A/N: OMG, I had a dream about Loki and somehow we were at a social function, Thor was being an idiot and oblivious, teasing Loki. Loki was feeling all insecure, and just saundered up and gave him a good snog. I'm not sure what was best, Loki's expression or Thor's. AHAHHAHHAH AHAHAHAAHHAHA

Beta Love: The Buried-in-Snow-OMGmakeitSTOPDragon and the Rose, The Overworked and Work-Abused Dutchgirl01, and the Paranoid-Where-Is-My-Controller-Commander Shepard

Summary: [HG/SS] When Harry and Ron try to "prank" Draco Malfoy for the audacity of being Draco Malfoy, Hermione steps in to stop him, but the curse takes her full on. Dumbledore makes a choice for her to preserve the brains of the Golden Trio and thus keep Harry Potter alive. [EWE, NC, AU]

The Lord of Death and Albus Dumbledore

Chapter One

Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.

Lao Tzu

Albus Dumbledore walked across the ungodly mess that was once a most beautiful and well-kept family home. Half of the walls were gone, blasted in from the outside, and the roof was only barely hanging on by a thread of blessing that the home had once been well built. As he walked through, hoping beyond hope that the home had been empty when the destruction had blown through, he stumbled on the broken, twisted forms that had once been human bodies.

He knelt down, his hand searching in vain for the carotid pulse on the neck of one and then the other. His eyes closed as he slumped in defeat. He took in a few laboured breaths and opened his eyes, his gaze falling upon an old photograph of the two brothers and their curly-haired, redheaded younger sister. Their photo had been of happier times, and those times seemed long and far away.

A strange wheeze caught his attention, causing him to turn. His eyes widened as he hurried to a smear of black cloth and gnarled hands. Dark eyes stared into nothingness even as a bare wheeze and weak rasp of breath barely moved his side.

"Severus," Albus said, placing his hand on him with no response. Blood pooled around him, having already soaked his black, woolen robes.

He pulled on the few healing spells he knew, attempting to stabilise him for an Apparate, but his body twitched and convulsed, going into seizures.

"Headmaster, there will be an attack tonight on the house. Five Death Eaters at the very least. More if there is enthusiasm. You must get them out of there."

"Severus, I discussed your warning with our Auror allies, and they believe the attack will be on the Muggles just outside London."

"Potter and Black? Don't be absurd. They would say anything to discredit me! I'm telling you the Prewetts are going to be targeted! At least warn THEM if nothing else!"

"Enough, Severus," Albus said, waving his hand. We can only afford one large group of people to stop events, and innocent Muggles have no defence against magic."

Albus frantically patted is robes and pulled out a small, worn box. He opened it exposing what looked like a coin with a grotesque face carved on the front, more akin to a gargoyle than any recognisable animal. The coin was faded slightly towards the top as if it had been worn away, but the rest seemed surprisingly alive. He dipped it into pool of blood, and the coin flashed brightly as the blood disappeared.

A low, rumbling growl sounded around the ruins as a dark, ominous mist swirled around the ruined hardwood floor. A figure, seemingly built of shadow, rose up from the swirling mist. Its form solidified no less creepily, pale, thin skin over bones, seemingly far less material than a spectre.

"This is the second time you have called upon me, Albus Dumbledore. What crisis would my old bones have to offer you?"

The air around them seemed to freeze with only Dumbledore's breath painting clouds in the cold. The figure stood still as tree. Time seemed to be suspended in that moment where even the blood stopped its trail across the floor.

"I need Severus alive," Albus said. "He is imperative for the war."

The figure's face twisted cruelly, thin lips pulling back from ivory fangs. "What I offer is not life, as well you know."

"But you could preserve him. He would keep his mind," Albus insisted.

The creature pulled back its lips. "And what if he looks like me, hrm? Will that work for your hidden cause?"

Albus flinched, and it did not go unnoticed by the creature.

"I thought not. How good for you that his looks are already pale and his countenance already uncommonly harsh. Do you truly wish to condemn an innocent to a fate that is neither truly living nor death?"

Albus looked down at the body of his newly acquired spy. "He is not innocent, but I need him all the same."

"We all have things we need, Albus," the creature replied, his face like a skull with only a thin layer of skin pulled across the surface, looking so much like some beast who had died a long time previous than anything remotely alive, much less human. "What makes you think he will thank you for this fate?"

"He is needed," Dumbledore repeated stubbornly.

The being, who seemed neither fully human nor beast, curled thin, cruel lips around a jagged, fang-filled smile. "You have used the token, and this is to be the second of the three boons as I promised to you so long ago as a reward for alerting me to your former friend Grindelwald's intent to attack my coven. Again I must ask, are you entirely certain that this particular boon is what you desire?"

"I am quite positive."

The inhuman creature smiled, and it was not a kind one. He flipped the coin back to Albus, this time only a sliver of the original engraving remained. He snarled, and his fangs sank into Severus' neck, burying deep. Rivulets of dark crimson blood trickled down his neck as the creature fed deeply, making no effort to conceal the enjoyment he was gaining from the feeding. He pulled away, blood dripping from his fangs as he drew one sharp claw against his neck to allow thick, black blood to pool in the wound. He then drew Severus' mouth to the wound, forcing him to drink. At first it seemed as if the dying wizard struggled against it, but the creature's embrace was iron. Then, as if a switch had been flipped, he was drinking deeply, growling, struggling to feed.

The ancient creature stared at Dumbledore, his umbral gaze never faltering. "I would leave us, unless you wish to partake," he growled. "Or become food."

Dumbledore nodded swiftly and fled at once, having to step over the cold bodies of the Prewett twins as he left.

"Albus," the creature said as he left. "I hope you do not complain if the results are not quite to your liking as you did when I dealt with Grindelwald on your behalf."

Albus flinched, turning slightly. "This must be done, just as it had to be back then."

Then Albus fled into the night, followed by a resounding crack.

Harry and Ron knew they were in trouble this time. Big trouble. Big B and capital T trouble with a side serving of "Oh, fuck" instead of chips.

Harry hadn't meant to lose his temper so epically, but, damn it, he'd seen that bloody git, Malfoy and— well, he'd totally lost it. Ron had lured Malfoy in to confront him about having seen him slinking off in the middle of the night. He'd just meant to talk to him. Rattle his cage, but—he'd used a spell that Sirius had taught him, telling him he'd once created it with James to get back at Snape but had never had a good opportunity to use it.

The moment the first word had come out of his mouth, Hermione had screeched in horror, throwing herself in front of a startled Malfoy as she screamed, "NO HARRY! That's Dark magic!"

And then she had screamed, this time in agony—

And screamed.

And screamed.

"What spell was it, Mr Potter?" Poppy yelled frantically as she and her fellow medi-witches swarmed over Hermione.

"Mr Potter!"


Harry, his eyes wide and his face drained of blood, looked up with a jolt. "Hominem— Vir— Viridi Hominem Mori," he finally stammered out.

Hermione's skin was moist and bright green, like summer grass wet with the morning dew. She screamed in agony, her entire body convulsing violently. The blood-tinged foam that spewed from her mouth dribbled onto the pillow, and the pillow started to fizzle and smoke as the pinkish liquid actually ate through the cloth.

"What's happening?" Harry cried.

"What's wrong with her skin?" Ron blurted out in horror.

Poppy cast a rapid series of complex diagnostic spells, summoning a flask of something milky-looking and pouring it down Hermione's throat. For a tense minute, it seemed like Hermione was starting to improve, but then she started to shriek again.

"Get me more of the alkaline potion!" Poppy yelled. "And keep pouring it down her until we can counter that spell. POTTER! Give me the counter curse!"



"I—" Harry stammered. "T-there isn't one!"


Hermione continued to scream and scream.

"What are we going to do, Harry?" Ron said, wringing his hands in a manner much like his mother's typical reaction to extreme stress. His voice trembled like the night he begged Harry to murder him because he looked like his old Aunt Tessie.

"I don't know."

