A/N: You may not know this (unless you stalk my tumblr), but I am almost at 1,000,000 words on FFN. You read that right, a million words. It's taken me about 6 years to get to this point, and I'm kind of proud that I've produced that much volume. I was only 3518 words away from one million, and I asked for prompt suggestions on tumblr.
There was one person who responded, and they asked if I could do Thorfinn Rowle/Hermione Granger. I've NEVER written Thorfinn Rowle, so I looked him up. There isn't much in canon, which gave me quite a bit of freedom. I know that some authors have developed intricate headcanons for Thorfinn, and I respect their creativity. Please understand that part of my respect for my fellow authors is that those elaborate headcanons stay with the author, unless I've asked for and received permission to use any OCs, backstory, etc.
Thank you to each and every one of you who have been with me on this journey. Your encouragement and kind words have helped me to continue, even when I struggled.
Tófi was listed on a Norse website as a nickname for Thorfinn. It sounded kind of like the sort of nickname a small child would have—like Tommy or Billy.
And finally, "uncut thread" is a kenning for "a destiny yet to be fulfilled."
The sodding bastards cut his fucking hair. It gave Thorfinn a grim kind of satisfaction to know that it had taken six guards to bind him so that another guard could use a bloody shearing charm on his head. It was possible that the wankers didn't know what they were doing, but even if they didn't, the fucking Ministry knew. Once they were done they left him alone on the floor of his cell and moved on to the next one. His roar of rage echoed down the hall.
The next day his hair had grown back completely, and they did it all over again. It happened every single day for two weeks straight before Dolohov sighed loudly in the cell next to him.
"Stop," Dolohov commanded wearily.
"You aren't in charge of me anymore," Thorfinn snarled back.
"Thank Merlin," Dolohov muttered. "You were so damn eager to prove yourself—over and over and over."
"Fuck you," Thorfinn spat.
"Calm yourself, Rowle," Dolohov said quietly. "Save your strength."
Thorfinn paused and turned toward the wall that separated his cell from Dolohov's. He moved closer to the small hole that they had carved together to pass information and contraband back and forth.
"Why?" Thorfinn whispered. "What's happening?"
"Nothing," Dolohov replied in that same quiet, calm voice. "But you need to be ready when something does."
A low growl left Thorfinn's throat. He stalked to the other side of his cell and curled up in the corner. Tentatively, he ran his palm over the soft stubble that adorned his scalp. Bloody bastards. A grown wizard always wore his hair long. It was custom and tradition, especially among the families of the Sacred 28. It was just one more humiliation piled up atop all the others. What would his mother say when she saw his hair? Thorfinn almost groaned as that thought came to him. Thank Merlin she'd listened to him for once and stayed the hell away from Azkaban.
Absently, Hermione rubbed at her breastbone. There was a dull ache that never seemed to quite go away. The Healers had sworn up and down that it wasn't spell damage or an undetected injury. Hermione rather suspected that the Healers thought it was all in her head. She saw the looks that they exchanged when she asked them to run another diagnostic.
Hermione looked up from the paperwork on her desk and blinked at the stately witch standing in the doorway to her tiny office. Thick golden hair was intricately braided and wound around the witch's head in an elaborate display. Her robes, by contrast, were subdued: stark black silk that was trimmed with black lace and black ribbons.
"Can I help you?" Hermione asked. She stood up from her desk and put her quill down. "Are you lost? I can help you find—"
"You can save my son," the woman said firmly.
"What?" Hermione faltered, thoroughly confused.
"You owe my son a life debt," the woman continued.
"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked.
"In 1996, Thorfinn Rowle hit Pythagoras Gibbon with the Killing Curse," the woman recited. She paused and glared at Hermione. "Gibbon's curse, which was about to be sent straight at you, was deflected off of a wall instead. The Auror's report states that it was an Entrail-Expelling Curse, which is particularly painful and almost certainly fatal."
"Thorfinn Rowle," Hermione repeated with a frown. The name sound so familiar. Where had she heard it… wait a moment. "The Death Eater?" Her voice rose in surprise.
