A traveler making his way down a lonesome and richly forested road was on the search for a refuge. He had been walking since dawn, hoping that he could make good time and find a place to rest before dinner. He had started off this journey with a horse, and the first day's worth of travel was speedy and pleasant. However, at the end of the first day an unfortunate accident with a slippery cobblestone had rendered the poor beast unfit for more travel. It would take a long time for it to heal, if the injury allowed it, and he was reluctant to waste time. He counted himself lucky it had happened just as he'd come across a small village.
The man had sadly sold his horse to an innkeeper in exchange for a meal and a room for the night, and decided the next morning to continue the rest of the way on foot, preferring to keep the last of his funds than to spend it on a cab or another horse.
He had been homeschooled as a child, and once he had come of age he gone to work as a bricklayer in the Muggle world, following the near-feverish rate of constructions in large cities in North America. The pay was sufficient to keep his modest lifestyle, and he squirreled away enough money to keep his plans for the future open and not too miserable.
He was a man with taste for travel and movement, and so he had no problem walking the rest of the way if need be. The day was a fine one—a little chill in the air from the morning mist still hung heavy and sharp around him, but he wore thick layers that shielded him from their sting. The vegetation and trees around him was so lush that he made a conscious effort to fill his lungs up as best as he could with each breath to savor its freshness. There was a parcel with fresh cheese, meat, bread and fish that the innkeeper had wrapped for him and an old flask of wine tucked safely inside his pack. It would last him through the day but he was eager to see what else he might find to eat at the next village, which was not that far off, if the inkeeper's information was accurate.
He had been sorry to trade in his horse, having only just bought it some days before for his travels along the countryside. Were he not a Squib he would have been able to heal the poor animal and spare himself the ordeal—he'd instantly been faced with that thought as he'd stared at the creature's injured leg. Rather than give in to bitterness and indulge in a sour mood, however, the traveler was eager to make the most of the day. His youngest sister lived in the village he was headed to, and was preparing for her wedding. The gift he had bought her lay safe in a secret compartment in his pack that an old friend had added into it when he was still in school.
The bag was an old, shabby thing, but it had held up well since his school years, and the traveler prized it for the magical addition his neighbor had given it. It had saved him in the past, when he had been robbed and the clueless Muggle thieves could not detect the large pocket that could hold just about anything inside. It was his most precious possession.
The sun was up high and the birds sang loudly. As always, it had been pleasant at first, then annoying, then he had grown almost deaf to the sound, only realizing it when he realized the area had become absolutely silent. He looked around himself, and saw only the lane on his right that led into a denser forest.
It did not make him uneasy. The innkeeper had told him this would happen, after all. Speaking English through a thick French accent, he had told him that the road was haunted at this particular spot. Not like the ghosts that could be seen in old libraries or in Hogwarts itself, if the stories were true, but really haunted. There was a gateway to hell on this road, the innkeeper had insisted. He had seen a malicious spirit there himself the last time he had been there, but when pressed for the exact location, he refused to say.
The traveler saw nothing. The birds had gone silent, to be sure, but so far he felt nothing out of the ordinary. He looked around and there was nothing to suggest there was something other-worldly about the road, but remembering the deceptive appearance of his pack, he decided not to shrug it off entirely. There was always some sort of substance to these types of stories, no matter how small.
The innkeeper had also divulged in a local secret: the Devil's bride, they had come to call her.
Nobody knew her name. Nobody knew where she had come from. Simply one day she was there in their square, dressed in white, not talking to anybody but reading a book by a fountain. Nobody dared approach her. Everybody agreed that she was beautiful, and that just to look at her filled them with sorrow, though they could never tell why.
The traveler had argued that this was no reason for her to have any association with the Devil. She might just be a very private person, or even shy, and being beautiful was probably not something she could help. The innkeeper had smiled knowingly.
'You weel know when you see,' he had said, nodding. 'Elle appartient au diable.'
The traveler was skeptical, but prepared to believe. He had asked for more stories.
According to the innkeeper, the woman did not come to the village often. When she did, she always came alone. Except once, when she came with a man.
Nobody remembered what he looked like, except that he was beautiful too, and that his eyes, despite appearing to be, were not human. Some of the villagers who had dared to look him in the eye insisted that his mere stare had frozen them like statues, and they were only able to move again when he looked away.
They argued on whether his hair was blonde, brown or black, the shape of his nose. The feature everyone remembered most clearly was the eyes, and everything else seemed a blur. He was tall, they unanimously agreed, for the tallest villager, who was over six feet, had been able to look him clear in the face without stooping. The curious man did not speak to any of them but they overheard him speaking to the woman—his wife. His French was flawless, and though they feared him, it was an odd source of pride, to know that the Devil was a Frenchman.
When they both had appeared the word had spread quickly, and soon everybody knew. The village was small and its populace friendly but eager for gossip. It wasn't uncommon for most of its residents to gather in the late afternoon or early evening to sit around the square and eat or drink and trade their stories.
Nobody had dared to go outside, the day they had both visited. The residents watched from behind their curtains and peepholes as the pair walked around, never entering any businesses or restaurants. Those who were already outside kept a careful distance. The pair did not seem to mind. They seemed content to only walk, speaking to each other.
The woman never smiled. She seemed unhappy the whole time the man was there with her, and they saw that when he touched her she never seemed pleased by it. It led many of them to think that He had abducted her. Others protested that they were clearly married, and that if she wanted help all she had to do was call the local police and report him. She only had to run away and spare herself the misery, they pointed out. What was stopping her?
Perhaps they did not love each other, the traveler had suggested. The innkeeper shook his head and shrugged.
