Hello! Well, this has been a long time coming. I've been so busy lately- I'm very sorry. Anyway, I hope you'll like this chapter!
Harry and Ginny led her through a dedalus of stone corridors, sloping down as they went. Hermione tried to remember the path they took, and failed as they twisted and turned and took lefts and rights. Finally, they arrived in a cavern and Hermione gasped.
They were standing on a rock ledge overlooking the entire cavern, which was immense enough to lodge the entire capital in it, royal palace included. A large hole was carved into the ceiling above a huge lake, permitting rare and precious rain water to level it. Stone buildings, mostly quaint houses, peppered the landscape, dotted by fields- actual fields of grass, wheat, barley and corn. Fruit trees ran around the cavern, rich with plums, pears, apples and pomegrenates. Large corrals held horses, donkeys and cows, sheep and pigs, goats and chicken. People were going about their daily activities all around the town- women were carrying babies and scolding children, filling wooden buckets at the lake, picking fruit and tending to the livestock. Men were ploughing the fields, harvesting crops, climbing tall ladders to light the torches on the walls, building new stone structures. Children were running around, giggling and playing, sometimes earning themselves an ear-pulling from a busy adult they were bothering. Hermione could barely breath. It was stunning. A whole town, unknown to the world, an entire community of the surviving victims of her father's cruel reign lived here, worked here, played here, were born and grew and died here. And all of this- all of this was thanks to the very man she hated more than anyone.
She looked at Harry and Ginny in amazement and they grinned at her.
"You've got to be joking," she breathed in awe.
Harry chuckled as they guided her down a steep path carved into the rock running around the cavern. They reached the bottom a moment later and strolled through the City, mostly ignored in the hustle and bustle of the citizens' daily lives. Hermione had never had the occasion to stroll throughout town: her sole visit of the captail of her father's kingdom had been when she was abducted by Blaise and Theodore. She slowed down, eyes widening in amazement, as they passed a bakery, and admired the goods, the delicious scent of freshly made bread wafting through the air.
"Is it the same up there?" she asked, turning to her companions with wide eyes. "Around the palace, elsewhere...are there shops like this one? Are there so many people walking in the streets?"
She missed Harry and Ginny's telling glance to one another and the redhead softly nodded.
"Yes. It's even bigger up there, although the Royal Guard rules the streets like a torture house," she murmured.
Hermione frowned at that.
"Hey! Hey, lady!"
The brunette turned around as she heard a small voice, and noticed a bunch of children streaking towards them. Several bumped into Ginny's legs, screaming in delight, and she ruffled their hair playfully, whilst Harry hoisted two of the younger ones onto his shoulders as they laughed uncontrollably. Hermione's breath was taken away.
This is what life should look like, she thought. Not the haunting scenes she had seen outside the palace the night of her abduction, where people were whipped by frustrated guards. She wondered with unease how many people had paid the ultimate price for her disappearance that night...
A tug on her skirt brought her out of her uncomfortable thoughts and she looked down at a pretty, wide-eyed girl, no older than six or seven.
"Hey lady," the child exclaimed again with a confident grin, and she couldn't help but return it. "You're the Princess!"
The other kids whipped around, eyes growing wide, and Hermione noticed the sudden hush around them as the adults in the area who had heard the little girl turned to watch, some frowning, some clearly uneasy. The other children stopped playing with Harry and Ginny- that they obviously knew well- and started chattering all at once. However, when she spoke, the children stopped talking, eagerness etched on their little, endearing faces.
"I am," she replied brightly, crouching down to the child's level, "and you are?"
"I'm Victory," the girl answered before adding, suddenly shy: "You're very beautiful."
"Thank you, Victory," Hermione grinned. "You're very beautiful too."
"My papa often tells me stories about princesses and knights," Victory breathed. "In papa's stories, princesses are always pretty. Just like you."
"And you," Hermione pointed out. "You could be a princess too. Actually, I'm sure you're a princess in disguise, aren't you?"
Victory giggled playfully, delighted at the game.
"Shhh," she said, "don't tell anyone!"
"Yes, of course, Your Highness," Hermione replied in an amused voice. "We can't have you discovered, now can we?"
"No," Victory replied, affecting a regal tone and sticking her nose up in the air, "that won't do."
Hermione and Victory giggled together, and another little girl suddenly appeared at Victory's side.
"Is it true that the Royal Palace is made of gold? My sister swears it is."
"Well your sister is partly right," Hermione answered, "it has golden roofs."
"Like our roof?" the girl pointed to the cavern dome, and Hermione's heart sank for a moment as she was reminded of where they were. This was all her family's doing. Would these children feel, one day, the kiss of the wind upon their skin? Would they gaze at a bright blue summer sky? Would they hear the songs of birds in the early morning?
