Upon the Altar of Freedom
First Posted: 29th January 2003 on the Ill-Faith Yahoo group.
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JK Rowling. In no way do I represent myself to be the owner of these characters. I merely manipulate them like puppets for my own diversion.
Warnings: Graphic heterosexual sex. Non-graphic references to homicide, violence and character death.
Author's Notes: I'd like to express my thanks to my beta, Kel. She fixed it up in record time, and provided a lot of lovely, ego-boosting words of praise about it too. Any mistakes remaining are mine alone.
Feedback: Oh yes please. I was monstrously nervous about this one, so any feedback would be most appreciated.
Dedication: To Armand, for saying on-list that if I wrote this pairing, she would write het for a week. There was no way I could back down from that.
And to the Ill-Faith Het Army'. I now wear my banner proudly.
I am tired. I am sick of the fighting. I hate waking morning after grey, dreary morning, not knowing whether today will be the day that it is all over. Not knowing whether I will end the day either dead or facing a brighter future. Not sure whether everything I have come to expect and understand will crumble before me to be replaced by one of twin evils.
I am not stupid. I have never been stupid. Even when I was young, a shy and precocious little girl, finding out about magic for the first time and enrolled in a school far away from the safety of my family and friends. Even when I found my peers to be older and wiser, cold and condescending of the Muggleborn. Yes, I may be many, many things, but I am nobody's fool.
It didn't take me long to work out that it was all a lie. After Voldemort fell at the hands of the boy hero, after Dumbledore died on the swords of our enemies, after the two sides merged and split, forming two factions desperate for dominance and leaving the middle road paved with the bodies of the dead. The Dark and the Light, natural enemies fighting for the world. And there would never be a clear winner, this was a fight that would continue to be fought forevermore, the Dark against the Light.
Unless someone got the upper hand. Unless someone somehow received the vital information that would ensure the defeat of the enemy. But that would never happen. There was no information; there was no upper hand to be had. All the information was available to all parties; there were no secrets. Spies flew between the opponents, ferrying masses of secret data to their teams, helping to win petty battles while the war raged on.
Well, that is not strictly true. There is one way to win this war. But until now that avenue has been closed. Not one of the select few with the knowledge has been willing to part with it.
But I am tired. It has been ten years of fighting, ten years of constant vigilance, early mornings and late nights, meetings and battles, quarrels and reconciliations. Ten years is too long to live your life in the shadows. Too long to be Little Hermione', waiting for her saviour to come and make her whole again. Too long to be the little woman keeping the home fires burning for the real' warriors. And far too long to spend wondering if my warrior is going to come home to me, or be left cold in a field somewhere at the end of the battle.
I am not bitter. I am just tired. Most will judge me harshly for my actions, as I probably will myself. But this is the only option that makes sense anymore. This life, and this world, cannot continue fighting, cannot continue waking each day to the grey dawn of war. And neither can I. I have too much to consider, too much to think of beyond my own needs. Finally Little Hermione' is going to do something that should have been done a long time ago. She is going to rip out her own heart and surrender her happiness for the sake of the world. And for the sake of her unborn child.
He'll never even know. He'll never know what I carried inside myself the day I did this. And he'll never know the legacy he will leave behind, a legacy that will hopefully live in a better world than he did. And as I stand, waiting for the door to open before me, I hope that one day our legacy will look at me from behind green eyes and thank me for the petty sacrifice I make today, and the ultimate sacrifice that will be made tonight.
The rich, cultured voice knocks me from my introspection and forces me to look up, meeting cold grey eyes. "Mr Malfoy."
"You are right on time. Do come in."
I step from the cold autumn day into an equally cold vestibule. I wait as he politely takes my coat and hat, handing them to a waiting house elf, and I follow him into the drawing room. He offers me a chair and a drink, the first I accept, the latter I decline. I would love a drink to steel my nerves, but I have another to consider in this, and the steadying warmth of alcohol is something I will have to manage without. He sits opposite me, in an identical small armchair with a Chippendale feel. It is probably real Chippendale, if I stopped to think about it. The Malfoys were always ostentatious.