The woman scowled at Hermione. "A life debt is a life debt."
"A life debt," Hermione repeated. She frowned at the woman… Mrs. Rowle, she supposed. "What exactly are you asking me to do?"
"He is a Death Eater!" Hermione could feel her temper rising. Who was this woman to march into her office and demand that Hermione rescue her Death Eater son?
"You managed to rescue the Malfoy whelp," the woman retorted with a sniff. "Why not my Tófi?"
"I… look, Mrs. Rowle," Hermione spoke slowly and held out her hands in conciliatory gesture. "I understand that you're upset."
"You owe Thorfinn a personal life debt," the woman said again. She frowned at Hermione. "If you do not clear your debt, you will become as a nithing or a waerloga. Does your honour not matter to you at all?"
Unconsciously, her fingers crept back to her chest and she began to absently rub her breastbone again. Mrs. Rowle made a sound of triumph and pointed at her with a carefully manicured nail.
"See?" Mrs. Rowle declared triumphantly. "Already your debt weighs on your magic."
Hermione's hand froze. "What?"
"The life debt," Mrs. Rowle gestured to her chest. "It makes your magical core ache."
"The Healers said they couldn't find anything," Hermione whispered.
"Idiots," Mrs. Rowle scoffed. She tilted her head slightly. "Perhaps it was because you are a Muggleborn. Maybe they didn't think it was possible for you to owe or redeem a life debt."
"I see," Hermione muttered in annoyed frustration. She did see—all too well.
Several of her Healers had been rather condescending, and they had made little comments that had set her teeth on edge. Ron had blown it off, and even Harry had suggested that they were just 'set in their ways'. That was fine and dandy, unless their antiquated knowledge of healing happened to kill her.
"Do you?" Mrs. Rowle asked.
"How do I… what do I do?" Hermione sighed.
"Well?" Ron demanded sharply.
Andromeda waved Ronald off and turned back to her patient. "Go ahead and sit down, dear," she said to Hermione.
"What's the verdict?" Harry asked. He put one hand on Hermione's shoulder while she twisted her hands anxiously in her lap.
"Signe was right," Andromeda admitted.
"Signe?" Ron repeated with a frown. Andromeda frowned at him.
"Signe Selwyn, well, Rowle now," Andromeda informed him in a cool voice. "We were friends at school," she added to Harry and Hermione.
"Well your friend is trying to tie up Hermione with a life debt to a Death Eater," Ron burst out, frustration evident in every line of his body.
Andromeda's lip curled. "A life debt is either owed, or it is not. All Signe is trying to do is save her son. I can hardly blame her for that."
"I can," Ron huffed under his breath.
"You do understand that if you try to convince Miss Granger to do what you want, that she'll be putting her magical core at risk," Andromeda observed with a raised eyebrow. "Unless, of course, you want her dead."
"It wouldn't kill her," Ron protested. He looked at Hermione uncertainly.
"Miss Granger is a particularly strong and talented witch," Andromeda said. "Her core is already under strain."
"So… so what do we need to do?" Harry asked with a worried frown.
Andromeda shook her head. "You can't do anything. Only Miss Granger can relieve her debt with Mr. Rowle."
"How… how do you do that?" Hermione asked.
No one had really answered that question yet, and Hermione was starting to worry about why even Mrs. Rowle avoided her eye whenever the logistics of how she was supposed to save Thorfinn came up in conversation.
"Traditionally," Andromeda began and then paused. She cleared her throat and straightened her robes. "Traditionally, one needs to acknowledge the debt in front of the person to whom it is owed. That person can choose how to collect. When the debt is owed between a witch and a wizard–"
"Marriage," Ron bit out between clenched teeth. "They redeem the debt through a life-bonding." He glared at everyone in the room and then turned to Hermione. "You can't do this."
"There's nothing to say that Thorfinn Rowle is going to demand that I marry him," Hermione protested. "How on earth would marriage to me gain him his freedom from Azkaban?"
