One Thin Line - AlisVolatPropriis5 - Harry Potter (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Prologue: Stretched Thin Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 2: Not Completely Alone Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 3: So Much for Romance Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 4: Magic Reaching Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 5: Pressure Cracks Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 6: Moonshadow Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 7: Slightly Deranged Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 8: The Exception Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 9: Old Magic Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10: Twisted Nostalgia Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 11: Hard to Tell Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 12: Old Money Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13: Sort of Allegory Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14: Specific Pain Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 15: Childish and Foolish Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 16: Most Controversial Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 17: To Build a Bridge Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 18: Blood and Power Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 19: New Light and Old Memories Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 20: Impish Impulses Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 21: Almost Gilded Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 22: Aggressively Constructive Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 23: Quiet Sacrifices Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 24: Vantage Point Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 25: Brumous Haze Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 26: Already Angry Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes:

Chapter 1: Prologue: Stretched Thin

Summary:

Hermione couldn’t be sure when she had last woken up. The line that delineated dreaming from reality had stretched thin.

Notes:

This is the prologue and first chapter of a longer fic I have planned but only partly written. I don't know how regularly I'll be able to update it, but thought I might as well post these first two parts for Hermione's birthday. Hope you enjoy!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The line between dreaming and reality stretched thin.

Flashes of memory and bits of conversation just out of earshot; someone once known but now forgotten; frantically writing scraps of information and memorised facts as ink disappears into parchment; faces twisting in a funhouse mirror until they become someone new; the tune of a primary school song floating on the air, mind twirling like the ring of children singing it, falling down, unable to get back up.

Heart pounding as she gasped for breath, the feeling of her scratchy wool blanket and thin camping cot grounding her, Hermione was used to waking up from unsettling dreams. She’d listen for the sounds of Harry’s breathing and Ron’s soft snores, using them to steady her own heart and lungs.

Lying in the dark, she’d review all the things she knew for certain. She would list the horcruxes they knew about, the ones they had already destroyed: diary, ring, locket. She would list the ones they suspected: something from Hufflepuff, something from Ravenclaw, Voldemort’s great snake, Nagini. She would push away the thought that she should add Harry to the list.

She would tell herself the tales of Beadle the Bard. She would tell herself the Muggle fairy tales of her childhood. Evil witches and cackling stumps. Good fairies and cold warlocks. Hopping pots and pumpkin carriages. Once upon a time, good triumphed over evil, love reigned supreme. And they all lived happily ever after.

But now, Hermione couldn’t be sure when she had last woken up. The line that delineated dreaming from reality had stretched thin; her dreams floating into wakefulness and the things she saw when she was awake drifting into her dreams. She wasn’t sure the border hadn’t snapped altogether, leaving her in a wasteland of unreality.

Sometimes she could feel the caustic burn of Bellatrix Lestrange’s curses rolling through her body. Other times Hermione felt frozen, unable to move as she watched Harry and Ron’s faces disappear in a cloud of crystal dust; her brain forgetting to send the signal to breathe until her lungs demanded a renewal of oxygen. Air flowed in, filling her lungs until they ached. Air flowed out, leaving her empty and alone.

Alone.

Back at Hogwarts, Hermione had enjoyed being alone. Often the bustle of the common room left her feeling overwhelmed and drained. The quiet sanctuary of the library gave her room to breathe. Air flowing in and out. Like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Here, in this strange netherworld between wakefulness and dreams, being alone felt sharp, a piercing iciness over her heart. The cold loneliness wavered like a stormy day; biting like a brisk wind, dark clouds churning, a chill rain dampening everything. Sometimes she was sure she felt someone nearby, like warm sunlight bursting through the clouds, dazzling over the damp world, but never quite standing still.

The first thing Hermione could definitely recall was sunlight. Sunlight reflecting in a strange pattern over a smooth stone wall. Golden hair glowing, backlit against the harsh glare of a bright window.

The next time she woke, her vision was murky and the sound of rain pounded on the window panes. She leaned in to the feeling of a warm hand against her chilled cheek.

When she next blinked, the light had a diffuse quality to it, a soft flatness just before the sun rose properly in the sky.

Hermione’s first thought was that she was alone. Harry and Ron were gone; Dobby had appeared out of nowhere, whisking them away with him, leaving her behind. And now she was alone. Blinking back tears, Hermione tried to sit up. She turned and startled to find the wide eyed face of Luna Lovegood staring back at her.

Notes:

No TW's for this chapter

Chapter 2: Not Completely Alone

Summary:

“You’re awake?” Luna whispered. “Really awake this time?”

Hermione nodded her head, finding her muscles stiff from disuse and shock. Not completely alone, then, afterall.

Notes:

Happy Birthday Hermione!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“You’re awake?” Luna whispered, “Really awake this time?”

Hermione nodded her head, finding her muscles stiff from disuse and shock. Not completely alone, then, afterall. She swallowed and tried to say something but all that came out was a rasping sound from the back of her throat.

Luna quickly got up and returned a moment later with a glass of water. Holding it to Hermione’s lips, Luna helped her drink. The cool water slid down Hermione’s throat as she gulped the entire glass.

“Luna?” Hermione’s voice was still scratchy but the water allowed the words to form. “What are you- Where are- What happened?” she had so many questions, they were tripping over each other on their way out.

Luna’s face broke into a wide smile.

“You really are awake," Luna sighed serenely. Her hair hung lifelessly around her face, looking more dishwater than blonde.

“I think so,” Hermione’s voice pitched up at the end, morphing into a question.

Luna’s soft laugh warmed Hermione and she felt her lips twitch up into a smile.

“I think so, too,” Luna whispered, leaning forward like they were sharing a secret.

Hermione was about to restart her line of questioning when she heard a slow rasping sound above her. She turned to see a steep set of stairs leading up to a door that was opening bit by bit. Hermione tensed, turning back to Luna, but saw her friend gazing up the stairs with a peaceful expression on her face.

“He’s early this morning,” Luna said softly.

Hermione was about to question who he was, when the unmistakable blonde hair of Draco Malfoy appeared in the doorway, quietly closing the door behind him and making his way down the stairs.

Hermione studied him as he descended to their level. He looked taller than she remembered, and he had filled out. His high cheekbones were still pronounced and his jaw still strong, but his cheeks no longer looked hollow, eyes no longer sunk in dark shadows. She noted that his clothes looked well tailored instead of hanging off his body the way they had done their sixth year. It was a surprise to realise this is what Draco Malfoy looked like when he was healthy; when he was eating and sleeping and not working out a way to murder his headmaster.

Hermione glanced down at her own body. Her dirty clothes were baggy and her bones stuck out sharply from months of being on the run. She had never felt uncomfortable in her own body before, but now the impulse to shield herself from view made her wrap her arms across her chest, holding tight to her own shoulders.

When Malfoy reached the bottom of the stairs he noticed Hermione sitting up. A look of surprise flitted across his face before settling into his characteristic smirk.

“Looks like you woke up just in time, Granger. This is my last visit before I have to head back,” he said as he crossed to where Hermione and Luna were sitting.

Hermione didn’t know how to process what was happening, so after a moment of awkward silence, she rather dumbly said, “Back?”

Malfoy watched her with an unreadable expression, his eyes inspecting her face.

“Yes, Granger. Back. To school.” he replied with raised eyebrows.

“Oh.” Hermione still felt dumb. “I didn’t realise you were still at Hogwarts.”

Malfoy’s smirk morphed into a sneer.

“Yes, well. Not all of us have had the luxury of galavanting off through the woods.” Hermione made to protest, but Malfoy cut across her with a wave of his hand. “Oh I know, your ‘Golden Trio’ is trying to save the world, I’m sure. But in the meantime, the rest of us have to continue living in the world. Trying to figure out how to survive in it.”

Hermione was stunned. His tone was the same disdainful drawl, but Malfoy’s words didn’t seem to quite fit anymore. As if the meaning behind his words had grown too big for their schoolyard taunts.

“Anyway, I’m off in an hour. Here.” Malfoy held out a vial filled with a smokey blue liquid.

Hermione stared between the vial in Malfoy’s hand and his face. Not exactly mistrusting him, but definitely not trusting him, either.

Malfoy noticed and rolled his eyes.

“You’ve been drinking this twice a day for the past three days. If I had wanted to poison you, it would have been done already.”

Hermione looked to Luna who nodded encouragingly.

“Draco has been most attentive to us down here. He’s quite the host,” Luna said amiably, as if they were merely here for a visit.

Turning back to Malfoy, Hermione slowly took the vial from his hand. Holding the potion up, she wafted the vapours toward her nose as they had been taught to do with unknown potions.

Malfoy huffed in annoyance.

“What is this?” Hermione asked, not recognizing the combination of scents or visual cues of the potion.

“I call it ‘post-spasm’. P.S. for short,” Malfoy said without further explanation.

“Did you know Draco’s quite inventive with potions?” Luna asked. “It’s his favourite subject and he enjoys tinkering in his lab. He’s come up with so many clever innovations. I’m sure you’d be fascinated to hear about it all some time.”

Hermione felt her head throb and her eye twitch. Malfoy sneered at Luna, but in an annoyed-that-she-said-something sort of way rather than a stepped-in-something-gross sort of way.

“Come on Granger, it’s for people who have been exposed to the cruciatus curse. I’ve formulated it to help heal the nerves, preventing long term damage and the twitching that accompanies it.”

“You came up with this potion?” Hermione asked incredulously. Malfoy just raised his eyebrows in response. “Why?”

Malfoy sneered at her in the stepped-in-something-gross way.

“Seemed a shame to waste all these opportunities for research,” he said nastily.

Hermione felt cold, wondering how many opportunities for research Malfoy had access to. And who it was he was conducting his research on.

Sensing her shock, he huffed a little.

“Don’t be so suspicious. I haven’t given you anything I haven’t tried myself. Now drink up.”

Hermione eyed the potion once more before deciding if she really had already drank it six times, the seventh was unlikely to be the fatal dose. She brought it to her mouth and tipped it in. The taste was less than pleasant, however, and it took all her willpower to choke it down. When she handed the vial back, Malfoy’s smirk was back.

“There, now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Hermione rolled her eyes; Malfoy narrowed his in response.

“Draco’s also been doing a charm on your hands, Hermione. He’s become quite the healer.” Luna chirped, loosening the tension that had begun to form between Hermione and Malfoy.

Malfoy pursed his lips and shot Luna another annoyed look. Hermione looked at him questioningly.

“Steady hands are required for accurate spell work, and we wouldn’t want you to lose your place as top swot, now would we?” he quipped.

Again, Hermione felt as though she had gone through a looking glass; the smirk was there and the tone was as presumptuous as ever, but the words themselves were wrong. If she didn’t know any better, she would think he was giving her a compliment. She did know better, right?

“Will you… show me?” Hermione asked hesitantly. Malfoy turned his annoyed look to her before sighing in resignation.

“Hold your hands out in front of you,” he ordered.

Hermione held out her hands.

“Flat, like this.” Malfoy repositioned her hands the way he wanted them.

Hermione was surprised by the feeling of his hands on hers. She would have guessed that Malfoy would have soft, delicate hands, assuming that purebloods avoided doing things that would harden their skin. But Malfoy’s hands were tough, yet… smooth at the same time. It reminded Hermione of the leather jacket her grandfather used to wear.

Malfoy then squatted down in front of her, watching her hands intently.

“I don’t think you really need this again, your hands don’t seem to be shaking, but it can’t really hurt,” he mused, almost to himself, before flipping her hands back over, palms up.

“The incantation is tremoribus sano.” He said as he placed the tip of his wand in the centre of her palm. “It’s said while performing a sort of corkscrew motion down each of the fingers. Like this.” Malfoy carefully spoke the words and moved his wand gently over Hermione’s hands. She felt a pleasant humm in her fingers as Malfoy’s wand skimmed over her skin.

When he was done, they both stared at her hands for a moment.

“As I said, it would be a shame to waste these opportunities,” Malfoy said lowly.

Hermione wordlessly stared up at him, wondering what sort of dream-world she had woken up to.

Hermione quickly became accustomed to the routine of dungeon life. Bread and water appeared at the same time and in the same place each morning. She passed the endless daylight hours along with her four companions in quiet conversation punctuated by contemplative silences. She spent the longer hours after dark clinging to her old D.A. coin; tracing her fingers over the bumps and divots, turning the coin over and over in the darkness. It had been weeks since Hermione had felt the galleon’s warmth and she tried to keep her mind from wondering what might have happened to keep her friends back at Hogwarts from using them any longer.

Exactly once a week, Malfoy appeared in the wine-cellar-turned-dungeons. The first week he brought fresh food and clothes for each of them. Hermione had practically accosted him for news of students back at Hogwarts and updates on what they were learning in classes while Dean ribbed him goodnaturedly over the Slytherin tone of their new wardrobe.

The next week Malfoy added an arithmancy book to the delivery. Hermione offered it to Dean and Luna before opening it herself, surprised to see Malfoy’s careful handwriting littering the margins. She read it through, notes and all, three times. She was practically bouncing with anticipation when Malfoy next descended the stairs, eager to share her opinions and discuss theory with someone who had a working knowledge of the subject.

Each week, Malfoy brought them fresh food, clean clothes, and a book or two. Each week, Hermione thoroughly studied the latest reading material. And each week, Hermione and Malfoy fell into heated debates over the most recent subject. As the weeks wore on, their debates shifted from antagonistic to almost friendly, even if they remained just as heated.

One week Luna persuaded them all to join together in a game of exploding snap that ended in the first genuine laughter Hermione could remember in a long time. The next week, Malfoy arrived with a wizard’s chess set and a book on strategy. Hermione, Luna, and Dean spent that week getting thoroughly crushed by Mr. Ollivander. When Malfoy visited next, Ollivander proceeded to soundly trounce him as well.

When she stopped to think about it, Hermione knew they were technically prisoners of war, but their life in the Malfoy dungeons was a disconcertingly peaceful existence.

Their peace was abruptly shattered one day when they heard several voices shouting and screaming above them. They scrambled to hide their contraband items among the empty wine racks as the sounds of the scuffle drew closer.

Hermione and Luna huddled together at the end of a row of wine racks farthest away from the door, with Dean and Mr. Ollivander just in front of them. Griphook’s eyes watched from another aisle across the open tasting area between them.

The dungeon door swung open with a loud bang, sounds of the scuffle suddenly ricocheting around the stone floor and walls. A shrieking girl with long red hair was unceremoniously tossed down the stairs and the door slammed shut again. Hermione watched, dumbfounded, as Ginny Weasley regained her feet and rushed up the stairs, fists pounding and voice growing ragged at the once again locked door.

Ginny was less inclined to resign herself to life as a prisoner, but after several days of fruitless scheming, the others had her begrudgingly convinced not to attempt an escape when Malfoy next visited.

It took a week and a half after Ginny’s arrival before Malfoy was able to sneak down to them again. When he did, he brought a thin black book with a potions cover on it. After he left, Hermione opened the book to discover it was actually a book on occlumency. She read through it in one sitting and began a new routine of practising the techniques described in the book each morning and evening while rolling her D.A. galleon through her fingers.

Their prison population steadily increased as the summer progressed. Hermione found herself withdrawing more as the dungeon filled up around her. She felt uncomfortable with the obvious stares and whispered awe when the newcomers realised who she was - or rather who she was friends with. After the first few people asked her uncomfortably personal questions or looked at her with disappointment when she didn’t have any knowledge of The Great Harry Potter or a master plan of escape, Hermione decided it was simply easier to avoid everyone she wasn’t already friends with.

Despite their circ*mstances, Hermione treasured the opportunity she had to grow close to Ginny, Luna, and Dean. Being thrown in a dungeon together bound them to each other in a way only shared trauma could. As glad as she was for the company of her friends, Hermione found herself looking forward to seeing Malfoy each week with unexpected eagerness.

They never discussed anything beyond the subjects of the books he brought, but Hermione began to feel a flutter in her chest whenever the bolt slid back softly, signalling Malfoy’s arrival. She tried to ignore the way her stomach twisted as he coolly surveyed the dungeon, tried to brush off the glint in his eyes and the small quirk of his lips when he caught sight of her, tried to excuse the breathlessness she felt as he made his way directly to her. Hard as she tried to disregard the effect Malfoy had on her, she found she was unable to suppress the smile she felt when he arrived each week.

Each day after he had gone, Hermione rationalised that her reaction to him was surely some messed up version of Stockholm Syndrome, a product of him being somewhat decent to her while she was a prisoner in his basem*nt. This line of thinking left her feeling exhausted and deflated. At least it gave her plenty of opportunities to practise boxing up her emotions during her daily occlumency exercises.

Just as Hermione realised she had no desire or talent for leading this rag tag group of captives, Dean and Ginny seemed to step in and fill that role. Despite their history of dating - or perhaps because of it - they worked well together, playing off each other’s strengths and tempering each other's weaknesses.

Luna meanwhile grew into her softness, and quite naturally became a comforting presence in the group. Hermione noticed Dean and Luna watching each other and smiled to herself as they quietly grew close to one another. It seemed fitting.

In the heat of the summer, Malfoy confided with Hermione that the Dark Lord was moving out of Malfoy Manor. Hermione thought she had never seen him look so light as he did when sharing this news. He was nearly giddy with excitement.

The next week, Malfoy’s good mood was replaced with a deep melancholy. Hermione tentatively crossed the line of their only-school-subjects truce to ask him about it, and he informed her that the Dark Lord was taking over Hogwarts, making it his new headquarters while simultaneously requiring all magical children to attend school there. Hermione knew that life for students at Hogwarts had been bleak with Snape as headmaster, despite Malfoy’s reluctance to talk about it. She shuddered to think what life would be like with Voldemort in residence.

Despite feeling downhearted with the knowledge of the misery that awaited Hogwarts, Hermione felt a tangible relief when Voldemort moved out of the Manor. She only realised in its absence how pervasive the dark magic he exuded was. She could only imagine how pleased the rest of the Malfoy family must be to have their home free of not only Voldemort, but the rest of the Death Eaters as well.

A few weeks after Voldemort had left the house for good, Malfoy came by with his usual delivery before making his way to Hermione. Hermione, for her part, was looking forward to discussing the latest book on charms theory she had read, when Malfoy pulled a cupcake from his pocket.

He leaned in, crossing the line into her personal space, his forehead nearly touching hers, and handed her the cupcake with a whispered, “Happy Birthday, Granger.”

Notes:

No TW's for this chapter

Chapter 3: So Much for Romance

Summary:

“Anyway, legend has it that Burgen and Kellina grew up together and fell in love...”

“And I suppose they lived happily ever after?”

Malfoy grimaced. “Not exactly. Kellina was killed by Burgen’s father when he discovered what had happened and Burgen killed himself rather than marry the princess he was betrothed to.”

“Great.” Hermione’s hands came up and fell down in a futile gesture. “So much for romance.”

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Hermione sat with her back leaning on a rough stone wall, her legs tucked up to her chest, and gazed up out the barred window as she tried to clear her mind. She realised the leaves on the trees across the grounds were starting to change colour when she caught a glimpse of the full moon shining between dull reds and faint yellows. Quietly, summer had turned into fall.

Ignoring the game of exploding snap as it picked up speed behind her, Hermione breathed in to a count of four and held her breath. Picturing the earth turning on its axis, orbiting slowly away from the sun. She counted to four as she exhaled and pictured the reduced sunlight causing the chlorophyll in the leaves to break down, revealing the colours hidden underneath. Her breathing evened out and her thoughts slowly receded to the back of her mind as she slipped calmly into her occlusion practice.

The unmistakable sound of the bolt sliding on the heavy wine-cellar-turned-dungeon door caused Hermione to blink. To her occluded mind, everything seemed muted, detached from her and her immediate situation. She knew distantly they weren’t expecting Malfoy tonight, his delivery schedule had been completely predictable, and he had just been down two nights ago. She could feel the fear bloom in her stomach, but was able to observe the feeling from a distance and think about it objectively. She felt the shift in the tension of everyone else around her as the game came to an abrupt halt and the quiet murmurings of conversation stilled. Hermione could feel the trepidation swirl around and through her at the unexpected - and therefore unwelcome - visit to their little world below Malfoy Manor, even as she was also able to appreciate how those emotions didn’t overtake her. As dragonhide boots fluidly descended the cellar stairs, Hermione thought with muffled satisfaction that she must be getting good at occluding.

A small sigh of relief rippled through the room as Malfoy's pale hair came into view, but knowing this wasn’t his normal routine still had everyone on edge. Hermione stood as his eyes roamed the room and came to rest on her. She looked at him questioningly as he announced that he needed to speak with Granger, his eyes never leaving hers. As though watching a film reel, she noted groups of people making their way out of the main tasting room and into the side corridors where they had designated sleeping areas among the disused wine racks. Hermione noted neutrally how Malfoy’s hair was highlighted in the moonlight as a lock of it fell over his forehead.

“Granger.” It sounded to her like he was a great distance away, even as she watched him walk across the now empty room toward her. “Are you occluding?”

Drat. Maybe she wasn’t as good as she had thought. Her head felt like it was floating as she tried to nod naturally. His eyes narrowed at her and she dimly realised he was annoyed with her.

“Well stop. I need to speak with you. The real you,” he said tersely.

Hermione closed her eyes and shook her head as if to shake herself awake. She rubbed her eyes as she took a deep breath. “Yes, yes, I’m here,” she said, the detached feeling draining from her brain.

“Good,” he said and motioned for her to step into one of the aisles away from the rest of the prisoners. “I need your whole brain with me for this.”

Malfoy ran his hand down his face and back up through his hair. Placing a hand on Hermione’s back and glancing over his shoulder, he led her to the far end of the aisle, near the wall where a row of empty wine barrels were lined up.

Hermione’s trepidation increased as he took out his wand and cast several privacy charms around themselves and paced back and forth anxiously.

“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly.

He stopped pacing and took a deep breath before meeting her eyes. Hermione had witnessed a wide range of Malfoy’s moods over the course of her summer imprisoned in his wine cellar, but she was taken aback by this new look of agitation on his face.

“There’s no good way to say this, Granger, but I don’t want everyone to overhear and panic. At first, I thought it was just rumours, but now…” He seemed to hesitate and Hermione’s stomach twisted.

“Just say it, Malfoy. You’re making it worse -”

“I know,” he snapped, then, looking away from her, “There’s going to be an auction," he said in the rush of an exhale.

Hermione's skin grew cold as Malfoy took another breath and continued on more steadily.

“The Dark Lord is planning a victory celebration. A Faire. On Halloween.” His sentences were stilted, like he was rattling off facts before he forgot them. “There will be events all day. Food and music and games and a tournament. Then a banquet and a Halloween ball. Then, to end the day, there is going to be an auction. To sell contracts for the prisoners that have been captured over the course of the war.”

A chill spread in waves up Hermione's arms and legs and met in her stomach.

“Why-” she gasped, “why are you telling me this?”

“I think I have a plan to get you all out, before the Faire.” Malfoy looked her square in the face as he said it and Hermione shivered at the resolution she saw in his eyes.

“How much do you know about containment charms?” he asked.

“Oh,” Hermione felt off balance at the abrupt change in topics. “Er… They’re used to keep something inside a set boundary. Like so a fire doesn’t get out of control or… so potion ingredients don’t mix until the appropriate time?” Not understanding the direction of the conversation, her explanation ended as a question.

“Exactly.” Malfoy nodded. “The Dark Lord has been using a modified version to keep people where he wants them as well.” Hermione’s eyes went wide as the pieces of the puzzle began to take shape.

“The Malfoy family has been under a containment charm since my father’s failed Ministry mission.”

“He’s been using them on his followers? Not the prisoners?” Once again Hermione struggled to keep up with the unexpected information.

Malfoy nodded. “Everyone in the Malfoy family is confined to the ancestral estate boundaries unless they’ve been given express permission by the Dark Lord to leave. My father and I have been slowly earning his trust back over the summer, earning more and more freedom, but my mother has rarely been allowed to leave the estate for the past two years.”

“And they’re going to do something similar to the prisoners? To keep them contained to whoever buys the- their contracts?”

Malfoy nodded absently. “I’m guessing it will be something like that. I don’t know the details. But that’s not why I’m telling you this.” He looked at her and again Hermione was left wondering at the seriousness of his emotions.

“Have you ever heard the legend of Burgen and Kellina Winterbourne?” he asked.

“Winterbourne?” Hermione had a vague memory of Professor Binns’ rasping that name. “Didn’t they have something to do with the Battle of the Boyne? What does that have to do with containment charms? Malfoy, you’re driving me mad with all your non-sequiturs!”

Malfoy waved his hand as if clearing something from the air and resumed his anxious pacing.

“Sorry, my thoughts are a little scrambled but I only heard for sure about the auction a couple days ago and tonight is the full moon so…” He abruptly stopped pacing and looked at Hermione again. “What do you know about magical weddings? The bonding magic?”

Hermione slowly shook her head in wonder. “I was at Bill and Fleur Weasley's wedding, but I don’t really know anything about the magic involved," she said, not even trying to track the conversation any more.

Malfoy took a breath and slowly let it out as he crossed his arms and leaned against an empty wine barrel, looking up to the ceiling. “Today, magical weddings have two separate parts. The public binding ceremony and the… private consummation which seals the bond.” Malfoy’s cheeks tinged pink at the mention of consummation. “But that practice didn’t start until the middle ages. Anciently, there was no separation. When two people - with equal desire - wanted to get married, they simply bound themselves to each other by consummating their relationship under the full moon.”

Hermione felt an uncomfortable nudge in the back of her mind at his second mention of the full moon, but Malfoy continued on.

“It changed in the middle ages when arranged marriages became more common. Separating the bonding into two parts was a way for parents to control their children. No more running off to bind yourself in an unsanctioned relationship. Much easier to force marriages for political gain.”

“To keep the bloodlines pure, you mean,” Hermione interrupted.

Malfoy glared at her out of the corner of his eye before shifting his gaze back to the ceiling. “People often don’t even bother with the binding any more, they just get married legally and leave it at that. Much easier to end it if it doesn’t work out.”

Hermione furrowed her brow at that. She had only been to two muggle weddings and one magical one, but they didn’t seem that different from what she could remember. She was about to ask for clarification, but Malfoy pressed on.

“Anyway, legend has it that Burgen and Kellina grew up together and fell in love. But, Burgen was a prince and Kellina was the daughter of a scullery maid. Burgen was betrothed to a princess from birth and when Kellina came of age, she would be given in marriage to the suitor willing to pay the highest bride price. So, on the first full moon after her 17th birthday, they snuck out and bound themselves to each other in the ancient way. By the time their families found out, it was too late. They were married, their magic bound to each other for life.”

“And I suppose they lived happily ever after?”

Malfoy grimaced. “Not exactly. Kellina was killed by Burgen’s father when he discovered what had happened and Burgen killed himself rather than marry the princess he was betrothed to.”

“Great.” Hermione’s hands came up and fell down in a futile gesture. “So much for romance.”

They shared a moment of quiet as Hermione waited for Malfoy to speak again.

“Did you know that the Manor obeys all Malfoys?” he suddenly asked.

“Like how Hogwarts will follow the Headmaster?”

Malfoy nodded.

“No. I did not know that,” Hermione said, barely concealing her annoyance at the change in subject, again.

“That’s why I’ve been able to get into the cellars with no one the wiser. Well, I think my mother suspects, but it’s how I’ve been able to bring food and clothes and unlock the door without anyone outside the family noticing.”

Malfoy was giving Hermione a significant look as if she was supposed to put the meaning behind his words together. She had a sick feeling that she actually was starting to weave the separate threads of their conversation together.

“So, a Malfoy could unlock the cellar door and let everyone go, but not leave the Manor themselves?” she asked slowly.

Malfoy nodded.

“But wouldn’t your family be punished if there was a break-out?” she asked. Clearly if he had wanted to set them all free he could have done so without any preamble.

Malfoy nodded again.

“So…?” Hermione prompted.

“So. If there were a Malfoy locked in the cellar, they could orchestrate an escape while my father, mother, and I are all well accounted for. While we have an alibi.”

Hermione looked at him with raised eyebrows. She didn’t like where this was going, but wasn't going to jump to any conclusions. She was going to make him spell it out. “What are you proposing, Malfoy?”

“I’m proposing you marry me, Granger.”

A nervous laugh escaped her mouth and Hermione rolled her eyes. “Be serious Malfoy.”

“I am serious, Granger. If you marry me - tonight - then I could let you know when the coast is clear and you could unlock the cellar door and get everyone out before the auction. Everyone except...” he hesitated.

“Except myself.” Hermione finished. “Because I’d be a Malfoy and Malfoy’s can’t leave the Manor without the Dark Lord’s permission.”

Malfoy looked at her sorrowfully. “I know it’s not ideal, but this is the best I could come up with. It’s your choice, Granger. I don’t want to force you into something you don’t want to do. But, I- I- it’s the best I could come up with," he repeated, sounding defeated.

“And what would happen to me after everyone else got away safely?” she asked sharply.

Malfoy looked confused by the question. “You’d be my wife," he said simply. “You’d be trapped in the Manor, but you’d be safe from the auction.”

"You're not already betrothed to some princess are you? I won't be killed by your father for stealing the prince away in the night?" she sniped.

Malfoy actually looked uncomfortable at this line of questioning. "My betrothal contract was suspended when my father was arrested in the Department of Mysteries. There is an option to reinstate it but the bride's father has not exercised that option. And, I assume if I’m otherwise married, it would be fully nullified with no option for recourse."

Hermione felt her breath leave her lungs, leaving her almost speechless. "I- I didn't think you'd actually have an arranged marriage, Malfoy. I'm sorry… Er… Did you want to marry her?'

Malfoy shrugged. "It's never been a matter of what I want. We've been betrothed since I was ten, she was eight. And when they suspended the contract, I had… other things to worry about."

Hermione nodded dazedly; his father in prison, his mother unable to leave, and he, himself, tasked with an impossible mission. Other things to worry about, indeed. After a moment she shook herself from that tangential line of thinking and got back to the real issue they were facing.

“Why do you even care? Why risk yourself for us?” She threw the questions at him with as much disdain as she could muster, trying to get a rise out of him. As much as this summer had lacked any sort of animosity - and maybe even grown some sort of friendship - there was still a part of her mind that whispered caution around him.

Malfoy growled as he ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “Why do I care, Granger?” his eyes flashed with anger.

“I’ve had them living in my house for the last two years, a house that we can’t leave. Everything I’ve done has been to protect-- to protect us from them. To protect my mother from them. Everything. You think the Dark Lord is bad? All he cares about is power and loyalty. The rest of the Death Eaters, though? They want more than that. You don't want to know what they talk about doing, what they’ve actually done. The things I've had to watch them do." Malfoy's jaw clenched. "It's no secret who's down here, Granger. What do you think a Death Eater might want with Potter's girlfriend? With his mudblood 'Golden Girl'?"

The prickling chill seeped into Hermione's bones and made her blood run cold as she thought through the implications of what Malfoy said.

"But now they're gone,” he said as he visibly calmed himself. “We can feel safe in our house again - my mother can be safe in her own home. And we can't escape them completely but their leverage over me is less than it was. There isn’t much I can do, but this? This I can do. Trust me when I say anything would be better than being sold at that auction."

Even as her mind ran through the various scenarios of what it might mean to be Malfoy’s wife, trapped in the Manor for the rest of her life, Hermione knew she’d do it. She knew one caged life wasn’t worth the slavery that awaited the whole thirteen of them if she refused. And she knew she’d be safer here with the Malfoys - as insane as that sounded - than she would be with anyone who was willing to purchase her at an auction. The thought was enough to make her feel sick.

Taking a shaking breath she asked, “So… we’d just be relying on some seventeenth century legend to make me a Malfoy?”

“Of course not,” Malfoy scoffed, his anger vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. “That’s our cover story. To make it look like an accident. I’ll have Ollivander do the bonding magic and then I’ll obliviate him. You’ll have to occlude the truth if - when - you’re questioned, but if it seems like an accident…” He shrugged.

“And that’ll be enough? The bonding magic is all it takes to make me a Malfoy?” she asked, dreading the answer.

Malfoy rubbed the back of his neck and his cheeks turned bright red. “Well, no. Then I’d have to… Well, you’d… That is… we would have to…”

Hermione sighed, “I know what consummation is, Malfoy," she decided to put him out of his misery.

“Right.” Hermione couldn’t decide if Malfoy looked more relieved that he didn’t have to say it out loud or disturbed that she had said it out loud.

"That's also what will make it look like an accident…" he trailed off, looking awkwardly at the floor.

“Right,” Hermione repeated. “So… You’ll get Ollivander?” she prompted.

Malfoy gaped at her for a moment. “That’s a yes, then?” He sounded surprised. “You’ll marry me?”

“To save a dungeon full of prisoners from being sold into slavery? Yes, Malfoy, I’ll marry you." Hermione suddenly felt exhausted.

“It’s a wine cellar,” Malfoy muttered.

Hermione chose to ignore his usual rejoinder. “Ollivander? The bonding ceremony?” she reminded him impatiently.

Malfoy nodded as he straightened up and walked purposefully away from Hermione, toward the other side of the cellar. He came back a few minutes later, supporting Ollivander’s frail frame on his arm.

Hermione ran over to grasp Ollivander's other arm and help him to the end of the aisle. Pulling his wand from an inside pocket, Malfoy transfigured a wine barrel into a high-backed chair and together they settled the elderly man into it.

Stowing his own wand away, Malfoy then pulled a gnarled hornbeam wand from his pocket. "I believe this is yours, sir," he said, holding it out gently.

Ollivander's eyes misted over as he reverently took the wand from Malfoy's hand.

"You're a good boy, young Master Malfoy," he whispered without taking his eyes off his wand. Then, turning sharply toward Hermione, he admonished her, "He's a good boy, and you'll do well to remember that."

Startled by his sudden statement, Hermione squeaked a small “Oh, yes. Of course.”

"Now," Ollivander briskly turned back toward Malfoy. "What is it you need my help with young man?"

This time Malfoy didn't stall with background information or shy away from his intentions. He lifted his chin aristocratically and said, "I admit it may be presumptuous of me in assuming you know the bonding magic, but I am hopeful you will be able to marry us. Immediately."

If Ollivander was surprised by the request, he hid it well. He appraised Malfoy for a moment before turning his assessing eyes to Hermione. "And this is something you desire as well, my dear?" he asked her with no small amount of kindness.

Hermione nodded as she said softly, "Yes, I do."

After eyeing Hermione for a moment longer, Ollivander seemed to make up his mind and nodded once. "Yes, I think you two will make a good match," and, turning back to Malfoy: "And yes, I know the magic. Presumptuous, my left foot!" he huffed. “Have you got the binding chord?”

Malfoy withdrew from his trouser pocket a bobbin wound with gold chording and Hermione realised this was nothing like Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Ollivander nodded his approval and reached his hand out to grab the chording as Malfoy unwound it. Hermione's hands grew cold with nerves as Ollivander instructed them to face one another and clasp each others’ hands, right to right and left to left, crossed between them.

Under normal circ*mstances, she imagined having butterflies in her stomach would be an appropriate description for a girl on her wedding day. But these were not normal circ*mstances, and she wondered distractedly what sort of beast was writhing in her stomach as she held her shaking hands out to Malfoy.

Just when she thought she wouldn’t be able to hold back the contents of her stomach another minute, Malfoy’s warm hands grasped hers with a steadiness that surprised her. Hermione watched as Malfoy’s thumb brushed over her knuckles twice and she felt herself grow calm at the tenderness of the gesture. He squeezed her hands gently and she looked into his eyes as Ollivander began calling forth magic that made the golden chord begin to glow. As Ollivander chanted, the glowing thread wove itself under, through, and around them, binding their joined hands together.

Hermione watched, mesmerised, as the magic light danced across Malfoy’s angular features and in his steady grey eyes. Together, they followed Ollivander’s quavering chant as he indicated when they should join their voices to the incantation and, together, they fell quiet when he indicated they were to drop off. Spellbound as she was by the magic and emotions of the wedding rite, Hermione was surprised to hear Ollivander’s gentle voice pronounce that they should kiss to conclude the ceremony.

Hermione’s heart began to flutter and her lips went numb as they leaned in together over their still clasped and bound hands. In the space of a single breath her eyes drifted closed and their lips met in a chaste kiss that made her feel inexplicably vulnerable. Hermione gasped as a surge of electricity shot through their joined hands and the magical chords woven around them burned with an intense heat before disintegrating in a surge of bright golden-white light.

There was a moment where she felt tethered to Mafloy’s gaze, their noses nearly touching, hands still clasped, sharing the same breath. Then Ollivander cleared his throat and the spell was finished. Releasing each other’s hands and stepping back, Hermione immediately felt the absence of Malfoy’s proximity and longed to close the gap which had opened between them.

“I suppose you’ll be needing this back.” Ollivander held his wand out to Malfoy, who reluctantly took it and stowed it back in his pocket.

“I am sorry, sir.”

Ollivander nodded, his wispy hair floating in the moonlight. “Can’t be helped, times as they are. Yes, yes, terrible times. I suppose you’ll be wanting to obliviate me as well?” he peered up at Malfoy with owlish eyes.

Malfoy nodded silently.

“Well, best get on with it then, young Malfoy.” Ollivander sat up and stared straight ahead, accepting of his fate. Just as Malfoy lifted his wand to the wand maker’s temple, Ollivander held up his hand to stop him. “Make sure you seal that binding tonight or it all will have been for nothing," he admonished them before lowering his hand and nodding at Malfoy to continue.

With a soft murmur and a gentle motion from his wand, Malfoy extracted a single glowing memory from Ollivander’s temple and vanished it into thin air.

After a moment of confusion, Ollivander’s eyes cleared and he looked up at them disdainfully. “I have nothing to say to you! If you are quite finished with me, I should like to go back to my bed now, it is unconscionably draughty over here.”

Hermione sighed, a heavy sadness settling over her, as Malfoy helped Ollivander to his feet. She watched the elderly gentleman continue to lambast Malfoy as he helped him back to his place at the other end of the cellars.

Once they were out of sight, Hermione couldn't stop her mind from turning toward the impending return of Malfoy - her new husband - and what exactly that would entail.

Notes:

Thank you for the kudos! It has made me excited to just go for it and post what I have written! I have nine chapters done so far, but only a few hours each week to write, so we'll see what kind of schedule I can manage to keep up with. Fingers crossed!

Chapter 4: Magic Reaching

Summary:

** See end notes for TW **

Her eyes grew wide as she realised it wasn’t a purely physical reaction, rather it was the feeling of her magic reaching out to seal itself to his.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

As Hermione watched Malfoy help Ollivander hobble back to his place at the other end of the cellars, she felt a new form of dread coil in her stomach. She knew what Ollivander had meant when he warned them to “seal that binding tonight”. She knew what was coming when Malfoy got back, and while she told herself she wasn’t afraid of sex itself, that didn’t stop her from being anxious and insecure about who she was about to have to have sex with.

In a flash of boldness, Hermione reached under her borrowed school skirt and bent down to slide her knickers off. She straightened up and pocketed them, just as Malfoy reappeared.

She watched as he turned back at the opening of the aisle and raised his wand to perform a series of privacy spells. Even as she didn’t want to think about what was coming, it was impossible to avoid it. So, Hermione allowed herself to notice the broadness of Malfoy’s shoulders as they shifted under his oxford shirt and the way his long, slender fingers held his wand as he cast his spells. She didn’t try to stop the tightening in her core as the cool air caressed her bare skin below her skirt, or the feeling of warmth that bloomed low in her abdomen when Malfoy turned and walked toward her. Her pulse quickened, noticing the dusky pink colour that stained the tips of his ears and tops of his cheeks.

Malfoy’s eyes seemed to look everywhere but at her as he came to a stop next to her. He cleared his throat twice before speaking.

“I’m sorry, Granger. This… isn’t how I wanted this to happen.”

His eyes flickered to hers and Hermione felt any sense of anticipation grow cold and her body go numb at his apparent reluctance. Of course he didn’t actually want her, she was just a means to an end. She supposed she had been foolish in thinking there had been any flirty tension in their summer arguments, that he had ever looked at her as anything more than a debate to win.

“I know, Malfoy. It’s not what I would have chosen, either.”

Malfoy closed his eyes and nodded, “It’s just that-- Well-- You know. I mean…”

“It’s just sex, Malfoy,” she said flatly, feeling silly now for having already taken off her knickers.

“Right,” Malfoy looked at her cautiously. “So you’re not…? I mean, you’ve already…? It’s not your first time?” He blurted after fumbling for a moment.

“No. It’s not my first time.” Hermione blinked quickly as she shoved a sudden vision of red hair, freckled cheeks, and smiling blue eyes back from her mind.

If possible, it seemed that Malfoy simultaneously relaxed and grew more agitated. “Right,” he repeated to himself as he turned toward the wall. “Just give me a minute, then.”

Hermione watched as he undid his belt, opened his trousers, and reached in. Even with her extremely limited experience, it was obvious Malfoy was entirely too nervous for anything to happen. After a few minutes of watching him frantically stroke himself as he muttered apologies and ‘I’ll only be a minute’s’, Hermione realised she would have to take matters into her own hands. Literally.

Gathering her courage, she walked quietly over to him and placed her hand gently on his sleeve. His desperate motion stilled at her touch and she watched as he swallowed nervously, his triceps brushing the front of her blouse as he gulped for air. Standing close enough to feel his warmth and smell the clean scent of his clothes, Hermione was acutely aware of her state of undress. She let her fingers trail down his arm and sucked in a breath as she felt an electric pulse where her fingers came into contact with his hand.

“Let me,” she whispered as she took a half step closer to him, pressing his upper arm between her breasts and tentatively stroking her fingers over his now growing erection.

Malfoy exhaled sharply and Hermione smiled to herself as she felt him twitch under her hand. It was gratifying to see his breathing grow shallow as she took over for him. There was a smug pleasure in knowing she could have this physical effect on him, regardless of their emotional state.

After a few solid strokes, his erection had hardened considerably and with a quick swipe of her thumb across his tip, Malfoy’s eyes fluttered closed and his head tipped back with a breathy grunt.

Hermione shifted to the side, using her free hand to guide his arm from between their bodies and place his hand on the back of her thigh, just below the hem of her skirt. Thankfully, he took the hint and began inching his fingers up her leg, under her skirt. His feather light touch sent sparks of pleasure straight to her core and she again felt heat pooling in her centre.

She continued to stroke Malfoy’s erection as he teased small circles onto her skin. His touch felt painfully slow and gentle as he ran his fingers up and around the outside of her leg. When he reached the point where her knickers should have been, his hand paused and he gave a small exhale as realisation dawned on him.

In one quick motion Malfoy turned toward her and, grabbing with both hands, pulled Hermione’s body flush with his. Startled by the sudden movement, Hermione nearly toppled over, but was steadied by his hands on her shoulders. Then his mouth was on her neck, sucking and licking and nipping his way down to her chest; her skin tinder, ready to ignite at every point of contact. A small groan dragged from her throat as his toned thigh pressed between her legs.

As he continued to kiss the sensitive skin of her neck and chest, his warm hands worked their way under her shirt and up her back and Hermione was overcome with the desire to touch his skin as well. Undoing the buttons on his shirt, she ran her hands along the smooth, hard skin of his shoulders and pushed his shirt down over his well muscled arms to his elbows. Hermione breathed a small gasp and pressed her chest into his mouth as Malfoy deftly undid the buttons of her shirt and found a sensitive spot to suckle above the cup of her bra.

Her fingers explored the planes of his chest and he stilled as she traced a jagged scar from his shoulder across his torso. Malfoy pulled back to watch her as she studied the landscape of sectumsempra scars that her best friend had left on his chest. His eyes were dark and unreadable as she looked up into his face.

“I have one, too,” she whispered as she directed his fingers to the scar on the side of her ribs. “From Dolohov. In the department of mysteries.” Hermione squirmed from the tickling of his fingers and the intensity in his eyes as he skimmed the puckered skin of her scar.

“I’m sorry, Granger,” his breath grazed across her chest as he apologised.

“Hermione. My name’s Hermione,” she breathed back.

“Hermione,” he repeated as his fingers drug up her sides and his hands cupped her jaw, drawing her in for a tender kiss.

As their lips touched, the embers that had been building between their bare touches suddenly ignited across her whole body and she could not deny she was eager for more. Her hands wound their way to the back of his neck as she pressed into him and opened her mouth to deepen the kiss.

Without pausing, Malfoy ran his hands back down her body and grabbed her thighs, lifting her smoothly into his arms. As soon as her feet left the floor, she wrapped her legs around his waist and he carried her over to the row of empty wine casks, gently setting her down on top of one. With one hand on her waist, holding her on the edge of the barrel, Malfoy’s other hand reached down to the hem of her skirt and slowly made its way back up the inside of her thigh.

Hermione broke their kissing with a gasp as Malfoy’s fingers found the apex of her thigh and he quickly ran his thumb over her, looking for her cl*t. Foreheads pressed together, their breathing grew ragged as Malfoy continued to stroke his thumb over her sensitive nub and his fingers traced lower, along her slit. Tentatively, he pressed a single finger into her wet core. Hermione whimpered and her hips rocked reflexively at the intrusion. Encouraged by her reaction, he growled softly as he pressed another finger into her moist centre.

Hermione keened through clamped lips as his fingers curled and found a sensitive spot inside her body while his thumb insistently drew circles on the sensitive spot just outside her body. Her head dropped back and her back arched, her hips rocking to the rhythm Malfoy set with his hand. Hermione had to bite her lip to keep from crying out as Malfoy ran his nose across the tops of her breasts, pushing aside her open shirt and began an assault on her breasts which were now pulsing in time to his fingers.

The sparkling electricity which had started with their bare-skinned touches built to an almost unbearable crescendo. As Malfoy’s teeth gently squeezed her nipple through her bra, Hermione felt the discharge of all the potential energy that had been building inside her. Malfoy continued to gently stroke her with his fingers and thumb as her org*sm silently shuddered through her. When her body had relaxed to a mass of quivering nerves, he slowly stilled and pulled his fingers out of her.

Hermione lifted her head and opened her eyes to see Malfoy’s eyes closed and head tilted back, face flushed with exertion and with what she hoped was at least a little bit of desire. The hand that had recently been inside her was stroking slowly over what she now saw was a very sizable erection. Not willing to wait for a moment of indecision, Hermione ran her hands from where they had been clutching Malfoy’s shoulders down his sides until they reached his hips. He groaned as she firmly pulled him toward her open - and now noticeably empty - core.

Without opening his eyes, Malfoy lined himself up with her sopping wet entrance and Hermione watched his lips part as he began to thrust forward.

“Draco.” At the sound of his given name, Draco’s eyes immediately opened.

“Look at me,” Hermione commanded softly, but with all the authority she possessed.

Draco's eyes locked instantaneously on hers and they held each others’ gaze as he deliberately pressed forward into her.

Hermione took a deep breath as Draco filled both her body and her consciousness. The now familiar spark of energy blazed intensely between them. Her eyes grew wide as she realised it wasn’t a purely physical reaction, rather it was the feeling of her magic reaching out to seal itself to his.

Hermione didn't have much experience, but none of her previous fumblings - with or without partners - had prepared her for the intensity of feeling she was now experiencing. The sheer intimacy she felt both physically and emotionally was nearly overwhelming as Draco began to move inside her, their eyes unable to leave each other.

With each thrust, Hermione felt her magic reach out and meet the magic of the man whose body she was joined with, and just as the dip and weave of the cord had bound their hands in marriage, their magic wove in time to the chorus of their union until it formed a beautifully intricate plait that bound them together, body and soul.

Their breathing became heavier as Draco's thrusts grew quicker and Hermione's hips moved in tandem with his. Hermione leaned back to brace herself with one arm while the other grasped his shoulder. The slight change in angle made Draco hit that same sensitive spot inside her and Hermione couldn’t help the sounds that were dragged from her throat with each thrust. Soon Draco’s groans joined her own and when he reached between them to brush his thumb along her over-stimulated cl*t, Hermione’s staccato cries melded into one long keening moan.

Hermione’s muscles grew taught as Draco’s thrusting became more desperate and irregular. Finally, with a tingling that Hermione felt from her toes to her scalp, Draco’s body tensed and she felt him reach a new depth inside her as he emptied himself with a strangled moan. As they came together, Hermione’s vision blurred and she wasn’t sure if the stars were in her head or if their magic had manifested externally in a surge of bright golden-white light.

As Hermione’s vision cleared, she was glad for the weight of Draco’s body pressing into her, his head resting heavily on her shoulder, grounding her to reality. Slowly she came back into herself and felt his lips moving against her neck, chanting her name like a prayer. Hermione wrapped her arms around his shoulders and tightened her hold as she whispered his name in answer.

When Hermione began whispering his name, Draco's arms circled her and he pulled them up together. With his face still buried in her neck and her cheek resting on top of his damp hair, their chests heaved and hearts slowed in unison, still whispering each other's names into the moonlight.

By the time Hermione felt reasonably in control of her mind and body once again, the chill night air had caused her sweaty skin to ripple with goose flesh. Draco had composed himself as well and Hermione whimpered as he stood back and slid out of her. With trembling hands she redid the buttons on her shirt and took Draco’s offered hand as he helped her off the wine barrel. She tucked her shirt back in and smoothed her skirt down, wondering how Draco could look so put together after all that.

When she was as tidy as she could reasonably expect to be, she looked up to see Draco watching her intently and with a small nod toward him, she started to take a step toward the main tasting room. Draco’s hand reached out to take hold of hers and his fingers wound with hers as he fell into step beside her. Hermione hadn’t realised how much she would appreciate the gesture until he did it, but now that he was holding her hand, she knew never wanted to let go.

When they reached the end of their aisle, Hermione could see Ginny standing across the room, watching for them with an expression that was flat and hard. Draco stopped and pulled Hermione back into the shadows of the wine rack, pressing a small, smooth sphere into her hand.

“This will glow when it’s safe to leave," he whispered, his lips brushing the shell of Hermione’s ear. Still clasping hands, Draco took a step back and they searched each other’s faces, a whole range of emotions warring in her heart and reflected on the face before her. Without taking his eyes off hers, Draco raised their still clasped hands to his lips.

“I’m sorry," he murmured over her knuckles.

“I know.” Hermione felt like her heart would break from the expression on his face. “Me too.” And the strange thing was, she knew precisely what he meant and felt the sorrow for it all the more.

Draco held her hand and her eyes as he backed away until their fingertips could no longer reach one another, then he turned and walked quickly to the cellar stairs. Hermione felt each of his steps away from her as a line being stretched thinner and thinner; feeling like she could snap at any moment.