"She always knew what to do. What if we can't figure it out! What if she's not—"

"I DON'T KNOW!" Harry cried, throwing a punch at a nearby Screechsnap plant. It wobbled and fell to the floor, unpotting itself, and they both heard it give a sad little death rattle as its leaves drooped and it wilted and shriveled into a dessicated ball right before their eyes.

Ron just stared at Harry as his best mate recoiled again, frantically trying to repot the plant, right it, and give it water. The plant, however, just slumped completely.

Ron, silent for the moment, staring at the unfortunate plant. Then he looked up. "What if—"

Harry jerked his head up, his face flushing red. "I don't know, Ron!"

The other potted plants, quivering in fear, jumped to huddle against each other, their leaves trembling in obvious fear.

Ron stared at the huddled plants, swallowing hard. He looked like he wanted to say something, but he thought better of it.

"It was just supposed to turn Malfoy's skin green," Harry said in barely a whisper. "It was just a joke from Sirius."

"It was a spell for Hermione?"

"No, it was a spell my dad and him made up for Snape. As a joke."

Ron stared at the quivering Screechsnap plants that seemed to be whispering to each other. "Not that I like the greasy old git, mate, but that didn't seem like a joke to me. That was all about hate."

Harry frowned, his hands clenched tightly into fists. "It was supposed to be a ruddy prank."

Ron stared out the window, swallowing. "Right, then. A prank." He remained silent, but his eyes showed fear and uncertainty.

Albus frowned at the lifeless body of Hermione Granger that was being held in stasis, kept in a state of suspended animation as poor Poppy Pomfrey and her fellows tried desperately to find a cure for the horrific condition that ailed the young witch— a Dark curse. But Albus knew deep in his aged bones that there would be nothing normal that could save her from her blood turning to acid and her organs rotting within her… this was not something that any known potion could fix. That, and there was no counter curse to save her either. He heard Poppy crying to her fellow medi-witches about how nothing was working. St Mungos had even sent a Dark curse specialist over to Hogwarts— and Dumbledore worried that Healer Lourdes would report the situation to the Aurors and get them all entangled in the resultant mess. That could be traced back to Harry Potter, and that was something he simply could not afford.

No, Harry Potter had to be kept safely out of reach for him to finish his appointed task, if only the boy could manage to keep his hot temper under control.

And with both Sirius Black and James Potter dead, there was no counter curse to be had for poor Hermione Granger— the one person Dumbledore knew was capable of keeping Harry Potter on track or at least— save him from his own failings.

Now, Albus finally realised, much to his shame, just what kind of relationship his spy had truly had with the group of boyhood chums. He'd been blind to it for so long, dismissing it as nothing more than childish pranks or bouts of adolescent anger that they would eventually grow out of. But Tom hadn't grown out of it either. Why then, did he always think they would?

Albus frowned, compulsively sucking on his lemon sherbet.

He was sure, however, that Harry had to have the best possible chance to defeat Tom, and the only way that was ever going to happen was if Hermione was alive to keep him safe until it was time for the boy to face him.

He couldn't rely on Severus— Severus had a great many other tasks he had to perform, and Albus had worked very hard to keep Harry and Snape oblivious to each other's better qualities. There was no turning back the clock there.

He fingered the coin he kept hidden in his robe pocket and pulled out his wand. He muttered a spell, and blood dripped from his cut hand onto the coin. He clenched the coin tightly, and the blood disappeared as the coin burst into a blinding radiance.

Dark mist pooled around his feet, seemingly seeping out of the stone and mortar. Claws reached out and pulled another form behind it, skeletal and dark in a way that made Snape's idea of fashion seem like pastels and rainbow unicorns. The mist coagulated into form, and the form was even more monstrous that the last time Dumbledore had set eyes upon him.

"Are you dying, Albus?" its voice rumbled, a mixture of venom and unearthly mockery. "What could possibly be so important to call upon me one. Final. Time?"

Albus gestured to the body of Hermione Granger, who looked barely human with the curse running through her veins as acid.

"You wish me to save her?" the creature asked, lips pulling back from sharp, dagger teeth. "This is your last boon you would ask of me? Not to defeat your little thorn in your side? Tom Riddle?"

Albus flinched. "Harry needs her. He will require her to keep him on track to defeat Tom."

The dark figure extended one bony talon towards Hermione, the tip gently brushing against her forehead. "And what makes her so special? Is she one of your pet projects too, hrm? Is not one of mine enough to keep in your pocket?"

Albus squared his jaw. "Don't you think I would keep such a boon for some other reason if I could? This must be done."

"Albus, I am not sure what you would keep or use anymore," the ancient creature drawled, his eyes blinking slowly. "Are you sure you do not wish to just drink from me and do your own dirty work?"

Dumbledore flinched, unable to suppress an instinctive shudder of revulsion.

The creature did not miss the gesture, and its lips curled back from its teeth in a cruel, knowing smile. "Some lines find you cannot cross, hrm, Albus? You would rather be old-looking like some wizened, kindly old man than what I am. Even when mortality ticks away at your weakening bones. Or— perhaps you do not wish to see what power I would have over you, fearing that I could command you as you command the one I saved for you?"

Dumbledore stiffened. "This is necessary."

"So it would seem." The creature cradled Hermione's body gently against himself, tilting her head to the side. "It's a good thing acid has no effect on me, Albus. One might think you wanted me dead."

His fangs struck, and he drank from Hermione's neck, her acidic blood dripping from her neck to sizzled on the pillow and mattress. It steamed off of the creature's mouth, but even as the flesh burned, it regenerated unnervingly fast, flesh forming over skeletal bone in the merest blink of an eye. The creature took one claw and sank it into his neck, pulling it to free his black blood to pool, and he drew Hermione to it, pressing her to the wound.

Hermione's body spasmed and her arms beat weakly against the creature at first, struggling, but then her hands slowly twisted into newborn claws as she latched onto the ancient creature's offering, her hungry suckling at the horrific offering as desperate as a hungry newborn infant seeking the milk of its mother. Her green skin turned pale and ashen as her eyes stared at Albus as she drank. Her whisky brown eyes faded into a disturbing, almost glowing shade of pure gold.

The creature gave a strange gasp that sounded strangely pleasurable, his eyes fluttered slightly as he clutched at Hermione, not even bothering to push her away. Strangely, he encouraged her to drink as much as she desired— the rush of his supernatural blood hastening her conversion much faster.

The creature began to laugh, his eyes focused on Albus with a strangely amused, dark brand of humour. "She is not like Severus, Albus. Her will to live is very strong. While he struggled to find something to live for— she has many reasons to survive." He chuckled, his eyes fluttering with the ecstasy of the dark embrace, feeling the tendrils that bound this witch to his bloodline slither darkly around them both and bind them tightly.

Already, her hands were twisted into elongated talons, the ends of her fingers shaping into delicate, pearlescent, yet dangerously razor-sharp claws. The tips of her ears jerked up into almost elfin points, flicking inhumanely as she focused on sounds she seemed to hear that Albus' own human hearing couldn't. Already, small dagger-like fangs were unsheathed inside her mouth, stretching unnervingly like a vipers even as they folded back— hidden. A long tongue flicked out, licking his neck as her drinking fervor lessened, but with each stroke of her inhuman tongue, she carried more of the precious gift into her mouth, not letting one single drop be wasted.

Albus couldn't help but stare both in fascination and disgust. The transformation was as interesting as it was grotesque, and it was obvious that his creature ally was not preventing her from taking too much, if there was even such a thing, allowing his fledgling to recreate herself at her own, breakneck pace. Severus had not shown quite so much enthusiasm, and it made him wonder if the creature's dark comment about Miss Granger's greater will to live was true.

Despite it, there could be no doubt that the Granger witch was leaving far more of her humanity behind than she was taking it with her, at least physically. Her body moved like a shrug, as if something was wriggling underneath her skin, trying to free itself from the cocoon of her frail human body, and if he looked too closely, he found he could almost see something moving there— like an eel moving under the surface of of the water. Something was changing deep within the young witch that was Hermione Granger— remaking her entirely from within.

