Nightmares and Nocturnes
Summary: A story per night to save her life. Dramione, dystopian post-war AU.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters and claim no profit from this work. Credit to Joanne Rowling.
A/N: This is my second Dramione AU (after my This World or Any Other series) and takes place in a separate storyverse. It stands alone from my other work.
The premise is based on the legendary Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights and will have numerous other fairytales woven throughout. The story begins seven years after the Battle of Hogwarts, and as will become clear over time, Voldemort has won. The first chapter is by far the darkest, and as a warning, it contains references to psychological torture. However, it will get better from here.
As always, I hope you find the story interesting, and look forward to starting a new journey with you.
Chapter 1: The Night Girl
She tried to lift her head from the ground but couldn't; her mind had long since lost command over her movements, and it seemed that even muscle memory could sometimes fail. She let her eyes open and close slowly, feeling her chest creak as it expanded and contracted, wondering why it still did.
At one point, she had been keeping track of the days. At one point she had been convinced that her current state of being was only temporary, that surely no twisted fate could have seen fit to punish her with this.
And this, whatever it was, had to amount to madness, really. She could identify that, somehow, mustering only the clarity necessary to diagnose herself as though the tiny, nearly inconsequential sliver that remained of her sanity, the piece of her that had managed to evade the slow destruction of her captivity, were taunting her from within; it whispered to her about how far she'd gone, how monumentally distanced she'd become from what she once was. It reminded her of her catastrophic failures and her imagined terrors, every single one of them amounting to both wretchedly true and spectacularly false, trapping her in a state of paralyzing stupefaction for her harrowing lack of proof. She had been heralded for her mind only to have it turn on her, to find herself engulfed by its desolation.
She had once been keeping track of her own capture, letting her nails grow savagely unkempt so as to carve a shallow line for each day that passed into the rotting wood of the floor beneath her, only to realize with the last of her lucidity that her captors were taunting her, changing their patterns and shifting her meals so as to take ownership over even her concept of time.
It was to be her last possession.
Then she became disjointed and unsettled, biting her nails until her cuticles bled, and the tiny lines that railed against the grain of the wood began to change shape and mock her, taking the form of her fears; she steadily unclenched her grip on reality, losing herself with every passing moment that the diminutive, linear army battled relentlessly against her soul.
That was when she started hearing them again.
Draco Malfoy sauntered through the halls of the manor, hearing the tap of his shoes against the floor as his steps echoed around him, making their grand escape toward the high ceilings and ricocheting back to his ears with a comforting reassurance.
Still walking, the sound congratulated him. Still standing.
It was hard to consider himself fortunate, though it was perhaps twice as difficult to consider any other applicable term. Funny that what he'd once considered a mistake, what he'd once been so sure would be his undoing - standing in the Astronomy Tower with his wand to a feeble old man's head - would eventually save his life.
Morality, then, was hardly an impenetrable shield.
What did you imagine would happen? his father had asked, the one time he'd foolishly tried to refuse. What did you foresee would be the outcome?
Death, probably. Perhaps it was rather telling that he'd never expected to emerge victorious in the inevitable unfolding between the Dark Lord and the Boy Who Lived. It was no vote of confidence for him; why had he ever expected a teenager to win, in the end?
Only in fairytales.
It doesn't have to be this way for you, his mother had said, coughing into her handkerchief and trying to hide the blood. Just leave.
But of course he'd stayed.
Funny she would say that, Theo had remarked at her funeral, placing his hand on Draco's shoulder. Makes you wonder what they thought they were doing with us.
Draco did not believe in speaking ill of the dead, and so he said nothing.
He propelled himself quickly through the front doors of Malfoy Manor, pulling his coat tighter around him as he stepped onto the manicured lawn. The sky was a viscous, syrupy grey with a smoldering red tint, thick with smoke and heavy with melancholy from a fire somewhere out of sight. There had been a time when he would choke on the smoke and wonder who was responsible; eventually it became customary not to ask, and then pointless to wonder. Draco flicked the flutter of ash from his shoulders and looked up at the partially concealed sun, wondered when he had last felt clean.
"Father," he called, advancing toward him. "You needed something?"
Lucius turned from where he'd been inspecting the grounds, his grey eyes narrowing in surprise.
"You're here," he commented unnecessarily.
"I am," Draco confirmed crisply, adopting the particularly erect stance that he'd developed once he'd reached his father's height. "I received an owl this morning that you needed me."