But I can't stare at the furniture forever. I raise my eyes to face the one before me and feel a slight shock. I remember this man from my childhood. Cool and calculating, he always seemed ageless. But age does claim us all, and the man before me is no exception. The war has not been kind to either side, and especially not to the leftovers, those from the first conflict who never really did fit into the new war'. He must be over fifty now, he has lines on his face, and his figure reveals the hardship the last ten years have placed upon him too. He isn't the one I love, that is certain. He lacks the dark hair, the tall, thin physique, and, perhaps above all, he lacks the fervent morality of my beloved. But this man offers me something else. He offers me a chance. "Mr MalfoyLucius. Thank you for seeing me."
He waves his hand at me, a casual, throwaway gesture from another time. "I assume you have come to a decision?"
I nod, not entirely trusting my voice with the affirmation.
He smiles at me and it makes my skin crawl. I know what I must do. I must twice betray the ones I love to ensure the safety of my unborn child. I stand up, a graceless move, but he won't care. It is not my grace that he demands of me. "Here?"
He nods, slowly slipping the knot in his cravat. I want to gulp like a child facing the dentist, but I am not a child. And I am certainly not afraid of the dentist. I slowly unbutton my jacket, a simple item I purchased before my wedding. I am entirely dressed today in clothes I purchased myself, with my own money. I couldn't do this, couldn't perform this act in anything that we had bought together. I lower my eyes, not quite able to tolerate watching the man before me undress. I set about my task efficiently, fingers deft from years of practice. When I look up again, I am wearing just the lace and silk of my underwear, and he I must take a deep breath now. This is beyond the point of no return.
I was right. Time has not been kind. He is, for want of a better word, portly. Not fat, not in the same way as Sirius after his release from prison. I almost laugh to myself when the word comes to me. Lucius Malfoy is middle aged. His skin is starting to sag, and he carries a paunch where I assume hard lines once lived.
I, on the other hand, am still experiencing the last flush of youth. Not yet in my thirties, I can still be called a young woman. Over the next six months, that will change. But for now, I have the glow of impending motherhood, without the physical manifestations. Even my beloved husband has remarked, over the last few weeks, on my glowing beauty. If only he knew.
But further reflection will not get this task completed. I summon the courage so renowned in my classmates and look him in the eye. He is still smiling, in a predatory way that makes me tense. But the bargain was not pain so I have little to fear. I smile in return, hoping to inject some of the same lascivious sentiment into my own expression. I probably fail, but it doesn't really matter at this point.
He moves closer to me and in the moments before we touch, my brain doesn't fail to pick up the almost serpentine grace and wonder whether that may not have been contagious. Again I smother a laugh, now wondering at my own ability to find humour in the situation. I know I am finding ways to distract myself from the hand that now rests on my shoulder. I suddenly think of something else and make a small questioning noise in my throat and he looks at me. I summon more of that courage and put my question into words. "Wait. The floor is marble, and I would like to be comfortable."
"Yes, indeed Miss GranHermione. I remember our bargain did not include pain or discomfort." He waves his hand and the furniture shimmers, transforming into a small but ornate single bed. I look at him again, another question on my face.
He grins and speaks softly in my ear, "We shan't need anything bigger, my dear."
I swallow the bile that rises in my throat and pray to Gods I do not believe in that this will be over quickly. I steal another glance at him and imagine that my prayers are in vain. The breath in my ear becomes moist as he gently licks around its curves. My body betrays me and finds pleasure in the act, something that sickens me further. The hand on my shoulder pushes gently and I sit on the bed. He sits beside me, his hand resting on my thigh. I take yet another deep breath and decide that rather than waiting in anticipation, I will summon the courage to voice my intentions. "Lucius. The deal was sex. Straight, plain sex. Nothing fancy, nothing kinky. Understood?"
He nods at me, a pale fire in his eyes and he leans over, pushing me onto my back. He runs a pale hand down my chest, between my breasts and lifts the hem of my camisole. I sit up slightly, helping him to pull it over my head. I lie back down, exposed to his gaze. I am not terribly shy. I have been told, by the scant few men I have allowed to see me like this, that I have nothing to be shy about. Attempting to gain even slight control over the situation, I raise my hands above my head in a show of confidence. This does also have the added benefit of showing my ample charms in their best light. I grin inwardly to see him smile at me again as he runs his hand over my breast. I arch my back into his touch, allowing, for a moment, my betraying body to find pleasure again. I would like to close my eyes, to imagine I am with my beloved. But this has to be real. This has to be my punishment for what I am doing. So I watch him as he in turn watches his hands on me. He trails feather touches over my skin, just enough to taunt, not enough to be pleasurable.