Exactly what it was that was threatening to break free of the young witch's tortured body, Albus wasn't quite sure. All he knew was that Severus hadn't undergone such a drastic change. He'd left, mind you, before the wizard had completed his transition, but he'd seen enough to know there was a big difference in the process. This time, the creature that had become his unwitting ally was ensuring that Hermione got the most she could from their unholy bargain.

But exactly what that meant, Albus wasn't sure other than she would live to keep Harry alive. That was all that mattered to him.

Albus shuddered, unconsciously wrapping his arms tightly around himself as Hermione became something he'd never want for himself. Vampires were a thing that bestowed immortality with the kind of unlife that he could not, would not wish for. While Sanguini was one of those vampires that did look human as well as having an iron control over his baser instincts, he couldn't help but wonder if with power came less humanity, as if the balance of such things did not normally allow one to attain both things. His ancient ally, for example, made no effort to appear anything but the Dark creature it— he— was.

At least he could blame the changes in Granger girl as being the aftereffects of the Potter boy's misplaced curse, as he had no doubt whatsoever that there were going to be some physical things that would require an extensive glamour— especially if the changes he was witnessing before his eyes was any clue.

The ancient creature cradled the young witch, crooning with a soft, rumbling growl, clicking in a high, bat-like whisper. "Now we sleep in the ground where all those who die must go at least once." He pulled Hermione to him, pressing his almost-muzzle against her neck with a curl of his lips stretched over his too-white fangs.

"Do see that we are not disturbed," he said finally, not even looking at Albus..

Then the pair disappeared together in a swirl of black mist.

The first thing she knew was pain and then the astounded look of shock and horror on Draco's face as she had stepped in front of the boy to take the spell that had been intended for him. Draco had cradled her to himself as her body had trembled in agony.

She had screamed— her body felt as if in every single cell of her body was on fire. As her body convulsed, Draco had been yelling frantically for help, his face as pale as milk and haunted as if he was watching her die before him.

Perhaps, she had been.

The pain hadn't stopped— not even when Madam Pomfrey had placed her in stasis. She had heard them frantically casting spells as they had poured potion after potion into her. Even though some of it had helped, it was only temporary.

All of it was futile.

Until a blessedly cool touch upon her forehead finally made the pain stop.

She found herself in a land of strangely muted colour. Mist swirled around the ground like the storms of Jupiter from space. A tall figure draped only in wispy robes stood like a statuary. A hood was pulled over the figure's face, shadowing it completely, yet she did not feel any menace from it. She found herself thinking it seemed a lot like her Potions professor, sans the forbidding aura of disgust and loathing.

Remembering the manners her parents had carefully drilled into her, she curtseyed. "Did you stop my pain, sir? Thank you."

The figure chuckled. "Even now, such beautiful manners. Most would demand so many things, least of all where they were or who I was."

Hermione flushed slightly. "The pain is gone. I— find myself inclined to be far more grateful than rude." She looked around, curious, but she bit her lip and held back.

"I, young Hermione, am called Desmodon. One name of many names, but this is the one I find I am most fond of." He gestured around him. "This is my home. My domain. My— refuge. Here, time has no place. Here, we may speak unhurried by the passage of the mortal world."

Hermione swallowed hard and nodded. Her hair practically stood on end with curiosity. "Are you a friend of Headmaster Dumbledore, sir?"

Desmodon chuckled. "Friend is the wrong word for two beings such as I and Albus Dumbledore. I owed him a few favours, once upon a time, for protecting some of those under my care when I was required to be elsewhere. We are… familiar, he and I, but we are hardly friends."

Hermione frowned, processing what he said. "I see. But, you know about me?"

Desmondon chuckled again. "I know of many people, my dear, but there is knowing about someone and truly knowing someone, yes?"

Hermione's brows knit together. "Yes." She reached out into the mist, marvelling at how it swirled around her fingers. "Am I dying?" she asked quietly, voice barely a whisper.

"Do you feel like you are dying?"

Hermione tilted her head. "I feel like I was." She stared at her hands and her skin. "I think I still am," she confessed.

"Are you frightened?"

Hermione nodded. She looked around her. "I wasn't expecting to die, at least not so soon, but—" She rubbed her arms. "I think a part of me knew when I threw myself in that it wasn't going to end well." She looked at the robed figure with some realisation— lucidity in the face of her own mortality. "You're Death, aren't you, sir?"

"I've come to prefer Desmodon, I think," he replied. "Results in far less tiresome screaming and gnashing of teeth. You are a very bright young lady. Very lucid in the face of death. Few, even the very old, possess such grace."

Hermione nodded timidly, obviously a bit nervous, but not so much that she'd forget to be properly respectful her elders— and what was more elder than Death himself? "Sir?"


"Desmodon," she said quietly, rolling the name around in her mouth. "May I ask you a question?"

"Two even," he replied, utterly deadpan.

Hermione frowned and then seemed to realise that Death had a sense of humour. She smiled a little. "Why am I here? Have I done something wrong? Will I be stuck in Purgatory?"

"Oh, my dear child, nothing like that," he reassured her. "You simply have— certain options that others in this situation would not. You see, Dumbledore has requested that his old ally save your life, even knowing that the kind of life I can bestow is not truly life but something rather unlike life. But I—"

Desmodon rubbed his chin with his long, talon-like fingers. "I have become rather fond of you, Hermione. You cling to life with a will much stronger than most, yet you respect the Cycle and that sometimes your time comes when you least expect it. I would offer you something I would not normally bestow upon most others. I'm sure you heard the stories. The reasons why my trust of humanity is a little… jaded."

"The Tale of Three Brothers," Hermione said, recalling the wizarding that story she had read in the Hogwarts library.

Death nodded. "I must bring Albus back something due to our bargain— three boons given, his last boon being to save your life— but I give you the option to fully embrace the gift I give you and become something far greater. An avenging angel, if you would forgive the rather romantic spin. My Fury, to be more precise, like the Erinyes. You are familiar?"

"The Greeks believed them to be deities of vengeance and retribution, sprung from the death of Uranus by his son's hand," Hermione said, recalling the tome of mythology she had often curled up with for light reading.

Death chuckled. "Indeed. I have one other, and as a pair, you would rain down the justice that I cannot— rules, always, rules. But, the rules I must play by are not your rules, for you would be answerable to me alone. You would, of course, play the part of one as weak and limited as Albus believes you to be, for he wishes you to save the life of Harry Potter, or least keep him alive long enough to serve his purpose."

Hermione blinked, her eyes growing wide. "What purpose?"

"He is meant to defeat the Dark Lord of his time. You see, there is always one. Some are quite weak and never rise to become a true threat to mortalkind. Some, however, become terrible and even more horrible to behold. But the one thing that remains the same, no matter the time, is that there is always death to be had, both innocents and the guilty, young and old. Job security, I believe, is what mortals call it."

"I would take you as my apprentice. I would make you Mine. We would be bound until there was no more need for Death. The transition would be a bit— overwhelming, but I would never betray you."

Hermione rubbed her shoulders.

Desmodon let out a soft sigh. "I will tell you a story that perhaps may influence your answer."

"Long ago, as the mortals have it, a boy was born of a foolish witch who made a potion to simulate love in a man who did not know love. This boy was a troubled soul, born without love and whose soul was already fragile. But, he was powerful, and his will was strong. He tortured those that bullied him. He set them on fire. He spoke with snakes—"

"And one day, Albus Dumbledore, still wounded by the death of his younger sister and his own betrayal of his old friend to a cause they once shared, took this boy from the orphanage and brought him to Hogwarts to train him and his magic."

"But training his magic could not fill the gaping hole within the boy. The boy was selfish, unfeeling, and very broken. His hate was far stronger than any other emotion, and he found a way to accomplish the one thing he wanted more than anything else: to never die. He researched the oldest, darkest magic, and he murdered to seal the Covenant of unnatural magic. He created a Horcrux with murder, not once, but seven times. With each one, he lost more and more of what made him human, but he became ultimately much harder to kill."

