A/N This fic started life as a one shot I posted last Halloween, the original story has been re-edited and expanded as I wanted to do a little more with these characters, and with Evander and Hermione in particular.
Fan casts: Evander Avery (Avery Jr) - Colin Morgan / Thorfinn Rowle - Alexander Skarsgard / Rabastan Lestrange - Colin O'Donoghue / Ade Selwyn - Donald Glover.
Special hugs to the unbelievably talented Heeley, who gave such lovely feedback when this was first posted as a one shot, which started the idea of this expansion.
Hermione's head tilted back as she stared up at the imposing grey prism that dominated the bleak skyline. The raging wind lashed against her thin robes, the unending gusts finding their way through the fabric to nip at her skin.
She felt nothing.
She was numb, physically, mentally and emotionally. She was existing now, alive but no longer present. Hermione felt like she was in suspended animation, held in a blank state while she waited for the reality of the last few months to hit. Sometimes she wondered if it ever would. Sometimes she wondered if that would be the moment that finally broke her.
Pulled from her quiet observations of the desolate landscape by an aggressive tug on her arm, Hermione immediately moved in compliance with the guards shepherding, without question or hesitation. There was no delaying the inevitable. Over the last few months, no one would have recognised this Hermione Granger. She had seen it on their faces, the surprise that she did not fight back, she had no angry words of protest, there was simply no fight left in her. Compliance did not help the treatment she received, but in any case, there was no sense in dawdling, there was no procrastination time left for her.
Hermione hadn't been sure what to expect from the inside of the prison walls, but somehow what she found was worse than she had envisioned. The muted greyness that had swamped her vision on the outside of the rock was magnified here. It was darker than she could ever have imagined, and colder, so much colder, she had barely made it over the threshold before she could swear she sensed the ingrained damp from the floors running unhindered up her legs.
The sober man at her side directed her, roughly, to a desk just inside the entry, manned by a woman with a mean looking face and flaxen hair that was pulled into a severe looking high ponytail. She regarded Hermione with a slight quirk of her lips that didn't meet her hard eyes. The guard gave her name to the witch, unnecessarily, everyone knew who she was. Hermione realised that this man hadn't been one of the ones that had guarded her before, she hadn't looked up to see his face, the realisation coming from his uttering of the first words he had spoken since collecting her. He had spat her name, the syllables dripping with accusation and scorn, and the mean looking witch smiled wider.
Hermione was ushered behind a curtain to her right, thin grey fabric stretched over a concertina wire frame reminding her of visits to the Muggle doctor when she was little. She was commanded to strip in harsh tones and Hermione, having experienced processing before now, didn't so much as blink in protest as the woman made no move to leave; she hadn't expected her to. Her belongings were taken from her, what little things she had left, nothing of particular consequence. She wondered as she moved what had happened to her things, had they all been destroyed?
Under the watchful eyes of the woman, Hermione sacrificed one unflattering set of robes, for another, thinner set, and then moved back from around the curtain ready, or not, for what was to come next.
As the little lift chugged up the dingy shaft, Hermione focused on the sounds it made, the clanging of rusty metal against stone, the chaffing sound of the guards too-tight uniform as he stretched forward to begin writing up his report. She should be scared she thought blankly, Hermione Granger, a member of the Golden Trio and Hogwarts prefect, would have been afraid. But she wasn't, whoever she was now. Not because the situation wasn't dire, it very much was, not because she had any hope of making it out of there alive, she didn't, but still, she felt nothing.
What was there left to fear anymore?
When the lift came to a shuddering halt, Hermione placed a hand on the wall of the metal box to stop herself from toppling forward. She had never quite gained back the weight she had lost during that last year of the war, and she still struggled with her balance. Given her present circumstances, it didn't seem like she would ever look like herself again now.
Why should the outside revert to her time of innocence? The inside certainly had not.
As she once again got lost inside herself, the guard became impatient and gripped her upper arm, tight enough to bruise. Hermione didn't say anything; no reaction even crossed her features, she just followed alongside him trying to avoid the dampest patches of the floor, so as not to soak her standard issue canvas shoes.
No laces… that was... interesting.
Hermione kept her eyes forward as much as possible on the walk down the narrow corridor, though she detected flickers of movement in her peripheral vision on either side, from the inhabited cells. She could probably have named everyone in this wing on sight. She would certainly be recognised, or maybe she wouldn't be, she didn't recognise the person in the mirror anymore.
