There is always some madness in love.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Voldemort was dead but it didn't matter. Why would it? The Death Eaters controlled the Ministry. The Death Eaters controlled the Prophet. It took no effort at all for them to spin the Order of the Phoenix into appearing to be a radical, fringe movement. They're violent, the papers said. They're terrorists.
And the War was over and the populace was ready to believe it. We'll keep you safe, the Death Eaters promised. We'll lock these people away so they can't hurt you anymore.
The Death Eaters, who had quickly returned to their earlier moniker, the Knights of Walpurgis, and who had just as quickly stripped their official platform of anything reeking of blood supremacy because they saw which way the wind was blowing, were not at all saddened by the loss of Tom Riddle, also known as Lord Voldemort, also known, though only in private and to truly trusted friends, as 'that mad half-blood bastard.' It was convenient of him to die in the Battle they admitted, though, again, only in private. Even more convenient that he'd managed to take down that pesky Potter kid in the process. Potter had been a bit of a hero. He could have been an impediment but instead all they had to face were known blood traitors with unhealthy interests in Muggles, Mudbloods, and elderly schoolmarms who had clearly been led astray by near hero-worship of Albus Dumbledore and, well, everyone knew - thanks to Rita Skeeter - that Dumbledore had had a bit of a past.
He wanted to oppress Muggles, people said in knowing voices to one another over toast and marmalade as they read the Prophet. A charismatic man to be sure, but maybe it had been a bad idea to let him be such a strong influence on generations of school children. Not, of course, they said, that I was ever taken in by him.
But those Dumbledore's Army kids. So sad, really. So much promise, all wasted.
And so people tsk-ed and passed one another the marmalade and didn't bat the proverbial eye when Rita Skeeter - because of course it was Rita Skeeter - suggested in an editorial that instead of just sending these Order hooligans off to Azkaban they should be made to repay their debt to society via good, honest labor.
It was, ironically, Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy who objected. Muggles were filth, of course, barely human, and Muggle-borns not much better, but even the lowest witch was not meant for slavery. It was an abomination to put chains on a witch and compel her. Eyebrows were raised at the suggestion of chains. We're not Muggles, people said, we won't be that primitive, as though the actual implement of enslavement were the issue. We'll use magic. Surely something can be found that will keep these terrorists from being a danger to society without having to resort to chains.
The bond the Department of Mysteries developed looked obscenely like a rather wide wedding band. Once slipped on the finger of its victim she, or he, would be compelled to obey the witch or wizard she was bound to and be unable to harm them. It was insidious and vile and brilliant.
When open objections didn't work, the Malfoys began arranging 'placement' of their son's schoolmates and such Order adults as had survived with less psychotic members of the Knights and with other pureblood families who had the influence to buy a slave. It was one to a customer, according to law, and there weren't enough people to go around and so Draco Malfoy, barely of age, and Theodore Nott, equally young, found themselves sitting in one of the smaller parlours at Malfoy Manor as a smirking Ministry official did the bonding spell and slid the wide, metal bands over the fingers of the boys' new possessions, now compelled to work out their debt to society at the direction of their owners.
"Have fun, boys," the man said as he tipped his hat and exited the room.
Theodore looked after him and said the first word he'd uttered since he'd been ushered in by Narcissa Malfoy. "Fucker."
"This is so disgusting," Draco said in agreement as he looked at the bushy-haired witch whose literal chains had been removed after the ring had been put on her hand. She was struggling to get it off, a doomed effort as he was the only one who could remove it.
He watched her fight with it and finally said, "Merlin, would you give it a rest?"
She immediately folded her hands in her lap and stopped wrestling with the symbol of, as well as the enforcement of, her bondage, though the hate in her eyes increased.
"Why don't you two say goodbye," Theodore suggested, hastening to add, "Not an order, not an order!" when Luna Lovegood opened her mouth to follow the instruction. He rubbed at his forehead. "This spell is a little heavier handed than I was led to expect, Draco," he said. He stood and tipped his head sharply toward the corner of the room near the fireplace. "Draco and I will just be over here to give you a little privacy and then we can floo back to my place when you're ready."
Hermione and Luna watched the two boys retreat as far as they could and then fell into one another's arms. Despite the suggestion of privacy, the room was so small their owners could hear every word they said as they told each other to be careful. "This is when you say something obscure and uplifting," Hermione said through tears as she held on to the woman she'd been in a cell with for months. "Something about how you're sure the stars will align to make everything okay."
Well, she'd been in a cell with Luna when she hadn't been alone. Being with Luna had been better. Much better. She'd been alone a lot.