His hand moves down, too quickly to be arousing, and removes my remaining clothes. He smiles at me again. How I wish he would stop that. His fingers return to my breast, then again trail down my body until they reach the dark hair between my legs. With more enthusiasm than finesse, he moves his hand down until he can place a long, pale finger inside me. His movements seem almost awkward, the clumsy fumblings of a teenage boy, rather than the experienced manoeuvres of a middle aged Lothario. I wonder at the reports of his virility. Perhaps, like most things Malfoy, they are just stories.
It is, perhaps, a good thing that I was so desperate to feel the love of my husband, a good thing that I begged him to take me this morning. So perhaps the fact that the man above me will not be first man I shelter this day will mean that I will not experience pain or discomfort. That was, after all, part of the agreement. Perhaps he even thinks that he is the cause of the wetness within me.
I can hardly feel the finger inside me, but I can feel the steady grey gaze upon me. Oh. He is waiting for my reaction. He is hoping to see pleasure in my face. I make a small moaning gasp, a hollow parody of the noises I should be making. He smiles in triumph. A triumph of what I am yet to understand. I can feel the finger moving away again, and I exhale in surprise as he rolls upon me suddenly. I spare a quick thought for the life in my belly, and lose it an instant later as he thrusts inside me without warning.
I can feel him inside me, but it is not the pulsing throb of my husband. It is more the slightly tight feeling that comes from too much friction and not enough lubrication. But it isn't uncomfortable as such. I have certainly experienced worse in my life. Those clumsy teenage fumblings. Again I almost laugh, but manage to turn it into another hollow moan. He raises himself on his hands, looking down at me with that triumph in his eyes again. Oh. Awareness dawns. He feels triumphant that he has made me moan. Well, one good turn and all. I start to moan with abandon. In between my heated acting, I manage to curse myself that I didn't think of this sooner. Although his technique needs work, like most men he seems keen to see me orgasm before him, so he can enjoy himself without thinking of me. I come to a climatic, and in my opinion, award winning orgasm just moments before I feel his thrusts speed up, quick and jabbing into me. His whole body seems to shudder only seconds later as he climaxes and slumps down on me.
Again my thoughts turn to the child in my womb, and I push at his shoulders to get him to move. He raises himself again and looks at me with a dreamy smile on his face. Like this, he is almost attractive. I can almost lie here and look at him in his afterglow and imagine that this is something I chose not for the sake of others, but for the sake of myself. But no. If it were for myself, he would be another and I would be basking in my own afterglow.
I move from the bed and dress quickly, mopping at myself on the corner of the sheet and performing a spell of protection under my breath. I do not, cannot fear pregnancy from this act, but I fear disease, both for myself and my child. I turn around and look at him. "Satisfied?" The words escape my mouth in an almost biting tone and I hurry to salvage the situation. "Was it good enough?" There, that is better. The slightly anxious tone of a woman who wants nothing more than to please the man.
He sits up on the bed, his eyes calculating but his mouth still locked in the dreamy smile. It is quite amusing to see him like this.
"Now, Hermione. I believe we have a few things to discuss, and you can be on your way." His tone is light and almost cheerful. How unlike him. This is good fun, now that the dirty work', so to speak, is done.
"Yes. You have the potion ready?" I just want to get this over and done with. The rest of the day will be hard enough.
"Of course. But first."
What? He is stalling for time? This was not part of the plan. I cannot help the frown on my face when I ask him, "What?"
His face softens slightly, "Tell me why."
"Why?" What does he mean why? Why does he care? The Dark will win the war, and it will all be over. What does it matter? I have already bought my safety, and his silence. "Because I am tired, Lucius. I am tired of the war, I am tired of living as a soldier's wife, and I am tired of never knowing where my husband is."
"So in order to make sure you know where he is, you are putting him in the graveyard?"
I wish I could tell him the truth. I wish I could tell him that it isn't for my sake that I will drug my husband tonight, keep his death a secret for the week it will take for the Dark to win the war, for the Light to lose without him. Tell him that it isn't for my own sake that I sold my body to him in return for my safety when it is all over. Tell him that I wouldn't have considered what I did if it wasn't that he was the only man who could protect me from both the Dark and the Light. But I can't, so I stay silent and merely turn my head from the gaze of this man who walks in neither the Light nor the Dark, but somewhere in between.