When they reached the very end of the dank line, the guard muttered something under his breath, waving his wand around the bars, and they moved open slowly. He jostled her forward, and before she could move entirely away, he caught her wrist in a cruel grip, his fingers tightening to the point where he could have crushed the bone.
"I'm going to make your life miserable Granger," he spat lowly before producing a metallic looking bangle from the inside of his jacket and forcing it onto her hand. As it fastened around her wrist, Hermione felt a stabbing sensation move straight from her arm, up into her core ripping a gasp from her throat. She instantly stilled, trying to suppress the clawing pain, panting to get her breath back.
The guard appeared angered by her lack of response and let go of her, not bothering to hide his complete revulsion before pushing her roughly away from him by her shoulder and slamming the bars shut.
Hermione quietly stepped over to the grey mattress that was lying in a darkened corner, and sat neatly, with her legs folded around herself. She shut her eyes until the humming from her centre adjusted then she let her head fall back against the war behind her and wished tears would fall.
'The cold… Don't make me go back there'.
The words she had heard Sirius call out in his sleep, so many years before, came back to Hermione that first night. At least she assumed it was night. There was only a small opening in the outer wall of the cell, no more than a couple of missing bricks, allowing her to see the sky, but the visage was so muted it was hard to tell what time it was.
Hermione had been walking back up to her room while staying at Grimmauld Place, over Christmas in their fifth year, and she had heard mumbling in the study. Hesitantly creeping forward she had spotted him, the last of his noble house, Sirius Black, sprawled inelegantly on a time ravaged sofa, it's once opulent fabric as tattered as the rest of the decaying house, more like a crypt than a habitable dwelling. Hermione had moved to stand next to him as his face contorted in pained expression after pained expression, as he unknowingly whimpered out his fears of being sent back to the place that had robbed him of himself.
Up until that moment, Hermione had wondered why Sirius had never made improvements to his childhood home, why he hadn't at least attempted to turn the place into something that would resemble a haven, she thought she understood now.
The dementors had tortured Sirius, hovering over him for twelve long years, they had stolen away his reason, his happiness, and his youth. They had played on his feelings of guilt for events that were out of his control. Hermione had swept his damp hair off his forehead as he had murmured apologies to James, Lily, and shared a whole host of other burdens into the night.
But Sirius, despite his imagined crimes, had been innocent.
They weren't here anymore. There were no more harbingers of pain lurking around the prism, hovering like vultures above a desert carcas. Hermione supposed she should feel grateful for their absence, but she could not. The cloaked figures would have made it quicker.
The bars to her cell opening made Hermione sit up; she wasn't sure of the last time she had moved, it could have been hours or even days, her perception of everything, including time, seemed to blur here. She had been tracking the progression of a small bug along the ceiling for a time, but she couldn't perceive how long ago that was now.
"Get up Granger," the guard barked, and Hermione stepped to her feet and moved to the opening.
Once she was within his grasp, a white metal collar was fastened around her neck, tightened to the point of biting into her skin and made puffing in air difficult; Hermione said nothing. As she turned her head, a long pole was attached to the back of the choker-like restraint; it was then used as a handle of sorts to force her down the corridor. She had seen something similar used on dogs, or dangerous animals, she supposed that was what she was now.
Hermione idly wondered where they were heading for a moment, but then she recalled a conversation with Kingsley. She had sat before him in thin robes and dogged by the uncomfortable feeling that she was getting his room dirty just by being there. 'Changes to Azkaban' he had said, what he had gone on to explain was meaningless rhetoric, but there were some specifics, notably, showers and exercise.
The memory made Hermione stiffen momentarily, but it was brief enough that the guard didn't notice the minor pause. She tried to remember Kingsley's words, but they weren't clear, not like his face, an ever moving transition between contempt and pity, eyes that judged, an image that had been clear even days later, even when it became one of the many faces that viewed her in the same way. Even after Hermione had seen so many people come down to gawk at her while she was still in the Ministry holding cells. His face remained. She could still remember how the now Minister for Magic gripped her, the night of the pretend Potters, as he secured her to the Thestral as they battled the forces of the dark high in the sky. She wondered if he regretted his sure grip now.
"Are you excited Granger?" The guard whispered into her ear, and Hermione dropped her face to the dirty floor, instinctively concentrating on her now tatty shoes. She had tried to keep them clean, a project she had given herself, but in that, like in all others that had gone before, she had failed.
"Today you get to meet your new friends, they have all been dying to meet you," the guard continued, his voice was low and enthused with malicious glee.
