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Hermione had long given up hope of seeing in the darkness.

For a time, she thought maybe if she just let her eyes adjust, eventually some faint outline would become visible.

There were no glimmers of moonlight slipping through so deep in the dungeons. No torches in the hallways outside the cell. Just more and more darkness, until she wondered sometimes if she might be blind.

She had explored every inch of the cell with her fingertips. The door, sealed with magic, had no lock to pick, even if she had anything but straw and a chamber pot. She smelled the air in the hopes it might indicate something; the season, the distant scent of food or potions. The air was stale, wet, cold. Lifeless.

She had hoped if she just checked carefully enough, she’d find a loose slab-stone in the wall; some secret compartment hiding a nail, or a spoon, or even a bit of rope. Apparently the cell had never held an audacious prisoner. No scratches to mark time. No loose stones. Nothing.

Nothing but darkness.

She couldn’t even talk aloud to relieve the unending silence. It had been Umbridge’s parting gift after they had dragged her into the cell and checked her manacles one last time.

They had been about to leave when Umbridge paused and whispered, “Silencio.”

Prodding Hermione’s chin up with her wand so that their eyes met, she said, “You’ll understand soon enough.”

Umbridge giggled, and her cloying, sugary breath ghosted over Hermione’s face.

Hermione had been left in darkness and silence.

Had she been forgotten? No one ever came. No torture. No interrogations. Just dark, silent solitude.

Meals appeared. Randomised so she couldn’t even keep track of time.

She recited potion recipes in her head. Transfiguration technique. Reviewed runes. Nursery rhymes. Her fingers flicked as she mimicked wand techniques, mouthing the spell inflection. She counted backwards from a thousand by subtracting prime numbers.

She started working out. It had apparently not occurred to anyone to restrict her physically, and the cell was spacious enough that she could cartwheel diagonally across it. She learned how to do handstands. Spent what felt like hours doing push-ups and things called burpees that her cousin had been obsessed with one summer. She found that she could slot her feet through the bars of the cell door and do crunches while hanging upside down.

It helped turn her mind off. Counting. Pushing herself to new physical limits. When her arms and legs turned to jelly, she’d slump down into a corner and fall into a dreamless sleep.

It was the only way to make the end of the war stop playing in front of her eyes.

Sometimes she wondered if she was dead. Maybe it was hell. Darkness and loneliness and nothing but her worst memories hanging before her eyes for forever.

When there finally was a noise, it felt deafening. The screech in the distance as a long abandoned door swung open. Then light. Blinding, blinding light.

It was like being stabbed.

She stumbled back into the corner and covered her eyes.

“She's still alive,” she heard Umbridge say, sounding surprised. “Get her up, let’s see if she’s still lucid.”

Rough hands dragged Hermione from the corner and tried to pull her hands away from her eyes. Even with her eyelids squeezed tightly shut, the pain from the sudden brightness felt like knives driving into her corneas. She wrenched her hands back to press them over her eyes again, ripping her arms from her captors’ grasp.

“Oh, Merlin’s sake,” Umbridge said in a sharp, impatient voice. “Overpowered by a wandless Mudblood. Petrificus Totalus .”

Hermione’s body stiffened. Mercifully her eyes remained closed.

“You should have been smart enough to die. Crucio .”

The curse ripped through Hermione’s immobilised body. Umbridge wasn’t the strongest caster Hermione had been cursed by, but she meant it. The pain tore through Hermione like fire. Unable to move, she felt like her insides were twisting into knots, trying to escape the pain.  Her head throbbed as the pain built and built without any release.

After an eternity, the pain stopped, and yet didn’t. The curse was ended, but the agony remained coiled inside, as though her nerves were flayed.

Hermione could feel her brain scrabbling to escape; to break free of the suspended agony. Just break. Just break. But she couldn’t.

“Take her up for appraisal. Let me know promptly what the healer says.”

She was levitated, but the world remained a blur of sound and agony. So much sound. It felt as though the vibrations were grating across her skin. She must have been kept inside a barrier ward because suddenly the air exploded with noise and light.

She tried to hold on by focusing only on the tap of footsteps. Straight for ten paces. A right. Thirty paces. A left. Fifteen paces. Stop. One of the guards levitating her rapped on a door.

“Come in,” said a muffled voice.

The door grated open.

“Put her over there.”

Hermione felt her body drop onto an examination table.

She felt a wand prod her.

“Recent spell work?”

“Immobilisation and the cruciatus,” answered a new voice. Hermione thought she recognised it, but her mind was too awhirl with agony to place it.

“While immobilised?” The healer sounded peeved. “How long?”

“A minute. Maybe more.”

A hiss of irritation. “We hardly have enough as it is. Is Umbridge trying to ruin them? Strap her down. She’ll injure herself otherwise when I take the spells off."

Hermione felt leather straps bind her wrists and ankles, and something was forced between her teeth. There was a wand tap on her temple.

“Yoo-hoo. Little witch, if your mind isn’t already mush. This is going to hurt—a lot. But,” he continued cheerily, “you will feel better afterwards. Finite Incantatem!

Hermione’s world exploded. It was like being hit with the cruciatus all over again. Finally mobile, her body recoiled, and she screamed and thrashed. The straps holding her down barely stopped her from arching backward as she writhed, and rocked, and wailed in agony. It seemed like an eternity before she could stop thrashing. Long after her voice had given out. Her muscles still twitched violently, and her chest heaved with sobs.

“Alright. You can go now,” the healer said as he prodded Hermione again with his wand. “But tell Umbridge if another one arrives like this, I will report her for sabotage.”

Hermione cracked an eye open and watched the guards leave. Her vision blurred. Everything was so agonisingly bright, but she could make out vague shapes and the light hurt less. Or rather, other things hurt more than her eyes did.

The healer returned to her. He was a large man. She didn’t recognise him. She squinted, trying to see him clearly.

“Oh good, you’re tracking movement.” He turned her wrist to get the prison number from the manacle. “Number 273...”

He pulled a narrow file off a shelf and furrowed his brow as he skimmed it.

“Mudblood, obviously. Hogwarts student. Oh, very good marks. Hmmm. Unknown curse to the abdomen in fifth year. Not a very good sign. Well, we’ll see what we have to work with.”

He performed a complex diagnostic spell over her. She watched her magical signature float overhead and various orbs of color arrange themselves along her body.

The healer prodded them and scribbled notes. He was particularly interested in her abdomen, especially an orb tinged with purple.

“What—,“ she rasped around the gag still between her teeth, “—what are you looking at?”

“Hmm? Oh, a variety of things; your physical health, mostly. You're in remarkably good condition. Where have they been keeping you? Although none of that matters if I can’t figure out this old curse you’re still carrying.”

He worked in silence for several more minutes before chuckling. With a complicated flip of his wand and an incantation Hermione couldn’t make out, she watched a dark stream of purple flame shoot into her stomach. Her insides suddenly started bubbling, and she felt something writhing alive among her organs. Something crawling inside her.

Before she could scream, the healer sent a red spell streaking into her. The writhing stopped, and it felt like something had dissolved inside her.

“A miscast spell,” the healer explained. “Someone wanted you eaten alive, but fortunately for you their curse was incomplete. I fixed it and then cancelled it. You’re welcome.”

Hermione said nothing. She doubted any of it was for her benefit.

“Well. You’re cleared. Eligible too. I think we'll get quite a bit of use out of you. Although that cruciatus will probably require some therapy before you’ll recover from it. I’ll put in a note.”

With a flick of his wand, the straps around her wrists and ankles released. Hermione sat up slowly. Her muscles were still twitching involuntarily.

Opening the door, the healer called out, “She passed. You can process her.”

He walked over to his desk.

Everything was weirdly luminous. She squinted. So bright she could hardly see past the light to make out the shapes around her.

Reaching up with a shaky hand, she pulled the gag from between her teeth. They immediately started chattering. She realised that she was terribly, terribly cold. Too cold.

The guard was approaching her, reaching for her arm to lead her away. She slid off the table and tried to stand.

She wobbled.

“Siiiiir...”

Was that her voice? She didn’t remember what her voice sounded like.

The words came out slurred, and all the luminous objects in the room seemed to stretch and distort before her eyes as if she’d been dropped into a goldfish bowl. The healer turned back toward her quizzically.

“I thinnn’ k mmmmm going ‘nto sshhh—“ The words couldn’t seem to come out through her chattering teeth. She tried again  “shhhh-shhhhh-shhhhhhoooooock...”

Darkness suddenly started seeping into the edges of her vision. All the luminous things faded until all she could see was the healer’s concerned face swimming before her. Her eyes rolled back and she fell.

No one caught her.

Her head hit the corner of the table. Hard.

“Fuck!” swore the guard. Even sound seemed wobbly and distorted.

The last thing Hermione remembered was that she thought he might be Marcus Flint.

Regaining consciousness felt like drowning in oatmeal. Hermione wasn’t sure why it was the first comparison that came to mind. She fought to drag herself to the surface, moving toward muffled voices, trying to make sense of them.

“Sixteen months in solitary confinement with light and sound deprivation! By all counts she should be entirely insane, if not dead. There aren’t even any records on her! As if you dropped her into a bottomless pit! Look at this file. Prisoner 187 in the bed next door! Do you see how many pages there are? Checkups! Blood reports! Mental health sessions! Prescribed potions! I even have pictures of her to see how she looked before you maimed her. This one here—nothing! She was recorded as being assigned to this prison, and then she vanished! No one has seen her! There isn’t even any record of her eating anything! For sixteen months! Explain how this happened!”

There was a pause, and then Hermione heard, “Ahem-hem.”

Umbridge’s simpering voice began wheedling, “There are so many prisoners here. It can hardly be surprising if one or two manage to fall through the cracks as Miss Granger did.”

“Miss—Granger—,“ the other voice was suddenly horrified and stuttering. “As in THE Granger? You knew it was her! You tried to kill her.”

“What? No! I would never—It is for the Dark Lord to decide their fates. I am merely a servant.”

“Did you really think our Lord would forget about a prisoner like Hermione Granger? Do you think he will be forgiving if he learns what you did?”

“I didn’t mean for it to go on so long! It was meant simply as a temporary situation. You don’t know her. You don’t know what she’s capable of. I had to be sure she couldn’t escape or reach out. The castle was still being re-warded. Then—then by the time all the preparations had been made—She—she had slipped from my mind. I would never defy our Lord!”

“The success of the enterprise our Lord has assigned rests upon your head and mine. If I discover so much as a hint that you have done anything else to undermine his agenda, I will report you immediately to him. As it is, Granger is now entirely under my jurisdiction. You are not to go near her without my permission. If anything else happens to her, by anyone else, I will assume you were responsible for it.”

“But—but she has many enemies.” Umbridge’s voice wavered.

“Then I suggest you oversee your prison carefully. The Dark Lord named her specifically in his plans. I will throw you before him today if that’s what it takes to succeed. I have worked longer and harder to get where I am than you have, Warden. I will not let anyone get in my way. Go process the rest of them. The Dark Lord expects a report on eligibility numbers tonight, and I’ve wasted half my day fixing your mistake.”

A pair of footsteps faded. Umbridge’s, Hermione thought and hoped. She cracked an eye open, trying to take in her surroundings surreptitiously.

“You’re awake.”

Not surreptitiously enough. She opened her eyes fully and looked up at the blurry outline of a healer standing over her. The healer leaned closer to study Hermione, and Hermione could make her out somewhat against the brightness. An older woman, severe, with robes denoting medical seniority.

“So, you’re Hermione Granger.”

Hermione wasn’t sure how to respond to the comment. The overheard conversation hadn’t shed light on what was wanted with her. She was important to some dreadful machination of Voldemort. She wasn’t supposed to be dead or insane, and they wanted her healthy. They probably weren’t supposed to torture her horribly again.

She stayed quiet, hoping the healer was the sort who kept talking when people failed to respond. She was disappointed.

“I’ll have to ask you, since no one else seems to know. How are you still alive? How did you manage to stay sane?”

“I...d-don’t—know...” Hermione answered after waiting for several moments. Her voice sounded deeper and wobblier than she remembered. Her vocal chords felt atrophied. It was difficult to pace words; the consonants slurred together and then paused as though it required effort to push them out. “I did—mental arithmancy... I...recited potions. I did my best... to keep from—slipping.”

“Remarkable,” the healer murmured, scribbling notes into a file. “But how did you survive? There’s no record of anyone feeding you, and yet you’ve been perfectly maintained nutritionally.”

“I—don’t...know. Food appeared. There was never a set time. I thought—it was intentional.”

“What was intentional?”

“The irregularity…I thought it“—her throat felt exhausted as she kept speaking—“was part of the...sensory deprivation. To keep—me... from knowing…how much time—had passed.”

Her voice got thinner and thinner with every word.

“Oh. Yes. That would have been creative. And your physical condition? You were never removed from that room. Yet you have better muscle tone than half my healers. How on earth is that possible?”

“When...I couldn’t—bear to think, I’d exercise—until I couldn’t anymore.”

“What kind of exercises?”

“Anything. Jumping. Pushups. Crunches. Anything—that tired me... So I wouldn’t dream.”

More scribbling.

“What kind of dreams were you trying to avoid?”

Hermione’s breath caught slightly. The other questions had been easy. That—that went too close to something real.

“Dreams of before.”

“Before?”

Before I came here .” Hermione’s voice was quiet. Furious. She closed her eyes; the light was giving her a severe migraine.

“Of course.” More scribbling. The sound made Hermione’s muscles flinch reactively. “You’ll be here in the infirmary until the side effects from your torture sessions are fully relieved. I will also be bringing in a specialist to figure out what happened to your brain.”

Hermione’s eyes snapped open.

“Is there—,“ she hesitated.  “Is there something—wrong with me?”

The healer stared at her contemplatively before waving her wand over Hermione’s head.

“You were kept in sensory-deprived isolation for sixteen months. The fact you're lucid at all is a miracle. The effects of such an experience can hardly be avoided, especially given the circumstances prior to your arrival. I imagine you studied some healing during the war?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, looking down at the blanket on her lap. It was threadbare and smelled so strongly of antiseptic she wanted to gag from the olfactory assault.

“Then you know what a normal, healthy magical brain looks like. This is yours.”

A simple wand manipulation drew the magically projected image of Hermione’s brain into view.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. Scattered across the projection were little glowing lights; some clustered, some sporadic. All over her brain. She’d never seen such a thing before.

“What are those?”

“My best guess is that they're magically created fugue states.”

“What?”

“At some point during your isolation, your magic began trying to protect you. Since you couldn’t express any magic externally, it internalised itself. You worked hard to keep yourself from, as you said, slipping. However, the mind is hardly equipped to handle such a thing. Your magic has walled off parts of your mind. As a result, it fragmented you somewhat. Normally a fugue is general, but these appear almost surgically precise. Although mind healing isn’t my specialty.”

Hermione stared in horror.

“Do you mean I—I disassociated?”

“Something like that. I've never actually seen anything like this before. This might be a new magical malady.”

“Do—I have multiple personalities?” Hermione felt suddenly faint.

“No. You’ve simply isolated parts of your mind. I think your magic intended to protect them from mental attacks, but by extension it prevented you from accessing them.”

Hermione was reeling internally.

“What—don’t I remember ?”

“Well, we aren’t entirely sure. You’ll have to be the one to discover what you’ve forgotten. What are your parents’ names?”

Hermione paused a moment, trying to calculate if the question was based on seeking a diagnosis or potentially to extract information. Blood drained from her face.

“I don’t know,” she said, suddenly feeling as though she couldn’t breathe. “I remember I had parents. They were—Muggles. But—I can’t remember anything about them.”

Struggling to tamp down on the panic rising inside of her, she stared imploringly at the healer.

“Do you know anything?”

“I’m afraid not. Let’s try another question. Do you remember the school you went to? Who were your best friends there?”

“Hogwarts. Harry and Ron,” Hermione said, looking down as her throat tightened. Her fingers twitched uncontrollably.

“Good.”

“Do you remember the headmaster?”

“Dumbledore.”

“Do you remember what happened to him?”

“He died,” Hermione said, squeezing her eyes shut. Although the details felt fuzzy, she was sure.

“Yes. Do you remember the circumstances of his death?”

“No. I remember—he was reinstated as headmaster after it was confirmed that Vold-Vold—You-Know-Who had returned.”

“Interesting.” There was more scribbling. “What is it that you remember of the war?”

“I was a healer. I was in the hospital ward. So many people I couldn’t save—I remember losing. Something—something didn’t work. Harry died. They—they hung him up off the Astronomy Tower, and we watched him rot. They—they hung Ron and his family next to him. And Tonks and Lupin. They tortured them until they died. Then they put me in that cell and left me there.”

Hermione was shaking as she spoke. The hospital bed shook and made an angry creaking noise.

The healer didn't appear to notice and scribbled more notes.

“This is very unusual and interesting. I’ve never heard of a fugue state like this before. I’m anxious to hear what a specialist thinks.”

“Glad to be so interesting,” Hermione said, her lip curling as she opened her eyes to glare at the healer.

“Now now, dear. I’m not entirely callous. Look at it from a medical perspective. If there was anything in your past that would be logical for your mind to protect itself from, it would be the aftermath of the war—which you are clearly traumatised by. Instead, what did you subconsciously decide to protect? The identities of your parents, and the Order’s war strategy. Your magic didn’t choose to protect your psyche, it chose to protect everyone else. That is very interesting.”

Hermione supposed it was, but it just all felt like too much.

Just being able to see again was overwhelming. Being able to speak. Being out of her cell. Everything felt like it was too much. Too raw. Too bright.

She didn’t say anything else. After a few minutes of scribbling, the healer looked up again.

“Unless the specialist has an objection, you’ll stay in the infirmary for a week for recovery before we process you. That will give you time to acclimate to light and sound again and undergo the therapy you’ll need for your torture recovery and that concussion you got during your check up.”

The healer started to walk away but then paused.

“I hope my saying this is unnecessary, but I suppose given your house and history I should say it nonetheless. You are at a crossroads currently, Miss Granger. What will happen to you next is inevitable, but you have a choice in how unpleasant you force it to be.”

With that parting—advice? A threat? A warning? Hermione wasn’t entirely sure. The healer disappeared behind the dividing curtain.

Hermione glanced around at her surroundings carefully. She was still in Hogwarts. She had been changed out of her prison clothes into a set of hospital pajamas. Pulling up the sleeves, she noted with disappointment that no one had made the mistake of taking off the manacles locked around each wrist.

She held a wrist up in front of her face to inspect them. They had been snapped onto her immediately before she had been imprisoned in her cell, and she had never gotten a chance to really see what they looked like.

In the light, they simply appeared to be a pair of bracelets around each wrist. They shone like a new penny. They were copper-plated, as she had guessed.

In the darkness of her cell, she had spent an untold amount of time trying to ascertain exactly what they were. The simple answer was that they suppressed her magic. How exactly they did so, and how she might get around them while blind and mute had taken much thought.

When she finally admitted to herself that it was impossible to get around them, she began to figure out how they worked.

She both hated and admired whoever had developed them. She was positive by the way the copper conducted her magic that they had a dragon heartstring core in each of them, possibly even taken from her own wand.

The manacles felt specifically attuned to her.

In her cell during all her attempts to wield wandless magic, the magic slipped down her arms toward her hands to be cast and then just—dissolved when it reached the manacles. Confirming for herself now that they were copper-plated, she understood immediately how it worked.

Copper sucked the magic into itself. She remembered Binns lecturing in History of Magic about the attempts to use materials other than wood for wands. Copper had been one of the obvious choices due to its natural magic conductivity. Unfortunately, it was too conductive. It sucked up any flicker of magic that it detected, whether it was meant to or not. Spells exploded out of copper wands before a wizard could finish casting. They could barely touch the wands without having them go off. Two blown up wand labs and the loss of four toes convinced wand makers to try something other than copper.

The core of the manacles, Hermione felt positive, was iron. The copper paired with dragon heartstring snatched up her magic and then deposited it into the iron core where it was effectively neutralised.

The ingenuity made her seethe.

Iron manacles were common enough in Wizarding prisons. They dampened magic enough to keep prisoners from casting anything powerful. It had always been impossible to fully neutralise a witch or wizard’s magic with iron. They could always push a little bit of magic past it or just let it build up until a wave of accidental magic exploded from them. The copper solved that. With its eager conductivity, especially aided with a magical core matching the prisoner’s wand, the copper sucked up almost every bit of building magic inside Hermione.

It effectively made her a Muggle.

Chapter Text

“Hermione…” she heard someone breathe.

Looking up sharply from her manacles, she saw a head poking through the dividing curtain. She squinted and stared. It was Hannah Abbott.

A low gasp of horror escaped Hermione’s lips.

Hannah only had one eye.

Her right eye was staring at Hermione, but her left eye was gone. There was a black, gaping hole in her head as though it had been plucked out.

Hannah’s hand immediately darted up and covered the left side of her face.

“Sorry. It’s always awful for people the first time they see it.”

“What—happened?” Hermione forced the words out.

She didn’t know of any curse that removed eyes in such a manner. There were plenty of blinding hexes, but none with such grotesque results.

“Umbridge—she popped it out with the tip of her wand when—when I tried to escape. She made the healers keep it like this. For effect.” Hannah turned her head slightly away to conceal her face further.

“She got into trouble for it though.” Hannah lowered her face so that she was gazing at the floor. Her voice sounded as if she was somehow dead. “She normally cuts off fingers now. If you’re disrespectful. If you try to get away. If you look at her wrong. Parvati and Angelina, they hardly have any fingers left.”

Hannah looked hard at Hermione with her remaining eye.

“Let your Gryffindor die, Hermione. Don’t try to be brave. Don’t try to be clever. Just keep your head down. People have been trying to get out for months. Anyone who gets caught gets maimed. Anyone—who gets out—it took too many tries before we realised—the manacles we’ve all got—,” Hannah raised her own copper encased wrist, “they’ve got a trace in them. If you get past the wards, they send the High Reeve and hang the corpse in the Great Hall so that we all have to watch it decay.”

Hermione felt as though she’d been struck violently in the chest. Her fingers spasmed against the fabric of the blanket covering her. She could barely breathe. “Who?”

“Ginny. She was the first body they brought back. We all thought maybe you had actually gotten out. Because you disappeared. We didn’t realise they’d just put you somewhere else...”

Hannah’s voice trailed off, and she stared at Hermione. “You don’t even know why they brought you out, do you?”

Hermione shook her head.

“The guards talk a lot. After the war, we all expected the Dark Lord would start enslaving the Muggles. But—it turns out his ranks were more exhausted than we realised. Apparently being immortal makes him patient. He decided that repopulating the ranks of pure-blood wizards should be first on his agenda. He personally paired off all the pure-bloods. Made them all get married with orders to start reproducing.”

Hannah’s face was twisted with disdain as she recited this information.

Hermione’s eyebrows furrowed with surprise. A repopulation effort? The war had dragged on with high casualties given the size of the wizarding population, but Hermione hadn’t thought Voldemort would notice, much less care. Arranged marriages weren’t exactly uncommon among pure-bloods—but having them mandated seemed extreme. She wondered how his followers had felt.

“There were—barely any babies. Pure-blood fertility rates have been dropping for years. There were a few pregnancies that set everyone abuzz. Most ended up squib and got terminated before the end. Or miscarried. Well,“—Hannah’s voice grew bitter—“apparently facing the extinction of the European wizarding world has opened the Dark Lord’s mind somewhat in regard to blood purity. Magic is might, you know. He’s decided to start a breeding program with all these half-blood and Muggle-born prisoners he happens to have on hand. Just us girls, since it’s a fate worse than death to have a Muggle-born male touch a pure-blood female. We’re all to be made to produce babies until our uteruses give out.”

Hannah looked as sick as Hermione was beginning to feel.

“So that’s why they finally let you out,” said Hannah, gesturing helplessly. “They’re using school and medical records to decide which of us are eligible. That healer you were speaking to—she’s the head of the whole thing. Apparently she specializes in magical genetics. We’re her lab rats. They’re checking everyone’s fertility.”

Hannah was crying now. Hermione stared at her, feeling faint with shock. It couldn’t be true. It was all just too horribly dystopian. Some nightmare she was dreaming up inside her cell.

“We—have to get out,” Hermione said in as steady a voice as she could manage.

Hannah shook her head.

“We can’t. Didn’t you hear me earlier? Unless you can chop off your hands, you’ll never be able to leave with those manacles. They don’t even keep the trace here. Angelina lost her pointer finger to find that out. The Dark Lord keeps it personally. That’s why whenever anyone gets away, it’s always the High Reeve who goes after them. “

Hannah looked quickly around, tilting her head to get a slightly better view of the floor beyond the privacy curtains.

Hermione followed Hannah's gaze. There was nothing there.

“Who? Who is the High Reeve?” Hermione asked. She didn’t remember that title.

Hannah looked up. “I don’t know. None of us have ever seen him without his mask. Everyone talks about him. He’s the Dark Lord’s right hand. Voldemort doesn’t go out much, so the High Reeve appears instead. They held public executions a few weeks ago—more than twenty people. He killed every single one with the Killing Curse. He didn’t take breaks. He just went straight down the line. No one has even seen the Dark Lord cast that many in a row.”

“That—shouldn’t be possible,” Hermione said, shaking her head doubtfully. 

Hannah leaned forward and lowered her voice. “I know. But I’ve seen the bodies after he catches the runners. He always catches them. McGonagall, Moody, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Professor Sprout, Madam Pomfrey, Flitwick, Oliver Wood; those are the ones you’d know. There have been more. Loads more. The Order members were the ones who tried hardest to get away. They all came back corpses. It’s always the Killing Curse.”

Hannah hesitated and stared intently at Hermione. “Don’t do something stupid, Hermione. I’m not telling you all this so you’ll try to escape. I’m trying to warn you. It’s hell. You need to be prepared for that because—if you aren’t—you’re going to walk out there and get maimed, and it won’t even mean anything.”

Hannah seemed about to say something else, but footsteps sounded beyond the curtains. An expression of terror rippled across her face, and the dividing curtain fell as she retreated.

The curtain on the other side of Hermione snapped open, and the healer from earlier reappeared, looking harried.

“The Dark Lord wants to watch your examination himself,” the healer said, reaching out and grabbing Hermione’s arm forcefully.

Hermione tried instinctively to get away. She jerked her arm out of the healer's grip and dropped off the other side of the bed in order to create distance.

“Oh, you stupid little witch.” The healer sighed, and gestured to someone standing out of Hermione's vision. “Stun her and bring her.”

Two guards appeared from behind the curtain and shot two successive stunners at Hermione. The first she dodged, but the second nicked her shoulder. She dropped like a stone.

When she re-awoke, she was strapped down on a table in a dark hall. Her arms and legs were restrained, still twitching from torture. More straps went over her forehead and chin, holding her head in place. There was a small wizard standing on one side of her. Voldemort himself was standing on the other.

The small wizard was speaking in a thin, trembling voice, gesturing up at a projection of Hermione’s brain.

“It—it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen b-before. Normally magical m-m-memory loss occurs q-q-quite generally across the brain when it is s-s-self generated. A p-person can’t even tell you their name. But this is t-targeted. Like obliviation spells. A dissociative fugue, or in this case m-many of them. Almost like self-obliviation. Her magic has hidden specific memories inside what I can only describe as almost a c-c-calcification of magical layers. It probably could never have happened without the specific cir-circumstances of her imprisonment. This t-t-took time. Her brain has been slowly shoring up a line of d-defense over the course of months. Almost like a clam making a pearl, she’s been slowly burying them under layer after layer. You c-can tell some have been more extensively protected than others based on how brightly they g-g-glow.”

Voldemort’s eyes were narrowed. “Could these memories be recovered with legilimency?”

The small wizard looked more nervous. Faint droplets of perspiration had collected on his upper lip.

“It’s—it’s unlikely. This is like an individual occlumency wall of exceptional strength around each specific memory. It’s—it's p-possible if the legilimens is sufficiently p-p-powerful.”

“I like to think I am,” Voldemort said, looking down into Hermione’s eyes. She squeezed them shut instantly, but it was too late.

She thought—she might have known occlumency before. With her magic mostly stolen away, she had no ability to create a wall around her mind. Voldemort shot in like an arrow, burying himself deeply among her memories and then sifting slowly through them. It was as though her mind were being crushed under his.

Her childhood. Hogwarts. He wasn’t concerned with her locked memories of her parents. After fifth year, when everything grew hazy, his interest sharpened. He examined her memories of healing. All those bodies. All those injuries. So many people. The closer he got to the end of the war, the more memories were locked. He tried driving into them. He tried stabbing his way through the magic with sheer force. None of them would give away to his violent, insistent attacks.

It was breaking her. The force was mind-numbingly painful, and somehow the pain continued to increase until it felt impossible that she wasn’t dying from it. Hermione was writhing as she sought to get away—to escape the invasion. Screaming surrounded her and just kept going on, and on, and on. 

Finally Voldemort withdrew from her mind. Furious. She slowly became aware that the screams had been hers. By then, they had been reduced to tiny mewling wails of pain past shredded vocal chords. Guttural sobs that kept choking out as her chest kept spasming from pain, and she struggled to breathe.

“I do not like secrets kept from me. With Potter dead there should be nothing left to conceal. What are you hiding?” Voldemort hissed. His bony fingers seized her face and turned it so that she met his eyes.

“I—don’t—know—,“ she said. Her voice was rasping and broken, and she weakly tried to pull her jaw free from his hold.

“Call Severus! And the Warden. She shall be punished for this,” Voldemort said. He viciously probed Hermione’s mind until she lay limp and barely conscious on the table.

Umbridge arrived first, looking appropriately terrified.

“My Lord, my Lord,” she said, dropping to the ground and crawling toward him.

Crucio .” Voldemort cast the curse, his fury evident in his tone.

Umbridge screamed. She screamed, and screamed, and writhed on the ground. Hermione almost felt sorry for her. 

After several minutes, he finally stopped.

“Did you think, Warden, that following the letter but not the spirit of my commands would spare you?”

Umbridge only whimpered.

“I knew of your dislike for the Mudblood, but I had hoped your obedience to me would be sufficient motivation for you to restrain yourself. Perhaps you need a permanent reminder.”

“My Lord—”

“What is that punishment you’re so fond of doling out among your charges? Knuckles, isn’t it? Tell me, Warden, how many fingers will you have left if I take a knuckle for each month you spent trying to drive the Mudblood insane?”

“Noooooooo.” Umbridge voice rose in a shriek. She was still shaking and spasming on the ground.

“Perhaps I should be lenient,” Voldemort said, walking slowly toward her as she sniveled and grovelled at his feet. “Your work has been mostly good. Instead of sixteen, I’ll halve it. Eight knuckles as a reminder I said I wanted Potter’s Mudblood left fully intact.”

“Pleeeease...” Umbridge was pushing herself up off the ground, sobbing.

Severus Snape swept into the room.

“What’s wrong? Unable to endure consequences of your own devising?” Voldemort sneered, and waved a hand as he turned away from Umbridge. “Take her away. Drop her back at her prison when you’re done.”

Two Death Eaters came forward and dragged Umbridge from the room as she begged and wailed apologies.

“Severus, my faithful servant,” Voldemort said, turning toward the Potion Master. “I find myself with a puzzle on my hands.”

“My Lord,” Snape said, folding his hands respectfully in front of him and lowering his eyes.

“You remember the Mudblood, I presume.” Voldemort moved back toward Hermione, staring down at her and running a skeletal finger along his lipless mouth.

“Of course. She was an insufferable student to teach.” Snape walked over to survey Hermione, who was still strapped down on the table.

“Indeed, and a good friend of Harry Potter, the boy who died,” Voldemort said, caressing his wand lightly. “She was also a member of the Order as I’m sure you recall from your many years as my spy. When Potter died, she was captured, and I ordered her imprisoned but left intact in case I ever had need of her. Unfortunately, the warden at Hogwarts saw fit to dole out her own punishment for past offenses. She imprisoned the Mudblood all this time in a cell under sensory deprivation.”

Snape’s eyes widened slightly.

Voldemort rested a hand on Snape's shoulder. “According to the mind healers, the experience enabled the Mudblood to lock away her memories. Sealing them off from herself and from me. The identities of her parents—which is of no consequence. More vitally, a great many memories from the war, particularly near the end. This memory loss occurred after Potter died—after the war had ended. What is it that she would be hiding?” There was menace in Voldemort’s low sinuous voice. He paused for a moment and then looked down at Hermione. “Perhaps as someone who knew her during that time, you would have some insight into what is missing.”

“Of course, My Lord.”

Hermione found Snape’s cold, bottomless eyes peering down at her. She didn’t have any strength left to try resisting as he sank into her consciousness.

He didn’t bother with her early memories. He went directly to the war and swept through the memories quickly but thoroughly. He seemed to have specific categories he pursued. Healing. Potion brewing. Order meetings. Research. Conversations with Harry and Ron. Fighting. The final battle. Whenever Snape came upon a locked memory, he seemed to pause and consider its surroundings before trying to break into it. 

His invasion was dramatically less traumatic than Voldemort’s, but Hermione was still weeping and shuddering by the time he finally slowly withdrew. Her hands clenching spasmodically where they were strapped in place.

“Fascinating,” he said, staring down at Hermione with a somewhat conflicted expression.

“Any insight?” Voldemort's hand tightened on Snape's shoulder, and his tone was suspicious.

Snape turned from Hermione and lowered his eyes. “To be honest, My Lord, the Mudblood and I had very little contact during later years of the war. The Order meetings I was privy to are all there. The little else I knew of her was that she was kept away from the fighting, acting as a healer and potion mistress. Those memories appear intact. I am at a loss as to what she could be hiding.”

“If the Order had any remaining secrets left, I want to know them,” Voldemort said, his scarlet eyes narrowing.

“Indeed,” Snape said, his tone silken and demure. “Unfortunately, most of the highly informed Order members are dead now. Either during the final battle, or from torture or escape attempts. Aside from Miss Granger herself, there is likely no one else still alive carrying the information.”

Voldemort stared down at Hermione. His red eyes were enraged and calculating as he ran a finger slowly along his mouth. Then he looked sharply over at the mind healer.

“Is there any way to recover these memories?” Voldemort said, his wand hanging from his fingertips with casual menace. 

“Well, th-that’s very difficult t-to s-s-say.” The healer paled. “It’s p-p-possible. Now that the circumstances causing it-have been removed. With t-t-time, th-they may restore themselves.” 

“What about torture? I have broken through to obliviated memories with torture in the past.”

The mind healer looked green.“It m-m-might work. B-b-but—there’d be no telling which ones you’d unlock. You m-m-might only get a f-few b-before she went insane.”

Voldemort stared speculatively down at Hermione. “Then I want her watched. Carefully. By someone who will know the instant they begin to return. Severus, I shall leave her in your charge.” 

“Of—course, My Lord.” Snape bowed low.

“You object?” Voldemort using his wandtip to force Snape upright. He tilted Snape's head back until their eyes met.

“Never. Your wish is my command.” Snape’s collected expression rippled under the scrutiny.

“Yet you have objections,” Voldemort said, withdrawing his wand and turning back to stare down at Hermione.

“I am departing tomorrow for Romania,” Snape said, “to investigate the rumors of insubordination we have heard about. The trip, as you noted when you assigned it to me, will be a delicate task, complex and rigorous even without the addition of a prisoner who requires careful monitoring. I—am reluctant to disappoint you in either of these matters.” He placed his hand on his chest and bowed again.

Voldemort paused and seemed to be considering, resting his hands on the table beside Hermione and leaning over to study her. As he stood there, a movement on Hermione’s other side caught her attention. The female healer in charge of Voldemort’s breeding program had approached and was whispering a question to the mind healer.

“M-My Lord,” the mind healer said, stepping hesitantly closer, “Healer Stroud has brought to my attention a p-point that m-m-may interest you.”

“Yes?” Voldemort’s interest appeared negligible. He did not look up toward either healer. 

“Magical pregnancy, My Lord,” Healer Stroud said with a proud smile. “There are a few cases on record which indicate that such pregnancies have an ability to break through magical fugues. The magic of a child is compatible but dissimilar enough to its mother’s to have a corroding effect on built up magic. It’s nothing conclusive, given the rarity. It’s possible, however. Miss Granger has exceptional magical ability—you yourself noted this and wanted her included in the repopulation effort. If you leave her within the program, there is a chance that a pregnancy may result in unlocking her memories. But—,“ she hesitated slightly.   

“What?” Voldemort looked up sharply at Healer Stroud, causing her to pale and flinch.

“You—you would be unable to inspect her mind during the pregnancy.” Healer Stroud said, speaking quickly. “Invasive magics such as legilimency carry a high risk of miscarriage. It's often so traumatic that it can result in permanent magical infertility. You would have to wait, even if you knew the memories were returning, until the baby was born. Unless the father, who would share a familiar magical signature with the child, were the one performing the legilimency.” 

Voldemort stared down at Hermione thoughtfully, his fingers sliding over his chest as though he were soothing an injury.

“Severus.”

 “My Lord.”

“The High Reeve is an exceptional legilimens, is he not?”

“Indeed, My Lord,” Snape said. “His skill is likely equal to my own. You had him trained quite carefully.”

“His wife has been found magically barren, has she not?”

The question was directed toward Healer Stroud.

“Yes, My Lord,” she answered immediately.

“Then send the Mudblood to the High Reeve. Let him breed and monitor her.”

Stroud nodded eagerly. “I can have her there in two weeks. I want to ensure her condition and have her trained.”

“Two weeks. Until she is found pregnant, I want her brought in every other month so I can examine her mind personally.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“Take her back to Hogwarts, then.” Voldemort dismissed them with a wave of his hand.

Hermione’s body was still spasming slightly as the restraints on her were spelled off. She felt as though she ought to do—something. Spit. Or refuse. Or—beg.

Anything but just lie there while Voldemort casually delegated her off for breeding.

Her body refused to cooperate. She couldn’t do anything as careless hands dragged her up off the table and levitated her down a hallway.

Chapter Text

The bed Hannah had occupied was empty when Hermione was returned to the hospital ward in Hogwarts.

Healer Stroud poured a potion down Hermione’s throat as soon as she was placed in the bed. The pain in Hermione's mind subsided slightly. She blinked, and the dancing black spots that kept obscuring her vision finally started to fade away.

Hermione felt nauseous. Her insides were roiling and cringing like she had poison inside that her body couldn’t expel. She was still shaking. She wanted to roll over and curl into a ball, but she couldn’t summon the strength to manage it.

“Guard her with your lives. If anyone wants to touch her or so much as look at her, they will require permission from me,” she heard Healer Stroud say.

Hermione turned and could vaguely make out two large men standing behind Stroud. Their eyes were cold as they stared down at Hermione.

Stroud cast several monitor wards on Hermione that rose up, shimmering around her body. After she had inspected the projections for a few minutes, Stroud turned and strode away, her healer robes billowing out behind her.

Hermione stared up at the ceiling, trying to absorb everything that had happened to her that day.

She felt like she should be crying, but she couldn’t summon the tears.

Resignation and hopelessness had entwined themselves with her soul since the moment she watched Harry die.

After watching most of the people she loved die in agony, she’d known her turn to suffer was lying in wait.

Now it had come.

Death had never frightened Hermione. Her fear had always been in the manner of death. She had watched the worst ways to go.

Harry’s death had been a mercy killing compared to the torture the Weasleys, Remus and Tonks had been subjected to.

Lucius Malfoy had been standing mere feet from where Hermione was caged when he looked up at Ron and snarled “This is for my wife!”

Then he cast a curse that turned Ron’s blood gradually into molten lead. Hermione watched as the curse slowly crept through Ron’s body, destroying him from the inside out. She’d been helpless to do anything—helpless to spare him in any way.

Arthur Weasley had been left permanently addled by a curse during the war. He cried, not even understanding why he was in pain or that he was dying.

They had left Molly for last. So she’d watch all her children die.

Remus had lasted hours longer than anyone else. His lycanthropy kept healing him until he just hung there, unresponsive. Finally someone shot the Killing Curse at him out of boredom.

The deaths had replayed themselves before Hermione’s eyes so many time she would have thought that eventually the pain of them would ease.

It never did.

Each time felt just as sharp. Just as fresh.

A wound that would never heal.

Survivor’s guilt, she thought, that was the Muggle term for it. Such a paltry description. It didn’t capture even a fraction of the breadth of agony in her soul.

For Hermione, being bred by a Death Eater was a fate that had never even occurred to her. Being raped—the risk had been considered. This felt like rape in slow motion. However, the situation was far more complex than simply that. Whatever she had hidden in her mind, it had been important. More important to her than anything else. She couldn’t let it fall into Voldemort’s hands.

She wasn’t afraid of having her corpse rot in the Great Hall. That fate was nothing compared to giving up what she was protecting. Or compared to being raped and forced to carry a child that would be torn from her the moment it was born.

Escaping, she realised, was likely a luxury she couldn’t afford to pursue. The important thing would be to die quickly. Before she could be stopped and kept from further attempts.

She lay quietly in the bed and schemed.

The days passed slowly. None of the prisoners brought into the hospital wing dared speak to Hermione with the guards constantly beside her bed.

Healers arrived several times a day to appraise and treat her. They took vials of blood and a bit of hair away for analysis. A therapist arrived to treat Hermione for the torture. For the tremors.

Eventually most of the intermittent spasming stopped. Hermione’s fingers still tended to twitch spastically at unexpected sounds.

She wasn’t used to noise anymore.

She remembered life being full of noise in the past; in classes, at meals, in the hospital ward after battles. Now any unexpected sound caught her off-guard. The banging of a door or clatter of boots, the sound waves from them—they felt like physical sensations on her flesh.

She’d twitch.

The nervous mind healer came frequently with Healer Stroud to examine Hermione’s brain and psychological condition. There were concerns about her overall stability. They’d cast simulation spells on her brain to see how she’d react to crowds, tight spaces, physical contact, gore. If she was going to mentally snap, they wanted her to do it in the hospital wing.

Apparently, despite the twitching, Hermione was regarded as stable enough. When the most severe torture tremors stopped after four days of therapy, they decided she was ready for training.

On the fifth day, she was released from the hospital wing. The guards took her straight to the Great Hall.

There were rows and rows of chairs arranged facing the front of the hall. The chairs were filled with women dressed in drab grey dresses.

Umbridge was standing on the platform in the front, speaking with saccharine cheer. She was dressed in a subdued shade of pink with a large pendant hanging from her neck. One of her hands was heavily bandaged.

“You have been chosen to help build the future that our Dark Lord has envisioned. You have been granted the privilege of bringing it forth,” she said, and simpered. “You are the few found worthy of it.”

Umbridge sounded mechanical, staring down at the girls with eyes glittering with hatred. The false smile plastered firmly across her face. Her eyes kept flickering up toward a corner of the room.

Hermione turned slightly to look and saw two Death Eaters standing there unmasked; Corban Yaxley and Thorfinn Rowle. They were watching Umbridge with expressions of bored amusement.

“The Dark Lord has commanded that you be trained in order to fulfill your duties without fail. This is a great honour he has bestowed upon you; you do not want to disappoint him. You are important to the Dark Lord. Because of that, you must be protected from others as well as from yourselves.”

Umbridge’s smile suddenly sharpened, showing a malicious edge. She gestured toward the back, and Yaxley and Rowle came forward. Umbridge turned to the prison guards lined up along a wall.

“Stun them all. Be thorough about it.”

A few of the seated women cringed or tried to shy away, but most of them barely moved as guards started hexing them. The bodies slumped down in the chairs or fell forward onto the ground.

Hermione was standing toward the back. She watched the girls fall. She recognized a handful of them; Hannah Abbott, Parvati Patil, Angelina Johnson, Katie Bell, Cho Chang, and Romilda Vane. Hermione thought some of the others might have been in the older and younger years in Hogwarts. There were a few slightly older women too, although no one who appeared over thirty. There were nearly a hundred of them.

Umbridge saw Hermione standing toward the back.

“Stun her too,” Umbridge said, glaring venomously at Hermione.

They hesitated.

Healer Stroud appeared from the periphery of Hermione's vision.

“Do it,” she said with a sharp nod of approval.

Hermione was knocked out before she could brace herself.

“Rennervate.”

Hermione sat up groggily. She'd been moved, and found herself lying beside the rest of the girls.

They were laid out in rows. Some were still unconscious, and the guards went down the line waking them. Others were sitting, staring at the manacles around their wrists. Hermione looked down at her own. The magical bracelets looked different; a bit wider, and now without any clasp. A perfect circle of copper wrapped around each wrist.

“Property of the High Reeve” was engraved into the shining surface of both of the manacles.

Of greater concern to Hermione was the cold object beneath the metal that she could feel pressing slightly against her inner wrists. The manacles were so closely-fitted she couldn’t peer under to discern what it was. It was clear—the reason they had been stunned was in order to remove and replace the manacles. Presumably with something worse than what they already had been.

The clock on the wall indicated that hours had passed since the stunning had started. Whatever the process had been, it had taken time.

A large table had appeared in the Great Hall, covered with weapons.

It couldn’t have been a more obvious trap.

Everyone stood cautiously and just stared.

“Come forward,” Umbridge said in a coaxing voice, beckoning from beside the table. “Come on. Come see.”

No one moved.

Umbridge looked disappointed. She had clearly hoped someone would be foolish enough to rush toward the table and try arming themselves.

“You there. Come here.” Umbridge pointed at a girl in the crowd. Hermione thought the girl might have been in Hermione’s year. Mafalda, she thought, from Slytherin.

The girl obeyed slowly, cringing in apprehension.

“Lift something up,” Umbridge ordered her.

Mafalda reached forward slowly, but when her hand got within a few centimetres of a knife, she abruptly snatched it back with a cry.

Umbridge smiled in triumph.

“Everyone now, come reach. See what happens.”

The women all shuffled forward reluctantly. Hermione approached in growing dread, her mind speculating. There must have been a barrier charm added to the manacles; something that prevented them from getting close to certain objects.

She extended her hand from a considerable distance and approached slowly. When her fingers were within ten centimeters of a dagger on the table, a burning sensation began enveloping them. She pulled her hand away bitterly. Her options if she needed to resort to suicide were suddenly dramatically limited. She surveyed the various objects: crossbow bolts, knives, swords, axes, kitchen knives, letter openers, even large steel nails. The spellwork to create the punishing barrier appeared to have been comprehensive. She catalogued each item carefully.

That couldn’t be all the new manacles did. Inlaying a barrier charm was simple enough magic. There was something more complex about the new set.

Hermione looked down and fidgeted them again.

“These new bracelets will keep you safe and ensure the households you are sent to can take good care of you. The head of each household will carry a charm that allows them to always find you and know if you are ever in any danger. Given“—Umbridge smiled sweetly,—“the dangerous, volatile nature common among Muggles, they will keep you from committing any acts of violence on anyone, including yourselves. They will help you to unwaveringly obey the Dark Lord in this generous opportunity he has given you.”

Several women were audibly sobbing.

“These are such important wizards that you will be serving, after all. We don’t want any mistakes or accidents inconveniencing them.”

A barrier charm, possibly some kind of compulsion spell, and paired with a monitor enchantment—that was what Hermione felt under the manacles—a monitor piece, tracking her physical well-being.

Monitor enchantments were commonly used in the psych wards of hospitals to alert healers when patients were likely to injure themselves or act out. It tracked heart rate and hormones, picking up spikes and surges. Complex ones even tapped slightly into the consciousness. It wasn’t mind reading exactly, but it gave an impression on the wearer’s state and inclinations.

Trying to commit suicide or escape without any type of weapon, trapped under a sort of compulsion spell, without any mental indication or spike in heart rate—it would be nearly impossible.

Hermione stood frozen in the Great Hall as she absorbed it.

The days merged together into a haze of dread.

They were trained.

Umbridge would hold what looked like a small lantern and issue an instruction. When she finished speaking, the lantern would glow slightly and the manacles would grow warm as magic sank in.

Ingraining compulsions into their minds.

It was done gradually. It seemed that each instruction needed time to take root in their psyches. To mould their behavior.

You will be quiet.

You will be obedient.

You will not hurt anyone.

You will not offend the wives.

You will not resist when bedded.

After being bedded you will not move for ten minutes.

You will do everything to get pregnant quickly and produce healthy children.

You will not have sex with any man but the one designated.

As the days passed, Hermione could see the effect of the instructions on the other women.

They grew quieter and quieter. During the first few days, there were hushed whispers at night. By the third day, the rooms were mostly quiet aside from the muffled sobbing.

Hermione was kept slightly apart from all the others. There was always a guard flanking her.

Umbridge stayed far away from Hermione, although her eyes would flash toward Hermione in triumph each time a new compulsion was laid.

Whatever the Dark magic being used to enable the compulsion spell was, it was delicate. With each new instruction, the healers would sweep in and run diagnostics over the girls.  

One day, one of the girls abruptly snapped and stood up screaming. She seized her chair and whipped it up into the air before smashing it down onto the woman beside her. By the time the guards had stunned the screaming girl and dragged her away, the woman’s shoulder was shattered.

There may have been further instructions planned, but after that event, Healer Stroud decided that what had been programmed with was sufficient.

Hermione lay in the dark each night and plotted.

If she couldn’t escape, her best hope would be of dying at the wand-point of the High Reeve.

He was, from what Hermione had been able to gather, very quick to murder. If she could provoke him to act without thinking, he might kill her before he could stop himself.

If she—succeeded, Voldemort might then kill the High Reeve. Making the world a better place by far.

She would have to be quick about it. Clever. If he were as good a legilimens as Snape claimed, the High Reeve would find the intention in her mind.

Perhaps it wouldn’t matter.

Someone so hate-filled—they were probably far quicker with their emotions than their reason. She could use that to her advantage and draw a noose around both their necks.

“Strip,” Umbridge said several days later.

Hermione wasn’t sure if it was the compulsion or merely the futility of resistance that caused her to obey automatically.

Probably both.

She, along with the rest of the women, unbuttoned her drab grey dress and pulled off her undergarments. They stood shivering in the cold room. There were seventy-two of them left. Twenty had been pulled by Healer Stroud out of concern they’d snap like the screaming girl had.

They all stood nude but for the shining copper bracelets on their wrists, folding in on themselves to hide their bodies from the leering appraisals of the guards.

“Dress in these.”

With a flick of her wrist Umbridge unfurled a large pile of clothing. Bright scarlet dresses and robes. Red as blood.

No undergarments.

Hermione was thin enough that she barely missed having a bra but the lack of underwear was keenly felt. Like a raw nerve.

“And these, for the winter chill,” Umbridge said, smirking, as she unfurled another pile of clothing. Wool thigh-high stockings.

Then Umbridge added a pile of white bonnets and scarlet, flat-soled shoes.

Hermione put everything on.

The bonnet was last. The wings of it blocked her peripheral vision almost entirely. Muffled her hearing.

She could only see straight ahead. If she wanted to look at anything to the left or right, she had to turn her head overtly.

It was all carefully crafted to engender vulnerability.

They could barely see, barely hear, couldn’t resist, couldn’t refuse, couldn’t escape.

Their well-being would rely entirely upon endearing themselves to whomever owned them.

So they would be pliant.

“If you leave the home you have been assigned to, you are required to wear these bonnets. You are not to be looked at,” Umbridge commanded.  “This is the end of my training for you. I cannot wait to see the children brought forth.”

Umbridge’s eyes were locked on Hermione’s face, the hatred in them so thick Hermione could almost feel it glazing on her skin. Umbridge smiled a cold, gleeful smile and then turned and left.

Someone brushed Hermione’s arm. Someone so close that even turning she couldn’t see who it was with the obscuring wings in the way.

“I’m so sorry,” Angelina’s voice whispered. Angelina's voice broke, like she was suppressing a sob. “You were right. We should have listened to you.”

Hermione opened her mouth to ask Angelina what she meant. Before she could get the question out, a hard hand closed around her arm. She found herself dragged away into a small room.

Healer Stroud sat behind a large desk piled high with paperwork. She had a file laid open before her that appeared to feature a calendar. The squares were filled with checks to mark off the days.

Hermione realised it was mid-November in 2004. She hadn’t realised the date until that moment.

“Miss Granger,” Healer Stroud said as she looked up, “I am quite pleased I was able to keep you in the program.”

Hermione said nothing. She stared woodenly at the woman before her.

“I realise that you did not choose this, but given the side you chose in the war, surely you’re pleased to have your magical abilities acknowledged.” Stroud studied Hermione, her eyes bright and her expression strangely warm. “There will be no more Sacred Twenty-Eight after this. Future generations will simply be magical. I’m certain you can see the advantage to it.”

Hermione stood there, marveling internally at the twisted logic the woman before her employed to clear her conscience.

It took her several seconds to realise that a reply was in order. Judging by Stroud’s expression, expected.

“You’re sending me off to be raped and you want me to see the advantage to it?” she finally said, arching her eyebrows up.

Healer Stroud’s eyes flashed briefly and grew cold.

“I am not responsible for all the decisions regarding security. It may surprise you to hear it, but I am quite invested in your health and happiness.”

“Even if I were sterile?”

Hermione looked down and studied the upside calendar, trying to read the numbers and ascertain the exact date. The bright white paper blurred in her vision and made her eyes ache.

Healer Stroud rolled her eyes and sighed. “Clearly there is no reasoning with you. You are still too emotional about everything. Perhaps someday, a witch with your intelligence will come to appreciate what I am trying to do.”

Hermione said nothing. She squinted and tried to read the calendar again. Her fingers twitched.

Healer Stroud dropped a file on top of the dates and stood up. Hermione looked up.

“The Dark Lord is eager for you to be under the supervision of someone capable of monitoring your memories. I had requested an extension, in order to see how the training affects you, but you’ll reach your window of fertility in a few days, and the Dark Lord wants you pregnant as soon as possible. I would have helped you prepare physically but—you don’t seem to want my help. The High Reeve is married. I’m sure he knows what to do and won’t mind training you to suit himself.”

Healer Stroud gave a cold, thin smile and Hermione flinched. Her stomach twisted painfully.

Healer Stroud reached into her drawer and pulled out a bag.

“This will take you to the High Reeve’s estate. They’re expecting you.”

She reached toward Hermione. Hermione skittered back.

She dropped her chin down and tried to breathe. She just needed a moment to brace herself. To prepare for what she was about to face—and what she was about to do.

”Put out your hand,” Healer Stroud said as she walked around the desk toward Hermione. Hermione’s heart was pounding painfully in her chest as she bit her lip and tried to swallow the dread rising up in her like a tide.

Helpless. Defenseless. Obedient.

You will be obedient.

Hermione’s hand began to raise itself. A coin fell onto her palm. Instantly she felt a tug behind her navel as she was whisked away.

Chapter Text

Hermione reappeared in a dark foyer. It was an immaculate, empty room. A black, lacquered, circular table sat in the center of the room. There was a large bouquet of white flowers on the table.

She turned slowly. She didn’t want to miss any details, but the stupid wings of the bonnet acted like blinders. She could only see straight ahead.

A large stairway lay to the right. Cold hallways led into darkness and further into the house. It was a manor, and an enormous one based on the width of the staircase.

“Hello, Mudblood.”

A cold voice made her freeze.

Slowly turning all the way around, she found Draco Malfoy.

He was older.

Her last memory of him was fifth year when he was on the Inquisitorial Squad. He had grown taller. He towered over her, and his face had lost every trace of boyishness. There was a dangerous, refined brutality in the way he held himself.

The way he looked at her...

His eyes were like a wolf’s; cold and feral.

The deadliness in him was palpable. As he looked down at her, she felt certain, he could lean forward and cut her throat while staring in her eyes. Then step back, only caring that she not get blood on his shoes.

He was the High Reeve.

Voldemort’s right hand. His executioner.

The number of her friends that he had murdered: Ginny, McGonagall, Moody, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Professor Sprout, Madam Pomfrey, Flitwick, Oliver Wood... the list went on and on. Aside from those who had been tortured to death immediately after the final battle—every person that she knew to be dead following the war—the High Reeve had killed them.

The girls had whispered to her during the first few nights. Telling her about the world of horror she had missed while locked under Hogwarts.

She hadn’t thought he could be someone she knew.

Someone so young.

Terror welled up inside her. She wasn’t sure what to do to handle the shock.

Before she could react—or even process the realisation—his eyes locked into hers, and he abruptly slammed his way into her mind.

The force almost made her black out.

His mental intrusion was like a blade, driving straight into her memories. He sliced through the fragile barrier that she tried to erect with the shreds of internal magic she could summon. He drilled into her blocked memories.

It was like having a nail driven into her head.

The precision and the unrelenting force.

He wouldn’t stop trying to break through. It felt almost worse than the cruciatus curse. It lasted longer than the torture curse could without driving the recipient insane.

When he finally stopped, she found herself lying on the ground. Malfoy was standing over her, staring down at her as she shuddered from the trauma of his intrusion.

“So, you really have forgotten everything,” he said as he appraised her. “What is it you think you’re protecting in that brain of yours? You lost the war.”

She couldn’t answer.

She had no answer.

“Oh well,” he said, straightening his robes slightly. “The Dark Lord was kind enough to send you to me. If ever you do recover your memories, I’ll be the first to know.”

He smirked down at her for a moment before his face grew cold and indifferent. Then he stepped over her body and walked out of the room.

Hermione dragged herself to her feet, shaking from the mental anguish and impotent rage she felt.

She hated him.

She had never hated Draco Malfoy before.

He had simply been an indoctrinated bully, a symptom of a disease which others were responsible for. Now—she hated him. For what he had become. For what he had done.

He owned her.

She was trapped under his heel, and he intended to grind her down until he had what he wanted.

She clenched her jaw as she forced herself to think past her sudden rage. Her plan remained the same. She had to find a way to escape or trick him into killing her.

He wasn’t what she expected. She had hoped that the High Reeve would be driven by emotions, and although the Malfoy she had known in school had been, now he seemed ice-cold.

Which, of course, she should have realised. Legilimency, occlumency; the key to them was control. The ability to compartmentalise one’s self behind walls.

It would take cunning to make him snap enough to make a mistake like killing her. Whatever she did, she wouldn’t be able to accomplish it immediately. She couldn’t rush it. She couldn’t be careless. She would have to stay there, wait, and endure what was to come until she found an opening.

The thought had her shuddering. Her throat felt tight as she swallowed and tried to think.

A click of heels on the wood floor drew her attention. A petite blonde witch swept into the room. She and Hermione stared at each other for several long moments.

“So, you’re it,” the witch said, elevating her nose with a sniff. “Take that stupid hat off and come along. We have to review the instructions all together before I can put you away where we’re to keep you.”

The blonde turned on her heel and marched back out of the room. Hermione followed slowly. The witch was familiar. A Greengrass, Hermione thought. Not Daphne, but maybe the younger sister.

Hermione couldn’t remember her name.

They arrived in a drawing room. Malfoy was already there, reclining in a spindly looking chair and looking bored.

Hermione pulled the bonnet off.

“So,” said the witch Hermione assumed must be Malfoy’s wife as she seated herself on one of the other spindly chairs. “Healer Stroud sent over a package of instructions. Who knew Mudbloods came with directions? So convenient, isn’t it?”

The sarcasm in the witch’s sharp little voice was brittle.

“Just read it, Astoria,” Malfoy said, glancing briefly toward the witch with a sneer.

Astoria. So that was the name of Malfoy’s wife.

“Let’s see. No cursing or torturing or physically abusing her. She’s to be kept fed. We can make her work, but no more than six hours a day. And she’s to spend at least an hour outside each day.”

Astoria laughed somewhat manically.

“It’s rather like keeping crups, isn’t it? Who knew? Ah yes. How delightful. We’ll get an owl every month on the five days you’re required to—perform, Draco. Healer Stroud has included a little personal note here, mentioning that due to the Dark Lord’s specific interest in the Malfoy Family and the Mudblood, she will be coming in person every month to see whether you’re successful.”

Astoria looked so nearly hysterical that Hermione was surprised she hadn’t started screaming and smashing a chair.

“Listen to this. I’m allowed to watch! You know, to make sure everything is entirely clinical between you and the Mudblood.”

Astoria turned shockingly pale. Her blue eyes looked almost deranged. Her hands were shaking, and she crumpled up the papers in her hands and smacked them down on the tea table.

“I will not,” she said, her voice razor-edged and vibrating. “If you object, you can drag me in front of the Dark Lord himself before you Avada me. I will not watch!”

She did scream the last bit.

“Do what you wish, just shut up!” Malfoy said, his tone vicious as he stood up and strode from the room.

Hermione stood frozen near the wall.

Astoria sat shaking in her chair for several minutes before she spoke to Hermione.

“My mother bred crups. Pretty little things,“ Astoria said. “Such fun to see it done now with wizards.”

Hermione said nothing. She just stood by the wall trying not to move. Willing her fingers not to spasm. I am pretending to be a tree, she thought faintly to herself.

Finally Astoria stood up.

“I’ll show you your room. You can do whatever you want, but I don’t want to see you. I understand that those bracelets you have keep you from any trouble.”

They went down a long hallway and then through a narrow, partly concealed door that led to a winding servant’s stairway. After ascending three floors, they re-entered into a larger, main hallway of the house. They were in a different wing. The windows were all heavily draped. It was cold and shrouded; the furniture all covered with white dust sheets.

“This wing is unoccupied,” Astoria said as though it weren’t obvious. “We have more servants than we need. Stay here and out of sight unless you’re called for. The portraits will keep an eye on you.”

Astoria pushed open a door. Hermione walked in. It was a large bedroom. A canopied bed sat in the center and a single wing-backed chair near the window. A large wardrobe sat against one wall. There was no rug. A portrait hung on the wall. No books.

Everything was cold and bare.

“If you need anything, call a house-elf,” Astoria said before pulling the door shut. Hermione listened to her retreating footsteps.

Being suddenly left unsupervised without being in a cell felt disorienting. The sudden change simultaneously thrilling and terrifying, as though she’d suddenly jumped  off a cliff.

She dropped her bonnet on the floor next to the door and walked over to a window. The cold, wintry countryside stretched out as far as she could see. As she took it in, she considered the situation.

Malfoy and Astoria clearly disliked each other.

It was hardly surprising. As if pure-blood arranged marriages weren’t already dysfunctional enough, having them arranged by Voldemort for the sole purpose of reproduction had to have smothered any potential spark. Especially after they failed to reproduce.

Astoria did not seem particularly afraid of Malfoy, so presumably he wasn’t so short-tempered as to be violent to her. She seemed largely resentful of and indifferent to him.

He did not appear to be an attentive husband by any stretch of the imagination. His regard for Astoria seemed to be along the lines of finding her to be a pest he was obliged to endure.

Whatever Astoria may feel about her husband or marriage, Hermione’s presence as a surrogate clearly stung. She seemed determined to ignore Hermione’s existence inasmuch as she possibly could.

Hermione had no objection. The fewer players she had to worry about, the better. If she had to worry about fending off or appeasing Astoria it would be an additional challenge. If Astoria were attentive to her husband, it would make escaping or finding a way to manipulate Malfoy far more challenging. If Astoria was primarily preoccupied by pretending Hermione didn’t exist, it was the easiest scenario. Hermione would keep out of sight, in the shadows, as much as she could. Until there was an opportunity to act.

The key would be to study Malfoy. Discover what drove him. What his vices were. What she could exploit in him.

He didn’t seem particularly interested in Hermione beyond finding out what she might be concealing in her lost memories. If that were the case, it was a relief. Perhaps he would also primarily choose to leave her alone. She was sure that if he wished to he could come up with any number of ways to torture her without risking her fertility.

Draco Malfoy was the High Reeve.

It was still shocking.

What had happened to him during the war to make him so ruthless?

The hatred required to successfully cast a Killing Curse was tremendous. To inflict instant death tore something out of you. Most dark wizards and witches could only manage it occasionally. That was part of why there were so many other curses used to kill. Sadism factored into it, but the truth was that no other curse was irreversible and unstoppable the way the Killing Curse was. The power necessary to utilise something so final was—well, there was really nothing to compare it to.

Voldemort’s ability to cast it repeatedly and unfailingly was part of the reason he inspired such terror.

The High Reeve’s reputation for using the curse was already equally legendary. It had vaulted him into the highest rank of the Death Eaters.

And it was Malfoy.

She would have to move carefully. The casualness with which the Malfoys had treated her arrival indicated utter assurance. Leaving her in the foyer. Showing her through the house. Putting her into an unoccupied wing. Hermione was certain there were no easy ways to escape. Until she could get the manacles off, Malfoy would always be able to find her, and she’d be incapable of fighting off him or anyone else.

She sighed, and her breath made a small circle of condensation on the cold glass of the windowpane.

Lifting a fingertip to the glass, she drew the rune thurisaz: for defense, introspection, and focus. Beside it she drew its reversal, its merkstave: for danger, defenselessness, malice, hatred, and spite.

What she needed. What she had.

She had to reverse her fortune.

She watched the runes fade away from the glass as the condensation evaporated back into the room.

None of the girls had heard any whispers about the Resistance still existing. Aside from Hermione, all of the Order members who survived the final battle were known to be dead. Their deaths publicly witnessed. Their corpses hung up to ensure there was no room for secret hopes. The Resistance had crumbled upon Harry’s death.

Voldemort appeared to have been careful about ensuring that the Order of the Phoenix had no spark with which to resurrect itself. As the war had dragged on over the years, he had grown more cautious and less certain about his infallibility than he had been during Hermione’s years in Hogwarts.

Voldemort was thorough.

That was troubling. If he had elevated Malfoy to High Reeve, it probably meant that Malfoy was also thorough. Not someone inclined to make mistakes or errors in judgment.

Maybe there was still a Resistance somewhere. The women at Hogwarts had only known what the guards told them. There might still be some factions working against Voldemort. If Hermione escaped, maybe she could find them and eventually give them whatever secret she was hiding.

Since she was in the High Reeve’s house, perhaps if she were clever she’d be able to glean useful information.

If she kept acting pliant and cooperative.

Broken.

If they thought she was truly broken, they might eventually become careless around her.

She would be waiting for it.

She was very good at waiting.

Chapter Text

Hermione explored the room she had been placed in. There was little to it that hadn’t immediately met the eye.

The wardrobe was filled with more of the same scarlet dresses and robes that she was currently wearing. They were in various weights, presumably for summer and winter weather. The drawers held more bonnets and woolen stockings. More flimsy red shoes.

Hermione pulled a pair out of the drawer and stared at them. The soles were thin, and they were fabric; they would wear through rapidly. If she wanted to run, she’d have to steal new clothes and shoes.

The portrait on the wall was of a young witch. Pretty and blonde. Undoubtedly one of Malfoy’s ancestors. She had the same sharp features and disdainful expression. The witch couldn’t have been more than just graduated from Hogwarts when she was painted. She stared indifferently at Hermione, seated casually in a high backed chair, a book beside her.

Eventually Hermione turned away and surveyed the rest of the room. There was a door designed to blend into the wall across the room. She went over and opened it.

A bathroom, primarily occupied by a large claw-foot tub. No shower. Nothing but the most essential objects were provided: soap, towels, a toothbrush, a small cup for water.

Hermione walked over and washed her hands. As she withdrew them, she pretended to accidentally knock the cup off the counter. It hit the ground with a loud, sharp sound but failed to break or even crack.

There was a protection charm on it.

Malfoy was thorough.

She picked it up and rinsed it before replacing it. As she turned, she found that there was a portrait in the bathroom as well. The same young witch stood studying Hermione with a knowing look.

Hermione feigned innocence and walked back into the bedroom.

Within an hour, there was nothing left to possibly inspect in her room. Not that Hermione expected she could find anything or get into much trouble with the piercing supervision of the portrait on the wall. The witch had been apparently ordered to watch Hermione like a hawk.

Hermione went to the door of the bedroom, and, after a moment’s hesitation, she turned the knob and walked into the hallway.

Her heart immediately began pounding.

The sense of terror and freedom that she experienced by merely walking into another room by herself was staggering. As she pulled the door shut behind herself, she leaned against the door and tried to take a slow breath.

Her fingers twitched around the doorknob as she glanced around and tried to compose herself.

The long hallway that vanished into darkness felt so—open.

She swallowed nervously. She had assumed some effects of her long imprisonment would continue to haunt her. Actually experiencing it was more than unsettling. It was horrifying.

Her attempts to breathe and calm down were failing. Her chest stuttered in tiny, rapid inhalations.

The only sound in the cold, dark wing of the manor.

She bit her lip. Her mind—she had always been able to trust her mind. Even her locked memories felt like a defense mechanism. Finding herself panicking and hyperventilating because she had walked into a hallway of her own volition—

This was a betrayal.

She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to breathe evenly. Tried to pull her hand free from the doorknob she was clutching desperately, as though she would drown if she let go of it.

Her ability to reason and tell herself she was alright was insufficient persuasion to her mind and body.

She tried to make herself take a step away from the door, but her legs refused to cooperate.

The terror coursing through her body had her frozen.

It was a hallway. Just a hallway, she told herself. She was allowed to be there. There were no commands holding her back—

There were no commands holding her back...

...just herself.

After standing there for several minutes, trying and failing to force herself to move, she abruptly sobbed and huddled closer to the door.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had cried. Long ago in her cell.

As she stood there shaking and hyperventilating in the hallway of that empty wing of the manor, she cried. Over everyone who was dead now. For everyone Malfoy had killed. For all the girls back at Hogwarts being sent out into a world of horror. Out of rage over the manacles locked around her wrists, and the manacles she found she had somehow locked around her own mind.

She went back into her room, closed the door, sank onto the floor and kept crying.

It took her a full day before she could force herself into the hallway again.

She was determined to make herself overcome the panic. The next morning, she opened the door wide, crouched on the bed, and made herself stare at the hallway until her heart stopped pounding painfully in her chest from the mere sight.

She would lose all chance of escape if she couldn’t even walk out of her room without having a mental breakdown.

She sat in bed and ate the breakfast that appeared while she contemplated the problem.

It had manifested when she was alone. She wasn’t sure if it was because the manacles’ compulsion to be obedient had previously distracted her from it or if it were an insidious form of mental trauma; that being imprisoned for so long had damaged her to the point that being controlled by others was the only way she knew how to function now.

She hoped it was simply the manacles, but she feared it was the latter. Imprisonment had eaten away at her psyche in ways she felt afraid of fully realising.

She steeled herself. She was determined to overcome it. Whatever it took.

When her dinner appeared that evening, she made herself eat it while sitting by the open door. Her hands shook so much she dropped half the food from the fork. By the time she finished eating, the trembling in them had eased enough that she could drink water without spilling it down her front.

She stared down the hallway. She stared at all the shrouded furniture and the many portraits of cold faced, pale, aristocrats.

She tried to remember what she knew of Malfoy.

How had he managed to climb so high in Voldemort’s ranks at such a young age?

He—had been involved in Dumbledore’s death at the beginning of sixth year. The circumstances of that had never been entirely clear. She remembered being awakened abruptly by the castle’s screaming wards during the aftermath. Minerva McGonagall and the rest of the professors had been pale with shock and horror as they frantically tried to discover what had happened. Malfoy vanished in the chaos.

It was the first and last major event of the war that Hermione associated specifically with Malfoy. After that he disappeared into Voldemort’s ranks. Another faceless Death Eater.

His mother had died several years into the war. Hermione remembered hearing about Narcissa Malfoy’s death in Lestrange Manor. It had happened during a rescue mission. Harry and Ron had been caught by Snatchers. When the Order went to rescue them, a Death Eater lost control of a fiendfyre curse and burned down the manor with Narcissa and Bellatrix inside it.

Narcissa’s death had driven Lucius Malfoy insane. He had slid easily into Bellatrix’s vacated shoes of madness. He’d placed the blame for Narcissa’s death squarely on Ron and Harry and devoted himself to avenging her by hunting down the Weasleys. Arthur Weasley’s brain damage and the near death of George during the war had both been caused by Lucius. He became a loose cannon within Voldemort’s ranks. He’d been too useful and deadly for his insubordination to get him killed, but he’d constantly danced on the line.

It had occurred to Hermione that Lucius might be the High Reeve, given how vicious, hate-filled, and quick to murder he was. Since he wasn’t, Hermione wondered if he was still alive. Perhaps following the war he had finally overstepped and gotten himself killed. Hermione hoped so. The way Lucius had laughed while Ron died screaming in agony—Hermione would never banish the memory.

But Malfoy…

She didn’t think he’d been treated as particularly important or considered a significant Death Eater during the Order meetings she recalled. Whatever he’d done to claw his way to the very top must have occurred toward the end of the war. Perhaps he had been involved with whatever caused the Order’s plans during the final battle to fall apart.

Because she’d been a healer, Hermione hadn’t been there for the entire battle. Something in their strategy had gone wrong. There had been far more Death Eaters than the Order had anticipated. Voldemort had cast a killing curse and Harry had fallen. Then he had commanded Lucius to confirm Harry was dead.

Harry hadn’t been dead.

So Voldemort cast another killing curse, and another, and another, and another. After half a dozen killing curses, Voldemort had gone and confirmed for himself that Harry was dead. For insurance, he had Harry’s body dragged up into the air and hung from the Astronomy Tower. Everyone watched as Voldemort cursed Harry’s body with a fast acting necrosis curse and the entire thing rotted away before their eyes.

Harry’s blank green eyes—Hermione saw them every time she closed her own. The expression on his face; the realisation he had failed had been written into it in death.

Hermione shook as she thought about it.

Her best friends had died before her eyes. By some extra cruel twist of fate she hadn’t been allowed to follow them.

They had left her behind.

She squared her shoulders and forced herself to step into the hallway. She had faced all manner of horror. She wasn’t going to be defeated by her own fractured psyche and a hallway.

One step.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Her breathing grew fainter, and she clenched her hands into fists until she could feel her nails sinking into the skin.

Five.

Six.

Seven.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

She froze and looked down. One of her hands was dripping blood into a trail on the floor.

It was the same shade as her dress.

She stared down at it until a puddle the size of a knut gradually collected by her feet.

Then she continued down the hall. She counted the dripping sounds instead of her footsteps until she reached the end.

She had no destination in mind, so she turned around and started back, trying the knobs of doors along the way. Some were locked. Others weren’t. She peeked into more empty bedrooms filled with shrouded furniture. She would return and explore them all carefully later. Perhaps something that might prove useful would be found in them.

She was shaking as she re-entered her room. Feeling drained, she immediately crawled into bed.

As she fell asleep, she dreamed of Ginny.

Ginny—from near the end of the war, with hair cut above her shoulders and a long cruel scar down one side of her face. She was huddled next to a bed and looked up sharply at Hermione as though startled.

Ginny’s expression was twisted in anguish, covered in tears. She was sobbing uncontrollably.

“Ginny,” Hermione heard herself say. “Ginny, what’s wrong? What happened?”

As Ginny opened her mouth to answer, the dream faded away.

When Hermione woke the next morning, she knew she must have been dreaming. What had she been dreaming about? She couldn't remember. Something—something sad. She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes and tried to remember it.

She couldn’t bring herself to go near the door that day. She huddled by the window and looked out at the misty gardens that lay outside. There was a hedge maze to one side. She traced her way through it with her eyes.

She studied all the grounds of the estate that she could see. Trying to take note of anything that could be useful. Where would she go if she were trying to hide? If she were trying to escape?

The day passed slowly.

Having a sense of time once again was vaguely unsettling. The steady ticking of the clock constantly caught her attention. A continuous grating sound. If she let herself listen to it for long, it made her fingers begin to spasm with each click of the gears.

She found that her mind had a tendency toward wandering and losing itself. She would interrupt herself from some odd thought and realise hours had passed.  

As the day drew to a close, she stared at the door.

She should make herself go out again. She hadn’t even seen Malfoy since she’d arrived. She had intended to try to watch him. Study him. Arm herself with some kind of understanding of him.

All those plans had faded away during the last two days.

She stood up and moved slowly towards the door. As she was wrapping her fingers around the knob, there was a sudden pop behind her. Starting, she turned sharply and found a house-elf standing behind her.

“You is to get ready for tonight, mistress is sayin,” the elf said, averting its eyes and then popping away.

Hermione felt as though her heart were in her throat. Her hands started trembling.

She considered for a moment not readying herself.

Undoubtedly, if she did, Malfoy would appear and force her to. Who knew what else he might do to her if she provoked him. The compulsions in her mind stirred...

Obedient.

Not to resist.

Her brain automatically began cataloguing the things she had been instructed to do.

She wasn’t sure if the compulsion made her rationalise obeying or if obeying actually was the rational choice.

She went into the bathroom and turned on the tap in the bath. The scalding water poured out and she watched the tub slowly fill.

She wondered if she could somehow drown herself before Malfoy could get there. As Lord of the manor, he could probably apparate anywhere. She shuddered at the thought of having him drag her, naked, out of the water by her hair.  

She pulled off her robes and sank into the water, hissing but relishing the pain. She hardly felt anything nowadays. Apparently the manacles didn’t restrict her from heat.

That was a useful piece of information to file away.

After she had washed, she dried herself with a lavish, oversized bath towel. Then she pulled on a fresh set of robes. The long, scarlet, buttoned dress, and then the open scarlet robe. Then she pulled on the stockings. She hated them so much. If it weren’t freezing inside the manor, she would never have worn them. Aside from the dreadful red colour, she could almost pretend the robes were just clothing, but the horrid, crotchless-ness left her feeling constantly exposed.

She would only get knickers if she was bleeding or pregnant. Otherwise, she was to remain—accessible.

When she was dressed, she stood uncertainly in the middle of her room. She wasn’t sure where she was supposed to go. What she was supposed to do.

The door abruptly swung open, and Astoria appeared, looking white as a sheet.

“Good, you’re ready. I was afraid I’d have to send Draco to drag you,” Astoria said as she glanced up and down Hermione with a critical expression. “I’ll show you where to go tonight. After this, I shall be elsewhere. I’ll expect you to prepare and go there every designated night without issue. I was realising… you really don’t need all the body parts you have just in order to reproduce. So if you’re thinking of causing problems—keep that in mind.”

A chill ran down Hermione’s spine, and she nodded.

Astoria swept from the room, leading Hermione through the house, out into the foyer, and then up the large staircase and down a second floor hallway. The portraits muttered as they passed.

“Whore.”

Hermione heard it murmured more than once.

Astoria stopped at the seventh door.

“Go in and wait. Draco will come when he chooses, but you’re to be in there at eight o’clock sharp.”

Without pausing further, Astoria continued down the hallway and disappeared into the darkness.

Hermione’s hands were trembling as she grasped the door knob and tried to open it. It wouldn’t turn at first, and she had to take several deep breaths to calm herself and make her hands stop shaking enough to grasp and turn it.

Stepping into the room, she took in every detail she could.

It felt sterile.

She had assumed her room was bare and cold out of indifference, but perhaps it was simply the way Malfoy was. There was a large bed, towering wardrobe, a desk and a chair.

Hermione would have imagined Malfoy as having a more luxurious room. All green and silver with expensive sheets and throw pillows covered with too many tassels.

The room before her could have belonged to a monk.

It was functional. That was really all that could be said about it. No wonder Malfoy was so cold.

She shied away from the bed and went over to the chair by the desk. Sitting down, she looked over the contents of the desk’s surface. Blank parchment and quills. She held her hand out hesitantly toward the quills, wondering if she was able to touch them.

As her fingers got close, she felt a faint burning sensation and pulled her hand back.

Her stomach was twisting itself with dread, and she tried to distract herself by reciting arithmancy formulas while she sat there.

She was used to waiting endlessly. What was an hour after sixteen months of sensory deprivation? She just needed to stop thinking about what was about to happen next. Her stomach felt so twisted she thought she might be sick.

Suddenly, the door clicked. She stood and turned sharply in time to see Malfoy stride in. His hand was up at his throat, pulling his collar loose. He clearly had not expected to find her there. He stopped abruptly and stared at her, actually seeming to pale slightly before pressing his lips together into a hard line.

“Mudblood,” he said, after a moment. “Today is the day, I see.”

Chapter Text

Hermione didn’t say anything. She just looked at him.

She was relieved she wasn’t trembling.

She forced herself to meet his gaze, reminding herself she just had to endure for a little while—just until she could formulate a plan.

She could endure it. She would.

She was uncertain of what she was supposed to do. Was he expecting her to go lie down on his bed?

He strode past her to the wardrobe and after laying his hand against the door for a moment, jerked it open.

Perhaps Malfoy was not entirely monk-like. The wardrobe had almost an entire room within it. The door held a full bar, and Malfoy snatched a bottle of firewhiskey off a shelf and pulled the cork out with his teeth. Spitting the cork onto the floor, he raised the bottle to his lips and stared at her.

Hermione just waited.

After a minute, he drew his wand and with a quick movement conjured a table in the middle of the floor. Hermione stared at it, completely at a loss. She looked over to Malfoy.

He sneered at her.

“Bend over,” he said in a low, taunting voice, gesturing toward it.

Hermione hadn’t thought she could feel any more revulsed by him, but apparently she could. She bit down on the inside of her lip until she felt the skin give away and blood flood over her tongue as she felt her feet begin to obey automatically.

She walked slowly over and after hesitating for a moment, leaned across the table.

The wood bit into her hip bones. She rested her hands against the edges and gripped them until her knuckles cracked from the force. She fought to keep from trembling. Her whole body felt on edge from the intensity of her vulnerability. Her ears were straining to detect any sound.

There was a pause. Then she heard Malfoy approach her slowly.

He stopped directly behind her and there was another silence. She could feel his eyes on her.

The air shifted.

“Are you still a virgin, Mudblood? Is that something you even remember?”

She flinched as she realised she didn’t know.

He stepped closer. “I’m sure Weasley or Potter climbed up there at some point.” She could hear the mockery in his tone.

His hand rested briefly on the small of her back as he pulled her skirts up to her waist. She felt the cold air of his room against her skin. She was shaking so hard the table was rattling.

“Well, I suppose we’ll know soon enough,” he said and then commanded, “Move your feet wider.”

She forced herself to shift.

She felt his fingers on her and jerked away slightly.

He muttered under his breath and she felt something warm and liquid inside her. A lubrication charm. She started so abruptly the table legs shrieked as they dragged across the wood floor.

“We can’t have any damage or infections impairing your—usefulness,” he explained in a derisive tone.

She heard his belt click and then, without warning, he impaled her with himself.

She tried to bite back the sob that forced its way up her throat but the abrupt invasion caught her off guard. At her cry, he froze, just for a moment, before he started moving again. Aside from where they were joined, he didn’t touch her. His right hand gripped the table near where her face was turned. She could see a black ring on his hand, glittering faintly.

When he came, his movement grew uneven and rougher, and then he stilled suddenly with a quiet hiss.

He stayed there for only a second before jerking away from her and striding back over to the bar.

“Get out.” His tone was sharp.

Hermione shook.

“I can’t.” She tried not to sob as she said it, but her voice trembled. “I’m not allowed to move for ten minutes after.”

He snarled with rage. Suddenly the table beneath her vanished, and she plummeted to the floor, hitting her forehead sharply on the ground.

“GET OUT!”

The room shook.

Pushing herself up, she fled. Stumbling dazedly through the hallway. Trying to remember the way back.

Her chest was stuttering as she tried not to hyperventilate. She couldn’t see clearly. She reached up to find that her forehead had split where she’d hit it. Blood was streaming down into her eyes.

She stood at the top of the stairs. Trying to remember the way back. Blood was filling her eyes. She could feel fluid seeping out from between her legs and trickling down her thighs. She was shaking. Trying to remember where her room was.

If she stayed there—Astoria would find her and gouge her eyes out, or chop off her fingers, or pull her teeth out.

She stumbled and almost fell down the stairs.

She was drawing short, rapid breaths as she tried to keep from sobbing aloud.

She couldn’t understand—she’d survived the war. She’d watched her friends die in front of her. She’d stayed sane, alone in a dark cell for over a year. But—being forced to be complicit in her own rape. She couldn’t bear it. Not while knowing she’d be expected to do it again the next day. And the next. And the day after that.

She stared dizzily down at the foyer.

If she just threw herself over the balcony Malfoy couldn’t stop her.

She’d be done.

She leaned over and looked down at the table in the foyer. Just a little further—

A vise-like grip closed itself around her arm and wrenched her away.

She turned and found Malfoy glaring at her, enraged.

“Don’t—you—dare.” He snarled the words. His face white with fury.

“Please, Malfoy—“ She was sobbing. “Please—“

He dragged her down the stairs and through the house as she cried. He practically kicked the door of her room in as he dragged her into it and shoved her onto the bed.

“Evanesco!” he snapped, pointing his wand at her face, and suddenly the blood in her eyes vanished. He followed it with a healing charm and just stood there staring at her with unveiled fury.

“Do you really think I won’t know when you try to kill yourself, Mudblood?” he finally asked after she stopped sobbing.

“Just let me,” she said. Her voice was wooden, her chest kept stuttering, “I’m sure they’ll give you a new Mudblood to breed. You hate me too, Malfoy. Do you really want me to be the mother of your children? To see my face in them? I’m sure you can come up with a compelling excuse for killing me.”

Malfoy gave a barking laugh.

“If it were only so easy, I’d kill you now. For the first time in your life, you appear to have underestimated your value. The Dark Lord is quite anxious to see what kind of offspring we’ll produce. Once you’ve birthed a few heirs for me, he intends to send you on and see what kind you’ll make with some of the other old wizarding families. You little broodmares are quite the commodity. The Dark Lord has a whole breeding program planned—spanning several generations.”

Hermione stared in horror.

He moved closer, his expression menacing. “Let’s not forget about those memories of yours. The fact that there was something you considered worth hiding even after losing the war is a cause for concern. Until I know why, you will not die. However, how much freedom you have in this house—and how often I have to supervise you in order to assure it—your little suicide contemplations will decide that.”

Hermione sat there frozen. Somehow she’d assumed that Malfoy would be the end for her. That he’d force a child from her, and then she’d be disposed of. It hadn’t occurred to her that she was intended to go on from one wizarding family after another until her body gave out.

Malfoy glanced around her room and then back to her. His face was tense, and his eyes steely.

“Well,” he said, sighing, “I hadn’t intended to do this immediately after fucking you the first time—but I am already here and with no further plans for the evening. There really is no time like the present. Let’s see exactly what is going on in that little Mudblood mind of yours. How many other ideas do you have?”

Before she could cringe away, he used his wand tip to force her chin up, and his cold, grey eyes sank into her consciousness.

He didn’t bother with her locked memories. He went to directly after the war, to her imprisonment, and moved forward from there.

Hermione didn’t struggle. If she tried to push him out, it would just hurt more, and he would still force his way through. She collapsed onto the bed as the weight of his mind bore into hers.

Her fingers twitched involuntary, but she was otherwise still.

He slipped quickly through all the long, silent, isolated months and then moved slowly once she was dragged out of the cell, tortured, petrified, and then re-tortured by not being stunned when mobilised again. He took note of her conversation with Hannah and the mind healer’s description of Hermione’s condition. He observed the techniques Voldemort and Snape had used to try to break into her locked memories. He was particularly interested in her scheming to kill herself or escape. She could feel his condescending amusement at who she had theorised the High Reeve could be; how she had wondered if she could take advantage of him and get him killed.

Hermione couldn’t find a way to wrench the thoughts away from him or conceal them. Every time she was able to gather more than a shred of magic, she felt the copper of the manacles key in and snatch it away.

He paid careful attention to the manacles. The compulsions that had been laid. The screaming girl who snapped and nearly bludgeoned someone to death. To Hermione’s arrival at the manor and reaction upon seeing him. To her theories regarding himself and Astoria. Then her careful exploration of her room and panic attacks when she tried to step into the hallway.

It took hours.

He pored over every detail. All the twists, doubts, questions and theories in her mind. Finally, when he reached her memory of Astoria sweeping into the bedroom to retrieve her that evening, he withdrew. He was apparently disinterested by the notion of witnessing her perspective of being raped by him.

Hermione felt as though her skull had been crushed. She barely even twitched as he stood staring down at her.

“So many schemes,” he said as he straightened and tilted his head back, appraising her with cold, mocking eyes. “Then again, I’d feel disappointed if you weren’t entertaining at least one plot to try to kill me and escape. I can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with next.”

He leaned over the bed until his cruel face was only a breath away from hers. “Do you really think you can trick me into killing you?”

Hermione dragged her eyes away from his face and stared up at the canopy.

“Do feel free to try,” he said with a smirk, “just as soon as you can bring yourself to walk through that door by yourself."

Then he straightened again, and all the humour vanished from his face.

“Stay out of my room. I don’t want to find you in there again. I’ll come do it here.”

He sneered at her. “I’ll have a table sent, so you’ll know when to expect me.”

He turned on his heel and strode out without another word.

Hermione didn’t move.

Not when the door clicked shut.

Not as the hands on the clock ticked unrelentingly on and on, indicating that it was past three in the morning.

Not when she became conscious of the crusting sensation on her thighs, the faint rawness between her legs, and the unfamiliar ache in her lower abdomen.  

She just lay there.

Once upon a time… there had been a girl who fought. Who believed that books and cleverness and friendship and bravery could overcome all things.

But now—

—that girl was gone.

She’d been all but killed during the war.

Now—Draco Malfoy had stomped that girl to dust over the course of an evening.

He’d physically and mentally raped every last shred of that girl to death.

Hermione lay and stared up at the canopy of the bed.

She hadn’t laid much store in her plans. She’d known her odds were impossibly small. Now—Malfoy’s mockery had sealed the sense of defeat that she felt.

She didn’t move.

When morning came, she didn’t wake. It was late in the afternoon before she finally dragged herself from the bed and into a bath.

Malfoy had barely touched her, but she scrubbed every inch of herself in an attempt to excise any trace of him.

In the process, she discovered a thin raised scar on her rib cage that she couldn’t remember getting, as well as faint clusters of scars mottling her left wrist and upper chest.

She inspected them all carefully but drew a complete blank as to how or when she had received them. She didn’t think she’d been injured much during the final battle. She hadn’t been in any raids or skirmishes for several years prior to the war ending.

As she examined her wrist again, she reviewed in her mind all the curses she knew of that might cause such scarring. It was such a long list. Voldemort had created a division in his army specifically devoted to developing new curses. Hermione couldn’t remember a battle that hadn’t had multiple casualties simply because she couldn’t identify all the new curses fast enough to counteract them.

The water grew cold around her, but she didn’t leave until she started shivering. When she went back into the bedroom, she found that lunch had been left for her. She picked listlessly at it.

She went to the door and stood trembling in front of it for several minutes before turning away.

She stared at the cold, misty Wiltshire landscape outside her window. Pressing her forehead against the glass, she relished the sharp, icy pain that sank into her skin. She wished it would sink in far enough to numb her mentally.

She didn’t know what to do but make more futile plans.

There was nothing else to do. No books to read. Nothing to occupy her mind but all those spells, and arithmancy problems, and potion recipes that she had already recited to herself a thousand times.

She hadn’t realised the comforting oblivion that came from not seeing and barely hearing in a timeless nowhere. Standing out in the real world again was a keener sense of despair than even her eventual acceptance of her cell. Realising how reduced she’d become. How powerless she was to fight her circumstances. Finding that no book she’d studied nor spell she’d learned offered any solutions for her circumstances...

