He supposed he first felt drawn to her when she displayed just how powerful she was at Whitford Manor. Then again when they had talked at the museum, surrounded by her beloved books. He was more fascinated than annoyed when she had forcibly apparated both of them cross-country just after a battle. And then, just yesterday, she had fallen into his arms and he had felt as if the top of his head had blown open.
Draco was never one for the big emotions, or at least not in expressing them so boldly. But when Granger had begun screaming in grief and pain at the loss of her friend, when she had collapsed under the sheer weight of her emotion, he had felt like his own heart was being wrested from his body. He felt like he would have done anything to take her pain away.
Thus, Draco Malfoy had, with the gnawing feeling that he was indeed going completely insane, made up his mind to do something about it.
Just what, he didn't know as of yet.
As far as muggle dating habits went, Draco was clueless. Added to this was the fact that he was ninety nine percent sure that she would laugh in his face and refuse scornfully if he were to ask her on a date.
Therefore, his immediate plan of action was just to get to know her, perhaps become a friend and see if an opportunity for anything more popped up.
He hoped against hope that such an opportunity would arise once this case was wrapped up and Granger had had time to grieve for her friend. He, most definitely would not encroach on her sadness.
Draco straightened up and adjusted his robes. Shaking the hair off his face, trying to get the memory of the painful conversation he had just had with the younger Ms. Greengrass out of his head, he secured his wand in its holster and made his way to the main hall of Cassandra house.
Draco may have been a Death Eater in a previous life but in this one, he was nothing if not honourable.
After his conversation with Granger, he had realised that there was no way in which he could go ahead with his betrothal.
So, after Granger had left and after a briefing in the study, which had felt like a bit of a blur, Draco had come to his room and flooed Astoria.
He winced as parts of the conversation came unbidden to his mind.
"What utter rot are you spouting Draco?" Astoria screeched.
"It's not rot Astoria and I can't stress how miserably sorry I am to put you in this position" Draco had said placatingly.
"What position?" Astoria asked.
Draco sighed. This was more difficult than he had imagined. It would be easier if Astoria would just accept the fact that he was breaking off their engagement.
"I can't marry you. I'm sorry" he said, for what felt like the tenth time.
"But why in Merlin's name not?" she asked.
"Because I feel that I cannot in good conscience marry you when I feel very strongly that we are mismatched and that I would not be able to do right by you" he had answered.
"You must have gone mad Draco. What do you mean mismatched? We've been engaged for several months and only now you're realizing that we're mismatched?" Astoria asked.
"Astoria please…" Draco had said, trying to inject some calm into the conversation.
"There's someone else isn't there? It's her, that woman who's always following you around" Astoria's voice had gotten low with fury.
"Who on earth are you talking about?" Draco had asked nonplussed.
"That Davies. I knew something was up when you kept disappearing into your study with her and gallivanting with her all over the globe" Astoria hissed.
"Astoria, you are wildly mistaken. Tracey is my colleague. We work together, that's all" Draco had answered exasperatedly.
"You lie Draco. Nothing would have convinced you to break off our engagement except another woman. I can't believe you. The great Malfoy heir, fallen to the wiles of a half-blood" Astoria spat.
"You shouldn't call her that. Tracey is an exceptional witch. And I assure you, I have not fallen for the wiles of anyone" Draco had said, his own annoyance rising.
"What in Merlin's name has gotten into you then? First you wanted to work with all sorts of wizards who are far beneath you, in your little defence company instead of carrying on your father's business like you should have and now you're defending them?" Astoria asked.
"If by them you mean my colleagues then yes I am defending them. I work with a lot of half-bloods and muggle-borns and they're all good people; good wizards and witches, of course I would defend them" Draco had said, getting up off the chair he was sitting in, in front of the fireplace.