When he reached the stairs, her heart leapt when she thought she saw him pause, but then he continued on without so much as a backward glance. As she watched him walk up the stairs, Hermione felt Draco’s warm cum slide down the inside of her leg. She tried to keep silent as a sob wretched itself from deep in her chest when she heard the bolt slide shut. As the echo of his footsteps faded above her, she sank to the floor, curling in on herself.

Hermione wasn't one who usually indulged in crying (it only gave her a headache while solving nothing) but tonight she cried. She cried for all the war had taken from her and for all the possible futures it was still waiting to take.

Hermione wasn't a fool, she knew she had made her own decision tonight. She also knew she had been pushed into the decision by circ*mstances out of her control. She knew even one decision would inevitably have an effect on her options in the future. But she hadn't been prepared for the limiting power her decision to marry Draco would have over her. She knew now that she would never be able to do anything without first weighing the consequences for Draco; maybe even giving the consequences for him more weight than the consequences for herself.

She suddenly knew why there were so few divorces in the Wizarding world. She knew, too, with a sinking feeling in her heart, why Narcissa had never left Lucius; why she would never leave him. The magical binding of their wedding had tied her so tightly to Draco, she knew she would not be able to leave him, either. The realisation frightened her. She wondered if Draco felt similarly toward her, or if feelings of mutual devotion had been taken away - along with a woman's ability to choose her own husband - when the ancient bonding magic was bisected.

As Hermione cried, she felt the comforting presence of her friends surround her. Ginny's arms were the first to find her, holding her together as great silent sobs shook her whole body. Next she felt Luna’s quiet kindness encompass her other side and she felt safe, tucked between these two girls.

Hermione took a deep shuddering breath to calm her sobbing and turned to lay down, her head tucked into Ginny’s shoulder. Tears still streamed down her face, but she no longer felt hysterical. As the three girls shifted together to find more comfortable positions, Hermione felt warm blankets tuck around them and Dean’s large hand reach across Luna to rest on her upper arm. Lulled by the warmth of friends and blankets, Hermione let the exhaustion pulling at the back of her eyelids draw her into a drowsy sort of paralysis.

Hermione tucked her chin toward her chest and uncurled the fingers still clutching the small sphere Draco had pressed into her hand. As the heaviness of sleep settled over her, she studied a large pearl cradled in the palm of her hand, reflecting the light of the full moon.

Notes:

This is the smutty chapter ;)

Not exactly a TW, but it's definitely explicit

Chapter 5: Pressure Cracks

Summary:

** See end notes for TW **

For the second time in less than twelve hours, the sound of the bolt sliding back on the dungeon door rang through the quiet air and sent adrenaline pounding through her veins. Ginny and Dean sat up straight, wide awake next to her. Luna and several of the others began rustling and muttering at the early intrusion. The door was thrown open loudly and two sets of bulky boots came down the stairs. Hermione felt her pulse in her fingertips as she clutched the pearl Draco had given her. The apprehension growing around her was palpable as more people woke fully and realised this unexpected visit would be much less welcome than Malfoy’s had been.

Notes:

This chapter has a trigger warning and chapter summary in the end notes, and I've updated the story tags. Please be mindful of your reading and take care of yourself *hugs*

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Hermione woke suddenly the next morning. Heavy footsteps echoed through the floor above them, and she hurried to shake Ginny and Luna awake.

“Someone’s coming,” she whispered urgently.

For the second time in less than twelve hours, the sound of the bolt sliding back on the dungeon door rang through the quiet air and sent adrenaline pounding through her veins. Ginny and Dean sat up straight, wide awake next to her. Luna and several of the others began rustling and muttering at the early intrusion. The door was thrown open loudly and two sets of bulky boots came down the stairs. Hermione felt her pulse in her fingertips as she clutched the pearl Draco had given her. The apprehension growing around her was palpable as more people woke fully and realised this unexpected visit would be much less welcome than Malfoy’s had been.

Over the summer of deliveries and conversation - and even an odd game of wizard’s chess - Draco’s presence had almost become something to look forward to. At least he meant a clean change of clothes and a few days of fresh food, at most he meant a conversation about the latest reading selection or a friendly debate on the finer points of chess strategy. But this sounded nothing like the fluid footsteps from last night, and the two men now descending into the dungeon brought with them a distinctly menacing aura.

Hermione and the others began standing up and she felt a moment of paralysing fear as Rodolphus Lestrange’s face come into view.

“Well, well, well,” he sneered as he and his companion came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs. “Look what we have here. Not a drop of wine, but still, enough intoxicants to satisfy certain appetites. If you can afford them, that is.”

His companion chuckled mirthlessly.

“Unfortunately for me, I’m not here to play, strictly business. An official inspection.” Lestrange spoke to the room, but his eyes never left Hermione. “But perhaps I could indulge in a small taste.”

Lestrange’s eyes traced up and down Hermione’s body, making her skin crawl. Her whole body tensed under his leer and the tenderness between her legs made her wish Draco were still here, holding her hand. She swallowed down the bile that rose in her throat as she remembered their conversation from last night; knowing exactly what this Death Eater wanted with her.

Holding tight to the pearl, she allowed its presence to comfort her, and she slipped almost accidentally into occlumency.

The companion - Mulciber maybe? - started barking orders and the dungeon rippled to life around her. Hermione was grateful for the distance the occlumency put between her mind and her emotions.

As if floating through a dream, she went to line up with the rest of the prisoners around the tasting room. She stood facing the end of a wine rack, and didn’t even flinch when she felt magic stick her hands to a shelf above her head and her feet wide apart to the floor. Turning her head, she observed that all the other prisoners were similarly pinned in place, and she guessed this inspection was something to do with the upcoming auction.

Her suspicions were confirmed as she watched Lestrange and Mulciber start with Dean at the other end of the cellar. Lestrange cast a quick set of diagnostic charms and Mulciber wrote down the information revealed. The best Hermione could tell, they were looking for basic physical statistics, things like age, height, and weight. She reflected that almost all of them had lost weight in the dungeons and none of them were in peak physical shape, but appreciated that things would have been significantly worse if Draco hadn’t been bringing them extra food.

The inspection progressed quickly and without incident from one prisoner to the next. Hermione wasn’t even worried as it neared her turn to be scanned and documented. She turned her head to resolutely face the wine rack while they were still writing down Ginny’s statistics next to her. She braced herself slightly and took a deep breath, settling deeper into her occlusion, determined to only show strength.

As she stood waiting, she heard the heavy footfalls approach from her right and stiffened as they passed behind her. Hermione’s mental fortifications turned to muted dread as the footsteps continued on without stopping. They had skipped her and were now copying down Ollivander’s statistics to her left. She turned her head and met Ginny’s worried gaze as she heard them finish up with Ollivander and continue on to the last prisoner.

When they had finished with the last prisoner, Hermione gave Ginny a look she hoped was encouraging and turned back to face the wine rack. The echo of Lestrange’s boots vibrated through her mind, threatening to crumble her mental walls, as he stalked back toward her. When he stopped directly behind her, she felt her skin tighten and was sure his gaze was roaming over her body. She tightened her fingers around the pearl and willed herself not to twitch under the scrutiny.

She couldn’t help but startle when he stepped forward. He was standing so close she could feel the heat from his body along her back and his stale breath on her cheek as he loomed over her shoulder.

“This one is a special case.” She had no doubt he intended his voice to be alluring and smooth, but it only reminded her of a dark, greasy stain. “She needs to be inspected a little more thoroughly.” He dropped his voice to a gravely rumble on the last word.

Suddenly Hermione was intensely aware of her knickers, weighing heavy in her skirt pocket, and she fought to fill and empty her lungs.

She wouldn’t give Lestrange the satisfaction of reacting to him. She imagined the moon, bright last night at its fullest, incrementally covered by the shadow of the earth as they spun together around the sun. In just a moment, she was almost completely hidden by the shadow of the earth, protected from the harsh rays that sought her out.

She could observe from her shadowy vantage point how Lestrange leaned over Hermione, whispering slimy, vulgar things in her ear. She knew his vile breath was hot as he leaned close, but with no atmosphere on the moon, it held no heat for her. She remained frozen as his hands pressed into her hips and ran roughly up her ribs. When he pressed his chest to her back and his hands continued up her arms until he gripped her already stuck wrists, she turned her face and found Ginny’s eyes, blazing with anger.

Hermione met Ginny’s fire with ice and tried to give her friend some of the stillness she held in her mind. It helped her to focus, trying to freeze Ginny’s inferno. She could almost ignore the way Lestrange’s legs leaned against hers, pressing between her stuck feet. The indecent bulge weighing on the small of her back was merely a solar flare, reaching out into space, but unable to really hurt her.

She felt a small pressure crack form in her frozen heart as Lestrange’s hands retraced their journey back down her body. The fissure spread, branching off in several directions, as his hands continued lower, over her bum, down the backs of her thighs, and past the edge of her skirt. She tried to communicate to Ginny that her heart might shatter from the pressure, but that was preferable to melting down. She’d rather be heartless than allow herself to be ruined by Lestrange.

As his hands began to make their way back up her legs, under her skirt, Hermione’s body shook with instinctual fear and the small fissures began to cleave into deep crevasses. She held onto the pearl in her hand with all the strength she had, feeling the smooth surface dig into the soft flesh of her palm, the pain anchoring her. Her eyes held Ginny’s, tethering her mind, feeling the connection between them as surely as if they had been holding hands.

All at once, the sensations that were threatening to break through Hermione’s defences left off. She closed her eyes against the feeling of falling. She was orbiting through cold, dark space with only the tiny planet in her hand giving her any sense of gravity. Slowly, her head stopped spinning and she again began to register the world around her.

“... the responsibility for the status of these prisoners falls to me. I will not have them spoiled on my watch. Anything you might want down here, you will have to purchase, same as everyone else,” a voice hissed. “I’m sure you have collected all the information necessary for your preparations, and now it is in your best interest to finish your work elsewhere.”

Hermione craned her neck enough to see Lucius Malfoy, standing between her and Lestrange. Lestrange was adjusting his shirt collar, giving Hermione the impression that it had recently been forcefully pulled out of place. Lucius turned on his heel and strode toward the dungeon steps, where Mulciber was already waiting.

Hermione watched Lestrange as he straightened his shirtsleeves. Just as he was about to follow Lucius he looked up and Hermione was caught off guard by the vitriol in his eyes.

“You’ll be mine, mudblood,” he taunted her quietly. “And when you’re mine, I’ll have you every way I please. And I will obliviate you after, so that every time is the first time for you. You might have been able to keep quiet today, but I’ll enjoy seeing how quickly I can break you.”

His words held a cruelty she had never experienced and the sound of his twisted enthusiasm made her heart stutter in her chest. An impatient sound from Lucius was enough to make Lestrange walk away and the next moment a lazy “finite incantatem” released all the prisoners.

Hermione stumbled with the others as their bodies were unexpectedly under their own control again. When she had righted herself, she pushed past the worried glances of her fellow prisoners and ignored Ginny’s apprehensive questions. She strode quickly to the other side of the dungeon, to the aisle she now thought of as hers and Draco’s. Thankfully, no one followed her.

She removed her knickers from her pocket and, holding onto the conjured chair for balance, quickly stepped into them and pulled them up. Never again would she underestimate the power of an article of clothing.

Sitting down in the chair, Hermione took several gulping breaths. She thought distractedly that now would be an appropriate time to cry, but all she could do was stop herself from losing the contents of her stomach onto the dungeon floor. She clutched her hands to her chest, willing her heart to slow. When her heart and breathing had evened out, she lowered her hands looked at the pearl as someone might gaze into a crystal ball, allowing its soft depths to steady her mind.

The next several days passed in a blur. Hermione retreated behind a shield of occlumency and mostly let the rhythms of the dungeon flow around her. A few times Ginny managed to draw her into conversation and once or twice she joined a game of exploding snap. But time and time again Hermione’s attention was drawn back to the pearl she kept in her pocket along with her DA galleon. Not wanting to miss their opportunity to escape, she checked compulsively to see if the pearl was glowing. After a day or two, she stopped expecting to find it glowing and merely watched it out of habit.

When Malfoy’s regular delivery day came and passed with no fresh clothes or food, there was a general sense of disappointment in the dungeon. But Hermione knew Draco wouldn’t be making any more visits to the dungeon.

By the time the second week had passed with no new clothes and only stale bread and dried meat to eat, several people were starting to panic. They tried asking Hermione what had happened, why Malfoy wasn’t helping them anymore, but Ginny and Dean were able to quash most of the questions before they reached her. Several times Hermione caught Luna staring at her. She would have been infuriated if it had been anyone else, but Hermione sensed that somehow Luna knew more than she was willing to let on.

The third week after Malfoy had last made a delivery barely registered to the prisoners in the dungeon. They had evidently resigned themselves to their new state of being and it was only after the day had passed that anyone commented on it.

The next evening, as Hermione sat watching the fading light out the high dungeon window, she absently pulled out her DA galleon and twirled it between her fingers a few times before exchanging it for the pearl in her pocket. For a long moment, Hermione sat frozen in shock, staring at the brightly glowing pearl held between her fingers.

Notes:

TW: This chapter contains an attempted sexual assault scene. If that's not your thing, please, please, skip it for your well-being and mine. Here's a chapter summary if you don't want to read, but still want to know what happened:

The morning after Draco and Hermione's "wedding", Rodolphous Lestrange and another Death Eater come down to the dungeon to get statistics on the prisoners, presumably for the auction Draco talked about. Lestrange has a fascination with Hermione and begins to sexually assault her, but Lucius appears and stops it. Three weeks pass without Draco visiting the dungeon and then, finally, the pearl glows.

Chapter 6: Moonshadow

Summary:

Hermione's fingers reached automatically for the pearl Draco had pressed into her hand as he left the dungeon for the last time. Grasping it between her first two fingers, she carefully pulled it from her pocket and froze.

Here she was, holding a glowing pearl - a small moon, luminescent between her fingers.

“It’s time then,” Luna said, as if she had been waiting for this sign right along with Hermione.

Notes:

Oh my gosh you guys! Thank you so much for all the lovely reviews and kind kudos. It has really made me excited to post more and write more and keep this party going!

I'm hoping to post about twice a week from now until Halloween (with a week off while my husband and I ditch the kids for Mexico, woohoo!) and then probably once a week, give or take, until the story is done.

Chapter Text

Hermione sat, her back to a wine barrel, watching out the high, barred window as dusk stole over the grounds outside the Manor. Just as she had every evening for the past three or so weeks. Ever since she and Draco had “gotten married”.

Hermione couldn’t think of the phrase without mentally inserting air quotes around it. She had remained withdrawn since then and allowed her friends to assume it was because of Lestrange’s attack. If she were honest with herself, Lestrange probably had something to do with it, but Hermione rather thought it was her way of protecting herself. If things went according to Draco’s plan, the rest of them would be able to escape, and she would be left behind. She hoped it would be easier if she didn’t feel so close to them now.

Hermione contemplated the surprising turns her life had taken as she flipped her DA coin between her fingers. Thinking back to how exciting it had been to realise she was a witch; reminiscing about the adventures her, Harry, and Ron had had at school. How righteous she felt when they were defying unfair school rules and inept teachers with secret student organisations. How naive they had been to call themselves an army. Having spent roughly six months as a prisoner after being captured and tortured, she wondered what else she would later realise she was being too idealistic about.

Sliding the galleon back into her pocket, her fingers reached automatically for the pearl Draco had pressed into her hand as he left the dungeon for the last time. Grasping it between her first two fingers, she carefully pulled it from her pocket and froze.

After three weeks, she had stopped looking at it with any sort of expectation, and by this point had almost completely given up hope of his plan working. After all, if Narcissa wasn't allowed to leave the Manor, how would Draco find a time when the prisoners could leave undetected and not have at least his mother be suspected of helping them.

Yet, here she was, holding a glowing pearl - a small moon, luminescent between her fingers.

“It’s time then,” Luna said, as if she had been waiting for this sign right along with Hermione.

The brightness of the glow was causing people to turn and look. Hermione slipped the pearl into her pocket and found Ginny's eyes watching her closely. Ever since the events with Lestrange, Ginny was never far from Hermione’s side.

Hermione had played this moment a hundred different ways in her mind and still found she wasn’t sure how to break the news. Making the decision to say nothing, she stood with more confidence than she felt and walked across the dungeon to the stairs, twelve sets of eyes following her every move.

Reminding herself to breathe, Hermione climbed the stairs. When she reached the top step, she placed both hands flat on the door and pushed. Not really knowing how the Manor listened to the Malfoy’s - or if it would listen to her at all - Hermione wasn’t terribly surprised when nothing happened.

Hermione heard the murmurs floating up from the room below. She was sure they thought she had lost her mind, and she wasn’t sure she disagreed.

Standing there for a moment, Hermione raked through her memories, hands still pressed to the door. She thought of the come and go room and wondered if there was some ritual she needed to perform to get the house to obey her. She thought through her conversation with Draco and tried to remember if there was anything specific he had said about it. Coming up with nothing, Hermione pressed her forehead into the door until she felt the strain in her neck. Frustration batted at her eyelids as she thought she only wanted the bloody door to open.

Right on command, the bolt slid back and the door swung open.

The sound rang out through the shocked silence of the dungeon. Hermione really hoped no one was home because she was sure someone would have heard it.

Turning around, Hermione found Ginny’s face in the crowd and gave a determined nod. All at once Ginny began organising the dungeon into groups of three and they all stood by, waiting for Hermione’s command. Motioning them up the stairs, Hermione put her finger to her lips as she held the door open for them to pass through.

They gathered in the passage just outside the dungeon door, waiting for Hermione.

“I’ll be able to unlock any doors, but I don’t know where in the Manor we are,” she whispered. “Without wands, I think it might be best to try and get away on foot, but we still need to find a way out of the house.” She hadn’t realised until now how little detail their great plan of escape had.

“I can get us to the entrance hall and floo parlour,” Griphook put in. “Follow me, and keep your eyes out for anything useful.”

As quietly as thirteen newly freed prisoners could, they crept after Griphook, down hallway after hallway and around more corners than Hermione could keep track of. Hermione’s heart was in her throat as they turned each corner, fully expecting to come face to face with any number of faceless Death Eaters ready to raise the alarm.

She finally breathed a sigh of relief when they made it to the entrance hall after what felt like miles of corridors. They all stood crowding each other by the door, afraid to be so out in the open. Hermione pushed her way through the crowd and gazed around the room, noting the ornate fireplace set opposite the grand double doors of the entrance hall.

“Let’s search the sideboards,” she said, gesturing to the chests of drawers and cupboards that stood between the fireplace and the doorways leading off the entrance hall. “There’s got to be something useful in there.”

Sure enough, in the first door Ginny opened, there was a silver pot of floo powder and a coin purse filled with sickles and knuts.

After another minute of searching, Hermione thought what they really needed were wands. She gasped as five wands rolled to the front of the next drawer she opened. She pulled them out, wondering if this was another instance of the Manor listening to her.

Ginny gave a whoop that could only loosely be described as a whisper when she saw the wands clutched in Hermione’s hand. Hermione immediately recognized her own wand in the stack, as well as the wand Ollivander had used to perform the binding ceremony. Quietly, she returned his wand to him, and held up the others to see if any were recognized. When all the wands had been reclaimed, Hermione took the pot of floo powder and stepped toward the fireplace.

“Where to?” Dean asked, stepping forward and grabbing a pinch of powder.

Hermione thought for a moment before answering.

“The floo network is surely being monitored, so it’ll have to be somewhere public, then we can apparate from there. I’m thinking the Leaky Cauldron; the fireplace is near the front door and it should be easy enough to slip into muggle London, find an alley, and get away. But I’m open to other suggestions.”

Ginny and Dean looked at each other and nodded their agreement.

“Muggle London will be the easiest to avoid being caught in,” Dean said. “Once you get through, head straight out into the street, turn left and go three blocks. We’ll send someone with a wand through first and when the next two people meet up, disapparate immediately. It’ll be best if we don’t know where anyone else is planning to go, in case any of us is caught…”

Dean didn’t need to finish the thought, they all knew the risks and hoped to be the ones to get away.

“See you on the other side,” he said just before he threw down the powder, shouted for the Leaky Cauldron, and swirled away in a flash of green flames.

Luna gave Hermione a tight squeeze as she reached into the Floo pot.

“See you on the other side,” Luna said in that dreamy voice she used when talking about something other people didn’t quite believe in.

Before Hermione could respond, Luna was gone in a roar of green flames. One more wandless prisoner hurried after and suddenly their party was reduced by a quarter.

As Ollivander stepped up to go next, Hermione realised she should disguise him before such a recognizable prisoner walked out of the floo at the entrance to Wizarding London. Cursing herself for not modifying the appearances of the first three, they hurried and applied quick charms to change everyone’s hair and clothes, and even added a few beauty marks for good measure.

After three more whooshes of green flames, their group was halved. The Floo barely had time to clear before the next person was stepping in, eager for their escape. In a matter of moments, the entrance hall was empty except for Ginny and Hermione.

Hermione tipped the pot to Ginny, not trusting herself to speak.

“You’re not coming,” Ginny said as she studied Hermione. It wasn’t a question.

Hermione could only shake her head no.

Ginny quirked a brow and Hermione was reminded so forcefully of Mrs. Weasley that she nearly laughed. She reached out and hugged Ginny with all the strength she had before pushing her gently into the fireplace. Before she could stop herself, Hermione pressed her wand into Ginny’s hand and stepped back.

“See you on the other side.”

Hermione stared at the empty fireplace as the last of the green flames died down behind Ginny. The house was silent and Hermione wondered what sort of occasion it must be to allow even Narcissa to leave the house and afford them so much time and privacy to escape.

She noticed how the last rays of sunlight were still shining across the manor grounds even though they hadn’t reached the wine cellar where they had been kept prisoner. A rebellious part of her brain pointed out that the view from the front windows really was quite lovely in the setting sun.

Mentally shaking herself out of her reverie, Hermione reached into the floo jar. Using her considerable mental strength, she thought how nice it would be if she could just floo away.

Stepping into the fireplace, she threw down the powder and whispered, “The Leaky Cauldron.”

Small yellowish flames burst up from the grate and sputtered out again.

Hermione reached back into the pot and grabbed out a larger pinch of powder. Concentrating on her need to travel by floo, she threw the powder and announced clearly her destination.

Orange flames danced around her ankles, but her body didn’t move an inch.

Taking a deep breath and channelling all her emotions into righteous indignation, Hermione grabbed a handful of powder and kept her thoughts focused on opening the floo connection. She threw down the entire handful of shimmery powder and shouted as loud as she could for the Leaky Cauldron.

Angry red flames mushroomed around her knees, but only her skirt and hair blew about in the warm updraft.

Hot, angry tears fell from Hermione’s eyes, but no matter how many times she threw the floo powder down, no matter how hard she wished or asked or demanded to be released from the Manor, no matter where she called out to go, the flames never turned green or released her from the darkening entrance hall.

When the silver pot was empty, Hermione stepped out of the fireplace and walked straight across the hall to the double doors opposite. The doors opened to her commanding push and Hermione took a shuddering breath as she stepped into the dusky night air. Clinging to hope, she thought perhaps she could leave on foot, maybe it was just magical methods that were blocked to her.

She felt the strength of her heart beating in her chest as she raced down the Manor’s front drive and caught herself on the front gates. But no matter how Hermione pushed or pulled or pleaded, the gates remained shut.

Hermione leaned her head against the gate, letting the cold from the iron bars seep into her skin, when the sound of a crying child burst through the night, shattering the stillness. Hermione’s heartbeat caught in her throat, nearly gagging her, as she looked frantically around for the distressed child, wondering what horrible circ*mstances would have left a child crying alone on the grounds of Malfoy Manor.

Movement from the nearby shrubs drew Hermione’s attention and she took a hesitant step forward when a large white bird emerged from the undergrowth and shook itself before looking around. She gasped as the pure white peaco*ck raised a fan of opalescent feathers, meant to intimidate, but succeeding only in astonishing her.

After eyeing her warily, the peaco*ck apparently decided she was not a threat and in a rush of oversized wings, launched gracefully into the air, landing on the pillar above her. He seemed to glow in the soft moonlight as he turned his head back toward the shrubs and let out a heart wrenching cry.

Hermione’s heart leapt in alarm as her mind again recognized a child crying; the dissonance between what she was seeing and what she was hearing made her feel slightly dizzy.

At the peaco*ck’s cry, four more birds emerged from the hedge, iridescent blue necks shimmering in the moonlight. The largest bird caught sight of Hermione and spread his tail fan, turquoise feathers and bright blue eyes quivering as they sauntered across the lawn.

Hermione distractedly wondered what a group of peaco*cks (peafowl? She could distinctly see the difference between the males and the females) were called. A flock of birds seemed too mundane, while a murder, like crows, was simply too macabre. But perhaps the spectral nature of this particular group of birds - emerging like shadows from the bracken, following a ghost with his harrowing cries - deserved a new name.

Hermione was pulled back from her musings as the colourful peaco*cks flew to join their albino leader along the top of the high stone wall. The white peaco*ck’s cry drew Hermione’s attention back to him. For a brief moment, she held eye contact with the albino peaco*ck and thought perhaps he was trying to communicate something to her. Then with a last mournful cry, he launched himself into the air, the rest of his flock following in a rush of wings.

Hermione watched, awestruck, as the large birds flew off into the night, disappearing among the shadows of the tree line. Feeling a strange calmness in the wake of the birds, she stepped up to the stone pillar where the pale bird had landed. She examined the gate hinges, inspecting how they were sunk into the mortar between the stones. Walking past the pillar, she trailed her hand along the rough wall, wondering what it was hiding from view outside the estate’s boundaries.

Making up her mind, Hermione went back to where the gate met the pillar. Reaching above her head, she grabbed onto the middle hinge and, cramming her shoes between the bars and the rough stone, hauled herself up to the top.

Standing atop the wall, Hermione gazed down at a narrow country lane that meandered alongside hedgerows, over gently rolling hills, and among stands of trees glowing bright in their autumnal glory.

Leaning forward, ready to throw herself over to the other side, Hermione was stopped abruptly by something solid.

Carefully standing on the angled capstone, she reached out into the empty space across the wall. Her hand was stopped by a surprisingly solid, though invisible, barrier. With a humourless laugh, she realised that she had found the barrier, the charm that was keeping the Malfoy’s contained to their estate. Except even they were gone now, and she was left remaining.

Hermione reached as far up and to the sides as she could above the gates and across the wall. She willed herself to not panic and think logically. Draco had said the containment charm kept them to the ancestral estate boundaries, which apparently ended at the front gate. The gate was flanked on each side by a stone wall interrupted at regular intervals with pillars, marching off into the distant darkness. The barrier charm was at the gate and seemed to follow the walls as well. Perhaps, she thought, the charm had been aligned with the walls and maybe - Hermione knew her logic was leaping, but couldn’t help the small flicker of hope in her heart - maybe where the walls ended the charm would end too. Or, if the walls had some sort of hole or breach, there would be a corresponding opening in the containment charm.

Turning away from the gate, Hermione placed one hand firmly on the invisible barrier and held her other arm out to balance herself. Stepping carefully down from the pillar, she began to walk along the top of the wall. As her confidence and her balance grew, she moved more quickly and soon found herself jogging along, one hand trailing lightly over the barrier. After an indeterminable amount of time, Hermione came to a slight turn in the wall. A few moments after the first bend, she came to another wide corner and her heart started beating faster as she immediately noticed a difference in the quality of the wall and the landscape on either side.

The entirety of the wall she had walked so far had not so much as a single stone loose, the landscape had been tidy and well tended to, and she hadn’t felt even a fracture in the charm. But coming around the second corner, the capstone along the top of the wall was covered in moss and occasionally a loose stone wobbled under her foot. The trees began to grow closer to the wall, and soon she was fighting through branches and brambles as she made her way forward.

Ripping her arm away from a thorny vine that had hooked itself to her sleeve, Hermione’s shirt ripped, throwing her off balance. Her foot slipped on the damp moss and the sudden movement dislodged a loose stone and her stomach dropped as she went tumbling into the brake.

The thick underbrush helped slow her fall, but the twigs and thorns caught in her clothes and tore at her skin on her way down. When she came to a stop, she sat still for a moment, getting her bearings and wondering how to extract herself from the hedges. Staring at the capstone which had landed a short distance in front of her, Hermione realised this is what she had been looking for: a crack in the wall and hopefully a corresponding crack in the containment boundary.

Standing up, Hermione frantically began to feel for other loose stones. Finding a section of crumbling mortar, she was able to dislodge another stone, pushing it over to the other side of the wall. Several surrounding stones felt loose and she managed to push or pull them down, covering her head with her arms to protect herself from large stones and showers of broken mortar. Nails broken and palms bloodied, Hermione managed to dislodge enough stones to scramble on top of a small pile amassed at her feet, and comfortably reach the deconstructed wall in front of her.

Breathing heavily, she lifted herself up to the top of the broken wall and stood on legs shaking from exertion and nervous energy. Slowly, carefully - as though trying to pass soapy fingers through a bubble - she reached forward.

Something between a laugh and a sob rose from her chest and broke free from her mouth when her fingers felt the barrier. Pressing her palms flat and leaning her head forward until it, too, was stopped, she thought this is how it must feel to be a bird: flying free one moment, fractured body sliding down an invisible window the next.

Hermione leaned there, letting tears and snot run down her face, dripping off the point of her chin. She was no longer crying the wrenching tears of anguish, but had calmed to the heavy, slow tears of despair. When her eyes were dry, and her head ached from the pressure of her sorrow, Hermione carefully stood back from the barrier. She crawled up the broken edge of the wall, hissing when she slipped and scraped her knee against the rough stone. Finally gaining the top of the solid wall, Hermione began making her way back to the front gates of the Manor.

Her journey back to the gates was devoid of feeling, her fingers once again trailing along the invisible containment charm, heart heavy in her chest.

Despite what Draco had told her, and what she had repeatedly told herself, a small ember of hope had still been glowing in her heart, but was now completely doused. There was no loophole, no crack in the charm, and she was trapped in the Manor. She knew she would be blamed for the escaped prisoners and imagined this is how it must feel to walk to the gallows; to know you were heading toward pain and misery and still put one foot in front of the other because there was simply nowhere else to go.

By the time she reached the front gate, the night had deepened and great swaths of stars shone above her. She crouched down and turned around, once again using the space between the gate and the pillar to wedge her feet as she lowered herself to the ground. A chill breeze blew, and Hermione squeezed herself into the corner between the wall and the pillar, hugging her arms across her chest and pulling her knees up, trying to make herself as small as she felt.

Looking out over the grounds, she gazed at the Manor, dark and moody, windows shimmery in the starlight, making the whole building seem unsettled. She watched as the waxing moon rose low, her eyes tracing along the edge of the moonshadow to complete the circle. A ghostly fluttering in the distance and a sound, like a child crying, felt peculiarly like comfort in her loneliness.

Hermione rested her head on her knees and her body felt heavy as the night wore on. It was taking more and more energy to open her eyes after each slow blink and with nothing left to hold out for, she gave in and allowed sleep to pull her under.

Chapter 7: Slightly Deranged

Summary:

The sleepy Manor had awakened, the stars and moon dimmed by the bright light flooding from the windows and open doors. The noises echoing across the grounds were sounds Hermione associated with an emergency: a mixture of footsteps rushing, doors slamming, and people yelling.

Despite her frozen muscles, Hermione’s lips curled and her cheeks scrunched up in a demented caricature of a smile. Knowing that this level of hysteria was due to their successful escape gave her a slightly deranged sense of satisfaction.

Chapter Text

Hermione’s heart beat wildly in her chest. The trees were alive, throwing cursed apples at her and reaching out with their branching hands to grab at her arms and legs and clothes. She knew she should be running - was trying with all her might to move her legs - but she was stuck, an invisible barrier holding her in place. At the same time, she could feel the whoosh of a floo flame, spiralling around and within her, pulling her to stay right where she was regardless of how hard she fought to run, to move even a single muscle.

The shadows between the trees danced and twisted as they grew larger and deeper. Like a battalion of black holes, they were sucking all the light from the dense forest, swallowing everything in their path as they converged, absorbing even each other in their relentless march.

The air rushed around her and even the breath from her lungs was sucked into the shadows. Far away, on the other side of the darkness, a ghostly form flew in front of the moon and a child wailed, crying out for someone to relieve the loneliness. No matter how she yearned to comfort the child, cradle them in her arms and dry all their tears, Hermione knew she would never make it through the shadows.

The darkness reached out, a tentative swirl toward her being, like it was sampling the air, sniffing, searching for her. The crying child was moving closer. Passing through the consuming darkness in front of her it morphed, changing from inconsolable fear to a shrieking cackle.

The darkness pulled itself closer, tight curls wrapping themselves around her body, inhaling her scent, holding her while she grew numb, pulling her, consuming her. The laughter continued to grow closer, surrounding her, filling her mind, vacillating between glee and rage, elation and terror.

Hermione tried to open her eyes, the sounds and sensations from her dream clinging to her mind and body. The feeling of drifting somewhere between dreams and reality was not foreign to her. Her arms and legs were numb; there was a cacophony of sounds, one source indiscernible from the next; blinking her eyes only revealed a confusing mixture of lights that made her dizzy.

Taking several breaths and forcing her eyes open helped kick-start Hermione’s brain, reminding her that she was still sitting outside Malfoy Manor. Surprised to find it was still night, the moon hanging high in the sky above her, she reasoned that she must not have been asleep for long.

During her brief journey away from consciousness, the sleepy Manor had awakened, the stars and moon dimmed by the bright light flooding from the windows and open doors. The noises echoing across the grounds were sounds Hermione associated with an emergency: a mixture of footsteps rushing, doors slamming, and people yelling.

Despite her frozen muscles, Hermione’s lips curled and her cheeks scrunched up in a demented caricature of a smile. Knowing the hysteria was due to their successful escape gave her a slightly deranged sense of satisfaction. Hearing the distinct shriek of Bellatrix Lestrange float through the crisp air made her feel an unbalanced sort of kinship with the madwoman, even as her blood ran cold. Hermione had been apprehensive about Lucius Malfoy discovering their escape, but memories of Bellatrix’s torture tingled through her body and nausea clawed at her throat.

Dark shapes moved across the bright windows, though Hermione couldn’t begin to tell who they belonged to or how many people there were. A gangling silhouette paused by the open doors and seemed to be looking out into the night. As it turned its head and took a deep breath, Hermione caught a glimpse of grey matted hair and an unkept beard in profile. Frozen in her huddled position, she watched as the lumbering form descended the Manor steps and paused to turn his head the other direction and take another deep breath.

Trying to hold her own breath, Hermione watched with revulsion as the rangy man made his way toward her, stopping every few paces to take another breath. When he was half way down the drive, a flash of yellow eyes met hers, and the last whisper of Hermione's courage seeped away into the soil beneath her.

She watched and waited, resigned as Greyback stalked toward her, an undeniable hunger in his eyes.

When he was no more than a few yards away, Hermione closed her eyes, pressing them to her knees. She felt like she was a kid again, hiding under the covers, hoping when she emerged her nightmares would be gone.

With her eyes closed, however, her other senses sharpened. She tried not to listen but was unable to block the sound of gravel crunching under Greyback’s heavy boots. When his footsteps stopped next to her, she could hear the air whistling through his nose as he took yet another sniff of air. She felt his body heat and buried her nose in her skirt to hide the scent of rancid meat wafting off him.

Hermione startled when Greyback’s large, rough hand clamped around her upper arm. She stumbled as he pulled her up to her feet with one quick motion.

“Careful there darling.” She felt the rumble of a chuckle in Greyback’s chest as she pitched into him.

Shuddering from the contact, she tried to back away, but his other hand shot out and grabbed hold of her other arm. Knowing her strength would be no match for a werewolf’s, she let her body go limp in his grip and stared off past his shoulder, refusing to look at him.

“I could pick up your scent in a crowded room,” he whispered and Hermione gagged as Greyback’s gravelly voice brought with it a fresh wave of putrescence.

He leaned forward and Hermione felt the rough scratch of his beard as he ran his nose from her shoulder up to her hair, inhaling as he went. Hermione nearly laughed when he suddenly pulled his face back and let out a giant dog-like sneeze.

“Still, there's something different... A new layer to your bouquet.” He took another breath. “Yes, I can still smell your elegant, sun-ripened blackberry aroma, the rich oak undertones and touch of fresh herbs.” Another breath. “But I detect subtle hints of tobacco and coffee now, too. Perhaps roasted chestnuts.” One last sniff. “Still quite pleasing, but definitely new.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. She knew werewolves had canine-sharp senses, but hearing her smell described like a fine wine was really quite funny. Either that, or she had gone completely around the bend and was now finding her situation comical precisely because of how grim it was.

“You can’t imagine how upset I was when Madame Lestrange told me what happened with the Malfoy dungeons. Here I was so close to obtaining you, only to think you had disappeared on me. But then I was summoned, brought here to sniff you all out, and all I could smell was you. Your scent led me straight to you. And now, here you are, quite literally in my hands.”

Hearing this, Hermione couldn’t help but snort and roll her eyes again. Greyback tightened his grip on one arm and used his other hand to grasp her chin, turning it roughly so she was forced to look him in the face. Once again his hungry eyes flashed yellow.

“Of course, I am but a humble servant of the Dark Lord who’s not allowed to keep a pet such as you. Fortunately for me, I have a better way to stake my claim.” With this, he tilted her chin to the side and placed his teeth on her shoulder, applying just enough pressure to pinch the skin under her blouse.

“I’ve been without a mate for too long, and you would make a lovely omega for me. I’m not invited to the Halloween celebration - it’s the night after the full moon, see? - but I look forward to hearing the reaction of whoever is lucky enough to make the winning bid when they realise you’ve already been claimed.”

Hermione’s blood ran like ice in her veins as Greyback’s words ghosted over her skin.

Suddenly Greyback stiffened and the voice of Bellatrix Lestrange rang out from behind his back.

“You know it’s rude to play with your food, Greyback.”

Hermione involuntarily shuddered at the sound of Bellatrix’s voice. It surprised her that Greyback did as well. Hermione had a flash of admiration for a woman who could elicit such a response, especially from someone like Greyback.

“Still, good boy. Tracking our little runaways. I’m sure you’ll get a treat for your performance.” Bellatrix continued talking as she drew around them. “Now. I’ll take over here, and you go sniff out the rest of our truants,” she said with a wicked smile.

“She’s the only one I can smell,” Greyback answered as he released his hold on Hermione. “And, Madam Lestrange, she smells different than she used to.”

“Of course she smells different,” Bellatrix scoffed. “Living in a dungeon with twelve other people for months will do that to a person.”

Hermione involuntarily heard Draco’s voice echoing 'it’s a cellar' in her head, the way he had so often chided her over the summer.

“That’s not what I mean,” Greyback insisted, but at Bellatrix’s glare, he dropped the matter. “Anyway, the rest of their scents disappeared in the entrance hall. Probably flooed out from there.”

Bellatrix turned her murderous glare to Hermione and with a casual flick of her wand, sent the fiery agony of a crucio coursing through her body. After a second, it was gone, leaving Hermione panting on all fours.

“Where are the others?” Bellatrix asked casually, almost sweetly.

Hermione started to shake her head, when another jolt of pain shot through her body, sending her writhing on the ground. Again it left off just as suddenly as it came. Bellatrix repeated her question, with just an edge of hardness in her voice. Hermione rolled onto her side, curling into herself. She could just make out a flash of white between the legs of Bellatrix and Greyback when another shock of pain caused her muscles to spasm.

“I’m not going to ask again.” Bellatrix’s voice had gone sharp as flint. Hermione opened her eyes and watched the albino peaco*ck unfurl his tailfan, the bright white eyespots dancing ghostly in the night. She closed her eyes as its tragic call pierced the air and another, more intense, shot of pain engulfed her body.

After an unknowable amount of time, Hermione felt herself come back to her body as voices drifted overhead.

“... A damaged mind won’t give us any answers.” A deep, angry, voice seethed over Bellatrix’s high pitched screeches.

Hermione felt warm arms circle her body and lift her from the cold ground, her muscles still twitching uncontrollably. After being carried up the long walk, she felt herself being set in a chair, her arms and legs magically tethered to the hard wood.

Being unable to move had a strangely calming effect on her and she felt her tortured muscles begin to relax. That moment of calm was destroyed however, when she felt a hand grip her hair, forcing her head back at an uncomfortable angle. She opened her eyes to see Bellatrix’s gleeful face inches from her own, Greyback pacing behind her. The hand in her hair tightened painfully and Bellatrix was replaced by the steely face of Lucius Malfoy.

She began to panic when she saw that Lucius held a vial in his hand. Hermione didn’t know if she could keep her occlumency shields in place if she were dosed with veritaserum, and quickly reviewed techniques she had read about to talk around the impulse to tell the truth.

Clenching her teeth and lips together as Lucius brought the vial to her mouth, she tried to turn away, but Bellatrix’s grip in her hair held her tightly in place.

“While I do enjoy seeing you squirm, the more you fight, the more painful this will be for you.” Bellatrix’s voice filled with anticipation in Hermione’s ear as Lucius pinched Hermione’s nose and forced the vial against her lips.

After a few seconds, Hermione couldn’t hold her breath any longer. As she opened her lips to gulp in a breath, Lucius tilted the vial, pouring the potion down her throat in a practised manner.

Coughing from the bitter taste, Hermione allowed her mind to ease slightly, knowing it couldn’t be the clear, flavourless and odourless veritaserum. Almost as soon as she realised the potion wouldn’t compel her to tell the truth, she began to worry what it would do to her. Still sputtering as she swallowed the last of the potion, she felt her muscles begin to relax.

“Good girl,” Bellatrix crooned behind her as she released her hold on Hermione’s hair.

Lucius stood to his full height, taking the vial from her mouth, towering over her.

Hermione felt all the tension leaving her body as the potion worked its way through her. She knew she should be worried about the effect it was having on her, but couldn’t quite bring herself to care just then.

“I have given you a dose of my own invention. A sort of calming draught, imbued with properties of a babbling beverage. Allows you to say whatever comes into your mind without inhibition.”

Hermione shivered at the smug look on Lucius’ face.

“I affectionately call it my Loose Lips Serum.”

A distant part of Hermione’s brain warned her to stay quiet, but she couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her lips.

“Loose lips sink ships,” she quipped.

Lucius stared at her as though trying to divine a deeper meaning behind Hermione’s words. She thought to explain when Bellatrix came up behind Lucius, whispering in his ear. Nodding sharply, he began his interrogation.

“How did you get out of the dungeon?”

“Actually, it’s a cellar,” Hermione retorted in her primmest know-it-all voice. Then she ruined the effect by giggling.

“How did you all get out of the cellar, then?” Lucius asked through gritted teeth.

“We walked.” Hermione smiled sweetly up at him. She rather liked the effect this potion was having on her. Her mind felt solidly her own, with no compulsion to reveal hidden information, but she also had no reason to second guess herself, and simply said what came into her mind.

“Where are the others?”

“Gone.”

“Gone where?” Lucius’ patience was clearly wearing thin.

“I don’t know.” Hermione shrugged casually.

“Answer me!” The suddenness of Lucius’ temper surprised Hermione.

“We agreed not to tell each other where we were going. In case one of us was caught. We can’t give up information we don’t have.” She enunciated each word patronisingly.

“Why didn’t you leave?” Bellatrix asked in an equally condescending voice.

Hermione held eye contact with Bellatrix for a moment before turning her attention back to Lucius.

“I couldn’t,” she said simply.

Lucius eyed her warily. Hermione sighed.

“I used up the last of the floo powder trying. Then I tried the front gates, but they wouldn’t open for me, either. I tried jumping over the wall, but something stopped me. I even tore down some loose stones, hoping to get through. But I couldn’t leave.” She finished in a small voice, looking longingly out through the still open doors.

“Who helped you?”

“I helped myself.” Hermione’s eyes returned to Lucius, her voice dripping with all the suppressed rage she felt. She could see Bellatrix’s eyes shining at her over Lucius’s shoulder.

“Who unlocked the cellar door?”

“I did.”

Bellatrix laughed incredulously. Lucius' searching gaze made Hermione feel uncomfortable, but she held his gaze all the same.

“That will be easy enough to disprove.” With a flick of his wand, Hermione’s arms and legs were released from the chair. Bellatrix once again grabbed a handful of Hermione’s hair and hauled her across the room.

Taking a much more direct route to the cellar, Bellatrix wrenched open the door and flung Hermione down the steep steps. The side of Hermione’s head cracked against a stair and her ankle turned awkwardly as she tumbled down. When she came to a stop, she gingerly picked herself up to see Bellatrix silhouetted in the open cellar door.

“Let’s see how well you unlock the door now.”

Hermione watched the door swing shut and heard the heavy bolt slide into place. Reaching up to her hairline, Hermione found a sticky wet mass of curls sticking to her temple. Steadying herself against a sudden wave of dizziness, she tried to stand up, only to have her ankle give out on her. She bit her lip to keep from crying out as a sharp pain shot up the outside of her shin.

Steadying herself against the pain, Hermione carefully crawled up one step at a time until she made it to the landing by the door. With one deep breath, she placed her palms flat against the cellar door and asked it to let her out. With a rough scraping sound, the bolt slid back and the door swung open revealing a stupefied Bellatrix and a seemingly unflappable Lucius.

With a sudden screech, Bellatrix launched herself at Hermione and she shrunk back instinctually.

“Bella,” Lucius’ warning voice was enough to give Bellatrix pause.

Instead of whatever had been her original intentions, Bellatrix simply grabbed Hermione once more and dragged her back the way they had come. Her ankle throbbed and her vision blurred, several strands of hair gave way in Bellatrix’s grip as Hermione struggled to keep up.

Soon Hermione found herself once again in the entrance hall, magically tied to the wooden chair.

Bellatrix was a typhoon as she paced and ranted, swirling around the room. Greyback picked up on the new energy and paced opposite Bellatrix. Lucius and Hermione were the eye of the storm, the intensity of their mutual stares unbroken, even as chaos raged around them.

Their trance was broken as the room filled with green light from the Floo. Suddenly Bellatrix filled Hermione’s vision, her bony fingers squeezing Hermione’s cheeks tightly. She was yelling something, demanding something of Hermione, but movement by the fireplace drew Hermione’s attention away.

Hermione’s heart stuttered as she saw Draco exit the fireplace, dusting soot off his robes. He froze as he realised the intense scene he had walked in on. Hermione’s breath caught in her chest as Draco’s eyes flicked to hers. A second flash of green and Narcissa appeared, nearly tripping over Draco still standing in front of the fireplace.

“What on earth is going on here?” Narcissa demanded, quickly regaining herself.

“The prisoners have escaped the dungeon, Cissy. We caught this one trying to get away,” Bellatrix said smoothly, twisting the events of the evening.

Lucius glowered at Bellatrix.

“She said she was unable to get away,” he corrected her.

As they spoke, Greyback stepped quietly beside Draco, taking a deep breath. His eyes flashed yellow as he looked over to Hermione. He walked to Bellatrix, whispering in her ear before quickly retreating to the edge of the room, eyes still on Hermione, a small smirk playing at the corner of his mouth.

Bellatrix’s grasp on Hermione’s face tightened, her nails digging painfully into her cheeks.

“The werewolf said you smelled different earlier,” Bellatrix hissed, searching Hermione’s face. “Why would he now say you smell like Draco?”

Hermione felt her grin grow like the Cheshire cat’s.

“Because he shagged me.” Hermione held Bellatrix’s gaze as she spoke, her voice echoing around the quiet room. Bellatrix let go of Hermione’s face as though burned by the contact.

“What?” Lucius’ whisper was somehow more dangerous than his earlier outburst.

“Or maybe I shagged him,” Hermione continued, shifting her gaze to Lucius. “Either way, it was mutually satisfying.”

Hermione didn’t even see Bellatrix’s hand move. One moment she was sitting there, levelling a triumphant gaze at Lucius and the next a stinging sensation hit her in the cheek. Her skin ripped and, still tied to the chair, unable to use her arms or legs for balance, Hermione felt herself tip. Her head hit the floor the moment after her shoulder painfully jammed against the cold tile.

Fragments of conversation floated over and around Hermione as the world blurred in and out of consciousness. A shrieking alto followed by a tight baritone cascaded overtop a defensive tenor answering an irate soprano. The sounds occasionally coalesced into words that Herimone could comprehend.

“... irresponsibility…”

“... compensated…”

“... lost chattel…”

“... thinking with your prick instead of your brain…”

“... weeks ago!”

Hermione stirred and tried to lift her head.

“Too dark,” she whispered. Her head spun as someone righted the chair she was still bound to.

“Too dark in the cellar… only light from the full moon,” she managed to gasp out before the world went black again.

Chapter 8: The Exception

Summary:

A distinct knock sounded from the double doors to her right, causing Hermione to jump and her heart to race. She found that she had dozed off in the warmth of the bed and when she woke, bright patches of sunlight streamed in through the windows by a fireplace.

The knock sounded again, louder this time.

“Granger? I… I’ve been sent to escort you to breakfast.” Malfoy’s voice sounded muffled through the closed doors.

Notes:

Sorry, ya'll! I know I said two chapters a week, but boy! has life been crazy! Fingers crossed I'll be able to post three chapters this week to make up for it.

Chapter Text

That brief moment between waking and opening her eyes, Hermione thought she must have been having a terrible nightmare. Her head swam and for a moment, she was sure she was floating. Blinking her eyes, she found herself right side up, but still disorientated, as she realised that of all the possible places she half expected to be, she truly had no idea where she was.

The room was dim with pre-dawn light, and though her body throbbed with a bone-deep ache, all Hermione could focus on was the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows across from her. Pushing herself out of the bed, she walked over to the windows in a sort of trance, drawn in by the promise of direct sunlight and uninterrupted views. She found herself pressing her hand to the glass, mesmerised as the pale world below turned vibrant in the morning light. After months of living underground, she was dazzled by the distance and clarity of her new perspective.

By the time the sun had lifted itself fully over the horizon, the memories of the previous day had sorted themselves in Hermione’s mind and, although she was still unsure of her exact location, she felt a little more secure in her general position in life. Turning from the windows to survey the room, she reasoned that if she was doomed to spend the rest of her days a prisoner in Malfoy Manor, at least now she warranted an above-ground room with furniture. It was an improvement to say the least.

The space was a pleasing mixture of antique and contemporary, giving it a stylish yet comfortable air that only a certain level of wealth and aristocracy could afford. Hermione snorted as she thought it reminded her precisely of a magazine her mother was fond of that featured snippets of the Muggle royal family’s living arrangements.