She didn’t know how to rise above it.

She didn’t even know how to get through it.

She just wanted to die.

Even that felt utterly unattainable.

The table appeared in her room at precisely 7:30 that evening.

She’d bathed only a few hours before, so she just stared at it. Bracing herself. Considering.

It was at least—impersonal.

As humiliating and horrifying as it was. At least she didn’t have to look at Malfoy when he did it. Didn’t have to touch him.

She didn’t want to see him.

A minute before eight o’clock, she went over and leaned across the table. She set her feet wide and turned her face so she could watch the clock.

When the door clicked she didn’t move.

Malfoy didn’t say a word. He walked over and paused behind her.

Hermione’s hands began trembling, but she refused to let herself move. She wouldn’t look at him.

She squeezed her eyes shut and began to recite healing spells; the longest, most complex ones she knew. Rehearsing the wand movement in her mind.

Her skirts were pulled up, and she felt the trembling in her hands spread throughout the rest of her body.

She heard the muttered charm. Warmth and liquid.

She gritted her teeth as she felt prodding between her legs.

When he sank inside her, she shook but didn’t cry.

When he started to move, she cast her mind for something—something new. Something she hadn’t already thought to death.

The lines of a poem slowly came to her.

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro”

The continuous sensation of movement inside her dragged her attention back into reality. She ground her teeth and fought for the next lines. She started over.

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading - treading - till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through -”

The pace of movement shifted, and she desperately scrabbled to recall what words came next.

“....that Sense was breaking though -

And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum -

Kept beating - beating - till I thought

My mind was going numb -”

Malfoy abruptly came as she tried to remember the following line. He pulled away sharply.

Hermione didn’t move.

A moment later, she heard the door click once more.

Hermione tried to remember the third verse of the poem, but it floated beyond her memory’s reach.

She thought—she remembered an armchair and a book of poetry. Comforting arms wrapped around a child Hermione, and a woman’s hands flicking to a page. A voice she couldn’t remember any longer…

Her mother—

She thought it might have been her mother who taught her the poem.

She opened her eyes and stared up at the clock.

Chapter Text

The following three days passed in much the same manner. The table appeared promptly at seven thirty each evening. Hermione went and leaned over it a few minutes before eight o’clock. Malfoy entered—performed—and then left without a word.

Hermione recited poetry to herself and tried to take her mind as far away as she possibly could. Anything to not think about what was happening to her body.

She wasn’t there. She was lying across a table because she was tired. She traced her fingers across the subtle grain of the wood. Perhaps it was oak. Or walnut.

As soon as she was permitted to leave the table, she would climb into bed and pray for sleep to come. She wasn’t allow to wash until the following morning, and she didn’t want to feel the fluid between her legs.

She tried not to think about it. Not while it happened. Not afterward. Not the next morning. She just—tried not to even think about it.

There was nothing she could do.

She tried to shove it away into a corner of her mind. Take her mind as far from her body as she could and stay there.

When she woke the morning after the fifth day, she wanted to weep, she was so relieved it was—at least temporarily—over. The dead sensation of horror that resided in her stomach felt faintly eased.

She got up and bathed. Scrubbing every inch of herself ritualistically. Then she stood with resolution before the bedroom door.

She was going to go out. She was going to get out of her room and explore at least...four. Four of the other rooms along the hall.

She was determined. She was going to examine every inch, and see if she could find any potential weapon by which to kill Malfoy.

She had envisioned his death in a multitude of creative ways during the last several days. Carried herself through with the fervent desire to watch the light fade from his eyes. She would give anything to drive a blade into his cold heart.

She was willing to settle for strangling or poisoning him.

Aside from Voldemort and Antonin Dolohov, there was no one else’s death which Hermione now wished for so fervently.

Dolohov had been the lead developer in the Voldemort’s curse division. The most horrific curses that had emerged over the course of the war were attributable to him. Hermione wondered if he were alive, still inventing new methods with which to kill people with agonising slowness.

Now, Dolohov and Malfoy were nearly tied. Hermione wasn’t sure which of them she wanted dead more. Probably still Dolohov, she supposed. Even if the body count were equal, at least Malfoy wasn’t such a sadist.

She pulled the door open and stepped out. She didn’t pause to close it behind her. She didn’t give herself time to freeze. She rushed down the hall into the nearest room.

When the door was shut, she dropped her head against the frame and forced herself to breathe.  Slow deep breaths. Air all the way down into the bottom of her lungs and then slowly out to a count of eight.

Her shoulders were shaking, and her fingers twitching. She turned resolutely to examine the room. It was almost identical to hers but with two chairs and a chaise.

She turned around, taking in all the general details. As she did, she nearly cursed when she caught sight of a painting on the wall. It was a Dutch still-life. A table of flowers and fruit. Beside the table was standing the witch from the portrait in Hermione’s room. She was watching Hermione with a faintly challenging expression.

Hermione wanted to throw something at the painting, but she curled her fingers into fists and forced herself not to react. She walked slowly around the room. Peeking into the wardrobe. Under the bed. Into the bathroom.

She slipped behind the heavy winter drapes and looked out over another section of the hedge maze.

She checked every floorboard, but none of them so much as squeaked.

Of course it wouldn’t be easy.

She took a deep breath and forced herself to walk slowly into the next room.

It was almost exactly the same. The portrait followed and kept watch by sitting down to an impressionist style picnic laid out beside a river. Daintily nibbling cheese while she studied Hermione.

The third room was the most heartening. Not that it actually contained anything even remotely useful, but the bathroom contained a shower. Hermione’s heart leapt slightly. She was dying to shower.

Washing her hair in a bathtub was just one of the innumerable things she hated about her life. When she’d awoken in the Hogwarts infirmary after passing out, her hair and body had been scourgified to remove the months of grime. She couldn’t remember when she’d last washed her hair properly.

She went on to the next room. She kept going. Her panic attacks seemed slightly under control when she focused on moving from room to room. Making herself count slowly to four with each inhaled and exhaled breath.

It was primarily the hallway that bothered her. The vast, open, unknown...

Individual rooms were contained. Manageable.

She made her way through all the unlocked rooms in the hallway. The closest thing to useful that she found in any of them was a fireplace poker—which she couldn’t touch.

She made her way back to her room and curled up in the chair by the window.

She felt at a loss. What was she supposed to do?

She closed her eyes.

Her insides shriveled slightly. She needed to get close to Malfoy.

He was the closest thing to a key that she had. As long as he remained a mystery, she would have no way of predicting which ways he was and was not careful.

He appeared meticulous. Everything was unbreakable. A portrait in every room and bathroom. But no one was perfect. Everyone has some weakness, and she would find Malfoy’s and use it to end him.

It would, of course, be a game of cat and mouse.

Any weaknesses she discovered, he would find quickly in her mind. If she didn’t know anything about him and just tried to be unpredictable, he would still find it in her mind. The trick would be getting to know him well enough that she could move faster than he could stop her.

The thought of being anywhere near him was terrifying.

She hissed faintly through her teeth and curled into a tighter ball. Just the thought of being in sight of Malfoy made a needle-like sensation of terror slide down her spine and coil in her lower back.

She buried her face in the chair.

She would do it.

She would.

Just—not yet.

She needed a few more days to get her bearings. To separate from the last five days she’d just endured.

Maybe the day after tomorrow.

Malfoy did not give her time to separate or find her bearings. He walked into her room when she was finishing lunch the next day, and she was so horrified she nearly screamed.

He just stood, staring at her for several seconds, while she clutched the back of her chair and tried to keep from cowering.

Why was he there? What did he want? Was he going to rape her again?

Her fingers twitched and spasmed as she tried to steady herself.

His cold, pale eyes slid over her as though he were taking note of every detail about her. Something flickered in them when he noticed her hands spasming. It vanished quickly into unwavering, attentive coldness.

Like a viper, the instant before it struck.

“You haven’t been following instructions,” he said after studying her for a minute.

Hermione stared at him, at a loss.

Was she not supposed to go into other rooms? No one had told her she couldn’t. He’d said she was allowed to go out of her room. She realised as her stomach knotted itself—it had probably been a trick. To give him an opportunity to punish her.

She felt as though there was something lodged in her throat as she tried to swallow her terror and guess what he’d do.

“You’re supposed to go outside for an hour everyday,” he said in clarification, his lips twisted faintly. “Seeing as you barely leave your room, that set of instructions has apparently been ignored by you. I will not have your mental instability interfere with my ability to obey my Master.”

He gestured sharply toward the door and then paused and looked her over again.

“Do you have a cloak?”

Hermione shook her head faintly. He grimaced and rolled his eyes.

“I imagine letting you develop frostbite would qualify as neglect and torture,” he said with a sigh. He withdrew his wand and, with a flick, conjured a heavy, deep red cloak which he flung at her.

“Come!” He stalked from her room and down the hallway.

She followed him automatically as he led her down the main stairs of the wing and out onto a large marble veranda.

Hermione gasped as she stepped outside and felt the icy breeze on her face. She bit her lip and tried to steady herself as she stood in the doorway.

He turned sharply.

“What?” he asked, his steely eyes narrowed.

“I—haven’t been outside since the day Harry died,” she said in a voice that cracked faintly. “I forgot—what wind feels like.”

He stared at her for several seconds before he snorted and turned away.

“One hour. Go,” he said, conjuring a chair and pulling a newspaper out of thin air.

Hermione’s eyes immediately locked onto the headlines she could make out. She was so starved for information it drew her attention more sharply than the abrupt sensation of being outdoors.

Repopulation Efforts Underway! Screamed the words at the top.

She felt something twist inside her, and she pressed her lips together and looked away. Malfoy noticed her glance.

“Care to see?” he asked in a slow drawl that made her skin prickle. She heard the snap of the paper unfolding and glanced over to find a picture of herself, unconscious in a hospital bed, on the cover of the The Daily Prophet.

She stared in horror.

“Potter’s Mudblood is among the first surrogates chosen by the Dark Lord to increase the magical population,” was the summary included below the headline.

Malfoy glanced at it with a smirk.

“Look, I’m included too.” His mouth twisted into a thin, malicious smile and his eyes glittered as he pointed to a picture of himself further down in the column. “In case anyone in the whole world wants to know exactly who is fucking you and where you are.”

Hermione felt like she might vomit into the potted blue spruce by the door.

“I thought it was a rather obvious trap,” Malfoy added with a sigh, looking away from her and leaning back into his chair. He pulled  the paper open with a bored expression. “Then again, your Resistance was never known for its intelligence. Something more subtle would probably elude them. The Dark Lord is quite hopeful that if there’s still anyone left, they’ll feel morally obligated to come haring in to save you the way Potter always liked to.”

Oh god...

The whole world knew that Voldemort had turned her into Malfoy’s sex slave for the repopulation program. She was being used as bait.

Hermione staggered back, feeling faint. She needed to get away from Malfoy and his cruelty before her mind snapped. She clapped her hand over her mouth as she stumbled down the gravel path.

“If you get lost in the hedge maze, I will send my hounds to drag you out.” Malfoy's hard voice seemed to follow her.

She ran.

She hadn’t run in ages, but she had stayed quite fit inside her cell. All the jumping and push-ups. Everything that she had done to turn her mind off.

She needed her mind off.

She couldn’t think. She needed to move until she couldn’t anymore.

She bolted down the path until it opened into a lane. She sped down it. The towering hedges around her felt suffocating.

Everything was suffocating her.

Her hands darted up, and she unclasped the cloak Malfoy had given her. She felt the wind wrench it away.

She’d rather freeze.

She ran and ran until the hedges ended and the lane carried on through large fields. She kept going. Because if she stopped, she’d think. If she thought, she’d cry. She couldn’t cry. Not until she figured out a way to get away and keep any surviving members of the Resistance from trying to save her.

Oh god.

Oh god...

Finally, she stopped.

Her lungs felt as though they were on fire. The stabbing, burning need for oxygen was sharp as her chest heaved. Her whole body was slick with sweat that rapidly became bitingly cold on her skin.  There was a stabbing pain in her side. Her shoes were almost in pieces. Her skirts caked in mud.

She stood panting and turned to survey where she was.

The Malfoy estate seemed endless. Grey hills of dead winter grass and dark clusters of leafless trees in the distance, all set against a grey sky.

It felt as though all the color had been leached out of the world. Except her. She stood in scarlet red. Stark against the monochrome.

She pressed her hands over her mouth as she kept gasping and panting.

When her chest finally ceased heaving, she became gradually aware of how cold she was becoming. There was a sharp wind that cut through the flimsy clothing she wore. Her hands were growing starkly white. She could feel her cheeks and the tip of her nose slowly begin to hurt. There was an icy sensation in her toes beginning to radiate up her legs as water soaked into her shoes and up her stockings.

She turned to look back in the direction she had come. The hedges were tiny in the distance.

She pressed her icy hands against her eyes for several minutes. Trying to think.

There was nothing.

Nothing new. Nothing more she could do.

Her plan remained the same. Nothing had changed.

Her situation was exactly the same as it had been the night before. The only difference was that her knowledge of it had broadened slightly. The options were still just as limited; the stakes had simply been raised further.

She slowly turned back.

She doubted Malfoy would really send hounds after her. Getting mauled by a pack of hunting dogs would potentially interfere with her reproductive abilities.

She wondered idly if the manacles would permit her to fight back against an attacking animal. If she were truly desperate to die, perhaps she could fling herself into the path of a deadly creature. Someone as vile as Malfoy might have something like a manticore stashed away on his estate. Or perhaps, if there were traps for would-be rescuers, she could fling herself into one of them.

Her teeth started chattering as she continued down the lane toward the hedges. She was too tired to run again and try to warm herself.

She hugged herself and continued on.

It hadn’t occurred to her that Voldemort would publicise the repopulation efforts. In retrospect, it was obvious. It wasn’t a secret that could be easily kept when surrogates were being distributed to seventy-two of the most preeminent wizarding families in Britain. Better to put it out entirely in the open.

She wondered idly how Malfoy felt about being publicly associated with her. The Mudblood he had hated so much back in school, now intended to be the mother of his children. All the world would know.

He was so slavishly obedient to whatever his Master wanted, he probably rationalised it somehow. She sneered to herself in derision.

The number of ways in which Hermione could hate him were almost mind-boggling. Every time she saw him, it was as though she found a whole new aspect of him that only added to the number of reasons why he deserved a slow, cruel death.

The sharp rocks of the gravel lane eventually cut entirely through her shoes. Her feet started to bleed as she was reaching the hedges. She pulled the useless shoes off and flung them up into the yew where they caught. The muddy red stood out starkly.

She continued on. Shivering.

When she finally made it back to the manor and walked around the corner, she found Malfoy was still there, reading a book. His newspaper tossed aside.

She stopped. Hesitating. She didn’t want to interact with him, but she was agonisingly cold. She didn’t know how else to get inside.

Her movement or colour caught Malfoy’s attention. He glanced up sharply and stared, looking faintly aghast as he took in her bedraggled appearance. Then he quirked an eyebrow and smirked.  

“Taking your status seriously, I see. Blood red and mud.” He chuckled faintly for a moment before his expression grew hard. “You shouldn’t have lost your cloak. You’ve still got,” he glanced at his watch, “ten minutes before you’re allowed inside.”

Hermione shrank back in misery and went back around the side of the manor. She found a spot that was somewhat out of the wind and curled up against the building in a tight ball. Trying to conserve her body heat.

She was so cold.

Her shivering had stopped, and she was growing just terribly sleepy.

Which—she vaguely realised—indicated hypothermia.

Hermione had never treated real hypothermia during the war. Only the variety brought on by dementors.

Hypothermia was not something wizarding folk tended to suffer from. Warming charms were so easy, most first years could perform them. Wizarding outerwear usually had the charms woven in.

She should go tell Malfoy that her body temperature was becoming dangerously low.

But—if she waited… maybe she’d die from it.

That would solve all her problems.

She scrunched up more closely to the side of the manor and closed her eyes. Breathing shallowly.

Things slowly became comfortingly vague.  

“Creative.” Malfoy's harsh voice invaded the fog in her mind.

Something uncomfortably hot struck her entire body. Startled, Hermione yelped. She realised after a moment he’d cast a warming charm on her. The dramatic contrast in temperature had been physically painful when the magic of the charm collided with her skin.

Malfoy was already stalking away when she looked up.

Horrid bastard. He’d warmed her just enough to counteract the hypothermia but not enough to relieve how bitterly cold she felt.

She huddled against the manor and tried to guess when ten minutes had passed. Her feet and hands were aching into the bones from the chill.

She was feeling very regretful about wherever her cloak had ended up. Apparently she did still have a little bit of Gryffindor impetuousness left. Just enough to allow herself to occasionally do very stupid things. Now that her rage and horror had eased slightly, she was able to appreciate her impulsive idiocy more.

Trying to stick it to Malfoy by refusing the care he was mandated to provide was not hurting anyone but herself. It was like refusing to eat. Weakening herself to show him she could still be obstinate was the exact opposite of what she should be doing. Malfoy wasn’t going to become careless if he thought she still had fight in her.

She was cutting off her nose to spite her face.

She groaned and smacked her head against the wall of the manor.

A minute later the sound of crunching gravel caught her attention. She looked up to find Malfoy approaching once more.

His expression was cold as the wind.

He reached out and dropped her cloak at her feet.

“You found it,” she said, looking down.

“Magic. The Accio spell is quite useful for those of us who can still use it,” he said with a cruel smirk. “Are you going to get up, or shall I drag you? I do have more to life than merely monitoring you. There are so many Muggles still alive. There are also several house-elves I haven’t kicked lately.”

He smiled thinly at her.

Hermione bit her tongue. Picking up the cloak, she stood and wrapped it around herself. He turned sharply on his heel and strode back to the veranda. He stopped by the door and waited for her to catch up.

When she reached him, she realised he had paled slightly and was staring at the ground behind her. She turned and saw that she had left bloody footprints across the white marble. He grew faintly contemplative as he studied them.

“Surprised to realise our blood looks the same?” she asked in a mild voice.

He sneered.

“All blood looks the same. My hounds bleed the same colour. So do my house-elves. The question of superiority is answered by power. Given that I am the master of the hounds, and the elves, and you, I do believe the answer to that question is sufficiently clear.”

“Yet I’m the one intended to give you heirs,” Hermione said, meeting his eye with her own cold expression.

That is due to Astoria’s failing, not mine,” he said, his lip curling faintly. He drew his wand and banished the blood from the marble. Then he sighed and rolled his eyes.

“I suppose I can’t have you ruining the rugs, regardless of how amusing it would be to leave you bleeding.”

He flicked his wand at her feet and scourgified them before casting a series of careless healing charms. Then he banished the mud caking the hem of her robes.

“I trust your brain still functions enough to find your own way back to your room. If not, you can sleep on the floor somewhere.” He vanished with a crack.

Hermione stood alone before the door for several seconds. She was freezing but—

She darted over and snatched up the copy of the The Daily Prophet that had been left lying on the ground. Slipping through the door, she moved just far enough into the hallways to get away from the biting cold before she hurriedly opened it and began devouring every bit of information it contained.

Chapter Text

Repopulation Efforts Underway!

“Potter’s Mudblood is among the first surrogates chosen by the Dark Lord to increase the magical population.”

Hermione read on.

The first phase of the British repopulation efforts have now begun. Eligible half-blood and Mudblood surrogates have been assigned to many of Britain’s most eminent wizarding families in the hope of improving the Wizarding population. The assignments have been personally approved by the Dark Lord himself in consultation with Healer Lydia Stroud, who has spent her career specialising in magical genetics and wizarding fertility.

Most notable among the surrogates is Mudblood Hermione Granger, last surviving member of the terrorist cell known as The Order of the Phoenix. The witch has had a reputation from a young age for her romantic associations with famous wizards. This was particularly notable in 1994 with not one but two Tri-Wizard competitors, Harry Potter and Viktor Krum. Now she may have found her way into the bed of her most powerful wizard yet.

Draco Malfoy, most renowned for his assassination of Warlock Albus Dumbledore at the tender age of sixteen, has long been an esteemed Death Eater. The Prophet has confirmed with several sources that surrogate Granger was delivered to Malfoy Manor just over a week ago. Since Lucius Malfoy abdicated his title of Lord to his son following the death of Narcissa Malfoy in 2001, the family line has been without a succeeding heir.

Unfortunately young Lord Malfoy cannot become too attached to the traitor warming his bed. When she has produced three Malfoy heirs, Healer Stroud confirms that surrogate Granger will be transferred on to another pureblood wizarding family in order to further aid in diversifying Britain’s magical blood.

If the results from the diversification efforts are as successful as anticipated Healer Stroud hopes that such efforts will begin being rolled out across wizarding Europe within a year…”

So, Malfoy was the one who had killed Dumbledore. Another name on the list of those murdered by the High Reeve.

Lucius was still alive somewhere.

There was no mention of the other women in the breeding program. Hermione’s eyes raced across the other columns, gathering up every scrap of information.

The next column listed executions within Britain that had been performed by the High Reeve. There was a picture. Several wretched-looking men and women on their knees upon a platform. Behind them, in black robes and an ornate mask, stood the High Reeve. In the picture, he drew his wand and, with a casual flick, killed the first person. He barely spared the falling body a glance before casting a second curse on the next person. The picture’s loop was only a few seconds long, but Malfoy killed three people on the platform before it began again.

Hermione stared. Taking in every detail.

Knowing that it was Malfoy made it obvious that it was Malfoy. The casually elegant posture. The indolent casting. The deadly coldness that seemed to radiate from him.

However, neither the article about the repopulation efforts nor the column regarding the executions made any reference to the fact that Malfoy was the High Reeve. As though the title and its bearer were separate.

The anonymity was surprising. The newspaper didn’t even offer any speculation regarding the High Reeve’s identity. As though it weren’t permitted to print such a thing.

Hermione mulled over that detail.

The High Reeve was Voldemort’s right hand, ostensibly his representative. Hermione wondered if the anonymity was in Voldemort’s interest or Malfoy’s. She suspected it was likely Voldemort’s. The Dark Lord had an exceptionally powerful puppet. Even Voldemort himself, when he killed Harry, had not cast the killing curse with such rapidity and lack of effort.

It wouldn’t do to allow Malfoy the opportunity to gather his own followers, accumulate personal power, and then try to overthrow his Master. Forcing Malfoy to keep himself anonymous behind his title—only allowing it to be known by Death Eaters and other trusted servants—it was probably a means of controlling Malfoy.

Voldemort was keeping Malfoy quite close.

Perhaps Malfoy had secret ambitions that Voldemort worried about.

It also made Malfoy the perfect trap for Resistance fighters. If anyone tried to save Hermione, they would assume they were simply attacking a pampered, second generation Death Eater. They’d have no idea they were walking into the grasp of the High Reeve, Voldemort’s most infamously deadly servant.

Hermione skimmed through the rest of the paper. Northern Europe was still not under Death Eater control. Voldemort was moving aggressively to bring the Scandinavian countries to heel. Apparently the vampires, hags, and other Dark creatures that had been brought to Britain during the war had been moved up into Northern Europe during the last several months.

There was no mention of the insurrection in Romania. No mention of any known members of the Resistance still fighting.

Pius Thicknesse was still Minister of Magic. There was a Tri-Wizard Tournament planned for the upcoming year. Several pages were devoted to international Quidditch matches. Apparently the diversion of sports retained its appeal even under dystopian regime.

The rest of the paper was composed of society pages.

Astoria Malfoy was quite the socialite. She attended every event, bought tables at charities, and donated lavishly to post-war memorials. Malfoy was largely absent from the society pages, only occasionally joining his wife.

Hermione read every word, including the advertisements. Looking for any hints. Any subtext. Anything that might be unspoken but implied.

If such things were included in the news, Hermione was too ignorant of current events to detect them.

Finally she refolded the newspaper carefully with her stiff fingers and returned it to the place it had been abandoned on the veranda.

She massaged her freezing hands as she hurriedly made her way up through the manor.

She was, surprisingly, not having a panic attack by wandering back by herself. Perhaps it was only because she was so distracted by the cold. She crossed her fingers and hoped.

The route back to her rooms was simple. The moment she returned, she rushed into the bathroom and turned on the cold water. She let it run over her numb hands until feeling gradually seeped back into them and the water stopped feeling hot. Then she turned on the taps of the bathtub and drew a warm bath.

She sank into the water with a sigh, relishing the relief from the cold ache throughout her freezing body. She rubbed her feet and ankles until the last bits of grime disappeared from them.

After living in a cell for so long, she was never going to take being clean for granted again. She didn’t know if she’d ever get over the newfound thrill of sinking up to her neck into a large quantity of water. It was the one and only high-point of her existence currently.

The same could not be said for the food. Which, although clearly expensive in its ingredients, was intended to be solely nutritional. She didn’t know much about pre-pregnancy diets, but she didn’t see why she was only allowed to eat unsauced, unsalted, and over-cooked vegetables, rye bread with unsalted butter, and boiled meat and poached eggs (also without salt.) She would kill for a bag of crisps.

As she sat in the water, slowly warming up, she considered the revelation of the day.

Her “surrogacy” under the careful watch of Malfoy was being used as bait.

The taunting, luring language of the front page article was enraging. A precisely balanced tone, seeking to simultaneously dehumanise Hermione in order to prevent pity from the general public while endeavoring to stoke outrage among any sympathisers.

Hermione wondered what sorts of safety measures had been put in place to catch would-be rescuers. Were there other Death Eaters stationed in Malfoy Manor? Or was the High Reeve presumed to be capable enough to personally handle all comers?

If it were the former, Hermione would have to keep watch and try to discover them. They would be an added complexity for her escape—unless she could somehow evoke their sympathy. Or perhaps try tricking one of them into killing her if it came down to it. A highly ambitious and dubious scheme, given that Malfoy would probably find the idea in her mind long before she had any chance of enacting it.

If it were just Malfoy, well, that would be a worrying indication of Voldemort’s confidence in Malfoy’s abilities.

Just how dangerous was Malfoy?

Hermione rested her head on her knees and tried to remember more clearly the circumstances of Dumbledore’s death over eight years before. The details felt—foggy.

She scrunched her eyes shut and struggled to recall it.

It had happened less than a month into sixth year. The wards had gone off in the halls when a Killing Curse was used. The castle had been filled with Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder and screaming, stampeding students. When the darkness finally faded, there were dozens of injured, panicked students and Dumbledore’s dead body. It had been trampled in the chaos.

First year Hufflepuff and Slytherin students had just re-entered the castle from a Herbology class. They were the only ones who had seen anything. The statements were contradictory.

Dumbledore had passed by. There was an older student in the hallway. Maybe two. Male. A Ravenclaw. A Slytherin. A Gryffindor. A Hufflepuff. Cormac McLaggen. Adrian Pucey. Colin Creevey. Ernie Macmillan. Draco Malfoy. Zacharias Smith. Anthony Goldstein.

The first years didn’t recognize many upperclassmen after only three weeks into the term. The general consensus was that it had been someone blond.

They heard a curse. Then darkness. A few said it happened in reverse: the darkness then the curse. Everyone was screaming and running. No one could see anything. All the wards had been shrieking.

When the darkness faded, the professors assembled everyone in the Great Hall. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement arrived to interview the students and examine the body.

The autopsy concluded the cause of death was a Killing Curse to the back. No other recent magic detected.

There had been something else—something about Dumbledore’s hand—

Hermione tried desperately to remember. It felt like it had been an important detail. The memory danced out of reach.

All the older students named by the first years were interviewed and cleared of suspicion. All but Draco Malfoy. He was absent. The castle and grounds were searched. He was gone.

Aurors were dispatched to Malfoy Manor and found it impenetrable. He was presumed guilty. Whether he’d personally cast the curse, had help, and why he’d done it had been unanswered questions.

The Order had assumed it had been an attempt to redeem the Malfoy Family after Lucius’ failure and imprisonment following the battle in the Department of Mysteries.

Hermione couldn’t remember it ever being confirmed that Malfoy had killed Dumbledore. After Death Eaters seized control of the Ministry of Magic six months later, it had been difficult to get good information. The Daily Prophet immediately became a full-fledged propaganda machine.

Had it been confirmed? She didn’t remember.

Hermione’s inability to recall it was meaningless. She couldn’t even tell where the gaps in her memory were. Until a question was put to her, she didn’t even realise what was missing.

When she tried sorting through her memories magically, it was like crawling through tar. Exhausting. Almost futile. If she poured more than the barest strand of magic into attempting it, the manacles activated and sucked everything away.

The clearest sense she had of where the lost memories were located was from Voldemort, Snape, and Malfoy’s various efforts to break into them.

The pain, shock, and trauma had blurred the details. It seemed as though there were few lost memories scattered throughout the war but the majority were concentrated in the last year, right up to her imprisonment.

The gaps in her knowledge tore at something inside Hermione. She was desperate to know what was missing but terrified of recovering the information. It made her feel as though she were walking through a minefield. She had no idea what the missteps might be.

Trying to accept the loss of information—of understanding—was like a sensation of bitter poison inside her.

Why had they lost the war?

Couldn’t she at least remember that?

It was as though she and Malfoy were playing a game of chess, but only he could see the board.

She was desperate for any scrap of knowledge.

As soon as she knew so would her enemies. Her ignorance was simultaneously a shield and a weapon. It was buying her time to escape, but it might come down upon her at any moment.

For some reason, she was almost certain it would bring her end with it.

It felt like the sword of Damocles above her head.

Her fingertips were shriveled from the water when she finally climbed out of the bath. She felt drained. She climbed into the bed and hugged a pillow to herself.

Her mind ran on and on, full of questions she had no answers to.

The next day, Malfoy appeared again immediately after lunch.

Hermione’s heart sank, but she pulled on her cloak and followed him docilely. Just walking behind him made her heart pound. She wondered if he could feel it through whatever it was he had that monitored her.

When they arrived at the veranda, Malfoy immediately conjured a chair and seated himself, flicking open a newspaper. The front page story was about a new monument in honor of Voldemort. It had been unveiled in Diagon Alley. Hermione stood awkwardly beside the doorway, wondering where to go.

She glanced over at Malfoy and started to open her mouth to ask a question, but it was like her body swallowed it before she could force the words out.

Quiet .

She couldn’t initiate conversation.

She stared out bitterly at the hedge maze. She supposed she would just go and wander about aimlessly.

She started walking away but as she did so, a faint sense of discomfort crept over her. She looked up, and took in the open, grey sky...

Her heart seemed to abruptly stall.

It was as though all the oxygen and sound that existed were abruptly sucked away, and there was simply a void of vast endlessness before her.

There was no air.

She felt like she were suffocating. Her heart started pounding. Beating faster and faster. She could hear it.

She could see the steps. The gravel. The hedges.

It felt like…

Nothing.

As though the universe ended at her toes.

If she stepped forward another inch, she’d fall into it.

She froze. She tried to move but just trembled and couldn’t. She bit her lip. Trying to breathe. Trying to force herself to walk forward.

It was so—open.

She shut her eyes.

It was just in her head. It was just in her head.

She fought to breathe. Dragging in a series of sharp, gasping breaths as she struggled to think.

She’d been alright yesterday. She’d been so horrified and angry. She’d run several miles. But now—

She couldn’t—

It was all so much.

She didn’t remember the world feeling so wide before. The sky was so...high. The paths just went on and on. She didn’t know where they ended.

Her hands started shaking and twitching as she thought about it. She was going to be sick.

She wanted to go back to her room.

She wanted to press herself into a corner and feel walls against her.

She stared down at her feet and felt tears pricking the corners of her eyes. Panic was rising up through her like a tide. Her heart kept going faster and faster. It felt like a fluttering bird caged inside her chest, beating itself to death as it tried to escape.

Hermione pressed her hands over her mouth and tried to keep from hyperventilating.

A sharp sound abruptly caught her attention, and she looked over to find Malfoy was gripping his newspaper so tightly his knuckles were white. His hands were shaking faintly.

She gasped and stumbled away.

“Sorry—sorry—,” she stammered in terror. “I’m going—“

She only made it a few feet before her legs refused to carry her further.

She was afraid of being near Malfoy, but even he didn’t supercede the terror that swallowed her as she tried to walk forward. Her lungs felt like all the air had been pressed out of them. She opened her mouth and tried to gasp for breath. It wouldn’t go in.

The terror was sinking into her as though a creature had slid its claws into her back. Dragging them down her spine. Tearing her open. Exposing all the muscles and nerves and bones to the cold winter air, and she was dying.

She couldn’t breathe.

The world felt like it was tilting sideways.

There were needles sinking into her hands and arms.

All she could see was the open—

She couldn’t stop shaking. Couldn’t stop panicking. She couldn’t go—

It was so open. A void. Nothing. Nothing. Forever. She was all alone in it.

Not even walls. Nothing.

She could scream forever. No sound.

No one would come.

There was darkness eating up the sky.

Then there’d be nothing.

No one would come.

She couldn’t—

“Stop,” was suddenly growled from behind her.

Reality crashed down on her like a flood. She started and looked back. Malfoy was pale-faced, and his eyes were flashing as he stared at her.

“You’re required to be outside. You are not required to go traipsing off. Do not give yourself a mental breakdown that compromises my access to your memories.”

His face twisted slightly as he kept looking at her. Drawing his wand, he conjured another chair.

“Sit. And calm down,” he commanded in an icy tone.

Hermione dragged in a deep breath and let her feet carry her over. Trying not to dwell on the flood of relief that came over her. She seated herself and stared down at her hands as she worked to regain control of her breathing.

She was in a chair. She was in a chair next to Malfoy. She was not in a void. There wasn’t a void. There was marble under her feet. She didn’t have to go anywhere. She was in a chair.

She inhaled slowly. To a count of four.

Exhale, through her mouth. To a count of six.

In and out.

Again and again.

She was in a chair. She didn’t have to go anywhere.

Her heart slowly stopped pounding, but her whole chest hurt.

Once her chest’s stuttering eased, she tried to force her fingers to stop twitching. They wouldn’t, so she sat on them.

As her mind fully cleared from her panic, a lash of bitter despair struck her.

She was broken.

She was.

There was no point in trying to deny it.

Mentally, something inside of her had fractured during her imprisonment, and she didn’t know how to fix it. She couldn’t reason her way through it. It swallowed her from the inside.

She stared down at her lap. Tears slid from the corners of her eyes, down her cheeks, and along her lips before falling. The sharp cut of the wind made them feel like ice on her skin. She smeared them away and drew her cloak around herself more tightly. Pulling up the hood.

The cloak was almost smothering her with the warmth it provided, but Hermione still felt cold with horror as she sat silently on the veranda. Trying to think.

She’d been alright. Yesterday. She’d been alright. Why? Why hadn’t it bothered her then?

Some kind of agoraphobia. It must be. Somehow, in the cell without light or sound or time, she’d latched onto the security of the walls. The containment had become the only constant in her life. So now, whenever she was free of the urgent horror of her current situation; whenever she had time to think…

The sense of openness created a fear that swallowed her.

Outdoors was far worse than the hallway upstairs.

Maybe she’d just been unprepared. Maybe now that she knew, she’d be able to push through the panic. If she gave herself manageable goals: Walk down the steps. Walk across the gravel. Walk to the hedge.

If she paced herself.

She certainly wasn’t going to be getting lost in the hedge maze anytime soon.

Her stomach twisted. Her timeline for escape kept getting longer. She hadn’t even had a chance to investigate options for getting away. The longer she took—

She might get pregnant.

She might already be pregnant. If she weren’t, every additional month being ordered over that table increased the odds that she would be.

She wanted to cry.

She glanced over at Malfoy who was studying Quidditch scores avidly.

What useful information was she supposed to learn about him? All he did was seethe and read and then go away and murder people.

She was never going to escape. She was probably going to die on the estate.

She studied him in despair.

He was just cold. Angry.

Icy rage seemed to hang over him. She could feel the Dark Magic twisting around his edges.

Who did he hate so much? Was he like Lucius, blaming the Order for Narcissa’s death? Were all those Killing Curses revenge? Was that what fueled his rise?

Everything about him had changed. There didn’t appear to be even a shred of the boy she had known so many years before.

He had grown, taller and broader. The haughtiness of his school days had faded, replaced by a palpable sense of power. Deadly assurance.

His face had lost every trace of boyishness. It was cruelly beautiful. His sharp aristocratic features set in a hard unyielding expression. His grey eyes were like knives. His hair still that pale, white blond, combed carelessly aside.

He looked, every inch of him, like an indolent English Lord. Except for the almost inhuman coldness. If an assassin’s blade were made into a man, it would take the form of Draco Malfoy.  

She stared at him. Taking him in.

Beautiful and damned. A fallen angel.

Or perhaps, the Angel of Death.

While she was studying him, he closed the newspaper crisply and looked over at her. She met his eyes for a moment before glancing away.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked after staring at her several seconds.

She flushed faintly and didn’t answer.

“If you won’t tell me, I will just pull the answer from your mind,” he said.

Hermione struggled not to flinch at the threat. She stared steadily at the hedge.

“I—I think it’s called agoraphobia,” she said after taking several deep breaths. “Something about—about open spaces makes me panic.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It’s not like it’s rational,” she said bitterly as she inspected the stitching of her cloak. The uniform needlework was something orderly to stare at. Something predictable. Something that made sense. Something unlike her irrational mind.

“You have a theory, I'm sure,” he said with a challenging tone. As though he were daring her to refuse to tell him, so he could just force his way into her thoughts and drag the conclusion out for himself.

She felt tempted to lie, but it would be pointless. He would, undoubtedly, be in her mind again before she escaped. If she didn’t tell him now, he’d still know by tomorrow. Or the next day. Or whenever he decided to investigate her thoughts again.

“It’s probably from being in that cell for so long,” she said after a minute. “There was nothing—It was like a void. Everyone was dead. No one was going to come for me. I was just there, and I didn’t even know how long it had been. The walls—were the only real thing. I guess—I came to rely on them. So now—when I try to walk somewhere, and I don’t—I don’t know where it goes… I don’t know. I can’t—it feels like—,” she struggled to explain the terror. “It’s like—I’m abandoned all over again. That everyone is dead, and I’m just alone—And I can handle it when my world feels small—but when I remember how big it is—I can’t. I can’t—“

She choked, and her voice trailed off. She didn’t know how to describe it. Words failed to capture all the irrational complexity. She stared away, at a loss.

Malfoy’s expression seemed to grow harder while she was talking.

“And yesterday?” he asked after a displeased pause.

“I don’t know. I suppose my horror exceeded my fear.”

He was silent for a moment before he snorted faintly and leaned back in his chair, studying her.

“I have to admit, when I heard it was you I would be getting, I was looking forward to being the one to finally break you,” he said and leaned toward her slightly with a hard smile. “But I doubt that it’s even possible to exceed what you’ve done to yourself. It’s quite disappointing.”

“I’m sure you’ll still try,” she said looking him in the eye. She knew that her despair was written across her face, but there was no point in trying to hide it.

His silver eyes glinted when he saw it.

Chapter Text

Malfoy didn’t speak to her again for the remainder of the hour. He drew a book from his cloak and set to reading it, apparently impervious to the biting cold.

Hermione closed her eyes for several minutes and tried to force her heart not to pound by merely staring up into the sky.

She was going to overcome it.

She didn’t care what it took.

The days blurred together.

Malfoy appeared daily, immediately after lunch, and led her out to the veranda. Once there, he usually ignored her, reading the Prophet or some book. Hermione would skitter about on the veranda, trying to find the nerve to take a walk. She could make it down the marble steps, but she froze before reaching the gravel.

Unlike the hallway, she couldn’t seem to overcome it. It was a line she was incapable of crossing. The rational parts of her brain just stuttered to a halt.

So she sat on the steps, gathered gravel into her hands, and tossed the rocks, one at a time, as far as she could. Or arranged them into pictures or runes.

There was nothing else to do.

Malfoy never spoke to her, and because of that she couldn’t speak to him. Not that she wanted to, but the indignity that she required permission grated nonetheless.

The fact that the Malfoys needed no servants apparently meant that she was not expected to do anything except exist. They provided her with absolutely no means of occupying herself. No books, no paper, not even a bit of string. She was almost as bored in the manor as she had been in her cell in Hogwarts. Except she was also monitored obsessively by a judgemental portrait and knew there was a mansion outside her bedroom waiting to be explored if she could only summon up the nerve to do so.

Hermione had explored all the bedrooms along her hall repeatedly. She had studied the hedge maze through all the windows until she was almost certain she could find her way through it.

She was trying to find the nerve to descend the stairs and explore the other floors. She’d passed through the first floor almost nine times with Malfoy. Yet she couldn’t seem to quite bring herself to do it alone.

After eight days, Malfoy did not appear after lunch. Instead, Healer Stroud walked through the door into Hermione’s room.

Hermione stood silently and watched the woman conjure an exam table in the middle of the floor.

Everyone Hermione hated seemed to force her onto tables. Voldemort. Malfoy. Stroud. Hermione walked forward before she was compelled to and seated herself on the edge.

“Open your mouth,” Healer Stroud commanded.

Hermione’s mouth opened automatically, and Healer Stroud lifted a potion and poured one drop into Hermione’s mouth. As the vial was re-stoppered, Hermione caught a glance of the contents and stiffened. Veritaserum.

She supposed it was one way to make medical appointments efficient—prevent subjects from lying. Hermione couldn’t understand the point. The manacles already made her obedient; Healer Stroud could just command her to tell the truth.

Healer Stroud seemed to notice the expression on Hermione’s face.

“It simplifies things,” Stroud said, waving her wand. “If the High Reeve had ordered you to lie about something you would be conflicted. This way, your honesty isn’t your fault.”

Hermione nodded. She supposed that made sense.

“Hmm. Not pregnant yet. I suppose it was rather too much to hope for so soon.”

Hermione nearly collapsed with relief. Then she recalled that it meant Malfoy would come take her over a table for another five days, and her relief faded sharply.

“Look at me, Miss Granger,” Healer Stroud commanded, “has anyone hurt you since you’ve been here?”

Hermione stared at the woman steadily while her mouth answered of its own volition.

“I have been physically raped five times and mentally raped twice.”

Healer Stroud looked unfazed but somewhat thoughtful.

“The legilimency is painful?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm. I’ll make a note of that. No other harm to you?”

“No.”

“Very good. That is a relief. There have been—problems, with some of the others.”

Hermione felt horror creep over her like the caress of a ghost.

“Are—are they alright?” she croaked.

“Oh, yes. We got everything taken care of. Some men simply need to be reminded that the Dark Lord’s gifts can be taken back if not cared for properly,” Healer Stroud said. There was no trace of sympathy or guilt in her expression as she continued waving her wand over Hermione.

Hermione wanted to reach over and snap the woman’s neck. Her hands shook as she struggled to contain it.

Healer Stroud was indifferent to Hermione’s poorly-concealed rage. She cast a diagnostic charm targeted at Hermione’s lower abdomen.

“No tearing. That’s a relief. It would have been problematic. I should have come sooner to check, but I was quite busy. Overseeing all the placements was more tedious than I imagined.”

Healer Stroud appeared to expect Hermione to be sympathetic. Hermione stared pointedly at the clock and didn’t answer.

“Your physical condition has declined somewhat. Are you going outside to exercise daily?” Healer Stroud asked with an irritated expression.

Hermione stiffened; her chest tightened as she tried to breathe and answer the question indifferently.

“I—wasn’t. But the High Reeve has begun ensuring it.”

“Are you walking? Long walks are important for the constitution.”

“I—can’t.”

Healer Stroud stared at Hermione. “You can’t?”

Hermione bit her lip and hesitated. “I have panic attacks—Just leaving this room is hard. The High Reeve takes me to the veranda for an hour, but I—I can’t—I can’t… I don’t—It’s so—so—“

Hermione started gasping as she tried to describe it. Even with the aid of veritaserum, she struggled to put the fear into words. She struggled to handle the wave of anger and despair she felt for having such an irrational obstacle that she couldn’t overcome on her own.

She pressed her lips together, but they twisted sharply. She could feel the pressure in her cheeks and eyes as she struggled not to cry over it.

“Interesting,” Healer Stroud said, scribbling several notes. “Presumably due to your imprisonment. It hadn’t occurred to me that going outdoors would be an issue. Hmm. Calming Draught would be insufficient, but I can’t put you on a permanent anxiety relief; they interfere with pregnancy. Perhaps something temporary, to help acclimatise you. I’ll have to research it.”

Hermione said nothing.

“Materials will be provided daily for your cycle,” Stroud added as she continued writing notes. A thought seemed to occur to her, and she looked up quizzically at Hermione. “What—what was it that happened when you were in prison?”

“I just bled,” Hermione said. “The cell was kept clean, but there was nothing provided.”

Stroud shook her head faintly in disapproval. As though she had some moral superiority over Umbridge in her treatment of Hermione.

“Anything else you think I should know?” Healer Stroud asked Hermione.

“I think that you are evil and inhuman,” Hermione answered immediately.

She hadn’t even had time to realise the words coming out of her mouth; the veritaserum had just dragged them forth.

Healer Stroud’s expression flickered for a moment.

“Well, I suppose I left myself open for that. Anything about your health that you think I should know?”

Hermione thought for a moment. “No.”

“Alright then.” Healer Stroud glanced over her notes one last time. “Oh. I nearly forgot. Remove your stockings.”

Hermione obediently pulled them off. Healer Stroud glanced over Hermione’s legs for a moment and then waved her wand. A sharp, burning sensation came over them for several seconds.

Hermione hissed faintly. Startled. When the burn faded she looked down and saw that her legs were bright red and irritated looking.

“A permanent hair removal charm. Several of the men have complained. One of them tried to provide a bath potion, but the spiteful little witch dunked her head under and emerged entirely bald.”

Healer Stroud handed Hermione a small jar of murtlap essence.  

“The irritation should fade in a day or two. I’ll speak to the High Reeve about your condition.”

Healer Stroud put Hermione’s file back into a briefcase, and Hermione slipped off the table and stood awkwardly, holding her stockings in one hand and the jar of murtlap essence in the other. With a flick of her wand, Healer Stroud vanished the table and left the room without another word.

Malfoy arrived half an hour later, looking more angry than usual.

Hermione pulled on her cloak and followed him. When they reached the veranda, he glanced over at her with a grimace.

“You are required to walk at least half a mile.”

Hermione blinked up at him.

“I would send you with a house-elf, but Stroud is concerned that your self-inflicted brain injury may cause you to have a seizure if you become overwrought.” He looked enraged enough to break something. “I am now required to walk you.”

He stared across the estate for a moment before adding, “You are worse than a dog.”

He stormed down the steps and then turned, standing on the gravel path.

“Come,” he said in a cold voice. His eyes were flashing, and his lips were pressed into a hard line as he looked at her.

Hermione stared at him, incredulous. Hell would freeze over long before Draco Malfoy’s presence kept her from having a panic attack.

The compulsion dragged her forward.

Hermione took a deep breath as she stepped gingerly down the steps and then, after a moment’s hesitation, onto the gravel. She took four steps across it toward him and wanted to cry with rage when she didn’t freeze along the way.

Apparently it was a cold day in hell.

Malfoy turned on his heel and walked down the path while she followed.

It was probably because of the manacles, she realised along the way. He had ordered her to come and so she came. The manacles forced her to be compliant while being raped. However the compulsions worked, they were apparently capable of suppressing her panic attacks in the same way they were capable of suppressing her desire to fight off Malfoy and then murder him in a painful and prolonged manner.

He strolled along the outside of the hedge maze until they passed it entirely and then led her through the paths among the wintering rose beds.

Hermione wondered if there was anything about the Malfoy estate that didn’t feel cold, dead, and sterile. The gravel paths had not so much as a stone out of place. The rose bushes had been clipped meticulously for winter. The hedges cut into the sky in precise, straight walls.

Hermione had never particularly cared for formal English gardens but Malfoy Manor’s might be the most horrid she’d ever seen. Hedges, and white gravel, and leafless trees and shrubs pruned within an inch of their lives.

She imagined it was less awful-looking in the spring and summer, but in its current form she had seen car parks with greater aesthetic appeal.

Malfoy did not seem inclined to appreciate the scenery either.

After storming along the paths for an hour, Malfoy led the way back to the manor. As they drew close, Hermione thought she saw an upstairs curtain twitch.

Malfoy walked to Hermione’s room but rather than leave once she was there, he stayed, staring at her.

Hermione shrank away and fidgeted with the clasp on her cloak. Perhaps if she ignored him he would go away.

“Bed,” he commanded after a moment.

She looked up at him, startled, and he smirked maliciously as he stepped toward her.

“Unless you’d rather do it on the floor,” he said.

Hermione didn’t move. She just stared at him, feeling stupefied with horror. He drew his wand and after giving a sharp, nonverbal flick, Hermione felt his magic seize hold of her and drag her backward until she collided with her bed and toppled backwards onto it.

Malfoy sauntered over, looking bored. There was a faint glint in his eyes.

Hermione bit her lip to keep from whimpering and crossed her arms across herself.

He stared down at her and then, pressing his legs between hers, leaned over her.

Hermione wished she could sink into the bed and suffocate there. Wished she could scream. Wished she could have just a shred of her magic to fight him off with.

Obedient. Quiet. Not to resist.

She tucked her chin down against her shoulder and tried to cringe away from him as much as she could.

His right hand pressed into the mattress by her head, and then she felt the tip of his wand under her chin.

“Look at me, Mudblood,” he commanded.

Her chin untucked itself as she turned to look up into his eyes. They were only inches away from hers. His pupils were contracted, and the grey of his irises looked like a storm.

He drove into her mind.

She gasped with shock.

Even his legilimency was cold. Like being plunged into a freezing lake. It hurt with a sharp, clear pain.

Unlike previous occasions, her mind was unclouded with trauma or shock. The experience was far more vivid because of it. He shot through her memories, attending to all the clusters of locked ones. He tried breaking his way into one until a wail wrenched itself from her lips.

He moved quickly. As though he were simply verifying that none of them were accessible yet. After checking through them, he moved into the present.

He seemed amused by her growing hatred. By how desperately she wanted to kill him. He watched her explore the other rooms and run across the estate and sit bored on the steps of the veranda. How she had read The Daily Prophet. Her panic attack.

He examined her repeated efforts to remember the details of Dumbledore’s death, and how she couldn’t remember something about the warlock’s arm. That detail sparked his interest. He tried to find the information, but wherever Hermione had concealed the details in her mind, he couldn’t tell.

She could feel his irritation as he finally moved on to her appointment with Stroud and their walk across the estate and how deeply she disliked the gardens. When he reached her horror after he ordered her onto the bed, he finally withdrew from her mind.

He sneered down at her.

“Rest assured, Mudblood, I have no particular desire to touch you. I find your mere existence within my manor offensive.”

“The feeling is decidedly mutual,” Hermione said in a dry voice. It wasn’t a particularly good retort; her head was throbbing. It felt as though Malfoy had inserted his entire mind into hers, and it had bruised her internally.

Malfoy straightened and looked down at her as though he expected her to say something else. She stared up at him.

“Did you really kill Dumbledore?”

He smirked and leaned against a bedpost, crossing his arms and cocking his head to the side.

“You somehow forgot that too? Is there anything useful you remember? Or do you just habitually forget everything that you haven’t gotten from a textbook?” He glanced down at his nails for a moment and then buffed them against his robes in a bored manner. “I suppose that was all you ever were good for. You didn’t even fight during the war, did you? I certainly never saw you. You weren’t ever out there with Potter and Weasley. You just hid. Spending all your time in hospital wards. Waving your wand about futilely, saving people who ended up being better off dead.”

At his words, Hermione felt the blood drain from her head so abruptly that the room swam before her eyes. She gasped as though she’d been struck by a bludger.

All the times she’s healed Ron, Bill, Charlie, George and Fred, Tonks, Remus, Ginny, Hannah, Angelina, Katie…

Saved them for the end of the war. Saved them to be tortured to death. Saved them to be enslaved and raped.

She clasped her hands over her mouth and pressed her fingers tight against her lips until she felt the outline of her teeth. Her whole body shook on the bed, and she tried not to sob. A muffled whimper tore itself through her fingers. There was a pricking sensation in her eyes the moment before Malfoy’s face blurred from the tears. She rolled to her side and curled into a ball.

“Since you’re so curious to know. The Dark Lord personally requested that I kill Albus Dumbledore at some point during sixth year. So one Friday morning, when the bumbling idiot walked past me in the halls, I cursed him squarely in the back with a Killing Curse. He'd stopped to chat with a few first years about sherbet lemons or some other equally asinine subject. Quite careless to leave himself open like that. But that’s Gryffindors for you. They never expect that someone might choose to simply assassinate them in broad daylight. I am fairly certain he even knew I was going to try to kill him, but he still put his back to me. Perhaps he presumed I lacked the nerve.” He snorted faintly in disdain before sighing. “That is the one drawback of using the Killing Curse on someone’s back; they miss out on that split second of realisation before they die.”

Hermione bit her lip as she listened to Malfoy’s drawling recitation. She had expected, if she ever asked the question, that he would be horrible and conceited about it. Somehow it still shocked her to hear it.

“I suppose your master was quite pleased with you,” she said without looking at him.

“He was, especially after I presented him with the old fool’s wand. He had dinner with me and my mother that night, here in this very manor. I was declared a protege.”

He tone seemed vaguely hollow. Hermione glanced over her shoulder at him. He wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were locked on the window, and he looked almost wistful and pensive. As though his mind had gone somewhere else.

He abruptly roused himself and smiled thinly down at her.

“Any further details you need me to provide?” He arched an eyebrow as he asked the question. His expression was mechanical.

“No,” she said dropping her eyes from his face. “that was all I wanted to know.”

“Well.” He straightened his robes and turned to leave, “The outside world beckons me. Try not to have a seizure in my absence, Mudblood.”

Chapter Text

i am trying to remember you

and

let you go

at

the same time.

 

Nayyirah Weheed


 

Harry Potter was sitting on a rooftop, smoking cigarettes, staring off into the distance. Hermione clambered out of a window to join him.

What happened to us, Hermione?” he asked when she got close.

“A war,” she said quietly, reaching out and turning his face toward her. There was a gash on his head. His pale skin was faintly red from the blood he’d washed off. His expression was sad, tired, and angry.

“Who changed? Was it you or me?” he asked as she laced her fingers through his hair and pushed it aside so she could close the wound.

“Me,” she said, avoiding his gaze.

“Why? Do you think I won’t be able to do it?” he said. “Are you trying to brace yourself that I’ll fail?”

She cast a diagnostic charm on him. He had two fractured ribs and bruising on his abdomen. She pushed him back so he’d lie down before she started healing him.

“I think you can do it. But—the prophecy. It’s a coin toss. After Dumbledore died—,” she faltered slightly.

“Death is just one curse away from us all,” she said after a moment. “I can’t just sit back and watch, waiting for fifty-fifty odds to land and assume I know the outcome. Not when there are so many people depending on us. What you have, the way you love people, it’s pure, it’s powerful. But—how many times have you killed Tom now? As a baby, because of your mother. In first and second year. But he’s still here. He’s still fighting you. I don’t want to assume anything is enough.”

“You don’t think Good can just win,” Harry said. The reproach in his voice was heavy.

“Everyone who wins say they were good, but they’re the ones who write the history. I haven’t seen anything indicating that it was actually moral superiority that made a difference,” she said as she murmured the spells to repair the fractures.

“You’re talking about Muggle history though. Magic is different. The magical world is different,” Harry said, reaching toward her wand hand just as she moved it to heal the next rib. He closed his fingers into a fist and let it drop.

Hermione shook her head minutely and Harry’s expression grew bitter. He looked up at the sky. Hermione cast a barrier charm over her hand and then began spreading a bruise paste over Harry’s stomach and ribs in small circular motions.

“You used to be different,” Harry said, “You used to be more righteous about things than me. What happened to S.P.E.W.? That girl would never have said Dark magic was worth the cost. What happened?”

“That girl died in a hospital ward trying to save Colin Creevey.”

“I was there when Colin died too, Hermione. And I didn’t change.”

“I was always willing to do whatever it took, Harry. All those adventures of ours in school. Once I was in, I was in. Maybe you just never noticed how far I was willing to go for you.”



When Hermione woke, she remembered the dream.

She replayed it again and again. It was a memory. Which frightened her somewhat, but there didn’t seem to be anything in it that appeared particularly consequential. She tried to place the year it had happened.

Harry was smoking. A habit he started three years into the war. Hermione didn’t recognise the rooftop, but that didn’t mean anything. There had been dozens of safe houses that Hermione rarely visited.

Having a new memory of Harry, even one that wasn’t particularly happy, felt like an unexpected gift. She missed him so bitterly it was hard to breathe sometimes.

She lay in bed and turned it over and over in her mind. Taking note of every detail. The light in his eyes. The nervous, intense way he’d take a drag from his cigarettes and exhale sharply. The exhaustion in his face. The way his hair stood on end.

She wished she’d hugged him. Or taken his hand. Or met his eyes and told him how important he was to her.

Told him how much she needed him. That he was her best friend. That she would follow him to the ends of the earth. That she would never, ever recover if she lost him.

She wished she could go back in time and find a way to fix what had gone wrong. Whatever it was. That she could go back and tell Harry not to go to Hogwarts the day of the final battle.

Go back and warn the Order of what would happen if they lost.

Their argument in the memory was a familiar one. Hermione had wanted the Order to use, well, not necessarily the Dark Arts, but magic that was ambiguously grey. As the war kept dragging on, she’d gotten pushier about it and it had strained her relationships with more people than just Harry.

She tried not to dwell on the question of whether they could have won the war if the Resistance had been willing to use Dark Magic.

The war was over and lost.

She pressed her hands against her eyes and tried to force the question away. Whatever the answer was, it would be as painful to reach as it would be futile.

Oh Harry…

Had she told him she loved him the day he died? Had she even spoken to him?

She couldn’t remember.

Hermione curled up in her bed and wrapped her arms around herself in a mimicry of a hug. When she’d been in the cell, she’d wondered if it was possible to die from the devastating loneliness she felt.

She’d felt like her heart had broken.

It still felt like that.

After a few minutes, she forced herself to get up. Lying in bed moping wasn’t going to accomplish anything.

She paused at the window. It had snowed. The whole world outside was blanketed. The visual relief from all the dreary grey was almost heartening.

Along with the breakfast that morning, there arrived a vial of—something. Hermione did not recognise the potion. She stared at it and sniffed it but wasn’t sure what it was. She set it aside. She hadn’t been commanded to take it, and until she was commanded, she had no intention of imbibing any unfamiliar potions.

She made her way to the stairs and stood, staring down them. It was time. She was going to descend the stairs by herself. The fact that she hadn’t already done so was pathetic. It was just a staircase. Just a staircase leading to a hall she’d already walked through dozens of times with Malfoy.

Her shoulders shook with an almost imperceptible tremor, and she squared them.

She felt like a frightened child.

She hated it.

She pressed her lips together and took a deep breath. Then she pressed her hand against the wall and slowly took a step.

She was going to escape, she told herself.

Before she got pregnant, she was going to escape from Malfoy Manor. Someday she was going to come back and murder Malfoy.

She was going to be free. Free. Somewhere with sunshine and magic and people who wouldn’t hurt her.

She focused on the thought until there were no more steps left to descend.

She glanced around. Her hand was still pressed against the wall. She could feel the faint texture of the wallpaper. Touching the walls seemed to help her keep her heart-rate somewhat reasonable.

She went into a tea room, coatroom, and a drawing room. Exploring them all thoroughly. The portrait stalked Hermione the entire time.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Even the cords for the drapes were spelled to be irremovable. She opened sideboards, and cupboards, and linen closets and there wasn’t a single thing inside of them that was useful. Not as a weapon she could use. Not for escape.

She shoved a drawer shut with a frustrated snap.

If she was going to find anything with potential, she was going to have to explore the occupied wings of the manor. It was easy for Malfoy to ensure that an empty wing had nothing Hermione could utilise. It would be harder to maintain such care in other parts of the house.

Astoria had struck Hermione as a bit flighty. Given how devoted she was to ignoring Hermione’s existence, she probably would not trouble herself with employing the same overabundance of caution that Malfoy did.

Hermione returned slowly to her room and stared across the pristine landscape below her. She felt drained from her “excursion” downstairs. As though she’d run a marathon.

Everything took so much effort.

She rested her cheek against the glass and felt freshly awash in despair.

Even if she managed to conquer her agoraphobia, that was barely even a start. No matter what lies she whispered to herself. The truth was that she remained entirely at a loss about how to accomplish anything more.

She glanced down at the manacles around her wrists.

She’d been considering and experimenting with their abilities for the last several days. Ever since Malfoy had been able to override her agoraphobia. She had started to analyse more carefully how the compulsions worked.

She had been baffled over how they could be so powerful. She’d studied various dark artifacts during the war. The manacles were unlike anything she’d encountered.

She started her experiments by trying to disobey the compulsion of quietness by attempting to scream. The concept was less restrictive than obedience. She was allowed to make noise and speak when spoken to. It seemed like the easiest one to try to overcome. She’d thought that if she fought hard enough she could force her way through by sheer willpower, in the same manner that strong-minded individuals could eventually throw off the Imperio.

She was fairly sure she qualified as at least a somewhat strong-minded individual.

When she tried to open her mouth to scream, she just—stopped. It didn’t matter how hard she fought to force sound out. She struggled until the manacles began growing hot.

She couldn’t beat them.

Eventually she had collapsed onto the floor, drained to the point that she struggled to remain conscious.

As she lay there, watching the room swim before her eyes, she began to realise the reason the manacles were so powerful. They were using her magic. Wizarding folks had no more ability to stem the magic inside them than they could turn off their adrenal glands. Whatever effort she poured into overpowering the manacles, the manacles had in equal measure to repress her.

She couldn’t even scream or rage with frustration when she realised it. She had so much fury inside herself she felt as though she might burst into flames.

She wanted to break something. She wanted to use magic and make something explode. She wanted to do something that would hurt.

She wanted to punch a mirror the way people did in movies. To see the glass shatter and fracture until it looked the way she felt. She wanted her knuckles to split and bleed and feel the pain in her metacarpal bones, through her palms and into her wrists… She was desperate to feel something other than the emotional agony she felt she was drowning in.

But she couldn’t.

She tried circumventing the manacles in various ways.

The compulsion went beyond merely not screaming or speaking unless spoken to. She couldn’t be loud because she was commanded to be quiet. She couldn’t bang a door or stomp. Any method that occurred to make noise; when she tried to do it, she was stopped.

That was when it began to dawn on her that she was also the one controlling the compulsions. She was commanded to be quiet. It was her awareness of being unquiet that activated the manacles. Anything that she considered loud, resisting, disobedient, she couldn’t do.

That was why Healer Stroud had been so concerned with ensuring the mental stability of all the girls. If they lost their minds, the compulsions couldn’t control them. That was why the screaming girl had been able to attack someone.

The manacles were as limitless in their restrictions as Hermione’s creativity.

Hermione tried to focus on something else as she tried to stomp her feet or slam a door. Performing mental arithmancy. Mentally reciting the recipe for a Draught of Peace. The manacles still activated.

She had run out of new ideas about how to try circumventing them.

She turned away from the snowy landscape and began exercising in her room. It had felt awkward with the attention of the portrait but after nearly a month, she no longer cared.

She was so tired of thinking and despairing afresh.

Not that she could stop herself from thinking even as she slotted her feet under the wardrobe and began doing sit-ups until her abdominal muscles felt like they had been injected with acid. At least it was a way of directing her rage.

She wouldn’t be able to kill Malfoy. The manacles made it impossible.

She couldn’t escape on her own either.

Umbridge hadn’t even bothered with laying a compulsion against escaping. That was how certain she and Healer Stroud were that the girls couldn’t get the manacles off. That detail was the only loophole Hermione currently had to exploit. She could do things with the intention of escaping.

She had reviewed everything she knew about the manacles carefully. Hannah had made no mention of anyone ever getting them off despite whatever laxness or camaraderie had been developed with the gossiping guards. The manacles had a trace in them but rather than just get someone to take them off, Angelina had attempted to steal the trace.

Quite a number of people had managed to escape Hogwarts. All the people Malfoy had killed. No one had ever successfully escaped entirely because none of them could get the manacles off.

What had Hannah said? Unless Hermione could cut her hands off, she’d never escape.

How did the manacles come off?

Two Death Eaters had come to Hogwarts the day the new ones had been put on. Yaxley and Rowle. They had been called up when the guards started stunning all the women, and they’d been gone when she’d been rennervated.

Only Death Eaters bearing a Dark Mark could remove the manacles.

She had two options. She had to find a way to make Malfoy either kill her or help her to escape. There were no options that excluded him. It didn’t matter if the Manor had an entire set of camping gear, a basket of portkeys, and a weapon she could somehow touch, it would all be useless to her if she couldn’t get the manacles off.

She snarled quietly to herself in frustration and rolled over and started doing push-ups until she couldn’t lift herself off the ground any more.

She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling.

Draco Malfoy, where is the chink in your perfect armour?

As if on cue the door opened and Malfoy walked in. She turned her head to look at him, still too tired to try dragging herself off the floor.

He stared down at her, something flickering in his eyes after a moment.

“A Muggle thing, I’ll assume,” he said.

Hermione rolled her eyes and forced herself to stand up. She felt as though her whole body were made of jelly.

He glanced around the room. His eyes landed on the vial of potion Hermione had refused to take earlier. He summoned it across the room wandlessly and caught it deftly in his right hand.

“I realise that, being a Gryffindor, there are certain obvious things that you will always somehow fail to comprehend. I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised that you somehow missed the implicit instruction that you should swallow this,” he said, his mouth quirking in faint bemusement.

Hermione crossed her arms stubbornly. While it might be strategically advisable to seem docile and obedient, as a former Potions Mistress, Hermione was far too paranoid to agree to such a thing.

“What is it?” she asked.

Malfoy’s expression grew gloating.

“I’ll tell if you swallow every drop like a good girl,” he said, flashing a malicious smirk.

Hermione did not budge. Malfoy smiled faintly as he stared at her.

“Come here, Mudblood,” he commanded after a moment.

Hermione glared at him as her unwilling feet carried her across the room to him. They didn’t stop until she was mere inches from him, so close her robes brushed against his.

She stared balefully down at his shoes.

“Look at me, Mudblood.”

Her chin raised itself until she was staring into his eyes. He was still smiling.

“Surely you are aware that I’m not going to kill you,” he said. His eyes were dancing with cruel amusement. “After all, if I were, I imagine you’d feel obliged to come running.”

Hermione glowered. Yes, she knew, but poison was only one of the innumerable things he could dose her with. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and it made her ears roar.

“Open your mouth,” he commanded, unstoppering the vial and then proceeding to upend it into her opened mouth. “Swallow all of it.”

Hermione’s mouth closed, and she swallowed. The potion tasted bitter, with a faint tingling effect on her tongue and throat as it slid down to her stomach. She felt it pause there for a moment before it dispersed itself into her system.

It felt like an egg was cracked across the back of her mind. Something cold oozed over her consciousness until her mind felt entirely enveloped inside it. As though someone had plucked out her brain and placed it inside a tank of ice water. Her body was there, but her mind was—not. It was like experiencing herself in third person.

Her heart rate dropped to a steady beat.

She should be panicking. It was as though her consciousness had been severed from her endocrine system. There was no surge of adrenalin or norepinephrine. No fear.

It was merely an observation: she should be panicking. She was not.

She looked up at Malfoy.

She was aware that she hated him. This was a piece of information that seemed of utmost importance, and yet she couldn’t feel it. Hatred was a construct rather than an emotion.

He was staring at her intently.

“How do you feel, Mudblood?” he asked after a moment. His sharp eyes were taking in every detail, studying her face, and eyes, and posture as she stood before him. Her hands had stopped spasming; she realised when he glanced down at them. It was as though he were cataloguing her. Hermione felt her skin prickle with awareness, and a faint shiver ran down her spine, but she couldn't feel a corresponding wash of fear. Just awareness.

“Cold,” she answered. “My brain feels cold. What did you do to me?”

“It’s intended to acclimatise you to the estate,” he said, stepping back as he continued to carefully appraise her. “So that I am no longer obliged to monitor you in person.”

Hermione said nothing. Her brain was analysing.

The unfamiliarity of the manor upset her. The unknown. It made her panic. The potion blocked that. She could go wherever she wanted now.

The potion blocked everything she realised. She wasn’t sad. Or angry. Or ashamed. Her grief was gone. Her rage.

She was—nothing.

She simply existed in cold nothingness.

She looked up at Malfoy. “Is this what it feels like to be you?”

 

Chapter Text

Malfoy laughed faintly.

“Like it?” he asked.

She tilted her head to the side. He was easy to look at now that she didn’t feel frightened or overwhelmed by her hatred of him. She did have a conscious awareness that he was dangerous, but her body didn’t have any physical reaction. No twisting in her stomach. No tripled heart-rate. He could have been a statue.

“It feels like I’m dead,” she said.

He nodded as though the statement didn’t surprise him.

“The effects are temporary. It will fade after twelve hours. And eventually you’ll become immune. It should work long enough for you to acclimatise to the manor and estate.”

Hermione stared up at him.

“You’re being different to me now. You’re less mean. Why are you even doing this for me?” she said. She furrowed her brow in confusion. Apparently she was still able to feel confused.

He quirked an eyebrow and leaned forward so close his breath ghosted across her cheek.

“I’m not doing this for you, Mudblood,” he said softly into her ear. “I’m doing it for me. You wouldn’t react anyway.”

He straightened.

“See? Nothing. No elevated pulse. No pounding heart. I could bring in a boggart or bend you over a table and you wouldn’t blink. Not much fun.”

Hermione nodded thoughtfully. If she were wanting to commit suicide it would be easier to do so while under the effect of the potion. Malfoy might not be able to detect anything until too late.

Malfoy became stone-faced. He gestured toward the door. “Shall we?”

She went to get her cloak and followed him outside. He paused on the veranda and watched as she descended the steps by herself. The snow had been cleared from the gravel path but she could feel the cold already biting her toes through her shoes. It was bitterly cold that day.

She hesitated for a moment, trying to decide where to go. Then she walked over to the hedge maze. On all her walks with Malfoy he had never gone into it. She was quite curious about whether she could find her way through.

It was huge. The hedges towered over her. It made her recall the hedge maze from the Triwizard tournament. She doubted Malfoy’s hedge would try to eat her or contained any dark creatures. She wandered through the looping, twisting, winding path and thought about the potion Malfoy had forced down her throat.

She’d had the passing thought that he was dosing himself with it in order to be such a cold and evil bastard, but she dismissed it after a moment’s thought. The killing curse was emotion based magic. Impossible to cast with detachment.

Although, Malfoy seemed terrifyingly capable of somehow bending the rules around that curse.

Putting aside Malfoy and the mystery of his bottomless well of hatred, she could use the potion. She could make far more progress in pursuit of escape under the influence of the potion than she had been able to in the last month. So much so that it seemed suspiciously careless of Malfoy.

She paused to consider.

Malfoy was not careless. No matter how much he hated monitoring her. He wouldn't be careless. There must be some kind of failsafe that made him confident enough to dose her with something so powerful. He wouldn’t possibly risk it otherwise, even if he found monitoring her to be a form of torture.

How could he be certain she wouldn’t do anything when her heart-rate and pulse were unlikely to tip him off?

She’d quite nearly flung herself off a balcony and he’d only just stopped her. Known exactly when he needed to appear…

She looked down at her wrists.

He had to have sensed it through the manacles. But how had he known to come then but never bothered to appear during her panic attacks. A monitor charm, even a specialised one, couldn’t possibly differentiate that precisely.

Unless…

Malfoy was somehow reading her mind through them—

As soon as the thought dawned on her she felt certain she was right. How, she wasn’t sure. But she was willing to bet on it.

How irritating. She should be enraged but couldn’t summon it. She should be swallowed by despair. But intellectual aggravation was as much as she could muster.

As though his legilimency wasn’t invasive enough; trawling through her mind as though it were his own personal oyster bed. She was certain he was also somehow reading her mind through the manacles.

He never skimmed her thoughts. She had noticed. She remembered how Snape used to do that with students. Dip in through the eyes and glean what was forefront. When she made eye contact with Malfoy he never bothered to.

Hermione turned around. She stalked out of the hedge maze and made her way back to the veranda where Malfoy seemed immersed in a book on alchemy.

He snapped the book shut and looked up at her while she stood staring at him. Hands on her hips.

She couldn’t say anything but she could glare.

He seemed to realise that she couldn’t say anything and just smirked faintly and looked back at her.

“Yes?” he finally said after nearly a minute.

“Are you reading my mind?” she said.

He smiled broadly.

“And it only took a month for you to realise it,” he said in mock praise. “Although granted, you have been rather busy crying and moping and being afraid of hallways and the sky.”

The nice thing about having no emotions was that Malfoy’s nastiness merely felt like pebbles being dropped into a pond. A small, quick splash into her mental imperviousness and then stillness and indifference again.

“How is that possible?” she asked raising a skeptical eyebrow. It defied several fundamental laws of magic.

“Rest assured, Mudblood, I am not reading all of your thoughts. If I had to subject myself to the constant stream of your consciousness I would probably Avada myself. You only register when you’re doing something—interesting. And it spares me from having to show up just because you’re trying to descend a staircase by yourself.”

Non-drugged Hermione would have flushed angrily at his mockery. But Present Hermione just blinked and considered the information.

So it wasn’t a constant thing. That was good to know. But when something registered enough he was somehow able to delve in and read her foremost thoughts. That—was a problem.

She studied him. She would have to steal whatever it was that he was monitoring her with. Umbridge had described it as a charm carried by the head of the household. Hermione wasn’t sure what it could be. Magical charms were normally something metal to channel the magical connection. And they needed to be worn; necklaces or bracelets or rings were the most common.

Malfoy didn’t seem to wear any jewelry, not even a wedding band. The only visible piece on him was the black ring on his right hand.

Maybe that was it.

“You can’t steal it,” Malfoy drawled.

She looked at him sharply.

“It’s not a thing. It’s not this,” he said, and raised his hand to show her the band she’d been eying. He slid it off his finger and tossed it to her. She caught it reflexively and studied it.

It was some type of black metal. It didn’t seem to have any kind of strong magical signature the way something connected to the manacles would. But maybe it still was. He might be lying. Maybe he was trying to misdirect her.

She wondered what he’d do if she swallowed it.

He burst out laughing.

“Don’t swallow it.”

She looked up sharply and he quirked an eyebrow knowingly. He smirked and held out his hand. She  reluctantly dropped it into his palm and he slid it back onto his finger.

“As I said, it’s not a thing. You can’t steal the trace. Not the one on you. They used blood magic to make your manacles.”

Hermione stared at him in astonishment.

“I’m in your head?” she said, her mouth dropping open slightly as the realization struck her.

They had taken her blood.

When she was at Hogwarts, they had taken vials of her blood, and her hair. She had assumed it was for genetic testing. It hadn’t occurred to her that it would be used to perform a blood magic ritual.

That meant that she was, by her lifeblood, tied into Malfoy’s consciousness. He could sense her in the back of his mind. It was like blood wards on estates and castles, creating a subconscious connection to the Lord in possession of it. Blood wards allowed the owner to detect when someone entered or tried to tamper with anything. Hermione existed in Malfoy’s mind in a similar manner.

If she weren’t entirely emotionless she would have been cold with horror.

He nodded.

“You’re Potter’s Mudblood. Additional security measures were considered necessary. So, let us establish now how things work: I will always know what you’re doing and I will always be able to find you. Unless you can get those manacles off.” He eyed them and gave a faint smile. “I would dearly love to see you manage such a thing.”

He laughed.

“Perhaps you can start by seducing me,” he advised drolly, leaning back in his chair and looking her up and down. “Steal my heart with your wit and charms.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Right. Maybe tomorrow,” she said, her mind already churning. “Well, this has all been very illuminating,” she said. “I won’t disturb your reading further.”

Then she turned on her heel and strode back into the hedge maze.

She wound and twisted through the hedge-maze as she thought. Her options had narrowed further. Malfoy clearly did not expect her to escape. He did not even appear concerned about it. She didn’t blame him. She didn’t expect to be able to escape either.

It had already been a fool’s hope. Now it felt like total idiocy. She sighed faintly and watched her breath puff away as a cloud in the cold air.

When the potion wore off she was going to be severely depressed.

She explored the entire hedge maze. Her feet were numb with cold and soaked by the time she exited again. She limped back to the veranda. Malfoy said nothing and she walked past him back into the manor and up to her room by herself.

Emotionless as she was, it was nice to feel more like a functioning person again. No grief. No fear. No depression or despair. She didn’t have to worry her body would betray her with a panic attack.

The potion could easily get addictive.

Not that Malfoy would allow it. Healer Stroud had mentioned that potions for anxiety could interfere with pregnancy, so she was probably only going to be dosed with it for a short time.

Hermione wished she knew more about magical pregnancy. It had been a largely overlooked aspect of her training as a healer. Given parchment and a quill she could write a thirty inch essay on anxiety potions and how they interacted with healing magic and dark curses. But pregnancy was excluded from casualty healing. Almost no one had babies during the war and if they did, they stopped fighting and went to a midwife.

She wondered how the potion was made. She was almost positive it contained billywig sting slime, valerian and sopophorous bean. Maybe sloth brain mucus too. She thought back over the flavor and tingling as she had swallowed it. Perhaps that was a reaction of the sting slime combined with syrup of Hellebore.

It was nice to have something new to think about. Her brain had felt like it had scratched itself raw ever since the war. Completely starved of anything new to turn over in her mind. It was full of the past. Reviewing it over again and again. Wondering what had gone wrong.

Her past was like a millstone. Always dragging her down. Dragging her inexorably back as she wondered again and again what had gone wrong.

Had she known? Had she known why the Order had lost the war? Known and hidden that information? Chosen to torture herself by concealing it?

Why? As Malfoy had said, she had lost the war. What would she bother protecting even in the aftermath? Knowing that everyone she cared about was already imprisoned or dead?

Like Dumbledore’s death the details surrounding the end of the war felt foggy. She couldn’t remember why they had gone to Hogwarts. She couldn’t even remember getting captured. She remembered Harry dying. And then she was in a cage watching the Weasleys being tortured.

She’d assumed she’d blanked due to shock.

Hermione explored the entire wing of the manor from top to bottom before nightfall. The attics, every closet, and servant’s stairs and tunnels. She didn’t comb through the rooms, but she hoped if she grew familiar with them that she’d be able to come back without panicking or having a nervous breakdown even without the potion.

She wondered how many house elves the Malfoys had. There wasn’t so much as a cobweb in the darkest corners of the attic.

The next morning she woke and felt like a boulder had been placed on her chest. Pinned to her bed and overwhelmed by the whiplash of despair she’d been unable to experience the day before. She fought to breathe.

The twelve hour respite made all her emotional pain hurt more. Cast it into stark relief. She hadn’t realised how deep the cuts of grief and loneliness reached inside of her until she was briefly freed from the pain of them.

As the weight of it bore down on her once more she felt as though she were being ground to dust. She could almost feel the edges of herself crumbling and breaking. Dissolving into ether. There was almost nothing left of her but hurting.

Her spine and the back of her neck felt overheated. While the rest of her body was clammy and icy cold. Her skin was damp. As though she’d sweated the potion out in the night.

She rolled from the bed and was violently sick upon the floor before she could bolt for the bathroom.

She slumped down, shivering. Her body felt leaden. She could barely move her arms. She wanted a shower. She was too hot and too cold.

She was thirsty. She was desperate for water.

She wanted a hug.

A fresh wave of loneliness struck her so abruptly she burst into tears.

Feeling sick and weak made her feel like a child again. Desperate for her mum to fuss over her and lay a hand against her forehead. For comfort.

She couldn’t even remember her mum but she missed her nonetheless. She recalled being in bed and having cool fingers on her face, brushing away a lock of hair and then resting on her cheek.

When the wave of nausea finally passed she dragged herself into the bathroom and after drinking several glasses of water, dropped herself into a lukewarm bath.

It was like having a hangover while sick with the flu. Perhaps it was what withdrawal felt like. Hermione had never experienced a drug addiction as far as she could recall.

Of course Malfoy wouldn’t warn her that she’d feel like death once the potion wore off.  She cursed him strongly in her mind and hoped he’d feel it.

She wanted to drown herself.

When she went back into her room the floor had been cleaned.

She felt feverish still. She dragged the blankets off her bed and huddled under them, pressing her cheek to the window.

She was sick the whole day and apparently Malfoy had anticipated it because he didn’t show up expecting her to go outside.  The following afternoon he arrived without a word despite the daggers she’d glared at him and led her out to the veranda. She discovered that the potion had acclimatised her somewhat. She was able to manage walking off the veranda without having a total panic attack. She shook and had to fight against hyperventilating but her fear didn’t swallow her. Getting across the gravel and into the hedge was the hardest. But once she was among the towering yew, brushing her fingers against the walls, and focusing on navigating the route, she was able to get herself to breathe somewhat evenly.

When she returned to the veranda Malfoy was gone. Apparently satisfied that he was no longer obliged to monitor or walk her.

The potion appeared again the next morning. Hermione spent several hours debating with herself over whether to take it again. The mere thought of spending another day going through withdrawal made her nauseated. In the end she gritted her teeth and downed it.

She crept through the manor like a shadow and explored the main wing. She was constantly on alert for the sharp tap of Astoria’s shoes. She hadn’t encountered the witch since the night she'd taken Hermione to Malfoy’s room. But Hermione had occasionally caught glimpses of someone watching from the windows when Malfoy had taken her outside. She wasn’t interested in testing whether Astoria’s early threats had been sincere.

She explored most of the main wing that day. There were so many doors that were locked she realised that Malfoy had probably keyed the manor with her blood. Caged her within her own blood signature.

The next day her withdrawal was worse.

Then three days later the potion did not appear with breakfast. Hermione suspected she knew why and could barely eat. She paced madly in her room and then went and sat under the spray of the shower down the hall for an hour while she tried to stop shaking.

After dinner a house elf appeared to take the dishes away.

“You is to get ready for tonight,” it said before vanishing.

Hermione sat frozen in her chair. She’d assumed as much. Confirmation still felt worse. Having had an additional month to dread it made the horror feel colder. It felt as though something were twisting her organs into a tighter and tighter knot until she felt like something was about to tear. Her chest felt so tight she could barely manage to draw even shallow breaths.

She went into the bathroom and bathed. When she re-emerged she found herself glancing repeatedly toward the center of the room. She was terrified that Malfoy might choose to vary the experience. She found herself clinging to the hope that the table would appear and he wouldn’t do anything novel.

She didn’t want to be raped in a new way.

She nearly sobbed with relief when the table appeared at precisely 7:30.

She wanted to slap herself. In what world of horror was a woman happy that she was going to be raped in a familiar manner?

Malfoy came and went for five evenings without a word to her. In precisely the same manner as he had during the previous month.

Every evening Hermione gripped the table and imagined herself brewing the anxiety potion. She had so much free time to mull over things she had started trying to guess how to reverse engineer it.

She tried to make it as real to herself as possible. Trying to recreate the scents and sensations. She was exacting about the details. Obsessive.

Far far away from the rocking. From the bite of the wood into her hip bones. From the sliding sensation inside of her that she refused to allow her mind to attend to.

She was not there.

She was brewing a potion.

She removed a pewter cauldron from the shelf using a step-stool. With a practiced flick of her wand she conjured a flame. She waited until the metal reached a medium temperature before adding the billywig sting slime. She would hold the vial in her right hand, and tip it. The sharp scent would tickle her nose.

The pewter and heat would cause the levitating properties of the sting slime to evaporate after boiling for one minute. She would bottle the steam and use it as an anesthetic on localised injuries. She would remove a sloth brain from a jar and using a long knife slice it so thinly the pieces were transparent. The brain under her hand would be spongy and delicate. Her touch would be very light and the knife blade razor sharp. After one minute she would reduce the temperature of the slime to a low simmer and place the slices of sloth brain across the surface, allowing two minutes for the sting slime and sloth brain to amalgamate, slowly turning into a steel blue colour with a viscous consistency.

In the meanwhile she would prepare the sopophorous bean. She would use twenty. Crushing them under her silver dagger’s blade before extracting the juice. Feeling the pressure in the knuckle of her thumb as she bore down. She imagined the sensation of the bean giving way under her blade. Once the juice was added she would stir the potion clockwise twelve times with a silver brewing rod and then eight times counterclockwise with an ash rod. Then the potion would be covered and left to brew on a low temperature for seventy-three hours. The slow brewing was necessary to nullify the somnolent properties of the sopophorous juice. The potion would turn pale green. In the seventy-fourth hour she would add minced murtlap tentacles, a crushed squill, valerian, and powdered ashwinder eggshells. She would bring it to a rapid boil for thirty seconds and then use a cooling charm to reduce the temperature to just above freezing. The potion would become midnight blue with an aqueous consistency.  Then she would drip syrup of hellebore over the surface. One drop for ten slow clockwise and then counterclockwise stir rotations. Her arm would tire slightly. Thirty drops in all until the potion thickened and stuck to the ash stir rod. Stir it three times with a silver rod and bring it to simmer for five minutes before removing it from the heat and allowing it to drop to room temperature without magic. It would become dark grey and syrupy. It would yield twenty-five doses.

She brewed it in her mind every night. Adjusting quantities and techniques. Revising the order of added ingredients. By the fifth night she was almost positive that she had figured the entire recipe out.

On the sixth day she forced herself to go outside alone for fear that otherwise Malfoy would show up and order her to.

Conquering her agoraphobia, she had decided was her first priority. Any schemes involving Malfoy would wait until she could manage going outdoors consistently.

Deep down she suspected she was merely deluding herself and avoiding him. But she was at a loss as to how to trick him into killing her when she couldn’t even talk to him without his permission. As for seducing him, per his suggestion, well, the idea was so absurd it was almost laughable.

The next day he showed up in her room, pinned her to the bed and tore through her memories. He barely spoke to her. When he was done he simply turned on his heel and walked out.

Hermione had a dream two days later of Alastor Moody standing in front of her in a small storage closet. His eye spinning around suspiciously. It was as though they had been underwater, the words exchanged were indecipherable. He had looked at her intensely as he said something, watching her reaction. She remembered feeling skeptical but determined. Moody said something else and Hermione shook her head. He nodded sharply and when he turned to leave he had been stone-faced. But his eye as he looked back had hesitation in it. Alastor never hesitated. After Alastor had gone she stood alone for several minutes.

She didn’t know what the dream meant. She tried not to dwell on it.

Hermione explored the main wing of the manor. The portraits were apparently strictly forbidden from speaking to her. They watched her with a gimlet eye but never uttered a word. She explored the hedge maze until she could walk through it with her eyes closed. She couldn’t quite manage anywhere else outdoors unless she crept along the side of the manor.

Open spaces were still very difficult. She couldn’t even peel herself off the wall when walking down the larger hallways. And she could barely stand to set foot inside the ballroom in the main wing of the house.

After ten days Healer Stroud arrived again to see if Hermione was pregnant. Hermione was not. Hermione had been exercising aggressively in her room to funnel her rage. Healer Stroud was pleased to see the improvement in Hermione’s physical condition.

The next day when Hermione entered her room shivering from her walk she found Malfoy there, waiting for her in full Death Eater regalia.

“Fancy an outing, Mudblood?”

Hermione stared at him, taking in what he was wearing. His face was an expressionless mask as he approached her.

“Did you forget?” he asked, his silver eyes flickering. “Two months. No pregnancy. The Dark Lord is eager to see you.”

He gripped her by the arm before she could back away and apparated.

Chapter Text

The hall that Voldemort resided in was damp and warm like a reptile cage. Somewhere underground. The walls that she could see in the darkness were stone with no windows.

Far underground.

The air was thick and sour. Stale. Putrid with dark magic.

Hermione broke out in a cold sweat and Malfoy dragged her forward as she fought to escape. It wasn’t a conscious choice. Every cell in her body screamed for her to get away.

Malfoy’s hand on her was like a vice. She couldn’t wrench herself free. He barely seemed to notice that she was writhing in his grip.

“My Lord,” he said with a respectful tone as he bowed. “I have brought the Mudblood. As you requested.”

His words were punctuated by Hermione’s panicked stuttering breaths as she tried to quell her panic. A crushing weight suddenly bore down on her back and forced her prostrate upon the moist stone floor. She could barely breathe under the pressure and fought to drag oxygen down her throat as her jaw was ground into the hard floor. The sound rattled in her ears.

“Oh, yes,” Voldemort murmured in a caressing whisper. “Stroud mentioned she was not yet gestating.”

Hermione rolled her panicked eyes upward so she could see from where she was pinned on the ground. Voldemort was reclining in a large stone throne staring down at her indolently.

He waved a hand, it had dull scales on it.

“Bring her forward,” Voldemort ordered.

The weight crushing Hermione into the ground was released and two attendants pulled her up off the floor and dragged her up the steps of the dais, forcing her to her knees at Voldemort’s feet.

Voldemort didn’t sit up. He turned his head slightly and wiped the corner of his mouth. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut but he drove into her mind. His mind inside hers felt like a branding iron. He was burning her. Damaging her. She was screaming and screaming until her lungs and throat gave out and she just shook in agony.

Hermione had not realised how much her shock from being removed the cell had dulled everything. She hadn’t remember it hurting so much. Or perhaps Voldemort was feeling vindictive due to her lack of pregnancy.

It was like having her consciousness flayed.

She didn’t know how long it lasted. Forever. She felt like she should have died several times along the way.

Voldemort tried breaking through the magic around her locked memories and when he finally gave up he proceeded to ravage all her recent memories. Her arrival at Malfoy Manor, the first time Malfoy raped her in his room. And the second time, and the third and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth. He made her relive all ten of them as though he were curious to see how Malfoy did it. Her panic attacks. Her conversations with Malfoy. Her limited interactions with Astoria. Her questions and suspicions and schemes. He pored over the months with excessive cruelty and curiosity.

He razed her mind until she hung limp. Her muscles too worn to even shake.

Finally he withdrew and the hands gripping Hermione allowed her to drop to the ground, spasming.

“You knew the Mudblood in school,” Hermione heard Voldemort say after a minute.

“Indeed, My Lord,” Malfoy said with a faint tone of derision. “One of Potter’s favourites.”

“She dreams of your death quite desperately. More than she dreams even of mine,” Voldemort said with amusement.

“A sign that she has a sense of what is even possible,” Malfoy drawled.

Voldemort nudged Hermione with his toe. Her vision kept wobbling and then vanishing intermittently when she tried to focus. It wasn’t darkness. It was as though her eyes didn’t know how to see anymore.

“She is clever. I trust you are keeping her well in hand, High Reeve.”

“Of course, My Lord. You know I succeed in whatever you set me to.”

“Indeed,” Voldemort said. “It has been a long time since you have caused me any disappointment.”

“I am vowed to you, My Lord.”

“You are aware that she is dangerous,” Voldemort said and Hermione felt magic suddenly drag her up off the floor and she hung suspended as he stared at her, his face twisted with distaste. “She is lying in wait to find a weakness to exploit.”