The Devil doted on his bride. Every time they saw her, she was dressed in fine clothing. The day they came and walked around, he never let go of her. They kissed and he stroked her and spoke into her ear. He picked flowers and put them in her hair. The woman whose flowers he had cut had been angry that he had not asked permission, and despite her fear had tried to open her door to yell at him. It would not open even though she had undone the lock. She tried her windows next, and though she had not touched the cord, all the blinds came down and would not part when she tried to open them. The next morning, when she woke, all her prized flowers were dead.
Nobody had seen them leave. They had turned a corner to advance into the next street, and when the person at the next house waited for them to pass his window, nothing came. One by one, the villagers poked their heads from their windows and asked their neighbor where they had gone, but no one had an answer. They had simply vanished.
The innkeeper seemed absolutely convinced of the story. The traveler was still doubtful.
There was a lane along the road, the innkeeper had informed him, that led to where the Devil and his bride lived. It was a long way from the road, surrounded by a thick forest that gave the feeling to those who dared enter it that their presence was unwelcome. In the center was a large white house. It appeared clean and well-kept, surrounded by a beautiful garden and a tall fence.
'Not everyone who veeseets comes back," the innkeeper had said. 'And when zey do, zey do not remember what zey saw."
When the traveler found it, he found that the innkeeper had lied to him.
It was not a house but a mansion. There was a gate and not a fence around it; it's sharp, detailed ironwork gleaming in the light like blood-wet arrow heads. A gravel path led to the front doors.
So the Devil was a wizard, and not only that, he must be wealthy to own such a home. The traveler was not surprised. He smiled, and continued toward the front gate.
Perhaps this stranger would be amused to hear the stories about himself the Muggles had made. The traveler was curious to see what he looked like. Did he really look like they said, or was that too an illusion, for the sake of keeping his own privacy?
And his wife—the traveler looked up when he reached the gate, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. The innkeeper had told him she was often seen by a window, staring out into the wood. Once, she had even been seen in the garden, sitting on a bench and speaking to another lady. The traveler wondered if he would be able to see her at all.
Movement caught his eye. The traveler looked up, and his face went pale.
There was a woman, at a window, her front pressed against the glass by a tall figure whom the traveler could not see clearly. It was clear they were in the middle of coitus. The woman was clothed, thankfully, her skirt lifted up from the back, but as the traveler looked on, stupefied, he could see the motion of the male figure as he pushed against her. One hand was caught in her hair, the other gripping her hip. The woman's expression was a mixture of pain and pleasure. Her eyes were shut, too preoccupied in her lover's attentions to notice the voyeur at her gate.
The traveler could not look away. He did try, and repeatedly failed. Something was forcing him to stare. Red mortification burned at his face, and at the same time, a shameful arousal stirred within him.
The male had hunched over the woman now, his head in her shoulder. The woman, the poor woman, writhed underneath him. Her palms pounded against the glass. Her mouth was open wide. When he pulled away the traveler could see blood had been drawn. It trailed down her neck and over her breast, staining her clothes. Her mouth moved—she seemed to be pleading with the man. Whatever it was she said, the traveler could not hear. Her lover's response was to reach around and hold her by the throat.
What kind of man is he? The traveler thought hysterically.
The man at the window looked up and caught the traveler's eye. The traveler's heart froze, and was inundated with terror. The man smiled, his teeth stained red. For a moment, the traveler was sure his eyes had turned red, too, but he wasn't standing close enough to tell. It was enough to send his heart racing again, thinking back to the days when Voldemort had been the biggest threat in his world. The man gave a last hard thrust to the woman, and keeping eye contact with the traveler, held her against him, turning her head to kiss her. She looked ready to fall over, but noticed her lover's gaze and, breaking the kiss, she followed it to meet the stare of the petrified traveler.
The traveler found little comfort in confirming the fact that she was as beautiful as the innkeeper had told him. The haunting look in her eyes as her cheeks burned red as his gave him the sickening realization that what he had just been forced to witness had not been entirely consensual.
He could still feel the hostile stare of the lover. The traveler was dripping with sweat though he stood perfectly still. A second later, he was released, and without wasting another moment he turned and ran.
It was a shame that he could not Apparate. It was a shame he did not have a broom. It was a shame he'd had to give away his horse. It was a shame he'd listened to the innkeeper at all.
The path had disappeared. The traveler looked around wildly for it, but it was gone.
He had been standing right at its end. He had run back in the way he was sure he'd come from, but it seemed he'd only succeeded in getting himself lost. He'd lost his pack somewhere along the way—he didn't care. Everything in him was screaming for him to get gone.
The forest was darker now. It was still silent but for his heavy breathing, the crash of each footfall over bramble and root. The hairs along his body prickled, and he knew something was after him.
There was no choice but to run. He went blindly in one direction.
When he could not run anymore he was forced to stop; doubling over, hands braced on his knees as he gasped for breath. The forest pressed in around him, choking him.
Footsteps, coming near. Shaking, the traveler looked around, preparing to run again. His stomach twisted.
"Who's there?" he called as bravely as he could. "Come out!"
His weak voice reverberated around him.
His mouth went slack in astonishment as the innkeeper stepped out from behind the thick trunk of a tree.
"I knew you would come," the innkeeper said, smiling. He still wore the same greasy apron he'd been wearing when the traveler had left that morning. "Everyone always wants to see for themselves."
The traveler, drunk with fear, did not comprehend. He was too preoccupied in noticing that the innkeeper's French accent was missing.
"You followed me here, Monsieur?"
The innkeeper smiled again. It was the same, normal smile, but the traveler was not comforted by it.
"Did you see them?" he asked.
"Yes," the traveler said, blushing.
"What did you see?"
"He…he was hurting her." The innkeeper looked away in shame, that he had not done something to help.
"Are you glad you came?"
The traveler's insides twisted again. He wiped the sweat from his forehead.
"Something is not right here, Sir. We should go."
The innkeeper did not move. He had not stopped smiling.
"Are you glad you saw what you came for?"