Why were they here? What horrors had they and their families endured to be driven into the safe jail that was Slytherin's Pit?
"Yes, darling," she murmured. "Like y-like our roof."
"Is it true that you're going to rule soon and that we'll be able to live in our old house again?" a little boy moved forward, looking at her in awe, as though she was some saviour.
"I..." she licked her lips as the children gazed at her expectantly. She glanced around, all of a sudden aware of the large crowd that was rapidly forming as the people came to see their princess, some faces wary, others curious, others openly hostile. She noticed that Ginny and Harry were watching the conversation closely, and Harry's hand rested loosely on the hilt of his sword, as though he was prepared to use it to protect her if need be.
"Where did you hear such a story?" she asked the little boy.
"From our papa," Victory interrupted the boy excitedly. "Liberto is my twin brother. Papa says that the King is a horrible man but that the Princess is nice. And you're the Princess. Papa also says that you'll give freedom back to your people. Is it true?"
Hermione smiled at the twins.
"I'm going to try my best," she whispered.
It was a half-admission. In truth, her decision was already partly made: she would try to help her people to the best of her ability, but she still couldn't bring herself to warrant the violence expected of her. She heard the slight murmur going through the crowd but ignored it.
"Mama was killed by the Royal Guard," Victory announced suddenly, and Hermione's heart stopped beating. "I miss her. Papa says they took her because of Liberto and mine's names. They called it re-re..."
She struggled with the word and her brother interfered.
"Rebellion," he supplied helpfully. "They said mama was a rebel and that was a bad thing to be."
Hermione's heart caught in her throat, but she whispered, trying desperately to dispell the tears in her eyes,
"Sometimes, a rebel is the best thing to be. I'm sure that was your mother's case."
Liberto's eyes lit up.
"That's what papa says too!" he said excitedly. "So it's true then- you'll defeat the evil King and become our Queen and then you'll rule and you'll let me visit the palace and you'll marry the Captain?"
Hermione began giggling, but her breath caught and she blinked in indignation.
"Marry who now?"
"The Captain!" the boy exclaimed. "Patroller Parvati says that the Captain's in love with you and that's why she ended up down here."
"Trust me, sweetheart," Hermione crooned, "I might be ready to go fight for our freedom, but I will not marry the Captain."
To her surprise, the crowd burst out into collective laughter at her blank refusal of Malfoy's hand and she felt a smile tug at her lips.
"Alright now, enough for today," Harry called out, shooing the little ones along. "Go back to your games, and don't bother the grown-ups!"
With the carefree innocence of childhood, the group of young ones skipped off after making Hermione promise that she'd visit again soon. She spent the rest of the day walking around, greeting people, as it seemed that everyone- even the most reluctant of citizens, those who believed her to be just like the King- wanted to speak to her. She answered a thousand questions, dodged a thousand more, shook hands, and was surprised when, on two separate occasions, people hugged her, and one old lady even thrust a basket filled to the brim with fresh cake into her hands, refusing to take no for an answer.
"Well that went well," Harry nodded in satisfaction as the small group returned to his room. He instantly took the basket and began tucking in, delight marring his features at the taste of freshly baked goods.
"They liked me," Hermione whispered in awe, fists clenching and unclenching rythmically. "I can't believe it. They liked me!"
She grabbed her own warm cheeks in her hands, unbelieving.
"I thought they'd hate me," she muttered. "That they'd see the King's daughter in front of them, but they didn't. They saw Hermione."
Ginny grinned at her.
"Why wouldn't they? You're a nice person. The kids saw that at first glance."
Hermione sighed, her joy waning.
"If only I knew what to do," she murmured. "I want to help them, I can't...I can't let them grow up down there, knowing nothing but the underbelly of the earth. If only there was a way, if only Father would accept to put down his crown and give up power peacefully..."
"Hermione," Harry declared, mouth full of cake, "your father is a tyrant. I know that you don't want to hear this- but there is no way that he's going to go down without a fight. The best case scenario you could hope for is this- we take the palace and imprison the King instead of outright killing him."
Hermione's eyes narrowed in distaste, both at Harry's table manners and at his suggestion. However, it did present an opportunity.
"Enjoy your cake, Harry," she muttered, turning for the door. "And your...ah...other activities, the both of you."
Ginny's giggles filled her head all the way back to her room, and she sat in front of the lit hearth of the fireplace, thinking about how desperate the whole situation was.
A little voice rang in her head- her conscience, she decided- reminding her that taking one life could save countless others.