“You have had her carefully caged. You know I will not fail you,” Malfoy said respectfully.

“I want her pregnant,” Voldemort said with a forceful hiss. Then, as though it were an afterthought, he added, “It concerns me that the Malfoy line is without an heir.”

“Of course, My Lord, Astoria and I have been careful to follow all of Healer Stroud’s instructions,” said Malfoy.

“Very well,” Voldemort said, sinking further into his throne and dabbing the corner of his mouth again. “Return her to the manor then.”

Malfoy bowed and then gripped Hermione by her arm from where she hung suspended. The magic holding her released and she fell against him. He grimaced in obvious distaste and proceed to drag her out of the hall and away from the cloying, oppressive nest of dark magic.  

When they were halfway down some hallway Malfoy shoved her against a wall and released her. She slid halfway down it and raised her shaking hands up to wipe away the tears crusting on her cheeks. She could still barely see through the blinding pain in her mind.

“Drink this,” he commanded, slipping a vial of a common pain relief potion into her hand. “Otherwise you’ll black out when I apparate you and it will add considerably to your recovery time.”

She swallowed it, fairly certain he wasn’t going to poison her.

“Did that ever happen to you?” she found herself asking, when the pain began easing so she could speak again and his face slowly swam into focus.

Malfoy eyed her for a moment.  “More than once,” he said. “My training was rigorous.”

She nodded.

“Was that after fifth year?” she asked looking up at him. The pain seemed to fade somewhat when she focused on the question.

“Yes,” he said it in a clipped tone.

“Your aunt?”

“Hmm,” he hummed in confirmation, his eyes narrowed.

They were both staring at each other intently. He felt like the only thing she could see.


“Not the only thing you learned that summer,” she noted. His eyes widened incrementally.


“Are you needing a confession for something? Should I tell you everything I’ve done?” he asked in a careful drawl. He drew closer so that he towered above her.

She forced herself not to shrink or cower down further than she was already slumped. She stared up into his eyes. A question rose to her lips and she felt somehow that it was vital that she ask it.

“Do you want to?” she said.

He stared at her as though he were considering something. Then his eyes grew flinty and he stepped back.

“Why would I want to talk to you about anything, Mudblood?” he said coldly, grasping her by the arm and dragging her down the hallway to the apparition point.

Hermione’s brain still felt crushed and damaged. When Malfoy apparated back into her room the squeezing sensation on her head made her cry out and collapse, vomiting as soon as she reappeared.

He stood stiffly, staring down at her and banished the mess from the floor while she tried to fight off the endless waves of nausea.

“Go to bed. You have two days to recover before I’ll expect you to be walking again,” he said before turning to leave. She would have glared at him if she could have interrupted her body’s compulsive dry heaving.

When her body finally became convinced that there was absolutely nothing in her stomach left to expel Hermione crawled into bed and cradled her head in her arms.

She wasn’t sure when two days passed. She slept like a dead thing and couldn’t have said whether it had been hours or days when she finally woke without a migraine.

While she was poking at breakfast Malfoy strode in.

She glared at him sullenly from the bed.

“Season's greetings, Mudblood,” he drawled.

She stared at him in mild surprise.

“As a Christmas gift to myself, I have decided to end the weekly ritual of replacing all your shoes. It should arrive tomorrow. Please do not interpret it as a sign of my affection,” he said and chuckled for a moment. Then his face grew cold as he walked closer. “It’s been three days and you haven’t left your room. I hope you’re not going to inconvenience me.”

Hermione felt too ill to feel afraid of Malfoy.

“I have no way of knowing what the date is,” she said in a flat voice. “Perhaps giving me a calendar could be an additional present for yourself.”

He stared at her.

“It didn’t occur to you to just ask an elf?” he asked after a moment.

Hermione stared at him and felt unwanted tears of humiliation prick at the corner of her eyes. Her mouth twisted as she fought not to snarl or cry.

“I can’t speak unless spoken to,” she said stiffly.

Malfoy froze and was silent for a surprisingly long time. An indecipherable expression rippled across his face before he blinked and laughed faintly.

“And here I thought it was an elf rights thing,” he said with a smirk. His eyes still looked slightly frozen. “I’ll send an elf later and see if you can speak if it initiates.”

He spun on his heel and walked out without another word.

When Hermione finished picking at her food an elf appeared to take the dishes away.

“Master is wanting to know if you is needing anything,” it said, avoiding her gaze.

“A calendar that indicates the date, if that is possible. And—a book, about anything.”

The house elf looked uncomfortable.

“I can be getting you a calendar. But Mistress was sayin the Mudblood isn’t to sully any Malfoy books and had them hexed so theys would be burning your dirty blood.”

Hermione looked away as her chest tightened. She bit her lip so it wouldn’t tremble. Of course Malfoy or Astoria would do something spiteful like specifically restrict her from reading.

“Nevermind then,” she said quietly.

“You could be having the Daily Prophet, if you is wanting it,” the elf offered.

“That—would be nice,” said Hermione unwilling to let herself feel hopeful about it.

“Is the Mudblood wanting anything else?”

Hermione’s mouth twitched. She almost asked the elf to call her Hermione. She hadn’t had anyone call her Hermione since—since—

It was hard to remember.

But she wasn’t sure she wanted to know whether the elf had specific instructions about only calling her Mudblood. It probably did. It was easier not to let herself even ask.

“Nothing else,” she said looking out the window.

The elf popped away.

A calendar had appeared on the wall and a copy of the Daily Prophet was on her bed that afternoon when she returned, shivering, from her walk.

December 25th. Seeing it on the wall left her frozen for several minutes.

The copy of the newspaper corroborated the date. She felt afraid to reach out and touch it, half expecting for it to burn her. An extra twist of spite.

Hesitantly she rested a fingertip on it. Nothing happened.

She sat down and read it front to back. Savouring words.

Reading.

She had missed it. The last time when she had read The Daily Prophet it had been so rushed.

She read it slowly through once. And then again. And again. Every word.

It was mostly trash. Thinly veiled propaganda. The political news was nearly unintelligible amid all the spin. Hermione had never found quidditch interesting but she avidly read through the game recaps since they seemed to be the only thing accurately reported on. The society pages went on and on about Astoria. Her name was dropped in every single society piece.  

Hermione read the paper forward and backward. She looked for any patterns. Or codes. Just in case.

The next morning she found a pair of boots in the wardrobe among her shoes. Malfoy’s “present.” She had been wearing through the soles of her flimsy slippers every few days and walking in the snow had her toes nearly frostbitten on several occasions.

The boots were dragon-hide. When she put them on they resized themselves to her perfectly. She could tell they had enchantments woven into them to keep her feet at a perfect temperature. She could walk a hundred miles in them and never get a blister.

She stared at them in confusion. They were—excessive.

Much like the cloak he’d provided.  

Perhaps Malfoy didn’t even know how to buy normal shoes. He just assumed that all boots were supposed to come in dragon-hide with temperature control and cushioning charms.

Finding Malfoy at all considerate was disconcerting. She stared at the boots for several more minutes.

She dismissed the notion. If Astoria owned a lapdog it would assuredly be fitted with a jeweled collar.

She was just a well-shod and cloaked pet surrogate for him to fuck.

He was probably worried that if she got frostbite he’d have to interact with her again.

And, given that she was allegedly intended to bear three children before she departed the estate she was presumably expected to live at Malfoy Manor for at least four years. Possibly five or six.

Considering how spartan Malfoy Manor seemed to be Malfoy apparently adhered to a strict “buy it once, buy it for life,” philosophy. The fact he’d had to buy her twenty pairs of shoes in two months probably was something he found morally offensive.

If the boots had been given to her earlier she might have felt hopeful about using them to escape. But as she looked down at her feet she didn’t feel even the faintest flicker of optimism.

Although it would be nice not to have her feet ache for hours each day.

The things she found herself being grateful for were truly horrifying.

The house elf appeared again to take away her dishes and asked if she wanted anything.

“Am I allowed to keep the newspapers after I’ve read them?” Hermione asked cautiously.

The question was apparently not one the elf had been prepared to answer. It shuffled its feet and seemed to be considering.

“Topsy thinks so. It will just be being banished after,” the elf said after several minutes. “Why is the Mudblood wanting them?”

Hermione shrugged.

“There’s nothing to do. Having paper I could use would be nice. I’m guessing that I’ll be refused if I ask for a ball of string or yarn.”

The elf nodded that Hermione’s guess was accurate.

“Topsy is to keep this room clean. But the Mudblood can be using the paper until the next paper is coming,” the elf said.

“Fair enough,” Hermione said in agreement. Not that she had any choice in the matter.

Hermione read the day’s newspaper twelve times before tearing it into neat squares. She had spent the previous night going through a list of things she thought she might be permitted to have. She had assumed that she couldn’t have knitting needles. Being restricted from yarn had been a guess, although where Malfoy worried she’d hang herself without a portrait catching her seemed questionable—

Maybe outside. She’d have to look more carefully at the trees on the estate… She brushed aside such schemes to save for a later date.

She wasn’t thinking about suicide. She wasn’t thinking about the way her head still throbbed; as though Voldemort had done permanent damage to her mind. She wasn’t thinking about how sounds hurt. Or how her hands had started spasming because of the clock again. Or that the way Voldemort had forced her to re-live being raped had felt even more traumatic than the times when it happened. She wasn’t thinking about how she was never going to escape.

She wasn’t thinking about anything but carefully ripping up The Daily Prophet as steadily as her spastic fingers would allow her to.

That was all.

It was the only thing she was thinking about.

When she had made several perfect squares she set to folding them. She started with origami cranes.

She couldn’t remember exactly where she had learned to make them. The ability felt like muscle memory, creating the precise creases in a specific order that she didn’t recall memorizing.

Her father? Maybe?

Someone with agile, precise fingers. At a kitchen table guiding her through the steps.

“If you fold a thousand cranes in one year, you’ll get a wish,” a male voice said.

“No, you get good luck and happiness,” came a woman’s voice from the next room.

“Same thing.”

“Not really. A wish assumes a person knows what’s best for them. Good luck and happiness leaves it to Fate to lead you to the right place. I’d much prefer to be gifted with good luck and happiness than a single wish.”

“Ok, Confucius. I’ll defer to your superior understanding of the mystic.”

“Now you’re purposely trying to provoke me. Conflating Confucianism and Japanese Mythology is an offense before the gods of pedagogy. I will not let you fill our daughter’s head with such misinformation.”

“Maybe I’m doing it to encourage her critical thinking…. Fine, I sincerely apologise for how horribly miseducated she’ll be now. I will accept full responsibility when it causes her to be cast from civil society and forced to wander the earth as a nomad. In the future I’ll be sure to cross-reference everything I say at the library first.”

Yes, thank you. That would be great.”

“The trouble with marrying someone who never bores you is that they don’t even leave a man in peace to teach his daughter his favourite hobby. Here, I’ll show you how to make origami tessellations. You mother doesn’t know a thing about those. I just read a paper by an astrophysicist who proposes using the technique to store large membranes on satellites.”

Hermione folded origami cranes until her fingertips felt raw. Then she arranged them on the floor so they would stand, wings extended.

The newspaper was not an ideal strength for origami but it was something to do. Hermione hadn’t had anything to do in so long.

It was too bad that Japanese mythology wasn’t actually real magic. She’d fold a hundred thousand cranes if it would give her a bit of luck.

She gathered the cranes up and flattened them all. Leaving them in a neat pile for the elves to banish.

She wondered what her parents had been like. What kinds of jobs they had.  

She hoped that her inability to remember them meant that they were safe somewhere. That she had protected them before the war started.

She hoped they didn’t know what had become of her.

Chapter Text

Five days later Hermione was seated on the floor by the window folding what was, by her count, her two hundred and thirty-sixth paper crane when the door opened and a young man peered through. His eyes swept across the room and when they landed on Hermione he entered the room and quickly closed the door behind himself.

His expression was shifty and he stared at her intently as he came forward.

He seemed hurried.

He was solidly built with dark hair and an angular face. He was wearing formal, dark blue dress robes. He had thick stubble across his face.

Hermione’s instinctive response at the sight of him was utter terror.

She froze as though petrified and stared.  

There was nowhere to run. She couldn’t even scream.

It hadn’t ever occurred to her that a stranger might just walk into her room one day.

He paused slightly as he approached, noting her expression.

“You don’t remember me,” he said in a tone of surprise. There seemed to be a hint of offense in the words.

Hermione studied him desperately, trying to guess who he was. He seemed vaguely familiar. Perhaps from school? Someone she hadn’t known well.

He kept coming across the room. He was halfway across it and Hermione’s hands started spasming as she struggled to think of what to do. If she bolted, she’d have to get out of earshot or he could just order her to stop. Perhaps if she plugged her ears...but he could just stun her.

She couldn’t—

He was only a few feet away and his expression was growing triumphant.

Suddenly there was a sharp crack and Malfoy appeared beside her out of thin air. Hermione started and shrank toward him, away from the approaching stranger.

The intense, triumphant expression on the young man’s face faded sharply into indifference at the sight of Malfoy. The shiftiness of his posture falling away as he straightened and glanced around Hermione’s room.

“Lose your way, Montague?” Malfoy asked coldly as he stepped slightly in front of Hermione.

Montague shrugged.

“Just exploring,” he said. “I got curious when I saw her. You’ve got a lot of protective wards on this room, Malfoy.”

Hermione’s eyes darted to the walls. Were there? She’d never noticed. It was difficult to detect certain types of wards without a wand or a bit of magic to press into them.

“The Dark Lord entrusted her to me with specific instructions regarding her care. It’s always useful to know when someone is trespassing,” Malfoy replied. His tone was pure ice.

Montague laughed. “Is she not allowed visitors?”

“She is not,” Malfoy said, stepping away from Hermione after giving her the most perfunctory glance. “And if you were just curious you could have asked me. It’s nearly midnight. Perhaps we should return to the party. I’m sure Astoria will be wanting us.”

Malfoy stalked across the room and waited for Montague to follow him. Montague seemed to intentionally take his time.

He glanced around the room again and then back at Hermione. The intensity returned to his eyes as he stared down at her with Malfoy behind him.

Something. There was something he was trying to communicate to her.

Then he turned and followed Malfoy out.

Hermione stared at the door that closed behind them for several minutes.

Montague.

Graham Montague?

He’d been on the Inquisitorial Squad. And he’d been captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team. Fred and George had shoved him into the Vanishing Cabinet during Fifth Year.

Hermione barely knew him. He barely knew her.

When had she known him to the extent that he would expect her to recognize him?

While she was thinking, Hermione laid aside the piece of paper her spasming fingers had wrecked.

The Malfoys were hosting a New Year’s Party in the  manor. She would have had no idea if Montague and Malfoy hadn’t appeared.

She stood and went to the door, hesitating. She wanted to see people with her own eyes but the thought also terrified her.

If anyone saw her they could do anything they wanted to her unless Malfoy showed up and stopped them. Her sharp, instinctive relief at his arrival earlier unsettled her in more ways than she wanted to think about.

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

She stood at the door for several minutes before hesitantly opening it. She crept down the hall and slipped into one of the disused servants passages, winding her way toward the main wing of the house.

Gradually the sound of a string quartet began to reach her ears accompanied by the buzz of conversations. She stopped and listened.

Music.

She hadn’t heard music in years.

She paused and leaned against the wall to absorb it. Shutting her eyes and breathing to the tempo of the strings.

She had forgotten how it felt to hear music.

After fifteen minutes she remembered herself and continued on her way. She cracked open a door and peeked into a darkened hallway to see if it was clear. She was about to step out when she heard a rustle of fabric and a woman’s giggle. Hermione stepped sharply back and watched Astoria dart around the corner grasping someone’s wrist. A male wrist most distinctly not belonging to Malfoy.

Hermione couldn’t see clearly in the darkness but the build of the man was wrong. Broader and shorter. And not pale enough or blond.

Astoria leaned back against the wall and the man closed in on her until Hermione couldn’t see the blonde witch at all. Hermione’s eyes widened as the giggling gave way to breathy gasps.

She hadn’t—well, it wasn’t necessarily surprising—Hermione just hadn’t expect to encounter it.

Suddenly two, milk white legs became visible as they were wrapped around the man’s hips and the noises took a turn from gasping to moaning.

Hermione found herself weirdly fascinated until a horrifying thought occurred to her—

Malfoy would find it in her memory.

She stepped sharply back and fled silently up the stairs. She took another route toward the ballroom.

She had gotten quite good at navigating most of the manor. As long as she didn’t rush herself and used the walls as a touchstone she could go almost anywhere.

On the third floor there was a cramped, twisty little stairway that led to a balcony alcove over the ballroom. Hermione assumed the party was located in the ballroom.

She’d hoped to go somewhere where she could listen to conversation but Astoria’s hallway affair had interfered. Hermione replayed what she had witnessed. The act itself wasn’t surprising but the indiscretion seemed excessive. Cheating on her husband in a hallway filled with his family’s portraits. Even if it were an open-marriage the overtness seemed impolitic.

Hermione slipped into the alcove, knelt down and peeked over the railing, down at the party. The ballroom was filled with people all decked out in their most lavish robes. The room was resplendent in its decorations. Glittering. The chandeliers were lit with fairy lights and in the center of the room a tower of champagne belle coupes had been constructed and stood at least six feet tall; champagne was flowing down it in an endless magical fountain.

It was a party meant for the society pages. There were several photographers snapping pictures for the next morning’s paper.

Hermione saw Pius Thicknesse and several other important figures in the Ministry. There were dozens of Death Eaters Hermione recognized.

A flash of pale blond caught Hermione’s eye and she found Malfoy engaged in a conversation with Dolores Umbridge. The Warden was dressed in pink and fuschia dress robes with a plunging neckline and a pendant suggestively nestled in her bosom.

Umbridge was simpering and touching Malfoy on the arm while he remained stone-faced. His eyes kept surreptitiously flicking down to her chest in a way that appeared to be a mixture of curiosity and malaise.

Before Hermione could take further note of the interaction, a scarlet figure caught her attention. She glanced over and then did a double take. There was a surrogate at the party.

Hermione’s eyes raced across the room and she realised there were nine of them there.

She stared in astonishment. She couldn’t recognize any of them; they were all bonneted and following wizards around as though they were shadows. Their heads were tucked downward and their shoulders curled forward submissively.

Some of the wizards they accompanied were Death Eaters. Hermione recognised Amycus Carrow, Mulciber, and Avery. The other wizards were younger. She thought one might be Adrian Pucey and another Marcus Flint.

The surrogates, Hermione realised as she watched, were being used as status symbols. Paraded about to show off a bloodline’s importance.

Hermione‘s chest grew tight and her face twisted as she watched.

The women didn’t go near each other. Presumably they had been ordered not to wander. But as two of them happened to pass each other Hermione saw their hands brush for an instant. To pass a message or merely for comfort Hermione couldn’t tell from the distance overhead.  

Hermione had assumed that the other surrogates were kept cloistered away in houses the way she was. Clearly it was a mistaken assumption.

It was Hermione who was the exceptional case. Order member. Hidden memories. Blood-bound manacles. Given to the High Reeve. Taken to Voldemort.

It was possible the other girls were even permitted to go out alone. In fact, given that they were traceable, there wasn’t necessarily any reason that they couldn’t.

Perhaps Hermione was even technically allowed to do such a thing. Although somehow she doubted it. If she wasn’t allowed visitors it seemed dubious that Malfoy would let her leave the estate.

“One minute till midnight!” a witch with a sonorused voice called out gaily, interrupting Hermione’s thoughts. “Get ready for your New Year's kisses!

Astoria swept back into the room. Her robes were straightened and her expression innocent but there was a faint sense of dishevelment about her person that seemed obvious to Hermione. Her lipstick was faintly smeared so that it didn’t rest entirely within the lines of her lips. Not an overt smudge, but enough that the shape of her mouth was carelessly softened. Her expression was smug.

Hermione watched Astoria make her way over to Malfoy. Astoria’s expression schooled itself into that of affection as she drew closer but there was a spark of something else in her eyes.

Malfoy looked her over carefully but his expression didn’t so much as flicker. Hermione couldn’t see Astoria’s face well from her angle.

“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!” The room started chanting a countdown to the new year.

As the numbers wound down Malfoy reached forward, his expression still blank, and ran his thumb across Astoria’s mouth.

At zero he leaned forward and pressed his lips against Astoria’s. A camera flashed. The room exploded with magical fireworks and cheers and clanking glassware as people toasted.

Malfoy’s lips remained pressed against Astoria’s but as he kissed his wife he raised his eyes, looking over Astoria’s head. His cool, grey eyes immediately locked onto Hermione’s face.

Hermione forgot to breathe.

She stared back. Frozen.

Her stomach flipped sharply. Her heart started pounding until she could hear it in her ears. She shivered. She felt she should draw back out of sight but found herself trapped, as though she were locked in place by the cold silver.

He continued to stare up at her until Astoria broke off the kiss and turned away. Then his eyes dropped and a false, aristocratic smile curved across his lips as he glanced around the room, clapping without enthusiasm for several seconds before snatching up a flute of champagne from a floating tray.

He knocked it back as though it were mouthwash.

Hermione sat back and pressed her hands against her chest and willed her heart to stop pounding.

The party lasted for hours. Hermione watched the social interactions carefully. Looking for signs of tension and alliances. Trying to identify the social order that existed in order to understand what was left out by The Daily Prophet.

She spotted Graham Montague mingling and watched him for some time, trying to discern if there was anything familiar about him. He seemed entirely foreign to her.

Malfoy did not mingle. He stood and let other people mingle with him. It grew steadily apparent to Hermione which people knew him to be the High Reeve and which were unaware. There was a sort of reverence and delicacy in how young Death Eaters approached him. Older Death Eaters like Mulciber and Nott Sr and Yaxley treated him with a mixture of deference and resentment.

While others there might not have known why Malfoy was treated so carefully by the Death Eaters, the respect was contagious. The room oriented itself around Malfoy in a way that was unnerving.

Malfoy played his part like a benevolent king. The coldness and the sense of danger to his person was undeniable but he layered it beneath aristocratic courtesy. The hard unyielding expression he wore around her was absent. He looked indulgent. He smirked and engaged in what appeared to be endless streams of small talk with anyone who approached. But to Hermione, unable to make out his words and simply watching him, he always seemed cold and bored.

It was nearly four in the morning before the last guests departed.

Hermione made her way cautiously back to her room. She didn’t want to run into Astoria again, or any stragglers. When she reached the hallway leading to her room, she peeked around the corner and found Malfoy standing there.

He glanced over and caught sight of her immediately.

“Have fun?” he asked.

She hesitated for several seconds before she walked around the corner and came toward him, shrugging.

“It was more interesting than just reading about it,” she said.

He snorted.

“Words I would never have expected to hear from you,” he said. Then he stared at her, his eyes narrowed.

“Why is Montague interested in you?” he inquired, arching an eyebrow.

Hermione glanced up at him. Of course that was why he was there.

She was surprised he was asking. He had, she’d realised, a schedule for examining her memories. Approximately every ten days. He’d skipped the last session and left it to Voldemort, but she was expecting him to show up at some point the next day. If he wanted to he could have just waited.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I barely knew him in school.”

Curiosity bloomed in Malfoy’s eyes.

“Really? How intriguing,” he said in a musing tone. “You are so full of surprises.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Do you say that to every girl?” she said in a sarcastically sweet tone.

He looked at her sharply and then chuckled.

“Go to bed, Mudblood.”

Despite the phrasing it didn’t feel like a command. Hermione stared at him for a moment longer before she walked into her room anyway.

He was still standing in the hallway when she shut the door.

The next morning’s paper had a picture of Malfoy and Astoria on the cover. It captured the moment Malfoy reached forward and ran his thumb across Astoria’s lips before leaning down to kiss her, fireworks and streamers exploded behind them.

It looked sweet and romantic and intimate.

On the next page was a picture of the High Reeve killing several people in France. One girl looked vaguely familiar. Hermione thought she might have visited Hogwarts during the Triwizard Tournament.

Hermione hadn’t realised Malfoy had left the country earlier in the week.

Hermione folded the picture of Malfoy and Astoria into a herringbone tessellation and amused herself by making Malfoy and Astoria bounce apart and then squash into each other.

She tore the picture of the High Reeve into tiny strips and wove it into a coaster. In another life, she thought, perhaps she might enjoy creating complex lattice-work pie crusts.

Then she stood up and started her exercise routine.

She was getting ridiculously fit, which was a satisfying although mostly pointless feeling. It didn’t really matter how much of a punch she could pack if she wasn’t able to actually drive her fist into Malfoy’s face. There wasn’t much point in stamina when she nearly had a panic attack every time she pulled her hand away from the yew hedges or tried to move at a speed that wasn’t glacial.

Malfoy appeared late in the afternoon to go through her memories. He didn’t seem to find anything of particular interest in her recent past. He didn’t even react when he encountered her memory of Astoria shagging someone in the hallway. The portraits had probably already informed him. When he finished sorting through her memories he straightened.

Hermione blinked away the headache and sat up, looking at him.

“I’ll be sending a final vial of the potion up tomorrow,” he said.

Hermione nodded. He didn’t say anything else before he turned to go.

That night Hermione laid out a careful plan for the next day in her mind. If it was indeed her last dose of the potion then there were a number of things she wanted to try to attempt before the effects wore off.

The next morning she did not pause to read the newspaper. She knocked back the potion before she could hesitate or dread the withdrawal she’d suffer later. Then she headed out the door with cool determination.

Her first destination was the South Wing of the manor. The only part of the house still unexplored. She started on the uppermost floors and worked her way down. They were the ones in which she was least likely to encounter anyone so she could move more quickly.

As she reached the first floor she felt the air take on a cold, twistedness that she could detect even through the cushioning effects of the potion. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and her body broke out in a cold sweat.

Dark magic.

It was so thick in the air she could almost taste it.

She froze on the stairway for several minutes calculating.

Hermione’s instincts were strongly urging her to turn around and leave. But they were smothered under the potion.

Her curiosity wasn’t.

She descended the last several steps and moved in the direction of the feeling. There was a door ajar. She peeked in. It was a large drawing room. Entirely bare. Not a stick of furniture. No drapes. No portraits on the walls. Even the wallpaper appeared to have been peeled off.

There was nothing but a large cage sitting in the center of the room.

The dark magic hung over the room, but seemed most concentrated around the cage.

Hermione walked slowly into the room and approached it.

People had died in that room. A lot of people. Slowly.

Hermione’s mind automatically began cataloguing the dark rituals she knew of that created such a lasting presence of twisted magic.

It had probably corrupted some of the ley lines of the estate.

As she drew nearer she found that the cage was built into the stones of the floor. Quite literally irremovable unless the foundation stones of the manor were torn out, and even that might not be enough.

Just standing near the cage caused her to taste a tang in her mouth like the copper flavour of blood.

She looked it over carefully.

It was an inch shorter than her. Probably exactly five feet tall and about three feet wide. Tall enough for a prisoner to stoop or huddle in.

She wondered how many people had been kept inside it.

A noise startled her. She turned and found Malfoy at the door staring at her with irritation that bordered on rage.

“Of course you would lack the sense not to come in here,” he said in a hard voice as he stalked toward her.

Chapter Text

Hermione turned to face Malfoy calmly. Even without the potion she doubted she would feel particularly concerned. She stared at him as he approached. She had concluded that generally speaking he was neither permitted nor inclined to hurt her.

Even if he weren’t desperate to get into her memories, Stroud had probably spelled out for him exactly why it would be inadvisable to break her psychologically.

“Do you keep a lot of people in cages?” she asked.

He stared at her. His face was slightly pale, and his eyes were dark and hardened with the rage that he was just barely keeping in check. She could feel it twisting around at the edges of him.

It occurred to her that if she were to try to get him to kill her it was probably the perfect moment. He was surrounded by the corrupting, addictive dark magic of the room. She could feel it seeping into her as she stood staring at him. A person could get high casting in an environment like that.

Malfoy’s lips pressed into a hard line and she could see his jaw clench. There was so much under his endless cold. A slumbering rage was stirring, rippling just beneath the surface.

The drawing room had a strong effect on him. A sly provocation and she might make him snap. She wondered how to go about it.

Then he sneered.

“You’re the only one I keep caged, Mudblood,” he said. His expression abruptly became indifferent again, the rage seemingly dragged back down. “Haven’t you noticed?”

Hermione’s lip curled. Malfoy glanced around the room; his face seemed drawn but he smirked down at her.

“This is my father’s wing of the manor,” he said.

Hermione looked around sharply, half-expecting Lucius Malfoy to pop out from somewhere wearing a maniacal expression reminiscent of his former sister-in-law.  

“Luckily for you,” Malfoy continued, “he’s been abroad since the end of the war. I like to hope that he wouldn’t torture and curse you horribly if you happened to cross paths, but if I were a betting man I’d have to admit the odds are not in your favour. So I advise against regular visits here. Do you want a complete tour before we go? Just to assure yourself that there’s nothing conveniently lying about for you to murder me with?”

He gestured toward the door of the drawing room and Hermione walked out. He followed her closely and then shut the door firmly. Hermione felt a pulse of magic as it clicked shut; the sense of darkness vanished from the air around them. The door was heavily wrapped in wards. Hermione realised it was probably one of the innumerable rooms she was not meant to enter. She wondered if the other rooms he kept her from were similarly dredged in twisted magic.

“Astoria didn’t say there was anywhere I shouldn’t go. I assumed I was allowed to explore the whole manor,” she said.

“I’m sure she would be thrilled if you met an unfortunate end.The indignity of your mere existence aside, it might spell my demise as well. Then she’d become a wealthy widow and free to conduct all her tawdry affairs even more publicly than she already does,” Malfoy said in an indifferent tone.

Hermione looked up at him.

“And you don’t care?”

He glanced over at Hermione with a cold expression.

“I was commanded to marry her therefore I married her. I was never commanded to care,” he said.

“You sound as enslaved as I am,” Hermione said tauntingly.

Malfoy stopped short in the hallway and slowly turned to face her, quirking an eyebrow. He surveyed her for several seconds and Hermione stopped and stared back at him.

“Are you trying to provoke me or sway my allegiance, Mudblood? How terribly audacious of you.”

Hermione studied his face for several moments before quirking an eyebrow of her own. “You’ve already thought it. If you hadn’t, you’d be offended right now,” she said.

He continued to study her face for several moments before a slow smile curled across his lips. “You know, you almost seem like a Gryffindor again.”

“I’ve always been a Gryffindor,” she replied.

His eyes flashed faintly.

“True. I suppose you have,” he said.

The moment stretched out. They kept staring at each other. Hermione’s eyes narrowed as she appraised him.

It seemed impossible that he was only twenty-four years old. No one so young should have had such icily restrained rage behind their eyes. Hermione had seen many faces aged by the war but Malfoy’s expression was unique. He was so precisely contained, but his eyes were a storm; they looked like they contained the power of the sea.

How many people had he killed? People he knew, people he didn’t know; none of it seemed to faze him. His face was somehow unmarked by worry; young and indolent. She could see the war in his eyes, though. All the deaths he had caused and seen, as though the grey in them were ghosts.

Ginny. He’d killed Ginny. Strung her corpse up in front of all her friends and left it to rot.

And Minerva. Poppy Pomfrey, who’d first taught Hermione healing. Neville, Hermione’s first friend in the wizarding world. Moody.

Malfoy had killed everyone left after the war. He’d wiped out the Order of the Phoenix.

Even under the potion, the hatred and rage she felt toward him for it was inescapable. She did not merely hate him emotionally. The fury over all he had destroyed was a structure in her mind. He deserved to suffer deeply for everything he’d done. She did not need to feel emotions to believe it.

She couldn’t understand what he got from doing any of it. He was wealthy but he didn’t seem to do anything with it. He was powerful but he was obliged to keep it anonymous. He had no apparent hobbies other than efficiently killing people and reading. He didn’t even seem to particularly enjoy killing people.  

His life seemed bizarrely empty of anything satisfying. What drove him?

She opened her mouth to prod but caught herself and refrained. She had to tread cautiously. She wanted to think more about it.

He smirked when he saw her mouth close.

“Composing a psychological sketch of me?” he asked.

Hermione quirked her mouth into a faint smile.

“Yes,” she said.

“I’ll look forward to seeing it,” he said turning to continue down the hallway.

She sniffed and glared after him.

There was a sharp click of heels and Astoria suddenly came around the corner. When she caught sight of Hermione and Malfoy her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed themselves.

“Are we all socializing together now?” Astoria asked in a saccharine voice.

“Just touring the manor,” Malfoy drawled, Astoria’s face whitened slightly. “The door to the drawing room in the south wing was opened.”

“Perhaps the house-elves left it open,” Astoria said stiffly.

“Indeed,” he said with a smirk. “It was undoubtedly the house-elves.”

“I thought you had business today,” Astoria said, changing the subject abruptly. “You said your day was quite full when I asked you to stop by the fundraiser this afternoon and yet here you are ‘touring the manor.’”

Hermione wavered slightly as she stood between Malfoy and Astoria. There was something intensely unstable about Malfoy’s wife and Hermione was disinclined to draw her attention—or ire. However, there was no way for Hermione to withdraw from the tense conversation without being obvious.

She remained frozen, watching the scene carefully while trying to be unobtrusive. The words felt laced with implication and mutual dislike. Astoria was seething with barely veiled resentment, her teeth flashing faintly as she glared up at her husband.

“The Dark Lord has been quite specific that the Mudblood takes precedence over everything else,” Malfoy said with a cold expression.

Astoria gave a sharp, hysterical laugh.

“Goodness, I didn’t know heirs were so important,” she said glancing over at Hermione’s stomach.

“The Dark Lord’s instructions are what is important,” Malfoy said, beginning to appear bored. He wasn’t even looking at his wife, in fact Hermione realised, he was looking over Astoria’s head and staring at a mirror on the wall that reflected himself and Hermione. “If he asked me to farm flobberworms I would be doing it with equal devotion.”

Hermione nearly snorted.

“I haven’t noticed any of the other broodmares needing so much devotion. You don’t even let anyone near her. It’s like you’re hoarding her,” Astoria retorted sharply.

Malfoy chuckled, a cruel glint entered his eyes as they dropped down to rest on Astoria’s face. A flash of uncertainty flickered in Astoria’s eyes as though she were caught off guard by the full-attention her husband was suddenly leveling her with.

“I was given to understand you didn’t want to lay eyes on her, Astoria. Was that wrong?” Malfoy said, his tone was light—almost cajoling—but there was a freezing edge to it.   “Would you rather I trot her about with me? Take her along to the opera? Perhaps have her join us on the cover of the Daily Prophet next New Years? The whole world already knows she’s mine. Did you want me to reiterate it?”

Astoria paled visibly and glanced over at Hermione with undisguised loathing.

“I don’t care what you do with her,” Astoria snarled, then turned on her heel and stormed away.

The instability in the air evaporated with the receding sound of footsteps. Malfoy stared after Astoria with an expression of annoyance. He turned to direct his scowl towards Hermione.

“You’ve irritated my wife, Mudblood,” he said.

Hermione looked up at him. He almost seemed to expect her to apologize.

“My existence irritates her,” she replied indifferently. She eyed him. “If you 'care' you could easily remedy that.”

He snorted and looked her over.

“That potion really does a number on you,” he said. He looked at her so intently it felt as though he were committing her to memory.

She met his gaze calmly. She wished she could be so calm without feeling like she were frozen. There were so many things about him she wanted to unravel and exploit; if she could only rein in her psyche and manage herself.

There was so much about him that made little sense to her.

If she could only get closer.

“I feel like I can breathe,” she said. “Like I’ve been drowning so long I forgot what oxygen felt like.”

Then she grimaced.

“The withdrawal leaves something to be desired though,” she added.

He laughed and his eyes finally left her face. “If I didn’t leave you on the floor retching you might make the mistake of thinking I care,” he said in a dismissive voice.

Hermione looked at him.

“You seem surprisingly concerned about my thinking such a thing,” she said coolly.

Malfoy paused and stared at her again for a moment before a slow cat-like smile graced his lips.

“Are we moving on with the agenda then?” he drawled.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed.

“What was it again? Explore the South Wing, try to find the kitchens, look for a garden shed or stables, find Malfoy and try to find a weakness to exploit? Are we that far down already? You’re quite efficient.”

Hermione stared at him. She wanted to be angry but the potion had such a reaction carefully stifled.

“You were in my head last night,” she said at last.

“I was trying to sleep but you were thinking rather loudly,” he said in a bland tone, picking a nonexistent piece of lint from his robes and surveying his foyer as though he were an interior decorator.

“Well, have fun,” he said after a moment. “The stables are beyond the rose gardens on the south side of the manor. And the garden shed is on the far side of the hedge maze. I have it on good authority that you cannot touch pruning shears or pitchforks. You might be able to try strangling me with a bridle, but somehow I doubt you could bring yourself to actually do it.”

He smirked down at her wrists before turning and ascending the staircase without another word. Hermione stood and watched him disappear down a hallway and then glanced around, mulling him over as she calculated her next move.

He had been reading her mind the night before. She wasn’t surprised but it made anything she did feel horrendously futile. He didn’t even need to wait to perform legilimency on her; he could just glean her schemes from the forefront of her mind.

She went back to her room and put on her cloak and changed into her boots. As she exited the manor at the veranda she began mentally counting upward by two.

Two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve…

As she counted, she let her mind meander, thinking lazily.

Draco Malfoy was an enigma. There were so many contradictions swirling beneath his cold facade. What were his ambitions?

Twenty-two, twenty-four, twenty-six, twenty-eight...

He seemed to be accumulating power without having any specific purpose for it.

He knew he was shackled by orders he couldn’t disobey. Marry Astoria, sully his bloodline with half-bloods, keep Hermione under constant supervision…

He followed Voldemort’s commands with devotion despite having no apparent taste for them.

What did he get from it? What was it that drove him? His power and status seemed pointless. He didn’t seem to be getting anything from it that he wouldn’t have as a mid-tier Death Eater.

Sixty-six, sixty-eight, seventy, seventy-two...

Of course Hermione might be missing something. He spent days away during which she had no idea what he did. There could be countless things he was doing that she had no knowledge of.

There was something she was overlooking. A detail she felt she knew subconsciously but couldn’t place. Something… something. Like a puzzle she was piecing together, built from all the contradictory information she had been accumulating in her mind.

One hundred and thirty-two. One hundred and thirty-four. One hundred and thirty-six.

She felt something in the back of her mind crack and a page of a well-worn notebook filled with her handwriting swam before her eyes.

“The fanfare is in the light but the execution is in the dark, the purpose being always to mislead. Intention is revealed to divert the attention of the adversary, then it is changed to gain the end by what was unexpected. But insight is wise, wary, and waits behind its armor. Sensing always the opposite of what it was to sense and recognizing at once the real purpose of the trick, it allows every first hint to pass, lies in wait for a second, and even a third. The simulation of truth now mounts higher by glossing the deception and tries, through truth itself to falsify. It changed the play in order to change the trick and makes the reason appear the phantom by founding the greatest fraud upon the greatest candor. But wariness is on watch seeing clearly what is intended, covering the darkness that was clothed in light, and recognizing that design most artful which looks most artless. In such fashion, the wiliness of Python is matched against the simplicity of Apollo’s penetrating rays.”

Hermione paused wondering where the words had come from. It wasn’t a book she could recall. She had memorized the words. As soon as she saw them in memory she recalled memorizing them.

The fanfare is in the light but the execution is in the dark.

She repeated the words to herself several times.

Then she started counting by three as she proceeded on her way through the hedge maze in the direction that Malfoy had claimed the garden shed was.

The day passed pointlessly, filled with counting. There was nothing useful she could find during her final exploration of the Malfoy estate.

The garden shed Malfoy directed her to was locked.

She did discover that Malfoy kept a stable of winged horses; enormous Abraxans, Granians, and Aethonens. All of which stared down at her through barred stable doors and stomped their hooves when she got close.

A dainty Granian was the only one who didn’t step back when Hermione approached. It fluttered its smokey wings and shoved its nose through the bars, nickering and tossing its head at Hermione.

Hermione lightly stroked its velvety muzzle and felt the warmth of its huffing breath against her palm. If Hermione’s mind hadn’t been smothered she might have cried at the realization that a horse was the first warm and gentle thing to touch her in years.

She stood for several minutes petting the horse’s forehead and lightly scratching its chin while it nuzzled her robes in the hope of finding an apple or carrot. When it realised Hermione had nothing to offer it pulled its narrow head back through the bars and ignored her.

Hermione lingered there for longer than she should have.

Hermione took to the paths and found the entrance of Malfoy Manor. Large iron wrought gates stood closed and would not open for her. Hermione wasn’t sure what she would have done if they had.

She wandered across as much of the estate as she could.

Hermione found the family cemetery. Countless headstones and mausoleums buried under snow. The Malfoy Family was ancient.

Only one mausoleum was carefully cleared of snow. On each side of the door there were enchanted daffodils, blooming. Hermione studied the words carved into the marble.

Narcissa Black Malfoy. Beloved wife and mother. Astra inclinant, sed non obligant.

A large headstone for Bellatrix Lestrange stood nearby. The Black Family crest adorning the marble. Toujours Pur.   

Hermione left the cemetery and continued exploring the estate. It felt endless. Isolated. Uninterrupted snowy hills stretching out as far as she could see, blindingly white under the clear blue sky. When night fell Hermione continued wandering, staring up at the constellations until she felt the potion’s effects begin fading away.

She felt so ill the next morning she thought she was dying. She vomited off the side of the bed and it took her hours before she could drag herself into the bathroom. She didn’t know if she could become immune to the potion but she didn’t think it was possible to continue surviving it to find out. Even if Malfoy sent it she doubted she’d be able to handle dosing herself again.

She was sick for two days, pressed against the window as she shivered and sweated the potion from her system. Mulling over Malfoy and the drawing room in the South Wing again and again when she wasn’t too feverish to even think coherently. On the second night she dreamt of Ginny.

Ginny was huddled next to a bed and quietly sobbing. She turned sharply when Hermione entered the room. Ginny’s expression as she turned and caught sight of Hermione was anguished, her chest was stuttering sharply and ragged breaths were being gasped rapidly through her open mouth. Even her red hair was wet with tears.

As Hermione approached Ginny’s hair slipped back and exposed a long, cruel scar twisting down the side of her face from her forehead down to the jaw.

“Ginny,” Hermione said. “Ginny, what’s wrong? What happened?”

I don’t know—“ Ginny forced the words out and then started crying harder.

Hermione knelt down next to her friend and hugged her.

“Oh god, Hermione—,” Ginny gasped. “I don’t know how—“

Ginny broke off as she struggled to breathe. Choked hiccoughing sounds emerged from deep in her throat as she struggled against her spasming lungs.

“It’s alright. Breathe. You need to breathe. Then tell me what’s wrong and I’ll help you,” Hermione promised as she ran her hands up and down Ginny’s shoulders. “Just breathe. In to a count of four. Hold it. And then out through your nose for a count of six. We’ll build up to that. I’ll breathe with you. Alright? Come on, breathe with me. I’ve got you.”

Ginny just cried harder.

“It’s alright,” Hermione kept saying as she started taking deep demonstrative breaths for Ginny to follow. She held Ginny tight in her arms so that the younger girl would feel Hermione’s chest expanding and contracting slowly as a subconscious cue.

Ginny kept crying for several more minutes before her sobs slowed and her breathing slowly began mirroring Hermione’s.

“Do you want to tell me what’s wrong or would you rather I go get someone else?” Hermione asked when she was sure Ginny was not going to keep hyperventilating.

“No—you can’t—,” Ginny said immediately. “Oh god! I don’t—“

Ginny started sobbing into Hermione’s shoulder again.

She was still crying when Hermione woke from the dream.

Hermione replayed the memory in her mind.

Ginny had rarely cried. When Percy died she had cried for days but as the war wore on her tears had dried up along with everyone else’s. Ginny had barely cried when Arthur was cursed or when George nearly died.

Hermione couldn’t remember Ginny ever crying so much.

Hermione kept turning the memory over and over in her mind, trying to make sense of it.

She couldn’t remember the scar on Ginny’s face. It had appeared to be several months old in the memory but Hermione had no recollection of when Ginny could have gotten it. It had looked like someone had crudely carved out a section of Ginny’s face with a knife.

Hermione wondered if she had been the one who healed it.

Chapter Text

Hermione was fertile again.

The table reappeared in the middle of the floor and she felt resigned by the sight. It had started to feel inevitable.

Inevitable.

Hermione realised with a dropping sensation that she was growing accustomed to her cage.

Malfoy was going to rape her over a table and the thought had become matter-of-fact to her. Even the word rape had started to feel faintly inaccurate.

Everything had started to feel—

Less.

Physically and mentally the dread had begun to fade as her mind forced her to adapt. She didn't feel nauseated. Her heart didn't pound painfully. The wrenching sensation in her stomach didn't feel so oppressive she thought she might be choking from it.

Her mind was twisting itself up with rationalisation. Trying to make her adapt. To make her survive.

If her situation ceased to chafe, she would be less likely to risk an escape attempt. Less likely to provoke Malfoy.

She could understand it scientifically. From the perspective of a healer, she could explain the physiology and psychology of it. It was unsustainable to remain in a state of constant fear, constant horror, constant dread. Her body couldn't keep her in a permanent state of fight or flight. She would either be forced to adapt or she'd burn out. The potion Malfoy had dosed her with had probably aided in dulling it.

Understanding the science didn't make the realisation better. It made it worse. She knew where her mind was headed.

She was 'acclimatising to the manor.'

The thought shook her to the core.

She stared at the table and felt at a loss as to what to do about it. It wasn't as though she could fight him. She couldn't resist any more than she already was.

He wasn't doing anything that hurt. If she paid attention—stopped pulling her mind away—it would likely make it worse rather than better.

She had to escape. That was all there was to it. She had to escape. Had to find a way. There had to be a way. No cage was perfect. No one was perfect. There had to be something in Malfoy to exploit. She just had to find out what it was.

She had to. She had to.

She kept repeating the resolution to herself even as she walked across the room and leaned across the table. Feet apart.

Don't think about it, she told herself. Worse things could happen if she let herself think about it.

"I'm going to escape," she promised herself. "I'm going to go somewhere where people are kind and warm and I am free."

She squeezed her eyes shut and mouthed the promise to herself again and again until she heard the door click.

She watched the days of January slip by.

Malfoy came for five days. On the sixth day, he arrived and wordlessly inspected her memories. He seemed preoccupied.

Then she was left to her own devices.

She folded origami. She explored the manor. She explored the estate. She read the newspaper.

Reports on the war efforts were getting relegated to smaller columns. Public fascination with the surrogates was slowly beginning to swallow the society pages. They were appearing more and more frequently in public; trotted about, taken along to the opera; treated as though they were exotic pets. Pictures of their bonneted figures were being featured along with aggressive gossiping; was it swelling or merely the fit of their robes? Unnamed sources said suggestive things like 'there's a chance the Flints will be adding a name to the family tapestry by the end of the year.'

Healer Stroud was tight-lipped with reporters which only served as fuel for further speculation.

Hermione's panic attacks almost seemed a thing of the past. She had measured out her limitations and tried not to exceed them. When she remained focused and occupied herself with studying portraits and exploring the manor and the grounds she was able to stay calm; when she tried not to think about the war and how everyone was dead.

She gradually got so good at keeping herself preoccupied that she would momentarily forget that she was forgetting. She'd breathe in and experience a moment that didn't feel broken or grieving or despairing.

When it was just her loneliness that stretched out before her.

The guilt that would strike her a moment later was as cold and bitter as seawater.

She'd freeze for a moment and then swallow the lump of horror in her throat and renew her vow to escape.

But she couldn't escape.

She explored the manor from top to bottom. She found a set of wizard's chess and played matches against herself. She built card towers with packs of cards she discovered in a drawer. She visited the horses.

There was no way to escape.

She tried to find Malfoy but never managed to. She didn't know if he were even in the manor. He could have been out or just behind a door she couldn't open. It sometimes felt as though he must be avoiding her.

She had no idea how she could possibly escape.

Hermione began to see Astoria with increasing regularity. The familiar click of heels in the distance and Hermione grew adept at promptly disappearing behind a curtain or into a servants' passage.

The servants' passages were filled with cleverly concealed peepholes. Hermione suspected that, given the utilisation of house-elves, the twisty little tunnels had always been primarily used for spying. The manor was crammed with them; some were obvious and others extremely well concealed. Hermione found them all. Anytime the dimensions of a room seemed vaguely off Hermione set to work, tapping lightly along the walls and pressing every knot in the wood and twisting at every sconce and screw until she felt something give. Some doors appeared magically while others were cleverly built using gears and rotating furniture.

Astoria was rarely alone when Hermione saw her. She was accompanied by the same dark, broad-shouldered man Hermione had glimpsed on New Year's. It soon became apparent that either Astoria or her paramour had some sort of objection to beds. The first time Hermione encountered them Astoria was nearly naked and pressed against a parlour window.

They seemed to be trying to have sex in every room in the manor.

Hermione did her best to avoid them. She didn't particularly fancy the thought of Malfoy using her memories to watch as his wife was shagged from all angles. Hermione entertained the notion of watching just to spite him but then dismissed it; Malfoy didn't appear to care about what Astoria did, it would probably have no effect on him. It would just be extremely uncomfortable for Hermione.

Whenever Hermione stumbled across Astoria mid-coitus she would quickly avert her eyes and slip away.

For a time she merely caught glimpses of the amorous pair while fleeing but eventually Hermione came across them both fully clothed. Hermione had been wandering through the topmost floor of the North Wing when she caught sight of them strolling along the gravel path running along the hedge maze. Astoria was speaking animatedly, and as she spoke the man beside her turned and stared up at the North Wing. As Hermione watched, she finally caught sight of his face.

Graham Montague.

Hermione stared down in shock as his eyes carefully scanned the lower windows of the North Wing. When he craned his head back further Hermione stepped sharply back and out of sight.

Hermione's heart was suddenly pounding.

Graham Montague was Astoria's lover. Montague, who had just 'happened' to come across Hermione during a New Year's Eve party. Who had expected Hermione to immediately recognize him.

He was having an affair with Astoria. He was visiting the manor almost daily. He was looking up toward the windows where Hermione's room was with an expression of intense determination.

Was it all a coincidence? Could it possibly be a coincidence?

Hermione reviewed all the scenarios she could think of.

What did she know of him?

Slytherin. Former member of the Inquisitorial Squad. Badly injured by Fred and George. At some point during the war Hermione had known him and forgotten it. He was having an affair with Astoria. He seemed to be looking for Hermione.

Was he a Death Eater? Hermione didn't know. Unless he had been working in the Ministry he would have had to join Voldemort's army in some capacity. He seemed too high socially to have been merely a snatcher and he hadn't demonstrated much familiarity with Ministry officials at the New Year's party.

Hermione replayed everything she could recall from the night. She'd been so absorbed watching Malfoy and then the surrogates she hadn't connected that Astoria and Montague had been missing at the same time. When she'd watched him later in the evening he'd been mingling, but he'd seemed most familiar with Marcus Flint and Adrian Pucey.

Despite her uncertain memory regarding the war Hermione was fairly certain that Flint and Pucey had been, last she recalled, mid-tier, unmarked Death Eaters.

Earning a Dark Mark had been considered significant distinction; an admission into Voldemort's most select inner-circle. As Voldemort's hold on Europe had grown more certain he had Marked fewer and fewer followers.

Therefore the logical conclusion was that Montague was also a Death Eater. Marked or unmarked she didn't know.

But that didn't explain why he would have any interest in or acquaintance with Hermione.

Unless....

Could he—

Hermione was half afraid to even contemplate the notion; to allow the thought to exist in her mind where Malfoy might find it, but she couldn't stop herself from thinking it.

Could Montague have been a spy for the Resistance? Could he still be? Could that be what he'd been trying to communicate to her before he'd left with Malfoy?

She started watching Astoria and Montague carefully whenever they weren't having sex. She spied on them from the secret passages and grew increasingly convinced that Montague had ulterior motives for being in the manor. He was extremely interested in the house and his eyes wandered strangely whenever Astoria was distracted.

Hermione weighed the risk of trying to approach him. He was rarely alone. Astoria didn't ever seem to go more than a few yards away from him.

On the few occasions when Hermione did spot him alone she hesitated. He felt so unfamiliar. Surely, if he were someone she trusted, she'd feel it instinctively.

She tried to reason with herself. If he were a member of the Resistance and she were to approach him prematurely she might expose him. If he didn't have a way to remove the manacles it would all be futile.

Hermione decided to bide her time and continue watching. Better unconfirmed suspicions than anything concrete for Malfoy to get from her.

She kept wavering.

Healer Stroud came and found that Hermione was, once again, not pregnant. Her expression as she surveyed the diagnostic result seemed irritated. Hermione stared determinedly at the clock on the wall.

"Why are your sodium levels so low?" Healer Stroud asked after performing several more tests on Hermione.

Hermione glanced over. "They don't provide any salt with the food."

"They don't?" Healer Stroud said in a tone of surprise. "What are they feeding you?"

Hermione shrugged. "Boiled things. Vegetables and meat and eggs. And rye bread."

"Why?"

"I assumed it was what they were instructed to feed me. It's not as though I have the freedom to question anything," Hermione said coldly.

"You're supposed to have a balanced diet. That includes salt," Healer Stroud said with an expression of annoyance. She reached forward and tapped the manacle on Hermione's wrist with the tip of her wand.

A minute later Malfoy entered with a scowl.

"You called?" he said.

"Yes. Is there a reason why she isn't being given any salt?" Healer Stroud said.

Malfoy blinked. "Salt?" 

"She says her food is all boiled and has no salt. It's starting to affect her sodium levels," Healer Stroud said, her eyes narrowed as she stared at Malfoy.

Malfoy's eyebrows went up in apparent surprise.

"The elves were instructed to provide her with meals. I assumed she was eating what Astoria and I do," he said. Then his jaw clenched slightly and his own eyes narrowed. "Astoria's responsible for approving the menu. I'll find out what happened."

"Please do. The Dark Lord is growing impatient over the lack of progress. We don't want anything interfering."

"Indeed," Malfoy said coolly, meeting Healer Stroud's gaze. "Now, if there's nothing else, I must return to my work."

"Of course, High Reeve, I won't keep you," Healer Stroud said giving him a final look before turning back to Hermione.

That night Hermione received a full meal with side dishes and a fresh salad, seasonings and, most significantly to her, a salt shaker.

She hadn't realised how much she had missed salt until she finally had it again.

In retrospect it wasn't exactly surprising to realise Astoria had decided to order the house-elves to keep Hermione on some kind of—prison food? Peasant's fare? Hermione wasn't even sure what it had been intended to be. The woman was—odd. Her indignance over Hermione seemed to manifest in whatever strange way she thought she could get away with it.

And gotten away with it she had, for three months; approximately two hundred and seventy meals. Hermione never wanted to eat another over-boiled vegetable.

Malfoy entered Hermione's room when she was almost done eating, and walked over to survey the food on her plate.

"Apparently I am obliged to personally assure everything," he said with a scowl after the meal apparently met his expectations. "You could have mentioned it."

"If I were to start complaining, the food would not be the first thing I'd bring up," Hermione replied, stabbing a tomato viciously with her fork.

He gave her a thin smile. "No. I don't suppose it would be."

He walked over to the window and stared out over the estate while she finished eating. She intentionally took her time, and mentally recited all the irritating repetitive songs she'd learned in primary school.

As she finished she glanced over toward him. She could see his profile and noticed as his eyes became briefly unfocused. I hope you die the slowest and most horrible death anyone has ever devised, Malfoy, she immediately snarled in her mind. After a moment he blinked and glanced over toward her expressionless. She met his gaze unapologetically.

"Noted," he said and then gestured toward the bed.

Hermione walked over resignedly and seated herself on the edge before looking up at him, unblinking as his cold silver eyes sank into her consciousness.

She always ended up flat on her back by the time he finished going through her memories.

He watched her memory of Ginny several times.

Then he watched her spying and wondering about Graham Montague. He withdrew from her mind.

"Montague got a Dark Mark after the final battle," he said, staring down at her. "It was, I am told, in acknowledgement of the exceptional services he rendered."

He was sneering as he said it.

"Did you provide exceptional services too?" she asked gazing up at Malfoy. She had no idea if he were lying to her about Montague; whether he would bother to.

He stared down at her and gave a cruel, rictus smile.

"More exceptional than Montague's," he said. Then the smile faded. He kept looking at her; studying her face carefully and then flicking his eyes down over the rest of her.

His gaze seemed softer and darker than usual.

She realized belatedly that she was lying supine on a bed before him. She felt her skin prickle. She sat up quickly.

He stared at her for another moment before glancing away and staring at the wall behind her.

"If you have any hopes involving Montague you should let them die," he said coolly. Then he turned and left.

A week later Hermione had a new dream about Ginny.


Hermione was standing in her bedroom in Grimmauld Place when Ginny walked in.

"You're back early," Ginny said.

Hermione glanced down at her watch.

"Lucky day," Hermione said.

"Yeah," said Ginny, looking slightly awkward. "Um. I wanted to—ask you about something."

Hermione waited.

Ginny tugged nervously at her hair, her face was unblemished.

"I—well—you, obviously know about me and Harry," Ginny said.

Hermione gave a short nod.

"Right. Well. The thing is, I want to be careful. I've been using the charm. But—there's something about Prewetts, they're not like other wizarding families. They just get pregnant somehow. Ron and I were both accidents after the twins came along. So—I was wondering if you'd make me a contraceptive potion. If you have the time. I was always rubbish at potions. If you can't—that's fine. I can ask Padma. I know you're terribly busy. I just—I didn't want you to think I didn't want to ask you."

"Of course. I'll be brewing tonight anyway. It will be an easy thing to include. Do you have a preference about taste? The most effective ones don't taste very pleasant."

"I don't care what it tastes like if it works," Ginny said boldly.

"Well, I've already got a few vials of one variety. I can give them to you now, if you'd like."

"You do?" Ginny blinked and stared at Hermione suspiciously. "Are you—?"

Hermione could see Ginny running a list of possible men in Hermione's life.

"You're not—with Snape are you?" Ginny suddenly choked.

Hermione gaped.

"God—No!" she spluttered. "I'm a healer! I keep a lot of things on hand. Good grief! What—why would you even—"

Ginny looked slightly abashed.

"He's just the only person you ever seem to talk to for long. Aside from Fred, who's with Angelina. Everyone else you just end up fighting with. And not in the hot and bothered, angsty sex later kind of way."

"That doesn't mean I'm shagging him," Hermione muttered, feeling as though her face were about to burst into flames. "He's a colleague. I consult with him about potions."

"You just seem lonely," Ginny said, giving Hermione a long look.

Hermione started and stared at Ginny.

"You don't talk to anyone nowadays," Ginny said. "You used to always be with Ron and Harry. But even before you left to become a healer, you've seemed more and more alone. I thought—maybe you had someone. Granted, Snape would be a weird choice for a lot of reasons—But, it's a war. It's too much for anyone to handle alone."

"Cathartic shagging is Ron's thing. Not mine," Hermione said stiffly. "Besides, it's not like I'm fighting."

Ginny looked at her pensively for a moment before saying, "I think that hospital ward is worse than the battlefield."

Hermione looked away. She had sometimes wondered if it might be, but it had never been a question she could ask anyone.

Ginny continued, "I think of it every time I'm in there. In the field—everything is so focused. Even when someone's injured. You just apparate them away and then head back. You win some. You lose some. You get hit sometimes. You hit back. And you get days to recover if it's bad, or if your dueling partner dies. But in the hospital ward, every battle looks like losing. I'm always more traumatised after being in there than I am by fighting."

Hermione was silent.

"And you don't ever get time off," Ginny said. "You're on duty for every skirmish.They can never spare you, not even to let you grieve. I know, from Harry and Ron, that you're still pushing for the Dark Arts when you go to the Order meetings. I don't agree—but I get it. I realise that you see the war from a different angle than the rest of us. Probably the worst one. So—I'm just saying, if you had someone, I'd be really happy for you. Even if it was Snape."

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"You should probably stop talking now if you still want that contraceptive potion," Hermione said with a glare.


Hermione woke in a state of shock.

Ginny and Harry had been together.

Ginny and Harry had been together and Hermione had no memory of it. There was not so much as a trace of it in her recollection. She'd forgotten it entirely.

Harry and Ginny's relationship had been something she'd forgotten...

Intentionally?

Was that what Hermione had been hiding?

Ginny had still been alive when Hermione was imprisoned. Ginny hadn't been in the final battle. She hadn't been tortured to death alongside the rest of the Weasleys.

Hermione had thought Ginny was still alive until Hannah had told her about the High Reeve.

If Voldemort had known of Ginny's unique significance to Harry her death would have been horrific. Far worse than even what had been inflicted upon the rest of the Weasleys.

Hermione would have done anything to protect Ginny; stolen away her own memories to try to spare her.

For Harry.

For Ginny herself.

Ginny had been a constant friend during the war. Not close, but ever constant in her friendship with Hermione even when schisms had developed in many of Hermione's other relationships. Ginny and Luna and Hermione had roomed together in Grimmauld Place until Luna died.

But Ginny was dead. Malfoy had hunted her down and killed her.

Hermione felt like she was going to be sick.

Was it really all that pointless? She'd locked away her past to protect Ginny not knowing Ginny had already died? Hermione had gotten handed over to Malfoy, and dragged in front of Voldemort, and it was all to protect someone who was already dead.

And Snape.

Hermione had tried very hard since her release to not allow herself to think about Snape.

She'd thought he'd been on their side.

He'd trained her into a Potion Mistress. He had devoted countless hours of his personal time to do so.

Shortly after Dumbledore had been killed, she had descended into the dungeons to Snape's door and asked in a steady voice, "If there's a battle, what potions should I know how to make? That I probably wouldn't be able to find to buy anywhere?" Rather than sneer and slam the door in her face he had invited her into his office.

Until Hogwarts was shut down she had spent every evening until late into the night in his office, brewing one exacting, complicated potion after another. When Hogwarts was abandoned he'd continued to teach her at Grimmauld Place.

The enigmatic man had slowly seemed to thaw from pure exhaustion as he trained her. He had no energy for insults. He was hard and demanding but generous with his knowledge. He had seemed to be one of the only other people who was also bracing himself for a long war.

He shoved stacks of his own personal, annotated potion texts into her arms to read and drew up maps of where to forage for her own ingredients when there would be few sources to buy from. In the middle of the night and early in the mornings he took her with him all over England. He would apparate from location to location to teach her how to find plants and harvest them so that the potency stayed high. He taught her how to build snares and catch and humanely kill the animals and magical creatures needed for potion ingredients.

He didn't even say anything when she cried after killing her first Murtlap.

He had trained her until she qualified for a Potion Mastery.

She had been his staunchest defender during the war.

Charlie Weasley grew to hate her for siding with Snape over almost anyone else. She'd defended Snape's methods and everything he did as a Death Eater as being necessary. She'd protected him when Harry and Ron had wanted to have him removed from the Order.

She'd considered him more than a colleague or mentor. He had been someone she had trusted implicitly.

It had all been a ruse. A clever ploy. Without Dumbledore to vouch for him he had cultivated a new champion for himself. Twisted her around his finger by being generous with his knowledge. He'd bought her loyalty with a potion mastery.

Then, once victorious, he'd cast her off. He'd had a chance to spare her from being included in the breeding program and he'd declined. He had departed for Romania and left her to be bred.

To be raped.

It was such a bitter and deeply personal betrayal she could barely bring herself to think about it.

She got up and read the newspaper.

 

Chapter Text

It was the middle of February when Dolores Umbridge was killed during the attempted assassination of the Minister of Magic.

A statue of Voldemort was being unveiled at Hogwarts prison to memorialise the Final Battle. Warden Umbridge was standing on a dais beside Minister Thicknesse while Thicknesse gave a speech to the prison guards, reporters, and a handful of ministry officials in attendance. As the ribbon cutting commenced, a crossbow bolt emerged from the Forbidden Forest, passed through the prison wards, narrowly missed the Minister and buried itself in the centre of Warden Umbridge's chest.

She did not immediately die. Shards of a necklace and the shaft of the arrow slowed the bleeding. The guards, being ignorant of barbed, medieval weaponry and basic medical sense, wrenched the arrow out. Then she died instantly.

The attempt on the life of the popular three-term Minister of Magic sent shock waves through the British Magical community. The Resistance terrorists had been regarded as wiped out. To have them re-emerge in such a spectacular manner brought chaos and had Death Eaters, dressed in full regalia, out in force.

Voldemort took the attack as a personal insult.

Montague's visits to the manor abruptly ceased. Astoria floated through the manor looking wan and paranoid. Hermione heard her shrilly asking Malfoy about exactly what kinds of protective wards were on the Malfoy estate.

Malfoy, when Hermione caught glimpses of him, was constantly dressed in something that appeared be a combination of combat gear and hunting clothes. He regularly returned to the manor covered in mud and looking pale with rage.

Hermione was thrilled.

She read the news coverage obsessively. The papers trumpeted loudly about how it was a failed assassination attempt, but Hermione considered Umbridge's death far more appropriate than the intended target. Thicknesse was little more than a puppet. Umbridge's sins were her own.

But the satisfaction of retribution was insignificant compared to the relief of learning that the Resistance was still alive. Hermione spent half an hour crying from sheer joy. She found herself feeling unexpectedly hopeful for the first time in a long, long time.

The knowledge gave her a light step for days afterward.

When Healer Stroud came to see Hermione, her irritation that Hermione was still not pregnant became plainly visible. She cast a series of spells on Hermione and studied them thoughtfully.

"Well, your sodium levels seem to be improving," Healer Stroud finally said after several minutes of silence.

Hermione stared at the clock and said nothing.

Healer Stroud rummaged through a medical bag and pulled out a large flagon of a purple coloured potion.

"Drink all of this," Stroud commanded.

Hermione automatically brought it to her lips even as she blurted out, "What is it?"

Healer Stroud waited and didn't answer until Hermione had drunk the entire flagon.

"Fertility potion. It shouldn't be necessary but I'm out of ideas. You're not going to enjoy the side-effects I'm afraid and it's going to increase your likelihood of multiple births."

Hermione felt the blood drain from her face and felt as though she might fall off the exam table. The flagon slipped from her hand and shattered. Healer Stroud promptly banished the shards of glass.

"Expect breast swelling and tenderness, headaches, mood swings and swelling in your lower abdomen. It may also result in sensitivity to heat and cause your anxiety to re-emerge," Healer Stroud said as she added extra notes to Hermione's file. "I'll inform the High Reeve."

Hermione swallowed and bit on her lower lip as she stared determinedly across the room at the clock.

Malfoy did not appear that day to inspect her memories. Hermione wasn't surprised; she had already anticipated it.

Voldemort. Every other month until she was pregnant.

When Malfoy arrived the next day he looked tired and angry. He didn't say a word as he gripped her arm and apparated with her into the twisting tunnels leading to Voldemort's Hall.

The Hall was even warmer and stank of rotting flesh. Hermione started gagging as soon as she took a breath. Malfoy seemed immune as he pulled her forward and knelt down, dragging her onto the stones beside him. The floor was damp and sticky, shimmering faintly.

The room was almost pitch black, only a few distant sconces provided any illumination. There were no other attendants or Death Eaters present that Hermione could see.

"The Mudblood, My Lord," Malfoy said.

There was a long, slow sibilant sigh from the darkened dais and Voldemort's scarlet eyes suddenly appeared.

"Bring her forward," Voldemort said after a moment.

Malfoy pulled Hermione forward and up the steps before pushing her down onto her knees. Hermione stared in revulsion.

The throne Voldemort had been seated on before was gone. He was instead reclined across an enormous nest of pythons that were all twisted together into the vague shape of a chair. They were entwined beneath him, undulating lazily.

Voldemort cocked his head to the side and ran his spider-like fingers lightly over his chest as he studied Hermione thoughtfully.

"Ssstill not pregnant," Voldemort said in a menacing tone.

"Unfortunately not, My Lord," Malfoy said, his voice apologetic. "However, as you will see, the mind healers were correct that time alone is sufficient to begin recovering her memories."

Voldemort gave an irritated sigh and a python head emerged from the moving mass of coils and rested on his lap. Voldemort lazily caressed the snake and sank further against the sliding coils beneath him.

"Hold her," Voldemort ordered.

Malfoy's knee lodged itself between Hermione's shoulder blades and his hands wrapped around her jaw, holding her head in place. Hermione shook as Voldemort's scarlet eyes stabbed through her own and into her mind.

Hermione could feel Malfoy's hands wrapped around her throat and jaw as she shuddered with pain. It felt as though Voldemort's legilimency was a blade tearing through her mind. She screamed through her teeth.

It was slower. Instead of hot, blinding agony it was a gradual, more insidious pain. The kind that sank into the bones and the recesses of the mind and lingered.

Voldemort lazily tore her memories to pieces; like a cat, amusing itself with its prey. She hadn't known such a thing was possible. Bits and pieces of things he regarded as insignificant he destroyed just to feel her react. Her memory of folding origami while her parents debated eastern mysticism, her discovery of the Granian in the stables. He shredded them into tiny pieces as though they were paper.

She felt them go...tried to hold on to them as they faded away, but they slipped away until the agony in her mind made her forget what she was reaching for.

He was fascinated by her memories of Ginny. When he withdrew from Hermione's mind, she collapsed against Malfoy and couldn't see anything but the angry red of Voldemort's eyes. Could she see? Or were his eyes simply burned into her mind?

Her brain hurt so much she almost expected to feel it dripping from her ears. Through the haze of pain that wouldn't fade away she could feel her pulse fluttering madly against the pressure of Malfoy's fingers.

"It's a pity you did not bring the Weasley girl back alive." Hermione heard Voldemort finally say.

"I am sorry, My Lord, I had no idea of her significance. As you recall, she was nearly dead when I found her."

Hermione stirred faintly and whimpered, trying to rouse herself from the pain to listen carefully.

"It explains the Mudblood's attack in Sussex," Voldemort said in a musing tone. "A suicide mission to free a dying friend. The Order always was surprisingly predictable."

"Indeed." The disdain in Malfoy's voice was overt.

There was a long silence. Malfoy's hold on her jaw loosened and Hermione felt herself slide down onto the floor. As she lay there, a cool, muscular coil of a snake began slowly twining around her leg.

"I am disappointed by your lack of progress in finding those responsible for the attack, High Reeve," Voldemort said. There was a whisper of fury lacing his words.

Hermione could barely breathe. The moist heat and the rot in the room was choking her and the scales caught faintly on her stockings as the coil tightened around her calf. The python was sliding under her robes. She shuddered and tried to draw her leg away.

She could barely make out anything in the darkened hall. Her inability to see left her highly attuned to the sounds of the Hall; hissing and the soft shiver of sliding scales constantly shifting beside her in the darkness.

"I will not fail you. If it was the Order, I will find them," Malfoy said. His voice was calm and resolute. Deadly.

Hermione felt her lips tremble and tears prick in her eyes. She felt her hands shaking as rage cut through her pain. There was nothing she could do. Malfoy could hunt down and murder someone in the middle of her bedroom if he wanted to and Hermione would only be able to stand and watch. I hate you, Malfoy. I hate you. I hate you.

"It was the Order. Who else would have known? That fool Slughorn must have told Dumbledore. Potter must have known; that was why he broke into Hogwarts. Someone was overlooked during the purge. Someone significant to the Order. Not one of their ignorant foot soldiers. I am certain the Mudblood knows who it is."

As Voldemort spoke the sense of dark magic in the room grew thick, as though the air itself had become a solid, weighted mass bearing down mercilessly on Hermione. She could feel her ribs bowing under the pressure and crushing her cruelly into the stones. She was gasping as she tried to breathe through lungs that couldn't expand.

"Perhaps, My Lord, it would be judicious to recall Severus," Malfoy said. His words sounded forced. Hermione was not the only one being crushed to death.

"No..." Voldemort said in a cold voice. "Romania is crucial. There would be questions if we were to recall Severus over an attempt on Thicknesse. Severus will remain in place. Have you learned how the locket came to be in her possession?"

The pressure eased slightly and Hermione gasped and greedily dragged air into her lungs. The python coiled higher on her leg. She could feel the scales graze her bare skin above her stocking. A whimper of revulsion was torn from her throat and she tried harder to pull away. A coil closed around her other ankle.

"I have been investigating quietly. There are Ministry photos from '95 in which she appeared to be wearing it. She claimed it was a Selwyn heirloom. How she came to possess it no one knows, although a former secretary mentioned the Warden made a habit of relieving unlicensed peddlers of their possessions."

"So you know nothing. Not how the Order managed to destroy it from such an impossible distance. Not how they managed to identify it. Not even how she obtained it. Is there anything that you know?" Voldemort snarled. Then he subsided for a moment before saying in a calmer, more threatening tone, "You have disappointed me, High Reeve, I hope you have not forgotten what happened the last time you deeply disappointed me. Crucio!"

Hermione felt Malfoy suddenly drop. He had not fallen prone but had instead collapsed into a crouch over her. She could feel his body shake rigidly from the torture as a deep, guttural groan was wrenched from the back of his throat.

Voldemort did not hold the curse for very long. In little more than a minute it stopped, the shudders against her ceased and Hermione heard Malfoy panting near her ear as he recovered himself.

"I will not fail you, My Lord. I have had the broadhead and the remnants of the locket examined by a goblin," Malfoy said with only the faintest tremor in his voice as he started to stand again. "The broadhead was goblin-wrought silver, infused with a combination of venom from a manticore tail and basilisk venom. The manticore venom enabled the bolt to pass through the wards—the basilisk venom to destroy the locket."

"Have you investigated possible sources?"

Hermione felt the whisper of a tongue slip across her bare inner thigh and sobbed quietly.

"A juvenile basilisk is easy enough for any wizard with a toad and a talent for blinding hexes to obtain with patience. The source for manticore venom is more questionable given how carefully most ingredients have been regulated since you seized control of the Ministry. McNair insisted that he be responsible for the investigation into it, which was unusually generous of him. I privately interrogated one of his assistants. It would appear that there have been ongoing discrepancies in the logbooks regarding the quantities of some of his imported creatures. The black market has been quite profitable during the last several years."

"Sssend for him," Voldemort said, the fury in his tone was overt. "The attack would have been impossible if not for his carelessness. Some of my servants seem to be growing hungry."

"As you command, My Lord," Malfoy said and Hermione felt him pulling her up from the floor.

The python coiled around her legs tightened its hold and dragged her back down. Voldemort gave a sharp hiss and it slowly released her with a sound of sibilant dissent. As Malfoy pulled Hermione free of the coils, Voldemort's face swam into her vision.

Several of the snakes had coiled around him. He was half covered in the pythons and staring at her carefully.

"That Mudblood is traced with darkness. The snakes can taste it. And she is quite fecund," Voldemort said, wiping his lipless mouth as he studied her.

Hermione stared back for a moment before her vision flickered away again. She could feel the faint tremors of torture in Malfoy's grip.

"Healer Stroud dosed her with some potion yesterday," Malfoy said. "As for darkness—well, the trail of destruction reported in Sussex already indicated that she didn't adhere to the Order's policies regarding Dark Magic."

Voldemort gave an assenting hiss.

"Watch her carefully. Now that the Order is moving again they are certain to come for her," Voldemort said.

"You know I will die before I lose my hold on her," Malfoy said in a low voice and Hermione felt his grip on her arm tighten.

"I want their corpse, High Reeve. Whoever did it. This last Order member. I want their skull added to my collection."

"You shall have it, as I have given you all the rest," Malfoy said.

Hermione flinched and tried to wrench her arm free. Voldemort watched and she could feel the cruelty and malice in his gaze as his eyes slid across her. He opened his mouth and slid his tongue out as though tasting the air. His gums were white and toothless like a snake's and his tongue shimmered in the dim light. When he closed his mouth he leaned forward and gave a low hiss.

His face was centimeters from Hermione's. She could feel the whisper of air ghost across her face. She wasn't sure if he were about to lick her or perform legilimency on her again. His blood red eyes studied her for a moment before he sank back into the nest of pythons.

"Once the Mudblood has given up all her secrets, I want her killed too. She knows too much to be kept in Stroud's program. Although... if she is pregnant, I will permit you to wait until you have your heir."

"As you command, My Lord," Malfoy said without hesitation. Then he dragged Hermione out of the Hall.

Once they were in the winding passages, Malfoy dosed her with pain relief potion. Hermione scoffed quietly to herself before she swallowed it.

She tried to clear her head, struggling to see. She felt as though the air in the Hall had poisoned her. She slid weakly down onto to the floor. Her brain was still in agony even with the pain relief. Yet she found herself teeming with questions.

"I attacked a prison?" she forced out.

"After Potter died." Malfoy's voice emerged from the darkness. "A few hours after the final battle. You were captured after leveling nearly half of it in order to break in. It was an unexpected counter-attack. I only read the reports on the damage after you were assigned to me. It's a pity no one bothered to interrogate you sooner. The overconfidence of victory, I suppose."

Hermione looked up in the direction of his voice. She could only dimly make out his light-coloured hair before her vision slipped away again. She leaned her head back against the wall to steady herself.

"I was a healer..." she said. "I wasn't—they didn't let me—fight."

She furrowed her brow, trying to understand. "But Ginny got out? I got her out?"

"You did."

"But she was dying—when you—when you killed her. Why?" she asked, her voice small and pained.

There was a silence before Malfoy spoke.

"She was in Sussex for experimental research."

A low sound of horror tore itself from somewhere deep inside Hermione.

"The Dolohov's curse development division..." her voice shook and trailed off. She made out Malfoy nodding in the shadows.

She doubled over and threw up. Oh god, Ginny... Malfoy waited for her to stop gagging before he dragged her up off the floor and apparated back into her room in his manor.

The noise she made from the pain of the apparition was animal. She collapsed against Malfoy and discovered she was soaked in what appeared to be shiny, putrefied remains. She could only see it for a moment before her vision wobbled away again. She choked back a sob and tried blindly to wipe her hands off on her equally soiled robes.

Malfoy muttered several cleaning charms and the smell around her faded. He shoved her back onto her bed.

"Three days," he said and she vaguely heard him leave.

Hermione wanted to stay conscious. So she could grieve and try to process what she had learned, but her mind felt faded. Like she couldn't quite reach...

She pulled on her clothes until the buttons tore off and then shoved them onto the floor. She peeled the stockings off with her toes and tried to rub away the sensation of snake coils from her skin.

It was two days before she could see reliably. The pain in her head prevented her from keeping any food down. The room swam when she tried to sit up or stand.

She had nothing to do but think.

When Malfoy walked in on the third day she forced herself to sit up and look at him steadily.

"More questions?" he said coolly as he surveyed her.

Hermione shook her head. He looked faintly surprised.

"Well, one, I suppose," she said after a minute.

Malfoy waited. She gathered up the threads of information; all the inconsistencies she had collected in her mind over the months. She had finally drawn them up into something cohesive.

Hermione took a slow breath before she spoke. Then she met his eyes.

The fanfare is in the light but the execution is in the dark.

"The war has stalled," she said. "Even though it's still officially ongoing in parts of wizarding Europe. It's not being treated as significant or consequential anymore. In fact, based on the coverage, I suspect that there is likely to be an armistice announced soon. In the past two years, aside from conquering Britain, there has been almost no progress since Harry died."

Malfoy was silent; his expression carefully closed.

"In fact, almost nothing has happened since Harry died. Voldemort's entire campaign stalled once he defeated Harry. Because..." she hesitated only slightly, "there was something connecting them. They were tethered somehow, probably from when he tried to kill Harry as a baby. That was why he and Harry would end up in each other's dreams sometimes and, I'm sure you remember how Harry could speak parseltongue. That's why when Voldemort used the Killing Curse—to kill Harry at Hogwarts—it didn't work at first—"

Hermione's voice cracked and she swallowed hard and forced herself to continue. There was a new pain slowly starting to bloom through the back of her mind. She ignored it.

"That's why he had to recast the curse on Harry. Because of the tether. But—it wasn't just Harry. The way he's immortal...Professor Quirrell, the diary your father had...somehow your master figured out how to bind his lifesource to animate and inanimate objects. And the Order knew about it. That's why he knows the attack this month was the Order and not some new Resistance group. Because the assassination attempt wasn't an attempt. Thicknesse wasn't the target. Umbridge wasn't either. The pendant she sometimes wore. The locket. I saw it when she was training us. It was his. One of his tethers. Whoever it is, the last Order member, they figured out what it was and killed her to destroy it."

There was the faintest narrowing of Malfoy's eyes. Hermione cocked her head to the side as they studied each other.

"I believe I missed the question," Malfoy said after a moment.

"I haven't asked it yet," Hermione said calmly, trying to ignore the throbbing in the back of her head that was steadily growing as though there were a scalpel being driven into the base of her skull.

"The repopulation effort," she said, trying to breathe through the pain, "is a cover. It's a ruse. Voldemort doesn't care about the magical population. It's a piece of misdirection to keep the public preoccupied. He isn't waiting to enslave the muggles because he's concerned over wizarding demographics. He's doing it to buy himself time; he's entertaining the masses by making public spectacles of the pureblood families. First with the marriages and the miscarriages, and now, with surrogates. He didn't halt the war because he wants to, he did it because he has to."

Pain shot through Hermione's head and the room before her turned a horrifying shade of red as though there was blood streaming down and filling her vision. She gave an agonized cry started to fall forward. She forced herself to look up at Malfoy. He was moving toward her.

She forced her question out.

"He's dying. Isn't he?"

Chapter Text

Hermione was on the third floor in Grimmauld Place. The hallway was quiet and dimly lit; it was either late in the evening or early hours of the morning. As she passed one of the smaller rooms she caught sight of a shock of red hair bent over a table of maps. She paused and tapped lightly on the door.

"Hey Mione," Ron said distractedly as he moved pieces across the maps and then scratched his head absentmindedly with the tip of his wand. His expression was tense.

"Got a minute?" she asked.

"Sure." He stuffed his wand into his back pocket and looked up at her. "Just reviewing what's been happening since I left. Lot of raids while we were away; you must have been busy."

He was giving her a penetrating look. Hermione dropped her eyes.

"I'm sure you see the strategy," she said quietly.

"Kingsley's using the horcruxes to keep Harry off the field," he said.

Hermione gave a short nod. "You understand why, don't you?"

Ron's expression hardened further as he shrugged and nodded.

"No good risking him in a skirmish when we need him for the final blow. Yeah. I get it. That doesn't mean I like it. And some of these—," he pulled a few scrolls over and glanced over them. "They're pretty much suicide missions. I hadn't realized how safe Kingsley has been playing it because of Harry. Seeing what he'll do when we're gone for a few weeks—"

He broke off as he stared angrily down at the reports. "What exactly were the casualty rates while we were gone?"

Hermione opened her mouth to answer and he cut her off.

"I don't need you to tell me. I can see the numbers right here. Fucking—fucking bloody unbelievable. If Kingsley were here I'd punch him."

His face was growing scarlet with rage.

"Ron, we can't afford to play it safe anymore," Hermione said her stomach knotting itself as she thought about how many people's eyes she'd drawn shut during the past several weeks and the new hospice safe house she'd helped Bill ward. "I don't think you realise how depleted our resources are. How many years do you think Harry's vault can feed an army? The hospital ward is running on fumes. Europe is getting locked under Tom's control. The only option we have left is to take risks. And we can't risk Harry."

Ron was silent. Hermione could see the muscles of his jaw working as he kept clenching and releasing it.

"We need to find the horcruxes," he finally said. Hermione let out a low, deep breath that she'd been anxiously holding and nodded.

"We do," she said. "Tom and Harry are the linchpins. Ideologically the Death Eaters are too diverse. It's Tom's power that keeps the army cohesive. If we can kill him, permanently, there should be enough infighting to give the Resistance the upper hand."

"I guess that's the one upside to Tom's delusions of immortality: he isn't bothering to groom a successor," Ron said woodenly as he looked over another mission report. Hermione could see her signature on the bottom; verifying the injured, calculating the losses in neat, impersonal numbers. "Although I don't doubt the Malfoys will think they're first in line now that Bellatrix is dead. Fucking psychopaths."

"You need to convince Harry that the horcruxes are the first priority," she said, staring at Ron intently. "Especially now, after Ginny. I'm worried he just wants to ignore them."

Ron expression grew strained.

"Yeah," he said quietly.

Hermione hesitantly drew closer.

"Ron, I hope what I said at the meeting last night didn't make you feel like it was your fault. You saved Ginny. I didn't think it would be appropriate to withhold the information but I didn't mean to hurt you by disclosing it."

"It's fine," he said, expression stiff. "You made the right call."

"I'm sorry—"

"Don't. I don't really want to talk about it," he said in a shaking voice that brooked no argument.

Hermione's eyes darted across his face, recognizing the tension around his eyes, the scarlet tipping his ears while his face grew so pale his freckles stood out like drops of blood across his face.

If she pushed he'd explode.

Hermione felt her heart sink.

"Right. Well, I'll leave you to review," she said turning to leave.


Hermione regained consciousness and dazedly found someone leaning over her, tilting her head back. The right side of her face and body were rigid. She couldn't move her fingers and her tongue hurt as though it had been bitten repeatedly.

She jerked away from the hands upon her and the person, a man, stopped touching her. He stepped back eying her carefully. She stared at him in confusion. He was pale and blond and his face, which had seemed expressive when she'd first opened her eyes, was carefully blank.

"You had a seizure," he said in a calm voice. "Apparently fertility potions and legilimency don't mix."

He glanced down at a wand in his hand. "Can you speak? You were screaming for several minutes."

Hermione fought to swallow. Her throat felt raw, as though several minutes were a gross understatement. She tried to open her mouth and found that the muscles in the right side of her jaw were so tight she could barely part her teeth.

She felt exhausted. She felt as though she'd been electrocuted; her muscles and tendons felt as though they'd been pulled taut until they'd been about to snap. When she tried to breathe there was a low, gasping sound that emerged from the back of her throat.

She tried to remember what had happened. She tried to sit up, but her body was uncooperative. She burst into tears.

"Who are you?" she slurred through her teeth when she finally stopped sobbing. She stared up at the man standing beside her.

A myriad of emotions suddenly flickered across his face. He opened his mouth, then shut it firmly and hesitated.

"I'm in charge of your care," he finally said, his expression blank once more. He pulled a small bottle seemingly out of nowhere. "You should take this. You'll probably be able to remember what happened when you wake next."

Hermione hesitated and then nodded in acquiescence. He slid a hand under her neck at the base of her skull and helped tilt her rigid body up so she could swallow it. As soon as she drank it, her exhaustion took hold of her fully, and she felt herself drifting off.

"Do I know you?" she asked as her eyes slid closed.

"I suppose you do."

When Hermione woke again, the right side of her body felt faintly sore and her tongue had the subtle sensation of a healing charm across the surface of it.

She cast her mind back, trying to remember what had happened.

She'd been talking to Malfoy about Voldemort, about horcruxes—she suddenly remembered the word. She'd finally asked her question; which had hardly been a question because she was almost certain she was right. Voldemort was dying.

Then everything in her head had felt like it had exploded, the room turned red, and she'd collapsed.

She'd had a seizure in front of Malfoy.

When she'd woke the first time she'd been practically immobile and hadn't even remembered who he was. He'd dosed her with Dreamless Sleep Draught.

She thought back on the exchange. 'In charge of her care' was a very generous way for him to describe himself. She snorted.

She shifted her shoulders and tried opening her mouth. Her jaw was sore but she could part her teeth fully. She sat up gingerly and examined herself.

She'd been treated.

Seizures were not her healing specialty, but Arthur Weasley had suffered from them mildly after he'd been cursed by Lucius Malfoy. She had researched it. The treatment was similar to treating someone for the cruciatus, a treatment that she was quite familiar with.

It was not exclusively wand healing but magi-physical therapy; using spells and then massaging the knots and tension away by hand. Someone had touched her. At minimum they'd massaged the entire right side of her body in order for the tension and rigidity to be so thoroughly relieved. Considering that she felt almost normal, she suspected that she'd been treated on both sides from her jaw down to her toes.

She shuddered slightly, but tried to reason with herself.

It was healing. Just healing. She'd healed hundreds and hundreds of people. Treated injuries on every part of the body. An injury was an injury. Healing was healing. It was quite removed from any sense of sensuality or sexuality. Clinical. Bodies rarely even registered as anything more than something to heal.

But still... The thought that someone had been handling her while she was unconscious in Malfoy's house made her feel ill.

She clutched her blankets against her chest protectively.

She glanced at the calendar on the wall and found that two days had passed since her conversation with Malfoy.

She shifted and hissed, glancing down. Her breasts were sore and—enlarged. She stared in abject horror for several seconds before remembering that it was a side-effect of the fertility potion Stroud had given her. She grimaced and climbed out of bed.

Malfoy had used cleaning charms on her after bringing her back from Voldemort's Hall, but she hadn't actually washed any of it off. She gathered up towels and clothing and went down the hall to the shower in the other bathroom.

A long shower relieved any remaining aches in her body. She tilted her head back under the spray and thought back on the memory of Ron she'd unintentionally broken open. Horcruxes. And casualty rates. And Ginny.

It always came back to Ginny.

Ron. He'd looked so gaunt. So ground down by the war. His hair had been streaked with grey even though he couldn't have been more than twenty-two. She'd forgotten those details. She'd forgotten how the war had eaten him; how physically the stress had manifested in him.

He'd planned missions with Moody and Kingsley. He'd taken his talent for strategy and wizard's chess and learned how to apply it to war. He'd been so proud the first time Kingsley had approved one of his strategies.

It had taken time for Ron and Harry and DA to accept that the war would be long. They thought the magical communities would rise up in support of the Order. That having witnessed Voldemort's defeat during the first wizarding war would imbue the Wizarding World with confidence in the power of Light.

But Voldemort had learned from the first war. He was more clever, wary, and cunning than he had been the first time around especially after the missteps of the battle at the Department of Mysteries. He limited his reign of terror to Muggle-borns, half-blood families and blood traitors. He seized the Ministry early and had the Order of the Phoenix labeled a terrorist organization. He had Dumbledore killed in the Headmaster's own school by a sixteen year old boy.

Any confidence the Wizarding World might have had in the power of Light was quickly smothered. Muggle-borns and half-bloods were a fragment of the wizarding population. It was easier for the established magical community to simply choose to keep their heads down and leave the Order to fight Voldemort alone.

It was difficult to fight a war as a terrorist group.

Even if you had money, going to Diagon Alley and accessing a Gringotts vault was hard. Ministry identification became required for buying anything, food or potion supplies; and buying large quantities drew suspicion. A person could be sent to the hospital after a battle but any injuries sent to the Spell Damage ward required St Mungo's to contact the DMLE; injured members of the Resistance were charged with terrorism, placed under arrest while convalescing and disappeared into one of Voldemort's prisons upon release from St Mungo's.

The Resistance was not prepared for how decisive Voldemort's initial sallies would be. They hadn't stockpiled. They hadn't put enough people into hiding and many that they did try to protect they'd failed to hide carefully enough. There was always some goodbye people thought they could get away with before they left, some small hint that Death Eater torture proved capable of dragging out from neighbors.