"From whom?" Lucius asked, his forehead wrinkling.
Draco cleared his throat stiffly, feeling a flutter of irritation.
"If you don't want to see me, you can always change the wards," he said carefully, making a point to control the timbre and pace of his tone. It wouldn't do to lose his temper.
"That has nothing to do with it, Draco," Lucius retorted sharply, crossing his arms impatiently. "You know that."
They'd slowly stopped cohabitating shortly after Narcissa's death; one of the benefits of having been claimed by the winning side was that any potential legal claim that the remaining biological Blacks - Andromeda and the Lupin boy - could make were null and void, establishing Draco as the sole inheritor for both the Black family as well as the Malfoys. What had initially begun as a renovation of the white stucco mansion on Palace Gardens Terrace (a secondary Black property which had passed to Narcissa in the wake of her cousin Sirius's death, and then to Draco) evolved to Draco's full time inhabitation, until his presence at the Manor was limited only to errands and occasions.
Draco had made a point to make this transition quietly, as a strain in the Malfoy household simply would not do, for either himself or his father. Draco already had so shaky a claim to authority over the new recruits that distancing himself from Lucius could only cause him harm. He was protected by his name. He always had been; there was no reason for anything to change now. All he had to do - all he ever had to do - was not fight with his father.
Though that was more difficult than it sounded.
"It was Rowle," Draco clarified, taking care to keep his voice low and edgeless. "If you'd like me to take it up with him, I can."
Lucius considered him for a moment. "Fine," he concluded, and Draco wondered how Lucius still saw Narcissa, how he could still find it in himself to resent his son for her absence, when all Draco saw in his reflection - no matter how hard he looked, and truly, the search was unending and fervent - was Lucius. "Check in with Rowle."
"Lestrange?" Draco asked, referring to the old manor house.
The Dark Lord had been put off by the presence of natural death; Narcissa's had been no exception. Malfoy Manor was long emptied.
"Yes," Lucius replied, his eyes drifting up to regard the richly fibrous sky, plum-red where it localized above someone else's suffering.
Draco turned without another word.
She cracked a single eyelid, peering into the dim light that seemed to shine directly into her eyes, glowing like a halo around his unruly black hair.
"Hi," she murmured, her fingers twitching as she attempted and failed to raise her arm, willing herself to reach for him.
Harry took a seat beside her, his face placid and still like the last time she'd seen him. She knew what he was going to ask.
"Tell me a story," he suggested, making himself comfortable as he shifted against the rotting wood. "A good one," he added, his green eyes appraising her sharply, as though he suspected she would disappoint him.
He'd become accustomed to doing this in times of stress, seeking her out for whimsy, despite the fact that she inherently possessed so little. It wasn't so much that she had ever had anything to offer, or any consolation to give; she'd simply learned from experience that people reached helplessly for their roots in times of trauma, and only she and Harry shared a muggle childhood. It had become a ritual for them, the stories, and it was the last thing they had that felt pure, and uniquely theirs.
Other than the losses, of course; and when it came to those, they drew from the same vault of emptiness.
He waited for her to speak; she felt her heart crack open and bleed for him.
"I - "
She coughed, struggling. The pressure of her voice was like knives against her throat.
I don't know if I can.
"Please," he begged, and she saw it again - her last glimpse of his face. The widening of his eyes as she reached for him, only to find a vacancy in the air where his fingers should have been. It was a feral kind of horror, and she wished she could take hold of it and discard it. She wish she could press her fingers to his trepidation and make him whole.
She sighed, closing her eyes. There had never been a thing on earth she wouldn't do for Harry Potter.
"Once," she said, stopping again to clear the dusty cavern of her throat, managing a painful swallow. "Once upon a time."
Out of practice. Her voice sounded foreign and scratchy.
"Good," he told her, nudging her in his particularly juvenile way; the Boy Who Lived. "Keep going."
She ran through the stories in her head; the ones she'd grown up hearing, the ones she'd made a point to read. She must have read them all.
Which one to tell? The effort of remembering was exhausting; she half wanted to close her eyes and sleep. Potentially forever.
She found she welcomed the thought.
"Keep going," Harry repeated, and she winced at the sharp pain in her ribs as she attempted to sigh dramatically.
Keep going. He would.
"Once upon a time," she said again, feeling the motion of accessing her voice start to become familiar. "There was - a girl."
"A girl," Harry echoed, his eyes sparkling behind his crooked glasses. "A beautiful girl?"
