1) This is canon-divergent AU from the point of Ron and Harry trying to slip away from the Burrow to begin the Horcrux Hunt.
2) Chapter lengths will vary, updates will be sporadic.
3) I promise, Orias and Thorfinn will make their entrance in the second chapter.
* Orias Mulciber is my take on the canon character of Mulciber.
Fancasting: Jason Momoa as Fenrir Greyback; Chris Hemsworth as Thorfinn Rowle; Brock O'Hurn as Orias Mulciber.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, or any affiliated characters, and make no profit, in any form, from this work.
She had snapped; she was perfectly aware of this fact. Clearly, she thought, squaring her shoulders, her grip on her wand tight as she walked. Or perhaps stormed? Yes, stormed was a more fitting description for how she was moving, she decided.
Hermione Granger, called the brightest witch of her age—to her face—by two wizards she so greatly respected. Gryffindor House's Golden Girl. Top marks in her year, every year. Always the one to have some inspiration or just the right bit of knowledge to help at the right moment. In preparation for what the year ahead undoubtedly had in store for them, she'd even altered her own parents memories and sent them away so Voldemort's followers could not hope to get to her through them.
Other than swallowing hard just now, she showed no outward sign of emotion. She couldn't say precisely when the moment was that she felt the straw breaking her proverbial camel's back, yet it had happened all the same. She had always considered herself a strong person, and she didn't think strong people turned their morals upside-down in a blink over dozens of consecutive small slights. Wasn't there supposed to be some big breakdown moment? Something drastic that caused the sudden gear-change?
But then, she considered as the looming hedges of Malfoy Manor's front walk came into view, perhaps it could happen from all those small slights. Perhaps just one thing had pushed her over the edge. Something had to have happened, because she felt no remorse or fear about what she was here to do.
There was a tickle of nervous excitement through the pit of her stomach as she saw the whirling shift of smoke forming into dark cloaks further along the path. Death Eaters, rushing in her direction, their wands aimed at her. Her, this simple Mudblood witch, strolling toward them as though on pleasant afternoon walk, her weapon—though gripped tight—held down at her side.
Maybe it was Ron never taking seriously the things that were important to her. Always a clever quip or a laugh at her expense when he thought she was out of earshot, yet imagining he held some special place in her heart. And perhaps he had. Then.
Or maybe it was Harry. Knowing full well all she'd done to save their skins since nearly the moment they'd met. Knowing full well of what she was capable and how they could not possibly have gotten this far without her . . . and yet somehow it had crossed his mind to leave her behind. He and Ron hunt for the Horcruxes without her? They were trying to protect her? Honestly! After everything . . . .
She was the one least in need of protection, her blood status during an attempted coup by pure-blood elitists notwithstanding.
Maybe it was only that. That no matter what she did, those closest to her, those who should know better, always underestimated her. If Albus Dumbledore had ever pulled Harry aside and whispered, "By the way, I'm actually the real Merlin," Harry's response would've been to shrug and say, "Honestly, sir? I'm not sure anything surprises me, anymore." Yet, considering her as the most prepared, the most ready, the most valuable—sure, he was The Boy Who Lived, but she was The Girl Who Pulls That Boy's Arse From the Fire How Many Bloody Times?—that she should've been the one he thought to take with him, first, not Ron and then Hermione, 'because who can keep her away?' She always seemed to catch him off-guard.
Certainly, the idea of never ceasing to amaze someone was usually intended as a compliment. In practice, it was actually rather insulting.
Huh. She halted as the scrambling figures in black were nearly upon her, screaming at her to declare her purpose—without direct instructions, they were clueless what to do about a witch just strolling up to their current headquarters. Who would've thought her Achilles Heel would be constant under-valuing?
Voldemort would probably strike her dead sooner than listen, but honestly. She was so blinking tired of all of this rubbish. Her parents were safe, and her friends were so convinced they could do this without her aid. Perhaps it would be a blessing.
There was a flickering hope that she wouldn't regret the decision as she carefully and slowly lowered herself toward the ground to set down her wand. Standing just as slowly, she held up her hands in surrender.
"My name is Hermione Granger, you may also know me as 'Harry Potter's Mudblood'." She hated that term, but if she was doing this, she knew it was best to get comfortable with the title, now. The witch rolled her eyes at startled looks she knew were going around under those hoods. "I come here of my own volition, and I have business to discuss with the Dark Lord."
The sudden flurry of movement as they all sprang into action, once more, was nearly startling. They all wanted to be the first to grab hold of her—to be the one to drag her before him. But just as fast, two unsettlingly familiar figures broke through the mass of black cloaks.
Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape looked her over in shock. Well, Snape was shocked, while Malfoy appeared both shocked and mildly disgusted at her presence on his property.
As Lucius came up beside her and grabbed hold of her arm, Severus shook his head at her. She thought she should be aghast at seeing the man who'd killed Professor Dumbledore, but no. That was likely part of the whole snapping thing. She knew, logically, that there must've been some plan in place. Some plan jeopardized by Draco being unable to strike a killing blow, forcing Snape to step in and pick up the slack. Severus Snape was many things, stupid or short-sighted nowhere among them. Or, hell, he might've even done it simply to keep that mad bat Bellatrix from murdering her own nephew over his moment of hesitation.
