A/N: This is new, and different, and I hope that you'll like it, because it's actually been making itself very loud inside my head for a while now. Let me know, anyway.
Disclaimer: These are not my characters, and I am simply playing with them in the world brought to life by the genius of Joanne Rowling.
Harry's hand: sweaty, grimy, bones clearly visible under the scarred flesh.
She held his hand as though if she let it go it wouldn't be real and he would still be dead and that feeling that she'd had when she had seen his body in Hagrid's arms – that sick, vertiginous, standing on a clifftop feeling – would return, and the world really would end.
"It worked," she whispered, finally looking up and meeting his gaze.
"It worked," he replied, eyes wide and shocked as he studied her. Cataloguing the damage, she realised. She smiled and shook her head slightly to indicate that she wasn't badly hurt, and he understood the way that he always understood, finally hugging her tightly, huffing a great sigh of relief in her ear. Hermione was crying and she buried her face in his shoulder, breathing him in, still scarcely able to believe it.
They'd won. They were alive. He, Harry, her best friend – no, her brother – was alive, and Hermione started to shake with laughter that bordered on hysteria, tears spilling over her cheeks only to be caught in the soft wool of the Weasley jumper that Harry wore.
A hand clasped her shoulder and she broke away from Harry to throw an arm around Ron, drawing him in so that the three of them stood, tucked in each other's embrace. There would be time for grief; this was a moment of joy to snatch from the dark.
When they finally stepped apart Ron looked down and caught Hermione's eye, blushing, and she smiled and shrugged, the memory of kissing him already seeming stupid in the light of…whatever this was that came after. Ron's eyes scanned anxiously over her face for a moment before he relaxed and returned her sheepish smile. Harry shook his head and muttered, "Thank Merlin for that."
Hermione fought the urge to tell him to shut up, but her mood was already darkening as her eyes moved across the destruction of the Great Hall. Across the ashen, disbelieving faces of those who had survived. Across the too-still forms of those who had not. She could see Molly bent double over Fred's body. Could see the pink of Tonks's hair gone dull, and the tatty tweed of Lupin's trousers fluttered by the wind where he lay unmoving beside his wife.
A sob rose in Hermione's throat, and she dropped her eyes to the floor to try and regain some control.
That was when the screaming started.
When she looked up, she could see Narcissa Malfoy, her usual frostiness abandoned as she struggled against the restraining arms of two Aurors. Lucius Malfoy was kneeling on the ground, clearly winded, and Draco was being dragged towards the exit of the Great Hall. Hermione frowned: they had won. The Light had won, so why were the Ministry wizards acting like the worst of Voldemort's thugs?
"NO!" Narcissa was shouting, "No, you don't understand, you can't take him away! He didn't have a choice, you don't UNDERSTAND!"
Hermione turned to look at Harry and Ron, who were both wearing horrified expressions to match her own, and then suddenly Narcissa had broken away from the Aurors holding her and was there in front of Harry, grasping his hands, her honey-blonde hair coming loose from its chignon and falling around her face, making her look somehow younger, tragic and beautiful. "You owe me, Potter," she breathed, and Hermione watched as the distraught woman's fingers clenched white around Harry's before more Aurors came and restrained her.
"Sorry about that Potter," said a soot-stained Roger Davies as he came to stand beside them, inspecting the torn sleeve of his Junior Auror robes. "We'll see that it doesn't happen again."
Looking around the three of them Hermione could see most of the witches and wizards in the hall had diverted their gaze, clearly embarrassed by what seemed to be Narcissa Malfoy's sanity fleeing her. Hermione could already see the conclusions forming - she was a Black, wasn't she, before she married. Look at the sister. Look at the cousin.
This is wrong, she thought to herself, we're better than this. As Davies stepped away to join the other Aurors restraining Narcissa, Hermione turned back to Harry, noting the tightness in his jaw and the way his green eyes flashed behind his glasses. They watched as Malfoy was dragged from the Hall, followed by his father, and then Harry's gaze turned towards the group corralled in the corner by the DMLE forces. Finally Harry brought his eyes to meet Hermione's. She opened her mouth but he gave a tiny shake of his head. "Whatever. I just want this day to be fucking over."