Desmodon rubbed his robes and looked into the mist. "But the one Horcrux he made was not intentional. It was created one night when he attacked the mother of a infant lying in his crib. Her magic protected her son with her death— the most powerful magic a mortal has: that of personal sacrifice. But the murder of not just the father but the mother shattered yet another part of his already fractured soul, and a piece of it branded itself into the boy, turning him into a human Horcrux. A living phylactery for a man who fears death above all things. Are you familiar? The phylactery?"

Hermione nodded slowly. "Old wizards or witches would attempt to place their soul inside a vessel of some sort and bury or hide it deep to preserve their life should their body die. That did not require murder, however."

"No, the Horcrux is a shortcut to that most ancient magic, and not in a good way. For while death claims all those whose time is up, murder is against that natural order. One can kill in many different ways and not all are cruel or evil, but murder is a different sort of crime whose ultimate victim is the soul."

"Harry," Hermione said suddenly, her eyes widening in shock "His scar. He's the Horcrux."

"Brightest witch of her age, indeed," Death said, approvingly. "And the only way for the Dark Lord to die, truly, is to destroy all of his Horcruxes first. Every single one."

"He means for Harry to die," Hermione said, her face twisting in horror. "The prophecy— they're going to kill each other." She shook her head. "I really hate Divination," she whispered, cursing softly.

She stared into the mist, silent for many minutes. Then, her fist tightened. "I want to help you. I want to help Harry. He doesn't deserve— he can be an utter prat, but he doesn't deserve to be trussed up like some sacrificial animal and served up to Voldemort!"

"You must realise, if this is your choice, you would be with me for so much longer than this war. Win or lose, you would remain Mine. I give you this choice, free of lies or misleading half-truths. If you do not wish to accept my offer, I will escort you to the land beyond with no ill will, to the life that awaits all after death."

Hermione's fist clenched. "Am I allowed to punch Harry when I get back?"

Desmodon laughed, his shoulders shaking with mirth. "My dear child, I would even allow you to sink your fangs into him, if you so chose. Wouldn't that just rattle a few cages, hrm?"

"What would I become?" Hermione asked.

"Child, pull down my hood," he guided her gently.

Hermione slowly approached, squaring her shoulders to steady herself as she pulled the hood down from Death's head. As the dark fabric fell away, a whitened animal-like skull stared back at her with black holes for eyes. Thin, pale skin stretched over the skull, resembling a dessicated corpse. She stared for a moment, but then placed her hands on his face, closing her eyes. As she touched his skin, it seemed to come alive. There was warmth, softness. When she opened her eyes, he appeared different, and his face seemed to change yet again. His face, not wizened or wrinkled yet not youthful regarded her, some surprise in his expression at her willingness to touch him.

Long, pointed ears flicked, looking very much like the ears of Anubis. His face, however, at least at that moment, was human. If she looked too long, his face would shift— Camazotz, Aipaloovik, Hades, Mictlantecuhtli, Yan Luo, Batara Kala, Anubis, the Horned God— countless faces for countless ideas of who or what Death truly was. Yet, as she closed her eyes, she felt only one face: one that was seemingly ageless and unexpectedly kind. Her fingers traced his mouth as his lips turned upward in an amused smile.

"So brave, Hermione," he said warmly.

This time, when she opened her eyes, his face remained that of the kindly-looking man whose age seemed so ambiguous. His long silver hair framed his face, and she touched that too, perhaps verifying that he was real enough to touch. She looked into his eyes, searching for something.

"You will be many things, Hermione," Desmodon said quietly. "Feared, misunderstood, welcomed, hated, loved, underestimated, respected. But if you choose to follow the Path with me, you will never be alone again."

"I choose to bind myself to your service, Master Desmodon," Hermione said equally quietly. "This is my choice. Freely and of my own volition."

Her bravery wavered slightly. "Will it hurt?"

Desmodon, drew her into an embrace. "Not for long, my child, I promise. It is only the pain of growth, and I will be with you."

Hermione's lips twitched. "As long as it isn't like having your blood turn to acid," she said.

Death's smile was genuine as he tilted her head to the side and struck, his white fangs flashing for a moment before finding its mark as he drank away the remaining life's blood within her. Hermione seemed to fight it at first, even with her agreement, her body's instinctive fight for life did not seem inclined to agree with her decision. It fought fiercely in its attempt to remain alive, clawing like a wild thing as her arms beat against him, trying to push him away. He held her in a fond lover's embrace, his grip like iron as he completed his task, and then and only then, he drew one claw across his neck and drew her to the wound where his own dark blood welled up. He drew her head down upon his neck, placing her mouth to his offering and forcing it there, even as her body continued to struggle, pound, and claw at him.

Patient as the dead, he held her until the blood passed her lips and down her throat, and then a strange change went through the witch's body. Her body, her tissues starving for life, realised that blood was life and the path to salvation. She almost breathed it in, swallowing it in almost frantic gulps. Desmondon's body shuddered as they were swallowed up by the binding intimacy of the sharing as he gave his most potent gift freely, allowing her to take as much as she needed to calm the panic of her own body as it clung desperately to live on in whatever state it was allowed.

Falling fully into his dark embrace, Hermione's body was already changing from within. Her body twisting, relearning its boundaries or the lack thereof. Her magic flared brightly, joining completely with her master's and then filtering back into her body, reinventing the pathways as her hands twisted into talons, fangs lengthened and then folded back—

Wings burst from Death's back, a mixture of soft feathers and leathery membrane, spreading wide to blot out the sky before wrapping around Hermione's rapidly changing body, and the very ground opened up underneath him, as he enfolded her and drew her into the very earth itself.

"Sleep, my beloved child," his voice purred. "Drink deep and rest well. Your journey will begin when you awaken."

Poppy Pomfrey felt she was losing her mind. Well, more than she usually did. The stress was definitely getting to her this time. After running to fetch Dumbledore to explain she'd lost— literally lost as in couldn't find— a patient and then dragged him down to see what she meant, she found Hermione Granger on the formerly unoccupied bed, lying under the fluffiest looking blanket she had ever remembered seeing. Her skin was very pale, which she would've found quite concerning had she not known that the poor girl's skin had been violently green earlier. Even more importantly, she was sleeping soundly without a sustaining stasis spell, and her blood was apparently no longer acidic.

"Yes, Poppy?" Albus said, frowning and staring at the bed like he thought that his chief medi-witch was completely off her rocker.

"She wasn't here when I went to fetch you, Albus!" Poppy fretted. "I swear to you that she wasn't!"

"Perhaps she went to the loo, my dear?"

"She was in stasis!"

"Well, she's obviously not in stasis right now, so whatever you gave her must have finally worked," Albus said, giving her the eye.

"But—" Poppy wrung her hands, obviously quite disconcerted by the situation. "We didn't do anything else! There was nothing more that we could do!"

Albus hushed her as Hermione shifted slightly in the bed, mumbling something indistinct into her pillow.

Poppy gasped as she saw Hermione's hand reach out and squish her pillow a little to adjust it in her sleep. Pearlescent claws scratched the fabric as her ear flicked— distinctly pointed ears. "Oh, Albus! The curse must have evolved somehow!"

Just as Poppy started to panic and run a hundred and one scans with her wand, Crookshanks appeared, jumped up onto the bed and wriggled under Hermione's arm, purring loudly. Hermione's arm moved to open the blanket, and the half-Kneazle padded under and snuggled into her.

"Poppy," Dumbledore said, staying her wand. "I think Miss Granger will be just fine. I'll have Severus make her a few of his specialty potions to hasten her recovery, however."

"But, Albus! Those claws! And the ears! That's hardly—"

Albus shushed her as Hermione began to stir. "Come, Poppy. Give Miss Granger some time to rest.

As they pair left, and the lights dimmed, Hermione's eyes opened, her glowing golden eyes shimmering in the dark before her lids closed and she hugged Crookshanks closer.

Crookshanks purred, his own eyes glowing under the covers with an eerie golden radiance.

Hermione awoke to find a large, spherical, black and white arachnid perched on her pillow.

"Oh hai!" it squeaked. "Would you like some tea?"

