After they were done, Hermione and Draco walked out to the rose garden. The sky was clear, the sun bright, and the day had the bitter chill of midwinter. She could feel the air with each breath. Cold and harsh but also cleansing.
When they reached the low wall that surrounded the roses, Hermione hoisted herself up onto it. All the bushes were brown stalks. She'd have thought they were dead if she'd just seen them without context. Even within the bounds of a wall with paths and a shed they seemed lost. "Poor things," she said. "This isn't a good time of year for roses."
Draco pulled himself up after her and they sat, feet swinging. A twitch of his wand and a murmured incantation and the air warmed so it was comfortable. Another spell and the branch nearest her burst into bloom, red and pink and even one yellow flower coming into bud, opening, and flirting with her, all in the matter of moments. "Aren't you pretty," she said to one. It dipped its heavy head as though agreeing.
The acid tone announced Amycus Carrow. "Did Yaxley let you off your leash?" Hermione asked. Her fingers itched to grab at her wand but she'd be damned if she'd let this misbegotten bastard know he had any effect on her at all. She didn't reach for her wand in the presence of shopkeepers or servants or animals and she wouldn't give Amycus Carrow the satisfaction of seeing her reach for it now.
At least, not until she planned to use it.
"Unlike you, I don't wear one," Carrow said. He sneered with such generic malice Hermione wondered if he'd been studying up, using bad Muggle horror films as his model.
"We're not into that," Draco said. His sneer channeled aristocratic disdain and subtle contempt and the implication something in the neighborhood smelled bad but he was too polite to say anything. "Malfoy women tend to not be exactly," he paused as if searching for the word. "Submissive."
Carrow let out a mean laugh. It showed his teeth which was a shame. You'd think magical dentistry would be better. "That wasn't what was going on last time you two sat on that little wall."
"Did you fall for that?" Hermione asked keeping her voice light. She would be amused. She would be amused by this rotten prick if it killed her. "I didn't think it was especially realistic, but I never went in for acting in school. Draco?"
"I always liked games better," he said. "Quidditch. Football. Gobstones. Theatre's nice, but not really where my talents lie."
"I guess you don't need to be a R.A.D.A. girl when your audience is, well, not very discerning."
"RADA?" Carrow asked.
"A Muggle school," she said. "For actors."
"She's saying you're an idiot," Draco said. "That you missed we were faking."
Amycus Carrow's jaw looked even thicker as he thrust it forward and his scowl deeper. "Didn't look fake to me," he said.
"I know," Hermione said. She let out a sigh she had to admit to herself was theatrical. "It suited us for you to think we were at odds, that I was a victim."
"I'm honestly surprised they bought it," Draco said. "We didn't even try to keep it up."
"We didn't," she agreed. She pulled her wand out and rolled it between her palms. The wood felt good. It was power and security and a reminder that she was damn good at this. She always had been. "But it seemed unrealistic. Me? A victim?"
"A bit of a stretch, I admit," Draco said. "More likely would have been you burning the place to the ground if I put one hand on you in a way you didn't like."
"I did set Snape on fire once," she said.
"Well, his cloak." She pointed her wand at Amycus. "Still counts, I think."
"I have to admit I agree," Draco said.
Amycus was looking from one of them to the other. The rapid pace of their banter had left him struggling to keep up and he fell back on the one thing he could be sure of. "Stupid Mudblood," he said. "You don't belong."
She swept her wand through the air. Sectrumsempra was a nasty spell but remembering Snape had brought it to mind and it did get the job done. Well, it got the job done slowly but after last night she was in the mood to make this hurt. The line of blood that appeared on Amycus Carrow's face was shallow. She'd controlled the cut. That didn't mean it didn't hurt.
"You bitch," he hissed as his hand went to the blood on his face. "I'll teach you -."
"Nothing," she said. "Expelliarmus."
His wand flew toward them and Draco snatched it from the air. She caught his eye and he shrugged. He'd always been a good Seeker. It hadn't been his fault he'd been stuck facing off against Harry, one of the truly great Quidditch players. "Nicely done," she said.
"Well, I can't let you have all the fun."
"Mmm," she said. She slashed her wand through the air again and this time it was Amycus Carrow's arm she sliced into, and this time she went a little deeper. "I do think there will be a little teaching going on here, but I won't be the student." Another slash. "I don't think I have anything to learn from you."
Amycus Carrow had a lot of qualities, she was sure. He was brutish, loyal, and stupid. If you needed a man to follow you around and look looming and intimidating, he was your man. Wandless magic, however, wasn't something he'd ever mastered. That much was clear. He took a step toward her, staggering and violent, and she flicked her wand again. "Petrificus totalus," she said blandly. He immediately stiffened and fell down, nothing but a board toppling when the carpenter lets it go.
"You really aren't very good at this," she said. She stepped forward and nudged him with her toe. "How did you think this would go?"
"I had no idea you held him in such high esteem," Draco said. When she looked at him, he cocked his brows. "Thinking," he said. "You assume he does it?"