"At one time, yes," she whispered.
"Gosforth," Draco said, nodding to him. "Whiddon."
They looked back at him, their faces plastered with a stiff, false pleasantness. If Draco were not the son of Lucius, they likely would have been freer with their disdain.
"Malfoy," they replied, nodding to him.
"You need something?" Gosforth asked dutifully, though his body language leaned towards a scarcely concealed lack of interest.
"Rowle sent for me," Draco replied, giving into his ego and taking care to stand unnervingly close to the much shorter, much younger man.
Shorter, younger boy, really, seeing as both Gosforth and Whiddon had been in their first and second year respectively at the time of the Battle of Hogwarts, which made them approximately eighteen and nineteen years old.
They were considerably harder human beings than he'd been at their age, he thought, seeing the distant edge of coolness in their eyes. He supposed that was the price they'd paid for having been subjected to the revised curriculum at Hogwarts; crucio from day one meant that by the time they reached their seventh year, they were only too relieved to lay claim to their earned right of persecution, only too happy to be the ones wielding the wands. They were broken until they broke.
How fortunate they were, to not have known any other way. And how weak Draco looked by comparison, he knew; he wanted to blame them, but found he could not.
"He's not here," Whiddon returned gruffly.
The two young Death Eaters glanced at each other, appearing to wonder if they should say more; at Whiddon's quick, careless nod, Gosforth shifted to address Draco. "Might have wanted you to look in on the girl, though," he said, shrugging as though he doubted it was consequential.
Draco's brow furrowed in confusion. "Girl?"
Gosforth and Whiddon exchanged another questioning glance, though this time, they seemed equally disengaged. It seemed neither had any interest in explaining themselves.
"Downstairs," Gosforth grunted, gesturing with his pointed chin. "Found her about six months ago."
"Had her pinned as an Order member," Whiddon added. "But she's been useless."
"Useless?" Draco asked, frowning. "She said nothing?"
"Nothing useful," Gosforth clarified. "Even under veritaserum."
Somehow, Draco had his doubts in the subtlety these two possessed.
"You probably weren't asking the right questions," Draco asserted, smirking, and both of the other Death Eaters bristled at his criticism.
"Says you," Whiddon replied tightly, and only Draco's name prevented him from saying more.
A moment of charged silence passed as all three of them marinated in the unaired sentiments.
"What have you done with her?" Draco asked finally, his eyes flicking between them.
"Nothing," Gosforth retorted, his tone artificially tinged with a disinterest that sounded more like resignation. "Nothing of interest there, really," he added, his face contorting in disgust.
"Typical cycle," Whiddon contributed, referring back to the original question. "Usual tactics. But nothing," he repeated. "And got nothing out of her, either."
"My guess is Rowle needs her disposed of," Gosforth muttered, and for the briefest moment, Draco almost squinted at him, wondering how a person reached the point of full emotional departure that such a phrase would escape him so effortlessly.
"You're welcome to it," Gosforth added, his brown eyes hard as they met Draco's. "Save us the trouble and take care of it yourself."
For once, he seemed to want to add.
As a Death Eater, Draco's resume was less than impressive. In their minds, he'd had a chance at glory once, seven years ago, and done little since then. Funny how that worked.
Funny how things turned out.
"Where is she?" Draco asked.
"And then the prince put the slipper on her foot," she continued, "and it slipped on very easily, as though it were made of wax."
"And everyone was astonished," Harry prompted.
"Yes," she agreed. "And her sisters found her to be the beautiful lady they'd seen at the ball, and a few days later, the prince married her, finding her to be as good as she was beautiful."
"What's the lesson?" Harry murmured, and she imagined running her fingers through his hair, letting them brush coolly against his scalp.
"Two lessons," she reminded him. "First, that beauty is a treasure, but graciousness is paramount."
She had always preferred Perrault's version. It was the one her father had read her as a child, and she could hear him now. Without graciousness, nothing is possible. With it, you can do anything.
"And the second?" Harry prodded.
"That it is good to have courage, intelligence, and wit," she told him, finding herself momentarily blinded as tears blurred behind half-closed lids. "But even those qualities may fail to bring success, without the blessing of a fairy godmother."
She'd thought that was what magic was, when she'd found it: the fairy godmother in her story. She always thought that all she would have to do was master it, and then she, too, would know the sweetness of a happily ever after. But as it turned out, magic had light and dark that raged within itself. Magic was not the answer.
