Actions

Work Header

Corruption

Chapter Text

It seemed endless, that walk, even surrounded as she was by her beloved dead. They kept close; flickering flames of soul, her had-been shields, still trying to protect, even now. Still trying to lend warmth. But each step forward was heavier than the next, and her heart beat faster even as her limbs slowed; trying to live out the rest of its life in those last few minutes.

Beat, beat, beat.

Step.

“Does it hurt? Dying?”

Her own childish, pitiful voice rose out of her and dissolved into the cold air, but Sirius replied, and Hera heard without listening, just holding on to that warm cadence.

They walked on, her and her dead, touching but not touching and yet she was so close to them now, wasn’t she? Closer than she had ever been. A ghostly procession of ghosts and will-be ghost, and her heart beat even faster with that thought, thudding against her rib cage, wanting out.

Out.

Out, OUT HERA, GET OUT.

But there were no more outs, no more saviours, no more parents, no more Sirius, no more Dumbledore, no more Snape even. She had used all those lifelines. All those sacrifices for the one great sacrifice.

And her heart was tearing with grief and pain. For them, for dying so fruitlessly, and for herself because I’M NOT DONE LIVING.

But she took each dutiful step; a death row prisoner with all the world to run to, but the gallows was home.

Almost there. She could hear the rough voices of men, see the glimmers of lights and spells and wards through the trees, even through the dampening effect of the dementors swirling around them like large ragged black snowflakes.

Her eyes raked frantically across the faces of her family, absorbing the open love, and buttressing her will with their expressions.

“You’ll stay with me?” she half whispered, half croaked.

“Until the very end,” said her father, and she wanted to ask again, that question-

Does it hurt? Dying?

But she couldn’t speak, and the stone was clutched in her sweating hand so tightly that she was sure the symbol of the Hallows was etched permanently into her palm.

The sounds were getting louder now. They were leaving the dementor guards behind. Hera drew the cloak firmly around her, thinking of the legend of the three brothers, and what she herself might give to hide from Death.

Death. Why did everything have to be about death?

And Ron’s voice and face came unbidden to her- “Why is everything I own rubbish?” he had said, voice tight with shame and anger and resentment, and Hera now, feeling that same mix of emotions for the first time-

Why does everything have to be about death?

Then she almost ran into Dolohov and Yaxley, arguing about whether she would come, and she followed them from a reluctant distance for what might have been minutes, or seconds, or an eternity.

Time moves strangely when you don’t know what you want.

All of a sudden, she was stepping into a clearing, the stone falling from her shaking hands- because she was truly shaking now, and steeling herself, watching that bowed figure with the grotesque halo of a snake. Her frozen fingers hesitated for a second, before she shrugged the cloak off herself and forced her head high.

A triumphant, cackling din rose and fell quickly. Death Eaters stood, crowded, and then fell back, like the crashing and then receding of waves.

Bellatrix Lestrange looked from her Lord, to Hera, and back, her tongue between her teeth.

“Hera Potter,” Lord Voldemort, twirling the Elder wand between long fingers, regarded her, speaking as if to himself. “The Girl who Lived…” And he tilted his head slightly as if curious- the girl who lived.

Or maybe it was Hera herself who was curious.

Her heart was pounding. She could feel the smooth wood of the wand of Draco Malfoy against her chest, no sensation was more stark. She suppressed the instinct to defend herself, an instinct honed over years spent running from this monster of a man.

There was nothing to focus on. His wand was lifting, his mouth was opening, and Hera watched the motions, frozen-

“Wait!”

For a split second she didn’t realise that it had come out of her, panicked as she was.

Silence. Then, the Death Eaters were hooting, the giants jeering. Bellatrix laughed mirthfully, her face forming sharp temporary masks of Sirius’ own joy.

Voldemort’s lip curled. Amused red eyes flickered to his followers. “See how their champion, their so-called chosen one begs me for mercy,” he crowed.

“I didn’t,” said Hera, her face burning, her hands curling into fists. That fleeting insanity had passed. The moment of habitual self-preservation which had surfaced, was turning rapidly to shame and anger.

Red eyes turned back to her. She locked eyes with him.

“I don’t beg for mercy,” she said loudly. “And certainly not from you. But that was fun, wasn’t it? The Great Lord Voldemort, taking orders from a girl... Wait, she said, and wait he did.” She was panting now too.

Stillness reigned.

Even Hagrid had stopped his struggling; she saw him freeze in the periphery of her vision. Only Bellatrix panted in unison with her, insulted and angry on behalf of her Lord, whose cold eyes, still locked with hers, were now rapidly narrowing.

Visions of the piece of his soul dying within her, of being free at last, at long last- those visons were at the forefront of her mind, making her almost smile in the face of death.

“Go on then,” Hera spat through her teeth. “Do your worst.”

Whether it was the abominable snake-like face of Voldemort, or just because here was a fellow parseltongue, her words came out in a long fluid hiss.

As the last echoes of their shared language became one with the spitting of the fires, and Hera saw him again raise his wand, she thought desperately of her parents, and of Sirius. Her eyes were blurry with unshed tears, but she kept them open in defiance until only the bursting light from his wand and the red of his eyes remained in relief.

Red like the fiendfyre that raged high to lick the vaulted ceilings of the Room of Requirement.

Red like the matted wet hair of her best friend Ron as he stabbed at a gold locket.

Red like the fresh pooling blood of the dead Potions master, and then-

“You have kept her alive so that she can die at the right moment?”

Snape’s horrified voice came clearly into her head, and his face swum up before her vision, wan and angry, and Dumbledore replying…

Hera was re-watching the memories of the pensieve once again, and it was seconds before she realised with a jolt that it wasn’t herself watching these memories, and that the pursing of the lipless mouth of Voldemort as he raised his wand hadn’t been the Avada Kedavra, but-

“Legilimens.”

Chapter Text

Memories and thoughts were being quickly and roughly brought to the forefront of her mind. The destruction of each Horcrux was being re-lived, and in each memory, the intense hue of red- in the blood of basilisk, in the glittering rubies surrounding a gold cup, and in the copper hair of the ghost of Lily Potter walking beside a living Horcrux in a forest- lent such vibrancy that all other colours were deadened by comparison.

As soon as Hera realised that he was in her mind, she fought him, and as soon as she fought him, a freezing, all-encompassing pain overtook her. Her brain felt as if it had been doused in icy water, except that when she tried to bring up the memory of having felt that very particular pain before, it wouldn’t come.

She could see nothing but what he wanted to see, could remember nothing but what he pulled out and played in short sequences like a librarian flicking through files.

Horcrux, horcrux, H is for Horcrux…

Overwhelmed by the pain, and striving to expel him, she vaguely felt herself falling onto damp mossy ground. Something slim and rigid was jabbing painfully into her ribs. Her vison was now a red haze where Dumbledore in his office, surrounded by her destruction, was reciting the prophecy in its entirety.

The tactile sensations were the only part of her consciousness not currently conjured by him. Her hands scrabbled, her mouth was open, and tasting dirt, and mouthing, or screaming, possibly:

“But he might have chosen wrong!”

She grasped unseeingly at the thing jammed between her chest and the ground, and her fingers closed around warm, friendly wood.

All her will and intent burst out of her heart. The image of Dumbledore flickered, and an eleven-year old girl stood in a dusty shop surrounded by boxes, holding for the first time, feeling the thrill for the first time…

PROTEGO!” she roared. The spell came bursting out to hit her en pleine figure, the wand still tangled awkwardly in her robes and pointing directly at her own face.

She was thrown forcefully back by her spell, back and legs dragging harshly across the ground as she skidded several meters.

Her brain was reverberating around her skull; she must have hit several tree roots along the way. The freezing grip of Voldemort’s legilimency was replaced by the searing physical pain of physical pain.

Every nerve was firing off at once.

Every part of her body screamed at her that she was probably dying, definitely fucked up.

But her reckless casting had done the trick; she was free. She was torn up and bloody, and her head pounded fiercely, but she was free.

And she was Hera Potter. This was her element.

Her own ragged breathing filled her ears. The star speckled night swayed alarmingly above her.

Hera leaped instantly to her feet, or tried to; still reeling, she stumbled and fell on to her knees. She flung the wand up in the general direction of her foe. Barely able to put words together, still seeing stars, she rasped out, “Bombarda Maxima!”

Funny just how much spellwork relies on complicated wand movements and precise intonations. Funny isn’t it, how the right stress on the wrong syllable can be the difference between a flightless feather and a club rising to strike at a troll.

And yet in moments like these, where nothing, not even the rapid staccato of her heart operated with precision…

The blast of an explosion vibrated outwards, and she was once again thrown back. But this time, Hera was prepared.

Through the fading blinking lights in her head, she could see charred wood and small orange flames and dark robed wizards running. Hera felt the exhilaration course through her, along with that thrill of- where was he?

There was no need to ask, really. The Death Eaters, scrambling, and putting out fires, were gravitating like mindless black ants to the crouched figure in the clearing.

Hera turned, and as he straightened, brushing off his closest supporters with impatience, she sent a series of Confringo curses at him.

The blue lights left the tip of her wand in succession. She saw the pale Elder wand raise and deflect them, but she was already moving, the rough outline of a plan forming in her mind.

But first, she had to rescue Hagrid.

She aimed more curses in Voldemort’s direction as she ran. A streak of red light narrowly missed her, striking just where her right heel had been, and she heard him scream at his followers.

“Do not touch the girl! She is MINE!”

Hera sent him another curse, not even looking to see if it had reached its target. She stumbled on, ducking, and keeping close to the ground, looking in the dark for that familiar gleam of silvery-grey.

Where had she, in her haste, and carelessness, dropped it?

“Over there, Hera!”

She turned to look at Hagrid, who, still struggling with his bonds, was indicating with jutted chin just a few metres ahead of her. Hagrid, who saw her step in to the clearing to die, who would know what she was looking for.

He was immediately backhanded by a hand larger than his head, and a giant stooped down to snarl its putrid breath in his face.

Hera, suppressing a sob of rage, sent another perfunctory curse towards the advancing Dark Lord, and turned her eyes to the spot pointed out to her.

Shadows and tree roots, and moonlight on dry leaves, and where?

“ACCIO Cloak!” she tried in her desperation, and to her utter joy and disbelief, a patch of moonlight detached itself to fly into her outstretched arms.

In her distraction, she was struck in the wand arm by a sickly green spell. She felt the feeling leave her arm. Her wand fell to the ground with a clack and started to roll.

“No,” gasped Hera, as she threw herself down and lunged for it with her left hand.

Another streak of green, that same spell, rushed silently towards her and she flipped out of the way onto her back to avoid it, clutching the wand.

“Running away, are we?” Lord Voldemort, steps away, looked down at her as if she were a very, very cumbersome insect, one he just might distend his mouth to swallow whole. “How very like your father. He tried to run too, did you know? He tried to leave you to die.”

“Shut up!” Hera snarled, jabbing the wand in her left hand up at him. “You’re lying. You’re a liar.”

He flicked another spell at her. She recognised it now as a modified version of a petrifier, and sent off another shield charm to defend herself, this one weaker, affected by the clumsiness of her non-dominant hand. His spell ripped with ease through her pathetic shield and hit her on the left leg, rendering it instantly slack and boneless. She lay on her useless arm; the numbness was already spreading to her shoulder and down her right hip.

She had never seen him use this spell before. All his spells on the battlefield had been to kill and to maim, not to capture.

The realisation that he had changed his tactics, that he wasn’t about to murder her outright, but to ensnare her like a spider, like a great coiling venomous snake, filled her with dread. As far as futures went, who knew that the certainty of dignified death could now provide so much predictability, so much… comfort?

“As for your filthy mudblood mother…” he continued maliciously, circling, revelling in his dominance over her. “Severus described in great detail what he planned to do to her, would you like to know?”

“I said shut up!” Hera struggled to pull herself up into a defensive crouch, facing him, feeling the rawness of wounds old and new, and wanting to wound him just as deeply.

“At least my parents loved me,” she said vindictively, and thrust her wand out like a fencer with a rapier. “SECTUMSEMPRA!

What was she fighting for now? The right to die?

He blocked the curse.

“AVADA KED-”

“Enough!” Red light flashed from the Elder wand as his silent disarming curse flew at Hera, and her wand shot impossibly out of her hand.

Before she could do more than wheeze her astonishment at this bizarre reversal of roles, and the unfairness, the utter, utter unfairness of it all, she was hanging suspended in front of him.

Chapter Text

Her head lolled back, exposing her throat. Her long black hair hung freely. Blood-tinged sweat stung her eyes. She blinked reflexively and tried to clear it with her fingers but most of her body was completely paralysed. The sensation crept steadily up her neck, making her feel nauseous with helplessness.

Voldemort’s face filled her line of sight. He was trembling barely perceptively, his skin even whiter, almost bone white, his flattened nostrils flared, and lips peeled back from pointed teeth.

“You think you know all about me, do you, Potter?” he said quietly. “You think you have me figured out? You and that deluded decrepit dead old man?”

Hera was unable to respond.

He gripped the back of her head; sharp talon like nails digging into her scalp, digging, digging, as though desiring to pull out the part of him that he now knew resided in her, and Hera, pinpoints of pain exploding in her head, her lungs trying to heave out the scream lodged inside-

The pressure eased. Lord Voldemort turned his attention away from her.

She heard him project his voice to his followers, giving out stern orders, directing them to stay, to keep watch over the castle…

She only half listened to him. Over the top of his head, she saw them crowding behind, some still masked, some grim faced, all acquiescing, moving, already forgetting her as one forgets the dead; already turning to the next part of their plans.

The marked Death Eaters were gathered closely around him, waiting for further instructions. He approached and talked to a few, dragging Hera along like a grim balloon. The thin black silk of his robes fluttered as he moved.

From the dim periphery of her fixed vision, she spotted the slow undulating movement crossing his left shoulder.

No longer in its enchanted cage, the unblinking scaled head and thick muscled body of Nagini came into view. Hera watched with horror as it extended itself towards her, tongue flicking, tasting the air, the lower half of its body still wound around its master.

Even if she could have shut her eyes, even if she could have moved, would she have?

The snake, like a grotesque rising column, reared up in a straight line, edging with purpose up high above Hera’s head, and she felt all the vulnerability of her exposed neck. She watched with morbid fascination and an increasing sense of fatalism as it continued rising, the flattened head now out of view.

Every pore of her body leaked dread and fear.

The place on her forearm, where basilisk fang had pierced, throbbed with phantom pain. Images flashed in her head of a gigantic snake emerging from within the desiccated corpse of an old witch, like the head of a perverse, chimeric Hydra being re-birthed.

Was it possible to be more afraid of the pet than of the monster himself?

That moment when the snake touched her, actually touched her, descending softly onto her clavicle, she thought she imagined. But when it let the weight of its tubular body slump down and start gliding across her skin, she found the answer to her own question.

Never had she fought so hard to throw off a curse wandlessly, not even in that cemetery in Little Hangleton when she had, under the influence of the Imperius, refused to bow to its master.

Her primitive brain was throwing off confusing, erratic signals- to run, to remain frozen, to jolt her body, to throw it off, to scream; no coherent thought existed in her.

When Voldemort set his hand on her shoulder in a firm grip, she realised she’d forgotten he was there. He leered down at her as though aware of her internal struggle; like facing a rattlesnake, her mind unable to choose now which threat to focus on.

Each palpable throb of blood passing through the artery running along her throat reminded her that she was in a waking nightmare. Nagini’s slow advance across the territory of her body sent her pulse into a frenzy.

Her brain ran through images- a stark vision of a snake striking at a man on the floor, and a mouthful of blood, and yesss.. hold you…

Voldemort tightened his hold on her and made a sharp movement. They were pulled into the vortex of apparition.

 

-

 

All the sounds and smells and lights of the scene were shut off as suddenly as if a switch had been pressed, and as suddenly, a new world reappeared silently around them.

Glittering crystals, and the baroque gold moulding dressing a high ceiling made themselves visible for an instant before everything disappeared behind the smooth underbelly of Nagini as it began to cover her face like an ungodly shroud. She could barely breathe. Her mind, unable to keep up the near constant state of panic, was starting to shut down.

“…you’ll be good, won’t you, and stay here?”

He was talking to her, she thought. Her darkening consciousness only just made out the last words, and a new surge of panic brought her back to the moment. He was leaving. He was leaving her paralysed and alone with the snake.

It was already wrapping one end of itself around her right thigh. The soft dry scales gripped at her face as it continued to press onwards.

She wanted to sob. She was going to go mad. If she didn’t die, if it didn’t eat her alive, she would go mad.

“Come, Nagini…”

The suffocating weight of the immense snake lifted as it flowed swiftly back up its master’s arm.

Relief flooded her body. Hera didn’t think she would ever feel as grateful to him as she did now. She watched him point his wand at her almost negligently, heft his pet further up one shoulder, and then, before her shaking, descending body had even touched the carpeted floor, he had disapparated, moving forward and vanishing mid-step as quietly as he had come.

Hera was alone.

 

Chapter Text

She lay still for a second, continuing to shake and whimper uncontrollably before beginning to scratch frenziedly at her face and body. She balled herself up and scratched with great gasping laboured breaths, scratching until the pain erased the memory of snake on skin. And then she began to cry.

Finally, when the panic and disgust had drained out of her body together with her tears, she wiped her face with her hands and exhaled one more sigh.

No longer in a state of heightened arousal, exhaustion began to settle in her muscles. All the injuries she had sustained, both in the battle at Hogwarts and at that disaster of a suicide mission, were throbbing intensely.

There was nothing more that Hera wanted to do than to lie down and slip into a coma; to escape the burning agony. But she had to go back to Hogwarts. She had to return to her friends, who would have wondered where she had gone. They might believe her dead.

She was as good as dead, wasn’t she? Wasn’t she?

She rose unsteadily and surveyed her surroundings.

It was obvious where he had taken her: the stately room with its shades of cream and gold and pale greens, and its crystal chandeliers very like the one that had come crashing down on Hermione in the drawing room of this same mansion- there could only be one place she was once again trapped in.

A large floral rug covered almost the entire surface of the shiny parquet floor. Velvet divans and oval-backed chairs and small round tables stood on it. Mirrors alternated with decorative panels on the walls. Glazed vases overflowed with fresh flowers on their narrow console tables. There was a set of doors on either end.

Picking one at random, she moved quickly, striding past a grand mirror and then, unable to help herself, stopping-

She was a mess. Her dark hair was matted with blood. Bruises blossomed under the surface of her skin, under the bloody lines of her own self-inflicted scratches and bigger, deeper wounds.

At her right calf, a section of her flesh had ripped almost cleanly open and something white- bone or fat, was visible deep within the crude gash. Dirt and fragments of debris were embedded in the raw flesh.

Her head swum to look at it, and as if the looking triggered the pain, a fresh wave of it thrummed insistently along her nerves. She forced her attention away and hobbled determinedly to the doors. The lacquered wood swung silently outwards with barely a touch of her palm.

Well that was surprising.

Hera entered another room, equally grand, with recesses in the walls filled with books almost to the ceiling. A large carved table surrounded by high backed chairs sat on a small rug. She passed without stopping through that room into another. And another. Door after door opened to admit her. All enormous and opulent, all silent and devoid of people. Only the quiet ticking of clocks followed her. Hera walked on. There was a dining room, another sitting room, a study…

Her pace quickened as she explored. Subconsciously, at first, and then finally with purpose and a nervous, buzzing energy. The urge to get out overrode even the biting unceasing call of her leg screaming for her attention.

Stopping in yet another dining room, Hera moved towards the tall arched windows and parted the sheer fabric. At her touch, all the curtains along the wall parted swiftly and mechanically.

The room overlooked the grounds of the manor. It was dark. Enchanted lights sparkled among the shrubberies like little fireflies. Hera pressed her face against the cool glass and peered down. She guessed herself to be on the third floor. It would be an unpleasant jump, but she could probably survive relatively intact.

The thought of adding to her already bloated repertoire of pain was making her muscles tremble and turn to jelly. Her injuries burned and stung and she flicked her limbs in subconscious attempt to throw off the feeling. Her skull ached with exhaustion.

Hera gritted her teeth. What were more injuries? She had to get out, had to, had to, had to.

She opened a window. It too, obeyed her touch, and swung outwards obligingly. The cool breeze floated in, bringing with it the smell of freedom. The chirping of insects and rustling of wind on leaves were welcome sounds.

At a forty-five-degree angle, as though arrested by an invisible hinge, it stopped moving. Thin as Hera was, there was still no way she could fit in that narrow gap. She pushed at the window, but it wouldn’t give.

She stuck her head out and looked straight down. The smooth pale stone of a terrace greeted her.

It would be a very unpleasant jump.

Cursing, Hera cast about the room, seized a hefty emerald vase with gold scaled handles, dumped out its bouquet of flowers, and rammed it forcefully through the glass.

It was like ramming the thing into a steel wall. A shockwave travelled through her body. Her bones felt as if they were separating from their joints, and the sudden rush of pain caused her to drop the vase. It fell onto the marble floor with a solid, resounding thunk.

The windowpane remained whole.

Fucking magic,” Hera howled, rubbing her wrists, and running her hands frustratedly through her hair.

Someone tutted softly behind her. Hera whipped around, hand going automatically to her sleeve, where no wand lay in hiding.

Lord Voldemort stood in the doorway.

The sight of him, so out of place in his ashy silk, there in the prettiness of the Malfoy dining room should have been ridiculous, but never more dangerous did his perverse inhumanity look than juxtaposed against the backdrop of normality.

Relative normality.

He was the Grim Reaper.

“Language, Hera…” he admonished lightly, drawing out the syllables of her name as though tasting it in some new way. “I thought I told you to stay. How did you get here, hm?”

Hera shuddered.

As if she would ever do anything he said.