Hermione didn't raise her face, and he jerked forward to grip her hair tightly, so tight that her eyes watered involuntarily.
"Always did think you were above everyone else, well, you'll talk soon enough," he threatened before he let go of Hermione's hair and readjusted his grip on the pole at her neck. He pushed it forward before she was ready, making her feel as if the front of the collar would crush her windpipe before he increased his pace, forcing her the rest of the way at double speed.
When it seemed as if they had walked the entire length of the building, they came to a heavily vaulted door. The guard roughly detached the pole from the back of her neck, but the collar remained, it must have more magic suppressants than the bangle Hermione reasoned before the door was ripped open and she was pushed inside.
The room revealed was about ten times the size of the cell where she had spent her time so far, the walls were a muted cream, though it was apparent that the original colour was probably a white that had long since aged, judging by the peeling of the walls. Hermione blinked. Muted or not, it was the lightest colour she had seen for days maybe weeks, and her eyes took a little while to adjust.
The door behind her slammed shut, and she heard the clanking of several bolts followed by the dim pressure of wards being applied. Hermione moved away from the entrance and as she began to see more than the brightness she detected dark shapes that were almost clinging to the edges of the room, nine in total. The war, it seemed, dictated your behaviour wherever you were. Even thrown to hell Hermione had counted them without even being aware of it, she imagined their backs being placed to the wall had taken even less conscious thought.
Nine. The number rattled around her empty mind for a moment. Hermione wasn't sure if this was all who remained, or whether ten was the maximum capacity of the chamber. Or maybe these were the ones the guards wanted her thrown in with. It didn't matter.
She was filled with the urge to retreat, to make herself smaller, old Hermione would have backed herself against a wall, but survival had been critical to that girl. Taking careful, measured steps she moved passed a rickety trolley with a few, sad looking books resting on top. Hermione grabbed the one closest to her hand and debated her next move. There were tables, three of them, but they were all on the other side of the room, where they were.
It wasn't self-preservation that made Hermione attempt to keep her distance; those instincts had been long suppressed. It wasn't even the expected taunting or probable violence. She had seen enough of the world to know that if they truly wanted to hurt her, it wouldn't matter if she cowered. She had no means of defending herself, and there was no way the guards would intervene.
When it came to motivations for her actions now, Hermione simply had no desire to be anywhere near other human life. There were bars where she was kept now for a reason.
Instead, she made her way to the nearest wall and dropped down in front of it, to crouch on the floor; it was no cleaner than anywhere else in the decaying prism, but it did at least appear dry. As Hermione opened the book in her grasp she could feel all nine sets of eyes on her, but she didn't flinch, she was well used to eyes on her by now, eyes that held all emotions and intentions.
After a few tense moments had passed, the Death Eaters resumed whatever it was they had been doing before she arrived. Hermione wondered if they still thought of themselves under that moniker anymore. She occasionally spied them over the top of what she discovered was a compendium of poetry. A small cluster were around one table, conversing in low tones, while the rest were fanned out, standing either alone or in pairs.
In one of her quick eye darts, Hermione spotted Ade Selwyn standing alone, his shoulder blades pressed against the crumbling wall behind him. Mumbling to himself; his insufficient robes hanging off his diminished frame, exposing the gaunt lines of his neck and collarbone. Skin that had once looked like darkened caramel now looked sickly, and marbled, though it was his face where you could see the real extent of the degeneration that had begun to set in. Selwyn's eyes were blank at first glance, like her's, but now and then there was a gleam there that was maniacal, she could see twitching spasms by his right eye and trembles in his hand.
Hermione averted her eyes and tried to concentrate on the book, or at least give the appearance that she was doing so. She heard murmurs, her name being gritted out through clenched teeth, 'Mudblood' being excitedly whispered, but she kept looking down, counting in her head to one hundred and then turning a page to at least appear properly engaged.
A shadow fell over her sometime later, the darkness creeping up over her regrettably dirty shoes and crossed legs until the shade seeped into the parchment of her subterfuge prop. Hermione mentally comprised a list of the worst possible scenarios, another hangover from the war, before she looked up to meet the scrutinising gaze of Evander Avery.