"They love her."
The Council sat in their usual seats, mulling over Harry's declaration. The bespectacled boy was leaning forward, emerald eyes glinting in the candlelight as he tried to catch his Captain's gaze. Draco Malfoy's lip curled in disgust.
"Of course they love her," he spat, "that girl has more charisma than the whole lot of you baboons."
"Hey," Blaise straightened himself, indignation written all over his face, "Crabbe and Goyle aren't the only people in this room, you know."
The dark-skinned man didn't miss the tiny smirk that graced Pansy's features at his joke, and his heart sped up. However, the Captain was speaking again.
"It remains," he drawled, tapping a finger against the wooden table, "that the Princess has not yet pronounced herself in favor of our ideals. She is held back by...morals."
He spat the last word, as though its meaning escaped his narrow mind by a mile, and Ginny couldn't help but snort into her fist. Trust the Captain to consider murdering one's father as an easy decision. And for them, it was easy, after all- he was the King, the direct reason for their misery...and yet, how many of them would be able to step up and do the right thing if it was their own family?
"She's almost there," Harry admitted. "She just needs time."
"Time? I could give her all the time in the world, Potter, and she still wouldn't have made up her mind," Draco answered tersely. "What she needs is a catalyst. Something that will force her into making that decision."
"And if she refuses?"
"If she refuses, she can hang alongside her father."
The Captain's words were harsh and decisive and everyone flinched.
"You don't mean that," Pansy uttered, eyes wide in disbelief. "She's done nothing wrong."
"She has all the proof necessary that her father is an utter bastard, Pansy. If she doesn't act, that makes her an accessory to her father's crimes," Draco answered coolly.
"Ah don' like it," Seamus interfered. "T'Princess is a wee canny lass, Cap'n. We cannit execute 'er for 'er dad's crimes."
"I can and I will," the blond answered, eyes narrowed.
"So let me get this straight," Harry growled. "The Princess- the very girl you want to bed- is going to die by your own hand if she doesn't murder her father?"
The temperature of the cavern descended by several degrees as Draco's face turned icy.
"I wish to what, Harry?"
"Oh, come on," Ginny replied, "everyone knows that you want to-"
She didn't finish that sentence. A knife snapped through the air at full speed- barely a glint in the candlelight- and buried itself in the stone wall behind her, merely a breath from her throat. Ginny's warm brown eyes widened as the cavern grew silent. Draco had barely moved, his position still relaxed on his chair, but he raised an eyebrow expectantly.
"I taught Pansy how to throw blades myself," he reminded those present. "You were saying, Ginny?"
"Nothing," she whispered, subdued.
"Do I want to bed the Princess, Ginny?"
"Mmmh, I didn't think so. Does anyone else here believe I want to bed the Princess?"
Stony silence met his rhetorical question. Draco's lips twisted into a shark-like grin.
"Good," he hissed. "You may leave."
The others stood, leaving the cavern one by one, still silent, until only Ginny and Harry remained. Ginny slipped out of the cavern, and Harry stood, ripping the blade from the wall before presenting it to his leader who slipped it into the folds of his clothes.
"You will never threaten Ginny again," Harry whispered, his voice dripping venom.
"You will be able to threaten me yourself, Harry, when you reach my level of training," Draco retorted coldly. "Both you and Ginny forgot yourselves and who you were speaking to."
"Funny," Harry spat, his voice just as cold. "The Draco Malfoy I know doesn't lie to himself when he wants a pretty lady in his bed."
"I thought I was very clear on that account, Harry Potter-"
"Fine. You don't want her. I get it," Harry soothed with a threatening grin. "But don't worry, Captain. You don't make a move, someone else will."
With that, Harry disappeared, leaving Draco to his own dark thoughts.
She hesitated, debating with herself for a long time, her fist raised, almost touching the wooden panel. Stifling a sigh, she brought her fist down and slowly knocked on the door, three times. A muffled sound reached her, and then the door opened and her heart missed a beat- she had half-hoped that he wouldn't answer the door.
Draco Malfoy stared down at her, disbelief and wariness written all over his face, his mercury eyes narrowing in shock, before a smirk lifted the corner of his perfectly drawn lips.
"Come to try and kill me again, Princess? If you'd like, we could go elsewhere- I'm afraid my bedroom is a bit small to operate in such a manner."
Hermione bit her lip, hesitant, before the mocking glint in his eyes raised her hackles. When she spoke, she marveled that her voice remained strong:
"I want to talk to you."