Ron gave a shaky chuckle and patted his best friend on the back. He didn't appear to notice when Harry reached out and squeezed Hermione's hand gently, slipping a folded square of parchment from his hand to hers, before stepping away to join the Weasleys where they had gathered amidst the bodies of the fallen.
With a quick glance about to ensure that no-one was watching her, Hermione smoothed out the parchment. It appeared to be a series of small, sketched diagrams, scribbled notes of different spells - some of which she recognised, and some that she did not. The low, leaden weight that settled in her stomach told her none of them were nice. The diagrams were mostly obscure except for one, at the bottom of the page. When her eyes found it Hermione felt the weight in her stomach twist until she thought she might be sick, because she knew the round room that had been quickly sketched out, knew the doors ranged all around the edge. The Department of Mysteries.
Hermione scrunched her eyes shut, dropping her chin to her chest as she balled the parchment in her fist and took a deep breath. Finally she lifted her head, and found Narcissa Malfoy staring at her from where she had been forced to her knees besides the rest of Voldemort's surviving followers. When their eyes met the youngest of the Black sisters held Hermione's gaze, her grey eyes wide as she mouthed, "You. Owe. Me." Hermione shivered, but gave a tiny nod before she looked past Narcissa, her eyes ranging across the bowed heads of the mostly Slytherin students sat with the other surviving Voldemort sympathisers until they came to rest on one tawny mop of hair.
As though he could feel her stare, he looked up from his contemplation of the blood-stained flagstone in front of him. Startling hazel eyes met chocolate brown and Hermione flinched away instinctively, her fingers clenching on her wand as she turned to follow the others.
She tucked herself beneath Harry's arm and he turned his face to her hair, murmuring quietly so that the others wouldn't hear. "What was it?"
"I don't know." Hermione said honestly. "But I'm pretty sure it's bad." Her eyes roved back to the group in the corner of the hall. "And getting answers isn't going to be any fun."
Transporting him from Hogwarts to the Ministry's holding cells the guards were considerate enough to do nothing that would leave a bruise – or at least, not one easily visible. In that the treatment was more fastidious than he was used to and so Theo bore the kicks to his stomach and kidneys, the heavy feet upon his insteps and the twisting of his wrists with little more than a grimace. They did not raise their wands against him and in a body that bore the memory of the Cruciatus curse so casually administered by his father and, later, the Dark Lord, anything less was mere annoyance.
He regained consciousness behind bars, and once he was in a condition to he began to pace his cell, measuring it by hands and feet. He was surprised to find that he could summon a little wandless magic, and used it to write arithmantic equations upon the smooth stones of the walls, puzzling at the many layers of spells built into their very fabric. He had deciphered the more simple wards within the first couple of days: important, he knew, to keep both mind and body active.
The sparse furnishings were charmed unbreakable, and when, after a week, Theo made a single attempt (intellectual, of course) to gouge at his own flesh with his fingernails it had resulted in him healing instantaneously. Which was intriguing enough to have him trying throwing himself at the floor and walls hard enough to break bones, all with the same result.
And so he spent the next three days working out the complex binding that had been added, like a thin patina, over the top of the other wards. It would appear that the spell was finished with a drop of his own blood, and Theo had smiled when he'd drawn this conclusion, perversely pleased at the hypocrisy of it.
He was fairly certain the spell was one that he had read about in one of his father's books: used by the Inquisition to keep prisoners alive for days in cells that they had bricked up. Banned, or so he'd assumed. Blood magic of this sort was always listed with the darkest of Dark and yet here it was, actively practised within the Ministry of Magic. How beautiful the world must appear from the moral high ground.
When he felt the wards lift on the thirteenth day of his confinement he expected a Ministry lawyer. One of those fusty solicitors employed solely to lend credence to a defence against whatever foregone conclusion the Wizengamot saw fit to pass down upon those caught with their fingers in the wrong pies. What he got was a pair of extremely pissed-off looking Aurors.
Theo rose from his cot and offered a small, polite bow to the two men, angling his body slightly towards the wizard he presumed was the more senior of the pair as he spoke. "Auror Shacklebolt. How may I be of service?"