"No, no. I should have never come." The traveler began to walk again. "We've got to get out now."
"Then you'll think twice about coming onto my property, won't you?"
With his back to the innkeeper, the traveler froze. The innkeeper's voice had changed dramatically. It had turned from warm and friendly to cold and commanding.
Against his better judgement, he turned.
The innkeeper was gone, and in his place was the devil. He was tall. He was blond. His eyes were so light they were almost clear. He wore no smile.
"I am not some lowly innkeeper," the man said impatiently. "I am the owner of this property and the "Devil" of these woods, as you've come to call me."
The traveler could only shrink back as the devil approached.
"Every last one of you hears a ghost story and you come running," he said, assessing the cornered traveler from his toes to his head. "I knew you simpletons had little else to do but gossip, but ever since one of you fools started that nonsense I've had a number of strangers showing up here at my property just to take a peek at what they shouldn't."
"Forgive me," the traveler said, resisting the urge to bow, to sink to his knees. Something about the devil suggested he was not an ordinary wizard who liked to play cruel tricks on strangers. He had an air of nobility and power around him, and it made the traveler want to cower or hide himself away where he might never see those eyes again. "Forgive me. I didn't mean any trouble."
The devil laughed. "Spare us the lies and I might be more lenient with you. You heard about a mysterious, beautiful woman and you couldn't help yourself."
The traveler hung his head. "Y-Yes, my Lord." He'd taken a guess with the title, but oddly, it felt right.
The devil's eyes gleamed in satisfaction. "You learn quickly. Well, you saw her, didn't you? Are you satisfied?"
The traveler did not know how to answer. The devil seemed to be able to guess his answer.
"You arrived faster than I expected. The others usually took longer. You were not meant to see me fucking my wife. I ought to take your eyes for your insolence."
The traveler sank to his knees, a wordless cry emitting from his mouth. The devil looked down on him without emotion.
"I've killed all the others who came before you, you know," he said matter-of-factly. "There have been several."
"After the first ten I killed the innkeeper because he was the one who'd started the stories," the devil said, smiling as if recalling a fond memory. "He made good money off the tourists who came through in search of a local haunt. Another bought his business and it started up again. Intruders would show up outside my gate, demanding a spectacle. I gave it to them and killed them all."
He'd begun to circle around the traveler as he spoke. The traveler remained frozen on the ground, his eyes wide with horror.
"Of course, I could just have put up more wards to keep you all away. I might have done that from the beginning. The truth is, John," the traveler jolted in surprise at the devil's use of his name, "that I didn't want to."
"W-why, my Lord?" John croaked.
The devil stopped pacing. "Because I was bored."
"Oh, Gods…" John clasped his hands before him as if about to pray. "I didn't mean any trouble, my Lord, I swear, please forgive me…"
The devil ignored him.
"I made a deal with the innkeeper. I would donate to his business if he sent me one or two a month. Always randomly. I like to be surprised."
Remembering how the devil had shifted from the innkeeper to his own form, John dared to raise his head despite his feeling he was about to be sick. "You sent me here yourself. You told me the stories to get me to come here…my Lord."
The devil grinned. "I impersonate him from time to time when I want to make it more fun."
Having no resistance left, John hunched over and retched.
"I think I'll spare you," the devil said thoughtfully. "But I won't erase your memory. You'll have to live with what you saw as penance for your own curiosity. It was tame, by my standards, but I can feel your disgust."
John's eyes almost bulged from his head. "Thank you, my Lord. I'll never bother you again, my Lord, I swear." He tried to stand quickly, and was held down by the devil's hand on his shoulder.
"I require a gift for my generosity," he said, and the traveler went pale.
"A gift, my Lord? I have nothing to offer."
The devil released him. "I want nothing that you own. When you are at your sister's wedding, I want you to tell the story of the Devil and his bride to someone, and send them to me."
John clutched at his stomach. His head spun. "My Lord, please, I can't."
"Shall I order you to send me your sister?" the devil asked, his eyes narrowing. "Or shall I just kill you now?"
Tears had begun to leak from his eyes. "No! I-I'll send you someone, my Lord. I'll…tell them the story."
The devil was unmoved by his pathetic display. "If you manage my task, you are welcome to return. I will have a gift to congratulate your sister on her marriage."
What could that be? A number of grisly possibilities ran through John's head, but he dared not refuse.
"You are very kind, my Lord."
The devil indicated that he should stand. "Only if you do as I say. I will give you three days to send me some sport. If you fail, I'll find you myself, and I'll bring you back here and dispose of you like I should have done the moment I saw you staring at my wife."
The devil clicked his fingers, and John reared backwards as something large and heavy fell beside him, as if it had been dropped from the sky. He rolled away from it, covering his head, fearing that more would follow, but after a tense five seconds nothing happened and he turned to look at it, heart pounding.
It was his pack.
He looked around. The devil had gone. He got onto his hands and knees, and retched onto the ground.
[X WEEKS LATER]
Hermione had been standing before the clear window staring out into the cloudless sky when a warm, gentle hand touched her shoulder and made her jump.
"I'm sorry," Pansy Parkinson said softly as Hermione turned to face her. "Did you want to be alone?"
Hermione smiled at her, the brooding air around her lifted by the sudden company. "No, no—I was only thinking."
"It's very early, I thought I'd have to wake you."
"I've always been an early riser," Hermione explained distantly. "But I'm glad you've come—I meant to find you earlier to see if you wanted to go for a walk."
Pansy smiled, but it had a strained feel to it. "I won't object, but it will have to be later."
"Why?" Hermione ran her hands through her hair, gathered it loosely into a knot at her neck. "Is Lucio awake?"
"He's come back."
Hermione's smile withered.
"There's nothing to be sorry for," Hermione said, busying herself with tightening the sash around her robe. "It's nothing you could prevent."