Making her way back toward the bed, Hermione realised that although stiff, her ankle had been healed. For a moment, she was taken aback when she saw the small assortment of vials and tubes arranged on the nightstand. Next to a tube of bruise paste, Hermione recognised a vial of Draco's P.S. creation and another filled with a deep murky purple liquid. Tucked under the purple potion was a slip of parchment on which the words ‘For your concussion’ were written in the sharp, precise handwriting she had come to know in the margins of Draco's textbooks.

Hermione picked up the two vials and downed the potions in quick succession. Only after she drank the concoctions did the thought occur to her that it might have been smart to check the contents of the vials before ingesting them. But as quickly as the thought registered, it was gone, replaced with the reassuring knowledge that she trusted Draco.

Wondering at the need for the bruise paste, Hermione looked around for a mirror. Peeking behind an open door, she was delighted to find a washroom.

Seeing herself in the mirror, however, she was shocked by what she saw. The hand-me-down school uniform she had been wearing for the last several weeks was filthy and torn and her hair was a disaster: knotted and tangled with leaves and twigs from her midnight traipse through the woods. One entire side of her forehead was dark with a bruise, hair stuck in a patch of dried blood crusted along her hairline. Leaning closer, Hermione inspected her face, taking stock of the scratches and dirt intermingled with tear tracks streaked across her cheeks.

The sight of herself in the clear morning light, unwashed and dirty in the sparkling bathroom, made Hermione strangely ashamed, feeling unclean in a way she never had before.

Quickly undressing, she left her ragged clothes in a pile on the floor and stepped into the tub, filling it with luke-warm water. While the tub filled, she scrubbed her body and lathered her hair, taking extra time to pick apart the knots with her fingers. When the tub had filled enough, she completely submerged herself and rinsed all the dirt and soap from her body. Then Hermione turned off the taps and pulled the plug, draining the tub.

Skin prickling from the cool air, she watched the dirty water as it swirled down the drain, suddenly overcome with an uneasy feeling of having washed away something important; of exposing something she wasn’t quite ready to reveal. Shivering in the emptying tub, Hermione thought bitterly there was surely some metaphor to be made of her muddy brown water streaking across the clean white porcelain.

The sound of the drain gurgling shook her from her reverie. Hermione rinsed the rest of the dirt from the bottom of the tub and refilled it with hot, clear water. She lay back as the water steadily filled the tub, watching as her skin submerged inch by inch, flush with the heat.

Feeling more relaxed than she had in recent memory, Hermione took stock of her body. Starting with the scar on her ribs as always, she moved down over her stomach and thighs, before running her hands back up and over her full breasts. She was mildly surprised to see that her body no longer looked hollow, her boney angles once again smooth and curving after a summer of eating sufficient meals.

When a chill began to seep into the water, she pulled her pruney body from the tub. Wrapping herself in a fluffy white towel, she stepped up to the mirror. Using her fingers to comb through her curly hair, Hermione cringed at the bruise along her face. Remembering the tube of bruise paste on the nightstand, she stepped out of the bathroom to retrieve it, then gently applied it to her tender skin.

Satisfied that her face was sufficiently covered in paste, Hermione turned her attention to the task of washing her clothes, but found that they had disappeared. Her stomach sank with the realisation that both the pearl Draco had given her and her charmed galleon were still in the pocket of the skirt. Feeling fretful at the loss, she crawled back into bed, anxious for her cleaned clothes - and accompanying items - to be returned to her.

A distinct knock sounded from the double doors to her right, causing Hermione to jump and her heart to race. She had dozed off in the warmth of the bed and when she woke, bright patches of sunlight streamed in through the windows by the fireplace.

Carefully tucking the towel around her body, Hermione tiptoed over to the doors. The knock sounded again, louder this time.

“Granger? I… I’ve been sent to escort you to breakfast.” Draco's voice sounded muffled through the closed doors.

Hermione pressed her cheek against one of the doors and opened the other just a crack. She tried to hide her body to the side while peeking through the opening.

“The house elves took my clothes.” It wasn’t the most graceful greeting and she flushed at her awkwardness.

Draco's brows furrowed together as he pulled his head back slightly. He stood staring at Hermione, clearly confused by her admission. Shaking his head, he pushed past her into the room and strode over to a large armoire. Pulling it open, he rifled through fistsful of clothes hanging there, finally pulling out a blue dress, hanging it on the door.

“Wear this," Draco commanded as he turned to face Hermione. His eyes widened slightly when he caught sight of her. After two blinks Draco had his face under control but he still ran his eyes up and down, making no attempt to hide his cold appraisal of her. Hermione adjusted her towel, feeling uncomfortable under his scrutiny, in spite of his clear intentions to do just that.

“And do something about your hair," he said as his lip curled.

Hermione felt small. Gone was the boy she had come to know in the dungeons, the one she might have tentatively called a friend, the one she had agreed to marry. In fact, she suddenly felt like she was back at Hogwarts, with a bullying Malfoy sneering insults at her in the halls.

“There are potions and things in the bath. You have ten minutes.” With that, he strode out of the room, nearly slamming the door behind him.

Feeling completely out of her element and thoroughly embarrassed, Hermione stepped over to the armoire and glanced at the outfit Malfoy had picked out. It was a lovely dress in an expensive fabric; she supposed it was the sort of thing one would wear to breakfast with the in-laws, and the thought made her shudder.

Sighing, Hermione turned her attention to the rest of the contents of the armoire and wasn’t even surprised to see it was filled with an entire wardrobe. One drawer contained socks and stockings of every length and colour, another was filled with knickers and bras in a range of fabrics and cuts. An entire shelf was dedicated to a variety of footwear and on the hangers were an assortment of dresses, skirts, trousers, blouses, and jumpers. It must have been the magic of the Manor, a perfect guest room, complete with an armoire charmed to provide exactly what the occupant needed.

Hermione chose a pair of knickers and a bra along with stockings and a nude pair of kitten heels. Pulling the dress over her head she found it fit her perfectly. Hermione marvelled at how, even after all this time, magic could still amaze her.

After inspecting the dress in the mirror, she turned her attention to her hair. It wasn’t as bad as it had been before her bath, but having lain in bed while it was still wet made it dry unevenly. While one half of her head looked nearly presentable, the side she had laid on was definitely askew.

Making her way back into the bathroom, Hermione opened all the drawers and inspected the contents. Finding something that looked similar to sleekeazey’s hair potion, but with a French label, Hermione began the job of taming her curls. Satisfied with the smoothness of her hair, she gathered it up and braided it to the side, tying off the braid behind her ear to leave the bottom half of her curls flowing over her shoulder.

After snooping through the rest of the tubs, vials, and tins, Hermione applied a magical face cream and something that worked for mascara. Pleased with the results, she was just applying some lipgloss when she heard Malfoy knocking on the door.

“Coming!” She called out as she hurried to open the door.

Hermione felt a small measure of smugness when she watched Malfoy’s obviously surprised reaction to her quick makeover.

“Better.” Malfoy ruined the mood with a sneer, continuing the reversion to his Hogwarts temperament.

Hermione rolled her eyes and followed him into a large drawing room, complete with more floor to ceiling windows, another fireplace, sitting area, baby grand piano, and several bookshelves brimming with books. The decor echoed the guest room with its antique furniture and sumptuous fabrics, although it somehow felt less feminine.

Malfoy moved through the room and held open a carved double door for Hermione. Walking through the door, she found herself in a dark corridor that felt oppressive when Malfoy closed the door behind himself, blocking out the only source of illumination. He confidently made his way down the hall, unbothered by the lack of light, and Hermione trailed close behind him.

Several corridors and one grand set of stairs later, Malfoy stopped outside yet another impressive set of doors. After adjusting his cuffs, Malfoy bent his arm, offering it to Hermione, though he didn’t once look at her.

Gritting her teeth, Hermione tucked her hand into his elbow and allowed him to rigidly escort her into the dining room.

Hermione’s breath quickened as soon as she stepped over the threshold and felt the eyes of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy on her. She unconsciously raised her other hand to Malfoy’s arm, holding on to him tighter. He stiffened for a moment, before placing his free hand over hers, giving her fingers a gentle squeeze.

Trying not to look anywhere in particular, she lowered her eyes, following the patterns in the rug as they made their way into the room. Reaching the table, Malfoy released her hands and pulled out a chair for Hermione before settling himself between her and his father.

“Father. Mother.” Malfoy’s tone was clipped but polite as he laid his napkin on his lap. “Apologies for our tardiness.”

Hermione glanced at the other occupants of the table, noticing they already had food on their plates and tea in their cups, just as her plate filled with a full British breakfast and a hovering teapot filled her cup.

Swallowing, Hermione looked up.

“Good morning.” She hated how timid her voice sounded, but was also pleased that she had been able to say something.

Silence and a pinched look was all the response she received from Lucius. Narcissa, on the other hand, folded her hands and watched Hermione from across the table with a neutral expression.

After an awkward pause, Lucius cleared his throat and turned his attention back to his son.

“Nice of you to make an appearance this morning,” he said, picking up his tea. “Particularly considering the trouble you’ve caused.”

A tendon in Malfoy’s jaw twitched, but he said nothing.

“I have been in negotiations all night due to your recklessness. And that was after having to report our situation to the Dark Lord personally," Lucius continued.

At that, Malfoy looked slightly abashed, but still said nothing.

“As you can imagine, the Dark Lord was not pleased at the loss of so many indentured, but he is willing to overlook your blunder as a youthful indiscretion so long as you satisfy the financial obligation to the holders.”

Malfoy’s shoulders softened and he nodded once. “Of course. Thank you for negotiating on my behalf.”

Lucius sat back in his chair, watching his son with a frown.

“I expect you to be a better steward over our finances going forward.”

Once again, Malfoy nodded. “I will be more mindful of my actions in the future,” he said tactfully.

Lucius sighed and took a bite of his breakfast. Hermione took her cue from Malfoy who still seemed to be waiting.

“We have agreed that you will pay twenty percent over the opening bid for each indentured that escaped. Fifty percent for the one you retained.”

Hermione flushed with indignation at the casual way Lucius Malfoy was discussing the price of people - her friends. The price of her. Then she shivered, thinking how close she had come to literally being on the auction block.

A small pressure on the side of her little toe drew her attention and Hermione realised Draco’s foot was resting against hers. It almost felt accidental, except that he didn’t move away. The small act was immeasurably comforting.

“Very well,” Draco acknowledged the arrangement.

“What was the opening bid?” Hermione hadn’t intended to say anything and her voice sounded shaky, even to her own ears.

Draco’s foot moved to rest atop hers, a warning.

Hermione felt the weight of Lucius’s gaze as he searched her face before answering.

“Twenty thousand galleons.”

Hermione grew dizzy as she mentally calculated just how much Draco had forfeited to free them. And that was in addition to binding himself to her.

“Moreover, you will pay the premium for each,” Lucius continued, his glare returning to Draco.

Draco’s eyes cut to his father before settling back on the table in front of him.

The pressure on Hermione’s foot increased slightly.

“Indeed.” Draco said tightly.

“Premium?” Again, Hermione spoke without thinking. “For what?”

Hermione felt Draco tense beside her and the pressure on her foot was becoming uncomfortable: a clear warning to stop talking.

Lucius again turned to Hermione, a spark of dangerous humour in his eyes as he leaned casually on the arm of his chair.

“There is a five thousand galleon premium for virginity,” Lucius said with a smirk.

Hermione recognized in a moment where Draco had learned to be cruel. She felt her face heat even as she sat straighter in her chair, ready to square off against the man who was clearly trying to bait her.

“I fail to see how that is the concern of any-”

“It is specifically the concern of the auction,” Lucius drawled, cutting her off.

Hermione’s argument died on her tongue at Lucius’s statement. She sat frozen as the full weight of her near-slavery fell upon her. Draco had hinted at the possibility when he laid out his proposal in the dungeon, but hearing it spoken of in such blunt terms felt heavier, more real, than it had previously.

The pressure on Hermione’s foot eased as Draco shifted to once again press his foot alongside hers, a grounding weight along the length of her foot. Hermione pressed back, grateful for Draco’s solid presence, despite the coldness she had felt from him earlier.

Hermione’s eyes drifted to Narcissa who was still watching the exchange with an unreadable expression. Narcissa held Hermione’s gaze for a moment, before returning to her breakfast.

“There is also the matter of your intentions with Miss Granger.” Narcissa’s voice cut through the spiralling thoughts in Hermione’s mind.

“Intentions?” Draco sounded as confused as Hermione felt.

“While I am sure you did not intend to bind yourself - for life - with your rather gormless trip to the cellar, that is nevertheless what has happened.” Lucius sneered as he spoke.

The warmth and solidarity of Draco’s foot was abruptly removed. Hermione felt more alone than she had prior to his silent offering of support.

Narcissa turned her attention back to her son.

“The situation you find yourself in begs the question: do you intend to abide by the nature of the bond, or is this, in fact, a youthful indiscretion you intend to be rid of when it is time for you to marry properly?” Narcissa’s tone was indifferent, nearly bored, as she sipped her tea, her expression unaffected.

Hermione sat frozen, unable to even breathe, as they discussed her fate without so much as a glance in her direction. She could only imagine one way to ‘be rid of’ a magical bond that lasted for life.

“Plainly put: is she your concubine or your wife?” Lucius said the last word disparagingly, lip curled in distaste.

A tense moment passed where Hermione felt the weight of the world on her chest, threatening to crush her. The moment passed when Draco shifted and his foot once again came to rest atop hers.

“My wife.” Draco's voice was low with conviction.

The dam holding back her emotions burst and Hermione’s lungs burned; quick, deep breaths threatening to overwhelm her. Searching for an anchor, she focused on the heaviness pressing down on her foot.

Chancing a glance at Draco, she could see the defiance in his posture, the challenge he both accepted and returned to his father. Relief flooded her eyes, and Hermione blinked quickly to keep it from spilling over.

In the few moments it took Hermione to regain control of her emotions, Draco had moved his foot to press alongside hers again. She looked up and saw Narcissa watching them, her expression as unreadable as ever.

Setting her teacup down, Narcissa patted her lips with a napkin before speaking.

“In that case, we have barely a week to prepare,” Narcissa eyed Hermione appraisingly as she spoke. “I see that with a little effort your appearance can be made acceptable, but your manners and etiquette will need work. I imagine the bulk of our time will need to be spent on dancing, however.”

“Dancing?” Draco voiced one of the many questions Hermione was stuck on.

“Yes, a ball generally includes dancing,” Lucius said sarcastically.

Turning her bewildered look from Narcissa to Lucius, Hermione saw that he, too, was appraising her.

“And spare no expense on her gown, Narcissa. Her appearance will make a statement. Be sure it is the right one,” Lucius said, looking to his wife.

“Yes,” Narcissa replied. “I believe I have something from your grandmother, Lucius. It will need to be made over, of course, but I believe it will set the correct tone for her debut.”

“Surely you don’t intend Hermione to attend the Faire?” Draco said incredulously.

Hermione’s insides twisted a little at the sound of her name. Whether it was from the timber of Draco’s voice when he said it, or the way he emphasised the ridiculousness of her attendance, she couldn’t tell.

“Not the Faire, just the Ball,” Narcissa said primly.

“Why in Salazar’s bloody name would we take her?” Draco asked loudly.

Hermione decided the twist was definitely due his evident disdain at the idea of taking her along.

“Language, Draco,” Narcissa chided.

“It’s a Ball for Death Eaters. It hardly seems an appropriate place to take a mu- muggle-born.”

Hermione caught the stutter but wondered that he sounded almost protective. The feeling in her stomach twisted a little tighter.

Lucius’s gaze travelled over both Draco and Hermione before he answered.

“The Dark Lord is quite anxious to celebrate his triumph and set the precedent for his administration. He has extended an invitation to our family. If Miss Granger is your wife, as you allege, then she will attend as your wife - a member of our family. Your mother will ensure she is a wife worthy of the Malfoy name and we will be able to show exactly how much weight this family still carries.”

Lucius paused to take a sip of his tea.

“Furthermore, with her being a muggle-born - not to mention Potter’s close friend - her public appearance will be a display of support for the Dark Lord’s authority and will inspire confidence in his leadership. As well as assuaging any lingering fears about his legitimacy.”

Hermione knew Voldemort had continued tightening his grip on the Ministry while they were on the run, but she had no idea what political changes had been taking place over the summer. Still, she knew enough to recognise she was being manoeuvred for a political game she didn’t fully understand.

Hermione’s voice was quiet as she began to discern the players from the field.

“I will be the exception that proves the rule; the example to point out why muggle-borns should be second class citizens. Unless they are as clever and talented as I am, unless they assimilate as well as you will ensure I do, there isn’t room for them in society. And my implied support of the Dark Lord will protect your family, too," she said stronger, looking back and forth between Lucius and Narcissa.

Lucius’s mouth quirked into something between a sneer and what might have passed for amusem*nt. Narcissa’s eyebrows rose almost imperceptibly as she tilted her head slightly.

"I believe you mean to say our family." Narcissa spoke directly to Hermione. "Draco always said you were clever, I see now it's true. And, you are perfectly correct. Your public appearance at Draco’s side will reassure all those who are sceptical of the Dark Lord’s government; people will be able to point to you and say ‘See? He’s not so bad’ and then turn a blind eye to everything else. It will also reaffirm our place in society. Everyone loves a love story - especially a forbidden one - and so, we will make you and Draco the darlings of society. Surely, someone as clever as you, can see how delicate an arrangement such as this is?”

Hermione could see exactly how the entire plan hinged on her willingness to play her part. She nodded dutifully, hoping her face was blank, while inside, she was vacillating wildly between miserable resignation and righteous rage at her predicament. She decided she would play along for now and bide her time until she could either make contact with the Order or make an escape on her own.

Either way, she resolved that regardless of the circ*mstances, she would not give up her agency; no matter what happened, she would hold herself fully accountable to her own decisions.

Chapter 9: Old Magic

Summary:

“It would be unwise to underestimate someone where the safety of their family is concerned," Lucius said carefully.

Hermione understood the sentiment and wondered if she were being threatened or complimented. Either way, she nodded her head in agreement.

“There are no limits to what a person is capable of, if it means protecting their family,” she replied.

Notes:

Thank you, thank you, thank you! All your kind comments and kudos are giving this story life!

**TW at the end of this chapter, nothing crazy, but just in case.**

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The following week passed in a blur. Every morning Hermione woke before dawn to get herself ready for the day. She would go over Narcissa’s most recent reading assignment until Malfoy knocked on her door to woodenly escort her to breakfast. Malfoy and Lucius excused themselves from the tense breakfast table as soon as they possibly could, and went off to do whatever it was Death Eaters did all day. Hermione tried not to think about it, and mostly succeeded because as soon as she was left alone with Narcissa, she was bombarded with a full schedule of her own.

First, a rundown of all the ways her table manners had bordered on slovenly over breakfast, then straight into a morning fitting for the ballgown makeover where a simultaneous quiz on the previous day’s reading assignment took place. Hermione found she had a firm grasp on the theory of etiquette, unfortunately, it is not always a smooth transition from theory to practice. Or so Narcissa often reminded her.

After standing for an hour or more while Narcissa’s personal house elf, Sukey, poked her with pins and Narcissa grilled her on the intricacies of pureblood deportment, Hermione was whisked off to the ballroom where she was made to perform several wizarding dance drills which reminded her of her years of ballet classes, only in high heels.

Then a brief luncheon in the conservatory with Narcissa again picking apart her table manners while Hermione tried not to take anything personally before being summoned back to the ballroom to begin the tedious process of learning a new dance each day. Hermione felt foolish sashaying and twirling around the ballroom by herself while Narcissa barked orders and gave contradictory commands. She often lamented her lack of physical activity over the summer as the day’s exercises left her feeling drained.

Finally, in the afternoon, they would stop for tea and another gown fitting before Hermione was allowed to refresh herself in her rooms before Malfoy once again appeared to wordlessly escort her to dinner. After another strained meal, Hermione was escorted back to her bedroom where she attempted to read her nightly assignments. After spending an hour or two dozing over her books, she would give up and crawl into bed.

Before going to sleep each night, she cleared her mind and attempted to occlude. Even missing the familiar weight of her charmed galleon in her hands, Hermione’s thoughts inevitably strayed to her friends as she drifted off to sleep, fervently hoping they were somewhere safe.

The day before Halloween was the only day that varied from their established routine. During the afternoon dress fitting, Narcissa declared Hermione’s gown finished. The rest of the time normally devoted to pricking her with pins was spent trying on a wide variety of jewellery pieces while Narcissa and Sukey discussed the various ways Hermione’s hair and makeup might be done.

The next deviation came at dinner, when, instead of doing his absolute best to ignore Hermione’s presence, Lucius turned and spoke directly to her.

“Hermione." The amount of willpower it took Lucius to say her name was evident in his voice. “It seems that your Phoenix friends hold you in surprisingly high regard.”

It was clear that Lucius was fishing for information, but Hermione had no idea what she was meant to be hiding from him, so she merely said, “Oh?”

Hermione felt Malfoy tense beside her. She had the strange urge to reach her foot out to him under the table, but quickly stifled it. After days of him only acknowledging her when required to, she had no idea where they stood with each other, and if she were being honest with herself, his dismissiveness hurt her feelings more than she would have expected. And so, she stubbornly refused to reach out to him now.

“Indeed,” Lucius, unaware of her internal struggle, continued with his speech. “While we have been able to locate the hiding places of several Phoenix member’s families as well as nearly all mu- muggle borns and their families, we have not been able to figure out where your parents have been stashed away. I wonder… what would make them go to such lengths to protect you?”

Lucius drummed his fingers on the table, looking at Hermione as though he could discover their whereabouts on her face.

Hermione stared back at him, unflinching.

"The Order didn’t hide my parents.”

Hermione felt the gaze of Malfoy and Narcissa shift to her as Lucius raised his eyebrows, intrigued.

“We searched your house, several times. We’ve sent scouts out to all your known holiday spots. Your grandparents, aunts, uncles, even distant cousins have all been questioned.”

Hermione’s heart withered a little at the danger she had unwittingly put her extended family in, people she hardly even knew.

“No one has any information on the location of your parents. What’s more, it seems they can hardly recall having any contact with your parents, ever.”

Hermione allowed a satisfied smirk to form on her face.

“I’m not saying they aren’t hidden. Just that the Order didn’t have anything to do with it. I’m willing to bet that if you haven’t found them yet, you won’t have much luck finding them at all.” Feeling rather satisfied with herself, Hermione took a sip of her wine, keeping her eyes on Lucius.

Lucius leaned back in his chair as he watched Hermione.

“I see," he said with a small smirk of his own. “You took matters into your own hands.” It wasn’t a question. “Didn’t trust your precious Order to keep them safe? Seems it was a wise decision in the end.”

“My decision had nothing to do with the Order. I'd trust them with my life-”

“And see where that got you,” Lucius taunted.

“However,” Hermione continued over Lucius’ interjection, “I’ve always known I could only rely on myself when it came to my parents’ protection.”

Lucius sighed as he leaned forward, picking up his knife and fork.

"In any case, whatever methods you used to hide them away, they were certainly more effective than the rest of the Phoenix’s schemes.”

“Indeed,” Hermione agreed. Then with a small smile added, “I’m glad to know the Death Eaters are completely oblivious where my parents are concerned.”

Lucius paused in the cutting of his meal, looking at Hermione carefully. She wondered if she had let too much slip in her overconfidence.

“It would be unwise to underestimate someone where the safety of their family is concerned," Lucius said carefully.

Hermione understood the sentiment and wondered if she were being threatened or complimented. Either way, she nodded her head in agreement.

“There are no limits to what a person is capable of, if it means protecting their family,” she replied.

After watching her for another moment Lucius nodded slowly and, turning back to his meal, began inquiring after Narcissa’s day.

Only then did Hermione allow herself to breathe. Glancing out the corner of her eye, she noticed the tightness in Malfoy’s jaw had eased only slightly.

Giving in to a kinder impulse, Hermione shifted in her chair, reaching for another slice of bread to cover the movement of her foot under the table. She was pleased to see the tension in Draco’s shoulders lessen further as her foot pressed alongside his.

Draco’s eyes barely flicked to her before he rejoined the conversation with his parents, leaving Hermione in the comfortable position of being ignored for the rest of the meal.

Just as the dinner dishes were whisked away, Lucius and Draco made their excuses and left to finish preparing for the big festivities the next day, leaving Hermione and Narcissa alone for dessert.

It was a rather stilted affair, and Hermione had the impression that Narcissa was reevaluating her on some level, but as usual, Narcissa’s face gave nothing away. Finally, as the dessert dishes disappeared, Narcissa broke the quiet.

“I suggest you turn in early and get some rest. Tomorrow will be a big day for our family.”

Hermione understood the dismissal, but there was something more in Narcissa’s words she couldn't quite parse out. Ignoring the undercurrent of Narcissa’s meaning and taking advantage of her early release, Hermione stood. Pausing by the door, she turned back.

“I never intended to become part of this family, but I am grateful for all that you have done for me.”

Hermione then quickly made her retreat, not wanting to see how her words were received.

Hermione spent the evening exactly as Narcissa had suggested, luxuriating in a long bath and practicing occlumency before snuggling into bed early.

It felt like only a moment later that her eyes blinked open. Pale moonlight seeped through the windows, reminding Hermione that it was the night of the full moon. A moment of panic shuddered through her when she heard a distant howl and simultaneously realised someone was standing by her bed.

“Hush, now.” Narcissa’s face was hidden in shadow, and she was wearing a long, loose fitting, white nightgown, unlike anything Hermione would have imagined her wearing, but her long blond hair shone unmistakable in the moonlight.

“Put this on.” Narcissa’s voice brought Hermione back to her senses and the panic drained out of her as swiftly as it had come.

“What’s happening?” Hermione asked as she accepted a similar white nightgown.

Narcissa pursed her lips and turned away from Hermione.

“Wear only the gown. Nothing else.”

Hermione did as she was told, taking off her night clothes and knickers and slipping the new dress over her head. It was made from some type of raw linen and felt soft and heavy against her bare skin.

“Follow me,” Narcissa said, beckoning Hermione out of the room. Hermione followed, dream-like, through the halls and out into the moonlit grounds.

Her bare feet tingled as they walked across the dewey lawns and on, into the shelter of the woods. Before long, they stopped at a small brook as it burbled its way through the bracken. Narcissa raised her wand and drew several glowing ruins in the water which shimmered with magic as they drifted away in the current.

Hermione shivered in the damp night air as she watched Narcissa work. She understood she was witnessing ancient family magic and, though she wasn’t sure she totally approved, couldn’t help her academic fascination with the process.

Narcissa drew a cup of the magically infused water from the brook and Hermione gasped loudly when the icy-cold water was unexpectedly dumped on her head. She sputtered with shock as the water streamed down her body, the linen fabric absorbing it as it rushed past.

“When we enter the circle, be sure not to speak, except for the words of the incantation," Narcissa warned as they resumed their trek.

The wet fabric clung to Hermione’s skin and the night breeze chilled her body, tightening her skin in gooseflesh. Bits of fallen leaves and earth stuck to her damp feet as they made their way deeper into the woods.

Hermione began to wonder if she wasn’t actually following a wendigo to her death, when the woods began to thin and they entered a circular grove of oak trees. Light from the full moon shone from above, filtering through the stark oak branches, illuminating a misty savannah.

Silently following the ghostly figure of Narcissa, feeling the earth beneath her feet while passing through the shrouded landscape, Hermione could feel the old magic, suspended like fog in the air. It was nights like this that made it easy for her to believe in magic.

They made their way toward a lone oaktree dominating the centre of the clearing and two more white-clad figures emerged from the mist.

With a nod from Narcissa, Lucius and Draco stepped forward, meeting them under the bare boughs of the ancient oak.

Draco held a wand out toward Hermione and, remembering the admonition to not speak in this hallowed place, she stared at it in dumbfounded silence. After a moment where nobody moved, she tentatively reached out and grasped the wand.

The surge of her magic as it focused and honed-in on the instrument in her hand was breathtaking. It didn’t feel seamless like her vinewood wand had, but the sheer volume of magic this place held, combined with her ability to concentrate it through the wand, left her feeling giddy.

Draco moved to her side as she stared, awestruck, at the wand in her hand. When Hermione looked up, she saw that they had arranged themselves into a small circle. She gazed around the circle, making eye contact with each of them in turn, first Draco to her left, then Narcissa directly across from her, and finally Lucius to her right.

After just a moment, Lucius broke eye contact and began drawing runes in the centre of the circle. Narcissa and Draco raised their wands and repeated the runes in their own hand, Hermione following their lead not a heartbeat after.

The runes floated from the tips of their wands down to the ground and a deep glow began to emanate from the soil at their feet. Several lines branched out from the centre of their circle, radiating off into the distance, illuminating their faces from below. Hermione didn’t pause in her casting, even as she realised they were kindling ley lines, imbuing them with family magic.

Hermione lost track of time as they cast, awakening the magic lying dormant in this place, watching as a web of smouldering lines spread forth from under their feet, encircling first their small group, then the grove of ancient oak trees, and finally disappearing off into the night. By the time Lucius sent the final rune into the earth, followed by Narcissa, Draco, and Hermione, her giddiness had transformed into a sort of drunkenness that left her feeling dizzy.

Everyone lowered their wands and Hermione stood, gulping for air among the flickering light of the ley lines.

The breeze quickened, causing bare branches to tap against each other and dying leaves to rustle. Clouds shifted in the sky, the moon winking down at them as the wind swirled. A lone howl sounded behind Hermione, causing a pulse to run through the group. Hermione, however, felt unexpectedly calm, surrounded by the protective magic of the ritual.

Hermione’s calm feeling was quickly destroyed and she stifled the urge to cry out as, with typical elegance, Narcissa produced from her pocket a silver poignard and, turning to Lucius, sliced thin lines across his outstretched palms and down his middle fingers. Blood welled up in the thin cuts as he took the knife and Narcissa bared her hands to him in turn. The incisions were repeated on Narcissa’s palms before Lucius turned and offered the bloody knife to Hermione.

Heart beating furiously behind her ribs, Hermione shrank back, shaking her head. Old family magic was fascinating, despite her misgivings, but blood magic seemed so obviously Dark that Hermione couldn't even contemplate crossing that line.

Unfortunately for her morality, Lucius held no such compunctions and, grabbing her arm, pressed the bloody hilt into her hand and forcefully turned her around, leaving sticky red handprints on her white sleeves.

Panic rose through Hermione's chest, her breath increasing to match her frantically beating heart, her mind racing as she gripped the warm handle of the blade. Could her soul remain unblemished if she participated in a blood ritual? What would happen if she refused and the ritual was left incomplete? Her eyes flicked to the edge of the clearing. Could she leave the circle? What would happen if she did?

Draco bent his head down to catch Hermione’s eye, and he held her gaze with a steadiness that kept her panic at bay. Maintaining eye contact, he confidently nodded his head as he offered her his palms.

A sob caught in Hermione’s throat as she shook her head. She had unconsciously started to back away when Draco's fingers closed around her hand holding the poignard. His grip was gentle but unrelenting as he held her hand still and pressed his palm to the point of the knife.

Through the dagger, Hermione felt the slicing of Draco's skin as he drew his hand across the blade. Tears that had flooded her eyes finally fell as he switched hands, completing the task she was unwilling to do.

Draco then pried Hermione's fingers off the knife handle and firmly held her hand in his bleeding grip before pressing the tip of the blade to her skin. With her eyes glued to his, Hermione felt the sharp slice of cold metal down her palms while tears ran down her cheeks.

The task complete, Draco turned without releasing Hermione’s hand, and offered the knife to his mother, who planted the bloody blade in the soil at the centre of the circle.

Retaking her spot, Narcissa entwined her hands with Draco and Lucius’, their fingers pointing to the earth. Draco shifted Hermione’s hand in his to mimic the position, while not allowing her the option of pulling away. Hermione stiffened as Lucius grasped her free hand and similarly positioned it in an iron-fisted grip.

Hermione felt the blood from her hands, combined with the blood of the men on either side of her, dribbling sticky and hot down her fingers; her dirty blood literally mixing with the purity of theirs.

Hermione’s horror at what she was participating in slowly dimmed as she stared straight ahead, into the unwavering face of Narcissa. The echo of her own words came floating back to her: there were no limits to what a person was capable of when it came to the protection of their family.

New understanding of what it could mean to protect someone with her life had Hermione's tears slowing and her shoulders straightening. She held her hands steady as she met Narcissa’s gaze with calm resolution.

Their mixed blood dripped off their fingertips and landed in the soil at their feet. Accepting the magic and participating fully in the ritual, Hermione felt a rush of power unlike anything she had ever experienced before. It was the tingling and warmth that accompanied her first time holding her vinewood wand multiplied exponentially, coursing throughout her body in time with her beating heart. The power of this place - and these people - was literally flowing in her blood.

The smouldering ley lines, watered with drops of their blood, suddenly ignited. Their blood continued to flow and the ley lines continued to swell until they became a fortress of fire, enveloping and sheltering them within its living protection.

Notes:

TW: There's a scene that involves blood magic.

Chapter 10: Twisted Nostalgia

Summary:

“Hermione Granger.”

Hermione looked up at the sound of her name and was chilled by the sight of bright red eyes scrutinising her.

“My Lord,” she murmured, bowing her head.

Notes:

Thank you all my lovely readers for taking time out of your day to read along. It means so much to me to be able to share this time with you!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The morning of Halloween dawned bright and crisp. Wrapped in a blanket, Hermione settled in a window seat next to the fireplace in her room and watched the sun rise. Bright rays of morning light illuminated jewel-toned leaves, glittering in the crystalline embrace of a hoar frost, the blue cloudless sky dazzlingly bright and clean. Hermione traced the faint white lines that traversed her palms, thinking how easy it was to do things under the cover of darkness that seemed impossible in the light of day; how easy it had been, in the end, to give her blood for the protection of this place, these people.

Hermione inspected the landscape to see if she could tell where the ritual had taken place, knowing even as she did she wouldn’t recognize it. She tried reaching out with her magic to see if she could feel a difference in the estate surrounding her, but everything felt as it always had. She thought ruefully at the ease with which the family magic had accepted her, dirty blood and all; wondering if the Malfoy's had contemplated such things, or if they had known all along that magic was accepting of magic, regardless of where it came from.

A knock she didn't recognise, a soft but sure tapping on the door, interrupted her musings. Opening the door curiously, Hermione was met with the floppy ears and large eyes of Narcissa’s house elf.

"Pardon me, but my Mistress has sent Sukey to escort the young Mistress Hermione to breakfast," the elf said, bowing low.

"Of course. Thank you for coming to fetch me." Hermione could tell Sukey was still suspicious of Hermione's friendliness, but she was nevertheless determined to make every interaction with the house elf polite.

"Is there a reason Master Draco isn't able to escort me this morning?"

"Master Draco and my Mistress’ Lucius is already gone. My Mistress is waiting for Mistress Hermione to join her."

Hermione was, as always, impressed with Sukey's way of sounding deferential while leaving no room for argument. Following the now familiar path to the main dining room, she was surprised to see Sukey turn the opposite direction at the base of the grand staircase.

"My Mistress is liking her meals in the conservatory when her Lucius is away," Sukey explained, showing Hermione into a warm, slightly humid room, overflowing with plant life.

Narcissa sat at a round table laid out with a simple breakfast for two. As Hermione moved to sit down, a vine trailing from a nearby plant reached out and began to gently creep along her arm.

“Mind the imbracing ivy,” Narcissa spoke without looking up from fixing her plate. “It seems harmless but if you ignore it too long, you’ll be ensnared before you even realise.”

Hermione pinched the offending vine between her thumb and forefinger and gently removed it from her arm. Turning her attention to her plate, they ate in a stilted silence for several minutes.

Setting aside her cutlery and dabbing her mouth with her napkin, Narcissa finally broke the quiet.

“The improvement of your comportment this past week has been satisfactory. I believe we will be able to dine at the banquet tonight before the ball.”

Not sure how to respond to the near compliment, Hermione made a delicate noise in the back of her throat as she sipped her tea.

After a moment, Narcissa spoke again.

“But of course, you have always been an exceptional student.”

Hermione paused, that was most definitely a compliment. Coming on the tail-end of a week with nothing but correction and chastisem*nt - followed by a night of highly unusual family bonding - Hermione was truly at a loss.

“It aggravated Draco to no end that a girl with your background could beat him in all his classes. Even his first letters home from school bore mention of a bushy-haired girl whom the professors unfairly favoured.” Narcissa breathed out a dainty chuckle before continuing.

“I suppose I should have read more into his protestations. It is unfortunately easy for boys - and men - to express nearly every emotion as anger. But now I understand that his preoccupation with you was about more than marks. Tell me, when did you first begin to notice Draco?”

Hermione sat tongue-tied as Narcissa eyed her expectantly.

“Oh, er… Well, I have always known who he was, of course. And I didn’t beat him in every subject. He was always just ahead of me in potions and he did occasionally score better in charms.”

Hermione sipped her tea to give herself a moment to gather her thoughts. The Malfoy from their school-days had always been so cruel to her, so different from the friend she had grown to know in the dungeons, different even than the taciturn man - husband she thought sarcastically - who escorted her to and from her room each day.

Thinking carefully back through her time at school, Hermione settled on the first distinct memory she had of Draco Malfoy, and decided to go with it.

“I suppose I first really noticed him because of flying. I’ve always been a bit afraid of heights, even as a child, and he always seemed so natural on a broom. We had our first flying lessons together as first years, and I couldn’t even get my broom to come to me, I was so nervous, while Draco and Harry were off, racing each other around the pitch.” Hermione strategically edited her memories to make them seem more nostalgic toward Malfoy.

“Then in second year, he made the Slytherin quidditch team, of course…” Here Hermione stalled out, remembering with startling clarity the face of the boy who had first called her ‘mudblood’.

“Anyway,” she forced herself to turn away from memory, “I’m not much of a quidditch fan, to be honest, but we did try and outdo each other in classes regularly. It’s true we didn’t really get on in school, but perhaps the competition between us pushed us both to be better. And this summer…”

Hermione paused, her heart contracting as she thought of Draco’s face searching for hers as he came down the dungeon steps; wondering how to reconcile the boy he had been at school with the friend she had made over the summer. She also wondered how much to reveal about the summer without casting doubts on their escape. Deciding Narcissa would be more accepting of their situation if she had a bit more context, Hermione continued.

“Well, this summer he was kind to us. He brought us food and clothes and books. I was probably the only one who read them all, but it was thoughtful of him. And he was always happy to discuss the books, which was a welcome distraction from our circ*mstances…” Hermione trailed off, having once again come too close to uncomfortable truths she would rather not acknowledge.

Narcissa’s normally unreadable face looked thoughtful at Hermione for a moment.

“I didn’t realise my son had so much interaction with the prisoners over the summer. I suppose I should have been more diligent with my household, but I never expected to be keeping people in my wine cellar.” There was a slight edge to Narcissa’s carefully controlled voice.

“And I presume, the night of your-” Narcissa cleared her throat before continuing. “The night of your wedding, my son proposed to you before … before you were married.”

Hermione had never seen Narcissa show any sort of emotion, let alone stumble over her words. She was momentarily confused about what Narcissa was trying so delicately to say, but soon felt herself flush as she realised the real query behind her words.

“Oh, no!” Hermione rushed to reassure Narcissa. “I mean, yes, of course. He…” Now it was Hermione’s turn to clear her throat. “Draco proposed and I… consented.”

Hermione cringed inwardly at her awkward choice of words, but knew it was important to clarify the situation. No woman wanted to think her son could be capable of forcing himself on a girl and while Hermione didn’t know what exactly Malfoy was capable of, she knew he had not forced himself on her in any sense.

Narcissa studied Hermione intently for a moment.

“I see,” she finally said.

Perhaps Hermione imagined it, but she felt the tension in the room ease. She was just reaching to finish her last bite of toast, when Sukey appeared. Curtsying to Narcissa, the elf held up a silver tray with a note perched on top.

Narcissa read the note and, with a small purse of her lips, set it on the table.

“Thank you, Sukey. It appears we have a change of plans.”

Hermione watched Narcissa’s face carefully for any hints, but she had regained her easy detachment and gave nothing away.

“Lucius has informed me that the Dark Lord would like an audience with you.” Narcissa’s cool gaze met Hermione’s wide eyes.

“Me?” she said dumbly. “Why does he want to see me?”

Hermione felt a tendril of panic creep its way across her skin, and fought to remove it before it completely ensnared her.

Narcissa glanced to Sukey before refocusing on Hermione.

“Surely you must have some idea why the Dark Lord might want to meet you,” she said dryly. “Perhaps you could take a moment to gather your thoughts and come up with a viable notion.”

Hermione didn’t know why she was surprised at the suggestion to occlude, but nodded, gathering her most precious thoughts for safeguarding.

“Come, Sukey, we must work quickly,” Narcissa said, standing. “The Dark Lord will not be kept waiting.”

Work quickly they did; in less time than Hermione thought possible, she was readied in a dark green lace dress with coordinating hat and heels that made her feel as though she would be spending a day at the races.

Remembering the last time she had attempted to use the floo, Hermione wondered how the containment charm worked, if it was merely Voldemort’s intention that kept her in or allowed her to leave, or if there was something more to it. Just as she formulated the question, however, Narcissa took her firmly by the elbow and together they stepped through to the Headmaster’s Office in Hogwarts.

“Mrs. Malfoy. Miss Granger.”

The slippery voice of Professor Snape drove all charms-related questions from Hermione’s mind.

“Or should I say, Mrs. Malfoy?”

The subtle disgust evident in Snape’s demeanour gave Hermione a twisted sense of homesickness; making her wish she was still a student while simultaneously never wanting to set foot in the castle again.

“Severus,” Narcissa murmured, “A pleasure, I’m sure.”

“It is always nice to see you out and about.” Snape replied with a perfectly familiar mixture of impertinence and deference. “Our Lord is waiting for you in the Great Hall.” He sniffed, turning back to his desk.

Narcissa inclined her head before leading them toward the Great Hall. The nostalgia Hermione felt at finding herself back in Hogwarts slowly leached away as she followed. The sounds of carefree students that filled her memories were replaced with the echoes of hurried footsteps in desolate corridors; the images of smiling crowds of children replaced by haunted eyes disappearing behind closed doors as soon as possible; even the enchanting, magical feeling she had always associated with the castle had soured. Instead, an inhospitable and vaguely ominous feeling pressed in on her as Hermione settled her mind more deeply into occlumency.

As they descended the grand staircase into the entrance hall, the front doors opened, and Draco and Lucius walked in. Narcissa and Lucius dropped back as Draco stepped forward, searching Hermione’s face intently. With one dip of his chin, he offered his arm and together they stepped into the Great Hall.

Hermione let the reverberations of their footsteps pass through her mind as they crossed the nearly deserted Hall, the warmth and texture of Draco’s sleeve under her hand reminding her she wasn’t alone, as her feet carried her toward the only person she could truly say she wished dead. For a moment, her brain snagged on that thought, and she wondered, abstractly, if she could kill his body and buy them some time, when Draco suddenly stopped and dropped to one knee, pulling Hermione gracelessly down with him.

By the time Hermione had settled herself into a sufficiently servile position, Draco had already murmured the requisite greetings and was being summoned to kneel at Voldemort’s feet.

After an awkwardly long time staring into each others’ eyes, Voldemort smirked and leaned back in his chair, releasing Draco from the legilimency. In just a moment, Malfoy was back, kneeling at her side and Voldemort himself was addressing Hermione.

“Hermione Granger.”

Hermione looked up at the sound of her name and was chilled by the sight of bright red eyes scrutinising her. A slight movement at her side helped recenter her thoughts.

“My Lord,” she murmured, bowing her head, hoping she was doing a decent job keeping the bitterness from her voice.

“I have been eager to meet you.” The smoothness of Voldemort’s voice barely concealed the menace lurking within his words. “I’ve heard so much about you. Rumours follow your every move and yet… here you are. Perhaps there is more substance to the rumours than I would have thought.” Voldemort’s fingers idly tapped his wand as he studied Hermione.

Then, with a sigh and a casual flick of his fingers, Hermione was propelled forward on a cushion of magic.

Hermione could barely conceal a shudder as Volemort’s inhuman fingers gripped her chin and lifted her face, his red eyes staring straight into her own.

“And now, I will be able to see for myself whether the rumours are true.” The hiss of his voice snaked through Hermione’s ears and into her very brain as Voldemort’s legilimency slipped through her thoughts.

The feeling of someone else’s consciousness inside her own mind was horrifyingly intimate and deeply unpleasant. Hermione watched, helpless, as flashes of images and bursts of feelings flowed around and through her. The speed and seemingly arbitrary order of inspection made Hermione nauseous as her own memories were quickly dug up and immediately abandoned by Voledmort.

When the vertigo became such that Hermione was sure she would fall over, Voledmort’s assault became less random as he searched more diligently for what he was really after. He started with Hermione’s memories of Harry: their years spent at school, studying and eating together; each encounter with Voldemort himself; their desperate search and rescue attempt at the ministry; the time they spent at Grimmauld Place both with and without the Order of the Phoenix; the circ*mstances leading to their time in the tent, paying close attention to the wards and protective enchantments Hermione had perfected.

Soon Voldemort moved on to their capture by the snatchers. He seemed especially keen to review her memories of Harry and Ron’s escape, but fortunately, her mind had been addled from torture at the time, so she didn’t worry about him reviewing her confused and fragmented memories.

He skimmed over her time in the dungeons, and with a sick sense of humour viewed Hermione’s memories of her and Draco’s binding in excruciating detail. The intensity of these particular memories combined with the invasiveness of the legilimency left Hermione feeling more violated than anything that had so far happened to her, and she instinctively tried to put up a barrier between Voldemort’s mind and her own.

Hermione heard a cruel laugh as if from far away while Voldemort tore down her hastily constructed walls and proceeded to relive her memories of those moments again.

With a maliciously satisfied glint in his eye, Voldemort retreated from Hermione’s mind and she realised with despair that her cheeks were wet.

“There, there, little one,” Voldemort cooed in a patronising tone, “You can relax. I’ve seen more than once what effects such humanly carnal desires can have on a person. You and Draco are not the first to succumb to such temptations - such weaknesses! - nor will you be the last, I’m afraid.”

Voldemort patted her cheek in mock sympathy.

“Now I know that your cunning and cleverness have been severely overinflated, as rumours are wont to do, and I am reassured that I have little to fear from you, my darling girl.” Voldemort taunted as his lips curled up in a venomous smile.

Despite her tears and the throbbing emptiness in her head, Hermione knew she had, in fact, come out the victor. Her practised occlumency hadn’t been scrutinised and her hasty attempt to obstruct her intimate memories gave Voldemort a false sense of conquest over her mind.

Knowing she was still being watched, however, Hemione allowed the pain and confusion in her mind to overtake her, her head spinning as black dots swam in her vision.

“Enjoy the show your husband put together."

Hermione heard Voldemort's cruel tone and wondered vaguely what sad*stic glee he was hinting at.

"He’s been working ever so hard these past few weeks. He certainly deserves to enjoy the fruits of his labours.”

Voldemort’s red eyes sparkled as he leaned back on his throne and dismissed them by simply shifting his attention away.

Notes:

Ok friends! I've also got some technical questions about the story. First, I don't have a beta, so please feel free to point out any grammatical/spelling/formatting mistakes or additional tags I should have. Second, I don't have an alpha, so I'm wondering a few things... Is Hermione crying too much??? Is the switching back and forth between her refering to him as Malfoy vs. Draco distracting?? Is there too much angst? or can you handle a little more?? And lastly, I have a few more tags that I know are coming up but haven't written yet, should I go ahead and tag them now and risk the spoilers or just keep doing them in the end notes and update as they come up? And again, thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this journey with me!!!

Chapter 11: Hard to Tell

Summary:

“I have done the best I could with what I have been given,” he said through gritted teeth.

“This is the best you could do?” Hermione sounded hysterical, even to her own ears. “It’s not this hard to tell right from wrong, Malfoy.”

“The world isn’t divided into right and wrong, Granger."

Notes:

**TW in end notes**

Thank you all so much for your comments last chapter, they have given me lots of good things to think about.

I'm really excited for this chapter to post, it's the one that gave the story its title, yay!

I'll be gone on vacation next week, but I'll be working hard while I'm away to get the next update ready for Halloween! *EEK!*

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Hermione’s head felt empty, a chamber echoing and re-echoing with Voldemort’s words: “Enjoy the show… your husband…”

Hermione felt a steady hand under her elbow, helping her to her feet, leading her along as she stumbled on shaking legs. The hollowness in her head threatened to overtake her and her stomach convulsed.

“Almost there,” Draco muttered in her ear as he guided her out of the Great Hall.

Hermione swallowed down the bile in her throat and concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths, leaning heavily on Draco as her vision swam in and out of focus.

After an agonising walk, Hermione felt herself being gently pushed down onto a bench.

“Here, drink this.”

The warm glass of a vial pressed against her lips, and Hermione drank. Liquid relief spread through her head, bringing her mind back to the present.

“And this one,” a line of worry seemed to weave through Draco’s voice.

Cracking her eyes open, Hermione struggled to bring Draco’s face into focus. His forehead was creased and eyebrows drawn together, and she wanted to do something to reassure the look of concern on his face.

“One more swallow, there you go.”

Hermione closed her eyes and drank the last swallow of the potion. When she next opened her eyes, Malfoy was looking down at her, his face smooth and voice indifferent.

“Shall we?” Malfoy extended his hand to her with his typical detachment and Hermione was once again left feeling unmoored by his inconsistencies, however momentary they may have been.

Taking his arm, Hermione allowed Malfoy to escort her out of the castle and across the grounds toward the quidditch pitch, where they could hear the distant sounds of a crowd in the thrall of the game.

As they made their way up the stairs of the stands, Hermione's lips twitched toward an involuntary smile as the energy of the fans nearly swept her away into memories of happier times.

One glance at Malfoy’s stoic face, however, reminded her of when and where she was.

Voldemort’s words came back to her mind: “Enjoy the show your husband put together. He’s been working ever so hard…” Hermione’s brow furrowed, wondering why Malfoy didn’t seem more excited to watch the match, especially if that is what he had been working on.

The crowd fell into a brief lull just as they emerged from the dim staircase into the brightness at the top of the quidditch stand. The moment before her eyes adjusted to the light, Hermione realised the ‘show’ Voldemort had referred to was not, in fact, a quidditch match.

Spectators parted around Malfoy as he strode to the front of the stands. Eager hands reached out to clap him on the back and grasp his shoulders in congratulations, but Malfoy kept himself carefully aloof from the adulation, and Hermione, with her hands tucked safely in the crook of his arm, followed his lead, ignoring the commotion that their appearance created.