Luna, however, just shook her head at Hermione's request that she be uplifting and obscure, either unable or unwilling to say anything of the sort, and Theo and Draco exchanged tense looks. At last the two women released one another and Luna swallowed hard as she approached the lanky Death Eater's son she hardly knew and he held out his hand.
When the pair of them had flooed away, Draco crossed to the door and jerked his head for Hermione to follow him. "We added a room to my suite for you," he said. "Private bath, too." He shrugged and didn't say anything else and she followed him mutely as he led her through the Manor and up a set of stairs and down a long corridor before he pushed open a door that led to a light-filled parlour. He pointed to a short corridor. "My room's down there," he said. He opened a door along the side wall and gestured for her to proceed him. Unable to not follow instructions, she did. "This is your room," he said, staying in the doorway.
He watched her look around. They'd done their best to make it something she might like, though he hadn't really known her well enough to suggest more than she'd always had a damn bag of books she hauled around everywhere. For all he'd mocked her for her hair and her filthy, disgusting birth, other than that she got good marks and had been one of Potter's closest chums he hadn't even known much about her. Still, they'd done what they could; Narcissa Malfoy didn't approve of enslaving magical people and therefore anyone she protected from the worst abuses of the law she despised would have a pleasant bedroom. There was a large bed, multiple windows, a writing desk and a wall of shelves filled with Muggle and wizarding novels, reference books, and even some poetry. A set of armchairs flanked a small table set in front of a lit fireplace. Hermione seemed to hesitate on the threshold, her eyes darting from the bed to the books to the door that led to the en suite and then back again.
Draco let out a huff of exasperation as she didn't move forward and said, "Hold out your hand, the one with the ring."
The look she gave him said she'd rather disembowel him, preferably slowly, but she obediently held her hand out for him. He tugged the slave ring off and handed it to her. She looked at it in disbelief and began to sag where she stood. Afraid she might actually faint he took a step toward her, stopping when she backed away.
"This," she finally said, "is not what I expected." She took a few steps further into the room - into her room - and added, "It's the same for Luna?"
"Cho?" she asked. "Neville? Ron? Molly?"
"As far as I know," he said. "I haven't… it's really my parents…." He ran a hand through his hair and finally said with a sigh, "May I come in? Sit down? You probably have a lot of questions."
"You're asking me?" Hermione Granger's lips began to turn up in the first smile he'd seen on them since the Battle of Hogwarts, since she'd been hauled off into temporary detention. "What if I say no?"
"Then I won't come in," he said.
"You own me," she said, her fingers clenching around the ring he'd removed. "I'm your legal possession, like… like… like… a dog or something. Even without this thing on my hand as far as the Ministry is concerned I'm yours, your damned slave."
"I never had a dog so forgive me if I don't know the protocols," Draco said. "In the world I grew up in, you ask permission to enter a person's bedroom and, if they say no, you bugger off."
She sank down into one of the silk covered chairs and set the ring with immense care on the table next to it. "Come in, then," she said. "And tell me what's going on."
Draco sat in the other chair and fumbled with his hands, not sure whether to place them on the armrests or hold them in his lap. "Would you mind if I ordered tea?" he asked at last thinking that if he could hold on to a cup at least he'd stop fidgeting with such obvious nerves. What did you say to a woman you'd taunted for years when you had her suddenly in your power in this way? Sorry about all the bullying, but don't worry because I'm not actually a rapist? At least Theo had never had any real interaction with the looney blonde he'd agreed to shelter; Hermione Granger had no reason to think anything but the worst of him.
"Your wand's in the top drawer of the desk," he finally said after they politely went through the motions of her saying tea would be lovely and him placing an order to the kitchen. He showed her how the Manor's internal floo system worked and she thanked him and her told her to please feel free to order anything she wanted at any time of day. She'd arched her eyebrows at the term 'feel free' and he'd wanted to crawl into a hole in the floor.
Not that his mother would ever have permitted there to be a hole in any of her floors, of course.
"My wand," Hermione Granger almost ran across the room and held onto it with tears coming to her eyes. She turned and looked at him and he feared for a moment she would hex him on the spot but she just blinked away the evidence of her emotional reaction and said, her voice husky, "Thank you."
He looked down at his feet. This was so much harder than he'd anticipated. The tea arrived and he busied his hands with pouring for both of them and asking her how she took hers and adding some milk to her cup. She almost tiptoed back across the room, holding her wand like a treasure she never expected to see again, and not letting go of it even as she lifted her cup and took a sip.