"No—it's just—you looked so peaceful all while he was away. I'm sorry I ruined it for you."
Hermione straightened. "It had to end, at one point or another." He always comes back, no matter how hard I wish for the opposite. "I confess I forgot it was today, but not this early."
She made for the door, but caught Pansy's look of having something else to say. She paused and gave her friend a curious look.
"What is it?"
"He wants you to put on the green dress," Pansy said. "He said you'd know which one. And that you'd know what else to do."
Hermione looked away. Pansy shifted uncomfortably.
"Shall I wait for you, or will you meet him alone?"
"Alone, please." The thought of having her alongside when she met her husband again was comforting, but Hermione tried to limit the amount of interactions between herself and Draco that Pansy saw. She could always sense Pansy's pity for her, and knew she could not help it. It never affected their friendship, or she tried to think that it didn't. At the very least she could hide parts of their terrible relationship, and let Draco think his old school friend was still loyal to him, though she sensed he only put up with her because he knew she so desperately needed company.
She went into the closet to change and emerged a moment later, undoing her hair. Better to take it down than leave it up, where it ran the danger of being torn out or painfully held by his overzealous hands. It had happened before, and Hermione wanted the transition of his arrival to happen as painlessly as possible.
Unlikely, she thought.
Hermione turned to face Pansy. The silk of her skirt swirled around her legs with the movement and she pushed it away distractedly, her other hand reaching up to rub at her temple.
"Was he alone when he arrived?"
"Yes, but I took the child to greet him." The formalities that she usually used were gone, and had been since Draco's departure at Hermione's insistence. Pansy was the only person Hermione felt close to, besides her son, and she couldn't stand to be addressed so formally by a friend.
Hermione hesitated before asking. "How does he look?"
"I can't say." Pansy said, not meeting her eye, and Hermione understood what that meant.
Like a ravenous beast. Her legs felt weak.
"Wait outside the door, please," Hermione said, and Pansy left obediently.
Hermione took in a deep breath and smoothed her skirt, trying to distract herself.
She'd forgotten he was due back today. He'd caught her off guard. She'd held the foolish hope that he would be delayed, knowing that would never happen. It was like a sudden Auguamenti over her head, like being dropped through a hole in the floor compared to the blissful two weeks of waking feeling unburdened without his presence. It'd been foolish to hope, as always, but she couldn't help herself. At least she'd been granted thirteen days of blessed silence and solitude, which in these days was more than she could have asked for. In the times past, when he'd had to spend time away from the Manor, he'd Apparated into the Manor whenever he'd wanted her company, and as result she'd spent the whole duration of his supposed trip tense and hypervigilant for the unannounced moment he would appear and snatch her. But this time, it was different. He'd actually left her alone, and she was grateful, though resentment still pushed its way to the surface of her mind. Of course he knew she would be. Nothing he did came without purpose.
However, the temporary absence of worries and anger had allowed her to relax, and when Lucio awoke every morning they had set off in the car to a far off town to engage in activities normally denied to them when Draco was around. He had banned them from going to the closer villages and never said why, but she didn't care as long as she wasn't locked up inside that house.
She'd not allowed herself to dream, but still every day there was that faint whisper, that web of disbelief that settled over her, the peculiar feeling of near normality. Just a mother and her toddler son, buying fruit at an outdoor market. Browsing a bookshop, tasting sweets, talking to strangers; having actual, earnest, happy conversation, walking around a park at dusk, rather than apparating or taking portkey. It was addictive and unsettling, that feeling. It was like slipping into a favorite old sweater that she'd forgotten she owned. She'd cried the first time it'd happened.
Normalcy. She'd never realized how badly she'd craved it. Muggle things; elements from her past life. Freedom. It filled a void inside her, though each fix was only temporary and left her craving more.
Strangely, it also alleviated the ache caused by not being able to use her magic. If felt like a hand in between her ribs, as if Draco had reached inside her and grabbed her magic in a fierce grip, and every time she tried to use it the fist tightened, threatening to crush it into nothing.
She had given up asking for it back. It yielded the same result as fighting, demanding, asking, begging, for her freedom.
But every day that he'd been gone she'd reveled in the feeling of peace, of his absence.
This is what life without Draco is like, it whispered to her. Remember what it is to be free?
She didn't. Or she couldn't bring herself to. It was too painful.
The sound of her son's laugh floated to her from the lower level. Draco would be with him now—perhaps he'd brought him a gift or was merely asking what they had been up to while he'd been away. Lucio, her little angel, would be hugging his father and prattling on with that childish lisp of his of how they had gone wading in the stream behind their house, or how they had seen a small fair down in the village.
She hadn't even seen him yet and already she was tensing up, turning back to stone—a Medusa of sorts. Hermione's heart pounded-he had been away almost a fortnight. Draco rarely spent so much time away unless he had no choice, and when he came back he usually had a starved demeanor about him, like he had gone and been separated from her for years rather than days. She was well used to his sexual appetite but still didn't like it-the idea of him pulling her into any one of the rooms for a hard fuck made her heart sink and she wished there was a way to delay it, if not stop it altogether.
Always with the hope, she thought, angry with herself. Years of it. And I'm still here. I'm still his.
There was a tap on the door. "My Lady, He grows restless. He is impatient to see you."
There was the shift back to formality. Hermione rolled her head back and around in a last attempt to relax but was unsuccessful. Already she could picture Draco waiting in the sitting room for her, eyes cold and turbulent, hands tensed and ready to touch her.
Shaking her head to clear out the image, Hermione made her way to the door. I had better hurry.
Time had ingrained Draco's most important rule into her mind, hard as she might try to fight it: Never deny him. It had taken time and almost endless fighting, but here she was at last, the obedient wife, groomed to her husband's tastes. Or so he liked to think.