The reason for Malfoy’s careful control became even more apparent as they reached the front of the stands; the place where she had once cheered on friends and rivals in friendly games of quidditch had been transformed into an amphitheatre of roman proportions. The ability to indulge in superficial house rivalries felt sickeningly childish when confronted with the brawl currently taking place below.

The grass field was littered with a plethora of muggle weaponry from a variety of time periods, and two figures, naked aside from a pair of muggle athletic shorts and slick with reddish mud, grappled for dominance near a discarded shield and mace.

Hermione could hardly breathe as one figure gained the upper hand and, straddling his opponent, proceeded to mercilessly beat him with his bare fists, the mud darkening with every blow. The crowd around her swelled to a crescendo and Hermione’s ears buzzed with the combined furor and horror she was experiencing.

The man on top continued throwing punch after punch to the face and chest of the man below him, long after he lay still. Eventually the punches became slow and laboured as exhaustion overtook him. Finally, long after any sane person would have considered the contest won, a quidditch referee flew over on his broom, circling the men three times while blowing his whistle.

At the sound of the whistle, the victorious man drooped, arms falling to his sides. With visible effort, he regained his feet as the referee hovered next to him on his broom. Without landing, the referee grabbed the winner’s arm and lifted it up in triumph, and though she didn’t want to watch, Hermione could not bear to look away from his face, splattered in muddy blood, hanging in shameful victory.

Hermione couldn’t hear what the referee was saying, even with his magically amplified voice, but after a moment, the winner was led off the field and a levitating stretcher was brought in by a group of medi wizards to transport the injured man away.

“He’s not…” Hermione’s voice caught in her throat, but after swallowing thickly, she managed a weak croak. “Is he dead?”

Malfoy didn’t look at her but, instead, answered with a perfunctory shake of his head.

“Who are they?” she whispered, almost to herself.

“Prisoners.” Malfoy spoke almost without moving, and if Hermione hadn’t been standing so close, she would have missed it.

Hermione couldn’t believe what she was seeing, and more, she didn't want to believe that Draco had had anything to do with it. She wanted to ask for clarification, but was afraid of what the answer might be, when the next set of contestants were released to the field.

They entered from opposite ends of the pitch, clad in nothing but their athletic shorts and ran toward the collections of detritus from muggle wars, picking up helmets, armour, and weapons, fortifying themselves as best they could before they met in a violent clash in the middle.

Hermione watched with unfocused eyes the devastation taking place as a thousand people cheered. She felt betrayed with the knowledge that all the time she had spent waltzing and sipping tea and trying on dresses, Malfoy had been preparing a resurrection of gladiator battles. Perhaps even earlier, while she had been sitting in the dungeons, trusting in Draco to rescue her, he had been planning how best to turn the death of others into a spectator sport.

As the battle raged on, Hermione told herself to look away, but couldn’t force her eyes to look anywhere else. Each time she managed to tear her focus away, a gasp or cheer from the audience made her heart rate pick up and she quickly looked back, whether to reassure herself nothing terrible had happened or to punish herself for being safely in the stands, she wasn’t quite sure.

Finally, one combatant had acquired a broadsword and, with a crack that reverberated through the stands, downed his opponent in one vicious blow. Hermione, dreading the continued beating she knew was coming to the unconscious man, nearly refocused her eyes once again on the stands opposite her, but was compelled to continue watching as the victor dropped his sword and removed his helmet, tossing it aside.

Hermione's blood felt like ice in her veins even as sweat beaded on her forehead when the face of Neville Longbottom stared up at her from the ground. Despite the enormous distance between them and the multitude of people, Hermione was sure Neville saw her, and she felt every inch of his disdain as he stared defiantly into the crowd and gave the two fingered salute.

Her body convulsed involuntarily as two quidditch referees swooped in on either side and each hit Neville with a different curse, causing him to tremble and fall to the ground. As the healers levitated the unconscious man off the field, the referees flew to Neville, and between them, carried him, still trembling, off the pitch.

Her own body trembling, Hermione made to remove her hands from Malfoy’s arm, finding herself suddenly unable to touch him, knowing he was somehow involved in this spectacle. Malfoy, though, was too quick and clutched her tighter, trapping her hands between his elbow and ribs. When she began to pull away more insistently, he shifted, pinning one of her feet between his.

“Don’t,” he growled into the hair on top of her head.

“Let me go, Malfoy.” Hermione hated the pleading sound in her voice.

“Don’t make a scene,” Malfoy said under his breath.

“Don’t make a scene?” Hermione whisper-shouted. “That is exactly what we should be doing. Not making a scene is the more insane thing to be doing right now! How can I just stand here and watch people - people I know - get beaten to death for entertainment? How can I stand here, knowing that you- that you-” Hermione’s voice broke as her grief and anger coalesced, making her want to lash out and hit Malfoy; make him feel some fraction of the pain she was feeling, just as she had done all those years ago.

Malfoy seemed to sense her impending breakdown and held her hands tighter until the pressure was nearly unbearable.

“I have done the best I could with what I have been given,” he said through gritted teeth.

“This is the best you could do?” Hermione sounded hysterical, even to her own ears. “It’s not this hard to tell right from wrong, Malfoy.”

“The world isn’t divided into right and wrong, Granger. There’s only better or worse, and sometimes, it’s a very fine line between the two. And I have been walking one thin line after another for years. I am always doing the best I can.”

Hermione could almost taste the bitterness in Malfoy’s voice, and though she stopped trying to pull away, her skin burned with disgust at the feeling of his hands on her.

“Besides, if I hadn’t done it, someone else would have,” Malfoy said, as if that should absolve him of guilt.

“Then you should have let them," Hermione hissed.

Malfoy breathed a single, harsh laugh through his nose.

“And let people you know die? Or be paired with someone they obviously had no chance against just to satisfy someone’s sick sense of humour?” Malfoy shook his head, disbelievingly. “At least I paired everyone evenly and put safeguards in place to keep them alive.”

Hermione seethed silently, logic and emotion racing to dismantle his argument.

“Anyway, it’s not like I could have refused the Dark Lord,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

“You most certainly could have refused him," Hermione retorted. "If more people refused to do the horrible, amoral things he demands then maybe-”

“To refuse him is to die.” Malfoy cut off her whispered tirade. “You know this.”

“Then you should have died.” Hermione spat, hoping he could feel the rage bursting in her.

A loud, harsh laugh broke from Malfoy's throat, startling Hermione.

“Death is the coward's way out,” he sneered, returning to a whisper.

“It’s not cowardly to die for something you believe in,” Hermione insisted, matching his low tone.

“Maybe not,” Malfoy allowed scornfully, “But I haven’t found anything I’d be willing to die for. Only a Gryffindor would die for a foolish cause and call it noble. Because once you’re dead, that’s it, there’s nothing more you can do for anyone.”

“I don’t know, Malfoy,” Hermione’s blood boiled in rage, “It seems conveniently Slytherin of you to value your life above everything else!”

“You think I’m worried about my life?” Malfoy met Hermione’s rage with his own quiet wrath. “Sure, I would die - probably painfully - but the Dark Lord does not punish people directly. No, Granger, he prefers a psychological approach. Why settle for torturing one person when you can multiply the punishment exponentially and torment all the people they care about? He keeps people obedient by holding tight to the people they care about. Their parents. Their children.”

Malfoy’s eyes were hard as steel when they met Hermione’s.

“Their wives.”

Hermione was taken aback by the truth in his words, but the righteous indignation burning in her would not be soothed so easily; the loathing and rage she felt for the things he had done could not simply be extinguished with the knowledge that he might have done them for her.

Hermione glared defiantly at Malfoy, attempting to compose a rebuttal, when his eyes flickered to something over her shoulder. With a movement that was as unexpected as it was tender, he snaked his arm around Hermione’s back and drew her into his side.

“Don’t look, but my uncle’s watching us,” he breathed into her ear, “and I’d rather him spy on happy newlyweds, if it's all the same to you.”

Hermione wasn’t about to let Malfoy off the hook so easily, regardless of who was watching.

“And how do you propose we do that?” She lifted her chin, wanting to look him in the eye, when she realised just how close they were standing. Not about to let him win, however, Hermione forced herself not to back down.

“I can think of a few things,” Malfoy’s smirk curled the corners of his mouth and his eyes danced with a worrying mischievousness.

Hermione felt gentle tugs on her scalp and she realised he was playing with the ends of her hair.

“First,” he murmured, “I’ll whisper dirty things in your ear...”

Hermione fought to contain a shiver when his lips brushed the shell of her ear.

“Then, I’ll position us so that we are pressed entirely too close together for polite society…”

All her pent up wrath was still bubbling away inside Hermione, but the way she wanted to lash out transfigured when he turned to face her. She still wanted to punish him, but her desire morphed; she wanted to pull his hair while she bit his lip, to dig her nails into his skin and suck bruises onto his neck; she wanted to see how far she could push him before he cracked.

“My fingers will gently trace the bones in your back, each time getting a little lower than the time before…”

Hermione’s skin burned at the touch he described and she was certain he could feel her heart beating through her chest, pressed up against his.

“You will turn your head away and a pretty blush will spread across your cheeks as my lips whisper sweet nothings into the skin of your neck…”

As if under a spell, Hermione’s head arched away, allowing him access to her neck, and she could feel the blush spreading under her skin.

“Then, I’ll hold you tight to me, look into your eyes, and remember how you felt the night we married…”

It was like waking up in the Black Lake all over again. A shocking coldness doused any lingering anger or kindling desire, and Hermione gasped for air as she struggled to look away from the grey eyes pinning her in place.

A warm hand cupped her cheek and Draco's brow furrowed at her unexpected reaction.

“Please,” Hermione whimpered, “Please don’t. He- He- Back in the Great Hall, he watched it.” Hermione’s eyes stung and she took a shaky breath. “It feels tainted now, like- like- like he’s watching over my shoulder.”

“I’m sorry,” Draco sounded genuinely remorseful, “I didn’t realise. I can fix it, if you want.”

Hermione was confused, what did he mean, he could fix it?

“Do you trust me?” Draco asked.

Hermione didn't know what to make of the question. There were certainly parts of him she trusted. But there were other parts she didn't want to trust; moods that seemed detached and uncaring, choices that felt cold and cruel. And then there were the reasons behind his moods and choices, reasons she didn’t fully comprehend and he seemed reluctant to share.

“Trust you?” she muttered, “I don’t- I don’t… know…”

A look passed over Draco’s face, but it was gone before Hermione could even begin to decipher it.

“There you two are.” The appearance of Narcissa and Lucius burst them out of their personal bubble, and Hermione turned away from Draco, forcing her attention back to the present. She heard Lucius congratulating Draco on the success of the games, while she struggled to focus on Narcissa’s softer voice.

“... barely have time to get you dressed and ready before the ball…”

Hermione began to follow Narcissa out of the stands as her voice floated in and out over the crowd. Suddenly wanting to say goodbye to Draco, Hermione turned back, hoping to catch his eye. But instead of finding grey eyes, she met the predatory stare of Rodolphus Lestrange tracking her movements with gleeful menace.

Notes:

**TW**
There's a brief scene where a gladiator-like battle happens. Not too graphic or too long, but think hunger games/gladiator vibes with violence-for-entertainment.

Chapter 12: Old Money

Summary:

Seeing herself in the mirror, Hermione felt like old money. She suspected her look was meant to shock almost as much as it was meant to awe; while not scandalous by muggle standards, Hermione thought it was rather pushing the bounds of wizarding propriety on purpose. She knew her appearance was a weapon in the political war they were all engaged in, and seeing herself in this light, she felt confident she was making a powerful statement.

Notes:

I'm back from Mexico, with an update fresh off the plane for you! Hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

While to Hermione’s mind, it still seemed early in the day to start getting ready for the ball, it proved to be a wise choice. Narcissa’s carefully coordinated schedule gave Hermione the time she needed to sort through all her complicated thoughts and emotions. After hours of charms and potions and creams applied to all parts of her hair and body, she finally stepped into her ballgown, feeling decidedly calm and collected.

“Take a look,” Narcissa encouraged.

Despite having worn some version of the dress every day for the past week, this was the first time Hermione had seen herself in it, and she was awestruck by her reflection.

The gown, an art deco homage to the peaco*cks at Malfoy Manor, was mostly a deep blue velvet with iridescent gold accents stylized to evoke the look of feathers. The bodice, though, was form-fitting and skin-coloured, overlaid with shimmery blues, purples, greens, and golds, feathering up and down her body, bleeding into the blue velvet. The front of the dress came up to her clavicle with a long blue sleeve sparkling down one arm. Her other arm and shoulder were completely bare, however, and the back opened into a latticework of shimmering straps. A full blue skirt started low on her hips and flowed behind her in a train Hermione had been practising all week to avoid tripping over, while a slit in the front came up to the top of her thigh.

Her hair cascaded down her back in soft, smooth ringlets and a mask of fine gold filigree fluttered over the top half of her face, charmed to stay in place.

Seeing herself in the mirror, Hermione felt like old money. She suspected her look was meant to shock almost as much as it was meant to awe; while not scandalous by muggle standards, Hermione thought it was rather pushing the bounds of wizarding propriety on purpose. She knew her appearance was a weapon in the political war they were all engaged in, and seeing herself in this light, she felt confident she was making a powerful statement.

A knock on the door brought Hermione out of her thoughts and she turned to see Lucius enter the room, sporting pinstriped robes and a black mask, perfectly coordinated with Narcissa’s black lace gown and mask. After looking over Hermione, he complimented Narcissa's taste and eye for style without saying anything nice about Hermione directly. He then took Narcissa's arm and led her from the room.

Not entirely sure what she was supposed to do, Hermione started to follow them when Draco appeared in the doorway. Dressed in a white and gold three piece suit and mask adorned with etruscan peaco*cks, he looked like a Roman god trying to disguise himself as English nobility.

For a brief moment, Hermione's face went slack as she watched him adjust a cufflink. She was pleased to see a similar expression on Draco’s face when he looked up and caught sight of her.

“You look bewitching,” he said, recovering quickly.

“Thank you,” Hermione replied, “you look rather dashing yourself.” She hoped by being polite she could smooth over any lingering awkwardness from their earlier argument.

“Peaco*cks?” she asked.

“They are rather synonymous with The Manor.”

Hermione nodded her head, understanding perfectly.

“No robes, then?”

“No robes,” he said with a slight shake of his head. “Mother’s decision.”

“And your father agrees?”

“My father trusts my mother’s judgement.” Malfoy shrugged his shoulders with strained casualness.

“Well, I suppose we are making a statement,” Hermione mused, turning back to gaze at their reflection in the mirror.

“Indeed,” Malfoy agreed tightly, before holding his arm out to her.

Despite her best intentions, Hermione couldn't quite dispel the tension between them as they made their way downstairs.

Silence greeted them when they stepped into the Entrance Hall, followed by whispers as they walked by. Just before they reached the double doors into the Great Hall, Malfoy stopped, turning to Hermione.

“Before I forget,” he murmured.

Holding her hand gently in his, he slid a set of rings onto her fourth finger before leaning down to place a soft kiss on her knuckles.

Hermione thought she recognised the large pearl, now flanked by two diamonds on a simple gold band, and her heart melted a little at the sentimentality. That feeling stiffened inside her when they turned and she realised they were perfectly framed between the doors of the Great Hall; she wasn’t sure if the gesture had been for her alone, or a display for anyone who may have been watching.

With a deep exhale, Hermione forced the thought to float away. Holding her head high, she was determined to act like the aristocrat she appeared to be, and let Malfoy direct them into the crowded room.

The Great Hall was decorated much as she remembered from her time as a student, with glowing pumpkins and live bats, but was now filled with a kaleidoscope of the finest costumes and masks Hermione had ever seen; it was everything a different version of herself might have dreamed of for a Halloween Ball.

People milled about, eating, drinking, and an incongruous feeling of festivity permeated the Hall. Dancing had already begun with a few couples twirling in the centre of the room, and, when the song ended, Malfoy extended his hand to Hermione, a perfunctory offering.

Knowing this was the real test of her training, she accepted, and they stiffly held each other at arm's length as they moved mechanically around the floor.

Hermione spent the first dance staring at Malfoy’s shoulder, counting the beats in her head.

“Stop counting,” he muttered, “you're tapping on my shoulder, and it's distracting,” he said without looking at her.

This caused Hermione to immediately lose count and she promptly stepped on his foot.

“Just feel the beat,” Malfoy winced and rigidly turned them into the next step.

A realisation dawned on Hermione so quickly, she wondered that she hadn’t noticed it before.

“You don’t have to do that you know,” she said, before she had a chance to second guess herself. “Not around me at least.”

Looking out over her head, Malfoy’s eyebrows raised lazily above his mask.

“Do what?” he asked, disinterested.

“Occlude," Hermione replied, watching his half-hidden face.

His eyes widened slightly before he finally looked at her. Hermione watched as Draco’s eyes lost their hard edge, softening as they focused on hers.

The corner of his mouth quirked and a short breath left his nostrils.

"You're right."

"Of course I’m right." Hermione smiled playfully up at him, enjoying the way the warm candlelight contrasted the silver of his eyes with the gold of his mask. “But I do quite like hearing it.”

The exchange was just enough to distract them from the techicalities of the dance, allowing their steps to relax into each other.

"I should have known better," Draco rolled his eyes. "My little swot."

Hermione also quite liked hearing the sound of Draco calling her his. Cheeks reddening, she cleared her throat.

"Anyway, I'm afraid I'll have to say it, too," Hermione continued, making deliberate eye contact. "You're right that is. About what you said earlier: the world isn't divided into right and wrong."

Draco's eyes searched hers for a moment before they crinkled into a smile.

“Oh, I do quite like hearing that: You’re right, that is.”

Now it was Hermione's turn to roll her eyes, but she did it with a smile.

“But, I still want to do what I can to make the world more right,” she pushed on. Her pulse quickened, knowing she needed to say all that was on her mind.

"And I- I know we’re not in love or anything, but we are married, and I was… Well, I was thinking: I could stop assuming the worst of you, and… maybe you could stop shutting me out, and, well… I was thinking it would be rather nice if we could, at the least, be friends.”

“Friends,” he pondered, watching her intently, before he tightened his arms around her, drawing her close.

“I quite like that, being friends,” he murmured, his lips brushing her hair, just above the golden lace of her mask. “For now.”

“What does that mean?” Hermione breathed the question into the line of his jaw. “‘For now’?”

“You’ll see.” Draco smiled wickedly before leading her into a complicated spin and dip move she had never even seen before.

Hermione laughed out loud at the sudden relief she felt, and was only mildly surprised at how easy it was, allowing Draco to lead her around the dance floor. What did surprise her was how effortlessly they managed to ignore the rest of the room, caught up in their own little bubble.

She felt light; maybe even happy. For a moment she was just a girl, dancing in a pretty dress, with a boy she had the privilege to call her friend.

After a dance or two, Draco asked if she wanted a drink, and, feeling slightly sweaty and a little dizzy, Hermione quickly agreed. Walking arm in arm to the refreshments, she found that as long as she kept her eyes on Draco, she could, mostly, ignore the stares and whispers that followed them.

Standing apprehensively near a table of hors d'oeuvres while Draco went to procure them glasses of chilled wine, Hermione stiffened when someone sidled up next to her.

“Hermione Granger,” a voice she recognised from her school days said near her ear. "I suppose I have you to blame for Draco’s recent absenteeism.”

Hermione turned to see Theodore Nott’s smirking face watching her from behind a Phantom-of-the-Opera-esque mask.

“I wasn’t sure if the rumours were true, but I see he’s had much better things to do than sit around smoking and playing cards with us old chaps,” he continued, obliquely addressing both his companion and Hermione.

“Oh, leave the girl alone,” a becaped Blaise Zabini drawled from the other side of Nott. “If she’s willing to put up with Draco’s brooding, I say let her have him.” He leaned around Nott, raising his glass in Hermione’s direction.

“Nott! I am in desperate need of a drink!” The shrill voice of Pansy Parkinson announced her presence before she made her way through the crowd. Dressed in a sleek red and black gown with a webbed veil falling from her miniature tophat, Parkinson looked like a venomous spider, and Hermione smirked to herself at the parallelism.

“Ah,” Parkinson paused when she caught sight of Hermione, looking her up and down with a pinched look on her face.

“Not bad, Granger,” was the generous verdict given before she stole Nott’s glass.

“These things are terrible,” Parkinson muttered into her drink while simultaneously pulling her wand from somewhere in her dress and performing a charm on her spike-heeled shoes.

"Long-winded, long-faced, long-armed…”

“It’s a good thing you’re so long-suffering then, isn’t it, darling?” Nott cheerfully interrupted her grumbling.

“I just can’t wait til I can say so-long,” Parkinson retorted.

“Oh, but my dear, we’re here for the long-con,” Zabini winked at Hermione.

“Oh good, you’ve found us,” Draco’s dry voice floated over the crowd, easing Hermione’s discomfort.

“I wondered when we’d be graced with your presence,” he said, stepping purposefully between Hermione and Nott, handing her a glass.

“Oh, don’t be like that Drakey,” Nott said with a wide smile, “you know I’d never impose where I wasn’t wanted.”

Draco glanced at Hermione, a look of resigned apology on his face.

“Also, I’m never not wanted,” Nott quipped, tipping his glass back, only to find it had been emptied by Parkinson.

“Peaco*cks, Draco?” Parkinson said, eyeing the pair of them with disdain. “Really?”

“You know his mother still picks out his clothes for him,” Nott said with exaggerated seriousness. “If not, he’d be all black this and black that, and you know how black washes out his complexion.”

“Yes,” Zabini drawled in agreement, “and Narcissa really is the epitome of class… style… beauty…” he continued dreamily.

Draco gave Zabini a side-eyed look and sneer before turning away, ignoring him.

“They haven’t been bothering you, have they?” He asked Hermione under his breath.

Hermione could only shake her head slowly; she quite honestly didn’t know how to react to the sudden - and not remotely hostile - influx of Slytherins.

“Right,” Draco said, taking a large swig of wine before placing his glass on a nearby table. “Well, lovely as this has been, I’m afraid I’m rather busy at the moment.”

With a hand placed low on Hermione’s back, he led her toward the dance floor, the whistles and cat-calls of his friends echoing over their shoulders.

“Sorry about them,” he apologised, “I’m sure they mean no harm…”

He was cut off mid-sentence by the plain black-robed figure of Severus Snape, standing solidly in their path.

“Draco,” Snape said, inclining his head, “I wondered if I might steal your enchanting wife for a brief dance.” Snape sounded as if he were trying not to lose the contents of his stomach at the suggestion.

Hermione didn't know how to react; Draco’s friends being civil toward her had been strange, but being asked to dance by Severus Snape was downright bizarre.

When neither of them answered, Snape took the glass of wine Hermione was still holding, and, passing it to Draco, took her by the arm and led her onto the dance floor.

If Hermione thought her first dance with Draco had been clumsy, it was nothing compared to the graceless way her and Snape were now moving. As much as she didn’t want to touch him, it seemed he felt equal distaste in placing his hands on her, and she honestly couldn’t fathom why he had asked her to dance.

“I suppose,” Snape spoke in his characteristically halting manner, “congratulations are in order.”

“Oh. Er… Thank you,” Hermione replied in a small voice, “I suppose.”

“I know you have no reason to trust me, given recent circ*mstances,” he continued in a low tone, eyes firmly fastened over her shoulder, “but I have known the Malfoy’s for a very long time.”

Hermione didn't know what to say, so she said nothing.

“They are an old, proud family,” Snape resumed, “and despite outward appearances, you will find that they are, in fact, incredibly loyal to one another.”

His eyes flickered down to Hermione, before resuming their watch over her shoulder.

“Draco, in particular, I am… fond… of.”

Snape’s lip curled, and Hermione wondered if disgust was actually the way Snape showed affection.

“I have been pleased to see him grow into a young man who can be relied upon, and I would hate to see any harm come to him.”

Yes, Hermione decided, the tone of Snape’s monologue was decidedly affectionate, even protective, despite all appearances.

“As ill advised as his plans are, I will admit, they are at the least well executed."

Snape enunciated each word carefully and Hermione wondered if it was causing him actual pain to express so much sentimentality.

“You understand, of course,” Snape’s lips barely moved as his eyes fastened on Hermione, “appearances are often deceiving: things are not always as they seem."

Hermione didn't dare to breathe, she was listening so closely, wanting to catch every word he said.

"We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. If you and Draco can learn to trust each other enough to work together, surely you can come up with something."

Hermione was having one of her through-the-looking-glass moments: was Snape, in his own vaguely threatening manner, quoting Dumbledore? She didn't know what to make of the entire stilted speech, but she did know one thing for certain: she had no reason to trust Snape, whatever mysterious message he might be trying to convey to her.

She had an urgent desire to get back to Draco's side, unfortunately, the dance seemed to be one of the longer minuets of the evening and, to make matters worse, she could no longer see Draco through the crowd of dancing couples.

When the song finally came to an end, she curtsied as soon as she could while Snape did his best imitation of a bow. She turned to make her way back toward the refreshment table to look for Draco, when a hand caught her from behind. Twirling around to see who had grabbed hold of her, Hermione panicked slightly when she saw Rodolphus Lestrange's face smiling down at her.

Notes:

For Hermione's gown, I was inspired by Gigi Hadid's 2018 Met Gala gown, and I picture Draco in a sort of vaguely period-eque gentlemen's outfit. I imagine Lucius and Narcissa as a blond version of Gomez and Morticia Addams, heehee.

Chapter 13: Sort of Allegory

Summary:

"The pearl on my ring, is it the same one you gave me in the cellar?"

Draco's breath stuttered slightly, and Hermione wondered if he hadn't been expecting such a benign line of inquiry, but he only nodded his head in confirmation.

"Any special significance you'd like to share with me?" She prompted when he didn't take her hint.

Notes:

Two chapters in one day!? What can I say... Happy Halloween! I hope everyone gets to do something fun to celebrate!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Fighting to hold the rising tide of panic at bay, Hermione tried to discreetly yank her elbow from Rodolphus Lestrange’s forceful grasp, but the crush of people prevented her from moving away, and his other arm wrapped possessively around her waist, holding her tight to him.

"You are quite the slippery little thing, aren't you?"

Lestrange's voice caused small crystals of ice to form under Hermione's skin, the memory of his unwelcome hands on her freezing her heart solid.

"I have been incredibly patient, but, as I'm sure you can imagine, my patience can't last forever. You see-"

Whatever menacing thing Lestrange was about to promise was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder.

"Rodolphus," Lucius said, squeezing his hand a little tighter than might be considered affectionate. "Surely you won't begrudge a man a dance with his favourite daughter-in-law?"

Rodolphus' strained smile bordered on hostile before he released Hermione.

"Of course not, Lucius," Rodolphus said with a snide sort of generosity as he backed away. "I'd never presume to interfere with the great House of Malfoy."

After a dismissive nod of his head toward Rodolphus, Lucius bowed and extended his hand to Hermione. Hermione accepted and they spent a quiet, yet polite, few minutes on the dance floor.

When the song ended, Lucius bowed properly, but didn't release Hermione’s hand. Turning them both toward the refreshment tables, he was just tucking her hand into his elbow when Draco pushed his way out of the crowd.

"Father," he said, taking Hermione's other hand on his.

"Draco," Lucius sniffed, releasing Hermione to Draco's care.

"I apologise," Draco said, sweeping Hermione effortlessly into the next dance. "I was detained for a moment with my aunt."

"Bellatrix?" Hermione asked.

Draco gave a tight nod.

"I hope my father was decent."

"Oh, yes," Hermione said, still stuck on the fact that Draco had been delayed by Bellatrix. "He rather rescued me from an unpleasant situation, actually."

"Snape?" he asked.

"No," Hermione moved closer into Draco's arms, lowering her voice. "Your uncle, Rodolphus."

Draco looked down at her, surprise on his face.

"Well," he said, "the dancing is almost finished and I'll be sure to stay with you until my mother takes you home."

"You aren't coming?"

Draco shook his head, "I'll have a few more things to take care of before I'm finished here."

Hermione's first instinct was to wonder what sort of nefarious things he might need to 'take care of' before she forced the thought away, intending to keep her promise and not assume the worst.

"Will you tell me about it when you get back?" she asked instead, hoping he'd remember his end of the bargain as well.

Looking down at her, Draco had the slightly pinched look of admitting something painful, before he nodded.

"If you'd like to know, I'll tell you after," he said, resigned.

Hermione nodded resolutely.

"I'll wait up for you."

They relaxed into a comfortable silence after their truce and Hermione's mind once more turned to thoughts of how nice it could be, dancing with Draco, if only the weight of all their choices and responsibilities didn't feel so heavy.

"Draco?" she ventured quietly, deciding to voice one of the questions niggling at the back of her mind.

"Hermione?" Came Draco's gently teasing reply.

"The pearl on my ring, is it the same one you gave me in the cellar?"

Draco's breath caught slightly, and Hermione wondered if he hadn't been expecting such a benign line of inquiry, but he only nodded his head in confirmation.

"Any special significance you'd like to share with me?" She prompted when he didn't take her hint.

"I've had that pearl since I was eleven."

Hermione continued to look at him, her eyebrows raised in an expression of pointed expectation.

After a pause where he looked out over her shoulder, he seemed to come to a decision.

"Right after I got my Hogwarts letter, my parents took me to French Polynesia," he said with a sigh. "Most mornings I was up before my parents and would go out to wander the beach.

"One morning, a few muggles were diving off a tiny boat out in the middle of the water. I watched them, wondering what sort of idiotic muggle thing they were doing.

"After a while, they rowed up onto the beach, and hauled their filled baskets out of the boat and started sorting their catch on the sand.

"So here I am, barely eleven years old, the whitest, pointiest, snobbiest kid you ever saw-"

"Hmmm, I remember," Hermione interrupted playfully.

Draco smiled and shook his head before continuing.

"Well, anyway, here I come all posh-boy up the beach and ask them in my best French what the hell they're doing. I thought I was quite brave, all big and bad, speaking to a bunch of muggles by myself.

"Of course, they all laughed, right in my face. I was probably the most hilarious thing to happen to them, but I felt quite indignant and went to storm off, but they called me back and said something about how the pretty white boy would like their pretty ocean jewels.

"I had no idea what they were talking about, but they encouraged me to pick one.

"So, I picked the biggest, ugliest thing out of the whole bunch. And I mean, it was ugly. All brown and black and knobby, with hairy green seaweed growing right off it. But, it was the biggest and therefore the best. And Malfoys always get the best."

Draco paused, making Hermione squirm a little under the intensity of his gaze.

"After I picked one," he continued, changing his focus, "the muggle pulled out a knife, and I thought, well, here it is: this is how I die, stabbed by a muggle on a beach." Draco laughed a little at the expense of his younger self.

"But the muggle worked the knife around the edge and pried it open. And inside, just sitting there, was the biggest pearl I had ever seen. Of course, it was surrounded by the most disgusting thing I had ever seen, but still, it was the biggest pearl I had ever seen."

Draco paused for a moment, lost in his memories.

"I was incredulous, completely disbelieving that the pearl grew there, and of course, they thought it was some great joke, before they realised I was serious. Then, I think they felt sorry for me, this poor colonialist kid who didn't even know where my riches came from," he continued, a hint of bitterness in his voice.

"So, they told me all about oysters and how they make pearls to protect themselves from the sand that gets trapped. Anyway, I'm sure you know how pearls are made. Probably have done since before you were eleven."

Hermione nodded, but didn't say anything.

"So, they gave me the pearl, but insisted I eat the oyster. I thought they were trying to poison me, but they convinced me by opening a few more and eating them themselves after harvesting the pearls. I thought it was nauseating, and they thought that was hilarious, too.

"That night, my mother ordered oysters at dinner, and I impressed my parents by eating them, pretending it was nothing. I never told them about the muggles on the beach, but I've thought a lot about it over the years. More recently, I've realised how absurd it was that I didn't know something so basic about the world; how absurd to finally learn about it from muggles. Muggles! Who had it figured, without the help of magic."

Draco paused and shook his head, dispelling the bitterness that had crept into his story.

"Since then, I suppose I've seen it as a sort of allegory,” he continued thoughtfully. “If an oyster can turn pain into beauty, maybe I can turn this suffering into something worth cherishing."

The quiet ending this pronouncement swelled between them, heavy with significance. Hermione swallowed the thickness in her throat, taking a deep breath to settle the butterflies in her chest.

"Draco?" she asked tentatively.

"Hermione?" he replied intently.

"If you wanted… I mean… I'd be okay with it, if you wanted to… maybe… kiss me." Hermione blushed and looked away before hastily adding, "If you wanted to, that is."

Draco's hand tactfully pulled away from hers and Hermione felt something in her chest stutter to a halt. Then, ever so softly, she felt fingers on her chin, tilting her face toward his.

"I want to," Draco whispered and his breath ghosted over Hermione's lips, causing a shiver to run across her skin and restart the fluttering in her heart.

Hermione lifted up just as he tipped down; their lips touched with a gentle pressure before they both pulled away, looking into each others’ faces. Only a moment passed before Hermione decided she wanted to kiss him again, and so she reached up on tip toes and pressed another gentle kiss to the corner of his mouth. Draco’s face shone as he pulled her into him, pressing another chaste kiss against her lips.

Smiling softly, Hermione snuggled into Draco's arms and let him lead her in the last dances of the evening. Dancing with him in the middle of the crowded Great Hall, she could ignore most of the world, but she found that she had to stifle more than one yawn and there was a tightness between her shoulder blades from so many hours of perfect posture. Her heavy head began to droop, resting on Draco's stable shoulder, when finally, the music ended.

Standing with Draco at her side, Hermione faced the orchestra with the rest of the Hall and politely applauded. The orchestra had just finished bowing and began to make their exit, when Voldemort himself stepped onto the stage.

The applause, which had been dying down, picked up again at his appearance and grew as he glided to the front of the stage. Reaching centre, he quieted the suddenly invigorated audience with a single motion of his hand.

"Welcome," Voldemort began, his voice a quiet hiss, "Welcome, my loyal subjects, my most devout followers, you who believe in the sanctity of our cause. My friends, welcome."

With his arms spread wide in a gesture of embrace, Voldemort paused for more applause.

Hermione couldn't bring herself to move, and felt tension radiating off Draco, even as he applauded with enthusiasm. Quietly, Hermione became aware of Narcissa at her other side and felt the presence of Lucius at her back.

"This has been a night of celebration," Voldemort's speech continued. "And what a celebration it is! Tonight we celebrate our victory. Not just our victory over those who have opposed us in the past, but our victory over those who have sought to infiltrate and corrupt our society; our victory over those who would destroy our future, our culture, our families, our very way of life!"

There was a dramatic pause as more applause and even a smattering of cheers broke out. Voldemort used his hands to once again quiet the adoring crowd looking up to him.

"Tonight, I come before you to demonstrate the might of our cause and to show, once and for all: the total victory we have sought is now complete!"

A cold smile distorted his face and, with a snap of his fingers, two figures appeared, magically bound and gagged on the stage at his feet.

A frozen, burning sensation passed through Hermione from head to toe as she watched Voldemort grab in one hand the red hair of Ron, and in the other, the black hair of Harry, and lift them both effortlessly to their feet. While Harry and Ron looked dazedly out from the stage, Hermione felt Voldemort's cold eyes seek her out, while cheers and whistles and wild applause rose around her.

A buzzing sounded in Hermione's ears and black dots gathered at the edge of her vision. She knew she was hyperventilating, but was powerless to stop it. The feeling multiplied until all the moments of powerlessness cascaded over her, washing away the optimism she had begun to feel.

Voldemort preached the nobility of their cause, his followers praised their moral victory, and her best friends were reviled before her on stage.

Out of the spots in her vision, Hermione saw a black robe and greasy black hair join the pageant. A memory surfaced through the torrent in her mind and Hermione clung to it with a desperate hope that things might not be as they appeared.

A dark cloud began to seep from the base of the stage, swirling up, concentrating itself in a fog around Harry and Ron. As the cloud rose, so did the excitement of the crowd, until the frenzied adulation engulfed Hermione and the darkness smothered all traces of Harry and Ron. The mist continued its upward trajectory and the normally staid upper class released their repressed emotions right along with it. The dark cloud hovered in the air for a moment longer, reaching a vertex of motion before it imploded, like a black hole, sucking itself inward until nothing remained.

The crowd climaxed and Hermione panicked. She wondered deliriously what Voldemort's aim had been. Did he want to bring Harry and Ron on stage just to prove he had them, only to whisk them away again? After a moment of confusion, however, she understood it hadn't been a planned exit. Voldemort's cruel eyes were on her again, and he was fighting through the feverish crowd toward her, even as she felt herself being pulled back, Draco and Narcissa on either side of her, holding tight to her arms, dragging her through the melee, out the Entrance Hall, and into the night air.

All Hermione could think was that the plans which rescued Harry and Ron had once again failed to include her; had failed to consider her important enough to factor in. Once again, she had been left behind.

Notes:

Next chapter will be next week at the earliest, might be more like ten days away. It turns out real life doesn't pause while you're on vaccation and things have sort of piled up around here!

Chapter 14: Specific Pain

Summary:

“I regret it,” Voldemort said coldly, but there was no sadness in him, no remorse as he turned away.

The rest of the room was deathly still. Every eye was resolutely fixed on Voldemort’s every move.

“Now, my darling girl." Voldemort’s attention turned once again to Hermione, who knew with a cold clarity, it would be her turn next.

Notes:

**see end notes for a little tw**

Hi friends! I am loving everyone's amazing comments, and I really want to respond to you all individually, but I'm finding I need to spend my time writing if I want to get a chapter out each week... opportunity costs and all that... sigh... Isn't it weird when highschool economics shows up in real life?!

Anyway! Thank you for your lovely thoughts and I hope you like this little chapter! *hugs!*

As always, the characters and plot are the property of JKR. This chapter also has some direct quotes from Deathly Hallows.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Hermione was in a vacuum; though she was inhaling, no air was making it to her lungs. The buzzing in her ears overwhelmed her and the black dots in her vision grew, making it seem like a strobe light was flashing over the entire world.

One minute she was standing next to Draco, applauding the orchestra, feeling tired but content and ready for the night to be over so she could go to bed.

The next, Harry and Ron’s gagged and bruised faces appeared, shining suns of hope and horror. Then, they were gone, sucked into the void left by the supernova of their being, leaving her behind.

A moment of movement and Hermione was in the dark, swallowing night air by the lungful, supported by Draco and Narcissa, their trajectory pulling her with them, away from the castle.

An instant later, she was sucked through space, landing on the cold marble floors of Malfoy Manor. Loud voices bounded and rebounded across the hard surfaces, and one soft, cool voice flowed through the distance and comforted Hermione in her abandonment.

A clanging reached her ears, the speed of sound travelling across the universe of space around her, silencing all other sounds as it reverberated around the room.

With her eyes closed, Hermione could see the faces of her two best friends suspended before her, always just out of reach; behind them, the glowing eyes of Voldemort sought her out, looking for evidence she had never possessed.

The next moment flashed and the temperature dropped with it. Voldemort’s eyes filled her vision and lithium flames blazed through her mind.

Like a film being watched at the speed of light, Voldemort tore through Hermione’s memories, the pain expanding with each frame; each of her memories spliced with the thought of being left behind: the burning freeze that came with being the cosmic debris of other people’s lives.

Unable to reach any coherent conclusion, Voldemort withdrew from Hermione’s mind and the sudden emptiness left her head clear as the night sky.

In a sort of reversely occluded state, Hermione took note that the three Malfoy’s, Snape, and Voldemort were all in the room, witnessing her mental interrogation. She knew, too, that Voldemort had been searching her mind for plans or knowledge about how Harry and Ron had escaped, where they were going next, if she had helped them, if she knew how to contact them.

The fact that she had no knowledge of Harry and Ron - and her subsequent thought spiral and panic attack - was as strategically advantageous as it was personally tragic.

Lying on the floor, her ball gown a twinkling galaxy around her, Hermione stared up at Voldemort as he gazed down at her. Something in her mind must have prompted a memory in his, because he soon refocused his reflective attention on the sixth person in the room.

“I have a problem, Severus,” Voldemort said softly.

“My Lord?” Snape said.

Hermione hoped she could fade into the background, just another piece of art adorning the room.

Voldemort, his attention fixed solely on Snape, raised a wand, holding it as delicately and precisely as a conductor’s baton. Hermione was astounded and appalled when she realised it was Dumbledore’s wand.

“Why doesn’t it work for me, Severus?” Voldemort’s hiss slid around the room, caressing each person with its cruelty.

“My- my Lord?” Snape said blankly.

“Do you know why I have kept you back from searching for Potter?”

“No, my Lord, but I beg you to let me join the search, let me find Potter.”

“He does not need finding. Potter will come to me. I now know his weakness, you see, his one great flaw.”

Voldemort’s eyes, spots of nuclear fission in his pallid face, flickered to Hermione.

“He will hate watching others struck down, knowing that it is for him that it happens. He will come to me.”

Hermione sat up mechanically, his words tugging like strings at her mind. She knew at one time it would have been true: Harry would have sacrificed himself for any of his friends without a second thought, but she hoped with a sad sort of hope that Harry might now let her disappear quietly and completely, without any heroic gestures on her behalf.

“My concern at the moment, Severus, is what will happen when I meet the boy,” Voldemort continued. “Why did the wands I have used fail when directed at Harry Potter?”

“I- I cannot answer that, my Lord.”

“I even sought the Elder Wand, the Wand of Destiny, the Deathstick. I took it from its previous master. I took it from the grave of Albus Dumbledore.”

Though Voldemort’s voice was barely louder than a whisper, Hermione could feel the danger leaking from beneath the stillness.

“All this night, when I was on the brink of victory, I wondered,” said Voldemort, “wondered why the Elder Wand refuses to be what it ought to be, refuses to perform as legend says it must perform for its rightful owner… and I think I have the answer.”

Snape did not speak, apparently frozen in the curve of his own spiral.

“Perhaps you already know it? You are a clever man, after all, Severus. You have been a good and faithful servant and I regret what must happen.”

“My Lord-”

“The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly, Severus, because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner. You killed Albus Dumbledore. While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot truly be mine.”

Snape seemed to understand Voldemort’s meaning almost the same instant Hermione did, and though he tried to reach for his wand in a feeble attempt to protect himself, he was several moments too late: Voldemort’s great snake, Nagini, slithered out of the shadows, reared up to its full height and struck: once, twice, three times.

There was a terrible scream and Hermione saw Snape’s face lose what little colour it had left; whitening even as his black eyes widened. As the snake’s fangs pierced his neck, his knees gave way and he fell to the floor.

“I regret it,” Voldemort said coldly, but there was no sadness in him, no remorse as he turned away.

The rest of the room was deathly still. Every eye was resolutely fixed on Voldemort’s every move; every ear trying to ignore every wet, slithering sound of death taking place at their feet.

“Now, my darling girl,” Voldemort’s attention turned once again to Hermione, who knew with a cold clarity, it would be her turn next.

“Lest you think your thievery can go unpunished,” Voldemort’s voice hissed dangerously, and Hermione tried to see where the snake had slithered off to in the periphery. “This is the consequence of taking that which was not intended for you.”

With a casual flick of the Elder Wand Hermione flinched, and though a scream filled the room, she felt nothing but empty numbness.

Like the darkness between flashes of light, it took Hermione a second to realise the screaming was not coming from her, but rather from Draco, writhing on the floor across the room from her.

With a gasp, Hermione looked to Voldemort, who was watching her reaction with inhuman glee.

In the space of a breath, she learned a new truth: the pain of knowing someone else was being hurt because of her was a punishment worse than simply being hurt herself. And this specific pain, the pain of watching her friend, her husband, someone she was inextricably linked to, body and soul - the specific pain of Draco suffering on her behalf - was a punishment worse than she could bear.

A heart wrenching cry clawed its way from Hermione’s throat and she half stood, lunging herself toward Draco. Tangled in the train of her dress, she fell painfully on one knee before Narcissa’s arms closed around her shoulders, holding her back.

Voldemort’s pleasure only seemed to grow as Hermione wept and begged, trying to reach Draco; Narcissa’s shaking arms holding her together when she wanted to fall apart.

After the echo of every torturous minute had fallen quiet, and Hermione sat, limply staring in Narcissa’s embrace, Voldemort surveyed the room, apparently satisfied with a job well done.

“Lucius, Narcissa, come,” Voldemort’s voice was loud in the cavernous quiet. “The house elf can deal with the mess. Draco’s wife can see to him.”

The contempt in Voldemort’s command was not lost on Hermione. She understood that he officially placed her blood status on the same level as house elves, and she knew it was because her power was great enough Voldemort felt he had to diminish it. She knew this, too, was her punishment for daring to take up space in his world.

In the quiet that descended after Voldemort, Narcissa, and Lucius left through the floo, Hermione crawled over to the still twitching form of Draco, trying her best to ignore the body of her professor, lying just feet away. Draco’s breathing was unsteady and laboured, and he must have bitten his tongue. Hermione reached to wipe the trickle of blood that ran down from the corner of his mouth when she heard a terrible rasping, gurgling noise issue from Snape’s throat.

A horrible feeling crept its way through Hermione, but when Snape’s gurgles turned into something that might have been her name, she crept closer to him, careful to avoid the still growing pool of blood surrounding him.

“Take it… Take it…”

Something more than blood was leaking from Snape. Silvery blue, neither gas nor liquid, it gushed from his mouth and his ears and his eyes, and Hermione recognised it as filaments of memory which Harry had described to her and Ron.

Running back across the foyer, she didn’t pause to think what she was doing, but fumblingly searched through Draco’s pockets until she found his wand tucked in a holster up his sleeve.

Her magic felt wonderfully complete with the wand in her hand, and she had no trouble conjuring a flask from thin air. As she stepped up to Snape, he seized the hem of her gown and dragged her down next to him. Ignoring the stickiness soaking through her dress, she used Draco’s wand and lifted the silvery substance into the flask until it was full to the brim.

Tugging on the fabric of her skirt, Snape’s face looked as though there was no blood left in him, but his lips were moving. Hermione leaned her ear close to his mouth and listened with all the strength he lacked.

“Right is not easy… Rise up and strike back… Pity the living without love…”

When no more sound rose from Snape, Hermione moved back and looked at his face. Something in his dark eyes seemed to have vanished, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty. The hand holding Hermione thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.

Hermione didn’t know what to do; the dismay at holding a flask filled with a dead man’s memories bewildered her. Her gown continued to soak up his rapidly cooling blood while his final words resonated in her mind.

Gathering all her unpleasant memories of Snape, she surrounded them with the emotions of this moment, and let their gravity compress themselves into a small, hard sphere, polished with her pain. When their density was sufficient, she released the newly formed planet to orbit at the edge of her consciousness, and was then able to refocus her attention on caring for the living.

Standing awkwardly from the floor, the flask of memories in one hand and Draco’s wand in the other, she made her way back to Draco’s side. Wordlessly using the charm she had mastered as a first year, Hermione levitated Draco before her and began their strenuous journey upstairs, her gown clinging coldly to her legs.

Hermione was in the corridor leading to her rooms before she even considered Draco might want to wake up in his own bed, but she had no idea where that might actually be. The exhaustion of the day was wearing down on her and so she concluded that the sitting room outside her bedroom would have to be good enough for him. She continued moving forward, fatigue slowing her down, and Draco’s levitating form sank lower with each step, one of his hands dragging, doll-like, on the floor.

At long last, they reached her sitting room and, after setting the flask of memories carefully on a table, she was able to raise Draco enough to manoeuvre him onto a settee, before collapsing on the floor next to him.

Notes:

**TW**

There's a minor character death scene. If you've read DH, you've already read it, as it's Snape's death scene, I've just modified it to fit this story line.

Happy (angsty) reading!

Chapter 15: Childish and Foolish

Summary:

Seeing him reclining in the moonlight, it seemed as if he had merely dozed off. He looked so young to her just then, and she thought how they both must look to the outside world: childish and foolish with inexperience.

Notes:

As always, thank you, dear readers for keeping this story going!

Next week my kids will be out of school for Thanksgiving break, and I've already told them we're doing a screen-free week, so I'm not sure how much time I'll have to write, but know I will still be plotting, muahahaha!

Chapter Text

When Hermione woke, cold and stiff on the sitting room floor, she experienced a drawn-out suspension of reality. The nearly full moon, framed in a vaguely familiar window, was glowing radiant in the night sky, while an ethereal blue light flickered on the ceiling opposite. The opposing sources met in a fantasma of light above her head and Hermione couldn't make sense of what she was seeing.

The first real thing she was able to discern was the feeling of her gown, stiff with dried blood, stuck to her skin. A prickling sensation crawled up her legs and Hermione stood, frantically peeling the dress off her body.

Only after the gown was a pile of fabric on the floor, several feet away from her, did Hermione realise she was standing topless - nearly nude - inches from Draco's face. It only took a further half-second to see that Draco was still unconscious.

Worried he could wake up at any moment, Hermione snatched up a throw blanket to cover herself with. Unfortunately, a corner of the blanket was trapped between Draco and the cushion, and wouldn’t come free. Hermione tugged a little harder and the blanket shifted, rolling Draco precariously toward the edge of the sofa. Leaning forward quickly, Hermione caught his body against her hip, preventing him from tumbling to the floor.

Ignoring the multitude of feelings that washed through her at the physical contact, Hermione yanked the blanket out from under him, swishing it around herself, while simultaneously shoving Draco’s oblivious body back onto the settee.

Stepping back to gain some distance, Hermione forced her quivering nerves and muddled thoughts to settle. Almost immediately, she realised the quivering was not coming from her, but rather from Draco. His nerve endings, damaged from exposure to the cruciatus curse, were stuck sending unending streams of electrical signals. Hermione watched with growing concern as he moved under the force of the muscle spasms, his whole body shuddering and jerking with an eerie sort of rhythm.

Dredging up her first foggy memories in the dungeon, Hermione knew she had endured these same after-effects and Draco had used his own inventions to heal her. Thinking back, she was able to clearly recall the motion of his wand, skimming over her skin; the form of his words, releasing into the air; charming her hands back to health.

Hermione stepped back to Draco’s side with a confidence born from someone who had repeatedly bent the world with the strength of her will and called forth the magic.

The effects of Draco's charm were swift: each muscle she directed the corkscrewing motion over relaxed until Hermione had repeated the charm countless times and Draco finally lay still on the settee. Stretching a crimp in her hand, she watched carefully for any further spasms.

Seeing him reclining in the moonlight, it seemed as if he had merely dozed off. He looked so young to her just then, and she thought how they both must look to the outside world: childish and foolish with inexperience. Draco’s head shifted in his sleep and a shadow of dried blood dripped from the corner of his mouth; the illusion of innocence dispelled with the darkness.