"Miss Granger, what business could you possibly have with the Dark Lord?"
Holding her former professor's gaze for barely a few seconds, she nodded toward her discarded wand. "That'd be between me and him, now, wouldn't it?" Before either of them could answer, she turned her full attention on Lucius' face—his scruffy, shadowed, exhausted face. "And aren't you just a dreadful sight, Mr. Malfoy? What happened? Displeased him, did you?"
The wizard's lips peeled back from his teeth in a menacing expression, but the move to raise his wand was halted. Snape had clamped his hand over the other Death Eater's shoulder and leaned close to whisper in his ear. Though Hermione could still hear him, she pretended it was just a bit too low for her to make out his words clearly—never knew when anything she was thought not to have seen or heard might come in useful.
"Calm yourself, Lucius," the jet-haired man said, his own expression unreadable. "He may yet see wisdom in having her here."
"Fine." Malfoy spat the word out from between clenched teeth as he tightened the already painful grip on her arm—woo, lots of pent up anger, there, she thought with an inward laugh—and started walking her toward the doors.
She could sense the weight of the other Death Eaters' gazes on her as they parted for their Dark Lord's obviously disgraced second and this strange delivery. She could feel Snape's attention on the back of her head, puzzling over her bizarre actions, no doubt.
Hermione wondered, briefly, if she should put on a show of being mad. Hum a little tune, look around at everything—the pale stones of the manor's exterior, the jarring contrast of the dark wood once inside the ancient, massive pure-blood home, the Dark witches and wizards standing about and gaping at her as she was pulled past them—in wide-eyed, childlike wonderment. But that was boredom with this ridiculous need for show talking. She was perfectly sane, she'd simply had more than she could handle and something emotional in her had broken under the weight, not something intellectual. Of course, mad people could also be brilliant, one simply needed to look at Voldemort to know that, but she was sidetracking.
Yet, as she was pulled into a dining room with a roaring fire going at the far end of the room and a massive table set with more places than she could count in a glance, she considered that pure-bloods, whether they realized it or not, made a show of everything—even when there was little time to waste, no one to make a show for, or nothing impressive about what they were doing. Her brows drew upward a bit at that. What a bunch of bloody drama queens they were, the lot of them! Hell, every conversation with Lucius Malfoy was like watching a stage performance. It was almost amusing.
So almost amusing that by the time she found herself standing before Dark Lord Voldemort, who blinked in a mix of surprise and confusion at the girl in front of him, she nearly laughed. Yes, there he was. The biggest drama queen of them all!
But the privately humorous moment was cut annoyingly short as Lucius used his hand on her arm to force her to her knees at the feet of their leader.
"What is the meaning of—?"
"Forgive the intrusion, My Lord," Snape said with a sweeping bow. "This is Hermione Granger, she claims to have business with you."
"Granger?" The old, snake-faced thing seated at the head of the table began in a hissing murmur. His unnerving gaze moved over her in appraisal. "Potter's Mudblood?"
Her only response to that was a tired roll of her eyes. She could swear his naked brows had jumped in another show of surprise at how indifferent she seemed about all this.
A smirk twisting his mouth, he stood and stepped closer to her. There was a sudden mad, twittering voice on the edge of her hearing, but Voldemort held up his hand, and an immediate silence fell. Hermione had recognized the voice the moment the sound touched her ears. Bellatrix Lestrange. And yet, as completely barmy as she was . . . he had quieted her with a gesture. Hermione could not help but wonder if that was a sign of how much control he had over that mad cow of a witch, or just how deep Bellatrix's warped sense of devotion to him ran.
Either way it was impressive.
"What business could you possibly have to discuss with me?"
The Dark Lord barked out a laugh at that. "Oh, really? Hmm. This should be interesting. Well, Mudblood? Go on."
She wondered if he was calling her that because he didn't feel it necessary to afford her the simple courtesy of using her name, or because he wanted to see if she would react to the term. "Not to sound arrogant, Lord, but anyone in this room who's had previous dealings with me can tell you that, even for my age, I have one of the most formidable minds in all of Wizarding Britain."
Again, Voldemort smirked, shaking his head. "Well, I must say I have heard that Potter's exploits would be a tad . . . lacking if not for your hand in things." His wistful tone turned scathing and forceful in a blink as he leaned down, bringing his face close to hers. "Things such as his continued survival! Tell me why I should not simply end you here and now?"
"Why end the very intellect that has caused you trouble when you could use it, instead?"
His inhuman eyes narrowed as he held her gaze. "You propose an alliance, is that it? I could simply use you and then kill you, you realize. I could force cooperation from you. That I've let you live this long to have this conversation should be considered generous."
The witch shook her head. "You're too interested in winning. Too interested in coming to power to risk losing a potential asset."