Still, that thought left an extremely bitter taste on her tongue, but now was not the time to brood. Hermione exhaled slowly, gathered herself into a less nervous bundle, and exited the room. Pansy escorted her down to the first floor where Draco and Lucio were both gathered in the hall. Her keen eyes took in everything and at once felt uneasy. She had expected smiling faces but was met with stony silence and Draco's consuming gaze. A cold wash of fear spread down her body. Lucio's arm was in Draco's grasp, his poor tear-stained face peeped out at her from behind her husband's legs. Pansy stood behind them, her hands clasped at her front.
"What is it?" she asked immediately, approaching faster. Draco's eyes were narrowed and accusatory but Hermione missed the look entirely—she had eyes only for her son.
"Leave us, Pansy," Draco said, and once his servant was gone he released Lucio and strode up to her.
"I'm sorry, Mummy," Lucio's small voice reached her before Draco's hiss did.
"What were you thinking?"
Hermione went to Lucio first and crouched down to wipe at his eyes, then turned to Draco. "About what, Draco? What are you talking about? What's wrong?"
"I told him we went to town," Lucio said feebly. Hermione frowned, and cupped his cheek in her palm.
"It's alright, my darling," Hermione told him, and then to Draco, demanded, "What's wrong with that, Draco? You said it was alright."
"Not anymore. You put yourselves in danger."
"Don't be ridiculous, nothing happened," she insisted.
"After what happened last week something might have," he said angrily, placing his hands on his hips. Hermione was perplexed—what was he talking about? She had heard of nothing. Lucio sniffled and she turned back to him.
"There's no need to cry, my love," she told Lucio. Wiping at his eyes, he nodded. Hermione turned to Draco. "We need to talk," she said, "but first you should apologize to your son for frightening him."
Draco hesitated, but walked forward, a rueful smile on his lips. Lucio saw it and relaxed easily, but only Hermione could see the steel that remained in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean to scare you or Mummy."
"It's alright, Father," Lucio said, and caught Draco's offered hand in his own chubby little fingers. The fear had fled immediately and he relaxed, smiling once again.
"I brought you a gift," Draco said, "it's by the door. Go on and play with it, but for now Mummy and I need to talk in private. We'll join you soon, okay?"
"Yes, Father!" Lucio gave his father a quick hug and then sprinted off to find his present, and Hermione and Draco were alone.
Hermione watched her son leave with a sadness that smarted at her eyes-the love her little boy gave Draco was more than he deserved. Not at all for the first time she wondered if he would still love his father if he knew just how their family had come to be, right from the very beginning, but all those thoughts were immediately silenced when she felt her husband's arms wrap around her from behind. He pulled her to him roughly, turned her around, spread his palms on the sides of her head and brought her so close their noses touched.
She was already breathless, her lungs hardly daring to draw in more breath under his gaze. He nuzzled his nose against her, his eyes never leaving hers, hands secure on her head, holding her still. Hermione felt her bravery falter—no matter how many times she had been through this, the fear would always be present. His eyes held a power that always threatened to consume what was left of herself.
There was the familiar pressure of his lips crushing against hers-almost savage in their beginning but as he satisfied his craving he gentled and gave soft, lingering kisses as he waited for her to relax in his arms but she remained impassive, and his kisses regained their urgency. Hermione closed her eyes, wound her arms through his and pressed her palms flat against his back. Inside, her heart pounded, dreading what was to come. Hermione frowned as he moaned into her mouth, let him plunder her lips and felt his shudder, the stirrings of pleasure in his trousers.
Feeling absolutely hollow, she let her fingers run through his hair and lightly massaged his scalp, and some of the tension drained from his shoulders. When he kissed and nipped at her neck it was her turn to shiver though she only felt the pain and no pleasure. His tongue swept across her bottom lip, his hands controlled her movements; one at the back of her head and the other on her side, holding her to him. Hermione pulled her arms away from him and made to end the kiss but his arm caught her hand and led it down his front to feel his erection and stroke it over his trousers. He was staring at her so intently, eyes clouded with lust, she couldn't meet his gaze. His cock was lengthening in her hand, growing stiffer, and he let his head fall back; his breathing became labored. His hand tightened around hers and slowed her strokes; she felt his heat through his trousers and wished he would let her go.
This was their strange and complex dance—one he had doomed them to for the rest of their lives. He gave and took from her and she was expected to react, and if she felt like it she gave, too. It was a rare occurrence but the mere fact that it did happen was enough to cement his hold on her. Largely unspoken, but one of his rules nonetheless: always be responsive.
Sadly, Hermione didn't always have to act for this. He studied her passionately, like she was an exam he was quite determined to pass, and had unfortunately done well in the process. Distancing herself from the assault was never easy—her mind was too full of hate, too aware of her surroundings and him, to be exact. On better days he left her alone while she was in the palace of her mind and made no move to disturb her there, but had no qualm over disturbing her body. On worse days he took her anyway and made damn sure she felt everything he did to her, and that she finished before he did, and because he was greedy, he made sure she came repeatedly. Not because he was a considerate bed partner, but because he knew she did not want it, at least not from him, and he enjoyed taking it from her. It was another way of reminding her just who she belonged to.
When his lips left hers Hermione didn't meet his eyes. She could sense his gaze on her and knew just how his eyes would look—hooded, frosted over with lust and framed by those long, dusty lashes. He wanted her to look at him and she refused to. The pride that lately had crept into them whenever he looked at her—what he'd turned her into—she couldn't stand to see.
Anger flickered inside her but she paid it no mind. For years now she'd been angry but what had come of it? Granted, she had every right to be angry, every right, but now was not the time to be angry. Draco was fierce in his lust, and when she denied him, he only grew worse.
"I missed you," he murmured, leaning into her, touching their foreheads together. Pillowy soft and just as warm, his lips brushed against hers. "I can't stand to be away from you."