The pride Ron experienced when his strategies were used quickly faded as he discovered it was almost impossible to devise a skirmish without casualties. People were not reusable pieces on a chess board; when sacrificed they died. Horribly. And even if you did everything possible strategically to protect them, they didn't always do as instructed or predicted. And even if they did, the enemy didn't.

Ron tended to take every death and injury as his personal responsibility. The lustre of heroism and the envy he used to have for Harry vanished. War quickly sobered him and the understanding bonded him and Harry even more closely together; mending any fractures his past jealousy had created over the years. They became united in guilt, determination, and idealism. Closer than brothers.

There had been little room left for Hermione.

Hermione sighed and dropped her head down, feeling the water slide down her cheeks. Her lips twisted and trembled as she thought back to Hogwarts.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione: the inseparable trio....until Dumbledore's death, when Hermione had chosen potions and healing over drilling defensive magic with Harry and Ron and the rest of DA.

Her days were spent studying healing under Poppy Pomfrey. Her nights were spent studying potions with Snape. Her friendships fell to the wayside. Even her grades slid.

She had little time to devote to drilling defense spells. Everyone was studying defensive magic. No one else seemed to be worrying about injuries or how to counter curses. Or about being able to make the potions needed to heal injuries.

For a month following the Battle in the Department of Mysteries Hermione had taken ten different potions daily in order to repair all the internal damage from Dolohov's nonverbal curse. She had been lucky to have survived it.

When Dumbledore died only a few months later, she had felt keenly aware of how vital a role healing and potions would play in whether the Resistance would survive the war long enough to win it. But she was the only one worrying about it. Everyone regarded her as paranoid. Hospitals were a neutral territory; if anyone needed healing, there would always be St Mungo's to turn to.

But then they were terrorists. Hospitals weren't neutral for terrorists.

When Voldemort abruptly seized control of the Ministry, the first act of Minister Thicknesse signed was the Muggle-born Registration Act. It was a carefully timed and strategised move. The Muggle-born and half-blood aurors in the DMLE and Healers of St Mungo's were arrested and had their wands snapped before they could flee to the Order.

They would have been invaluable members of the Resistance if the Order had been able to reach them in time.

Instead, the "terrorist organization" found themselves abruptly cut-off from the world, briefly leaving Poppy Pomfrey as their most experienced Healer. Any fighters in the Resistance were brought to a boarding school matron to be healed of battle injuries and dark curses. Kingsley managed to recruit two general practitioner healers to set up a semi-functional hospital. However Voldemort's tendency towards punishing entire families, most wizarding folk were reluctant to leave their entire lives behind and ally themselves with the Order if they didn't have to.

The war was concentrated in Britain at that point. After the British Ministry of Magic was seized European Magical hospitals sympathetic to the Resistance secretly reached out and offered specialised training in healing dark magic and curses. Hermione had been the only person with enough basic healing knowledge to qualify that the Order could spare.

It had hardly been a question. The Order needed a casualty healer, if they couldn't recruit one they needed to create one; Hermione had the aptitude. She was barely given time to say goodbye before Kingsley had her smuggled out of Britain. She hadn't known when she would come back.

She trained obsessively for almost two years. She was reaching the end of her training when the Order's hospital safehouse was compromised in the aftermath of a skirmish. A Death Eater had grabbed ahold of Ernie MacMillan when he was apparating there. Once the Death Eater was inside the protective wards he immediately left and brought back several more Death Eaters.

Beyond the Fidelius charm the hospital had not been well protected. There was no evacuation plan. No guards. It was a bloodbath before the Order managed to gather and send in a response. The Order lost the two healers they had recruited, their healer trainees, Horace Slughorn, and almost every injured fighter convalescing there.

The Death Eaters left Ernie alive out of spite.

The Order needed Hermione back immediately.

Voldemort had allowed Antonin Dolohov to set up a curse development division; new and deadly curses were used in battles that required advanced spell analysis to counter. Hermione's specialty. They also needed to replace their potion master and Hermione had qualified to do that too.

Within three days, Kingsley personally arrived at the Austrian magical hospital where she'd been studying and brought her back to England.

In her absence, Harry and Ron had reforged themselves into a duo. Upon her return the trio tried to resume their friendship but the two years had sent them in separate directions.

Hermione hadn't been able to share in the idealistic belief that Light, by its inherent quality of goodness, would eventually turn the tide of the war. In her eyes it seemed to be steadily turning further and further against the Order.

From the moment she returned to England she lived in the new hospital ward that had been set up on the second floor of Grimmauld Place. She spent her days and nights watching people die; watching them realise they were going to die. Trying to save them. She sat beside them and explained as gently as she could that they'd never speak, never eat, never see, never walk, never move again. That they'd never have children. That their partner, spouse, or parents or children had died while they were unconscious.

She lived every day in the aftermath of the battles; breathed in the devastation until she was drowning in it.

She wasn't allowed to fight. She wasn't allowed in the field. She was too valuable as a healer and potion mistress. The Order couldn't risk losing her.

She stood endlessly in the aftermath of battles she had no influence over.

So she used what she had, her voice and her position as an Order member. She used her seat in meetings to urge the Order to expand training beyond defensive magic. She wasn't advocating for torture or Unforgivables; she had just wanted Resistance fighters to actually be given explicit rather than merely tacit permission to kill Death Eaters in self-defense.

She hadn't thought it could be a particularly fraught or complicated position to hold three years into a war.

It was.

Harry was adamant: they would not use dark magic; they would not kill people. The majority of the Order had fallen in line with Harry's vision.

Hermione had been the outspoken odd-one-out. It had steadily eroded most of her friendships.

It wasn't entirely surprising that Ginny had concluded that Snape was the only person Hermione could have been in a relationship with. Ginny had been right. Hermione had been almost entirely alone.

Hermione sighed to herself and turned off the shower.

If she'd done something differently, could it have changed the outcome of the war? If she had devoted herself to defense? If she hadn't pursued healing or potions? If she hadn't left for two years?

Would it have made any difference? Saved anyone?

A lump formed in her throat as she replayed Malfoy's taunt from months before:

"You didn't even fight during the war, did you? I certainly never saw you. You weren't ever out there with Potter and Weasley. You just hid. Spending all your time in hospital wards. Waving your wand about futilely, saving people who ended up being better off dead."

She swallowed hard and pressed her lips together into a hard line as she stepped out of the shower and toweled off.

She paused a moment and stared at her reflection.

She hated her reflection. Hated seeing it. She tried to avert her eyes whenever she encountered a mirror. She barely recognized the person she found in the glass.

In her memories of herself, she'd been gaunt from stress and malnutrition. Pale from staying inside healing and brewing potions. Her skin had been pallid. Her unmanageable hair always carefully restrained in tight braids that she'd kept coiled at the back of her head. Bony and thin-limbed. Her eyes, large and dark, but with fire in them.

Now...

Her face was no longer gaunt. With adequate nutrition she had filled out so that her cheeks were no longer hollowed. Regular daily walks meant her color was improved with a faint natural blush to it. Without a comb or any hair ties she could only comb with her fingers and leave it to hang loose. It fell, in a riotous mass of waves and curls, down past her elbows. Her knees and elbows and hip bones and ribs no longer jutted out. She'd built up muscle mass exercising.

She looked healthy. Pretty even. Normal. Like a Hermione from a different life.

But her eyes—

Her eyes were dead. There was no fire in them.

The spark that she regarded as most intrinsic to who she was had gone out.

She was a vibrant corpse.

She turned away from the mirror and dressed.

The fertility potion affected the fit of her robes. The buttons over her bust pulled and she could see her nipples through the fabric. She rolled her shoulders inward to try to conceal it and pulled her hair over her shoulders.

When she returned to her room she found a lunch laid out for her. She poked at a cucumber salad and stared out the window. The snow had melted. The estate was comprised of endless grey. Even the sky was grey.

She was still staring out the window when the door clicked. She glanced over and found Malfoy had entered. He was wearing his 'hunting' clothes. They were clean, so her guess was that he was heading out rather than returning.

She stared at him. Without robes he was noticeably tall and lithe. The clothing was all black but his forearms, chest and legs had a metallic silver protective gear strapped onto them. Ukrainian Ironbelly hide body-armor, Hermione concluded after studying him for a moment; for spell and weapon protection, unless he had a dragon taming hobby she didn't know about. He was gripping a pair of gloves in one hand.

She wondered if he'd worn that outfit when he'd killed Ginny, Minerva McGonagall, Alastor Moody, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Professor Sprout, Madam Pomfrey, Professor Flitwick, and Oliver Wood. He probably always had it on under his Death Eater robes.

Ironbelly hide was highly resistant to magic and almost impenetrable to physical attacks. In a duel, unless the attacker could land a headshot or used a killing curse, Malfoy would be difficult to beat. Someone with manacles blocking their magic would have no chance against him at all.

Then again, when had Slytherins ever cared about fighting fair?

His eyes met hers from across the room and he studied her carefully.

She crossed her arms protectively across her chest.

"Remember me now?" he asked.

"To my profound dismay," she said glancing away from him. He approached slowly.

"I informed Stroud about what happened. Apparently she didn't bother to verify that fertility potion wouldn't interact negatively with a legilimency session," he said with a faint sneer.

"I doubt the combination is something regularly studied by potion masters," Hermione said in a dry voice.

There was a pause and Malfoy pulled a newspaper out of thin air and handed it to her. She plucked it from his fingers with a curious expression.

"You've clearly been putting your reading to good use," he said as she unfolded it.

"Peace Talks in Scandinavia!" announced the front page.

She smiled to herself as she skimmed the article.

"How did you guess?" he said after a minute of silence.

She looked up from the newspaper.

"About this?" she said, widening her eyes innocently and indicating the article.

He rolled his eyes.

"No."

The corner of her mouth quirked.

"I'm a healer," she said, then glanced down at her wrists. "Or I was, at least. I specialised in healing dark magic. I know the signs of magical corrosion. Too much of certain kinds of dark magic and it turns to poison in the body. The body and the magic try to assimilate it. Once there's dark magic at a cellular level, there's no going back. The magic eats the body from the inside out."

She set the newspaper aside. "The magic is still highly potent of course. He's still one of the most powerful wizards in the world. But physically he's deteriorating. Even all that unicorn blood he's imbibing and bathing in can't sufficiently manage the symptoms. Lying in a torpor under a nest of snakes is just delaying the inevitable. Even if he's immortal, he'll be little more than a shade soon. He'll fade into ether. With Harry dead, he has no way to rebirth himself again. If all his horcruxes have been destroyed—he'll just—cease to exist."

Malfoy looked at her sharply and she met his eyes.

"The tethers, they're called horcruxes aren't they?" she asked.

He nodded slowly.

"New memory?" he said.

She nodded.

"During the seizure," she said, leaning back in her chair. "The Order was hunting them. Ron and Harry were assigned to."

"Anything else?" he said, his voice low and dangerous.

"Ron was upset about the casualty rates. We were starving. I doubt it's anything you don't already know," she said quietly.

She looked up at him steadily, expecting him to immediately move to invade her mind. To verify it. He just stared at her.

She looked away. After a minute she glanced back up, hesitating.

He noticed her attention and inclined his head, arching an eyebrow.

"Kingsley Shacklebolt..." she said. "Hannah didn't mention him. Everyone keeps saying that I'm all that's left of the Order, but I don't remember—"

"He died a few months before the final battle," Malfoy said, looking away from her. His jaw rolled slightly.

Hermione had known—but she still felt a sharp ache in her chest when she heard the confirmation.

She felt sure she already knew the answer to her next question too.

"Were you the one who—?"

He met her eyes and nodded. "He was in my way."

 

Chapter Text

Hermione stared down at the square of paper she was holding in bewilderment.

She furrowed her eyebrows as she folded it in half, and then stopped, feeling at a loss.

She couldn't remember how to fold an origami crane.

She'd folded more than a thousand of them. Large and small. Day after day. She had distinct memories of folding them.

But somehow—

She couldn't remember how to do it anymore. She'd kept trying to, each morning after she read the newspaper, but somehow she couldn't figure out how to make them anymore.

She couldn't remember the order of the folds. Was it a diagonal fold first? Maybe she was supposed to fold it in half and then again? She tried both ways.

She couldn't remember. The knowledge was—gone.

She had none of her previously folded cranes to look over in order to reverse engineer the process. The elves always banished them all by the end of the day.

Hermione sighed to herself and set the paper aside.

It must have been lost during her seizure. Perhaps there had been brain damage.

The memory—the knowledge—had vanished from wherever she'd kept it. Like it had never existed. Except she knew it had. She remembered, distinctly, of being able to fold them.

No matter.

She didn't even know why she folded cranes. She couldn't remember when she'd learned it. Maybe in primary school...

She pulled on her cloak and headed outside.

The estate was dreary and muddy. Winter was giving its last gasps before spring. The windows were occasionally tinged with frost in the morning, but the days warmed and it rained in sheets for days at a time.

The rain was only coming down lightly so Hermione ventured forth.

She had gotten to the point that she could traverse most of the gardens surrounding the manor; as long as it wasn't too open. Open spaces she still couldn't handle.

When she occasionally tried to force herself past the hedges and into the open, rolling hills, she felt as though someone were dissecting her; slicing her nerves out of her body and laying them out in cold and the wind. Her mind would just fold in on itself and leave her alone in a state of stark terror.

She couldn't—couldn't manage.

She wondered if she'd ever be able to handle it. Whether she'd ever recover from the agoraphobia. The fear felt as though it had rooted itself deeply, twining inside and through her; from her brain and down her throat, wrapping around her lungs and organs like an invasive vine; waiting to strangle her to death.

On the days it wasn't pouring rain Hermione spent most of her time wandering the estate. She would return inside caked with mud and have no choice but to trail it inside and through the halls. Wizarding homes had no traditions of keeping door mats or boot-scrapers when a quick scourgify could banish most mud. Hermione muttered internal apologies to the house-elves each day.

Her days had sunk into a sort of dreaded monotony.

She woke up and had breakfast. She read the newspaper repeatedly. She had folded origami. She ate lunch. When it wasn't pouring outside she went and explored the estate for hours upon hours. If the rain was too heavy she only went out briefly and then exercised in her room until she was ready to collapse. She showered. She explored the manor. She ate dinner. Sometimes Malfoy came and performed legilimency on her. Sometimes he came and fucked her indifferently over a table. She went to bed. She woke up and repeated the routine.

Day after day.

There was nothing more novel than the news.

She never spoke to anyone but Malfoy and Stroud.

Knowing the breeding program was all a ruse didn't change anything. Knowing Voldemort was dying, that he had horcruxes, didn't change anything.

Not for her.

Malfoy was still spending all his time trying to hunt down whomever it was that had destroyed the locket. When he came to inspect her memories he had looked visibly ground down. He only explored her mind briefly, as though he were afraid of damaging her and causing another seizure.

Hermione began to suspect that Voldemort crucio'd him regularly; every time Malfoy reported that he still hadn't caught the culprit.

He wasn't, she realised, returning to the manor looking pale with fury; he was pale from the physical shock caused by torture. In fact, he looked like he was being tortured daily. The symptoms showed more distinctly each time she caught sight of him. He seemed visibly eroded; as though he were on the verge of a breakdown.

Crucio did that to a person. When used too frequently, even if it didn't drive a person insane, its effects could become long-term.

His hands twitched the way Hermione's still sometimes did. She wondered if he was getting therapy for the torture. Whether he had time to.

Surely he would; he'd gotten her treated after her seizure. He would probably use the same healer. He had to have one. He'd likely put a healer on retainer during the war. He wasn't the type to go sit in St. Mungo's waiting room.

She tried not to notice the symptoms; the pallor, the occasional spasms in his fingers, the dilation of his pupils. She reminded herself that he was trying to hunt down the last of the Order; every time he came back tortured it was a sign that he had failed and the Order survived.

But it bothered her, as a healer. The deterioration; she couldn't stop herself from noticing it and gnawed inexplicably at her conscience.

She ignored it.

Voldemort was dying. Voldemort was dying and Malfoy knew and he had responded by climbing the ranks, and wiping out the Order. She had wondered why he was so slavishly obedient even in the face of having her as the mother of his future children, now she knew why. Of course he'd be willing to do anything to stay in Voldemort's good graces.

Ron had been right. Malfoy probably regarded himself as the successor. How could he not? The High Reeve. The Dark Lord's 'Hand of Death.' When Voldemort finally faded, who would dare dispute that Malfoy was next in line? There was no other Death Eater who could compare.

Malfoy clearly intended to become the next Dark Lord and unless Voldemort happened to kill him before then, Hermione fully expected him to.

She wondered what kind of Dark Lord Malfoy would be. What did he even want from it? Hermione still didn't know. Maybe she would never know. She'd always wonder and never understand him.

He deserves to die, she thought to herself. He deserved to be crucio'd. The world would be a better place if Draco Malfoy were killed or driven insane.

But the thought of him blank-eyed in Janus Thickey bothered her somehow. Passively watching the toll that regular torture was taking on him made her feel oddly guilty.

She couldn't do anything about it, she coldly reminded herself as she strode through the hedge maze, even if she did want to help him. Which she did not. He was a Death Eater. It wasn't as though anyone had forced him to become a Death Eater or to murder Dumbledore or be the one to kill off the entire Order of the Phoenix and a large percentage of the Resistance as a whole. He deserved every bit of suffering that went in hand with his servitude. More even.

If she didn't get to kill him, the irony of it being Voldemort who slowly did the deed was both fitting and satisfying to contemplate.

Mostly.

Hermione sighed and stopped walking, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes. Trying to clear her mind and stop thinking.

It seemed that she had managed to retained a bit of a bleeding heart, even for depraved monsters. She'd always hated the mere idea of torture. It had bothered her to witness Umbridge's. Apparently she couldn't even enjoy Malfoy's.

Her next fertile period was made distinctly worse by the fertility potion.

As it approached her breasts swelled several cup sizes larger and without a bra to support them they hung and ached and were throbbingly sensitive. Her lower abdomen swelled in a way that made her look as though she were actually in the early stages of pregnancy. It was horrifying. Hermione found herself suddenly vividly, viscerally confronted by the idea of pregnancy in a way that she had managed to ignore and avoid until then.

She cried. Her clothes didn't fit. She couldn't exercise, it was too uncomfortable. She felt extremely tired and on edge. She just curled up in her room and tried to ignore all the things her body was doing.

When the table appeared she found it somewhat painful to lean across it and feel her weight pressing down on her chest. She swallowed hard. Her entire body felt over sensitive, particularly in places she very much did not want to think about. When she heard the door open she focused intently on the pain, bearing down harder on her breasts than necessary and forcing herself not to pay attention to anything else.

Please don't get pregnant. Please don't get pregnant, she begged her body.

After the five days, when Malfoy appeared to inspect her memories, he seemed slightly less on edge. Not so deathly pale. Less recently tortured. She feared that it meant he'd made some of break-through in his investigation.

He examined her memories carefully. More thoroughly than the previous time but still without disturbing any of the locked memories. He did watch Hermione's conversation with Ron repeatedly as though checking for details. When he came upon her reluctant concern over his torture symptoms he withdrew from her mind.

"Worrying about me, Mudblood?" he said with a sneer. "I have to admit I never thought I'd see the day."

"Don't take it as a compliment," Hermione said stiffly. "I felt sorry for Umbridge when he tortured her too but I'd gladly dance on her grave."

His mouth quirked with amusement. "Unfortunately the snakes ate her."

Hermione found herself smiling before she could stop herself. Malfoy gave a barking laugh.

"You are a bitch," he said with a faint shake of his head.

Hermione's smile vanished. "Some people deserve to die," she said coldly. "And the ones who didn't—you killed anyway."

He rolled his eyes as though she had merely critiqued his manners.

"I did what I was instructed to do," he said with a shrug.

"Do you tell yourself that to ease your conscience?" She sneered at him as she sat up on the bed. "When you strung them up and left them to decay? Did you think you were being noble?"

He gave her a thin smile and quirked an eyebrow. "Your Resistance was quite boundless in its hope even after Potter died in front of them. They were the sorts that would never believe reports of death based on Death Eater hearsay. How many more fighters do you suppose would have tried escape if they hadn't seen the bodies rot with their own eyes? Surely you don't believe in encouraging suicidal optimism?"

"Someone is still out there," she said. "Someone you haven't caught."

He smirked faintly. "Not for long."

Hermione felt the blood drain from her face so sharply it felt as though her head had been hollowed out. "Have you—?" Her voice shook.

"Not yet. But I can practically guarantee it," he said with cruel smile. "Long before the Dark Lord has faded, your last Order member will be dead and your precious little Resistance will never know they even existed."

"You don't know that," Hermione said fiercely.

"I do know it," he said, his expression became so hard he could have been carved from marble. "This is a story with only one ending. If your Order has wanted a different one they should have made different decisions. Perhaps some hard, realistic ones. They should have let go of their fairytale notions that they could somehow win a war without ever getting their hands dirty. They were idiots, nearly every one of them." He sneered down at her. "Do you have any idea how easy it is to kill someone when you know they're hoping only to stun you? Very. So easy I could do it in my sleep at this point."

Hermione stared at him, watching the way his mouth twisted in derision and the fury in his eyes as he spoke.

"Who do you hate so much?" she asked. She still couldn't understand it. It seemed to defy the bounds of magic.

"Many, many people," he said with an insolent shrug. Then he smiled. "Most of whom are dead now."

He walked away before she could ask him anything else.

After nearly a month, Montague started visiting the manor once more. Hermione didn't bother spying on him. She had concluded that he probably wasn't a member of the Resistance or the Order. If there were any chance of it Voldemort surely would have sent Malfoy after him.

When she came back from her walk one day she found a half dozen House-elves on the veranda of the North Wing setting out a large table and arranging vast quantities of flowers everywhere. One of them immediately vanished with a sharp pop and a moment later Topsy appeared and approached Hermione.

"'Mistress is having an Ostara party this night. The Mudblood is to stay out of sight," Topsy said.

Hermione blinked and glanced around the veranda which appeared more like it was being prepared for a wedding banquet than an celebration of the vernal equinox.

"Alright," Hermione said and went and found a different entrance to the manor. She watched the preparations from the upstairs windows and concluded that the equinox was merely an excuse for Astoria to throw a party. There was nothing of the rituals or traditions apparent other than the abundance of flowers.

When evening fell the veranda was lovely, aglow with fairy lights tucked into the enormous bouquets of daffodils and tulips. Astoria must have had shipped from somewhere else, Hermione theorized, the Malfoy estate was still cold and barely hinting at spring.

Hermione watched the guests arrive, Death Eaters, every one of them. They were stiff and formal with each other until the drinks started flowing generously.

When everyone was seated and the meal well underway Hermione stepped back from the window she had been watching from and grabbed her cloak. She slipped down a quiet hallway and out into the gardens. She could hear the voices from the party over the hedges. If she could find a good position she might be able to eavesdrop. Perhaps someone would drop useful information about the Order or the Resistance. Or the other surrogates.

The Daily Prophet was always crammed with speculation but it was hard to ever know what might be true.

She followed the winding paths of the hedge maze. Her footsteps were silent. She hadn't been told not to come outside.

Trying to eavesdrop on what was clearly becoming a drunken dinner party was a relief. Hermione felt—alive. Rather than feeling like a mechanical dead creature who passed day after day, folding origami, exercising, and waiting for a table to appear in the middle of the room for her to be clinically fucked on and then left once more for another cycle.

The veranda was just on the other side of the hedge from her. She could hear the voices clearly.

"She's got barely any fingers on her," came a voice. "Can't show off something like that. Creeps the fuck out of me. At first, I could barely get it up to take her, but now that she's up in the duff she's got the most incredible pair on knockers on her. Definitely makes up for the lack of fingers."

Hermione froze. They were talking about the other girls. Possibly Parvati or Angelina. They'd both lost most their fingers.

Some of the girls were pregnant.

"At least yours has both her eyes," came another voice. "Mine's a bloody horror to look at. I take her from behind or drop something over her face so I don't have to stare into that fucking hole in her head. Got a patch that covers it now, but still..."

Hannah Abbott.

"They're not meant for looking at," Astoria's sharp voice interjected.

There was drunken, braying laughter at that.

"You should see how I've got mine trained," another voice chimed in. "All I have to do is snap my fingers and she bends over. Her quim's so loose I prefer taking her in the arse unless it's one of the mandatory days. Must have been a slut back in Hogwarts, but she knows how to suck a cock. I have her under the table every morning while I eat breakfast."

Hermione felt as though someone had stabbed her. The horror she felt was physically painful.

There were many exclamations of admiration.

"You've got the Mudblood, haven't you Malfoy? Saw that nice big Prophet article about it. "

"I do," said Malfoy in a cold voice.

"The Warden hated her back in school. Probably came in pieces I'll bet."

"No," Malfoy said, his voice was clipped. "The Dark Lord wanted her kept intact."

"Lucky bugger," someone muttered.

"Must be fun, staring into her little know-it-all face as you shove in. Does she cry? I always imagined she'd be a crier. I had so many fantasies back in school of pinning her down on a desk and reaming into her while she sobbed."

Hermione's skin crawled and she pulled her cloak around her more tightly.

"I've never paid attention," Malfoy answered in a bored tone. "What the Dark Lord commands I will perform, but there's not much to her to hold my interest."

Several voiced grumbled something about Malfoy but the conversation moved on.

Hermione's ears perked up. They were discussing the death of Umbridge. Complaining about patrols in the Forbidden Forest and what a bother the centaurs were. It seemed none of them knew anything about the horcruxes. It was disappointing if not surprising.

She kept listening.

Malfoy was getting sent to Romania. That was news. There were executions scheduled there and Voldemort wanted them done with ceremony. A demonstration of strength in case any of the other European countries interpreted the attempted assassination of Thicknesse as a sign of weakness. The High Reeve would do them himself.

Hermione wondered if that was the reason Voldemort had stopped torturing Malfoy. He would need to be in peak condition to show off his talent for murder in Romania.

There was mumbled jealousy about Malfoy's assignment. Hermione's lip curled. What kind of loathsome creatures got jealous that someone else got to go kill people?

"Are you going to Avada them all?" someone was asking in an awestruck tone.

"That would be the tradition," Malfoy said, drawling so overtly Hermione could practically see the eye-roll that was surely accompanying it.

She wasn't sure what was more unnerving, Malfoy's casualness or the other Death Eaters' enthusiasm.

The conversation wore on, offering nothing useful. Then there was the sound of chairs moving and people standing and Astoria was driveling on about the flowers in the hot house.

Hermione faded through the hedges back toward the other entrance of the manor. She didn't want to be stumbled upon if one of the Death Eaters decided to go explore the hedges.

She was nearly back to the house when suddenly,

Immobulus.

The hex caught her in the side of the head. She froze in place as a Graham Montague stepped through the French doors of the manor.

"Who knew slipping off to take a piss would make me so lucky?" He seemed to be marveling as he approached her. "With all the wards Malfoy added to your wing in the manor I was afraid I'd never reach you again. Has he knocked you up yet?"

He cast a pregnancy detection spell on her and grinned when it came up negative.

"I never thought that getting Astoria host an equinox party would be the thing that finally worked," he said with a chuckle. He was studying her face, his expression was triumphant the way it had been on New Year's Eve. He unclasped her cloak and pushed it off her shoulders. "Fuck. You didn't have these last time."

Her breasts were still somewhat enlarged from the fertility potion. He grabbed her left breast and squeezed it hard as he drew closer, so that their bodies were almost pressed against each other. He buried his nose in her hair, breathing in. He smelled sour from wine. Drunk.

"You were supposed to have been mine, you know," he said, stepping back slightly to look her over again. "I was the one who caught you when you attacked at Sussex. When I saw you standing under a sky full of burning dementors—I wanted to fuck you right there in that field." His grip on her breast tightened as he spoke, his fingers digging into the flesh. If Hermione could have moved at all she would have been gasping from pain. "That was how I earned my Mark, you know, catching you. My exceptional service to the Dark Lord. When I saw you at Sussex, I recognised you from the cave. Remember how I told you I'd ask to have you. I was the one who reminded the Dark Lord about you for the breeding program. He said you'd be mine. But then he changed his mind and gave you to Malfoy."

Montague hissed and twisted her breast hard in his hand. "Fucking Malfoy gets everything. But I owe you so much pain for stabbing me with those poisoned knives, I'm not going to let him get in my way. I've been fantasising about this for so long. I even bought a pensieve, just so I could watch you kneeling in front of me and unbuttoning my trousers as many times as I wanted."

Hermione would have been shaking if she could move. She didn't know what Montague was talking about, but she recognized the sound of cruel and obsessive revenge in his tone. He smiled at her and placed the tip of his wand against her forehead.

"We don't want Malfoy to come interrupt our fun now, do we? Confundo."

Hermione's mind blurred as the immobilising hex was removed and she collapsed into his waiting arms.

 

Chapter Text

There was some—

Something isn't right about this, Hermione thought as she was pushed against the hedge and her dress was ripped open.

Cold.

Cold air was on her.

Teeth were on her throat. It hurt.

She didn't like it.

She tried to push away but her hands were shoved roughly aside and then she felt teeth against her breast a moment before they bit down.

Hard.

She was crying—she thought.

Fingers were between her legs and stabbing into her. Poking her violently.

She tried to pull her legs closed but something lodged itself in between them.

So she couldn't.

She didn't think—

This wasn't supposed to—

The hedge was scratching her. Stabbing into her back.

Fingers kept digging inside her and teeth kept biting her shoulders and breasts.

Then she was on the ground.

She could feel the gravel of the path under her hands.

Sharp, cold little rocks.

Something—she didn't want.

It was about to happen.

She just—

She wasn't sure what.

Was it something to do with Malfoy?

A man was kneeling between her legs. Montague.

She stared up at him. Glazed.

Her fingers were twitching; clawing through the gravel.

He leaned down toward her.

His face was very close to hers.

Maybe he was going to tell her a secret.

Something was prodding her between her legs.

She felt she should know what—but she couldn't remember.

Something that wasn't supposed to happen.

A secret.

From Malfoy.

But—she didn't want to.

Malfoy would know—if she had a secret.

He was always in her head.

She tried to tell the man but she just cried instead.

Then suddenly the man was gone and there was a loud crashing noise.

She turned and found the man smashed into the wall of the manor.

Malfoy was kicking him so violently that there was a cracking sound.

Hermione sat up and watched.

Malfoy picked the man up by his throat and pulled him up the wall until they were eye-to-eye.

"How dare you? Did you think you'd get away with this, Montague?"

"You didn't seem to care about having her, Malfoy," Montague rasped. "I assumed you didn't mind sharing, seeing the way you let Astoria out to play. The Mudblood was supposed to be mine. You cut in line. I was the one who caught her. She was mine."

"She will never be yours." Malfoy sneered as he made a vicious stabbing motion and sliced through Montague's shirt and into his stomach.

Without hesitating, or lowering Montague from where he was holding him, Malfoy shoved his hand inside Montague's abdominal cavity and started pulling organs out and winding them around his fist.

Montague was screaming and thrashing.

Malfoy drew out a handful of intestines far enough that they glittered in the moonlight.

"If I ever see you again, I will strangle you with these," Malfoy said in a voice of deadly calm.

He dropped the intestines so that they hung down Montague's front like watch chains. Malfoy scourgified the blood and other fluids from his hand as he watched Montague stumble away, whimpering and sobbing and trying to stuff his intestines back inside his stomach.

Malfoy turned back toward Hermione. His face was white.

"You idiot—why—did you come out tonight?"

Hermione sat placidly in the gravel and stared at him wide-eyed.

She thought she should say something. But—she wasn't sure if she remembered what it was.

Something about Malfoy—she thought. That's what she meant to tell the man. Montague.

"Malfoy always comes for me," she whispered.

He stared at her, his jaw locked and his fists clenched for several seconds before he appeared to swallow something.

"What did he do to you?" he said in a low voice, kneeling down next to her.

He tried several counter-charms on her before suddenly one clicked and then, like ice-water, reality crashed down Hermione

A strangled sob ripped itself out of her throat and she wrapped her arms around herself. Her robes were shredded and she could feel the bite marks all over her body. She couldn't stop shaking.

Malfoy was kneeling beside her, utterly expressionless. He reached out slowly and took her arm.

"Let's get you cleaned up."

With a pop they reappeared in her room and he pushed her down to sit on the edge of her bed before turning and walking into the adjoining bathroom. There was a long silence before he re-emerged several minutes later, carrying a basin and wet cloth which he handed to her. Hermione had stopped sobbing and kept hiccoughing as she tried not to cry or hyperventilate.

Malfoy turned away and stared out the window while she tried to wipe off all the gravel and dirt sticking to the blood from the bites all over her. Some of them were so deep they were large crescents rather than tooth marks. She could feel the blood from them running down her torso in streams. Her hands were shaking so much she kept dropping the cloth into her lap.

She heard a hiss of irritation and Malfoy's hand suddenly snatched the cloth from her. She cowered back.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he said in a tense voice as he sat down beside her on the bed. He reached out slowly and took her by the shoulders, turning to her toward him to appraise the damage.

His jaw clenched as he stared at her.

Moving slowly, as though she were a skittish animal, he started on her shoulders. Lightly wiping away the blood and then muttering the charms to heal the wounds. She tried not to flinch every time he touched her. He worked across her shoulders and then up her neck before turning to the worst ones; which were clustered on her breasts.

His lips were pressed into a straight line as he started healing them. Some were so deep and ragged it took multiple spells to fix them. His expression was clinical and intent as he worked. Hermione stared at him, still unable to control her shaking.

He'd barely touched her until then. Aside from the minimal contact when he attempted to impregnate her, the only other times he had touched her at all was when he'd stopped her from throwing herself off the balcony or when apparating her.

He worked efficiently and finally sat back and looked away from her.

"Anywhere else?" he asked.

"No," Hermione said strained voice, pulling her mangled robes closed and hugging herself.

He glanced over at her for a moment as though weighing whether or not she was telling the truth. Then he vanished the basin of blood and water and stood up.

"I'll have Calming Draught and Dreamless Sleep Potion sent up for the next week," he said. "I'm sure you heard, I'll be away for the next several days. You—should stay in your room until I return."

Hermione said nothing. She just clutched her robes closed and stared at the floor. She could see his shoes as he stood beside her. Then he turned and walked out of her room, shutting the door behind him.

Hermione continued to sit frozen for several minutes. Then she stood up and went into the bathroom. She let her robes and dress fall off as she watched the water fill the tub.

She left the clothing on the floor and hoped the House-Elves would burn it all rather than repair and send them back.

The water turned red from all the residual blood on her and she drained it and refilled it, scrubbing herself until her skin felt raw.

She could still feel Montague's teeth sinking into her. The skin that Malfoy had healed was still new and over-sensitive. She fought against a temptation to claw at it.

She sat in the bath and cried until the water grew cold and she started shivering.

Climbing out of the tub and clutching a towel against herself she walked falteringly back to her bed. Two vials of potion sat on the narrow bedside table. She drained the Dreamless Sleep and crawled into bed.

The next morning she stayed in bed. There was no reason to get up.

She didn't want to move. She didn't want to think. She just wanted another dose of Dreamless Sleep. Try as she might she couldn't sleep anymore. She took the Calming Draught and felt the knot of horror in her stomach ease faintly as she lay curled in her bed.

She couldn't stop thinking.

Her mind would never quiet itself. There were always realisations, guilt, and mourning; something to obsess and worry over.

Montague...she didn't even want to think about Montague.

There was little from the previous night that wasn't horrifying.

She'd somehow assumed that the situation was the same for all the girls in the breeding program. That whomever they'd been given to would be treating them much the same way that she was treated. Clinically. Mostly left alone. The conception efforts entirely non-sensual for all parties.

But that was clearly not the case. It was obvious in retrospect that the surrogates had never been intended to be that way. Healer Stroud might consider the magi-genetic breeding program to be legitimate science, but essentially and far more fundamentally, it was a diversion. It made a spectacle out of the Death Eaters but it was also a bribe. The surrogates were sex slaves.

Hermione realised with a bitter pang that she had been so absorbed in her own situation she hadn't considered how much worse it could be for the others.

It had always clearly been intended to be that way. No bra. No knickers. The way the buttons on their dresses popped off with the smallest tug.

Accessible.

The Death Eaters were required to rape them on their fertile days, but the instructions had made no reference to the fertile period being the limitation.

Somehow being given to Malfoy made her—lucky?

He seemed clinical about utilising her.

Perhaps it was simply because Voldemort didn't want her too damaged until her memories were recovered. Perhaps he wasn't allowed to hurt her, or rape her the way he'd like to.

But—that didn't seem right. He didn't seem interested. It wasn't like he was restraining himself. He always seemed eager to be done with her. To get away from her. She was a chore to him.

Was it possible that the High Reeve was the least inhumanely cruel figure in Voldemort's government?

That didn't seem accurate either. Not after what she'd seen him do to Montague. Watching him coolly stand there as he unspooled Montague's organs with his bare hands was—terrifying.

The matter-of-factness.

The ease.

Malfoy had plenty of cruelty in him. Simmering just beneath the surface, waiting to be let out.

Perhaps rape wasn't his thing.

A strange thought, but the most plausible one she could think of. He hated touching her; avoided it at much as was possible.

Apparently Malfoy was not a complete monster.

Not that it matter. None of it mattered. None of it ever mattered.

It was the same as her realisation that Voldemort was dying. Realising that it was worse for the other girls didn't make any difference. There was nothing Hermione could do.

Even if by some miracle she found a way to escape, which was itself a sheer impossibility, she couldn't stop to save anyone else. She had to run. She had to run and run. The best she could do would be to try to find whomever it was that remained of the Order and see if they had a way to save everyone else. But if there were any way to do such a thing, surely the Order would already be doing it. Surely the Order wouldn't have left the surrogates for so long if there were any way to save them.

Hermione couldn't think of anyone but herself. If she had the information Voldemort and Malfoy seemed to believe she possessed then the most vital thing she could do would be to keep them from ever getting it from her.

She needed to escape.

She was running out of time.

It seemed an utter miracle that she wasn't pregnant. She had been sure that after the fertility potion she'd be pregnant.

Once she was pregnant—

Hermione felt as though she couldn't breathe. Her chest and throat felt compressed, and she started shaking as she tried not to cry.

Her odds of escaping already felt infinitesimally small. Once she was pregnant they would be practically non-existent and would only grow smaller with every progressing day.

She couldn't even walk across a field or along an open road as it was. An escape with the additional and evolving challenges that a pregnancy would present would be impossible.

Once she gave birth, Malfoy would tear the child out from her arms (assuming he even let her hold it), then he'd take Hermione to Voldemort and kill her and she'd been eaten by Voldemort's vile pythons and her baby would be left alone in Malfoy's horrible house to be raised by him and his horrible wife...

Hermione's chest heaved and before she could stop herself she began sobbing so violently she choked.

Even if she did escape Malfoy would never stop looking for her.

There was no way to escape. Every idea she could think of, none of it panned out. She was like an insect, pinned to board.

The manor was a flawless cage.

Unless by some miracle she could convince Malfoy to let her go...

And there was simply no way.

She wasn't even sure if he could let her go, even if he wanted to. There was something about the way he occasionally eyed the manacles that made Hermione doubt that he could remove them.

He could only kill her. And he was already planning to do that.

She rolled onto her back and stared up at the canopy in despair.

There was no way out.

She would never escape. She'd be pregnant soon.

And she would never escape.

The wave of depression eventually made her fall asleep.

Hermione barely left her bed for the next several days.

She was staring out the window when the door of her room abruptly exploded and Astoria strode in, wand in one hand and a newspaper clutched in the other.

Hermione stood quickly, and Astoria stopped. They stared at each other for a minute.

Astoria hadn't approached Hermione since the night she had led Hermione to Malfoy's room. Hermione's fingers twitched nervously. Astoria had to be there because of Montague.

"Come here, Mudblood," Astoria commanded in a sharp voice.

Hermione crossed the room reluctantly until she stood only a foot away from Astoria. Her heart was pounding and she had a strong sense that the conversation they were about to have was going to end badly.

Astoria was pale. Brittle. She was impeccably dressed and groomed, but there was a sense of unraveling about her. The earrings she was wearing were trembling faintly and her eyes were narrowed into slits as she stared at Hermione.

"I know you snoop. Have you seen this story?" Astoria said, lifting the newspaper up so that Hermione could see the picture on the front page.

Hermione had been too depressed to even look at the Daily Prophet since the equinox. Her gaze dropped down to study the photo and her eyes widened.

On the cover of the Daily Prophet was a picture of Malfoy calmly disemboweling Graham Montague in the middle of the St Mungo's waiting room.

Hermione only could stare for a moment before Astoria twitched her hand and folded the newspaper in half.

"I have to admit," Astoria said in a voice of unnatural sounding calm. "When I first heard the news that Draco had publicly killed Graham, I thought 'he's finally noticed.'"

Astoria's lips twitched and she stared away from Hermione.

"I tried to be the perfect wife when I was chosen," Astoria said. "Draco Malfoy's wife. There was really nothing to compare it to. The most powerful general in the Dark Lord's army. All the other girls were so jealous. Of course it was arranged, but I thought he'd eventually realise that I was right for him. That I was a good wife. I did everything. I joined every board, every charity. I was the perfect wife. I was perfect. But he never cared."

Astoria shrugged and gestured carelessly with her wand hand. Her nails were painted silver and caught in the light.

"People don't know, but he didn't even live here. We got married and he—he just left me here in this house. Never so much as gave me a tour of manor. On our wedding day he brought me here and left me in the foyer; didn't bother to consummate it until I was supposed to be fertile. And then—once the healers determined I was barren—Draco didn't come here at all. He just—disappeared. I never knew where he was. I couldn't contact him. I thought maybe I could get his attention if I made him jealous but he never cared what I did. Eventually—I  accepted that was how he was."

The bitterness of Astoria's expression twisted her face into something both ugly and terrifying.

"But then you came along." Astoria's voice shook with resentment. "And then he moved in and he turned the entire estate upside down in order to ward it and make sure it was safe. Took you for walks and gave you a tour of the house."

Hermione started to open her mouth to point out that Malfoy had been ordered to do all those things.

"Shut up! I don't want to hear from you," Astoria said sharply, baring her teeth.

The newspaper was crumpling in Astoria's clenched fist and smoldering faintly.

"And then Graham started paying attention to me," Astoria said, her voice trembled as though she were holding back tears. "He was so sympathetic and kept me company at all the events that Draco never showed for. He wanted to see everything I had done and he noticed all the things I'd done to impress Draco. He wanted me to show him all around the manor to see how I'd decorated it. He had the idea of a New Year's Party here at the Manor. And dinner parties. And even an equinox party on the veranda of the North Wing. He was very specific about it being the North Wing..."

Astoria's voice trailed off and she stared out the window for several seconds.

"When I heard Draco had killed Graham I thought 'Draco has finally noticed, he was just busy before.' But then," Astoria twitched, "it crossed my mind—Graham first approached me the week after the Daily Prophet wrote that vile article about you living here. He wanted so badly to come to this estate rather than go to a hotel or his townhouse. He was quite insistent. He had to see the estate, the manor. All the rooms, even if we had to break through wards to get in. Then it crossed my mind how Graham always tended to disappear; during New Year's, and the dinner parties, and the garden party. He was always... disappearing."

Astoria fell silent for several seconds. Hermione cringed, unable to speak; unable to clarify. She didn't know that it would make any difference even if she could.

"It was because of you," Astoria said at last. "Graham came here because of you. Draco killed him because of you. Graham was just using me! He was using me to get to you!"

Astoria flung the newspaper on the floor. The pages sprayed out on the wood floor, showing Malfoy coldly murdering Graham Montague in a continuous, black and white loop.

Draco Malfoy Publicly Kills Fellow Death Eater!

" Why do they care about you?" Astoria demanded, stepping toward Hermione and digging her wand sharply into Hermione's throat. "What's so special about you that Draco would move here, into this house that he clearly hates? That Graham would spend months using me to get to you? Why does anyone care about a Mudblood? Why does everyone think you're so important?"

The glint in Astoria's eyes as she glared at Hermione was manic.

Hermione started to open her mouth and Astoria slapped her sharply across the face.

"I don't want to hear your explanations!" Astoria snarled. "I warned you. I told you not to cause problems for me."

Astoria abruptly jabbed her wand up into Hermione's face toward her eyes. Hermione's chest constricted and she jerked her face away.

"You know," Astoria said in a trembling, lilting tone, grabbing Hermione by the chin. "Marcus says he can barely stand to look at his surrogate, because the hole in her head makes her a horror. Maybe Draco would spend less time obsessing over you if you had two."

Hermione stumbled back.

"Stay still," Astoria commanded.

Hermione froze and Astoria drew close again.

Malfoy would come. Malfoy would come. Malfoy would come.

Malfoy was in Romania.

Astoria grabbed Hermione by the chin once again.

"Open your eyes wide, Mudblood," Astoria commanded.

Hermione could feel herself start shaking as her eyes widened.

"Please...don't!"

"Shut up," Astoria said coldly as she pulled Hermione's face closer. Astoria pressed the tip of her wand against the outer corner of Hermione's left eye; digging the tip back into the socket. She sneered into Hermione's face. "I hope I'm there when Draco sees you next. Even if he kills me, the satisfaction will be well worth it."

Hermione tried to tear her face away and Astoria withdrew her wand momentarily to immobilise Hermione with a quick hex, freezing Hermione in place before stabbing her wand roughly into the side of Hermione's eye again.

The pain in Hermione's eye was increasing, she could feel that her eyeball was on the verge of being pulled from her socket. Her whole body was shaking and she couldn't move.

The sound of her panicked breathing cut through the surreal realisation that Astoria Malfoy's face might be the last thing she ever saw. She heard her own strangled scream as she felt something in her eye give and her vision become one sided.

Suddenly there was a cracking sound in the distance so abrupt that the Manor trembled. Astoria jerked with surprise but didn't stop.

"Expelliarmus!" Malfoy snarled as he appeared from thin air.

The wand digging into Hermione's eye vanished and Astoria was flung across the room and struck the wall with a sickening crunch before falling to the floor.

Hermione remained frozen in place with open eyes, sobbing hysterically and immobilised where Astoria had left her.

Malfoy swept in front of Hermione, countering the immobilisation hex. Hermione dropped to the floor. Malfoy knelt down in front of her and tilted her face up toward his. His face was pale, frozen and his expression grew horrified when he saw her face.

He cast a diagnostic spell on her. After a minute he swallowed and took several deep breaths as though he were trying to steady himself.

"You eye is half pulled out of the socket and you have a deep puncture in the white," he said at last. "What are the spells to fix it?"

Hermione stared at him dazedly. Crying. Her face was twisted as she shook against his hand and felt her tears collecting against his fingers. She could see him through one eye but there was just a dark blur on her left side.

She couldn't stop crying and shuddering as she stared up at Malfoy.

She knew she should know the answer to his question but she couldn't remember. She could just feel the spot where Astoria's wand had punctured her eye.

She couldn't see...

Malfoy inhaled sharply and his expression hardened as he stared at her more intently.

"I need you to calm down so you can tell me how to fix it," Malfoy said. The command was heavy in his tone.

Hermione choked down a sob and tried to breathe. She wanted to close her eyes but she couldn't, because Astoria had tried to pull one of them out.

She gasped raggedly several times trying to compose herself. Then she made herself look down at the diagnostic reading still visible on Malfoy's wand.

She was a healer. Someone had an injured eye. She needed to work efficiently if she wanted to try to preserve their sight.

"For a punctured sclera," she said in a wobbling voice, casting her mind back trying to recall as she analyzed the reading. Malfoy had performed a detailed diagnostic on her and she could see that the damage was extensive. "Sclera Sanentur. You have to say it rhythmically, almost singing it. And trace the tip of your wand over the puncture."

Malfoy repeated the inflection and rhythm and she gave a short nod. He proceeded to perform it on her eye. She whimpered quietly as she felt it puncture begin to repair itself.

"And then—for a—a luxated left eye," she said in a voice that was calmer than she felt. "It's oculus sinister retreho. And the wand movement— "

She cautiously, half-blindly reached toward Malfoy's left hand and, when he didn't jerk away from her, she closed her fingers over his and demonstrated the delicate spiraling motion.

"Don't do it too quickly or you'll over retract," she added.

Malfoy nodded.

Hermione felt her eye slide back into place in her head. The dark blur was slightly brighter but it still was like staring through a heavily fogged window.

Malfoy cast a new diagnostic.

"H-how much can you see?" he asked tilting her face up toward his again, his fingertips pressing lightly along her jaw.

She looked up at him and covered her right eye with her hand. His face was only a few inches away from hers.

"You're blond. I think—I can tell that you're blond and if I try I can make out your eyes and mouth a little—" Her voice cut off in a whimper and she choked as she started crying again. Her hand slid away from her right eye and she clamped it over her mouth as she fought not to sob.

"What else do I need to do? How do I fix it?" he asked.

"Dittany," she said. "Essence of Dittany, might be able to repair the rest of the damage. But it's rare. It might be hard to obtain—in time."

"Topsy!"

The elf instantly appeared.

"Bring me Essence of Dittany."

The house-elf vanished again.

Malfoy's hands remained on her face until her sobs eased again and then he slowly drew them away.

"Wait here. I need to deal with Astoria now," Malfoy said.

Hermione nodded and wiped her face, finding that she was crying blood. She watched as Malfoy strode over, levitated his wife up off the floor and dropped her into the chair before performing a diagnostic charm on her. The imbalance in Hermione's vision made it hard to see when she tried to see the reading across the room. She thought Astoria had several cracked ribs and a concussion.

Malfoy healed the fractures with practiced ease and then stared down at Astoria for several minutes before finally rennervating her.

 

Chapter Text

"Draco, how are you here?" Astoria gasped as soon as she regained consciousness. She reached over and touched her side gingerly as she shrank back in the chair.

"I had to apparate across Europe because of you," he said in a low snarl.

The rage in his voice was palpable.

Hermione stared. Cross-continental apparition was—almost impossible. It required either jumping so many times that a person exhausted their magic and had to stop, or such a tremendous amount of concentration that it was practically impossible to survive. Most people who jumped more than a few countries splinched themselves to death. If Malfoy had actually apparated so far, he should be nearly dead from magical exhaustion.

In that case, it was no wonder the manor had shaken. The power and concentration to successfully perform such a jump would explode like a shockwave from a sonic boom. There was probably a room in the manor that had been reduced to splinters.

"That—that's completely impossible," Astoria stuttered.

"Underestimating your husband, Tori?" he said in a coolly murderous tone. "Not very wifely of you."

"Oh, are you here because of me?" Astoria's voice was vicious. "No. You aren't. You're here because of that Mudblood. You hexed me. You threw me into a wall. You murdered Graham Montague all because of that Mudblood."

"Yes, I did," Malfoy said. "I did all of those things because she is the last member of the Order of the Phoenix, and that means she, unlike you, is important; infinitely more important than you are. Considerably more important than Montague. Did you know that the Dark Lord has her brought before him regularly to inspect her memories? The eyes are rather useful when performing legilimency."

Astoria paled and Malfoy continued speaking in his cold, deadly voice, "I have tried to be patient with you, Astoria. I've been willing to overlook your indecent behavior and petty interferences, but do recall that aside from being somewhat decorative, you are useless to me. If you ever go near her again, or speak to her, or use your status as the lady of this manor to break through any of my wards, I will kill you. And I will do it slowly; perhaps over the course of an evening or two. That isn't a threat. It is a promise. Get. Out. Of. My. Sight."

Astoria gave a terrified sob and fled the room.

Malfoy stood breathing deeply for several seconds before he turned back to Hermione.

He approached her slowly, then knelt and tilted her face up to look at her eyes again.

"The pupils are different sizes," he said after a moment. "After I've applied the Essence of Dittany, I'll send for a specialist to come and see if there's anything else to be done."

Hermione stared at him.

"You don't need my eyes to perform legilimency," she said in a wooden voice. "It's just easier that way. It won't matter if I'm blind in one eye."

She felt the fingers on her face flinch faintly and his jaw clenched.

"I consider it a matter of convenience," he said after a beat.

His thumb ghosted lightly across her cheekbone as he continued to study her.

She stared back at him. He looked haggard but maybe it only seemed that way because of how her vision blurred.

"How did you apparate from Romania?" she asked.

He gave a tired smirk. "The ability came compliments of the Dark Lord. Although—I don't believe he had any idea at the time. It was intended as a punishment."

Hermione furrowed her eyebrows. She had no idea what kind of punishment could possibly have the side-effect of enabling cross-continental apparition. Some kind of horribly obscure Dark magic.

"What kind of curse—?"

"It wasn't a curse, it was a ritual, and not one I feel like discussing," he said, cutting her off abruptly.

"How did you know I'd know the spells?" she said when he kept staring at her.

"You were a healer." He shrugged. "If I'd apparated you to St Mungo's, I assumed the pressure would have wrecked your eye. Time was essential."

"Where did you learn to heal?" she asked, thinking back on all the spells and diagnostics he'd known immediately.

A smirk pulled at the corner of his mouth.

"I was a General for years, I picked things up along the way. It was an obvious skill to develop."

"Not to everyone." Hermione had tried on many occasions to teach the members of the Order more than basic emergency healing spells but most of them had been reluctant to learn much beyond episkey.

"Yes. Well, I was on the winning side, we obviously made better strategic choices," he said in a cold voice as he withdrew his hands.

"It was an unusual diagnostic spell you knew," Hermione said, ignoring his comment.

"It was a long war." He was still kneeling in front of her.

Hermione looked down at her lap for a minute, then looked back up at him. There was a headache beginning to develop in her temples from her imbalanced vision.

"You—have a natural talent for healing. In another life, you could have been a healer," she said.

"One of life's great ironies," he said glancing away from her. She thought the corner of his mouth twitched faintly, but perhaps it was just a trick of her vision.

"I suppose it is." Hermione looked down at her hands again. Her fingertips were stained with blood. So were his.

There was a crack, Topsy appeared with a small vial of Essence of Dittany which she handed to Malfoy.

"Get the door repaired," Malfoy ordered the elf, barely glancing at it as he turned back to Hermione.

Hermione started pushing herself unsteadily to her feet.

"I should—I should lay down, so it doesn't run," she said. Her balance felt off and her hands and arms shook and wouldn't bear her weight. She sank back onto the floor and bit her lip in frustration; maybe she'd just lie on the ground.

A hand closed around her elbow and drew her to her feet.

"I'm not leaning over you on the floor," Malfoy said in a cold voice as he pulled her across the room and then backed her into her bed. "Lie down here."

She felt behind herself and slid onto the bed. She pushed the pillow to the side and lay down flat.

Malfoy leaned over her, vial in hand. His face went in and out of focus every time she blinked. Dark. Light. Dark. Light.

"How many drops?" he asked.

Hermione hesitated. Essence of Dittany was expensive. When she'd been a healer she'd had to ration it; carefully weigh the benefit against the cost. 

"A drop every two hours for the next several days is ideal. But, one dose of three drops will do," she finally said.

"Will do what?" he said.

"I'll probably be able to make out outlines and detect colour within a few feet," she said.

Malfoy leaned forward and used his right hand to lightly hold her left eye open while he dripped one drop of the Essence into her eye. It stung. Hermione immediately closed her eyes to refrain from blinking it away.  

The hand on her face vanished.

"I'll be back in two hours. And I'll ensure Astoria stays away."

She heard his receding footsteps and raised her hand up to hold her left eye closed so she could watch him go.

He stumbled slightly when he was near the door, as though he were unsteady on his feet.

Hermione closed her eyes again and lay still, willing herself not to cry.

Don't cry. Don't cry, she told herself. It would waste the Dittany.

Malfoy reappeared two hours later with a specialist; an elderly man dressed in lime green robes. The healer's expression was drawn but he seemed determined to hide his discomfort. He barely glanced at Hermione.

"Sclera punctures are quite a nasty business," the healer said in a wheezing voice as he conjured a chair beside the bed and looked back towards Malfoy. "Not always much that can be done. Basic healing charms aren't much for preserving sight. We'll have to see what there is to work with. She was the one who told you which spells to use?"

Malfoy gave a short nod and leaned against the wall.

The healer turned toward Hermione and cast an unfamiliar ocular diagnostic charm.

Hermione stared at ribbons on colour floating over her head and but didn't know how to read them. The healer was silent for several minutes as he manipulated the diagnostic.

"This—is quite exceptional repair work," the healer said in a tone of surprise after giving the ribbon a final prod with the tip of his wand and sending little sparks of light into it. The ribbons flickered and twisted in response.

"What spell did you have him use?" the healer asked, finally looking down at Hermione's face.

"Sclera Sanentur," she said.

His eyebrows jumped. "You probably would have lost your sight if you'd gone with more common spells. Where did you learn this kind of healing?" he asked in an astonished voice.

"Austria, France, Albania, and Denmark," Hermione said, her voice subdued. "I moved around. My specialty was healing the dark arts and casualty injuries."

"Really?" The dismissive quality in the healer's behavior toward Hermione faded and he studied her thoughtfully. "I applied to study in Albania. Back in '64. Couldn't get in, my wandwork wasn't precise enough. Beautiful hospital. Their Old Magicks Department was Europe's finest."

"It was," Hermione said, her voice wistful.

"Pity how the terrorists destroyed it during the war," the healer said. "Then again," he eyed Hermione's clothing and wrists and his lip curled, "I suppose you were one of them."

"Not one who ever attacked a hospital," Hermione said.

It had been a favoured tactic of Voldemort's; attack places that should have been neutral and frame the Resistance terrorists for it. It had helped ally the public with Voldemort, and driven the Resistance further underground.

Hermione remembered when they'd gotten word the Albanian hospital had been blown up. There'd been almost no survivors; all the healers who had mentored Hermione had died in the rubble.

The Resistance in Albania had disappeared soon after.

The specialist continued to study the diagnostic reading over Hermione for several more minutes before he made it vanish with a flick of his wand. He cast a few charms that Hermione felt sink in and it grew strangely cold feeling toward the front of her brain. Then the healer leaned forward and added a drop of Essence of Dittany to her eye.

"I think you may actually make a full recovery. Keep the lights low and apply Essence of Dittany every two hours during the day and an extra drop just before you go to sleep for the next two weeks. Do that, and I think there may end up being little to no long term impairment in your vision."

Hermione watched one-eyed as he stood and turned toward Malfoy, straightening his robes pompously.

"I must say, that's an exceptional little healer you've got there. When you told me what happened I was expecting she'd end up mostly blind in the eye. Sanentur spells are quite obscure and injury-specific. It's remarkable she had the presence of mind to distinguish that it would be appropriate for repairing that particular type of puncture."

"Quite fortunate," Malfoy said, his tone bland. "Is there anything else you recommend? I'm under strict orders to keep her in good condition. I don't want anything overlooked."

"Well—perhaps a cool compress. Essence of Dittany works best in the eyes when kept at a cool temperature. And—ah—um. Nourishing food. Chicken broths and the like. To help the body heal. She probably knows."

"Very well," Malfoy said, straightening and indicating toward the door of Hermione's room which the house-elves had repaired.

The healer looked down at Hermione again.

"Quite exceptional," he said again in a wondering voice. "Pity. Such a waste of talent."

"Hmm," Malfoy said noncommittally.

"And you, sir. Quite remarkable you could perform the spells so well. Very impressive collaboration. You could be a healer yourself."

"So I keep being told," Malfoy said with an insincere smile. "Do you think St Mungo's will still hire me after I murdered someone in their waiting room?"

The healer blanched. "Well—What I mean is—"

"If there's nothing else, I'll see you out," Malfoy cut him off and strode from the room.

Hermione spent most of the next several days in bed. A House-elf arrived every two hours with a vial of Essence of Dittany, watched her as she applied a drop to her eye, and then popped away again.

After four days, her vision within an arm's length was mostly recovered but, beyond that radius, things became blurry and it hurt to try to focus.

Malfoy did not appear again but Hermione thought she heard his footsteps in the hallway.

Then Healer Stroud came.

"You've had a rather unfortunate month, I hear," Stroud said, conjuring a medical table and waiting for Hermione to approach

Hermione said nothing as she went over and seated herself on the edge of it. Stroud pulled a vial of veritaserum out and Hermione opened her mouth and accepted the drop on her tongue.

Stroud cast a general diagnostic on Hermione and they both studied it. Hermione's eye was doing better. Her sodium levels were normal. Her cortisol levels were extremely high.

They were always high, but there was a marked spike in them.

Stroud sighed and wrote something in Hermione's file before casting a pregnancy detection charm.

Hermione already knew what the result of the charm would be. She stared pointedly at the clock on the wall. Her imbalanced vision meant she couldn't make out the numbers anymore or even the hands unless she closed her left eye.

There was a long silence. So long that Hermione finally looked back and found Healer Stroud had cast a more detailed diagnostic of Hermione's reproductive system.

Hermione couldn't make out all the readings clearly but she recognised enough to know that there was nothing unusual in it. She glanced up at Healer Stroud's face.

It was blurred but Hermione could still make out the familiar tensed irritation around the woman's mouth as she manipulated the diagnostic with her wand.

"You're still not pregnant," Stroud said flatly.

The words were both an accusation and a condemnation.

Hermione didn't flinch or even blink. Healer Stroud continued, "You're one of the only ones still not pregnant. And in the case of the others, it is because the—sires have issues of their own."

There was a pause. Healer Stroud seemed to be awaiting a defense.

"Perhaps the High Reeve has issues too," Hermione finally said.

"He does not. I examined him myself, several times now. He is perfectly virile and fertile. Exceptional even."

Hermione fought against letting her mouth twitch with amusement at the thought of Malfoy being examined by Stroud. He must love that, she thought to herself.

Outwardly Hermione was silent. Healer Stroud sighed sharply.

"How does he take you? Do you stay reclined after as instructed? Are you washing afterwards?"

The questions were suspicious.

Hermione felt her cheeks flush as she was compelled to answer the questions.

"There's a clock there on the wall. I always wait for the allotted time before moving. I follow all the washing instructions. The portrait can verify it."

Healer Stroud's eyes were narrowed.

"And how does he take you?"

Hermione stared intently at the blurry clock until her head began to throb.

"On a table."

"What?" Healer Stroud said sharply.

"He—he conjures a table, in the middle of the room. And has me lean over it."

"He takes you from behind?"

Hermione felt her cheeks and ears growing hot. "Yes. He's very—clinical about it."

"How many times a day?"

"Once a day. For five days."

There was a long silence.

"Well—" Healer Stroud finally said. Then she leaned over and tapped her wand twice on one of the manacles on Hermione's wrists. There was an immediate flush of heat.

A minute later, there was a sharp rap on the door and Malfoy walked in, looking as cold as Hermione had ever seen him. She could just barely make out his face as he walked toward Healer Stroud. She closed her left eye in order to try to see more clearly.

"You called," he said.

"She's still not pregnant," Healer Stroud announced.

Malfoy looked neither surprised nor disappointed by the announcement.

"How unfortunate," he said coolly.

"Indeed. It's beginning to become anomalous. There is nothing I can find to account for it."

Healer Stroud's eyes were narrowed as she stared at Malfoy.

Hermione's curiosity was suddenly piqued. Did Healer Stroud suspect Malfoy was trying to avoid impregnating Hermione? Was he? Why would he? He should have been desperate to get her pregnant. If not for an heir, at least in the hopes that the compatible magic would finally corrode and break through the magic protecting Hermione's memories.

"The Dark Lord may have reason for concern if she continues to be unfruitful. As you know, his desire for it is dual in nature."

"Indeed. I am aware." Malfoy said, a dangerous edge entering his voice.

"Then you should have no objections if I make some recommendations as to how to increase your odds of success."

Malfoy inclined his head. "Anything in the service of the Dark Lord."

"No more tables then," said Stroud in a pointed tone.

There was a flicker of something, possibly irritation in Malfoy's eyes.

"Fine.

"And have her in a reclined position,"  Stroud said, raising her chin, "with less detachment."

A sneer curled onto Malfoy's lips, but before he said anything Stroud added, "Magical pregnancy is more complex than merely the biological process of fertilisation. It can require a connection. Otherwise, we could be utilising muggle methods for this repopulation effort with far greater convenience for everyone."

"Really? Do all the other pregnant breeders you have attribute their conditions to the connection they have with the sires?" Malfoy drawled.

"She is exceptional in her magic, as are you," Stroud said, her expression stiff. "According to some theories, such power causes the spark of life to require more—persuasion. Unless there's some other explanation you can offer."

She gave Malfoy a long look which he returned without blinking.

Hermione was certain, Stroud did suspect Malfoy of doing something to interfere.

"Fine."

"Excellent," Stroud said, her mouth widening into a thin smile. "After all, the Dark Lord is quite eager for access to be gained to those memories. If the conception efforts continue to fail, we may find ourselves obliged to consider other 'sires.'"

"I was under the impression that using magical pregnancy to unlock the memories necessitated that the father be the legilimens or it may result in a miscarriage," Malfoy said in a lightly cutting tone.

"That's true. The magi-genetic familiarity is important. However, it wouldn't necessarily need to be a paternal familiarity. Half-siblings, for example, could be another option. I have heard rumours that your father may be recalled to Britain."

Hermione felt herself wobble and her throat contracted as though she were going to be sick. Malfoy's expression didn't flicker but he paled, visibly, even in Hermione's blurred vision.

Healer Stroud continued and there was a taunting quality to her voice. "I haven't mentioned the option to the Dark Lord. Yet. But I know how eager he is for progress. It would a disappointment for me to have to recommend it. As a scientist, I must admit I'm particularly curious to see the progeny from two such uniquely powerful individuals. But... my first loyalty is to the Dark Lord, so if this particular pairing is still unfruitful after six months I feel I'll have no option but to offer an alternative solution."

"Of course," Malfoy said, his tone calm but with an edge to it that Hermione recognised as cold fury. "Was there anything else?"

"Nothing else, High Reeve. Thank you for your time," Healer Stroud said.

Malfoy turned on his heel and vanished through the doorway.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione remained seated on the exam table in a state of horror. The grating, scratching sound of Healer Stroud's quill in Hermione's file continued along with the endless, monotonous ticking of the clock.

Hermione's mouth felt parched and she struggled to swallow; there was a sour taste in her mouth. She tried to breathe evenly but found that her throat had closed, and she could do nothing but sit rigidly and try not to pass out at the thought of getting handed over to Lucius Malfoy.

Lucius Malfoy who was insane; far more insane than Bellatrix Lestrange had been. Who always broke the rules and crossed lines and somehow managed to use his silver tongue to save his skin. Who could have killed Arthur Weasley, but instead chose to curse him in such a way as to steal the Weasley patriarch's mind and leave his body intact for his family to care and mourn over; a helpless, childish shadow of a wonderful, generous father. Who cursed George with a horrific variation of the necrosis curse that it had forced Hermione to cut off his leg at the hip while he was still conscious in order to save him. Who killed Ron before Hermione's eyes, laughing the entire time.

Hermione thought she might faint or just snap and start screaming. Her head was pounding and the room was swimming slightly.

She started shaking.

"What's wrong?" Healer Stroud asked.

Hermione flinched.

"You—just threatened to hand me over to Lucius Malfoy." 

"I'm hopeful it won't come to that," Healer Stroud said in a bland voice.

"And if it does?"

"Well, we can have it supervised, if there is too much concern that Lucius will overstep himself. It's unfortunate I can't redose you with the fertility potion this month. I'll have some potions sent that should at least ease things and possibly improve your odds of success."

Hermione fell silent and didn't speak again. She felt so ill with stress she wondered if she might be poisoning herself.

Malfoy arrived late in the evening and she stared at him listlessly. His expression was hard; set jaw and cold, flinty eyes, but also tired. He was probably back to hunting down the last member of the Order. Or perhaps he was worried that his father was going to kill her prematurely.

She studied him, trying to divine from his expression why on earth he would have done anything to intentionally not get her pregnant. Hermione couldn't think of an explanation for it. She kept turning it over in her mind but couldn't come up with anything that seemed plausible.

She reviewed the possibilities.

It could be because he found the idea of her being the biological mother of his heir so objectionable, but Hermione doubted that was the issue. For one thing, aside from using Mudblood as though it were her given name, he didn't seem to care much about blood purity. He didn't treat Voldemort's victory like it was a testament to pureblood superiority nor did he treat Hermione's imprisonment as being due to her dirty blood. Whenever he spoke of the war, he referred to the sides as being set apart primarily by idealism vs realism.

In Hermione's experience, bigots were obsessive with their bigotry. Draco Malfoy at Hogwarts had been a little parrot of his father's bigotry. The Draco Malfoy of the present—Hermione wasn't sure what he was obsessed with.

Hermione, if Astoria were to be believed.

Hermione didn't know what to believe.

He always had such a smooth answer and a compelling excuse for all his behaviour.

Why wouldn't he want her pregnant? She couldn't imagine where that fit strategically.

She hadn't wanted to be pregnant, but now knowing what lengths Healer Stroud and Voldemort might go to in order to ensure it...

She still felt utterly nauseated at the thought of having Malfoy 'take' her on a bed 'with less detachment;' of getting pregnant; of not getting pregnant and then getting handed over to Lucius...

No good options; just worse and worse until she thought she was going to finally just have a mental breakdown.

She couldn't stop thinking about it, and every time she reviewed the options again she felt as though she were going to be violently ill.

Malfoy cast a diagnostic charm on her eyes and studied it.

"How much can you see now?" he asked.

Hermione laughed abruptly.

She had no idea when she'd last laughed. Years before, most likely. But the question was funny. Hilarious even.

Everything in her life was a complete and utter horror, and somehow Malfoy's first concern was her eyesight. He kept her prisoner in his house, raped her on command, and he was concerned about her vision.

She couldn't stop laughing. It kept going on and on and growing increasingly hysterical sounding and then she wasn't laughing she was actually crying. She was crying and crying  and crying, while she rocked on the edge of her bed, and Malfoy just stood there the whole time; staring at her, expressionless.

It took her twenty minutes before she finally stopped sobbing. Then she just sat there, hiccoughing and holding her hands over her eyes as she tried breathe. She felt as though she were hollow inside; as though she had sobbed out everything inside of her and all that was left was a shell.

Finally she was quiet but for an occasional hitching of her breath as she stared at the floor and wished she'd just die.

"Feel better?"

The corner of her mouth twitched and she shrugged tiredly.

"As close to better as I ever will," she said. She stared at his hands and noticed his fingers twitch subtly. She glanced up at him.

"What were you tortured for this time?" she asked.

He smirked as he slid his wand up into his right sleeve. "Clearly you haven't been following the news lately. The public, through their vast collective intelligence, has somehow concluded that I am the High Reeve, even without the confirmation of the Daily Prophet."

The news piqued her curiosity. "Because of Montague?"

He shrugged. "It may have been related, but I suspect it had more to do with my appearance in Romania coinciding with the High Reeve's visit. The press in some of the other European countries is considerably less controlled than Britain's. Once one paper starts saying it, it doesn't take long to spread. I am now publicly acknowledged as the Dark Lord's protege. The previous anonymity was for my protection, of course."

"Of course," Hermione said. "But you were punished for it."

"Other people are dead," he said, eyes cold, "I was merely chastised."

"So just two minutes of the cruciatus then?" Hermione said in a biting tone.

"Five."

Hermione felt herself pale with horror as she stared up at him. He gave a thin smile.

"Don't worry yourself on my account, my conscientious little healer. It was days ago. I live on."

There was a pause.

"Why did you kill Montague?" she asked. She had been lying in bed for days, and wondering about it. If he was going to kill Montague, why not have done it immediately? Why publicly?

Malfoy smirked. "I was wondering when you'd finally ask that question. I would have thought it was obvious. He blatantly and intentionally interfered and endangered my assignment, despite being repeatedly warned that you were not to be tampered with in any way. I would have done it more formally, but with my trip I was unfortunately short on time."

"So you killed him in the middle of St Mungos?" she said, eying him doubtfully.

"Well, I was going to kill him in his hospital room, but he tried to run. I improvised." Malfoy's expression was indifferent. "Now, if you're quite done barraging me with questions I believe we have a legilimency session scheduled."

He didn't go through her eyes. Hermione wasn't sure if there was any healing literature about using legilimency following an eye injury, but Malfoy apparently had decided not to risk it and just drove through her skull.

It hurt a bit more than it usually did, but once he had forced his way through, the pain eased somewhat. Hermione wished there were some way of dissociating while he sifted through her mind, but legilimency dragged the victim through the mind alongside the legilimens. Wherever Malfoy went inside her mind, so did Hermione.

She had no newly unlocked memories, only fresher repetitions of the old ones; especially Ginny crying. It felt like she dreamt of it every night. Always the same memory. It always stopped at the same point.

He seemed to almost hesitate before delving with her recent memories. Of Montague. Of Astoria. Of Stroud's questions before and after his arrival.

By the time he jerked his consciousness out of Hermione's mind, she felt as though she had collapsed inward upon herself. Reliving it all was traumatic enough to make her jaw clench until she felt as though her teeth might crack with trying to keep from shattering internally.

She rolled over onto her side and curled into a tight ball.

Malfoy sighed, the sound barely audible, but didn't say a word. He lingered for a few moments longer before she heard him leave.

She lay in bed trying not to think; wishing she could just turn her mind off.

Dread swallowed her like a shroud; like the chill of a ghost, it hung inescapably around her.

She couldn't shake it. She barely bothered to try.

The day after Stroud's visit she left her room for the first time since the equinox. She kept to the North Wing, wandering aimlessly. Silent. Drifting from room to room. Window to window.

As her eye continued to recover, she could see clearly enough to discover that spring had finally begun to creep over the estate. The cold, grey English countryside was beginning to show the faintest glimmers of fresh green, peeking from the tips of tree branches and sliding cautiously out from the dark soil.

Watching spring unfold itself slowly almost felt like hope.

Except—the place inside Hermione where hope had once lived now felt like a hole. As though someone had reached in and cut away something from the core of her being. Where hope had once bloomed there was now nothing but something painful and rotting.

But still—spring was beautiful to see.

It felt surprising to find that there were still beautiful, untainted things in the world. Contrary.

Not rationally. Rationally, Hermione knew that Voldemort's rule didn't blot out the stars in the night sky, nor destroy the Fibonacci sequence, nor defile the first crocuses of spring. But somehow, it surprised her that she could still see that beauty.

Somehow she had thought that the ugly coldness of her life indicated that ugly coldness and cruel beauty were the only things left within her reach or sight.

As she looked outside at the estate as it began to adorn itself with new life, it made something inside Hermione shrivel.

If she had a child.... it would be beautiful. Untainted. Pale, and smooth, and pink. With trusting eyes that would only know to expect goodness. With hands that would reach for anyone who reached out toward it. A baby would be beautiful. Pure as spring. Sweet as summer.

And then it would be taken away. Hermione would die, and her baby would be left behind; trained and hurt and twisted up inside until it was a cold, cruel, monster like Malfoy, and Astoria, and all the Death Eaters.

Hermione tore herself from the window she was standing in front of, and hurried toward the inner rooms of the North Wing. Rooms without windows.  She didn't want to think about spring, or life, or children, or beauty, or goodness.

She didn't want to think about beautiful things that had been, but were now destroyed. Or the beauty that still remained. It cast the horror into harsher relief until it made it physically painful to think—to breathe—to live.

If only a person could die just by wishing it fervently enough.

She couldn't eat. She could barely choke any water down. When a set of five potions arrived with a note from Healer Stroud she shoved them into a cabinet in the bathroom.

The dread twisted itself tighter around her heart, day after day; knowing her next fertile period was drawing closer and closer.

Malfoy walked unexpectedly into her room, and she nearly burst into tears.

He looked tense enough to shatter as he stared at her.

She shot to her feet as though electrocuted and then froze.

There was a pause, and Malfoy looked more uncomfortable than she had ever seen him.

"I thought sending word ahead of time might just make it worse," Malfoy said, watching her carefully.

"I—haven't prepared," she muttered, looking away from him.

"You shower every morning. I don't require you to be excessively washed." His voice was as sharp as the edge of a knife.

The portrait apparently still kept him appraised of everything she did.

Hermione kept standing and staring at him. It felt like the first night when she'd been in his room; trying not to tremble, wondering if she was supposed to just go over and lie down on her bed.

Would he want her near the foot or in the centre of it?

"Take this," he said, pulling a vial of something from his robes and holding it towards her.

She accepted it, and looked at the consistency and colour before removing the cork. A calming draught.

He watched her swallow it.

She felt the potion take effect as her jaw and shoulders loosened, and the twisting tension at the base of her skull relaxed somewhat. The knot in her stomach that had twisted itself tighter and tighter for the last twelve days finally eased slightly.

While Hermione was taking the Calming Draught, Malfoy reached into his robe again and pulled out a second potion. She was surprised to see him take it himself.

It did not appear to be a second vial of Draught of Peace. If anything Malfoy seemed more tense and angry after taking it.

A libido potion? It hadn't even occurred to Hermione that he was taking anything. Had he always been? Aside from the very first night, she never looked at him on those nights. Even then, he could have taken something when her back was to him.

Why would he need one? Stroud had described him as perfectly virile. Exceptional. 

Rape really wasn't his thing.

"Do—? Do I—? Should I be in the centre or on the edge of the bed?" Hermione forced herself to ask.

He stared at her.

"Centre," he finally said in a clipped voice. "Given that I'm ordered to be less detached."

Hermione turned toward her bed.

Her bed.

Where she slept every night.

The only place with any sense of solace or safety that she had left.

Her bed.

Where she was about to—to be? Was it rape if she'd rather it be him than his father?

She bit her lip and swallowed hard as she walked over to it and tried not to start crying.

She sat on the edge and then slid herself toward the approximate centre of it before forcing herself to lay back. Malfoy approached a moment later.

He'd removed the outer parts of his robes, just wearing a shirt and trousers.

She tensed as soon as he got close, trying not to grind her teeth as she felt her jaw lock. She fought not to hyperventilate as he got close to her, and she watched him with widening, terrified eyes.

Her appearance seemed to set him off.

"Just shut your eyes," he hissed. "I'm not going to hurt you."

She forced herself to close her eyes, and tried to focus on regulating her breathing as she felt the bed shift. She could smell him; the biting scent of the forest floor suddenly struck her as she tried not to hyperventilate.

There was a pause, and then she felt him slide her robes aside and move in between her legs.

Between her legs. Like Montague.

The sharp, cold little rocks.

She sobbed through her teeth and flinched. Her body was so tense she was shaking. She could feel her nails steadily cutting into the flesh of her palms as she fisted them tighter and tighter.

"I'm not going to hurt you." Malfoy breathed the words near her left ear.

She gave a tiny nod of acknowledgment. Better than Lucius. God—she couldn't even think about it. She jerked and fought back another sob. Trying to relax marginally.

"Just—breathe," he said.

She heard him mutter a lubrication charm the moment before he slid into her.

She tried to focus on breathing. To force herself to dwell on the feeling of her rib cage expanding and contracting. Or her nails in her palms.

She could feel Malfoy's breath on her face. She smelled cedarwood oil in his clothing. The weight of his body pressed down against her. The length of him inside her.

She didn't want to feel any of it. She couldn't not feel it. He was everywhere. Surrounding her. The sensation of him in her and his weight on her was inescapably real. She couldn't detach the way she'd learned to do on the table.

She wanted to beg him to stop.

Better than Lucius. Better than Lucius.

She just wanted it to stop.

She didn't mean to, but she became aware that there were tears sliding down from the corners of her eyes as she struggled not to sob under him.

Finally he seized and came with a hiss.

The instant he did he ripped himself away from her and the bed.

Hermione opened her eyes and tried to steady her breathing. As she lay on the bed, she became aware of the sound of retching emerging from the bathroom.

As she laid there, she heard the toilet flush, and then the sound of water running from the faucet for several minutes.

She tried to compose herself, and not think about the fact she couldn't move. Not think about the physical experience of what had just happened.

He had been as considerate as he possibly could have been.

It was bizarre. He was a cold, indifferent, murderous person who could casually disembowel people, but rape crossed a line.

Did he always throw up afterward? Or was having to look at her making it worse?

Maybe something had happened to someone he knew. Someone he had cared about. Maybe it was related to his abilities with the killing curse.

He re-emerged from the bathroom. His tense expression seemed faded as though he couldn't quite maintain it. He was pale and exhausted, and more traumatised looking than she had ever seen him.

He'd never stayed after the fact before. He always left before she even saw him. Maybe he always looked that way afterwards.

He seemed—concerned about her. Not that he actually asked, but he was studying her carefully from across the room.

"I'm sorry,"  she found herself saying. She blinked.

Why was she apologising to Malfoy? It was as if the words had slipped out of their own volition. He stared at her with surprise. She tried to clarify.

"For crying. You were—" She had no idea how to describe him. Not the worst rapist?

"It all—just—It reminded me of Montague," she finally said, glancing away.

"Hopefully it will be easier tomorrow," he said in a hard voice. Then he summoned his robes, and stalked from the room without another word.

Hermione lay there, watching the hands on the clock slowly journey across its face. When ten minutes had elapsed she still didn't move. Maybe if she waited longer a pregnancy would take, and then she wouldn't have to lie there and endure being—

She wasn't sure what the proper term was for what Malfoy did to her.

While the general concept and situation was categorised as rape, she didn't feel like the term fully captured what had occurred. It wasn't sex, or shagging, or fucking, or screwing, or even "taking." Copulating, was possibly the proper term for before, on the table. But now—it felt too real and connected and miserable for them both to use such a clinical term.

There was no word for it.

She would gladly go without being touched by a man for as long as she lived. She didn't want to think about Malfoy arriving to repeat it all again tomorrow.

The thought of life quickening within her made her sick with horror. The thought of it not—

She could endure Malfoy. She didn't think she could endure Lucius.

She rolled onto her side and fell asleep on top of the covers.

 

Chapter Text




The next morning, Hermione dragged herself from bed and into the bathroom down the hall with a shower. The hot water beating down and radiating around her was the closest thing to physical comfort that she had access to.

She closed her eyes and stayed there, eventually sinking down onto the floor and hugging her knees as she squeezed her eyes shut and tried not to think about the previous night.

She focused on her shower.

One of the most under-appreciated aspects of magic was the never ending supply of hot water. The temperature never faltered or ran out. It just streamed down upon her. If she stayed there for an entire day the water would still come out hot.

When she finally forced herself to turn off the taps and climb out, she stood in the middle of the steamy bathroom trying of summon the willpower to dry off and dress.

She had never felt so unmotivated. Existing seemed like such a unfair demand.

Hermione would give anything for a book—anything to read but the news. She was sick of the news.

Perhaps she would go for a walk. She hadn't been outside since the equinox. She didn't know if she was ever going to be able to go near the hedges again, but perhaps she could manage a walk along one of the lanes. She could inspect the buds on the trees. Count daffodils. Something.

She walked out of the bathroom and went down the icy hallway wrapped in a towel. Back in her room she went over to the wardrobe to pull a fresh set of robes out.

Laying them out on the bed she dropped the towel and surveyed herself.

The remaining scars from Montague had all faded entirely. There was a spot on the inside of her right breast that still felt scarred in the tissue.

Hermione ran her fingers over it thoughtfully. It had been so deep, it probably should have required a more specific healing charm. The area felt taut.

It had been deep enough that the damaged tissue was not just dermal. Typical healing charms were designed for skin and muscle repair. There was probably a specific spell for repairing mammary tissue, but Hermione couldn't remember it off the top of her head. She closed her eyes, and tried to think back and see if she could remember learning it.

She could remember a large book of healing spells. She'd carried it with her constantly for several years. Shrunk to fit in her pockets, always on hand. Stained with blood and potions that spilled and sank into the pages when she was too busy to charm them away in time. Dog-eared to the most important sections. So many dog-eared pages. Crammed with her notes in the margins.

It had been the first thing she bought after Dumbledore died. She remembered the large owl that flew into the Great Hall of Hogwarts and dropped it for her.

Everyone else had been talking about restarting DA. Buying books on defense magic. But Hermione had turned to healing. It had been the start of the schism, the space that slowly grew between herself and everyone else her age within the Resistance.

While they had been drilling shield charms and stunners, she had gone to Madam Pomfrey and asked for an apprenticeship.

She spent most of her days with Madam Pomfrey, memorising every healing spell and advanced diagnostic charms the school matron could teach. Learning which signs and symptoms to look out for.

Healing spell work was highly precise—subtle. It required the ability to filter out distractions and focus, to channel magic with extremely delicate nuance. Determine the proper spell, perfect the inflection, and then funnel down one's intentions with precision.

Healers didn't use physical scalpels, but magically speaking the mental exactitude and wandwork was comparable.

Hermione had memorised diagram after diagram of human anatomy. Drilling herself on all the details she needed to train her eyes to pick up in a diagnostic; puzzle pieces of information that had to be assembled in order to identify what might be wrong.

Then in the evening she'd head to the dungeons to study potions with Snape.

When she had finished with healing and potions, she would sequester herself into a corner of the library, rifling through book after book in search of useful spellwork for Harry. Until she'd fall asleep there.

Slowly, she had drifted away from her friends.

They were all so righteously angry and yet optimistic following Dumbledore's death. There was a fire of certainty driving them that Hermione couldn't seem to spark within herself even at the very beginning. The more she learned, the more her confidence regarding the outcome of the war seemed to wane. No one else seemed to appreciate how hard it was to keep people alive.

When she failed to share the optimism it offended them. She was Harry's friend, why wouldn't she believe in him? Why was she so determined to make everyone feel scared? Did she think she was smarter than them? She couldn't even cast a patronus anymore. Maybe if she spent more time practicing her defense spells she'd stop being so morbid.

It wasn't that they weren't taking the war seriously, but that their perspective was narrowed. It was Light vs Darkness, Good vs Evil. Light always won. Look at the stories look at the history books. Yes, some people would die, but it would be for the cause; a worthy death. They weren't afraid to die for that.

Eventually Hermione had stopped talking and withdrew with her books. There was no point in noting that history books were written by the victors.  Or that there were plenty of wars in the muggle world where lives were just another form of ammunition; where battles failed to mean anything, or produce more than a new list of casualties; a fresh row of graves.

Maybe they all needed to believe such things, but Hermione couldn't. She'd needed to prepare. She buried herself in healing, in potions, in books until the Ministry of Magic fell and the War officially began

Then she'd been rushed off to begin studying in France. Then Albania, when France became too dangerous. Then Denmark. Then—Austria? No.

Had there been somewhere else, before she went to Austria? It felt like there was a gap. A blur. Hermione pushed at the blank space in her memory. Somewhere, somewhere else she'd gone to study. Where could it have been? Why would she forget it? She forced her mind toward the blur and it was just dimness. A low golden light emanating from a lamp, dust, the scent of old paper, dry and green, and the thin chain of a necklace in her hands.

Nothing else. She pressed harder, but the memory faded into the back of her mind again. She couldn't remember anything more.

Just like she couldn't recall the spell for repairing mammary tissue.

She sighed to herself as her fingers fell away from the knotted tissue.

The faultiness of her memory was increasingly unnerving.

Sometimes she wasn't even sure she knew who she had been during the war. She remembered herself as a healer. Just a healer and a potion mistress.

At some point she had diverged from that person, and she didn't know how or when it had happened.

When had she become someone that Voldemort would describe as dangerous? A person who leveled half a prison.  Who burned dementors, and stabbed Graham Montague with poisoned knives?

Hermione had no idea where that version of herself could have come from. She found it difficult to believe the person had ever existed.

Somehow that mysterious person had been swallowed up in the darkness beneath Hogwarts. Without the second-hand accounts of Voldemort, Malfoy, and Montague, she would never have even known such a person had existed. She almost would think it was some sort of deception if she didn't have so many scars she couldn't account for.

She glanced down at her left wrist, ran her finger tips over the scattered, silvery scars that mottled her sternum and collarbones, and then traced over the long, thin scar between her seventh and eighth ribs.

Healer Stroud had said the fugues in her mind weren't a dissociation or multiple personalities, but Hermione rather felt that they must be. Hermione as she knew herself to be would never have leveled half a prison and killed countless other people in order to break-in. Not even for Ginny. Hermione wouldn't have treated everyone else as collateral damage in a rescue attempt. She didn't know how fill a sky with burning dementors. She had never carried poisoned knives, much less learned how to stab anyone with them.

There was something cavernous in her ignorance, and she didn't know how to reconcile it.

She pulled on her robes, went downstairs, and wavered at the veranda door. The air was warm and smelled loamy, with faint traces of sweetness. There were huge beds of daffodils and irises that had seemingly sprung up in previous two weeks. The birds were singing.

It was as though the outside world had transformed itself while Hermione had been lying in her darkened room. Nature had dropped its shroud, and stopped mirroring the coldness and gloom of Hermione's life. The world had left her behind. It had sprung to life again, but Hermione was still trapped in a cage, cold and deathly.

She turned and walked back inside.

She didn't want to feel the stirring of spring; not on her skin or in her blood. She didn't want to think about life stirring. Not around her. Not inside her.

Topsy appeared before dinner.

"You is to get ready now," the House-elf squeaked.

It was hours earlier than Malfoy had ever come before. Hermione had no idea what that could possibly be the reason for the change. Every bit of added unpredictability only made it worse. She went cold with dread.

She went in the bathroom and bathed. As she toweled off with shaking hands, she remembered the potions Healer Stroud had sent. She'd been so nervous the night before, she'd forgotten them.

After dressing, she went and pulled one of the vials out of the bathroom cabinet. It wasn't a Draught of Peace; the color and consistency were unfamiliar. She sniffed it. The scent was tangy in her nostrils, slightly citrus and peppery. She put a drop on her fingertip and tasted it. It was warm and mildly sweet on the tongue.

She waited a minute. She felt less cold with anxiety.

She swallowed it, and it was hot sliding down her throat. As it reached her stomach, the heat seemed to bloom outward through her whole body.

Her skin tingled and grew almost achingly sensitive. Hermione froze, gasped with horror and lurched forwards, staring wide-eyed in the mirror. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were dilating as she studied her reflection. She pressed her hands over her mouth and stumbled back.

Stroud had given her a lust potion.

Hermione wanted to burst into tears as she tried to steady herself and will away the effects of the potion currently burning through her.

This couldn't be happening.

It was just boundlessly cruel.

Hermione's hands were shaking as she tried to think of some solution. Some way to neutralise it. She snatched up the cup from beside the sink and gulped glass after glass of water in the hope of flushing it from her system. It didn't work. The heat through her body seemed be dropping lower, beginning to radiate from her lower abdomen.

She walked into her room. She couldn't understand why Stroud would do this.

Punishing Malfoy for whatever interference he had made in the breeding program was one thing, but tricking Hermione into dosing herself with a lust potion was a whole new level of callousness.

Hermione climbed unsteadily onto her bed, laid back and closed her eyes. If she just held still and focused it might be alright.

The click of the door made her flinch.

She opened her eyes and found Malfoy standing there, cold and tense as he unclasped his outer robes and shrugged them off his shoulders. He was studying her as he crossed the room, draped the clothing over the edge of the bed and stared down at her.