Hermione blinked.

"Octavius, you're absolutely insufferable," a familiar, sardonic voice said as a pale hand scooped up the fluffy arachnid and moved him over.

"Awwww," the spider complained. It gave itself a running start and spronged back onto Hermione's bed and sat on her pillow. "I'm Octavius! I'm a shadow spider! We normally live in the in-between world, but we are allowed to travel with Morangelus like you."

Hermione's gaze went from the spider to the owner of the oh-so-familiar voice and realised that Hogwarts' Potion Master was looking down at her with one eyebrow arched at her. "I'm Hermione," she said quietly, eyeing the spider somewhat suspiciously. "This is Crookshanks."

The orange half-Kneazle yawned toothily at the spider and then bapped him over the head, right between the eyes.

"Eeee!" the spider exclaimed, running in circles.

"Mor— what?" Hermione said, baffled.

"Morangelus," Snape said softly, his deep voice lacking the typical bite and seething regard it normally held. "Angels of Death."

"Oh…" Hermione tried to sit up, but her head spun crazily, and she would have fallen backwards had it not been for Snape's arm swiftly catching her. A jolt of familiar energy coursed through her body, and her brain kicked in. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "You're one of Master Desmodon's too."

Snape's lips twitched. "Obviously." She realised he was amused, and he was actually showing it. It was slightly discombobulating, shattering all of her previous impressions of the normally stern and prickly wizard.

"I am sorry," he said, causing her head to jerk up with surprise.

"Whatever for?" Hermione asked, frowning in confusion.

"Your death," he said grimly. "It could not have been easy— the torture you went through. Draco Malfoy has neither eaten nor slept since the day you saved his life. That curse— you should know that it was originally intended for me. A belated gift from Black and Potter, I would imagine. I almost wish that he had used it on me, at least then you would not have had—"

Hermione just shook her head. "Master Desmodon took away the pain and told me I had a choice. It's not your fault, Professor. I didn't think Harry would actually use that horrid thing on anyone. I saw the book it was originally contained in, back at Grimmauld Place, and I thought it was an old Dark relic from the Black Family. When I realised what Harry was casting, I jumped in front of Draco. I thought—"

Hermione sighed. "I thought he'd stop if he saw me there, but it was already too late."

"I'm fairly certain, if wizarding society knew about it, it would be listed as another Unforgivable," Snape said rather grimly. "A great deal of hatred has to fuel the casting in order for the curse to work, and it worked all too well. Currently, Mr Potter and Mr Weasley are serving detention with Professor McGonagall. For life, if I have anything to say about it, but alas, the Headmaster is not prone to agreeing with me on such things."

"Will you take points from Gryffindor if I deck him one, Professor?" Hermione asked quietly.

Snape's lip curled. "I might even award you points. As I understand it, our mutual master even gave you permission to take a chunk out of him with your fangs."

"I'd start with a solid right hook," Hermione said, petting a madly purring Crookshanks.

Hermione's stomach growled abruptly, and her eyes grew wide with embarrassment.

Snape chuckled. "The hunger is quite strong at first. Much like an infant that must be fed often before they realise they are not going to die if they aren't surgically attached to a nipple. It's not like we can actually die,, but our bodies remember what it is to live. Strange, yes?"

Hermione flushed at that, her unnervingly pale skin turning a little pink.

Severus sat down beside her and his fangs flashed briefly before he sank them into his wrist. Blood welled up from the self-inflicted wound. "Drink. Eventually you'll be able to tolerate normal food again. Start with tea, juice, broth and other liquids and work your way up. But for now, you need a very specific form of nourishment, and there is only one way to get that, I fear."

Hermione looked at him with a little panic in her golden eyes, still seeing him more as her Professor than a comrade. She eyed the blood hungrily, and her stomach felt like it wanted to leap out of her body and take it by itself. She winced in pain as she tried to control it, but the hunger was very strong.

"You have my permission, Miss Granger. Please, do not hurt yourself trying to deny what you are and what you need. I have already fed and taken a blood replenishing potion. You will not kill me again, I promise you."

Tentatively, she raised his wrist to her mouth and covered the wound. The crimson liquid seemed to convert into liquid ambrosia on her tongue, and her entire body sang with sweet relief as she drank. She barely realised it, but her slender hands clung to him as she fed, and his arm went securely around her, pulling her against him. So intent on her latch, she didn't notice how his body shuddered and his eyes rolled back as she drank her fill, nor did she notice how his hand gently stroked her hair. His lips parted and his fangs were bared in a grimace of elation.

When Hermione's feeding finally slowed, she gently bathed his wrist with her tongue as his wound closed. Her breaths came less frantic, less desperate, as if her body's memory of breathing was connected directly to the need to feed.

"I'm sorry," she apologised almost shyly. She let go of his wrist, looking at him with a little timidity, like he would yell at her for taking liberties with his person more than just feeding off of him.

"Miss Granger," he said, causing her head to jerk up. He shook his head. "You never need to apologise for what you are. What we are. I have had many years to accustom myself to our rather unique lifestyle, and you must not think yourself a burden for needing time to get used to it. Our master is not unrealistic, nor does he demand any more from us than we can give. Of all the masters we could have, he will always be behind us. He will always be looking out for us, and that, my dear Miss Granger, is the difference between a true master and a mere pretender."

Hermione nodded. She realised as she sat there that they were sitting in the sunlight that streamed through the window. She looked at her hands filtering the sunlight as she spread them and looked at him with the obvious question written all over her face.

"We are not vampires, Miss Granger," Snape said with a tug of the lips. "Not in the traditional sense. Our bodies crave life most of all shortly after our death, and what carries life to most things but blood. Even our bodies, who are not strictly living in the sense we once knew, have blood in which to share, but it far more potent, as you have know, carrying our magic as well as what some may call a taint, for even one drop of it can make a thrall."

Hermione's eyes grew wide.

"You needn't worry, unless you plan on bleeding around and letting some idiot lick it up," Snape said, eyebrow arching into his hair.

Hermione looked horrified until she watched his face and realised he was joking with her. Snape, joking?! she thought to herself. He has a sense of humour? Her eyes widened as the revelation that Snape's cruelty and lack of emotion was a very carefully crafted mask rather than a true reflection of his hate for all things.

Seemingly reading her thoughts, he said, "I was not always a reasonable sort, Miss Granger. There was a time when I was as hateful as the mask I wear. Misguided. On a path of destruction I mistakenly thought would bring me power while the inside of me craved my own death for the deeds I had done. Then, one day, I died, or rather I should have, in the normal way."

"Unlike you, at the time of my 'death' most of me wished only to die and let it all be over. I believed I deserved it. It took me many years to finally accept our master's gift as fully as you did. You strove to live. You clawed toward life, even as that curse dragged you down, defiant to the end." Snape sighed and gave her a small smile. "I would have expected no less of you, having kept those two cretins in line for as long as you have."

Hermione jerked, immediately feeling like she had to leap to their defence, and then her brows furrowed as she remembered how she had ended up in her situation to begin with, and her lips pursed as her expression hardened.

Snape's shoulder's quaked.

Laughter. He was laughing! She thought with wonder. How ageless it made him look. How fascinating.

When she stared at his face, she started to see it— the mask. It wasn't as layered as their master's, but it was strong. The great dungeon bat git of the dungeons. Potions bastard extraordinaire. She reached to touch his face, hesitating. He nodded at her, giving her silent permission. She closed her eyes and touched his face, tracing his jaw, feeling his skin, feeling the warmth and the flow of familiar magic that sustained them both— the real face below the mask. She dropped her hands, but she looked at him, cocking her head to the side, still fascinated.

"I will have to teach you how to create and alter your mask," he said, his face. "Eventually you will have many, but for now, simply looking more like people expect you will be a start. People will tend to see you strangely until you wear the mask, just as people see our master as they envision death to be. The mask allows them to see what you wish them to see, but this lesson will wait until you have rested and the hunger does not gnaw on your ability to concentrate."

Hermione nodded.