Well, he understood that. He still missed his first wand.
"So," she said at last, "You're the great pureblood savior? Rescuing the downtrodden members of the Order? I guess I'm supposed to be grateful?"
Draco bristled a little. "It could have been Yaxley," he said. "Or Dolohov. Or one of the Carrows."
"Better a kind owner," she said, mockery in her voice.
"If you have to be a slave, yes," he said.
"Oddly," she said, almost drawling as she spoke, "I'd prefer freedom to even the nicest of cages."
He took a deep breath. "I'm sure," he said at last. He stood up. "I'll go. You have the freedom of the Manor and the grounds, but I wouldn't recommend leaving them."
He made it to her door before she stopped him. "Talk to me," she said. "Explain this." There was another one of the long pauses that had woven through their whole conversation. "Why me Malfoy? Why save me?"
He didn't turn at first. "My mother thinks enslaving witches is wrong," he said. "You may not like her - I'm sure you don't - but she has a will of absolute iron. She'd have let you rot in Azkaban, don't get me wrong, but she'd never allow a witch to be a slave." He could feel his shoulders tense as he added, "Especially not to the likes of a monster like Antonin Dolohov."
"Why not?" He let his head tip back and looked up at the ceiling. The plasterers had done a nice job; there were perfect half circles across the whole expanse above him. "She placed people with the adults first. Me, Theo… she put people with us she thought wouldn't… she thought you could endure me, okay? Weasley? Too much history between our families; if I took his ring off, he'd hex first and ask questions later. Most of your lot just hate me but she thought you'd… she thought we could at least be civil to one another, despite your less than stellar blood status and despite my history of being a shite. She knew if I had to actually… if I had to deal with that ring on someone's hand I'd… after Rosmerta in the War and what I did, I can't… Dark curses stain the soul of the person who uses them, did you know that?"
"I didn't," she whispered, interrupting his monologue.
"So she thought you would… just… not kill me if I took the ring off. She thought you'd be that fair."
"Why did you have to take anyone?"
"There aren't enough people she trusts," Draco said. He turned at last to look back at her. She'd set her tea down and was watching him with a frightening intensity. "She and father… they're working behind the scenes to try to get this law rescinded. They can't actually have someone they… too much conflict of interest. So I drew the short straw."
That, oddly enough, made her smile again. "So I'm the short straw, huh?"
"I didn't mean it that way," he muttered, finally deciding to shove his hands into his pockets.
"Your tea is getting cold," she said, and gestured to the chair he'd vacated. She pulled her feet up and curled them under her and set her wand down on the table. It was probably the most blatant symbol of at least short-term trust he'd seen.
He walked back across the room and sat down. "So," he said, back to awkward conversation. "How have you been?"
"Locked up," she said. "Food was bad. It was cold. I was scared. You know, the usual. You?"
Draco gave her a wan smile. "Hunkered down and trying not to think too much, mostly. Food is good, though I feel sick a lot. I take a lot of hot showers. The usual."
"Wanna trade?" she said and he laughed. "How is this going to work?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Well, in theory you have the freedom of the house and grounds. We can floo over to Theo's and you visit Luna if you want. I wouldn't recommend wandering too much, though, or going over there if I don't get an all-clear first, because if someone is over who is, uh, not - "
"If the wrong person sees I'm not wearing that thing - "
"It could be bad, right."
They looked at one another. "I guess it's a nice cage," she said at last, looking around the room. "Better than my last one."
"I'm sorry," he said.
She looked down and said the last thing he expected to hear. "Will you keep me company, at least?"
"If you want," he said carefully. "I don't want to impose."
"I…." Hermione Granger trailed off her words and then tried to speak again. "In the cell," she said. "I started to be afraid of… this sounds so stupid but - "
"I understand being afraid," Draco said softly. "The Dark Lord lived in my house for a long time."
She nodded. "I just hate being alone now." She said the words so softly he almost didn't hear them.
"Better even me than solitude?" he asked. When she nodded again without speaking he reached a finger out touched the back of her hand. "That's something I can do," he said. He made a face she missed because she was still looking away. "I know you hate me but I can… it's not like I have anything to do so I'm at your beck and call."
"Irony," she observed. He saw her looking at the ring and he picked it up and violently threw it across the room. "You don't like having a slave?" she asked.
"I've had several," he muttered. "The Imperius Curse… no, I don't like it."
It was her turn to reach out and touch his hand. "Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked.
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N - This is part of my daft project to write at least a drabble for every major dramione trope. This one, obviously, is slave!hermione.
It is fully rough drafted and there will be four chapters.