But the cloudy gleam of silver cloth in his hands caught her eye, and- “That’s mine,” she said loudly.

“Which? This?” he held up her cloak with one hand, and it unfolded in a drape of fabric that hung to the floor, rendering himself partially invisible. His eyes glittered with malevolent amusement. “You won’t be needing it.”

“Won’t be…” echoed Hera incredulously. “It’s mine. Give it to me.”

He carefully folded up the cloak. “You may have it back someday. When I feel you have earned it.”

Hera’s lips moved with soundless fury. She wanted to rush at him and tear it from his hands, and to tear him, to tear at his smug face, tear out his red eyes.

Suddenly he had the Elder wand in his grip.

Hera’s body tightened instinctively. Anger morphed into fear.

She took a step back, wincing at the pain, and very aware of how defenceless she was. Her eyes darted around the room. The only thing between them was the dining table and chairs. The useless vase with its useless flowers lay at her feet. She supposed she could always duck down behind the table for cover and then throw the vase at him if he came close enough.

“Don’t make a fool of yourself,” he said in a bored tone. “There will be no more running. Not from me. Now come here. I want to see what I have bought with thirteen years of my life.”

The tension in her body increased. What did he mean? What did he mean?

The solemn ticking of the clock filled the room.

Hera continued to stare, dumbfounded into silence.

Voldemort smiled a slow, chilling smile, in complete contrast with the mildness of his voice. “I’d like you to do as you’re told, Hera. And I’d like your co-operation.” He paused, and then continued, voice growing cold and metallic. “But it’s not something I need. Now are you going to come here or am I going to have to make you?”

More than a decade of living under the Dursley roof had taught Hera that it wasn’t wise to delay the inevitable. Making bullies wait only gave them time to think up even more atrocious ways to hurt you.

She went to him, with sluggish limbs and a heart fluttering in its cage like a caught butterfly.

Chapter Text

If he was surprised by her sudden compliance, he didn’t show it. He took her arm in an iron grip and began dragging her out of the room. The open window shut with a soft click behind them. The sound of it was like a hard slap to Hera.

When they were back in the stately salon he had first apparated them to, he indicated one of the velvet chaise longues in the middle of the room, and Hera sat with arms crossed protectively around herself, watching him with apprehension.

He regarded her for one long moment, tapping his thumb on his wand.

It was like being trapped in an enclosure with a predator. Even the warmth and feminine beauty of the room did nothing to temper the danger he radiated.

Hera’s eyes were trained on the wand. Each slight twitching movement was making her jaw tic. He was doing it on purpose, she thought. He enjoyed her discomfort. He enjoyed the power he had over her. But if he thought she was going to just sit there and let him hurt her, he was delusional. She opened her mouth to tell him so. “Don’t thi-”

He moved so quickly.

One moment he was tapping his wand with careless ease, and the next, it was pointed at her face, and she was being dazzled by the blinding light of a spell.

Hera squinted automatically down and away and then jerked out of her seat with an inarticulate cry. A complex map of glossy fleshy tubes and lines were visible where her skin used to be.

She was being flayed alive.

Bellowing senselessly, and still blinking away the black patches in her vision, Hera staggered forwards, reaching out to pummel at him in pure panic. The working red muscles of her arms and white tendons in her fingers flexed, and she drew back in horror.

He caught her and pushed her back. “Calm yourself.”

She rose up again, near hyperventilating, and again he pushed her, so that she fell backwards onto the chaise longue.

“Calm yourself,” he repeated. “Or I will immobilise you.”

Hera squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to take deep, even breaths. She was not being flayed alive. She could still feel her skin. He had done something- she was transparent; and he was going to do something else awful, she was sure, but for now, it was important to remain calm.

Hera breathed as deliberately as she could. She was still shaking, but that couldn’t be stopped.

“Very good,” he said. “Very good, Hera.” He was bent over her. She could almost feel the glance of his voice on her forehead. He traced the line of her scar with his sharp fingernail. She shivered violently.

Somehow, she had not expected this: that he was going to try and cut his soul out of her in such a barbaric fashion. Somehow even this particular horror was beyond her imagining.

The edge of a wand replaced his finger on her forehead.

She burst up at him, making a grab for the wand with both hands. Red eyes flared momentarily with surprise, even as Hera’s heart was leaping with triumph. She had it!

She pulled, and he yanked back with force, but even that was not enough to dislodge her. She clung on, her hands ghastly and cadaverous things, even next to his. And it occurred to her at that moment not to pull, but to snap, not to own, but to destroy.

But before she could act on that, a burst of power was discharged from the wand, immediately repelling her. She crashed, hands empty, into one of the low gilt tables, knocking her head soundly against the marble before slumping down between its curving gold feet. She thought she heard him sigh amidst the ringing in her ears and he appeared in front of her, face livid.

She looked up at him dazedly.

“I must confess,” he said, voice cracking at the edges with the weight of his anger. “I am unused to such vulgar displays of insubordination and ingratitude.”

Hera could have laughed, wanted to laugh. She could only manage weak coughs.

“I warned you I would immobilise you if you did not remain calm, did I not?” he said, and Hera felt her body being pushed into the ground as if a weight had been placed on her. He had not even raised his wand.

He crouched down beside her and put his head next to hers as if he were about to make a confession. “I wouldn’t want it said that Lord Voldemort does not keep his promises.”

Then he made a quick tugging movement with his wand. The large bulky form of something was forced into existence in front of them. Hera could hardly see from her vantage point. It was something coarse and brown, like a large sack. Her eyes strained to look at it.

What was it?

She looked back up at him.

The Dark Lord remained where he was, like a vampire hovering over her fallen body, eyes blazing with hatred. “I should kill you for attacking me, for trying to steal my wand. But I don’t suppose I can yet, can I?” he spat, as though disgusted by his predicament. He turned a spiteful white face towards the thing he had made appear. “Your friend, however… I don’t think I’ll regret his loss…”

Realisation dawned on Hera. A strangled, despairing sound escaped her. “No, no, not H-Hagrid,” she whispered, voice cracking; a dead weight settling on her chest that had nothing at all to do with his forces pinning her down.

He stood up slowly, and Hera started sobbing dryly, “No, wait, wait, no. You can kill me. Just do it. Just kill me!” She plead with increasing panic, trying to recall him with her voice alone.

The hem of his black robes slithered along the carpet as he stepped deliberately out of her field of vision.

“Don’t! Stop! Please! Hurt me instead! Do whatever you want to- don’t kill him, please!

He turned back.

“Hurt you? Why would I do that? You wouldn’t learn.” The simple way he said it reminded Hera of just how well he knew her. She wasn’t the only one who had studied the enemy.

“If you kill him, you’ll have no one left to threaten me with.”

“Don’t I?” he said, smiling cruelly. The hot anger had disappeared entirely from his voice and his face, leaving behind rows of sharp teeth. “I have a castle full of your friends.”

The breath froze in her lungs. He didn’t. He can’t have. It had been mere hours since the armistice.

But what if- Ron and Hermione-

No. He was lying, he had to be.

But what if-?

Hera could not think past the exhaustion and debilitating pain that now tormented her like another ghost in her body. Searing pain would shoot through the muscle deep in her calf, settle into a dull burn, and then send another shot of pain straight into her brain. Her head was pounding steadily.

But it was all nothing; nothing next to the fear that sat in her belly like a worm and manifested itself in a hundred voices in her head calling the names of her friends. She would rather suffer a hundred crucios than feel this helpless anxiety.

“Crucio,” she whispered.

“I thought we determined that there’s no point in torturing you, Hera.”

“No,” she said, half disbelieving the words that were coming out of her mouth. “Not me. Him.”

The Dark Lord’s smile widened, a cheshire grin that made her think of skulls. For someone as far removed from death as was possible, how ironic it was that there was no one who embodied that word more than him.

“It will be worse for me,” continued Hera. “I’ll have to see him suffer. Killing him won’t be as effective. I’ll only want revenge.” She was babbling. She couldn’t stop it. “If you torture him, it will, I will- you can draw it out, I won’t attack you again, I won’t-”

“Alright, Hera,” he acquiesced with narrowed eyes. “But remember you asked for this. You will not cry, you will not beg, you will not turn away. You will sit quietly and calmly and take responsibility for the consequences of your actions.”

She was released from the binding pressure of his spell.

A divan was again indicated to her. She went to it and sat, trying to still her shaking, gruesomely transparent hands, before lifting her eyes to look at her friend.

The half-giant was unconscious. He had clearly been beaten up before he had been conjured forth from wherever hellish place the death eaters had kept him. His face was purple and misshapen. Dried blood encrusted his beard.

He looked far worse than he did when Hera had seen him immediately after his return from his mission as Dumbledore’s envoy to the giants’ colony. And he was going to have to suffer more. Hera’s heart went out to him.

Next to her, Lord Voldemort raised his wand.

“Enervate.”

Chapter Text

Hera’s eyes turned back to Hagrid’s prone form, willing him to remain unconscious.

He stirred, groaned, and shifted. His eyes cracked open. He squinted in a confused way at the ceiling. Still groaning, he turned on to his side, facing them.

He didn’t move at first. His eyes focused on the Dark Lord, and then shifted to her. Confusion turned to fear and revulsion. And then he leapt up, looking as wild as one of his creatures, to lumber forward with a growl, arms outstretched, as if he would end the war with his bare hands.

Immediately he was sent careening backwards and then hoisted violently up in to the air, where he raged and swore; what part of his face that wasn’t already purple quickly turning a deep red.

“Fight me proper yeh cowards, yeh great bleedin’ cowards…”

A loud bang went off, startling Hagrid, and sending Hera’s already frayed nerves into complete overload. “Silence,” snapped the Dark Lord unnecessarily. He glanced sideways at Hera, who was sweating, the back of her thighs making damp spots in the fabric of her robes. “My Hera has requested-”

Astonishment shone plainly in Hagrid’s beetle-black eyes before he erupted once again.

Hera? Tha’s not- Hera! What’ve ya done to her yeh murderin’ brute?” He yelled, voice wavering with grief. “You’ve killed her, you’ve killed her...!”

“I said silence!” There was another bang and a flash like the light of a camera going off in their faces.

There was silence.

What must she look like to Hagrid, she wondered? What was he seeing? Was he seeing the musculature of her face? Were her eyes two terrified orbs of white and green sitting in a red skull?

Her eyes slid to Voldemort, who was watching her calculatingly. “Well Hera,” he said softly. His thumb tapped impatiently on his wand. “What exactly did you request for me to do to our captive oaf?”

Hera licked her lips with a dry tongue. She couldn’t look at her friend. “Crucio,” she croaked out, the word forcing itself out of the back of her throat like a shameful secret.

Voldemort gestured at Hagrid and laughed tauntingly. “Did you hear that? Hera wants you tortured. It’s a request I am only too happy to grant.” He turned back to Hera. “Watch.”

And he himself, still watching Hera, stuck his wand out at Hagrid, and repeated the word as lovingly as Hera had had it uttered with hatred. “Crucio...”

A rustling, thumping sound drew Hera’s gaze involuntarily back towards Hagrid. He was arched and kicking, still hanging suspended. His mouth was open in a soundless scream. Hera let out a terrified cry and her hand flew to her mouth. She was on her feet before she knew it.

Voldemort tutted and ended the spell. “I thought we had an agreement, Hera?”

Hera swallowed and sat back down, trembling pupils fixed squarely on the bloodied half-giant, who continued to hang mutely in front of them like a large insect caught in an invisible spiderweb. “Yes, I’m sorry. I’ll control myself.”

The words were bitter in her mouth- all the more bitter because of their sincerity. She did not want to give him another reason to kill Hagrid.

Voldemort was staring at her. His next words came out almost thoughtfully. “Reports of your impulsiveness were certainly not exaggerated. I can understand; I too was impulsive, as a child. But I had to learn quickly to curb my instincts.”

“Dumbledore made you learn,” said Hera with malicious glee, remembering the confessions of the Horcrux in the diary, and then quickly biting her tongue, angry at herself.

An unpleasant silence followed, punctuated by the small rustling sounds of a recovering Hagrid struggling futilely in mid-air. Flat red eyes bored into her.

“Among others,” he finally allowed. “You’ll learn quickly too, won’t you? After all, you’re no longer a child either.” He gestured grandly towards his prey. “Well? Shall we begin?”

Hera shot him a wary, questioning look.

“This was your idea, wasn’t it?” He smiled blandly. “You wanted to… see him suffer?”

What?

“I don’t have a wand,” said Hera lowly, eyeing his with covetousness. Was he really asking her to do this? Was this a trick? Was he really going to give her a wand?

“I’ll be your wand,” he offered with false generosity, head tilted and eyes flashing with mirth as he noted her undisguised longing. “Just say the word. And make it convincing, Hera.”

Hera turned back to Hagrid, who was watching the exchange, no doubt expecting Hera to- to what? There was nothing that could be done, except to play her part and to beg forgiveness later.

“Crucio,” she ventured hesitantly, glancing back at Voldemort. How she hated herself. How she hated him.

“That wasn’t very convincing,” he chided. “Not to worry. I’ll just have to compensate for that, won’t I?”

With a violent twist of his wrist, the spell shot out silently. Immediately, Hagrid’s form bent and contorted in agony. “Ah, I forgot,” he added, in a manner that suggested he hadn’t at all. He flicked his wand, and Hagrid’s voice was returned to him.

The awful sounds of pained yelling filled the large room.

The Dark Lord leaned close, the two of them facing Hagrid together like spectators at a macabre show, and spoke conversationally, voice barely audible over the guttural screams. “Next time you choose to defy me, you may want to remember that I can only be so merciful.”

Hera gripped the edge of the chaise longue, nails digging into the soft velvet, and resisted the urge to move away. She didn’t trust herself to speak, only to look dumbly ahead of her, imagining different scenarios of help coming for them; of Buckbeak coming, of Kreacher coming; of anyone, of anything.

But there was only Voldemort, there beside her.

They continued.

There would be a lull, when he would end the spell, and the screaming would pass into quiet panting, like that of a wounded animal. Then, Voldemort would look at her expectantly, patiently, waiting for the word. The weaker her delivery, or the longer it took her to say it, he would punish her by inflicting even greater pain on Hagrid.

They continued like that.

“Crucio,” she whispered.

The screams came on cue.

“Crucio.”

“CRUCIO.”

“CRUCIO!”

It really was as if he were just her wand, and her voice was the conductor of pain. It was hard to separate the two of them. She was in pain, surrounded by pain. Her body throbbed in time to the screams.

Her heart beat loudly in her ears. Her head grew heavy and hot, and everything around her began to darken and lose definition. The agonised yelling came to her slowly as though it was travelling through a long watery tunnel.

The tortured sounds ceased.

“CRUCIO!” she spat out automatically.

“Stop… Please… Hera… Hera please…”

He was begging her. Her. Hera. As though she were indeed the one torturing him!

She let out a long shuddering gasp.

“That’s enough, don’t you think?” The other voice, cold and high, was warped like it was coming from somewhere far away.

Hera turned, swaying slightly, face ashen. She felt like she should respond- maybe did respond: Crucio. CRUCIO.

She closed her eyes and breathed, waited for the screams.

In, out.

In, out.

There was a slight ringing like someone was in her head squealing in a thin voice. Was it an after effect of hearing someone tortured endlessly? Would she hear this screaming forever?

Someone- Voldemort? was helping her lie down across the length of the chaise longue. She hissed as her legs were arranged and the deep wound in her calf jolted.

There was movement around her. Flashes of light coloured the back of her eyelids. She moaned and turned away.

Tendrils of warmth spread downwards from the top of her head. The acute pain in her leg began to dull. Blood returned slowly to her face. The loud drumming of her heart was fading along with the ringing in her ears.

Hera opened her eyes, vision restored. Lord Voldemort stood over her, backlit by the gold light of the chandelier above. Hagrid was gone.

She struggled to sit upright, but a wave of dizziness threatened to pull her back into darkness, and she laid back in surrender. “Hagggg-,” she mumbled, through a thick tongue.

Voldemort bent his face over hers. Hera recoiled slightly at the sudden proximity to that white, snake-like visage. “Look at me,” he directed, turning her face towards his.

She had never been this close to him before, not without a thick cloud of adrenaline between them, masking all details like a portrait hurriedly painted in strokes of fight and flight.

He was regarding her intently, narrowed pupils never wavering. Hera’s emerald eyes roved curiously across his face. His reptilian features were so mask-like, so deliberate, as though he had chosen them with great care- every part specially selected to inspire fear and horror in his enemies; it was no wonder she had only ever read murder in them.

Finally he blinked and exhaled with a hum.

“All signs point to non-magical injuries,” he said, standing. “As I initially surmised. You’re quite weak, aren’t you?”

She gritted her teeth. “Hagrid,” she repeated firmly. “What have you done to him?”

“You mean what have you done?” he said silkily, the ghost of a laugh playing around his mouth. “He’s alive. As promised.” He waved in the general direction of her lower body. “I will clean and heal your wounds. Don’t move. We don’t want a repeat of that little show now, do we?”

Hera pulled the hem of her robes further up past her knees to scan her legs properly. Like the rest of her body, the skin there was invisible, revealing the muscles underneath. At her right calf, the thick dense muscle was ripped and swollen. A mass of foreign matter was embedded haphazardly along the opening of the wound. They showed themselves as glowing spots of neon blue.

So that was what this was? He was trying to… heal her?

“I- you put your wand on my scar. I thought you were trying to cut out your soul.” Like a deranged lobotomist.

Her hand went automatically up to her forehead to rub at the scar.

“If I could do that, Hera, I would have it out of you by now.” A delighted smile lit up his face. “Is that why you attacked me? You were just trying to protect my soul? I might not have punished you quite so harshly for that.”

He began to systematically vanish the debris from her leg. Each little sting of a molecule evaporating into nothing distracted her from her own question- had she?

Had she actually been trying to protect his soul?

Chapter Text

It was true- she remembered feeling intense horror and revulsion at the very real possibility that he was going to excise that sliver of soul from her- had she not wanted to be parted from it?

No.

That was not possible. She hated him. Let him think whatever he liked, but she hated him; she had been disgusted to learn that she harboured a part of his horrible self. She wanted it gone. She wanted him gone.

More spells illuminated her leg, and the layers of muscles and ligaments peeled away to reveal just her long white bones. Hera closed her eyes again, feeling sick. She had seen x-rays before; Dudley had once claimed he had broken his ankle, to avoid going to school, and Aunt Petunia had dragged him to get it x-rayed.

This was different- this was her own skeleton laid out in front of her.

And if she had to be completely honest with herself, ever since that horrific incident with Lockhart and the bludger, bones had become one of her weaknesses. Not that she would ever admit it to anyone else.

The tiny electric pinpricks of the wound being meticulously cleaned ceased and there was a sudden sensation like a wand tip being run along the length of it, sending a buzz of pleasure thrumming along her nerves.

Her eyes flew open.

Her skin was no longer invisible, and the gaping wound in her calf had knit itself together. She drew her legs into herself.

“I said don’t move.”

Hera reluctantly extended her legs again. He examined them, turning them sideways, and running one long finger over every individual scratch and bruise. They disappeared under his touch, and pleasure bloomed in their place, rushing straight to her head, and raising goosepimples on her skin.

It should have been frightening, it really should, but perhaps due to the soporific effect of the healing spells, or the sudden replacement of pain for warm, heady pleasure, an act that would once have made her flinch at the very least, only made her blink her dark eyelashes lazily at the glittering ceiling.

“What are you doing?” The murmured words trailed into a contented sigh.

“Healing,” he replied, in a response that seemed to come later than was warranted, and was filled with the sort of sentiment that Hera had previously heard only in Snape- impatience with perceived stupidity.

Of course he was healing. The question really should have been why was he healing? Why heal your enemy? What did he want? Or better- What did he want now?

Those were the questions Hera would later ask herself. While good at reacting, physically, towards new stimuli, she didn’t possess quite the same talent for thinking on her feet. She was the type of Gryffindor that responded with short-sighted agitation and then wallowed in her thoughts later.

So when, Voldemort asked her next, the question she should have been asking him-

“What do you want?”

-she fell naturally into that routine. But, her immediate response- some variation of “I want you dead”, which would have been received poorly, died thankfully, in her head, as she fell asleep.

She was roused, sometime later.

“Why do you have this?” He tapped on her left hand, on the faded ugly white keloids of ‘I must not tell lies’.

She pulled away to rub at her eyes. Her brain, still emerging from the depths of slumber, was protesting being called back, even as she was springing into alarm. How could she have fallen asleep, defenceless, in front of her enemy like that?

“Umbridge,” she managed, mouth curling distastefully at the name. “Dolores Umbridge. She works for you.”

“Does she? Hm. And why are you keeping it?”

She flexed her knuckles and glared at the shiny, taut skin. He had left this for last; the rest of her arms were newly unblemished. Not a single other wound remained. Even the small and stubborn circular scar near her elbow, acquired in a particularly rough Quidditch game two years ago had disappeared.

“It wouldn’t go away. I soaked it in murtlap essence… I don’t just keep scars around for fun, you know.” Lord knows, the one you gave me is ridiculous enough.

He took her hand again and in turn narrowed scarlet eyes at the offending scar. “It looks like the work of a bloodquill. Why didn’t those incompetent fools at Hogwarts remove it for you? It’s really not difficult to efface, with the right spells and potion.”

“Mm,” said Hera, as politesse. The scar was the least of her concerns right now. She was bone-tired. Her mouth was dry. She wanted to sleep. How she wanted to sleep.

“The elder wand alone may be powerful enough to circumvent need for the potion.” He balanced it on his forefinger like a sword whose mass was being tested, then, evidently satisfied with what he sensed, spun it around and in to his sure grip. “Shall we?”

He traced the writing of the scar, the tip of the wand hovering just above it, as precisely as if it were his own handwriting. It began to fade.

