Summary: When a tyrannical king takes the throne by the blood-stained tip of his sword, two women find themselves tangled in his search for power. Who is the pawn and who is the queen, and what will they sacrifice for love? Hansy/Tomione, eventual Dramione. Historical AU.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Credit where credit is due, Joanne Rowling.
A/N: This work is an expansion of my one shot Chaotic Good (Chapter 22) from my short story collection Amortentia. It will follow the stories of two female narrators and protagonists (Pansy and Hermione) rather than two sides of a single romantic arc. The magic that exists in this AU is different from the Potterverse, as will become clear after some introductory material. Some characters will not be featured until later in the story, but please note the pairings listed in the summary.
Hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1: Your Majesty
Lady Pansy Parkinson fought every instinct born of pride, every fiber of her being that told her to hold her chin high - a Parkinson, after all, of noble birth, of peerless virtue - to lower her eyes to the ground, her hands clasped as she walked, knowing all eyes were on her.
Her shoes tapped against the stone of the castle and she fought a brief shiver of nerves, hearing her father's voice.
"Finally," he'd said, as though the wait had exhausted him, "finally, some use for you."
"Father?" she'd asked, bowing low. She had been at the stage in her life when she was expected to be ruled by two men; her father, and the king. Shortly - within moments; within breaths - she would learn that the list would condense.
"The king has asked for you," her father supplied briskly, scarcely sparing her a glance. "You will do as you are told."
She blinked; no other option would have occurred to her. What had been the meaning of the sanctity of her blood - the radiance of her pedigree - if not for this?
"Yes, Father," she replied, bowing her head. Beside him, her mother said nothing, and for a moment, silence ruled; but then Pansy's mouth had parted, the force of her many private burdens bubbling helplessly to her lips, and her father had sighed with impatience.
"You have questions, I presume," he muttered, waving a hand. "So ask."
What if I don't love him, she thought to plead. What if I don't even like him?
"Why me?" she asked instead, and her father's lips curled into a mirthless smile.
"Remember, daughter, there are only two reasons men do anything," he informed her, rich with condescension, and she had obediently lowered her gaze, modest in her curiosity. "Power," he said firstly, "and love. But one is far more likely than the other, and this," he clarified with a careless laugh, "this, I assure you, is not love."
Pansy swallowed a bitter mouthful of fear and trapped it; then choked out, "Power, then?"
A shrug; a tacit agreement. "We may not be blessed with wealth," her father offered in answer, "but we are rich in land, and for those who see clearly, in strategy, as well."
True enough, Pansy knew.
Her father was lord of the Borderlands, and she a faithful daughter of them. The significance of this - the isolation of this - had not escaped her. Despite her practiced silence, Pansy was no fool. She knew that in life, games did not end at the edge of the board, nor did they relent to disappear past a telling line of a map - though she could not have guessed how far this king's ambitions extended.
They were rich in land, yes, and strategy; that much was true. If her father had borne sons, she knew, they would have served in the royal army, perhaps been officers at court. But Lady Dahlia, the wife Lord Parkinson had chosen for beauty and for show, had only produced a single daughter, failing him in the end - at least, until this moment, Pansy realized, recognizing something that might have passed for affection in her father's eye as he lent a solemn kiss to the word finally.
"Finally," he'd said, "someone has need of you," and there was a joy there, in the steepled tips of his fingers; relief, at the thought of her blessed absence.
It had been an unsubtle reminder not to destroy her family's only chance to rocket into prestige. She could have been too old, or too young - the king could have called at a less ripened time than this one - but instead she was perfect; just what the king required, existing for his tastes, the highest born and most flawlessly bred from what his selection would allow. Pansy, the manifestation of Dahlia's inadequacy, would finally serve to prompt her family to rise.
Her secret fears - what if I displease, what if I falter - what if I, like my mother, only fail? - were of little to no concern. Today they'd yanked her into her corset without a care to how they broke her, and oh, did she look fine.