Hermione tried to shut out his words. He was kissing her jaw, sucking on her neck. Her heart began to pound.
"We missed you too," she lied. At least, one of us did.
The kiss turned harder. With his arms he jerked her closer, pulling her into him, one hand followed the curve of her ass and the other cupped the back of her head. Through the silken fabric his fingers pressed intimately into her and she took in a sharp breath. She was already wet. Hermione looked away, blushing angrily. A laugh rumbled in his chest, she felt his smile against her lips. Slowly, his fingers began to tease and stroke along her lips and Hermione's legs began to shake. She broke the kiss for air and his mouth traced along her neck. The feel of his hot mouth on her skin made her head swim—Hermione didn't like that.
Insistent, his lips pressed against hers and she turned, struggling to gain balance. When he noticed he broke the kiss and his pale eyes took her in, questioning at first and then serious. His hands were still on her. Hermione didn't smile. That was one requirement she'd been spared of, at least.
"Not here," she whispered, clutching at the lapels of his jacket. Bent backwards as he had her, she was afraid she might fall. Draco nuzzled at her neck, randomly pressing kisses into her flesh, leaving rosy marks where his teeth decided to make an appearance. Hermione's knees were buckling but he held her in place.
"Draco, not here," she repeated. If anyone walked in on them...
"Yes, here," he spoke into her skin. The vibration of his voice against her tickled her and yet she felt it all the way down to where his fingers were still teasing at her, rubbing against her clit. A deep flush burned at her skin where he kissed her. "I haven't seen my wife in ages so I'm giving her a long, warm greeting." As he said the word 'warm' he'd applied more pressure with his fingers and Hermione stifled a moan. He pressed harder and she bucked, biting at her lip.
"Let it out, sweetheart," he purred to her, holding her tighter. "I've got you."
"I'm going to fall, Draco," she said shakily. "Let me up."
The hand on her slit was gone—she nearly stumbled but Draco had anticipated the movement and walked forward swiftly until she was pressed between him and the wall. The too-quick movement made her dizzy,she hadn't noticed when he'd pushed her skirt out of the way until she felt the direct contact of his fingers massaging around her clit, the cold air prickling at her bare legs, one of which he'd hoisted up and around his hip.
"Draco, don't-" he silenced her with a kiss.
With the pads of his fingers he resumed stroking her slowly, fingers damp with her arousal. Still afraid of falling, Hermione's hands latched onto him by his lapels once more. Suddenly, his sharp teeth bit into her lower lip and she cried out as he increased pace and pressure, and she began to writhe. Little by little he dipped them inside her, drawing it out until a hoarse "Please!" clawed its way out of her throat; only then was he more than happy to oblige her, and his greedy fingers finally pushed inside her. Hermione couldn't help the exclamation that pushed its way out her mouth. Draco's other hand was busy at her hair, pulling gently so she tilted her head back. At her sound of pleasure he shuddered again, groaned, and curled his fingers inside her.
"If Lucio sees..." her own moan cut her off, she braced herself against the wall. He continued to thrust his fingers inside her, too slow, too teasing. She wanted more, and hated herself for it. Her husband could sense her inner struggle. To his credit, he didn't grin smugly but she knew he was pleased. He pulled his hand from her, and she let out a breath, leaned back against the wall. He kissed her again, his hands working to opening the front of his trousers.
The moment his cock was free he pressed her flat into the wall, hiked her skirt higher, ran his hands up her thighs to grip her hips and pushed inside her roughly, earning himself another sweet cry from her. They paused a moment, breathing hard, and he waited for her to adjust. Her body pulsing around him, holding him so sweetly within her, that beautiful heat, it was almost enough to undo him then. Enough to shatter him to pieces. Draco pulled back, thrust again and she let out a throaty moan which only grew louder as he set a hard pace, driving himself inside her as deeply as possible.
There was no regard to gentleness—his hands were set to possess, to love in the only way he cared to. He had been away for too long and would be denied no longer, especially when she proved so willing.
The emerald gown she wore had a deep neckline; a favorite of his since he'd first seen her in it. She'd been just showing in her pregnancy then, and her breasts had been swollen like her stomach and he'd been stunned by the way she looked in it. He made her wear it often, with nothing else underneath and her hair flowing like a wood nymph, his ring glittering on her hand. She detested him for it but obeyed, and he would relish the way her nipples pressed against the thin fabric, the way the skirt revealed and hid the curves of her hips and ass with any movement. While he'd been gone he'd spent every day thinking of her in that particular dress and now she was here, her sweet body crushed against his, cunt hot and slick around his cock, heart beating frantically against his chest, breasts dewy with sweat, it was all he could do not to tear it off her right then and there.
Her breasts were covered by two wide, long strips of the green silk, ending at her navel. He could see the hard tips of her nipples pushing into the fabric. On impulse his hand reached forward to tear the fabric away but at the last second he changed his mind and simply pushed aside the silk covering one breast, admired it for a moment and tasted her nipple with his tongue, circling it around the hard pink bud and then, trembling with the overwhelming desire to have her, enveloped it in his mouth and applied the softest pressure with his teeth at the same moment that he drove himself back inside her. His wife gave a soft cry and arched, shuddering. He pulled out almost entirely and pushed back in slowly, and repeated the action, teasing her by not pushing in all the way. Hermione drew him closer to her, her hands pressing urgently into his waist. Draco moaned and claimed her lips. Triumph roared through him, his free hand took the place of his mouth and teased at her reddened nipple. Her hands came up to hold his head closer to her breast.
"Draco, please..." she clenched around him and Draco groaned loudly, feeling himself tighten in response.
The way she looked now, he wanted to immortalize. Flushed and filled by his cock, vulnerable until they finished and she turned to stone again. Mesmerized, he reached up to cup her cheek.