"Do you want another Calming Draught?" he said.

It was possible a Calming Draught could help. Hermione calculated, it might ease the physical reaction her body was burning with. She gave a sharp nod and sat up.

As she took the vial from his hand, their fingers brushed and she bit her tongue to keep from gasping.

She unstoppered it and gulped it down while Malfoy knocked back his own potion.

The Draught of Peace had a worsening effect. Rather than ease the symptoms it made her body relax further into them. She dropped the vial onto the bed as she tried to hand it back.

She covered her mouth with her hands and burst into tears. Malfoy stared at her for a moment.

"What's wrong?" he demanded.

"Healer Stroud sent a set of potions that she said would make things easier," she said, smearing away the tears and staring determinedly down at the covers on the bed. "I forgot about it yesterday, but I took it tonight, just before you arrived. I thought it would be for anxiety. That's what it seemed like when I tested a drop. It's not like I can do spell analysis. So I took it, but—" she choked slightly. "It was an aphrodisiac."

There was a stunned silence.

"You are an idiot," Malfoy finally said. "Do you just swallow anything without asking questions?"

Hermione flinched.

"Last time I asked you to identify a potion sent to me, you forced it down my throat out of sheer spite. Was I supposed to assume it would be different with you this time?"

Malfoy was silent. The rage emanating from him was palpable. Like heat waves around a flame, the air almost seemed to distort around the edges of his body as he stood there, glaring down at her.

"You are an idiot," he said again.

Hermione wanted to curl in on herself like a ball.

The heat in her core was distractingly steady, and her whole body felt too warm and sensitive. She felt hollow inside. She wanted to be touched. No one had touched her in so long...

No. No. No. 

She took a deep shuddering breath. "Can't you wait and do it later tonight? I'm sure it will wear off after a few hours."

"I can't. I've suddenly been required in France tonight. That's why I came here early, I won't be back to the manor until late tomorrow," Malfoy said.

Hermione gave a small sob.

"Fine." She choked, and forced herself to lay back down onto the bed. "Just—do it."

She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to focus on counting backward from a thousand by doubling the subtracted number each time.

Minus one.

Nine hundred and ninety-nine.

Minus two.

Nine hundred and ninety-seven.

Minus four.

Nine hundred and ninety-three.

Minus eight.

Nine hundred and eighty-five.

She felt Malfoy pushing her robes aside and shivered.

Minus sixteen.

Nine hundred seventy-nine.

Minus thirty-two.

Malfoy's fingers near her core abruptly shredded her concentration, and she let out a smothered moan as her eyes snapped open.

Malfoy was looking down at her with wide, horrified eyes.

She stared at him. She had never really seen him as someone sexual before. Despite five months of having him bend her over a table, the sexual aspect of him had never really registered. He was cold and dangerous. Beautiful, but only in the aesthetic, like a marble statue. Not something hot-blooded. Not something she wanted any kind of physical contact from.

She had never, ever wanted to be touched by him in any sort of way. 

Now she wanted to feel his lips against hers. To feel his hands on her. The weight of him that she'd been so desperate to escape from the night before—she wanted to feel it; to have him bearing down on her. Pressing into her.

The burn of arousal in her core was mind-numbing. She had never felt the need to have something inside her before, but as she lay there she felt ready to scream if he didn't touch her.

She hadn't thought the second night could possibly be worse than the first, but it was a thousand times worse.

She forced her eyes shut again so that she'd stop studying his face; stop taking in all the details of him that she'd never cared to take note of before. His hair and sharp cheekbones, the intensity of his eyes, his thin lips and straight white teeth, the precise lines of his jaw, and his pale throat disappearing in the black collar of his shirt.

"Just move," she said, and nearly sobbed with the effort it took not just move herself.

A moment later, she felt him prod and slide into her, and she immediately canted her hips forward to take him deeper.

She buried her face in her hands and tried to tear her mind away while she gasped against her palms and felt ruined.

She was shaking.

All she could think of was how much she wanted him to move. Hard and fast.

Whimpers kept forming in her throat and she couldn't smother them. She held herself so rigidly her entire body shuddered as she tried not to allow any kind of reaction.

The coil of want was drawing up tighter and tighter inside of her. She bit her lips together. She wouldn't give in.

She just needed to hold out. He'd come soon and it would be over. Then she could leave the potion to burn itself out of her system. His thrusts were becoming longer and harsher the way they did as he reached the end. He sped up slightly and she bit down hard on her tongue as she tried to keep hold.

And then—

She broke with a despairing sob.

Her whole body spasmed around him. She could feel herself clenching and seizing as he thrust into her a few more times, and then he shuddered with a tortured groan.

After a moment he jerked away, and she barely opened her eyes in time to see him snatch his robes off the bed and then apparate straight out of the room. She caught a glimpse of his face before he vanished; he looked grey, as though he were going to faint.

She lay there on the bed and cried as her head slowly cleared. Reality, bitter as poison, started slowly bleeding into her as she absorbed what had happened.

She had just had the first orgasm she had any memory of.

She didn't know if she'd been a virgin before she was sent to Malfoy. If she hadn't been, the loss of it was one of the many details that had vanished from her mind. It seemed like an odd thing to have chosen to protect. So most likely she hadn't had sex during the war.

Everything felt foreign. Nothing had given her any indication that such things were something her body had been familiar with.

The lust potion had altered things. Permanently, she feared. Awakened her body to a new aspect of these physical invasions that had previously lain dormant.

Hermione lay unmoving for ten minutes.

When the time finally elapsed she got up and went into the bathroom. She pulled out every remaining vial of potion and poured them down the sink before dropping the vials into the bin.

When she looked up the portrait was there, watching her in the mirror. Always watching. Always silent.

Hermione gave her a bitter smile and then slumped to the ground.

The pale young witch stared at Hermione.

Hermione felt cold, as though she were going into shock. She curled up into a tight ball, hugging her knees and trying to breathe. 

She was going to go mad.

She was going to go mad.

She couldn't keep holding on. She didn't even know why she was holding on. Why she hadn't just let herself go while she was locked under Hogwarts.

Malfoy Manor was worse.

She buried her face in her hands. She could feel the fluids from herself and Malfoy on her thighs.

She fell asleep on the floor.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione was standing in the kitchen of Spinner's End. She turned slowly, looking over the surfaces covered with notebooks, prepared ingredients and bubbling potions.

Hermione paused as she noticed one potion shimmering in the corner. She stepped over and watched the spiraling steam rising from the surface. She sniffed it surreptitiously. The spicy, earthy scent of oak moss, smoky undertones of cedar, the bruised scent of oxidizing leaves, and parchment—no. She sniffed again. Papyrus.

She stepped abruptly away and glanced at the other surrounding cauldrons.

"This is quite a variety of love potions you're brewing," she said, looking over to where Severus was stooped over a simmering cauldron.

"A new project for the Dark Lord. He's suddenly developed an interest in trying to weaponise it," Severus said, sneering down at the murky, lumescent liquid he was working over.

Hermione felt her blood run cold. "Is that a possibility?"

Severus shrugged with a faint smile. "I am both skeptical and unmotivated, so most likely not. I believe it was more of a passing notion than anything he has a sincere interest in. I'm drawing up a comprehensive report to present in case he asks about it. And I'm doing it in my home rather than in the lab to ensure no one offers any groundbreaking ideas."

Hermione surveyed the room. There were ten varieties of love potion and a few aphrodisiacs she recognised, as well as an additional fifteen that appeared experimental.

"What would constitute as a weaponised love potion?"

"Something of exceptional power that doesn't require redosage. I believe he images himself using it for interrogations."

"That's—obscene," Hermione finally said.

"Indeed. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, he has other matters he regards as more urgent for Sussex to focus on."


Hermione woke, still lying on the cold floor of the bathroom. She continued to lie there; if there were an upside to her depression it was that it made sleeping easier. It was as though her body had given up. The rage she'd spent months cultivating had melted away and she was left tired and listless, as though her body weighed too much to even carry across the floor.

She could sleep and sleep in a state of despair for most of the day.

She pushed herself off the floor, went to her room, and climbed under the covers of her bed; burrowing into them and hugging them around herself.

Even her brain felt tired and listless. As though even thinking took too much out of her.

She glanced over at the clock. It was nearly nine o'clock in the evening. There was a tray with dinner on it beside the chair, but Hermione had no appetite.

She wondered why Malfoy was in France; presumably it was to kill more people.

Would he still be masked, or would he do it openly? She wondered what he looked like when he cast the killing curse. Most people's faces screwed up in a revolting grimace when they cast the Killing Curse. Even Voldemort. But Malfoy's hatred and fury was so cold. Perhaps he looked the way he had when he was killing Montague.

Hermione wondered if getting exposed as High Reeve were intentional.

If Malfoy were moving to seize power from Voldemort, he'd need to be known. Known and feared. Being revealed had been a calculated risk perhaps; banking on Voldemort's need for a public figure to spare his life. If things in Romania were as unstable as had been implied, Voldemort couldn't kill Malfoy now—even if he wanted to. It would leave a power vacuum, destabilise the entire Death Eater army, and give Europe the opportunity to break free.

There were no other figures in Voldemort's army that were even vaguely comparable. Voldemort had local government figures, but Malfoy was Voldemort's only visible crutch on a continental level

The most powerful General in the Dark Lord's army was what Astoria had said. A General for years; that was what Malfoy had said about himself.

Hermione paused puzzled. Malfoy had been a General during the war?

She didn't remember Malfoy being a General. She didn't remember much of anything about him after Dumbledore died. She had assumed his ascendance in rank had occurred at the end of the war, but perhaps that had been wrong. It had been hard to get good information toward the end of the war. Hermione hadn't been included in most of the specifically strategic Order meetings. It must have been a detail she'd missed.

There were so many things about Malfoy that felt incomprehensible. His power. The point of his ambition. His ironic talent for healing. His apparating ability.

A ritual intended as a punishment...

Hermione turned over the mystery in her mind.

It was probably what Voldemort had been referencing to when he'd spoken of Malfoy deeply disappointing him. Hermione wondered what on earth it could be. Dark magic rituals were generally physically corrosive and mentally eroding. Malfoy seemed suspiciously, even unnaturally, intact.

In fact, as she thought about it further, Malfoy was impossibly sane.

With the quantity of Dark Magic he was exposed to, both through his own use and Voldemort's, he should be poisoned by it. Unless he was spending all his time undergoing purification rituals, his relative health seemed impossible.

Hermione had been ill just from entering Voldemort's Hall, while Malfoy had seemed entirely indifferent to it; and he surely went there multiple times a week. People didn't become indifferent to Dark Magic. It was like a poisonous drug. Addictive. Effecting.

Deadly.

Dark Wizards tended to use more and more, and stronger and stronger types of dark arts until they eroded themselves away the way Voldemort was, or went mad the way Lucius and Bellatrix had.

But Malfoy was intact. Physically and mentally he was—pristine.

And capable of apparating across an entire continent.

How on earth was that possible?

Hermione kept turning the question over and over until she finally gave up. She had too little information to enable any guesses.

She moved on to a different problem.

She couldn't figure out how she fit in. Whatever Malfoy's scheme was, it seemed like she must be somehow included in it. Malfoy was too devoted to her care and maintenance for it to be otherwise. Hermione had thought it was simply because he was doing as ordered, but she was beginning to strongly suspect his attention went beyond that. He seemed personally and emotionally invested in her. The way he stared at her; the undivided intensity of it was almost undeniable. She was significant to him or to his plans.

Where did not getting Hermione pregnant fit into the strategy?

He hated raping her; didn't appear to enjoy it at all and didn't try to. It made him ill. So, wouldn't he want her pregnant as soon as possible?

Unless it had to do with her memories. The idea that a pregnancy would unlock the memories was theoretical at best. But if Malfoy suspected there were something in her memory that he didn't want unlocked... that could possibly explain it.

But even without a pregnancy, the memories were slowly beginning to re-emerge.

If she were pregnant, it would buy him nine months of exclusive access to them. So long as she was not pregnant, arbitrary memories might emerge for Voldemort to find.

Why would he keep forcing them both through five days of monthly trauma?

Hermione couldn't account for it.

She mulled over the question again.

The only additional element she could think of was that Malfoy had to know she would rather die than get pregnant.

Would that matter to him?

She kept wondering until she fell asleep.

She was anxious all the next day; on edge and fidgeting until she started fearing she'd start picking her skin off. She barely skimmed the Daily Prophet before she began tearing it to pieces and folding it into every shape she could think of. She couldn't fold cranes, but she could fold aeroplanes and all sorts of other geometric shapes. She poured her nervous energy into folding until her fingertips felt raw.

She started walking through the North Wing, trailing her fingers lightly along the walls as she went.

When evening came, Hermione took a bath without instruction. Topsy did not appear but dinner did. Hermione ignored it. It was nearly nine when the House-elf suddenly popped into the room.

Topsy averted her eyes as Hermione stared down at her.

"The master is back. You is to get ready."

There was a pause.

"I'm already ready," Hermione said.

Topsy nodded and then disappeared.

Hermione went and sat at the foot of her bed.

When Malfoy appeared at the door they stared across the room at each other for several minutes.

There was nothing to say.

He walked across the room and withdrew a vial of Calming Draught which he handed to her without a word. She swallowed the contents, and then handed it back.

While he was taking his own potion, Hermione slid back on the mattress and laid down, staring determinedly up at the canopy over her bed.

She didn't flinch when she felt the bed shift. She didn't make a sound when she felt him shift her robes aside and expose her. When she felt him move between her legs, she bit her lip as she continued to stare up at the canopy. When he muttered the lubrication charm she balled her hand into fists.

When he entered her, she gave a small gasp and turned her face toward the wall in despair, writhing with internal anguish.

Her body had anticipated it. Attuned and waiting. It was ready. Wanting.

It was such a profound betrayal.

Knowing her arousal was physiologically natural didn't ease the guilt.

When the rape was clinical it was endurable. When the rape was drugged it was endurable. But when it was just her, her own mind and physiology, it was the worst of all. It twisted and tore at something inside her.

I'm being raped and my body is enjoying it, she thought bitterly and wanted to curl away.

She thought she might just vomit.

She didn't want to know if Malfoy could tell the difference. Whether he knew.

She stared at the wall and tried not to make another sound. When he came, he immediately removed himself, jerked her robes down, snatched up his robes, and apparated.

She didn't turn to see what he looked like before he vanished. She just pulled her legs closed and lay there. She could feel her tears leaving cold trails along her temples.

The next two days were the same.

There was little sense of relief the morning after the fifth day. Hermione just felt cold.

Her room and bed had lost all sense of comfort to her.

She pulled a fresh set of robes from the wardrobe and went down the hall to the bathroom with the shower. Then she curled up into a tight ball, seated on the floor of the shower and stayed there under the water.

There was no point in denying it. Things had shifted. Nothing felt the same. Not any longer.

The potion was a significant factor but Hermione couldn't deny the array of other elements.

Malfoy was not the monster she had initially perceived him as being. After learning what was happening to the other surrogates; after what Montague had tried to do to her; after Astoria; after becoming terrified of what cruelty Lucius Malfoy would devise if her surrogacy were transferred. The person she perceived Malfoy as being had shifted.

Being 'saved' by him had affected things.

He touched her. No one had touched her in so long.

He'd healed her, far more than he needed to.

He didn't even want to rape her.

Though he insisted his protection of her was entirely borne from from self-interest—because he'd been commanded to—she was almost certain he was far exceeding what obligation demanded.

The influence of the manacles also contributed to it. They'd always been intended to cultivate compliance and dependence. To remove her ability to resist.

If she could resist Malfoy's violation; if he were physically forcing her down as he raped her, it would be easier for her to stop growing resigned and accustomed to it. It was the lying quietly and experiencing it. The anticipation of an inevitability that she had no ability to resist.

If the ways he hurt her were more voluntary and less obligatory, it would be easier to see him for who he was.

Although even then, the mind was cruelly adaptive. The subconscious will to survive was written into humans more deeply than almost anything else. Survival did not require Hermione to be intact. To be decent. To be herself. Survival would carve away any part of her that made enduring harder.

It would smooth away the mental anguish. Latch onto every glimmer of kindness. It would make life cease to ache.

If she weren't careful, it would steal away every bit of her until she was so broken inside that she would accept her cage.

Hermione shivered beneath the scalding water still beating down on her.

She needed to stay away from Malfoy.

She wouldn't talk to him. She wouldn't let herself ask him questions. If he asked her something, she would answer as briefly as possible. She would stop engaging with him, stop trying to understand him.

She might not be able to control what her body did, but she could control her mind. Anything he wanted from her, he would have to force from her.

She dropped her head down on her knees as a sense of desolation came over her.

She was so tired of being all alone. She pressed her lips together as she struggled against crying.

Even her memory was a lonely abyss. Almost all the years of war had been alone.

Studying alone in Hogwarts. Then studying in Europe, there had been no time for anything but professional relationships. When she'd returned she'd practically lived in the hospital ward.

There was never time for friendships. When she had any spare time, Harry and Ron were gone on missions. When they were back, it was generally in the aftermath of a battle, when Hermione's skills have been most urgently needed. She had so few memories of being with either of them in non-professional circumstances.

Then, after the Final battle, Hermione's imprisonment under Hogwarts had been like an endless fall. Alone. Alone. Alone. Until Hermione's memory had cannibalised itself.

When Hermione had finally been dragged out and forced into the breeding program she had become reduced to her function. To Healer Stroud she was a womb. To Voldemort she was a potential source of war intelligence.

She was not a person.

Not to anyone except Malfoy.

He treated her like a person. He answered most of her questions, and he looked at her as though he saw her. He talked to her. He treated her as though she personally were of significance to him. When he hurt her it always seemed forced and unwilling.

Everyone else just hurt her because they could.

Even the House-elves would barely look at her.

There was no work to bury herself into in Malfoy Manor. No endless void to become lost in. It was just Hermione, sitting and wondering and folding paper; trapped in a cold house.

Malfoy was only bit of warmth or life or human contact she had. Whether he had intended it or not, Hermione was latching onto him in her desperate isolation.

She couldn't.

He had killed everyone. He had murdered or executed them all. Willing or not, he was raping her. She was just a pawn to him.

She wasn't going to betray her friends' memories in such a horrific manner. She wasn't going to betray herself.

If she died in Malfoy Manor she would do so clinging to the bits of herself that remained. Like Death itself, Malfoy had stolen everything away from her, and he was waiting to take more.

She could stay away from Malfoy. She could refuse to engage unless he forced and coerced her.

She could. She would.

She was used to being alone.

She spent the rest of the day resolving herself. Bracing herself. Malfoy was due for another legilimency session. He always came after her fertile window.

When he did, he would find all the thoughts in her head. He would probably taunt her.

She wouldn't respond.

She spent the afternoon building a card tower.

The day passed. Dinner came. Malfoy did not.

Hermione tried not to be anxious. She tried not to keep glancing at the clock. She ignored the tightening sensation in her chest as she kept expecting him to appear.

He was probably doing it on purpose, she reminded herself. Perhaps he'd been reading her mind when she had been thinking earlier. He was probably torturing her intentionally. 

She kept expecting him to eventually appear until it was past eleven, when Hermione usually was asleep. Finally she went to bed.

She couldn't sleep.

She just lay there, wondering why he hadn't come. Maybe he was traveling again. The newspaper hadn't said anything but perhaps he still was. Maybe he was out with Astoria at some event, Hermione didn't think she remembered anything being mentioned in the society pages. Maybe they'd just gone to dinner. Did he and Astoria go to dinner together?

Hermione lay in bed wondering until the clock on the wall indicated it was nearly two in the morning.

She got out of bed. There was a nearly full moon.

She went to the door and left her room, wandering through the moonlit hallways of the North Wing. The portrait followed her like a pale wraith.

Hermione's fingers trailed along walls as she walked. She never had panic attacks inside the manor, but the sensation of the wall beneath her fingers was steadying.

The moonlight cast long, sharp shadows across the floors and walls.

A thought abruptly struck Hermione. What if Malfoy died? Would she even know? Probably not. Not for days. Healer Stroud would come and take Hermione to be transferred to some other legilimens. Maybe Voldemort would bring Snape back from Romania and order him to impregnate her instead.

What if she were already pregnant? The thought made her cold. What if she were pregnant and Malfoy died? Would Voldemort wait for her to give birth and then drag her memories out himself? Or would he make Stroud abort the baby so Hermione could be transferred? If she carried it to term then, what would happen to it? Would Voldemort give the baby to Astoria?

Astoria would kill it. She'd torture it to death. If it looked like Malfoy and Hermione, Astoria would probably tear its eyes out and burn it,  starve it to death...

Hermione gasped and started hyperventilating in the hallway.

There was nothing she could do. Nothing. She couldn't do anything.

She had spent months wishing Malfoy would die but now the thought filled her with terror.

What if he was dead?

She kept breathing faster and faster. Her hands and arms started pricking as though there were needles grazing her skin. Her chest felt compressed as though she were being crushed. She couldn't make herself calm down.

Suddenly there was a shifting in the darkness. Hermione froze, choked down a gasp, and glanced around.

Malfoy stepped out of the darkness. She was certain he hadn't been there a moment before.

The moonlight caught his pale hair and skin, and he looked terrifying and angelic at the same time.

She stared at him, feeling her initial panic fade away. He wasn't dead or dying. The sense of relief she felt at seeing him—

She tried not to dwell on it as she studied him carefully.

There was something about his face...

The tension in it seemed slightly eased from the hard cold expression she was so used to. He looked less on the verge of a breakdown.

He came closer to her. His eyes traveling down her slowly as he sized her up.

"Granger."

Her name rolled from his lips like a purr. She felt a shiver of uncertainty pass through her. He never called her by her surname, not once since she had arrived. She was always Mudblood.

Her eyes widened.

He was drunk.

His steps remained steady and his voice was unslurred, but—she was sure of it.

She didn't move.

He drew nearer, until she shuffled backwards, but he kept coming closer. Until she was trapped against the wall, and he was mere inches from her.

"Oh, Granger." He sighed, staring down at her. He raised a hand and placed it across her throat, but didn't squeeze; he just left it there. She could feel the heat of it seeping into her skin.

She stared up at him. Even drunk, his expression was a mask. She wasn't sure what he intended to do next. He slid his thumb lightly along her neck and she felt her skin prickle.

He sighed again. "If I'd known what pain you'd cause me, I never would have taken you."

He just stood there, holding her throat. She could feel her pulse fluttering against his hand. She wasn't sure what he meant; if she was supposed to apologise.

She could smell the alcohol on his breath.

"But," he said after a minute, "at this point, I suppose I deserve to burn. I wonder, if you'll burn too."

His face was suddenly close to hers, she could feel the air from his words brushing against her skin.

His lips crashed into hers.

 

Chapter Text

He tasted of firewhiskey.

It was a punishing kiss. The moment their lips touched, he crushed her body against his. His hand on her throat slid back and up to the nape, tangling his fingers in her hair as he deepened the kiss. His other hand reached up and cradled her cheek in the palm of his hand for a moment before it slipped down along her body.

He angled her head up as he kept kissing her. His tongue pushing into her mouth before withdrawing as he nipped her lips. Hard enough to hurt, but not to bleed. Then, when she was gasping for breath, he pulled his mouth away and started kissing along her throat.

Hermione was frozen in shock. Pliant and stunned in his possessive hands.

He was pulling at her clothes. She could feel the outer robe slipping onto the floor, and the top buttons of the dress open as the cold manor air hit her. He ripped buttons off as he exposed her and explored her bared skin.

He was grinding himself against her as he pulled the dress down over her shoulders, stripping her to the waist.

The cold air bit against her skin, and she felt her nipples harden in the cold as his hands darted up to palm her breasts and tease her. His mouth was at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, and he was kissing and nipping his way along it when suddenly he reached a spot and she—moaned.

They both froze.

Malfoy wrenched himself away.

He stood there looking at her. She was slumped against the wall, half stripped, and—aroused.

His eyes were wide, as though he'd just become aware of himself. He stayed there looking shocked for several moments before the mask suddenly clicked back into place. His face grew hard and he smirked.

"Apparently you have accepted your place," he said with a leer.

Then he turned on his heel and vanished into the darkness.

Hermione stayed there in shock. She felt frozen, as a cold sense of devastation crept over her.

She was—she had been...receptive. To Malfoy.

Her pliancy hadn't been enforced by the manacles. It hadn't even occurred to her to push him away. It hadn't occurred to her to want to.

He'd kissed her and she'd—let him. She hadn't felt repulsed. It had thrilled something lonely and aching inside of her. Being touched. Someone with warm hands caressing her. It was a longing laced right through the very fiber of her.

Trapped in the manor, she was latching onto any scrap of kindness she could find.

But it wasn't kindness.

Malfoy wasn't kind; he simply wasn't cruel. He wasn't as awful as he could be. He possessed the meagerest shreds of decency.

Apparently, in her fracturing mind, a absence of cruelty was sufficient solace. For her starved heart, it was enough.

A strangled sob tore itself from her, and she gathered her robes around herself and fled back to her room.

Flinging the doors of her wardrobe open, she wrenched out a new set of robes and buttoned them up as rapidly as possible. Then she wrapped her arms around herself for an additional sensation of security. Of decency.

She was better than this.

She wasn't going to let her psychological survival instincts trick her into falling for a monster; into wanting the attention of the person responsible for starting the war; into being receptive to the man who had murdered her friends.

She couldn't let her mind rationalise into falling for her rapist simply because he wasn't as much of a monster to her as he could be.

She couldn't. Wouldn't.

Wouldn't.

Wouldn't.

She could bear being betrayed by her body. She wouldn't let herself be betrayed by her mind.

She'd rather break it.

She had to get out of the manor.

She pressed her hand against the cold window and stared despairingly across the moonlit estate.

Then she drew her head back, and smashed it into the glass as hard as she could.

The unbreakable pane didn't break. Couldn't give.

She drove her head into it again.

And again.

And again.

There was blood streaming into her eyes, but she kept going.

Again.

And again.

An arm closed around her waist, and a hand clamped over both wrists as she was dragged away from the glass.

She fought. Trying to pull her hands free. Digging her toes into the grain of the wood-floor to push herself back.

Sobbing.

"Granger. Don't—don't." Malfoy's voice was close to her ear.

She pulled futilely to free herself as she sobbed and sobbed.

She was so tired of being hurt and alone. She wanted to be done. If she kept existing in that house she was going to try to find solace. Anything but being cold and alone forever and ever.

She wanted to be touched. She wanted to feel safe, even if it was simply an illusion. She wanted it—

But she couldn't.

She wouldn't betray everyone like that. Harry. Ron. Minerva. Ginny...

She wouldn't betray herself like that.

"I can't—can't—" She sobbed, trying to break free again.

"Don't hurt yourself. Granger, that's a command. Do not hurt yourself." Malfoy growled the order as he pulled her further from the window.

She kept struggling.

"Stop."

The order was snarled.

"Stop trying to physically injure yourself." His voice was shaking.

She felt the manacles around her wrists grow hot as he invoked them, and she struggled against the magic.

"No–!" She sobbed as she felt the magic grow until it almost smothered her mind and her body went limp.

She slumped against Malfoy. He released her wrists and wrapped his arm tightly across her shoulders, as though he expected her to suddenly fling herself against the window again.

She just stayed there, shuddering and quietly sobbing in his arms. There was blood sliding down her face and dripping from her lips and chin onto the floor.

"So—" he said in a tense voice after a few minutes. "You found a way around the manacles, I see."

As she hung against him she realised dully that she had.

The compulsions existed in her mind. The order was not to hurt herself, but didn't specify any difference between psychological and physical harm. So—in a state of sufficient mental agony—she had been able to bypass it. She was hurting either way; she couldn't stop her mind from hurting her. The compulsion had been nullified.

It was always in her mind.

Her interpretation of the compulsions had always been what had limited her. The command to be quiet: she had interpreted it as Malfoy not permitting her to speak without permission because she assumed he would be vindictive like that. So she hadn't been able to speak. If she'd interpreted it as something simpler, like not speaking loudly, she could have spoken; unless Malfoy had clarified and specified the compulsion further.

The compulsions were built upon preventing willful disobedience.

When she wasn't thinking about the fact she was disobeying, when she was reacting instinctively or speaking without thinking, she'd always been able to get around the compulsions. She simply hadn't noticed it.

"I suppose I did," she said quietly, regaining her footing and standing.

His hands slid away from her. Something inside of Hermione twisted at the loss of contact.

He turned her and used a spell to remove the blood from her face and  cast a healing charm where the skin had split. Her head was throbbing where she'd struck it.

"Why?" Malfoy asked in a hard voice. "Why the sudden need to go so far?"

She looked at him. They were standing only inches apart. His steely, grey eyes were studying her carefully. He'd taken a sobriety potion since he'd kissed her; she could smell it on his breath.

"Why not?" she said in a wistful voice. "The options have always been escape or die."

"But this is the first time you were actually intent enough to manage it. Why tonight rather than yesterday, or the day I left for France?"

So he had noticed that she'd become unwillingly responsive. Hermione's mouth twitched and she turned her face away, pressing her cheek against her shoulder.

Don't talk to him. He is not your friend.

"I don't require you to speak to get the answer," he said after several minutes. "Although I would think you'd prefer it. We are due for a legilimency session, after all."

Hermione pressed her mouth shut, but her eyes flickered over to her bed. She didn't want to lie on a bed in front of him again. If he invaded her mind to get the answer he'd see how pathetically, desperately lonely she was. How significant he had become to her.

If she answered the question, she'd have some control over the narrative.

She opened her mouth several time as she struggled with where to begin. She felt so cold her skin hurt. She hugged herself, rubbing her arms slowly.

"I think I'm beginning to develop Stockholm Syndrome," she finally said quietly. "It's a Muggle psychological condition. A survival instinct or coping mechanism, I suppose you could say."

She fell silent and glanced toward Malfoy. He was expressionless, apparently expecting her to expound further. She turned away.

He sighed with irritation. "So, we're doing this the hard way. Very well. Legilimency then."

Hermione stiffened and curled her shoulders in defensively. "It's something that occasionally occurs where a hostage can start to become attached to their captor—due to their dependence." She forced the words out, her voice shaking. She didn't look at Malfoy.

She forced herself to continue.

"I don't know much about it. I didn't have much time to study psychology. But, I think I'm starting to rationalise your behavior; trying to justify what you do. A lack of cruelty becomes kindness. It's—it's a survival mechanism, so it operates through subconscious reactions and adaption. In order to try to make an authentic emotional connection, I might develop feelings for you...." Her voice broke and trailed off for a moment.

There was a pause.

"Honestly, I'd rather be raped by your father than have feelings for you," she finally said staring at the blood on the floor.

The was a resounding silence, and she saw Malfoy's hands curl slowly into fists at his side.

"Well," he said after several seconds, "with luck you're pregnant now and you won't need to suffer the attention of either of us. You'll just be left alone."

He started turning to leave. Without thinking her hand darted out and caught hold of his robes. He froze. She sobbed under her breath even as she gripped the fabric tighter, dropping her head and resting it against his chest. He smelled like moss and cedar, and she shook and burrowed against him. His hands rose up and rested on her shoulders until she could feel the heat of them slowly sinking into her, his thumbs lightly running across her shoulders until she stopped shaking.

Then his hands stilled and he shoved her away violently. Hermione stumbled back and nearly fell against her bed as he drew away from her. His eyes were cold, and there was something unfamiliar in his expression she couldn't place.

He stared down at her for a moment, his jaw twitching, then he drew a sharp breath and gave a soft, bitter sounding laugh. 

"You don't have Stockholm Syndrome." He raised an eyebrow.

"You don't care about surviving. Gryffindors are always eager to die." His lips curled into a sneer as he said 'Gryffindors.' "After all, you've been fantasizing a grand murder-suicide for the two of us for months now. No, the thing that's eating you isn't surviving; it's the isolation. Poor little healer, with no one to take care of. No one who needs you. Or wants you."

Hermione stared at him as he continued.

 "You can't bear being alone. You don't know how to function. You need someone to love; you'll do anything for the people that let you love them. That was what the war was for you, wasn't it? You wanted to fight, but you were smart enough to know another foolhardy, seventeen year old duelist wasn't going to changed the outcome of the war—not the way a healer could. I don't imagine any of your friends ever appreciated that, did they? That the choice was a sacrifice for you."

Hermione felt herself pale.

"Potter and the rest of your friends were too stupid and idealistic to appreciate those choices you made. Quite a burden, being one of the few people smart enough to understand what was necessary to win; one of the only ones willing to actually pay the price that victory demands. They never appreciated any of it. You let them send you away. Then, when you came back, you let them work you to death. Not much value or glory for healers—not like fighters. Even Ginny realised that. When Creevey died, they gave Potter days to grieve just because he saw it. You were the one who tried to save the boy, and what was it you got? Four hours and you were expected back on shift again?"

"That's—that's not—how—it—was." Hermione's hands were clenched into fists so tight the bones hurt.

"That–is exactly how it was. You may delude yourself, but I've spent so many hours inside your memories I probably know them better than my own. You would have done anything for your friends; you would have made all the hard choices and paid the price without complaint; whored yourself for the war effort. But do tell me, because I'm sincerely curious, what did Potter ever do for you to deserve it?"

She glared up at him. "Harry was my friend. He was my best friend."

Malfoy sneered. "So?"

Hermione looked away and drew a shuddering breath. "I never had any friends—when I was growing up. I was too odd, too bookish. I wanted them more than anything, but no one ever wanted to be my friend. When I found out about Hogwarts, I thought—I thought it would all be different, that being a witch was why I'd never fit in. But—when I got there–I was still odd and bookish and no one wanted anything to do with me. Harry—Harry was the first person who let me be his friend. I would have done anything for him." She gave a dry sob under her breath and swallowed it. "Besides—it's not like there was any chance for me without him."

There was a long pause.

"That is the most pathetic thing I've heard in my life," Malfoy finally said, straightening his robes. "So, what? I'm your replacement Potter?" He scoffed. "If anyone so much as speaks to you, you can't help but latch on to them? Knockturn Alley prostitutes cost more than you."

Hermione's jaw trembled, but Malfoy wasn't done. "Let's be clear, Mudblood. I don't want you. I never wanted you. I'm not your friend. There is nothing that will bring me more joy than being done with you."

"I know—" Hermione said in a low, hollow voice.

"Although..." Malfoy said after a pause, "I can't deny you've improved on me of late. I'll have to send Stroud my thanks." 

He raked his eyes across her body. Hermione drew a sharp breath and glared at him. 

Then she scoffed. "Really? That's why you kissed me? Because of the potion?"

He shrugged and stared at her mockingly, eyes cold. "What can I say? Rape isn't really my 'thing'. However, your growing attachment is both fascinating and amusing to experience. I never imagined you'd be the sort to fantasise that my mandatory care of you indicated some sort of attachment. I can't even begin to guess how amused the Dark Lord will be to witness it in a few days. Potter's Mudblood, falling for her Death Eater rapist. I didn't think it was possible for you to be more pathetic, but apparently with Mudbloods there is always a lower point."

He turned to leave but then paused. "I'll be back later to deal with your memories. Please don't assume that I'm dead because I occasionally have a better use for my time than wading through your tragic little life." 

He snorted derisively one last time and stalked out of Hermione's room.

When he returned the next day, Hermione had barely moved. He stared at her for several minutes. She didn't look up or acknowledge him.

"Bed," he finally commanded.

Hermione stood without a word and seated herself on the edge of bed. She stared down at the floor. He didn't need her eyes.

There was a moment of pause before he forced his way into her mind.

He spent most of his time examining her memory of Snape. He barely skimmed through her recent memories. When he caught up to the present, he withdrew and left without a word.

Hermione felt—dead. If she'd looked in the mirror and found that she was ghost she would have barely been surprised.

Cold nothing.

That was all she felt.

She lay in bed and mouthed apologies to her friends for failing them all.

When Stroud arrived six days later, Hermione wordlessly crossed the room and seated herself on the edge of the exam table; mechanically opening her mouth for the veritaserum.

"You're looking rather grey," Stroud said, her mouth quirking faintly as she studied her. "How did the conception effects go this month?"

"I don't know. Isn't that why you're here?" Hermione said in a bitter voice, staring down at her lap and rolling the fabric of her robes between her fingers.

Stroud gave a cold laugh. "Clever."

There was a pause as Stroud cast the pregnancy detection charm. Then a longer pause.

"You're pregnant." Stroud's tone was triumphant.

Hermione's hands stilled.

No.

Please, no.

It felt as though Hermione had been abruptly forced deep under freezing water; no air, and pressure, as though she were being crushed on all sides. She could hear her heart-rate surge up until the sound of her blood roaring was almost all she could hear.

Stroud started speaking, but Hermione couldn't make out any of the words.

She couldn't breathe.

Stroud was speaking to her more and more loudly. The words were rounded and indecipherable. Hermione gasped and tried to draw in oxygen, but her throat felt compressed—as though she were being strangled.

Her heart was beating so hard there was sharp stabbing sensation through her chest.

No. Please, no.

Stroud was standing in front of her, staring into Hermione's face. Stroud kept saying something, again and again. The movement of Stroud's lips was the same each time as the healer drew closer, gesturing. Hermione couldn't make out the words. Stroud's expression was growing visibly impatient as she kept repeating herself. The sound just garbled together into a indecipherable roar.

Hermione couldn't breathe; her lungs were burning as she tried to. The edges of the healer's face were blurring, as though she were bleeding into the surrounding air.

Everything was growing blurrier and blurrier. There was a sensation of needles sinking into Hermione's arms and hands.

Suddenly Malfoy was in front of her; his hands on her shoulders.

"Calm down."

His hard voice cut through the blurring.

"Breathe."

Hermione gasped, drawing a ragged breath; then she burst into tears.

No. No. Don't be pregnant. Give her to Lucius, let him rape and torture her to death.

Every time she drew in a breath it felt as though there were a knife being dragged down inside her esophagus.

"Oh god—No..." She sobbed the words over and and over as she shook.

"Breathe. Keep breathing," Malfoy said. His expression was drawn. His jaw clenched as he stared down at her and watched as she tried to draw breath.

It took several minutes until she stopped merely dragging in stuttering inhalations, and gradually began inhaling and exhaling alternately. His grip slowly loosened and he slowly turned to glare at Healer Stroud. His expression was enraged.

"You know she is prone to panic attacks. You cannot spring information on her," his said in a furious voice, still holding Hermione firmly by the shoulders as she continued crying.

"I thought the panicking was solely caused by open spaces." Stroud folded her arms over her chest, and raised her chin. "Given how terrified she is of your father, I thought she'd be relieved."

"Perhaps try thinking more," Malfoy said icily. "I am beginning to suspect that you are intentionally traumatising her. You threatened her with my father and dosed her with a aphrodisiac without warning. Are you trying to cause her to have a mental breakdown?"

Healer Stroud snorted as she cast a diagnostic on Hermione. "I'm not doing anything that risks compromising her memories; there's no need to concern yourself. I've been quite anxious over their recovery ever since I realised she was the one responsible for Sussex." Stroud eyed Hermione coldly. "I'm curious how a witch who never even graduated Hogwarts, and without any formal training, single-handedly constructed a bomb capable of killing all my colleagues."

There was a long pause interspersed by Hermione's broken sobs as Malfoy stared at Stroud.

"She was a Resistance terrorist trained throughout Europe to become a healer specialised in deconstructing Sussex's curses; not to mention that she had a Potion mastery. If she could take apart and neutralise a curse, she could also use it. If you'd been so curious you could have asked me," he said in a cold voice. "Psychologically torturing her is not going to give you answers, particularly since she has no memory of it. Your program is not an opportunity to exact revenge. You appear to have forgotten that I do not suffer fools tampering with her."

"I wasn't—"

"You were. The Dark Lord placed her under my care. You are aware of how precarious she is. I have gone to considerable expense and effort to maintain her environment. Given that Dark Lord made no objections when I executed one of his marked followers for interference, do you really think he'd trouble himself over you?"

Stroud's pallor grew deathly. "My program—"

"Is a farce." Malfoy sneered as he said it. "The reason you didn't die alongside your 'colleagues' in Sussex is because your proposal failed to qualify as scientifically sound enough to qualify for a laboratory there. Where are your controls? Or your statistics and historical data? The spectacle you're so willing to provide the society pages is funded and staffed to easily carry on without you." Malfoy's eyes glittered viciously as he spoke. "This is the only warning I'll offer. You are no longer permitted to be alone with her. Today's appointment is over. If you have new instructions regarding her care, you'll give them to me. Topsy!"

The House-elf appeared with a crack. Malfoy didn't remove his eyes from Stroud.

"Escort Stroud to the drawing room. I'll be down when I'm done dealing with the situation here."

Stroud huffed, but she was still pale and her hands shook as she gathered her files. As the door shut, Malfoy turned back to stare down at Hermione. She had stopped crying and was trying to breathe steadily.

He gave a low sigh and then pulled her to her feet.

"Come," he said as he led her across the room to her bed, studying her carefully before reaching into his robes and withdrawing a vial of Dreamless Sleep Draught. "Considering recent events I'm afraid I don't trust you conscious and alone. Take this."

Hermione extended a leaden hand and accepted the vial but then stared down at it hesitantly. Her breath kept hitching.

"Some Potions can result in fetal abnormalities. I don't–remember whether Dreamless Sleep is safe," she said in a wavering voice.

"It's fine."

She glanced up at Malfoy. How on earth would he know that?

He met her eyes. "I was concerned something like this might happen if you ever got pregnant. I verified it."

She continued to hesitate.

"I'm not asking. If you refuse I will make you," he said in a hard voice.

Hermione pressed her lips together and swallowed hard as her chest continued to stutter. She unstoppered the vial unsteadily and brought it to her lips. As soon as she swallowed the contents, she choked and burst into tears again. The vial slipped from her hands and plunged down onto the floor, shattering.

"Oh god..." She sobbed into her hands as the potion hit her system and overtook her mind like a black tidal wave. She sank onto the bed. "Oh god...oh god...please."

Her eyes slid shut as she continued to cry. She was dimly aware of her legs been lifted up onto the mattress. Darkness swallowed her.

"I'm sorry, Granger."

Chapter Text

When Hermione opened her eyes, it was late evening. Turning her head, she found Malfoy standing in front of the portrait on the wall, speaking to it in a low voice.

The witch in the painting immediately caught sight of Hermione’s movement and gestured over his shoulder. He stopped speaking and turned on his heel to stare at her.

He looked tired and singularly unenthused by his impending fatherhood.

Hermione felt as though she were going to be sick.

She squeezed her eyes shut, curled into a defensive ball and tried not to start crying again. She could hear the clipped sound of Malfoy’s shoes as he crossed the room and approached her bed.

There was a long silence and she could feel his gaze on her. She tucked her chin down against her shoulder and willed him away.

“You are not allowed to hurt yourself, or do anything to cause an abortion or miscarriage.”

It was not a statement, it was a command. She could feel the flush of heat around her wrists.

“I’m sure you’ll try to rationalise it as being protective in an attempt to get around the compulsions, but it is not. You are not allowed to do anything to end your pregnancy.”

She could feel the prick of tears in the corner of her eyes and sobbed faintly.

“Topsy, will monitoring you full-time now, to ensure you don’t experience any misfortunes like tripping on the stairs, or chewing on a sprig of yew. She’s cared for pregnant witches before, so she’s well aware of what you can and cannot eat or drink. She has my permission to immediately restrain you if you try anything.”

Hermione didn’t say anything. Malfoy remained standing beside her bed for several minutes before he sighed faintly. She heard his retreating footsteps and the click of the door.

She stayed in bed, and alternated between crying and sleeping; curled up tightly, wrapping her arms around her stomach protectively.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” she whispered again and again. “I would do anything to spare you from this world.”

Malfoy reappeared after four days.

“You cannot lie moping for nine months,” he said. “You need to eat. You should go outside.”

Hermione ignored him and hoped he’d leave. Unless he intended to force her from the bed she had no intention of moving. There was a long silence. She could feel his eyes on her.

“I have something for you,” he finally said.

She felt something heavy press into the coverlet and cracked an eye open. There was a thick book laid beside her. A Guide to Effective Care in Magical Pregnancy and Childbirth.

She closed her eyes again.

“I can’t touch your books,” she said, her mouth twisting as she spoke and her voice shaking faintly. “Astoria had them all warded against Mudbloods.”

“This is not from the manor library.” Malfoy’s tone was faintly amused. “It won’t burn you.”

There was a pause.

“I will expect you to get out of bed tomorrow.”

After he left, Hermione opened her eyes again and tentatively reached toward the book, resting a finger lightly on the cover. There was no burning sensation as she came in contact with it.

She pulled it closer, drawing it against her chest and holding it tightly.

The next day, Hermione forced herself out bed and went over to the window. The book was brand new; the leather spine creaked slightly as she lifted the cover, and the pages smelled faintly of machine oil and ink. It was three inches thick and printed on scritta paper. She started on the table of contents and read for hours straight.

It was a medical textbook rather than a basic pregnancy guide for a lay-witch. It was thoughtful of Malfoy to realise she’d prefer that.

She was deep into a chapter on endocrine regulation influencing adequate trophoblast invasion when Malfoy walked into her room again.

She clutched at the edges of her book reactively as he stared down at her with a contemplative expression.

“When did you last go outside?” he finally asked.

Hermione hesitated and swallowed. “The day you went to France. I went outside.”

His eyes narrowed. “For how long?”

Hermione jutted her jaw out slightly and flushed. “Less than a minute.”

Irritation flickered across his expression. “And before that?”

Hermione was silent and dropped her eyes.

“You haven’t been outside since the equinox, have you?”

Hermione stared down, unblinking, at the page in front of her until the words blurred. Malfoy sighed.

“Get up,” he ordered.

She stood up, clutching her book tightly across her chest. He gave another sigh.

“You cannot bring that, it weighs nearly five pounds. I’m not having you drag it around the estate. Leave it here.”

Hermione held it tighter. He raised his right hand and gripped his temples as though he had a headache.

“No one is going to steal it or take it if you leave it here. If they do, I’ll buy you another one. Leave it.” The final words were a command.

Hermione reluctantly put it down on her bed and then went to retrieve her boots from the wardrobe. While she was getting ready Malfoy stared out the window, studying the horizon. Then he turned sharply and glanced over her briefly before striding toward the door.

Hermione followed him slowly.  

He paused at the door of the veranda and looked over at her. “We won’t go near the hedge maze.”

He led her through the rose gardens and then along one of the lanes lined with blossoming fruit trees. The estate was lovely in spring. Hermione couldn’t deny it, but the beauty felt bitter and poisonous as she took it in.

Neither she nor Malfoy spoke until he had escorted her back into her room.

As he was walking away she managed to speak.

“Malfoy.” Her voice wavered as she said his name.

He stopped and turned back to her; his expression closed, his eyes guarded.

“Malfoy,” she said again. Her jaw trembled and she gripped the poster of the bed. “I will never ask anything of you—“

His mouth twitched and his gaze hardened. She felt something inside her break with despair but she forced herself to continue.

“You can do anything you want to me. I will never ask for any mercy from you. But—please, please don’t hurt the baby. Even—if you have a different heir, it’s—it’s still half yours. Don’t—don’t—don’t—“

Her chest started to stutter as she struggled to breathe and not start crying. She shook.

“Don’t let Astoria hurt it…” she said in a broken voice. “Please—please—“

Her voice cut off as she started hyperventilating. She clung to the bedpost as she struggled to breathe.

Malfoy crossed the room and took hold of her shoulders.

“No one is going to hurt your baby,” he said, meeting her eyes.

She pulled away from him, freeing one shoulder. “Don’t—don’t make promises to me that you don’t mean.”

His expression flickered and he caught her shoulder again, running his hands along her arms. “You have my word. No one will hurt your baby. Astoria will never touch it.”

Hermione bit her lip as she stared up at him and struggled to stop over-breathing. Her lungs kept spasming without her control. Her whole body shook as she kept dragging in sharp panting breaths and then immediately releasing them.

“No one will hurt it. Calm down now,” he said firmly. “You need to breathe slowly.”

She leaned into his hands for a moment, resting her head against his chest as she tried to draw a slow breath; then she froze and tore herself away from him, backing up to the wall.

“Don’t— amuse yourself with me,” she said, her voice trembling. “I don’t want your promises or attention in order to ‘maintain’ my ‘environment.’” She sobbed faintly under her breath. “After all—you made it quite clear how pathetic I’d be—to mistake your mandatory care for anything—”

She wrapped her arms around herself and slid down to the floor, shaking and pressing her mouth closed as her whole body shook.

“You—you needn’t concern yourself further—I’ll take care of myself. You needn’t walk me again.”

Malfoy stared down at her unmoving for several minutes, while she pressed her hands against her mouth and tried to calm her breathing. His hand twitched forward slightly before he curled it into a fist, gave a sharp nod, and left.

She didn’t see him again for three weeks.

Topsy’s presence grew constant, although the elf was rarely visible. When Hermione so much as sat up in bed, the elf would immediately materialise and ask if she wanted anything.  

During those three weeks, Hermione developed morning sickness. It arrived early and with a vengeance. Hermione could hardly bear to smell many foods, much less try to taste or possibly swallow them.

Fortunately, the smells of the outdoors did not bother her. When she was not rereading her pregnancy guide, she went on long walks around the manor. She made herself walk along the hedges, reminding herself again and again that Montague was dead.

She started getting headaches. It was a grinding pain that started as as a vague sensation in the back of her skull, but seemed to grow slightly worse every day.

When she was not walking or reading, she curled up in her bed and slept.

As her pregnancy continued to progress, her head began hurting so much she began clenching her jaw subconsciously to try to deal with the constant pain. The daylight worsened the headaches; bright sunshiny days kept her bed as she tried not to vomit from a combination of morning sickness and pain. Within days, the pain grew so severe she couldn’t read.

Topsy added dark, heavy drapes that kept out almost all the light in the room.

She ate steadily less and less. When she didn’t eat or get out of bed for two days Malfoy finally reappeared.

She heard him enter but didn’t pull her arm away from her eyes to acknowledge him.

“You need to eat,” he said.

“Really?” she said in a weak but sarcastic tone. “I had no idea. The medical textbook never mentioned that nutrition was necessary during pregnancy.”

She heard him sigh.

“It’s a magical pregnancy,” she said bitterly. “Even Muggles suffer morning sickness, it’s just worse for wizarding folk, even the Mudbloods.”

There was a pause and she heard him shift.

“Is there anything you’ll eat? That you think you could eat?”

“Chips from a greasy spoon,” she said drolly,  “Or perhaps a bag of crisps.”

There was a long silence.

“Really?” he said in a doubtful tone.

She scoffed faintly, and it made her head throb so painfully it was as though someone had driven a metal rod through the base of her skull and into the centre of her brain. She gave a low sob. The unending, growing pain was like having her brain slowly crushed and ground into dust.

“Even if I could think of anything that sounded edible, I doubt I could keep it down,” she said in a strained voice.

She could almost hear him trying to think of something else to say. She rolled over and cradled her head in her arms.

“Witches have been having children for thousands of years. Statistical probability indicates I’m unlikely to die from it,” she told him.

There was a pause.

“My mother nearly did,” he said. His voice sounded hollow.

Hermione said nothing else. Malfoy didn’t leave. He was still standing by her bed when she fell asleep from pained exhaustion.

Healer Stroud arrived a few days later. Malfoy loomed behind her like an ominous shadow.

When Stroud conjured an exam table in the centre of the room, he sneered at her. “Walk the additional ten feet to her bed and cast your diagnostic charms there,” he said in a cold voice.

Stroud huffed faintly under her breath and walked over to where Hermione was curled into a ball.

Stroud barely glanced at Hermione as she cast a complex diagnostic over Hermione’s stomach. A tiny orb of pale, almost blinding bright, yellow light appeared; pulsing so rapidly it was nearly fluttering. It looked almost like a golden snitch but it was miniaturized, a little bigger than a pea.

Hermione froze and stared at it. The light made her nauseous with pain, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. It illuminated almost the entire room.

“That is the magical signature of your heir,” Stroud informed Malfoy.

Hermione’s eyes darted over to Malfoy; he looked rather as though someone had struck him upside the head with a bludger bat. His face was ashen and he looked half-dazed.

“The fluttering is the heartbeat. The size corresponds to the growth of the fetus. And the brightness indicates the magic levels; which are exceptional, as I had predicted.” Healer Stroud’s last words were smug. “Although it may make the pregnancy more traumatic for her. Powerful children often do.”

Stroud glanced over at Hermione and gave an insincere smile.

Stroud spent several minutes casting various spells on the orb of light and on Hermione; finally she cast one on Hermione’s head. Hermione looked up. The glowing lights scattered across her brain all seemed the same, except there was a faint tinge of gold to the light.

Healer Stroud turned toward Malfoy.

“Have you checked her memories recently?”

“I have not,” he said. “She’s already suffered one seizure from having legilimency performed on her when her  hormone levels were elevated. I’ll wait until her migraines and morning sickness pass. Legilimency is invasive and traumatic, regardless of the familiarity of magical signature.”

Healer Stroud nodded. “It’s likely the migraines are primarily due to the fugues. Headaches during pregnancy are not uncommon, but the levels of pain the diagnostic is indicating are exceeding would be regarded as normal.”

Malfoy’s expression tightened.

“Is there anything that can be done?” he asked.

“Prescribing pain relief potions during pregnancy isn’t advisable. It can result in fetal abnormalities or miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy,” Stroud said. “You could try Muggle pain relief, if you’re that concerned, but usually magically induced maladies require magical treatment.”

Malfoy eyed Stroud skeptically. Stroud jutted her chin up. “If you don’t believe me, you’re welcome to get a second opinion or bring in a midwife to corroborate it. The mind healer informed you that the corrosion process would likely be excruciating. It’s not as though anyone has ever created individual magical fugues around hundreds of their memories before. Magical corrosion is as painful as it sounds. The magic level of your heir is likely accelerating the process, but we don’t have any idea of how long it might take. It’s possible that once her hormone levels rebalance the severity of the pain will ease somewhat. But it’s equally likely that the corrosion process with stay this way for the duration of the pregnancy. It’s impossible to predict. There’s really nothing that can be done about it. There are safe potions for keeping her hydrated and from starving that can be administered if she can keep them down. However, unless she loses a dangerous amount of weight or starts screaming from the pain, interfering could risk her or the pregnancy and do little more than extend the process.”

Malfoy’s jaw clenched. “Fine.”

Stroud left shortly after that, but Malfoy stayed behind, staring down at Hermione.

She closed her eyes, and tried not to dwell on how miserable she felt and that she might stay that way for another thirty-four weeks. Her head hurt too much to even think. She tried to will herself to sleep. The tiny glowing orb of light appeared fluttering in her mind’s eye and she curled more protectively around her stomach.

She felt the bed shift and cool fingers touched her cheek, brushing back her hair and then resting against her forehead. She bit her lip and fought against crying.

She was so tired of crying.

She tried to pretend it was someone else. It’s Harry. It’s Ron. It’s your mum, she told herself; she didn’t force herself to draw away from the touch.

After another week, she began to wonder if she were going die from the pregnancy. Despite the advanced science of obstetrical healing, Magical intervention in pregnancy was extremely limited. Magical pregnancies tended to either neutralise or react extremely badly to external magical influences.

Hermione could keep herself slightly hydrated. Topsy dosed her with hydration and nutrition potions multiple times a day, but Hermione could rarely keep them down for the few seconds necessary for her system to absorb them.  

She wasn’t sure if she actually was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, or if most of the nausea and vomiting was caused by the migraines. If she ate anything, she would immediately vomit and then retch until she was sobbing from the additional pain it caused her head.

She lost almost all her muscle tone.

She lay limply in bed in her darkened room and wished she’d die.

Malfoy came; often, she thought. He brought several mind healers who just stuttered nervously around him and offered no helpful advice. He brought midwives and obstetrical healers who cooed over his heir’s magic levels and prescribed even worse tasting potions for Hermione to vomit up.

She suspected Malfoy came sometimes when she was asleep, because her over-sensitive nose would often detect his scent in the room. When he came when she was awake, she was hardly more responsive.

He would sit down on the edge of her bed and smooth her hair, and sometimes he would take her wrist and pull her hand into his. The first time he did it she thought he was playing with her fingers, but gradually she realised he was massaging her hand; tapping the tip of his wand across it at various pressure points, sending mild vibrations into the muscles. Then he’d bend and massage her fingers and palm lightly.

He was doing what healers did to treat the tremors from the cruciatus, she realised. He must have memorised the technique due to how frequently he needed the treatment.

She didn’t pull her hand away.

She told herself it was only because it might make her head hurt more if she moved.

As the end of May approached, her head steadily hurt more and more. She grew thinner and thinner until the manacles could slide halfway up her forearms. Topsy became fretful and began to meet Hermione’s eyes as she softly entreated Hermione to try to swallow more potions or sip on some peppermint or ginger tea.

Malfoy began to hover. He had to leave to ‘hunt’ and perform other duties that Hermione tried not to think about, but he was often in her room. He didn’t talk to her. He rarely met her eyes, but he smoothed her hair, and held her hands and fidgeted with the manacles around her wrists. Sometimes when she opened her eyes she’d find him staring at her stomach, but he never tried to touch it.

She was almost nine weeks pregnant when she abruptly woke up panicking.

There was something—something she needed to be ready for.

She couldn’t remember—

It was important.

The most important thing. The thing she couldn’t forget.

She needed to be ready.

No matter what. She was supposed to hold on.

She forced herself out of the bed. The pain of being upright had her gasping. She clutched her head. She forced herself to stand.

She had to—

She couldn’t remember. It was right at the edge.

Her legs trembled from the muscle atrophy. She forced herself to walk and tried not to panic.

She was supposed to be doing—something.

What was it?

Topsy appeared. “Is you needing anything?”

“No,” Hermione said in a shaking voice as she wracked her mind and tried to think. Oh god, what was it? Her heart started to race as she struggled to remember. To think through the blinding pain.

There were black spots steadily dancing in her vision, growing larger and larger. The pain in her head kept growing.

Malfoy was suddenly in front of her. Did he apparate? She didn’t hear it.

“What—?” he started and broke off when he found her standing in front of him.

“I—can’t—remember...,” she forced out. “I’m— supposed to—hold—”

Her voice broke off in a low cry as the pressure in her head grew so intense she thought she’d pass out. Her vision wavered. She blinked, trying to see, and when her sight cleared she found Malfoy had a knife in his hand. She looked up at him, startled. His expression was cold and intent as he lunged toward her.

She fell back, trying instinctively to ward him off.

The moment before he stabbed her, Malfoy suddenly vanished.

Alastor Moody was standing in front of her. Grim-faced and tired. “An opportunity has come up. One that could change the tide of the war.”

Before Hermione could say anything, Moody was gone and she was falling.

No, she wasn’t falling.

Malfoy was holding her by the throat and slamming her into the ground.

There was the punch of a knife blade sliding between her ribs.

She was in the middle of a battlefield. Everyone was falling to the ground, suffocating. Harry. Ron. Death Eaters. Everyone was dying around her and she was screaming.

“How many times do you think I can stab you before the light goes out in your eyes?”

Ginny crying, “I didn’t mean to.”

Something to warm my cold heart.”

A hard kiss as she was pinned against the wall.

“I didn’t want you.”

The sensation of her wrist, shattering under an iron grip.

You seem pleased to have successfully whored yourself. Happy to know you’ve got your chess piece locked in place?”

Harry was standing in front of her, pale and enraged, his face crusted with dried blood, “If that’s how little you believe in us then you aren’t someone whose help I need.”

She was sitting next to Tonks, who was staring at Hermione guardedly, her eyes suspicious. “How many people did you kill today, Hermione? Ten? Fifteen? Do you even know?”

Minerva McGonagall, gripping a teacup, her voice shaking, “You’re no sinner; this is not a fate you deserve. And yet, it seems as though you’re determined to try damning yourself if it means winning.”

Her own voice, “If my soul is the price of protecting them—of protecting you. That’s—that’s not a price. That’s a bargain.”

You’re mine. You swore yourself to me,” growled into her ear.

Severus looking coldly at her, “If you manage to succeed you’re just as likely to destroy the Order as save it.”

Hermione crying, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did this to you.”

Finally, Malfoy was standing over her, his face white, his eyes glittering with rage, “I have warned you. If something happens to you, I will personally raze the entire Order. That isn’t a threat. It is a promise. Consider your survival as much a necessity to the survival of the Resistance as Potter’s. If you die, I will kill every last one of them.”

It was like falling as the past broke free, surging up through her mind and swallowing her.

Chapter Text


Three years earlier.

March 2002. Nearly six years after the death of Albus Dumbledore.


Hermione’s teeth ground with frustration as she bottled antidote potions. She’d just gotten out of another pointless Order meeting.

Sometimes she wondered if she were the only one aware that they were losing the war.

As she shelved the new bottles, she tucked a few into her pocket and hurried into the next room where Madam Pomfrey was bustling around. The hospital ward occupying the second floor of Grimmauld Place was eerily silent.

No one currently in the room had an easily healed injury.

Lee Jordan was lying in one bed. There was brain matter still oozing from his ears, drop by drop. Hermione had figured out a way to cancel the curse but the counter-charm was slow-acting. She could only hope the dripping would stop within the next hour. It was doubtful his mental function would recover. The brain damage was severe and irreparable. She wasn’t sure of the precise extent of it. She had to wait until he woke up.

If he woke up.

Most likely, assuming he wasn’t completely brain dead by the time the dripping ceased, the Order would have to make a run to drop him at St Mungo’s when they could spare someone.

George Weasley was seated in a bed beside his friend. He was pale with pain and despair. He had been hit in the right thigh with a fast acting necrosis curse. By the time he had been able to overcome the pain and apparate back, the rot had spread all the way up to his hip. There was no countercurse for necrosis. Hermione had barely managed to avoid his vital organs as she’d had to cut it off of him. She hadn’t even had a spare second to stop and knock him out. His hands were still shaking, no matter how many calming draughts and pain potions Hermione administered to him.

Katie Bell lay in a bed in the far corner. Sleeping. She would hopefully be released soon. Some nastily creative Death Eater had conjured a porcupine inside her chest. The quills had shredded and mangled the girl’s lungs and stomach and only miraculously not stopped her heart. She had nearly drowned in blood before Hermione and Madam Pomfrey had managed to banish the creature and stabilise her. Katie had been there for three weeks. While mostly recovered, her entire torso was still covered in a multitude of tiny round scars. Her breathing made a faint rattling sound when she moved.

Hermione went over and poured an antivenin potion down Seamus Finnegan’s throat. He’d fallen into a pit of vipers and gotten bitten thirty-six times before he managed to apparate out. It was only because of wizarding folk’s immunity to non-magical injuries that he had managed to make it back to them before he had died.

There were a dozen other bodies in the hospital ward, but Hermione didn’t know the names of those Resistance fighters, and they were too injured to tell her.

Standing in the room looking over the silent, injured bodies, Hermione felt lost.

She had just come from another meeting in which she’d urged the Order to start using more effective curses when fighting. She’d been shot down. Yet again.

There was a bizarre sort of optimism among many of the Order members that they could somehow win the War without utilising the dark arts. Most of the Resistance fighters still defaulted to stunning or petrifying when cornered, as though the Death Eaters couldn’t cancel those hexes in a few seconds and then appear at the next skirmish to horribly kill or maim someone.

There were a few who had begun using more vicious spells. Mostly the ones who had been on the receiving end of a curse that nearly killed them. It was like a poorly kept secret within the Resistance ranks; everyone turned a blind eye to it, pretending that it weren’t the case.

Every time Hermione appeared at a high level Order meeting, she laid out the case for why all the fighters needed to be taught more effective magic to duel with. Every time she found herself being given disbelieving looks.

Apparently being on “the Light” side required that they fight against completely stacked odds. Never mind that their enemies wanted to kill them all, and then murder and enslave all Muggles in Europe. Apparently that was still an insufficient reason to kill Death Eaters in self-defence.

The response she got each time was the same. She was a healer, didn’t she know how using dark curses eventually corrupted a person? If Order and Resistance members made the personal choice to use those kinds of spells it was their decision. The Order would never require it of anyone. Never teach it to anyone.

Besides, someone would always blandly point out to Hermione, she hardly even knew what it was like to be out there in a battlefield facing the choice of ending someone else’s life. She was always back at Grimmauld Place acting as a healer, Potion Mistress, and researcher for the Order. That was where they needed her. She needed to let the people specialised in combat be the ones to make decisions about the war strategies.

It was enough to make Hermione want to scream.

As she stood beside Lee Jordan, seething, she heard a grating tap of wood on the ground and turned to find Mad-Eye Moody entering the room. He looked straight at her.

“Granger, a word,” he said.

Steeling herself she turned to follow him down the hall. She hoped she wasn’t about to be scolded yet again for having the audacity to question the Order’s war strategy. She didn’t imagine Mad-Eye would; he was one of the few Order members who didn’t disagree.

Moody led the way to a small room, and once they were inside it he turned and cast a series of complex and powerful privacy spells.

Once he finished he looked around the room carefully.  His magical eye was spinning as he scrutinized every corner. After a minute he looked down at her.

He seemed oddly tense, even for a man who barked “Constant vigilance,” more often than he said anything else.

He seemed uncomfortable.

“We’re losing the war,” he said after a moment.

“I know,” Hermione said in a leaden voice. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person aware of that.”

“Some people—can only fight fueled by optimism,” Moody said slowly. “But—we’re running out of optimism.”

Hermione just kept staring at him. She didn’t need him to tell her that. She knew.

She was the one who had to hold people down as they died in agony from curses she couldn’t reverse. Who had to then walk into a debriefing room and list the dead and the injured, detailing how long recovery was expected to take and whether those people could be expected to fight again when it was completed.

“An opportunity has come up,” Moody said in a low voice. He was studying her face carefully. “One that could turn the tide of the war.”

Hermione didn't have any reserves of hope left within her to brighten at those words. Based on the context in which Moody was speaking to her, she suspected the price of it was steep enough to be questionable.

“Oh?”

“As Voldemort’s forces have grown, Severus’s intelligence has grown limited. He’s primarily kept researching and developing new curses with Dolohov. They don’t inform him of attack strategies.”

Hermione nodded. She had noticed that over the last several months. Some of the other Order members had taken it as an opportunity to begin questioning Snape’s loyalty once again.

“We have an opportunity to bring in a new spy. Someone with a high rank in Voldemort’s army is willing to turn for us.”

Hermione stared at Moody skeptically. “Someone highly ranked wants to turn now?”

“Conditionally,” Moody clarified. “The Malfoy boy. Says he’ll turn spy to avenge his mother. With the assurance of a full-pardon and—“ he hesitated. “And he wants you. Now and after the war.”

Hermione stood stunned. If Moody had just cursed her she couldn’t have been more astonished.

“Severus thinks the offer is legitimate. Says Malfoy had some kind of fascination with you in school. There’s nothing to indicate the offer was made under orders.”

Hermione barely registered the words as she stood reeling internally.

She hadn’t seen Malfoy since school.

Sixth year had barely begun when he started war by assassinating Dumbledore and then fleeing. She would hear about him occasionally when Severus gave updates on Voldemort’s military structure. Malfoy had been climbing rank steadily over the years.

Why would Malfoy turn? The blame for the war could be legitimately placed on his shoulders. There was no plausible reason for such a late switch in alliance.

Perhaps Voldemort’s power wasn’t as assured as they had thought. Perhaps the ranks were beginning to break. It seemed too good to be true. 

But why want her?

She didn’t recall their school rivalry being anything to write home about. He had always paid far more attention to bullying Harry than her. She had always been more of a footnote; an added insult because she was a Muggle-born. She’d never been the true target of his viciousness. 

Unless...demanding her was some sort of revenge on Harry.

Maybe he thought she and Harry were together. Bastard.

She stood there thinking until Moody spoke again.

“There’s not much I wouldn’t do for the intelligence he could offer. But you have to agree. He wants you willing.”

No. No. Never.

She swallowed the refusal. Her hands fisted until she could feel the outlines of her metacarpal bones beneath the skin.

“I’ll do it,” she said, not letting her voice waver. “Provided he doesn’t do anything to interfere with my ability to aid the Order. I’ll do it.”

Moody studied her carefully.

“You should think about it more. You can have a few days. If you do this—you can’t tell anyone. Not until after the war. Not Potter, or Weasley, or anyone else. Kingsley, Severus, Minerva and I will be the only Order members aware of it.”

Hermione looked up at him steadily. There was a sensation in her chest as though something inside her were shriveling and dying, but she didn’t let herself attend to it.

“I don’t need more time to think,” she said sharply. “I realise what’s being asked. The sooner we get the information the better. I’m not delaying that so I can have time to mull over or dread a decision I’ve already made.”

Moody nodded sharply. “Then I’ll send word you agreed.”

Removing the wards from the door, Moody tramped out; leaving Hermione alone to absorb what she’d consented to.

She wasn’t sure what she felt.

Like crying. That was her most immediate desire.

It felt as though Moody had dropped the war on her shoulders.

But also—hope—maybe. Insomuch as it was possible to feel hopeful after essentially agreeing to sell herself to a Death Eater as his war prize.

Hermione hadn’t felt hopeful in a long while.

Somehow, up until Dumbledore died and even for a bit afterward, she had thought the war would be simple and short. Harry had escaped death so many times in school. He, Ron, and she had beaten so many impossible odds.

So, she had thought that being clever, being good—that friendship, and bravery, and the power of Love were enough to win the war.

But they weren’t.

Being clever wasn’t enough. The goodness in her was being ground to dust under the weight of all those lives lost or ruined with nothing to show for it yet. Friendship didn’t stop someone from dying screaming in agony.  Bravery didn’t win a battle when your enemy had a multitude of methods for removing you permanently from the war, and you were trying to beat them with petrification hex. Love hadn’t yet defeated Voldemort’s hate.

Every day the war stretched on seemed to make the odds shrink a bit more.

Harry was breaking under the pressure and guilt. He was so thin and exhausted she was afraid he’d crack any day.

He kept withdrawing, further and further into himself. The death of Dumbledore so shortly after the loss of Sirius seemed to have knocked him off kilter in a way he never fully recovered from. Every death and injury among his friends seemed to prod him a little closer to a precipice she wasn’t sure he could come back from.

Harry was clinging to the hope that somehow the war would end in such a way that life could be normal afterward. It was that impossible belief that continued to carry him forward.

He was the one who insistented most adamantly that the Order and the Resistance never use dark magic. If they did that, he argued, there would be no going back. They’d be tainted by it for the rest of their lives. No better than the Death Eaters.

So Hermione was forced to watch the Order and most of the Resistance side with him. And then watch their friends die in her hospital ward. They were relying on Harry. If he despaired, he’d break altogether and give up.

The Order was in desperate need of an edge. A bit of information. To know before a raid hit. Where vulnerabilities lay. Anything.

Malfoy could give them that.

He’d been personally trained by his Aunt Bellatrix before she’d died alongside his mother. He’d climbed high.

Now he’d made an offer they couldn’t refuse.

That she couldn’t refuse.

Clearly he knew, acting like a king demanding a tribute.

Because he was fascinated with her...

She mulled over it.

If Severus hadn’t corroborated it, she would never believe such a thing.

To avenge his mother. For a pardon. For her, both now and after the war. Which was the true motive? Were any of them? Or was there another angle he was playing?

His mother had been dead for over a year, in a freak accident alongside Bellatrix Lestrange when a Death Eater tried to stop Harry and Ron from escaping Lestrange Manor. It wasn’t really either side’s fault that she had died. If her death had ended Malfoy’s allegiance, it would have happened then. Not a year later. Not after he’d used the void his aunt left to climb into an even higher position of power.

However—wanting a pardon seemed odd. Unless there were some incredible odds she wasn’t aware of, the likelihood that the Order could win seemed slim at best.

So, because of her? Perhaps he had hated her more than she had known. Or lusted—

She shuddered with revulsion, and tried to shove the thought away before catching herself and forcing herself to stop and consider it.

If wanting her was his motivation...the opportunity rested on more than merely her consent. Once he’d had her once, or maybe a few times—if it was just fueled by revenge—he’d get tired of her.

Perhaps it was just a game to him.

Play spy for a little bit, get a chance to bring her to her knees. Knowing she’d crawl for him if it meant saving Harry. Saving the Order. And then—once he had what he wanted—he’d turn back. Cast her aside and watch them all die.

Her throat contracted, and she felt like she might be sick. She forced away her horror and ignored the wrenching, twisting sensation in the pit of her stomach.

She had to find a way to fascinate him. To hold his attention and interest. 

Would it even be possible?

She drifted out of the room, feeling frozen, and went back to the hospital ward. The room was still silent.

“Poppy, do you need me right now? Or is it alright if I go out?” she asked quietly.

“Of course, dear. You should go rest. You’ve been on your feet for twelve hours now,” Pomfrey told her gently. “If anything happens I’ll call for you.”

Hermione fidgeted the bracelet on her wrist. It carried a protean charm that the Order used to summon her to the safe houses where she was most urgently needed.

She left the hospital ward and headed up to her room. She had no intention of resting. She went and changed into fresh clothes, and then went out to the front steps and apparated away.

The wizarding world didn’t have what she needed.

She made her way to the nearest Waterstones.

She browsed through the sections. Picking out books; from the philosophy section, from the psychology section, from the relationship section, and the history section until she had a large armful.

The female clerk who rang up pile quirked an eyebrow as she scanned the titles. Several histories and biographies of concubines and female spies; a thick guide to sex; The Art of War by Sun Tzu; The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian; The Prince by Machiavelli. Influence: Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini; a book on body language. It was an admittedly odd selection.

“They’re for a uni essay,” Hermione lied impulsively, feeling the need to explain herself.

“A few of them will be handy for personal use too, I reckon.” The clerk gave her a saucy wink as she put the books into a bag.

Hermione felt herself blush, but forced herself to laugh.

“Well, I am buying them,” she quipped, but the words tasted like sand in her mouth.

“If you come by again you’ll have to let me know this essay goes over with your tutor. And whether any of these end up useful for extracurricular activities.”

Hermione nodded awkwardly as she paid and carried the bag out of the store. McGonagall’s face had flashed before her eyes at the girl’s words. Minerva knew too.

But Moody had been the one chosen to speak to Hermione. She wondered why.

She felt slightly ill as she looked at the selection of books she now owned. She wanted a cup of tea. Well, actually she wanted to crawl into a hole and die there, but tea was her second choice.

She found a shop nearby and fished out the book whose title least unsettled her while she waited.

Work toward your goals—indirectly as well as directly. Life is a struggle against human malice, in which wisdom comes to grips with the strategy of design. The latter never does what is indicated; in fact, it aims to deceive. The fanfare is in the light but the execution is in the dark, the purpose being always to mislead. Intention is revealed to divert the attention of the adversary, then it is changed to gain the end by what was unexpected. But insight is wise, wary, and waits behind its armor. Sensing always the opposite of what it was to sense and recognizing at once the real purpose of the trick, it allows every first hint to pass, lies in wait for a second, and even a third. The simulation of truth now mounts higher by glossing the deception and tries, through truth itself to falsify. It changed the play in order to change the trick and makes the reason appear the phantom by founding the greatest fraud upon the greatest candor. But wariness is on watch seeing clearly what is intended, covering the darkness that was clothed in light, and recognizing that design most artful which looks most artless. In such fashion, the wiliness of Python is matched against the simplicity of Apollo’s penetrating rays.”

Hermione gnawed her lip as she poured herself a cup of tea and contemplated Malfoy again. Her hand wandered up to her throat and she nervously played with the chain of her necklace, twisting it in loops around her fingers.

Then she rummaged through her bag and used her wand surreptitiously to transfigure her quill and parchment into a pen and a small notebook. The notebook was crammed with notes by the time her pot of tea was empty.

As she stuffed the books into her expanded satchel, she reconsidered the situation in which she found herself.

She could not walk into it with any assumptions. If she did she would likely overlook something.

After nearly six years as a Death Eater, Malfoy was likely a highly accomplished manipulator.

Severus’ reports on the goings on of Voldemort’s inner circle indicated that it was a ruthless political environment. Voldemort was a cruel master, and unsparing in his punishments. Death Eaters had little loyalty to one another. They were eager to cut down those ahead of them if it helped secure their own places or access greater power and protection for themselves.

Malfoy’s offer could easily all be a ploy to climb even higher. To become a double agent for Voldemort in the same way that Snape acted as one for the Order. To feed them false information at a crucial point that could lead to their downfall.

However Severus was supporting the idea, apparently of the opinion that Malfoy’s offer was legitimate. She would have to speak to him. She wanted to know exactly what he had noticed to believe it.

She slipped into an alleyway and apparated back to Grimmauld Place. As she made her way up to her room she noticed Lavender Brown leaving the room Ron shared with Harry and Fred.

Ron and Lavender weren’t exactly in a relationship per se. Ron had about five girls that he cycled through based on availability following missions and skirmishes. The War had made him angrier and more tense. He was constantly on edge as he strategised raids and skirmishes. His talent for wizard’s chess had translated into a talent for war strategy. He tended to take every casualty as his personal responsibility. If he wasn’t shagging someone, he tended toward explosive bouts of rage.

Everyone had different coping mechanisms.

Neville Longbottom and Susan Bones smoked so much boomslang in the attic they reeked of it even after a smoke banishing and freshening charm had been applied to them.

Hannah Abbott bit her nails until they bled.

Charlie had a hip flask that Hermione suspected had an undetectable expansion charm on it given how his poison of the day never seemed to run dry.  

Harry smoked cigarettes, and habitually found his way into underground muggle fight clubs.

Hermione hesitated in the hallway, staring after Lavender for a moment before going over and knocking lightly on the door to the bedroom.

“It’s open!” Ron called.

Hermione peeked in and found Ron pulling on a shirt.

“Everything alright?” he inquired.

“Yes,” she said awkwardly. “I was just—wondering if you could tell me about what happened when the Lestrange Manor burned down. I was doing some spell research. It was fiendfyre wasn’t it?”

Ron gave her an odd look.

“That was a while ago. But yeah, after Harry and I got caught by those snatchers. I got him on the face with a stinging hex so they didn’t recognize him right off. They took us to Bellatrix, and her sister was there too. They sent off for Malfoy to come identify Harry before they called Voldemort. But, before he got there, Luna had got word back to the Order and she, Moody, Tonks, and Charlie showed up on that dragon and smashed right through the bloody window.”

He ran his fingers through his hair and Hermione noticed with a pang that it had streaks of grey in it.

“Anyway, it was just nuts after that. Spells were flying and Crabbe, I think, tried to stop us with a fiendfyre curse and lost control of it. He was always an idiot. It burned down the whole place in minutes. We probably would have all been killed if not for Charlie’s dragon. But—we couldn’t grab Luna. She was too far away... one of the fire chimaeras swallowed her.” As he spoke Ron expression grew far away and haunted.

“And that’s how Bellatrix and Narcissa died too?” Hermione prodded casually.

“Yeah. They probably could’ve apparated out of the Manor if they’d realised in time. But Crabbe was standing right behind them when he cast. It hit them first, which is probably why he lost control. Probably freaked when he realized how fucked he’d be for killing Bellatrix.”

“Probably,” Hermione said nodding.

“Fiendfyre is not a joke, Hermione.” Ron was staring at her seriously. “I know you’re always going on about wanting the Order to start using more dangerous spells, but just because it’s not dark magic doesn’t make it any less serious. If you’re going to try to push for using fiendfyre on a battlefield, I’m going to be the first to shut you down.”

Hermione pressed her lips together and her grip on the knob tightened until it rattled faintly. She eased her hold quickly.

“I’m not an idiot, Ronald. I just need ashwinder eggs for potion making and I’m trying to decide what the best fire spell will be.” It was a ridiculous lie, but it had been years since Ron had brewed a potion.

“Oh. Well—probably not fiendfyre.”

She nodded sharply in agreement.

“Well, I’ve got some more research to do then,” she said, and withdrew from the bedroom.

As she pushed open the door to her own room Harry and Ginny sprang apart looking guilty.

“Sorry,” Hermione apologized. “Am I interrupting something?”

“No,” Harry said quickly. “I was just asking Gin for more details about that mission she and Dean got back from.”

He left the room quickly.

Hermione eyed Ginny. “Mission details?”

Ginny blushed.

“We were just talking. He still—won’t. He just—comes to talk sometimes.”

Harry and Ginny had been dancing around each other for years. Their interest was obvious, but Harry refused to get into a relationship. He said it was too dangerous. That it would paint a target on Ginny’s back.  

But anytime Ginny dated anyone else, Harry’s tendency to sneak out into muggle London and return home with missing teeth, a broken nose, split knuckles, as well as fractured eye sockets and ribs tended dramatically increase.

Ginny hadn’t dated anyone in over a year. Like a black hole, her availability seemed to drag Harry in toward her. He couldn’t seem to keep away from her but he also couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge his interest.

“Well, at least he’s talking to you,” Hermione murmured.

Hermione and Harry had—drifted apart. Her urging about using dark magic was seen as a lack of confidence in him and Dumbledore. Possibly even a betrayal, although neither Harry nor Ron would actually use the word. Every time she said anything on the subject of using the dark arts he’d barely speak to her for days.

She shoved the thought away. She couldn’t think about it. She had far too much to consider already.

Chapter Text

March 2002

Hermione pored over the books she'd bought during every spare minute she had. She transfigured them to resemble texts about arithmancy, ancient runes, and healing, and no one even blinked to find her plowing through them while brewing, during the quiet moments in the hospital ward, or during meals.

She wasn't sure if any of the information would actually be useful, but she was completely at a loss as to how else to prepare. Books were the only resource she had. So she read and brain-stormed and worried, and found herself snapping defensively at people.

"I'm sorry, Fred," she said, wincing when he stopped by to visit George. He had tried to lighten the mood by recommending she provide a naughty nurse routine while caring for his brother. Hermione, abruptly finding the subject matter sensitive, exploded at him and nearly slapped him across the face. 

She looked away. "I just—I haven't been sleeping much lately."

It was a pathetic excuse.

No one was sleeping much and hadn't in a long time. 

No matter the safe house, there were always a few people up at any hour; playing cards, smoking, and doing anything else to while away the long night hours.

Harry was almost always among the insomniacs. He seemed to exist on an impossibly insufficient amount of sleep. He wasn't even sure anymore if the nightmares were Voldemort or just his own stress and guilt. When he'd start walking into walls and standing and staring blankly off into space, Hermione would drag him into the hospital ward and dose him with dreamless sleep.

Hermione had her own nightmares, mostly of Harry and Ron dying while she tried and failed to save them. 

The faces of the dead haunted her too.

All the people she hadn't been quick enough; hadn't been clever enough; hadn't been skilled enough to save.

Colin Creevey often appeared in her dreams.

Colin had been the first person who died under Hermione's care. It was shortly after Voldemort seized the Ministry, before the Order had been forced to abandon Hogwarts. Madam Pomfrey had stepped out to buy new potions when Colin was rushed in. Harry had been there, keeping Hermione company during what had been a quiet afternoon.

Colin had been struck by a flaying curse. There was no countercurse for it.

Hermione couldn't knock Colin out.

The curse forced him to stay conscious. Stupefy. Dreamless sleep. Even Draught of Living Death. None of it worked. The curse tore through and kept him conscious. Hermione tried everything she could think of to reverse it. To slow it. To stall it. The skin kept cutting away. Colin kept screaming. If she restored the skin somewhere, it flayed itself again. If she didn't replace the skin the curse moved deeper. Into the muscle and tissue.

The curse didn't stop until it reached his bones.

Colin Creevey died surrounded by a pile of wafer-thin layers of his flesh and a pool of blood while Hermione sobbed and tried everything she could think of to save him.

He'd been a perfectly excised skeleton when Madam Pomfrey returned.

Hermione never recovered from it.

She didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't pick fights, didn't have casual sex. She just worked harder and longer. She didn't have time to grieve or regret. There was always a new body being brought to her and she had no time to second guess herself.

She slept when she was too exhausted to dream.

She stared up at Fred. "It's just a bad day."

He gave a tight smile. "It's all right, Mione, you're entitled to have them like the rest of us. Honestly, I can't for the life of me understand how you keep doing this."

Hermione turned and looked around the infirmary feeling helpless.

"If I didn't—who would?"

The Order relied upon her being there.

It wasn't a sentiment born from an inflated opinion. It was simply a fact. At that point in the war, Hermione was more specialised in healing dark magic and curses than anyone else in most of Britain.

When Voldemort had taken over the Ministry of Magic, the Order had been forced to stop going to St Mungo's. Any Resistance members sent to the hospital were immediately arrested on terrorism charges and then disappeared into Voldemort's prisons.

The Ministry takeover had been carefully timed. The first law enacted was the Muggle-born Registration Act. Voldemort understood the vital role healing played in a war and so St Mungo's was the first place purged under the new law. All the Muggle-born and half-blood healers were quickly arrested and had their wands snapped before they could flee to the Order.

Poppy Pomfrey suddenly became one of the Resistance's most broadly experienced Healers. Hermione had been apprenticed under her and studying intensively since Dumbledore's death. When European Healers sympathetic to the Resistance had secretly reached out and offered training, Hermione had been the only person with enough healing knowledge to qualify that the Order could afford to spare.

She had left everyone behind. Said her goodbyes and been smuggled across Europe from hospital to hospital to learn as much advanced healing magic as she could. She returned after almost two years when their hospital was compromised during a battle and all the healers they had recruited were killed along with Horace Slughorn. Severus had trained Hermione in potions until she'd left and she'd continued her studies as they related to healing during her training throughout Europe. When she returned, Hermione was both a fully trained emergency Healer and medical Potioneer. Her specialty was deconstructing curses in order to develop counter-spells.

The first counter-curse she invented was for the flaying curse.

With Voldemort's curse development division constantly debuting new experimental spells during every battle, the need for her was desperate.

Hermione trained as many Resistance members in healing as were willing to learn. Unfortunately, healing magic was a precise and highly subtle art. It required tremendous attention and devotion to achieve success. The Order tried to include at least one person with field healing abilities in every skirmish in order to try to keep fighters alive long enough to get back to the infirmary. But, because of the high demand to deploy them, field healers were overworked and had the Order's highest fatality rates.

Most fighters preferred to spend their free time drilling more defensive magic rather than believe they'd need to know anything more than basic magical first aid. The stubborn optimism it revealed made Hermione shake with frustration when she allowed herself to think about it.

The Order simply did not have enough people to utilise many of them well. The failures in leadership trickled down and affected the entire Resistance.

They'd been unprepared for the war. Dumbledore's death had effectively cut the legs from under them and they had been struggling to survive since then.

Malfoy had done that.

His murder of Dumbledore had crippled them. Doomed them.

Now he was trying to appear like some twisted savior, willing to staunch the wound he'd opened.

Hermione hated him. More than she hated anyone but Voldemort. Antonin Dolohov, the head of the curse development division was a close third.

Malfoy had started the war, caused all the hurt and now she was required to swallow all her loathing and be—

—willing.

The dread since her initial conversation with Moody was already swallowing her.

She didn't know how to stop hating Malfoy. She didn't think she was good enough an actress to be able to pretend that she had. The thought of being in the same room with him without trying to curse him—to punish him for everything he was responsible for—she wasn't sure if she had the self-control.

Hermione gritted her teeth and pressed her forehead against a windowpane while she tried to think, trying to force herself to breathe and not break something or start crying.

She couldn't break down. She needed to compartmentalise. She needed to force all her hatred of Malfoy into a box and keep it somewhere where it couldn't bleed out and taint all her interactions with him. She wouldn't think clearly if she were constantly seething with rage.

She needed to take a wider perspective.

Utilising his spying was more important than the short-term satisfaction of hating him.

They needed him.

Yet a part of her wanted to make him suffer. She couldn't help but hope that once she had what they needed from him, she could make him pay.

But—if they won the war as that point, the victory would be owed to him. Hermione had agreed to be the price for that. As much as she loathed him, if he saved them all, she knew she'd feel obliged to uphold her end.

No matter what it was he intended to do to her.

She suddenly felt nauseated. She was shaking, and simultaneously hot and cold.

She pulled her forehead from the glass.

Her breath had created a circle of condensation on the window.

After a moment, she reached out with a fingertip and drew the rune thurisaz: the force of destruction and defense, hardship, introspection, and focus. Beside it she drew its reversal. Its merkstave: for danger, betrayal, evil, malice, hatred, torment, and spite.

Herself.

Malfoy.

She watched the runes vanish as the condensation evaporated back into the air.

She turned back to her books.

Moody found her that evening. "We have a time and location."

"Where?" 

"Forest of Dean. Friday. Eight in the evening. I'll scout it and apparate you to the address the first time."

Hermione nodded, meeting Moody's eye. There was a bitter part of her that wanted him to remember the moment. To drive into his memory what she looked like—before.

He seemed to hesitate before his expression hardened. "You need to keep his interest as long as you can."

Hermione's mouth twisted but she nodded.

"I realised that," she said, running a fingertip along the edge of her book until she felt the crisp pages were about to cut into her. "I'm not sure if I can, but I'll do my best. Is there any chance I could speak to Severus before Friday? I have some questions for him."

"I'll set it up," Moody said. Then he turned and left.

Friday.

Two days away.

So little time to prepare.

But so much time to dread.

She hadn't eaten since her first conversation with Moody. Couldn't bring herself to. Every time she tried to take a bite, her throat closed. She'd been living off tea.

Hermione closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe evenly.

She snapped the book she was holding closed and focused on her occlumency.

According to Severus she had a talent for it.

She slipped through her own memories and thoughts, sorting and organising them. She bolstered the walls around important Order meetings. The horcruxes. Then she shoved away all the memories that she tried not to think about.

There were so many memories of people dying inside her head.

She pushed them into the back of her mind and tried to squash them so she couldn't hear the dying screams that they were filled with.

She filtered her hatred of Malfoy out and packed it carefully into a corner where it couldn't distract or overwhelm her.

Practicing occlumency was the closest thing to mental peace she could find.

It was part of what made her a talented healer. She could shutter her sympathy and empathy and simply focus on the process and procedure of healing.

It seemed like it was a common trait among healers.

Someday, when the war ended, perhaps Hermione could do a study on the number of natural occlumens in the field of healing.

She suspected that most casualty healers had at least a bit of a subconscious proclivity toward it. Occlumency was so rarely taught, most people probably didn't realise when they used it. Hermione hadn't.

For a long time, she had just thought she was cold. As the years of the war rolled by, her growing tendency to turn off her emotions and simply be rational was stark in its contrast to Ron and Harry's emotional drive.

She wasn't unfeeling—she felt things. But the emotions were supplemental. They didn't decide things for her.

It was always head first, heart followed.

It had started after Colin died. She couldn't be like Harry. That death became a defining moment for each of them.

After watching Hermione try to save Colin, Harry had become utterly convinced of the pure evil of dark magic. He became driven by what he felt was right; how he believed things were supposed to be.