Her skirts rustled appealingly as she breezed through the door, the light hitting her eyes and coaxing her back to the present as she reached the Great Hall. She knew without looking up that he was there, the king himself, with her father beside him. She also knew that if not for her - if not for the king's need, and her convenient existence - her father would not find himself in such proximity; and yet still, in her knowing, she knew better - in her noble birth, her peerless virtue - than to expect his gratitude, or his fondness.
She kept her eyes on the ground; she saw the king's boots first, the gilded base of his throne; his face would have to wait. She would need permission first.
"Your Majesty," she breathed, sinking into a low curtsy before him.
Silence. A rustle. He was shifting in his seat; no doubt looking her over, gauging the value of his purchase. What does my reign cost? he was asking, determining with a glance if sharing her bed were a price he would be willing to pay.
"Up," he commanded, his voice low, and she rose, a puppet on his strings, her eyes demurely cast at his feet until she saw him stand; and then her breath caught as he approached her.
She knew, impeccably trained as she had been, that she was bound to acknowledge her father, to bow nearly as low to him as she had to the king, but her attention was elsewhere. The man before her - the man who was to take ownership of her - was far too distracting.
"This king," her mother had whispered, "are we sure he will be kind to her?"
Pansy, concealed in the doorway, had heard her father laugh. "Not so sure as that, wife," he returned bluntly. "But I know sureness in the weight of my purse, and that much, I can tell you, is presently wanting - and won't be, if this betrothal sticks."
A hesitant sigh from her mother. "The king is - "
"Formidable, certainly," her father supplied at once. "I will be surprised if it's a marriage of affection, seeing as this king appears to have little to spare."
There had been a rustle of skirts; a supplication.
"Surely," Dahlia whispered, "surely you can ask - "
"Ask?" her father echoed sharply, pairing his ire with a humorless laugh. "You're soft," he snapped. "You've babied her."
Anger swelled and taunted.
"My lord," her mother said imploringly, and with a telling swish of silk, Pansy heard her mother sink back into the fabric. "Apologies, my lord, if I've overstepped."
A dance, Pansy thought, observing; a bold step forward, a coquettish step back. Pansy, an able dancer, took careful note of the steps.
"How this king chooses to treat her is out of your hands, and you'll have done her no favors if you fill her head with expectations of romance," her father spat. "She'll be a queen, and her children will be princes. Kindness or not, you could wish no more for her than that."
"I wish no more for her than what you require," Dahlia murmured, a graceful finish.
The last step, Pansy knew, is always a bow.
Up, the king had said, and so she had stood, looking him in the eye, the man who had previously amounted to less than a spectral presence in her mind. The man who, until that moment, had been no more than the sum of her father's greed and her mother's fears; the intangible shape of her future, edged by the hazy formulation of lore.
They whispered about him all over the country; so, of course, she'd heard her fair share of tales. She'd heard that he had claimed the throne in cold blood, a conqueror-king; that he had placed himself atop a throne that only noblemen had previously dared to reach for; that he muted any voice that opposed him; that he, of little name and even lower fortune, had stolen his title, made off with it by the blood-stained tip of his sword. So, in the depths of her knowing, Pansy knew that her mother's whispers of are we sure he will be kind to her? were not so wildly misplaced.
What the world had failed to mention, though, in their whispers, and what Pansy took stock of now, had been the stunning arrangement of his face, sculpted from perfection and lined with a consummate grace. They, the fools who'd never laid eyes on him, had failed to speak of the rich paleness of his skin, the ebony sheen of his hair, the keen cleverness of his gaze; nor had they mentioned the velvety richness of the blue which now appraised her sharply, traveling up and down the fabric of her gown - made for this occasion - as well as the offer underneath.
Pansy shuddered, feeling naked before him despite the finery they draped her in.
"Slender," the king noted, his gaze flicking to her father. "Taller than I expected," he added, and Pansy saw the twist of mockery in his gaze, an acknowledgement of her father's known insecurity. Are we sure he will be kind to her? Pansy heard Dahlia say.
Perhaps he was not a kind man; perhaps, Pansy thought, kindness was overrated.
The king reached out, lifting her chin; his blue eyes searched hers as he leaned in, something glittering in his gaze. Over his shoulder, Pansy saw her father's brow furrow; she wondered if it was concern, but knew - oh, she knew - that he was no paternal spirit. Lord Parkinson was appalled, more likely - of little name, she recalled of this king, and even lower fortune - but it was obvious that no one on earth would deny this man.