"How far along are you?" My face must have registered my surprise because he continues softly, "Your little husband may not recognise the first swell of your belly, my dear, but I remember the same thing on my own precious wife. It is not easy to mistake, and it will be very obvious soon. But I don't understand. You can't very well bring up the next saviour of the Wizarding World all by yourself." He is genuinely confused and I am shocked into an honest answer.
"I am not raising the next saviour of the Wizarding World'. If I don't do this, there won't be a world to raise him in. Have you seen what is happening out there, Lucius? People are dying daily. The fighting is escalating and I can't see an end to it. I know we are, strictly speaking, on opposite sides of the fence, but seriously Lucius, can you see a life under either side anymore?" I surprise myself with the voracity of my response. I may be tired, but that doesn't mean I am not just as vehement as when I campaigned for elf welfare back in school.
He slumps back on the bed, resting against the intricately carved headboard. Even in the heat of passion, Malfoys take the time to be ostentatious. "You are right. There is no right and wrong anymore. There is no winner to this war. But how does what you are about to do solve anything? Forgive me; I will not talk you out of it. If you want to throw the game, I won't stop you. But how will it help?"
Again, honesty bubbles out of me and I can't help it. It won't matter in a few hours anyway. "I love Harry, Lucius. Always have, right from those last few horrible years of school. But he is everything to everyone else, too. The Light's best kept secret. That is what you have been trying to get your hands on for the last twelve years, that is the big secret of our defences. Harry Potter, the boy who lived. Well, if the boy who lived wasn't living anymore, then you wouldn't be losing. The Dark could win the final battles and the war would be over." I sigh and sit back down on the little Chippendale chair. I look over at him and am astonished to find surprise there, "There isn't that much difference you know, between the Dark and the Light. Things will be the same as always, just a new face on the Galleons, and a new man we call Sir. But I will be safe with my child. You have promised me that and I have given what you asked. You will protect me and my son, and we will be taken from this place and kept safe in our own world. My child will grow up not being the son of Harry Potter, but being himself."
Suddenly the irony crashes down on me and tears start forming in my eyes, "I am going to poison the only man I've ever loved, to save the one man who can't even tell me he loves me yet. Ironic, isn't it? We always lose that which we need the most. Harry is almost dead anyway. I can see it; he looks so old, so grey. He doesn't cry anymore, not even when a child lies dying in his arms. He doesn't sing, he doesn't laugh. He barely even loves. I watch him at night lying in sleep and he looks so troubled. He once told me that he doesn't even have dreams anymore, only nightmares. That isn't life. I can't fix that, I can't stop what the world is doing to him, but I can make sure that it doesn't happen to our son." I descend into tears, sobs wracking my body and I almost fail to notice the strong arms encasing me and providing support in a most unexpected way. I lean against him, resting my head on his shoulder and I cry. Finally, as I can cry no more, he strokes my hair gently and presses a small vial into my hand.
"Hermione. I understand what you are trying to do, and I will uphold our agreement. I will protect you and your child, and assure you safe passage when the war is over. I wish I could offer you happiness, but some things in this world are not to be."
I look up at him and see reflected in his eyes much the same pain as I am feeling now. I see the loss of his wife and son, dead and cold in the rubble of an attack by the Light on a Dark field hospital. Suddenly I understand. We are not so different. We have all lost in this war. There are no winners and no losers. There are just people struggling to get on with their lives.
I hug him quickly, and, for the first time this day, I press a kiss to his lips. Whispering my thanks for services rendered, and services to come, I slip out of the front door and leave this middle aged, wrecked Lothario to his memories. I have much to do this day, and much to prepare.
But when they ask, in later years, what spurred a woman to kill the one she loved, and to forfeit a war, I hope they remember; I know what happens to boys who fight for the light. I look at Ron and see nothing but the steel chair, and the blanket that covers where his legs once were. I look for Seamus and Dean at a party or meeting, and remember that I need to look in the graveyard instead. And I look at my beloved Harry, the weight of the world on his shoulders, and a haunted, dead look in his young eyes, and I know that I don't want my son to bear this burden too. I want him to have the childhood Harry never had. I want him to have the education Harry was never able to enjoy. And I want him to have the chance to make the choices Harry never even knew existed. Away from the Dark. Away from the Light. Away from it all.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.'
- Abraham Lincoln in a letter to Mrs Bixby. Nov 21, 1864