He assessed her quickly, before standing aside, letting her enter, eyes goading her. Her heart skipped a beat as she stepped into the room, taking in the layout with a quick glance, and he closed the door behind them before walking past her and leaning against his desk- she could guess at the rippling muscles under his tunic, and her mouth grew dry.
"I'm listening, Princess," he drawled, and she jumped slightly, startled.
"Yes," she muttered. "Yes, I..."
She had prepared her speech for hours before coming here. In her thoughts, it was simple and straightforward. She gave the Captain her answer in regards to his plans and marched back out. But she couldn't help, now, but be distracted- she didn't dare look at his bed, just to her right...
"I came to give you an answer," she muttered, cheeks reddening.
He crossed his arms across his toned chest and raised an eyebrow, waiting in silent amusement, as though he had guessed her internal struggle.
"I...I don't know."
Yes. No. I'll do it. I won't. I'll participate...I'll help...just don't ask me to deal the killing blow...put him in jail, don't kill him...things that she meant. Things that she needed to say. Instead, what came out had her wincing in mortification:
"Did you mean what you said the other day?"
He immediately knew what she was speaking of, and if his amused grin was anything to go by, her question pleased him immensely.
"When I told you that, should you help us, you'd be mine?"
"That's not exactly what you s-..."
She stopped talking as he pushed himself off the desk, stepping towards her and snaked an arm around her waist before pulling her flush against him.
"I remember full well what I said, Princess," he purred. "Turns out my proposal has evolved since that conversation."
She almost squeaked as his lips ghosted over hers.
"And...and if I refuse?"
"You don't look like you want to refuse," he drawled, but she sensed the sudden tension in his shoulders. Narrowing her eyes, Hermione pushed him away from her.
"You're hiding things from me," she spat, "again. So what is it this time, Captain?"
He assessed her for a while.
"If you refuse, then I suppose you'll get your throne back a virgin," he returned calmly, before winking at her outrage. Hermione almost fell into his trap- almost. She was getting to know how he worked after all. Her eyes narrowed once more.
"Tell me," she commanded, and her voice was regal.
"I owe you nothing," he answered, voice sharp and shoulders tensed. "Nothing, Princess. Now, I myself am still awaiting your answer."
Hermione shook her head, taking a step back.
"You don't get it, do you?" she snarled. "You don't owe me- and neither do I owe you. If you refuse to tell me what's going on in that mind of yours then I won't collaborate with your plans either."
She turned on her heel, but as her hand touched the doorknob, she felt his arm against her stomach, pulling her backwards into him. She shivered as his lips ghosted over her temple.
"We can't dance around in circles forever, Granger," he whispered. "Be it in regards to your father- or in regards to us."
Her body tensed up as she recognized the ultimatum. She opened her mouth, but the words wouldn't come out- she was petrified, knowing that she was unable to make the decision on her own. And he understood it too.
"Those two things cannot be dissociated," he warned her, his voice coaxing. "I know you want me, Princess. I know you want your throne. So why not say yes?"
Why not, indeed? She shivered as his arm pressed slightly against her stomach.
"Why do you want me?" she asked, her voice a whisper. "Answer me now and answer me truthfully."
He didn't hesitate.
"I want the Princess to take the throne," he answered gently. "I want Hermione in my bed."
"You want the Princess to take the throne," she agreed, "but you could have any other female in this Kingdom in your bed- that wouldn't be necessary to secure my alliance to your cause."
"The things we need and the things we want sometimes come together, Granger."
"And once I take my throne, once I choose to marry a prince?"
"If such is your desire, I'll let you go."
A long, expectant silence met his words. Hermione slowly turned in his arms, meeting his mercury gaze head-on.
"I must warn you, Granger," he said coolly. "If you do what you desire to do at this very moment- there is no going back. I will not stop, and I don't just mean in this bedroom. You will be by my side when we attack the Palace. This is your last chance."
Hermione's eyes widened slightly, but she felt everything fall into place. She had never had any choice in the matter- her morales wouldn't allow her to fail her people, to fail herself, to fail him. Her father had forfeited his right to the throne when his reign had just begun by his very actions- she would not kill him when the time came, but she would certainly not allow his tyranny to continue. And she would not let Lavender prevail.
Instead of answering, she wrapped her arms around his neck, ignoring the flash of surprise that ignited his mercury eyes, and stepped into him, her lips crashing on his.
As Draco met for the first time the Princess' lips, he knew he had one more secret to keep from her- one more lie.
There was no way in hell that he was ever going to let her go, no way in hell that he was going to let her wed another- even if that meant kidnapping her again, this time from her own throne.
Well, I hope you liked it! The next chapter will of course be the moment all you perverts have been waiting for- full of lemony goodness. After that, just a few more chapters to go...