Straightening, he let out a hmph. A pensive expression touching his serpentine features, he reached out, coiling a lock of her unruly hair around one of his bony fingers, as though examining it. "You certainly are sure of yourself. Tell me again why I can't simply force knowledge from your head?"
She couldn't help a grin, then. And oh, yes, she was well aware of all the eyebrows in the room that had jumped up foreheads at her look of amusement. "Because you can't read me. I'd dare you to try but that seems a bit childish, don't you think? Since the moment I learned I was a witch, I've studied magic more intensely than every student in Hogwarts combined. I've been sneaking into the Restricted Section of the library since nearly my first day. Did you think I wouldn't be certain I was well practiced at Occlumency before barging over here?"
"Well, then, torture?" he suggested in a causal tone, as though they were friends discussing which new local restaurant to try for dinner.
Hermione sucked her teeth as she considered that. Really, it was a miracle he was entertaining her this long, but that was a drama queen for you. "Too risky. If I'm strong willed—which you can't know for certain whether I am or not—you might drive me mad, rendering any information or help I could grant useless, or you could kill me. Either way, you lose what I have to offer."
She shrugged. "Only if you plan on never using my brain for anything more than rounds of questions-and-answers."
"You are good," he said with a grin. "Severus, what do you think?"
"I think I would be suspicious of her motives."
"Motives?" She cast a disgusted glance upward at Snape before she continued. "How about simple, but continued—aggravated—under-appreciation? To be constantly counted on for my intellect, but never afforded the respect those who are supposed to love and support me should naturally have after everything we've been through together?"
She could sense the room was about to burst out in surprised laughter if she thought to come here for respect and appreciation and rushed on. "You all may see me as lesser, but you're honest about it. You would say it to my face. You I expect to underestimate me or undervalue me. My motivation is that I've simply had enough of being used by the people who smile in my face and call me their friend. Someone like me is bound to be valued only for what they bring to the table at a time like this. And so if I'm going to be used for my mind, I'd rather at least not have my intelligence insulted while we're at it."
"Does this ring true?" Again, Voldemort looked to Snape for an answer.
"Actually, under the proper circumstances, this type of thinking is completely inline with Miss Granger's history. Her friends, from what I've gathered over the years, have always undervalued her competence and capabilities. If she truly broke under the weight of expectations and lack of consideration, as she claims, then her presence here and the reasons she's given make perfect sense."
She lost the thread of Severus' words for a moment, there. Hermione wasn't certain what it was, or why, but she suddenly felt a zing through her system. Some little ripple of awareness. The sensation made her want to pull her gaze from Voldemort's and look about, now, to find the source, but she didn't dare look away from him.
The Dark Lord tapped his finger against his chin as he weighed all this. "How do I know this isn't some sort of trap?"
"You don't, but that you could use veritaserum to discern for yourself."
He nodded. Something in his countenance told her this was drawing to an end. "Tell me, this proposition of yours . . . your aid in winning the War in exchange for what?"
Her chestnut-brown eyes took on a dull quality just then. "Freedom. You win, I get far away from Wizarding Britain."
"I could simply end you once victory is assured."
"Oh, make no mistake, I wouldn't for a moment trust you. Once victory is in sight, I will run. I would say I've gotten fairly good at running and hiding over the years, thanks to you, actually. You could end me, but you'd have to catch me, first, and you'll be too busy implementing your new world order to expend the manpower or resources to go searching for one little witch."
"You really are impressive. Pity about the blood status, though."
"You would not be the first person to say so."
Voldemort actually snickered at that. "Very well. Severus, a fresh batch of veritaserum, if you would. And in the meanwhile as the potion is prepared, she shall enjoy the accommodations of the manor's cellar. Lucius, take her away."
Lucius, unexpectedly reticent during that entire exchange, pulled Hermione to her feet and turned her toward the doors. As he started walking her across the floor, she felt that odd little zing, again.
She didn't want to make a fuss about it, as she had no idea what it meant, but she looked back over her shoulder. Her gaze met that of a man she'd never met before, but she knew him all the same, from his pre-war Wanted posters. Fenrir Greyback. She had no idea he was so . . . well, imposing of stature was one way to put it. But their eyes had locked for a moment as he approached the Dark Lord.
Malfoy dragged her along, and she was forced to snap her head forward to keep from tripping over her own two feet. The last thing she'd seen was Greyback staring into her eyes as he knelt beside the Dark Lord's chair and related something in hushed tones. Something to do with her? Or had she simply caught the werewolf's eye?
Telling herself that sensation had only been the feeling of being watched, she gave her head a shake and continued along. Bloody hell, she probably had a hand-shaped bruise on her arm by now from this, she couldn't feel anything below her elbow. She was certain there was a joke in there, somewhere, about Lucius Malfoy's grip.
She never saw how Voldemort's gaze had shot right to her retreating form as he listened to Greyback. Never heard the quiet chuckle that rumbled out of him as he nodded and said, "Really? Well, now, isn't she one interesting little Mudblood?"