His aristocratic head was tilted to the side, regarding her quizzically, there was no trace of fury or even disgust in his features, on the whole, he was calm, assessing. Despite their positions, him looming over her as he was, she felt no threat, at least not one that was immediate, and so Hermione waited, remaining still until he would make his move. She kept looking at him, not immediately averting her eyes, as had become her habit in the last few months. At first, it had been because it was difficult to watch the unfamiliar expressions on the faces of the people she loved, then because she realised her direct gaze made people uncomfortable. Somehow she had become feared. But not here, not in this room. Evander looked at her, but his face was wholly neutral. There was something freeing in that expression.
Hermione had never seen him this close before, their interactions during the war had been limited, nothing more than swirling robes and slight glimpses. She had heard him talked of though, the quiet Ravenclaw, a gifted boy in his day, solely focussed on academic pursuits, and one of the highest achieving students Hogwarts had ever seen, before her.
Hermione belatedly realised that she had read some of his poetry. There had been a set of verses framed on the fourth-floor corridor that she had found herself lost in one day. Professor Flitwick had found her, giving her a wan smile as he regarded her face almost pushed against the glass, he told her about him, how the professor lamented that they had lost Avery to the other side of the war.
There is beauty where ever you seek to find it in this life
Be it in the delicately carved handle of the knife in your back
Or the mottled pattern of bruising against your skin
"What are you doing here?" Evander asked after a time, his voice cool and crisp.
Hermione thought he sounded intelligent which was illogical; you couldn't detect acumen from such a sentence. It suited him, though, his voice, it matched the piercing nature of his eyes and the sharpness of his cheekbones, that was a perfect word for this one, sharp.
She held up her book, in lieu of any answer, though she knew that wasn't what he was referring to.
The dark matted hair that framed his face fell forward as he swept his gaze over her to the book, and back again as his lips broke into a soft smile.
Hermione laid back on the thin cot trying to shuffle into a position where it didn't feel like the bones of her back were pressing against the harsh floor. It was a futile effort. She tried to shut her eyes a few times but they just fell back open, sleep wouldn't come here. She could hear noises from the neighbouring cells, though only quiet shufflings, it was probable that it was still daytime. Nighttime, from what she had been able to discern so far, was much louder. Hermione hadn't managed to get into to the rhythm of the place yet, mainly as she wasn't trying.
As she had been straining to listen to the prisoners around her, Hermione detected a dripping sound, but couldn't ascertain whether it was from inside the cell or not; it could have been coming from anywhere; the rock was perpetually damp. Her skin felt endlessly misted, water seeming to coat her enough to leave droplets on her arms, beads that froze if they weren't wiped away.
'Drip… drip… drip… drip… drip'
The consistency of the noise felt like beats against the side of her brain, the steadiness working her up and agitating her senses.
'Drip… drip… drip… drip… drip'
It had been just like that, the blood, it dripped too. Hermione had never thought about it having a sound before, but it did.
'Drip… drip… drip… drip… drip'
It was what it had sounded like as it had fallen from the bedside table onto the hardwood floor, pooling there, the only sound in their silent house. Hermione's eyes had suddenly moved away from the mess she had made to observe the puddle forming, staining the floor.
Hermione threw a hand over her eyes to keep them shut. Remember… REMEMBER, she commanded herself, but she couldn't, it was only ever just flashes. When she was still at the Ministry, being held, she could piece together more, but the noises here interrupted her thoughts, she couldn't hang on to the impressions. She couldn't even be certain what was real anymore. Though she knew the blood was, it had to have been. The after was a little clearer, but the before was a vague a nightmare of moving imagines and loud noises that went too fast and were hopelessly out of order.
Somewhere down the corridor, a guard must have been on patrol; they were never far away here, they liked them all to feel their presence, everything was a mind game. The war never really ended, the enemy just changed.
'Thunk… thunk… thunk… thunk… thunk'
The repeated heavy footfalls grated her nerves, and Hermione tried again to block it all out, but it was too much.
'Thunk… thunk… thunk… thunk… thunk'
Her heartbeat, it had been beating right out of her chest, so fast it had sounded like an accelerating train. It pounded in her ears so loud she couldn't think, couldn't catch a breath.
'Thunk… thunk… thunk… thunk… thunk'
The pounding on the door, they were back, and she was there and Ron… he wasn't moving, why wasn't he moving?
Hermione gripped the edges of her insubstantial robes in frustration, giving in and opening her eyes to stare impassively at the ceiling in defeat. The rats were back again; they were spelled away often, but it wasn't enough to dissuade what must have been an entire colony housed within the walls.
'Scratch… scratch… scratch… scratch… scratch'
She could hear them scuttling across the floors, hear their tiny, clawed feet as they searched out their food. The vermin didn't just exist here, they flourished.