Octavius popped in in a cloud of dark mist, brandishing a teacup and saucer. "Tea for you!"

Snape put a finger to a fang and allowed a drop or two of his blood to mix into the tea. "It will help you adjust to it," he said. "Tea is a dead thing. There is no life to it when made with dried leaves and herbs. Most foods are, you will come to find. Ironic yes? We crave life, while the living eat the dead."

Hermione sipped the tea and her eyes widened. She nodded. "What if we make tea from freshly picked leaves and fruits?"

Snape's lips curved upward as he tapped his nose. "Very good, Miss Granger." His voice changed purposely. "Insufferable Know-it-all."

Hermione's flinch was automatic, but then her smile spread across her face, finally realising that he didn't mean it as horribly as she'd always made out.

"Infusions of freshly picked things retain life. They will always satisfy more than the standard fare you normally see at the English table. As you are adjusting, try to stick with liquids and fresh things." Severus pulled out a flask from his robes and bit his wrist, allowing the crimson blood to collect in it. He stoppered it as he placed his mouth to the wound to close it. "Take this and add a few drops to whatever you drink for now, but if you feel true hunger, you are to come to me at whatever time and we will take care of it. Am I clear?"

Hermione nodded.

Crookshanks mrowled and rubbed up against Snape's robes, getting them coated with ginger fur.

Snape eyed the half-Kneazle with pursed lips.

Hermione snatched her familiar up and cuddled him. "Sorry."

"Felines have little respect for the living," Snape said. "Equally so the dead."

Hermione smiled, giggling. She let out a yawn, covering her mouth in instant response to her rudeness.

"Miss Granger," he said. "Rest. There will be time again soon enough. Though, I am sure I do not have to explain to you that when we are not alone, I will unfortunately treat you as I always have, and it would be best if make a show of how hurt you are to my insults."

Hermione bit her lip but nodded.

"That being said, if ever you are in need, you are to find me. Despite what I may say to you then, you are always welcome. Is this clear?"

"Crystal, professor."

His face softened. "Rest," he repeated, pulling the blanket back over her as he held the blanket up for Crooks to slowly, painfully walk every so slowly under the sheet to curl up with his mistress.

"Sorry," Hermione apologised as she hugged the feline.

"Felines," Snape said, lip curling. "Insufferable."

"What about arachnids?" Octavius asked, bouncing up and down on all eight legs.

Severus sneered, pulling the spider to him so he could hide in his hair. "You're even more insufferable."

"Awww, you're a git," Octavius muttered, hiding in Snape's hair.

Hermione tried not to laugh, but she snickered into her pillow.

Snape gave her a look, his mask of Bastard Potions Master Extraordinaire fully in place. He arched a brow at her, and she instinctively shrunk back, far too conditioned from six years of seeing him in a very different light. Yet, as a tiny crack of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, she smiled again, radiant and genuine.

"Rest well, Miss Granger. I look forward to serving you your detention every night until you graduate."

Hermione bawked, letting out an instinctive cry of protest. Yet, when she looked up at him in a panic, she saw the hint of a smile, and hers came out to greet his once more. She nodded at him in understanding.

"She needs a spider friend," Octavius squeaked. "Everyone needs one."

"You can hush that mouth," Severus admonished. "No one asked for you opinion."

"But my opinion is free!" Octavius protested.

"All the more reason to shut it," Snape hissed.

Snape bowed his head curtly, swirling as he spun to leave, his robes practically taking out the privacy barrier between her bed and the next. She heard him slam something down on the counter. "Here are Miss Granger's potions for all the good it will do her," he growled caustically, sounding very much like he wanted to murder someone. His footsteps, so much louder, stormed from the infirmary.

"Severus Snape, you awful git! This is an infirmary!"

"Oooo! That man!" Poppy's voice scoffed as she walked over to Hermione's bed. "Are you up, my dear? Up to taking a few sips of some potions?"

Hermione hid under her sheet but nodded. "He means to kill me with them," she said.

Poppy sighed. "You may think so, and they may taste awful, but you will feel better after. He's a rampaging badger with a toothache, that one, but he's the best you'll find for potions anywhere this side of the pond."

Hermione nodded and obediently took a few spoonfuls of the nasty tasting potions. She wrinkled her nose and make bleching noises.

Poppy tucked her back in. "Get some rest now, my dear. You gave us quite a scare. I'm glad you are back with us."

"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey," Hermione said disappearing back under the blanket.

Boy-Who-Lived Tires of Harlot Hermione Granger Toying With Feelings and Curses Her

The Boy Who Lived, orphan, abused, and mentally tortured youth of Hogwarts finally had enough last week and cursed the two-timing cheater Hermione Granger for her sins against him. While the school denies it, I, Rita Skeeter, bring you the truth!

Harry Potter apparently had enough of Hermione Granger and her sleeping around with other wizards, and unleashed a rather nasty curse upon Granger in a desperate bid to get the horrid pest of a chit to leave him alone! Rumour has it that the curse may have her hair on fire, as Granger was heard screaming her fool head off all the way to the infirmary.

Good to see Mr Potter finally taking a stand against the little hussy. Maybe she'll learn to keep herself away from everyone. Hopefully this shows Mr Weasley that he needs to set his romantic aims higher instead of settling for such a shameless, fame-seeking tart of a Muggleborn.

Hermione awoke in the dark, in the wee small hours of the morning, feeling just a little bit stronger. Crookshanks purred and exited the cocoon of her arm and blankets and headbonked her on the chin before leaping onto the window and devouring the food that was left there by a well-meaning house elf with grateful meows in-between bites.

Hermione chuckled, sitting up slowly, having learned her lesson from when she'd almost fallen over doing it the first time. Her head felt a little fuzzy, and the tray table had some warm broth and hot tea set out for her beneath a stasis charm.

Silently thanking Poppy for her kind consideration, she pulled out the small flask her Potions professor had given her and added the prescribed drops of his blood into each both. Drinking the tea, her eyes fluttered with blessed relief. She found she was quite hungry, but the mixture seemed to hit the spot, filling her stomach with the right combination of life and liquid. She silently thanked Snape for having been there for her when she woke the first time, as she wasn't sure what she would have done had the hunger come upon her first thing and he not have been there.

Ironies were starting to poke around in her brain. Many students made fun of the dungeon's resident "vampire bat" whenever they thought he wasn't listening, but oh, if they only knew. They'd probably soil themselves and then faint. She wondered what vampires were, however, if they weren't. There were some glaring similarities, after all. Then again— what Professor Snape had told her was that their bodies craved life, especially shortly after the change— a remnant of their drive to survive when they were still alive. Vampires, as far as the books told her, were not so much craving of life per se, just thirsty for human blood.

She could feel the distinct thrum of her link to her master and even her connection to Professor Snape through him— a sort of reassuring second heartbeat that pulsed both magic and presence shared between them. Her master's solid presence was comforting and warm, and she knew if she were in trouble he'd be there in an instant. There was something wonderfully comforting in that revelation.

Also, ironic. Being comforted by Death. Loved by Death. There was no doubt that he truly cared for her. The bond was not created in a vacuum. She had given him her trust, and he had cradled her into his bloodline. The old Hermione, perhaps, would have been coming unglued with so many earth-shattering revelations, but she could she couldn't be upset in regards to her new master or her new lot in life. He'd given her a choice, after all. He'd given her time to decide. There had been no duress, no lies, no sugarcoating or bending of the truth. Most of all, there had been no hard feelings no matter what she chose to do.

Death, she supposed, did give one perspective. Centering. A strange sort of peace that she had never known before. Time.

Especially time, at least for herself. Harry, on the other hand—

Hermione's fists clenched with instinctive anger. She wanted to give him a piece of her mind, starting with her fist impacting his face. Her dainty fangs unfolded like a viper's in response to the strength of the emotion, and she licked them experimentally, feeling them out. At least they weren't like her master's. That would be— socially awkward. More socially awkward, that is.