Wetting a corner of her blanket with Draco’s wand, Hermione wiped the blood from his mouth, her feelings from throughout the day germinating in her chest. With his face free of blood, she wet a clean bit of blanket and continued wiping the sweat and smudges from his face. Gently brushing hair back from his closed eyes, she marvelled at how smooth and fine the strands felt between her fingers. Sitting on the floor next to the settee, Hermione watched as Draco slept, and tenderness continued to sprout within her.

When her feet started to prickle from sitting so long, Hermione stood, wiggling her toes. She didn’t want to leave Draco’s side, in case he woke up or started seizing again, but the discomfort in her legs wasn’t just from a lack of blood flow, she desperately wanted to scrub the feeling of Snape’s blood off her skin.

Dithering for only a moment, Hermione ran to the bathroom, having made the decision to simply bathe as quickly as possible, frantic thoughts running wild in her mind: there was the necessary scrubbing off of a layer of skin, the need to reassure herself that Draco was still alright, and also, how tired she was of the formal clothing the Malfoy’s preferred, which somehow felt quite overwhelming just then.

As soon as she had finished scrubbing and rinsing, Hermione dashed out of the bath. Wrapping a towel around her still dripping self, she hurried back to the sitting room to check on Draco. Reassured that he was still as she had left him, she scampered back to her wardrobe, drying off as she went, wondering if there might be some casual clothes hidden in the drawers.

Opening the wardrobe, Hermione sighed in contented amazement: the magic of the Manor had provided for her. Almost immediately she found a set of joggers, a cosy pullover, and some fuzzy warm socks, all perfectly her size and style. Feeling more comfortable than she had in longer than she cared to think about, Hermione pulled her hair into a bun on top of her head and went back to the sitting room.

Sitting next to Draco on the settee, Hermione was disappointed to see that several tremors had returned, and though still unconscious, his body was once again starting to move on its own. While performing the muscle charm a few more times, Hermione suspected that what he really needed was a draught of the post-spasm potion he had come up with.

When she was satisfied that his nerves had settled for the moment, Hermione began searching her rooms for any vials of potion. Unable to find any doses in her bedroom or bathroom, Hermione moved to the sitting room, but after a quick survey she was unsurprised to find that, other than a small drinks cart, there was nothing even remotely resembling a potion.

She knew, somewhere in the vast manorhouse, there was bound to be answers to all the questions she had, and she thought - not for the first time - how helpful it would be if she knew where Draco’s rooms were. Not only would he surely be more comfortable in his own bed, but she might be able to find some notes on the potion; maybe even brew up a batch if he had a brewing station set up in his rooms.

Hermione's pulse quickened when she caught a glimmer of movement out of the corner of her eye. A section of the sitting room wall, opposite her bedroom door, wavered faintly in the moonlight before clicking open.

She approached the shimmering wall cautiously, Draco’s wand raised in her hand. When she reached the open section, her mind recognised what her eyes could not understand: there was a door set in the wall, guarded from sight by an expertly applied notice-me-not charm. Cancelling the charm with a silent finite, Hermione toed the door open and peered into the newly revealed room.

The semi-sentient building had again obeyed Hermione’s half formed desires and, though she felt somewhat like a voyeur, Hermione didn't try very hard to contain her curiosity as she stepped over the threshold into what was clearly Draco’s bedroom.

Nearly identical to hers in scale and furnishings, it was entirely the opposite of hers in tidiness. His bed was left unmade, the bedside table a collection of empty vials and dirty dishes. Shirts and slacks littered the floor around the wardrobe, and his desk was a jumble of papers, quills, and books stacked in haphazard arrangement.

Moving carefully through the room, Hermione went first to his desk, hoping to find notes on the potion, when she saw a face - frozen silver and glinting in the moonlight, empty eye sockets staring blankly at her - on the desk chair. A single breath calmed her when Hermione recognised the mask as a full faced, sterling version of the one Draco had worn to the ball. Moving forward, she brushed a finger over the silver surface and contemplated how difficult it was, reconciling the various iterations of Draco Malfoy.

A sudden vision of Draco as a Death Eater, his grey eyes, indifferent with occlusion, staring out from behind this mask, made Hermione shudder. Grabbing a black robe draped over the back of the chair, Hermione flipped it to hide the silver face from sight. As she did so, a harsh, acrid smell wafted up from the robes which she could not place, but made her stomach turn over.

Putting her hand to her nose, Hermione quickly scanned the desk for anything that might look like notes on potions, but all she found were his plans for the gladiator games. Thinking of it in purely theoretical terms, Hermione saw more than one note she would have liked to expand on and discuss with him - as they so often had done with his school books over the summer - if only he had confided in her.

Shaking the distraction from her mind, she moved away from the desk and made to search Draco’s bathroom, reasoning that she had once upon a time brewed an illicit substance in a similar location.

At first glance, the bathroom, too, was a disappointment. On further inspection, however, Hermione saw a section of wall shimmering faintly, and with a flick of Draco’s wand, another door hidden by a notice-me-not charm was revealed. Heart quickening with excitement, Hermione opened the door and revealed an entire potions lab in what had clearly once been the dressing room.

A long work table with multiple cauldrons ran the length of one wall. Moonlight shone from a series of windows high above it, the sills lined with potted plants of all varieties. The wall opposite was covered with shelves, crammed full of books, bottles, and baskets. A single, empty portrait hung amongst bunches of dried herbs on the wall at the far end of the narrow room. On the whole, it gave Hermione the impression of a science lab transplanted into a hearth witch’s kitchen, and she instantly loved it.

Hermione quickly discovered and focused her attention on a section of shelves that held rows of bottles identical to ones Madam Pomphrey used to hand out. Three doses of smokey blue liquid swirled within their glass confines and, pausing first to verify the tags identified them as the P.S. solution, Hermione practically skipped back to Draco's side.

As it turned out, administering a potion to an unconscious person was much easier said than done. The first drops simply spilled out the side of Draco’s mouth, but when she turned him onto his back, Hermione worried she might actually drown him.

Sitting back with a huff, she made the decision to move the entire operation to Draco’s bedroom. With him on a bed, she wouldn’t have to worry about him falling off in case of a sudden seizure, and she could keep a closer eye on him while snooping through his potions lab for more information.

Once he was safely deposited in his bed via a quick levitation charm, Hermione retreated to the lab to search for a notebook or journal or dosage sheet - anything that might give a hint about how to get an unconscious person to drink without causing them to aspirate.

Turning her attention to the shelves of books, she easily found a series of journals filled with the sharp handwriting she recognized as Draco's. Gathering all the journals, Hermione decided to read them in the comfort of Draco's room. Just as she reached the door, however, a sound she never thought she'd hear again stopped her in her tracks.

“Miss Granger,” Snape’s greasy voice practically echoed in the small room.

Hermione’s hands grew clammy and the journals nearly slipped from her grip.

“What in Salazar’s name are you doing with my godson’s notebooks?” The sneer in his voice was so familiar, Hermione thought he surely must have come back as a ghost, intent on haunting her, literally from beyond the grave.

Hermione turned slowly, fully prepared to see a translucent phantom in the shape of her old professor. All the air left her lungs in a rush of relief when she saw the painted portrait of Severus Snape occupying the previously empty frame at the end of the room.

“Professor?” She asked, unable to articulate much else while her pulse decelerated back to normal.

The portrait of Snape merely sneered in reply.

“Sorry,” Hermione fumbled, “I mean, Draco’s your godson?”

She hesitated before sensing this, too, would not warrant a reply.

“I’m looking for information on how to give a potion to an unconscious patient," she concluded, lamely.

"An interesting dilemma," Snape seemed to pause more for effect than to truly ponder the question. “You are in need of the book, ‘Medical Magic’, third shelf, fourth or fifth from the right.”

Hermione hurried to obey Snape's directions and locate the correct book.

“Yes, there,” he directed from his place on the wall as she searched the shelves. “Turn to page three hundred and ninety four. There you will find an appropriate charm.”

Hermione was careful not to rip the paper in her haste to find the page. Looking up into the portrait’s face, she was both amazed and disturbed by the way magic could approximate and alter reality.

"Thank you, professor,” she said. “Er…sir?” She continued, hesitating slightly, “Do you… remember? What happened? Earlier tonight?”

The artist who had painted Snape must have truly been a master because the glower of disdain he sent her was hauntingly similar to the way he had often looked at her when she dared to ask a question in class.

“Miss Granger,” he said, mouth pursed. “Need I remind you? I am but a portrait, an echo, a memoir. I only remember what the wizard who enchanted me intended for me to know.”

“Of course,” Hermione mumbled, thinking. “I’m sorry. But… What are you intended to know? Sir?”

“Potions.”

Hermione thought by the curtess of his reply, that would be the end of the conversation, but Snape spoke again.

“I am the repository of all the technical knowledge the… real… me accumulated in life. Having no posterity of my own - and since Draco has shown both interest and talent - I bequeathed the sum total of my life's work to my godson.

“My books, journals, and myself in this portrait, all were charmed to arrive in his possession if I was not able to give them to him directly. As such, I can only surmise that my mortal body has met an… untimely… end…”

Snape paused, evidently expecting either a denial or confirmation.

Hermione, not knowing how to break the news of his own demise to him, bit the inside of her lip and nodded.

“Regrettable, but not unexpected.”

Truthfully, Hermione thought Snape didn't sound sad so much as tired.

“Although, what you are doing here, I cannot begin to fathom.” Snape eyed her expectantly.

Hermione's face contorted with the beginning of several versions of events, but she, too, could not fathom the best way to explain her presence.

“Nevermind,” the portrait sighed in exasperation. “Run along and tend to your unconscious patient. I only request that you send Draco in when he has a moment.”

Startled into movement at Snape's reminder of Draco, Hermione hurried back to his side.

After reading through the instructions twice and practising the wand movements a few times, she performed the charm Snape had suggested.

While it seemed to have worked, Hermione, wanting to be as sure as possible there was no fluid in his lungs, climbed up on the bed beside Draco. Unbuttoning his jacket and waistcoat, she attempted to listen by hovering an ear over his torso, but couldn't hear much of anything.

Leaning a bit closer, a comforting warmth radiated up from his body, warming the side of her face, the gentle rise and fall of his chest brushing against her cheek.

Lulled by the warmth and relaxed rhythm of his breathing, Hermione allowed her head to rest on Draco's chest, telling herself she was merely listening for signs of aspiration, but she soon fell asleep, listening to the soothing sound of his heartbeat.

Hermione slowly became aware of herself again after enjoying a dreamless sleep. Lying very still with her eyes closed, she felt pleasantly snug and hoped to fall back asleep. As her mind continued to rouse itself, however, she realised that not only was more sleep out of the question, but she was still lying on Draco's chest. She also had the distinct impression that someone else was moving about the room.

Opening her eyes wide in panic, Hermione was greeted by nothing more than the sight of an empty room. Sitting up, she looked around, absentmindedly rubbing the indentations in her cheek from Draco’s shirt. Where piles of discarded clothing and stacks of dirty dishes had been only a few hours ago, there was now nothing but a perfectly tidy room. A fire crackled in the grate and the smell of fresh tea and toast wafted from a tray set on an adjacent table.

Hermione knew at once a house elf had been in the room while she slept, and marvelled at the magic that allowed them to be very nearly undetectable.

Her stomach rumbling, she ventured across the room and made herself a plate. While picking at the food, Hermione browsed through Draco's notebooks, looking specifically for information on the P.S. solution. When she found the notebook she was looking for, Hermione couldn't help but be impressed with Draco’s meticulous organisation and note taking.

Seeing how many iterations of the potion he had tested was as remarkable as it was sickening; the first attempts at the potion were dated from their sixth year, when he had evidently been brewing it for himself and, possibly, his parents. The next year was when the real progress was made, however, as it appeared he was brewing it almost daily and distributing it to fellow students at Hogwarts. Even the most recent draft of the potion had several edits, with directions crossed out and ingredients adjusted.

Knowing only two doses of the potion remained, Hermione ventured back into the lab and began to brew.

“Adding powdered lionfish spine directly to a tincture containing lavender will not mix evenly.” Snape’s portrait spoke over Hermione’s shoulder, making her jump. “You will want to ladle a small amount into a separate beaker, allow it to cool for 30 seconds, dissolve the powder in there, then slowly mix that back into the cauldron.”

Hermione stared between the portrait and her cauldron, working through what Snape had said.

“That would explain the directions here, to whisk clockwise and then stir three times anticlockwise,” she muttered, mostly to herself.

“And is that a distillation of bobotuber puss I see?”

“Er… yes,” Hermione answered, distractedly. “Sir,” she added by way of habit.

“To repair the myelin sheath?”

Snape's question caught Hermione off guard. She only knew vaguely about the nervous system, not having taken muggle biology classes, and wondered how Snape would have known.

“I’m not sure the theory behind it, exactly,” Hermione began slowly. “But based on the notes from Draco's trials, it does work to repair damaged nerves.”

“A potion for the nerves and an unconscious patient?”

“Yes sir,” she answered, hoping that would be the end of it.

The portrait of Snape nodded, brow furrowed in scowling thought, and Hermione turned back to her work, ladling a small portion of the tincture into a separate beaker.

“And where is my godson?” Snape drawled from his place on the wall when Hermione had finished whisking in the powdered lionfish spine.

Hermione didn’t know why she was so unnerved by a painting, but she felt that in some way, she was letting him down.

“Well, you see,” she began, hedging, before deciding that the bare truth would be easier to say and to accept. “Draco is the patient.”

Snape grimaced.

“Cruciatus?” Was all he asked.

Hermione nodded and Snape sighed.

“And, I don’t suppose you will enlighten me as to why you are here?” Snape asked, but Hermione didn’t think he really expected an answer.

“That is rather harder to explain…”

“Nevermind,” Snape waved a hand dismissively. “Finish the potion and see that it is administered correctly.”

Hermione poured the dissolved lionfish mixture back into the cauldron, counting her anticlockwise stirs. A stream of blue smoke formed with each pass of the stirring rod, and on the third turn it looked very nearly the same as those sitting on the shelf.

Satisfied with her work, Hermione bottled the potion, cleared her mess, and returned to Draco.

The following hours and days passed much the same way: Hermione tended to Draco, administering potions and performing charms on the schedule outlined in his notebook, while reading every scrap of information he had written. The familiarity of his handwriting was a comfort to her and, in a way, she felt he had brought her into his confidence after all.

Hermione thought it was ironic, in a cruel sort of way, how easy it was to allow feelings for a person to take root and grow when she didn't have to deal with their actual personality. She only paused once to think about the ethical dilemma of developing feelings for an unconscious person (after all, she reasoned, they were already married, what could it hurt?) but still laughed bitterly to herself when she added the Nightingale Effect to her list of self-diagnosed syndromes.

The nights, too, followed a pattern. The first night, Hermione had tried to go back to her own bedroom, but the moment she stepped into the shadowy sitting room, a flask filled with bright white-blue filaments drew her eye and she had to forcefully redirect the memories that threatened to burst through the calm atmosphere of her mind.

Picking up the flask, she walked back through Draco’s room, into the potions lab, carefully setting the memories on the work table. Snape’s portrait watched her silently from his frame, but when she glanced over at him, his focus was consumed by the incandescent thoughts, glowing in the darkness.

After that, Hermione simply climbed into Draco’s bed, determined to stay on one side of the mattress. A few hours later, when she woke trembling from nightmares - either hers or Draco’s, she couldn't be sure - she crawled across the bed. Running her fingers over Draco's face until the worry lines melted away, sliding an arm under his back and lying her cheek against his chest, the steady rhythm of his heart beating against her fears, intuitively finding solace in the presence of each other until they were both able to sleep peacefully.

The rosy fingers of dawn were just beginning to creep through the windows one morning in November, when Hermione’s eyes fluttered open. Lying on her side, head tucked under Draco’s chin, arms and legs wrapped over and around his body, Hermione felt simultaneously content and lonely at the prospect of yet another day caring for an unconscious person.

Sleepily stretching, Hermione arched her back, but paused when she felt the muscles of Draco’s arm flex where it lay alongside her. Tilting her head up, Hermione looked directly into bemused grey eyes looking back down at her.

“What are you doing?” There was an awkward break between ‘you’ and ‘doing’ when Draco swallowed uncomfortably.

Hermione felt his voice, gravelly from injury and lack of use, rumble through his chest, and she scrambled to get away from him, a confusing avalanche of thoughts and feelings barreling through her mind.

“I'm sorry,” she breathed, already retreating. “I shouldn't be here.”

Then, Hermione fled, not stopping until she reached her own room. She felt disoriented by her reaction, ashamed of her cowardly exit, and completely mortified when she thought of Draco’s confused question.

She desperately wanted to go back to him, but dreaded his reaction. Worried the familiarity she felt would not be reciprocated and he would shut her out again, Hermione instead shut herself in, closing the bedroom door behind her, sinking to the floor, alone again.

Chapter 16: Most Controversial

Summary:

Hermione found words to clarify the nebulous worry which had been lurking, unformed, in her mind:

“Out of all the girls in the cellar, why me, Draco? There was more than one half-blood; Ginny and Luna are even pureblooded. Surely one of them would have made your life less complicated? I was easily the most controversial option. So, I have to ask: why marry me?”

Notes:

I'm back! Here's an extra long chapter after an extra long break. I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season filled with wonderful things and is off to a good start in the new year! Now, to the story!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

It was a full twenty-four hours before Sukey, Narcissa's house elf, knocked on Hermione's door to escort her to breakfast where she was informed that Draco and Lucius had been summoned away. Hermione spent the next several days following Narcissa's schedule of approved activities while she mentally picked apart every minute detail of her retreat from Draco, berating herself for her mistakes and wishing she could redo the whole thing.

After having enjoyed unlimited access to Draco’s wand, Hermione also found herself missing her magic more acutely, and so, she began practising wandless magic in the few unscheduled moments she had to herself. Without a wand to direct and concentrate it, her magic felt raw, uncontrolled and nearly uncontrollable in a way it hadn’t done since she was a child. She was, however, determined to rely on her own intrinsic power, unwilling to be diminished by what anyone else allowed her, and the untamed wildness of it was paradoxically empowering.

Over a week passed in this way, before one afternoon at tea, Naracissa requested Hermione wear formal robes to dinner that night. It was not unusual for Narcissa to comment on her wardrobe, and so Hermione thought nothing of it. However, she misestimated the time required to dress in the chosen robes, and was not quite ready when Sukey’s knock sounded on her door that evening.

“Just a minute,” Hermione called as she hopped on one foot, skirts tucked up under her arms, trying to get an unbuckled dress shoe over her heel. “I’m coming!”

Hermione huffed, losing her balance, and thumped into the door as she was trying to open it.

“Sorry, it’s these shoes, I can’t seem to….” Hermione opened the door, expecting to see a house elf, but instead, ended up explaining herself to a pair of black dress pants standing on the other side.

Looking up into the smirking face of Draco, Hermione released her skirts and stood, dumbstruck and lopsided, with still only one shoe on.

“Having some trouble there, Granger?”

Hermione heard the laughter in Draco's voice and couldn't stop a nervous smile from her own face.

“Draco?” As usual, Hermione’s eloquence seemed to depart when he surprised her. “You're back?”

Draco chuckled as he nodded his head.

“I'm back,” he confirmed. “Don't tell me you missed me?”

Hermione turned away, hiding the heat in her cheeks, and hobbled over to a seat.

“I just need to get this shoe on,” she muttered, ignoring Draco's question.

“It's alright,” Draco said, walking with her. “I missed you, too.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes up at him.

“Don't tease me,” she warned, pointing a finger in his face.

“Me? Tease you?” Draco placed a hand on his chest, mock offence in his posture. “You think I'd know better than that by now.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, shaking her head before returning to her shoes.

Their easy moment of camaraderie dimmed as they stepped from their rooms and walked through the gloomy halls toward the dining room.

“I wanted to-”

“Hermione, there's some-”

They both spoke at the same time, then awkwardly paused, apologising and insisting the other go first.

With a slightly strained laugh, Hermione took the plunge.

“Well, I just wanted to apologise,” she began again, wringing her hands. “For the way I left things when you first woke up. That I ran away and left you there. I'm sorry. I was just embarrassed and insecure and…”

Hermione stopped walking, seeing that Draco was doing a poor job of hiding a smile.

“What?!” She felt a mixture of indignation and mirrored amusem*nt at Draco's reaction. “Why are you laughing at me?”

“I'm not laughing at you. I just didn’t think that had actually happened,” Draco said, clearly trying not to laugh.

“Oh Godric,” Hermione moaned, hiding her face in her hands. “Here I am, rambling on about something you don't even remember!”

“Oh, I remember it,” Draco said mischievously, as he started walking again. “I just thought I'd made it up. I didn't think Hermione Granger was capable of running away, so I assumed it was some sort of fever dream.”

Hermione stared after him, open mouthed, as he walked away.

“Besides, it really would have been a dream: waking up with such a pretty girl in my bed.” Draco turned, walking backward as he spoke, hands in his pockets.

“Ok, now you really are teasing me!” Hermione tried to ignore the way his gently goading smile made her heart dance and her fingers tingle; it felt a bit like her undisciplined magic, the way it swelled just before a casting.

As Hermione caught up with a still smirking Draco, a shrill laugh escaped from the open dining room doors and echoed around the corridor.

Hermione froze in place, the maniacal laugh of Bellatrix Lestrange striking her like an icy wind. Draco stopped, too, the colour draining from his face as he turned to Hermione.

“I’m sorry, Granger,” Draco’s words were hushed and urgent. “I meant to warn you, my aunt and uncle are joining us for dinner.”

Hermione moved numbly into the dining room with Draco’s hand on her back, propelling her forward. She sloppily began to occlude away the panic she felt, finding herself in the same room as Rodolphus again. Soon, she was seated at the dining table, next to Draco, across from his aunt and uncle. Lucius, of course, made a snide comment about their tardiness, but Hermione thought the meal was progressing reasonably well, until Bellatrix looked over the table, squarely at her.

“And what does the little wife think of your new assignment, Draco?”

Bellatrix’s eyes glinted at Hermione’s uncomprehending look.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t told her?” Bellatrix taunted in delight.

“Draco’s only just got home,” Hermione retorted, her occluded mind struggling to keep up. “And… we’ve been too busy to talk.”

Draco choked on his wine and the rest of the table stilled. Bellatrix looked positively gleeful.

“Oh, yes,” Bellatrix cooed, “I imagine you keep Draco very busy… entirely too busy for conversation.”

Hermione’s eyes widened, her face heating with embarrassment when she realised the entendre she hadn't intended.

“I didn’t-” Hermione began, but Draco recovered and cut her off.

“Yes, indeed,” he began, patting his mouth with his napkin.

Hermione turned to him, eyes wide with disbelief.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a proper conversation with Hermione,” Draco went on, replacing his napkin in his lap. “Everything with her is more of a debate - and those can get quite heated.” He smirked, looking sideways at Hermione.

“Really, Draco?” Lucius’ impatient voice came from the head of the table.

“Really, Father,” Draco continued with a mortifying degree of seriousness. “I assure you, it's quite stimulating, and always satisfying.” He grinned, popping a potato in his mouth.

Lucius’ knife and fork clattered to his plate as he sat back from the table, disgust clear on his face.

“We are trying to eat here.”

Hermione’s face burned as she felt the gleeful eyes of Bellatrix - and the more sinister gaze of Rodolphus - focused on her.

“Oh, I do like her,” Bellatrix uttered softly.

“Draco, dear,” Narcissa's enigmatic voice cut through the tension. “Why don't you and Hermione take a walk in the gardens? The cool night air does wonders for one's… complexion.”

Hermione met Narcissa's steady gaze over her wine glass as Draco placed his napkin on his plate.

“What a lovely idea, Mother, thank you for the suggestion.” Draco stood, as if he had been expecting the dismissal.

“Shall we? Darling?” he asked, offering his hand to Hermione.

“Of course. Dear.” Hermione replied, trying to hide her indignation as she took his hand and let him lead her out the french doors to the terrace.

While she was grateful to leave the dinner party behind, Hermione felt her temper continue to rise with each step they took away from the Manor house.

“Why would you say that?” she asked finally, her irritation bubbling over.

“It got us out of there.” Draco shrugged, moving off the terrace and onto a garden path.

“What are they even doing here?” Hermione demanded, following Draco into the night.

“Well, Bella is my mother’s sister, and we ran into Rodolphus at the ministry on our way home, and he managed to invite himself over.”

“So, that’s it?” Hermione practically shouted. “They want to come over for a visit, so you just let them in?”

“It’s not like we can refuse them,” Draco grumbled, clearly annoyed. “My aunt is one of the Dark Lord’s most trusted advisors, and as I said, my mother's sister. It's perfectly normal for families to dine together on occasion.”

“What’s the use of the wards - of literally bleeding for this place - if you’re just going to invite people like them inside?”

“The point,” Draco stopped walking and turned to Hermione, matching her temper with his own. “Is that when the Dark Lord chose to make our house his headquarters, our family wards were dismantled. Wards that have been maintained for generations. Our heritage - my heritage! - was subverted to allow him and his- his- his minions unfettered access to our ancestral home.”

Draco paused to take a breath, visibly calming himself.

“The point of the ritual was to repair the damage. The point of bleeding for this place, as you say, is to renew the protection of our family and ensure the continuation of our lineage.”

“And now?” Hermione wasn't ready to calm down. “Is it like vampires? Once you've invited them in, they can come and go as they please?”

“Vampires?” Draco paused for a moment, clearly confused before he shook his head, returning to the subject at hand. “The family wards are a bit like the opposite of the containment charm the Dark Lord has us under. Well, actually, the containment charm is the opposite of the wards: we can bring people in when we want, but once they're outside the wards, they can't get in again without us.”

Draco chuckled, his resentment turning the sound bitter.

“The irony is, all the old families are so interrelated, it's your supposedly ‘impure’ blood that makes our wards so strong now.”

Hermione felt her wandless magic begin to ripple, moving under her skin and curling around her fingers.

“Is that why you wanted to marry me?” she asked, voice quiet with anger. “So you could use my exotic blood to better protect you?”

“What?” Anger mixed with incredulity in the dangerously low volume of Draco's voice.

Hermione found words to clarify the nebulous worry which had been lurking, unformed, in her mind:

“Out of all the girls in the cellar, why me, Draco? There was more than one half-blood; Ginny and Luna are even pureblooded. Surely one of them would have made your life less complicated? I was easily the most controversial option. So, I have to ask: why marry me?”

Draco turned away from Hermione, hands on his head. In the next motion, he spun around to face her, a frustrated sound erupting from his chest.

“I asked you because I couldn't imagine being married to anyone else. Is that what you want to hear?”

“Only if it's true!” Hermione's voice cracked with the emotion she felt.

Draco closed his eyes.

“It's true, Hermione.”

Draco opened his eyes as he spoke and Hermione's breath caught at the vulnerability she saw, the sincerity she heard.

“Out of all the girls I've ever known, you're the only one I'd want to spend the rest of my life with.” There was also pain in Draco's confession as he continued. “And I'm sorry I took that choice from you,” he said, regret leaking from every syllable.

“Oh, Draco,” Hermione said, tentatively stepping toward him, her anger melting with the heat of his confession. “You didn't take anything from me, I chose to marry you. And I'd make the same choice again.”

“You chose me over being sold into slavery, that's hardly a choice.”

The sting of his words was as unexpected as it was infuriating.

“Don't do that,” Hermione shot back. “Don't dismiss me like that. Don't- don't- don't trivialise my agency.” She felt frustration prick the back of her eyes and willed herself to go on.

“You’re the one who told me not everything is divided into right and wrong - that there’s more than two options in life. Well, I chose you that night in the cellar, over all my other options. And I’ve chosen you every day since.

“I wear what I’m told to wear, say what I’ve been coached to say, allow myself to be paraded around like some prize you’ve won. And I choose to do that. This is a big house, Draco, I’m sure I could hide, disappear into the walls or live with the house elves, but I don’t.” Magic gathered like static across her skin, itching to be discharged.

“I show up, every day, because I’m choosing to be your wife - yours, Draco - and tomorrow, I’ll wake up and choose to do it all again.” Desolation closed Hermione's throat, constricting her voice to a whisper. “So don’t you dare take that away from me.”

Draco stood staring at her, arms hanging at his side, chest heaving in sympathy with hers. Slowly, he nodded his head, reaching out a hand - a truce - for her to hold on to.

With an overwhelming volume of emotions threatening to overtake her, Hermione brushed past his offered hand and instead wrapped her arms around his middle, pressing her head where she knew she would hear the sound of his heart.

It took three beats before his arms encircled her with his warmth. The magic she had summoned glimmered and danced away into the night, set free as they stood, holding each other against the chill.

With his pulse calming her, Hermione tilted her head, chin resting on his sternum, and looked up into Draco’s face. He was already looking down at her.

“Alright there, Granger?”

“Hermione. My name’s Hermione.”

“Hermione,” he said, then smiled. “May I kiss you, now?”

A startled laugh shakily made its way out of Hermione and she nodded. “Yes, please.”

Notes:

As always, readers are the ink to my pen (or pixels to my screen?), so thank you thank you thank you for sharing this bit of your time with me!

Chapter 17: To Build a Bridge

Summary:

Hermione tried again to build a bridge of understanding.

“Draco?”

“Hermione?”

“Would you tell me what your new assignment is?” Hermione chewed her bottom lip, surprised she was more anxious to see how he would respond than she was about the actual job.

Draco paused before answering. “Not while they're here,” he said at last, the tension in his voice a barrier between them.

Notes:

Sorry if this is confusing, I just felt like the last chapter was too long, so I split it into two chapters. New chapter coming soon!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Draco brushed his nose along Hermione’s as he bowed his head. She tasted wine as they met, the pillow of his bottom lip fitting softly between her slightly parted ones.

Hermione sucked lightly, testing, and Draco let out a breath. Threading his fingers through her hair, Draco gripped the back of her skull, tilting her head as he opened her lips with his.

Their breath mingled and they paused, a moment suspended in time, before moving forward, tongues reaching, touching, exploring each other.

Draco pulled back first, and Hermione chased after, longing for just a little bit more of him.

“Greedy little thing,” he said with affection, their foreheads pressed together, his nose nuzzling hers.

Hermione stood on tiptoes and pressed one more kiss to his lips, before their hands fell into an easy embrace and they continued their walk in comfortable silence.

When they came to a bench, Draco spread his robes wide and invited Hermione to sit with him. Snuggled up inside the warmth of his robes, Hermione tried again to build a bridge of understanding.

“Draco?”

“Hermione?”

“Would you tell me what your new assignment is?” Hermione chewed her bottom lip, surprised she was more anxious to see how he would respond than she was about the actual job.

Draco paused before answering. “Not while they're here,” he said at last, the tension in his voice a barrier between them.

Hermione felt a little let down at the rebuff, but refused to leave the conversation there.

“Then… Tell me more about the wards?” She was trying very hard to sound understanding and not judgemental.

“What would you like to know?” He asked with careful neutrality.

“Well, you said the wards had been there for generations, before, well, You Know Who.”

“Yes, they had been.” Hermione felt the tension leave Draco’s body, taking down the division between them as he answered her. “This land was given to my ancestors by William the Conqueror and my family has been here ever since. The old records are difficult to decipher - I’ve only seen them once - but there has been some sort of blood warding from the beginning.”

Draco paused to take a breath.

“And, you’re not the first muggle-born to marry in and participate,” he said in the rush of his exhale. “It wasn’t until the Statute of Secrecy that my family became so…”

“Bigoted?” Hermione replied sardonically, before backtracking. “Sorry, I’m not trying to start another row, I really do want to know.”

Draco laughed a little. “No, you’re right. Bigoted is just one word for it.”

That surprised Hermione a bit, to hear him agree so easily, but Draco had already moved on.

“That was the most intense ritual I’ve ever participated in, though. Before… well, before You-Know-Who…”

“Oh, this is so silly!” Hermione exclaimed, unable to keep herself from interrupting again. “I’m sorry, but He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has a name!”

“You know it’s taboo, it’s what got you stuck here in the first place, isn’t it?” Draco said, nearly scolding her.

Hermione waved an impatient hand. “Yes, the name he conjured for himself is taboo, but his given name is not.”

Draco made to argue, but stopped short, processing what she had said.

“Tom. Tom Riddle.” Hermione stated boldly, then waited, a part of her wondering if perhaps snatchers would appear after all.

“Tom Riddle…” Draco said, thinking. “Why have I never heard that before?”

“He’s done a good job hiding his past.” Hermione shrugged. “And, as he was named after his muggle father, nobody thought to go looking there.”

“Muggle father? No wonder he wanted to keep it hidden: he's a complete fraud!” Draco was incredulous, building towards agitation. “Everything he stands for is a lie, all of it. I’ve had my doubts for a while now, I mean, anyone who went to school alongside you and Greg Goyle should be well aware that Magic is not Might.”

Hermione could feel the outrage welling up in Draco.

“Then! Living with that- that- darkness in our home, witnessing the humiliation The Dark Lord - ha! Tom! - put my family through, he clearly doesn’t mean for Purity to actually be Power, and no wonder! He's not even pureblooded!”

Hermione wanted to know if his emotions made his skin tingle with unspent magic, as hers had started doing, but felt nothing when she touched his wrist. She was completely unimpressed with the revelations he was experiencing, but also, a very small part of her felt sympathy for his paradigm shift and winced for his moment of disillusionment.

Draco stilled at the touch of her hand and turned to look at her.

Seeing Hermione’s awkwardly mixed expression, Draco huffed a disaffected laugh and wrapped his arm around her with a sigh of resignation.

“Have I ever apologised for all the things I said - and did - to you at school?” he asked quietly.

Hermione was startled speechless. In her mind, she had almost completely succeeded in divorcing the Malfoy of her school days from the Draco she knew now, finding it easier to think of them as separate people.

“Because I am sorry. Living the life I’ve lived recently, I have realised that I was mistaken, and I’m sorry for that.”

Hermione stared between Draco’s earnest eyes and felt another worry uncoil itself from her mind.

“Thank you for saying that,” she said softly.

Draco cleared his throat, ending his moment of vulnerability, and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees.

“So… the Dark Lo- Tom,” he corrected himself, “his mother was a witch then?”

“A Gaunt.” Hermione nodded, readily accepting the change in subject and mood. “Descended from the Peverell’s and Slytherin himself. But the point is, his name is Tom Riddle, and I don’t see a reason to call him anything else.” Hermione paused. “At least in private.”

“In private, indeed.” Draco chuckled darkly.

“But, anyway! Back to the wards: Before Tom invaded your house, the rituals were less…” Hermione trailed off, and Draco took up the offer.

“Yes. They were less,” he agreed. “For at least four generations, they had only been done when a full moon coincided with a solstice or an equinox, and then each participant chose only one ruin to contribute. The one on Halloween was… more reconstruction than maintenance.”

“And you said you had participated before?”

“Yes,” Draco said, smiling. “A few times. One exception to the schedule is when a child first shows accidental magic, so my first was when I was barely four.”

“So young?” Hermione said, wondering at the intensity of it all.

“There’s only one ruin, and the child chooses it,” Draco confirmed. “It’s really more of a welcome, a celebration.”

“What ruin did you choose?” Hermione asked, smiling as she pictured a small blond boy hiding his excitement with seriousness while standing in the ancient forest, prepared to participate in a sacred family ritual.

Draco looked out across the dark landscape.

“Othala.”

The word came so softly, Hermione could have mistaken it for a breath of night air.

The sound of the rune made her shrink, wondering what a young child could have been thinking - must have been taught - to choose such a symbol.

“Order?” She whispered, choosing the least offensive interpretation of the symbol, both dreading and needing to know what he had intended. “Purity?”

“Don't play dumb, Hermione,” he said, sounding tired. “You know it stands for a pure society, for blood purity. At least in certain circles.”

Hermione wilted with the confirmation, but Draco continued with a sigh.

“I didn't understand the more modern interpretation at the time, and was taught to be proud of my family history, so I drew it in the old Norman style, with flat feet at the bottom.”

Draco drew out his wand and traced the symbol in the air in front of them. Hermione saw, just as Draco explained, the more simple, ancient variation of the rune.

“You see? Without the tails at the bottom.”

Draco looked at her, hope and wariness warring on his face. Hermione could see the difference, but wasn't sure what significance it held for Draco, and was unwilling to guess.

“Written like this, in the old way, it means kinship or family. It means belonging. Legacy.” Draco closed his eyes and the rune shimmered, disappearing like smoke into the air. “At least, that was my intention.”

Hermione allowed relief to wash through her mind as she filled her lungs with the cold darkness. She leaned her head on Draco’s shoulder.

“Magic requires intention,” she said, offering him the lenience she would grant a small child.

He didn’t answer but put his arm back around her.

“What are the other exceptions?” Hermione asked, hoping to keep the conversation going.

“Exceptions…?” Draco asked, not following her train of thought.

“You said when a child first shows accidental magic is one of the exceptions to the regularly scheduled ward maintenance?”

Draco nodded, understanding falling over his features.

“The other exception is when a marriage occurs,” he explained. “The new wife is welcomed into the family, simultaneously adding her magic to support the wards and being strengthened and protected by the land in return.”

Hermione shifted, her mind turning over the information, but Draco continued before she could fully process it.

“And before you ask, the ritual was already planned before my parents knew about our marriage.” Draco smirked knowingly, and Hermione felt unaccountably pleased that he would guess her question before she could even ask it.

“But, I did plan the timing of the escape so you could participate. I did want you to be added to the wards, both for your protection and, yes, for your blood,” he said, a little warily. “You’re a strong witch, Hermione, and not related to anyone else in the magical community. It would be completely mad not to take advantage of that.”

Hermione nodded, not upset in the least by his admission; he was right, after all, it would be mad not to take advantage of her genetics, and that was what had caught her attention.

“I’m not upset, Draco,” she began, “but, I don’t think it’s blood that makes the wards strong,” she said, working out the details in her mind. “I think it’s the DNA that matters, and blood just happens to have a high concentration of DNA.”

Draco looked at her blankly.

“DNA is the genetic blueprint - the code - that makes every living thing the thing that it is, as opposed to something else. And each person has a distinct code, but the more closely related two people are, the more similar their DNA will be. Muggles use DNA to verify paternity, and in forensic investigations, and oh, it’s really quite exciting, all the…”

Hermione trailed off, noting the distinctly pinched look of annoyance on Draco’s face.

“Sorry,” she said, the familiar feeling of deprecation settling like a weight over her enthusiasm.

“Don’t be sorry,” he said, though by his clipped consonants, he was clearly upset. “Is this like the pearls?” he asked abruptly.

“The pearls?” Hermione felt discombobulated in addition to dismissed.

“Yes,” Draco said, reigning in his annoyance. “Is this dee-enay like the peals? Something all muggles know about as a matter of course?”

Understanding lifted Hermione’s spirit and buoyed her with new understanding: Draco wasn’t annoyed with her for her knowledge; he was frustrated with his own ignorance.

“Well, a bit, perhaps,” Hermione hedged. “But DNA - just the acronym, I believe it stands for dio-nucleic-acid, or something like that - is much more complicated than pearl formation. I believe muggles only figured it out in the ’30’s or ’40’s perhaps? And it’s only been in the last ten years or so that it’s become applicable outside of academic pursuits. But, it would be rather difficult to find a muggle who didn’t know what DNA was. At least in places like the UK.”

Draco nodded shortly, but Hermione could tell he was holding in something that felt remarkably like spite.

“How did you get everyone out of the house? The night we escaped?” She asked as a way to change the subject and distract him from his thoughts.

Draco hummed distractedly. “It was Bella's birthday. They held a dinner party at Lestrange Manor and we were all allowed to attend.”

Hermione hated that every topic seemed to hold a landmine for one or the other of them, just waiting to be inadvertently stepped on and blow up the entire conversation.

Realising his misstep, Draco turned to Hermione.

“I'm sorry, I know you have… reasons to avoid her. Believe me, I know she has a mean streak and rather delights in causing pain. But, she is my aunt, and I can't see how you'll be able to avoid her completely.”

Hermione realised he didn't know the half of her fears when it came to his aunt and uncle, and that gave her cause to worry all the more.

“I am not fond of Bellatrix, it's true,” she started, still deciding how much to reveal to Draco.

“She does have a fondness for the cruciatus curse, I'll admit, and she enjoys an audience more than is generally considered healthy, but, on the whole, I think she is fairly straightforward. Her predictability makes sense to me and I can prepare for it. Truthfully, she's not the one who worries me. Rodolphus on the other hand…”

“Uncle Rod?” Draco asked doubtfully. He was not completely dismissing her assessment, but it was clear he did not entirely trust her experiences where they differed from his.

“Yes,” Hermione insisted. “Your uncle Rodolphus is quiet and patient and I can't help but feel that his plans are more intricate and sinister than Bellatrix’s could ever be. He is the one I'm more frightened of.”

She intended to go on, to tell Draco of the things that had happened to give her reason to be afraid, but the close sound of a foot on gravel crushed the words in her mouth.

“Ah, there you two lovebirds are.” Rodolphus' voice cut through the night, snaking its way to them around the garden beds. “Draco, we have business to discuss. Your father is waiting in his study,” he said, emerging from the shadows.

Hermione gazed at him boldly, wondering how much of their conversation he had heard. She did not flinch when his dark eyes flickered over her, nor did she think she imagined the carefully controlled calculation they held.

“Of course,” Draco said coolly. “I’ll be there after I’ve escorted Hermione back to her room.”

“Ah, ever the gentleman,” Rodolphus said. “However, I’m afraid this really can’t wait. Surely your wife can find her own way back to her room?”

Rodolphus’ smile felt slimy to Hermione, and she wondered if Draco noticed the things she did.

“It’s alright, Draco,” Hermione interjected, “I’m sure you don’t want to keep your uncle and father waiting.”

Draco looked unsure, so Hermione clarified.

“You go on ahead with your uncle, and I’ll wait up for you in our rooms.” She was careful to emphasise both her expectation that Draco stay with Rodolphus and the shared nature of their living space. “Really, I’ll be fine.”

With a reluctant squeeze of her shoulder, Draco stood and followed Rodolphus back toward the Manor. Hermione watched them disappear into the gardens, before she turned and headed the opposite direction, taking the back way to their rooms.

Once she was safely in their private sitting room, Hermione slumped against the door, turning the lock before sliding to the floor, where she proceeded to remove the stubborn dress shoes. With the door secured and her feet free, she was finally able to release the tension she held between her shoulders with a sigh of relief.

After a moment of revelling in the quiet of her aloneness, Hermione stood and stripped off the stiff formal robes, leaving her in a short thin shift. She was still deciding if she wanted a quick bath or to simply crawl straight into her bed when she crossed over to her bedroom.

With the click of the latch behind her, a frost formed over Herminoe’s skin. A cool hand tightened over her mouth and an icy blade pressed into her throat; the bitter tang of a silencing charm stealing her voice.

Notes:

Sorry for another cliffhanger! I promise I'm writing as quickly as I can to get the next chapter polished and posted!

My posting schedule is hopefully going to be every other week, I think that'll give me enough time to get real life done in between writing, haha.

I've updated all the tags as far as I'm aware of them, so take a peek if you need to, or don't if you don't want spoilers; I'll still put TW's on each chapter as they apply.

Chapter 18: Blood and Power

Summary:

“Do you see it? The rawness of her power?”

Bellatrix’s eager voice, followed by Rodlphus’ low humm of agreement, made Hermione’s eyes blink slowly, her sluggish brain struggling to piece everything together.

“Imagine what we could create!”

Notes:

**TW in the end notes!**

Thank you thank you thank you for sticking with me!

I'm finding it hard to stick to a posting schedule; life is full right now, in all the good ways! Just know that I am working on this story in all my spare time (and some of my not so spare time, haha) and I will post when I can :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

There was a moment, as Hermione swung the door closed behind her, when she realised something was wrong. She tried to retreat but was too late and the door latch caught, clicking shut behind her. In the same instant, a cool hand clamped over her mouth, stifling any scream that may have tried to escape, and the cold metal of a knife blade bit into the skin at her throat. Hermione felt her magic react, freezing itself into a layer of frost over her skin, as the bitterness of a silencing charm stole her voice.

“Hush now,” Bellatrix’s voice whispered in Hermione’s ear. “We wouldn’t want anyone disturbing our fun, now would we?”

Bellatrix's hand left Hermione’s lips, sliding down, around her chest and arms, drawing her back into Bellatrix’s body. The knife pressed relentlessly into Hermione's neck and she followed silently.

“That’s a good girl,” Bellatrix murmured as she propelled Hermione forward into the room. “I never had any use for mudbloods before - I couldn’t understand why Rodolphous wanted to go to that ridiculous auction, but as usual, he was right: all creatures have their uses. And I find I’ve developed an unexpected fondness for you, my little pet.”

While Bellatrix pushed her to the small breakfast table near the fireplace, Hermione’s magic rippled from her, ice crystals forming around her bare feet with each step, until the floor was frozen solid. When they reached the breakfast table, Bellatrix’s hand moved to the centre of Hermione’s back, pushing her forward suddenly.

The movement was swift and unexpected, but as Hermione lurched forward, the pressure of the knife at her throat lessened, and Hermione seized her opportunity. With all her strength, she kicked blindly behind her, feeling her foot connect with something solid. Bellatrix’s grip faltered with a grunt of surprise, and Hermione twisted away, already running for the door.

Her second step was interrupted when a hand caught the hem of her chemise, causing her to slip on the glazed floor. Together, Hermione and Bellatrix fell, Hermine kicking and punching wildly; magic, fury, and fear exploding out of her with all the strength she had.

Bellatrix, however, refused to release her hold. No matter how many blows landed on her, she clawed her way up, until she had subdued Hermione’s body beneath her own, trapping her face-down against the frigid floor.

Blood leaked from Bellatrix’s nose, staining her lips and teeth as she smiled down into Hermione’s face.

“Oh, yes,” she whispered, “we’ll have such fun together.”

Though Hermione made herself limp and heavy as she could, allowing the full force of her mass to weigh her down, Bellatrix gathered Hermione’s arms behind her back and hefted her from the floor, frog marching over to the table where she leaned forward, pinning her to the tabletop. Hermione’s arms were trapped between her own back and Bellatrix’s front; Hair covered her face, filling her mouth. Bellatrix shifted, carefully withdrawing one of Hermione’s arms, laying it across the table, the awkward angle pinching her shoulder painfully.

Bellatrix resettled her weight, pressing down on Hermione’s back. A moment later, a silent scream tore at Hermione’s vocal chords, syphoning all the air out of the room along with it. Her mind cleared briefly, and she realised Bellatrix had recovered her knife and was carving into the soft flesh of her forearm.

Hermione felt she was floating through a vacuum of pain - moments of respite only served to show the endless expanse of her agony - when a hand, large and hot on her wrist, sent her plummeting through the atmosphere.

“You never could resist leaving your mark, could you?” Rodolphous’ amused voice burned through Hermione’s pain-soaked mind.

“Surely you don't mind?” Bellatrix's breathless voice replied from beside Hermione's ear.

“On the contrary,” Rodolphus' voice moved lower, “I quite like seeing your artistry.”

The relentless pull of gravity weighed Hermione down, her bones too heavy to move, and so she thought it quite unnecessary when she felt Rodolphus' magic restrain her, tying her to the table. Only then did Bellatrix’s weight lift from her back, but Hermine found she was still unable to fill her lungs, the air in the room feeling thin, devoid of oxygen.

The heat of Rodolphus’ hand brushed along Hermione’s forehead, pulling the hair from her mouth and away from her face. Her eyes, blurry with tears, saw starlight refracting strangely over the icebound surfaces of her room.

“Do you see it? The rawness of her power?”

Bellatrix’s eager voice, followed by Rodlphus’ low humm of agreement, made Hermione’s eyes blink slowly, her sluggish brain struggling to piece everything together.

“Imagine what we could create!”

Hermione felt Rodolphus’ rough fingers combing through her hair, scalding where they touched her scalp, yet impossibly gentle with her curls. He said nothing, but continued his perusal as Bellatrix spoke.

“Your bloodline and her power, with me to raise it up in the old ways, with the correct traditions - her hair is similar enough, no one would suspect - our lineage will be secure!”

Rodolphus’ fingers left Hermione’s hair, circling around her ear and tracing a line down her neck to the place where her collar bone met her shoulder blade, toying with the thin strap of fabric there.

“Our child will sit at the right hand of the Dark Lord!”

Hermione’s brain caught up with their plans and her body jerked, struggling against gravity and the restraints, wishing she could float away into nothingness.

Rodolphus’ voice shushed her, his burning handprint pressed between her shoulder blades, as Hermione felt the cold metal of the knife, sliding over the skin along her spine. Expecting the sharp burn of the knife tip, Hermione instead felt the blade lift, slicing through her shift. Rodolphus’ hands followed the falling fabric, leaving a bare trail of defrosted skin in their wake.

Bellatrix climbed onto the table as Rodolphus’ hands spread across Hermione’s back, his hips pressing hers into the sharp corner of the table, his fingers sliding along the outline of her knickers. Hermione’s vision was obscured by Bellatrix’s robes as the older woman leaned over, kissing Rodolphus with a palpable passion.

Between the panting and wheezing of breath and words taking place above her, Hermione yearned to be free from touch and sensation, a massless void, invulnerable and inviolable. Making this wish - as upon the star of her muggle childhood - a feeling of weightlessness overtook her. Hermione watched Bellatrix’s robes drift from in front of her eyes and felt her hair rise from her neck.

A harsh laugh from Rodolphus rumbled through Hermione and with a single shove of his hand, Bellatrix stumbled off the table. She held Hermione’s gaze as she backed away, hair and skirts lifting around her, and Hermione felt the mixture of unabashed lust and unmitigated jealousy burning through Bellatrix’s stare.

Over the buzzing in her ears, Hermione heard the clink of a belt buckle behind her. Hermione couldn’t breathe; all the oxygen in the room consumed by the inferno of Rodolphus. The lack of oxygen caused her lips to numb and her vision to blur even as her lungs quickened their pace.

Time seemed to slow when a supersonic shock shattered her bedroom door, leaving a blond nebula in its wake, a molecular cloud of fury. A backdraft of oxygen filled the room, igniting the ionised atmosphere before Hermione could even take a breath, and she welcomed the relief from consciousness as asphyxiation took hold of her.

Hermione wondered dimly how many times she would wake up confused, in unfamiliar surroundings, unsure about what exactly had transpired to put her there. Surely she had far exceeded the most common number for people of her age. Then again, she reasoned, the mode was probably different if one controlled for the variable of living through a war.