They both observed the marks sink into the skin, in reverse of how they had first surfaced, fresh and bleeding. Their expressions changed as they watched and came to the same conclusion. His gleamed with contained triumph, and Hera’s fell in dismay. Voldemort, true master of the Elder Wand. Who could stop him?

Not her. She’d tried. She’d failed. She’d tried so very many times. And how tired she was. But she owed it to everyone she loved to keep trying.

“Please stop,” implored Hera. “You asked me what I want. Please stop. Stop warring.” The words tumbled out in an impassioned plea. “You’ve got what you wanted. You’re immortal. We’ll leave you alone. I’ll leave you alone. Stop killing.”

Red eyes twinkled like glittering rubies in a mask. He was deeply entertained.

“Leave me alone? You’re mine. You didn’t think I was ever going to let you leave?” He paused and looked down at her contemplatively, while she gazed back in growing horror. “I suppose you are a good Horcrux. You’ve kept us safe for so long. But now it is my turn to keep us safe.”

Hera gaped at him. Which part of that to even begin to challenge?

“I know you’re tired, even though the healing should help. And I will let you rest after. But first I’m going to need some memories from you while they’re still relatively intact and unaltered.” He lifted her chin with one cold finger. “And what do we say when someone has done something for us?”

“Thank you,” Hera said dully.

He tapped her chin and she flinched. “With a smile, Hera.”

Hera grimaced up at him. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Then he dove into her mind.

It was not so painful, this time. She was worn out and sluggish and couldn’t fight him off. He viewed the destruction of the horcruxes, going over them obsessively. Each time she put up a feeble resistance, he would physically shake her head, fingers digging into her jawbone, until she gradually lost control over her own mind.

Then, he went over her memories of various conversations with Dumbledore, dwelling on the Gaunt ring adorning blackened fingers. He replayed again and again, the recount of the prophecy, her doomed walk into the Forbidden Forest, and the detentions with Umbridge and the blood quill.

Finally he withdrew, mind dismounting hers in a sudden release of pressure. His nails unstuck from her skin, leaving red crescent shapes.

Fingers brushed her face, bringing with it the same tingling pleasure of his healing spells as he smoothed away the new marks he had made.

His face was a cold and blank façade, and the last thing imprinted in her eyes as she drifted again in to sleep.

Chapter Text

Hera woke once more, alone this time.

She had been placed on a bed, in a room that was, like all the other rooms in the manor, airy and excessively proportioned in contrast to its contents. The walls were covered in dimity embroidered with powder blue forget-me-nots. A door flanked the bed on each side.

At the far end of the room, there was a curving divan framed by wide floor-length windows. Muted light filtered through the waterfall of white gauze hanging over these windows. It was enough to tell her that it was dark outside, but not to tell her how long she had slept for, although judging by how well-rested she felt, she had been out almost an entire day.

Her robes had been changed or transfigured. Gone was the dirty, blood-stained outfit that had been her uniform over the last forty-eight hours at least. The black dress robes she wore now were in the same severe style as Voldemort’s own; thin and light and stripped of anything purposeless.

She slipped off the bed and padded to the windows. The curtains reacted to her touch and pulled themselves upwards. It was still night, or already night. Hera was sure that it was the latter. The grounds, yesterday dark and vacant, were now alive and teeming, lit by floating lamps and strings of flickering glowbugs. They illuminated the pathways, along which people milled.

Witches and wizards in dress robes, holding bronze goblets and flutes of champagne, were strolling around the garden, talking and laughing. The rising curtains caught the attention of those who were angled to the building, and they turned interested faces in her direction.

Hera ducked down immediately, throwing herself into the divan. Ire at witnessing Death Eaters making merry while the war was ongoing- it was, wasn’t it? – veered into surprise. One of the upturned faces had been the face of Draco Malfoy. It had only been a split second, and in low light, but she was sure she would recognise that shock of platinum hair and sallow features anywhere.

It could of course have been some distant Malfoy relative, but if it was Draco Malfoy, how did he get out of Hogwarts? Had Hogwarts fallen, then? She needed to talk to him.

She pawed at the curtains. “Stop, stop…”

They halted their slow ascent.

“Oh. Down. Quickly. Don’t open again until I say so.” Satisfied with her commands, and unceasingly impressed by the capabilities of magic, Hera leaned her chest against the hard, decorative edge of the divan and peeked through the brocade curtain fabric and sheer underlayer down at the party.

Even more people were now looking up curiously. Certain that none could see her, she canvassed the crowd leisurely. The man that might have been Draco Malfoy had disappeared, but she thought she recognised a few other schoolmates, notably the Slytherin Chaser Graham Montague, Pansy Parkinson, and Theodore Nott. Voldemort too was nowhere to be found.

Hera drew back, contemplating.

Voldemort might be with his inner circle. And in all likelihood, no one knew she was still alive. If so, this was the perfect chance for Hera to escape. He had very naively made the mistake of healing her; she would use that to her advantage by stealing into the crowd and pinching somebody’s wand. All she had to do was avoid her schoolmates, keep her head lowered, and move fast.

Energised by this new plan, Hera bounded up and opened one of the doors. A connecting bathroom lay behind it. Black, gold-veined marble walls surrounded carved onyx sinks and a massive bathtub with bronze feet. A candle chandelier hung low over a dressing area set in an alcove.

She entered and rummaged in the drawers, hoping to find something to disguise herself with. All were empty. She surveyed herself in one of the standing mirrors. The black robes she had been dressed in was identical to Voldemort’s own. Floor length and T-shaped with wide sleeves, the fabric moved fluidly around her, even without the slightest breeze to carry it. While no one could mistake her for Voldemort, as short and obviously female as she was, going out into the crowd downstairs dressed identical to him would turn heads.

Adding to her difficulties was the fact that the most identifying part of her was the one part he had left alone.

Hera had not, when she had first woken up, immediately touched her scar as was her habit, but conscious of Voldemort’s remark implying that she was behaving as a Horcrux should, had stubbornly left it alone. She was unsure anyway if he had removed it along with her other scars while she was asleep.

And the fact that she was unsure as to whether she wanted that to be the case- the idea of her face without that lightning bolt somehow exciting her and making her feel nauseous and uneasy at the same time- that upset her further.

But now she was sure. He had left it there, and he had clothed her like he would himself, like she was just… himself.

Well there was nothing for it. She could hide the scar with her hair. And she had to keep moving, or she might lose the nerve to escape. The manor was full of people, many of whom were currently dressed head to toe in sober black, just like she was. It might be her best chance, maybe her only chance. She turned back into the bedroom, crossed to the other side of the bed and wrenched the door there open.

Then she jerked to a stop at the doorway and held herself completely still.

Tom Riddle, the Tom Riddle of the diary- the one she had stabbed, sat at a writing desk in the next room, one arm slung casually over the back of his chair, one leg crossed over a knee, and hair neatly combed into dark waves. He looked deep in thought, and he rolled something small between his fingers, rolling it the same way he would roll his wand, as though the tactile sensation of the thing told him everything that he needed to know about it.

She had watched him die, had watched the diary leak basilisk venom. She had watched him scream and vanish.

“But I killed you!” The words slipped out of her without warning.

Chapter Text

He whipped around at that same moment, that ghost of a memory, the same one that had stood over her in the bowels of Hogwarts while Ginny lay unresponding nearby and commanded his basilisk to murder her. Shock was displayed openly on his handsome face.

“How are you here?” he asked, the question directed to himself more than her. He looked displeased. His mouth pursed, and his fine angular cheeks hollowed further. “The blood...?”

“How are YOU here?” burst out Hera, and then again, in disbelief and childish indignation, “I killed you!”

He continued to play with the thing in his hand, weaving it deftly and familiarly through his long fingers- it was a black stone; a stone no less familiar to her own fingers.

Scratches: Circle. Triangle. Line.

I’m about to die.

“I think I can say the same for you.” He winked.

Hera blinked, disarmed by his easiness.

“What- oh.” Logic was coming back to her. He was not the horcrux of the diary. How could he be? That horcrux had been destroyed. What was he then? Was he perhaps- “You’re the Horcrux in the Resurrection Stone!”

Of course- the stone had not been destroyed with the ring. Of course his soul had survived in it. The bitterness rose up like bile in her throat. Even if she had died last night, it would all have been for nothing anyway.

“The Resurrection Stone…” He held it up to his eye, twisting it between two fingers, like it was any other common pebble, one he’d just so happened to pick up off the ground. The irreverent way he handled it was in such contrast to how Hera had held it, had clutched it like it could have saved her from him.

He dropped his hand and looked at her. He smiled, shaking his head slightly. “Guess again.”

His dark eyes flashed red, a gone-in-a-second flash, Hera could almost swear was only a reflection of the light, if she didn’t know better. The warm light sank into and died in the smooth matt black of his robes, identical to hers.

No. Could it be?

How?

She circled around the mahogany desk to stand in front of him. His neck moved to follow her steps. He was even more beautiful up close than from afar. His hair was black, as black as hers. He was tall. His cheeks sloped sharply towards his upturned mouth. Every part of his face was symmetrical. Only his hair, parted cleanly, fell to one side in textured sweeps.

If Lord Voldemort the monster had looked out of place in the suffocating splendour of pure-blood trappings, this version of him with its long black eyelashes and proud nose and the healthy glow of the skin and curving mouth, was the essence of nobility and good lineage; the fantasy all his supporters strived for.

And he was so real, and so much more alive, than that waxy caricature of last night…

“You’re you… The real you.”

He only kept smiling.

“How? Why don’t you look like this all the time?”

And then she got it. She laughed, for the first time in his presence, a true laugh. It rang out in delighted peals across the room. “You’re seventeen!”

He looked pained. “I have not been seventeen in decades.”

She laughed again. It was so hard to be afraid of someone that looked as refined and as beautiful as he. Truly Merope had her dying wish. He did not even possess the hard quality of beauty that comes often with cheekbones and pale skin and dark hair and eyes, but was like a flower, youthful and blooming. Even the timbre of his voice radiated vitality- smooth and warm and passionate like a violin.

For the first time she understood how Tom Riddle had managed to fool so many for so long.

“Why?” she asked.

His shoulders moved minutely. “In my haste to secure my immortality, I made my first horcrux earlier than I should have and kept my form as it was then.”

“Yes, but why? Why are you showing me this?”

“I didn’t mean to,” he ground out, black eyes gleaming like polished obsidian out at her from under a curtain of dark lashes. A muscle ticked along his jaw. “I secured all the doors in this wing with blood wards in addition to the other more traditional measures. You should not have been able to leave your room. But evidently a soul is not the only thing we share.”

Hera grimaced. “What do you mean?” she said, and then- “At the cemetery! You took my blood…”

She quieted. The blood that supposedly protected her; her mother’s last gift to her. He had reconstructed his body with it. And she’d thought it was symbolic.

Blood of an enemy….

Was there anything in her that wasn’t also his? Was there any part of her life he hadn’t taken and corrupted?

He was quiet also, going back to rolling the resurrection stone between his fingers, face pensive. Hera sank into the nearest chair. “Who else has seen you like this?” she asked absently, asking for the sake of asking, of moving her mind forward.

He answered equally absently. His gaze was far away. “Not many still alive.”

“And of those that are?”

His dark eyes flicked back to her, sharp and penetrating. “They don’t dare question me,” he responded with icy impatience, and stood as if to signal that the conversation had ended.

“Well they don’t all have the dubious honour of being someone you don’t want dead, do they?” It was a roundabout way to refer to herself as his horcrux, but Hera would swim naked in his inferi lake with a dozen blast-ended skrewts thrown in for good measure before ever accepting that as her identity.

She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “I think I could ask whatever I want.” She raised an eyebrow. “I could probably do whatever I want.”

He’d crossed the space between them in an instant. “That, Hera, is where you’re mistaken.”

He was gripping the arms of her chair as he leaned over her. She could smell him around her; a discrete masculine undertone that permeated her brain and recalled his fingers on her skin.

“I haven’t forgotten that you hunted and destroyed most of my other horcruxes,” he said in a low, heated voice. “Precious, irreplaceable artefacts that you ruined and so callously tossed aside, that I am now forced to retrieve one by one. I haven’t thought of an appropriate punishment for you. Your fellow hunters of course will die…”

Hera jerked instinctively at that threat, and her emerald eyes flashed with anger, but she said nothing.

He relaxed, and his tone shifted into a caressing whisper that belied the growing air of menace around him. “I do want you alive. But you forget something… I don’t need you walking, or talking, or even thinking. I’d like you to think about that now, Hera.”

Hera tried to ignore the throb of panic coursing in her veins as she regarded him warily, head tilted awkwardly back to look him in the eyes. His scent enveloped her, heady and intoxicating. She was taking in deep breaths of him. Fear and unwanted arousal swirled in her body.

“Are you thinking about it?”

She nodded.

“Good.” He smiled. His cheek dimpled. “Your continued freedom is at my mercy and good humour. Remember that the next time you feel like boasting about having killed me.”

Hera lowered her eyes to stare at where the stiff ebi-collar of his robes joined across his chest. “The next time won’t be in vain,” she vowed spitefully to herself, out of old habit, and despite knowing it was an empty vow, knowing without a doubt, that she could never have killed him, and could never ever kill him.

“Don’t you want to thank me for your freedom?”

Hera’s chest constricted with resentment. “Thank you.”

“Again, Hera. With a smile this time.” And he smiled as if to demonstrate to her just how he wanted it done.

Hera smiled woodenly. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He straightened. “The wards believe we’re the same person. Until I find a solution to our… security issues, or I can trust you, you will accompany me everywhere.”

“You can trust me,” Hera said sullenly, standing also.

“Really?” he said lightly, rolling out the word. His ruthless anger had disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced, and his smile turned teasing. “I wonder what sort of mischief you would already have gotten yourself into if I hadn’t been so lucky as to catch you on your way out.”

“You’ve never caught me,” Hera said indignantly. “I’ve always come to you.”

The possible significance of those words occurred to her just as she was saying it and she bit her lip and coloured. His smile widened. “Let’s keep it that way then, shall we?”

Chapter Text

“What the fuck, Potter?!”

Malfoy looked just as wan and exhausted as he had when she’d last seen him. He’d cleaned up; his hair, still overly long in the front, had been combed back, and he wore black high collared robes with shiny black buttons that made him look even more washed out than usual, and did nothing to hide the circles under his eyes.

No one heard his low exclamation except for her.

Voldemort was in discussion with some of his Ministry plants, and everyone else was either attempting to ingratiate themselves to him, or to avoid him without looking like they were doing so. The gardens were large enough that it wasn’t too difficult.

“I can’t believe you actually got yourself caught, you pretty little idiot,” said Malfoy, looking equal parts dismissive, despairing, and diverted. It was a funny expression she didn’t think she’d ever seen on anyone before.

He swiped a goblet from a tray born by a passing house-elf and took a sip. “Are you even still in there?” he asked. “Can you hear me? Oh, you daft idiot. I don’t even want to know what He’s got planned for you.”

It kind of sounded like he very much did, in fact.

“Always knew you fancied me.” Hera’s smile was all teeth. Even in the most dire of situations, she didn’t think she would be able to refrain from ribbing him. “Think I’m pretty, do you?”

He jumped, eyes bugging out, then looked quickly around to see if anyone had noticed that gaffe. “What the fuck??” He peered suspiciously down at her, and then whispered, “Potter?”

“Malfoy?” Hera answered in a mock whisper.

His face relaxed momentarily, and then drew close again. “I thought I was talking to a spook.”

“What’s a spook?” asked Hera.

He looked uncomfortable. “It’s what we call people we’ve imperiused. They usually just stand around looking stupid and empty like a- well, like a spook, when they haven’t been given a task to do.”

“I was not standing around looking stupid and empty,” Hera responded indignantly. “If you haven’t realised, I’m surrounded by crazy death eaters. Who exactly am I supposed to be conversing intelligently with here?”

“Certainly not me.” He’d inched back. “If I get caught even listening to you insulting the Dark Lord I’ll be punished.” He turned to make his escape, and then, clearly also unable to help himself, swivelled back towards her to make his parting shot. “For the record, Potter, you always look stupid and empty.”

Hera grabbed his arm. “Wait!” she hissed urgently. “Ron, Hermione… Is everyone okay?”

He shook his arm. “Let go, Potter.”

“Not until you tell me!”

He tried to pry her fingers off him. “Let go! You’re crazy! Arh…”

“My, my… What is happening here? Looks to me like a little lovers’ spat.”

Both Hera and Malfoy froze.

Alecto Carrow had descended upon them, attracted to the tension like a vulture to the feast. She was followed by her brother Amycus.

“I’d choose another if I were you, young Malfoy,” said Amycus. He gestured dismissively at Hera with his thumb. “That one’s not long for the world.”

Malfoy pulled himself free. “I wasn’t,” he began, hotly.

“Now now, no need to-”

“Draco!” Both Narcissa and Lucius had arrived, Bellatrix trailing them.

Narcissa immediately gathered her son into her arms and attempted to spirit him away wordlessly. He resisted, pushing gently at her. “Don’t smother, Mother,” he complained, forgetting that seconds ago he had himself been in just as much of a hurry to leave.

Hera’s hands curled immediately into tight fists at the sight of Bellatrix, who had overcome her initial shock at seeing her alive and in the company of the Dark Lord and was now smiling strangely at her.

“Draco just likes to play with his food, doesn’t he?” she purred with enthusiastic approval. “Just like our Lord and I do.”

Hera wrinkled her nose. “Going by the way you ogle your Lord, I reckon he’s the only food you really want. Done playing with him yet? When are you gonna get around to eating him?”

There was shocked silence. Bellatrix’s mouth opened and closed. The Carrows just managed to turn their catty snickering into outraged snorts. Lucius Malfoy looked constipated.

“You filthy half-blood,” Bellatrix finally shrieked, shaking with anger and humiliation. She whipped out her wand and aimed it at Hera. “I’ll give-”

“Calm yourself, Bella.” A venomous voice cut coldly in. Somebody settled their hand on Hera’s shoulder. She didn’t even need to turn to know whose it was.

The Malfoys had turned pale and the Carrows were looking apprehensive. Bellatrix’s eyes widened.

“But my Lord!” she persisted, “The half-blood whore was insulting… insulting…” She was unable to complete her sentence.

“So I heard,” said Lord Voldemort dispassionately. “Do you intend to keep pointing your wand in my direction?”

Bellatrix dropped her wand hand like it had been burned, and then dropped her whole body to the ground where she began prostrating herself.

A small crowd had gathered. All the serving house-elfs had disappeared. Voldemort’s hand remained relaxed on Hera’s shoulder. She forced herself not to turn and look at him.

Bellatrix was crawling slowly forward, pleading and asserting her loyalty. She reached Hera’s robes, and mistaking it for Voldemort’s began to kiss the hem of it. Hera pulled her robes up and made to step back, her hair raising with revulsion, but she only succeeded in pushing herself back into the body of Voldemort.

A shudder went through the watching crowd. She hissed a sharp intake of breath and attempted to get away completely, but he yanked her back. His hand moved to curl partially over the base of her neck. Bellatrix looked up, realised her mistake, and renewed her mortified pleas, not even daring to so much as scowl at Hera, for fear that her master would think that directed towards him also.

He let Bellatrix continue in that vein for a while, and then appeared to grow tired of it. “Enough,” he commanded. “Rise.”

She rose gracefully to her feet, staring with servile adoration at a point just above and to the right of Hera’s head- Hera was still refusing to turn and look-

Voldemort spoke. “For your dedication to me, I will deem to reduce your sentence to three minutes of the Cruciatus. You may choose the witch or wizard who will deliver the curse.”

As much as she hated her, Hera thought it unfair and ridiculous. Anyone could see that Bellatrix had been aiming her wand at Hera, not him. Was she to be punished for not lowering her wand fast enough when Voldemort came up behind Hera?

But Bellatrix must have expected worse for she immediately began thanking him for his mercy.

“Hera, however,” continued Voldemort, giving Hera an ominous squeeze, and causing her to flinch at the mention of her name. “Hera I will punish myself. Now choose your deliverer, Bella.”

Nobody dared to express any kind of reaction at hearing Voldemort use Hera’s first name. The Malfoys wore frozen expressions of neutrality and appeared to be doing their best to imitate spooks.

Bellatrix looked around, licking her lips and considering carefully. Hera was sure she was going to request Voldemort himself to do it, but she eventually picked Rowle. Clearly even Bellatrix wasn’t crazy enough to voluntarily place herself under torture by Voldemort.

Hera tried not to think about Hagrid. How long had he been tortured for?

“Very well,” Voldemort approved. “Come, my Death Eaters. We have work to do.” He released Hera and swept towards the Manor.

They all followed him in. Narcissa clung to her son’s wrist for a brief second, and then let him go also. Once the Dark Lord had disappeared inside the building, those left behind visibly relaxed and slowly resumed festivities.

Hera bounced nervously on her heels before biting her lip and making her way inside.

 

-

 

 

She followed the last straggling Death Eaters into a pillared room. It faced the garden, but deep green curtains were drawn across the tall windows, obscuring the view. Spiky wrought iron chandeliers hung over a long rosewood table with matching high-backed chairs.

Lord Voldemort was already seated at one end. There was an understood seating arrangement, it seemed; some places were deliberately unclaimed. To the left of Voldemort was Pius Thicknesse, his false Minister, and to his right there was an empty seat, which Hera guessed to have been Snape’s.

The door shut behind Hera. Death Eaters looked up. Their eyes flicked between her and the Dark Lord. She hovered by the door, glaring defiantly back at them, before swallowing her pride and approaching the table.

Voldemort watched her walk reluctantly to him with perverse satisfaction in his gleaming red eyes and a disgusting smile pulling at his lipless mouth. It made Hera’s blood boil to see it. Her visible discomfort and animosity only increased his delight. He threw back his head and laughed a cold, high laugh.