For Hermione, the opposite had occurred. She realised the impossible advantage that the Death Eaters had over the Order. It was her awakening to the price of failure. She became convinced that almost any means could be justified to stop Voldemort. The cost of choosing to ascribe to idyllic morals and lose was too steep. It was simply the logical conclusion. The longer the war lasted, the more good and innocent people would suffer and die.

That difference in conclusion created a schism between herself and Harry.

Dark magic was responsible for robbing him of his parents, Sirius, Dumbledore, Colin...They'd all been stolen away by the dark arts. That Hermione's solution was to fight like with like was unthinkable to Harry.

Harry was determined: they weren't going to be killers. The Order wasn't going to be like that. Love had defeated the killing curse before. It would defeat Voldemort.

The cynical and pragmatic members in the Order were all but shouted down by everyone else. Even as the war grew worse, the conviction only became more firmly entrenched with each new life lost.

The believers in the Light couldn't abandon their position because it would force them to admit that all the deaths had been for nothing. That they'd asked people to die for an ideal that ultimately failed.

Rather than face such bitter truth, they became more and more convinced that the sacrifices and losses were somehow becoming so tremendous that they had to become worth it. That the balance of the scales between good and evil would soon tip to favour them, because—it simply must.

It made Hermione leave Order meetings ready to cry with frustration. She even resorted to writing up a presentation explaining sunk cost fallacy, irrational escalation of commitment, and self-justification theory. When she tried to explain muggle psychology it was brushed aside, and when she tried to push it she was treated like she was some kind of craven monster; trying to use psychology to legitimise murder.

She once spent thirteen hours in the infirmary painstakingly reconstructing Professor Flitwick's lungs. When she was called to an Order meeting immediately afterward she went in exhausted, and broached the topic of dark magic out of renewed fury. She'd been angrily informed by an equally angry and exhausted Ron that she was being a bitch and didn't even seem to understand the point of the Order. 

 Several other members nodded. Harry hadn't, but he refused to look at her, and he'd patted Ron on the shoulder as he left the meeting.

She cried afterwards.

Severus had found her in a storage closet, having an emotional breakdown. After alternating between mildly insulting her and grossly insulting the rest of the Order for several minutes, he'd managed to make her regain her composure.

Flattery by way of restraint.

The next time he attended an Order meeting he had given her a book on occlumency. He hadn't had the time to train her, but Hermione hadn't needed training. Just reading the concepts enabled her to internalise the technique.

Severus later told her he'd suspected as much. She was a natural occlumens. It was part of why she was talented in healing and potions. She had the ability to fully compartmentalise when she needed to.

After five years of war, Hermione felt as though her entire life had gradually become sequestered into various little boxes. Her eternally strained relationship with Ron and Harry was carefully buried in a corner where she couldn't feel it. Most of her relationships felt put away. In the center of herself, in the enormous space her friendship with Harry and Ron had long filled, there was now a cavern that she kept dutifully occupied with work.

After a few minutes, she reopened her eyes and resumed reading. She only had two days left to prepare.


Minerva McGonagall unexpectedly arrived at Grimmauld Place the next afternoon, as Hermione's hospital shift ended. The former headmistress of Hogwarts rarely left Scotland. After Hogwarts had been shuttered, McGonagall had undertaken guardianship of all the underage witches and wizards who were orphaned or whose parents were fighting in the war. She'd returned to her father's manse in Caithness and after abusing expansion charms to an absurd degree, making it large enough to house over a hundred children.

She regarded anyone without parents as being her charge. With Hermione's parents obliviated and hidden in Australia, that meant Minerva regarded Hermione as being under that umbrella as well.

They went to tea in muggle London.

When they had seated themselves, she stared silently at Hermione for a long time.

"I had hoped you would refuse," Minerva said at length.

"Did you really think I would?" Hermione asked, her voice steady as she finished pouring the tea.

"No," Minerva said stiffly. "My hopes and beliefs have been separate things for some time now. Which is why I said it was unconscionable."

"The Order needs this."

There was a silence as each woman studied the other. The tension between them vibrated; like the sob of a violin bow drawn carelessly across the strings. Sharp. Aching. Deeply felt.

After a minute, Minerva spoke again.

"You...were one of the most remarkable students I had the privilege to teach. Your relentlessness back in Hogwarts was always something that I admired—"

Minerva paused.

"But—?" Hermione pressed, preparing herself for the sharp critique that waited on the far side of the compliment. 

"But—" Minerva put her teacup back in its saucer with a sharp click, "the way you have carried that tendency into the war has troubled me. I sometimes wonder where the line is for you. If you even have one."

Once—such a rebuke would have made a Hermione blush and reconsider herself. Now she didn't even blink.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures," she said. "For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable."

Minerva's expression hardened, her lips thinning.

"And what of 'first do no harm'? Or do you think the oath does not apply when the harm is to yourself?"

"Hippocrates never said it." Hermione sipped her tea with more casualness than she felt. "Primum non nocere. It was coined in the seventeenth century. The Latin gives it away. Besides—I'm not doing this as a healer." 

"That Moody is asking this of you at all makes him as depraved as the mind that conceived of it." Minerva's Scottish burr became overt from the emotion her voice carried. "I would have thought there would be limits. When does the price of winning become too steep? This is a war already waged with the blood of children. Are we selling them now too?"

Hermione sighed. "I'm not a child anymore, Minerva. This is a choice I'm making. No one is forcing it on me."

"Anyone who knows you knew you'd agree to it. Draco Malfoy knew without any doubt what you'd say when the question was put to you. Do you really think that for someone of your nature it was ever a question of choice?"

"No more than becoming a healer or anything else I've ever done then." Hermione suddenly felt drained. "Making hard choices—someone has to do. Someone has to suffer. I'm willing to. I can bear it. Why try to force it onto someone who can't?"

"You're so like Alastor," Minerva said in a bitter tone. There appeared to be tears in the corners of her eyes. "When he told me, I told him no. I said, never. There are lines that cannot be crossed because once we ask those things we're no better. And then he told me he wasn't telling me in order to consult. The decision had already been made by himself and Kingsley. He was simply telling me so that someone with concern for you would be aware—in case of what Draco Malfoy does to you—"

Minerva's voice cracked abruptly.

Hermione felt overwhelmed by a surge of affection, but she forced herself not to react. Not to waver.

"He killed Albus," Minerva said after a moment, the words trembling with emotion.

"I know. I haven't forgotten."

"He was barely sixteen then. He killed one of the greatest wizards of our time in cold blood in a hallway full of first-years. Even Tom Riddle was closer to seventeen when he started killing, and he started with a schoolgirl, in secret in a bathroom. What kind of person do you imagine Draco Malfoy is now? Six years later." 

"He's our best chance of turning this war around. We need this, Minerva. You see the orphans, but I see the bodies. We can't afford to waste any opportunities now. I'm not going to turn down something that can give the Order even a fraction of a better chance of winning. No single person matters more than the whole war."

"You would do anything to end this war."

"I would."

"James Potter used to say that war is hell. I used to agree with him. But now—I think he was wrong. War is far worse than hell. You're no sinner; this is not a fate you deserve. And yet, it seems as though you're determined to try damning yourself if it means winning."

"War is War. Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse," Hermione quoted and then smiled sadly. "My father used to say that. It came from a muggle television show." 

Hermione hesitated for a moment before adding "You're right. I am willing to do anything to win this war. I don't know that I'm doing the right thing, I'm sure that most people will say I'm not. I know there will be no coming back from this—not to Harry or Ron, even if it buys us a victory in the end. But—saving them is worth it to me. I have always been prepared to pay the price for the lengths I'm willing to go. I have never been blind to the consequences."

Minerva didn't reply. She sipped her tea, and stared at Hermione as though she never expected to see her again.

Hermione met her gaze and wondered to herself whether it might be true.

Chapter Text

Moody sent word that Severus would be at Spinner’s End late in the afternoon on Friday. Hermione got ready and hoped it would be an easier conversation than the one she’d had with Minerva.

She and Severus had struck up a friendship of sorts during the war. It had been started by Hermione when she appeared at his door following Dumbledore’s death, asking him to train her in potion making. Over the years, as Hermione’s relationships with other Order members had grown fraught, they came to enjoy the mutual bitterness of each other’s company.

Not that they were close.

Neither of them had time to be friends with anyone.

They simply signaled their respect for each other with small gestures. Severus by not viciously insulting Hermione during Order meetings the way he insulted everyone else, and Hermione by shutting down the ongoing suspicions of Harry and others about whether Severus was truly on the Order’s side since they weren’t winning.

When Hermione arrived at Severus’ home, she found the door left ajar for her, and Severus brewing in the kitchen. The steamy room was a sensory assault. Potion making had given Hermione the habit of compulsively identifying scents. The air was thick with the combined aromas of stewed herbs and tinctures. Sharp and sweet yarrow, the mustiness of dried dandelion flowers, the mineral bitterness of ground roots, and burn and grittiness of ashwinder eggshells she could almost taste in the air. The tang of Magic was effused through the scents, clinging to her skin and hair.

“Something new?” she inquired after watching him huddle over the cauldron for several minutes.

“Clearly,” he replied in a snide tone as he added a drop of Acromantula venom.

The potion burped a cloud of sour yellow vapour, and Severus stepped back to avoid it with a faint hiss of irritation.

Hermione glanced at the ingredients laid out.

“Is there a new curse?”

“Indeed. Dolohov has outdone himself this time. Effortless to cast and highly effective. Countering it is simple but the damage is immediate. They’ll start using it in the field soon.”

“What type?”

“Contagious acid boils.”

Hermione pressed her lips together, and drew a sharp breath. She’d have a lot of research to do in preparation. Acid spells had rarely appeared during battles in the past, but the effects of them were often devastating and difficult to heal.

Severus added four drops of moondew, and then turned to stare at her.

“You have twenty minutes,” he said, sweeping ahead of her into the sitting room. She dawdled a moment longer to study the slowly simmering potion before turning to follow him.

“I hear you’re sacrificing yourself for the cause,” he drawled from an armchair before she’d seated herself.

“Moody said you thought it was a legitimate offer,” she said evenly.

“True,” he said.

He didn’t offer tea.

“Why?” she asked. There was no point in being coy. She wanted straight answers. After so many years of war, she had found Severus answered short direct questions better than any other.

“Draco Malfoy does not serve anyone,” he answered.

Hermione waited.

“Of course, technically he serves the Dark Lord,” he said, making a dismissive gesture with his hand, “But that is out of necessity, not loyalty. His motivation is personal in nature. Whatever that motive is, he has decided that the Order can enable him to achieve it better than the Dark Lord can.”

Severus paused and then added “He will not be loyal to the Order but he’ll be as excellent a spy as he is a Death Eater.”

“Is it worth it if we can’t trust him?” Hermione asked.

“At this point I don’t think the Order has any other option. Do you?”

Hermione shook her head and gripped the arms of the chair.

“And—I think he miscalculated somewhat when he made his offer,” Severus added.

“How?”

“Asking for you. I think it was a mistake on his part,” Severus said staring at her speculatively.

Hermione blinked. “Why?”

“As I mentioned to Moody, I observed Draco had a sort of fascination with you in school. Do not misunderstand; I am not claiming it to have been anything meaningful, much less serious. However, you were someone he noticed. You may be able to use that fact to your advantage. I don’t believe he realises it.”

“He demanded to own me. I think he realises it,” Hermione pointed out.

“If he merely wanted a body to own or fuck, he could get practically any one he wanted with little effort. You’re hardly Helen of Troy, and even it you were, he hasn’t laid eyes on you in almost six years. And you certainly weren’t then. I doubt he even knows what you currently look like. On the list of grudges he likely carries now, I doubt your academic rivalry still qualifies,” Snape retorted. “You are not the motive for his switch of allegiance.”

Severus’ words plunged Hermione into a state of simultaneous relief and despair. She did not want the attention of Draco Malfoy—but she needed it. She felt suddenly tempted to cry over the sheer impossibility of the mission she had.

“Therefore,” continued Snape, “his decision to add you into his demands is an opening. If you choose to take it. You—could make him loyal.”

“By what? Seducing him?” Hermione asked skeptically.

“By holding his interest,” Snape said, rolling his eyes as though she were dense. “You are an intelligent enough witch. Be interesting to him. Find your way into his mind so that he starts to want what he cannot simply demand from you. You’re most assuredly not going to hold him with your feminine wiles.”

Snape snorted as he said it.

“Men like Draco Malfoy are ambitious, which makes them quickly bored by anything that is easy for them to obtain. Sex is possibly one of the easiest things for him to get; even sex with you now—given the terms he set. You will have to be more than that, and you will have to make him see it.”

Hermione gave a curt nod with assurance she did not feel as Snape added, “He’ll have a considerable advantage of power over you. However, the fact that you hold his attention means you may still have a hand worth playing. After nearly six years, when he had a chance to demand anything, you were what occurred to him to ask for. You will have to utilise that knowledge carefully if you wish to equalise things or make him loyal.”

“Malfoy isn’t stupid. He’ll expect it.”

“He will.”

“But you think I can manage it?”

“Are you trying to fish for compliments, Miss Granger?” Severus said coolly. “At this point in the war, I think almost anything is worth attempting. That you have any chance of succeeding is highly unlikely. You have agreed to sell yourself in exchange for information to an incredibly dangerous wizard who has obtained most of his power by means of his own considerable intelligence. A wizard whose current motives are a mystery; even to those who have known him a lifetime. He is exceptionally isolated and mercurial, even by Death Eater standards. He did not get where he is by being easily beaten or having predictable weaknesses.”

There was a long pause. It appeared Snape had no further insight to offer.

Hermione stood, feeling freshly demoralised.

She was selling herself in a gamble with a multiple points of failure. It would likely be futile.

She was going to do it anyway.

She hesitated, a question rising to her lips that she was almost afraid to ask.

“Is he—,” she stammered. “How—cruel do you know of him being?”

Snape stared at her with his inscrutable black eyes.  

“I haven’t known him well since your fifth year. However, bully though he was, I had never considered him to be a sadist.”

Hermione nodded jerkily, feeling light-headed as she turned to go.

“I wish you luck, Miss Granger. You are a better friend than Harry Potter will ever deserve.”

Severus’ voice had a trace of regret in it. Hermione paused and brought her hand up to her throat, tracing her thumb along her collarbone for a moment before twisting the chain of her necklace between her fingers.

“I’m not just doing this for Harry,” she said. Severus snorted and she looked at him defensively. “There is a whole world out there that doesn’t even know they’re relying on us. Besides, if we lose, what possible chance do you think I’ll have?”

He gave a short nod of agreement. She left Spinner’s End without another word.

When Hermione returned to Grimmauld Place, she went into the bathroom and stared at her reflection.

She was thin and tired-looking. Her skin was pale from lack of sunlight. Her features were sharper than they had been in school; a bit daintier. Her protruding cheekbones made her look more elegant. Her eyes—well, she had always thought they were her best feature—large and dark, but with enough fire in them that they didn’t make her look too naive. Her hair remained her cross to bear. Still bushy, but it was long enough nowadays that the weight held it down somewhat. She kept it braided and pinned back to keep it out of her face when brewing and healing.

She pulled her clothes off and stepped into the shower. The hot water beating down on her skin felt like safety. She didn’t want to leave it, but after scrubbing herself from head to toe she made herself shut off the water and step out.

She cast a quick shaving charm on her legs and under her arms, and toweled off.

Wiping off the steam from the mirror, she appraised the body in the reflection critically.

She’d have to hope Malfoy’s subconscious interest was primarily in her mind because she was certainly not Helen of Troy. Stress had eaten away her curves. She was bony and thin-limbed. Not particularly flawed anywhere, but generally lacking in softness in the places men typically liked to hold.

Insofar as general sex appeal went, she was assuredly middling. It was simply not a quality she had ever had the thought or time to cultivate in herself. Dwelling on how she came across sexually—it just hadn’t really seemed to be of pressing importance.

It had not occurred to her that the war was going to require her to offer herself—as a mistress? Whore? War prize?—to a Death Eater.

She did not bother to fuss over her underwear or clothing as she dressed. There was no point in trying to pretend to have wiles or attributes she did not. She would undoubtedly do it poorly. Trying to undertake an additional angle might cause her to exceed her limitations and reveal her hand.  

As she prepared to leave she glanced in the mirror and fingered the chain around her neck, hesitating before she pulled it out from under her shirt and stared at the amulet that hung from it. The pendant of Aset. A tiny throne rested upon deep scarlet stone, a sun-disk, fitted between two horns. It had been given to Hermione when she’d briefly studied healing in Egypt, before returning to Europe to study in Austria.

She pulled it off and slipped it into a beaded bag under her bed.

If she died, Severus would probably know what it was.

The location Malfoy had provided was in the village of Whitecroft. Moody apparated her there, and then after glancing sharply around for a minute with his magical eye, vanished again with another pop. 

Feeling so viscerally abandoned that her skin hurt, Hermione walked up the gravel lane of the address, glancing around at an empty lot.

Unplottable. Or else a midpoint before she was directed to the real location.

After glancing around nervously, she swallowed hard and resigned herself to wait.

There was a stump to the side of the lane. She seated herself. After another minute, she pulled out a book, keeping her ears alert for any noise.

She had read six pages when a sound to her left made her look up sharply. The light from a floating doorway in the empty lot suddenly appeared, and with it a rundown shack began bleeding into view.

Draco Malfoy stood framed in the door.

She hadn’t seen him in over five years.

She slipped the book into her bag and walked forward; her heart rate increased with every step.

He had grown taller and broader. The haughtiness of his school days had faded, replaced with a cold sense of power. Deadly assurance.

Even after she had ascended the steps, he towered over her. He was at least as tall as Ron, but he felt larger. Ron’s height was always offset by his lankiness and awkwardness. Malfoy owned every inch of his stature, as though it were an additional testament to his superiority as he stared down his nose at her.

His face had lost all trace of boyishness. It was cruelly beautiful. His sharp aristocratic features were set in a hard unyielding expression. His grey eyes were like knives. His hair still that pale, white blond combed carelessly aside.

He leaned nonchalantly against the doorframe. He left just enough space for her to enter, so long as she brushed lightly against his robes. She caught the sharp scent of cedar in the fabric as she passed.

He felt dangerous. She could feel the taint of dark magic around him.

Approaching him was like walking toward a wolf or a dragon. Her whole body felt on edge as she drew nearer. She struggled against a fear that felt like it were slicing its way down her spine.

A sense of ruthlessness hung about him. 

He had killed Dumbledore at the age of sixteen, and that had been only the start of his bloodstained ascent.

If an assassin’s blade were made into a man, it would take the form of Draco Malfoy.  

She stared up at him. Taking him in.

Beautiful and damned. A fallen angel. Or perhaps the angel of death.

Such cliches, and yet they somehow captured him. If he was complicated or conflicted, he didn’t show it; he just seemed cruel, harsh, and beautiful.

“Malfoy. I understand you want to help the Order,” she said after she walked into the shack and he shut the door behind her. She fought against the impulse to flinch or turn sharply when she heard it click.

She was alone in a house with Draco Malfoy, whom she had agreed to sell herself to in exchange for information.

The Calming Draught she had taken immediately before leaving with Moody was far from sufficient relief to the nauseating terror crawling through her. She felt it everywhere; in her spine, and her stomach, and her hands, and closing around her throat as surely as if he were strangling her.

She squared her shoulders and forced herself to survey the room slowly.

The building seemed primarily composed of one large, empty room. Hardly any furniture to be seen. Two chairs. A table. Nothing else. 

No bed.

“You understand the terms?” he said coolly when she looked at him again.

“A pardon. And me. In exchange for the information.”

“Both now and after the war.” His eyes gleamed with a mixture of cruelty and satisfaction as he said it.

Hermione didn’t flinch.

“Yes. I’m yours from now on. Moody says he’ll act as Bonder if you require an Unbreakable Vow,” she said, trying to keep any bitterness from her tone.

He gave a thin smirk.

“That won’t be necessary. I’ll trust that Gryffindor nobility you have if you swear it now.”

“I swear it. I’m yours. You have my word,” she said without giving herself time to hesitate.

She wished she could feel triumphant that he was leaving her a way out. But—if they won the war at this point it would be because of him. She’d owe him. They all would.

“Until we win you aren’t to do anything that will interfere with my ability to contribute to the Order,” she reminded him firmly.

“Ah yes. I’ll have to make sure I keep you alive until this is over.” He smirked as he looked her over.

“I want you to swear it,” she said in a tense voice.

His eyes flashed and he laid a hand across his heart. “I swear it,” he said in a droll tone, “I won’t interfere with your contributions to the Order.”

Then he tsked. “My, but you’re suspicious of me, aren’t you? Worried this is all just a ploy on my part to get a piece of you before the war ends and you die,” he speculated. “Don’t fret. As a token of my sincerity, I won’t touch you—yet. After all, I’ve waited this long to get you as my prize, I can restrain myself a bit longer.”

He smiled wolfishly at her.

“In the meantime, I’ll let you go running back to your precious Order with my information, and sustain myself with your delightful company.”

If Malfoy were trying to set Hermione on edge he was doing an excellent job of it.

As though the thought of consenting to whatever awful thing he wanted to do to her wasn’t bad enough, having to keep dreading it almost felt worse. 

She gritted her teeth and forced herself to breathe. She slid a hand behind her back and fisted it tightly, then forced herself to open her fingers slowly. Bracing herself. Clearing her mind.

This was better, she reasoned. The longer he waited to act, the more time she had to try to ensure his loyalty; to find a way to bring him to heel before he tired of her. 

She nodded shortly.

“Alright. That’s—generous of you.”

He laid a hand over his heart.

“You have no idea what joy it brings me to hear you say that,” he said with false elation.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. She couldn’t understand him. His true motive was escaping her entirely. She hated how disadvantaged that made her.

“But you know...” said Malfoy suddenly looking contemplative. “Perhaps, you should give me something—”

Hermione stared.

“—to warm my cold heart,” he said leering. “A memory to keep me motivated.”

“What do you want?” she asked in a stiff voice. She started mentally calculating likely options. Maybe he’d make her strip. Or suck him off—she’d never done it before, she’d surely be terrible. Or come on her face. Or maybe he wanted her to stand there and let him curse her. Or just get to backhand her across the face in retribution for third year.

“You don’t sound very enthusiastic,” Malfoy said. "I'm offended, truly."

Hermione tried to restrain herself from glaring at him.

“Would you like me to kiss you or just stand here and let you hex me?” she inquired in the most demure tone she could manage.

Malfoy gave a barking laugh. “My goodness, Granger. You are desperate.”

“I’m here. I assumed that was obvious.”

“So true,” he said nodding. “Well, I’m all dueled out for today. Let’s see if that mouth of yours is capable of doing anything but talking.”

Hermione thought she might vomit, and the revulsion must have shown on her face. Malfoy smiled cruelly.

“Kiss me,” he said in clarification. “As a demonstration of your sincerity.” 

He smirked at her, and didn’t move. He just stood there, waiting for her to approach him.

Hermione’s whole body felt drenched with cold terror at the thought of reaching out and touching him. Of having him touch her with those cold, pale, murderous hands of his.

Of pressing her mouth against his.

Standing near him without having her wand pointed at his heart felt as vulnerable as exposing her throat to wolf.

She hesitated. “How do you want me to kiss you?” she inquired.

“Surprise me,” he said, shrugging.

Surprise him. Well, that was an opening; an opportunity she had to capitalise on. She analysed him quickly.

He was goading her. The entire conversation seemed to be intentionally trying to make her angry with him. To see her writhe under the power he had over her. This kiss was probably intended to seal her animosity.

He expected her to be resistant and proud, unable to squash her hatred; so he could trick her into fueling her own punishment and keep her distracted by her emotions.

She couldn’t give it to him.

She steeled herself. She would not lose.

She drew closer to him, studying his face carefully.

She had never been so close to him before. For someone so “eager” for her, he didn’t look it. His irises were contracted. His eyes mostly grey. He seemed—amused.

The coil of fear in her spine felt like a needle being driven down her back. Her heart was beating so forcefully it felt as though it were bruising itself against her ribs.

She slid her arms up around his neck and pulled him down toward herself. He smirked and permitted it.  

When their lips were almost touching she paused, half expecting to find a knife buried to the hilt in her stomach.

There was a brief moment of stillness between them—breathing slowly. Close enough for the air to ghost across each other’s faces. His breath smelled like juniper, peppery and sharp like a fresh-cut evergreen. She studied that deadliness and coldness of his eyes. She wondered what he saw as he looked back.

Murderers are still men, she told herself.

Then she gave him a slow, sweet kiss.

She imagined how she’d do it for someone she felt affectionate toward. Sliding her hands up into his hair as she deepened it. She teased his lips with her tongue, and murmured slightly against his mouth. He tasted like gin.

It was clearly not what he had expected. Apparently surprises weren’t really his thing. He stilled in visible astonishment the moment their lips softly met, and after a moment jerked away from her.

His eyes were darker now.

Hermione wasn’t sure if she were pleased or concerned by that detail.

Her heart rate slowed somewhat.

His amusement had vanished, and he suddenly seemed to be considering her more seriously.

“You don’t fight much, do you?” he abruptly asked.

“No. Most of my work is outside of raids,” she admitted, not willing to detail what she did. She was there to get information, not give it.

“Do you know occlumency?”

“Yes. Moody trained me,” she lied. “I haven’t had much practice, but he said I was fairly solid at it.”

“Well, that’s a relief. It would be a problem if you were ever picked up and they found the details of this arrangement in your mind,” he said with the most serious expression she’d yet seen on his face.

Then he sneered. “I hope you don’t mind if I check for myself just how good you are.”

That was all the warning he gave before driving abruptly into her mind.

Hermione’s shields were already up, and the force with which he drove into them was enough to make her head resound like he’d struck a gong inside it. He kept shoving forcefully against her walls, again and again, until she was gasping with pain as she kept him out. Then he paused, and she nearly stumbled.

“You’re surprisingly good at it,” he said, looking as though he actually were surprised.

The compliment caught her off guard. Abruptly, he smashed into her mind again. The brief respite had been a feint. She was insufficiently braced for a renewed attack. He found a weak spot, and sliced through it with the speed of an arrow.

She tried to shove him back out, but he quickly moved so far into her memories she couldn’t. She could barely even slow him.

Then abruptly, without even pausing to look at anything in her mind, he wrenched himself back out.

She nearly fell over backwards but caught herself, gripping her forehead as she gasped from the pain.

“It’s a common trick,” he said casually, not looking as though his assault on her mind had required any effort on his part. “After an intense attack, when an occlumens thinks it’s done, they relax slightly. It’s the perfect opportunity to get in.”

Hermione was still catching her breath and couldn’t respond, so he continued, “If ever you’re under interrogation by a truly accomplished legilimens, you’ll never keep them out with the sheer strength of your mental walls. If you were a minor member in the Resistance, they’d probably just kill you rather than go to the effort of getting in. But you’re an Order member.  Potter’s Golden Girl. If they ever get their hands on you, they’ll probably bring you to me, or Severus, or even the Dark Lord himself. I’m afraid you’re going to need to brush up on your occlumency skills.”

“How?” Her voice sounded rasping. She hadn’t known it was possible for a mental attack to be so powerful. No wonder Harry had hated his sessions with Snape. Her mind was in agony.

“The trick is letting them in,” Malfoy informed her.

“What?”

“Put in a bit of effort, but eventually pretend to give way. Once they’re in, give them false memories or distract them by feinting toward something of less importance. You’ll never keep the Dark Lord out of your mind, but if he thinks you’re weak, he’ll assume victory. You’ll have to give up something valuable enough to seem legitimate. However, it’s a way to keep the things that matter most hidden.”

Hermione’s brain churned as she considered it. Of course, there had to be more to it than just mental walls. There was no way Severus could have deceived the Dark Lord for so many years simply by refusing to allow him to access his mind.

“Spend time thinking about it. If I’m looking for information on Potter or Weasley or the Order, what can you give up that will seem like the biggest secret you’ve got? Legilimency is like setting someone’s house on fire. Minds instinctively bolt to protect what’s most important to hide. You have to train yourself to do the reverse. Rush toward what doesn’t matter. Practice pulling those memories around in your mind like you’re hiding them. I’ll try again next week.”

Hermione nodded. She hated the thought of him in her head again, but his reasoning was sound. It would be an invaluable skill.

Malfoy reached into his pocket and tossed something toward her. She caught it reflexively.

She stared into her palm. It was—well, it looked like a wedding band, if wedding bands came in black.

She looked up at Malfoy in astonishment.

“Your protean charm from fifth year inspired me.” He smirked, and raised his right hand indicating a matching onyx band on it. “It’ll burn briefly if I need to meet. Twice if it’s urgent. I’d highly advise coming quickly if it burns twice. If you want to reach out, the wards here will let me know when you arrive. But otherwise we should stick to a schedule. Is there a time you can get away without drawing suspicion?”

Hermione slid the ring onto the pointer finger of her left hand. It was a simple, slightly geometric band. Not flashy or likely to draw attention. She suspected there was a heavy notice-me-not charm on it.

“I go out for potion ingredients early on Tuesday mornings. I could add an extra half hour without anyone paying attention. Would seven-thirty work?”

He nodded.

“If I can’t come for some reason, come back again at the same time in the evening,” he told her.

“What if I can’t come?” Hermione asked.

His eyes narrowed.

He was trying to determine what it was she did for the Order. Well, she wasn’t interested in volunteering the information.

“I’ll wait five minutes and assume you can’t make it.”

“Fine,” she agreed flatly.

He smirked, and with a flick of his wand conjured a scroll of parchment which he held out to her.

“My first installment,” he drawled, leering at her again.

She took it from him and unrolled it partially, glancing at several maps and building blueprints.

“I’m trusting that Moody has the sense not to use everything at once,” he said.

“Your service will be one of the Order’s most carefully protected secrets. You’re useless once your cover’s blown. We won’t risk it.”

“Good,” he said with a cold voice. “I’ll see you Tuesday then. Practice your occlumency.”

He vanished with a crack.

Chapter Text

April 2002

The next time she arrived at the shack, she had barely gotten through the door before Malfoy abruptly apparated in, nearly on top of her.

He grabbed her firmly, and backed her up against a wall as his lips crashed into hers.

Hermione barely had time to think or react. Her eyes widened in astonishment and as they did, his eyes met hers and he abruptly invaded her mind.

She had been so startled, her occlumency walls had fallen. The terrifying distraction of his body pressed against hers while he kissed her made it difficult to focus solely on the sensation of his mind tearing its way through her consciousness.

He skimmed through her recent memories; brewing an invisibility potion for the ring he’d given her, taking Lee Jordan and dropping him at St Mungo’s. He found her memory of their previous meeting.

She could feel him experiencing it, even while she was also keenly aware of his lips moving away from hers and kissing along her jaw, while his hands slid along her body.

He started moving toward the memory of her conversation with Snape. No. She didn’t want him to see that one. Even though she was confident he would know what she was trying to do, she didn’t want him to have confirmation of it.

She forced herself not to pull the memory away or hide it. Instead she grabbed onto the first thing she could think of and jerked it forcefully back further into her memories. Malfoy had to have known it was a feint, but he gamely chased after it. After keeping it away from him for a few seconds, she let him catch it.

Third year Malfoy stood in front of her, sneering.

“Have you ever seen anything quite as pathetic?” said Malfoy. “And he’s supposed to be our teacher!”

Harry and Ron moved angrily toward him, but Hermione was the quickest—SMACK!

She slapped Malfoy across the face with all the strength she could muster. Her hand felt aflame from the force, and his pale skin immediately bloomed scarlet where she struck him. He staggered, looking at her with a mixture of pain and astonishment.  

“Don’t you dare call Hagrid pathetic, you foul—you evil—” she roared.

Malfoy abruptly jerked out of her mind and stepped away, shaking.

Hermione stared at him, expecting him to be enraged that she’d tricked him with that memory. Then she realized after a moment that he was laughing.

That felt more terrifying.

“Well done,” he said, still chuckling after a minute. “I expected it would take you longer before you’d be able to do it.”

Hermione was slumped against the wall, trying to recover herself from his combined mental and physical assault. A migraine was already steadily beginning to creep up on her.

“Is this the way you usually teach occlumency?” she said after a moment.

His lips quirked faintly.

“Only with you,” he said with a thin smile. “I can’t have you doubting my sincerity, now can I? I needed to do something to catch you off guard. So—“ he shrugged. “Two gnomes, one kneazle. I’m sure you didn’t expect me to keep my hands entirely to myself.”

Hermione fought back the urge to sneer at him.

“Should I wear stockings the next time I come?” she asked, her voice caustic.

His eyes seemed to darken.

“Hmm. No. I rather like you like this. Being dirty and bedraggled in muggle clothing suits you. And I intend to savour you. You needn’t start wearing them—yet.”

Hermione felt a shiver go through her; of fear, but also from the tension between them, a strain of animosity and calculation filled the air.

He stepped closer to her and caught hold of her left hand, lifting it as he slid his thumb across the ring that reappeared on her hand when he stared down at it.

“How does this work?”

“The potion is based on Magical principles similar to the Fidelius,” she said, slipping her hand free. “It’s only visible if you know to look for it. Otherwise it’s undetectable. Only you and I can see it.”

Malfoy quirked an approving eyebrow.

“I don’t believe I’ve heard of that potion.”

“It’s new,” she said stiffly.

“Yours?”

Hermione gave a reluctant nod. “It’s not actually that useful. It only works on metals.”

“Interesting,” he murmured, stepping closer.

Every time he drew near, she felt a renewed awareness of how dangerous he was. The dark magic came off of him in waves; it clung to his clothes and his hair and almost emanated from his skin. It was as though he wore a cloak of darkness and rage that he was simply keeping in check around her.

There was so much darkness. All the deaths he was responsible for.

He was drenched in them.

“Let’s try again. And see how long you can keep it up.” His lips pulled into brief smirk. “I won’t kiss you—this time.”

He drove into her mind again. She kept him out with her walls for a minute while she organised her mind and memories. Then she pretended to have the shield give away.

She wasn’t sure she was actually good at it, or if he was having the decency to restrict himself from rifling through all her memories. He allowed her strong attempts at distracting him to succeed. After she’d successfully done it a dozen times, he withdrew.

Hermione felt as though her head were about to crack open; as though the pain were a form of pressure that threatened to break through her skull. The pain was agonising. Her eyes were welling up with tears, and she bit down on her lip to try to keep from crying.

“Drink this,” he ordered, slipping a vial of pain relief potion into her hand. “Otherwise you may black out when you try to apparate. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

She swallowed it, fairly certain he wasn’t going to poison her.

“Did that happen to you?” she asked when the pain began easing so she could speak again and her vision was no longer littered with flashing black spots.

“More than once,” Malfoy said shortly. “My training was—rigorous.”

She nodded. It still seemed hard to believe he was the same school bully she had known.

Coldness and harshness were built up around him like the walls of a castle. All that scarcely subdued rage.

The boy who got boxes of sweets and had a spot bought for him on a quidditch team, who cried and whined over a scratched arm, was gone. Everything soft and indolent and pampered about him was carved away by the war. He hadn’t bought his way through Voldemort’s ranks with galleons. He’d paid in blood.

Everything was so hard and exacting. His smirking and leering, and the vagaries of his courtesy all felt like an act. Like a mask he was wearing to disguise just how cold he was.

If she wanted to succeed, she needed to get past his mask and coldness and rage. He might be intending to use her just as a form of vindictive or amusing stress relief, but she was still determined to become more.

She needed to draw out his confidence until she could understand his motivation—until she found a vulnerability she could slip through.

No one was pure ice. Not even Malfoy.

There was something about him. In his eyes. Something that looked like fire hidden deep within. She needed to find a way to reach it and then fuel it into something she could utilise.

He expected her to hate him and try to manipulate him with false kindness and sympathy. She had to be clever about it. More clever than him.

“Was that after fifth year?”

He looked at her somewhat sharply.

“Yes,” he said it in a clipped tone.

“Your aunt?”

“Hmm,” he hummed in confirmation.

They were both staring at each other intently.

“Not the only thing you learned that summer,” she said.

“Are you needing a confession for something, Granger? Should I tell you everything I’ve done?” He drew closer so that he towered above her, and sneered down in her face.

She forced herself not to shrink or cower back. She stared up into his eyes.

“Do you want to?” she asked.

There was the faintest flash of surprise in his expression. He seemed caught off guard by the question.

He was lonely. She’d suspected as much, but now she felt certain. Dead mother, insane father. He was high up in Voldemort’s ranks and they were notoriously filled with backstabbing. If he ever had any regrets, he’d never told anyone.

“No,” he said, voice sharp as he stepped away from her.

She didn’t push. If he thought she were pushing, he’d shut up like a clam. She didn’t need to know. She just needed him to realize he wanted to tell someone—

—that he wanted to tell her .

It would make her emotionally valuable to him. It would be a hook. An opening.

It would make her interesting.

“Did you want to go again?” she asked after a moment.

He stared at her, silver eyes flat. “When I was trained, she’d have someone crucio me while she was trying to break into my mind. That’s probably what will happen to you, if you’re ever caught.”

He didn’t give her time to react to the information before he slammed his way in. When he stopped, he didn’t wait for her to regain her breath before dropping a new scroll of information next to her and vanishing.

That week Hermione went back to Waterstones. She bought books on the psychological effects of loneliness. Books on orphans. Research of the psychology of child soldiers.

She didn’t hesitate as she underlined sections on their vulnerabilities; the ways by which they were prone to being taken advantage of and manipulated.

In a notebook upon which she placed a rather nasty security curse she began to draw up a psychological sketch of Draco Malfoy. What she’d noticed about him. Questions and theories she had.

The center of him—his motivation—remained a mysterious blank. But she felt as though she were beginning to get a sense of his edges.

The following Tuesday, he did not start by forcing his attentions on her. He set himself to provoking her in other ways.

He did not restrain himself at all when he invaded her mind for another round of occlumency training. He scrabbled into the back of it, and then meandered through the memories he happened to come across. Forcing her to relive some of the deaths she tried hardest not to dwell on. Then, quite by accident, he came across the memory immediately following her conversation with Snape. She flinched when he drew near it, and he immediately pounced.

He watched her examine her facial features critically before stepping into the shower. And when she stepped out and appraised her naked body in the mirror, he stopped and stared, following her mental fault finding. She could feel his condescending amusement as he took her in. She writhed with embarrassment, and he felt that too.

He stayed in the memory for far longer than it lasted and then withdrew entirely from her mind.

“Well,” he said, looking as though he were about to start laughing. “That certainly is one way to distract a legilimens.”

She glared up at him. She was sorely tempted to kick him in the groin and then try to stomp his teeth out.

“Pleased with your purchase?” Her tone was corrosive.

He gave a short laugh under his breath. “You’re rather scrawny. If you’d sent me the memory beforehand, I might have asked for someone else,” he said as he stepped back to look her over in person.

“A pity for us both then,” she said, her mouth twisting as she folded her arms defensively.

“Perhaps... But then again, if I hadn’t gotten you I would never have had a chance to encounter a brain organized like a filing cabinet.” His voice was light and casual, but his quicksilver eyes abruptly hardened. He cocked his head slightly to the side. “Moody didn’t train you. You’re a natural occlumens.”

Hermione nodded resignedly. She had assumed he’d realise it eventually. When she’d invented the lie, she hadn’t expected him to spend so much time poking around in her head.

“Self-taught, then?” 

“I had a book,” she said stiffly.

He gave a barking laugh. “Of course.”

He was staring at her with an expression she couldn’t place. As though he were reassessing her. The realisation seemed to be making him to re-evaluate something about her.

Hermione didn’t want him to re-evaluate. If he did, he might decide to change his strategy. She liked the current way in which she was not having sex with him.

“What?” she snapped at him impatiently, hoping to break his train of thought. It seemed to work, the narrowed expression of his eyes eased slightly.

“Nothing,” he waved her off. “I’ve just never encountered one before.”

He smirked.

She stared at him with her own eyes narrowed.

“You’re one too,” she said with rising horror. She was trying to slip past the defenses of someone who could also shutter and isolate their emotions and desires.

He gave a mocking bow.

“What are the odds?” he mused with a faint shrug.

There was a long silence.

They were both re-evaluating.

“Are you still going to teach me occlumency then?” she asked at length.

“Yes…” he said slowly. “It would be an oversight to only do it halfway. You’ll be able to learn quicker than I had expected.”

“Right.” She nodded and braced herself.

He drew closer to her. Her heart stuttered.

The movement reminded her of an animal stalking prey. Slow, subtle, gradual and then suddenly—too close.

She stared at his face so she wouldn’t focus on the physicality of him, on how easily he could break her with his bare hands.

His fingers came up and touched her chin lightly, tilting her head further back so that her throat felt bared.

“You are so full of surprises,” he said, his gaze dragging across her face before locking on her eyes.

Hermione rolled her eyes briefly.

“Do you say that to every girl?” she said in a sarcastically sweet tone.

She didn’t bother with the outer walls as he dived into her consciousness. It was the process of having them breached that made her head ache the most. She already felt reasonably confident in her ability to feign that they were easily cracked.

He didn’t make the invasion painful. Which startled her. She had assumed that legilimency was inherently painful. Instead it felt like her mind was a pensive he was simply dropping into. Her consciousness and his merged.

He seemed to be taking in her natural mental state.

Without the pain of the legilimency attack, Hermione was able to be more nuanced and intentional in her strategy. She shuffled her memories about with false carelessness, drawing his attention and then slipping certain ones off into further corners of her mind.

It—was like learning to dance. Or perhaps learning martial arts. All the movement was done slowly. Without force.

He gave her time to learn the technique. Feel what it was like to do it properly. Going over the forms. Drilling it again and again until she could do it instinctively, without needing to think.

At length he withdrew and glanced down at his wrist. “We’ve gone overtime.”

“Oh,” she said quietly, still mentally preoccupied by the technique she’d been trying to get right.

He stared down at her until she straightened and looked up at him.

“Do you have any information this week?”

“Not really. There are more vampires arriving from Romania this month. No specific details yet.”

“If—“ Hermione hesitated.

He quirked an eyebrow at her, staring down and waiting.

“If—we needed something. Would you be able to get it for us?” she asked.

“It would depend on what it is.”

“A book.”

He snorted.

“It’s called Secrets of the Darkest Art. I’ve tried everything I can to find it. But the Order’s resources are limited.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” He gave an irritated sigh.

“Be careful,” she found herself saying.

He looked surprised.

“You won’t want Voldemort to know you’re looking for it.”

“How important is this book?” he asked with narrowed eyes.

“I don’t know. It might be nothing. Or it might be very important. But—don’t blow your cover for it.”

He rolled his eyes.

“As if I would,” he muttered before eying her sharply. “You should go. I’m sure Potter will be pining for you.”

Hermione gathered up her satchel of potion ingredients and slipped out of the shack.

Malfoy was staring after her contemplatively as she closed the door and apparated away.

When she got back to Grimmauld Place, she was pensive as she bottled and prepped ingredients.

Malfoy was not what she had expected.

He was far less cruel than she had anticipated. She kept expecting his malice to suddenly cut through his facade. But either he was less malicious than she’d thought, or he wanted something more complex and nuanced from her interactions with him. She already felt almost certain he didn’t have any particular inclination towards hurting her.

She couldn’t place what he wanted.

Severus had been right. Malfoy was already proving to be an excellent spy. All the information he’d given Moody had been high quality and useful. The Order had successfully raided a prison and gotten more than fifty people out.

However, his motive remained a mystery.

She couldn’t understand what he could possibly get from spying. With his placement in Voldemort’s army, he’d surely reap vast rewards with the Order’s demise.

If the Order won, even with a pardon he’d undoubtedly become a pariah in the wizarding world for the rest of his life. Spies and traitors earned little respect, no matter how vital their contributions were.

Besides—Lucius Malfoy was a devoted follower of Voldemort. He blamed Narcissa’s death on Ron and Harry, and directed almost all his energy to exacting revenge on them. While Draco might not share that sentiment—setting himself at odds with his father felt dubious. He’d modeled himself so carefully after his sire back in school, and had been incensed by his father’s imprisonment in Azkaban at the end of fifth year.

Hermione laid out a tray full of dittany and cast a heat charm with the tip of her wand. Massaging her temple slightly with her other hand as she watched the leaves steadily dry.

Malfoy was not interested in her; not physically. At least no more than a man tended to be interested in any random woman. She’d studied the physiology of sexual attraction and he showed almost none of the signs, even after spending several minutes staring baldly at her naked reflection.

She flushed. The experience ranked unequivocally as the most embarrassing moment of her life.

So what was it all about? Why the kissing and groping? If it was all to provoke and anger her, the question of why still stood.

Why did he want to provoke her? What was driving the various tactics he was employing?

Initially he had clearly expected her to be so filled with hatred for him that she couldn’t restrain it. Then, when he’d aggressively snogged her to break through her occlumency shields, he’d seemed to think he could use it to get her too consumed by emotions to think clearly. The way he’d appraised her in the mirror had also been clearly intended to sting.

He wanted her to hate him.

But when he’d realized she was an occlumens, he'd apparently decided to switch tactics again. He’d finally realized why he couldn’t easily provoke her, and adapted once more.

But adapted for what?  What was the point?

She couldn’t understand it.

Hermione placed all the dry dittany leaves inside a large pestle, and began grinding them into powder.

“Mione?” Charlie popped his head into her potion supply closet.

“Yes?”

“Snape dropped by earlier looking for you.”

“Oh. Did he say why?”

“Had a new recipe for you, I think. Gave it to Poppy. To heal some new curse he helped invent.”

Charlie’s expression was twisted with anger. Many of the Order members blamed Severus for every curse developed in Voldemort’s curse division. They thought that if Severus were really on the Order’s side, he’d find a way to sabotage the entire thing.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“You know if he weren’t there, we’d lose dozens more people before we’d figure out the countercurses. His information is vital for giving me time to prepare.”

“Yeah, and how many of our people do you reckon he’s killed getting that information? Those are our people they’re experimenting on to make the spells. He’s murdering people, but it’s alright ‘cause he’s sending us intelligence on countercurses. Does it really work that way?”

Hermione stilled from her dittany grinding.

“He’s a spy, Charlie. Those are the kinds of things they have to do to maintain their cover. If he blew it to save a group of prisoners or tried to sabotage the place, Voldemort would just create a new one and we’d lose the intelligence. The loss would never pay off in the long run.”

“So you say,” Charlie said, his lips thin and his eyes hard, he turned and walked away.

Hermione ground the dittany for a few more minutes before funneling it into a jar.

Severus must have developed a potion for healing the acid curse. She hoped it was different from the one he’d been working on when she stopped by Spinner’s End.

She had no acromantula venom. Ministry issued identification was required to buy from apothecaries. She would have try to find a source from the black market; it would probably cost several hundred gallons. The Order was low on funds.

The Goblins had taken a neutral position in the war, but while Gringotts remained open to the Order, getting into the bank for money without being arrested was a challenge. Not to mention that being a Muggle-born was an imprisonable offense.

Most members of the Resistance were unemployable, either by blood or association.

It was fortunate that Harry had a large vault, because they probably would have been starved out of existence otherwise.

If the potion required acromantula venom—well, hopefully Severus would be able to give her a few drops. If not, she doubted the Order would budget for her to buy any unless the curse was being used constantly.

She crossed her fingers and went to find Poppy.

The hospital ward was crowded again.

The rescue at the prison had been successful, but many of the prisoners had injuries from torture or were malnourished. There had been a firefight during the escape, and some brutal curses had been used.

Those with minor injuries had been sent to some of the other safe houses, but Grimmauld Place kept the most complex and difficult injuries for Hermione and Poppy to care for.

Poppy was hovering over Rolanda Hooch’s bed. A tiny pinprick incision in Hooch’s trachea kept reappearing and slowly growing despite all their efforts to heal it. Whomever was on duty in the hospital ward had to keep a two minute timer running in a constant cycle to monitor it.

“Any change?” Hermione asked, leaning down and examining the injury alongside Poppy.

“Oh, Hermione, you’re back,” Poppy said in a sad voice. “Severus came and looked at it. He said it isn’t one of Voldemort’s new ones. So—it’s likely a miscast curse.”

Hermione sighed with relief before a sharp wave of guilt struck her. If it was a miscast curse, they were unlikely to encounter it again. But it also meant that they’d likely be unable to heal Rolanda. Hermione had tried without success to deconstruct the injury with spell analysis, trying to unravel it. The structure was so mangled and inconsistent it was impossible to neutralise.

“How much longer do you think the healing spells will work?” Pomfrey quietly asked, staring sadly at her longtime colleague.

Hermione mentally calculated the time that had passed since Madam Hooch had been brought in. It was an obscure piece of knowledge but eventually healing charms ceased working when used in too great a frequency. Even magic couldn’t force a body to keep repairing itself beyond a certain point.

“If we keep healing it every two minutes the spells will probably continue working for another twenty hours,” Hermione told her gently.

Poppy nodded and tucked the blankets gently around Rolanda’s body.

“Severus left a new recipe for you,” she told Hermione. “He said you should get a flagon ready.”

Poppy reached into her pocket and withdrew a small roll of parchment and a vial.

Hermione lifted the vial up into the light.

Two drops of Acromantula venom. Probably worth more than fifty galleons.

She couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. She slipped the vial into her pocket and unfurled the recipe to see what it would require to brew.

She had all the ingredients. Except fluxweed, which she had to harvest under a full moon. She calculated the next lunar cycle. She’d have to wait for a week before she’d have everything she needed to make a batch.

If the curse were as serious as Severus had indicated, she would have to hope that there would be no skirmishes before the full moon. Which was likely a delusional notion.

At the end of the recipe, Severus had included the counter spell for the acid curse in his spiky handwriting. She reviewed it. It was simple, as he had said.

Hermione copied the countercurse onto a fresh sheet of parchment. An injury involving acid would need to be countered immediately. Waiting a few extra seconds to call a healer or apparate the wounded could add days to the recovery. The countercurse was simple enough; every Resistance member could learn it.

She wrote a brief note of explanation, and with a flick of her wand folded the note into a paper aeroplane and sent it zooming through the house to find Harry.

“Would you be able to take your shift early?” Poppy said.

Hermione looked up and realised Poppy was looking grey with grief.

“Of course,” Hermione said quickly.

“I want to write Filius, Pomona, and Minerva. They might want to come say their goodbyes,” Poppy said, shoulders drooping. “The notes on what I’ve done are all in the logbook, and I just resealed the incision. So you can start a two minute count now.”

Hermione watched Poppy Pomfrey as she walked with slow, heavy steps out of the hospital ward.

Hermione went over and glanced over the logbook. There were no surprises in it. She walked quietly from bed to bed. Everyone was still asleep, and a few were dosed with Draught of Living Death. It was a method of keeping them alive while certain, slow brewing potions were being made to cure them. She ran a precautionary diagnostic on each body, and ran through a mental checklist of which potions she needed to attend to. She needed to send out the first doses of wolfsbane potion to all the Lycanthropes in the Order.

It was a quiet day in the hospital ward. Aside from the constant recasting of the healing charm on Madam Hooch, most of the other injuries simply required careful supervision and time.

Hermione sat and speculated about what Malfoy might be like during their next meeting.

The fact he was also a natural occlumens was—problematic, to put it in the mildest of terms.

It meant his control ran deep. Trying to find her way in and make him loyal would be nearly impossible if he was able to winnow away and contain any effect she had on him.

If she wanted to have any chance of succeeding, she would have to be slow and insidious. To dig herself so deep into his psyche that he couldn’t drag or filter her out. Find a way into his heart. The one place that no amount of occlumency could block or sequester.

She shivered slightly.

She had never felt cruel before. Cold. Unfeeling. She’d been called those things, and believed they might be true. But cruel was a line she had always considered herself above. But what she was contemplating was possibly one of the cruelest things she could conceive of.

She squashed the hesitation.

He was the one who had demanded her.

Now and after the war.

She was well within her rights to ensure he paid full price for his demands. If he didn’t want her, he shouldn’t have asked.

She steeled herself, and summoned a book from her bag.

Chapter Text

April 2002

 

The following Tuesday, Malfoy behaved much in the way he had the week before.

He taught her occlumency, letting her practice the forms and techniques. He didn’t make it hurt. He barely spoke a word to her. He only touched her once, to tilt her head further back in order to make eye contact. And then—while he was in her mind—she could feel his hand still resting on her neck, his thumb against her throat.

He didn’t need to touch her. She knew. He could easily perform legilimency on her from several feet away.

He didn’t pry. Didn’t poke his head into memories that she overtly did not want him in. He just let her use his presence as a sort of practice dummy for learning evasive mental manoeuvring.

When he withdrew, she stared up at him curiously.

“Where did you learn that? I’m assuming your aunt didn’t use the technique.”

“She did not.” His teeth bared slightly as he said it. “I read about it in a book. Malfoy Manor has a large library. It wouldn’t work with most people, only other natural occlumens. Even though anyone can potentially learn occlumency or legilimency to some degree, it’s always either painful or so subtle they can barely even feel it happening.”

He looked at her and added with a smirk “You could say I’m experimenting on you.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Did the book require physical contact too?” she said in a sweet voice, eyeing his hand pointedly.

She immediately regretted saying it.

His hand tensed slightly, just enough to shift from resting to holding. His eyes darkened as his irises expanded incrementally.

“No.That—is just because I can.”

He smirked as he pulled her forwards and dipped his head to kiss her.

It was a cold kiss. His lips pressed against hers weren’t wanting or passionate.

It was simply a reminder.

That he could.

That he was being restrained. That, if he wanted to, he could demand anything he desired from her and she had already consented to give it to him.

Hermione didn’t respond to the kiss. She just let his cold lips meet hers without resisting until he pulled away again.

“Do you have any information this week?” she asked as his hand slid off of her and he stepped back.

He drew a scroll from his robes and handed it to her. 

“Spell analysis and countercurse information for new curses from the Dark Lord’s curse development division,” he said. “There’s a new set being taught currently.”

Hermione slid the scroll open and glanced over the information listed. Severus had already given the Order all the details about the curses, but Malfoy couldn’t know that. That it had occurred to him was a sign of how useful and proactive he was able to be. If they lost Severus, Malfoy was able to provide both types of intelligence.  

An excellent spy.

“This is invaluable information,” she said, packing it carefully into her satchel.

He shrugged.

“No, really. This will save lives. I didn’t even think to ask for this. That you did—I don’t know how to thank you enough.”

Malfoy looked vaguely uncomfortable with the gratitude.

“Whatever. It was an obvious piece of information to provide. The death rate in your Resistance is getting noticeable.”

Hermione felt the blood drain from her face, and he stared at her. “How much longer do you think you all can keep fighting?” 

Her throat tightened. “As long as it takes or until there’s no one left. There’s no plan B, Malfoy. There’s no surrendering for us.”

He nodded. “Good to know.”

Then he paused as though abruptly recalling something. “Is there a safe house involving a lot of children up in Caithness?”

Hermione blanched. “Why—why do you ask?”

His face grew hard. “It’s been noticed. Someone will likely be sent to investigate by the end of the week. Don’t let them find anything.”

Hermione nodded sharply. “I have to go,” she said, rushing to the door.

She summoned a corporeal patronus through sheer willpower. They’d become a struggle for her ever since she’d obliviated her parents. It had taken her several years to regain the ability, and they’d never fully regained the silver luminescence they‘d had during her fifth year.  

“Find Minerva McGonagall,” she said. “Tell her to prep for evacuation.”

As her otter scampered away, she cast another. The sleek, translucent creature stood on its hind legs and stared up at her.

“Go find Kingsley Shacklebolt. Tell him we need a new safe house for Caithness.”

 Then she apparated away to find Moody.

The process of evacuating children was slow and arduous. All of them were unable to apparate themselves, which meant that all available and easily contacted Resistance members had to be mobilised to carry them to safety via broomstick, repeated side-along apparition, or on the backs of thestrals. Creating portkeys was too time-consuming. None of the safe houses could risk having a floo connection.

The remote location had been a strategic choice. The hope was that it would pass unnoticed by Voldemort despite the presence of a great many odd children in such a small town. In retrospect, it was sheer luck they had succeeded for so long. There were few good options for trying to rehouse so many children in such a range of ages.

They had no backup safehouse for so many. The children had to be split up throughout dozens of safe houses. Ferrying them in small groups to other parts of the UK and then re-settling them, expanding rooms and transfiguring new beds.

Hermione made three trips. After she returned from the last one, she slumped against a wall with exhaustion. She’d apparated several toddlers all the way to Northern Ireland. They had vomited, and screamed, and sobbed with each progressive apparition. She’d been forced to stop and console them until they would hold still enough for her to safely apparate again without splinching anyone.

Minerva appeared and stopped in front of Hermione, her expression conflicted.

“Your information?” Minerva asked quietly.

Hermione nodded, “Moody’s going to tell anyone who asks that he learned about it while interrogating a snatcher.”

Minerva gave a sharp nod of acknowledgement and pressed her lips together, staring at Hermione for several seconds.

“You are a good girl; I hope that’s never doubted by anyone. Are you—alright?”

“He hasn’t done anything to me.” It was all the reassurance Hermione could give.

Something untwisted itself in Minerva’s expression. She nodded sharply and then swept away to help take down the wards and shrink the furniture.

Hermione glanced at the time. It was a full moon that night and she needed fluxweed.

She stood up and walked out of the manse until she reached the edge of the anti-apparition barriers. Then she began the series of jumps back towards London.

She stopped in a large field she often started foraging at near the Forest of Dean. Holding her wand out, she cast a point me charm and followed it in search of the weedy plant.

The bright light of the moon cast the sea of grass in sharp shadows. The clustered trees nearby rose up like a black curtain against the bright night sky. As Hermione slid down a small slope, a gust of wind shifted across the field, rippling the grass so that it whispered softly. As the sliding, shifting sound faded, a low howl emerged from the trees downwind of Hermione. 

She froze.

A werewolf.

There had never been werewolves in the area before. She had been so tired and distracted she hadn’t even thought to take any precautions.

Then another howl emerged. Further away. To her right.

And another howl.

There was a pack of werewolves in the Forest of Dean.

She almost apparated away but paused, hesitating. She needed fluxweed. If she didn’t get it that night, she wouldn’t be able to get any until the next month. She had to make the potion. Severus would not offer advice or take the time to invent potions unless it were urgent.

She bolted down the hill in the direction the locator spell was indicating.

Another howl. Closer.

She whipped the silver knife from her pocket and began slicing sections of fluxweed as fast as she could without affecting the potency. There wasn’t enough.

She recast the locator spell and ran in the direction her wand sent her. As she did so, she looked up to see the sharp elongated shadow of a werewolf sauntering down the slope towards her.

She skidded and nearly fell as she reached a spot with several fluxweed and cut them down in seconds.

The werewolf was less than twelve feet away and crouching into a lunge when she finally spun on her heel and apparated to the closest place she could think off. 

Hermione reappeared on the steps of Malfoy’s unplottable shack. Gasping for air, she dropped down onto the top step and sat panting as she tried to recover her breath.

She leaned against the door and closed her eyes as her heart continued pounding violently.

She was terribly out of shape. She couldn’t believe how quickly she’d tired out from running. Her oesophagus burned, and there was a sharp, stabbing pain through her lungs every time she breathed in.

Aside from tromping through the countryside in search of potion ingredients, Hermione didn’t engage in any physically strenuous activities. After she’d been pulled from fighting, she hadn’t had time to drill or practice or even worry about her physical endurance.

Merlin, she was useless. If she ever found herself on a battlefield again, she’d probably be cut down in seconds. 

Her breathing had evened, but she remained in place for another minute as she tried to will her heartbeat into slowing.

The door behind her abruptly wrenched open, and she toppled backwards into the shack.

Her head banged into the wood and stars flashed before her eyes as she discovered Malfoy staring down at her, enraged.

“The fuck, Granger, what are you doing?”

“Malfoy?” she said, staring up at him in confusion. “What are you doing here?”

“What am I doing here?” He snarled. “You activated the wards. I assumed you needed me for something.” 

“Oh,” Hermione said, heat staining her cheeks. “I didn’t realize the monitor ward extended beyond the room. I didn’t mean to bother you.”  

She rolled over and stood up.

Malfoy looked her up and down.

“What were you doing?” 

“I needed fluxweed harvested under a full moon,” she said, finding that she was still panting slightly. “And there were werewolves. I couldn’t wait until next month. So I had to run away and try gathering as I went. But I’m not very fit anymore. It winded me. This was the closest place to apparate to. So I was trying to get my breath back.”

“Where were you getting fluxweed?” His tone had an edge to it.

She gestured over here shoulder. “There’s a field near here, in the Forest of Dean. It’s one of the places I usually go to find potion ingredients.”

“Usually—”

There was a pause.

“You wander the countryside at night. Foraging?” His expression had become frozen.

“Yes.” Hermione nodded, eying him. “I mentioned this.”

“No... You said you were getting potion ingredients. I assumed that meant you had a supplier.” His expression was growing hard and his eyes were accusing as though she’d lied to him.

Hermione stared at him with disbelief. “I’m a terrorist. It costs a small fortune to buy potion ingredients off the black market. I’m not going to waste my budget when I can get it for free and at better quality by doing the work myself.”

“So you’re traipsing about the countryside of magical Britain, at night, to gather potion ingredients? Alone?”

“Obviously,” Hermione said, sniffing. “That’s why we meet on Tuesday mornings after I finish.”

There was a long silence.

“You cannot.” He announced it in a tone of finality. “You will stop. You will stay inside whatever sad little safehouse they keep you healing in, and you will not go foraging again.”

Hermione stared at him indignantly for several astonished seconds. “I will most certainly not! You don’t control what I do.”

His expression hardened, a predatory glint appearing in his eyes. “I do, actually. Have you forgotten? I own you. If I tell you to sit in this room and stare at the wall until next week, you gave your word that you’d do it.”

Hermione felt rage bloom through her. “No, I wouldn’t. Because you gave your word not to interfere with my work in the Order. Foraging is part of my work. It’s non-negotiable. If you want to control everything I do, you’ll have to wait until we win. You gave your word too.”

Malfoy stood glaring at her, his eyes calculating. Then he abruptly changed the subject. “So, you outran werewolves?”

She flushed.

“No. I mean—they weren’t very close until the end. I only ran maybe a hundred yards at most.”

“And you’re still panting from that?” he said sceptically.

“I—I don’t really do any fieldwork aside from foraging. There’s not much of a need to work on my stamina,” she said, drawing herself up defensively.

Malfoy’s mouth suddenly dropped open; he snapped it shut and dropped a hand over his eyes for several seconds as though trying to compose himself. Then he dragged his hand away and stared at her.

“When exactly was the last time anyone drilled you? I assume you practise basic duelling, given you’re so important they won’t let you fight anymore. Surely, since they let you go out, alone, in the middle of the night; your defence must be second to none.”

Hermione dropped her eyes and fidgeted with the strap of her satchel. “I’m very busy. Part of the reason they pulled me from combat is because there are a lot of other things I’m needed for.”

“How long has it been, Granger?” His voice was hard.

She glanced around the room. The stupid place didn’t even have anything she could pretend to be looking at. She focused on a knot in the floorboards.

“It’s—probably been about two and a half years,” she said quietly.

He dropped his face into his hand and was silent, as though he couldn’t even bear to look at her.

Hermione rolled her eyes. 

“Well, I’ll be going then,” she said at length in a crisp voice. “Sorry I bothered you. It won’t happen again.”

“I’m training you,” Malfoy said abruptly, straightening and glaring down at her.

“What?” She stared at him in confusion.

“I’m going to train you,” he said slowly. “Since getting you to stop is apparently not an option. I won’t waste my time dealing with a new contact in the Order because you aren’t smart enough to stay in fighting condition. Given the way they all fight, I’m sure anyone else I got would be shite at occlumency and likely to eventually be picked up in a skirmish.”

Well, Malfoy’s Slytherin self-preservation instinct was certainly still strong. Hermione sighed with irritation.

“It’s really not necessary. I don’t fight. There are rarely any issues when I’m foraging. You needn’t worry that you’ll be inconvenienced by losing your precious war prize.”

“Really?” he said, his voice airy as he stepped toward her. “You don’t want to? Because you’ll be done learning occlumency shortly. I would think you’d prefer to fill your time with duelling practice rather than some of the other activities I could demand you participate in.”

Hermione glared at him.

She doubted he had any intention of following through with his thinly veiled threat given that he’d shown no particular inclination. If he wanted to teach her duelling, there was no harm in it. She certainly would prefer it. She needed to keep spending time with him. She wouldn’t be able to succeed in her mission if they weren’t spending time with each other.

“Fine,” she snapped, her expression twisting in faint derision.

“You look so bitter,” his expression was vicious with mockery. “You’d think I just demanded you fuck me rather than not. Disappointed?”

“Only in your dreams,” she said, shooting him a glare.

“Every night.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Do you buy all your company?” she said, her voice sweet and her expression condescending. He didn’t even blink.

“I enjoy professionalism,” he said blandly, staring up at the ceiling as though he were reciting a mantra. “Clear lines. No drama. I’m not obliged to pretend that I care.”

He sneered at the last word, as though caring were the most offensive concept known to man.

“Of course. How very you.”

“Quite,” he agreed with a thin smile.

There was a silence. Hermione wanted to tell him he was vile, but she was certain he already knew. She felt tired and it made her want to be cruel.

“Do you talk to them and cry, telling them about how sad and lonely your life is? Or just bend them over without a word?” she asked, her voice lilting with the taunt.

His eyes flashed.

“Want me to show you?” His voice was sharp and cold as a splinter of ice.

Hermione's near run-in with the werewolves had the adrenaline still spiking through her. She was used to the high stress of the hospital ward, but it was always someone else’s life. She felt high on the rush from her near brush with death. She understood Harry suddenly. She felt like she could do anything.  

A sudden thought came to her at Malfoy’s threat.

She stared up at him, raising her chin.

“You won’t.”

His eyes got cruel, but before he could respond she continued. “It would be too real for you. Doing it with someone you know. Someone you’d see again. It would mess with those clear lines.” 

“Testing me, Granger?” His voice was low and caressing.

She stared at him.

“I suppose I am,” she said coolly, but her heart was beginning to pound at the realisation of what she’d just done.

He leaned down, his eyes hard, until his face was centimetres from her own.

“Strip.”

Hermione didn’t waver and neither did he, so he stepped slowly closer until she shuffled back. He loomed over her. His eyes glittered.

“It’s killing you, isn’t it? Wondering. You expected me to do this to you right off. So waiting—trying to guess when I might get around to it—that bothers you more than the thought of actually having to fuck me.”

He sneered. “Well—you have my attention. Strip.”

Hermione stared up at him, feeling her face grow hot even as the rest of her body became increasingly cold.

“You don’t even want me. Why did you include me in your demands? What is the point?” she asked. Her voice was angry and confused.  

He smirked. “You’re right. I don’t want you.”

It shouldn’t have hurt to hear him say it, but somehow it did. Especially set with the vindictive mockery in his expression as he stared down at her. 

“However, owning you is never going to get old. ‘Now and after the war.’ I can’t wait to see how bitterly I can make you regret those words. So, strip.” His voice dropped low. “Or did you want me to do it for you?” 

Hermione’s hands went up to the collar of her shirt and she gripped it defensively. She was terrified and enraged to the point she thought she might start crying. He did own her. She’d agreed to it. Her jaw trembled and her hands started shaking.

“Power gets you off, doesn’t it?” Her voice shook with rage as she forced herself to unfasten the top button on her shirt. “Hurting someone who can’t—or won’t—fight back. Using what people care about to torture and cage them, and force them to do things. You are just the same as Voldemort.”

The malice in Malfoy’s expression abruptly vanished and he paled. The check on his rage suddenly disappeared and darkness and magic poured off of him in waves, filling and writhing through the air. 

The ice-cold fury that appeared in his expression was staggering. His eyes turned black, his lips curled in a snarl, and he kept getting paler and paler as he stared at her.  

Hermione’s eyes widened in terror and she cringed away, bracing herself.

There was a tidal wave of fury rising up around him.

“Get out!” he snapped.

She stared at him, unmoving. Like an animal petrified by fear.

He snarled with rage. Suddenly the door to the shack slammed open so violently the hinges snapped and it plummeted to the floor.

“GET OUT!” he roared.

Hermione did not need further invitation. She bolted for the door and apparated the second she felt herself clear the wards.

When she got through the door at Grimmauld Place, she collapsed onto the floor of the foyer, shaking with terror.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She berated herself, trying to force herself to breathe. She felt like she was having a panic attack.  

She couldn’t understand what had prompted her to try provoking him. If it weren’t the middle of the night she would have banged her head into the floor with frustration over her idiocy.

After all the countless times she had scolded Harry, warning him about the consequences of his stupid thrill-seeking; she might have him beaten.

She was an idiot.

She pressed her hand over her pounding heart and dropped her face into the crook of her elbow. She whimpered quietly.

Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus.

Except she hadn’t tickled a sleeping dragon. Her actions appeared to have been more in the realm of waltzing up and smacking it upside the head with a beater bat.

They needed Malfoy. They desperately needed him, and a bit of adrenaline made her lose her head.

He was right, she couldn’t handle the dread. The constant anticipation. Exhausting herself wondering about what it was he wanted. What he intended to do to her. Constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was eating her alive.

If he was going to hurt her or fuck her, she just wanted to know and have him do it.

Going to him every week, uncertain of what he might do to her next—

It was breaking her to pieces.

She bit down on her lip as she huddled against the door. She tried not to burst into tears as her rush of norepinephrine lost its hold on her, and she found herself sharply dropped low. She was awash in horror and despair. 

She buried her face in her hands and sobbed quietly.

Her anxiety had quite possibly just cost the Order the war. Or at least countless lives.

She had to find a way to fix it. 

She wrapped her arms around herself, and tried to calm down and think.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

When her chest finally stopped stuttering, she stood up and brushed away the tears.

She made her way up to her potion supply closet, she stored the fluxweed and spent several minutes trying to organise her thoughts and force her hands to stop shaking.

She went on to her room.

The door was ajar. Which was odd, because both she and Ginny were generally fastidious about keeping their door shut and locked. Grimmauld Place wasn’t broadly accessible to the Resistance, but there were occasionally nosy individuals with little respect for privacy or personal possessions.

Hermione peeked in and then jumped back in surprise.

Ginny and Harry were half-naked and, if they weren’t already, they appeared mere seconds from shagging.  

Hermione cast a quick privacy charm on the door and hurried away. On the landing of the steps she paused and hesitated. Grimmauld’s rooms were crammed currently. A number of the older children from Caithness had been brought there.

The parlour downstairs was currently occupied by all the insomniacs. There weren’t many places left to sleep.

She was so tired. Her bout of crying left her feeling internally hollow.

She crawled into a window seat and tried to drift off, but her mind wouldn’t quiet itself. She kept replaying her conversation with Malfoy. Fretting over the potion she needed to brew. Re-living the moment all the rage poured off Malfoy and he roared at her.

He hadn’t hurt her.

He’d had every opportunity and more than sufficient fury, but he’d held it back and driven her off instead.

A murderous Death Eater with some sort of moral code. An oxymoron if ever there were one.

It had to be connected to his motive for aiding the Order.

What did he want?

It aggravated her deeply that she couldn’t figure it out. 

After tossing about on the window seat for half an hour, she sat up with a sigh. She didn’t want to try brewing Severus’ potion until she was rested. She clambered up and went to the uppermost floor of the house. There was a practice room there.

She looked in and found it empty.

She made her way into the middle of the room and, drawing her wand, began making her way through some of the duelling poses.

When she’d returned from her healer training throughout Europe, she’d only participated in two small skirmishes before the Order decided the pull her permanently from combat. After the years away she’d gotten rusty, far less proficient in duelling than anyone else in her age group. The rest of DA were fast and cast powerful spells, dodging and weaving while maintaining excellent precision even from a distance.  

Healing was subtle. It almost always required holding back. Close work with attention to tiny details.  

Trying to duel again was such a reversal in the technique that she’d been awful.

Ron and Harry devoted quite a bit of time trying to help her catch up, but before she’d managed to do so, Kingsley advised pulling her entirely from combat. No one made so much as a murmur in disagreement.

Hermione understood the rationale, but years later the decision still hurt. She’d felt as though she’d failed somehow and was being shunted off—away from everyone else.

The original DA had become a tight-knit combat unit that she was not a member of.

Hermione bit her lip and cast a protego as powerfully as she could. The shield bloomed in front of her.  

She sighed in relief as she withdrew the spell. At least she could still manage that.

She cast a series of hexes at the dummies across the room. Half of them hit their targets. None of them precisely.

She flushed and tried again. She was somehow worse the second time.

Hermione berated herself. She was standing still. Not on a battlefield. Not while having any spells directed back at her.

She was shite.

In the unlikely event that Malfoy trained her, he would tear her to pieces for how inept she’d become.

She squared her shoulders and tried again.

She cast a few more complex curses.

Well, she could manage that.

 It wasn’t a lack of proficiency when it came to combat magic. She was simply terrible at the actual combat aspect.

That was some consolation.

Well, not really.

She kept going until she was so tired her hands were shaking from exhaustion. Then she dropped onto one the training mats and fell asleep.

“Hermione, bloody hell? Why are you in here?”

Hermione squinted the next morning and found Ron standing over her, flanked by Ginny, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Lavender, Parvati, Padma, Fred and Angelina.

She sat up with a groan and rubbed her eyes.

“‘My bed got taken in the rehousing shuffle,” she lied, shooting Ginny a look. “I came here to sleep.”

“Oh,” said Ron. “Well, we’re going to be practising an attack formation before Neville and Seamus have to head out on that recon mission. So—we need the room.”

Hermione nodded and stood.

“Can I watch?” she found herself asking.

Ron furrowed his forehead and stared at her.

“Sure. I guess. If you have time for it. Just—keep a shield up. Lot of hexes will be going. 

Hermione backed into a corner and watched Ron lay out the strategy. She couldn’t track all the terms they used. It wasn’t traditional combat terminology, rather a sort of shorthand that had evolved among the fighters over time. Their own language.

As they scattered across the room, she cast a shield around herself. Ron activated one of the wards on the room with a charm, and then everyone started casting a series of hexes toward the walls.

The spells bounced off and ricocheted back and forth across the rooms. Soon the room was full of flying magic.

Hermione watched as the DA members began running through the attack formation. Their spells were all precise. Their shields powerful. None of them even got nicked by the flying spells. It was instinctive for them. They knew when their shields needed to be renewed. They knew how everyone else fought; who would cover for them. They fought closely and cast nonverbally.

Their combat skills were vastly superior to her own. It would take a miracle for her to catch up.

She watched them run through the formation twice before she turned and slipped out of the practice room.

She went to her potion supply closet, gathered up the ingredients, and got ready to begin brewing.

The following Tuesday she apparated into Whitecroft and approached the location of the shack slowly.

She wondered if Malfoy would be there. She prayed that he would.

She had no idea how to fix things if he refused to even appear. She could only hope that whatever was causing him to spy was sufficient motivation that her actions couldn’t dissuade him.

If he weren’t there, she would wait.

If he was there—she hoped he would just punish her and get it over with, rather than force her to continuously dread it.

The door had been repaired. She braced herself and pushed it open.

Empty.

After waiting for a minute she went over to the chair by the table. Her stomach was twisting itself in dread, and she tried to distract herself by reciting arithmancy formulas while she sat there.

She just needed to stop thinking about what might happen next.

Suddenly there was a sharp crack and she stood and turned sharply as Malfoy appeared. He stood staring at her, his expression indecipherable.  

Hermione didn’t say anything. She just looked at him. She was relieved she wasn’t trembling.

She forced herself to meet his gaze. That needle-like sensation of terror began lacing through her spine. She suddenly felt cold. She could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand on end as she braced herself.

She could see his jaw clench and he glanced away from her.

He was apparently not intending to speak first.

She took a deep breath. She needed him. He was clearly still furious with her but she had to fix it. Whatever it took.

“I’m sorry,”  she said desperately. “I lost my head and crossed a line. I’m sorry. Whatever I need to do to make it up—I’ll do whatever you want. Just let me fix this.”

Chapter Text

April 2002

Draco looked sharply at her, something she couldn’t read flickering across his expression.

“It’s fine,” he said in a hard voice. “When I said I wanted you willing, that meant you were allowed to say no. Although perhaps try saying it instead of purposely provoking me.”

Hermione stared at him in shock.

He clenched his hand into a fist and pressed it against his forehead as though he had a headache.

“Do you want to continue with occlumency?” he asked.

Hermione shifted slightly but didn’t answer. She felt knocked off kilter. The conversation hadn’t—she didn’t—

What did he mean?

Was it possibly a feint, so he could catch her off guard?

If she were allowed to say no to things, he certainly hadn’t bothered to communicate that to her. In fact he’d heavily implied the opposite. Although—he hadn’t really done much that wasn’t primarily to just to provoke her.

So—

She eyed him warily.

Something that she said to him that night had accidentally struck a nerve. Deeply.

What had she said?

That power got him off. Hurting someone who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—fight back. Using what people cared about to torture and cage them and force them to do things. That he was just the same as Voldemort...

That he was just the same as Voldemort.

That was probably it. He probably regarded himself as better than his Master. Maybe he thought that if he helped the Order overthrow Voldemort that it would leave a vacuum of power that he could fill.

The thought made her insides twist.

Was that really it? Was he playing both sides against each other, thinking that he could seize power in the aftermath?

Perhaps he objected to Voldemort’s reign of terror; the attacks used to frame the Order, and all the torture and experiments. Malfoy probably imagined he’d rule in a genteel manner where women were ostensibly “willing” and executions were ceremonial.

Yet—it seemed like he’d been more than just offended. His rage—the rage he carried was surely larger than merely ego or ambition.

Her wary expression seemed to annoy him. He hissed slightly and his teeth flashed.

“Suffice to say, I’m not going to hurt you,” he ground out. “So stop looking at me as though you expect me to curse you in the back.”

The words made Hermione flinch. If she weren’t so desperate to ensure that he’d keep spying for them, she would have sneered and asked why he hadn’t made such an allowance for Dumbledore. He seemed to see the retort in her expression and his jaw twitched.

She bit her tongue and glanced awkwardly around the shack. “I do want to finish learning occlumency.”

“Alright.”

His tone was clipped, and he appeared to have boxed in his anger. His face smoothed into that cold, indolent mask once more. But his silver eyes continued to study her. She could almost feel his gaze against her skin.

He moved toward her.

He felt simultaneously the same, and yet different. As though he were going through the same motions, but more consciously than he had in the past. There was a subtle element of over-precision.

He tilted her head back with his fingertips. When she looked deep into his eyes, she could see a bitterness that she didn’t think had been there before.

He sank painlessly into her mind.

It was more of the same for the next two weeks. More occlumency and a reserved Malfoy. Conversation remained stilted, although the intelligence he provided continued to flow generously and remained sound.

Hermione berated herself internally each week as he apparated away after exchanging less than a dozen words with her.

Her psychological sketch of him had stalled. Each week, she added more questions with no answers. The list of potential motives ranged from the magnanimous to the monstrous.

She could tell that she was almost done with occlumency training. Malfoy’s invasions of her mind were growing agonizingly painful and aggressive as he tested her technique and abilities.

She was tempted to ask if he still intended to train her in dueling, but she was afraid to bring up the subject.

She was beginning to feel desperate.

When she got to the shack she paced nervously, trying to come up with some way of breaking through the awkwardness. There had to be some way to get through to him. Some weakness she could find to get inside.

Malfoy appeared in front of her with an abrupt crack, and seemed to wince slightly as he straightened.

Hermione had seen that subtle expression often enough to identify it immediately, no matter how carefully concealed. Without even pausing to think, she whipped her wand out and cast a rapid diagnostic on him.

Before she could glance down for the results, Malfoy lunged forward, knocked her wand away, and had her pinned to the wall.

“What are you doing?” he snarled.

Right. He probably wasn’t in the habit of letting people cast magic in his direction.

She met his eyes steadily. “You’re hurt.”

He snatched his hands away from her and stepped back.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “I’ll have it taken care of later.”

Hermione’s eyes dropped down to the colours and details surrounding her wand, lying on the floor a few feet away, reading the most obvious parts.

“You’ve got several fractured ribs, a concussion, and internal bruising. It’ll take me ten minutes to fix it. And—“ she gave him a pointed look, “apparating will hurt even more the next time. If you leave the fractures and keep doing it, your ribs may fully break. You could puncture a lung. If there are shards, the ribs would have to be removed and regrown.”

He stared at her for several moments before rolling his eyes. “Fine.”

She knelt down and grabbed her wand. “Strip—from the waist up.”

He went still for a moment.

“I thought that was my line,” he finally said as he reached up stiffly and unfastened his cloak, letting it pool in a careless heap on the floor. “If you wanted me so badly, you only needed to ask.”

He leered at her in an overtly fake way.

Everyone had methods for handling pain. Harry got very quiet, while Ron would become what Fred and George had termed “bitchy.” Seamus and Charlie swore in such volume and length that they had to be silenced.

Pain clearly made Malfoy even more sarcastic than he already was.

At least that meant he was talking to her again.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Yes. Nothing gets me going like the sight of an abdomen mottled with purple and green bruising.”

“I always knew you were a sadistic bitch.”

The comment caught Hermione so off-guard she burst out laughing.

Malfoy appeared astonished by the success as he began unbuttoning his shirt and awkwardly trying to shrug it off.

He had a shoulder injury too.

She reached out slowly like she were approaching a defensive animal. He didn’t flinch away, so she set to pulling his shirt off of him gently and taking in the damage.

He appeared to have been flung, extremely violently, into—something.

His shoulder had been dislocated, but he must have popped it back in place. His entire right side was completely covered in bruises. It was remarkable that his arm wasn’t shattered.

“What happened?” she inquired with sincere curiosity.

“New pack of werewolves,” he answered shortly. “There were leadership issues.”

“So, what? You fought a werewolf alpha?” she asked skeptically as she started repairing his ribs.

“Well, he was strictly forbidden from biting or clawing, and I wasn’t allowed to kill him. But—when you’ve got beasts with a pack hierarchy and you try to run them without beating them into submission first, you’re just waiting for an insurrection,” Malfoy explained as though such things were common knowledge.

“Is all this from winning or losing?” she asked as she repaired the fracture on another rib.

He glared at her. “Winning, obviously. I wouldn’t have been apparating anywhere if I’d lost. Fucking animal didn’t even think to use his wand. They all go feral once they start running in packs.”

He rolled his eyes as he said it and then added “Now I’m ostensibly the alpha of a werewolf pack. Adds to my natural charm, I think. ”

“The alpha is sure to try to kill you,” Hermione pointed out.

Malfoy snorted. “He's welcome to try. It will take me less than a minute to take him down once I’m allowed to kill him.” He sneered.

Hermione didn’t reply. With a nonverbal spell she summoned her satchel and pulled out the emergency kit she always kept with her.

“Sit down and drink this,” she instructed as she handed him a potion. “It’ll deal with the concussion you have.”

While he was downing it, she rubbed her hands together to warm them and then dipped her fingers into a small jar of paste.

She eyed him thoughtfully for a moment before lightly setting her hand on his bare shoulder.

He nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Relax,” she said, feeling the muscles in his shoulders grow taut beneath her fingers. “It won’t sink in well if you’re tense.”

Malfoy didn’t relax at all.

She rolled her eyes.

She drew her fingers lightly over his shoulder, spreading the paste and letting him get used to the contact. The muscles in his shoulders flinched and twinged slightly. It reminded Hermione of petting a skittish horse.

Of all the contexts in which she had imagined Malfoy eventually half-naked in her presence, healing him had surprisingly not been one of them. But—she could use this to patch things and continue working on her initial strategy.

He was assuredly lonely. He seemed unsettled by physical contact that wasn’t either violent or sexual.

She supposed that wasn’t surprising. Who was there to be kind to him? By his account his brutal training with Bellatrix had been unimpeded by anyone, even his mother. The thought made her shiver slightly.

Crucioing a sixteen year old to teach him occlumency and then leaving him to pass out from it.

She could use that emptiness. That loneliness. The need for comfort was written into the human psyche. Malfoy might not even be conscious enough of the absence to be defensive. If she awakened that need—

—she’d be in.

Non-sexual physical contact was something she was comfortable with. Touching bodies. Being soothing and comforting. It was, she realised, an unexpected advantage she held over Malfoy. He liked clear lines. She would blur them and then slip through the gaps.

She leaned forward, just slightly, so that her mouth was close to his ear. His skin smelled faintly of salt, along with subtle, biting undertones of oakmoss and the sharp green scent of papyrus.

“This will hurt a bit,” she said softly.

Then she began to knead the muscle in order to force the healing paste deep into the tissue and restore the stretched tendons. If she didn’t get it to sink in fully, the damage could become permanent and Malfoy might become prone to getting his shoulder dislocated.

“Fuck,” he groaned. “You are a bitch.”

Her hands stilled for a moment before she resumed.

“The claim has been made before,” she noted quietly.

That response seemed to catch Malfoy slightly off-guard. He subsided and clenched his jaw while she continued. Within a minute she was done but she continued massaging his shoulder. Gently. In a way that was—strictly speaking—not medically necessary.

After an extra minute, she paused with her hands resting lightly on his shoulder.

“I need to finish up with your ribs now. It’s easiest if you lie back.”

He sighed, and lay down on the floor. She stuffed his cloak behind his head, and shifted herself around so that she was sitting beside him.

He was staring at her with intense suspicion.

She busied herself with her healing kit, and fished out a large vial of serum. After a quick spell to clean the paste off her hands, she poured the viscous liquid into her palm. She spread it across his arm, side, and chest in small circular motions. She took note of where it vanished fastest, and added an additional layer of serum.

With her free hand she cast a new diagnostic charm. He had a kidney contusion too. She sighed faintly.

“You’ve got a bruised kidney. I don’t have the potion for it with me, so you’ll have to go see a healer for that. It’s not severe, but it’ll hurt for a few days if you don’t get it taken care of.”

The bruises on his chest were slowly vanishing beneath her fingers. As they did, the circular motions she was drawing grew gradually slower as she appraised him.

He was—quite attractive. Physically.

He must have a genetic propensity toward low body fat because all the muscles in his torso and arms stood out with stark definition. His whole body was hard and angular, without even a hint of softness. He wasn’t a bodybuilder, but he was—fit.

Most men had at least a layer of fat cushioning their flesh before meeting muscle. Despite how strong all the Weasley boys were, their muscle definition was generally somewhat faint beneath their skin. Harry had an eternal propensity toward scrawniness, regardless of his physical condition.

It wasn’t surprising, she supposed. Lucius Malfoy was well-built and far from portly, while Narcissa had been thin as a lath.

She studied Malfoy thoughtfully.

“Do you leer at all your patients, or am I special?” Malfoy abruptly drawled.

She started and blushed.

“I wasn’t,” she said defensively. “I was just wondering about your body fat ratio.”

“Of course you were,” Malfoy said snorting.

She withdrew her hands.

“You’re done,” she told him quietly.

He sat up and rotated his shoulder as he studied her repair work on his ribs. Then he drew his shirt back on, and rebuttoned it quickly.

Hermione looked away and began packing up her healing kit.

“So—how does a person beat a werewolf without killing him?” she inquired.

“A Bombarda Maxima with the wandpoint against his eyeball seems to do the trick,” Malfoy said casually as he picked up his cloak and stood. “But you have to let them get that close. Which obviously did not go entirely as planned.”

She stared at him.

“You blew up his eye?”

“It would have killed a wizard, but werewolves never know when to die.”

“He is most assuredly going to try to kill you,” Hermione told him seriously.

“I’m counting on it,” he said savagely.

She rolled her eyes and stood up.

“So. More werewolves. Any other information?”

He wandlessly conjured a scroll.

“A few new non-lethal curses your Order might deign to use without impugning their precious consciences. Details on a new prison in Cornwall. Also, the Dark Lord is considering making his name into a taboo. You may want to warn all your foolhardy fighters against throwing it around as a demonstration of their Gryffindor courage.”

Hermione accepted it, and he turned to go.

“Thanks for the patch job, Granger.”

He vanished.

Hermione glanced around the shack for a moment before slipping the scroll into her satchel.

She had healed Draco Malfoy.

She had healed loads of people, but somehow healing him felt different.

For a few minutes he hadn’t felt like a Death Eater. He had simply been a person who was in pain.

A person.

She wasn’t used to thinking about him in that way.

It felt safer to make him impersonal. A concept in her mind.

Death Eater. Murderer. Spy. Target. Tool.

That was how she preferred to categorise him.

Not as an injured person. Not someone who winced from fractured ribs. Not someone so unused to physical touch they flinched away reflexively. Not someone—attractive.

The interaction had appeared to patch the awkwardness; to bridge the space that had formed. But it had also carved away at the “otherness” that she had been able to apply to him; as her enemy, the murderer of Albus Dumbledore. The perspective that enabled her to think unflinchingly about potentially manipulating him into his grave.

Thinking about him as a person made him less of a monster in her mind.

She couldn’t allow herself to do that. It awakened the Hermione of Hogwarts, the fourteen year old girl who had knitted hats and started a Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare. That righteous teenager would be horrified by how her future self stood rationalising the strategic necessity of intellectually dehumanising Draco Malfoy.

Hermione’s hands shook slightly as she shuffled the thought into the back of her mind.

And—he had come to her as soon as she’d arrived. Despite his injuries. He’d come.

She wondered if that meant something.

Hermione returned to Grimmauld Place and went immediately up to her room. Before walking in, she peered surreptitiously around the door to ensure the room was empty.

Harry and Ginny were “not” together. Ginny had sought Hermione out several weeks before to assure her of that detail. It had simply been a fling. In the heat of the moment.

There was apparently a lot of heat, given that Hermione had nearly walked in on them a dozen times since.

Hermione, along with everyone else in Grimmauld, was feigning ignorance over Harry’s dramatically improved mood. He’d bound through the house like a joyous stag.

Hermione pulled her notebook from beneath her bed and muttered the counter-charms for the security measures she had placed on it.

She flipped through the pages carefully. Looking over everything she’d written, taking note of how her opinions and theories had evolved and scattered. She nibbled on the tip of her quill as she underlined a comment she had made weeks before.

Lonely. Isolated.

She was growing convinced that it was a central pillar to him. Dead mother. Insane father. Ambitious friends all devoted to their own self-preservation.

Whatever was driving Malfoy to cast himself off from Voldemort and throw in his lot with the Order was probably a secret from everyone.

There was no room for honesty and friendship while serving under the rule of a megalomaniac who was the most powerful legilimens in the wizarding world.

Hermione was almost certain that no one on Voldemort’s side knew Malfoy was a spy. He wouldn’t possibly risk it.

Hermione could be a safe repository for his secrets. If she got him to trust her. If her occlumency was good enough, he’d be able to rationalise it to himself. She’d turn his strengths into weaknesses she could capitalise on.

She poked her head under her bed in search of a psychology book she wanted to reference. As she looked over the books piled up, she stilled—

They had been moved.

The difference was slight, but she was certain. Someone had been snooping under her bed. She cast a detection spell that came back blank.

She looked back at her notebook. She cast a series of charms and analytic spells on it, looking for tampering. There were no signs.