Andromeda frowned at that. "It wouldn't," she admitted.
"See?" Hermione waved a hand at Andromeda.
"I don't like it," Ron muttered.
"It's the only way," Harry countered. "Even if she has to marry him… I'd much rather deal with that than Hermione dying."
Ron's shoulders slumped. "Me too."
With his head completely shorn, wearing ill-fitting prison robes, and manacled to a large table, Thorfinn Rowle looked surprisingly young. Hermione stared at him and he shifted uncomfortably. He seemed to huddle in his seat and he frowned at her.
"Hermione Granger?" He looked her over with an expression of confusion. "What are you doing here?"
"I owe you a life debt," she explained as she sat down across from him.
As soon as she spoke the words aloud, the dull ache that she'd lived with for years eased slightly. It wasn't gone completely, but it wasn't quite as noticeable.
"You what?" Thorfinn's face twisted and he grimaced toward the door and the guards that waited on the other side. "Is this some kind of joke?"
Hermione sighed. "You killed Gibbon. Apparently interrupting him just before he killed me. Ergo, I owe you a life debt."
"You owe me a life debt," Thorfinn repeated slowly. Hermione's magical core thrummed at his words. "Hermione Granger owes me a life debt."
"Apparently so, yes," Hermione agreed. She tried to rub unobtrusively at her chest, but Thorfinn's sharp eyes caught the movement.
"Merlin," he whispered. "That was almost four years ago. The pain must be excruciating by this point. Why didn't you come forward before now?"
"It isn't that bad," Hermione countered with a shake of her head. "The reason I didn't come forward before now is that I didn't know."
"But how would you–" Thorfinn's brow furrowed in thought before it smoothed out and he stared at Hermione with wide eyes. "Mother," he breathed.
Hermione pulled her attention away from the very deep blue of Thorfinn's eyes and focused on the manacles chaining his hands.
"She didn't come here, did she?" Thorfinn breathed in horror.
"No." Hermione shook her head. "We decided that it might cause too many problems."
"We?" Thorfinn echoed.
"Your mother, me, Andromeda Tonks, Harry Potter, and Ronald Weasley," Hermione informed him coolly.
"Why are you here?" Thorfinn demanded.
"To try and arrange payment of my life debt," Hermione snapped.
"How the hell are you supposed to do that?" Thorfinn scoffed.
Hermione rolled her eyes at him, retorting, "We thought you might have an idea."
Thorfinn shifted in his seat and his manacles clinked against the table. He glared at the entire room and then focused his anger on Hermione.
"We could get married," he sneered at her. "That's certainly the traditional solution. Then you can spend your honeymoon relaxing in Azkaban with your groom."
Hermione felt a hard tug on her magical core and she gasped in surprise. Then she glared across the table at Thorfinn.
"You idiot!" She snapped.
"What?" He protested. He stared at her hand which was back to rubbing her chest. "No… I just meant…" His head fell forward and landed on the table with a loud thump. "Fuck," he moaned into the scarred wood.
"What did you do this time?" Dolohov asked after Thorfinn was tossed into his cell.
"Nothing," Thorfinn grumbled defensively.
"Don't bother lying to me," Dolohov warned him. "The entire prison is humming."
Thorfinn hugged his knees to his chest and leaned back with his head resting against the prison wall. The cold seeped into his scalp and he shivered.
"Remember when I accidentally killed Gibbon?" Thorfinn found himself grateful that he couldn't actually see Dolohov at the moment.
"Y—e—s," Dolohov replied, slowly drawing out the word.
"I guess he… I guess he'd fired off a curse at the Granger witch," Thorfinn muttered.
Silence from the other cell, and then muffled curse. "Rowle… did Potter's Mudblood incur a life debt?"
Don't call her that was on the tip of his tongue, but Thorfinn swallowed it back. Everyone had called her that and much, much worse during the war. Every time she saved Potter's arse again, Voldemort himself had cursed a blue streak for days.
"Yes." Thorfinn let his head fall forward to rest on his knees.