He was close to her now; too close. Closer than any man had dared to stand.
"Do you have desires, Lady Pansy?" the king asked, his voice low in her ear. "Do you wish for greatness, perhaps, or aspire to ascend?"
A breath separated them. She kept her head still, knowing the percussive thud of her heartbeat might be enough to tip her against him.
"I desire as you do, Your Majesty," she replied evenly, licking moisture to her lips. A step backwards; a familiar dance. Peerless virtue, she offered, burning fiercely in her pride and in her strange, consuming want. Noble birth.
The king, though, looked disappointed. He took a step back, his face composing itself from its moment of intimacy, and she realized - her heart plunging, the beat of it suspended mid-breath - that she was meant to have leapt forward.
This, she realized, was not the dance she'd been raised for.
"Lovely," he concluded, despite his disappointment; she, relieved, released a captive breath.
"Your Majesty," she said again, her voice barely a whisper. If the first time had been a greeting, this one was a promise. My king, she said, swearing fealty.
He, strangely, spared an incongruous smile at her quiet offer of reverence.
"So formal," he murmured. "That won't do, if you're to be my wife." He stepped closer and she thought for a moment he meant to kiss her; she wondered if he would dare. Here, she wondered, before his lords, before her own father - did he dare?
He didn't. She cursed the distance between his lips and hers.
"Tom," he offered coolly, and she cursed herself this time, for finding it a blessing. "Tom will do."
"Tom," she said back, and tasted devotion on her tongue.
Hermione Granger was no lady, but she'd been damned by the fates to be born a girl.
"The brains of a man," her father had boasted. "A pity, really, to be so deprived."
"A pity, I should say," the priests had declared, "that such a gifted mind would be wasted on a woman."
"A woman," the university regents had scoffed, "do you think us fools?"
"Fools," Minerva had said, eyes sparkling as she touched her cheek, "for not seeing your potential."
Hermione had lost both her parents to the Sickness as a teenager, and society, in its endless apathy, had failed to carve out a place for her; no money had meant no value and she, narrow-hipped and small-breasted, could not even traffic on the worth of her womb. She'd been in the street, half-starved and dazed with fever, when Minerva had found her.
"Heavens, child," Minerva had said, though Hermione was more foal-resembling than actual foal. "Come in here, would you?"
Here, it turned out, had been Minerva's shop, The Room of Requirement, which Hermione had learned once belonged to Minerva's late husband. As a widow, Minerva was one of few women permitted to operate a business; one which, of course, would transfer to her next husband upon remarriage, not that such things concerned Minerva. The shop housed a strange, mismatched collection of necessities and oddities - books and perishables and trinkets - and was the kind of place, Hermione quickly learned, where a person had only to show his face before Minerva knew precisely what he was looking for.
"I'm in need of a bookkeeper," Minerva had said briskly, once she'd pumped Hermione full of food and mead and nodded appreciatively at the color that bloomed once more in her cheeks. "Have you a head for numbers?"
"Yes," Hermione said, and it was true. The brains of a man, her father had said.
"Good," Minerva determined, her lips pursing in sparse approval. "My last bookkeeper was a thief, and frankly, I hope he's gotten his due."
"What would be his due?" Hermione asked, before glimpsing her first of Minerva's rare smiles.
"If I ruled the world, he'd be strung up by his thumbnails and then pecked down to bone by parrots," Minerva said. "Notoriously long lives, parrots," she explained, brushing a speck of dust from her apron, "and tireless birds. Lovely plumage." She looked off dreamily before shaking herself of her morbid fantasy, glancing down at Hermione. "More likely though, a fool's fate; death by drink."
"How unfortunate," Hermione murmured.
Minerva lifted an eyebrow. "Believe me, dear, he was no saint."
"I meant," Hermione clarified, straightening, "how unfortunate that there were no parrots at your disposal."
"Ah, lass, everything is at my disposal," Minerva informed her, though she looked pleased. "I only regret not catching him sooner."