She stared under the bed again, and then around the room.

Kreacher.

The dratted elf rarely did more than sulk and insult people, but occasionally he would go on a half-hearted cleaning spree.

The room did appear to have been dusted. Ginny’s generally unmade bed had been straightened somewhat.

Hermione relaxed slightly, but she cast several extra spells on her books and a ward that would notify her if anyone were to disturb the books again. She also added a very thorough self-destruction spell on the notebook if it were tampered with by anyone.

As she was standing up to leave, Ginny walked in.

“You’re back early,” Ginny said.

Hermione glanced down at her watch. She was. Her meetings with Malfoy were regularly exceeding the allotted half-hour. It was the first time she’d returned before 8:30. Normally Hermione had to rush to store the potion ingredients before her 9:30 shift in the hospital ward.

“Lucky day,” Hermione said.

“Yeah,” said Ginny, looking slightly awkward. “Um. I wanted to—ask you about something.”

Hermione waited.

Ginny tugged nervously at her hair. She’d kept it cut in a bob just past her chin ever since a long ponytail had been grabbed during a battle, and she’d been nearly killed by a hag.

“I—well—you, obviously know about me and Harry,” Ginny said.

Hermione gave a short nod.

“Right. Well. The thing is, I want to be careful. I’ve been using the charm. But—there’s something about Prewetts; they’re not like other wizarding families. They just get pregnant somehow. Ron and I were both accidents after the twins came along. So—I was wondering if you’d make me a contraceptive potion. If you have the time. I was always rubbish at potions. If you can’t—that’s fine. I can ask Padma. I know you’re terribly busy. I just—I didn’t want you to think I didn’t want to ask you.”

“Of course. I’ll be brewing tonight anyway. It will be an easy thing include. Do you have a preference about taste? The most effective ones don’t taste very pleasant.”

“I don’t care what it tastes like if it works,” Ginny said boldly.

“Well, I’ve already got a few vials of one variety. I can give them to you now, if you’d like.”

“You do?” Ginny blinked and stared at Hermione suspiciously. “Are you—?”

Hermione could see Ginny running a list of possible men in Hermione’s life.

“You’re not—with Snape, are you?” Ginny suddenly choked.

Hermione gaped.

“God—No!” she said, spluttering and waving her hands as though she were trying to ward something off. “I’m a healer! I keep a lot of things on hand. Good grief! What—why would you even—“

Ginny looked slightly abashed.

“He’s just the only person you ever seem to talk to for long. Aside from Fred, who’s with Angelina. Everyone else you just end up fighting with. And not in the hot and bothered, angsty sex later kind of way.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m shagging him,” Hermione muttered, feeling as though her face were about it burst into flames. “He’s a colleague. I consult with him about potions.”

“You just seem lonely,” Ginny said, giving Hermione a long look.

Hermione started slightly and stared at Ginny.

“You don’t talk to anyone anymore,” Ginny said. “You used to always be with Ron and Harry. But even before you left to become a healer, you’ve seemed more and more alone. I thought—maybe you had someone. Granted, Snape would be a weird choice for a lot of reasons—but, it’s a war. It’s too much for anyone to handle alone.”

“Cathartic shagging is Ron’s thing. Not mine,” Hermione said stiffly. “Besides, it’s not like I’m fighting.”

Ginny looked at her pensively for a moment, before saying “I think that hospital ward is worse than the battlefield.”

Hermione looked away. She had sometimes wondered if it might be, but it had never been a question she could ask anyone.

Ginny continued “I think of it every time I’m in there. In the field—everything is so focused. Even when someone’s injured. You just apparate them away and then head back. You win some. You lose some. You get hit sometimes. You hit back. You get days to recover if it’s bad, or if your dueling partner dies. But in the hospital ward, every battle looks like losing. I’m always more traumatised after being in there than I am by fighting.”

Hermione was silent.

“You don’t ever get time off,” Ginny added. “They can never spare you long enough to let you grieve. I know from Harry and Ron that you’re still pushing for dark arts when you go to the Order meetings. I don’t agree—but I get it. I realise that you see the war from a different angle from us. Probably the worst one. So—I’m just saying, if you had someone, I’d be really happy for you. Even if it was Snape.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“You should probably stop talking now if you still want that contraceptive potion,” Hermione said with a glare.

Ginny snapped her mouth shut. Hermione grabbed her satchel off the bed.

“Come on. They’re in my potion supply closet,” Hermione said, walking out of the bedroom.

The vials were all stored up on the top shelf in a small box. Hermione pulled out a dozen and put them into a small pouch for Ginny.

“One a day. It’s best if you take it at the same time every day. I’ll make another batch this week and give you a month’s supply.”

“Thanks, Hermione.”

Ginny slipped away, and Hermione packed the box back up onto the top shelf.

She had lied. Contraceptive was not a potion she kept on hand. It had been Hermione’s personal supply which she had been taking as a precaution since the day after Moody approached her about Malfoy.

The next week Malfoy was in the shack when Hermione arrived. When she opened the door, he stared at her with an expression of mild irritation.

She looked at him confusedly.

“Am I late?” she asked glancing at her watch.

“No,” he said, his tone clipped.

She closed the door awkwardly and waited.

“I think we’re done with occlumency,” he said after a minute.

“Alright.”

She started to open her mouth to ask him if he intended to train her in dueling but then shut it again and waited. Something about his mood unsettled her slightly.

“We’ll start with basic dueling so I can see how bad you are at it,” he announced.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Fine,” she said. “What are the rules?”

“None for you. Do whatever you want,” he said. “I’ll restrict myself to stinging hexes. I want to see how long you can last.”

Hermione blushed.

“I’ll just tell you now I’m going to be awful,” she said.

“Yes. I’m expecting that.”

She glared at him, put her satchel on the floor by the door and placed a protective ward around it. Then she turned to face him.

He’d moved across the room and was leaning lazily against the wall.

“Alright.”

He reached into his robes and withdrew his wand. She cocked her head to the side.

“That’s not your wand from school, is it?” she asked.

He looked down and spun it in his fingers.

“No,” he admitted. “My unicorn hair didn’t handle the dark arts very well so I had to replace it. Still Hawthorn wood, but less yielding, with a dragon heartstring core. It’s also a few inches longer.”

He raised his eyebrows suggestively as he said the last line.

Hermione filed the information away for future analysis. She thought there was a book on wand theory at Grimmauld Place in the Black library.

She got into dueling position.

Malfoy straightened and entered the same position with a flourish.

Hermione had been trying to practice dueling whenever she could find the time to sneak into the practice room. She shot a nonverbal stunner at him and he deflected it easily with a shield as he shot a series of stinging hexes at her.

She cast her own shield rapidly and kept it in place with a fianto duri spell.

Malfoy cast an endless stream of hexes and carelessly knocked any spells she sent toward him without even moving.

Despite the low impact of the spell he was using, the rapidity with which he cast hexes was wearing down Hermione’s shield.

Before she could recast her shield, he shot a low hex at her feet. She yelped slightly as she was struck on the ankle.

It went rapidly downhill from there. She jumped backward without thinking, and left herself open. He immediately struck her with an additional five hexes.

“Alright!” she shouted. “You’ve won. Stop it!”

“That’s not how it works, Granger,” he drawled while continuing to nonverbally shoot hexes at her. “In the battlefield you win or you die. Or you run away.”

Hermione physically dodged his spells and finally managed to recast her shield. She was standing gingerly on one foot. Her side, where he’d repeatedly struck her, was swelling and inflamed.

She angrily shot a slightly dark curse at him. Not anything deadly but more serious than a stunner.

Malfoy deflected it and quirked an eyebrow.

“The kitten has claws,” he said with mock wonder.

“Oh, stuff it,” she snarled as she cast a series of nonverbal spells in his direction.

“Good god, Granger, your aim is atrocious,” he told her while still machine gunning her with stinging hexes. “I’m not even moving and you’re missing me.”

“I am aware.”

“No wonder they pulled you from combat.”

“Shut up!”

“Struck a nerve, have I?” he said dryly. His grey eyes were glinting, and she realised that he was punishing her for something. Whatever had been irritating him when she’d arrived, he was getting back at her for it.

Passive-aggressive wanker.

He wasn’t even trying. He already knew she was rubbish. He was just doing it for his own personal amusement.

She spun away from his hexes and cast her shield again. She was already getting tired from the combination of dodging and casting.

She gripped her wand tighter and kept going until he struck her wand hand with so many hexes she couldn’t hold it anymore.

Her wand fell to the ground. Rather than try to dodge, she just stood there as he struck her on the torso and legs with dozens more hexes.

Then he finally stopped and she stared at him.

“Feel better now?” she inquired.

He smirked and put his wand away.

“I’ve wanted to hex you for years,” he said with a satisfied gleam in his eyes.

“I already told you you could,” she said in a wooden voice as she began mentally cataloging everywhere on her body she’d been struck. “But I suppose you like to pretend you’re giving a sporting chance.”

“It’s not my fault you’re so pathetic at defense.”

“No. That’s on me,” she said quietly, lifting up her hand and wincing slightly as she tried to move her fingers.

The stinging hex was non-permanent in its damage, but it also couldn’t be reversed magically. With the quantity and concentration Malfoy had used, it would take her more than a day before the pain from all the welts faded. She was certain he’d chosen the hex specifically because of that.

“For the record,” she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “This qualifies as interfering with my work. So perhaps use a reversible hex, or keep it all to one location next time.”

Malfoy said nothing.

“So—“ she asked after a minute. “Do I get to know why?”

“When it comes to cursing you, Granger, your mere existence is reason enough.”

She pressed her lips together, and swallowed hard. An aching sensation spread across her nose and cheeks and she blinked it away.

“Did you have any information this week?”

“No.”

“Alright. Well, I’ll be going then,” she said, kneeling stiffly and picking up her wand with her left hand. Then she went over and pulled her satchel onto her shoulder, flinching slightly when the strap landed on several of the welts.

Malfoy didn’t say a word as she walked out.

She stood outside the shack, feeling at a loss. Not at Malfoy’s cruelty, but over what she was supposed to do. She couldn’t go back to Grimmauld Place and have someone realise she’d been hexed. She’d have no explanation for it.

She walked gingerly over to the stump and sat on the edge of it.

With a sigh, she pulled her satchel off her shoulder and began pulling sacks and bottles out. She’d have to throw away all of the potion supplies she’d foraged. They required careful storage in order to maintain their magical efficacy. She wouldn’t be able to perform the necessary spellwork with her wand hand in its current condition.

She sadly dumped the murtlap tentacles onto the ground. She would have to snare and kill another one. And the fairy wings. Then she dumped out all the rest until she had nothing but a bundle of stinging nettles left.

With grimace, she snatched them up and pressed them against both ankles and all over both hands and wrists. Then she lightly brushed her face with the bundle as well. She dropped the nettles onto the ground and watched as the multitude of tiny welts blistered up across her skin and obscured all the hexes her clothes didn’t conceal.

With a sigh, she stood up, and holding her wand lightly, she apparated back to Grimmauld Place.

“Hermione? What happened to you?” Angelina inquired wide eyed as she walked in the door.

“I tripped and fell into a nettle patch,” Hermione lied.

“Oh golly.” Angelina stared at Hermione’s face until she began to blush faintly. “Anything you can do about it?”

“Unfortunately not. There aren’t any spells for nettle stings. They should fade in a day. But I couldn’t forage very well. So I’m going to have to go again tomorrow.”

“Too bad. Your poor face.”

Hermione shrugged mildly, “My hands are worse. I have to go tell Pomfrey. I’m not sure how much good I’m going to be in the hospital ward today.”

Because of Malfoy’s hexes, Hermione found herself unexpectedly with a free day. Not that she was able to enjoy it much without being able to use her hands. She couldn’t even bend her fingers enough to grasp and turn a page in a book.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had time off. Any time she got time away from healing, she used it to brew some of the more complex potions, or restock her potion supplies.

She sat and stared out of the window in the attic, watching the passing muggles.

She wondered what it was that had provoked Malfoy.

She wondered if perhaps getting hexed by him might actually be a good sign. That it meant she was getting to him, and so he was lashing out defensively. Healing him the week before had been a shift in their interaction; he’d probably seen hexing her as a way to put her back in her place.

He was so vindictive.

Occlumency training had hurt far more, but it had been constructive. There had been a point to the pain. There had been potions to deal with the migraines.

Hexing her had just been his nastiness.

It was a rubbish way to appraise her fighting abilities, because once he’d hit her with the hexes, she wouldn’t be able to start over for another week. If he’d wanted to test her aim or endurance, he could have just repeatedly immobilised or petrified or stunned her.

He hadn’t used any serious or permanent hexes, presumably because it brushed against that moral code he was so conceited about. His ‘ethical line’. He didn’t like to think of himself as sadistic or vindictive. He probably told himself that he was giving her a sporting chance. That she deserved it each time she got hit because she should have dodged the spells.

He didn’t want to think of himself as cruel.

He probably thought he was better than that.

Hermione stared down at her hands.

On the grand scale of pain and cruelty, stinging hexes barely registered. Yet emotionally, she found the experience had devastated her more than she was prepared to admit.

She pressed her eyes into the crook of her arm as she tried not to cry.

The tears slipped out anyway.

Chapter Text

The next week, Hermione got up even earlier to go foraging. She took vials and trays, and fully prepared the potion ingredients before packing them away in her satchel. She couldn’t afford to waste a week’s supply again.

When she apparated to the shack she took several deep breaths, trying to brace herself before opening the door. She had concluded that there was a fairly decent chance that Malfoy would repeat the same dueling method again.

The cruel, satisfied glint in his eyes the week before as he’d stashed his wand made her expect it.

The room was empty when she arrived.

She set her satchel in a corner and warded it. Then she stood waiting. Her fingers kept nervously tapping against her leg. She felt almost faint.

She hated waiting. She hated being left to dread things. Her mind always began running wild with scenarios of what would happen. Usually her imagination was worse than reality.  

But Malfoy had an unusual talent for blindsiding her.

He was nearly five minutes late.

She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to keep waiting. He’d said he would only wait five minutes for her, but he’d never said anything about how long he expected her to wait for him. She didn’t think he was going to abandon the Order just because he’d finally gotten to hex her.

She was nearly ill with anxiety. She couldn’t—

She wasn’t going to just sit there waiting for him to lash out at her again.

She turned abruptly and took the wards off her satchel and slung it over her shoulder. She was stepping through the door when he appeared in the room with a crack.

She stopped and stared. The mere sight of him gave her a sinking sensation. She felt like something was lodged in her throat and she could barely swallow around it.

He stared at her. He didn’t look irritated. He looked—awkward.

“I’m late,” he said.

She nodded and stepped back into the shack, closing the door. There was a pause.

“The same again this week?” she asked quietly, glancing away from him.

“No.” He said it so abruptly that she looked up sharply at him.

He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. It was the most overt gesture of discomfort she had ever seen from him.

“I—overstepped,” he said, which was not an apology. “I won’t do that to you again.”

“Alright,” she agreed automatically, not trusting him at all. She was sure that if given enough time, he would find some new vindictive action that he could rationalise.

He stared at her for several seconds. Hermione suspected she still had a slightly wounded expression on her face. For some reason, no matter how much occlumency she used, she wasn’t able to wipe it entirely away.

He opened his mouth as though he wanted to say something else, but then swallowed the words.

“What?” she asked bitterly. Bracing herself for whatever he was about to do next was the worst part.

“I—said I wasn’t going to hurt you,” he said in a low voice. “And then I did. I’m sorry.”

She looked at him in confusion. He was such a pile of contradictions.

“I always expected you would.”

His eyes flashed with irritation. Ah, she’d clearly offended his moral code again.

“And yet here you are,” he said.

“Yes.” She shrugged and met his eyes. “Because if the Order loses this war, I’m going to die. And Harry, and Ron, and Ginny, and everyone else that I know. So—being hurt by you doesn’t really matter.”

“No, I suppose not,” he agreed, his expression cold.

“If you’re going to do it again, just do it. Don’t make it a farce by having me try to fight it off,” she said woodenly. “Just own it.”

His mouth twisted slightly. His rage suddenly rose a little closer to the surface. Hermione braced herself.

He abruptly subsided.

“The first thing we need to work on is your aim,” he said, changing the subject.

“Alright.”

He drew his wand and conjured up a practice dummy. With the tip of his wand he carved an X in the center of it and then sent it across the room.

“Whatever spells you want, just do ten. I want to see your accuracy rate,” he instructed her.

She put her satchel down and got into position beside him, feeling keenly aware of his proximity.

The target was about fifteen feet away.

She aimed for the X and cast a stunner, a petrification hex, several stinging hexes, and a immobilising spell at it. She hit it eight out of ten times but only got four directly on the X.

She stopped and braced herself for Malfoy’s scathing criticism. He was silent, which felt even worse.

“You do mostly close spellwork, don’t you?” he inquired at length.

“Yes,” Hermione said stiffly.

“Thought so,” he said, and nodded thoughtfully. “Your spell technique is fine but you’re so precise you pay unnecessary attention to controlling your wand tip and then forget to focus on where you’re pointing. Hexes and curses don’t require that much fine motor control; most of them don’t have complicated wand movements. Your over-attentiveness is doing you a disservice in combat.”

“Oh…”

“On the upside, that’s a fairly easy thing to fix. It’s much harder to train a poor caster. Try a curse with a complicated wand movement and remember to aim your wand tip while you’re finishing it.”

Hermione cast about in her mind for a curse with a complicated movement. Malfoy was right, most curses were simple. Stabbing, slashing, there was rarely more to them than that. She hadn’t realized what a reversal in technique that detail was from healing.

A spell came to her.

Taking a deep breath, she whipped out the motion and made sure her wandpoint was over the X as the final words of the incantation slipped past her lips.

A scarlet light darted across the room and landed squarely on the X. Immediately, a small jet of  hot, black tar exploded from spot where the spell had made contact. If it had been an actual person, the tar would have kept producing itself, but on a practice dummy it promptly ceased.

Malfoy chuckled. “My, my, Granger, does your Order approve of the curses you know?”

“No,” Hermione said in a bitter voice. There was no point in lying. The Death Eaters couldn’t possibly be unaware that the Resistance almost exclusively used non-lethal spells.  

“I imagine not. Tell me, Granger, are you willing to kill someone?” Malfoy was staring intently at her as he asked.

She looked up at him, meeting his eyes. He was only a few inches away from her. His expression reminded her of the moment before she’d kissed him. Intent. Amused.

“I don’t want to be cruel. But—if it’s between me or them, or to protect someone I care about, I’ll do it.”

He kept looking down at her for another moment, before smirking faintly. The cold deadliness of his eyes glimmered, and Hermione suddenly realized how very close to each other they were standing.

“I imagine you would,” he said quietly, then he turned to look at the target again. “Ten more spells. See if your accuracy improves now that you understand why you were missing.”

Hermione cast another series of simple hexes across the room and hit the dummy each time, six times directly over the X.

“Keep going,” Malfoy instructed her.

She kept casting but got distracted when he moved behind her, and she couldn’t see him anymore.

“Keep casting,” his voice was directly behind her.

Hermione steeled herself and tried to keep casting, but the nervousness of not being able to see him while still able to feel that he was close put her on edge. Her spells went wide.

Malfoy reappeared on her other side.

“Keep casting,” he said again.

She continued and her accuracy improved again.

“You’re too planted,” he finally said staring at her feet.

She glanced down.

“What is that?” he said, cocking his head to the side and looking snide, “A fencing pose?”

Hermione blushed and shuffled her feet.

“With dueling in a battlefield, particularly one without apparition wards, there isn’t really any advancing. You can be anywhere you damn well please so long as it gives you a clear shot of everyone else. The important thing is to be able to move quickly. An attack can come from any direction—unless you’ve got a dueling partner who’s covering for you. You have to be ready to move.”

He cast a spell across the room at the dummy.

“Stick to non-lethal spells now,” he said, “They’ll ricochet directly back to where they were cast from.”

Hermione cast more slowly as she tried to keep on the balls of her feet and move rapidly away as soon as the spells left her wand. She got quite absorbed in it and half forgot that Malfoy was circling around behind her, watching her technique.

“Merlin, Granger, you’re so tense,” Malfoy muttered from directly behind her. She started and jumped so violently she moved back into the path of a stupefy that was flying back across the room.

Rennervate.

She awoke to find Malfoy kneeling over her with an expression of simultaneous amusement and aggravation.

“Tense—as I said,” he reiterated.

She sat up, shaking her head to clear it. She was unbruised—which implied that she hadn’t fallen to the ground. Malfoy had quite possibly caught her. The thought of Malfoy holding her while she was unconscious was terrifying. She wondered how much time had passed.

He stood and offered her a hand. She awkwardly accepted it and got up.

“Again,” he instructed, “And try not to hex yourself when I speak.”

She rolled her eyes and continued.

When her pace managed to increase from glacial to sloth-like, Malfoy decided it was sufficient progress for the day.

“Practice, if you can,” he said.

“I have been,” she said quietly. “I was even worse a few weeks ago. If you’ll believe it.”

Malfoy refrained from indicating whether he did or not. He just stared at her thoughtfully.

“You’re too scrawny,” he said.

Hermione folded her arms defensively.

“There’s considerably more to fighting now than just dueling technique. Particularly if we’re primarily focused on keeping you alive while you go traipsing about the countryside. You’re more likely to meet hags or werewolves than a band of Death Eaters.”

“Well, there is always apparition,” she reminded him.

“No, there is not,” he said shortly. “As the dark creature population here in Britain continues to grow due to the war, there are anti-apparition wards being laid over huge swathes of the countryside. If it’s somewhere you’re likely to find magical ingredients then it’s likely that hags, or harpies, or vampires, or someone else is going to want to live there. There’s a very good chance you’re going to be wandering someday and discover that you can’t apparate away.”

Hermione felt herself pale.

“Do you know where?” she asked.

“A few of them. I’m not in charge of it, and since no one else regularly goes ambling alone through dangerous forests before sunrise, most people don’t consider it very relevant information. So be careful. I’m assuming you aren’t going to stop.”

“I can’t.”

He stared at her, and gave a resigned nod. He withdrew a scroll and handed it to her.

“I’ll come up with some sort of fitness regime for you that won’t take up too much of your precious time and won’t draw attention.”

“Fine,” she agreed, not looking forward to such a thing at all.

Malfoy suddenly looked slightly awkward again.

“Was there anything else?” she asked.

With a flick of his wand, a large book bound in faded black leather appeared. He handed it to her.

She accepted it tentatively.

Secrets of Darkest Arts.

“You found it,” she said quietly.

“Hopefully it will be useful,” he said. Then he vanished.

Hermione slipped the book into her satchel and hurried back to Grimmauld Place.

She was elated that Malfoy had found it. It had been the only known book on horcruxes that she had been able to find any reference to. Slughorn has said that Hogwarts used to have a copy, but he had only admitted such details after the school had been shuttered and taken over by Voldemort.

Stashing all her prepared potion ingredients in her closet, she rushed into the library of Grimmauld Place to start reading.

Hermione had been away training as a healer when the revelation regarding Voldemort having horcruxes had been made. Horace Slughorn admitted that Tom Riddle had questioned him on the subject, and Severus had revealed that Dumbledore had been mortally wounded by a ring from the Gaunt House.

Gradually the Order concluded that Voldemort had somehow created even more than one horcrux, although how he had done so was a mystery because no one knew how the dark objects even worked.

It was, they were almost certain, the reason that Voldemort had been able to revive himself after trying to kill Harry as a baby. Tom Riddle’s journal which had nearly killed Ginny had been one. The Gaunt Ring.

But they weren’t sure if there were more than that, or what the objects were, or where they could find them.

They had created a timeline of Voldemort’s life following his graduation from Hogwarts, trying to guess if there were other points at which Voldemort might have created more.

She read through the sections on horcruxes that the new book had. It detailed exactly how to create them. A murder was required to tear the soul, and then an incantation to remove the piece of the soul and bind it to another object. There was no mention of creating more than one. Hermione wondered whether the soul containers had to be inanimate or if they could potentially be living vessels, considering Voldemort’s strange attachment to his snake Nagini.

She outlined all the information onto a scroll and then carefully placed everything into a warded briefcase. She slipped it beside the desk and left it for Moody to pickup. They tried to keep actual meetings limited to diffuse suspicion. There was no particular reason for Moody to meet with the Order’s healer every week.

As she headed up to her room she evaluated Malfoy’s interaction with her that day.

He’d apologised. It had been quite surprising.

She pulled her notebook out from under her bed and considered.

The previous week she had made a page in which she detailed her best guesses regarding Malfoy’s moral code. She reread the comments she had made the week before.

Better than Voldemort. Conceit in his morals. Believes in choice. Rationalises cruelty. Doesn’t believe he is vindictive.

She added a note, “Considers his word somewhat binding. Tries to make amends when he thinks he has broken his rules.”

The book on horcruxes had probably been his way of trying to buy her forgiveness. She wondered if he’d been holding it for a while or had only gone to the trouble trying to obtain it because he’d felt guilty over hexing her so many times.

She added, “Thinks forgiveness can be bought.” That was a very useful piece of information.

Then she closed the notebook and put it back under her bed, replacing the wards carefully.

She lay back on her bed and stared at the ceiling. She felt exhausted. She’d only gotten a few hours of sleep before getting up at four in the morning to go gather potion supplies.

She had run out of Severus’ potion for the acid curse already. She had no more acromantula venom to make more.

The curse was awful and slow healing. The damage it inflicted was immediate and hard to reverse. The potion Severus had invented was an analgesic that helped to neutralise the acid and stop it from continuing to corrode the body once the curse was cancelled.

Severus had been correct about how easily it was used. A strong shield could stop it, but it had become the most frequent injury the hospital ward dealt with. It didn’t matter where on the body it struck, the recovery was slow.

Hermione had brewed every single other analgesic and alkalising salve she could think of but their efficacy paled in comparison to the potion containing the acromantula venom.

She was getting so desperate she was considering trying to hunt down an acromantula. She knew that Voldemort had their service along with all the rest of the dark beings.

Her eyes suddenly popped open.

Perhaps Malfoy would be able to get his hands on some. If he still felt like he owed her a little, he might agree to it.

The next week her aim had improved considerably. She had been practicing with the ricochet charm on the practice dummies at Grimmauld Place and had grown more adept at moving around as she cast. Malfoy seemed vaguely pleased.

He critiqued her form more, and stalked around her scrutinising her technique in a way she found unsettling. When she finished, he handed her a scroll of things she was supposed to do in order to get in shape. Pushups and jumping and crunches and something called a burpee which Hermione vaguely recalled her cousin having once introduced to her. There were a half dozen other things included as well.

“Your aim has improved enough; getting your stamina up somewhere reasonable is more important. Whenever you have time, do repetitions of these,” he said, gesturing at the scroll.

Hermione grimaced slightly but stuffed it into her satchel without a word.

“Any information?” she asked, looking up at him.

His expression hardened and his mouth twitched as though he was hesitating.

“The Dark Lord will be secretly out of the country for the next week. Which means that the response to Order activity will be somewhat delayed. If the Order has been waiting for an opening, it may be the edge they’re looking for. I wouldn’t suggest trying to retake the Ministry, but if the Order were to attack multiple prisons simultaneously, the response will be—less cohesive.”

“I’ll tell Moody,” she said. Then she stared up at him and started to open her mouth.

He quirked an eyebrow and waited.

She almost asked him about acromantula venom, but lost her nerve.

“I’ll be going then,” she said, dropping her gaze.

He apparated away before she was out the door.

Chapter Text

May 2002

The news regarding Voldemort’s absence was the opportunity Moody and Kingsley had been waiting for.

They had been slowly sharing the blueprints, prison rotations, and other information that Malfoy had been supplying the Order with. Laying out plans. Waiting to strike.

They were ready.

Charlie, Harry and Ron had been urging for such an attack for months.

At long last, everything aligned.

It was the biggest coordinated attack ever made by the Resistance. Almost every fighter they had was brought in. They targeted several of the largest, most protected prisons, as well as the curse development division.

Hermione was so stressed leading up to it, she nearly had a nervous breakdown. Stocking the hospital. Brewing massive batches of all the crucial healing potions. Trying to be prepared for anything.

There was a terrifying doubt, deep down, that she might have sent the Resistance to its doom. That it was possibly all a long elaborate trap, laid by Voldemort and Malfoy.

She kept replaying Malfoy’s momentary hesitation, wondering whether it had been a sign of betrayal.

Everyone else left and Hermione, Poppy, and a handful of other healers waited nervously in Grimmauld Place. Waiting to hear anything.

Hermione nearly wore a hole in the floor of the foyer with pacing until the bodies started pouring in.

It was a flood of dying and injured people.

Her clothes and hands were drenched in blood, and the entire house was converted into a hospital in order to accommodate everyone.

She barely believed it when she was informed hours later that it had all been a spectacular success.

The Order broke several hundred prisoners free and reduced the prisons and the curse division to rubble as they fled.

At the advice of Severus, the Order raided the labs of the curse division and brought back a huge haul of many rare and incredibly valuable potion ingredients that Hermione had been unable to get her hands on for years; including an entire flagon of Acromantula venom. Hermione nearly wept when Padma Patil handed it to her.

The condition of the survivors brought from the curse division was horrific. They were so horribly tortured and cursed that many were insane. Their bodies destroyed and ravaged beyond repair. There was no recovery for most of them; she could only ease their pain and hope they’d die quickly.

The animosity toward Severus among the younger Order and Resistance members aware of his role in the curse division spiked to an explosive extent. Moody had to exclude Severus from Order meetings in order to maintain peace.

For the uninjured fighters, the coordinated attack was accomplished in less than a day. But for Hermione and anyone else with even a scrap of healer training, it was only the beginning.

They were run ragged trying to care for the inundation of horrifically injured and malnourished people abruptly thrust into their care, in addition to all the injuries sustained during the attack.

They moved the basic injuries out of Grimmauld Place as rapidly as possible, to free beds for the complex curses and wounds that required Hermione’s specialised care.

It was weeks before Hermione could be spared to forage or liase. Malfoy had, in the meantime, summoned her urgently twice to retrieve notes he’d left, warning of impending counter-attacks. Voldemort had been enraged by the blow and struck back at the Resistance forcefully. Godric’s Hollow was burned to the ground, both the muggle sections and the magical. Voldemort strung together and hung the bones of Lily and James Potter from a gallows for the Order to find when they arrived.

Voldemort scattered vicious attacks across Muggle England; swamping Hermione with a flood of cursed Muggles that she had to stabilise before the Order obliviated them and turned them over to recuperate in Muggle hospitals.

Hermione pulled twenty-four hour hospital shifts with four hour breaks for sleep until her magic gave out entirely toward the end of the third week.

Poppy had dragged her out of the hospital ward and told Moody that if he didn’t want Hermione to die or permanently injure her magic, then he and Kingsley would find healers to cover for her.

Hermione suspected that Kingsley took several healers from St Mungo’s hostage for the two days when she was recovering. Poppy refused to meet her eyes or answer the question when Hermione had asked who subbed for her.

After nearly a month, things finally calmed slightly.

Hermione had run out of most of the locally foraged potion ingredients. She had headed out. In the lushness of late June she was able to restock most of her supplies quickly before going to meet with Malfoy. She had barely had time to think of him during the last several weeks.

He appeared the moment she stepped through the door. As he did, his expression twisted and he stumbled slightly.

They stared at each other.

“You look awful,” he finally said.

“Thanks,” she said acerbically.

“What happened?” he inquired.

“The Resistance doesn’t have any other healers with my specialty,” she said in a tired voice.

She stared at him.

“You look rather awful too,” she said, looking him over carefully. It was an extreme understatement.

He glanced down at himself. His face was tense and gaunt, as though he’d lost a dramatic amount of weight. His features were twisted and drawn. His skin was grey and papery looking. He looked as though he hadn’t slept at all since Hermione had last seen him.

“You may have noticed the Dark Lord was rather upset about the attacks,” he said in a bland voice.

Hermione felt herself pale, and her chest hurt as though she’d been struck. She hadn’t even thought—she’d had the information and she’d run with it. She’d worried over the possibility of his betrayal, but she hadn’t even paused to think that the legitimacy meant Malfoy might pay for having given it to her.

“What happened?” she demanded, drawing her wand and coming toward him.

“It’s fine,” he said in a clipped voice.

“What did he do to you?”

“Fuck off, Granger,” Malfoy said, grimacing. His fingers spasmed slightly as he drew away from her.

Hermione ignored him and cast a diagnostic spell. He didn’t move.

The diagnostic indicated that he’d been extensively crucio’d. Probably right up to the limit, given that he was still showing the aftereffects weeks later. Or perhaps it had happened repeatedly.

There was something else in the diagnostic. She cast a more obscure diagnostic spell to try to identify what it was.

“What—happened to your back?” she demanded finding it difficult to keep her voice steady as she tried to read the information her charm was revealing. It was a mangled blur of Dark Magic and poison; she wasn’t even sure how to interpret it.

Malfoy’s face tensed slightly.

“The cruciatus curse is such an excellent punishment for failure,” he said in a light tone, “but overusing it risks compromising the mind. Sometimes a different, permanent reminder is deemed additionally necessary.”

“Take off your shirt,” Hermione demanded. She needed to see what had been done or she wouldn’t be able to read the results of the diagnostic. The damage it indicated was an extensive combination injury, unlike anything she’d encountered before.

“Leave it be, Granger,” he said in a hard voice. “Your Order got just what it wanted.” He scoffed faintly. “I just hope it was worth it and you lot didn’t only drag out a lot of useless cripples.”

“Let me see,” she pressed. “Just let me see.”

“Don’t pretend to care,” he said coldly. “Are you really going to act surprised? You expect me to believe you somehow didn’t anticipate this? After all, weren’t you hoping I’d die once you had everything you could get from me?”

The bitterness in his voice was so acrid Hermione could almost taste it. It twisted through the room and Hermione could feel his resentment. His loneliness.

“No. I—I’m sorry. I didn’t—“ She drew closer to him.

He’d been hurting for weeks because of the opportunity he’d given them. With his rank in Voldemort’s army, the blame had surely fallen on him even if he weren’t suspected of enabling it.

She hadn’t even paused to realise it. Hadn’t thanked him. He’d just—slipped from her mind. It hadn’t occurred to her how extensively he might pay for it.

“I’m sorry,” she said, reaching toward him, feeling faint with horror and guilt. “I got so caught up in work—I wasn’t thinking.”

She unclasped his cloak and gently lifted it off his shoulders. He flinched and stared up at the ceiling, looking resigned.

She slowly unbuttoned his robes and shirt and then, walking behind him, as lightly as she could, drew the clothing off his shoulders.

She gasped.

There were dozens of runes carved into each of his shoulders. Deep. Straight down. Cut all the way into the bones.

The Dark Magic hanging over them was sickeningly palpable. Just standing near them Hermione felt her body break into a cold sweat.

Hermione had read of sorcerers who used dark runic rituals to bind their servants. The brutal ceremony had been outlawed for over a thousand years.

Malfoy had been conscious as the blood and magic was invoked in his flesh; as each line was sliced into him.

The cuts of each rune were still raw, as though they couldn’t heal, even though they were clearly weeks old. It reminded her of werewolf injuries. The Dark Magic had become visibly septicemic.

She lifted her hand but refrained from touching him. “What did he do? Draco, how did he do this to you?”

“Goblin-wrought silver blade, infused with Nagini’s venom. I’m told that they may eventually heal,” he said in a wooden voice. “There’s nothing you can do. Now that you’ve satisfied your curiosity, we should return to business.”

He tried to turn to face her but Hermione stepped around him, casting several different obscure diagnostic charms and inspecting them. Her magic was stable again, although sleep deprivation made her head feel light and hollow.

There were black tendrils beneath his skin from the mixture of the venom and dark magic. She could see the poison in his veins, halfway down his back, up over his shoulders and around his ribs like a poisonous vine. Crawling into him and sinking into the core of his magic.

She summoned her satchel.

“I’m so sorry. I—can’t heal this. But I think I can help contain it. Please let me try.”

Malfoy eyed her over his shoulder but didn’t try to step away from her again.

Hermione cast a complex spell and then, gently as she could, traced the tip of her wand slowly over one of the long black tendrils. Starting near his lowest rib she gradually forced the poison back toward the incisions and then siphoned the tiny thread out of the rune it had spread from. As she drew out the poison and contained it in a empty vial, she had to sever the connection between the thread and tissue with a sharp jerk.

Malfoy nearly dropped to his knees as he screamed. It was a nearly soundless, guttural rasp of someone intimately acquainted with torture.

“What are you doing?” he half snarled and half groaned. “Is this somehow not already a sufficient amount of pain for you?”

Hermione laid a hand on his arm, trying to hold him steady. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to hurt you. I have to pull out all the excess Dark Magic. It’s poison. If you let it stay, your body and magic will try to assimilate it. And—when you have dark magic in you at a cellular level like that—there’s no going back. It just starts eating you from the inside. Magic like that is why your Dark Lord looks the way he does. And—with the quantity of runes—you‘ll have a few years at most. Either your mind or your body, Dark Magic exacts a price.”

“I am aware of how Dark Magic works,” he hissed, his hands were balled into fists and he was shaking slightly.

“Then please, let me try to fix this.”

Draco dropped his head slightly and huffed faintly as though he were laughing. Hermione studied him for a moment. He didn’t say anything else.

She traced out two more threads. By the third Draco collapsed to his knees. He was deathly pale and his skin felt cold and clammy to touch.

She laid a hand as gently as she could on the front of his shoulder. She could feel the arch of his clavicle under her fingers, and see the mad, pained flutter of his pulse beneath his jaw.

“Do you want me to stun you?” she asked quietly. “I can do it faster than way. It won’t change the efficacy. But you have to trust me.”

Malfoy went still. Apparently considering.

“Go ahead,” he said after a minute. “You’re already more than capable of getting me killed any time you happen to feel like it.”

She braced him against herself, his head pressed against her diaphragm.

Stupefy ,” she said softly, and caught him as his dead weight slumped against her. With a practiced lightening charm she eased him gently to the ground and laid his head on his cloak.

Hermione worked quickly. She had done the spellwork once before when she’d been training in a hospital in Albania. It had been a single, self-inflicted rune on an aspiring dark wizard who hadn’t understood the Dark Magic he was trying to invoke until the poisoning nearly killed him.

With Malfoy unconscious, Hermione’s guilt was able to strike her fully.

She should have realised. She should have come back sooner to check on him. She was afraid she was too late. The runes were set. Deeply.

She traced out all the dark magic until she had eight vials full of the mix of the curse and poison. She’d have to incinerate them in a magical fire.

She carefully laid a containment enchantment around all the runes on each shoulder. It was a spell Severus had taught her; he’d used it to contain the curse on Dumbledore’s hand. Given that the magic was in Malfoy’s back she was doubtful that it would have any affect, but she tried nonetheless.

Malfoy’s injuries were not intended to kill him immediately; rather, they were meant to hurt, and corrupt his magic. A gradual death sentence. Dark magic like runic blood rituals was deep and old.

She read the oath.

It wasn’t an typical runic oath. Voldemort, in his vanity, hadn’t utilised a traditional vow of loyalty and honesty. Rather it seemed tailored to the specific failure. The runes bound Malfoy to be unhesitating, cunning, unfailing, ruthless, and unyielding; driven to succeed.

Hermione wasn’t sure how effective runic blood oaths were; but she suspected that Voldemort’s overconfidence in the Dark Mark had spared Malfoy’s life. If Malfoy had been forced to have an oath of loyalty and honesty carved into his bones, he would likely have been forced to admit his betrayal. Instead Voldemort had accidentally used ancient magic to fuel Malfoy’s drive to do whatever he wanted.

The excess in cruelty was horrifying. It wasn’t like a battlefield injury; quickly inflicted, but slow to be repaired. The ritual had surely taken hours while Draco was strapped down and kept conscious for it. The precision and uniformity of the cuts. The steady invocation of the Dark Arts. Time taken to wipe away the blood before making the next incision. Driving the tip of the blade all the way into the bones was unnecessary; it had been done solely for the additional pain. It was an oath of the flesh; there was nothing that required it be written into his bones. He’d also been crucio’d, either before or after the ritual was performed, possibly at both points.

She felt she might vomit just thinking about it.

Hermione pulled out her Essence of Dittany. She only had a few vials of it left.

She pulled out her murtlap tentacles and crushed them together with ten drops of Essence of Dittany into a salve which she gently pressed into the cuts of the runes. She couldn’t heal the incisions but she could ease the pain and reduce the potency of the venom so that they would recover faster. Then she cast a protective ward over Malfoy’s back to seal everything in without bandages.

She ran her fingers lightly over his arms, feeling the rigid knots in his muscles from the cruciatus. It appeared he had at least gotten some therapy for that.

Voldemort clearly did not want to damage Malfoy to the point of ruining him entirely, but he had had no qualms about torturing Draco all the way up to that exact line.

Malfoy was a weapon for Voldemort. The decision to carve runes into him made Draco more deadly. They sharpened his edge, but also made him a short-term tool.

Heavy use of Dark Magic was eroding over the course of many years. There was a reason dark wizards didn’t tend to reach a hundred. They went mad, or deteriorated physically. With the quantity of Dark Magic that had been emanating from the runes before Hermione treated them, Malfoy would be lucky to live a decade; possibly only a few months before his mind began slipping. He already tended to arrive drenched in Dark Magic.

Hermione’s hand wandered up to her neck, and she twisted the chain of her necklace between her fingers as she stared down at him.

She drew his left hand into hers. His long fingers dwarfed hers. There were the familiar callouses from flying and dueling on his palm and fingers.

She lightly massaged his hand. The fingers spasmed slightly at her touch, even though he should have been insensate. She tapped her wand tip across his hand at the various pressure points, sending mild vibrations into the drawn muscles to help release the tension. 

When his fingers fell open, she began bending and rubbing and massaging them until they could fully open and close without twitching spasmodically. Spasms like that could be life or death in a duel, interfering with a wand motion or a person’s aim.

As she worked she tilted her head to the side and studied his face. Unconscious, his features relaxed from the hard, closed expression he usually wore. He looked sad.

She felt so guilty it hurt. She also felt like an idiot. She should have realised. He could have been killed.

Unlike her, he had to have known he’d be punished for the attack he’d enabled. His hesitation—

He could have prepared. It could have been a trap. He knew exactly which prisons they had information about.

How had he phrased his advice?

The response to Order activity will be slightly delayed. If the Order has been waiting for an opening, it may be the edge they’re looking for....if the Order were to attack multiple prisons simultaneously, the response will be—less cohesive.”

He’d given them their first massive victory in years. He’d handed it to them, and then paid for it. It was his response that was delayed and less cohesive.

Whatever it was he thought he could get by aiding the Order, he clearly wanted it more than anything.

She moved to the other side of his body and cast a gradual rennervation spell on him. It reduced the grogginess and likelihood of there being a headache when he regained consciousness.

While he was waking up, she began tapping her wand across his other hand and then massaging it. The instant he became conscious, she could feel the tension radiate across his body. He froze instantly.

It had been, she suspected, a tremendous leap of faith for him to let her stun him. Trusting anyone did not come naturally to him. She kept coaxing his fingers into pliance as he turned his head. She could feel his eyes on her but she kept working and didn’t look up.

“There’s no need,” he said after a few minutes. “I have a session with a healer later today.”

“If it’s the same one who has done nothing about your back, I would recommend feeding the idiot to a giant squid,” she said sharply.

He lifted his head and looked back at his shoulders with a pained grimace.

“What did you do?”

“After I siphoned out all the excess magic and venom, I laid a containment enchantment over the runes. I can’t reverse them, but hopefully it will keep the Dark Magic contained to the runes rather than sinking into your soul. I’ve packed them with murtlap and dittany to help ease the pain. I’m assuming you’re already taking pain relief potions.” He gave a faint nod. Hermione ran her fingers up and down his hand carefully, feeling the familiar wand calluses along his fingers, seeking out any trace of tremors, and muttering spells under her breath as she bent and massaged them. “Hopefully it will heal the incisions a little faster. There’s nothing I can do about the scars, or the ritual curse they contain. I’m sorry—I should have come back sooner. If I had—maybe we could have removed the bones and regrown them before it had settled in. Now, even if I replace them and flense you, the oath will re-emerge...”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, snatching his hand away from her abruptly and getting up. It had to be agonising to move but he didn’t make a sound. But he was paler and wavered slightly once he was standing. “As you mentioned, you were rather busy. It doesn’t appear that you were off at the seaside sunbathing and willfully neglecting your pet Death Eater. Healing me was never intended to be your job.”

He was apparently feeling a little better, given that his sarcasm had re-emerged.

“I should have come,” she repeated. “It needs to be monitored. And the salve, it should be changed daily for best effect—“

“Unfortunate.”

“I can come,” she said. “It will only take a few minutes. If you can spare the time morning or evening. I’ll come.”

He stared at her.

“Really? You have time for that?” he asked snidely.

“I’ll make time.”

He seemed to be considering something for several moments. “Fine. Eight o’clock in the evening. If you come I’ll show up. If you can’t, it’s no matter.”

“I’ll be here.”

She helped slip his shirt up over his shoulders and buttoned it. She paused halfway up.

“I’m really sorry, Draco,” she said.

He stared down at her and quirked an eyebrow.

“If I’d known a bit of healing was going to make you so familiar with me, I never would have let you do it.”

She looked up at him as she finished buttoning.

“Do you not want me to call you Draco? It just seems rather odd to still go by surnames after so long. Assuming neither of us die in the war and you don’t get tired of me, I’m guessing we’re going to be around each other for a while.”

He rolled his eyes doubtfully.

“Call me whatever you want, Granger. I’m not changing anything.”

Typical.

She suspected that surnames were just another way to maintain distance. Which was why it had occurred to her that perhaps she should begin referring to him as Draco.

Subconscious distance affected behavior. If she wanted to get closer she had to move first, and she couldn’t let her own subconscious attitudes hold her back.

“Any information this week?”

He gave a short nod, the corner of his mouth twitched faintly. “The new curse development division is going to be in Sussex. It’s budgeted to be a considerably larger one. They’re expanding the laboratories beyond curses. It’s a research facility, using prisoners.”

Hermione swallowed. “Of course.”

“Hogwarts is being turned into a prison. It already has enough wards; it will replace all the prisons lost. They’re purging it currently of any magic considered uncooperative.”

Something inside Hermione wrenched at the news. When Hogwarts had been abandoned they had tried to take what they could, but the House-elves and portraits had been bound to the school; they left them behind. Her mouth twisted slightly.

“I’m sure the school will fight it,” she said.

“Undoubtedly. The choice was made because the Dark Lord is hopeful the news will enrage Potter. And—it’s intended as final insult to Dumbledore.”

Hermione’s eyes flickered up to his face and then rapidly away as he said the Headmaster’s name. She forced her expression not to change.

“I’ll ensure Harry is braced for it and doesn’t do anything foolish.”

He gave a short nod.

“I’ll see you tomorrow then,” she said and looked him over again. “Take care—Draco. I’m so sorry.”

The corner of his mouth twitched for a moment, then he pressed his mouth into a flat line and his expression tensed; bracing himself before he apparated away.

Chapter Text

June 2002

The next night, Hermione slipped out of Grimmauld Place after dinner, claiming the need for more milk from the market up the street.

When she arrived in the shack, she stood awkwardly, wondering if Draco would appear. She suspected that he wasn’t expecting her to make it.

He arrived suddenly with a sharp crack, wincing.

She stared. In the past, he’d always been fully dressed; shirt, robes, and a cloak for good measure. While she’d stripped him to his waist twice, both occasions had been mostly professional and he’d redressed immediately afterward.

He was just wearing trousers and a button down shirt. All in black. The absence of layers emphasised how tall and lithe he was. He seemed like a panther; black, cool, and predatory.

Practically speaking, it was logical and efficient. Fewer layers to remove. Less weight pressing against his injured back. Yet it felt weirdly intimate.

He wandlessly summoned a chair, and straddled it backward while he began unbuttoning his shirt.

He hissed and gasped under his breath as he twisted his shoulders to pull it down.

“Is it hurting any less?” she said, hesitating slightly as she laid a hand on his arm. His skin was still unnaturally cold. Touching him sent a shiver of fear down her spine as he flinched faintly and his muscles rippled beneath her fingers.

“Slightly,” he said, after a beat.

With a wave of her wand, she carefully drew out and banished the murtlap and dittany, and then administered a very gentle cleansing charm over all the cuts.

Draco jerked and dropped his head down against the back of the chair.

“Fuck, Granger!” he snarled, his knuckles white where he was gripping the chair.

“It’s done now,” she said after another moment. “I’m sorry. I had to. Wizarding folk may be immune to most infections but there’s no knowing what else that knife had been used for. Or exactly what properties Nagini’s venom has; it may neutralise your natural immunity.”

“A bit of warning next time, please,” he said, his voice shaking slightly.

“Sorry. Most people prefer not to know. Bracing for it can make it worse.”

“I’d prefer to know.”

She stared at the runes. A cold sinking sensation came over her. The tendrils of dark Magic were already beginning to creep out from the runes again. She had been too late. The runes would continue to poison him.

She lay a hesitant hand on Draco’s arm. “This—is going to hurt again. Do you—want me to stun you?”

He glanced back at her, and studied her face. Something in his eyes flashed for a moment, and his expression hardened.

“Is there really any point?” he said.

Hermione flinched and she dropped her eyes. “Let me try,” she said quietly.

Draco stared at her for another minute before he snorted faintly and shook his head in disbelief as he looked away.

“Fine. One more try,” he said in a resigned voice before resting his head on the back of the chair.

Hermione stunned him again.

It only took her a few minutes to remove all the traces of dark magic. Then she cast several diagnostic charms, trying to break down the layers of the ritual and find something she could deconstruct and nullify.

The ritual was set.

She was too late.

She traced her fingers over his back as she wondered what to do.

He had to know. She was almost certain he knew the runes were going to kill him eventually.

A gradual death sentence for his aid to the Order. Whatever he wanted by aiding them couldn’t be a long term ambition. With the price he’d paid, she doubted he was planning to usurp Voldemort. If he did, it would be a short reign.

The Order needed him. The first Wizarding war had lasted eleven years. When she told Moody what had been done to Draco and said she had offered to heal him he told her to do what she could.

If Hermione couldn’t find a way to stall the erosion, they would be extremely lucky to have Draco last that long. If he did, he’d barely be reliable at that point.

Hermione reached up and ran a fingertip along the chain around her neck for several minutes before pulling the amulet out from under her shirt.

She stared at the sun-disk. Then she unclasped the chain and slid the amulet off. She pressed the tip of her wand against it and reversed the series of protective wards and charms it carried before placing it on the floor. She stomped sharply on the amulet and felt it break under her heel. When she removed her foot, a small white stone lay amid the crushed red glass and twisted metal.

She didn’t touch it. With a flick of her wand she levitated the stone so that it hovered in the air. She could feel the magic emanating from it. It made the air hum. She reached over and pulled Draco back into her arms, trying not to put any pressure on the runes.

Then she floated the stone over and lowered it to the left side of his chest, against his bare skin.

It started glowing, brighter and brighter, until she had to squint. Then she watched as the light slowly sank into his skin and faded away.

Hermione stared, wondering if anything else would happen; if there would be any immediately noticeable effects. There wasn’t an abundance of information about how to process worked.

She performed a diagnostic and inspected it, Draco was sleep deprived and living on a high dose of top quality pain relief; he had muscle damage from the cruciatus, and the runes were still an unintelligible, mangled concentration of wounds and poison and ritual curse. The diagnostic charm did not indicate anything else. Which was normal—she thought—that was how it was supposed to work.  

After a minute, when nothing else occurred, she carefully leaned Draco forward in the chair again.

She reapplied the salve she’d made, pressing it in as lightly as she could before replacing the containment enchantment and all the protective spells.

Then she slipped the remnants of the amulet into her pocket and rennervated Draco.

He lifted his head sharply and stood. Hermione gently pulled his shirt back up over his shoulders. He stared down at her as she buttoned his shirt and then straightened the fabric before staring up at him. He had a tired expression on his face as he stared down at her.

She impulsively reached up and touched him on the cheek. She felt his jaw twitch faintly under her hand as she studied his expression. She thought his skin felt a little less cold.

His eyes glittered, and the corner of his mouth twitched, but he didn’t pull her hand away.

“I have to go,” she said, “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Draco didn’t say anything as she left the shack and apparated away.

The next night, there was no poison or dark magic bleeding out from the runes. Hermione said nothing as she quietly removed the salve, cleansed the incisions, replaced the salve, and then carefully recast all the spells.

Draco was more silent each night. He’d tense and gasp slightly in pain as Hermione cleaned the wounds, but he rarely said anything unless Hermione asked him a question.

“Is it going to be suspicious—that someone is healing you?” she abruptly asked after several days.

Draco froze for a moment and then laughed faintly. “Did that just occur to you now?”

Hermione flushed. “It’s not usually a concern.”

He shook his head. “There are no orders restricting me from getting them treated. If you somehow manage it, it will hardly be the first time I’ve succeeded at something against improbable odds.” His lip curled faintly. “So by all means, continue poking at them with your wand.”

Hermione continued without another word.

She discovered, to her faint offense, how rarely anyone paid attention to her comings and goings. She didn’t even need to offer any excuses for leaving Grimmauld Place every night.

Harry, Ron and Ginny had gone to investigate a lead on horcruxes. Hermione had realised that several artifacts of the Hogwarts founders had gone missing during Voldemort’s lifetime and so the Order had assigned Harry to try hunting them. Hermione suspected that Kingsley and Moody had very little hope that Harry would find anything; she thought it was likely just a way to keep Harry from insisting upon fighting in every single skirmish.

With the intelligence Draco provided, Moody and Kingsley had begun approving more risky and ambitious attacks. The decisions were partly because of the opportunities that Draco had afforded the Order, but primarily because the situation was dire enough that Order had to either begin taking risks with long odds or conceding that they couldn’t win the war.

Despite the success of the Order’s attack, it had also set them back severely.

They had hundred of new fighters to feed and house, and at the same time their resources in Europe were steadily drying up as Voldemort’s hold grew stronger. The French Resistance had all but vanished. They had received word that Hagrid and Olympe Maxime had been captured and executed shortly after the prison attack. All of Eastern Europe was firmly under Death Eater control, while the Northern European countries were so occupied with keeping Voldemort’s encroaching forces at bay that they had little support they could offer.

The Order was running out of money. Running out of resources. Trying to feed an army with personal vaults and secret donations. It was difficult for Resistance fighters to hold jobs in the muggle world.

Hermione had nearly drained her own bank account personally paying for potion supplies as the Order was forced to repeatedly slash her budget even while the need for the healing potions increased sharply.

They weren’t starving yet. But Hermione was beginning to grow suspicious about how Kingsley was accomplishing such a thing.

Sometimes she doubted that defeating Voldemort would even be enough. If he died, with the control the Death Eaters currently had, there was a good chance someone would just step in to replace him.

Her mind always went immediately to Malfoy when that thought occurred.

She had yet to really see a demonstration of his abilities, but based on everything the Order knew of him, he was considered one of the likely candidates to take over in the event of Voldemort’s demise.

Moody and Kingsley were almost certain that it was Draco’s true motive in spying for the Order.

According to Severus, the Dark Mark had several elements to it. It allowed Voldemort to summon his followers to him, wherever they might be. It also enabled him to locate his followers; they couldn’t run. And finally, the Dark Mark prevented bearers from attacking their master. Even if Malfoy thought he had the ability to kill Voldemort, he couldn’t wield magic against him, not lethally. Draco would need someone else cast the death blow.

Hermione sometimes thought that becoming the next Dark Lord was indeed Draco’s motive, but—after the runes, she questioned that conclusion. There was something angrier and more embittered in him than ambition. The deadliness and cold rage felt more like desperation than pride.

When she had told Moody that Draco had not demanded an Unbreakable Vow from her, the glint in Moody’s eye made her begin to suspect that he intended to use her to kill Draco at some point.

She tried not to think about it.

She couldn’t think about killing him.

She couldn’t stand behind him night after night, trying to heal the runes carved into him and think about murdering him when he stopped being useful. Such coldness exceeded even her capacity for strategy.

Her fingers trembled slightly as she recast the protective charms over the cuts. She’d tried using bandages but the venom reacted.

“Alright. You’re done,” she said quietly as she pulled his shirt up over his shoulders lightly.

When she left, she didn’t apparate immediately back to Grimmauld Place. Instead she walked down the lane and into Whitecroft.  

Draco’s injury was eating into her detachment. It was causing her to go off mission.

Death Eater. Murderer. Spy. Target. Tool.

She repeated the list to herself again and again. But her conviction and resolve sounded hollow.

She found a creek, and watched the moving water glitter in the moonlight as she tried to force herself to detach. She shoved her hands into her pockets, and then hissed and jerked her right hand out. She found her index finger bleeding slightly. A piece of her amulet had broken the skin. She’d forgotten about it.

She pulled the rest of the shards from her pocket and tossed them into the creek, before healing the scratch.

He killed Dumbledore, she reminded herself. He was probably just trying to become the next Dark Lord.

Death Eater. Murderer. Spy. Target. Tool.

But then she’d think of his accusation: that she knew what would happen to him. That she was only pretending to care that he was hurt. That she was probably hoping he’d die once he wasn’t useful anymore. The bitterness and resignation in his tone haunted her.

Perhaps he expected her to betray him someday.

The thought made something inside of Hermione shred somewhat, as though it were mangling her internal organs.

Why hadn’t he made her take a Vow?

What did he want? The mystery around him dragged her mind toward him. Obsessing over every detail. Trying to comprehend what drove all the inconsistencies of his behavior.

The push and pull he exerted over their relationship felt like a tide. His arrogance and loneliness. He disliked her, despite whatever “fascination” which had prompted him to demand her. He often seemed to wish he could have nothing to do with her.

But he was so isolated. He couldn’t bring himself to push her fully away when she gave him opportunities to give in.

It was as Severus had said. She had been a miscalculation on his part. Even though he appeared to suspect her manipulation, her draw was inevitable and apparently irresistible.

Draco wasn’t the only one falling into an obvious trap.

She knew he was using her. Using the Order. She knew that he was manipulative, cruel, dangerous, and responsible for the deaths of countless people. But as she tried to unravel him, he grew increasingly tragic and terrifyingly human.

She pressed her hands over her eyes and took a deep breath as she tried to clear her sympathy away.

She felt that if she could just know what his motive truly was, she’d be able to sever the sympathy; root it out from wherever it had started growing inside of her.

She didn’t feel guilty for manipulating him but she wasn’t sure that she had the resolve to be able to eventually kill him.

Sometimes she wondered bitterly if Moody and Kingsley regarded her as having any limits. Make her a whore, then make her a murderer. Did they just assume she’d want to?

It felt sometimes as though they were walking her down to Hell and watching as she passed through the gates. She wondered how pleased they were to have a tool who would suffer in whatever way they needed her to.

Moody was her handler. He handled her. Whatever trace of hesitation he’d had when he first asked her to give herself to Malfoy, he’d moved beyond. She was useful. An excellent pawn for the Order. The key to the piece they really wanted.

Malfoy.

Compared to Draco’s value, Hermione was an acceptable loss.

If Harry and Voldemort were the Kings on each side of the board, then Malfoy was Voldemort’s Queen. Gaining him was worth sacrificing almost every other piece on board. He was unrestricted and deadly. Crucial.

It made sense. Strategically, she saw the logic. She understood the necessity.

But on a personal level, it hurt so deeply she could barely breathe.

She hated herself.

She hated Moody. She hated Kingsley.

They’d take, and they’d take, and she’d be left with nothing but ashes when the war ended.

But they weren’t really taking. She was offering. It wasn’t as though they were requiring anything of her that she wasn’t willing to do.

For Harry and Ron, she reminded herself. It will be worth it.

But something inside of her felt as though the war was corrupting her. She was twisting. Reshaping herself into a creature that felt like everything she hated.

Darkness gets into your soul, that was what Harry always said.

Never mind how irredeemable she thought Draco was for killing Dumbledore. If she sold Draco out at some future point, she imagined she’d belong in a far lower level of hell than even he did.

But she’d still do it.

Minerva had been right. Hermione was fully willing to damn herself if it meant winning the war.

She slipped down the bank of the creek, gathered up several stones, and began building them into a stack.

Her mother had travelled a great deal before marriage, and had told Hermione how in Korea the people would pile rocks up, each one representing wishes and prayers.

Mothers would build large towers of prayers for their children.

Hermione had built stacks in her backyard as a child, praying many prayers for friends. Heartfelt prayers that had lain unanswered for years until she reached Hogwarts.

Hermione laid down large foundation stones for Harry and Ron.

Let them live, she prayed. Let them survive this war. Please don’t let me lose them.

Then she placed a stone for Ginny. Fred. George. Charlie. Bill. Molly and Arthur.

Percy had died during the Ministry takeover.

Let them live, she murmured.  

She added stones for Remus and Tonks, Neville, Poppy and Severus and Minerva and the Caithness orphans. She was afraid she’d be too selfish if she included everyone in the Order and the Resistance. The stack was somewhat unstable.

She picked up one last stone and hesitated.

If the pile fell the wishes wouldn’t come true.

She stared down at the final stone in her hands, brushing her fingers across it slightly. It was cold but the bite slowly faded as she kept hesitating, turning it over and over in her hands. Holding it out, then drawing it back and holding it longer.

Maybe she shouldn’t place it.

Maybe it was selfish.

She almost put it back into the creek.

Then she bit her lip and placed it.

If there’s any way, don’t make me responsible for Draco’s death, she prayed.

The stack wobbled but didn’t fall. She let out a sharp sigh of relief and nearly cried.

She washed her hands off in the creek and then stared at the tower she had built.

It was a silly, superstitious ritual. It didn’t mean anything.

But she’d given nearly everything for the war, and it had yet to be enough. Superstition felt like all she had left.

She cast a spell to repel muggles around the stones and apparated away.

She kept healing Draco, night after night. The venom combined with the runic magic made the injury one of the cruelest she had ever encountered. No matter what she did, it stayed fresh. He should have been in a hospital or on bed rest, not apparating and spying and whatever it was Voldemort had him doing.

She scoured old healing textbooks, and stayed up late into the night brewing potions she hoped would help heal or at least ease the pain further, but nothing she tried worked. Nagini’s venom was essentially a neutralising agent against any type of healing, Magical or nonmagical.

It should have eventually worn off. When Arthur had been bitten by Nagini in the ministry, the venom had faded after a few days of blood replenishing potion. But runic magic interacted with the venom, and kept the venom isolated in the incisions. Hermione couldn’t simply flush it from Draco’s system.

Packing the cuts with Essence of Dittany and Murtlap and keeping infection at bay was all Hermione could do until the venom wore off on its own.

Draco finally spoke to her first after several weeks.

“Be careful foraging,” he said abruptly as she was pulling his shirt up over his shoulders.

She paused.

“I have been. I send detection spells out every time I apparate somewhere to make sure there are no anti-apparition wards nearby. And all my clothing is shielded.”

“The Dark Lord wants the Order crushed within the year. He is growing confident about his hold in the rest of Europe. He’s concentrating his troops and bringing in new resources.”

Hermione felt herself grow cold.

“In related news,” he added, “I’ve just been given a manticore. I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m expected to do with it.”

The casual way in which he announced it made it seem like he had been given an unwanted spaniel and not one of the most deadly, semi-sentient dark creatures in the wizarding world.

“You were given a manticore?” she repeated. She had to force the words out, her chest felt as though it were being constricted.

“It’s only half-grown, I’m told. McNair informed me that it has been dropped at my manor,” he said with an aggravated expression as he pulled his shirt closed.

“Are you allowed to kill it?” she said, watching his pale skin vanish beneath the black fabric.

“Well—I doubt that is what was intended, but it didn’t come with instructions.”

“Manticore blood is impervious to most magic. You could probably craft some very useful weapons with it.”

He turned to look down at her. “Such as?”

Hermione hesitated, and then reached forward to finish buttoning his shirt and straightening the collar. They were standing so close their bodies were almost touching. She could smell the cedar in his clothes, and she cautiously rested a hand on his chest over his heart, feeling his heartbeat under her fingers. She bit her lip for a moment before looking up at him. His mouth was quirked in faint amusement as he stared down at her, his eyes darkened as she stared up at him.

“I’ve read that goblin wrought knives or arrowheads infused with manticore venom could cut through shield charms,” she said slowly. “Clothing soaked in the blood would be impervious to almost all magic. Like shielded clothing, but the magic wouldn’t ever wear off.”

Draco’s eyes narrowed “So what?” he asked, watching her carefully. “You think I should kill my gift from the Dark Lord and then use it to make enchanted objects for the Order?”

“No,” she said, sliding her hand away and looking down. “Even if you wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to provide any explanation for obtaining them. And most members wouldn’t use them anyway. Manticores are dark creatures after all.” Her tone was bitter at the last words. She drew a sharp breath. “Most of the fighters in the Resistance would get killed if they ran into a manticore on a battlefield. There’s probably only a hundred who would even know how to, and are capable of, killing one. So—if you could invent an excuse for disposing of it before your master decides to unleash it, it would be preferable.”

She edged even closer and touched the back of his hand nervously.

She would beg, she would do anything to convince him.

He drew his hand sharply away from her touch, and for a moment she braced herself for his irritation. But then he caught her chin and tilted her head back until her eyes met his. He studied her expression for a moment as she stared back at him.

He leaned toward her until she thought he was going to kiss her. “You are always so pragmatic.” She felt the words brush against her lips.

Then he released her chin abruptly and stepped away. His eyes were glinting as he noted her confusion.

“Don’t die, Granger. I might miss you,” Draco said, smirking, before he vanished with a crack.

Chapter Text

July 2002

Hermione felt paranoid the following Tuesday when she was foraging, but the journey passed again without incident. That morning, when she arrived at the shack, Draco was already there waiting.

“So, dueling,” he said, spinning his wand in his right hand as she walked through the door.

Hermione froze and blanched slightly.

She had braced herself—reminded herself repeatedly that Draco would likely do something incredibly nasty to her as soon as he started feeling better. It was apparently his default method for maintaining distance between them.

She’d healed him considerably more from his punishment than she had after his fight with a werewolf. If he regarded her as overstepping recently in the way she had been touching him—if the space between them really had narrowed—she had reminded herself that eventually he might do something horribly cruel to widen it again.

She’d known—

But walking into it still felt like being gutted.

She dropped her eyes, and forced her expression not to change.

“Right,” she said. She dropped her bag by the door and warded it.

His expression was cool and calculating as he stared at her from across the room.

“I want to see if your dodging and evading has improved, but I don’t want to rennervate you every minute—”

Hermione flinched faintly.

“Just don’t hit my hands,” she interrupted him, “I can’t work—if you hit my hands again.”

His eyes narrowed with annoyance.

“Fuck off, Granger, I’m not intending to hex you,” he snapped. He flicked his wand sharply toward her and she felt—liquid.

She glanced down and found a large water droplet spattered across the back of her hand.

“I realize you consider me a total monster,” he said flatly, “but I do make a general habit of keeping my word. I presume water will not offend you.”

Hermione was still staring down at her hand in astonishment. Finally she looked up at him and blushed.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“Right.” His expression was stiff. “So—I’m primarily interested in seeing how you move. However, do try to land a hex on me, if you possibly can.”

He entered a very uncommitted dueling stance, and waited for her to do the same.

She did, and then bobbed her head slightly in a bow before she sent a jelly-leg jinx toward him. He blocked it with the faintest flick of his right hand.

He sent a dozen drops of water in her direction and she easily blocked them with a nonverbal shield.

She sent a series of stunners and he blocked them without moving.

“Why are you so concerned with how I move when you never do?” she inquired as she sent several leg lockers and jelly leg jinxes toward his feet.

“I’m not dueling,” he said, shooting her a thin smile as he blocked her spells and caught her feet with several drops of water. “Your shield isn’t comprehensive. Stop maintaining it and dodge, or make sure it’s full-body.”

She flushed and physically dodged the next twenty water droplets while shooting several mild hexes in his direction.

“You aren’t even trying to hit me,” he said, frowning. “You do realise I basically duel for a living. I fight werewolves, your Order, Death Eaters… Especially lately, everyone in the Dark Lord’s ranks thinks that my injury is an open invitation to try to steal my spot.”

Hermione nearly tripped and stared at him in horror.

“What?” she said with a horrified gasp. If he were Harry or Ron she’d be smacking him upside the head.

He shot her squarely between the eyes with a drop of water.

“Focus!” he barked, before laying his hand across his brow in apparent despair but still blocking the leg locking jinx she shot. “You’re hopeless. Merlin. This is why you lot are losing.”

“I’m a healer,” she snapped defensively. “If you wanted me to try harder at hexing you, you should have talked about how you enjoy killing kneazles kittens.”

“Every night before I go to sleep,” he deadpanned as he filled the air with shooting drops of water. The floor was growing littered with puddles.

“Are you really saying that you’ve been dueling ?” Hermione demanded. She stopped trying to jinx him and was simply staring at him in outrage while she knocked aside all the water he was sending toward her.

Draco rolled his eyes.

“You may recall, I’m a Death Eater,” he said. “I am at a loss as to how this surprises you.”

“You are injured! I assumed there were some basic tenets of human decency even among Death Eaters.” She was seething.

“Well, you’d be wrong. Despite its Muggle origins, the Dark Lord is a firm believer in promoting the survival of the fittest. Hence his aspiration to subjugate all Muggles. If my—chastisement—leaves me vulnerable to overthrow then I ostensibly deserve it.”

“So—what? They just get to attack you whenever they want to?” she asked angrily, continuing to ward off the rainstorm he was directing at her. The entire floor was covered in water.

“Of course not,” he said, his lips curling condescendingly, “constant infighting weakens military cohesion. There’s a designated time each week before the Dark Lord, at which point challenges are permitted. And there are generally restrictions on killing, or doing anything to permanently impair our—usefulness.”

“That is vile.”

“The civilized man is a more experienced and wiser savage,” Draco said.

Hermione squinted at him in confusion.

“How is it that you know Darwin and Thoreau?”

“Oh, you know. ‘Know thyself. Know thy enemy. And you shall win a hundred battles without loss,’” he said with faint smirk. “We savage Death Eaters do know how to read. The Dark Lord doesn’t care what I do so long as I continue providing him victories.”

He sighed abruptly and stopped shooting water at her.

“You’re really not even going to try to hex me, are you?” he asked in irritation, as he banished the pool of water they were both standing in.

Hermione flushed faintly.

“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to heal you. I don’t want to make you fall,” she admitted begrudgingly.

“You fucking moron,” he said, glaring at her. “Do you expect Death Eaters to extend the same courtesy to you? If you’re injured on the ground, cursing you additionally would be funny.”

“I think it’s generally understood that I would be a pretty piss-poor Death Eater,” she snapped.

“Obviously. But I would hope you could be pragmatic enough to duel competently.”

“I can be pragmatic. When it comes down to the line, I don’t baulk. But—I can’t try to injure you right now.”

She bit her lip and looked away from him.

“You—“ she started, “you’ve saved several hundred people now. There’s a chance no one will ever know. And you were punished for it. So—I’m not going to try to hurt you. Not when you’re already injured.”

She stood there awkwardly. He sighed and stared at her. There was cold calculation to his expression as he stood considering her. Then a long silence.

“Did you know,” Draco said in an airy tone after a minute, “that I was there when the Creevey family was dragged out of hiding?”

Hermione couldn’t have been more stunned if he’d just stepped up and backhanded her. She looked up at him sharply while he continued.

“Two Muggle-born wizards from the same family. Quite an anomaly. They were considered high priority. The Dark Lord wanted their deaths spectacular.”

“You—,“ Hermione choked. The words died in her throat, swallowed by her rising horror.

“You should have heard how the Muggles screamed. Dear Aunt Bella had such a fondness for the cruciatus. You recall how she drove the Longbottoms insane? She considered the Creeveys her encore performance. The boys tried to bolt. Good little runners. Smart enough to know they couldn’t save their parents.”

Hermione felt as though she’d been punched. Repeatedly. She tried to breathe, but her lungs wouldn’t function. Her throat felt as though something were closing around it.

Draco continued in a relentless voice, “Of course your Order came eventually, but they were rather late. The father bit through his tongue and drowned in the blood. Bella cut out the mother’s womb, just in case the woman was still sane enough to understand what she was being punished for. While they were stringing her organs up around the parlor, I was set to track down the boys. It was easy, since they were blubbering and trying to stay together. Putting them in the countryside miles from another farm was quite an oversight for two wizards who couldn’t apparate. Then the littler one stepped in a badger hole and broke his leg. He started crawling through the grass. An easy target for a killing curse. The second person I cursed in the back with it.”

Hermione’s wrist snapped forward without thinking as she shot a slicing hex at him. It grazed Malfoy’s cheek. He didn’t flinch as the blood welled up from the razor fine cut and streamed down his face. He stepped toward her.

“You know…” he said softly, “the killing curse. It takes something out of you. It’s not something just anyone can throw around. Not repeatedly. Colin could have kept running. If he had, he might still be alive today. But he stopped. For his dead brother he stopped, ran back, tried to drag the body with him.”

“Did you—,“ Hermione croaked, feeling as though she might die from the horror currently welling up inside her. “Are you—“

Malfoy arched an eyebrow and smirked coldly down at her.

“Are you wanting to know if I’m the one responsible for that nightmare in your head?”

Hermione felt that if she opened her mouth again, she might vomit. Her wand was shaking in her fingers, and she felt torn between a desire to scream and sob. She had never felt capable of crucio’ing someone, but as Malfoy closed in on her, his grey eyes glinting, she was sure she’d mean it.

“No,” he said softly, and Hermione started slightly. “That was Dolohov. He’d just invented it. He came specifically with the hope of testing it that day. But it’s difficult to aim. Useless long range. You have to be within a foot of the target. If Colin had just run—he wouldn’t have been hit with it.”

Hermione clamped her hands over her mouth and dropped to the floor with a muffled sob.

Malfoy knelt down, forced her chin up, and stared coldly into her eyes.  

“That is what Gryffindor sentiment looks like. All those noble ideals of not leaving people behind, not even the dead; of not using the Dark Arts; of not hitting someone because they’re already down; of trying to ascribe heroism to people—when you feel like believing in any of that, remember just how and why Colin died in front of you. You have no idea how many of your Resistance fighters I’ve killed because they believed the lie that goodness is an advantage in war.”

He let go of her face and stood.

“If you don’t learn to fight now, you will die. The fact you haven’t already been killed foraging is from the sheer benevolence of Fate. I’m sure you are too pragmatic to continue relying on such a thing. If you have any sense whatsoever, I’ll expect some true resolve from you next week.”

He dropped a roll of parchment beside her and apparated away.

Hermione sat shaking on the damp floor of the shack for a long time.

No one talked about Colin.

Out of a combined consideration for both Hermione and Harry, the topic was assiduously avoided. Anything that even vaguely broached it was treated with utmost delicacy.

After it had happened, Hermione had hidden the memory in the recesses of her mind and it had festered like a wound. Malfoy had come across it while teaching her occlumency.

Having him drag it out and use the trauma to berate her was such a staggering blow she felt as though she were going into physical shock from it.

There were very few things that still felt sacred to Hermione.

Not her body.

Not her soul.

But Colin’s death—it had always been such a private agony. It had driven her from her friends. It had taken her across Europe and back. It had driven her all the way into the shack in which she sat. All the way to Malfoy, who had used it to belittle the last pieces of herself that still remained.

She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes until they ached. Trying to recentre herself.

She was late for her shift in the hospital wing when she finally dragged herself from the floor and headed to Grimmauld Place.

She felt as though she were floating through the day. Weirdly detached. As though there were glass between her mind and the rest of the world.

Hermione went through the motions of healing and then a long evening of brewing.

The Order needed large batch of Draught of Living Death. It was their method for dealing with prisoners. They wouldn’t kill them, and had neither prisons nor enough people to be able to spare some as guards. So Death Eaters they caught were kept in an unplottable location in suspended animation. Bill Weasley and his wife Fleur were in charge of it, using their skills as former Curse Breakers to weave elaborate enchantments and wards in order to accommodate the considerable number of prisoners the Order had accrued over the years.

As she sat waiting two and a half minutes for the potion to settle, she glanced at her watch. It was almost eight o’clock.

She sighed and buried her face in her hands. She did not want to see Malfoy again. If she did, she would probably punch him in his cruel face.

He probably wasn’t expecting her to show up anyway.

Her wand chimed to indicate that the time had passed, and she dropped the last bit of Valerian root in.

The potion turned pale pink.

She warded it, and put it carefully aside.

She picked up her jar of salve and rolled it about in her hands. She was almost out of Essence of Dittany. She’d used most of it treating his runes. She tried not to calculate how many other injuries she could have healed with it if she weren’t using it on Draco; tried not to quantify his value against the lives of others. How many he’d saved, how many he’d killed, how many lives his intelligence was or was not worth.

He’d killed Dumbledore. The number of deaths he was responsible for because of that act alone was sufficient to damn him. He’d never rebalance the scales, no matter how many people he saved.

Unless he helped them win. If they won, it might be enough.

She smiled bitterly to herself.

Draco Malfoy was exactly the same person he had been the night before. The only difference was that her knowledge of him had broadened slightly.

She couldn’t understand him.

Why get so angry and monstrous because she didn’t want to hurt him when he was already severely injured? He was so unreasonably angry and bitter. It felt as though she’d shattered the fragile peace between them.

But provoking her with Colin’s death was low, even by her standards for him.

Maybe he was actually concerned that she was going to die.

She scoffed to herself. If he were, it was probably only because he didn’t want to risk having a non-occlumens as his contact.

Before she could think more, she slipped the salve into her pocket and then headed to the shack. She was four minutes early.

Being there again felt exhausting.

She sat down on a chair and pulled a picture from her pocket. It was of herself, Ron, and Harry in the Great Hall, all mid-bite and looking up, faintly annoyed over being photographed. Colin had taken it.

She always stared at it when she felt depressed.

She put it back in her pocket and then leaned across the table and buried her head in her arms.

Maybe she would dose herself with Dreamless Sleep potion when she got back. She could feel the nightmares in the back on her mind. Just waiting for an opportunity to claw their way to the surface of her consciousness.

She’d already taken the potion eight times that month. She was still having nightmares from all the victims from the curse development division that were brought to her.

She’d tried. She’d tried so hard to save them.

There had been nothing she could do. Almost every single one had died. Those that didn’t, she euthanised; to spare them the endless agony they’d been magically trapped within.

If she took Dreamless Sleep Draught, it would be breaking the rules she held everyone else to. Barring injury, no one was permitted more than eight vials a month.

Not that anyone would know. Hermione was the one in charge of regulating the potions. The Resistance was too overdrawn to afford the redundancy of having a supervisor over her. Even if they tried to, unless the person also had a Potion Mastery, there was little chance they could stop Hermione from slyly doing whatever she pleased.

But it was a slippery slope to abuse the rules. Nine times a month. It would be so easy to rationalise ten after that. Then eleven.

Until it stopped working.

Until she wanted something stronger.

Severus had warned her. The number of ways a Potion Master could abuse their skills were endless.

Maybe when she got home she’d go get high with Neville, or see if Charlie would share his firewhiskey supply.

But she didn’t really want to get high. And she wasn’t allowed to be, even if she did want to. She was always on call in case of a healing emergency.

She could get drunk. She always kept sobriety potion carefully stocked in her stores. But she hardly got along with Charlie when she was sober.

Hermione felt desperate for someone to talk to.

Almost every interaction with Malfoy felt like an emotional punch in the gut, and she had to walk away from them and pretend they’d never happened.

She lived in a house crammed with people and she felt utterly isolated.

There was faint crack of apparition. She looked up dully to find that Malfoy had arrived. Cold and indolent-looking as always.

She wanted to cry and bolt. Or to hex him nastily and just leave him there.

She swallowed it and stood up.

He unbuttoned his shirt and straddled a chair. She didn’t say a word as she pulled the fabric off his shoulders and set to work.

“I’m going to use the cleansing charm now,” she said in a mechanical voice. She counted to three and then cast it.

Then she swiftly reapplied the salve. The dittany had made progress in neutralising the poison. The cuts appeared almost ready to begin healing. She would probably be able to start closing them within the next week. The process would take several hours to do properly and ensure the scar tissue wasn’t taut and wouldn’t pull when he moved his shoulders.

She didn’t want to talk to him but she forced herself to open her mouth.

“If you have time in the next four to seven days, I can close the incisions. It will probably take three hours. After eight pm and before five am are the best times for me. I have hospital shifts and other duties during the day.”

He didn’t say anything.

She recast the protective spells and dropped his shirt over his shoulders. Then she turned and walked out of the shack without a word.

The summer evening was cool. She shivered slightly and walked down the lane. She had decided. She was going to go get well and truly smashed.

She stopped outside a pub and hesitated. She was a talkative drunk. She couldn’t go into a muggle pub and start crying about everyone who had died. Even if she managed to pass herself off as a doctor in a casualty ward, she was a terrible conversational liar.

She continued until she found a market and bought herself a bottle of port. Her parents had always liked to drink port in the evenings when on holiday.

She carried it to the creek where her prayer tower stood, and then stared in surprise. There were reeds growing along the banks that she didn’t remember being there before, and the area felt slightly warmer. Magical. She cast several more muggle repelling spells and a privacy charm over the area and then opened the bottle and started drinking.

She remembered someone telling her that a person could get drunk faster using a straw. She didn’t know if it was true, but she conjured a long one and started sipping. She calculated that she had several hours before anyone would think to look for her. More than enough time to get drunk, cry under a bridge, and then sober slightly before heading back.

She hadn’t had any dinner; the alcohol hit her rapidly.

She was curled up in a ball among the reeds and was sobbing in short order.

She hated Malfoy. How dare he demand her, and isolate her, and talk about the Creevey family. She hoped she was the one who killed him.

She stood up and pulled the topmost stone off her tower, and tossed it back into the creek.

She did it too carelessly. The whole tower wobbled slightly and then fell crashing into the water. She gasped with horror and tried to rebuild it.

Rock stacking required more finesse and steadier hands than she currently possessed. After several tries she gave up, sat down in middle of the creek and cried and shivered.

She hadn’t felt so pathetic in a long time and she didn’t even care. She should have bought two bottles of port.

“The fuck are you doing, Granger?”

 

Chapter Text

July 2002

Hermione looked up sharply and found Malfoy staring down at her from the road. She was too tired and angry to even feel embarrassed about being found drunk and crying in a creek.

“Bugger off, Malfoy,” she said, smacking at the water with her hand so that it sprayed in his direction.

“Are you drunk?” he asked.

“No, you tosser, I am sitting in a creek entirely sober,” she said with an eye-roll. “Go away. I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to see your nasty face. If I could obliviate your existence from my mind without risking the Order, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

She started crying again.

“Fucking hell,” he said, staring down at her with the same expression of irritation he’d had when he told her about the unwanted manticore he found himself in possession of.

“Granger, you cannot sit crying in a creek,” he finally said.

“I actually can,” she retorted. “Aside from you, there’s no one to see. I already warded the area. None of the Muggles will come around or notice me. I have planned my emotional breakdown carefully and you are ruining it. So—bugger. Off.”

Her head felt very heavy, and she dropped it down onto her knees. It was growing very cold in the creek, but she was determined not to move until Malfoy went away.

There was a muffled thud, and then a hard grip suddenly closed around her arm, and she found herself being dragged up out of the water.

“Let go!”

She smacked Malfoy across the arm and kicked him in the shins as she attempted to wrench herself free.

“Leave me alone. You and Voldemort have ruined my life. Am I not even allowed to occasionally feel sad about it?”

“Granger, you idiot!”

Malfoy dragged her into his arms and apparated. They reappeared in the shack.

She stared around the room dazedly, clinging to him for balance.

“Why are we here?” she demanded, her voice wobbling as she stepped away and tried to draw herself up. “I hate this place. One of the richest wizarding families in all of Europe, and you make me come see you in this miserable house. As though I’m not already well-aware of the disdain you have for all of us Mudbloods. God, why didn’t you just buy a whore house or a salt mine and make me visit you there?” 

“I told you there was a taboo and you used the Dark Lord’s name,” Malfoy snarled. “That is why you cannot get drunk in a fucking creek regardless of how many damn Muggle repelling charms you cast.”

Hermione blinked and stared at him.

“I hate you,” she finally said.

“The feeling is decidedly mutual,” he said, looking at her with an expression of disdain.  

She dropped into a heap on the floor.

“I hate you so much,” she said. “I was already all alone—and then you demanded me and made it even worse. At least before—if anyone cared enough to ask me if I was alright I could tell the truth. But now—I can’t even do that. And now—even if we win I won’t have anything to look forward to. Everyone else will be free and I’ll still be owned by you. I’m just going to be alone forever—”

She buried her face in her hands and cried afresh.

“Harry and Ron are never going to forgive me,” she said, and her whole body shook with the force of her sobs. “Even if this wins the war—they’ll never forgive me.”

Her crying subsided slightly after several minutes.

“I’m really not clear on why you expect me to care.” Malfoy stared down at her with an indifferent expression.

She glared up at him. “You brought me here knowing that I was drunk. If you didn’t want to hear about it, you could have just left me alone the way I repeatedly told you to. I don’t see why you won’t just fuck off.”

He arched an eyebrow.  

“Hexing and swearing at me all in one day. It would seem I finally got to you. I wondered what it would take to make you give up your sweet caresses and tell me how you really felt.” His expression was taunting.

“Shut up!” she snarled before dropping her head onto her knees and hugging herself.

“But really—we’re just scratching the surface, aren’t we? Perhaps I should list everyone I’ve killed,” he said, stepping slowly around her with a malicious smile. “There were several Muggles first, practice runs before I went back to school. Aunt Bella said it was necessary to be used to killing before doing it to someone I actually knew. Then Dumbledore. And more Muggles. Did you know I was even assigned to find your parents? You must have hidden them yourself because there wasn’t even a trace to be found. No sloppy details or secret goodbyes like many of those other Muggle-born families. Although, that ignorance still didn’t spare your neighbors. Bella was crushed by how thorough you were.”

Hermione was staring at him in horror.

“Then the Creeveys. And the Finch-Fletchleys. And my Aunt Andromeda and her husband Ted. That one was rather personal for Bella, having a Muggle-born marry into the Black family was such a stain. It remained her sincerest regret that she never got to kill Nymphadora, especially after word got around that she’d gone and married a werewolf. Then after that—well, the dead tend to bleed together after a while but I believe it was more Muggles...”

Hermione could feel the warm fuzziness of her intoxication draining away from her as Malfoy kept talking. Listing name after familiar name. The glint of his silver eyes and the cold set expression on his face as he continued in his disdainful drawling voice.  

“You know, Malfoy,” she said quietly after a minute, “you spend so much time making sure I have just an excess of good reasons to hate you. It’s odd.”

He paused, and she stared up at him.

“It’s not how humans work,” she said. “Our brains are wired to rationalise things, so that the guilt doesn’t eat us. We excuse. We blame. We find some explanation for ourselves that helps us sleep. People don’t think of themselves as villains. They’re killing to protect themselves, or their families, or their money, or their way of life. Even your master, he doesn’t think he’s a villain. He just thinks he’s better than everyone else. He thinks he deserves to rule over everything. When he tortures and kills Muggles—it’s alright because they’re not really people. When he carved runes into your back for hours—it was alright, you deserved it because you failed him. In his mind he isn’t a villain, he’s a god. But you—you do think you’re a villain. You think you deserve to be hated.” She cocked her head to the side as she studied him. “I often wonder why that is.”

Malfoy’s face had grown colder and more closed as she was speaking.

“I’ll save you all the effort,” she said, and her mouth quirked up at one corner. “I hate you. I don’t require you to do anything more to convince me. I hate you. More than anyone else aside from your master. I hate you. I hold you partly responsible for every person who has died so far in this war and every person who will die. You don’t need to convince me that you’re a monster, I already know it. Healing you when you’re injured is not because of my bleeding heart. And not hexing you when you’re severely wounded isn’t sentiment. It’s simply the last bit of decency I have left. All the rest of my goodness has already been destroyed by you. So—despite what you fling in my face, I will not let you have it. Now—fuck off.” 

Goodness, it felt nice to have finally gotten that off her chest. She’d probably regret saying it all later, but in the moment she only felt relief.

Malfoy smirked faintly. “Good to know.”

Hermione laid back on the floor and stared at the ceiling.

After several minutes of silence it was clear he was not going to go away. She gave up driving him off. She was overwhelmed by her desire to talk. She sat up on the floor.

“What are you like drunk, Malfoy?” she said, turning her head to look at him. He was standing beside her and staring down where she sat at his feet.

He looked surprised by the question. “Quieter. And angrier.”

She snorted. “Of course. Heaven forbid you be anything interesting.”

“I didn’t have you down as a weepy drunk.” He raised an eyebrow and conjured a chair, which he straddled beside her. It occurred to her that he probably couldn’t lean against anything. She wondered how much it might have hurt to pull her out of the creek and then apparate when she was struggling and trying to fight him off.

“I wasn’t always,” she said wistfully. “Talkative, always. But alcohol makes me emotional. I used to be a happy drunk. I was just—ridiculous. I went to a party where the punch was spiked and I got so smashed. Harry had to silence me while he and Ron were dragging me through the halls. I was giggling so uncontrollably. Peals of laughter just—bouncing off the walls. Filch nearly caught us.” 

“When was that?” he asked.

“My birthday. I turned seventeen. It was—it was the day before you killed Dumbledore.” Her jaw trembled slightly, and she looked down at her fingers as they traced a knothole on the floor. “I—was supposed to have been in the hallway the next day. Prefect duty, to help the first years. But I was so hungover. I slept late. I’ve often wondered—if it would have made any difference...”

 “It wouldn’t have,” he said.

“I’ve always cried since then. Always. Not that I get drunk often. I tend to say things that piss people off.”

 “You always do that,” he said, giving her a pointed look.

“I say more things that piss people of,” she amended. “Anyway—tonight it was drunk or high or abusing potions.”

“And the creek?”

“I don’t have anywhere to go. I can’t go to a pub. Or get drunk around anyone in the Order. It’s not like Moody is a shoulder to cry on.”

“Potter and Weasley?”

“Since they don’t know about you—how would I explain anything?” She wasn’t going to mention that they had both gone off without her to hunt horcruxes.

“I can’t believe you couldn’t just leave me alone,” she said. “Why were you even there?”

“I had a feeling you were going to go do something asinine. Call it a sixth sense.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t see why you’d care. Your secret would die with me. I’m sure you’ll still find a way to get whatever it is you want without me.”

“I’m sure anyone Moody sent to try to replace you with would only be more irritating,” he said with a faint grimace. “Think of it as an additional favour to your Order. I’m keeping their healer and Potion Mistress alive.”

She snorted. She was starting to feel incredibly sleepy. The thought of sleeping made her think of Colin. Tears welled up in her eyes. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed.