These thoughts drifted through her head even as she tried to assess her situation without opening her eyes. She determined that she was definitely in a bed, but with a few weary blinks, she knew it was not her own bed. With this realisation, the memory of what had happened in her room came rushing back to her, and she sat up, a burst of panic racing through her veins.

Looking around frantically, she was relieved to find that she was alone, and in Draco’s room, which was rather more comforting than she wanted to think about at the moment. Hermione fought off a wave of nausea as memories of a knife and hands, binding her and silencing her, rose to the surface of her mind. Clutching her arms around her shoulders, Hermione grounded herself in the warmth and safety of the familiar space. Taking a methodical survey of herself while counting her breaths, she found that aside from a small nick on her neck and one heavily bandaged arm, her body was unharmed, and though her nerves were rather brittle, she felt emotionally protected by the large, soft shirt covering her.

The sound of footsteps filtered through the door to the sitting room, and Hermione slid quietly out of bed, moving quietly toward the door. As she passed Draco’s desk, she grabbed a letter opener, gripping it like a dagger in her undamaged hand. After peering through the crack in the unlatched door for a moment, Hermione pushed the door open further and watched as Draco paced in front of the doors leading to the hall, muttering incantations and tracing runes as he went.

Draco startled slightly, but didn’t break the spell, when she stood next to him. Hermione made her decision almost before she even realised what she was doing. With a small cut from the letter opener, the form of othala flowed easily off the tip of her finger. Focusing on her own versions of order, purity, and kinship, she joined his incantation, and felt her magic weave protective strands of integrity, tranquillity, and fidelity into Draco’s enchantment.

“Hermione, stop.” Draco’s voice when they finished the incantation was stiff and hollow and he stubbornly kept his gaze on the door. “I know you don’t want to do blood magic, or even approve of it-”

“Don’t you dare try and tell me what I want, Draco Malfoy.” Hermione knew her emotions were running high and though she did not necessarily want to lash out at Draco, she couldn’t quite temper her reaction.

Hermione took a step toward him, willing him to look at her. When Draco finally turned from the door to look her in the face, his eyes went wide, and he took a surprised step back.

“Er- Hermione,” Draco stuttered, “can you calm down just a bit-”

“No, actually, I don’t think I will!” Hermione’s temper was already flaring, but being told to ‘calm down’ absolutely sent her over the edge. “I will not calm down. I will not lower my voice. I will not be reasonable. I will be as angry and high-strung and hysterical as I bloody well please!”

Draco seemed unable to blink, his eyes darting around the room.

“No, Hermione!” he said, his hands held in front of him, placating. “Your magic!”

Hermione turned to take in the rest of the room, and to her astonishment, she saw nearly every piece of furniture floating several inches above the floor. In her surprise, her anger left her, and everything came crashing down, putting the room more or less back to rights.

“I- I- I’m sorry,” Hermione managed to mutter, even as she cursed herself for over-apologising. “I haven’t lost control like that since I was a child.”

Draco winced, tilting his head slightly. “About that…” he trailed off.

Hermione looked at him sharply and he gestured for her to follow. When he opened her bedroom door, Hermione felt a strange coldness emanating from the room, even as the air seemed to suck her toward it. Draco stepped back, and Hermione peered in, mesmerised by the sight of her bedroom: it was a galaxy of personal objects, everything coated in a layer of sparkling ice, floating in a vaguely spiral pattern.

“I think something’s off with the gravity,” Draco said as Hermione stepped past him into the room.

She could feel what Draco meant as soon as she passed the threshold; immediately her body felt nearly weightless and her hair and clothes lifted of their own accord.

“A manifestation of my occlusion,” Hermione whispered in awe.

“Can you reverse it?” Draco had moved into the room next to her.

Hermione smiled to see his hair floating in an angelic halo around his head, before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes. Strange as it was - standing in the room where she was attacked, surrounded by the magical manifestation of her emotions - she found, with Draco by her side, it was easy to centre herself.

As her raging thoughts settled, Hermione wondered what sort of celestial pattern they had found themselves in: If she were a planet, would he be the sun, drawing her into his orbit, the brilliance of his glow shedding light onto previously dark places in her life? Or was he a moon, caught in her gravity, allowing her to explore the dark side of her questions and worries with his reflection? Or were they twin stars, doomed to orbit each other until they collided with mutually-assured destruction? In any case, she felt the strength of the forces holding them together, and knew they could not be easily overcome.

Hermione knew, even before opening her eyes, that the unrestrained magic flooding her room had been calmed; muffled thumps and soft clattering proof she had regained her composure and control. When she once again felt the weight of herself, she blinked her eyes open and was greeted with the sight of Draco’s awe-struck face.

“You are amazing.”

Draco’s voice, soft with something that felt nearly reverent, was Hermione’s undoing. No longer caring who was orbiting the other, she stopped resisting, and allowed herself to be fully captivated by their mutual attraction.

Smiling softly, Hermione stepped into Draco, wrapping her arms around his middle, breathing in his familiar scent. The safety and comfort she felt when his arms held her made her heart swell with an emotion she wasn’t ready to name.

“We’re best together,” she murmured into his chest.

Enjoying the feeling of his arms flexing around her, Hermione only briefly missed the contact when Draco stepped back, gesturing for her to start the next round of incantations. Together they encircled all their rooms with the protection of their blood. By the time they were finished, each door, window, and fireplace was fortified not only by algiz and othala, but Hermione didn't fail to notice that Draco ensured they would also be blessed with wunjo.

Notes:

**TW: torture, and attempted sexual assault**

I quote one of my favorite songs (Savage Daughter) in this chapter, just a tiny bit, but I though it was fitting. Anyone else love this song?!

Also, for reference, the runes in this chapter, as I understand them are: algiz for protection, othala for heritage, and wunjo for joy.

Also, also, the conversation H and D have (last chpater) about othala is based on real life: starting with the Nazi's, white supremacists have co-opted the symbol and use it "as part of their attempt to reconstruct a mythic "Aryan" past", so yeah, there's that. (https://www.adl.org/resources/hate-symbol/othala-rune)

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend! And, forever and always, thank you for reading and letting me share this bit of time with you!

Chapter 19: New Light and Old Memories

Summary:

A few moments later, Draco returned clasping a glowing flask in his hands, his face a stricken mess of anxiety. Hermione felt her stomach clench with both sympathy and dread.

A soft whoosh of air left Draco’s mouth before he managed to ask: “Whose are these?” his eyes tracing the ebb and flow of shining memories.

“Er-” Hermione couldn’t believe she had to be the one to tell him that his godfather was dead. Surely, someone else could have mentioned it to him by now? “They’re Snape’s,” was all the explanation she seemed to be able to vocalise.

Notes:

*TW in end notes*

Hi guys! Hope you've all had a lovely month, thanks for sticking with me as I slowly, slowly get this story out of my head and into the world.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The next morning at breakfast, fueled by a dangerous combination of adrenaline and lack of sleep, Hermione found she couldn’t sit in her regular quiet, pretending their situation was all perfectly normal. While the conversation of a family who regularly dined together flowed around her, she felt the skin on her bandaged arm, hidden under a long-sleeved dress, begin to itch and she had to fight the urge to fidget. As her thoughts were consumed by the increasing feelings of disquiet made manifest in the prickling along her arm, Hermione couldn’t take the veneer of normalcy any longer.

“How was your meeting with Rodolphus last night?” she asked abruptly, cutting off Narcissa’s rundown of her plans for the day mid-sentence.

Hermione felt the disbelieving stares of everyone as they turned to her, shocked into silence at her blunt interruption. She kept her own gaze fixed resolutely on the steam rising from her tea as she blew on it and took a sip.

“Urgent? Productive? Brief?” Hermione dared to glance up at Lucius, even as she felt the warning press of Draco’s foot on top of her own.

Lucius was already watching Hermione over the top of the Daily Prophet he had been perusing.

“Repetitive and dull,” Lucius said, his eyes scanning Hermione for a moment more before he turned back to his paper.

“It’s a shame Bellatrix couldn’t attend,” Hermione pushed further, setting her teacup down to face Lucius fully, while ignoring the corresponding pressure on her foot.

Lucius didn’t even glance up from his paper as he responded, “Indeed.”

“Yes, her headache came on quite suddenly,” Narcissa offered, selecting a croissant from the serving tray. “She left shortly after the two of you did.”

Croissant between her fingers, she looked up at Hermione, who was surprised to see the question in Narcissa’s normally inscrutable face.

Getting nowhere with Lucius, Hermione turned her attention to Draco.

“And how was the meeting for you, dear?” she asked, eyebrows raised in challenge. “Another new assignment, or just further instruction on the old one?” Hermione knew she was being a brat, her voice veering dangerously toward Umbridge-levels of sweetness, but she didn’t much care at the moment.

“Just more information on the old one,” Draco answered, pressing his foot down nearly as hard as he was gritting his teeth.

As Hermione made to ask another purposely impudent question, Lucius folded his paper and set it to the side.

“The new filing system at the Ministry requires everything to be in triplicate,” he began with a sigh that landed somewhere between resignation and aggravation. “Draco and I handed in a mere single copy of our reports yesterday, as Rodolphus was so kind to inform us before he, too, retired for the evening. We then made the appropriate copies and Draco submitted them to the ministry late last night. Does that satisfy your curiosity or do you have more inane questions?”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Lucius. In fact, knowing their assignments were somehow sanctioned and overseen by the Ministry did raise several more questions in Hermione’s mind, but she stayed focused on the more pressing personal information she needed.

“Why can’t Bellatrix have children?” she asked it plainly, already knowing it was a fact, wondering if they would try to deny it.

The atmosphere in the room dropped suddenly, the way the wind seems to hold its breath before a storm. The pressure on Hermione’s foot increased to an uncomfortable degree, but she welcomed the pain: it was like pinching herself to ensure she wasn’t dreaming with the added bonus of knowing she wasn’t alone.

“In fact, she did have a child.” It was Narcissa who spoke. “A little girl. She did not survive infancy.”

“My mother had two sisters,” Narcissa continued after a breath. “Of them, only my mother had children: three daughters. My sisters and I have only been able to bear one child each. Three generations of three.”

Narcissa’s eyes blazed at Hermione, and she saw unmistakeable pain and anger, held back by the softness of Narcissa’s words.

“I do not know why and I do not wish to discuss this further. Please pass the marmalade.”

Draco quickly reached for the marmalade and passed it across to his mother.

After a few tense moments of clinking cutlery, Hermione decided to soldier on, awkwardly marching deeper and deeper into uncomfortable topics.

“I know it’s probably useless to ask for a wand,” Hermione barely paused, merely confirming the incredulous reactions around the table, before continuing. “But I don’t like playing the damsel in distress and I’m tired of relying on others to rescue me. I need a way to protect myself. Specifically, I want a knife and self defence lessons.”

Hermione was proud of herself for asking for what she wanted plainly and firmly, with no faffing about or hedging to try and soften the request. Still, her statement was met with a different sort of surprised silence, and she had to remind herself not to retreat.

Draco recovered first. Removing his foot from Hermione’s he instead placed it alongside hers, nudging her toes with his.

“I think that’s unnecessary. The wards on our rooms-” he began, but Hermione had made up her mind and was not going to back down.

“You can’t honestly expect me to stay in our rooms all the time. There is hardly any hope of my leaving the Manor as it is. I refuse to further confine my life to three rooms.”

“Not all the time, the Manor wards still keep people out if we don’t invite them in,” Draco tried again. “You can stay in our rooms just when others have to be here.”

Hermione huffed a laugh.

“No,” she said simply. “I won’t back down on this. As good as the wards are, we all know we can’t always be in control of who may be in the room with us. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and I’m willing to bet it won’t be the last. Not so long as people like me are seen as a commodity, rather than actual people. And I refuse to be put in such a vulnerable position again.”

“What do you mean, this isn’t the first time?” Draco asked, his voice low with suspicion and danger, while at the same time Narcissa asked sharply, “What has happened?”

Hermione couldn’t help it, her eyes reflexively shot to Lucius and she knew he understood. Draco and Narcissa didn’t miss the movement, either, and both turned to Lucius expectantly, even as Hermione tried to deflect.

“It doesn’t matter,” she hastily cut in. “All that matters is I am tired of feeling vulnerable. Not just feeling it, but actually being vulnerable.”

Draco and Narcissa didn’t seem to take the hint, however.

“What does she mean, it wasn’t the first time?” Draco enunciated each word carefully, glaring at his father.

“I would quite like to know what, exactly, is going on as well.” Narcissa’s look apparently was enough to break Lucius, and he toyed with his fork, as an insouciant child might while being forced to confess his wrongdoing.

“I believe Rodolphus intended to bid on- Hermione - at the auction,” he said, stumbling only slightly over Hermione’s given name, which she thought was actually a win; normally he simply referred to her, disdainfully, as ‘Draco’s wife’.

“And?” Draco insisted. “How long have you believed this to be true? What gave you that impression?”

Hermione could barely believe the snark Draco was levelling at his father, the only other time she had seen him act anything other than the dutiful heir was when he declared she was his wife rather than a mere mistake.

Lucius pursed his lips, his eyes moving to look at Draco without moving his head. “She was in the cellar for a long time,” was all he said.

Though she knew she had nothing to be ashamed of, Hermione could feel her cheeks heating anyway, reflecting the anger radiating off Draco. Since she evidently couldn’t soothe herself, she instead sought to soothe him.

“It’s fine, Draco, really,” she said, placing her hand on his arm. “Nothing really happened. I just don’t want to be unprotected going forward.”

Hermione thought it was strange, how much it warmed her heart, to see the fire burning in Draco’s eyes when he turned to her.

“I’ll teach you to fight,” he vowed, placing his hand over hers, giving it a squeeze. Then, turning to his mother, “Rodolphus wasn’t working alone,” he informed her, no trace of pity in his tone.

“I see,” Narcissa said, her face and voice carefully controlled as she took in this information. “I have a knife or two that will work for your purposes,” she added, tossing the information casually over to Hermione, who accepted the offering.

“Thank you.” Hermione said it to the room in general, but gave Draco’s arm an answering squeeze and held Narcissa’s piercing gaze across the table.

After the breakfast dishes had disappeared back to the kitchens, Draco escorted Hermione back to their rooms. It was a quiet walk, each of them lost in their own thoughts. When they reached their rooms, Hermione felt the comforting wash of their new wards welcoming them back in.

Unable to ignore the niggling pain in her arm any longer, Hermione pulled up her sleeve and began to undo the wrappings as soon as the door shut behind them.

“Er-” Draco’s uncertain voice stopped Hermione mid-unwind.

Hermione looked up at Draco and raised her eyebrows, waiting for him to continue.

“It’s- it’s-” When Draco was unwilling or unable to finish his thought, he instead moved to Hermione’s side, taking over the unwrapping job for her.

She sighed in relief as the last of the itchy wrappings came away, leaving just a pad of blood soaked fabric behind.

“It was a cursed blade,” Draco finally said, not meeting her eyes as he gently began lifting the fabric. “So… magic isn’t effective on it. It’ll have to heal the muggle way. Probably will scar the muggle way, too.”

Hermione watched as slowly, one crude letter at a time, the word ‘mudblood’ was revealed on her forearm. Her heart sank, settling in a deep abyss. While she knew last night could have been infinitely worse, she was still overcome with sadness at the knowledge that this mark would forever remind her, not just of that night, but of the way people like her had been stamped by bigotry and prejudice, even from the beginning.

When Hermione looked up, she felt a wry hope at the look of miserable remorse on Draco’s face.

“Hey,” she said, nudging him gently. “It’s not so bad. Could have been much worse.” Hermione tilted her head, trying to get Draco to meet her eye. “What happened after you got there, anyway? How’d you get them out? I seem to have passed out at some point.”

“The Manor pushed them out,” he said with a shrug, still not meeting her eye. “Or maybe your accidental magic did?” he asked, suddenly looking at her. “Your magic is obviously strong enough, and the Manor clearly responds to you, maybe it was both.”

Hermione nodded slowly, piecing together the thoughts and memories mingling in her mind. “Maybe it was you, too, since it happened after you got there?”

Draco looked dubious, but agreed with a reluctant maybe. “But don’t be so willing to explain away your power. You’re a strong witch, Hermione.”

Hermione felt herself blush under Draco’s insistent praise, and continued to deflect. “I suppose I’m not used to having a sentient house, willing to assist me so… forcefully…”

Draco nodded, watching Hermione intently. “Well, you do. Have a house - and a husband - willing to help you, that is. So don’t hesitate to ask.” Then, with a tightening of his grip, still on her injured arm, he continued. “And, I’m sorry. For leaving last night. If I had just waited to take care of the paperwork this morning, I could have stopped it all much sooner-”

Hermione wasn’t in the mood for self-flagellating apologies, and so she put her finger to his lips. “If ifs and ands were pots and pans…” she began, but at Draco’s imploring look tried again.

“If I hadn’t insisted on walking back alone, none of it would have happened. And if you hadn’t run into Rodolphus at the ministry, they wouldn’t have been here in the first place. And if you hadn’t gotten there when you did, I think things would have been much worse. What’s done is done, and there’s no use going back over it.”

Hermione allowed herself to believe the sentiment and focused on compressing the entire ordeal under the weight of itself, willing it to become the centre of a black hole, sucking and crushing all her other unpleasant memories away with it.

“Now, I know you said this won’t react to magic,” she said, gesturing to her arm, “so do you have some surgical spirits about? And aloe vera?”

Nodding, Draco stepped away from her, reluctantly releasing her arm, as he turned toward his room, and, presumably, his potions lab.

A few moments later, Draco returned clasping a glowing flask in his hands, his face a stricken mess of anxiety. Hermione felt her stomach clench with both sympathy and dread.

A soft whoosh of air left Draco’s mouth before he managed to ask: “Whose are these?” his eyes tracing the ebb and flow of shining memories.

“Er-” Hermione couldn’t believe she had to be the one to tell him his godfather was dead. Surely, someone else could have mentioned it to him by now? “They’re Snape’s,” was all the explanation she seemed to be able to vocalise.

“Why did Severus leave me a flask of memories on my worktable?” Draco asked, and Hermione could hear the desperation behind the sharp edge of his words.

“Well…” Hermione began.

“Don’t dodge the question, Granger!”

Hermione was startled by the vehemence in his voice, and the memories associated with that name in that tone stung.

“Because he couldn’t give them to you himself!” she said, feeling defensive at Draco’s tone. “When he was lying on the floor dying, he gave them to me, and I collected them for you!” Tears sprang to her eyes, and though they were hardly unexpected, she still wished they could have waited until she was alone.

“And then I brought you back up here and took care of you until you woke up. I brewed your potion and figured out how to get into your stomach but not your lungs, and did my best with the spell you showed me and--”

Hermione knew she was verbally flooding the situation but, much like her tears, the words just wouldn’t stop flowing.

“The night of the ball, Halloween, when the Dark Lord, er - Tom, rather - followed us back here, he-” Hermione cleared her throat, and found a spot on Draco’s left ear to look at, “he punished you - or maybe me, I don’t really follow his logic - and then he seemed to think he had to kill Snape to…” Hermione searched her own frenzied memories, trying to recall how Voldemort had justified killing Snape.

“To…”

And then it all came to her: Dumbledore’s wand. It was the elder wand from the Tales of Beedle the Bard, which Dumbledore had bequeathed to her. Or maybe it wasn’t actually The Elder Wand from the story, but it was enough that Voldemort - and maybe even Dumbledore - believed it was. Enough that he believed and was willing to kill for its power, real or imagined.

“To gain the allegiance of Dumbledore’s old wand,” she finished, half lost in her memories.

“Have you looked at them?” Draco’s voice had a tepid flatness to it and Hermione knew he was occluding. “The memories?”

She shook her head, “No, of course not.”

“There’s a pensive in the north library,” he said, his glazed eyes skating neatly past Hermione, “I’ll be back, later…” Draco’s voice trailed off as he opened the door and shut it behind him.

Hermione sighed, thinking the conversation probably could have gone better with a little more planning on her part, but she really hadn’t thought she’d be the one to break the news of Snape’s death to him.

She watched, fascinated, as a bead of blood formed on the jagged ‘L’ carved into her arm. A shiver followed the red drop as it slid across her skin toward the neighbouring ‘B’, reminding her she was alone and exposed in a large room, and without any bandages. Hermione made her way through to the potions lab and considered all recent events before absolving herself of any blame in regards to Draco’s knowledge of Snape.

As she was busy applying a fresh bandage to her arm, a painterly cough sounded behind her.

“Nice of you to make an appearance,” Hermione said to the portrait of Snape without turning around.

Snape merely hummed in reply. Hermione finished fastening the bandage before she turned and addressed Snape head-on.

“It would have been nice of you to say hello to Draco while he was in here,” she said, leaning back on the work table and crossing her arms, partly to hide the bandage and partly to express her annoyance. “It might have softened the blow a bit.”

Snape raised a lazy brow as he inspected the paint making up his fingernails.

“I merely assumed he would prefer the comforting presence of his wife while receiving the bad news,” he said, glancing smugly over at her.

Hermione felt her jaw drop in genuine shock. Snape waved a lazy hand, brushing off her surprise.

“I’ve been exploring the manor, getting to know my new… companions? associates? colleagues, perhaps…” Snape mused to himself as he contemplated his new lot in not-quite-life. “In any case, I saw your name on the family tree in the portrait gallery. I’m sure that has quite the explanation behind it. Care to share with the class?”

“No, I would not,” Hermione said, feeling her nose rise into the air. She made to stomp out the door and leave Snape behind, but remembering that she would be entirely alone if she left the company of the portrait, she quickly redirected to the bookshelves. Choosing a book at random, she returned to the work table and sat haughtily to brush up on the art of deworming kelpies.

A few chapters later, she found herself agreeing with the author’s view on the superiority of aughisky dung for fertiliser despite the inherent risk in obtaining it, when she heard footsteps approaching through the bathroom. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Snape had once more vacated his portrait and scowled at his cowardly behaviour, before turning back to her book.

Hermione felt Draco’s presence, looming in the doorway, and though she had stopped reading, she turned the page anyway. Determined to pretend she didn’t notice him, Hermione glanced over the next two pages, turning them after a believable amount of time. When she could no longer stand the sounds of Draco shuffling by the door, she finally turned to him.

Draco was still holding the vial of memories, clutching it in both hands and staring into the depths of blue smoke, looking for all the world like a lost child. Hermione slid down from the stool and stepped toward Draco. When he looked up at her, she was taken back by the look of wild-eyed panic she saw in his face.

“What-” Hermione started to say, but Draco cut across her.

“I couldn’t do it,” he whispered, shaking his head somewhat frantically. “I couldn’t watch. I don’t know what’s in here and I just- I couldn’t do it.”

“What-” Hermione paused, unsure of herself and the situation, before deciding on a show of support. “Can I do anything for you?”

Draco looked at her desperately and she felt herself taking another few steps toward him, until she was standing right in front of him, tentatively cupping her hands around his cold, shaking fingers.

“Will you come with me?” he asked, his eyes darting wildly around her face. “I can’t face it alone.”

Hermione’s heart gave a lurch and she nodded her head yes. All the feelings which had been sprouting inside her were taking root and well on their way to seedling status, fertilised as they were by their unique blend of situational dung. As Hermione walked with Draco down the main stairway, she wondered how long her feelings might take to bloom if things continued on as they were.

Reaching the ground floor, Draco led them to a typically ornate door set off to one side of the main salon. In a moment, Hermione was surprised to find herself unceremoniously introduced to the library in Malfoy Manor. After all the grandeur of the Manor, and the haughtiness of its residents, she half expected the library to be some grand revelation, a vision her imagination could scarcely comprehend. But here she was faced with an entirely normal library. While she could admit the room was large-ish, and there were certainly an impressive number of books lining the walls (though the shelves didn’t even reach the ceiling), it was still a bit of a letdown compared to the fantasies she had secretly been harbouring.

Draco, already halfway through the room while Hermione stood dumbstruck by the door, turned and gave her a questioning look. Hurrying to catch up with him, they passed through a small colonnade of dark wood and thus arrived in the ‘north library’. An antique desk stood in front of a wall of cabinets on one side of the smaller room. Draco placed his hand on the centre cabinet before opening the door and withdrawing a pensieve from among a collection of glowing vials.

Hermione rolled her eyes because of course the Malfoy’s had a library of memories inside their library of books. Perhaps the room was more impressive than it had appeared at first sight. Hermione decided she would wait and reserve her judgement until after she had an opportunity to study the library in its entirety.

Draco placed the pensieve on the desk and poured the contents of the flask into it. Straightening up, he looked across the pensieve at Hermione, his face lit from below with a weird blue glow. Draco reached out to her through the undulating light and Hermione reached back before they plunged their clasped hands into the cool mists of Snape’s memories.

After a moment, the swirling fog cleared and Hermione found herself inside the sepia-toned world of Snape’s childhood. Draco adjusted their hands, threading his fingers between hers, and clutched her tightly when they saw a dirty young boy hiding in the bushes of a dusty playground. They watched him as he watched a red-haired girl and her sister arguing as they swung on a set of rusty swings.

Together, they followed little Severus as he befriended Lily Evans. They observed the two children as they grew and their friendship shifted, how it morphed, transmuting into something both more and less. Hermione felt Draco’s flinch when his teenage godfather hurled the slur at the girl he loved; she knew the pain she saw in Lily’s face, the deep hurt it caused when Severus would not leave the group that despised her on principle.

Hermione turned and hid her face in Draco’s shoulder while they stood by and watched a desperate young man beg Dumbledore for help, while he broken-heartedly pledged himself, too late, to fight for the friendship he hadn’t saved.

By the time they reached the point where Dumbledore confirmed Hermione’s suspicions that Harry would have to die to defeat Voldemort, Hermione thought she was too drained to feel much of anything. But when the office was flooded with the silvery-white manifestation of Snape’s happiest memories, Hermione felt a nearly overwhelming flood of understanding as she recognised the doe Harry had described leading him to the sword of Gryffindor.

When the memories were at an end, Hermione stood once again, clutching Draco’s hand over the desk in the north library. The rawness and reverence she felt was mirrored in Draco’s face as they stood staring at each other through the new light of the old memories.

Notes:

**TW* past infant death and infertility mentioned breifly**

The library in my mind is the library at Highclere Castle, from Downton Abbey... I just couldn't bring myself to write a Beauty and the Beast style library reveal... Anyway! Hope you enjoyed this chapter!

Chapter 20: Impish Impulses

Summary:

“What are you doing?” he asked, and Hermione didn’t even feel embarrassed at the laughter she heard in his voice.

“Making snow angels!” she practically sang with the festivity she felt. “Here, give me your hand so I don’t muss it up.”

Draco obliged and, with his help, Hermione stood without leaving any extra prints in the snow. While Draco inspected her angel, Hermione felt an impish impulse overtake her, and she shoved him squarely in the chest.

“Now you have to make one!” she shouted gleefully when he landed flat on his back, a look of pure shock on his face.

Notes:

Here's some happy fluff for our two heroes! It's about time they have a day off, if I do say so myself.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Hermione lay in bed that night holding tight to her pilfered letter opener while obsessively twisting the rings on her finger. Her hands tended to swell at night, making the rings feel tight, and the slight scrape along her skin as she pulled and pushed them past her knuckle was enough to distract her from her racing thoughts. Whenever she closed her eyes, though, insidious images played behind her eyelids.

At some point, even her open eyes refused to focus in the dark, and the memories seemed to move in the shadows. Shoving her rings back onto her finger, she gripped the letter opener in one hand and clutched the duvet around herself with the other before sprinting out of the room. Settling herself comfortably enough on a settee in the sitting room, Hermione watched the main doors and willed herself to sleep.

She thought she must have drifted off for a moment or two because a warm hand on her shoulder had her popping her eyes back open, heartbeat audible in her ears.

“Come on.” Draco’s voice, soft as the moonlight in his hair, calmed Hermione immediately, pulling her off the settee, making her reach dreamily for his hand. She followed him wordlessly into his room and let him tuck her safely in next to him.

When she woke in the morning, Draco's bed next to her was cold, but a steaming breakfast tray was waiting by the fire. Set carefully between the toast rack and teapot was a booklet on close combat training with a note sticking out the top, ‘Sorry I had to leave early’, written in Draco’s sharp handwriting.

Warmed by the note and her cosy breakfast, Hermione settled in for a quiet morning of reading. Despite the basic drawings and brief descriptions, Hermione found the booklet quite informative and, still clad in her pyjama pants and the soft shirt she had neglected to return to Draco, went through some of the basic forms outlined. Though at first she felt silly with her rudimentary blocks and simulated attacks, Hermione soon fell into a rhythm and found her confidence growing.

Feeling brave enough to face her bedroom in the daylight, she gripped her letter opener and advanced through the sitting room and straight on into her bathtub. After bathing and dressing and still finding herself un-summoned for the day, Hermione tucked the letter opener into her trousers pocket and proceeded down to the library where she spent the rest of the day discovering its secrets.

While merely a fraction of the size of the Hogwarts library, Hermione assuaged her disappointment with several factors. First, she thought, not having to shelve multiple copies of the same book would greatly decrease a library’s size. Second, she knew the absence of introductory texts would not be a hindrance to her at this point. Third, and most important, Hermione thought, the Malfoy’s certainly would not have censored their book collection according to normative views of magic prescribed by a moralistic headmaster. But perhaps that was just her disillusionment talking.

Regardless, Hermione found the library to be quite adequate for her purposes, holding not only rare and out of print books she had read about and been unable to source, but also several books she had never even heard of, the discovery of which delighted her to no end. All that to say nothing about the north library, which, she discovered, exclusively held the collected journals and personal histories of Malfoy’s past.

Late that night, as Hermione lay awake in her bed, paralysed with fear for the second night in a row, she made up her mind and walked over to Draco’s door, trusty letter opener in hand. When she didn’t hear anything, even after increasing the volume of her knocking, Hermione turned the knob. With the unsealing of the door, the silencing charm Draco evidently had cast broke, and Hermione heard the familiar sounds of a nightmare in progress.

Heart aching with empathy, she crossed the room and, setting the letter opener in an open book on his bedside table, Hermione watched a sweating Draco become more tangled in his sheets. After only a moment of indecision, she slid in under the covers behind him. Wrapping her arms around his chest, pressing her forehead to the space between his shoulder blades, Hermione fell asleep, willing Draco's nightmare to end.

Waking alone once again, Hermione found a set of knives and magically concealing holsters nestled among her breakfast things. After another morning spent practising close combat moves, she then armed herself with her official weapons (in addition to the letter opener) and explored the library all afternoon.

The third night after the attack, Hermione changed into her night clothes and bypassed her bed entirely. Marching straight over to Draco's door and knocking loudly, she hoped it was still early enough to catch him before he went to bed.

A muffled “come in” sounded from his side of the door and Hermione didn't waste any time letting herself in.

Standing in his room, Hermione was startled to see a pyjama-clad Draco lounging on his bed, an oversized book balanced on his knees. She realised this might have been their first time in the same bedroom while they were both fully conscious and awake, and she thought it all felt very sudden somehow.

“Hi,” Hermione said, dithering by the door. “I… don't like my room,” she decided to say with a boldness she wanted to feel more than she actually did. “And I don't want to be alone. Can I sleep here? Tonight?”

Draco placed a marker in his book and set it to the side.

“Of course,” he said, eyes watching Hermione carefully. “You can stay here anytime.” Then, with a slightly pink tint at the tops of his ears he added, “All the time.”

Hermione ducked her chin to hide the smile on her face as she crossed the room. Draco leaned over, lifting the covers for her and settling them back down when she had climbed in.

Lying on her side facing Draco, hands tucked under her cheek and knives tucked under her pillow, Hermione watched as he arranged things on his night table, placing his wand under his own pillow, and doused the lights.

“What was that you were reading?” she asked when he had settled himself down, mirroring her.

“Oh, er…” Draco’s voice sounded surprised and unsure. “Actually, it’s a biology textbook,” he admitted.

“A biology textbook…” she repeated, fixing her gaze on the little spots of light reflecting off Draco’s eyes. “Where did you get that?”

Hermione couldn’t tell for certain in the dark, but she could imagine a blush staining his cheeks when Draco cleared his throat, and it made her heart skip a small beat.

“I went to a muggle bookshop while I was in London a couple days ago,” he said. “You had mentioned DNA the other night and… I wanted to know more about it. So, when I was able to sneak away for a bit, I went to a shop and asked for some suggestions. After talking with the shopkeeper, we decided I'd better start with the basics of biology and expand from there.”

“You went into muggle London to buy contraband science books?” Hermione couldn’t help the excitement in her voice.

Draco shifted in bed, and Hermione took it for a shrug.

“That’s incredible, Draco,” she whispered. “Really, I’m proud of you.”

“Don’t say that.” Draco rolled onto his back, his chin tilting up toward the ceiling. “I’m just tired of being kept in the dark, of feeling ignorant.” With a sigh he added, “That’s not something to be proud of.”

Hermione didn't know how to tell him exactly what she meant. That his yearning for knowledge was only part of it. The other inarticulable part was the fact that he had really listened to her; he thought her ideas were worth the effort of understanding. In any case, she felt warm and safe and drowsy - and maybe even a little happy - and she didn’t want to ruin that feeling, so she said nothing, but stretched out her foot until she found Draco’s under the blankets. Soon Draco relented to her wiggling toes and their bare feet nudged each others’ until she fell asleep smiling.

It was strange, the way Hermione suddenly found herself left to her own devices, the manor house seemingly empty, for days in a row. She kept herself busy, practising her wandless magic and self defence drills in the morning and delving ever deeper into the library in the afternoon. Evenings found her in Draco’s bed, reading until she fell asleep, trying to wait up for him.

She knew he mostly came home and slept a few hours in the night because she always woke at least a little bit when he climbed into bed. She would have thought it was a dream - the way he slid in next to her so softly and held her so tightly - if it hadn’t been for the mussed blankets and rumpled pillow on his side of the bed come morning.

The sudden freedom was entirely welcome and allowed her to feel genuine excitement when she woke one morning in early December to a world fresh and white with the first snowfall.

Rushing to her armoire, Hermione hoped fervently for a heavy coat or cloak and some winter boots to appear amongst her things. Donning the newly materialised apparel, Hermione made her way directly into the bright morning light.

The cold beauty of the place surrounding her was enough to take her breath away. The dreary wet landscape of late autumn had been replaced by a stark vista rendered in black and white. Hermione’s cheeks ached from her smile as she walked through the frosted world.

The giddiness of the morning overtaking her, Hermione laughed out loud as she threw herself, back first, into the snow. Closing her eyes against the glare of the sky, she swished her arms and legs through the frozen powder. Feeling a shadow pass over her, Hermione opened her eyes and laughed again when she saw Draco’s amused face peering down at her.

“What are you doing?” he asked, and Hermione didn’t even feel embarrassed at the laughter she heard in his voice.

“Making snow angels!” she practically sang with the festivity she felt. “Here, give me your hand so I don’t muss it up.”

Draco obliged and, with his help, Hermione stood without leaving any extra prints in the snow. While Draco inspected her angel, Hermione felt an impish impulse overtake her, and she shoved him squarely in the chest.

“Now you have to make one!” she shouted gleefully when he landed flat on his back, a look of pure shock on his face.

Instead of moving his arms and legs like an angel, however, Draco smirked sinfully and rolled, lunging for Hermione, tackling her into the soft snow.

Hermione shrieked when she landed and she thought her ribs were sure to be sore from laughing so much. When Draco looked up at her, snow in his dishevelled hair and eyes bright with a brilliant smile, Hermione couldn’t help but press a kiss to his face before ambushing him with one of her close combat manoeuvres. It felt different - took more force than she would have guessed, what with the weight of a body on top of hers - but with the momentum of surprise on her side, Hermione was able to leverage her legs and flip Draco onto his back.

“You’ve been training,” Draco said, laughing at the new position he found himself in.

“I’m a quick study,” Hermione replied, lobbing snowballs at him as she ran away. She heard him mutter ‘swot’ under his breath as he advanced through her attack.

“You love it,” she taunted as she threw another snowball.

Draco batted the snowball away with his hand.

“I do love it.” His mischievous eyes sparkled at her through the shower of snow.

Hermione’s breathing seemed to catch in her chest and she waited until Draco was only a few steps away before she stopped tossing snowballs and turned again to run, knowing he’d easily catch her with his longer stride.

When she felt his arms close around her middle, however, Hermione had to close her mind against the sudden panic of memories threatening to overtake her. She focused on the rumbling laughter in Draco’s chest, his warm breath in her hair, and the kaleidoscope of snow and trees and sky as he spun her in his arms, letting the new sensations seal the old memories away.

When Draco fell, dizzy from spinning, Hermione allowed herself to fall with him, laughter bubbling between them as they lay next to each other in the snow.

“How’s the cloak?” Draco asked after catching his breath.

Hermione hummed and snuggled into the thick fabric. “Warm,” she replied.

“And the boots? Do they fit alright?” he asked, turning his head to look at her.

“Oh, yes.” Hermione nodded, looking back at him. “They’re a bit bigger than my regular shoes, which is perfect, that way I’m able to wear two pairs of socks. The magic of the wardrobe is really astonishing.”

“Magic wardrobe?” Draco tilted his head, confusion evident on his face.

“Well, magic of the manor, I suppose,” Hermione clarified. “You know, putting all the perfect clothes in my armoire for me.”

Draco’s brows lifted and his eyes glanced away for a moment before settling back on her face.

“Hermione,” he said slowly, “the manor is a magical building and it does listen to you, yes, but it can’t create anything that isn’t already there.”

It was Hermione’s turn to be confused, and she propped herself up on her elbow, looking down at Draco.

“Well, then, how do you explain all the clothes I want suddenly appearing in my wardrobe?” Hermione gestured to herself, clad entirely in clothes that seemed rather obviously magically supplied.

Draco looked exasperated and Hermione waited expectantly while he searched her face for a moment.

“I-” Draco almost looked pained as he started again. “Hermione, I buy all your clothes.”

Hermione felt the blood drain from her face as she processed his words. Then, her face flushed as she thought of the lacy underthings she had put on that morning, mortified she had been thinking of him when she picked them out.

Draco was nattering on about slowly buying things after they got married but before she had escaped and stocking her wardrobe in preparation for her as Hermione lay back in shock, covering her face to hide her embarrassment.

Draco’s monologue ended and she instead heard him chuckling.

“Magic wardrobe,” he snickered. “Who ever heard of a magic wardrobe?”

“Oh, shove off,” Hermione said, reaching a hand over and smacking him across the chest as he let out a full-bellied laugh.

Hermione couldn’t help but smile a bit at herself and Draco’s laughter. Then, she felt herself blush in an entirely different way, wondering if Draco had thought about her when he bought the underthings she was currently wearing. Hands back over her eyes, Hermione groaned to herself and wished she could melt into the snow.

Draco’s laughter subsided and Hermione felt his large hand close around hers.

“Come on,” he said, pulling her up with a smile. “There’s something I want to show you.”

“I’ll have you know,” Hermione said as Draco tucked both their hands into the pocket of his cloak, refusing to let her pull away. “A magical wardrobe features significantly in a famous muggle children’s book series.”

“Well then, I’ll have to ask about it next time I go to the shop,” Draco said casually as he led them away from the manor, and Hermione wondered if she'd ever smiled so much.

Past the terrace and topiaries, past the formal rose garden, Draco held her hand inside his pocket until they came to a charming pond, iced over from the cold, complete with a thatched-roof folly on the opposite bank.

“Is the ice solid?” Hermione asked, squeezing Draco’s hand in delight.

“It’s charmed for skating whenever it snows,” Draco replied with a grin. “Want me to transfigure skates for you?”

Hermione nodded eagerly. As soon as she felt the blades under her feet, she stepped out onto the ice, gliding easily to the middle of the pond. She relished the feeling of the wind on her face as she turned and twirled lazily, drifting across the ice. It was some time before Hermione realised Draco hadn’t followed her and was still standing on the bank, watching her.

“Don’t you skate?” she asked, coming to a stop in front of him.

“Not since I was very small.” Draco shrugged, hands in his pockets.

“Well, go on then.” Hermione waved a hand at Draco’s boots. “Trust me, I won’t let you fall,” she said, holding her hands out to him when he looked reluctant.

With a sigh, he transfigured skates for himself and took Hermione’s hands before stepping gingerly onto the ice.

Skating backward, Hermione led him slowly around the pond once before encouraging him to try on his own. Stiffly, Draco let go of Hermione’s hands and they started off again, side by side. They had barely gone a minute when Draco, arms flailing wildly, was unable to turn and crashed into the snow covered bank.

Hermione laughed before she could stop herself.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” she said, skating over to him. “I shouldn’t have laughed.” Hermione held her hand out to help Draco up and was relieved to see him smiling.

“No, you shouldn’t have done,” he replied, taking her hand and carefully getting to his feet. Not letting go of her hand, Draco let her steer him around the edge of the pond. “A proper wife would never laugh at her husband’s incompetence. Especially after promising not to let him fall.”

“We already know I’ll never be a proper wife,” Hermione said, her laugh sounding sardonic, though she tried to pass it off as self-deprecating. “And I suppose now you know better than to trust me, too,” she goaded.

Draco slowed down, bringing them to a stop on the ice, before tugging Hermione around to face him. The sky darkened and a slight breeze blew, snow beginning to fall again.

“I do trust you, Hermione,” he said softly, snowflakes gathering in his hair.

Hermione knew her cheeks were pink from the cold, but she felt herself blush more at Draco’s sincerity.

“I trust you too, Draco,” she said, beaming up at him.

Draco’s face grew still and the wind blew stronger. A snowflake caught in his eyelash and he blinked it away.

“You don’t have to pretend for me,” he finally said.

Snow fell on Hermione’s upturned face and she shivered.

“I’m not pretending,” she insisted, all their good humour blown away by the strength of the flurry. “I trust you, Draco. Implicitly.”

“No, you don’t.” Draco shook his head at her, his face filled with a regretful sorrow. “And that’s okay. I hope someday I can earn your trust.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Hermione said, feeling cold seeping into her fingers and toes.

Draco stood, looking at her through the swirling snow, before he took her hand and began skating again.

“On Halloween, back at the tournament, you said you didn’t trust me.”

Hermione looked up at Draco’s profile - the stiff set of his jaw, the tightness around his eyes - and tried to remember, as they made another circuit around the pond.

“When I offered to… to fix what The Dark-” Draco winced before he corrected himself, “Tom. When I offered to fix what Tom had done to your memory, I asked if you trusted me and you said - and I quote - you said: ‘I don’t. No.’” Draco took a breath before repeating quietly, “And that’s okay.”

Draco’s words helped kickstart Hermione’s memory and she tugged Draco to a stop.

“That’s not what I said,” Hermione maintained, skating around to face Draco. “I said: ‘I don’t know’, as in: ‘I’m not sure’.” Reaching up and placing her hands on Draco’s face, Hermione realised how cold they both had gotten. “But it wasn’t exactly true, even then. I was… surprised and disturbed and yes, angry about the tournament and the decisions you were forced to make, so I wasn’t sure how to answer you. But I do trust you, Draco.”

Hermione saw a painful sort of hope when Draco’s eyes flickered down to hers before darting away again.

“I trusted you in the dungeons. I trusted you in the warding ritual. And I certainly trust you now, even if I don’t always understand.” Hermione held Draco’s face in her hands, determined to make him believe her. “I think I trusted you even before I realised.”

Draco closed his eyes and tilted his head, leaning into her hand on his cheek. A shuddering breath left his parted lips and he reached for her, pulling her close. His nose was cold and his eyes were wet when he leaned down and kissed her.

Notes:

Well, that's one misunderstanding out of the way! Yay for open and honest communication and the chance for clarification. Hopefully they can keep their rapport going...

Also, I just love to imagine Draco explaining to a muggle shopkeeper that he "suffered from an untraditional education" and that's why he's never heard of biology, heehee!

Chapter 21: Almost Gilded

Summary:

Finding the darkness of the decorative building oppressive after the blinding whiteness outside, Hermione summoned her magic until she held a glowing orb of light in her hands. Draco’s face shone as he watched her perform the wandless magic, the glimmer she held in her hands reflecting in his eyes.

Notes:

Happy Spring my lovelies! I wanted to leave you all with this little chapter before I'm out for spring break the next two weeks :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Hermione melted into Draco’s embrace, tasting salt on his lips as she opened her mouth to him. Heat from their mingled breath contrasted with the icy wind gusting around them. The sky darkened and the snow blew sharp, stinging her chapped fingers where they cradled his cold cheeks.

Cloaks flapping around their legs, Hermione’s whole body shivered. Draco pulled back to look at her through the tangle of her wind-blown hair and another shiver ran down her spine with the fire burning in his eyes.

Pulling on her hand, Draco tugged Hermione along behind him as he clomped across the pond. Their skates transfiguring back to boots as soon as they set foot on the bank, they ran through the rising blizzard, toward the promised shelter of the rustic folly.

Finding the darkness of the decorative building oppressive after the blinding whiteness outside, Hermione summoned her magic until she held a glowing orb of light in her hands. Draco’s face shone as he watched her perform the wandless magic, the glimmer she held in her hands reflecting in his eyes.

With a flick of his wand, a blazing fire erupted in the fireplace and though the wind whistled around the windows and through the cracks in the door, the radiance of the fire thawed the air.

Feeling the strain of the wandless magic pull at her, Hermione let the incandescence dissipate through her fingers. Holding her hands toward the fire, she felt heat rising from the flames before Draco’s cold hands wrapped around hers, bringing them to his lips. He placed a gentle kiss on each fingertip, kindling a warmth within Hermione.

“It’s really tiring, the wandless magic,” she whispered inanely.

Draco looked up at her through his long lashes and his warm breath puffed over her fingers.

“Draw on the magic of the estate,” he said, straightening up and wrapping his arms around her waist. “It’s yours, too.”

Hermione remembered the connection she felt through the blood magic and thought about trying to find it again, but was soon lost to the sensation of Draco’s lips as he pressed soft kisses across her face and along her jaw. Hermione let her head tip back as his nose traced lower, drawing a line down her neck.

When she closed her eyes, however, a set of mocking red eyes taunted her vision and she scrambled to regain herself.

“Draco,” she gasped, eyes flying open in panic.

Immediately Draco stopped, and Hermione felt his strong hands thread through her hair, thumbs caressing her cheeks, anchoring her vision to him.

“I-,” she started, then swallowed and tried again. “I see Tom’s eyes, watching. And I f-feel- it’s- it’s invasive and- and-” Hermione’s breathing was fast and deep, drawing too much air into her lungs, the dark panic gathering at the edge of her vision.

“Shhh,” Draco’s voice soothed above her, his fingers massaging her scalp, drawing her back into the present moment.

“Is it too late?” she asked, feeling sad and defeated, “to fix my memories?”

Draco’s face was carefully neutral when he answered. “It’s not too late. I can fix them, if that’s what you want.”

“I want him out of my head,” she affirmed.

“Alright then.” Draco nodded. “Are you ready?”

Hermione tried to nod, but his hands held her head too firmly and so she simply said, “I trust you.”

One moment Hermione was gazing into the familiar mercurial grey of Draco’s eyes, and the next he was in her mind, sliding around her thoughts and memories like quicksilver. He didn’t have to search for the memory of Voldemort, watching over her shoulder as Hermione gave herself to Draco; he knew where to find it. With the skill of a surgeon wielding a scalpel, Draco cut away the malignancy, cleanly separating the tainted memory of Voldemort watching from the pure memory of their union.

Feeling Draco withdraw from her mind, Hermione was left with the undefiled echoes of their consummation reverberating through her consciousness. Mind left floating in the past, her body felt adrift in the present. The world came back into focus slowly, anchored by all things Draco: the grip of his hands, possessive in her hair; the rise and fall of his chest, heavy with wanting; the dilation of his eyes, intense with pleading.

When Hermione glanced at his lips, she found she was already moving toward them, and when her eyes closed, she was met with the absence of vision, feeling nothing more than the blissful sensation of their kiss.

By the time Draco’s hands made their way down her body, Hermione was already begging, “Please, Draco, please touch me.” And when his fingers reached below the waistband of her trousers, Draco’s breath flitted across her neck, “Bloody hell, Hermione, you’re wearing them.”

Hermione nodded, dazed, “For you. I wear them for you.” Though Hermione tried to chase the feeling of his lips on hers, Draco pulled back, the words “Can I see you?” evaporating in the heat between them.

Stepping back, Hermione let her cloak fall to the floor. She watched Draco and he watched her body as she revealed it to him one article of clothing at a time, until she stood before him, wearing nothing but the scraps of lace he had chosen for her. Draco’s face, chiaroscuro in the firelight, open with reverence and desire, made Hermione feel fiercely beautiful. Though his eyes inspected her body, she didn’t feel exposed. Rather, she felt beheld in a way she had never before imagined she could be.

With his gaze fixed on her, Draco, too, discarded his clothes, disclosing himself to her piece by piece. Sliding his shirt off, one arm at a time, he held the garment to the side, the dark ink on the inside of his left arm deliberately on display.

Hermione had long ago accepted the unconfirmed presence of the mark on his arm and was undeterred by the sight of it. Instead, a smouldering fury brewed inside her at the way their bodies - their very lives - had been sacrificed for a crusade they had not even been allowed to choose. Unwinding her bandage, Hermione felt defiant as she revealed the soft scabs on her own arm. She raised her eyes to look up at Draco, only to find him already watching her, a fierce affirmation flickering over his face.

Hermione felt a new type of power coursing between them as they stood bare before each other in the firelight. The way their bodies met, hands moving and tongues caressing, mapping the facets of their exposed skin, she wondered if this insistent desire she felt - to know his body as well as she knew her own - was a byproduct of their bound magic.

When her lungs burned for a renewal of oxygen and his lips descended across the terrain of her chest, she thought of the chemical reactions taking place in her brain, and how they were, even now, producing these feelings of euphoria.

By the time Draco’s mouth found the meridian of her body, Hermione decided wherever the feelings originated, however they had come to be, they were hers now and it only mattered what she chose to do with them.

Finally, when Draco sucked her skin delicately between his teeth, his tongue unyielding on the most sensitive part of her, Hermione’s mind went blank and all she could do was feel the effervescent sensations boiling under her skin.

Shivering through the aftershocks, Hermione opened her bleary eyes and was met with the sight of Draco between her thighs, eyes glowing above his glistening smile.

“That was-” Hermione began, but found her vocal cords rough and strained. “I’ve never-” she tried again.

Draco moved up Hermione’s body, wrapping his arms and legs around her, resting his chin on her sternum.

“I’ve rendered Hermione Granger speechless,” he said, and Hermione felt ego leaking from his every syllable.