Her father had once said that death was thing that was elusive when sought but as tenacious as a bloodhound— chasing its prey with a mouth full of many-layered teeth. Hermione wondered if her father had more of a connection with Death than he ever let on. Desmodon did have many, many fangs. Then again, her father had always been a fan of horror movies and stories, so maybe he was just trying to scare her.

Hermione wondered what she was going to do about her parents. They were highly observant people, and they would, eventually, notice that their daughter had gone through some significant— changes. To put it mildly. Even if she was glamoured— her mother would know something was up by her drastically changed eating habits alone. Mums were annoyingly observant like that. No visits to home until she could at least eat her mother's chowder without making faces.

Still, her parents were in grave danger— the threat posed by the Dark Lord and his minions still loomed over all of Great Britain, and they were, unfortunately, the weakest link in a magical world. Muggles always were, through no fault of their own. Death Eaters were hardly going to announce their arrival in advance and allow the police to show up. Even then, police usually didn't show up with firearms at the ready unless they already believed they were going to face someone with firearms, and who in their right Muggle mind would see a person toting a ruddy stick in their hand as dangerous?

Mind you, most magicals wouldn't see a person with a rifle as being dangerous either, if the situation was reversed. That wasn't even getting into handguns and other such things that the Americans were so terribly fond of.

Hermione sighed.

She might have all the time in the world, but there were still others around her who didn't.

A rustling caught her attention, causing her ears to flick to pinpoint where it was coming from. Madam Pomfrey had put her in the furthest bed from the door and away from the other beds to give her more privacy. Most of the patients didn't even know she was there, which was just fine by her.

Her nostrils flared. She smelled fear. It was a odd sensation, smelling fear. She'd always heard people on the telly, villains that is, scream something stupid like "I can smell your fear!" but she had never put much stock in it. It was just a saying— or so she thought. But no, she could definitely smell the fear: a mixture of sweat, a sort of acidic tang, and a strange kind of bitterness that stuck to the back of her mouth.

Well, that was odd. What a strange place to smell something.

Suddenly, a pale, wisp of a young wizard was stood in front of her, his hands clasped in front of him as his blond hair hung down over his eyes in a sort of ill-kempt haven't-slept-in-days look. Distinctive grey eyes locked with hers as his teeth bit his lower lip. "Hey," he said awkwardly.

Hermione realised in that moment that Draco was more than just a little scared. Of her, she wondered? No, she thought, it wasn't just her he feared.

Malfoy, she thought. No— Draco. To keep calling him Malfoy, even in her head, was to be as guilty as Harry and Ron grouping the individual with the family. She'd obviously thought enough to save him once, punched him once, and that sort of left her with the ability to make better choices.

"Hello, Draco," she replied. She pulled the sheet over herself, despite the gown. Her modesty hadn't left with her life, at the very least. "Tea?" she asked, pointing to the tea service, which she thankfully hadn't doctored the pot.

Tea, the official English lubricant for all social situations, worked its own magic.

"Sure," Draco said, sitting in the nearby seat. "Thanks."

Hermione poured the tea and shared it, praying silently that she could down the tea without doing something horrible— like gag in front of company.

Draco stared into his cup after drinking. "Thank you," he said quietly. "You saved my life."

Hermione sipped her tea carefully. "No one deserved that," she said after a while. "Were you injured at all?"

Draco shook his head. "No, you took the brunt of it," he said, his grey eyes haunted.

"Madam Pomfrey said you were the one that summoned help for me," she said. "Thank you."

"I don't deserve your thanks!" Draco said, his voice cracking. He dug his fingers into his palms. "I've been a right git to you since day one."

"Well, the later is right, at least," Hermione said, giving a small smile. "But you did do something you didn't have to do, so you are deserving of thanks."

Draco stared at her. "How can you do that?"

Hermione cocked her head. "Do what?"

"Forgive… or at least not punch me in the face like I deserve," Draco asked, obviously baffled.

"You weren't the one that turned my blood into something from Aliens," Hermione said.

Draco looked at her strangely.

"Acid for blood," Hermione said. "Muggle movie. Space creatures with acid for blood. They have like a double mouth. Lots of teeth, more teeth inside… tendency to take out your brain..."

Draco blinked. "That's more than a little terrifying," he admitted.

"My dad is a horror fan. Movies, books… mum used to scold him something awful for telling me horror stories at bedtime," Hermione admitted. "I thought they were wonderful. Looking back on that, maybe it was a little odd."

"You think?" Draco said, downing his tea in a long gulp.

They both laughed together, and it seemed to break down the nigh-impenetrable wall that had been forming between them from their first year on.

Draco frowned, then sighed. "I've been a sorry-arsed git. For the longest time, blood purity rhetoric was all I knew. I mean, it was the only thing that was always true. Kind of like gravity, yeah? It's what my parents always thought and it's what they taught me from as far back as I can remember. It's what I always thought— until he came. The Dark Lord. He talks of of nothing but power and purity, but—"

Draco looked even more haunted. He clutched his arm, wincing. "It's really all about sadism, torture, murder and control. Threatening your family and loved ones to get you to commit horrible acts of depravity, hideous things that you can't ever go back from."

Hermione eyed Draco's left arm.

"He's forcing you to kill Dumbledore, isn't he?" Hermione deduced. "He's threatening your family."

Draco's eyes went wide, terrified. "He'll kill them. He'll torture them first, but then he'll kill them and make me watch it all. And I can't not go when he calls because he— he— he branded me with his disgusting Mark to ensure I couldn't fuck it up!"

Hermione looked at the Mark, her eyes narrowing as she saw it differently. No more the unnatural moving ink, she saw the tendrils of magic trying to infest itself into Draco's nervous system and into his magic. Tendrils, like overgrown fungal roots, spread through his arm, growing like a parasitic Kudzu inside Draco's body. She saw how it sucked in his life's energy to feed itself. It was a parasite. A vampire.

It was unnatural. There was some magic that tied the Mark back to its creator, feeding Draco's lifeforce to him— the Dark Lord himself. It was no wonder he didn't care of his people died. All of their life would go to him so he could live instead. Apparently Horcruxes weren't enough.

A warm trickle of her master's touch caressed her mind, and some of his knowledge flowed into her. She saw how the tendrils were connected, and thus she realised how they could be undone. All it required was a little death.

Hermione pressed her lips together and thought for a moment. "Draco, how much do you know about what happened to me?"

Draco flinched. "Dumbledore bargained for your life with something ancient. Very old magic. Older than old. It saved your life, or maybe—" he trailed off for a moment. "It preserved what you were. Made you like my uncle."

"He tell you this?"

Draco shook his head. "I was frantic. I thought you were going to die. I was going absolutely out of my mind. I— I—"

"You tried to kill yourself, didn't you?"

Draco looked at Hermione and nodded glumly. "He pulled me out of the lake, forced me to drink his blood, and then he cursed me out in about three hundred languages I didn't even know he knew, saying he didn't diaper my bottom and save me from walking off tables just so I could go and off myself now in a fit of unreasonable guilt."

Hermione's eyes went very wide and then she started to laugh. Strangely, Draco did too. "That did sound pretty ludicrous didn't it—"

Hermione smiled. "I'm sorry."

"I never did take major revelations well," Draco confessed. "I know what you are. Or rather. I know what you aren't. You're something different, outside, neither here nor there. But you're still Granger, the brain trust of Gryffindor."

Hermione snorted, shaking her head.

"I understand now what Severus has tried to tell me for the last few years. Now. I was just as bad to him as I was to you, a bloody royal pain in the arse."

Hermione reached out and touched the Mark. Draco's eyes widened in horror, thinking, perhaps, even touching it would corrupt the very skin of her hand. "I might be able to— help you with your problem. One of them anyway."

She eyed him, her expression sad. "But it is not without its own risks."

Draco's head jerked up. "What risk? Tell me and I will let yo know if it's worth it."

Hermione eyed the Mark, feeling her master's warth and knowledge flow between them. "I could rid you of the Mark. Kill it even, but— it could travel down your bloodline."

"You mean my father might—?"

Hermione nodded.