When had his life become so complicated?
A soft fuck drifted through the wall.
"Hermione, I'm not sure what, exactly, you want me to do." Kingsley Shacklebolt frowned at her from across his desk. He steepled his hands on his desk and leaned forward.
"I owe Thorfinn Rowle a life debt," Hermione explained tightly. She paused and huffed in annoyance that she'd been put in this position. "I looked through his records. Did you know that he's possibly the worst Death Eater in both wars?"
Kingsley frowned at that. "Rowle wasn't really that bad, Hermione. You're upset, and that's completely understandable, but there were plenty of Death Eaters were far more depraved. The Lestranges—"
"No," Hermione interrupted. She flushed and shook her head. "No, I mean… he wasn't very good at it. The only recorded kill he has on record is Gibbon… who was a Death Eater."
Kingsley rubbed his temple. "I'm going to assume that I'm misunderstanding you and you aren't upset because he didn't kill enough people?"
"No! No, that's not it. I just meant… are we sure he was a Death Eater?" Hermione asked hesitantly. She paused and bit her lip. "He wasn't… he wasn't a spy for the Order, was he?"
"Rowle?" Kingsley blinked at that.
"I mean… what if he's being unjustly imprisoned, or something?" Hermione offered.
"Hermione," Kingsley sighed. "Thorfinn Rowle was not a spy for the Order."
"But," Hermione tried again, but she fell silent when Kingsley waved a hand at her.
"He was at Hogwarts with Tonks," Kingsley finally said, staring at his desk while he spoke of his former partner. "She never really talked about him all that much, but she did mention that he'd been permanently barred from dueling in any of his classes for any reason whatsoever."
"That's highly unusual," Hermione muttered. Unbidden, a passage from Hogwarts, A History floated to the forefront of her mind. "Wait… is he a Berserker?"
"That's what Tonks said," Kingsley replied with a shrug.
Completely gobsmacked, Hermione sat back in her chair. Was Voldemort completely insane? Strike that, of course he was. What kind of absolute idiot used a Berserker in close-quarter fighting? According to the books she'd read during her Fourth Year when she'd been searching for any scrap of information that might save Harry, a Berserker didn't really have any control over his or her actions in the heat of—oh, wait just a moment.
"Thorfinn Rowle is a registered Berserker with the Ministry of Magic?" Hermione asked.
Kingsley frowned at that. "I don't know, but what does that have to do with anything?"
"The ICW issued an edict in 458 that gave Berserkers a protected status in battle," Hermione explained. "Because they enter a trance-like state, they cannot be held accountable for their actions. The Ministry could be charged with high war crimes against wizardkind for holding a Berserker in Azkaban."
Kingsley stared at Hermione in horror.
"Fuck," he whispered.
The address that Andromeda Tonks had given Hermione was a rather nice townhouse in St. James that radiated understated elegance. This was no sprawling estate like Malfoy Manor. Hermione squinted at the ornate display of black flowers that surrounded an owl-shaped knocker. She stepped forward and rapped the knocker against the door. The door swung open, revealing Signe Rowle in another somber gown.
"Miss Granger." Mrs. Rowle's gaze swept over her. "What are you doing here?"
"I have some new information, and I was hoping that you could help me," Hermione said.
"Please," Mrs. Rowle murmured. She stepped back and motioned to Hermione.
The inside was well-appointed and whispered money. Nothing so ostentatious as a ballroom or as garish as a gold toilet, but Hermione knew quality when she saw it. Nervously, her eyes scanned the walls as she followed Mrs. Rowle into the townhouse.
"What on earth are you afraid of, Miss Granger?" Mrs. Rowle asked once they arrived in the living room. "Do you imagine that my hall is booby-trapped?"
"No, of course not," Hermione said immediately. She twisted her fingers together. "It's, erm, I just wanted to see if you had any, erm, family portraits."
Mrs. Rowle's lip curled. "No one in the House of Rowle was quite that self-absorbed."