“Yes, well.” She sighed, too content to care. “I've never had anyone do that before. It was, for lack of a better word: incredible.”

Draco’s chin lifted off her chest, “Really?” he asked. “No one’s ever…”

Hermione shook her head, flopping it back and forth slightly in her afterglow. “It’s not like I have much experience with these sorts of things,” she said. “I suppose that makes you my first,” she added, with a grin she hoped was flirtatious.

“I thought…” The worry on Draco’s face matched the worry in his voice, neither of which was the reaction Hermione had been aiming for. “In the cellar, you said it wasn’t your first time.”

Hermione felt herself blush, but made herself reach for Draco anyway, combing her fingers through his hair.

“It wasn’t. My first time having sex, that is,” she said, watching the way his hair seemed almost gilded in the firelight as it moved between her fingers. “That night in the cellar was my second time,” she added in a small voice.

Draco relaxed at her admission and the point of his chin dug back into her chest. Hermione watched the golden light move across his face as his cheek dimpled in a lopsided grin.

“I'm alright being your second,” he said. “As long as I can be your last.”

A flustered laugh snuck out of Hermione’s mouth even as she felt her blush deepen, the heat of it spreading down her body until even her toes curled.

“Yes, well,” she stuttered bashfully before recovering her bravado. “I mean, it’s not like we can all be the Slytherin sex-god, now can we?”

Draco’s face froze in a moment of ludicrous shock.

“Slytherin sex-god?” he choked out. “What in Salazar’s name is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, I’m sure I don’t know,” Hermione huffed, the warm emotions of only a moment ago turning to cold embarrassment and feeling very much like annoyance. “Only, one hears things at school…”

Draco’s shoulders shook with unrestrained amusem*nt.

“The rumours of my prowess have been greatly exaggerated, I assure you,” he said between bouts of laughter. “‘Slytherin sex-god!’” he repeated, practically cackling with glee.

“Well, what am I supposed to think? When you seem to know exactly what- and where- and- and- how- and all the girls at school…”

“Hermione,” Draco’s soft voice and indulgent smile were enough to cut off her self-conscious diatribe. “I know this might come as a bit of a shock, but there is a fairly strict culture of purity among the sacred twenty eight.”

Hermione looked at him with her I-am-not-amused look. “Purebloods are concerned with purity? Shocking, indeed,” she said.

“We fully accept that we will come to our marriage beds as virgins.” Draco continued, undeterred by her snark. “That night in the cellar - with you - that was my first time.”

“But…” Hermione flushed, feeling strangely pleased at his admission, even as she struggled to once again rearrange the bits she knew about Draco Malfoy. “You… you… seem so competent…”

Draco grinned at Hermione's verbal flummoxing and stretched to peck a quick kiss to her lips.

“I said I was a virgin, not that I had never done anything.” Draco's lips brushed Hermione's as he spoke. “Also, I know how to read, and have an insatiable thirst for knowledge,” he concluded with a predatory look on his face which fanned the embers of longing within Hermione.

Squirming under the intensity of his gaze, Hermione felt Draco, enticingly hard, against her thigh. When she moved her hand purposely to brush against him, he let out a strained breath, pressing his forehead to her collarbone.

“Hermione.”

The sound of his voice, tight with supplication, made Hermione want to feel the weight of him in her mouth. Suddenly, she had a new, visceral, definition for the word thirsty.

“Draco.”

His eyes found hers as soon as his name left her lips. With a commanding pressure, she shifted her hips, turning them so she could reach his leg. Maintaining eye contact, Hermione rotated, pressing her body into his. Draco followed her lead, allowing her to switch their positions, pinning him beneath her in a reprisal of her earlier combat move in the snow.

Draco's eyes burned into her as she sat tall astride his hips, and when she moved down his body, his gaze followed.

Taking him in her mouth, Hermione marvelled at the new sensations: the taste and thickness that was entirely Draco, heavy on her tongue. It took longer than she had expected, and was not altogether comfortable, but Hermione decided it was gratifying. She liked seeing the tendons in his neck strain, enjoyed watching the way his eyes grew hazy, and took pleasure in hearing his painfully enraptured sounds. And when she finally felt his release course down her throat, Hermione found a subversive power in being the one to make him come so completely undone.

Lying on the floor of the faux cottage, drawing ruins on each other's cooling skin, Hermione found herself wishing the moment could be more real. The desire to be a minor character in the narrative of history, to live an unremarkable life in a small house wrapped in the arms of her husband, was nearly overwhelming.

Blinking back a sudden incursion of tears, Hermione sat up and began to search for her clothes. When she couldn’t locate her shirt, she turned to find Draco, brilliant in the radiance of their folly, already holding it. Smiling sheepishly, they helped each other redress, lingering touches feeling both shy and promising, before they headed back out into the storm.

Buoyant with the weightlessness of their combined euphoria they ran, laughing through the whirling snow, back to the manor. It was easy for Hermione to ignore the mournful cries of the peaco*cks floating on the wind as she held tightly to Draco's hand and felt the strength of him, holding her in return.

Notes:

In architecture school, there was a whole unit devoted to follies, the funny little fake buildings built to make the landscape more "picturesque" or whatever. Usually, they were built to look like classical temples or ruins, but sometimes they were romanticised versions of lower class houses from bygone eras (think serfs in a fuedal system, etc.). I remember one (in france maybe?) even hired people to play 'peasants' and live in the folly on their estate to make it look more realistic. Anyway! I think it suited our purpses nicely ;)

Chapter 22: Aggressively Constructive

Summary:

“Was that where you were aiming?” Draco looked dubiously at the knife buried in the dummy.

Hermione glared at Draco before stalking across the ballroom to retrieve her knife, which had, in fact, hit the target next to the one she was aiming for.

When she turned back around, Draco, apparently bored with the entire display, had retreated to a small table where a tea set had appeared.

Hermione watched as he took a sip of tea, and, with his back to her, she had to quell the urge to throw a knife at him. Not that she expected to hit him with it, just that she wanted to get his attention, which realisation only added to her peevishness.

Notes:

I hope everyone is having a happy spring so far (possibly even a truly joyful one?)! Our camping trip got rained out, but luckily, my parents have a lake house we were able stay in and enjoy the rain from under the comfort of a solid roof, haha! Anyway! I've got a longer chapter for ya'll after that break.

As always, my deepest gratitude to all of you who are choosing to share this time and story with me, thank you!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Bursting together through a side entrance of the manor, a volley of snow following in their wake, Hermione and Draco laughed breathlessly, shushing each other for no reason other than, perhaps, their happiness felt forbidden.

“Your hair,” Draco laughed, patting what Hermione was sure was a large halo of frizz. “I think it’s becoming sentient!”

“Oh, come off it.” Hermione swatted Draco’s hands away. “It’s just from the wind and snow.”

When she turned to go up the servants stairs, however, all Hermione's good feelings fell away at the sight of Lucius, standing in the corridor, looking pinched and unamused.

“Truly, I can’t see for this voluminous coiffure,” Draco, oblivious to his fathers presence, continued his teasing, burying his nose in the back of Hermione’s hair and sneaking his hands around her waist.

With a small sound of aversion, Lucius made his presence known.

“Father,” Draco said, dropping his hands and stepping away from Hermione, regaining the stoic air of a patrician faster than she could blink her eyes.

“Your mother is serving tea in the conservatory,” Lucius informed them without preamble. “Don’t make us wait,” he added, lip curling in Hermione’s direction, before he turned and disappeared down the corridor.

As soon as he was out of sight, Draco’s knavish smile was back in place. “How long do you think he’s been waiting?”

Hermione rolled her eyes at Draco, but secretly, she couldn’t help but smile at the easy way he allowed himself to unbutton around her.

As quickly as they could, they made their way through the Manor, stopping only briefly in a washroom for Hermione to run wetted fingers through her hair in the hopes of making it slightly more presentable. When they reached the conservatory, the air felt unusually muggy and still, rendering Hermione’s attempts to smooth her hair irrelevant. Still, she couldn’t help but feel an undercurrent of tension as they settled themselves at the table.

“Kind of you to grace us with your presence,” Lucius sneered while the teapot bobbed over to fill Hermione’s cup.

“Yes, good afternoon,” Narcissa said pleasantly, ignoring Lucius’ foul mood.

“I hope you had a pleasant morning, because we have had some news,” she continued. “Our Lord is eager to show how well society is flourishing under his guidance. As such, it is our pleasure to resume the tradition of hosting our Christmas Eve Ball.”

Hermione felt beads of sweat form along the hair at the nape of her neck. She pressed her feet together under the table, the dagger concealed in her boot reassuring amongst the sea of faceless people she imagined would attend a ball at Malfoy Manor.

Draco nodded once, a muscle in his jaw clenching, and Hermione thought again of a life in a cottage where a ball would merely be the stuff of fairy tales.

“Hermione should wear gold.”

Draco’s response seemed oddly specific, but Narcissa nodded thoughtfully.

“Yes, I think a break from tradition in this case would be wise,” she said, eyeing Hermione with her appraising speculation.

“Whatever colour she wears isn’t the issue,” Lucius broke in. “The issue is the reporters who will be coming by next week to publicise the whole affair.”

“And they will be curious as to what colours we will be wearing,” Narcissa answered smoothly, selecting a biscuit from the tray in front of her.

Hermione’s throat felt dry and she had to swallow before she spoke, “Reporters?” The heavy, still air, on top of the prospect of being ‘publicised’, was enough to make her feel faint.

“They might ask what colour you’ll be wearing,” Lucius said, directing his evident frustration toward Hermione. “But they will, in fact, be looking for all the sordid details of our life. Looking for evidence: Have the Malfoy’s regained their place at the Dark Lord’s side? Have they actually accepted a mudblood into their family-”

“Father!” Draco interjected at the epithet.

“Son!” Lucius replied without missing a beat. “Or is it all some sort of farcical punishment?” After a breath, Lucius concluded, “They will be wanting to answer the question on everyone's mind: Are the Malfoys to be respected or ridiculed?”

“We will be ready to show them exactly where we stand, Lucius,” Narcissa said, unruffled as ever, “partly by discussing such trivialities as the colour of a ballgown. Politics are not discussed in polite company, and we Malfoys have always been above such things.”

Hermione questioned the idea of the Malfoy’s ‘being above’ politics, but, other than Draco’s overuse of his father’s influence at school, she supposed Lucius had preferred to work from the shadows.

“You are right, my dear,” Lucius finally conceded, albeit begrudgingly. “Focusing on the Ball will be its own type of statement.”

After a moment of quiet tea drinking and sandwich nibbling, Lucius spoke again. “Of course you’ll speak about your charity work,” he said, nodding toward Narcissa.

“Of course,” Narcissa agreed, sipping her tea demurely.

“And see if you can’t find something for her to do,” Lucius continued, waving a hand in Hermione’s general direction. “Make her look involved, seem invested. Supportive even.”

“Naturally,” Narcissa said, and Hermione felt as though Narcissa was simply waiting for Lucius to arrive at the conclusions she had already drawn.

“And they will want to know the details between the two of you,” Lucius said, pointing an accusing finger between Hermione and Draco. “Make sure it’s a love story worth swooning over. We’ll want every housewife and hearthwitch crying tears of joy at your enemies-to-lovers arc.”

It was hard to feel smug when she could feel an uncomfortable amount of moisture under her arms, but Hermione managed it, seeing the way Lucius shuddered slightly when he said the word ‘lovers’.

“Just be sure to coach her on what to say,” Lucius said to Draco before adding, with a disdainful look toward Hermione, “If you can’t say anything nice about the Dark Lord, don’t say anything at all.”

Hermione had to bite back the retort which immediately came to mind. Instead, she pasted a simpering smile on her face, hoping it covered the sweaty shakiness she felt.

“How could I ever have anything unkind to say about my benevolent Lord. Or the enduring society he has single-handedly razed,” she said, wondering if her contronym-based word-play would register.

Lucius raised his eyebrows at her before turning his unimpressed face to Draco, his gesture clearly indicating she had made his point for him.

Hermione felt a line of sweat slide down the back of her neck and had to remind herself to take slow deep breaths, each passing moment making her regret more not having taken the time to change out of her warm snow clothes.

“I am sure Hermione values the continued benevolence of our Lord nearly as much as you do, Lucius,” Narcissa interjected. “As such, I am equally sure her natural inclination toward charity will shine throughout the interviews.”

“Yes,” Hermione said, channelling the sweet-tartness of the lemon curd on her plate to stave off her increasing lightheadedness. “I like to think I’m quite liberal with my charity.”

It took nearly all of Hermione’s focus to stay alert and present in the oppressively tropical climate, but even through that, she could feel Lucius’ palpable exasperation and noticed Narcissa’s eyes all but twinkling over the top of her teacup. Draco sighed, rubbing his forehead with his knuckles, but Hermione couldn't bring herself to feel even a little guilty over it.

The next day, the manor came alive with activity. Doors Hermione had half assumed to be closets were flung wide, revealing entire rooms. Windows which had seemed willfully dingy suddenly sparkled, welcoming in rays of winter sunshine. Apparently, the business of hosting a society event required much more opening and airing and scrubbing and polishing than the hosting of a dark lord had done.

And, just as quickly, Hermione found herself once again subjected to the unrelenting pace of Narcissa Malfoy’s daily schedules. From fittings for a new ball gown (gold, to contrast with the traditional silver and green of a Slytherin Christmas, as Draco had suggested) and seemingly endless dance rehearsals, to giving her input to the impending Christmas decorations and getting caught up on all the charity work she had ostensibly been doing for the St. Mungo’s children’s ward, Hermione was included in everything.

Hermione had to admit, Narcissa was a master at orchestration. Despite chafing at the constraint, she did respect the way she managed, carefully ensuring Hermione would be prepared for the scrutiny of the reporters with authentic tidbits to disclose about life as a Malfoy. It was a particular relief when Hermione discovered she actually felt a bit of passion for the St. Mungo’s project and would not have to manufacture enthusiasm where their charity work was concerned. After all, she reasoned, who could feel bad about helping sick kids?

In the midst of one particularly gruelling dance lesson, Hermione and Narcissa both were feeling the strain of all the stress and so much time spent together.

Hermione, for her part, couldn’t for the life of her understand how she was meant to keep her chin raised and her back tall while looking demure. Or, how she could possibly be in command of the dance floor - but not back-lead - when she didn’t even have a partner to practise with. Narcissa, on the other hand, seemed to be simmering with dissatisfaction at her inability to possess each dichotomous trait simultaneously.

Hermione was nearly ready to storm out of the room and, for a woman who was able to show remarkably little emotion, Narcissa, too, seemed ready to make a dramatic exit, when a voice interrupted from the doorway.

“A foxtrot? I should have known you'd be so ambitious,” Draco said, shaking his head. “I know you have a tight schedule, but if it’s not too much trouble, I wonder if I could have Hermione and the ballroom to myself for the remainder?” he asked, already shrugging his robes off and laying them to the side.

Hermione thought Narcissa looked rather relieved at the dismissal, making her feel a bit like a child with a harried governess.

A flash of silver disappeared among the folds of Draco's cloak and Hermione purposely turned away from the accompanying thoughts. Instead, she watched him approach, feeling mildly annoyed at the way his appearance had palpably lessened the tension between her shoulders.

Before Narcissa was even out the door, Draco was swishing his wand and an entire wall panel swung open, straw and burlap dummies wheeling themselves out to the middle of the floor.

“As fun as it is to watch you attempt to dance partnerless, we have our own intrigues to plot.”

Hermione noticed a shadow of fatigue behind the playfulness in Draco's eyes and chose not to comment on the fact she wouldn't be partnerless if he would show up to rehearse with her.

“Now, let’s see those knives,” Draco said with a grin that could only be described as conspiratorial.

Hermione appreciated the chance to channel her ill-temper into something aggressively constructive. After an hour or more of Draco showing her the most lethal places to stab a person, the best ways to leverage her small stature for maximum force, and the basics of knife throwing, both Hermione and Draco were sweaty and breathing heavily from the exertion.

More than once, Hermione could have sworn Draco was going to kiss her, but each time he pulled away, refocusing them back on the task at hand. Each time he pulled back, Hermione felt herself grow more cross and so she relished the opportunity to throw sharp objects at a vaguely humanoid target. Hermione even managed to stick a knife squarely in the chest of one of the dummies.

“Was that where you were aiming?” Draco looked dubiously at the knife buried in the dummy.

Hermione glared at Draco before stalking across the ballroom to retrieve her knife, which had, in fact, hit the target next to the one she was aiming for.

When she turned back around, Draco, apparently bored with the entire display, had retreated to a small table where a tea set had appeared.

Hermione watched as he took a sip of tea, and, with his back to her, she had to quell the urge to throw a knife at him. Not that she expected to hit him with it, just that she wanted to get his attention, which realisation only added to her peevishness.

Deciding a cup of tea might help soothe her irritation, Hermione stomped over to the table. As she was reaching self-righteously for the teapot, she noticed Draco had already prepared a cup for her. The simple kindness of the action punctured a small hole in her foul mood.

“Hermione?”

Hermione turned to Draco, fighting the grumpiness on her face, and watched him as he stared blankly out the window.

“Draco?” she replied a little tersely when he didn’t go on.

“When we…” he paused, his eyes shifting, inscrutable, over the frosted glass. “When we were in Severus’ memories…” he continued after a moment.

Hermione felt the rest of her self-absorption drain away with the understanding of Draco’s preoccupation. She had wondered if this conversation might come up and had, thankfully, prepared herself for it.

“He was Dumbledore’s man, all along,” Draco concluded, brow furrowed.

Hermione nodded, but Draco was still staring blankly out the window so she asked, “Did you have any idea?”

Draco shook his head.

“None,” he said softly. “Did you?”

“No,” Hermione replied. “He was the consummate spy.”

“All that time, I thought he was trying to steal my glory.” Draco’s voice twisted with bitterness as he spoke. “And they were trying their best protect me. My soul.”

Hermione’s heart clenched with acute worry at the resigned defeatism she heard when he spoke.

“Snape helped us, too,” she offered. “Me, Harry, and Ron. And we wouldn’t have accepted the help if we had known it was coming from him.”

Draco seemed not to have heard her, still lost in his own thoughts.

“In the end," he said, "it all turned out to be for some girl he knew in school.”

Draco’s expression when he finally turned to her made Hermione squirm even as her heart gambolled about her chest.

“Harry’s mum,” she agreed, deflecting.

"Lily Evans," Draco said, nodding slowly. “And Potter would have to die anyway, to have any hope of bringing Tom down.”

“I think Harry already knows it, on some level.” Hermione’s eyes clouded over as she thought of Harry's natural inclination toward self-sacrifice.

“And Tom killed Severus over a wand," Draco said cynically, turning back to the window.

Hermione felt her throat close and though she tried, she couldn’t speak past the sensation of choking. Instead, she reached for Draco, sliding her arms around his chest as she stepped behind him, pressing her face to his back.

“I suppose… In the end, death is the only guarantee,” Draco said, his voice muted with contemplation.

“Draco-” Hermione managed to whisper, gripping him tighter to herself.

“Do you suppose there are other ways to gain a wand’s loyalty?” he mused, toying with the rings on Hermione's finger.

“I…” Hermione faltered and cleared her throat. “I hadn’t really thought of it before. I suppose Tom figured death was the easiest way to be certain.”

Hermione felt Draco nod, even as the vibrations of his voice rumbled through his back.

“Suppose, for argument’s sake, a person wins a wand in a duel. Would that wand remain loyal to the original owner, or commit itself to the winner of the duel?”

Hermione hesitated before answering.

“Wand lore isn’t something I’ve looked into much,” she admitted into the back of his shirt. “I think Harry would have a startling number of wands loyal to him if all it took were an expelliarmus to win one over.”

“So you think there’s more to it than that?” Draco insisted, pushing the pearl he had given her back and forth where it was clutched over his heart.

“I think ‘the wand chooses the wizard’, as Ollivander says,” Hermione hedged, turning her head to the side, resting her cheek on his shoulder blade. “But beyond that, I really couldn’t say.” Then, as an afterthought, she added, “I think what really matters is Tom believed he could win the loyalty of the wand by killing for it. Whether or not that’s true seems a bit irrelevant.”

Draco’s hand stilled on her ring before he squeezed her hands gently.

“I disagree,” he said, without any hint of anger or animosity.

Hermione felt too tired to argue, so she said nothing, agreeing tacitly to disagree.

“Severus could cast a patronus,” Draco continued after a moment, his fingers resuming their twiddling with her rings. “Despite his Dark Mark.”

Hermione thought of the white doe in Snape’s memories. The knowledge that it was the same as Lily Potter’s patronus made her feel something that may have been almost pity for Severus Snape.

“Can you?” Draco asked, suddenly turning to face Hermione, still in the circle of her arms. “Cast a patronus?”

Hermione hesitated, a deep heaviness falling over her, completely incongruous with the feelings needed for a patronus.

“It’s famously difficult to do and I sometimes struggle to cast the charm, but in general, yes, I can cast a patronus,” she said, looking up into Draco's face.

“Can you teach me?” Draco’s expression, filled with determined optimism, tugged at Hermione’s heartstrings.

“I… don’t know?” Hermione shrugged, struggling to clarify the difficulty. “The way Harry explains it, it’s a bit like the embodiment of your single happiest memory. But… I don’t know… I suppose there’s a difference between ‘happy’ like ‘yay! we just won the house cup’-”

“I wouldn’t know,” Draco said, his snarky smile making Hermione’s own lips twitch.

“Or! Scoring well on end of year exams, or winning a quidditch match,” Hermione tried to think of situations that might generally qualify as ‘happy’. “In anycase, those types of memories don’t work for me. I think there’s a difference between feeling ‘yay I'm happy’ and… I don’t know, experiencing something more like true joy, I suppose.”

“So what do you think about when you cast a patronus?” Draco asked, encircling Hermione in his arms and drawing her closer to him.

He had, unknowingly, asked for knowledge Hermione had never shared with anyone.

“I… think of my parents, how they’ve always supported and loved me despite all the things they can’t know or hope to understand about me…” Hermione began, feeling bravely vulnerable. “And… I think of Harry and the way he’s become like a brother, standing by me even when we don't agree… and I think of Ron and…”

Here, Hermione didn’t quite know how to say the things she thought and felt about Ron. The way the shine of a first love had produced some of her easiest patronuses, or the way it had changed, like a picture in an old silver frame: still cherished and beautiful, but a bit faded, dusty and unpolished over time.

“I see,” Draco said, clearing his throat and stepping away from Hermione, pulling her from her memories.

“Can you show me?” he asked after an awkward pause, holding his wand out to her.

Taking a deep breath, Hermione reached for the wand. She was proud of the progress she had made with wandless magic, but feeling Draco’s wand in her hand again - the way her magic narrowed and honed with the instrument - made Hermione long for a time when magic had been an effortless extension of herself.

Pulling from the memories she had just explained to Draco, the emotions behind them which had always begat her patronus before, Hermione murmured the charm. A white mist issued from the tip of the wand, drifting around them with a tepid sort of grace while Hermione concentrated, willing the form of an otter to coagulate from the mist.

Gasping for breath, Hermione finally surrendered, relinquishing her control and letting the mist dissipate.

Closing her eyes, she steadied herself. Focusing inward, drawing deep from the wellspring of her emotions, she sought out currents of profound joy. Finding the steady conviction she needed, Hermione was not even surprised to discover where its headwaters now lay.

Eyes still closed, Hermione thought of Draco. She thought of his arms, holding her in his sleep; his hands, clasping hers as they ran through the snow; his feet, lending her silent support under the table; his eyes, flashing with admiration when he watched her mind and magic; his body, hard with desire for hers; his blood, flowing freely for her protection and joy.

Hermione knew, even before she cast, her patronus would be radiantly corporeal, dazzling any darkness attempting to encroach. Opening her eyes, Hermione sought out the face that had come to represent her truest joy, finding it easily in the light of her patronus.

“Your patronus is… a peaco*ck?” Draco asked, his voice low with reverence.

“What?!” Hermione squeaked, turning quickly to look at the bright silvery-white creature strutting about the ballroom.

“It wasn’t before,” was all she could think to say as the peaco*ck fanned its tail feathers. “It used to be an otter.”

“I didn’t know they could change,” Draco sounded amazed as they watched the large bird take off and fly around the room before dissolving in a shower of sparkling energy.

“They can,” Hermione thought of Tonks and Lupin, and all the things the strenght of their love had remade. “If a person changes enough, the patronus can change, too.”

Hermione somehow felt both validated and betrayed, with the evidence of a love she hadn’t been ready to verbalise laid so bare before them. With slightly trembling fingers, she held Draco’s wand back out to him, attempting and failing to ignore the way he watched her.

“You try,” Hermione whispered while Draco’s fingers lingered on hers as he took the wand back.

She watched for a few moments, as Draco tried to gather his thoughts and feelings, and through his first disheartening attempts to cast.

When a thin mist dribbled from his wand and gathered listlessly at his feet, Hermione turned her attention back to her knives and the dummies at the other end of the room, hoping to give him some privacy to work through the difficult task of deciphering and acknowledging his own emotions.

Hermione only noticed the passing of time when the sun set through the large windows, bathing the ballroom in a cold orangey glow. Ignoring the soreness in her overused muscles and the deep tiredness dragging at her bones, she was determined to punch and kick and stab the lifeless dummies as long as Draco continued wrestling with the task he had set for himself.

When the glow of the sun had faded to grey and the shadows grew more visible than the room itself, Hermione heard a gasp as a brilliant white light blossomed behind her. Turning to Draco, she saw in him a self-possessed glow, illuminating his eyes from within.

Turning her eyes to take in the freshly formed patronus, Hermione’s heart swelled at the sight of an otter turning playfully through the air. As if feeling the weight of her eyes on it, the otter swam over to her, gambolling in circles before stopping in front of her. Nearly nose to nose with the brilliant creature, looking into those eyes of pure joy, Hermione felt so much more than happiness. The patronus shimmered away, and Hermione's eyes naturally refocused on Draco’s open gaze, where she felt the depth of her knowing in his eyes.

Their combined joy overflowed into bright laughter as they met in the middle of the room, drawn inexorably to each other. Hermione threw her arms around Draco as he lifted her in his embrace. With her feet dangling from the buoyancy of his arms, their lips met in an exultant, happy, kiss. Expressing and receiving feelings she couldn't yet put into words, Hermione instead used each of her five senses to categorise the moment. There is the scent and this is the taste; that is the vision and these the sounds; and, above all else, here. Here is the tacticle feeling of love.

Notes:

Do you guys love contronyms as much as I do???? (Contronym: a word having two meanings which contradict one another) In Hermione's little quip, enduring usually means lasting and durable, but can also imply long-suffering/lasting through trials and tribulations, while raise (lift up or elevate) and raze (completely destory) are hom*ophonic (same pronounciation but different spellings) contronyms. Then! she says she's 'liberal with her charity'. Liberal meaning generous, tolerant/open-minded, but also a supporter of civil liberties and policies that are socially progressive (totally the opposite of Voldemort's plan). And charity meaning giving time and money to help those less fortunate, but also can mean feelings of kindness and tolerance. (Okay, maybe those last two aren't exactly contronyms but still follow with the theme of multiple meanings). Fun, right!?

Also, fun fact: once I actually did hit a bulls-eye in the target next to the one I was aiming for. I wasn't throwing knives, I was shooting a bow and arrow, and it was before we realised I was practically blind and got me some glasses, but still. True Story.

Chapter 23: Quiet Sacrifices

Summary:

“After all…” Hermione heard Narcissa whisper into her hair after her sobbing had calmed to small, infrequent hiccups.

“It has always been and always will be us women, making the quiet sacrifices which truly matter in the end.”

Notes:

*TW in end notes*

Ok friends, I just read through all of your kind comments (again!) and I am so honored to have you along for this ride. I don't have time to respond to comments individually, but know how much I love and appreciate each and every word you write in support of this story, it means so much to me! Thank you!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Press day came and, with the way she spent every last minute revising, while simultaneously trying not to lose the contents of her stomach, Hermione thought it was entirely too reminiscent of taking her O.W.L.s.

Luckily, Narcissa noticed everything and, likely having backup plans for her backup plans, gave Hermione the simple but distracting project of organising the afternoon tea. Working with Sukey, she was able to settle into the rhythm of being a hostess and, by the time the slew of reporters and photographers arrived, Hermione was feeling more confident in the role she was expected to play.

Narcissa led the little tour group, progressing smoothly around the Manor and grounds, with Hermione by her side. Questions were asked and parried, the upcoming ball was discussed in great detail, tea was well received, and the fortuitous appearance of the Malfoy men was deemed simply delightful.

Hermione wasn’t even rattled when Draco pulled her aside for a quick snog that was absolutely not meant to be caught on camera. She also didn’t have to fabricate her blush when the inevitable flashes interrupted their private moment.

All in all, Hermione thought she pulled off a rather winsome blend of witty yet demure and, by her estimation, the day certainly exceeded expectations. By some metrics, she thought, it could even be considered outstanding.

That night at dinner, spirits were high and Lucius even toasted the family on a job well done. Hermione, however, was feeling an abrupt let-down after the earlier rush of adrenaline and nerve. Hardly able to keep her eyes open, the smell of the oyster stew being served was her last straw; senses overwhelmed, Hermione found herself again swallowing bile as it threatened to come up.

“Hermione?” Draco said, concern evident in his voice, and Hermione realised he had been talking to her. “Are you alright?”

Hermione nodded as she took a small sip of water.

“I think I’m just feeling a sort of post-performance anxiety.” She hoped no one noticed her hand shaking as she set her glass back on the table. “And, I think maybe one of the oysters in my stew has gone off.”

Draco frowned down at his own bowl.

“Tastes fine to me,” Lucius said, sipping from his spoon in a way that had Hermione reaching quickly for her waterglass again.

“I'm sure I'll be fine after a good night's rest,” Hermione mumbled, feeling self conscious as Narcissa's eyes flicked over her face, down to her stew, and back up to her face.

“In any case,” Narcissa said carefully, returning to the conversation which had apparently been taking place. “I do think Hermione has improved sufficiently to be ready for the opening dance, so long as we continue with daily rehearsals.”

“Opening dance?” Hermione felt faint with the sudden improbable possibility of being the only couple on the dance floor with everyone else watching. “Why won’t the Master and Mistress of the house be doing the opening dance?” she asked, hoping her voice didn’t sound too panicky.

“We’re younger and prettier,” Draco answered with a shrug. Evidently realising Hermione was not satisfied, he set his spoon down and continued with a sigh. “We are the romance everyone wants to believe in: star crossed lovers illuminating the future,” he finished with a mocking gesture.

“Not just the future of the Malfoy family, but the future of the entire wizarding world,” Narcissa interjected with her unfailing logic. “You have said it yourself: you are the exception that proves the rule, the only muggleborn worthy of the Dark Lord’s world. We’re expected to show off that exceptionalism. Especially if you want to keep your place in society.” Narcissa finished in a tone that clearly indicated Hermione should want to keep her place in society.

Hermione begrudgingly agreed. Her current position in Voledmort's society was better than the alternative.

“But- they're turning us into a cliche!” Still, Hermione couldn't help but bristle at the implied banality of their situation. “Making us into some sort of fantasy to placate the masses and distract from Vold- Tom- ugh! The Dark Lord’s awfulness!”

All activity around the table came to an abrupt halt at her nearly careless word choice. Hermione’s eyes darted around, taking in each shocked expression. Three faces with wide eyes and open mouths stared back at her, spoons, glasses, and even magical serving dishes paused mid-air, seemingly frozen in astonishment.

“Sorry,” Hermione whispered, bowing her head in embarrassment, only to be accosted by the sight of oysters floating in her stew. Closing her eyes, Hermione swallowed thickly and willed the awkward moment to pass.

Lucius recovered first, apparently unable to refrain from ridicule for too long.

“I'm so glad you could save that little outburst until after the reporters left,” he said, apparently also unable to keep his lip from curling when speaking to Hermione. “In any case, distraction, misdirection, and placation is - in a nutshell - politics.”

“Don’t let their scheming distract you,” Draco’s tone was warning, but the warmth of his foot nudging hers under the table softened the feeling of chastisem*nt. “Today was a perfect performance and as long as you don’t get too caught up in your head, our dance will be, too.”

While she appreciated the vote of confidence, Hermione still felt daunted and outraged at the task of being the model muggleborn, even as she knew she couldn't help but strive to do her very best.

Conversation restarted around her, and Hermione nibbled on an unbuttered roll, distracted (as Draco predicted) by the thoughts stewing away in her mind, when a loud clatter startled her from her brooding.

Draco’s spoon dropped into his bowl, sending brothy chunks of stew over the table as his left arm convulsed involuntarily. Squeamish worry lanced through Hermione as she watched the surprised pain on his face smooth with occlusion and he carefully stretched his arm down, clenching and unclenching his fist. The eerie vacancy behind Draco's eyes gave Hermione a horrible premonition and she wanted to reach for him, but hesitated a moment too long in front of his parents.

Lucius was already standing from the table, a similar tension in his arm and face. Draco followed his father’s lead and with barely a nod of acknowledgement or farewell, Hermione found herself alone with Narcissa in the suddenly cavernous dining room.

“I… think the excitement of the day has affected me as well,” Narcissa said while the sound of the floo echoed around them. “I shall retire for the evening. You, of course, are welcome to…” she trailed off as she placed her napkin carefully on her plate and stood, “finish your meal if you wish.”

Struck dumb with the unmistakable sadness she saw on Narcissa’s face, Hermione sat at the table, watching as each dish was magically cleared, leaving only her own bowl, still filled with the nauseating stew. Overwhelmed by the harsh reminder that even those who supported him were ultimately constrained by Tom Marvolo Riddle's every whim, Hermione laid her head in her arms and wished for purifying tears that, for once, simply wouldn’t come.

Hermione hadn’t expected Draco to come home that night, with such a late summons, but when the second night passed without his return, she began to feel a tightness in her middle that she couldn’t quite breathe through. Her anxiety grew with each passing day, manifesting in a near-constant low-level queasiness.

Walking to the pond and filling her lungs with fresh morning air was the only time she didn't have to actively think about not retching. Otherwise, Hermione found when she pushed herself she was able to forget - for entire minutes at a time - why there was a chronic constriction just below her ribs. So, she pushed herself in every way she could.

Physically, she threw herself into dance rehearsals and sparring sessions with the dummies until sweat streamed down her face and back. Magically, she summoned and conjured and cast, experimenting with accessing the ancestral family magic, until her shaking hands could no longer control the flow of power. Mentally, she spent every spare hour in the library, adding wand lore and its associated magical synergy to her ever expanding list of research topics, which now not only included Hogwarts founders artefacts and horcruxes and how to destroy them, but also best magical medical practices and how they might be applied in an paediatric setting.

Often, Hermione found herself being woken from an uncomfortable position slumped over the library desk by Narcissa. With Draco and Lucius gone, the strain between her and Narcissa relaxed significantly, and she genuinely looked forward to the time they spent together. An oppressive loneliness crept in on Hermione when she was by herself and she suspected it was the same for Narcissa; turning to each other helped ease the burden of their shared melancholy.

It was one such morning that Hermione found herself unable to keep her eyes open in the library (despite being unable to sleep in bed) when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Hermione jerked awake, sitting up too quickly, and had to close her eyes against a wave of dizziness. When she was able to open her eyes, she saw the concern in Narcissa’s face as she invited her to join for breakfast.

Walking through the manor to the conservatory, Hermione thought she felt genuinely hungry for the first time in days. When she settled into her chair, however, the sight of Draco’s face, looking stonily out from a photo on the front page of the Daily Prophet, made her gasp and the smell of soft-boiled eggs invaded her nostrils.

Covering her nose and mouth with one hand, Hermione reached her other out for the paper. The photo was framed around two men, smiling and nodding at each other before reaching out to shake hands and pose for the shot. Draco was standing in the background, hands folded in front of him, face blank while he scanned the room, clearly not intending to be in the picture. Quickly skimming the article, Hermione confirmed the usual political rhetoric without any real substance, before refocusing her eyes on the grainy black and white image.

“Have you heard anything?” she asked Narcissa, watching Draco’s head turn and shoulder flex before the loop started again.

“Nothing,” Narcissa replied, taking the top off her egg and dunking a toast soldier into the yolk.

Feeling her heart and stomach lurch with the pain of not knowing, Hermione carefully set the paper aside and tried to nibble on some toast. The moment the buttered bread passed her lips, though, she knew it was a useless attempt.

“Are you feeling alright, dear?” Narcissa asked, keen eyes flicking over Hermione’s face, as they so often did these days.

“Er… not exactly,” she admitted.

“Your stomach?”

“I get stomach aches when I’m stressed,” Hermione explained, fiddling with the cutlery on the table in front of her. “And, I've just been so worried, with Draco gone and no word for days…”

Narcissa hummed understandingly. “If I recall correctly, you weren't feeling well, even before Draco was summoned,” she said.

“Well, no.” Hermione remembered all too well the smell of oyster stew the night Draco’s mark burned, summoning him away. “But that was the stress of the interviews. And a bad oyster in my stew,” she reasoned. “Now, I'm just worried about Draco being gone, and why I haven't heard from him.”

Narcissa nodded, seeming to accept Hermione's explanation. They lapsed into the quiet sounds of breakfast as Narcissa took a few bites and Hermione tried a sip of tea.

“Yet, I wonder…” Narcissa said, setting her plate aside and leaning back.

Hermione felt Narcissa’s sharp surveillance pierce her brittle facade. Instinctively, she began to fret about the numberless dire situations Draco could be in which would cause Narcissa to wonder.

“Forgive my forwardness,” Narcissa continued, apparently finding her resolve. “But I wonder. How diligent have you and Draco been about contraceptives?”

“Contra-” Hermione’s mind, still focused on Draco’s absence and wellbeing, went blank with confusion. “But we haven’t…”

Then, in an instant, comprehension flooded her. They had. Exactly once. And, they had not, in fact, spared even a single thought for contraceptives.

A split second later, Hermione’s stomach lurched with new certainty, and before she knew what she was doing, she was out of her seat, running out of the conservatory. Hermione made it into the hall before she lost the battle and vomited into a large decorative vase.

Eyes and nose streaming, Hermione gagged on bile and sobbed with apprehension. As she continued to heave, she felt cool hands brush across her forehead and up her neck, gathering her hair into a gentle hold, before soothing circles rubbed over her back.

Leaning her head onto her arm over the edge of the vase, Hermione closed her eyes and tried to catch her breath. She felt the swish of cleansing magic as Narcissa vanished her sick.

“What am I going to do?” Hermione could barely hear her own voice over the scratchy wobbly-ness of her despair.

“You are going to drink ginger tea and eat plain toast and applesauce,” Narcissa said. Her usual air of authority was laced with a new gentle kindness Hermione had not felt from her before.

“I can't have a baby,” Hermione whispered into the echoey depths of the vase, barely able to comprehend the truth of her words.

“You can,” Narcissa said simply. “You will.”

The enormity of the situation felt overwhelming and Hermione wished Narcissa could pause her pragmatism for just a moment to let her wallow.

Narcissa, however, would allow no room for self-pity. Holding firmly to Hermione's elbow, she directed her back to the conservatory where ginger tea and plain toast with applesauce had already replaced their previous breakfast.

“Do you know how far along you are?” Narcissa asked, pressing a large, sturdy mug of tea into Hermione’s hands.

Hermione simply sat, her mind frozen at the prospect of calculating a timeline of this nature.

“Drink, you'll feel better,” Narcissa urged her.

The moment Hermione took a sip of the spicy sweet tea, she did indeed feel better. The ever curious part of her mind wondered dimly if the ginger was just a placebo to have such an immediate effect. When the mug was half empty, Hermione felt she could try a bit of the dry toast. When that went down without any ill effects, she even managed a couple bites of applesauce.

“The tea is a blend I perfected when I was pregnant with Draco,” Narcissa said, watching Hermione carefully as she took another sip.

Hermione nearly sucked tea up her nose when she heard the word ‘pregnant’, but managed to keep herself together with just a little cough/sneeze.

“I grow and prepare the ginger here myself, just over there.” Narcissa gestured to a plant providing a lush green backdrop for more showy tropical flowers. “Now, when was your last cycle?”

Apparently, Narcissa was satisfied with Hermione's current caloric intake and was ready to chance another turn with the vase.

“I haven't had a cycle in well over a year.” Hermione swallowed, shaking her head. “Not since… since Harry, Ron, and I were on the run.”

Narcissa nodded, her eyes moving away from Hermione's face, visibly adding the new information to her calculations.

“But,” Hermione took a deep breath and soldiered on, despite the blush she felt spreading from her cheeks across her whole face. “I know it was the full moon after my birthday. Early October, in the cellar. That's the only time it could have been.” Hermione finished, staring deeply into the dregs of her tea, unable to look up at Narcissa.

“I see.” Narcissa’s soft voice didn't reveal anything to Hermione. “That would put you around twelve weeks, maybe even thirteen or fourteen… due early or mid June…”

Glancing up at Narcissa, Hermione found her mother-in-law’s gaze far away and thoughtful, calculating in a fond sort of way.

“I don't think we'll have to worry about you showing at the ball, but perhaps we should adjust the chiffon overlay and let the seams out a bit, just in case…”

Listening to Narcissa muse over ballgowns and dances and the size of her stomach, Hermione felt her chest constrict and her vision swim. In the midst of her panic she felt a warm mug pressing into her hands, the smell of ginger enticing her to breathe deeply and drink.

“Right then,” Narcissa's crisp voice brought Hermione's focus back to the present moment. “I think we deserve a day off. Sukey?”

The small elf popped into the room and offered Narcissa and Hermione deferential nods.

“Will you bring us our cloaks and boots and things? We are going to take a turn about the grounds.”

Narcissa kept up a steady stream of commentary as they strolled around the manor grounds, pointing out the various locations of significant life events and sentimental moments. Though Hermione would have appreciated the gesture in theory, she was in reality too far lost in her own thoughts to notice much of what was being said.

When they came to a stop by the pond, viewing the folly reflected in the dark ice, Hermione could no longer stop the tears from leaking out the corners of her eyes.

“What's going to happen to me?” she whispered, her hand coming to rest almost unconsciously over her stomach. “To us?”

Narcissa's chatter stopped for a moment before she answered.

“Well, you will become a mother, of course.”

Hermione looked at Narcissa, feeling something akin to despair.

“That's not what I mean.”

“No, I don't suppose it is,” Narcissa mused, watching as the tears continued to drip down Hermione's face.

“My dear,” Narcissa said after a moment. “You are the wife of my son and the mother of my grandchild. And while I would die for the one, I have recently come to realise I would kill for the other. All that is to say: I will not let anything happen to you. To either of you.”

Narcissa took Hermione's hands in her own and the magnitude of compassion she held in her eyes made Hermione want to believe every word she said.

“You and I, we share the burden of loving these Malfoy men. While we may have taken on the name, we are still our own selves under all that.”

Hermione watched as Narcissa's face grew hard, a fire burning in her eyes, and she squeezed her hands firmly.

“I will always protect what is mine. And I have every confidence you will rise to your occasion as well. I have seen you. I have seen your love and it is as fierce and protective and dangerous as it will need to be when the time comes.”

Hermione abandoned her last feigned vestiges of upper class British repression and threw her arms around Narcissa, letting all the devastating devotion she felt pour out in shuddering sobs. It took a few moments before Hermione felt Narcissa give in to the plebian impulse and return her embrace. When she did, though, Hermione felt the comfort only a mothers hug could impart in the strength of Narcissa's arms.

“After all…” Hermione heard Narcissa whisper into her hair after her sobbing had calmed to small, infrequent hiccups.

“It has always been and always will be us women, making the quiet sacrifices which truly matter in the end.”

Notes:

*TW: Narcissa realises Hermione is (unexpectedly? accidentally?) pregnant, Hermione has a bit of a break-down over it*

Ok, were you suprised?! I guess not, since it's tagged, but still... I can't not write about babies because in my experience when you have unprotected sex, you get pregnant. I know that's not everyone's experience, but there are a multitude of realities and this is mine, and that's the beauty of tags and TW's.

Anyway! That little slip up of Hermione's where she accidentally almost says Voldemort? It was totally a my bad: I was reading through and was like holy moly, I can't believe I accidentally have Hermione say you know who's name! I would have totally gotten the snatchers called down on me, whoops!

And that bit where Narcissa says she'd die for her child but kill for her grandchild? That's a loose quote from my first boss in the little university coffee shop/bakery where I worked in undergrad. Loved that job, still love those people!

Chapter 24: Vantage Point

Summary:

Hermione’s breath caught at the sight of Draco in full dress robes, his face smirking in the way she so loved, his hand extended in invitation.

It felt like a dream, with everything happening in slow motion; the way her heart sped up at the sight of him, the way she placed her hand in his and they walked with their eyes lost in each others’, the way she had a million things to tell him but couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Watching Draco dance from the vantage point of his arms, Hermione knew one thing for certain: in him she saw all the good in the world she wanted to nurture and protect.

Notes:

Welcome back friends! Here's the Christmas Eve ball, finally! It seems so crazy to me that at one point I had planned on having all the chapters out in a seasonally appropriate timeframe. I guess if I had waited another year to start posting, I could have made that work, but then we wouldn't be having all this fun together now!
Anyway, hope you enjoy!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The next morning - and every morning after - Hermione was up and running for the toilet before her brain had even fully registered she was awake. The simple acknowledgement of what was actually happening seemed to give her body permission to fully succumb to morning sickness. Once her stomach purged itself, however, the nausea seemed to abate and, for the most part, could be kept at bay, so long as Hermione nibbled on small plain snacks and sipped ginger tea throughout the day, per Narcissa’s advice.

Despite her morning ablutions, the final days before the ball passed in a fog of last minute decorations, menu decisions, and gown adjustments. Nevermind the existential turmoil Hermione was grappling with at the prospect of bringing a pure and helpless life into their dark and dangerous world. Still, it surprised Hermione, how frequently she found herself with a hand on her nearly-flat stomach, fond thoughts swirling around a nebulous future with tiny toes and chubby fists.

Already feeling bare before Narcissa’s perceptiveness, Hermione made the decision to stop covering her scabbed arm with a bandage at her next gown fitting. When Narcissa saw the wounds, a small furrow formed between her eyes, but her only other reaction was to rush-order a pair of kidskin opera gloves to be worn with the off-the-shoulder gown.

Though she put on a brave face, Hermione suspected Narcissa was feeling at least a bit apprehensive at the prospect of hosting a ball without Lucius. Hermione knew she wished for herself - almost more than anything else at the moment - to have Draco by her side.

Making her way into the conservatory for breakfast Christmas Eve morning, Hermione felt sluggish with despondency, when a glimpse of pale blonde hair peeking through the foliage made her breath catch in her chest. The relief she felt was palpable as she rushed through to the breakfast table, Draco’s name tumbling expectantly from her lips.

The sight of only Narcissa and Lucius at the table, however, their respective faces turned toward her with pity and condescension, had Hermione’s heart feeling even more tender than it had before her brief flash of hope.

“I am sorry,” Narcissa began with a gentle voice, but Lucius cut across her.

“The Dark Lord’s needs are greater than our own,” he said, “and Draco’s mission is top priority right now.” Lucius’ tone brokered no argument and gave Hermione the clear indication she was meant to bear this with a stiff upper lip.

Feeling wrong-footed, Hermione looked to Narcissa for guidance. With a slight shift of her head, Narcissa let her know that Lucius was still unaware of the impending addition to the family. Hermione wasn’t sure what to make of the omission, but had complete trust in Narcissa’s judgement on this particular matter.

The rest of the day flew by and before she knew it, Hermione was whisked off to be readied for the night ahead. Studying herself in the mirror, Hermione could see the slight shifts in her body, now she knew what to look for, while at the same time she doubted anyone else would notice.

Not for the first time, Hermione appreciated Narcissa’s eye for style and her ability to communicate with fashion. Wrapped in champagne-coloured silk, Hermione's gown shimmered with a subtle golden glow, acknowledging her Gryffindor history (and all that entailed) while emerald gems embraced her in the Slytherin tradition of her future.

Her hair had been smoothed into soft ringlets and was tucked up in a complicated roll, a few loose curls framing her face and tickling the back of her neck. A pair of drop earrings were matched by an emerald and gold headband sitting just above her hairline. Woven through her hair, the headband gave the impression of a tiara, without actually being a crown, which Hermione thought was the perfect embodiment of Malfoy ambition.

As she stood between Lucius and Narcissa in the entrance hall, with the Manor opened wide to welcome their guests, Hermione watched a line of horseless carriages trundle up the drive. The first buggy disgorged its passengers and Hemione felt an unexpected amount of relief as she watched the familiar faces walk up the front steps.

“Nice to see you again, Mr. Malfoy,” Theodore Nott said, clasping Lucius’ hand in a firm grip. “Though, it is a shame Draco has to miss your party, Mrs. Malfoy,” he continued with a nod toward Narcissa.

“Yes, Narcissa does throw the best parties,” Lucius replied, smiling affectionately over Hermione's head.

“Mrs. Malfoy, you look absolutely stunning tonight,” Blaise Zabini said with a charming wink and formal bow to Narcissa who shook her head affectionately.

“And how is your mother, Blaise?” Narcissa asked. “I hear she decided to spend the winter abroad?”

“Yes.” Blaise tilted his head in acknowledgement. “These cold British winters are getting harder and harder for her to bear, and her parents back in Mozambique are getting older. It was time for her to go home.”

“And you decided not to join her?” Narcissa voiced the question that immediately came to Hermione's mind.

“No,” Blaise said with a winning smile. “I thought my talents could be better used here.”

“Well said,” Lucius approved. “Well said, indeed. Ah, and here’s your father now, Theodore. Come in, Tiberius, come in.”

Lucius reached out to shake the hand of an older gentleman who had come through the door and Hermione filed away the information about Blaise Zabini for later inspection.

While the older generation chatted for a minute, the boys from her school years offered Hermione brief yet polite greetings.

“Mrs. Malfoy, the younger.” Theodore Nott smirked at her while Blaise Zabini muttered, “A pleasure, as always,” before they both moved away, not waiting for the elder Mr. Nott to finish his small talk.

The initial arrival of small groups of guests soon became a veritable crowd, and the queue of people waiting to enter the Manor looked to be never ending, while the names and faces of people she had never met blurred in Hermione's mind.

“Mr. and Mrs. Goyle,” Lucius said, the familiar name piquing Hermione’s interest.

“Welcome, I hope you have a lovely evening.”

Narcissa’s refrain filtered through Hermione’s ears as her focus narrowed on Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe, swaggering up as Goyle’s parents moved into the ball room.