His Death Eaters laughed with him.

“Hera Potter,” he said, when she reached him, “Beacon of Light, Dumbledore’s Chosen One…”

The laughter increased.

“… has surrendered herself to me and begged to be allowed to serve...”

There was more derisive laughter. Someone further down the table cackled. Hera’s face burned with indignation. She had to dig her own nails into the inside of her elbow in an attempt to control her temper.

“What think you, my friends? Should she be allowed to show her worth and earn a place at our table?”

There was some jeering.

“She should be strung up as an example of what happens to all who oppose you, my Lord,” MacNair, Buckbeak’s would-be executioner proposed bloodthirstily. Many others nodded their agreement.

Voldemort’s eyes met hers momentarily. His mouth twitched. He turned his attention to the man on his left. “Why so quiet, Minister Thicknesse? You have been recently released from the Imperius, have you not? Anything to add?”

“My Lord, your mercy and magnanimity are beyond comprehension-”

“That will do,” said Voldemort coldly.

“If I may, my Lord,” Lucius Malfoy’s smooth voice entered the conversation. “The girl could be of much use. Many of those lost sheep that look up to her could be brought in to the fold.” He’d correctly surmised that Voldemort for whatever reason, had no intention to kill Hera.

“We don’t need such witless sheep as follow a filthy half-blood,” snapped Bellatrix. “Let them feel our wrath and condemnation.”

Hera was unable to hold back a snort of laughter. She tried to turn it into a cough, and bit hard on her fist.

Voldemort turned a deathly glare on to her. “I will not tolerate your impudence one second longer, I warn you,” he hissed at her in parseltongue. “Would you like to be under the Imperius?”

“Why are you tolerating hers then?” Hera challenged, also in parseltongue. “You’re a half-blood.”

Chapter Text

All at once, Voldemort’s irritated expression morphed into a dull, frozen blankness. Under his robes his body tightened like a snake coiling to strike. The fricative sounds of her bold speech dissolved into a frightful silence.

No one moved. No one even appeared to breathe. It was like all the air had been sucked out of the room. His fury was palpable. Hera’s heart began to beat rapidly again, as fear overtook her.

Why, why couldn’t she stop provoking him?

In a single movement he stood, sending Hera flying to him with a crook of a finger and caught her by the jaw with his long spider-like hand. Still he didn’t speak.

I’m sorry,” Hera stuttered breathlessly through her teeth, her words coming out in garbled hisses. Her toes skimmed the floor. “I haven’t eaten in almost two days. You’re making me follow you around. I’m weak. My brain’s not working. I’m dying.”

It was pathetic. And it was a weird sort of excuse to make to someone who currently looked like nothing would please him more than her immediate death.

Unnatural red pupils travelled slowly to her scar peeking out through dark locks of hair.  

“Draco,” he said softly, keeping his eyes trained on her but turning his head fractionally and shifting to English.

Malfoy almost fell out of his chair in terror. “Y-yes my Lord,” he said. He was shaking frightfully. Hera almost felt sorry for him.

“Have your servants bring food.”

It was clearly not a command that had ever been passed in that room before, and certainly not ever in the middle of a violently charged episode like this.

“M-my Lord?”

Lord Voldemort began to turn his murderous gaze onto him.

“At once my Lord,” uttered Malfoy, in fleeing the room.

 

-

 

Malfoy had taken his task to heart.

Not understanding what had transpired between Hera and the Dark Lord, he had simply gone out and ordered all the food he could. He returned now with a floating feast in tow, levitated by an entourage of house-elves.

A separate table and chair were conjured for Hera near the head of the long table, just next to and slightly behind the Dark Lord. She was made to sit.

The house-elves dressed the table and placed a dish of carpaccio in front of her. Black beads of caviar sat on a mound of translucent sliced fish. As hungry as she should have been, fear had stolen her appetite. Still, Hera picked up a fork with a trembling hand.

The Death Eaters were watching with macabre attentiveness, as though waiting for the proverbial axe to fall. Malfoy had retaken his seat. Hera licked dry lips and looked to Voldemort.

“I desire that you be polite, Hera,” he commanded, voice soft and dangerous. He tilted his head slightly. “What do we say when someone has done something for us?”

She swallowed. “Thank you,” she said quietly, switching also to English, knowing he would want her humiliation to be understood by all, and hoping her compliance, though tardy, would make the coming punishment less severe.

Flat red eyes narrowed at her and she quickly forced a smile on her face. “Thank you,” she said again, louder, voice also trembling, “for the food.”

“Very good, Hera. See to it that I never have to remind you of your manners again.” He gestured magnanimously to the food. “Eat.”

Hera stuck the fork automatically into the dish.

Lord Voldemort turned back to his followers. “Continue,” he said, as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. They instantly switched their blatant gawking into respectful and attentive expressions.

“I agree with Lucius, my Lord,” Thicknesse put in. “The girl could be of much use.” There was slow nodding and murmurs of agreement.

If it hadn’t been obvious before, it was obvious now: execution was not in Hera’s immediate future.

“As I was first saying,” said Lucius Malfoy, eager to remind everyone that he had been first to guess it, “there are many that still foolishly and stubbornly resist your reign. They view Miss Potter as a role model of sorts. Perhaps if she was to be seen in your presence, submitting to you…”

Hera put the fork in her mouth. Her stomach was turning. She swallowed the sticky, salty fish.

“A public speech, announcing her new allegiance, perhaps,” offered another Death Eater.

“We can involve the press,” said Thicknesse. “It could be held at the Ministry.”

Hera forced herself to swallow another mouthful of gelatinous raw fish, trying not to gag. She reached quickly for a crystal glass of water.

“Not the ministry,” cautioned Lucius Malfoy. “Too official. Miss Potter has always adopted a slightly unconventional approach. Hogsmeade, perhaps?”

Voldemort leaned back in his chair. He extended an arm to touch Hera lightly on the hair. She almost dropped her fork in alarm. “Have it arranged, Lucius. Thicknesse, prepare a speech for Hera.” He glanced at Hera, who was staring miserably at the plate in front of her. “Take this away,” he ordered. “Give her something else.”

A house-elf removed the carpaccio and replaced it with a flat-rimmed bowl of beet soup and a wide spoon.

“It will all be coordinated by my staff,” said Thicknesse. “I also have an idea that should tie up quite well with your plans for the Wizengamot. Miss Potter holds a seat; it would be fitting if the motion to officially recognise you as ruler over Britain could be proposed by her.”

That was news to Hera. She had had no idea that she was a member of the Wizengamot. Somehow that information surprised her more than learning of Voldemort’s nefarious plans did.

Somebody else shifted. Hera spooned a glob of rich, thick, sweet soup into her mouth and forced that down.

“Speak, Avery.”

“My Lord, Thicknesse’s strategy, while no doubt symbolic of your complete victory, would however mean that the girl would be the first non-pure-blood member to formally start a motion in the Wizengamot, in all its history. Is that the direction we really want to take?”

Voldemort reached out again as though unconsciously, to stroke Hera lightly along the crown of the head with his fingernails. Tingling pleasure ran down her neck, impossible to ignore. “I will think on it,” he said.

Somebody else spoke. “In the meantime, do you have a new mandate for your ministry? There are many positions left unfilled…”

The discussion moved on to affairs of government.

Hera tried to eat as well as she could, distracted by Voldemort’s casual touches- unexpected, but God help her, weighed against the could-have-been that was his wrath, not entirely unwelcome, and her own roiling stomach, which after months of poor diet, did not want to accept this heavy cuisine.

Finally, they were all dismissed. The Death Eaters filed out, and when they were gone, the house elves cleared everything and disapparated with loud cracks.

Voldemort remained seated a moment longer, eyes closed, before he abruptly stood, motioned to Hera, and disapparated them also.

 

-

 

They were back in the writing room, the one that joined directly to the bedroom Hera had slept in. She stood by the window, watching the lamplights flicker over the foliage down below. The gardens were once again empty, save for a few house-elves apparating and disapparating here and there, taking down decorations, cleaning up, and inspecting the grounds.

Voldemort was at the desk, shuffling through yellowed papers and poring over ancient looking books whose bindings were cracking.

Hera edged towards the door leading to the bedroom.

He looked up. “Did I say you could go?” he asked coldly.

“Er- the bathroom…”

“I’m not done with you.” He drew out the Elder wand.

Hera stepped away from the door. “Alright, alright.”

“Your conduct reflected poorly on me today,” he said, voice flat and unamused. He flicked his wand, and the enormous form of an unconscious Hagrid materialised between them. “I’d hoped you’d have learned your lesson.”

Hera shook her head, stepping away, distancing herself though her gut told her she should be rushing to her friend’s aid.

“Don’t think I enjoy disciplining you, Hera.” Voldemort continued. “I do have better things to do with my time.”

“You can’t be serious!” Hera railed. “I won’t do it. I refuse!” Righteous indignation had left no room for fear.

He stalked forwards. “Careful, Hera. Careful… You’re already on thin ice, and my patience grows thinner…”

“But it was the truth! You are a-!” She stopped herself from completing her sentence at the terrible expression on his face. “It’s the truth,” she repeated stubbornly. “You can’t punish me for that.”

“The truth is whatever I say it is,” he bit out.

“Well you were definitely going on and on about your muggle father in that graveyard,” Hera said recklessly. “Has the truth changed since then?”

He smiled a jack-o’-lantern smile, false and crooked. “Do continue,” he prompted. “Keep antagonising me. I’ll take it out on your oaf of a friend. I’ve always wondered if it was possible to die from extended sessions of Crucio. I’ve never taken it that far.” Now he looked almost feverish with excitement. “Maybe we can find out together.”

Hera backed away. He kept smiling; waiting. His eyes were dancing flames. Her back hit the wall and she pressed her sweating palms flat against the textured silk.

Voldemort clicked his tongue. “Nothing else to add, Hera? How disappointing. I was so eager to hear more.” His smile stretched. “I’m sure there’ll be a next time.” He pointed his wand at Hagrid. “Shall we begin?”

“Wait!” Hera clasped her hands together, trying to think. “Don’t- don’t you want to be respected?” she asked. “By your followers? By- by everyone?”

He looked taken aback. “They do respect me,” he said, eyeing her as though trying to determine if she was being stupid on purpose. “Better, they fear me. You, on the other hand, have grown brazen…”

“Yes. You’re right…” She continued quickly, before she could back down, before her brain could catch up and tell her to stop talking at once. “Yes. They respect what they think you are. They even fear what they think you are.”

She looked him up and down for added effect. “Lord Voldemort the monster, leader of all the other monsters. So easy to fear, so easy to respect. But would they respect Tom Riddle the half-blood? Would they fear Tom Riddle as he is? As he looks? As himself?”

He looked angry and troubled. He began pacing.

“I killed Tom Riddle,” he sneered, not even looking at her.

“You’re not your fa-”

“Don’t,” he snarled, coming to an abrupt stop. His fingers tightened over his wand. He turned to her. His face blanked like a veil had dropped over it and when he next spoke his voice was barely an octave above a whisper. “Don’t you dare.”

“Alright, I’m sorry,” whispered Hera, heart thudding, very aware that she was playing with fire. She took a slow deep breath. “Don’t you want to know if they’re really loyal to you?” she tried. “Don’t you want to know the truth? You can find out if your Death Eaters are truly yours.”

He resumed pacing.

“No one can be truly loyal until they know exactly what they’re being loyal to.” Her voice was almost fervid with conviction.

He turned back to her. She held his gaze. He crossed over Hagrid’s body to tower over her.

“And you, Hera?” he questioned, voice like silk sliding over her skin. “Does the same go for you?”

Hera closed her eyes. She thought of Dumbledore whom she’d thought she’d known, and Sirius whom she’d barely known, and her parents whom she hadn’t known at all. Loyalty had come so, so easily to her. And it wasn’t important, in the end, that she had never truly known them and could never truly know them. She had had their love, and that had been enough to win her loyalty.

When she opened her eyes again, she was looking into the handsome face of Tom Riddle. Her breath caught. Her heart raced.

“Yes,” she lied. She was a hypocrite.

He smiled like he knew her mind and was choosing to indulge her. He traced her bolt of lightning with the pad of his thumb. His palm cupped her cheek. Warm. Like this, he was so warm. “And do you fear me, Hera? As I am?”

Yes. No. I don’t know.

“Yes.”

His eyes glittered. He looked like he was going to laugh. “And were I to find that my people aren’t as loyal as I thought them? What would you have me do then?”

“If they’re not, if you find out that they’re not really loyal, then you can make them be,” she appealed, trying to keep her voice low and even. “You shouldn’t have to adopt their views. They should adopt yours.”

She felt so tainted, attempting to sway him like this, and possibly encouraging more violence, but it was the right thing to do. It was. Persuading him to abandon his hateful policies was the best chance she had of saving her friends.

“I can make them be…” he echoed. “Listen to you…”

He dropped his hand. He stepped away. “I want your loyalty,” he said bluntly.

It was Hera’s turn to be taken aback. She unstuck herself from the wall.

“Well you’re not going to get it this way.” She waved a hand at Hagrid. “Don’t punish me for being the only person to be honest with you. Or would you also like to hand me a blood quill now and have me write a hundred lines of ‘I must not tell lies’?”

He had watched the memories of her encounter with Umbridge, multiple times. He might have felt her hatred. She had hated Umbridge in those moments, more than she had hated even him.

He chewed at his cheek, regarding her calculatingly. His cheekbones moved under the pale, delicate skin. “I’ll think on it,” he said. “You may go.”

“…go?” Go where?

He raised a brow. “The bathroom?”

“Oh, yes. Yes.” Hera had quite forgotten. “Thanks,” she muttered, stepping towards the door again and putting a hand on the handle.

“You have ten minutes,” he said, already turning away.

 

-

 

Hera sat on the rim of the massive bathtub, staring at the little gold clock on one of the shelves. For a muggle-hating family, she thought that the Malfoys possessed a lot of unnecessary muggle objects. Although, for all she knew, that clock might also be a magical singing clock, or maybe it was one that alerted them whenever their hair needed a good brushing.

It was almost three in the morning. She had six minutes left of the time she had been given. If she was going to do it at all, she had better do it now. No more procrastinating.

The idea had come to her as soon as she’d seen the house-elves apparating and disapparating around the garden and she had immediately wondered why she didn’t think of it before.

But something made her hesitate. Her brain whirred with the possibilities- What if she was caught? What if she could get out of here tonight? What if he killed Hagrid? What if she could rescue Hagrid? What if, what if, what if?

The needle moved. Five minutes left.

Why did she feel so on edge? The potential payoff surely outweighed any risks. And anyway, he had said she could go, hadn’t he?

Hera shook off the unease like a dog shaking water from its coat, took a deep breath, and then summoned her house-elf.

Chapter Text

“Kreacher,” she called.

There would be a booming crack like a whip being sharply swung any second now.

Please let there be a crack. Please let there be…

There was no crack. There was no Kreacher. There was complete silence.

Maybe he’d appeared in the bedroom. She checked.

It was empty.

Hera let out a breath she didn’t realise she had been holding. She walked agitatedly around the bathroom, perched herself again on the edge of the bathtub, counted to ten in her head and tried once more, this time with an urgency bordering on desperation. “Kreacher!”

Nothing.

If he could come, he would surely have come by now.

Two minutes left.

“Fuck,” she whispered, screwing her palms into her eyes. “Fuck, fuck!” She had been so hopeful that it would work. And now she had to go back out there, to possibly have to torture her friend, and she had better go now, or it would be worse for them both.

 

-

 

She re-entered the writing room, steps heavy with gloom. Even the relieving discovery that Hagrid was no longer there did barely anything to quell the depression that opened like a yawning chasm in front of her and threatened to pull her in.

The Dark Lord was bent over the desk, scribbling intently.

There was something about that picture that was just jarring enough to distract her from her unhealthy and aggrandising self-pity. At first, she thought maybe it was just the sight of him sitting calmly at a desk like any other person her age might, as though cramming for the NEWTs, and not planning more murders as he was probably doing.

But no, that wasn’t it.

“If you’re going to just stare at me, come closer so you may see better,” he said, not pausing his work. His brow furrowed. He clicked his pen twice, glaring at whatever he was working on.

Ah.

Hera moved forward. “You’re not using a quill, I see.”

He put the pen down on an open book and sighed the sigh of the long-suffering. “The truth,” he said, “can be a tool. Or it can be a weapon.”

He leaned back in his chair to survey her. “You are honest. But the type of honesty you wield, Hera, is more weapon than tool. It is damaging, and unproductive. And in the long run it will make you more enemies than friends. Is that what you really want?”

Hera had expected another thin-skinned outburst from him, not this, whatever this was. He sounded like Dumbledore did sometimes; quiet and disappointed. It made her feel strangely… guilty. Maybe it was his mild tone, or the rational way he’d put forward his argument.

And she’d never looked at it from that angle before. The truth had always been just that- the truth. But perhaps he was right. He certainly sounded right.

He drummed his fingers on the tabletop, as she fidgeted self-consciously.

“Come here,” he said, kindly.

Hera hesitated, afraid to go closer. But she made the mistake of looking into his eyes, and he looked so gentle, and so forgiving, that she was compelled to go around the table and stand before him.

He took her hand. “Try to understand why I was angry. You made a scene in the garden. You almost openly insulted and humiliated me in the meeting. And for what purpose? So you can feel good about putting others down?”

Hera’s eyes blurred with tears. Her plan to escape had failed before it had even materialised. She was beginning to accept what was previously unacceptable: that she was truly, permanently, in his clutches. “But you started it,” she accused, already cringing internally at how juvenile she sounded. “You humiliated me.”

He shook his head slowly. “If I were to be seen welcoming a former enemy into the fold so easily and forgivingly, especially one as contentious as you, I would appear weak. It would invite insubordination. And worse, people might envy and hate you. I do want to keep you safe, Hera.”

“And have I not kept you safe? Have I not healed you and clothed you and fed you? Did I not intervene when you so foolishly entangled yourself in the snake pit that is my Death Eaters? Have I not been merciful despite your transgressions against me? And what should I have received in return? Your thanks. Your gratefulness. Yet you have been nothing but hostile.”  

Tears fell from Hera’s face. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. Her will to fight was crashing around her. She was so tired and confused and felt so small.

“There is a time and place for everything,” he continued. He rubbed soothing circles into her wrist. “Including honesty. Including the truth. Like when we’re alone, just the two of us, together. But never with others, and never out in public. Do you agree?”

Hera nodded miserably.

“Good. I’m glad you see it my way.” He wiped her tear tracks with his fingers. “I won’t punish you this time. I understand how difficult this must all be for you. It’s only been days after all.”

“Days?” Hera’s eyes widened in alarm. “We were at Hogwarts yesterday.”

“You were asleep for days. No wonder you were so hungry.” He clicked his tongue sympathetically and took her hand in his again. “Now I think it’s my turn to be honest. Can I be honest with you, Hera?”

She nodded now, feeling the brutishness of her past behaviour and feeling ashamed for it; next to her, he was so refined, so gentlemanly. When had she ever asked for permission to be honest? Never. She had only ever artlessly steamrolled her way through their every interaction.

“I have no use for your fear. It’s your loyalty I want.”

Hera moved closer. Their knees touched. “I- how? Why?”

He might merit some measure of gratitude for his twisted idea of hospitality, but he was the sole reason her loved ones were dead or in danger; he could never, ever have her loyalty. But she wasn’t going to say that now. She was finally learning.

“Why? Because it makes my life easier. As for how, loyalty is in its execution, not in its sentiment.”

Hera worried at her bottom lip, swallowing down the niggling feeling that she was playing right into his hands. “What do you want me to do?”

“Hmm…” He was dragging the fingernails of his other hand slowly from her wrist to her elbow, raising hairs and sending shivers throughout her body. His face was turned to the side. He appeared deep in thought.

Then his gaze snapped up to hers and all the force of his will was in it. “You can start by standing in front of the Wizengamot and opening the motion that I rule Britain.”

Hera’s muscles had gone slack at his ministrations. Her brain was in a haze. “I-I-”

“In any case, that is what you wanted, is it not? It would send a message to the pureblood radicals that I may not after all- what is it you said?- adopt their views.

“That’s not- What I wanted is…” What did she want? “Let my friends go. Please?” The statement, meant to be a demand, was ruined at the end by the addition of that last, meekly uttered word.

But the Dark Lord looked more than pleased. His eyes darkened in response and his mouth curled in lazy content.

“This isn’t a negotiation, Hera. I’m not going to bargain for this. And I don’t want to threaten you.”

He stroked his fingers slowly along her inner arm from the crook of her elbow back down to her wrist. Hera watched, mesmerised, as their fingers met, slotted together, and entwined. “I want us in alignment. Our goals, our future…” He squeezed her hand lightly, suggestively. “…aligned.”

It would be so easy to relent and give him whatever he was asking for. And indeed, it was difficult to resist the narcotic pull of his insistent touches alone- she was almost a puddle of fluttering heart and weak ribs at his feet; never mind the deeply seductive way he had proclaimed his desires for the two of them.

Them, and their future. As though they were indeed equal, as though she could be indeed more than just a part being forcibly reintegrated into the whole.

The fantasy was tempting. But Hera liked to think herself made of sterner stuff, and with much mental effort, noted, “It doesn’t sound like I have a choice,” wondering immediately after, if perhaps choice was not also just another fantasy.

He pulled away with obvious disappointment and began organising the parchment on his desk. Hera twisted her hands together regretfully, feeling the loss of his, and feeling the beginnings of nervousness at his physical withdrawal. Was he going to change his mind about not punishing her?

“As I’ve told you, I’d rather have your loyalty than your fear, Hera.” A dread chill crept into the gently uttered words. “But if I can’t have one, then I’ll take the other. That’s your choice.”