"Draco Malfoy, now you listen here. I don't care what you dabble in, in your spare time, nor who you choose to associate with as long as you don't bring them into our home. I'll be damned if I let you break off our engagement and make me the laughing stock of all wizarding society just because you've lost your mind and fallen for a filthy half-blood or a mudblood or whoever. I refuse to break our engagement" Astoria had turned her nose up.
"You can't do that Astoria. You can't force me to marry you" Draco had replied, his anger draining.
"Fine. I know what. I'll get my father to speak to you and to Narcissa. Then we'll see what happens". With a flourish of green flames, Astoria's head was gone.
Draco had hung his head for a few minutes, wiling away a newly realised headache, and then he had sat down and composed a polite letter to Mr. Greengrass, apologizing but in no uncertain terms, breaking off his engagement.
He had also informed his mother.
Pausing in his slow jog to rub a hand over his forehead to clear the unwelcome memories, Draco finally walked into the main hall.
Everyone had gathered, garbed in full battle gear.
The Greek ministry had come through finally and had given them the location of what they believed to be the headquarters of the Masters, a little beyond the city of Megara. The area they were going into now was rural in nature and sparsely populated. Additionally, the compound which they were getting ready to raid was said to be completely warded. Draco, Potter and Granger were looking at a difficult de-warding.
Five of Draco's best defence agents had been called in from various missions. They were also joined by ten aurors from the Greek ministry. Potter was leading the mission and Weasley and Theo were mission control. As he walked in, Theo and Weasley were standing in front of an enchanted map on the wall, outlining the raid.
As he walked in, Draco's eyes sought out and found Granger, standing near Potter, listening to the mission outline. Her long brown hair was in a single thick plait down her back. She was dressed in head to toe black, with a heavy robe with a hood fastened at her neck with a shiny silver phoenix broach. Ten members of their team, including Draco were wearing the same cloak.
Given that someone had obviously noticed and recognised Draco, they had decided that a few of them should wear hoods to cover their heads as Draco was most recognisable by his signature platinum hair. They were to be identified by the broach as it was presumed that the Masters wore robes with hoods as well.
She glanced over at him as he entered and gave him a quick smile.
He nodded in return and turned his attention to Weasley who was now detailing emergency exit plans.
After a quick word with Potter about de-warding procedures and brief introductions to the Greek team, they were off.
They flooed into a wizarding home near the suspected building and filed out in small clusters to walk to the compound which was a little way off down the road. Draco was grouped with Tracey, Potter, Granger and two of the Greek aurors. They were first down the road as they were tasked with breaking through the wards. Before they left, Granger had walked around tapping everyone on the head with her wand, activating a disillusionment charm.
The compound had a high hedge surrounding it and large wrought iron gates like the ones at the Manor. Beyond the gates, Draco could make out a large structure, much like the Manor but styled in the manner of Grecian architecture.
As soon as they arrived, the group spread out and began work.
Draco moved his wand over and over, breaking through various wards. As he worked, he could feel the others working their way through the layers of magic as well. After a few moments of work, Draco felt as though he had hit a wall, a ward he did not recognise. To his left, he heard Potter mutter a curse.
Pushing his hair off his face, Draco looked to his right. Tracey was still working but beyond her, Granger had stopped. Her wand hung limply by her side while her head was cocked to the side and she appeared to be thinking. Potter moved to his side, looking past him at Granger.
"Do you think she can get through?" Draco asked.
"If anyone can, it'd be 'mione. It's some sort of foreign ward. Not something I've ever seen" Potter replied.
Granger flicked her wand a few times experimentally before straightening up and pushing her wand sleeve up. She pointed steadily at the hedge without saying a word.
Suddenly there was a streak of blue light that ran the perimeter of the compound.
"Bollocks!" Potter exclaimed.
However, the wards appeared to have come down as Granger reached out and touched the hedge.
"I'm sorry" she shouted "it's the only way to disable that. It's a French ward".