“What now?” Malfoy said as her sobs subsided. He sounded bored, but when she looked at him, he glanced away. He'd been watching her.

“I’m going to dream about Colin tonight,” she said sadly, dropping her head against her knees.

“You were delusional when you said you could ever kill anyone. You can’t even handle them dying at someone else’s hand,” he said, shaking his head dismissively.

Hermione stiffened and stared up at Malfoy.  

“I don’t think there’s anything particularly awful about dying. I know it’s war. People die,” she said. “What I care about is the manner. You have no idea, Malfoy, what it’s like to have someone die while you are doing everything in your power to save them. He died slowly, screaming the whole time, and I was trying to save him. That’s what haunts me. All those deaths in my mind... that’s the type they are. That’s why they haunt me. They were in my hands—I was trying to save them—and I failed—“

She choked slightly and her voice cracked at the final words.

Malfoy looked at her and seemed considering for the first time.

“Why does Colin matter so much? You weren’t close. Why is that death the one that still remains so significant to you? You’ve seen worse deaths since then.”

She hesitated. She had never spoken about it to anyone. Not really. Not for years.

“His death was the beginning of the end of everything,” she said, looking down and noticing a snagged thread on her shirt. She tugged impulsively at it and watched the knitted fabric tighten and bunch until the thread suddenly snapped and a hole appeared. She repaired it with a flick of her wand. “He was the first person who died entirely under my care. Harry saw it happen. And after that—I realised that what the Order was doing wasn’t enough. That defense wasn’t enough. And I started saying so. But Harry disagreed. To him—dying is the worst thing. It’s leaving. So, killing in any way is evil. Self defense. Mercy killing. Any kind. That—disagreement—sent us in different directions in the war. Nothing was the same after that. That’s why I ended up a healer while everyone else went to the battlefield together.”

“Somewhat ironic.”

“One person using Dark Arts in the battlefield isn’t enough to make a difference. And if I’d been insubordinate and tried to recruit people into my thinking—it might have split the Order.”

“If you were fighting again, how would you kill?“

“Quick. There are spells to stop hearts. Curses that suffocate. Slicing hexes to the throat. I’d do things like that. I’d probably even use the killing curse if I had it in me—but Harry would probably never forgive it.”

“How does Potter plan to defeat the Dark Lord?”

“It’s—there’s a prophecy. Harry thinks the answer is the prophecy.” she said vaguely. She wasn’t sure if the Power of Love was a real Order strategy, but Malfoy didn’t really need to know the details.

“Fantastic. We’re all betting our lives on the-boy-who-won’t-kill and a prophecy. We’re doomed.”

“Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald without killing him,” Hermione said.

Malfoy looked unimpressed.

“Where did you study healing?” he asked her. She looked over at him with surprise.

“France at first,” she said, “but the war crossed the channel quickly and it was safer for me to transfer than risk being found there. So I went to Albania; their Old Magicks Department had the best fundamentals for healing Dark Magic. I was there for a while. That’s where I learned the treatment I’ve used on your runes. You’re lucky—I’m probably one of the only healers left who knows the treatment since the hospital was destroyed. Then Denmark, for spell analysis and deconstruction. After that I went to Egypt; their hospital was the most specialised for curse breaking, but the situation was—unstable, so I got transferred to Austria within a few weeks. I was in Austria until the Order brought me back.”

“A lot of people thought you died, or ran,” Malfoy said, studying her with hooded eyes. “Until the Dark Lord wanted to know why the Resistance was surviving after their hospital was razed, and Severus mentioned that Potter’s little Mudblood friend had been recalled from her journey abroad, healer and potion mistress to boot. It caused a slight stir among the upper-ranks.”

She looked at him sharply. So he’d known what she was when he made his demands. She wondered if that had played any part in his decision.

The conversation stalled. After a few more minutes Hermione stood up.

“I’m sober enough to apparate now,” she said.

“You’re not going to go off and get drunk somewhere else are you?” he asked, staring at her suspiciously.

She shook her head.

“No. You have quite thoroughly killed my buzz. And I’m sufficiently cried out.”

He looked faintly relieved. “Don’t splinch yourself,” he drawled after her as she went out the door.

Hermione didn’t. When she got back to Grimmauld Place she went up to her potion cabinet and downed a sobriety potion. The headache and nausea promptly dropped down upon her with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer.

She dropped her head down onto the worktop and groaned.

Trust Draco Malfoy to not even allow her to get drunk in peace. Sodding bastard.

She had expected sobriety to fill her with horror, but she felt surprisingly unrepentant for finally lashing out at him. It certainly hadn’t seemed to surprise or upset him. He’d been waiting for it.

She found herself entirely at a loss about how to interpret or process all that had occurred.

She fumbled through the cabinet for a vial of headache relief and downed it, trying to focus.

Draco thought of himself as a villain.

That was an important realisation. Possibly the most important one she had yet made regarding him. The inconsistency that was in the heart of him.

She wracked her mind replaying everything he had said that day. Now that she’d vented all of her rage at him, her mind felt suddenly crystal clear.

Then the littler one stepped in a badger hole and broke his leg. He started crawling through the grass. Quite an easy target for a killing curse. The second person I cursed in the back with it. You know...the killing curse. It takes something out of you. It’s not something just anyone can throw around. Not repeatedly. Colin could have kept running. If he had he might still be alive today. But he stopped. For his dead brother he stopped, ran back, and tried to drag the body with him.”

Hermione froze. 

He could have killed Dennis Creevey in an innumerable number of crueler, slower ways than the killing curse. With a broken leg, Dennis was no flight risk. He would have been the perfect lure to draw Colin back. But—rather than just stand over injured Dennis and catch both boys—Draco had killed him, humanely. Possibly in the hope that a dead brother would drive Colin off and spare his life.

Hermione felt ready to fall over at the dual realisation that struck her.

Malfoy had been trying to spare Colin.

But, possibly of greater significance for Hermione, Malfoy didn’t regard that detail as redeeming.

He’d been certain she’d become completely mindless with hatred for him once she knew he’d been involved at all. The unintended admission that he’d been trying to let the boys escape wasn’t a way of trying to excuse himself. She suspected he didn’t even register it as such.

Malfoy considered himself a villain because of what he did. Which implied that he didn’t want to do it. Which implied that his desire to aid the Order might be sincere and not merely a means to some other end.

Hermione drummed her fingers on the worktop thoughtfully, re-evaluating once more everything she thought she knew of Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

August 2002

“Find each person’s “handle,” his weak point. The art of moving people’s wills involves more skill than determination. You must know how to get inside the other person...First size up someone’s character and then touch on his weak point.

Hermione stayed up half the night re-analysing Draco. She scrapped her entire notebook and started a new one.

She felt as though she were brimming with new theories about him. She wasn’t sure if any of them were based on reality or merely brought on by her sleep deprivation, but she felt as though she had hit upon something. As though she were breaking into a muggle vault and finally heard the first tumbler click into place. A warm sense of elation made her smile to herself while she brewed potions that day.

Her heart felt almost light.

This could work. She could win. She could bring him to heel. Seal his loyalty.

She hadn’t realized how much the belief that he was simply a monster with a moral code had convinced her that she could never succeed. She’d had a sense of certainty that eventually he’d turn and kill her along with everyone else; it had been entrenched. Despite her heavy reliance upon occlumency the conviction had bled into how she thought and treated him as a whole.

Despite the game they played. He’d kissed her and taught her occlumency. He’d told her she could say no. And she healed him and followed his instructions about dueling and exercising. Beneath the learning and the partial niceties, it always felt like they were two vipers waiting for the other to finally strike.

Now she was reconsidering.

He was not a monster. Not entirely. He was trying to fix something. There were some sort of amends that he was trying to make. Not for killing Dumbledore or anyone else, but for something.

He knew he was fallen. Somewhere along the way something had happened that he was willing to suffer for, even die because of. Something he was trying to make right. He wasn’t a spy out of ambition. He wasn’t just playing the Order and the Death Eaters against each other in order to come out on top. He was trying to fix something.

Not the war. Not the killing. But there was something he was trying to make amends for.

Her initial assessment had been right. Draco Malfoy wasn’t all ice. Under the death, rage and darkness there was more to him. She could use it.

Hermione doubted he’d tell her what was driving him. He was clearly determined not to reveal it. Playing a game of misdirection until her head spun. But she could be patient. Now that she had figured out that spying was some sort of penance for—something. If she refused to really hate him now; if she continued to be kind and comforting and interesting and clever to him. She could find a way in.

She could win.

As evening drew on and she got ready to go tend to his back, she took a moment to pause and steady herself.

She’d have to start over again.

There was something between them that—that she had difficulty letting herself think about too carefully. A tension between them that she’d likely wrecked with her outburst.

She’d have to begin cultivating it again carefully.

She had to be subtle.

Subtle as poison.

Hermione closed her eyes and shifted through her memories; winnowing out her strongest feelings and setting them aside.

Tamping down on her elation, on her bubbly sense of inner-confidence; stifling them until she was clear-headed. Focused.

She apparated to the shack one minute before eight.

When Malfoy appeared, she stared at him for a moment before dropping her eyes, biting her lip and awkwardly fidgeting with her cuticles.

“Sorry…” she mumbled. “You were right. I was careless last night. It won’t happen again.”

She looked up through her lashes to see if Malfoy was even remotely convinced by the apology.

“Good,” he said, staring across the room. “I’m not your keeper. I’m not interested in having to monitor you in order to keep you alive.”

“It won’t happen again,” she reiterated.

He eyed her for a moment and then looked away, summoning a chair from across the room and straddling it while starting to unbutton his shirt. Hermione drew it off his shoulders and surveyed the runes.

She rested her fingers lightly on the top of his shoulder as she leaned forward to get a better look. Malfoy didn’t flinch when she touched him. He tensed though, slightly.

“Do you have a time when you want me to close the incisions?” she asked in a low voice as she used her fingers and wand to ease the salve out and inspected the raw edges of the cuts.

It still looked unbearably painful. She wasn’t sure how Malfoy was even functioning, much less apparating, much less dueling. Every time she saw the wounds it made her cringe.

He didn’t say anything.

She rested her hand on his spine. “I’m going to use the cleansing charm now.”

She felt Malfoy tense under her hand and saw his knuckles whiten slightly. She counted to three and cast.

His whole body shook faintly.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “If there were any way for me to repair this faster or at least relieve the pain, I would.”

“I am aware,” he said in a tight voice.

She applied the salve as lightly as she could.

“Would Monday work?” she asked, drawing her fingertips along his bare shoulders trying to get him to release the pained tension that radiated through him. “I can skip dinner if you need me to come earlier.”

“Monday,” he said after a pause. “Eight is fine.”

“Alright.”

She recast the protective spells. Then she studied the runes again, brushing her fingers near them. She could barely feel the magic in them. It had sunk in; become a part of him.

She could barely feel any Dark Magic around him at all. Not anymore. Not for weeks.

“Do you—feel the runes?” she asked. “Can you tell if they’re affecting you?”

He seemed to be considering.

“Yes,” he said after a moment, straightening. “They don’t countermand my own behavior, but it’s as though new elements have been written in. It’s easier to be ruthless. Somewhat harder to dissuade myself from impulses. Not that I had much distracting me before, but now everything else feels even less consequential.”

Hermione read the vow again.

“Did you know when he was cutting them which runes he was choosing?” she asked.

“I chose them,” he said, pulling his shirt up and rebuttoning it.

Hermione looked at him stunned.

“It was my penance. I already had to grovel. If I chose them I was able to ensure he wasn’t going to insert anything problematic. That’s why there are so many, I didn’t want to leave any room for additional promises. He had to be convinced of my remorse,” he said as he stood up. His eyes reminded Hermione of a storm.

“Although,” he said, and his lip curled faintly, the rage in his eyes becoming obvious, “he failed to mention that they would take so long to heal until after the fact. In retrospect, I should have anticipated that additional punishment.”

“When I close them, it will take a while in order to ensure the scar tissue won’t restrict your movement. You’ll have to stay awake to tell me. You—may want to bring something to drink.”

Malfoy’s eyes narrowed and he stared at Hermione for several seconds.

“I’m not going to drink around you, Granger.”

She shrugged.

“It’s just a suggestion. I’ll bring something in case you change your mind. But I imagine the alcohol I can afford is more inexpensive than you’ll appreciate.”

He snorted.

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

He vanished without another word.

The following night he was in a tetchy mood, and Hermione refrained from speaking to him as she treated him. However, she noticed that he had begun relaxing slightly into her touch. She doubted he was even conscious of it.

Hermione, for her part, had realised that she had grown comfortable with him. With the taint of Dark Magic no longer hanging about him, her instinctive fear had faded. She didn’t hesitate to touch him, didn’t experience any tingle of dread in her spine. She no longer tensed, bracing herself that he might lash out.

He felt familiar.

On Saturday, a soothing charm finally stuck to the incisions when she cast it and Draco shuddered significantly less when she cast the cleansing charm.

“The venom is finally gone,” she told him with relief. She summoned her satchel over and dug through it for an analgesic potion that she had developed. She drew some cloths out and, after placing a barrier spell on her hand so that it wouldn’t go numb, poured the analgesic out until the fabric was drenched.

“This will feel cold and sting for a moment, but then it will numb the incisions,” she said. “I’m going to start on the top of your left shoulder.”

She rested her fingers just above the first rune for a second before she gently laid the cloth over his shoulder and lightly pressed it against the incisions underneath. He shivered.

She set a timer for the left shoulder and turned to attend the right.

“They shouldn’t hurt now but they’re still open wounds on your back,” she said. “Don’t go do something stupid Iike getting into a fight with a werewolf just because you aren’t in agonising pain anymore.”

“Will you sign off on my werewolf fighting Tuesday?” he asked in a snide voice.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“I’d advise giving the scar tissue at least three days to set before fighting any werewolves.”

He chuckled faintly.

The conversation stalled after that, but the evening ended on a surprisingly cordial note.

Hermione was in a somewhat cheerful mood when she apparated back to Grimmauld Place. As she landed on the steps, her bracelet suddenly grew red hot.

She flung the door open and found it in chaos. There was blood smeared across the floor.

“Hermione,” Neville shouted. “It’s Ginny.”

Hermione bolted up the steps as quickly as she could, avoiding the blood spilled across the floor.

Harry, Ron and all the other resident Weasleys were there. Pomfrey and Padma were hovering over a bed where Ginny was lying.

“What happened?” she demanded, dropping her satchel and rushing over. Ginny was unconscious and had a large, ragged gash along her face. Blood was pouring from it.

“Necrosis curse hit her on the cheek,” Pomfrey said, between spells. “They cut it out as quick as they could, but we’ve never had anyone make it back after being struck in the head.”

“Padma! Blood replenishing potion!” Hermione barked as she cast her own spells. Brain damage was not one of Hermione’s specialties. Normally when curses reached the brain the damage was beyond healing.

She cast the most complex brain scan spells she knew and studied them.

“It didn’t reach her brain,” she gasped with relief. Then she cast another diagnostic over Ginny’s head. The ragged, hurried cuts made it hard to read any other details. She couldn’t see any obvious indicators of remaining necrosis, but Hermione didn’t trust Fate to be kind. She snatched Pomfrey’s wand from her hand without asking, muttered a charm and began using the second wand tip delved into the diagnostic layers, looking for any remaining traces of rot hiding beneath all the tissue damage she was reading from the removal process.

There…

“There’s necrosis in her zygomatic and frontal bones. I have to remove them now,” Hermione said. “Everyone get out!”

There was protesting which she ignored as she cast more blood staunching spells, trying to see exactly where the curse was still eating into Ginny.

“Give her one drop of Draught of Living Death,” she ordered Padma who had just poured blood replenishing potion down Ginny’s throat. “It will slow the recovery but we can’t risk her moving.”

Hermione grit her teeth and prayed as she summoned potions from the cabinet and began to cast a series of  intricate spells and wards over Ginny’s head. Many of which she had never used before or only used once.

Trying to remove any sections of the skull was horrendously risky in any situation, but far worse when trying to accomplish it rapidly. It was going to expose the sinuses, Ginny would lose her entire eye socket, and part of her frontal lobe would be exposed until the bones grew back.

Staring at the black spots on Ginny’s exposed skull that were now growing before her eyes Hermione cast a hair removal charm and then spread a thick, purple potion very carefully around the edges of the gash and then out across more than half of Ginny’s head and face. When it was carefully and evenly spread Hermione cast a setting charm. The potion grew hard and shell-like. An exoskeleton.

Hermione took a steadying breath and banished each section of Ginny’s skull.

The exoskeleton potion externally held the areas which no longer had bone structure supporting them. Hermione recast the diagnostic and checked repeatedly and thoroughly. The necrosis was gone. The bones had been removed before the curse reached through to Ginny’s brain.

Hermione collapsed slightly and felt tempted to sob with relief. It had been so close. So very close. Closer than she would ever tell anyone.

She steadied her hands and administered Skele-Gro. She added several monitor wards and several more protective wards around Ginny’s exposed brain. Then she set a timer.

With the interference of Draught of Living Death the bone regrowth would take ten hours. She couldn’t start repairing the gash until the bones had been regrown completely or the repaired tissue would have nothing to form over. Ginny would carry a cruel looking scar for the rest of her life, but she would live. Whoever had cut out the necrosis had done it quick enough to save her.

Hermione took Ginny’s hand in her own and stroked it gently. She was covered in blood. Hermione cast cleaning charms across Ginny’s body and changed her into into hospital robes with a few flicks of her wand. Then Hermione cast diagnostic charms over the rest of Ginny to ensure she wasn’t injured anywhere else.

There was a scrape on her calf and bruising on one arm. Hermione fixed them in a few minutes.

Hermione stood and picked up both of the wands beside her.

“Sorry,” she said, handing Poppy her wand back. Grabbing a person’s wand without permission was grossly offensive.

Poppy stashed her wand with a shaken expression.

“I had already cast four diagnostics before you came and none of them showed the remaining bone necrosis. I’ve never seen a diagnostic dissected compositionally before. I’m glad you didn’t waste time asking permission.”

“I read about it in a book on healing theory. Brain diagnostics are difficult. There’s so much activity that the magic picks up. They’re hard even for specialists to read quickly. It was just luck it worked.”

Hermione sighed and wanted to sit down. Now that the crisis had passed, she was able to feel her heart pounding and her hands shaking. She felt light headed and on the verge of falling over backwards.

“I should go let everyone know she’s alright,” she said shakily.

Harry and Ron and almost everyone else in Grimmauld Place were waiting outside the doors of the hospital ward.

“She’s alright,” Hermione said as she opened the door. “She’ll be alright.”

Harry gave a sob and slumped back against the wall.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” Charlie muttered.

Ron rubbed his eyes and Hermione saw blood on his hands and all over his clothing. She approached him and cast a subtle diagnostic as she did so. He was uninjured. It was all Ginny’s blood.

“Did you remove the necrosis?” she asked Ron.

He nodded and his pale blue eyes flooded briefly with tears. His whole body was shaking as though he were going into shock.

“You saved her, Ron,” she said, pulling him down into a hug. “You bought her enough time to get back. If you hadn’t, it might have been too late, or she might have lost her eye. She’ll have a scar, but she’s going to be fine.”

“Oh Merlin,” Ron collapsed slightly in Hermione’s arms. “Lucius showed up. We apparated but when we landed we realized Ginny was hit. When I saw it—“

He dragged his hand across his eyes and it smeared blood across his pale skin. His hands were shaking uncontrollably.

“All I could think of was when Dad came back. And after George. And now Gin—and I—she looked at me and I knew I had to try. It was—it was worse than anything—”

Ron sobbed and buried his head into Hermione’s shoulder. She wrapped her arms around him tightly.

“I just kept trying to tell myself it was to save h-her,” he mumbled into her shoulder. “Mum—I promised Mum I’d keep her safe—told her I’d never let anything happen to Gin.”

“You did save her,” Hermione said into his ear. “You did exactly what you needed to do.”

“I am going to kill the Malfoys,” he muttered into her ear. “Lucius and Malfoy, I’m going to kill them both. I don’t care if I have to wait until after the war to do it.That family deserves to die.”

Hermione didn’t let the circles she was rubbing into Ron’s shoulders falter. She just hugged him tighter.

The oath to kill the Malfoys was an increasingly common refrain among the Weasleys; the primary exception to their firm opposition to killing. It had started after Dumbledore’s death, but grown more frequent after Bill returned from a mission dragging his wailing father with him. Lucius Malfoy had made a point of identifying himself immediately after cursing Arthur with some obscure spell that had resulted in giving Arthur the mental capacity of a toddler.

Hermione had gone through every healing manual and obscure book of curses that she could get her hands upon but she never managed to find out what the curse was or any means by which to reverse or lessen the effects.

In some ways, Hermione sometimes guiltily thought, it was worse than if Arthur had died. Which was probably what Lucius had intended. Arthur Weasley was gone, except not. His friendly, curious, affectionate self remained, trapped in the body of a middle-aged man and a child’s mind. He needed to be watched constantly. He would only mind a few people, and was prone to having explosions of accidental magic and minor seizures when upset. His effective loss was a staggering, dual setback for the Order. Molly had to step away almost entirely to care for her husband full time. She had taken him to live at one of the hospice safe houses. When George was able to leave the hospital ward at Grimmauld Place, he had joined his mother in helping to care for his father.

“You are a good brother,” Hermione murmured to Ron.

When his shaking finally eased she pulled back slightly in order to ask the question pressing in her mind.

“Ron, can you tell me what you used to remove the necrosis? Was it spellwork or a knife?”

“A knife. One of the ones from Harry’s vault,” he said.

“Can I see it?” she asked steadily.

“Sure,” Ron said, somewhat confused. He glanced around looking slightly dazed still. “I think it’s downstairs. Neville has our stuff.”

Hermione stepped back and poked her head into the hospital ward.

“Poppy, can you check Harry and Ron for injuries? And administer a Draught of Peace? Double for Ron. I need to check something.”

Hermione made her way downstairs. Neville and Hannah Abbott were mopping up the floor with magic.

“Nev, can you show me Ron’s rucksack?”

He nodded over toward the corner.

“It’s the one with all the blood on it. I haven’t cleaned it yet.”

Hermione went over and started going through it carefully. The contents had been flung in haphazardly. There was blood drying on everything. Shoved into a outer pocket she caught sight of a knife handle.

She pulled it out carefully. It was goblin-wrought, as she had suspected.

She carried it into the kitchen and washed the blood off. Then she pulled a small piece of raw chicken from the stasis bin and ran the entire blade of the knife lightly across the meat. The magically sharp edge sliced effortlessly. Then Hermione laid the knife carefully aside and stared down at the chicken.

A minute passed. Then two. Hermione wondered if she’d been mistaken. Then, a small speck of darkness appeared on the chicken. Hermione stared and watched as it slowly grew larger and larger over the next several minutes.

Hermione cast a stasis charm but it had no effect on the rot steadily spreading across the meat.

She cast a barrier charm on the blade of the knife, and several protective wards. Then she wrapped it in several towels and put a repelling charm on the whole thing. Then she placed it in a drawer which she locked and booby-trapped with several stinging hexes and an alarm.

She turned and went back up to the hospital ward.

Harry was sitting next to Ginny, holding her hand. His eyes were huge and devastated and his face was pale. He was chewing nervously on his lip. When Hermione laid her hand lightly on his shoulder, he started and looked sharply up at her.

He smiled thinly. A hospital smile. A rictus. The faint, wan tightening across the face that givers made with the intention of appearing encouraging or stalwart, but which alway just looked fractured.

When Ginny woke she would wear the same expression while she reassured everyone that she was fine; that she didn’t mind her scar; that she really was fine.

Hermione smiled sadly down at Harry and conjured a chair in order to join him

“She shouldn’t have come,” Harry said after a minute.

“The Order decided what the best unit would be, she wasn’t there because of you two,” Hermione said. “Lucius’ grudge doesn’t have anything to do with whether you and Ginny are together.”

“I’m going to have to tell them not to pair us anymore,” Harry said, looking up from Ginny’s hand to stare into the distance.

His expression was dazed and his bright emerald eyes didn’t seem to see the hospital ward. Hermione recognized the expression. He was back on the mission, reliving it over and over, in order to berate himself over what had gone wrong.

“It was all my fault,” he said. His voice was small, quavering slightly. “I should have put the wards up sooner. The mission was so easy. Pointless. It was like a trip with her and Ron. Like we were camping for fun. I let my guard down.”

Hermione said nothing. It was confession. He was so stunned and grieved that he had things he needed to say. He just needed to verbalise it. He couldn’t tell Ron. He felt too guilty to direct it at Ginny beside him.

Hermione had listened to a lot of confessions from those on bedside vigil in the hospital ward. Sometimes she felt like a priest.

“After we got away—when I saw it on her face—I froze,” he said after several moments of silence. “When I saw she’d been hit. I didn’t—She started crying. And Ron stunned her. And I was just standing there. I just stood there while he was cutting her face up. I barely snapped out of it enough to apparate us back. Ron had to do almost everything. It was just like Colin. I just stood there.”

“No one could have saved Colin,” Hermione said quietly.

“I could have helped save Ginny!” Harry snapped suddenly furious. “What if she had died? And I had just been standing there? The woman I love—my best friend’s sister. I just stood there and watched her face rot—”

He dropped Ginny’s hand and shoved his glasses up, rubbing his eyes.

“What if she’d died? Or become like Arthur? Because I was careless and didn’t put the wards up?” Harry’s voice was trembling and his hands were clenched into fists. Hermione could feel the magic shivering around him as his guilt and emotions continued to grow.

Hermione summoned a flagon of Calming Draught and transfigured a piece of cotton dressing into a cup which she filled. She held it and waited for a moment in which to give it to Harry. If she handed it over too soon, it would be thrown into a wall.

“No one responds perfectly every time,” she said.

“It can’t happen again,” Harry said flatly. “I’m not going to risk it.

Hermione said nothing, and after a minute Harry slumped against her. She slipped the cup of Calming Draught into his hand. Then she rested her head on top of his.

“She’s going to be alright,” she said. “I promise. She’s alright.”

Harry nodded, and Hermione gave herself a moment to just be with him. Her best friend.

Most days it felt as though they lived in separate worlds.

The boy who saved her from a troll. Who she’d brewed polyjuice potion for. Who she travelled back in time with in order to save his godfather. The friend she’d taught the accio spell. Who she’d set up Dumbledore’s Army with.

He had carried on as a hero, but somehow Hermione’s path had split off from his.

He turned to her as a healer, but rarely as a friend.

She laced her fingers through his chaotic hair.

“Ginny is in love with you, you know,” she said. “Don’t push her away. Don’t do that to her. Don’t do that to yourself. You’re already both in danger because of this war. You shouldn’t give up the happiness you have. Don’t let Tom take that from you.”

Harry didn’t say anything, but he downed the Draught of Peace while he kept staring at Ginny.

“Can she hear me?” he asked after several minutes, his voice sad and hopeful.

“No, sorry. I put her in stasis until her bones regrow and I can fix the cut. It would be dangerous for her to move when her brain is exposed. She’ll be awake tomorrow.”

They sat together in silence for several minutes until a silvery bulldog came barreling into the hospital ward.

“Potter, Granger, mission debrief in five minutes,” growled Moody’s voice before the patronus vanished.

Harry sighed and stood up.

“I guess I’ll see you in there,” he said, stroking Ginny’s hand one last time.

Hermione watched him walk out and then turned to Ginny. She cast a few diagnostics to confirm that everything was stable and regrowing the way it was supposed to. Then she went downstairs and got the knife out of the kitchen drawer before going to the dining room where Order meetings were held.

Remus and Tonks were already there, and smiled at Hermione when she entered and found her seat. Bill walked in a few minutes later. He and Fleur alternated meeting attendance so that one of them was always monitoring the prison. Charlie followed, still looking as pale as he had been when Hermione had announced that Ginny would be alright. Neville entered next, followed by Amelia Bones. Then Ron and Harry. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Alastor Moody entered behind them.

It was less than a quarter of the current Order. Only a handful of members were informed about the horcruxes. The Order had learned through hard experience the danger of letting too many know too much when their opponent was an accomplished legilimens. Molly and Minerva rarely attended any meetings although they were technically still in an intelligence tier high enough to receive all information. Severus only attended top level meetings scheduled with more advanced warning.

“Harry, Ron. We’d like a full report on your horcrux hunt,” Kingsley said without any preamble.

“There’s nothing to report,” Harry said flatly. “We went all the way to Albania and couldn’t find anything. We didn’t see anyone or have any trouble until Lucius showed up.”

“How did Lucius find you?” Moody asked, his eye rolling across Harry and Ron slowly.

“I don’t know,” Harry said, “we’d just started to set up camp. The wards weren’t up but we’d been there less than fifteen minutes.”

“Where were you?”

“Somewhere either in France or Belgium, I think. Some forest. We were planning to apparate back the rest of the way tomorrow.”

There were several seconds of silence.

“Do you have anything else to report?” Kingsley asked.

Harry and Ron looked at each other and shook their heads.

Everyone’s expressions hardened in disappointment.

Hermione took a deep breath and steeled herself. There was a chance that she was just being pessimistic, but given her track record in Order meetings she was not feeling particularly hopeful about the reaction to what she was going to announce.

“I have something to report,” she said quietly.

Chapter Text

August 2002

Everyone looked sharply over toward Hermione.

She laid the knife on the table and cast a quick spell to unwrap it.

“The mission wasn’t entirely pointless. I think I’ve figured out how we can destroy the horcruxes, assuming we can find them. I’ve been studying how goblin-wrought weapons absorb anything that makes them more powerful. I wasn’t sure exactly how the absorption worked; whether it involved a spell or not. But when I was healing Ginny, I noticed that the spots where the necrosis was still spreading had slight nicks in the bone. It gave me an idea, so afterward, I went and found the knife that was used to remove the curse.”

She lifted the knife up carefully.

“This goblin-wrought knife has the necrosis curse in its blade now. I confirmed in the kitchen and I can demonstrate it if anyone needs to see it. When the curse was cut off Ginny, the blade must have touched the necrosis somewhere and absorbed the magic. So when it touched the bones of Ginny’s skull it spread the necrosis to new locations.”

Ron paled and looked ready to be sick. Hermione shot him an apologetic glance.

“Ginny is going to be fine. And no one could have known that would happen. A goblin-wrought blade was a logical choice because it would cut more reliably than a non-magical knife,” she said firmly to him.

“But it gave me an idea,” she continued, “about how we might be able to destroy the horcruxes. We know they’re dangerous and hard to destroy because even Dumbledore got terminally cursed destroying one. Harry destroyed the journal with a basilisk fang, but we can’t access those unless we can break into Hogwarts and get down into the Chamber of Secrets. But we have the sword of Gryffindor, and I think it might be able to destroy the horcruxes if we used it.”

The room was staring at Hermione blankly.

“It’s goblin-wrought,” she pointed out, “and Harry used it to kill the basilisk. So, that means it should be infused with basilisk venom.”

She glanced around trying to gauge the reactions. Moody and Kingsley both looked thoughtful. Ron still looked ashen.

“It could be true,” Remus said slowly, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “What you said about goblin-wrought materials is certainly accurate.”

“Do we know where the sword of Gryffindor is?” asked Bill.

“I think Minerva has it,” Neville said. “I think I saw it when I was helping with the garden at Caithness.”

“We’ll ask Severus about the venom,” said Moody. “He’ll know if anyone does.”

Harry and Charlie’s faces soured visibly at mention of Snape.

“I can meet with him.” Hermione volunteered. “I need to discuss some details regarding potions and curses anyway.”

“Alright. Report to me afterward. We won’t reconvene until next week,” Moody said with a nod.

“We should do something with that knife,” Remus said. “It won’t be safe, someone might pick it up.”

Hermione pushed it into the middle of the table.

“It has some protective wards on it, but I’m not sure how well they stick.”

“I’ll deal with it,” Moody said, summoning it over to himself. “I’ll send word to Severus.”

Moody turned and stumped out.

When Hermione returned to the hospital ward after a late dinner, Harry was sitting beside Ginny again. All the lights dancing around Ginny’s body were in normal, reassuring hues, but Hermione paused to cast a diagnostic to make sure everything was still alright.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Harry said, while she was in the midst of casting.

“What do you mean?” she asked, pausing mid-spell to look at him. Her breath caught slightly in her chest and her grip on her wand tightened.

“Using Ginny’s injury like that.” Harry’s voice hard and tight. “You made it sound like it was somehow a good thing she got hurt.”

Hermione sighed, and fought against an urge to roll her eyes.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. “You know I hate it when anyone gets hurt.”

“You should have waited. You could have brought it up at the next meeting when Ron wasn’t feeling so awful. Did you even comfort him because you cared, or just because you wanted to know where the knife was?”

Hermione’s hands dropped to her sides and her eyes narrowed as her irritation with Harry bloomed into offense.

“I wanted to make sure he hadn’t cut himself with it. I wanted to make sure no one else found it and got injured with it,” she said in a steely voice.

Harry sighed and glanced over toward her sharply.

“But that’s what you were thinking about. When Ginny was hurt and you were healing her, what you were thinking about was ‘Oh look, nicks in her skull. I wonder if this information will be useful for destroying horcruxes.’ Your roommate was lying there while you treated her, and that’s what you were thinking about. One of your best friends was crying in your arms because he had to cut up his baby sister’s face, and all you were thinking about was that fucking knife.”

Hermione balled her left hand into a fist so tight she could feel her nails biting into her palm and the shape of her metacarpal bones under her fingertips.

“I am capable of thinking of multiple things at once, Harry.” Her tone was icy. “Or would you rather that the mission had been entirely pointless? That Ginny got hurt and it didn’t mean anything?”

“Don’t treat it like that, Hermione. Don’t treat people like they’re nothing but an equation to you.”

Harry stood up abruptly and stared angrily at her.

Hermione twitched slightly. She couldn’t understand the emotional reasoning that Harry employed. It was exhausting to try to figure out where he was coming from. It ate into mental resources she couldn’t afford to give him.

“Either this all happens for a reason or it doesn’t,” she said with cold rage. “You can’t have it both ways. If this is all supposed to be meaningful then you can’t get offended when I point it out and accuse me of being callous.”

Harry paled further and dragged a frustrated hand through his hair. He stared at her with his eyes flashing for a moment before turning away, his lips curled slightly.

“The way you treat people… sometimes, I feel like I don’t even know you anymore,” he said.

“Maybe you don’t,” she said in a clipped tone, staring down at her wand, finishing the diagnostic on Ginny.

“You should have waited, you shouldn’t have talked about the knife tonight. It’s not like we have a horcrux. You could have waited,” he said again as though it were the final conclusion of their conversation.

Hermione pursed her lips slightly and took a breath before responding.

“The war isn’t going to wait for us to grieve, I’m sorry you disagree with my decision. I didn’t mean for it to hurt anyone.”

Harry turned away from her.

Hermione walked into the next room and leaned against the wall, feeling somewhat frozen.

Her hands were trembling slightly. Her stomach felt as though it had been twisted viciously. She regretted eating anything.

She took several deep breaths through her nose and pressed the palms of her hands hard against the wall as she tried to recentre.

She shook her head and tried not to let herself dwell on what Harry had said.

After another minute she straightened and glanced down at her watch to check the time. Ginny’s bones still had hours to regrow.

Hermione mulled over the procedure. She should have Padma watch her perform it.

After Malfoy demanded her, Moody and Kingsley had decided to pull one of the field healers and have them trained to help with hospital shifts. Padma was the best field healer they had and a fair hand at potions; she was chosen to apprentice under both Hermione and Poppy.

When Kingsley informed Hermione that Padma was being assigned to the hospital, he framed it as support for Hermione because she was stretched too thin. But Hermione had been stretched too thin for years. She knew why they had reassigned Padma. They needed the redundancy because Hermione’s function as healer had become secondary to her status as Malfoy’s possession.

Padma was her replacement.

Now, with all the prisoners the Order had broken free recently, they could afford to give up a few more fighters to specialise in healing. Poppy was in charge of training fifty new field healers. Padma was slowly taking over Hermione’s assigned hospital shifts and all the basic potions with the goal of Hermione only being on call in case of emergencies and advanced potion making; freeing her up to research and work on Malfoy.

When Hermione had informed Moody of Malfoy’s intention to train her, Moody reminded her to do anything Malfoy required.

Hermione had felt slightly ill as she had agreed.

It wasn’t as though she didn’t agree. It was just—hard sometimes. Deep down, she wanted Moody to still seem conflicted; to show remorse over what he was steering her toward.

She wanted someone to care. To object for her. So that she wouldn’t feel like such a whore as she did it.

It wasn’t really rational. Strategically she knew Moody was right. Even if he didn’t order her to do whatever Draco wanted, she was still intending to.

That was the bargain.

But sometimes she still wished someone would try to say no for her. So that Hermione could be reassured that the sick, clawing sensation inside of her was reasonable. That it was indeed as horrible as it felt to be sold to a Death Eater in exchange for information. Because, while Malfoy wasn’t generally abusing Hermione or forcing her to have sex with him, if he were, Moody would give her the same instructions.

After all, they’d all expected Draco rape her when they’d sent her.

Somehow Hermione hadn’t been prepared for how devastatingly lonely it would be to process everything alone. How her solitary mission would slowly eat her inside. Like a sinkhole inside her chest.

Of course, she could go to Minerva. Minerva would care. She’d object on behalf of Hermione. But it would be selfish of Hermione to turn to her for solace. It would just make her former Head grieve more. Hermione wasn’t going to stop. She wasn’t going to be dissuaded. Even if by some miracle Moody and Kingsley were.

She just wanted to stop feeling alone. To have someone tell her that what she was doing was meaningful. That it was alright that it hurt.

It was silly. Emotional. Wishing other people would be emotionally tortured on her behalf. She tried to squash it. But it kept rising up inside her.

She’d always been too desperate for verbal affirmation. To have someone tell her that she was clever, to reassure herself of her value with grades and praise.

She bit her lip. No one would ever praise her for what she was doing.

If most members of the Resistance were to learn, they’d probably accuse her of corrupting the war effort.

The war between Good and Evil was won by Good’s refusal to compromise. Not by using Dark Magic. Not by selling a healer to a Death Eater for information.

Moody and Kingsley played along by allowing the Resistance's policy against Dark Art to remain in place in accordance with the Weasleys’ and Harry’s wishes. The public face of the Resistance was still Goodness and Light.

Hermione wondered just how many things Moody and Kingsley were doing without most of the Order knowing. Things that Hermione had also grown complicit in. Such as how Kingsley intercepted some of the snatchers and Death Eaters that Hermione was occasionally called in to heal before they were interrogated. How Bill and Fleur kept the the Order’s prisoners. How prisoners were sometimes interrogated. Where certain supplies came from.

There were so many logistical details that the rest of the Order never seemed to ask about. Much in the way they never asked about where all the new information was coming from. How, after so many months and years of decreasing intel, they suddenly had much better information regarding Death Eater prisons, impending attacks in Muggle Britain, and raids against the Order. How they’d known to evacuate Caithness or that Voldemort was traveling.

Everyone seemed eager to ignore details like that.

The only thing they couldn’t ignore was having Severus as a spy; even after five years, they still hated it. There was a recurring argument put forth by Charlie or Ron or Harry to have Severus cut out.

Hermione sighed and went to find Padma. Even if she could sleep, it was going to be a long night.

Late the next morning she placed the final enchantments on the healing spells she used to repair Ginny’s face and then administered a vial of Wiggenwald potion.

That room in the hospital ward was currently empty. Hermione had kicked everyone out over the furious objections of Harry and Ron.

Ginny’s body was still for a moment and then gradually stirred. She cracked one eye and glanced around blearily.

“Ngghhh,” Ginny groaned and rolled over and buried her head in her pillow.

After another moment she lifted her head and glanced around. Her hand immediately darted up to touch her bald scalp and then moved to her face. She fingered the wide scar that now lay there.

“What happened?” Ginny asked. Her voice sounded dry.

Hermione handed her a glass of water.

“Lucius Malfoy hit you with a necrosis curse on your cheek,” Hermione said as gently as she could. “Ron saved you by cutting it off before it could reach your brain.”

Ginny’s fingers ran along the length of the scar. It started near her hairline. The gash’s topmost edge began at the top of her forehead and all the way down to her jaw. It was wide and cruel looking, and it caused certain spots on her face to divot and pucker slightly.

Ginny sat up slowly and put her hands in her lap. Staring down at them as she clenched them into fists and then opened them. She was quiet for a minute.

“Can I have a mirror?” Ginny finally asked.

Hermione had a mirror ready for Ginny, but she paused before handing it over.

“It will fade. In a few months, with treatment, it will fade to silver.”

Ginny’s lower lip trembled, and she pressed her mouth into a hard line. She held her hand out for the mirror.

“Do you want me to go while you look? Or stay with you?” Hermione asked.

Ginny hesitated. “Stay…” she finally said.

Hermione handed the mirror over and said nothing while Ginny took a deep breath and then turned it over to survey her face.

There was a long silence.

Ginny stared, growing paler, turning her head slowly to take in the entirety of it. Her fingers rose up slowly, tracing over it, as though she couldn’t believe it was her face she saw reflected.

After a few seconds, Ginny pressed her lips together and jerked her head as her eyes welled up with tears. She stared for a moment longer, running her fingers along the scar before pushing the mirror away.

Then Ginny took a sharp breath in through her nose like she was trying not to cry. Her lips twisted slightly and she kept pressing them together harder as she rocked in the bed.

Ginny kept drawing sharp, quick breaths through her nose. Her head jerked up with each one.

Finally her shoulders slumped.

“Oh Merlin, I’m so shallow!” she said with a slight sob. “I’m alive but I’m crying because I’ve got a scar."

Hermione felt her own jaw tremble as she rested a hand on Ginny’s shoulder.

“Scars are hard…” Hermione said, and her voice faded away as it tightened in her throat. “Anything that changes how we see ourselves is hard. You can be sad about it. You’re allowed to grieve for yourself. You don’t need to pretend it’s okay.”

“I know,” said Ginny in a thick voice. “I just want to be. I want to be fine with it. I don’t want to care. Or see it as changing me. But—I feel like part of me has died. Like I’m ruined somehow. And that feels so shallow and selfish. George lost his whole leg and I’m crying because I have a cut on my face.”

Tears streamed from Ginny’s eyes and she smeared them away with the backs of her hands.

Hermione waited for several minutes and when Ginny’s breathing and trembling finally started to ease slightly, she reached out and took Ginny’s hand.

“Harry and Ron are waiting outside,” Hermione said. “But you can take as long as you want before you see anyone.”

Ginny jerked.

“Have they—did—, Ginny stuttered and shifted uncomfortably. “Has Harry already seen it?”

Hermione nodded.

“Harry has been with you the whole time. I forced him to leave. I thought—you might want some time.”

Ginny nodded.

“Maybe five more minutes,” said Ginny after a moment.

Hermione sat down on the edge of Ginny’s bed.

“You’re still one of the prettiest girls I know,” Hermione told her.

Ginny snorted. “Shut up. You’d say that even if Ron had cut off my nose.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I wouldn’t. The redness will fade. If you let me treat it regularly. And use a few potions. It will become more elastic so you won’t feel it. And it will fade a lot. But if you’d like, I can help you glamour it.”

“It’s fine. I always wanted to be a badass when I was little. Can you imagine how scary I’ll look now on a battlefield? All bald and with this crazy thing on my face,” Ginny joked weakly. The frozen hospital smile curled across her face for a moment. Then the forced humor faded from her expression and she looked almost childlike.

“I miss Mum,” Ginny said in a small voice.

Even when her children were injured, Molly could rarely afford to come see them.

Hermione hugged Ginny and Ginny sniffled into her shoulder.

“Do you want to go there today?” Hermione said.

“No. She’ll just feel awful,” Ginny said, shaking her head. “I’ll go see her when it’s faded a bit. Do you have a hair regrowth potion?”

“Sorry. Not on hand. I had Padma start brewing some though. It will be done in the next hour.”

“Well, that’s a relief. At least I won’t have to be both bald and ugly forever.”

Hermione shook her head and hugged Ginny again. Ginny always tended to break out terrible jokes about herself when she was in the hospital.

When Hermione departed, Ginny was fully ensconced in the attentions of Harry and her brothers and under the watchful eye of Poppy and Padma.

Moody sent word that Severus would be home at two o’clock so Hermione apparated there a few minutes early and then approached Spinner’s End carefully. How any place could be so dreary even in summer never ceased to baffle Hermione. It was as though Severus’ personality were contagious.

The door was shut. Hermione rapped quietly and then waited. Since he was no longer a professor, even Severus’ most basic courtesy had entirely vanished. He would occasionally leave Order members waiting at his doorstep for an hour. Fred and George had once tried to just break in and came back to Grimmauld Place sporting boils across their entire bodies.

Hermione stood waiting for two minutes before pulling a book out and resigning herself.

She had made it through two chapters of her psychology book before the door abruptly jerked open. She stood up quickly and followed the billowing robes that were already vanishing around the corner into the sitting room.

Severus was already seated in one of his agonisingly uncomfortable armchairs when Hermione arrived. She perched on the very edge of another chair and looked at him

“A goblin-wrought blade infused with basilisk venom. Would it be enough to destroy a horcrux?” she asked, similarly choosing to skip the basic courtesies of small talk.

Severus blinked, his onyx eyes always inscrutable. She could almost see the occlumency walls behind them.

“The sword of Gryffindor,” he said after a moment.

Hermione nodded.

“I believe it would,” he said slowly, steepling his fingers and looking thoughtful. “Although we won’t know for sure unless we find a horcrux.”

Hermione nodded with a faint sigh. Severus’ lip curled slightly and he snorted faintly.

“At times like this… I wonder just how much Albus manipulated events over the years,” he said.

Hermione stared at him in surprise. “You think second year was intentional?”

He waved her off with a flick of his wrist.

“With Albus, it’s impossible to say. But it is mysteriously convenient that we happen to have such a weapon within our grasp,” Severus said, then his expression grew harsh. “He was always quite confident about his skills of manipulation. Perhaps if he had been less opaque we would not be losing the war.”

“What do you mean?”

Severus looked at her.

“You are aware his injury from the ring was terminal. I had been preparing potions to keep the curse at bay, but his death was inevitable the moment he placed it on his hand. He planned his demise for the end of sixth year. He even requested that I kill him, rather than leave him to the final ravages of the curse. He also suspected before the term began that Draco had been assigned to try killing him as well.”

Hermione stared in shock.

“Albus was so confident that he had everything in hand that he didn’t take sufficient precautions,” Severus continued, “I cannot imagine that he would have neglected to mention the horcruxes after being cursed by one. He likely intended to inform Potter through a series of vague hints. He knew far more about the Dark Lord’s early years than anyone, but he never deigned to confide such things to others.”

Severus’ expression grew bitter and far away as he fell silent.

“He knew Draco was going to try to kill him?” Hermione asked, floored by the revelation.

“Knew. Suspected,” Severus said with a faint nod. “It was hard to differentiate when it came to Albus, but yes, he was anticipating it. Unfortunately for all his plans, Draco acted much more quickly and decisively than even Albus anticipated. You would think a wizard so old would have been more meticulous, but clearly not. His overconfidence was to the detriment of all who survived him.”

Severus glanced at Hermione.

“What made you suddenly think of the sword of Gryffindor?” he inquired, his tone suspiciously casual.

Hermione met his eyes.

“An injury that I encountered gave me the idea,” Hermione said.

“Indeed,” Severus said with an arch expression.

Hermione gave him a look. “You know about Draco’s punishment.”.

“Of course. I had the delightful task of milking Nagini for the venom. Alastor mentioned that you’ve been treating him. I was surprised to hear it.”

“It’s not as though he could hide the injury. Did you realise how severe it is? Tom intended to poison his magic with it. By the time I found out—,” Hermione fell silent for a minute. “I wish you would have informed me, so I could have started sooner.”

Severus was silent and appraising as he studied Hermione.

“You’re using it,” he finally said.

Hermione flushed faintly and met his eyes.

“Yes,” she said. “It seemed like the logical thing to do. You were right, he is isolated. He nearly jumped out of his skin the first time I put my hands on him to heal him.”

“If you had been trained by Bellatrix Lestrange for years, you would probably flinch when touched too,” Severus said dryly.

Hermione paused to consider.  “What do you know about his training? He’s said things that—I don’t understand. The cruelty employed seems excessive. Even by Death Eater standards.”

Severus’ mouth twitched. “He was initially recruited as punishment for Lucius’ failure. Consequently, I believe the Dark Lord gave Bella a rather free hand in choosing training methods. She was suspicious of my loyalty, so it was not a process I was consulted over. I do know that despite the brutality, Draco was determined. He took it and he kept coming back, even when it was no longer necessary. He was determined to climb rank. He was the youngest person to ever take the Mark. Being the lowest tier does not sit well with Malfoys.”

“Was there anyone he was particularly close to in the past? Someone who died? That he cared about? His motive—it feels like atonement for something, at times.”

Severus steepled his fingers and pressed them against his lips thoughtfully.

“Not that I ever observed. At least, not among his housemates,” he said after a minute.

Hermione sighed.

“What about his mother? He mentioned her when he first made the offer.”

“Narcissa became reclusive following Lucius’ arrest. I rarely saw her, and when she did appear she was quite withdrawn. If she ever had objections, I never heard her make them.”

“She seemed doting back in Hogwarts,” Hermione said, tilting her head to the side as she tried to remember details about Narcissa Malfoy. “But that was all by Owl Post. It doesn’t seem like she intervened on his behalf at all during his training.”

“Lucius’ imprisonment seemed to have a rather profound effect on her. Much in the way her death affected him.”

Hermione shivered slightly at the thought of Lucius.

“So Draco just fell to the wayside for them both,” she concluded, feeling sorry for him. She stifled the pity and changed the subject. “Lucius nearly killed Ginny last night. We still don’t know how he tracked them down.”

“There are genetic trace spells,” said Severus thoughtfully. “They are extremely Dark Magic, and they take quite a toll. However, I would not underestimate Lucius’ determination.”

“Are there ways to evade them?”

“I’ll send a book to Moody. I don’t imagine the Weasleys will be receptive to any protective rituals recommended by myself—or you, for that matter.”

Hermione’s mouth tightened and she looked away, feeling stung by the fair assessment. Her advocacy for Dark Magic and her defense of Severus had cost her a great deal of credibility among her friends.

She swallowed the hurt and changed the subject abruptly.

“I finally neutralised the venom in the runes. I’m going to close the incisions tomorrow night. Do you have any suggestions?”

Severus snorted. “I’m sure your planned treatment will be the best he can hope for.”

Hermione stared at Severus and felt as though she were missing something.

“Alright,” she said, standing up.

“Tell me, what do you think of Draco now?”

Hermione paused and looked back at Severus. His eyes were narrowed. Almost suspicious. Her lips twitched to move before she felt ready to speak, and she pressed them together for a moment while she gathered her thoughts. She tucked a loose curl behind her ear.

“He’s lonely. And angry about something. I think he wants to be better than he is. You were right that there’s something about me that draws him in. He tries not to, but he can’t seem to help giving in when he has a chance to.”

Severus studied her, and Hermione wondered what her expression betrayed.

“Don’t interpret that as loyalty,” he said after a moment.

“I don’t,” she said, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. “I realise that it’s not meaningful yet. It’s not any kind of leverage. But I’m hopeful that if I’m careful, eventually I may be able to capitalise on it. Emotionally—he’s vulnerable. There’s no one he can trust. I don’t think he has anyone who cares about him at all. I think with time, he won’t be able to stop himself from feeling like he needs me. He mentioned that because of the runes, when he wants things now—it’s harder to dissuade himself. I think—I might be able to use that eventually.”

Severus’ mouth twitched, the suspicion faded from his eyes but his expression tensed. “In that case, if you manage to succeed you’re as likely to destroy the Order as save it. I hope you realise by now how dangerous he is. If you superseded whatever his current ambition is in that manner—“

Severus paused for a moment. “If the Dark Lord could not leash him, I would not advise deluding yourself into thinking you can master him.”

Hermione jerked slightly and she stared into the cold fireplace, tensing until her legs trembled while she struggled not to snap. Anger flared through her like an explosion.

You told me to make him loyal. You are the one who recommended exploiting his interest,” she said in a clipped voice. “Now you’re calling me delusional and accusing me of endangering the Order.”

“I said to hold his interest. You are trying to make him depend on you,” Severus said, his tone suddenly icy. “The difference is profound. In some respects, the Malfoys are closer to being dragons than they are wizards. They do not share. They are obsessive about what they regard to be theirs. Do you know who Lucius needed? Narcissa. If you succeed in what you are attempting, he will never let you go. And he will not be content with being secondary to anyone or anything in your regard.”

Hermione’s heart shuddered slightly. She could feel cold terror slide down from the nape of her neck and bleed across her trapezius muscles. She squared her shoulders, and met Severus’ eyes. She took in a sharp breath.

“He already owns me,” she said in a bitter voice. “‘Now and after the war.’ Those were the terms. Barring his death, when exactly was I ever intended to be let go? We need the intelligence. I can’t hold him with half-hearted effort. It was all in for me from the moment you all agreed to sell me to him. Did you really think I was going to get to come back from it?”

Her shoulders shook slightly. “I don’t know how to keep his interest without connecting with him. It’s the only vulnerability he has. If you believe it to be that much of a risk you should speak to Moody because I—don’t—see—another—way .”

Her voice was shaking and cracked repeatedly as she forced out the last words. She breathed sharply through her teeth as she tried to steady herself.

“He’s a natural occlumens. And far better at it than me. There’s no halfway option in the cards,” she added.

Severus looked startled.

“That does change things,” he said after a moment.

“Now you understand my difficulty,” she said, looking down at the floor. “There isn’t an option of doing something I can back out of later. If you think I’m making the wrong choice you should tell Moody now.”

He said nothing.

“I’d best be going then.”

As she left Spinner’s End, she felt dazed and unsteady. It was too warm and enclosed. She needed space to breathe. She closed her eyes and apparated to the stream in Whitecroft.

She hopped down the bank and seated herself on a large boulder among the thickly growing reeds, slipping her shoes off and dipping her toes into the cold water. The sharp sensation of the water felt like clarity.

She didn’t know why she kept ending up here. She supposed it was the only place where she didn’t feel like she was hiding anything.

She stared at the flowing water, replaying Severus’ warning. She felt at a loss. All her hope from earlier in the week felt as though it had died somewhere inside her and started to decay. She pressed her hands against her eyes and fought to breathe evenly.

She couldn’t waver now. If Severus had any alternatives or objections, he could raise them with Moody. She couldn’t change tactics now that she’d finally found one that worked.

She stared down at her fallen prayer tower.

She felt so… angry.

Angry with the whole world until she felt like she’d shatter from it.

She was angry at Severus for accusing her of endangering the Order; at Moody and Kingsley, for deciding to ask her to become a whore, knowing she’d feel she had no choice; at Harry and the Weasleys, for refusing to use Dark Magic and bringing the war to the point where Hermione felt she couldn’t refuse; at her parents, for being helpless and needing her to protect and give them up; and even at Minerva, for being so distraught on Hermione’s behalf that Hermione felt she had to protect Minerva from Hermione’s own grief.

Hermione had always thought that she could do anything for her friends. Anything to protect them.

Somehow all the things she had done had left her all alone until she felt as though she was dying of a broken heart.

There should be a limit. A point at which it stopped hurting at least.

But it never seemed to stop. It just kept growing and when someone fractured the facade the way Harry and Severus each had...

She didn’t know how to fix herself anymore, and no one else seemed inclined to even notice she was breaking.

She let herself cry for five minutes before using her occlumency to cram the distracting emotions into a corner of her mind. The crying made her feel light-headed and made her temples ache. She pulled a pain relief potion out of her satchel and downed it.

She closed her eyes and forced herself to stop thinking about other people.

The afternoon sunshine had seeped into the stone and felt warm under her hands. The smell of the creek water and mud and the green biting scent of the reeds filled the air. After several minutes, she closed her eyes and tilted her head back to soak in the rays. She couldn’t remember when she’d last felt warm sunshine on her face. The light from sunrise was always cold, despite its beauty.

Everything in her life was cold.

After a few minutes, she roused herself. She pulled her feet from the water and flicked the droplets away before heading back to Grimmauld Place.

Chapter Text

August 2002

That night she and Malfoy were both subdued. He didn’t flinch as she cast the cleansing charm and was quiet while she was applying the analgesic and then the salve.

“Did the Weasley girl survive?” he abruptly asked as he stood up.

Hermione stared up at him startled. She tried to guess why he was asking. Did Lucius want confirmation?

He hadn’t pulled his shirt back on, and he was standing so close to her she could almost feel the heat from his body as he looked down at her. His eyes were stormy, and when she stayed silent, his expression flickered briefly.

“I’ll assume she did then,” he said, stepping away and putting on his shirt.

Hermione blinked. “She did. Although not for a lack of effort on your father’s part,” she said in a bitter tone.

Draco’s expression hardened slightly.

“I’d hope you wouldn’t consider me responsible for my father’s actions. Surely I’ve committed sufficient sins on my own,” he said in tight voice as he rapidly buttoned his shirt.

“I just don’t know why you’re asking,” she said. She felt too drained to have the current conversation.

“It may surprise you, Granger, but I have no particular wish to see your friends dead.”

Hermione said nothing. She had no idea what kind of response to make to the comment.

“My father—,“ he started and then hesitated; his face became a cold mask. “Nevermind.”

Hermione slumped internally. She needed to have this conversation with him. She reached out and caught his wrist. He stilled and looked back toward her, his expression closed.

“I’m sorry. The question caught me off guard. I don’t fault you for what your father does. It’s just—,” her voice broke off briefly and her hold on his wrist tightened. ”I know you never had anything but contempt for the Weasleys—but what he’s doing to them is horrific.”

Malfoy was silent.

“I am sorry,” he said. “I doubt you’ll believe me, but I don’t—there is no reasoning with his vendetta.”

“You disagree with him?” Hermione asked, studying his face cautiously.

He used his other hand to take hold of hers and pulled his wrist free. “If I blamed them for my mother’s death, I wouldn’t have asked about the Weasley girl.”

“Thank you for asking,” she said, glancing awkwardly around the room. “It must be difficult for you. I know you admired your father.”

Draco looked distinctly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had gone in.

“Right. Well—later, Granger,” he said and apparated without another word.

Hermione stood there for several moments, reviewing the conversation before she headed back to Grimmauld Place.

When she got there, she found her room occupied by Harry and Ginny. She fidgeted in the hallway and then started up toward the uppermost floors of the house. As she passed one of the smaller rooms, she caught sight of a shock of red hair bent over a table of maps. She paused and tapped lightly on the door.

“Hey Mione,” Ron said distractedly as he moved pieces across the maps and then scratched his head absentmindedly with the tip of his wand. His expression was tense.

“Got a minute?” she asked.

“Sure.” He stuffed his wand into his back pocket and looked up at her. “Just reviewing what’s been happening since I left. Lot of raids while we were away, you must have been busy.”

He was giving her a penetrating look. Hermione dropped her eyes.

“I’m sure you see the strategy,” she said quietly.

“Kingsley’s using the horcruxes to keep Harry off the field,” he said.

Hermione gave a short nod. “You understand why, don’t you?”

Ron’s expression hardened further as he shrugged and nodded.

“No good risking him in a skirmish when we need him for the final blow. Yeah. I get it. That doesn’t mean I like it. And some of these—,” he pulled a few scrolls over and glanced down at them. “They’re pretty much suicide missions. I hadn’t realized how safe Kingsley has been playing it because of Harry. Seeing what he’ll do when we’re gone for a few weeks—“

He broke off as he stared angrily down at the reports. “What exactly were the casualty rates while we were gone?”

Hermione opened her mouth to answer, and he cut her off.

“I don’t need you to tell me. I can see the numbers right here. Fucking—fucking bloody unbelievable. If Kingsley were here, I’d punch him.”

His face was growing scarlet with rage.

“Ron, we can’t afford to play it safe anymore,” Hermione said, her stomach knotting itself as she thought about all the people whose eyes she’d drawn shut during the past several weeks, the new hospice safe house she’d helped Bill ward. “I don’t think you realise how depleted our resources are. How many years do you think Harry’s vault can feed an army? The hospital ward is running on fumes. Europe is getting locked under Tom’s control. The only option we have left is to take risks. And we can’t risk Harry.”

Ron was silent. Hermione could see the muscles of his jaw working as he kept clenching and releasing it.

“We need to find the horcruxes,” he finally said. Hermione let out a low, deep breath that she’d been anxiously holding and nodded.

“We do,” she said. “Tom and Harry are the linchpins. Ideologically, the Death Eaters are too diverse. It’s Tom’s power that keeps the army cohesive. If we can kill him, permanently, there should be enough infighting to give the Resistance the upper hand.”

“I guess that’s the one upside to Tom’s delusions of immortality, he isn’t bothering to groom a successor,” Ron said woodenly as he looked over another mission report. Hermione could see her signature on the bottom, verifying the injured, calculating the losses in neat, impersonal numbers. “Although I don’t doubt the Malfoys will think they’re first in line now that Bellatrix is dead. Fucking psychopaths.”

“You need to convince Harry that the horcruxes are the first priority,” she said, staring at Ron intently. “Especially now, after Ginny. I’m worried he just wants to ignore them.”

Ron’s expression grew strained.

“Yeah,” he said quietly.

Hermione hesitantly drew closer.

“Ron, I hope what I said at the meeting last night didn’t make you feel like it was your fault. You saved Ginny. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to withhold the information but I didn’t mean to hurt you by disclosing it.”

“It’s fine,” he said, expression stiff. “You made the right call.”

“I’m sorry—”

“Don’t. I don’t really want to talk about it,” he said in a shaking voice that brooked no argument.

Hermione’s eyes darted across his face, recognising the tension around his eyes, the scarlet tipping his ears while his face grew so pale his freckles stood out like drops of blood across his face.

If she pushed, he’d explode.

Hermione felt her heart sink.

“Right. Well, I’ll leave you to review,” she said turning to leave.

She made her way up a flight of stairs slowly.

The number of subjects she avoided with Harry and Ron in order to not fight with them had slowly created a chasm.

Trying to stay focused. Stay on mission. All those personal issues and arguments she’d put off for another day. Assuming the war would end and they’d have a chance to deal with it all without compromising their focus and risking someone’s life.

But the war had rolled on for years.

Now they barely knew how to speak to each other at all. There was so much unspoken resentment. So many things they’d waited too long to say. Every disagreement was about a thousand more things than merely the issue at hand.

The notion that they could ever go back and fix it felt impossible.

Maybe there had been a chance before Malfoy. But now—

Hermione felt almost certain that she had crossed a line that they would never allow her to come back from. To them, the magnitude of the betrayal would permanently sever things.

Just thinking about it made it hard to breathe.

She found herself in a practice room. She went over, slotted her feet under a wardrobe used to store equipment and started doing sit-ups until her abdominal muscles felt like they had been injected with acid.

She had discovered that Draco’s exercise regime was an excellent way of channeling her stress, frustration and grief. She never intended to tell him, but she wished she had started exercising years ago. The physical symptoms of stress could not be suppressed with occlumency. Funneling it all into exercise was an excellent means to burn it off.

The surge of endorphins afterward was an additional upside.

After doing so many sit-up repetitions that she could barely peel herself off the floor, she rolled over and started doing push ups. She was rubbish at them, but she was also resolved. She was determined to work her way up until she actually did as many in a row as Draco had instructed.

She was slick with sweat and felt as though she’d been struck by a full body jelly-jinx when she finished all the various repetitions. She was only doing a quarter of the quantity, but she had finally managed to work through all of different exercises.

She stumbled down the stairs and fell asleep in the window seat.

When she woke the next morning, her whole body was protesting. Every bit of her ached. She scuttled down the stairs into a bathroom and took a long shower before anyone else was up.

That night she carefully reviewed her mental checklist of what she needed for Draco’s procedure. She’d bought a cheap bottle of tequila in case he decided he wanted something. She doubted he’d have ever tasted the muggle alcohol, and she’d decided that he deserved to suffer if he chose to ignore her advice about bringing his own.

While she was packing up several potions, she felt someone breach the wards on her potion closet and turned to find Harry standing awkwardly behind her.

“Hermione,” he said, only meeting her eyes for a moment before dropping his gaze.

“Yes?” she said cautiously, slipping a few more vials into the pockets in her satchel.

“I—,“ he started and then stalled.

She glanced at her watch. She was due to meet Draco in seven minutes.

“Did Ginny send you?” she said with a faint edge to her voice. Even before Ginny and Harry had started shagging, Ginny had made it her business to force Hermione and Harry to try to patch things after they fought.

“Yeah,” he said awkwardly, shoving his hands into his pockets. Hermione’s jaw tightened.

“Well, you can tell her we talked. It’s fine. No hard feelings. I’m sure you were just tired and looking out for your best friend,” Hermione said in a dismissive tone, glancing at her watch again.

Harry said nothing, and Hermione started stepping around him to leave. He caught her arm.

“Hermione,” he said firmly. “I am sorry. And not just because Gin sent me. I crossed a line. I was angry because of how upset Ron was, and I vented it at you. I questioned how you treated Ginny and Ron, even though I know your first priority is always your patients. I’m sorry for that.”

Hermione paused and stared at Harry, her expression closed.

It was a apology for insulting and doubting her as a Healer. It wasn’t an apology to her.

He studied her face for several seconds.

“You’re—one of my best friends,” he added.

Hermione felt something inside of her fade away. As though she carried a flame in her heart and it had abruptly guttered and left her in darkness.

The words were—a second thought. Something to say because he’d said it before. Because it was a thing he was supposed to say to her.

She felt her jaw tremble.

She stared at him. Something showed on her face because Harry abruptly stepped forward and hugged her tightly.

She clung to him for a minute.

“Sorry. I’m really sorry,” he spoke into the side of her head, his voice muffled.

She tried to collect herself. She had no time or capacity for emotions right then.

She fisted her hands and shook for a moment as she hugged him back, before forcing her mental walls back into place. There was no room for Harry inside them.

“I’m just tired. It was right for you to look out for Ron. You were right, I wasn’t thinking about him when I brought it up.” She pushed herself out of Harry’s arms. “You’re a good friend to him.”

Harry stared at her carefully.

“Am I a good friend to you?” he asked.

Hermione met his eyes.

“The best,” she said in a steady voice. “ Always my best friend.”

Harry’s face grew relieved.

“Ginny says she wants to test run her face in a Muggle pub so a few of us are going out tonight. Pomfrey said you’re not on shift tonight. Do you want to come?”

Hermione’s heart rose for a beat and then sank.

“I can’t,” she said. “I promised one of the hospice houses I’d come tonight for checkups and inventory. I’m already late.”

“Oh... Alright. Just wanted to ask,” Harry said.

“Have fun.”

Harry nodded. “I’ll go let Gin know.”

She nodded and watched him walk away. When he had gone, she shut the door of her potion closet and stood for a minute trying to rein in everything.

She let out several sharp puffs of breath through her nose and then kicked the baseboard until the pain in her toes grew sharp.

She couldn’t cry. She had to perform a complex healing procedure. There was no space in her head for emotions. She had no time to cry about Harry.

She pressed her lips into a hard line and tried to recentre.

After a minute she managed to shove the maelstrom down. Stifling it in the back of her mind. She waited until her breathing was even. Then she walked out of Grimmauld Place, smiling and giving a quick wave to everyone heading into London.

She was four minutes late when she walked into the shack. Draco appeared a minute later.

He stared at her.

“I almost thought you were standing me up,” he said wryly.

“Someone wanted to talk. I didn’t have an excuse to rush away,” she said as she conjured a small table and began pulling supplies out of her satchel.

Malfoy watched her work in silence for a minute.

“You’re a walking hospital,” he said.

“I have to be.”

She arranged everything in the order she would need it and then summoned one of the chairs.

“It’ll be easier for you to test dexterity in a chair than on a medical table,” she said. “You should remove your shirt entirely.”

He began unbuttoning it while Hermione straightened her supplies and ran her eyes over them carefully one last time.

“There are two ways to heal incisions as deep as yours,” she said, looking up at him. “Painlessly, but the scarring of the muscle tissue can result in long term limitations to your shoulders’ mobility. Or painfully, in order to ensure the scar tissue doesn’t bind in ways that will interfere with your dexterity. I assumed you would choose the latter.”

He nodded. Watching her carefully.

“I can use pain relief charms on the incisions that I’m not healing, but I can’t use any potions that will reduce your sensations or you won’t be able to tell me if the scar tissue is forming properly. This is going to hurt.”

“I am aware,” he said in a hard voice.

Hermione pulled out the tequila and set it on the table. “Alcohol helps. Assuming you don’t get totally smashed, it will help keep the pain manageable without reducing the sensation in your shoulders to a degree that interferes with healing. This is a muggle alcohol called tequila. It was very cheap. I don’t have a large alcohol budget.”

She pulled out Draught of Peace. “A double dose of of Calming Draught helps too. Being tense won’t help.”

She handed Draco the large vial of Calming Draught and watched him take it.

“Ready?” she said. She hadn’t felt so nervous about a healing procedure in a long time.

He straddled the chair, and she began.

She carefully grew a section of scar tissue and then made him fully rotate, extend and stretch his shoulder. It pulled. She cast a spell to help relax the tissue but it still pulled. She had to cut part of it away and grow it again.

Bit by bit.

Blood was streaming from the other runes as the movement continuously agitated them.

She set the scar tissue for four runes before Draco finally broke down and wandlessly conjured a bottle of vintage firewhisky.

She didn’t say anything, pausing while he wrenched the cork out with his teeth and then guzzled it for several seconds. Then he set it firmly beside the bottle of tequila and dropped his head down onto the back of the chair.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” he muttered.

“Sorry,” she said awkwardly, placing her hand lightly on his shoulder as she started to work again.

“Save it, Granger,” he snarled. His face was pale, and he was gripping the back of the chair until his knuckles turned white.

He drank in between every rune after that.

By the time she started on his other shoulder, he was moving steadily beyond buzzed and into the early stages of drunkenness.

“Fucking hell,” he groaned in a low voice. “I always said you were a complete and utter bitch. You don’t have to show me.”

Hermione pressed her lips firmly together, torn between offense, amusement, and sympathy.

“The bitch who heals you,” she said.

He chuckled.

“Apparently.”

He didn’t speak again except to answer her questions about the scar tissue until she finished. She cleaned all the blood off his back.

She gently applied several analgesics and a final layer of a creamy potion to help the new tissue set properly. The scars were an angry red.

She glanced at her watch. It was well past midnight. It had taken longer than she’d expected.

“Alright,” she said. “I’m finished.”

Malfoy sighed with relief and gulped the last of the firewhisky before shoving the second emptied bottle onto the table beside the first.

He was still for several seconds as though regaining his bearings. Then he cocked his head to the side and eyed the tequila.

“What even is this?” he said grasping it by the neck and inspecting it.

He showed almost no signs of drunkenness. His words were unslurred and his hands remained steady. Hermione had never seen anyone drink so much alcohol and remain so externally unaffected.

It was terrifying how controlled he was.

“Don’t drink it. It was so cheap. You’ve just imbibed a hundred galleons worth of vintage alcohol. Don’t top it off with that.”

He wasn’t inclined to listen. He unscrewed it, sniffed it and then took an inquiring sip. He spat it immediately on the floor.

“The fuck! This is varnish. Poisoning me now, Granger?”

“I was thinking of it as a punishment if you’d chosen not to believe me and didn’t bring your own,” Hermione said wryly. “I’m told it tastes better if consumed with salt and a lime wedge.”

“Told?”

“I don’t drink much, especially not out in the Muggle world,” Hermione reminded him.

“You don’t even know what you bought.” His mouth was still twisted as though he couldn’t get the taste off his tongue.

“I just went for inexpensive and high alcohol content,” she said.

“I shouldn’t be surprised. Your idea of getting drunk is drinking port and pretending to be a troll under a bridge,” he said, chuckling faintly.

Hermione made a sour expression as she finished packing up her healing supplies. She rummaged through her bag and cursed inwardly. She’d forgotten to bring sobriety potion. She’d had it on her mental checklist, but it had slipped her mind when Harry appeared.

“Well. I’m done. Are you safe to apparate?” she asked, eying him carefully. She didn’t think he possibly could be.

He appeared to be considering the question for several seconds. Tilting his head from side to side and cocking an eyebrow.

“I don’t believe it would be a medically advisable,” he said at last.

She sighed with relief. She had no idea what she’d do if he had tried to insist that he was sober. She wondered if she’d be able to stun him if he wasn’t letting her.

“Right. Well, do you want me to conjure a bed for you? I’m pretty good at them,” she asked.

“Eager to be off?” he said, standing and giving her a piercing look. He did not appear to be drunk at all. “Got someone waiting for you?”

The question caught her off guard. She blinked and thought of everyone else at a pub without her.

“No,” she said shaking her head.

“Neither do I,” he announced. Then with a wandless, nonverbal wave of his hand, another bottle of Ogden’s Reserved appeared. “Let’s drink.”

She stared at him. She hadn’t anticipated the evening going in this direction.

He had to be just ridiculously drunk. With the amount of firewhiskey he had imbibed, he should have been insensate.

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” she said, sidling toward the door.

“Come on, Granger,” he said cajolingly and stalked forward, closing in on her, bottle in hand. He was still shirtless. “The Order’s lonely little healer. Try drinking somewhere that isn’t a creekbed.”

Hermione bumped into the wall as she backed away from him. He loomed over her, and she tilted her head back in order to maintain eye contact. He smirked down at her.

“You should feel privileged. I hardly drink with anyone. I never get drunk around anyone. It’s such a terrible idea. Occlumency’s shoddy. Slowed reflexes. Terrible idea.”

“You said that,” Hermione pointed out, sliding her hand behind her back and trying to find the door knob.

“Did I...?” He blinked. “See? Somehow—when it comes to you—,“ he sighed and rested his forehead on the top of her head. Hermione stood frozen in astonishment.

His empty hand came up and he grazed her cheek lightly with his fingertips. Gliding his thumb along her cheekbone. Hermione’s breath caught in her throat.

“You inspire terrible decisions. Something about you. I can’t understand it.” He lifted his head and leaned back just enough to stare at her. “What makes you so special?”

Hermione found the doorknob and turned it, trying to pull the door open. It wouldn’t budge. She glanced down and found the toe of Draco’s shoe lodged against it.

She looked up at him, and he smirked.

“Come on, Granger. Where’s your Gryffindor courage?” he said, his voice low, coming from the back of his throat so that it sounded husky. “Have a drink with me. I’ll even call you Hermione.”

She shivered at the sound of her name dripping off his lips. The clipped, to-the-point manner in which he usually spoke was gone. He was terrifyingly playful. Like a kneazle with a gnome in its claws.

She tried the door again. He seemed to be getting closer. There was barely any space between them. She could feel the heat of his bare chest on her face. His eyes were hooded but glittering as he stared down at her.

Her heart rate started to steadily spike. She was on the verge of asking him to let her leave. Of telling him that he was scaring her.

She opened her mouth to say it. Then she caught herself.

She should stay.

Draco Malfoy was handing himself to her on a drunk platter.

If she had ever hoped for an in, this was it. The opportunity would never repeat itself. Even he was admitting he was making a mistake. That it was a risk.

Staying was a risk for her, a corner of her mind whispered. She shook slightly and ignored it.

She had to stay.

She tried not to be overt about her change of mind.

“I’m not afraid,” she said, jutting her chin out and pulling her hand off the doorknob.

He smirked. “Really?”

“Really,” she said taking a minuscule step toward him. There was barely space to move.

She grabbed the bottle of Ogden’s from him and appraised it. It was an eighty year old reserve label. She pulled out the cork and sniffed it.

She was a lightweight, but she doubted she could fake drinking. Draco would notice.

And she needed the courage. She had no idea what a Draco Malfoy with lowered inhibitions might do. The thought made her feel cold with terror.

She met his amused gaze as she took a swig.

One of them was on a platter. The question was merely whom.

Chapter Text

August 2002

The firewhisky burned brightly down her throat, and instantly the pounding of her heart eased slightly. The hot feeling of courage spread across her chest.

She tilted the bottle toward Draco, and he plucked it from her hand and took a swig of his own. His eyes were locked on hers until he lowered it. Then he glanced around the bare room they were in. Pulling his wand from a holster strapped to his right arm, he flicked it and conjured a loveseat.

Hermione gave him a look.

“I’m not scooting across a sofa every time we pass the bottle,” he said. Then he added in a mocking tone, “I can conjure a courting bench if you require a barrier.”

His eyes were taunting. He was still shirtless.

“Or you could have conjured some tumblers,” she retorted, giving him a pointed look. She dropped down onto the small couch and waited for him to do the same.

He leaned down, resting his hand on the back of the couch behind her shoulder and leaned over her, sliding the bottle into her hand.

“Your turn. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” he said in a low voice before seating himself beside her. He was much closer than he needed to be.

Hermione took another sip, and he watched her. When she tried to hand it back, he demurred and indicated that she continue.

“You’ll regret it when I start crying on you,” she said, growing suspicious once again about how drunk he was. She could already feel it starting to hit her. She’d picked at dinner and that had been hours earlier. A warm dulling sensation was beginning to creep over her.

“You didn’t cry that much,” he said, leaning back gingerly. Then, discovering that it didn’t hurt, he sunk against the back the couch with an audible sigh. “I had no idea how much I missed leaning against things.”

“Be careful for the next few days,” Hermione said between sips. “If you’re careless while they’re setting, the skin might tear, and I’ll have to redo parts. If you want—I can keep coming. If I keep treating them for a few days longer, you won’t even be able to feel them. As least—not the physical aspect of them.”

He smirked over at her and shook his head as though in disbelief.

“Is there anyone you don’t feel responsible for?” he asked.

Hermione didn’t answer the question, and she took another gulp of firewhisky. Tears suddenly pricked at the corners of her eyes.

“All my friends are out drinking tonight. They invited me, but I couldn’t go,” she said abruptly.

He was quiet for a moment.

“I’m sorry. We could have rescheduled,” he said.

Hermione scoffed.

“Right. I’d just leave you with lacerations in your back for an extra day so I could go drinking. It’s not as though I could even drink with them anyway. I’d probably get into some raging fight with Harry and Ron.”

She burst into tears and cried for several minutes. While she was crying, Draco plucked the bottle from her fingers and set to draining it. When her sobbing finally eased to sniffling, he chuckled.

“You know,” he said dryly, “if I ever had to interrogate you, I think I’d skip the torture and the legilimency and just pour a bottle of firewhisky down your throat.”

Hermione started laughing through her tears.

“Oh god, you’re right,” she said huffing and wiping her eyes.

He handed the bottle back to her, and she sipped it for several minutes in silence.

“Thank you, Granger,” he said quietly after a while.

The corner of her mouth curved into a small smile. “I thought you said if I drank with you that you’d call me Hermione.”

“Hermione,” he said. She looked over at him. His eyes were hooded; he was staring over at her intently.

“Yes?”

He didn’t say anything; he just kept staring at her until she started to blush. It was distracting to look back at him when he didn’t have a shirt on. Her eyes kept dropping, then lingering, and then she’d catch herself and look up and find he was still looking at her.

“I thought you said you were angrier when you were drunk,” she finally said nervously.

“I normally am,” he said. “Last time I got drunk, I warded myself in and wrecked the room.”

“You don’t seem drunk,” she said. She was beginning to feel really drunk. Her head felt heavy, and she had an overwhelming desire to both laugh and cry and curl up on the couch.

“I’m not a relaxed person.”

“I’ve noticed. And you scold me,” she said severely. She felt her face make a more exaggerated expression than she’d meant to.

He laughed under his breath. “My tension doesn’t interfere with my dueling. I bet I could still beat you in a duel even now.”

“You probably could,” Hermione said with a sigh. “I’ve been exercising though. I thought I would hate it, but it’s actually nice.”

He smirked, and it was loose and crooked. Hermione blushed.

“You should put a shirt on,” she finally said, her voice jumping. “You must be cold.”

Suddenly her hand was in his, and he had pressed it against his chest. She gasped faintly with surprise and felt her heart rate begin rapidly increasing.

“Do I feel cold?” he asked in a low voice. He’d sat up and they were suddenly very, very close. So close Hermione could feel his breath against her neck. A shiver rolled down her spine.

“N-no,” she whispered, staring at her fingers splayed across his chest. She’d spent hours touching him as she treated his runes, but being face to face made the physical contact suddenly intimate. She could feel the faintest sensation of his heartbeat under her index finger. Without thinking, she stroked his skin lightly.

He breathed in sharply, and she felt the shudder of it under her hand. His hand was still over hers, but he wasn’t holding hers in place any longer. She drew her thumb across his pectoral and felt him shiver under her fingers.

Hermione felt like she were barely breathing; that if she were to inhale or exhale too sharply, something in the air would snap.

The moment—the tension between them—felt like the wings of a butterfly. Delicate. Breathtakingly fragile.

She looked up at him. His face was inches from hers. His eyes dark as he studied her face.

He was startlingly handsome.

She’d hardly let herself notice it. But somehow, drunk and feeling his heartbeat under her fingers, she saw it. The coldness of his persona had faded; his skin was warm, and his breath against her skin was warm, and he was beautiful to look at.

She couldn’t remember when she had stopped being afraid of him.

“I must admit,” he said in a low voice as though it were a confession, “if anyone had told me that you’d become so lovely, I would never have come near you. I was rather blindsided when I first saw you again.”

She stared at him in confusion.

“You’re like a rose in a graveyard,” he said, and his lips curved into a bitter smile. “I wonder what you could have turned into without the war.”

“I’ve never thought about it,” she said.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he said, voice quiet. His hand reached over and he captured a curl that had come loose from her braids. “Is your hair still the same?”

She snorted. “Yes. Mostly.”

“It’s like it’s you,” he said, twisting the curl in his fingers so that it wrapped itself around his fingertip. “Tied in place, but still the same underneath.”

Hermione stared at him for a moment, and then tears welled up in her eyes. His eyes widened.

“Oh god, Granger,” he said hastily, “don’t cry again.”

”Sorry,” she said withdrawing her hand and reaching up to wipe away the tears. She felt cold.

When she looked back up at him again, his expression was pensive.

She’d never seen him so expressive before. Everything had felt like a mask until then. With just the briefest flickers of something real coming through on occasion.

As they sat there, she almost thought she might be seeing the real him.

And he looked—

Sad.

Lonely.

Maybe even heart-broken.

“I told you I’d cry if you got me drunk," she said.

“I know. I don’t mind. I just don’t want to be the reason why tonight,” he said, looking away from her and dropping his hand from her hair.

She gulped down another swig of firewhisky and then offered it to him. There was less than a quarter of a bottle left.

He took it and stared around the room. His expression grew bitter. The air around him abruptly grew cold.

Hermione recognized the shift. It was like her with crying. Something had occurred to him. Struck him. The alcohol had thinned his occlumency walls and he couldn’t stop himself from feeling it.

Quiet. Angry. As he had said.

Without thinking, she reached over and took the hand closest to her. His left hand.

He looked over at her. She turned it over in her hands and ran her thumbs across the palm. Flattening it. She could feel the barest tremors from the cruciatus still in it.

“When did you become ambidextrous?” she asked.

He met her eyes, and she could see his surprise.

“When did you guess?” he asked after a moment.

“Your holster is on your right arm, but you’ve always used your right hand when dueling with me,” she said. “And you have the same wand calluses on both hands. I noticed it the day I first worked on the runes.”

“Clever,” he said.

Hermione smirked. “Only figure that out now?”

He snorted. “Humble too,” he added dryly.

She drew her wand and muttered the charms as she tapped the tip across his hand. Trying to relieve the last of the tremors.

“You don’t have to keep healing me, Granger,” he said after a moment. She felt herself blush under his gaze.

“Hermione,” she said, reminding him again. “You looked sad. I didn’tknow if you’d want a hug from me. So I thought of this. I thought healing you, at least, is something you would want.”

He was silent, and she continued massaging his hand. Running her fingers over and against his. He had long tapered fingers.

“And if I wanted something else?” he said. His voice was quiet but there was a pointed quality to the question.

Her hands stilled, and she looked up at him. It felt as though all the oxygen in the room had suddenly vanished. Her heartbeat tripled, and her chest abruptly felt hollow.

“What do you want?” she asked cautiously. She studied his face. His eyes were dark, but his expression was relaxed. Curious. His hair had fallen down over his forehead, softening his angular features. He looked young.

“Will you take your hair down? I want to see it,” he said.  

She blinked. “Really?” she asked, staring at him with disbelief.

He just gave a short nod.

She slowly reached up and pulled the pins out. The braids tumbled down and she pulled the ties off them and started slowly running her fingers through to unbraid each side. When she reached the top of her head, she dragged her fingers through once more and then dropped her hands into her lap.

“There. My mane.”

He stared at her for several seconds in silence. “I didn’t realize it was so long.”

“The weight makes it more manageable,” she said, glancing around; not sure where to look. She gathered the pins in her hands and pocketed them. The tip of a long curl brushed along her wrist, and she started slightly.

She wasn’t used to having her hair down anymore. She normally only unbraided it long enough to shower and then had it tied back before it was dry. She felt almost Victorian, as though having her hair loose was revealing something deeply intimate about herself.

Draco leaned forward and laced his fingers into her hair along her temple. His expression was still curious. She shivered and her breath caught as she felt him slide his fingers through it down to her waist.

“It’s softer than I expected,” he said. His eyes were fascinated. She’d never had anyone take interest in her hair. The entire interaction has moved beyond her comfort zone, and she had no idea what she was supposed to say or do.  

She stared at him and realised his eyes had become somewhat dazed looking. He was really, really drunk.

Suddenly his face was even closer. Just centimeters from hers. His hand slid up her neck and tangled into the curls at the base of her skull. It was so—

Vulnerable.

Intimate.

Sensual.

He wasn’t looking at her hair anymore. His eyes were on her face. On her mouth.

They were so close.

“If you don’t want me to kiss you, you should say so now,” he said.

She felt the breath from every word against her lips.

Everything felt surreal. Like a dream. Blurred and full of sensations.

She could feel the weight of her life bearing down on her; crushing her until she could barely breathe from it. Until she could barely breathe from the loneliness.

But she could also feel Draco’s hand in her hair. He was gentler than she had thought he could be. Warm to touch. Beautiful. So close she could feel him breathing.

He was looking at her like he saw her.

He was asking.

If she hadn’t spoken to Harry that evening. If she hadn’t been so drunk. If she weren’t so lonely. If the evening’s revelation hadn’t been that Draco Malfoy was actually nice when drunk, she might have done something different.

But she didn’t.

She kissed him.

A real kiss.

The taste of firewhisky was on each of their lips.

As soon as her mouth touched his, Draco took control. As though she’d sprung something loose in him. His hand in her hair tightened, and he drew her toward him, pulling her onto his lap.

She rested her hands on top of his shoulders as he deepened the kiss. He used his hold on her hair to arch her neck back and slid his other hand down her throat. He slipped his fingers over her skin; along her clavicles and shoulders and the dip of her throat as though he were taking a measurement of her.

She ran a hand along his jaw and into his hair. As her palm grazed along his cheekbone he pressed his face against it for a moment.

He was so starved for touch.

He traced along her body, and she leaned into the contact like a cat. She hadn’t realised how much she longed to be touched.

That she was starved for it too.

He slid a hand along the hem of her shirt, grazing the skin of her abdomen before slowly slipping under her clothing and splaying his hand across the small of her back. Holding her against his stomach so that she had to arch her back to keep kissing him.

The kisses were unhurried. Curious. He used his hold on her hair to control the pace as he kissed her slowly. Lightly brushing his mouth against hers so that she shivered before he nipped her softly. Then the tip of his tongue flicked out against her lower lip. She gasped, and when her mouth opened, he deepened the kiss, sliding his tongue against hers.

He tasted like ice and firewhisky and sin.

She ran her hands over his shoulders, feeling him. Hard and pale as marble, but warm. He was so warm to touch. She tangled her fingers in his hair and tugged at it softly, arching against him as he caressed her waist and she shivered. A tension was beginning to pool inside of her.

She had never—

A voice in the back of her mind cruelly reminded her she wasn’t supposed to mean any of it. She jerked slightly as if the thought had physically struck her.

Draco used his hold on her hair to draw her head back and expose her neck. Leaving her lips and kissing along her jaw and the column of her throat until she whimpered and clung to him.

She meant it.

She didn’t know how to not mean it.

She cradled his face in her hands, and drew his mouth back to hers. Crushing her lips against his fiercely, she wrapped her arms around him. Trying to feel all of him.

Their chests were pressed against each other, and she wasn’t sure if she was feeling her heartbeat or his. Perhaps they had the same tempo.

She was so tired of being alone.

She was so tired being reduced to her functions. Healer. Dark Arts Researcher. Potion Mistress. Liaison. Tool. Whore.

As though she’d become any of those things because she had wanted to.

She wanted to cry but couldn’t. She just kissed Draco more fiercely, and he met it with equal fire.

His hands roamed further up her shirt, palming her breasts through her bra. He ran his thumb lightly over the tops of them so that she shuddered and arched.

She could hear him breathing as he drew away from her lips and started peppering kisses along her jaw, scraping his teeth lightly against the curving bone.

He slid a hand under her bra and grazed his thumb over her nipple. She felt it pebble under his touch and found herself aching for him. She bit her lip and keened softly as he did it again. She was clinging to his shoulders.

He shoved her bra up and squeezed her bare breast. His mouth was hot on the juncture of her neck and shoulder, and she felt him lightly sucking on her skin.

Her hand slipped over his shoulder, feeling the faint sensation of his scars. She stroked them lightly. She ran the fingers of her other hand over his chest, feeling all the dips and rises of his muscles. Memorising what he felt like. He pressed himself against her hand.

He groaned against her neck. Pleasure not pain. The vibration of the sound flooded across her chest, hotter than the burn of firewhisky.

She gasped as he continued to tease her breasts and kiss and suck along her shoulder.

She hadn’t known she could feel so many things at once. That the sensations all swirled together and amalgamated in her body, growing into something that felt bigger than her.

She felt awash in sensation and emotions.

She hadn’t known his hands and his breath, his lips and tongue, his hard body against hers, the brush of his hair against her skin would affect her emotionally.

She’d had no idea that hearing and feeling him react to her touch and her body could affect her the most of all.

She hadn’t known it was like that.

No one had told her. No one had warned her.

She hadn’t known she could affect him. She hadn’t expected that he would like her physically. He’d never seemed inclined.

Scrawny. That was what he had called her after seeing her naked, that he’d wished he’d asked for someone else.

She shook.

Another unwanted thought came to her.

She could be anyone. He was just lonely, he’d want anyone who’d touched him.

A lump welled up in her throat, and she couldn’t swallow it. Her hands stilled, and she fought to breathe without crying.

Draco noticed. He raised his head from her shoulder and stared at her expression. Then he smiled bitterly, pulled his hands away, straightening her clothes as he shifted her off of his lap.

“You should go now,” he said.

His voice was cold. Hard. Clipped and to the point once more.

His mask had dropped neatly back into place.

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