There was no point falling on her sword for this.

Hera shrugged, trying to comfort herself with the fact that it would all be a farce anyway. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Of course I’ll do it,” she corrected herself aloud, adding a smile to the end of the words- just how he would like it- making him narrow his eyes at her with surprise and unconcealed suspicion.

She held his gaze with a false confidence, feeling like a woman with little to lose. “And if you’re telling the truth about not wanting me to be afraid of you, then that starts now too. No more threatening me.”

He tilted his head and gave her what could pass for a warm laugh. Dimples formed on his cheeks. “Of course, Hera,” he agreed smoothly.

“Thank you,” she replied crisply, her voice hiding her amazement at having won this concession from him.

He picked up his pen. “I am so glad we are beginning to understand each other.”

 

-

 

She hadn’t guessed just how offended Death Eaters like the Lestranges and Rosiers really would be at the prospect of Hera championing their Lord before the Wizengamot. If she had, she might have agreed to the scheme more readily just for the pleasure of seeing them turn all shades of outrage.

Maybe they felt it was the culminating point of their decades-long struggle against a society that was turning against them. Maybe they thought one of their own should have that particular honour.

Or maybe they saw Lord Voldemort’s victory as their own.

But if so, he was quick to disabuse them of that notion. After the first bold dissenters had been thoroughly and viciously re-educated on the consequences of speaking out against their Lord, the rest fell in line.

Still, no one in Lord Voldemort’s inner circle had thought it advisable to let an autonomous Hera loose in the Ministry.

Yaxley had hinted not-so-subtly that she was ‘an unstable brew in a cauldron, ready to boil over at the lightest stir’. Bellatrix Lestrange, barely recovered from a round of the Cruciatus, had darkly added, “The Imperius has never failed you yet, my Lord.” Even Lucius Malfoy had risked his Lord’s anger by suggesting a calming drought for Hera beforehand.

Voldemort had dismissed all their ideas, with increasing irascibility. No one wanted to be punished for pushing their very valid points and all retired by casting mistrustful glances at Hera.

And no wonder.

Hera had thought her upcoming sojourn to the Ministry would be nothing more than a sham performance played out for an audience of Death Eaters and their associates. But of the close to fifty members that had shown up to Court, Hera could number with her fingers and toes those that she knew with absolute certainty were loyal to the Dark Lord.

And the public had been invited to watch. They crowded round the top levels of the sunken amphitheatre and spoke in hushed tones.

He was evidently not one for baby steps, but for throwing the baby in the water and commanding it to swim. Hera shuddered at the image her brain had suddenly seen fit to show her- that of Voldemort holding a baby.

“You alright there?”

The bony-faced Pius Thicknesse, in his post as Minister of Magic, was also acting Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. He had been charged with accompanying Hera to court- accompanying here a word meant in its least polite sense, although Thicknesse had been surprisingly genteel about it.

Hera nodded with tightly pressed lips. She was afraid if she opened her mouth, she might say something stupid again. And she had not forgotten her strange conversation with Voldemort from a few weeks ago. She could behave in public, she could. She could hold up her end of their not-bargain.

“Let me give you some advice, Miss Potter,” said the false minister. “If I may.”

They were hidden from view, just within the secret corridor that was his personal entrance into court. It came out somewhere behind the tall cages that held notorious prisoners awaiting trial.

Hera nodded again.

“The war is over, and it wasn’t as costly as we feared it would be. We must be grateful for that. We must be grateful that our lives have been spared, and we must be grateful to be afforded the opportunity to help with the rebuilding of society, and we must move on.”

She looked at him, remembering suddenly that he had not been on their side. He had been an unwilling puppet. Then she wondered what he had to do after, to demonstrate his new loyalty and become a proper Death Eater.

The walls of the corridor were transparent from the inside. They watched as the members of Court, clad in deep plum coloured velvet robes, greeted and chatted with each other.

“What happened to those at Hogwarts?” she asked. “Are they- are they-?” She was afraid to ask the question; afraid to say the word, afraid to hear it said back to her.

Dead, are they dead?

“Did our Lord not tell you?” And then he started to say something else, something that was lost as the crowd outside rose and chanted the anthem of magical Britain very loudly and solemnly.

“That’s our cue.” Thicknesse pressed the prepared speech into her hands and gave her a little shove. “The time for heroics is over,” he said urgently. His perfectly coiffed black goatee was trembling. “Stick to the script, Miss Potter. Think of the lives you hold in your hands.”

She wondered if he too had been in favour of her being placed under the Imperius for this.

They made the short walk in. Outside of Dumbledore’s memories, this was Hera’s second time at Court. Then, she hadn’t thought it was possible to be more anxious and afraid. She had been wrong.

At the sight of a nervous Hera entering the courtroom with the Minister just behind her, everybody stopped singing almost at the same time. There were stifled gasps. Faces paled. Some looked around like they expected Lord Voldemort to appear at any moment and murder Hera in front of them all.

She had to give him credit; he was ace at the dramatics, and Hera’s entry, timed so that all attention would be on her, flowing black robes and all, was nothing if not dramatic.

Amelia Bones, who had presided over her disciplinary hearing before, was the first to recover. She addressed Thicknesse. Disgust coated her voice. “I wondered why we were called to assemble, when it’s been so long since your new Ministry has required Wizengamot approval in its legislative process. I see the cause now. The Wizengamot will not participate in show trials, Minister.”

She was not the only one who assumed Hera had been brought in to be sentenced to death. So many ill-looking faces stared apprehensively down at them.

“On the contrary, the Honourable lady is not here to be tried. She is here to take her seat amongst her esteemed colleagues.”

That created a different buzz.

Under the disbelieving eyes of the plum-clad witches and wizards and observing public, Hera made her way awkwardly through the first row to the empty place that had the Black family crest carved into the ancient wood of the seat.

She was almost shoulder to shoulder with Lucius Malfoy and a snub-nosed man that looked an awful lot like Pansy Parkinson.

“I thought Potter died at Hogwarts,” someone behind her whispered in a hoarse voice.

Wood creaked and fabric rustled as everyone took their seats.

“Didn’t we all? Maybe she’s been turned into an inferius,” their neighbour suggested. “I haven’t heard her say a single word…”

Hera resisted the urge to turn around and address them. It was taking all her effort to keep her face as expressionless as possible.

“This is the first time in almost a century that the Wizengamot has seen a full attendance,” the current Speaker was commenting out loud.

Why in Merlin’s name would they send an inferius just to sit in?” whispered a third, feminine voice from behind. “And anyway, I had a proper look at her, she’s definitely still alive. Her eyes are very green. Not cloudy at all.”

“And would still not have if some of our Honourable Members who should technically be in Azkaban at the moment had remained where they were,” Amelia Bones was dryly rebutting. It was clearly a jab meant for the Death Eaters.

There was some laughter. Lucius Malfoy shifted.

“…such a pity about Hogwarts,” the hoarse voice behind her was saying. “So many young lives…”

Hera almost turned then. She leaned back as far as her seat would allow, ears pricked up. Meanwhile, the Court was carrying on. Somebody was now officially proposing some type of blanket pardon for all those Death Eaters who had been broken out of Azkaban.

The man who looked like an ageing pug leaned in front of her to speak to Lucius Malfoy. “Can the Wizengamot continue to believe itself invulnerable?” he asked.

“…by expunging responsibilities for all offences including war crimes, crimes against muggles, crimes against…”

Hera was trying to listen for news of her friends, but it was frustratingly difficult. So many conversations were going on all at the same time.

“…brutally murdered in his own inn, they said he was aiding…”

Lucius Malfoy turned his head a little. “I believe Miss Potter’s presence should answer that for you,” he said cryptically.

“…a clean slate, my Honourable Friends, is what this country needs…”

“It worries me,” the feminine voice sighed behind her. “Why is Hera Potter here? And why…”

The pug-faced wizard barked a short laugh in Lucius’ ear. “Yes, but we are all well aware of the Dark Lord’s disregard for rules…”

Hera breathed in sharply. Dumbledore had once used those exact words in describing her. To have Lord Voldemort described in the same way by someone else was disconcerting.

Hands were going up. They were voting. What were they voting on? Hera hadn’t been paying attention.

“Raise your hand, Potter,” murmured Lucius Malfoy under his breath. He had his own raised.

Hera raised her hand automatically.

There were stifled gasps. Strange looks were cast in her direction.

“Thirty-seven in favour,” said Thicknesse curtly. “The Wizengamot approves the proposed Amnesty Law concerning all those convicted of being Death Eaters, associating with Death Eaters, or…”

“I’ve got it,” exclaimed the hoarse voice. “Polyjuice.”

His neighbour laughed. “You nitwit, the wards would take care of that.”

Lucius Malfoy gave her a swift kick to the shin. Hera recoiled with a suppressed grunt of pain and annoyance, then looking up, realised that he was signalling to her that it was time; Thicknesse was calling for other members who wished to open a motion to present their case.

Hera got to her feet. The amphitheatre grew quiet; all the gossiping whispers ceased. Everyone’s eyes were now on her.

“Permission granted for the Honourable Lady of Black to speak,” said Pius Thicknesse. He waved his wand, and a yellow badge emblazoned with the word SPEAKER appeared above her left breast.

Hera stared down at the badge and then looked around the grand amphitheatre. Her legs felt like jelly. Her head was whirling with all the broken conversations she had overheard. It made even more sense now why Lord Voldemort’s supporters had not wanted her here for this, and why Thicknesse had seemed almost afraid. For the first time in her life, she had the platform to herself.

Her. Not her and Dumbledore. Not her and Skeeter. Not her and The Quibbler. Her alone. She could say anything.

“Thank you, Chief Warlock,” she croaked, and jumped at the sound of her own magnified voice. The badge clearly contained a Sonorous charm.

What should she do? What should she say?

Should she defy Voldemort?

But as she looked at the apprehensive, anxious faces around her, licking her lips to buy time, all she could think of was that these people looked so tired. And all she could picture in her head were two hands joining, and dark eyes drawing her in, and a proud mouth forming the shape of her name.

Chapter Text

“The House of Black proposes…” She glanced down at the parchment in her hands. “…to confer Imperium on…” What even was that? She swallowed as everyone awaited her next words with bated breath. “…Lord Voldemort, who is The Dark Lord, He Who Must Not Be Named, Heir of Slytherin-”

The growing roar, which had started as shocked gasps and flinches and cries of fear at the first sound of his name, was making it impossible for Hera to be heard, even with the artificial amplification of her voice.

Thicknesse, attempting to take charge, was threatening to evict the public if they didn’t quiet down.

Hera kept her eyes glued to the parchment, reading the words aloud as they appeared to her, and processing only the barest. All her efforts were going towards the act of public speaking. Her voice was trembling with the type of nerves that could easily be mistaken for enthusiasm.

“There has been a decay, my Honourable friends,” she continued, “in our once-proud, once-glorious civilisation. We have been witnesses to and shamefully complicit in the decay and degeneration of all things good and magical.”

“We have failed the people, my Honourable colleagues. We ceded the government to lesser wizards, those so-called wizards of intellect who pretended they held all the knowledge and knew what was best for us when in truth they were nothing but power-hungry imposters. We allowed them to dictate what we can and cannot do. They made us pretend harmlessness and benevolence, but in doing so they have only made us look weak and foolish...”

Hera had to stop again as the din prevailed. There was a mix of cheers, unintelligible shouting, and excited murmuring. Even more onlookers had appeared, the press included. Cameras flashed.

Finally, when order was restored, she was able to continue. Hera followed the long, flowing script as best as she could through the many interruptions.

“Under the banner of secrecy, they limited witches and wizards from practicing magic which is our natural right. Under the banner of tolerance, they encouraged the debasement of our strongest bloodlines and allowed the families of our hereditary seats to fail. Under the banner of defence, they prohibited the use of vital and important branches of magic.”

“This must end! No more feeling ashamed to be the better, stronger, superior race. No more hiding ourselves away like rats-”

Here, Hera was forced to take another break, and she waited with increasing impatience for order to again be restored.

Despite his constant threats, Thicknesse kicked no one out.

When she’d pictured this dreaded moment in her head, she’d pictured a room full of awkward, or horrified, or maybe even resigned silence. The reality was that she could barely get two sentences out without being interrupted in some form or another.

Worse, the naturally sincere and animated voice that Hera possessed was lending itself very well to the spirit of the speech, which she was beginning to suspect, had been written by Voldemort himself, and not Thicknesse as originally planned, because despite the multiple pauses, it was eloquent and inflammatory enough to both inspire and demand action. Most tellingly, it promised everything while promising nothing.

Giving voice to his hateful words made Hera feel horribly like a traitor, and left an unpleasant taste in her mouth, but it was too late to stop now. She continued through paragraphs detailing Lord Voldemort’s triumphs and qualifications, each statement more full-of-it than the next.

Finally, it seemed like the end was approaching.

“My Honourable Lords and Ladies, the corruption of our noble heritage must not be allowed to continue. No longer will we willingly participate in our own degradation.”

“A new authority must be set up, and I can think of no one more glorious to bring our people into a new age of prosperity and power and freedom than the Dark Lord, who has delivered us from the oppressive regime. I can think of no one more suited to restore honour to what it means to be magical, than the Heir of Slytherin. I can think of no one more worthy to lead us into the future than Lord Voldemort.” 

The parchment had blanked.

Hera stared at it for a long second as noisy discussion gathered and broke out around her.

Somebody had been given permission to speak. Hera didn’t recognise him. He was a younger wizard with light brown hair. “Imperium indeed,” he shouted excitedly. “I believe somebody’s been Imperiused.”

Like Hera, he was overwhelmed as others stood up to support or to boo him down. There were many more people heckling him than there were supporting him. The Death Eater members seemed especially offended. Maybe they believed that if Hera was going to be suspected of being imperiused anyway, she might as well have been to begin with.

“No personal attacks please,” said Thicknesse. He allowed Madam Bones to speak.

“Miss Potter has not once exercised the right to her seat in the Wizengamot since she inherited it, are we really expected to believe she comes here today of her own free will? And dressed all in black like a prisoner to boot.”

“That’s a very good point. Where are your standard Wizengamot-issued robes, my Lady of Black?” asked the Minister, a puzzled look sitting on the surface of his skin.

“Er,” said Hera, trying not to look too obviously confused. Why in the world was Thicknesse now questioning her? Why was he allowing opponents to counter her?

She unfolded the sheaf of parchment and looked to it. It was now unhelpfully blank. She had no choice but to answer for herself. “I don’t have the robes.”

“Did you not receive them? They were sent to the executor of the late Lord’s will.”

Hera shook her head. “Dumbledore never gave it to me.” Cold understanding was beginning to dawn on her along with that familiar feeling of disillusionment with her former mentor. Dumbledore had not even told her about Sirius’ seat at Court. Why?

There was some speculative muttering now.

Nott was speaking. In his thin, reedy voice, he condemned Dumbledore among others as being one of those deplorable imposters that controlled others by withholding knowledge.

That was sadly not an undeserved criticism of Dumbledore.

Why had he kept it from her? The obvious and probable answer was that he wanted her focused on the task of defeating Lord Voldemort. Just like with the Horcruxes and Hallows, and just like with her own self-sacrifice, he had not trusted her to make the right choices on her own.

Frustration and resentment at having spent her whole life, even up to this very moment, being manipulated by everyone around her, was threatening to break Hera’s thin veneer of composure.

“Oh, come now,” said Madam Bones. “The real Hera Potter would not possibly be advocating for You-Know-Who. The real Hera Potter does not believe all this rot about-”

“I am the real Hera Potter,” Hera broke out angrily, ignoring the blinding, smoking flashes of cameras gleefully capturing her outburst.  

What were the right choices? What were the right choices for her?

The memory of Snape’s own accusation, thick with disbelief, came floating into her head. You have kept her alive so she can die at the right moment…?

Hera breathed sharply, feeling the betrayal coursing through her again. She could never again think of Dumbledore without feeling this tearing, deadening pain.

And now she was remembering the honeyed, almost caring voice of Lord Voldemort as he bent over her, the glow of the chandeliers above granting him an undeserved halo. But now it is my turn to keep us safe…

She laughed bitterly. Everything had been turned on its head.

“No one believed me when I warned you all that Voldemort was back, and now-” She deftly avoided another aimed kick from Lucius Malfoy. “-look where we are. And how do any of you know what I believe anyway?”

Because she had been all but shouting it from the rooftops these last few years?

For a moment, she felt badly about her hypocrisy; felt badly about lashing out at Madam Bones, who was not only right, but upright. But of the two that she truly wanted to lash out at, one was gone forever, and the other likely to revenge himself by murdering her remaining friends. And she was just bursting to take out her frustration on someone.

“Because you know what? I get it. It shouldn’t have to take violence to effect change but I get why some people fought so hard for it. I get all that stuff about not wanting to hide away like rats. I mean come on. Who actually wants their school camouflaged to look like a pile of rubble, or a government that’s completely buried underground? It’s depressing.”

She paused to frown. There was something that had always bothered her. What was it? Oh yes-

“And why do we have to go into a dirty telephone box or flush ourselves down the loo to get here anyway? What’s the point of that exactly?”

There was a great roar of support. Judging by the overwhelming response, the people were either shameless turncoats – like me, her mind whispered- or Lord Voldemort had more supporters than she was led to believe.

And that little rant had undoubtedly answered the question as to whether or not Hera was under the influence of imperius. Nobody, she thought self-deprecatingly, could possibly sound so stupid and not be authentic.

“If you won’t believe me about anything else, believe me when I say the time for heroics is over.” Now she was just outright stealing Thicknesse’s words. But some proud part of her wanted to end the impromptu speech on a proper note. “This civil war is over. We should all be happy that we’re still alive and that we’re allowed to even vote at all.”

The Wizengamot members and onlookers alike were practically working themselves up into a lather at this new development. Thicknesse was having a hard time getting them to settle down.

Sirius, if he had been alive, would have found an excuse to not attend a single one of these meetings. Or maybe he would have attended them all; whatever he was, he was no coward.

Was Hera a coward?

Maybe. Probably. She knew Sirius would have chosen to die rather than comply with Voldemort’s wishes. Hera had not only complied but had also inadvertently defended her enemy’s self-serving diatribes, something she certainly didn’t expect to have to do.

But at that moment she didn’t care. She was angry, and it felt immensely satisfying to stick it to Dumbledore and his life’s’ work, even if she knew it was a petty sort of revenge, and even if it meant advancing Lord Voldemort’s agenda.

With luck, one day she’d get to stick it to him too.

And in any case, she hadn’t been lying when she’d said she’d understood the sentiments behind parts of the purebloods’ philosophy. Being forced to spend one’s whole life in hiding could really build resentment in a person. She would know.

Elegant, unhurried writing appeared once more on her parchment, catching her eye. It looked like it was written using a fountain pen.

 

Well done, Hera.

 

Hera scrunched up the parchment, face heating. Why had she imagined fingers ghosting along her arm as her eyes slid over those words?

She threw it disgustedly down.

A vote was being called. Hera, forgotten in the hubbub, retook her seat.

“Really, Potter,” said Lucius Malfoy sardonically, still looking straight ahead of him. “The loo?”

 

-

 

“The loo?” Pius Thicknesse was shaking his head. Above, a dance of colourful cranes flapped their paper wings, fairly blotting out the lights.

Hera crossed her arms angrily. “You played me. You knew I would get upset over Dumbledore not telling me about the Wizengamot seat.”

Their lift shuddered to a stop and the metal grilles slid open with a slight whine. They stepped out, Thicknesse in the lead. They were followed by several cranes. “Assuredly not. I could not have predicted your reaction.”

There was a security queue on this level; two wizards in black were inspecting everybody visiting the level, and confiscating wands. Thicknesse and Hera were waved through.

“Maybe not you. But Voldemort did, didn’t he?”

Everyone within earshot jumped, looking slightly alarmed.

The Minister, wearing an identical expression, remained silent until they had turned a corner and were again alone. “I won’t presume to speak for the Dark Lord. But in any case it hardly matters. Everything that was done today was necessary. I know it can’t have felt very good to make that speech, not so soon after the war, but just think of it as being for the greater good. We can’t always-”

Don’t say that,” she hissed, freezing.

Thicknesse frowned slightly. “Don’t say what?”

She glared at him fiercely, spooked and paranoid. “Did he tell you to say that too?” She was so sick of being manipulated. And it was clear they wanted her to hate Dumbledore. They were practically beating her over the head with his mistakes.

He shook his head, wiry brows turning in. “What?”

One of his secretaries, a middle-aged witch in black and grey robes came up. “All these came for you, Minister…”

Thicknesse took the pile of mail and documents, thanked her, and turned back to Hera. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

Hera blinked suspiciously at him; the sudden flare of temper doused by doubt. “Nothing, it- No, nothing.” She exhaled. She was overthinking. Was she overthinking?

They’d reached his office, a wide room decorated in dark-grained wood and aged leather furniture. There was a bar cart next to the desk stocked with alcohol. On one wall hung sketches of various species of duck. Across the window on which fake rain ran down in rivulets, was the fireplace from which they’d entered the ministry.  

Hera sat in the chair adjacent to his desk, watching him quickly unfold and scan through a few memos. “He won’t blame me, will he?”

“Hm?” He looked up. “Oh. The results were expected. Nobody ever proposed to have Imperium conferred on them ever got it in the first round. Not even Merlin.” He paused to scribble something on a piece of paper. “But as I said, I won’t presume to speak for the Dark Lord.”

His finished note expertly folded itself into the form of a crane and zoomed off through the open door.

Lucius Malfoy walked in a second after, still wearing the velvety purple robes of the Wizengamot. “Do you have twenty minutes to look through the revised proposals for the Auror Office?”

“No,” replied Thicknesse distractedly. “I have to bring Miss Potter back.”