It was illegal, of course, for Hermione - a woman, do you think us fools? - to work in The Room of Requirement, and so they hid her quietly in the back. It was a perfectly fine existence, albeit a cramped one, made interesting by the pleasure of Minerva's company. She was an odd woman who kept strange hours and stranger acquaintances - in particular, a man named Xenophilius who wrote the most peculiar series of observational essays Hermione had ever read, and a second man named Filius who seemed intent on achieving flight - but who was exceedingly intriguing company. Minerva had previously had the benefit of a particularly indulgent husband, from what Hermione could gather - a brilliant mind, as well, but Hermione knew better than anyone that that didn't amount to much without a permissive venue - and was eager to teach Hermione anything that served interesting.
And truly, nearly everything did - Minerva was a woman who could just as easily nourish an herb garden as she could hide a murder (Hermione suspected) and it was a pleasant existence, despite the end she knew, somehow, was coming. She had grown comfortable, and that was the thing with Hermione and comfort; she knew - the same way she knew her own heartbeat - that it always had an end.
It started with a visit.
"Who's it for?" Hermione heard Minerva say sharply, and Hermione, unsettled, crept towards the front of the store to listen. There was something unusually tense in Minerva's tone that Hermione hadn't caught before, despite her years of working there. "These are not the sort of things I provide without asking questions."
The other voice was angered. Indignant, Hermione corrected herself, upon further observation; as though he were being insulted by her refusal. "I'd rethink that, if I were you," he snapped.
"Well, heavens above, thank goodness you're not," Minerva retorted venomously, "and we can both carry on in our respective positions."
"Listen," the other voice growled, "if you think I won't arrest you right now - "
"For what?" Minerva demanded, though Hermione found that reflex exceedingly unwise, as there were a number of things in the shop worth an arrest; herself, for instance. "Try me, you sad little man - "
"Pettigrew," a low, throbbing baritone remarked as heavy footsteps entered the shop, "you've upset her."
"Apologies, my lord," the first man squeaked, and Hermione heard a clatter, as though the man had fallen to his knees.
"Mistress McGonagall," the polished voice said, his steps echoing through the room, "you must forgive my quick-tempered associate."
"I can forgive a quick temper," Minerva returned staunchly. "But I care little for unnecessary vanity."
"I sympathize," the man said simply. "Go, Pettigrew," he commanded, and Hermione heard footsteps rushing hurriedly out the door.
"Now," the man said, "are we alone?"
There was a moment of hesitation.
"Yes," Minerva said firmly.
"Ah," the man tsked. "I'd prefer we not open our business relationship with lies, if I might be so bold as to make requests."
"You may not," Minerva said, but Hermione could hear her confidence waning.
"Mistress McGonagall," the man said warningly, "you've seen the list of items I need. So you know, then," he added carefully, "that I will not take kindly to a lie."
For a moment, Minerva said nothing, which was telling enough in itself; Hermione, sensing trouble, stepped out of the back office, attempting to intervene.
"Mother," she called, feigning brightness, "where should I put these - "
She stopped, seeing the man in the room. "Oh," she said faintly.
Hermione had never been one to gape at a man, but she certainly considered doing it at this one. He stood across the counter from Minerva, and even from Hermione's fairly distant vantage point, she could admire the stunning contrast of his richly pale skin and his ebony hair, the dousing blue of his eyes as they met hers, appraising her sharply.
"Oh, indeed," he remarked, a touch of curiosity dancing across the bow of his lips; amusement, Hermione read in the lines of his mouth. "Alone, were we?" he asked, glancing questioningly at Minerva.
"Apologies," Minerva muttered. Hermione could see her eyes were narrowed suspiciously, though she could also tell that, for whatever reason, the older woman was operating strictly within the confines of her more reserved nature. Nerves, Hermione guessed. "I'd sent the girl on an errand. I hadn't been aware she'd returned."
"Mother and daughter, hm?" the man asked, his gaze flicking back to Hermione and passing quickly over her face. "You're staring," he informed her, a curve of humor to his lips.
Hermione swallowed. "Sorry," she said quickly.