Magic was the price.
"Are we not blessed?" Harry asked, his voice fading to a whisper.
No, she imagined telling him, staring at his scar. We were never blessed.
"Are we alone?" he asked, insistent.
She sighed. Just let me sleep.
"I think so," she told him, letting her eyes fall shut.
"Wait," Harry said, and she nearly gasped with sorrow. "Tell me another."
There was no source of natural light in the room, only a flickering lamp in the corner; the entire space reeked and pulsed with ongoing pain and despondency. There was no care taken here, of course, but also no obvious attempts at torture; Draco had seen the effort made at breaking Order members before, and this had not been one. Instead it was the portrait of a slow, gradual descent into madness, eerie with the stench of decay, and the girl lay in the center of the room, a limp, insignificant figure who lay curled around herself. Her hands were out as though she'd been reaching for something, surrounded by tiny marks that were etched beside her face.
Draco swallowed uncomfortably, turning to Gosforth. "Can we do something about this?" he asked, waving his hand around in displeasure at the general disrepair of the room.
"Why?" Gosforth asked, shrugging. "Won't take long, will it?"
"Still," Draco snapped, feeling his stomach lurch at the implication. "I don't make a habit of surrounding myself in squalor."
Gosforth shrugged again. "Suit yourself," he pronounced grimly, and Draco, seeing that the younger man was not going to make the effort, lifted his wand with an impatient grimace.
He cast a couple of charms to clean up the room, ridding it of its unpleasant smell and the damp, rotting quality to the walls and floor, and stepped closer, eyeing the iron cast around the girl's ankles and wrists, the chains that kept her bound within the wards of the room.
"Where did they find her?" Draco asked, taking in the matted hair that covered her face, following the sharp protrusion of bony angles from her shoulders and hips.
"Some kind of raid," Gosforth said, making a careless hand gesture to emphasize his impassivity. "There was at least one more person when they arrived, but she was the only one left behind."
Draco squinted at her, sensing something that he couldn't yet name.
"She's said nothing?" Draco asked, frowning. "You don't know who she is?"
"She was completely silent for months," Gosforth replied. "And now her mind's fucking addled. At first we thought she might have been important," he added defensively, as though Draco had thought to question his motivation. "She's got that mark that they all have." He paused. "Had," he corrected himself.
"The one they found on the others?" Draco asked, frowning. "The phoenix?"
Gosforth nodded. "On her back," he confirmed. "So we thought that meant something."
"It probably does," Draco noted, crouching beside her. There was something familiar about her, though if she had any distinguishing features, they had long since been altered by her time in captivity. Her build was undetectable from emaciation and her face was covered by her hair, itself a strange, wilted colorlessness that rested in a tangled haze around her shoulders.
"It's certainly not worth keeping her for," Gosforth spat, his face visibly contorting in disgust as Draco reached over to inspect her, his face inches from hers. "She hasn't said anything of use," he reminded Draco, "and she's fucking taking up space."
Draco ignored him, slowly drawing back a curtain of dingy, matted curls and feeling a brief lurch in his stomach, taking stock of the curve of her lips. Her eyes were closed, and her breathing was halted and shallow.
"She hasn't said anything of use," Draco echoed slowly, feeling curiosity bubble in his chest. "Has she said anything at all?"
"She babbles a little sometimes," Gosforth answered impatiently. "Tells herself stories, I guess. Talks to a hallucination."
"A hallucination?" Draco repeated. "Who is she talking to?"
Gosforth held up his hands, a tacit claim of ignorance.
Draco shifted forward onto his knees, turning her slightly so that she lay on her back. As the rest of her hair fell away from her face, her eyes fluttered open, revealing a set of slightly unfocused golden brown orbs, the light he once remembered in them all but dimmed away.
"A boy," she whispered, and his heart wrenched. "A boy so steeped in sun - "
She cut herself off, her chest heaving with sharp, biting coughs, and Draco looked up at Gosforth, his breath suspended.
"Tell me this isn't Hermione Granger," Draco pleaded, his voice breaking.
"Who?" Gosforth replied, but by then she was already speaking.
She saw the light around his face, the pale glow from his hair, and remembered.
"A boy," she said. "A boy so steeped in sun - "
"Wait," Harry told her, interrupting. "Start from the beginning."
He had always liked his stories a certain way.
"Once there was a monster," she began, the memory flooding through her and beginning to course in her veins, thudding in her ears. "A monster who craved control, and who created a boy only in the day, and a girl only in the night."