"Gods, that's a relief if it did," Draco said. "You may not believe this, but— my father is not ardent supporter of the Dark Lord anymore. He lost it somewhere between torture and the branding of his son and the threatening to rape his wife with one of his other Death Eaters."

Hermione's horrific expression froze on her face.

"He's a piece of work," Draco said. He shook his head. "Do it. Doesn't matter what may happen. It's worth it. Father would agree if he were here. You may not believe that, but he would. Anything is worth not feeling this vile thing crawling under my skin."

Hermione, hearing the voice of her master within her mind, said again, "You must agree of your own free will, Draco."

"Do it," he repeated firmly. Draco seemed to realise that three was the sacred number. "Do it, you have my permission."

Hermione gently took his arm in her hands. Her fangs folded down from the roof of her mouth. "You may not wish to watch."

Draco squared his jaw. "I didn't have the balls to watch it go on. But damn it, I'm watching it leave."

Hermione smiled slightly and with a flash, sank her fangs into his arm with a lightning strike. Her energy connected to her master's and through him to Snape, the knowledge of what she was doing being passed between them like signals down a nerve pathway. She withdrew with a hiss, her fangs folding back, and his blood trickled down his arm.

She eyed it, uninterested, for it tasted like ash and it smelled beyond awful, like a gangrenous limb. Her nose wrinkled, and her fangs sank into her hand, and she let her own blood drip down over Draco's arm.




The droplets covered his arm and seemed to gravitate towards the small puncture marks made by her fangs. It seemed to gather in a wave and dive into the holes, and Draco hissed, startled, as a gush of steam rose from his arm. His flesh grew pink then red then black as the "ink" writhed and thrashed underneath his pale skin. Hermione's blood, however, surrounded that pulsing blackness, coating every tendril of every tainted nerve from the Mark. It pulsed, and it shoved the Mark out of Draco's body in a flood of foul smelling rot that oozed out of his puncture sites and pooled on the floor, sizzling as it tried to eat away at the very stone.

Hermione abruptly realised in that moment that had Draco not attempted to kill himself, Snape would never have given him his blood, and Draco's veins would have not been pure— it would most likely taken root all the faster and tortured him all the more strongly. She could only imagine what his father had gone through— or any other who bore the Mark.

It was truly a cruel piece of twisted genius.

Draco was trying really, really hard not to scream and alert everyone in the entire infirmary, and Hermione couldn't help but see his innate bravery, something he kept hidden under the more easily seen cowardice he more frequently showed. Compassion growing for the blond wizard, she held his gaze and swept his mind, using her master's touch to dull the pain, as her beloved master had once done for her.

Draco let out a gasp of wonder, tears of gratefulness and relief streaming from his eyes.




The foul darkness flowed from his arm and slowly trickled to a halt. It seemed to realise that it was exposed where it was, and part of it rose back up as if to go back into Draco's arm or any orifice that was available.

Hermione bit into her hand again, squeezing the blood down to touch the puddle of corruption.

And it screamed.

And screamed.

And screamed.

Hermione let go of Draco's arm, as the heaviness in the air became lighter. Draco touched his arm where even the punctures had healed. His arm was pale but perfectly clean.



A dark, brooding spectre loomed over them. "You're such a drama queen, Draco," Severus said, his lips curled into a sneer. "Had I known you wanted to take everyone with you, I'd have recommended a sodding bonfire."

Hermione's and Draco's eyes went wide, and suddenly they were all laughing uproariously. Genuine, relieved laughter.

"Next time give me a little more warning, Miss Granger. I think I spent all of my magic throwing a silencing charm down on this half of the castle." Snape rubbed his nose, sniffing.

Draco just laughed and laughed, slumping back in the chair with his mouth open and a grateful prayer spilling from his lips. Hermione smiled and hugged Crookshanks, who had just appeared on the scene like the snuggle instigator he was and proceeded to demand cuddles on his terms.

"I want cuddles too," Octavius pouted, coming out from under Snape's long hair.

"Begone, fluffy menace."

"Aww, you're still such a git," the arachnid huffed, going back into hiding. "No wonder no one wants to hug you."

St Mungo's Flooded With Patients Displaying Mysterious Cruciatus-like Symptoms

St Mungo's experienced a record number of emergency admissions yesterday evening when over a hundred people came in, were brought in, or were flooed in from all over Great Britain. Every patient was writhing uncontrollably in agonising pain, and none of them could stop screaming long enough to explain why.

Healers worked double shifts attempting in vain to stabilise their patients while even more worked to make room for many more patients than they were set up to take in all at once.

Healers worry that this may be the beginning of some sort of magical plague, as every single patient seemed to experience severe nausea and vomiting of what could only be described as "a foul-smelling acidic black sludge."

Now, a day later, the surviving patients are being treated for internal injuries resembling acid burns, constrictures from the continuous muscle spasms, and various other ailments they are only beginning to delve into. Recovery seems grim, but healers aren't giving up.

As for what caused this strange plague, which thankfully doesn't seem to be contagious short of those who originally came in, it remains a baffling and frightening medical mystery.

The public is encouraged to check on family members and loved ones who may have been exposed to this mysterious pathogen. The only trait in common, however, seems to be that they were all from pureblood families. Whether this was a coincidence or no remains to be seen.

"Harry James Potter!"


Harry Potter went tumbling backwards into Ron, and the pair ended up in the mud.

"How DARE you point your wand at me!"

Harry tried to get up. "But, Hermione! I wasn't aiming at you!"

"You pulled your wand out at another student with the intent to kill!"

"It was only bloody Malfoy!" Ron protested, clearly not seeing the problem.


Hermione's fist socked Ron squarely in the face, and he fell onto Harry this time, both ending up in the mud again, blood running down their noses.

"Only Malfoy? Do you think I didn't notice my blood turning into ACID?" Hermione's face was flushed red despite her pale complexion. "Do you think I'd be all chummy with you after you tried to KILL me? Oh, let's not even go there about it wasn't actually meant for me. What if it DID hit Draco? What if it had killed HIM? Is that okay? Is that a PRANK, Harry Potter?!"

"Good start that, bloody Malfoy," Ron muttered trying to staunch his face.

Hermione pulled Ron up by his collar and slammed him into a nearby pillar. "Now you listen to me Ronald Weasley, and you listen well. The difference between a good person and a Dark wizard isn't about their blood. It isn't about family. It isn't about what bloody House they were Sorted into. It's about the choices they make in life and if they hurt someone accidentally or they do it on purpose, and you had better think long and hard on what you think your motives were when you turned my blood to acid."

"But I didn't—"

Hermione glared at Ron, her golden eyes flashing. Ron's eyes widened as he immediately pissed himself, a warm dampness running down his leg. "You lured him there. You may not have cast that spell, Ronald Weasley, but you would have, but you just stood there and watched Harry let his emotions run wild again, feeding the fire. What harm could it do, eh? Just a Slytherin." She slammed Ron into the post as her claws ripped into the fabric of his collar with a tearing sound. "I'm walking, talking proof of your 'harmless' prank, and I don't want to see either of you again until you two get your shite straight and pull your heads out of your respective arses!"

Hermione flung him away into the mud beside a still shell-shocked Harry as she spun to storm away, stomping her way out of the courtyard. People parted in front of her like the Red Sea, terrified that she might do the same to them as they had witnessed on Harry and Ron— her supposed best mates. As she stomped of, she almost slammed into the towering form of Severus Snape; his lip curled in disgust.

"You will serve detention with me this week, Miss Granger, for that vile physical altercation," he said venomously, his black eyes boring into her.

"Yes, Sir," she replied, lips pressed tightly together in her anger.

He glowered at the gathered crowd, and the lot of them quickly made tracks, preferring to make themselves scarce rather than face Snape's wrath or the Gryffindor witch's ire. Both options seemed frankly suicidal.

When everyone had left, Snape narrowed his eyes, giving a second look. Then, quietly, he sniffed. "Ten points to Gryffindor, Miss Granger. For your cheek."

Hermione looked up at him, her eyes shining with the satisfaction her face could not reveal. Her anger was gone.

End of Chapter One