The night before he had left he had made love to her angrily, knowing how she felt about him leaving. To not invoke his anger, she had denied it but he'd seen the truth in her eyes. Lost to his anger, he'd been much too rough and when he awoke the morning after she had not been in bed, and it wasn't until he was about to leave that he found her asleep in the garden, tucked deep into the bed of lavender, curled under the shade of an oak wood tree.
A mockery of a prince, he'd kissed her to life and she had woken at once, watching him warily. The question in his eyes presented itself to her and she'd answered.
"I didn't feel like staying inside."
By some strange grace she had let him carry her back inside, back to their bedroom, where that time he was more gentle, and she was able to achieve orgasm unlike the night before. He had made her accompany him to the door, like every other time, and without prompting she'd kissed him goodbye, but once he'd turned back outside the gate she'd already closed the doors.
All while he'd been away, and upon returning, he'd allowed himself to foolishly hope that she had missed him. He knew what she really felt, however.
"I dreamt of you every night, my sweet love, my beautiful wife," he crooned softly into her ear, punctuating every word with a hard thrust. She was wincing, wetness glistening just under her eyes, her jaw clenched. He could feel her body respond ravenously to it, angled his hips to get deeper inside. Her mouth had opened involuntarily, her eyes were screwed shut—denial or pleasure, or both? Draco pressed himself flush against her, so that he was buried inside without an inch to spare. Her head fell back, she panted loudly, here eyes less than half open, looking at him with exhaustion, resignation. Draco wrapped his hand around her throat and resumed thrusting, hard enough that she moved against the wall every time he pushed back inside.
She shut her eyes again.
"Not here," she pleaded hoarsely, one last time. Draco ignored her.
She let out a shattered cry which he silenced with his kiss, and kept thrusting until she fell limp against him, panting, just as he gripped her harder and came inside her, holding her to him until he was utterly spent. He could feel it running down her legs, sticking to her skirt. There was a faraway look in her eyes but he didn't mind; it took a moment for his vision to clear and his breathing to calm down.
When he was done Draco laughed gently and wiped the sweat from her brow. Her eyes were refocusing; she blinked once, twice. He pulled out from inside her, his cock glistening and hot, already aching for more. He still held her leg wrapped around him though she was mostly limp. She was still recovering, too tired to adjust her skirt. He looked down at the gift of his homecoming and felt a surge of satisfaction. He carefully set her leg down so she could stand and let her long skirt back down, trailing his hands along her hips as he stood back up and gave her a soft kiss.
Flushed and full of self-loathing, Hermione had come back to herself and recovered her breast. Her nipples were still over-sensitized from his attentions to them, and the sensation of the silk against them was distracting. Her legs still shook—she had to lean against him when he pulled away, and his smirk grew bigger but he gave her his arm.
"Can you walk?"
Hermione wanted to glare but decided against it. "Yes, I think so."
Draco cupped her face in his hands and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "I'd be happy to carry you."
"I'm fine," she snapped. "I had an orgasm, not a stroke."
Together they left the hall.
Draco's thumb absently stroked her ring as they went along. Hermione wondered if he was thanking it. After all, without it, he'd never have been able to capture her. The gemstones flashed and buzzed pleasantly under his touch and she looked away, frowning.
The damned thing. How many times had she envisioned herself blasting it to pieces? Throwing it into a vat of lava? Forcing it down Draco's throat?
From the moment it had been forced onto her finger she'd done nothing but hide it and try to take it off. He wore his proudly, like a medallion from the Wizengamot.
"Are you hungry?" she asked him.
"Only for you," he said, giving her a heated look.
"Why were you so upset about us going to town?" she asked, wanting to change the subject.
"Speaking of that—you won't be going there again anytime soon," he said.
"There was an attempted attack on my estate in Italy," he replied. "And the one in France."
Hermione gave him a side glance. "Just how many do you have?"
He raised her hand to kiss its back. "Many and more, little bird. We'll be visiting them from time to time, soon as my duties allow."
More hiding places. Did these estates exist before or after I came into the picture?
Hermione hesitated before asking "Who led the attacks?"
His voice was sharp. "Who do you think?"
Hermione's face went pale. Neville. He was still alive. How was he? Could he have built up a new resistance? Harry's eyes flashed back to her, blue and void of life. Suddenly all she wanted was to be alone.
"They're still looking for you." He laughed to himself. "The still haven't learned, have they?"
No, she thought dimly. It's been years. They gave up on me. Now they only want you. Tears pricked at her eyes and she looked away.
"It's not like they'll actually find us," she said bitterly. "You've made sure of that."
"For good reason. I don't need anyone else trying to take what's mine away," he said. "Your place is with me, not them. If they need another reason why I'll be happy to supply one."
Hermione resisted asking just what reason he would give them. She suspected, but was afraid of him confirming it.
"Well maybe if you didn't taunt them—"
"I'm not taking any risks, Hermione. Anything beyond this property is off limits until they are dealt with. They're not like to find us here but I don't want to leave that to chance, do you understand?"
"Yes," she said quietly. Resentfully.
"I mean it. I refuse to lose you again."
"I know." She couldn't help the edge in her tone.
"And," he added, "if you so much as think of taking our son and going off to look for them-"
"Stop!" she shouted, and the tears she had held back until that point began to fall. "Merlin, enough! I already said I wouldn't, what more do you want of me? Are you going to use him against me so I won't leave? Is that why you made me carry him in the first place? Just so you can have a bargaining tool?"
Draco's arms crushed her against him, she fought to pull away.
"I love you, and I love our son," he said. "He is the best of the both of us, and I couldn't have asked for a better child from you, Hermione. I promise you I will never harm him."