“I can wait,” Hera offered hopefully. “In fact, can’t I just stay with you until the end of the day?”

She really didn’t want to go back. She wanted to stay as far away from the Dark Lord’s toxic and all-consuming influence for as long as possible.

Thicknesse shot her down. “No, of course not. Our Lord wants you returned to him immediately. I’m already late as it is.”

“Have an elf take her back,” advised Lucius Malfoy. “I can call one of mine. I really want to look through these proposals before I have to-” Distracted, he cut himself off. There were loud voices coming from the hallway.

It sounded like an argument was unfolding. Both the Minsters’ secretaries could be heard exasperatedly attempting to deny someone or some group entry.

Lucius Malfoy, closest to the door, exited cautiously. Hera slid off her chair, curious, and followed him out.

A stout older wizard, hair and beard streaked with white, was railing at the two secretaries, who were insisting that not only was he not permitted to go into the Minister’s office without an appointment, but that nobody was there now anyway.

“Mister Chang?” said a bewildered Hera, recognising the man.

He heard and saw her. “You!” he bellowed, pointing an accusing finger. “You double-crossing snake! That monster murdered my daughter in cold blood and you- you-”

Lucius Malfoy pulled his wand out and turned to her. “I take it you know this man?”

Hera, wide-eyed, and dumbfounded, could only shake her head. “Don’t hurt him! He’s Cho Chang’s father…”

“Please calm down, Sir!” The secretaries, clearly alarmed and nervous, were doing their best to appeal to the other wizard, without any luck.

He was swaying and trembling, eyes bright and voice wounded. “You told everyone You-Know-Who killed Cho and now- how- how could you betray her memory like this- You’re a spineless rat! My daughter was a thousand times better than you!” He spat in her direction.

Red lights from Lucius Malfoy’s wand and from Thicknesse’s behind her struck him square in the gut and he crumbled. His head hit the ground with a thunk, right on top of his own spit.

Hera took a step back, fingers over her open mouth.

The whole thing had been so sudden, and so shocking, that she did not even know what to feel.

“Do we have to do everything ourselves?” drawled Lucius Malfoy, as Thicknesse directed one of the secretaries to call security.

“Fuck,” cursed Hera, in a delayed reaction.

“Don’t worry,” said Thicknesse, turning to her and looking worried. “He couldn’t have hurt you. People have their wands confiscated before they’re allowed on this floor.”

“Including your secretaries?” criticised Malfoy. “Makes them pretty useless, doesn’t it?”

“No one vetted by the Dark Lord would take the job,” sniped Thicknesse. “Maybe Draco could make himself useful and volunteer?”

Hera ignored them both and went back into the Minister’s office. Her hands were shaking. Ever since her capture by Lord Voldemort, the very littlest provocation, the very tiniest sting, could inject pure fear and helplessness in her. In just weeks, he had already so easily pulled the Gryffindor backbone out of her and reduced her to a mess of open nerves.

She moved mindlessly to the cart and began pouring herself a drink of something that looked and smelled strong. Before she could pick it up however, it shot away from her.

“We’ll both be in trouble if you drink this,” said Thicknesse, standing in the doorway holding the glass. “The Dark Lord has explicitly instructed me that you are not to imbibe anything while at the Ministry.”

That paranoid, controlling wanker!

“Yes, I was there,” growled Hera through gritted teeth. The overwhelming urge to destroy all the costly bottles of alcohol in front of her, to see them soaking into the rug around pieces of broken crystal, in an attitude of if-I-can’t-have-it-then-neither-can-you gripped her by the brain.

“I-” She fought the urge down, panting heavily. She wasn’t going to go there. Because if she did, her tantrum would no doubt get back to Lord Voldemort and then he would punish her for reflecting poorly on him or whatever. She had to behave. She could not afford to make a scene. “I- this is all too much…”

Thicknesse took a drink. “I know,” he sympathised. “Just sit down and breathe. With your head between your knees. Just like that. Don’t worry, we’ve seized the intruder and we’ll find out what he wanted and if he was working alone.”

Hera’s head shot up. She had been so consumed by her own wild feelings that she had quite forgotten Cho Chang’s father. “What? No, no! It’s not like that at all! He’s just a grieving father, he’s harmless! He just wanted to- to yell at me…”

And he had been right to do so. He had been right to reproach her; Hera had deserved that.

To think she had stopped herself from destroying Thicknesse’s things because she was afraid of Lord Voldemort, and not because she didn’t want to become like Lord Voldemort. Mister Chang was right; she was spineless.

Remorse flooded in. “You’ll let him go? Just let him go!”

There was a loud and sudden crack like a whip swishing through air at lightning speed. Hera flinched, expecting a blow. But it was just an appearing elf in a towel toga with the Malfoy crest printed on it.

It bowed low.

“Master has sent me to inform his Minister that he does not like to be kept waiting,” it squeaked, then disappeared with another crack.

“What?” said Hera, to the space where it had been. What did it mean? Lucius Malfoy was just with them.

“Circe give me courage,” muttered Thicknesse. He downed the whole glass. “We better go.” He moved to the fireplace, hand out. “Come on.”

Lucius Malfoy returned. “Headed back? I’ll go with you. I have reports from the Foreign Office.”

“Wait!” Hera protested. “Just give me a second...”

“We don’t have seconds,” Thicknesse snapped agitatedly.

Hera ignored him and counted inwardly, eyes shut, until she could get her breathing even. Then moving forward, she took Thicknesse’s proffered hand, and they whirled into darkness.

Chapter Text

“Beautifully done, Hera,” praised the Dark Lord, when they’d stepped out of the fireplace and into the gold and creams of Malfoy Manor.

He was not alone; the Lestranges were with him, and the Rosiers, and Avery, and a few others, also still in Wizengamot purple. His serpent Nagini was there also, the upper half of its lengthy body draped against the back of its master’s chair, triangular head resting on his right shoulder.

After spending hours away from him, returning to hear the chilling tones of his voice and to see his flat white snake-face again brought the old fear out of dormancy. That sharp, urgent fear that screamed in every pore of her body for her to run, and that had been slowly attenuated by his constant, normalising presence took her by force, and rendered her for a second, completely immobile.

But the familiar waiting touch of his red eyes on her face sent the new fear to chase away the old, this new fear being concerned only with avoiding his displeasure.

She smiled and thanked him.

Satisfied, he transferred his attention onto the wizards with her. “I was informed that the Wizengamot was no longer sitting as of thirty minutes ago.” 

“My deepest apologies, my Lord,” Thicknesse started to say, a pleading note already evident before the actual pleading had even begun.

“Hera.” Voldemort motioned her close.

Everyone watched her approach him with varying degrees of veiled interest or antipathy, all having already noted the way their Lord had received her before anyone else, a few astute ones perhaps even catching the surreptitious way he scanned her form with the sort of near-concern they’d only ever witnessed directed towards the serpent currently tasting the air by his ear.

“Do you know how many flavours of fear there are?” Nagini asked rhetorically. “In this room alone, I detect several. It makes me so hungry…” Its forked tongue vibrated.

“What has transpired?” Lord Voldemort’s voice came out in a low, seething hiss. He turned blood-red eyes on Thicknesse. “I told you to return here immediately and you disobeyed me.”

“My Lord, it was not intentional. There was an urgent incident that had to be dealt with.”

“Was it more urgent than Lord Voldemort’s orders?” the Dark Lord demanded, chin extending as if he were himself a snake.

“It was my fault,” she offered up a half-truth. “I wanted to have a drink.”

“Sit,” he commanded her. A chair came sliding forwards.

“No, my Lord.” Thicknesse’s eyes were focused on his Master’s and his voice respectful. “Your orders are paramount. We intended to return immediately, but an intruder with a grievance came searching for and managed to find us. We apprehended him, but unfortunately lost time in doing so.”

This time, the side glance that Voldemort threw at Hera was unmistakeably diagnostic.

He turned his attention back to the false Minister. His wand flicked. His victim flinched.

“Legilimens.”

Hera had never seen the spell performed on someone else before.

Thicknesse’s face distorted in obvious pain. Not a sound escaped him. Hera recalled that agonising, freezing sensation. Her own face was beginning to screw up in empathy.

Thankfully, it went on for just seconds. Lucius Malfoy was next to receive the same treatment, and Hera would be lying if she said she felt as badly for him.

“Pathetic,” pronounced the Dark Lord, when he was done, slow rage building in his voice. “Incompetent fools!”

“Nothing happened,” Hera tried, pulse beating quickly. “The intruder was unarmed.”

Both kneeling, slightly sweating Death Eaters sent her twin looks of unsure gratitude.

Voldemort ignored her. With another careless wave of his wand, a spinning goblet, appearing to weave itself out of wisps of gold, materialised before him. He tapped on it, and it floated to Hera, who took it by the stem. It was slowly filling up with blue liquid from the inside.

“Silly woman,” hissed the watching Nagini, when Hera had taken a tentative sniff. “Master would not kill you with poison. How could I eat you then? Master would pull all the useless little bones out of your body and feed your sweet flesh to me.”

It snapped its mouth malevolently. Hera leaned away further, clutching the Calming Drought and taking small, measured sips of it.

“Enough playing, Nagini,” said Voldemort. He caressed the scaled back of his giant snake. “Hera is not in the mood. She has had a great scare.”

His expression darkened as he addressed his appointed Minister, reverting back to common English. “Were you not the Head of Magical Law Enforcement before? Do you not know how to enforce basic security measures?”

Hera thought it a bit rich coming from someone who left their precious Horcrux in an easily accessible storage room in a school for decades.

“My Lord his wand was already confiscated-”

Bellatrix Lestrange cackled. “It’s through exactly this sort of incompetence that the Ministry was able to fall so quickly to you, Master.”

Lord Voldemort cracked a sudden, thin, smug smile. “It was almost too easy, wasn’t it? And their champion Scrimgeour had attempted to duel me unaided, had sought to kill me... What he looked like after I was done with him…”

The Death Eaters guffawed in fond recollection.

“But never mind, Pius,” Voldemort consoled. “Incompetency is a thing of the past, now that you’re one of us, isn’t it?”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Thicknesse, still kneeling; face tense. The elongate tail of Nagini flowed languidly along the carpet.

“Good. Because you should know by now that I will not tolerate it. Crucio.”

Hera downed the rest of the goblet’s contents in one long gulp.

“I’m not sure Scrimgeour could have divulged Potter’s location at the end, even if he wanted to,” said Evan Rosier casually, voice slightly raised over the screaming. “He barely had a mouth.”

“Looked to me like he had several,” someone else laughed.

The potion was already working very well; she felt the peace settle over her- just enough to observe everything without being truly affected by anything.

“Lucius, have the man transferred to your dungeons immediately,” instructed the Dark Lord.

Hera fidgeted as Lucius Malfoy took his leave, wanting to help Cho Chang’s father, but not daring to publicly oppose Voldemort again.

Looking at the slowly coiling loops of Nagini as it wound through the legs of her chair, she realised what she could do. She leaned in a conspiratorial manner towards the Dark Lord on her right, and he turned his chin to her, noting her approach.

“Thank you for the potion,” she whispered, Parseltongue flowing easily.

The hand caressing the glossy diamond-patterned body covering his shoulders stopped. He turned his face fully towards her.

“You are very welcome, Hera,” he said slowly, voice sounding as warm as a voice could sound when speaking the language of the cold-blooded. “I am sorry the people into whose care I placed you failed. But we are now thankfully together again- all is as it should be.” He took from her the empty goblet and vanished it. “Did the potion help? Do you feel better?”

“Yes,” she admitted. And she felt even better, hearing him speak so kindly to her. It shouldn’t matter, she knew, how he spoke to her, but it did matter, and she did feel loads better, and she wasn’t going to think about what all that meant now.

“May I know what you plan to do to him?” she enquired politely. “The intruder…?”

Nagini answered for him, sticking her head out from behind the other side of his neck. “I will squeeze him until his bones break…”

“The man is harmless,” insisted Hera. “It was my fault that his daughter is dead. I- you can understand, I feel that I am responsible, that I owe it to her.” She was really just saying anything, hoping something would stick, would make Voldemort feel some sympathy, but as she said all that, she felt that it must be the truth.

It was true; Cho was dead because of her. It was true; she owed it to her dead schoolmate to keep her father safe.

Voldemort sighed. “It’s not good practice, Hera, to leave alive any who have a grudge against us that go so far as to plan their revenge. Don’t you agree? But if he is indeed harmless, as you say...”

“Yes of course, but he is,” insisted Hera brightly and confidently. If the father was anything like the daughter -sweet, kind, brave Cho- then he could not hurt a flobberworm. “You’ll find that he is. He doesn’t want revenge; he was just upset. Read his mind- you’ll see I’m right.”

“As you wish Hera,” he agreed lightly, and Hera smiled, pleased with her cunning, and ready to genuinely thank him, when he added, eyes gleaming, bright red and shiny, “If you are right, I will spare his life. But if he does wish to harm you, then it is only just that you will kill him yourself.”

Hera blinked, feeling like she had just been confounded.

What had just happened? Had he just taken her attempt at Slytherin cajolery and effortlessly re-purposed it into a net with which to ensnare her?

Yes. He had.

And he clearly knew she was ensnared and was patiently waiting for her response.

“Alright,” said Hera slowly and stupidly, because what could she say?

Lord Voldemort turned away. “Pius, you have the names of the Wizengamot members that dared deny me.”

“J-just s-six m-my L-Lord,” stuttered Pius, struggling to overcome the aftershocks of the dark curse. “Y-your v-victory i-is a-all b-but g-guaranteed. M-Merlin h-himself-”

Lord Voldemort sighed like he’d been inconvenienced by his own man’s torture. “We’ll be here for hours, at this rate. Who else can debrief me? Evan?”

“I have the names, my Lord,” said the dark-haired Rosier, and listed them out one by one.

Besides Madam Bones, Hera did not know the rest, although there was a man named Deprewett who might possibly be a distant relative of the Weasleys. She wondered if he was the excitable young man who had first claimed that she was under the Imperius. His nature had reminded her of Ron.

Lord Voldemort considered the names as his Death Eaters offered their views on each, and finally he dismissed them all as unworthy of his personal attention.

“Evan, you will go and… convince these witches and wizards that it would be better for them and theirs to add their names to my cause,” he ordered.

“Can I go too, my Lord?” asked Bellatrix.

“Yes, why not?” said Lord Voldemort indulgently. “And you too, MacNair. But do not damage them beyond repair. They do still have to vote me in.”

Everyone laughed.

As morally opposed as she was to the whole thing, Hera found herself completely lacking the energy to do anything about it. She had used up all her nerve on Mister Chang’s case and was in fact still reeling from the outcome of her (she had thought) commendable attempt to influence.

She was even now, still unsure how he had managed to turn it around and throw it back at her, so that instead of having persuaded the Dark Lord to agree to let a man go, she had somehow been tricked into agreeing to maybe kill that very same man.

It was… mind-boggling.

But she was confident that she would be proven right about Mister Chang. Not everyone was like Voldemort, hellbent only on revenge.

And if she was wrong, well she would cross that bridge when she came to it- for that was how Hera’s brain worked; unlike Hermione the overthinker or Ron the Chess expert, she could not keep track of multiple convoluted possible scenarios in her brain.

Take right now, for example. Her brain was still slowly replaying her exchange with Voldemort, like a pair of omniculars going through a play-by-play, even as the people around her had already moved on to casually discussing their tactics for ‘dealing’ with the group of troublesome Wizengamot members.

No, she couldn’t devote the energy towards that. And besides, even if she tried, she might inadvertently end up agreeing to personally terrorise those poor people herself.

Lucius Malfoy returned and began to deliver his Foreign Office reports.

Hera slid deeper into her seat and laid her head back. Exhaustion was catching up with her, and Lucius Malfoy, for all his faults, did possess an incredibly soothing, baritone voice. Perfect for falling asleep to.

“Obviously, they all expect for Imperium to be conferred very soon, and we are already receiving a lot of questions as to your political positions and-”

Hera sat up straight. “What’s Imperium?”

Avery scoffed. “How could you not know what it is? You were the one to propose it in Court hours ago.”

“I think it’s very incompetent of her to not know what it means, don’t you think, Master?” asked Bellatrix very pointedly and hopefully.

“We must make allowances for the young,” said Lord Voldemort, running a caressing hand over Nagini, who had fallen asleep. “After all, they are our future. Don’t you agree? Perhaps you would like to instruct Hera. The Blacks have always assumed an active role in politics, and as Hera is technically Lady of House Black, the responsibility falls on the members of her House to make certain she is up to speed.”

Bellatrix, face stuck halfway between speechless and murderous, could only mutter a very forced “I will do whatever my Lord commands.”

“Then explain to Hera what Imperium is.”

“Imperium is Absolute Power,” grunted Bellatrix, offering the least she could within the boundaries of obedience.

That was neither very helpful nor informative. But Hera was delighted to not have been the only one to have spectacularly failed at manipulating Voldemort, and instead of returning the other witch’s wooden stare, gave her a splendid shit-eating grin, then sank lazily back into the curve of her chair, as Rodolphus Lestrange asked, “And will you adopt Absolute Ruler as your title when you ascend, my Lord?”

“Eventually. If the Court insists,” replied Voldemort lazily, meaning of course that he wanted for the Court to insist.

“Letters to you from the heads of state of many governments are already coming in,” continued Lucius Malfoy, trying to steer the conversation back to work. “Most reaffirm existing commitments and alliances but…”

Hera tuned out the rest of it. She couldn’t understand why anyone would aspire to rule when it was all so incredibly boring. Even that Wizengamot session had played out much more excitingly in her imagination than it had in real life.

Her eyes glazed over, she let her mind return to one of its common fantasies: Quidditch. If she had to form a winning team using only Death Eaters, who would she pick?

Malfoy for Seeker, obviously. Bellatrix Lestrange for Beater, MacNair for Beater… Lord Voldemort for Keeper- no one would even dare approach the posts… Avery for Chaser, Nott for Chaser… Did Nott count? His father was a Death Eater, but he probably wasn’t one himself…

Hera stifled a yawn.

Her country’s most dangerous wizards and witches were now discussing domestic policy in deep detail. Lucius Malfoy was droning on and on about the urgent need to set up several think tanks.

No wonder Percy had flourished in this environment.

Hera’s heart panged a little. She had barely tolerated Percy, and had downright hated him for a time, but how she wished she could see a familiar face again, even Percy’s dull one.

How she wished she could see Ron’s easy grin and Hermione’s… No.

No, she couldn’t let her thoughts wander in that direction. Fretting was useless and painful.

Malfoy for Seeker, and Lord Voldemort for Keeper…

He had caught her. It was Hera who had made a daring rush for the goalposts and he had caught her.

She shut her eyes sleepily.

He had caught her, and he was her keeper. But he had not hurt her. Not even when she had taunted him for being a half-blood; no, he had put his hand around her in a shocking hold and looked at her like he desired to flay the skin off her back, but he had not actually hurt her.

Why didn’t he hurt her?

His touch had ended her pain, given her rest, and introduced all the nerves of her traitorous skin to the idea of pleasure…

The light skim of his fingers on her thighs, on her arms, closing wounds, sending sleep and healing... The memory alone was enough to raise the hairs of her skin again.

But he touched her, she realised, with a mild lurch in her belly, like how he touched Nagini, his horcrux and pet. The way he caressed the snake, it was so familiar.

Was she… She wasn’t, was she…?

She was too tired to think about it, really, and too tired to…

 

-

 

She was jolted awake by a sudden rocking movement.

Hera’s senses first registered the muted sound of rain drumming incessantly against a surface. It was so soothing that she drifted semiconsciously in and out of sleep for several minutes before pulling herself, with effort, into the waking world.

Rain poured in sheets of silver and broke against the tall trees. The wind transported the downpour, the silver outline of each incoming wave visible against the dark grey sky. Hera was being lightly buffeted by its relentless force.

She was flying through a violent storm.

Except she wasn’t.

She was really lying warmly and comfortably on her side, one arm bent under her head as she watched the landscape speed by through drowsy, barely-open lids. Bullets of rain came lashing at her only to dissolve against an invisible barrier. The visual, the sounds, the warmth, all of it, was so mesmerising and so relaxing.

She couldn’t possibly be flying.

That realisation came trickling slowly into her brain and Hera, feeling snug and satisfied, rolled over onto her stomach, in mid-air, now supposing that she must be in a dream.

Then she was looking down at the earth rushing by, and a figure all in black flying like a spectre just under her. Thunder rolled and lightning split the sky with dramatic ferocity.

In her state of mind, it made just enough sense to her- that was Lord Voldemort, of course, and she was dreaming herself to be his snake Nagini being transported in its protective, transparent orb. She had been wondering whether to be offended at the idea of being treated the same way the Dark Lord treated his pet snake, at the very moment she had fallen asleep.

And now she was quite literally dreaming herself to be his pet.

It was not the first time she’d dreamt herself to be Nagini. The first time had been when she’d bitten Mr. Weasley at the Ministry. Although that hadn’t been a dream, had it? How she’d wanted to swallow him whole- she’d felt the snake’s insatiable hunger- but that wouldn’t have been advisable; it would have slowed her down…

She shuddered slightly as the disgusting image of a bloated snake made its way into her brain, and then in an effort to scour that image out, maliciously began fantasising about the various ways she would have cut one down with the Sword of Gryffindor.

The Sword of Gryffindor… If they hadn’t lost it… Would it have helped them win the war? Would it have made a difference?

Closing her eyes, she let her imagination move on to other things until another dulling wave of drowsiness carried her away.

 

-

 

This time it was the deafening crack of thunder that woke her.

“Are we close?”

Having to live with her Parselmouth captor had benefitted Hera in that she had very quickly become proficient at discerning speech that was in Parseltongue. She heard now the curling diphthongs lick at the edges of his question, her mind processing the words very slowly.