"Ah." Hermione nodded in what she hoped was a knowledgeable way.
"Your problem?" Mrs. Rowle prompted her.
"Our problem," Hermione corrected her. "Tell me, were you aware that Thorfinn is a registered Berserker with the Ministry of Magic?"
Mrs. Rowle stared at her with wide eyes and then reached out toward a nearby chair. She sat down carefully.
"That changes everything," Mrs. Rowle whispered. When she turned to look up at Hermione, tears shone in her deep blue eyes. "Thank you, Miss Granger."
"That's not all," Hermione countered with a wince. Mrs. Rowle became utterly still. Hermione wasn't even sure she was breathing.
"What did Tófi do?" She asked.
"Erm, Thorfinn sort of… I think he triggered my life debt," Hermione admitted. "I didn't know about the Berserker thing, and I went to speak to him as you asked me to do, and he… he said something about me marrying him."
"Oh," Mrs. Rowle breathed.
"Could you perhaps speak to him about it? Maybe you can figure out a way for him to cancel it?" Hermione begged desperately.
"Cancel it?" Mrs. Rowle made a scoffing noise in her throat. "Why on earth would we do that?"
"But… I'm a Muggleborn," Hermione reminded her. "You don't want your son married to me. I'm… I'm a terrible housekeeper. I can't cook. I end up ruining clothes when I try to wash them."
"Who cares about any of that," Mrs. Rowle countered with an elegant wave of her hand. "You saved my Tófi. That's all that matters."
"We don't even know each other," Hermione tried.
"I didn't know my Ivar either," Mrs. Rowle said with a pleasant smile. "We had twenty-five happy years together before he was murdered by Voldemort."
"Fuck," Hermione whispered. Mrs. Rowle's gaze narrowed.
"Language, Miss Granger," Mrs. Rowle said primly.
After a few days, the busy hum of news faded and Azkaban went back to normal. Thorfinn was sitting in the corner of his cell again, rubbing the stubble of his hair with his palm. Dolohov had tried talking to him earlier, but Thorfinn ignored him.
When would Hermione return?
More times than he cared to count, his mind would return to his one and only visitor at Azkaban. The first thing that he had noticed about her was how clean she was. Thorfinn sometimes had dreams about hot water and soap. Her skin had held a healthy glow and her hair, while wild and bushy, was also clean.
A life debt.
What the fuck was he supposed to do with that? Of course, he'd had to go and cock it up by claiming the life debt with a life bond. Fucking Dolohov had almost laughed himself sick when he'd heard that bit. Tosser.
Boots thumped against the stone floors of Azkaban with a martial precision that caught Thorfinn's attention immediately. The guards were not usually that organized. He scrambled to his feet and wedged himself even further into the corner. Panic clawed at him and he clung to the rough walls of the prison as he waited.
When the door to his cell swung open, Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped through. They stared at one another for several long minutes until Hermione Granger slipped around him into Thorfinn's cell. She looked around the room with a strangely blank expression, then she turned to Kingsley Shacklebolt, who actually flinched at the look on her face.
"Come on, Thorfinn," Hermione announced. "We're leaving."
"What?" Thorfinn turned to Kingsley Shacklebolt for an explanation.
The acting Minister of Magic cleared his throat and avoided looking at Hermione.
"It, erm, it has come to our attention that you are a registered Berserker, Mr. Rowle."
Muffled cursing in Russian drifted through the wall. Thorfinn frowned.
"Yeah, so?" He crossed his arms over his chest and waited.
"It is illegal to hold a Berserker responsible for actions in the heat of battle, Hermione Granger explained. She paused and frowned at him. "You can't use it as an excuse to murder random people or anything, but the Battle of the Astronomy Tower and the Battle of Hogwarts count under the edict issued by the ICW in 458."
"I… what?" Thorfinn was having a difficult time grasping what Hermione was saying.
"You are free to go," Kingsley Shacklebolt said with an entirely unhappy expression. He paused and frowned at Thorfinn. "But Miss Granger is entirely correct. Your status as a Berserker does not hold you exempt from the law. She stood as surety for your good behavior with the Wizengamot."