Without replying, Potter had taken off at a gallop inside the compound as the others followed. Just as they entered the iron gates, they were besieged from either side.
There were dozens upon dozens of black robe clad wizards shooting hexes at them from.
Potter stalled for a second to send out his patronus to Weasley about the attack before joining the melee.
It was utter chaos. From his peripheral vision, Draco could see members of their team apparating in from various sides, joining the attack.
Narrowing his eyes and seeking out a target, Draco threw a quick petrificus totalus, a binding spell and stooped to slap an activated portkey on the wizard's face, in one smooth movement, while his eyes roved for his next target. They had decided that sending the prisoners to a safe secured location was the best course of action given that they were prone to apparating out.
Tracey and Granger were tackling a group of wizards on the left and even as Draco glanced, Granger felled two wizards at a time, leaped over another and slapped portkeys onto the fallen ones. Parts of her hair that had broken free of the constraints of her plait were standing on end, cackling with the energy flowing from her magic.
Draco looked forward quickly as he fought to keep the line that he, Potter, Granger, Tracey and the other two Greek aurors were holding as they moved steadily into the compound.
What felt like an aeon later, Draco fell into a little alcove that covered the entrance. He rolled behind a pillar and examined the damage on his person. Cuts and scrapes, plus some dark spell on his calf which was making it numb. He was not too worried.
Seconds later, one of the Greek aurors joined him, Potter close behind.
"Alex broke his kneecaps, I told him to apparate out" Potter panted, bent over with his hands on his knees.
"Where's Granger? And Tracey?" Draco asked.
Potter indicated just as a blur of brown fell into the alcove.
"Tracey… apparated out… injured…" Granger panted, pushing hair out of her face.
"Did you notice that some of them don't seem to feel the spells we send at them? She asked after a moment, clutching her side.
"I did" the Greek auror replied.
Draco considered this but hadn't noticed anything strange. He looked out into the front yard once more before indicating inside.
"Do we go on?" he asked Potter.
Potter glanced briefly at Granger before replying "Yes".
With a quick nod, Draco pushed open the door and pointed his wand.
They moved inside slowly and silently.
The house was fairly bare. No knickknacks on the mantlepiece, no foot stools or side tables, just the essential pieces of furniture. Apart from the sound of battle outside, there seemed to be no sound coming from inside the house.
"We stick to the plan" Potter muttered in a low voice "We secure each room, look for prisoners and clear out".
He indicated with his hand where he wanted each pair to go.
At Potter's gesture, Draco and Granger moved down the hall and up the stairs while Potter and the Greek auror moved down a hallway leading to the right wing of the house.
Draco followed Granger up the stairs wearily, eyes darting from side to side on the lookout for any movement.
Suddenly, a flash of red light.
Someone had thrown a stunning spell from around the corner of the upstairs hallway. Granger immediately stiffened and lifted her wand, shifting slightly so that Draco could cover her rear. As soon as they rounded the corner, Draco faced opposite to her, so that they were standing back to back in the defence position.
There were three wizards in a little seating area in front of large double doors leading to the west wing of the house.
Draco and Granger attacked simultaneously, throwing hexes with almost equal speed. But, Draco noticed that strangely, the spells were not affecting them as they should be and some even bounced harmlessly off of them.
He kept attacking ceaselessly though, making a mental note to discuss this with Granger later.
Just when he thought they were never going to take these wizards down, Granger leaned to the right and sent off a spell so strong that Draco felt the heat of it on the back of his neck.
One wizard fell while the others apparated out. Making sure that his hood was still firmly on his head, Draco moved closer to press a portkey onto the wizard's body when the sound of Potter shouting made him stop short.
"It's coming from the side" Granger said as she darted towards the stairs.
"Granger wait" Draco shouted bending again to place the portkey.
"Malfoy, I need your …"
Draco glanced up sharply just in time to see Granger on the bottom step being grabbed by a black robed, hooded wizard.
And then she was gone.