She had not yet finished wondering if he was talking to her when the response came.

“Very. I smell your magic. I smell traces of basilisk venom.”

She had been dreaming about the Basilisk and the Sword…

“Why can’t I feel it, Nagini?”

So Nagini was here. Then that meant that she was not Nagini. Did that also mean that she was not dreaming?

Those thoughts lethargically entered then left her mind in that exact order, even while their conversation was going on outside of her enchanted bubble.

“Because it has been destroyed.”

“No. I cannot feel you, I cannot feel her. I could not feel any of them. I’m cut off.” That was Lord Voldemort’s voice. He sounded puzzled, even a little disturbed.

The slight uneasiness in his tone infected Hera and she struggled to crack her eyes open again.

They were under the canopy of the forest, possibly the same one they had been flying over. The rain sounded a little different here; muffled by the waxy leaves and muddy ground.

The Dark Lord was manoeuvring through the mucky undergrowth with the efficiency of someone very well habituated to the changing caprices of a forest in any given weather.

He had lived in a forest in Albania for a decade, hadn’t he?

She didn’t see Nagini- the snake was maybe camouflaged amongst the broken branches and thick mud- but she heard her.

“Neither did you feel when they were destroyed, Master.”

“No, neither did I feel when they were destroyed. I should have kept some closer. It was a mistake. One of many…”

The rain was picking up in intensity.

Lord Voldemort spoke again. “I would like to keep you...” A sudden clap of thunder partially drowned out his sentence. “…need for another unicorn.”

“I’ll not forget,” said the voice of Nagini, and then after a while, “This is the place. It’s here.”

“Yes,” agreed the Dark Lord. “And that’s the pool we passed. It’s flooded over, but I’m certain…”

They’d stopped. Hera blinked heavy sleep-laden lids. This forest; its smells, its colours- she knew it intimately.

“Luckily for us, it was not displaced very far.”

Lightning threw the scene into sharp relief. Hera could see, beside him, something wide and long and dark like a moving tree trunk gliding in the mud.

“It would have been by tomorrow. You always wait too long, Master. A snake strikes fast, a snake-”

“I’ve been busy,” was Voldemort’s terse reply. He had cast back his hood and was turning his head this way and that. The rain was avoiding touching him; his thick black hair was perfectly dry. “Hera requires much guidance.”

“Why not keep her under the Imperius? You’ve made powerful wizards do anything you want. You’ve made them kill under your control.”

“Yes. But that’s not enough. I need more than that from Hera. And none of my experiments have succeeded in dividing...”

His voice was muffled by the sharp crack of a branch giving way to a weight. It fell noisily through the foliage and onto the forest floor.

“You know I would do this for you if it were possible,” Nagini hissed, sibilant-rich voice weaving seamlessly into the static quality of the falling rain.

It did sound very much like the rain, Parseltongue; it sounded as if the rain were convening with itself.

“I know. Have faith. I do not intend for us to remain apart for much longer. And I may not send you so far this time- there is another body I may need you to inhabit. I foresee-”

“Stop. Here. The pungent smell of the venom is strongest here…”

Voldemort said something that she was unable to hear. 

“What will you do when you find it?” hissed Nagini, the first note of curiosity entering her otherwise toneless voice. “What else will you need to recall the departed pieces?”

“Nothing else I need from you.”

Man and snake separated to comb the area, heads down.

Whatever they were searching for, they were using something other than sight to look for it. He had not even bothered to cast any form of Lumos.

Hera’s bubble moved with him as he trudged around in the near darkness. She was cocooned and floating languidly within its safe warmth.

She hadn’t even realised she’d fallen asleep until she was woken up again.

“There it is.” The joy in that statement was as sharp as any bolt of lightning. Voldemort bent down to pick something up.

He was staring at the thing he had recovered. Hera stared as he stared. Nagini creeped along the ground, wet scales gleaming in the mud.

The Dark Lord remained immobile. The rain continued to fall. Hera was again slipping into the welcoming embrace of sleep.

Then, he spoke.

“Slytherin’s locket…” He held it out in front of his face by its glinting chain. Its ruined, opened heart swayed, dark and empty. “My mother’s locket…”

Was he talking to Nagini? To himself?

“For the longest time, I thought she had been abandoned to die by my father. I swore I would find him, if he was still alive. I swore I would avenge her…”

His shoulders rose and fell. There was another angry crack from the heavens.

“How could he have let the mother of his child perish? How could he… And then to learn that in the end, it had been she who was magic.”

His voice was so soft, it was almost impossible to hear him over the harsh patter of rain. Parts of it were swallowed by angry peals of thunder.

“She was a witch, and she died in childbirth. She died, doing something even a common muggle would have enough self-respect not to die in doing.”

She could almost taste the bitterness of his voice on her tongue.

The great snake slithered towards him and wound itself slowly around his body, climbing him like a tree.

“I could never understand how she could have... abandoned me. Even now, I still don’t…”

Hera felt like a voyeur, like she was intruding on something private. She could feel the childlike perplexity in his voice, could picture him as a child, confused and angry and searching for an answer nobody could give.

A familiar burn was beginning under her lids; tears were gathering. Was she feeling… sorry for him?

He walked about, following the last steps of his horcrux before it had met its demise, like a chess player analysing the moves of a lost game in hopes of discovering when and where the failed moves had been played.

“And when I found her locket, do you know, there was still a spark of hope in me, that maybe I would find something of hers in there… Her portrait, her hair- something, something…” And his voice rose in pitch, as though the remembered hope had risen again, swelling inexorably through dusty time and the bleeding scabs and scar tissues of the poorly healed past.

At some point, he must have annulled the spell that made him impervious to rain and dirt. His robes were soaked through, and small leaves that had been blown off their trees were sticking to him. His hair was slick with rain.

“I had to stamp out that foolishness. Hope is for the weak…”

He stood at the edge of the pool, holding the ruined locket in one hand, looking down at it with bowed head, face hidden. He was silent again.

From where she floated up above them, he looked like he could be a child. He was just a child, she decided. Just a lost, grieving child with a pet snake. But then he spoke, and the illusion shattered.

The hand that gripped the locket was white and bloodless. “I’ll kill them all,” he vowed, in a low, trembling, rage suffused voice. “They dared destroy my things. I’ll destroy them.”

Her heart beat sped up.

“Your woman’s awake,” Nagini commented casually. “I smell her fear.”

His head snapped up. Dark eyes glared out from a pale, wet face. It was a face formed of hate and desolation. Steeped as he was in very human pain, he yet appeared to her more vicious, more unforgiving, and more monstrous than he had ever seemed to be even while wearing the mask of Lord Voldemort.

His mouth tightened. He looked like he was going to spit or hiss. Then his expression became all at once blankly handsome again; closed and unreadable. Yet another mask had snapped into place. He reached a hand out. It penetrated her clear bubble.

Hera rolled sluggishly. The tears escaped her eyes and flowed past her temple and into her hair.

But just as the shame and sadness, pity and fear began to sharpen into more coherent thoughts, a wet, cold hand rested on her forehead. Enchanted sleep weighed heavily on her head and on her limbs, dragging her back into its murky depths.

Chapter Text

Strong morning light entered the breakfast room through the long windows, heating Hera’s arms and face. Without, the sky was a vast canvas of blue so bright as to be almost white. Hera gazed into its blinding depths, turning away only when tiny dots began to dance across her vision.

Inside, the room was busy with people walking in and out with sheafs of parchment or moving to the buffet tables lined up against the wall to help themselves to fruit and small pastries. The blended smell of coffee and juice and butter permeated the room.

Hera shifted uncomfortably. Weeks of inactivity, where she sat awkwardly alone and in silence while people around her talked and planned, where her only form of exercise was to follow her captor like a shadow, had left her feeling like a prisoner in her own body.

Malfoy walked in through the open door, presented himself to the Dark Lord, then made a beeline for the breakfast spread. Hera started. Despite technically living in his house, it had been awhile since their paths had crossed. She slid off her seat by the bay windows and crossed the room.

“Hey,” she croaked, voice breaking from disuse. “Where’ve you been?”

“Hey.” He had a mini croissant in hand and looked about as awkward as she felt. “At the ministry. Working.”

Hera cracked a knowing little smile. “You’re not… Thicknesse’s new secretary, are you?”

He scoffed. “Of course not. I’ve been assigned to the Treasury. What about you? What’ve you been working on?”

“Umm…”

Yaxley and Rosier approached the buffet table at that moment and they moved slightly back to let them through. “It’s an insult!” Rosier was raging lowly. “To agree to meet our delegates only at the very last minute!”

One of the Wizengamot members, Deprewett, had managed to evade the Death Eaters, flee the country, and successfully seek asylum across the channel. Hera had been secretly joyous until she learned that his actions had only caused a ripple of ill-effect and endangered everyone else. Lord Voldemort was considering retaliating by murdering the other five dissenters and dissolving the Wizengamot entirely. If Deprewett was not recovered soon, that would be his likely route. And now there was also talk of a new war.

Malfoy jerked his head in a quick nod, inserting himself effortlessly into their conversation. “What a headache. Father’s in Paris now.”

“Lucius better get it done,” said Rosier darkly. “Pius has been useless.”

“The Dark Lord trusts that Father will succeed,” said Malfoy. His former arrogance was slowly returning, bolstered by his father’s apparent slide back into grace.

Hera was sure that if the French Ministry gave up Deprewett it wouldn’t be so much due to Lucius’ negotiation skills as it would be to the message from Voldemort that he carried with him. Hera had heard him hiss vengeful threats to a paling Lucius Malfoy who had no doubt been wondering how he should relay all that to the other government without risking his own neck.

But still. They had been repudiated twice and might be repudiated a third time. “What do you think will happen if they come back without him... again?”

“I don’t know if the Dark Lord’s hand can be stayed again.” Yaxley took a sip out of a glass of juice and shook his head. “And that would mean the end of the Wizengamot.”

And the end of the pretence of legitimate rule. But nobody said that out loud.

Rosier leaned towards his colleague, speaking urgently. “Corban, if that time should come, we must convince our Lord that the Wizengamot is still the best path forward. The ancient sacrosanctity of the Court must be respected. Threatening is one thing, but… We can persuade our Lord not to harm them yet if we work together. Lucius and Thaddeus at least have promised their support.”

“The Dark Lord appreciates Father’s counsel,” put in Malfoy.

“Lucius and Thaddeus…” said Yaxley. “You won’t mind my observing this, young Malfoy, but Lucius and his friends promise their support to anything. I for one do not mind seeing the Court fail. Perhaps a new form of aristocracy…”

Hera, bored and ignored, was about to go away again when the Carrows came and unsubtly pushed their way in. Yaxley stopped talking to frown at them.

“The Werewolf Greyback won’t stop whining about being allowed to take the Dark Mark. He wants a private audience with the Dark Lord,” said Alecto, while her brother sneered down at Hera and Malfoy. “Run along, children. Adults are talking.”

“Adults? You? I’m not sure I can believe that.” The presence of a former schoolmate was reviving some of Hera’s old fighting spirit. “Slugs, maybe. Two fat, daft slugs just- what?” Malfoy was practically dragging her by the sleeve. She followed him away. “What? Why’re you pulling me for?”

“I hate them too,” he said, when they were some distance away. “But I’m not stupid enough to get into a fight with them. Although you apparently already have… I heard you Crucio’d Amycus. Did he cry?”

Hera lifted a brow. It wasn’t exactly her proudest moment, but… “He deserved it,” she said uncomfortably.

“Yeah he did!” crowed Malfoy jubilantly. “The Dark Lord was furious when he got it out of his head.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “It was one of the few times I enjoyed watching him punish someone. Hey, uh…” He leaned close. “I just remembered that Theo, Greg, Marc, Graham and probably also Adrian are coming for dinner later. We might play Quidditch before. Weather looks good. Do you want to join?”

She knew these names. These were Slytherin players, of course, and she’d gone up against most of them before. But the excitement coursing through her at the possibility of Quidditch was dampened by an old and persistent worry: what had happened to those from the other Houses? What had happened to Katie Bell and Oliver Wood and Cedric Diggory and the Weasleys? What had happened to everyone she had left behind at Hogwarts?

It had been so long without any news that Hera had developed a fear around the subject similar to the fear other witches and wizards had developed around Voldemort’s name. And if she didn’t know that they were dead, then they could still be alive, couldn’t they?

She pushed the depressing thought of Hogwarts from her mind. Quidditch was a good idea. “I’d love to. Can I?”

“Er, can you?”

They both turned to look to where Lord Voldemort, his senior officials, and visiting goblins were now poring over piles of parchment spread out across a long, low table in the middle of the room.

“Maybe if there’s time,” said Hera cheerlessly.

“Right,” he said. “If you can make it, we’ll be at the Pitch at four.”

He walked back to the breakfast spread. Rosier and his fellows had gone.

Hera followed him. “How much do you think it’s going to cost?” She gestured in the direction of the meeting still taking place. “The- whatever they’re building.”

“A lot. I don’t think it’s got an official name yet but I’ve heard it referred to as a palace.”

Hera snorted. Of course Voldemort would want to construct himself a palace. “And who’s paying for it?”

Malfoy fished around in a wicker cornucopia for an apple. “The government. And of course, all the old families pledged funds.”

“Including the Malfoys?”

“The Malfoys are always honoured to be a part of the-”

“Mhm.” Hera snatched his carefully selected apple and took a bite of it. “Are the Malfoys also hoping that their Lord will quit Malfoy Manor and take up residence in his new palace?”

He blanched. “Of course not! The Dark Lord has honoured us beyond words by condescending to stay with us.” He folded his arms in response to the sceptical smirk on Hera’s face. “You know what,” he hissed, brows jumping dramatically. “I take back my Quidditch invite.”

He stalked off, and Hera put the apple down, feeling angry.

What was wrong with her? What was the point of chasing away people who could be helpful to her? Maybe Voldemort was correct in his assessment of her; maybe she really was just petty.

Resolving to be more self-aware and diplomatic, Hera gravitated to the centre of the room where the meeting had now split into several groups. The one mostly composed of goblins was still discussing the building project. Towards one side, standing a little apart from the rest, Dolohov and Lestrange were whispering together.

“We don’t need diplomacy,” Dolohov was saying. “Already enough of Grindelwald’s former disciples and sympathisers residing there have sought us out. Their ministry will regret interfering in our affairs…” As Hera passed close by them, he turned and spat, “This is a private conversation!”

Hera rolled her eyes, forgetting her minutes-old resolution, a snappish retort at the ready. But she was saved from having to further interact with them by Lucius Malfoy and Thicknesse’s timely arrival. They entered the room and hurried as close to Lord Voldemort’s side as they could while still maintaining a reverent distance. Everyone drew near to hear their news and Hera reluctantly approached also, her interest surpassing her distaste.

“My Lord,” Lucius Malfoy was loudly reporting, “After personally delivering your message to the French Ministry, and after much back and forth, we have received Deprewett. He is in the dungeons.”

The subtle tension lifted from the room. Death Eaters began smiling, their Lord’s apparent new good mood theirs. “Shall I go now and place him under the Imperius?” asked Thicknesse.

Lord Voldemort cast him a half-amused eye. “No need. I will come myself.” A few people visibly tensed, but beside him, Bellatrix Lestrange began to twitch with excitement.

“What did I tell you?” someone whispered in Hera’s ear. It was Malfoy. He was mirroring his father’s triumphant attitude, down to the smirk and the toss of the platinum head. “I knew Father would succeed.”

“No war then, my Lord?” asked Dolohov.

“In time, all will answer to me,” his Lord said cryptically, smiling his cunning half-smile. A sinister sort of energy radiated from him. “Now leave.”

Everyone gathered up their work. The goblins were escorted out. Bellatrix Lestrange, last and most unwilling to depart, held the door open, looking back with feigned cordiality at Hera. “Potter?”

“Hera stays,” said the Dark Lord, waving Bellatrix away in a detached, indifferent manner, his mind already clearly elsewhere.

A thin, brittle smile passed through the Death Eater’s beautiful face, then she bowed deeply, exited, and the door closed behind her. A momentary suffocating sensation stole Hera’s breath as new privacy spells and other protective wards went into effect around them, locking out even those who wore the Dark Mark.

Lord Voldemort began to pace in a line, up and down, gaze inward as if he thought himself alone. His robes swirled around him like swathes of shadow. “The Wizengamot. A crippled, powerless institution on its last legs… Yet many of my Death Eaters dissuade me from disbanding that sorry group.”

“Why even bother then?” Hera asked curiously, after a time. “With the Wizengamot. With your followers. Why are you even entertaining them?”

“Why, Hera,” he said sleekly, turning to her. “Are you counselling me to rule by brute force?”

“No of course not,” she muttered. “It’s just- it’s so unlike you. You never care what anyone thinks.”

“And you know me so well, do you?”

Hera blushed, thinking unwillingly on that evening that had been like a dream but not. She had truly tried to forget it, truly tried to forget the visual of the rain gleaming like tears on his face, and the loneliness in his voice that had not sounded any different from her own loneliness. She couldn’t explain why his display of vulnerability made her so uncomfortable, but it did.

“Perhaps you’re right,” he continued, unaware of her feelings. “Brute force…” Suddenly, as if unable to control himself any longer, he rounded on her, eyes glittering. “You must be tired. You should sleep.”

“What?” Hera gave him a quizzical stare. “No, I’m not. It’s the morning.”

He whipped away and began pacing again, radiating intensity and aggression. “My Death Eaters, they who profess to be most faithful… Can you guess, Hera, why they are so concerned with the inviolability of their precious Court?”

“Uh.” Hera scratched the back of her neck, trying to think. “They- most of them have a seat, don’t they?”

“Yes…”

“So, they don’t want to set a precedent of killing members of the Court in case the… er, tide turns?” In case you’re defeated…

“Clever girl.” He stopped in front of her, and Hera had to fight not to flinch or to look away as he awarded her an angry, resentful sneer. His growing aura of malignance pressed suffocatingly in on her. His voice was acidic. “They do not wish to go from hunter to hunted, these wily friends of mine; perhaps they still doubt me? Perhaps they think I am like to be swept away by another failed killing curse?”

“As to why I allow the Wizengamot their little fantasy…” A cold, conspiratorial smile touched his serpentine face. “Support, even the illusion of it, is necessary to retaining control. When they are told enough times that they love and support me, when they say it enough times, even if it starts out a lie, eventually they will believe it.”

Lava-red eyes burned into her. “And they will want to. Because the alternative is suffering and death.”

He had stilled, as if coming to a firm decision on something. “Are you sure you would not rather rest? I have work to do.” The words were courteous, even gentle, but his eyes were hard, and the flood of invisible darkness still hovered around them like a shroud.

“I’m sure…” said Hera slowly, breathing slowly also through the oppressive air. She had suspected for some time that Voldemort did his real work while she was asleep, and the idea of being carted around unconscious and oblivious repulsed her. Did he really bring her around everywhere like he’d said he would?

His gaze raked over her, intensely analytical. He tapped his finger on his wand impatiently. “Very well. I am keen to do this thing now. Come then.” They disapparated, appearing an instant later in another familiar place.

The two masked guards posted in the antechamber leading to the Malfoy dungeons jerked to attention before bowing to the waist. They clearly did not expect Voldemort to come at this time of the day. But seeing him in a dread mood and sensing the accompanying darkness, they began without delay to pull the heavy doors open.

Immediately a reek such as Hera had never smelled before began to flow from the opening. She heard the pained groans and whimpers of many voices male and female and even the squeak of what might be one of the Malfoy elves.

Hera’s heart turned to ice. Had he brought her here to kill Cho Chang’s father like she’d foolishly agreed to do? She wasn’t going to do it. She couldn’t.

Lord Voldemort cast the frozen Hera a glance and did not enter. He flicked his wand, silencing the dungeon’s unfortunate occupants. “Bring me Deprewett,” he commanded, and to Hera, “Control yourself, and remember you wanted to be here.”

Fear and relief contended in Hera as the guards went in and hauled out the prisoner. He was indeed the wizard with light-brown hair who had accused her of being under the Imperius. He was pushed in front of the Dark Lord and made to kneel.

The tension spiralled as everyone in that small space gazed as though spellbound at Lord Voldemort while he studied the man. Finally, he broke it. “You thought you could escape Lord Voldemort…”

Deprewett attempted to scoff. “Kill me if you want. The Wizengamot has outlasted countless Dark Lords. It will outlast you too.” It was apparent this was something he had been preparing to dramatically say before dying.

“Kill you?” said Lord Voldemort in pretended shock. He laughed coldly. “Let’s not be too hasty. There’s so much more we can do before we get to that.” He circled his prey, lazily rolling his wand between his fingers. “You’ve created a bit of a dilemma for me, Deprewett. I do not wish to shed more magical blood, but we cannot have people believe they can defy Lord Voldemort and walk away unscathed, can we?”

“What are you going to do to him?” whispered Hera from where she had backed into the damp, uneven stone. “Please don’t kill him- I can’t watch-”

“Snake!” Deprewett glared at her. “You Parselmouths are vermin!”

He was flung violently to the ground.

“Do not address her!” Voldemort’s flattened nostrils were dilating. “Crucio!” He turned blank, pitiless red eyes on Hera as his victim choked and flailed on the ground. “You can’t watch? Did you not do more than watch as my other Horcruxes were destroyed? And did you not yourself torture at least three of my Death Eaters? Why the double standard, Hera?”

Lord Voldemort turned back to the writhing man on the ground and delivered another, prolonged round of the Cruciatus, laughing softly all the while. Hera had thought she was acclimatised to watching him torture, but she saw now that this was nothing like what he did to his followers when he punished them for their shortcomings, and not even like when he’d tortured Hagrid as a way to get back at her. In this dread mood, he was more like a panther than a snake, taking special pleasure in drawing out the complete suffering of his prey.