"No, don't apologize," the man instructed carelessly, waving a hand. "Tell me," he ventured, gesturing to himself, "what is it that you see?"
Hermione paused. Minerva seemed to be holding her breath.
"Money," Hermione replied.
The man laughed. "Is it so obvious in this garb?" he asked, gesturing to his wardrobe.
"It's what I see in every customer," Hermione assured him, moving to stand beside Minerva. Up close, the stranger's eyes were even more astounding; an azure, a celestial blue. "What is it you're wishing to acquire from my mother?"
The man, who was still watching her closely, considered her a moment before speaking.
"Your nose," he said slowly.
Hermione blinked. "What?"
"Your nose," the man repeated, "is not long or prominent enough for this to be your mother. Your lips are fuller," he added, "and your cheekbones higher." He glanced at Minerva, and then back at Hermione. "Your eyes," he murmured. "A deeper shade of brown."
"I don't know whether you believe yourself a master of art or science," Hermione said, stiffening, "but perhaps you fail to consider I might have inherited those traits from my father."
"Or," the man said, "perhaps you're lying, and you're doing something you shouldn't."
Hermione, alarmed at the accusation, drew back; Minerva, who appeared to have noticed something during the exchange, leaned forward, regaining control of the conversation.
"These things that you want," Minerva began. "I don't have them."
"But you can get them," the man determined firmly, shifting his attention back to her. "Can't you?"
"I can," Minerva said slowly. Ah, lass, everything is at my disposal, Hermione heard her say. "And am I to assume there is a cost, if I do not?" she added, her tone marked with even deliberation.
"Ah, so there is one trait you share," the man said, glancing knowingly at Hermione. "You both trust me so very, very little."
"Hazards of being weak-minded women," Hermione supplied flatly. "You understand."
The man eyed her carefully, the amusement fading from his features.
"You are many things," he permitted, his gaze locking on hers. "But I am not fool enough to think 'weak-minded' among them."
For a moment - in a chilling breath - Hermione glimpsed something in his eyes; a flash of futures and pasts, a blinding glimmer of chaos, of intertwining strands of light. A snake, she thought, and a lioness; passion and blood and bone. A brash darkness, a bright paleness, a flash of raven hair - a touch in the darkness, the sputtering of a candle flame, the hollow glow of a raised crown, a strike of steel against gold -
And then she blinked and it was gone, and he turned back to Minerva.
"You can procure the items I require," he concluded. "Can you not?"
Hermione waited as Minerva eyed him closely, considering her options.
"I can," she said.
The man's lips curled into a smile. "And will you?"
The corners of Minerva's mouth twitched. "I will," she promised coolly, and then time stopped: "If it pleases Your Majesty," she added, casting the words at his feet.
Hermione felt the air drain from her lungs as the man's - the king's - eyes narrowed.
"That," he remarked curtly, "seems overly formal, don't you think?"
"If it pleases Your Majesty," Minerva repeated, and the king's mouth tightened to a grimace.
"Well," he said, looking displeased. "I suppose I should be satisfied having gotten what I came for." He shifted his stance, glancing again between them. "I should have known Pettigrew did not possess the subtlety to handle these matters with the necessary sensitivity," he added, somewhat apologetically. "Perhaps Severus will be more to your liking, for future visits."
"Not you?" Hermione asked, the words seeming to tumble forth without her consent. "Your Majesty," she added hastily, lowering her chin in horror as Minerva tossed her a sidelong glare.
Despite her impertinence, the king chuckled, giving her a thorough once-over. "Do you wish me to come back, Miss" - he paused, eyeing Minerva and nodding, as though he were agreeing to carry on the charade - "McGonagall?"
Hermione's heart leapt furiously to her throat. "If your Majesty wishes," she said faintly, but even she could hear the shudder of pleading in her tone.
The king smiled like he could swallow her whole, and she met his eye like she would let him.
"Call me Tom," he suggested.
Tom, she heard herself say from somewhere far away, Tom, please -
"Tom, then," she replied, and in the span of breath she molted, shed her old skin, and changed, newly burdened by something she didn't yet know how to name.
a/n: the muse has been itching on this one. Next chapter coming shortly.