"I'm free?" Thorfinn repeated in surprise. Automatically, his eyes sought out Hermione who was watching him anxiously. She nodded at him and offered him a tentative smile.
It took two steps to reach Hermione. With a happy yell he picked her up in his arms and swung her around in a circle. She shrieked with fear and clung to his shoulders. Thorfinn stopped and grinned at her maniacally.
"You did this." His voice was soft—even with the promise of freedom, Thorfinn didn't want the fucking guards overhearing everything he said.
"Your mother started it," Hermione whispered back. She flushed and tried to shrug in his arms.
Thorfinn hugged Hermione tightly. "Thank you," he muttered into his hair.
"Come on, your Mum's waiting." Hermione patted him on the shoulder.
"She isn't here—," Thorfinn pulled back to glare down at Hermione.
"No, don't be silly." Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "She's at home."
"Home?" Thorfinn echoed.
Hermione flushed. "Your house. Her house? Her home? The one with the owl-knocker on it."
"It's the family house," Thorfinn muttered. His hand went to his head. He was going to have to go see his mother. "Fuck."
"We should probably hurry," Hermione said. She tugged on his hand and took a step toward the door.
The Ministry allowed them to Floo home. Thorfinn could feel his lip curling in irritation the longer the official twaddled on about how lucky they were that Shacklebolt had given them special dispensation or something. Hermione had put a hand on his arm and given a careful shake of her head.
Later, she mouthed at him.
Once they made it through the Floo, Thorfinn took a moment to look around the entry way. Nothing appeared to have changed. Black silk covered all the mirrors and black floral arrangements were distributed throughout.
Thorfinn turned to see his mother hurrying toward him. She threw herself in his arms and hugged him tightly. She pulled back to look at him, and Thorfinn winced in preparation. Mother held his face between her hands and stared up at him.
"I've been so worried," Mother confided. "I was at my wit's end until our darling Hermione figured out how to save you. I just—," Mother paused and frowned at him. "What did they do to your hair?"
"Our Hermione?" Thorfinn asked in surprise. He glanced over at Hermione who was staring at them both with what appeared to be fascination.
"Don't you try to change the subject Thorfinn Ivarsson," Mother snapped. "What happened?"
"They used a shearing charm," Thorfinn muttered.
"They dared," Mother breathed, consumed with fury.
"I… my magic kept making it grow back. They had to do it over and over again before Dolohov told me to just let it go," Thorfinn admitted.
"I'm confused," Hermione said.
"Think back to Hogwarts, dear," Mother said. "As you got older, the wizards began to let their hair grow out, did they not?"
"Some of them did," Hermione replied.
"And your professors usually had long hair, did they not?" Mrs. Rowle continued.
Hermione frowned and thought about it. "I… I suppose so. Some of them did not."
"Not everyone does," Mother agreed. "However, it is something of a tradition. To cut a wizard's hair against his will is usually some kind of punishment."
"If it's something that truly bothers Thorfinn, I'm sure his magic will take care of it," Hermione offered.
"Hmm." Mother looked her son over again. "Bath," she decided. "I have food ready for you once you're done."
"Yes, Mother," Thorfinn murmured. Mother stepped back and looked him over again.
"Go along, Thorfinn. Our Hermione can keep me company." Mother made shooing motions at him.
"Our Hermione?" Thorfinn echoed with raised eyebrows.
"You accepted her life debt, did you not? You chose a life-bond, I hear." Mother smirked at him.
Mother frowned at him. "Language, Tófi."
"I beg your pardon, Mother," Thorfinn replied automatically. He glanced at Hermione who was watching him with a grim expression. "I'll just be a minute. Don't… try to… I'll be right back. Try not to kill each other while I'm gone."
Hermione rolled her eyes at him. Mother's tinkling laugh echoed in the entryway.
"Don't be silly, Tófi. I'm absolutely thrilled with your chosen bride," Mother said with satisfaction.