There was a putrid new stench in the air; Deprewett had lost control of his bowels. Another brutal wave of the curse sent his body spasming in his own excrement like a pig in mud. His tormentor drew a shining dagger from inside his robes while he twitched in the aftershocks. “As I said, you’ve presented a little dilemma for me, Deprewett. But I believe I have found a solution. One that unfortunately does not require your life. At least not yet. Later, however…”

“Y-you might have won n-now,” gasped the tortured man, “but the in-in-international c-community won’t st-stand for this. You won’t g-get away, y-you’ll have to p-pay for your cr-cr-crimes…”

“Silence,” said Voldemort dispassionately, and it was forced on his victim. His mouth curled. “It is I who am the judge, and it is I who will collect payment.” He ran the flat of the blade against his open palm and cocked his head as if considering. “What shall I have from you? Let’s see. The hands so you can never raise a wand against me. The tongue so no insolence will ever leave your mouth again. And the eyes…” Cruel amusement bled into his voice. “… because I do not like how you look at me.”

“Please,” tried Hera. “Don’t.”

Voldemort barely spared her a warning glance. “You will be quiet, Hera.” He bent to the level of the prisoner. His chest expanded as if the smell of fear was life-giving to him. “Which do you want to be parted with first? Oh- forgive me, I’d forgotten you can no longer speak.” He laughed mirthlessly. “I suppose that’s decided then. You’ll miss your tongue the least.”

Hera pressed quaking hands over her face, sickened but unable to look away.

Voldemort thumbed the hilt of his dagger. “Now…” The mouth of the victim was forcibly unhinged. There was a flash of silver, and then of red, and something thick dropped wetly to the ground.

“Stop, stop!” shrieked Hera. Voldemort took no notice of her. His dagger dug into the right eye-socket of the man, who was convulsing and making gurgling sounds, dark blood spilling from his mouth. Unthinking and panicked and screaming herself hoarse, Hera ran along the sides of the curving room and made for the exit. She was caught by a guard and roughly shoved to the centre.

That got his attention. His wrist flicked and then it was his Death Eater who was being roughly sent into the wall behind him. Voldemort swivelled bodily, letting Deprewett drop, and Hera fell back in the face of his calm, cold malice. It didn’t look as if there was anything behind those scarlet windows but endless emptiness.

He strode forward past her, to the Death Eater pinned against the wall. “Touch her again and I will feed you your own fingers. Do you understand?”

“Y-yes, m-My Lord, I’ll never, never again-”

“Enough,” he said, and Hera heard the guard’s body slump.

Those empty eyes were turned to Hera. And within their depths, as he surveyed her terrified, trembling frame, a spark flared to life. But only for an instant; it shrank and squirreled away as if it had never been. “Well?” he whispered. “Have you grown tired?”

Hera nodded frantically, latching onto his offered excuse. She was breathing almost as harshly as the man on the floor pressing his severed eyeball to its bleeding socket and noisily drooling blood onto the stone. She felt a profound pity for the captured loyalist, but there was nothing she could do for him. She didn’t want to be here anymore. She regretted ever wanting to know what Voldemort did while she was blissfully unconscious.

But he only cocked his head, as if waiting, and Hera realised that her little gesture of surrender was not enough. He wanted more.

She gritted her teeth and dug her fingers into her palm. For a moment, her pride and unwillingness to relinquish control churned in her belly, and she was more hateful than fearful. But she forced her body into a state of calm. Self-preservation was more important than dignity. She did not want to end up on the ground with her tongue torn out.

“You were right,” she whispered. The humiliation was hot on her face. “I was tired. I needed to rest. I needed to sleep. I’m sorry. I should have listened to you.” She licked her lips. Laying it on thick, but now that she’d started, she might as well make sure it succeeded. “You know what’s best.”

His stance shifted, relaxing a little. His expression remained blank, but Hera could imagine his shrewd mind at its constant and cruel scheming behind his clever mask. And she wondered suspiciously if he had always planned for her to witness this.

“Sleep then.” He did not move from where he was, instead extending a hand to her, close but not touching- not quite. She would have to take that final, humiliating step herself; to accept his dominion over her.

There were tiny specks of red blood on his hand, almost imperceptible in the gloom. Tentatively, she touched her fingers to his, sliding them up his palm. She could practically feel the magic vibrating off his skin.

“Good girl,” he whispered, pleased and gloating. Then the claiming flow of his dark magic was rushing into her body.

Chapter Text

Hera slept poorly.

Her dreams were plagued by the loathful smell of the Malfoy dungeons, and often its poorly lit, stooping stone walls would transform into the familiar walls of Hogwarts or vice versa. In one such dream, Hera ran through the subterranean corridors of her school, searching, although for what she searched she didn’t even know. The frantic slap of her feet against stone echoing in her ears, she ran through the endless, winding corridors throwing open every door in her indeterminate quest. Each one opened only onto empty classrooms or storage rooms, until finally she pushed at one more door and found herself inside the circular antechamber of the Malfoy dungeons.

There amid the dark and the damp, the great form of Hagrid stood. He was larger than life, almost filling the whole room. His hair was matted and grown long; hanging to his waist. His shoulders were bent, and his limp arms dragged almost to the ground.

He saw her and opened his mouth as if to speak, but a flow of black blood gushed out over his chin and down his neck. His tongue had been ripped out; harsh, gargling sounds emitted from his throat.

Hera gasped, stricken, and as if she somehow knew outside of her dream that she was only dreaming and could not suffer the dream any longer, it changed at her will. Suddenly she was in the vastness of the Chamber of Secrets, and Ginny, eleven-years old and in her second-hand robes, was confessing earnestly in front of her.

“Hera, I- I think it was me! I think I killed those roosters!” The front of her robes was covered in blood and rooster feathers. Her face screwed up in guilt and confusion. She wringed red hands. “He told me to, he made me!”

Hera extended a comforting arm, only to immediately draw back with a surprised hiss when she saw that her own arm was covered with silver paint up to the elbow. She looked down, intending to wipe her hand clean on her robe but that too was drenched in thick, luminous silver, and her feet was in a puddle of it.

“Hera, I’m scared,” Ginny whispered. She was deathly pale. “I have to die. He said that. He said that it’s the only way.” Even while she spoke, she was already fading, her coppery hair losing its vitality and her black robes blending into the unclean walls around them. “I have to die!”

“No!” cried Hera, reaching for her. “That’s not true!” Her hand went through Ginny’s transparent body.

“But I loved him,” whispered Ginny. “I loved him. Tom…” And with a heart-broken sigh, she dissolved into nothing. Hera turned round and round screaming her name, but she was alone.

Suddenly, something gold and bright whizzed behind one of the enormous half-crumbled pillars. It was a snitch. It flew away on quick wings and Hera trotted after it. It was leaving Slytherin’s monster’s lair, and when it turned a corner and Hera turned after it, she saw that they were now in one of the Hogwarts corridors located on an upper level. Pale light streamed in from the small windows cut high up into the walls.

Hera continued to chase her snitch, eyes on the prize, running laboriously as if running through mud. So focused she was on the hunt she did not watch her path and she tripped and almost fell over a mass on the ground. It was a body, lying on its front. Long black hair hid its face. Full of apprehension and fatalism, Hera turned it over. The empty, bloody eye-sockets of her once-rival Cho Chang stared unseeingly up at the ceiling.

Hera began to cry, grief and guilt twisting her heart and face, and she shifted in her sleep and almost succeeded in waking up. But the dark dream continued to unfold with purpose, and quite suddenly, all around her there were her schoolmates, and they were all mutilated: where hands should have been were bleeding stumps and every eye had been torn out.

A low hiss came from the corpses. “Traitor!” they seemed to be spitting, although they were unmoving, and their mouths remained stiff in rigor mortis.

“No, no! It was not I. It was not I who killed you!” Hera covered her ears with her hands in rejection. But the accusing whispers did not cease.

Something passed with a buzz behind her right ear. Hera twisted her neck, instinct whipping her arm out to catch the evasive golden ball. But she was too slow, and it danced away teasingly. Eyes narrowed in concentration, Hera sped back down the darkening, twisting corridors after the little blur of gold.

Along the corpse-lined corridors she ran, giving the snitch chase. The accusing whispers of the dead followed her. Their sightless faces seemed turned towards her, and their excoriations grew louder and more vehement as she passed each one. “Snake!” They called to her from the floor. “Spineless traitor! Vermin!”

But still she didn’t stop, not even when she saw the sad, mangled bodies of Ron and Hermione. She could not bear to hear them decry her like the others, and anyway she could think of nothing but the gold gleam of her snitch, and she wanted to feel it flutter like a pulse in her fist.

Both her and snitch turned a corner, and immediately, blackness descended to cover the scene like an untimely and unlighted nightfall. Hera pressed blindly forward with outstretched arms, guided only by the echoing buzz of wings, until her fingers brushed a torn and thin fabric. It was gently rippling as though disturbed by a light breeze, and awakened by her touch, it began to whisper with many voices.

She knew automatically what it was she had come upon: The Veil of Death, and she stumbled back to avoid passing through it, but the fabric fluttered up to caress her face. Hera’s ensuing cry was swallowed by a clap of thunder. A blazing stroke of lightning fell upon the place, and then the veil was gone, the whispers ceased, the despair left her, and she was face to face with her enemy.

He was white and snakelike and monstrous, and he towered unhumanly over her. In one hand he held a dagger. In the other he held her snitch. Its feathery wings were still; tame.

“Ah,” he exhaled softly, as if he had been waiting for her, but at the same time as if she was an event wholly unexpected. His head tilted. “The girl who died, come to live.” Then his jaw unhinged, and long thin fangs erupted from his mouth, and they dripped with venom.

Hera turned to escape, but it was as if all the weight in her body had moved to her feet. And when she looked down, she saw that she was mired in a black, viscous fluid that held her fast to the ground. “No!” she cried, but she could not speak, she could only gargle wordlessly; and though her heart was hot with anger, the blood within it began to congeal with terror.

Lightning flared again, and again, the dream changed, but Voldemort remained; only he had transformed into a basilisk, with piercing eyes of scarlet. His head reared back in preparation to strike. His voice came at her from all directions. What shall I have from you?”

“No!” cried Hera again in rejection. “Nothing I have is for you!” And now her face was really wet with a sheen of tears, but her tongue had been ripped from her and no intelligible sound left her mouth.

“Your soul as payment!” declared the basilisk-Voldemort, voice rising in a roar to fill the room.

“No!” Hera cried for the third time. She thrust her hand into her inner robes, pawing for her wand, but then she realised she had no hand at all, and a powerful burst of fear and denial finally forced her awake.

She was sobbing aloud, her face pressed against a velvet cushion. It was soaked with her tears. The familiar fragrance of the Dark Lord’s Wing and the warm slant of the late afternoon sun on the table where he was sat brooding in his fair form soothed her fears for a wishful moment before she remembered in whose gilded net she was, and what evil lay behind his fairness.

He was by her side in a flash, brows drawing together in concern. “Sh, sh,” he soothed. His fingers traced comforting lines down her arms. “What’s wrong? Speak to me.”

“You, you…” sobbed Hera feverishly, curling and uncurling her hands to make sure they were still there. He was bent close to her, the very picture of seraphic solicitude. But when Hera closed her eyes, the macabre white silhouette of his other face greeted her.

“Sh.” He placed a warm hand over her forehead. “What is it? Legilimens.”

Hera was too disoriented and shocked to resist. Segments of the dream were replayed for him before he withdrew. “I should not have let you see that,” he murmured regretfully. “You were not ready for such things. I admit I was overeager… Come now, do not be afraid. I have no cause to disfigure you. You have nothing to fear from me.”

But her mouth was dry, and the trauma was still fresh in her mind, and she could only shiver.

He sighed impatiently, and his voice sharpened when he snapped. “Show some self-control. You cannot cry every time I destroy someone. You may spend all of eternity in tears.”

New terror began to build in Hera. Oh God. Oh God, her friends! She couldn’t avoid it anymore. She had to be brave. She had to face the truth headfirst, even if the truth might kill her. She sat up, crossing her arms, holding herself together. “Please tell me. Please just tell me what happened to Hogwarts. Just tell me.”

“Ah.” His face lit with understanding. He dropped gracefully next to her, flinging his arm across the back of the chaise. “That’s what this is about?”

Scenes of her dream, of running through halls strewn with corpses still garbed in their school robes flashed before her eyes. She flinched away from him. “Did you kill them?

His mouth flattened. “I have not touched Hogwarts as I promised.”

The words didn’t register for a moment, so convinced she was that he had destroyed Hogwarts and everyone in it. Hera looked at him with trembling pupils, a slew of emotions and questions passing through her at lightning speed. “You didn’t-? Then where are they? Are they in the dungeons? Can I see them? Please!”

“Those who fought against me chose to remain in the castle.”

“In the castle? Until now? Why would they-?” Hera broke off. It just didn’t make sense. He was lying, she decided. “I want to see them.”

“You can’t. They have restored the castle’s defences. I have allowed them for now.”

That sounded even less believable; he was definitely lying. “That’s generous of you,” she said bitterly, drying her eyes on her sleeve. The power of the dream was diminishing, and in its place was a burgeoning shame that she had so quickly debased herself to him in order to flee the scene of his crimes.

He smiled placidly. “Isn’t it? Well, now you know. And now you can put them out of your mind. They are nothing-”

“They are not nothing! I want to see them,” she insisted stubbornly. “I want to talk to them.”

He leaned back and folded his arms. She sensed his wrath cresting again. “Then we will have to go to Hogwarts together. And if they do not open the castle to us, I will have to break it open.” His eyes were narrow, glinting with repressed savagery. “And I will not spare any who attack me. In fact, if it so happens that I am in a poor mood, I may not spare any at all.”

The worst parts of the dream, already dark and distant and fading, played for the last time in Hera’s mind. She bit into her lip. “If you kill everybody you will have no one to rule over.”

Voldemort laughed, long and loud and near uncontrollably. Even in that there was no hint of the rottenness of his soul. It was just the low, sweet laughter of a very handsome, very amused young man.

“Ruling! Oh, that’s funny,” he managed, in between bouts of laughter. “I don’t care about ruling. I only care about winning. Whether that be by ruling or killing, it hardly matters to me. Really, if killing everyone in this God-forsaken earth is the only way I can win, I will do so. Now…” He spread his hands, as though to make clear his openness to the idea. “Do you still want to go to Hogwarts?”

“No,” Hera conceded in a mutinous tone. “What’s your plan? What are you going to do to them?”

He ignored her question, instead reaching out with a caring hand to fastidiously fix the hair around her face. His voice was warm and sympathetic. “Poor Hera. Have you spent the last months in the dark, wanting for knowledge? I understand the anguish of not knowing, believe me. Knowledge and control. Our desire for these things is common. In the future, all you need do is ask.”

Hera tried to ignore the way her body revelled at his closeness and sparked to attention at his faux intimacy. “I believe I just asked. What are you going to do to them?

“I haven’t decided. But ultimately, it depends on you, and on your behaviour. So, in a way, you get to help decide their fates. Won’t that be fun?” He smirked and gave her a playful wink of his dark eyes and fondled her hair some more. “Now, I am willing to overlook your unruliness in the dungeons just this once, but that cannot happen again. If you are unable to excise your weak emotions, you must hide them. I will not have your constant whining and screaming-”

“You were torturing the man!” Hera spat in disbelief.

“-make fools of us both. What will people say?”

“What they’ve always said,” ventured Hera. “That you’re evil. Did you kill Deprewett?”

He chuckled and shifted his body closer, the fluidity of the movement somehow managing to look innocuous yet feel dangerous. “We have guests tonight. Some of our nation’s best and brightest and most aspiring youth, I believe… You may even be acquainted with a few. And I want you on your very best behaviour. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes,” muttered Hera thickly. Her eyes slid around the room behind him, before settling on the blues and whites of the sky outside framed by the windows. “Can I play Quidditch with them?”

It was worth a try, and really no different from when she had to ask her uncle to sign the form allowing her to visit Hogsmeade.

There was silence; his turn to express disbelief. That suffocating energy was back. His hand that was still wound in her hair tightened. Pinpricks of pain lanced through her scalp. “Such audacity…” he finally murmured. There was a hint of something shark like and fevered under the smooth timbre. “I am being so patient with you, my horcrux… But how you tempt me…” He trailed off. His lips twitched. He inhaled a long breath, dark eyelashes fluttering briefly close, before shaking his head slowly, and releasing his hold on hers.

Abruptly he stood and summoned several tomes which arranged themselves in a stack next to Hera. “You will stay here and practice mastering yourself while I research.”

She picked one up. Her hands were trembling again. “Defensive Compartmentalisation and the Expert Occlumens,” she read out loud, before looking at him. There must be the most morose look sitting on her face because the ungiving expression on his slowly transitioned into mild amusement. “Really, Hera, I think you looked less upset to see a man’s eyes be cut out while he soiled himself.”

 

-

 

Hera thought to herself that Voldemort must have swallowed all those books on compartmentalisation and mental defence because out in public he was nothing but a self-assured smile under a pair of vicious red eyes that dared anyone to discover what would happen if they were to hold eye contact uninvited for even a nanosecond. But it was really quite unfair. He had a literal mask, and she had nothing but hours of dusty reading and attempted meditation, plus an entire school’s worth of peoples’ well-being, not to mention Hagrid’s, hanging over her overly emotional head.

Maybe she should request a ghastly serpentine mask of her own.

It might at least stop her former Slytherin schoolmates from crowding her to ask inane or ridiculous questions. Flint’s whiskey-laced breath washed over her as he leaned in. “So, it’s true what they say, that you were a spy for our side all along?”

Zabini coughed a little laugh next to him. His eyes were alit with grudging admiration. He tipped his glass to her. “Fooled us all. But then you fooled the mudblood-loving Headmaster too, didn’t you?”

Hera tried to return their sneaky little grins, remembering the instructions written in one of the chapters of The Book of Masks and Mirrors, but her muscles did not want to co-operate. Still, the overall result must have been good enough, for theirs widened, and Flint let out a little whistle of appreciation.

“Did you know about it?” Zabini asked Theodore Nott, the only one of them who kept a neutral face.

He shook his head. “No. Maybe my father did, but if so, he never told me.”

“Aren’t you lucky yours is a Death Eater,” smirked Zabini. He swirled his glass. The liquid shifted from yellow to purple. “Your future’s guaranteed, isn’t it? The rest of us have to work our way up.”

Flint squared his shoulders. “Maybe you. As a member of the Sacred Twenty-Eight I’ll be a proper Death Eater by next year.”

Nott hummed and made eye-contact with Hera while Zabini coughed a derisive laugh. “You’d be the first Death Eater to have had to repeat final year twice, wouldn’t you?”

Malfoy and his visiting French cousins joined them. “Ah, Blaise, there you are. Achille was just telling me about his time in Florence. This might interest you…”

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” said Hera evenly, and walked away from them, heading for one of the attending house-elves. “Er, Topsy, right?” She smiled down at the togaed little thing. “Whatever you served Zabini, that colourful drink- Can I have that?”

The house-elf swallowed nervously. “Master does not let house-elves serve Mistress Potter alcohol,” it squeaked. “Can I interest Mistress Potter in grape juice? We has them specially ordered from Japan.”

“No thanks.” Hera whipped around, scanning the drawing room for Lucius Malfoy. He was near where the Dark Lord was seated, talking with Bellatrix and Avery. Bristling with indignation, she began to stalk over to the unsuspecting man, intending to give him a piece of her mind, when she heard herself being brought up in conversation.

Partially hidden from view by an enormous marble pillar, Rosier, Narcissus Malfoy, and a third person had their heads together. “Don’t look to me,” Rosier was drawling. His back was to Hera. “I have no skin in the game. Alviria’s not yet four. But if I were you, I’d ask for Potter.”

“Potter?” hissed Narcissa Malfoy. “Are you trying to get Draco killed?”

Hera ducked back out of view before she could be spotted, listening intently. An older wizard she didn’t recognise stopped close to her and leaned against the pillar, holding his drink. He glanced at Hera who pretended to be looking interestedly around the room, ears still on the alert. Both of them were equally hidden from the plotting group.

“You didn’t hear the way he sounded. You weren’t there,” said Rosier. “But Lucius was. And your sister and her husband too. Ask them. All that enigmatic talk about the young and the future. It was clear to all. Potter’s related to him in some manner. She might possibly be his daughter.”

There was stunned silence, as all, including the eavesdropping Hera absorbed the astounding information.

“If that’s true,” breathed the third person, an older witch, by the croaky sound of her voice, “that would explain the parseltongue.”

“It explains everything,” said Rosier. “Why do you think he shows her such preferential treatment? Why is she garbed in like manner? Selkie silk’s no prisoner’s cloth. And where does the girl reside?”

Hera’s eyes went sliding curiously down the material of her plain black robes as Narcissa grudgingly admitted that she was not sure. “They apparate and disapparate together, apparently. I wouldn’t know where they go, and I’ll certainly not ask. As for the Dark Lord’s own Wing, no one is allowed entry, not even our house-elves.”

“No, no, of course, no one would dare ask,” said Rosier. “That would be suicide. But you haven’t forgotten the meal incident, Quintia?”

“When he had a feast brought in for the girl after almost strangling her?” There was wonder in the other witch’s harsh, croaky voice. “How could I forget that? What do you think they were talking about?” She sighed enviously. “What I would give to possess the Dark Gift…”

There were sympathetic murmurs of agreement from the other two conversationalists.

“So, you see,” said Rosier, after they had all three finished wishing they could speak Parseltongue. “She is almost certainly his heir. Whoever he gives her to will be a very important and indispensable member of the inner circle. If you’re not going to be smart enough to ask for Potter to be matched to your son, someone else will.”