"That's Minister Shacklebolt to you," spat the man stood to Shacklebolt's right, who Theo remembered being the year above him at Hogwarts. A Ravenclaw, he thought. Roger something. The dark-haired wizard was staring at him with barely-controlled contempt. Uncharacteristically worked-up: a temper like that was more of a Gryffindor trait.
Theo kept his expression mild as he turned again to Shacklebolt. "Minister, then. Something I can do for you?"
Shacklebolt narrowed his eyes at him, and Theo felt a whisper of discomfort beneath his dark stare. A mind of winter, Theo, he reminded himself of one of his father's favourite maxims. A Nott must have a mind of winter. He cocked his head slightly, holding the man's gaze and making his own open and engaged. The older wizard huffed a sigh, "Theodore Nott, do you know anything about the escape attempt of one Draco Lucius Malfoy, made yesterday evening the thirteenth of May?"
Theo frowned at him, "I beg your pardon, Minister?"
Shacklebolt eyed him for a moment further, then abruptly his shoulders dropped. "I did not think so. Davies, this is pointless."
"He's a murdering liar, just like the rest of them." Davies hissed, "And he and Malfoy were thick as thieves."
"Be that as it may," Shacklebolt's tone held a note of finality, "I think if it were a coordinated attempt then we would either have two death certificates to issue, or this little visit would be enough to inform young Master Nott that such a thing is pointless."
Theo blinked, "Draco's dead?"
"Blew himself up trying to dismantle one of the wards on his cell," Davies wasn't even trying to mask the satisfaction in his voice, "Best not to try it, Nott. We wouldn't want you to miss your trial."
Theo ignored the Ravenclaw. Presumably someone close to Davies had fallen victim to the Dark Lord, but Theo didn't care for his lack of control. He addressed himself to the newly-minted Minister, thinking of the Inquisitorial warding. "How is that even possible?"
Shacklebolt scowled, "These holding cells are ancient. Some of the wards are unstable, and Malfoy appears to have been unlucky with the one he managed to trigger." The man's mouth twisted in distaste, "There was hardly anything left once we got the fire out."
Keeping his face neutral required all of Theo's considerable self-discipline. At least one of the spells on his cell was finished with his blood, which meant that it was new, and since it was easily the most elaborate of the wardings and was designed to prevent any harm coming to him whilst inside the cell that made it unlikely that whoever had cast it would have left the other wards in a state of degradation that could cause him injury.
But apparently the same level of care hadn't been taken over Malfoy's confinement.
Theo felt a prickle of unease. With Voldemort dead he had been coolly resigned to a sentence in Azkaban; perhaps ten years, less with good behaviour. With the Dementors gone it would be bearable. And then, once released, repair without fuss to the Continent and his family's German holdings. Publish some research papers using his mother's maiden name. Nothing showy. A quiet existence: no politics, none of the mania over blood purity. He could probably even get away with marrying a half-blood.
Only it would seem that somebody wanted him alive badly enough to perform complex and illegal magics right under the noses of the most senior wizards in the Ministry of Magic. Theo felt fear and unease gnaw at him, and he pressed one hand to the wall, feeling the magic whisper to life beneath his skin. He didn't recognise the magical signature of the wards, which hopefully precluded them being laid by a known enemy. Small comfort, he thought, as the walls seemed to press close around him.
"When is my trial set for?" he asked, as Shacklebolt and Davies turned to leave, relieved that his voice was low and even.
The Minister glanced disinterestedly at him over his shoulder. "With everything to be done in the wake of Voldemort's fall the Wizengamot can be convened only once every few days. These things take time, and I'm afraid that you are some way down the list."
Theo's jaw worked. It hadn't occurred to him that he might be in the cell longer than a couple of weeks more. "How long?" he asked again, the note of strain audible to all in the room.
It was Davies who answered with a sneer as he followed Shacklebolt out of the door, "I'd get nice and comfortable in here, Nott. You'll probably be calling it home for the next few months."
A/N: Any thoughts, any reactions very much welcomed. Will be updated weekly on Wednesdays.