'Scratch… scratch… scratch… scratch… scratch'
Hermione had attacked her hands, her arms, everywhere, the blood, his blood was all over them, and it wasn't coming off, why wouldn't it come off?
'Scratch… scratch… scratch… scratch… scratch'
She could remember then, that first set of robes, so stiff they made a noise when she moved, whenever she moved. So harsh they made her skin break out in rashes, pulling the blood to the surface, she didn't feel it.
Hermione reflectively smoothed her hands over her arms; she had deserved the rashes that had formed, like she deserved the solitude and the cold now.
She twisted onto her side and stared at the crumbling brick.
Evander was waiting at the back of the dirty room again, standing amongst his brothers. He had forgone the offering of books they left on the side, having already almost memorised every ill kept page. Shaking the tension from off his shoulders, he sat in his usual spot, at his usual table, and tried not to watch the door. She wasn't here yet, though there was no doubt she would be back, the guards had looked delighted when they had pushed her in the last time, what they anticipated the assembled would do, who knew?
Did they think any of the doomed men here were interested in enacting revenge, on someone who had been little more than a child during the war? Well, maybe some amongst them would, but then again, some of them weren't in charge of their faculties anymore. Anyone who had any of their cognitive processing ability remaining would have been able to recognise that the shell that was deposited in the room was not the same girl that had been fighting for so long.
For himself he harboured no desire to cause her harm, Evander was much more moved to study her. His eyes had regarded her almost desperately, ravenously taking in every tiny detail of her person and committing it to memory. The tightness of the collar they had pressed around her throat, how it made her breath rasp as she tried to draw in gulps of air and blow it back out without drawing attention to herself. How she had blinked when she entered, as if she was bathing in the moon's glow for the first time, how she averted her gaze at first, her eyes resting on the tips of her tiny feet.
How strange, for you to be blinded by the light in a room filled with so much darkness.
He had watched her pick up the poetry book absently and slide down the wall, landing in a small, tidy heap on the floor. Evander wasn't the only one watching, they all were, there wasn't much in the way of 'new' around here. She was small, too skinny, and incredibly detached from the whole world around her. She should have been terrified walking into the room and yet he had detected no fear from her. Instead of cowering, Hermione Granger had turned the pages of the tattered book in front of her systemically, rhythmically, too blankly to be reading.
Her skin was so pale it was almost translucent, a beautiful sort of irony that he could almost see what lurked beneath her flesh as her eyes now gave away nothing. Her slim fingers were marred by cuts and dirt, but she held the book delicately, though not with a practised air, it was like muscle memory, her hands forming a familiar shape even though her brain did not give the command.
Awareness prickled along his cheek, and Evander turned his head slightly to meet the eyes of Thorfinn, the blonde was eyeing him knowingly, something close to amusement lingered in the corners, something he hadn't seen on the man's face for a long time. He didn't acknowledge the accusation that look held, he met his eyes dead on, in silent challenge. Evander may have liked the man, more than any other he was entombed with in any case, but there were rules about how things were done between them, even in here. He was in no way attempting to keep his interest to himself.
He turned his head back around to glance at the door before resting his eyes back on the table surface.
What had she done to wind up here?
In this now defunct game, the broken princess was left lying amongst the ashes.
Evander remembered when he was five or six, finding a bird in the gardens at the Manor while he had been out exploring. It's unusual colouring had stuck out in the crispness of the winter day. Bright, exotic blue plumes had sung against the snow that blanketed the ground. Its body was slumped, with one wing badly broken and Evander had lifted it gently into one hand, resolving to take it inside. His father had belittled his behaviour, aggressively taunting him for his bleeding heart and Evander hadn't bothered to enlighten him, rather, he let him believe whatever he wanted about his actions.
Despite his conduct, Evander hadn't expected the bird to live, he had spared no thought of nursing it back to health, or any other such nonsense. The mercy he had offered was simpler in intent. He couldn't have bared the idea of leaving a creature so beautiful to die in a place so harsh, so foreign to its existence.
With my hand, I do not offer salvation, eternal life or peace, but hope, abstract and blissfully uncertain.
Evander had watched the girl with the glazed eyes, her once exuberant curls falling around her face like a shroud of withered feathers, and he had made the decision to speak to her. She had held up her book, offering what had, at first, seemed like a vacant answer to a probing question, until he had studied her, then his countenance changed, she had done as much as she could, probably more than she had for a long time.