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she closed her eyes.
"The boy was kept separate," she continued, knowing Harry would want her to go on. "He was raised only to see the light, and he was so steeped in sun, and his childhood so saturated by it, that he knew no danger. He knew no fear."
She thought she heard another voice from somewhere outside her haze, but the story was important; she had to keep telling the story.
"He was more a live thunderbolt than a human being," she continued, picturing the pale, shining head, the glow of his skin. "Raised to fear nothing. Raised to hunt," she added, picturing the way the storm raged in his eyes. "But the girl was kept in the dark, never permitted to know more than what existed within the walls of her prison."
"Tell me about the boy," she heard him say softly.
Was it Harry? It must have been Harry, and so she continued.
"One day, in a twist of fate, the boy experienced the darkness," Hermione told him. "He thought himself brave, to pursue an animal of the night."
She paused, swallowing to ease the pressure of the words against her throat.
"When he was no longer in the light," she went on, her voice hushed. "When there was no light left to be found, and the darkness surrounded him, he suddenly grew fearful. The courage he thought he possessed had never been his own, he learned; it was not that he was courageous, never that he had been brave; only that he had been kept in the light for so long, so warmed by its protection, that he knew not the truth of the dark."
"He was but a spark," she added. "But he found that he himself was nothing, and it made him feeble, and he saw himself a coward."
"Reminds me of someone," Harry commented, and then she was sure it was him. "Doesn't it?"
"Who was it?"
Another voice. Hushed, in her ear, like a secret.
"Draco," she said, and like magic, his face suddenly appeared.
The moment she said his name, only loud enough for him to hear, every muscle in his body tensed; every inch of him went rigid.
"This is Hermione Granger," he asserted, tasting a metallic kind of rage as he looked up at Gosforth. "How could you not have known?"
The other man's face was blank; what a world he had known.
What a world he hadn't known, Draco corrected himself.
"This is the last known associate of Harry Potter," Draco informed him tersely. "She might be the last link to whatever remains of the Order."
"Oh," Gosforth uttered faintly, though his face hardened, clenching his fists defensively as he anticipated Draco's reproach.
"She could have information about them," Draco said, feeling a strange, uneasy rumbling in his chest as he slowly came to realize the significance of the woman before him. "She would have been prepared for veritaserum," he added confidently, feeling the pieces start to align; another Order member wouldn't, a lesser witch wouldn't, but this one surely would. "She would have known how to avoid giving information - "
"Still, she's not helpful," Gosforth reminded him, flinching as he attempted to cover his mistake. "She's useless, especially now."
"No," Draco argued, shaking his head adamantly. Not true. "I - I went to school with her - " he paused, looking back and trying not to feel sick at the thought of what had become of the brightest witch of her age.
"She's the brains of the operation," he added, feeling at once the significance of that statement, the value of what she might still be. "Whatever she possesses in her mind, it's - "
"It's nothing but nonsense," Gosforth countered irritably.
"It's not," Draco said, aghast, wondering how the boy before him could be so stupid. "She's - she's giving up information," he realized, thinking about the details of her story. "She's giving details, and - "
He felt his mouth form a tight, grim line. "These are not empty words," he said carefully. "Whatever story she's telling" - he inhaled sharply - "whatever hallucination she's talking to, there has to be a basis in truth."
"How can you know that?" Gosforth scoffed, crossing his arms. "What do you think you're going to do?" he added skeptically. "Translate for her?"
But he found that he himself was nothing, and it made him feeble, and he saw himself a coward.
"Yes," Draco said stonily. "That's exactly what I'm going to do."
a/n: Endless thanks to my love and my muse, DrSallySparrow, and to UnicornShenanigans, who patiently endures all of my story ideas. Inspiration featured in this chapter includes Cinderella as written by Perrault, and The Day Boy and the Night Girl by George MacDonald.
If you follow my other works, the final Bachelorette drabble will post in Amortentia on Tuesday, with a new Youth chapter to follow shortly.
[Edited 9/1/2016 to add: this story is categorized angst for a reason. Please note that while I will not list specific trigger warnings for each chapter, there may be some tense/upsetting references to past situations that may include violence or psychological trauma (i.e. in the seven years prior to this chapter). This, like all my works, will end happily for Dramione, and there will be no major character deaths; but assume that in this dystopia, there are background deaths that may be referenced throughout the narrative.]