“Lucius!” Crabbe said in what Hermione thought was far too familiar a tone while he pumped Lucius’ hand in an exaggerated fashion. If the tight smile Lucius returned was any indication, he, too, felt it was too familiar a greeting.

“It’s lovely to see you again, Vincent,” Narcissa said in what Hermione knew was her being-polite voice. “And you, too, Gregory, welcome. I hope the two of you have a lovely evening.”

Crabbe, however, either did not or would not take the hint, and instead continued holding firmly to Lucius’ hand.

“Too bad Draco can’t make it tonight, eh?” Crabbe said, and Hermione didn’t think she invented the vindictive glint in his eye.

“Yes, well, needs must,” Lucius replied smoothly, gripping Crabbe’s hand back in what was rapidly becoming an awkwardly long handshake.

“And Rodolphus called away so suddenly,” Crabbe continued, casting a quick look at Hermione.

Hearing Rodolphus’ name mentioned so casually made Hermione’s veins turn to ice while, paradoxically, her heart burned with a vindicating heat. Despite the harsh reminder of her attacker, Hermione realised even if Rodolphus and Bellatrix’s plan had succeeded that night, she had already been pregnant with Draco’s baby. The knowledge gave Hermione a ghoulish sense of triumph, causing her spine to straighten and, though she did not move her lips, she thought she probably did a poor job of keeping the exultant expression from her eyes.

“Oh, yes,” Narcissa was saying with a tinny brightness to her voice. “I heard the two of you boys were working with my brother-in-law these days. How are you liking the new position?”

This time, the look Crabbe levelled at Hermione was slow and calculated, but Hermione met the viciousness in his eyes with calm confidence.

“I find it suits me well,” Crabbe said, still looking at Hermione. “Rodolphus has taken me under his wing, says I have a natural talent for the work. You know, hunting down those who have defied our Dark Lord’s will.”

The phrase ‘hunting down’ made a chill run along Hermione’s spine, but if thoughts of Rodolphus no longer intimidated her, the vague threats of Vincent Crabbe certainly wouldn’t. Hermione looked him up and down with the ghost of a sneer, an expression she had learned from Draco, but said nothing. Crabbe’s face flushed red and he looked as if he wanted to say more, but instead he turned and proceeded into the salon, Goyle following along behind.

“He always was a vile boy,” Narcissa grumbled, while at the same time Lucius muttered, “Just breathe through it.” His voice was low and Hermione couldn't be sure if he meant for her to hear, but she decided to take his advice anyway and focus on breathing.

With so many guests entering, Lucius was frequently passing off conversation to Narcissa as his attention was being pulled away by yet another new arrival. Hermione, for the most part, was not spoken directly to. Rather, she was commented about and around, as guests apparently felt free to discuss everything about her - including but not limited to her appearance, education, upbringing, accomplishments, and, above all, the surprising nature of her new station - all as if she wasn’t standing right there.

“Mrs. Malfoy, Mr. Malfoy.” A rotund belly encroached in Hermione's space and a pudgy hand surprised her by reaching out to grasp hers directly. “And here is the star pupil herself, Hermione Granger!”

“Or, I should say Malfoy,” Horace Slughorn chortled loudly before leaning in toward her. “It is wonderful to see you, Miss Granger.”

Hermione found she was affected by the sincerity in his voice and unusually nostalgic feelings bubbled up around her old professor.

“Doesn't she look well this evening, Poppy?” Slughorn straightened up, his voice regaining its usual, slightly buffoonish joviality as he turned and revealed Madame Pomfrey with a small flourish.

“Quite well,” Madame Pomfrey agreed. “I saw your picture in the papers and, well… you are, aren't you? Quite well, that is?” she asked with a quiet anxiousness that warmed Hermione's already emotional heart.

“Yes, I am.” Hermione nodded quickly. “Quite well.”

“Oh my dear,” Madam Pomfrey said, leaning in suddenly and surprising Hermione with a hug, while whispering directly into her ear, “Are you safe?”

“Yes,” Hermione breathed back.

“Do you need help?” Madam Pomfrey's voice was so muted, Hermione had to concentrate to hear it. “Getting away?”

Hermione stopped breathing. The idea of escape was as tempting as it was unexpected, and Hermione's first instinct was to grasp at the opportunity with all she had. Yet, even as she yearned for freedom with an almost physical force, she felt just as strongly the pull toward Draco and knew, even if there were a way to break the containment charm, she would not leave him behind.

“No,” Hermione whispered with her exhale, “thank you.” She hoped the simple words would be sufficient to convey all the things she could not freely speak.

The answering squeeze and compassionate look from Madam Pomfrey as she released Hermione were acceptance enough.

“Oh, Madam Pomfrey!” Hermione called toward Pomfrey and Slughorn's backs as they turned toward the ballroom together.

“I'm so sorry to intrude, but may I write to you?” Hermione might not be able to leave, but she wasn't about to let the opportunity for contact with the outside world pass her by. “For advice on the new St. Mungo's children's ward?”

A look passed Madam Pomfrey's face - her mouth pursed in the way it had done when she disapproved of injuries obtained by children in the care of ostensibly responsible adults - before she regained control of her expression.

“Yes, of course,” Pomfrey responded graciously. “I would be happy to share what little insight I may have.”

Extending her gratitude and relief to Madam Pomfrey with a smile, Hermione turned back to the ever moving line of guests and spied another familiar, though less friendly, face in the crowd.

“Mr. Parkinson,” Lucius greeted a man with a full head of perfectly styled black hair.

“Pansy, darling.” Hermione couldn't help but hear the affection in Narcissa's voice as she greeted Pansy with a hug. “Was your mother not able to come tonight?”

“Oh, no,” Pansy's father cut across before Pansy could even open her mouth. “My dear Rosie hasn't been feeling herself these past weeks. I've had to send her to Bath for some treatments, but she'll be back with us in no time, I'm certain.”

“I'm so sorry to hear that,” Narcissa murmured.

“Nothing to worry about.” Mr. Parkinson waved off Narcissa's concern. “I've got my Pansy here to keep me company,” he said, patting Pansy's arm with an overly indulgent smile.

Hearing the way Pansy's father spoke about her and her mother disquieted Hermione in a way she could not exactly articulate and a glance at Pansy's stiffly smiling face did little to reassure her.

“Oh, Lucius, I nearly forgot,” Mr. Parkinson said, his face alight with an almost spiteful anticipation. “I've brought a case of Glenfarclas for the host. Here comes my boy with it now.”

Hermione turned, surprised to hear Pansy had a brother, only to be met with the sight of Neville, shouldering a wooden crate up the front steps. Her dress was suddenly too tight and Hermione felt light-headed as she took in the sight of him, dressed in a plain black livery with a faded green shadow across one cheek. Neville's eyes never left the floor as he shuffled up behind Pansy and Mr. Parkinson.

“How generous,” Narcissa said, and Hermione could hear the strain under the cordiality. “If you'll just follow me…”

Hermione couldn't tear her eyes away from the sight of Neville as he trudged along after Narcissa. His eyes briefly flickered up to her as he passed and the hollow hate she saw in them felt like a punch to her stomach.

“Close your mouth.” Hermione heard Lucius’ voice, low and sharp in her ear.

Immediately snapping her mouth shut, Hermione turned to the next visitors, demure face back in place, even as her mind raced, realising she had completely forgotten about Neville - and the other prisoners - while she faffed about in the relative comfort of her own life.

“Indentured?” Hermione dared to ask, under her breath, when Lucius had a brief moment between handshakes. “But I thought…”

“You thought what?” Lucius’ snort was restrained but still patronising. “Ours was the only cellar pressed into service? Your little stunt with Draco might have changed anything? No. All it did was cost me a lot of money,” he spat under his breath, even as his face regained the amiable mask of a host and he reached a hand to greet the next round of attendees.

Hermione knew the oversight had been entirely her own making; she had seen Neville and the other prisoners at the gladiator-like games back on Halloween. Still, she had not connected it with the auction Draco had saved her and the other people in his cellar from. Worse, she had somehow forgotten about them entirely. Thinking back through the evening, Hermione recalled at least half a dozen other people, hanging back from the receiving line, eyes turned toward the floor, wearing plain black clothes. Her heart withered at her own complacency, and she resolved within herself to find some way - any way - to help them.

Though the welcoming line couldn’t have lasted more than an hour, Hermione already felt ready for the night to be over. Feet aching from the height of her heels and cheeks feeling plasticy, a high tittering laugh suddenly made Hermione glad her face was frozen in a polite smile.

“Narcissa, dear!” the pink-clad form of Dolores Umbridge gushed in a song-song voice that was entirely too juvenile.

“Madame Undersecretary Umbridge, so glad you could make it out tonight,” Narcissa, ever the host, welcomed her guest.

“Yes, of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Lovely party as always, Narcissa.” Umbridge's voice was teetering on canine levels of hertz. “You must know how lucky you are to have such an accomplished wife, Lucius. And to see Draco really coming into his own, such a delight!” Umbridge had moved over and offered a limp hand to Lucius.

“Indeed, we are quite proud,” Lucius began, but Umbridge had already turned away from him, looking directly at Hermione.

“And you, my dear,” Umbridge said with a soft saccharinity that made Hermione’s face crystalise. “I wanted to thank you personally for your support of my new children’s ward at St. Mungo’s.”

“Certainly,” Hermione heard herself agreeing. “I find I am a strong believer in accessible, quality healthcare for all magical children.” It was a line she had prepared for the interviews and truly believed - now more than ever - even as her mind protested against Umbridge’s use of the possessive determiner.

“I must admit, it surprised me to hear you are so keen on my project.” Umbridge’s eyes inspected Hermione with an acrid excitement, and Hermione willed herself not to move her hands protectively over her stomach. “But now I see… you are one of the good ones, after all. But of course, the Malfoy’s have always had an eye for quality.” Umbridge giggled, regaining her ingratiating tone that felt all too insincere.

Hermione hoped the brittleness of her smile would not crack as she struggled not to react to Umbridge’s blatant microaggressions and her own abrupt misgivings about the St. Mungo’s project.

“Madam Umbridge,” Lucius interrupted, “I believe you will have the honour of being the final guest to enter the ballroom, it is nearly nine o’clock and I’m afraid I will have to steal my wife away for a dance,” he said smoothly, glossing over the fact that Umbridge was not speaking to Narcissa.

“Oh, dear me.” Umbridge’s simpering made the hairs on Hermione’s neck stand up. “I’ve quite lost track of the time. I’ll make my way through directly.”

With the exit of Umbridge, the entry hall was, in fact, empty of guests and the front doors brought to a close.

“Goodness,” Narcissa breathed, before giving Hermione a questioning look.

Circ*mstances seemed to be spinning faster and faster around her, and Hermione felt she was barely able to keep apace. And, she thought with resignation, the actual ball hadn’t even officially begun yet. Taking her own deep breath, Hermione nodded and, with that, followed Narcissa and Lucius through to their grand entrance.

As soon as they were through the doors, Hermione spied Nott and Zabini subtly moving along the edge of the crowd, following in their wake.

Reaching the edge of the dance floor, Lucius offered his hand to Narcissa and together, they took centre stage. The first chords from the charmed orchestra began to play and Hermione felt Zabini’s arm brush her shoulder as Nott sidled up on her other side.

“You’ve got Granger, then?” Nott murmured over her head.

“I’ve got her. You go get Pansy.” Zabini answered with a taut nod before Nott disappeared back into the crowd.

“What-” Hermione began, but was shushed by Zabini gesturing for her to watch Lucius and Narcissa’s opening dance.

The dance ended in a round of polite applause and soon other couples were taking to the floor. Hermione spied Nott with Parkinson among the first to step out, and she had to admit, Pansy looked much more herself away from her father.

Turning to ask Zabini about Mr. Parkinson, she was surprised to see he had taken a step back and was watching her with an amused expression. Zabini’s eyes flicked to something behind her and she turned to see what it was.

Hermione’s breath caught at the sight of Draco in full dress robes, his face smirking in the way she so loved, his hand extended in invitation.

It felt like a dream, with everything happening in slow motion; the way her heart sped up at the sight of him, the way she placed her hand in his and they walked with their eyes lost in each others’, the way she had a million things to tell him but couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Watching Draco dance from the vantage point of his arms, Hermione knew one thing for certain: in him she saw all the good in the world she wanted to nurture and protect.

Draco quirked a brow as he led her around the dance floor, his lips curling up ever so slightly at the corners, and she felt the unspoken question. All Hermione could do was give him a trembling smile in return and hope that would suffice.

“Are you… okay?” Of all the words Hermione wanted to say, this was all she was able to muster up.

Draco smiled his real smile, pulling Hermione close as he turned them.

“I am. Are you okay?”

Hermione thought Draco looked well - happy to see her even - but still, she felt his eyes search hers for the truths she was hiding.

Hermione nodded slowly.

“I am now,” she whispered.

When the dance was over, and the guests were applauding politely, Draco placed his hand on Hermione’s back and quickly led her over to a floating tray, offering her a glass of champagne. Hermione accepted the glass, but only pretended to sip the bubbly liquid.

Abruptly, Draco took the glass out of Hermione’s hand and ushered her back onto the dance floor.

“Sorry,” he breathed, watching over Hermione’s shoulder. “I just want to avoid my father. He’s not happy with me at the moment.”

Hermione gave Draco a quizzical look, and when he noticed, he gave a small sigh of resignation.

“Strictly speaking, I don’t have permission to be here,” Draco muttered. Then, as Hermione realised she was gasping in alarm, he continued quickly. “I wasn’t expressly forbidden from coming, but I was not officially given permission, either.”

“Draco,” Hermione whispered urgently, “Tom doesn’t seem like the type of person you can ask forgiveness rather than permission from.”

Hermione didn’t miss the way Draco’s mouth twitched just a little.

“I like that you’re worried about me,” he murmured, his nose brushing the side of her face, “but you needn't be. I have everything well in hand: all my responsibilities are safely tucked in for the night; I can spare two hours to dance with my wife.”

A shiver of pleasure danced across Hermione’s skin at hearing Draco’s low voice form the words ‘my wife’, but at the same time, a chill of worry over his responsibilities and choices made her open her mouth. Things being as they were, though, she bit back the.words she wanted to say and simply gave Draco her unimpressed look. Draco laughed, pressing his cheek to hers, turning them both into the next dance, and Hermione let herself lean into the comfort of dancing with her husband, even if their moment was stolen.

They managed three dances before Lucius paused the music to offer a toast. Draco stood close, with his hand wrapped reassuringly around Hermione’s waist as she listened to a room full of people toast a despotic leader and his dogmatic ideology. After all the events of the night, Hermione was filled with renewed determination to tear Tom Marvolo Riddle and all he stood for to the ground.

Lost in her own vengeful plots, Hermione only noticed a change in Lucius’ speech when Draco stiffened beside her. Registering the words ‘my son’, she felt like a spotlight had fallen on them as every face in the ballroom turned toward them in eager anticipation.

Recovering quickly, Draco gave a suave grin and tilt of the head. He grasped Hermione tightly to him before pulling away, his hand brushing along her back, touching her elbow, and trailing down her arm. Draco’s eyes watched hers as he gave her hand a gentle kiss before backing away, her hand still gripping his. Though it was a horribly public display of affection, Hermione couldn’t let go, and so she held onto Draco as long as she could, their fingertips brushing by each others’ as he stepped out of reach.

Watching the rigidity take over Draco’s shoulders as he turned, making his way through the adoring crowd, Hermione knew he had slipped back into the mask of the noble superior he wore so well. Even before Draco finished shaking his father’s hand and acknowledging the crowd’s swelling applause, Hermione felt the presence of Zabini beside her. Nott and Parkinson joined on her other side as she mechanically brought her own hands together.

The Christmas Eve Ball had been intended to show the prosperity of the wizarding world under Voldemort's regime, but, for Hermione, all it had served to do was remind her of the world beyond the Manor. A world which contained atrocities far greater than her own sheltered challenges. A world Hermione vowed she would no longer ignore.

Notes:

So, I've realised I'm halfway through my 14 page outline now... Does that mean we're half way through the story? Or did I take way more notes on the first half? Or will I keep adding more and more as I read your lovely comments and flesh out the details? Or will the pacing feel off, with a smaller part of the timeline taking up the bulk of the chapters? I have no idea! Haha. This is the biggest writing project I've ever taken on and I'm feeling like I'm just along for the ride in a lot of ways. So! There's a lot of set-up in this chapter, but hopefully it all comes together in the end...

To those of you who are sticking with me as we see where this goes, I am truly, madly, deeply in your debt. Thank you for your time and support.

Chapter 25: Brumous Haze

Summary:

Drifting in the brumous haze between wakefulness and sleep, Hermione dreamt she was being held, with a warm hand brushing over her shoulder and running down her arm, fingers lacing through her own to squeeze a greeting. Hermione sighed, content in this cloudland which allowed Draco to be home with her.

Notes:

Welcome friends to another Wednesday and another chapter! Happy reading!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Christmas morning dawned bright and grey, the insistent sun stuck behind a solid bank of clouds forcing its light to refract and illuminate through the gathered vapour. Hermione sat in the window seat in Draco’s room - which she now thought of as their room - and watched the snow-covered landscape slowly come into focus.

The ball had ended uneventfully well past midnight the night before. After Draco was swept away on the tide of Lucius’ showmanship, Hermione spent the rest of the evening dancing with either Nott or Zabini; one of them by her side while the other was with Parkinson at all times. Neville and the other indentured slaves stood in a row behind the bar. Though she tried to catch his eye, he stared, submissively stubborn, at the floor the entire night.

As the evening wound down, Lucius stepped up and offered Hermione the last dance, relieving Draco’s friends of their duty for the night. After, even as guests were still gathering cloaks and wishing the Malfoy’s well, Lucius escorted her to her rooms. Hermione wondered privately if it had been his idea or if someone had suggested it, but either way, she appreciated the added sense of security it offered in the suddenly empty house.

When the sun had fully risen, Hermione decided she had best make an appearance, even if it was the last thing she wanted to do, all things considered. Making her way to the dining room, however, Hermione was surprised to find it dark and empty, and so she redirected her steps to the conservatory. There she found Narcissa, alone at the breakfast table, watching the first flakes of snow begin to fall outside.

“Happy Christmas,” Hermione said, not necessarily because she felt happy, but more because she wanted to let Narcissa know she was there.

“Happy Christmas.” Narcissa turned to Hermione with a smile that looked as tired as it was warm.

With a wave of her hand, Narcissa summoned their regular breakfast onto the table. Hermione paused when she saw her usual plate adorned with a large green and gold wrapped package.

“Oh,” Hermione said, stunned and self-conscious. “I’m so sorry, I haven’t got any gifts-”

“Nonsense,” Narcissa cut across Hermione as she stuttered her apologies. “Of course you would not be able to. In any case, this is neither a gift nor for you, strictly speaking.”

Hermione looked from what was clearly meant to be a Christmas present to Narcissa, feeling rather dubious.

“See for yourself.” Narcissa gestured to the package and Hermione slid into her seat.

Untying the gold ribbon and carefully unwrapping the green paper, Hermione lifted the lid and found inside an entire layette in an array of soft greens, creamy whites, and neutral greys, with a well-loved teddy nestled in the middle. Hermione found she couldn’t speak around the lump in her throat as she reached a finger out to stroke the soft velvet of the teddy’s face.

“I saved all my favourites from when Draco was a baby. I thought you might appreciate them, though I do I apologise there is nothing new-”

“They’re perfect,” Hermione whispered, reaching over the table to place her hand on Narcissa’s arm. “Thank you.”

The rest of their week between the holidays was quiet. Each morning at breakfast, Narcissa had a small token for Hermione - a book on magical pregnancy or child rearing, or a snapshot from when Draco was a baby. Missing her own mother more acutely than ever, Hermione appreciated the gestures immensely, even though she wasn’t sure if it was alleviating her sorrow or reminding her even more of what she was missing.

When Hermione asked after Draco and Lucius one day, Narcissa informed her she didn’t know when they would have a chance to come home again, but Lucius had mentioned they hoped things would settle down in the new year. Realising Lucius hadn’t even stayed the night after the ball - instead returning to London as soon as the guests had left and the Manor had been secured - had Hermione wondering what exactly was so important they couldn’t even floo home for the night.

New Year’s Eve came and, though Narcissa offered to stay up, Hermione found she just couldn’t be bothered. Snuggling into bed that night, she willed herself to sleep.

Drifting in the brumous haze between wakefulness and sleep, Hermione dreamt she was being held, with a warm hand brushing over her shoulder and running down her arm, fingers lacing through her own to squeeze a greeting. Hermione sighed, content in this cloudland which allowed Draco to be home with her.

Cool air washed over her neck as her hair was brushed aside and Hermione’s eyes popped open. She thought her heart had stopped with the shock and she was about to yell or scream or - at the very least - gasp in surprise when she heard Draco’s voice in her ear.

“Happy New Year, Hermione,” he said, nuzzling into the crook of her neck.

His hands, languidly coaxing her from sleep, were suddenly everywhere. Gently grasping her breasts, trailing down her hip to the hem of her sleep shirt, tracing back up along the skin of her legs, stroking insistently at the apex of her thighs.

Hermione relaxed into the sensation, knowing it was Draco, unimagined and wholly there with her. She let her head roll back onto his shoulder and parted her legs, her hips shifting for him. His lips brushed over the skin of her neck and she felt his nose tickle the space behind her ear, a line of pleasure descending across her heart and building up in the centre of her being. Hermione wanted to drown in the moment and cursed herself for not being able to fully let go.

“Wait,” Hermione gasped between breaths, grabbing Draco’s hand between her legs.

“I’ve missed you, Hermione,” he said, and while his hands stopped their exploration, he did not release their pressure on her body.

“I’ve missed you, too, Draco.” Hermione felt his lips curve into a smile against her skin and arched into the gentle scrape of his stuble on her neck.

Hermione had pictured telling Draco about their baby a thousand different ways, but none of the envisioned scenarios involved this type of tension, and she could not focus her thoughts into actual words. With a gentle squeeze, Hermione dragged Draco's hand up, under the sleep shirt she had stolen from him, over the small bump of her belly which she had begun to notice the last few days.

Though she could not see his face, Hermione could almost hear Draco’s mind turning as his fingers gently caressed her skin under the guidance of her hand. She felt the moment understanding dawned in his mind as Draco’s entire body froze behind her, his hand suddenly icy in her grip. The next instant Hermione felt adrift in the cool night air, Draco’s touch leaving with reflexive speed as he lurched away from her.

“What the hell, Granger?” Draco’s words sounded choked.

“What-” Hermione’s head felt foggy, dipping for a moment back into a dream, before her mind caught up, igniting her indignation.

“What do you mean, ‘what the hell Granger’?” Hermione spat, sitting up and pulling the shirt back down over herself. “What the hell, Malfoy?!” she practically yelled, throwing her hands toward him.

“How-” Draco sputtered, staring wild-eyed at Hermione’s stomach. “We- Once!” Draco looked up at Hermione, and if she wasn’t so angry, she might have taken pity on the panicked expression she saw there. “It was just the once!”

“I’m aware,” Hermione said flatly, but Draco didn’t seem to hear her, the way he was tugging at his hair and staring at her belly again.

“Once,” he repeated, dazed. Then looking up at her with his lip curled and a hard, accusing look in his eye, “How could you let this happen?”

Hermione was stunned, of all the ways she had envisioned Draco reacting to the news, this had not even crossed her mind. Though she thought she was, in all likelihood, utterly devastated by his response, Hermione refused to let him see her cry, she would not let him have that power over her.

“How could I-” she started, then redirected, shooting the question back at him. “How could you let this happen?”

Without fully giving Draco a chance to respond, Hermione let her thoughts flow, tainted as they were with accusation.

“Everything I had in the cellar was given me by you. Every single thing. Even here, now, nearly all I have is at your will and pleasure.”

“My will and pleasure?” Draco let out a single, humourless laugh. “I have no will of my own. Certainly no pleasure.”

Draco’s sneering face was so reminiscent of the one she had punched in third year, Hermione was very nearly tempted to do it again.

“Besides, you’re the one with the- and the-” he gestured toward her vaguely. “Don’t you have a monthly reminder to, you know, remind you to be careful of these things?”

Hermione gaped for a moment before realising he was serious.

“For your information, a woman’s monthly reminder will stop ‘reminding’ if she is under too much stress. Apparently, starving in the woods while being hunted, then getting caught and tortured and subsequently imprisoned counts as ‘too much stress’. Also, apparent by my current condition, I was about to ‘be reminded’ when you waltzed into the dungeon.”

“I can’t-” Draco shook his head, standing from the bed. “I can’t be here.”

Hermione felt each step he took away from her like a rubber band, waiting for the pain that would come when the tension finally snapped.

Roughly grabbing at the black robes hanging off the back of a chair, Draco swung them over his shoulders. An acrid smell wafted across the room with the swish of the fabric, and Hermione’s sensitive stomach reacted as it generally did.

Within seconds, Hermione was kneeling at the toilet, the routine so practised it happened automatically. Closing her eyes, she pushed her hair back from her face and gathered it to one side even as she retched. Reaching to pull the chain without having to look, she stood and turned, washing her face and mouth in the sink. Drying her face with a towel, Hermione looked up and was surprised to see the pale pointed face of Draco, watching her in the mirror.

He opened his mouth and closed it, no words coming out, as Hermione turned to him. Crossing her arms over herself, she leaned back on the sink and Draco at least had the decency to look away.

“Are you… not okay, obviously, but, well, I mean…” he rambled, before taking a breath and looking back to Hermione, concern and fear and remorse all jumbled up with other indecipherable emotions on his face. “Have you been this sick? The whole time?”

“I’m just fine,” Hermione said, sharpening her words with the icy betrayal she felt. “Don’t let it concern you, Malfoy.”

Not waiting to watch her words land, Hermione tried to brush past Draco and meant to leave his room altogether, but Draco wouldn’t budge, catching her wrist as she tried to get around him.

“Hermione.” Draco’s voice held a pleading note she tried very hard to ignore. “I’m sorry.”

Hermione chanced a glance up at Draco’s face. Huffing in annoyance at her own inability to turn down the supplication she saw there, Hermione pulled her wrist out of Draco’s grasp and he let her go.

“I’m sorry. So sorry. I reacted badly. Can we please have a do-over?”

Angry at the relief she felt that he could at least recognize and admit his poor behaviour, while also still feeling the sting of rejection, Hermione crossed her arms back over her chest, refusing to look at Draco, but relented a little, nodding once.

Before she even fully dipped her chin, Hermione felt Draco’s arms awkwardly embracing her around her protective stance. Relentlessly, he pulled her into his warmth, manoeuvring their bodies until he could press her tightly against him.

“Happy New Year, Hermione,” he said, nuzzling into the hair on top of her head. “I’ve missed you.”

Hermione sighed at the literal do-over he was enacting, and softened, just a bit more.

“Happy new year, Draco,” she said, feeling suddenly very tired. Dropping her arms to her side, she let him close even that distance between them. “I’ve missed you, too.” Hermione hated the truth - and the tears - she felt with the words.

“How have you been?” Draco asked, drawing a patient hand up and down her spine. “Anything new happening?”

Hermione huffed a wet almost-laugh into Draco’s shirt before giving in and wrapping her arms around his middle.

“I’ve been rather sick, actually,” she started. “See, this dolt of a boy came up with a brilliant plan to free a dungeon full of prisoners, but failed to remember the contraceptive charm and, in the process, impregnated me.”

Hermione smiled when she felt the rumble of Draco chuckling through his chest.

“I suppose I deserve that,” he said, the good humour barely dampening the concern on his face when Hermione pulled back and looked up at him.

“Yes, you do.”

“How are you, really?” Draco asked, brushing back a lock of hair which had stuck to the wet skin below Hermione's eye.

“Alright.” Hermione shrugged, playing with a button on Draco’s shirt. “Nauseous,” she continued, still watching the button as she fiddled with it. “Scared,” she admitted quietly.

Draco’s arms tightened around her, and Hermione found herself squashed against his chest.

“Me too,” he whispered, and Hermione could feel him shaking slightly. “I’m so bloody scared.”

Hermione stepped back fully and looked at him for a moment. Seeing enough of what she needed to see, Hermione reached for Draco’s hand and led him back to their bed. Safely tucked in under the covers, facing each other in the darkness, Hermione watched Draco and he watched her.

“How long?” Draco was the first to break the quiet. “Have you known?”

“About a week before Christmas,” Hermione said after a breath. “Your mother realised it first, actually, and had to tell me.”

“My mother knows?”

Hermione nodded.

“At the ball…” Draco looked at her with such a confused imploring look.

“I knew then,” Hermione confirmed. “I wanted to tell you. I could barely talk to you, I was so worried about what would come out. But I couldn’t, not with all those people around.” She hoped Draco would understand.

“Gods, Hermione, what am I going to do?” Draco rolled onto his back, his arm covering his eyes. “I can barely protect you, how am I supposed to keep a baby safe?”

Hermione lifted herself on one elbow and looked down at Draco’s face, half hidden by his arm, before she nuzzled into his side, allowing herself to enjoy the feeling of Draco’s arm wrapping around her shoulders.

“We stop him, Draco,” Hermione whispered into the skin under his jaw. “We stop Tom Riddle. It’s the only way any of us will be safe.”

Draco laughed and the bitterness of the sound made Hermione flinch, but Draco flexed his arm, holding her fast to his side.

“Oh, sure, just add it to my list,” he said sarcastically. “First, be a good son and take the mark, Draco. Then, be a good soldier and kill Dumbldore, Draco. Now, be a good father, Draco, find a way to stop someone who literally won’t stay dead.”

“But there is a way to kill him,” Hermione sat up, yanking Draco’s hand off his face, forcing him to look at her. She had kept the information to herself for so long, relying on Dumbledore’s judgement to keep the secret close, but couldn’t bring herself to hide the truth of it any longer.

“Have you heard of horcruxes?” she asked, watching Draco’s face carefully as he searched hers in return.

Draco shook his head back and forth, and Hermione gripped his wrist tighter in her hand.

“It’s dark magic,” she started, then explained the whole of the situation: all the information she knew for certain, the research she had been conducting in the library, every unconfirmed theory she had.

“So,” Draco said slowly when Hermione had finished, “all we have to do is find these objects, destroy them, and then he can be killed? Truly, permanently, irrevocably killed?”

Hermione nodded and Draco laughed a real, bright laugh.

“Is it absolutely insane that I feel relieved?” The genuine gladness in his voice made Hermione laugh along with him. “Of all the impossible things… This actually seems possible. Difficult - ridiculously difficult - but actually possible.”

As Hermione smiled down at Draco's infectious hope, the little clock on the mantle began to chime.

“It’s midnight.” Hermione glanced at the clock as it struck its second note. “The new year.”

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” Draco lifted one eyebrow, smirking up at Hermione in the way that made her insides jump for joy.

“I’ll take a cup of kindness yet,” Hermione murmured.

The last seconds of the old year were still chiming when she made up her mind. Leaning forward, Hermione pressed her lips to his in a chaste kiss, sealing her desire to let go the old and welcome in the new.

“For auld lang syne my dear.” Draco’s lips brushed Hermione’s as he spoke. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her firmly down on top of him and kissed her back.

The gentleness of their promise soon gave way to a flood of desire. Draco’s hand pressed up Hermione’s back, his fingers tangling in her hair. The faint sting on her scalp as he tightened his grip made Hermione gasp with longing. Not wasting the opportunity, Draco swept his tongue between her parted lips before taking Hermione’s bottom lip between his teeth, not biting, just holding it there.

The feeling of being possessed by Draco as he wrapped himself around her from head to toe made Hermione’s body yearn to be fully consumed by him. Her hips rolled of their own accord, reaching out, seeking a friction she could not give herself.

The motion set off something in Draco and he released her lip with an audible groan. His head fell back to the pillow as his own hips moved against Hermione, and she ached for the feeling of his hardness inside her.

Witnessing desire in the dilation of his eyes, Hermione pleaded with a whisper, and Draco surged up, divesting them of their clothes and inverting their positions. Wreathed in downy bedding, Hermione savoured the weight of Draco’s body and let his gravity encompass her entire being.

Holding her close to his chest, Draco pressed inside her, a slow and deliberate apology. Hermione opened herself to him, accepting and forgiving everything. Feeling their bond restored with the strength of new promise, they paused at the fullness of the moment. The vulnerable adoration Hermione saw in Draco's eyes made her simultaneously rejoice for things as they were and mourn for the way they should have been.

Draco held Hermione tightly to him, and Hermione matched his desperation. With her arms around him, she felt the muscles in his back contract with each measured thrust, savouring the movement of his flesh and bones under her hands, glorying in the strength of his convictions as he moved within her. Following each other over the edge, they clung to one another, trusting in their mutual embrace to collect the pieces of themselves as they shattered.

Hermione’s skin prickled under the sheen of their sweat as Draco rolled to the side. With his head coming to rest on her shoulder and their legs still entwined, the feeling of Draco’s hand, brushing over her stomach, made Hermione’s heart ache. Combing her fingers through his hair, she scratched at his scalp and tried to catch her breath. Soon, his tentative strokes and swirls gained a pattern and Hermione watched Draco’s fingers paint the runes for gift and joy over the place where their baby grew.

Notes:

Whew, that part in the middle was hard to write, haha. Poor babies, they really are still just kids, so I think they each deserve a moment to freak out a bit, even if it's painful. We all have the potential to hurt or be hurt by others (intentional or not), mostly by the people we love the most. But, I think good relationships are more about repair and forgiveness than they are about not making mistakes. I like "can I have a do-over?" or "let me try again"... any others you guys use with success?

Anyway! In this timeline, Hermione is 19 and Draco is still 18, so they're not technically underage, but definitely dealing with teen pregnancy, maybe that should be a tag???

Also, I've got some IRL projects I need to focus on the next few weeks, so I'm going to be taking a step back from writing, but I promise I'll be back. It feels like this story is demanding to be released into the world; once I've written a scene, it no longer invades my thoughts as I lie in bed, so I know the only way out is through (and I mean that in the best way!)

Thanks, lovies, see you soon!

Chapter 26: Already Angry

Summary:

“Promise you won’t be angry?” he whispered, his focus on the ceiling, away from her.

“I’m already angry,” Hermione said, propping herself up on one elbow.

The way he sucked in a breath, quickly, and squeezed his eyes closed, Draco looked as though he had been struck. Hermione saw the tension in his neck, watched the tendon move in his jaw, and hated to be the cause of it.

“But I’m not angry with you,” she said softly.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Lulled by the warmth of their bodies and the rhythm of their breathing, Hermione drifted in and out of sleep. Waking when Draco shifted to tuck her head under his chin; dozing off again when she rolled to her side, nuzzling into his chest; rousing again and then sighing with relief as he pulled the blankets over their cooling bodies; smiling softly when Draco’s sleepy fingers traced gentle runes onto her belly.

Feeling snug and content as weak rays of sun began to light up the first day of the new year, Hermione allowed herself to be happy. Snuggling close to Draco, she waited to drift off again. A thought, floating almost innocently through her mind, caused her eyes to open wide, taking all possibility of sleep away with it. By the deep evenness of his breathing, she knew Draco was still asleep, and, not wanting to wake him, Hermione tried to content herself with letting her thoughts drift, eddy, and swirl through the early morning light.

It was only a few moments later when Draco’s voice surprised her, groaning with a desolate sounding “No!” Eyes still closed, he rolled, arms and legs spread wide, pinning Hermione beneath him, muttering, “It’s too early, you barmy witch. Go back to sleep.”

“What-?” Hermione huffed half a laugh and squirmed beneath the heat of his weight.

“I can feel the neurons firing in your brain.” Draco’s voice was still gravely with sleep and blankets. “I‘m surprised your hair hasn’t caught fire from all the electrical activity going on in there,” he mumbled, lifting his head and pulling some of said hair from his mouth before wrapping his arms and legs around her, trussing her up so she couldn’t move.

Hermione couldn’t help it, she giggled - actually giggled - and, though she couldn’t turn off her thoughts, she did try to relax so Draco could sleep longer. It did not appear to work, however.

“Alright, out with it,” Draco said with a deep sigh, seemingly resigned to wakefulness.

“It’s alright,” Hermione tried to sound unconcerned, hoping to give him a few more minutes of rest. “Go back to sleep.”

Draco’s head raised and the look he gave her - the quirk of his lips with his sleep tousled hair and unconvinced laughing eyes - was enough to make her almost giggle again. Reaching up to brush her hand through his hair, Hermione thought for a moment.

“What is your assignment?” she finally asked, watching the strands of his hair arrange smoothly between her fingers.

Hermione could practically feel the question rebounding through his head as he pulled away from her. She watched the shining warmth of his grey eyes empty and tarnish as he rolled onto his back. He was quiet and Hermione waited.

“Promise you won’t be angry?” he whispered, his focus on the ceiling, away from her.

“I’m already angry,” Hermione said, propping herself up on one elbow.

The way he sucked in a breath, quickly, and squeezed his eyes closed, Draco looked as though he had been struck. Hermione saw the tension in his neck, watched the tendon move in his jaw, and hated to be the cause of it.

“But I’m not angry with you,” she said softly, tracing the lines of his face, willing the strain to slacken under her fingertips. “I’m angry that you’ve been put in this position; angry with the people who’ve forced you to compromise yourself in order to keep your family safe. I am very angry. But I’m not angry with you.”

Draco opened his eyes just a fraction and looked at her sideways, assessing her sincerity, before he closed them again.

“I have the muggle Prime Minister under the imperius curse,” he said, and the flatness of his voice told Hermione he must be occluding. “Apparently, I have a natural talent for it.”

“Well, that’s not so bad.” Hermione said aloud the first thought that popped into her head; she had honestly expected something far worse.

Eyes snapping open, Draco looked at her, incredulous.

“Not so bad? It’s literally unforgivable,” he said, his lip curling in disdain. “And here I was, thinking you wouldn’t assume the worst of me.”

“I am not assuming the worst of you. I’m assuming the worst of Tom and Rodolphus and Bellatrix,” Hermione said, feeling defensive. “It’s not as though you’re holding children hostage or- directing Rodolphus’ ‘hunting trips’ or- I don’t know! Systematically exterminating muggle-borns or- or- something. On the scale of ‘better or worse’, the imperius curse really doesn’t seem so bad.”

“Well, when you put it like that.” Draco sounded disgusted. “No, it's not so bad.”

Hermione couldn't tell if his disgust was directed toward her or himself.

“But it is still unforgivable,” he repeated bitterly. “Taking away people’s agency? Their every thought and feeling and choice? I’m taking away their self-hood - their very humanity.”

“It may be classified as an Unforgivable Curse, but there are more than three unforgivable things in this world,” Hermione said, feeling her latent anger begin to bubble to the surface.

“What could you possibly know of unforgivable, Hermione?”

The way Draco’s mouth sneered around her name made Hermione almost take back her earlier words about not being angry with him. She looked at Draco for a moment before deciding this was not a moment to hold back on the truth.

“I obliviated my parents,” she said, forcing her voice to remain steady despite the shaking she felt inside her. “I removed myself from their memories and sent them away so they wouldn't be targeted by my association. I may not have performed one of the three ‘unforgivable’ curses, but I took away their self-hood, more permanently than you do with your imperiouses. And,” Hermione swallowed, feeling her fragile anger break apart to reveal the grief beneath. “It took something from me to do it, something I don't know if I can ever get back.”

As quickly as the sunlight burst over the horizon, surprise and concern replaced the scorn and resentment on Draco's face. Reaching for Hermione, he tugged her down into his arms.

“I had no idea,” he said into her hair. “I’m so sorry.”

“I don't want to talk about it,” Hermione said, shaking her head. “I just want you to know. It’s like you’ve said: no one is good or bad, right or wrong. We’re all just better and worse. And trying our best.”

They were quiet for a moment, resting in the calm that had very nearly been a storm.

“The emergency before Christmas, when my father and I were called away? It was because the leader of the opposition was calling for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister and it looked as though he had the votes to push it through,” Draco said, making his own offering of honesty.

“We were able to twist the situation to our advantage though.” Draco sighed and Hermione hated the weariness she heard in the sound. “We used the crisis to stoke nationalistic sentiment and enact emergency powers for the Prime Minister.”

Hearing details about Draco’s assignment and witnessing the cracks in his facade, Hermione realised the situation was worse than she had initially thought. If Tom was controlling the Ministry of Magic and the muggle Parliament, he could easily push through any legislation he wanted.

“What does he want emergency powers for the Prime Minister for?” she asked aloud, though she knew her history books had already answered this question for her.

“My guess?” Draco answered anyway, looking at her blankly. “To rule from the shadows in perpetuity. Have wizards come out of hiding and relegate muggles to lives of abject servitude. I’m sure I’ll find out the specifics soon enough. In comparison to all that, the imperious really doesn't seem so bad,” he finished, looking back up to the ceiling.

“Draco, I'm sorry,” Hermione whispered, tucking herself into his side. “I didn’t think… I shouldn’t have treated it lightly. It sounds…”

“Unforgivable?” Draco asked, darkly amused, as his arms around her, secure in their togetherness. “But, you're right, too. Things could be worse.”

Feeling grateful for the small bit of wry facetiousness returning to Draco’s voice, Hermione smiled, even if her lips felt heavy.

“Besides,” Draco said, brightening suddenly. “Tom isn’t actually immortal; we could manage to end this all someday. It’s not completely hopeless.”

The speed of Draco’s swinging moods left Hermione feeling dizzy, and she briefly worried about his mental health before a cynical laugh escaped her: of course he wasn’t entirely in his right mind; sanity could not possibly be expected amidst so much insanity.

They dallied so long in bed - enjoying one another’s company and silently avoiding breakfast with his parents - that Sukey had been sent to summon them. Entering the dining room, Hermione felt every synonym of apprehensive, and seeing Lucius and Narcissa already seated at the table did nothing to soothe her worries. Narcissa had her usual placid face perfectly in place, but Lucius looked livid, staring Draco down as soon as they stepped into the room.

“Good morning, Mother,” Draco said calmly as he pulled Hermione’s chair out for her. “Father,” he acknowledged, sitting down in his own chair.

“Don't you good morning me,” Lucius started without preamble. “Of all the impulsive, imbecilic-”

“Ah, so Mother has told you the news, then,” Draco said, placing his napkin in his lap with a flourish. “Generally speaking, a simple congratulations would suffice.”

“We are not speaking generally.” The colour of Lucius’ face darkened and Hermione watched the pulsing vein in his forehead with detached fascination. “We are speaking specifically. Specifically about you and your ill-conceived-”

The look of disgust Lucius threw at Hermione made her stomach turn. Her hands moved instinctively over her belly.

“Actually, I’d say it was rather well conceived,” Draco cut across, and Hermione couldn't believe he would choose now, of all times, to needle his father with double entendre. “I admit, I may have overlooked a detail or two, but on the whole, it was incredibly well conceived.”

Lucius looked positively revolted. “I taught you better than this,” he spat.

Hermione sat very still, feeling a cold sweat gather over her skin. She hadn’t expected Lucius to take the news particularly well, but he seemed to tolerate her presence in their lives and she had hoped he would accept the baby as his grandchild. His reaction, however, made her worry she had been mistaken. Perhaps he had only been waiting for a quiet opportunity to get rid of her after all.

“I am your only heir, it has always been the expectation that I would carry on the line,” Draco reasoned, and it made Hermione feel a bit better that Draco, too, seemed taken aback by Lucius’ vehemence. “And Hermione is my wife, we would have had a child at some point.”

This surprised Hermione, to hear Draco had thought about - even expected - they would have a child together one day. She found herself looking at him with ever increasing respect, realising he regularly calculated his actions from positions she never thought to consider. Allowing, of course, for the one glaring omission.

Not like this.” Lucius’ sneer cut sharp as a knife as he looked between them, his eyes piercing Hermione as they came to rest on her. “Not like this.”

“I know you had different plans for the future of this family.” Draco’s face grew still as he looked squarely at his father. “But I assure you, Hermione is as much a witch as any pure-blooded girl could ever hope to be, and I have no doubt she will be a wonderful mother. In fact, I’ve been reading up on genetics and-”

“No,” Lucius said through clenched teeth. “No one can know about this.”

“Actually,” Draco pivoted again, meeting each of Lucius’ arguments with thoughtful logic. “I think this plays rather well into the love story we’ve been spinning and-”

“No!”

Hermione jumped as the word roared out of Lucius’ mouth, his fist pounding the table top, dishes rattling with the force of his outrage. She glanced at Narcissa, looking for reassurance, but Narcissa was watching Lucius with such devotion, Hermione wondered if he hadn’t somehow changed her mind.

Lucius’ hands tensed over the table, looking like they wanted to claw or strangle something - Hermione thought it was probably her - before he brought them to his head. The dining room filled with dense silence as they all watched him sitting there, elbows on the table, head bowed, fingers pulling at his hair.

When Lucius looked up, his eyes were red and he met Draco’s gaze with a desperation that took Hermione’s breath away.

“No one can know about your baby,” he said in a hoarse voice. “If the Dark Lord finds out, he will use it against you. He will hold the life of your child ransom in exchange for your obedience. You will find yourself doing anything he asks to keep your family safe from him. Anything. Everything.”

The emotion Lucius displayed held the attention of everyone in the room. Looking around at each person in turn, Hermione beheld their shared pain: the stoic weight of realisation borne by Draco’s shoulders, the fervent shine in Narcissa’s eyes, and the raw agony in Lucius’ face gave Hermione new understanding and she couldn't help but feel reverence for the multitudes they each contained.

It made her realise even more acutely the damage Draco was being forced to do - not least to himself - with the imperious curse.

Clearing his throat, Lucius carded his fingers through his long hair and rolled his shoulders.

“Now that is settled,” he said, attempting to regain his typical, slightly affronted sneer, “I have something for you.”

The cold Hermione had been feeling suddenly flushed under Lucius’ gaze, and she couldn’t stop her eyes from darting around the room, hoping he would relent and direct his attention elsewhere. Her hopes were not to be, however, as Lucius placed a small object, wrapped in a handkerchief, on the table in front of her.

“I had this portkey commissioned some time ago. It will get you through the anti-travel wards covering the UK,” he said, gesturing to the object on the table, but Hermione was already shaking her head.

“I won’t leave without Draco,” she said in a small but determined voice.

“Draco has a tracking beacon inked into his skin.” Lucius’ barely contained rage exploded back into the air. “There is no place on earth he could go where the Dark Lord will not find him.”

Hermione was about to argue back again, but Draco’s hand on the back of her shoulder made her turn to him. Unwilling to parse out the emotions she saw in his face as he looked at her, Hermione could plainly see this was a battle she would not win.

“Please, Hermione, take the portkey,” he said. “I can’t leave, so I'll stay and finish the project you started - the one you told me about last night. And, I’ll be at peace, knowing the two of you are safe.”

Hermione couldn’t say anything. Her heart ached, knowing Draco had resigned and condemned himself to this life of dangerous servitude and clandestine defiance. And he was doing it all so their child could live in a world free from the fears and cruelty he faced daily.

She turned back to Lucius and nodded, accepting the portkey with wavering fingers. Unwrapping the handkerchief a bit, she saw a plain silver thimble nestled in the fabric.

“You will keep this portkey on you at all times. If the Dark Lord ever permits you outside the Manor -outside the containment charm- for any reason, you will activate the portkey and disappear completely,” Lucius said, frustration still visible in his eyes as he stared Hermione down. Turning to Narcissa, he softened considerably.

“I am sorry, my dear,” Lucius said, regret leaking from his words, “but I had it keyed into Sukey’s magic. If the portkey is activated, Sukey will automatically be taken along as well.”

It stunned Hermione to realise Lucius was giving her the portkey he had intended for Narcissa’s escape. Her heart swelled, and maybe even felt some amount of empathy, seeing more clearly the love Lucius had for his wife and son and, ultimately, his grandchild.

Narcissa, it seemed, was torn between showing affection for her husband and trying to maintain the dignity she so clearly relied upon.

“Nonsense, dear. Of course Hermione should have Sukey with her, she will need the help should she manage to get away. I will be quite alright here on my own.” Narcissa’s eyes were shining, but she blinked rapidly and waved a graceful hand in the air, brushing off Lucius’ concerns.

“I’ll need a wand,” Hermione said quietly, thinking of the one thing she truly would need.

“That won't be necessary,” Lucius replied with a forced casualness Hermione did not understand. “Narcissa has told me of your wandless capabilities. You will have no trouble activating the portkey without a wand.”

Pausing briefly, Hermione was disconcertingly certain Lucius had just paid her a compliment - if a begrudging one - but that was not exactly what she had meant.

“I didn’t mean for the portkey,” she said carefully. “I am confident in my magic, even wandless, but I will need a wand for more complex and sustained warding and protection.”

Meeting Lucius’ gaze across the table, she saw he agreed with her, and the fact that he agreed annoyed him.

“I can make some discreet inquiries,” he said with a sigh, “but there is a severe shortage of wands in Britain right now, and I cannot imagine procuring an unregistered one. No matter how many galleons I offer.”

Hermione almost began to feel let down when Narcissa spoke up.

“I can get an unregistered wand,” she said, and Hermione thought she sounded a little offended that no one had thought to ask her. “There are at least half a dozen in the Black family vault.”

Everyone at the breakfast table sat in stunned silence, looking at Narcissa.

“I have been granted permission to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony at St. Mungo’s in a fortnight. I’ll stop by Gringotts beforehand under the guise of returning the jewellery from the ball and bring a few wands home for you to try,” she said, looking at Hermione for the first time that morning.

“That would be lovely.”

Hermione grinned at Narcissa and something passed between them, an implicit understanding of the tragic humour that their contributions were both overlooked and undervalued. Still, Hermione felt buoyant with the support of the people around her, and as she clutched the thimble in her hand, she vowed within herself to free them all from the weight of their invisible snares, even if she had to do it from far away and by herself.

Notes:

I was able to sneak this chapter in amongst all the summertime activities we have going on over here in our neck of the woods, but I'm not sure when I'll get the next one out. I (naively) thought I'd have tons of time to write once my kids were out of school for the summer... I know, I know, rookie mistake! So, here's to waiting another month for the next chapter! And thank you for sticking with me through it all!

One Thin Line - AlisVolatPropriis5 - Harry Potter (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Amb. Frankie Simonis

Last Updated:

Views: 5362

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Amb. Frankie Simonis

Birthday: 1998-02-19

Address: 64841 Delmar Isle, North Wiley, OR 74073

Phone: +17844167847676

Job: Forward IT Agent

Hobby: LARPing, Kitesurfing, Sewing, Digital arts, Sand art, Gardening, Dance

Introduction: My name is Amb. Frankie Simonis, I am a hilarious, enchanting, energetic, cooperative, innocent, cute, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.