There didn't seem to be any real evidence that the man lying on the ground in front of her had ever done any such thing. She remembered the blood crusted on Neville's face at the end of his seventh year at Hogwarts. He'd stopped even bothering to wash it off. She remembered the way he'd laughed the night before as Draco had tortured her. "How bad was it?" she asked softly. She glanced at Draco. "No one likes to talk about it, but that last year. How bad was it?"
His jaw tightened. She could see him have to steady his breathing. "It was bad enough," he said. The words were very controlled. "You were fortunate to have missed it."
Everything looked fortunate from the other side, she supposed. She pointed her wand at the grass and excavated a neat grave. She'd gotten good at that with the Order. They'd lost so many people. Good people. Witches and wizards who would never be famous the way Harry was, or infamous the way she had become. Just good people who saw what was happening in a country they loved and wanted to stop it. Just good people who'd died.
"Kill him first," she asked Draco, "or bury him alive?"
People couldn't really change their expressions when they were petrified. Somehow, though, Amycus' face reflected the horror of that choice. She squatted down and smiled at him. "I'm going to kill you all," she said softly. "You and Yaxley and your whole corrupt edifice."
"That means the structure you've built to support yourselves," Draco said from above her. The drawling condescension in his voice filled her with a wild cruelty she had to tamp down. She wanted to torture Carrow. She wanted to make him hurt the way he'd hurt her, and the way he'd hurt Draco, and the way he'd hurt every scared first year at Hogwarts who'd gone to magic school and learned to torture and to cry instead of how much wonder there was in the world.
Fight monsters and you become one. Who had said that? She couldn't remember, which annoyed her and that pulled her far enough away from the urge to torture and maim and kill that she was able to take a step back from the prone body. "It isn't personal," she said, though that was a lie. It was. She hated this man. But even if she hadn't, he needed to go and this was as good an opportunity as any to strip away one of Yaxley's support beams.
"I do have a question," Draco said. He was biting at the side of his mouth and looking down at Carrow with an expression so like his mother's Hermione almost laughed. Harry had said Narcissa always looked like she was smelling something bad and Draco's mouth and wrinkled nose were an exact mirror of her. Hermione made an encouraging noise and his mouth got meaner. "Did that swathe you were cutting through London with Lestrange, imperius curses at the ready, allow you to tell yourself that women actually liked you?"
Hermione could feel her hand clench around her wand.
"Because I have a little secret for you," Draco said. "One last bit of wisdom before my wife murders you and we roll your body into that grave and the worms eat you. They didn't. No one does. Even Yaxley despises you."
She shoved his body into the open grave. It fell with a thunk that made her think of tossing bags of rubbish out after a good spring cleaning. He landed face down and she had the brief, unfortunate thought that she should roll him over or he'd smother. That made her jaw tremble with what might have been hysterical laughter. Who worried about whether a man could breathe when you were about to do the unthinkable? Cold blooded killing, as it turned out, pushed her to the edge of control.
"I'd let you die slowly, buried alive," she said, "but then I'd be afraid you'd somehow claw your way back out."
She took a deep breath and glanced at Draco. He nodded, just the smallest tip of his chin, and she pointed her wand at Amycus Carrow. "Avada Kedavra."
The flash of green light seemed too bright. Her head flew up and she looked at the manor house, guilt suddenly clawing at her. Had she been seen? They hadn't even checked whether he had come with anyone else. Would someone be out looking for him? Would that light give them away?
Draco had already started to move. He used his wand to shift dirt back into the grave and she shook herself and began to help him. Once the dirt was in, they packed it down and she could hear the crunch of Carrow's bones as they pushed the land down with as much force as magic could bring. They didn't want the grave to settle. That was always one of the issues with burying people in unexpected places. Do it wrong and as the body decomposed the land settled down and it became obvious what you'd done.
The crunch seemed loud. It seemed obscene. She looked back up, expecting Death Eaters to come pouring out of the manor, alerted to the demise of their companion by the cracking, crunching, squelching sounds his body made as they compressed it. The big house looked back at them with sleepy window eyes and a skirt of shrubbery pressed against its feet. No one came.
She focused back on the grave and gave it one more good push. Then considered the dirt itself. That would have to be hidden. She'd never worried about that before. The places they'd buried Order members had never started out as tidy lawns. But she could do this. She was Hermione. She was clever and brave and as soon as she got this done she could go up to the house and take the longest shower ever.
She focused on what the grass should look like. Dormant. Frosted. Stiff. Transfiguration turned the top layer of dirt back into a perfect copy of the stretch of grey and green that reached from their feet up to the house. She tweaked and poked and fussed with it, changing one element to make it look even more perfect, and she probably would have done that all day if Draco hadn't touched her arm.
"It's fine," he said. She looked at him and realized her eyes were burning and that was tears. It made her angry. How dare she cry for Amycus Carrow? How dare she?
Draco gathered her into his arms and she began to shudder. The adrenaline left her and, as everything became too much, she sagged. "I hate this," she said.
"I know," he said. He pressed his cheek against her hair and held her as she cried. "I know."
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N – Thank you to Moonlightmasqueradeand r-santiago for beta reading.