She didn't want to believe it but she couldn't deny what her gut was telling her. She thought she knew him but there was so much he could be hiding from her at any given moment. She'd learned that over and over. Draco was not human. She had nothing to prove it other than memories. For all she knew he could have gone and made Horcruxes of his own, like his former Master. Hell, he'd even confessed he'd thought of turning her into one, a prospect that made her want to vomit whenever she dared dwell on it. He didn't shy away from horror, torture or any other atrocity. There was no telling what his limits were, at least where they didn't concern her. He'd told her himself he would stop at nothing to keep her to himself, and despite his love for her son, which she was still unsure as to its genuineness, she held the constant fear that one day his temper would slip or that he would sink to new levels of depravity and sociopathy. He'd killed her friends, her schoolmates, countless others. Once, to get her to obey him, he had told her of the women he had raped and killed before kidnapping her. He'd killed the most prominent wizard of their time. He had killed Harry.
What was another tally to that list? Nothing seemed to bother him. Would he hesitate to kill his own blood?
Then came the next fear. Lucio was a sweet boy, curious and eager for amusement. She saw nothing of Draco in him—she hoped this would continue as he grew older.
The thought of him developing into a younger version of Draco terrified her. Draco's influence was strong, and it was clear Lucio loved his father very much, as he didn't know the extent of the rot that lay beneath that polished exterior. Draco at least played along when Lucio was present, for which she was thankful. He would not hurt her or show his sadistic tendencies when their son was close by, and saved it for when they were alone. With Pansy's help, they were able to keep the illusion of a happy, loving couple, although sometimes Draco's intensity did bleed through, as it had earlier that day.
He waited for a response from her but she remained distrustful and silent. Draco cupped her face in his hands.
"You and I were both so lonely. I knew a child would fix that, and you're happier now aren't you?"
The lies came one after the other, all with ease. The promise in particular was not one. He had forced a child on her as a desperate attempt to keep her tied to him, knowing that she wouldn't dare harm herself for fear of the infant's well being. In truth, he hadn't expected he would have turned out to care so much for the boy but he did and now he was as protective of his son as he was of Hermione.
Over the past months he'd come to revere his wife as he hadn't before—for her strength, for creating such a perfect child. After everything she'd been put through, and by him no less—she was nothing short of a divine being in his eyes, and he was more than willing to pay worship.
The day of Lucio's birth he had stayed with her all those hours though the mediwitch said there was nothing to worry about. The circumstances of his own birth had yet to be forgotten and he worried that the newborn might be born with the same heart condition he'd had, and was there to ensure that Hermione not do something foolish to try to save her child. The words had been at the tip of his tongue as he'd held her hand even when she screamed at him to leave her alone, that all this was his fault, that she had not wanted this; he had seen the panicked look in the mediwitch's eyes and made sure to Obliviate her after.
We'll make another one, he had been prepared to say. Let this one go.
There had been no need. Lucio had come, red and squalling, filling the room with his noise and Draco had watched anxiously as Hermione held the squirming bundle to her her breast, her face a contortion of grief and defeat. But those had only lasted a short moment.
He had seen the look of love on her face. The fierce look in her eyes as the babe had been taken away from her before she could protest and given to Draco so she could be healed and cleaned. Draco had taken advantage of that to give his son a proper name, as he'd suspected the one his wife had already chosen would not be to his liking.
She still had not forgiven him for that. She still had not forgiven him for many, many things.
Hermione had calmed down at last and pulled away.
"I didn't mean to upset you," he said for the second time that day. "I just wanted to make sure."
Hermione sighed. "I'm not going anywhere, Draco."
Not like I can, after all you've done.
"Come with me," Draco took her hand and led her to their bedroom.
Draco led her to the bed and pulled her onto it, settling down comfortably.
"What did you do in the village anyhow?"
Hermione let him curl around her. His hand rested on her hip. "I took Lucio around to look at the outdoor market. I bought some flowers and we ate at a little restaurant a vendor recommended to us."
"Was it good?" He brushed a piece of hair off her forehead.
Her throat felt a little sticky from the cry she'd had earlier. "I bought Lucio some new books and we raced to the cinema. Nothing extraordinary."
"You're teaching him about Muggle things?"
She gave him stern look. "It's how I was raised, Draco. It's important to me and he'll learn a lot from it."
"I didn't say it was a bad thing, Hermione. Maybe you could show me too sometime."
She paused for a moment, then remembered herself. "Perhaps."
He stood suddenly, undressed, and entered the bathroom. He left the door open as he entered the shower and began to run it.
"Where did that come from?" Hermione asked, sitting up. There was a fresh scar she didn't recognize that ran across his thigh.
"Someone cut me," was all he said. He was already clean but craved hot water and steam to help him relax. Before coming home from a hunt he made sure to wash all the blood and dirt off. Hermione knew that he hunted, but not what, or how. If she found out she would not be surprised, but it would be another reason to hate him, and she already had plenty.
Hermione frowned, unable to imagine a situation in which he had allowed someone to come close enough to physically harm him, much less with a knife.
"What was your mission about?" she asked, stepping into the bathroom. The scent of his shampoo filled the air.
"Just a meeting with someone else," he said distractedly. "An old acquaintance."
"Do I know them?" she asked suspiciously.
"Are you jealous?" came his teasing reply.
"Never," she said. "I only wondered if they were from Hogwarts."
"You'll meet them soon enough," Draco said in a tone that suggested he would say no more. Hermione sighed, and just before she could take one step to leave the room the glass door to the shower stall opened, and steam rushed out.
She could see his figure through the steam. He said nothing, but continued to wash himself. Hermione knew he would not ask.
She grit her teeth and began to undress.
'Elle apparatient au diable.'-'She belongs to the devil.'
I was supposed to upload this yesterday but got caught up in something else. If you can, please leave a review and let me know what you think. I'm excited to finally share this. Thank all for reading and your support with my other stories. Updates will be slow, warning you now.
I know that 'His' was meant to be the last chapter in the HLB series but the story's never left my mind, and I wanted to give it the ending it deserves.