A/N: Eyyyy. Let's do this. Thank you to Mar and Cat!
CONTENT WARNING for this chapter: Torture.
A wind danced across her skin.
A line of carriages waited, led by dead horses.
The pale-haired boy lifted her up the step and guided her into a seat. Two other companions followed.
An older couple. They murmured to each other, their eyes darting towards her and away.
Her dress was a thick weight on her shoulders.
With the clicking of hooves, the carriage lurched down a path toward a castle. A cloud reigned over it — a skull and snake.
The carriage curved around a lake, and the moon shone from its placid waters.
As the castle loomed closer, Hermione focused on her shelves. Her fingers drifted across a book with warm sunlight beaming on a courtyard, and two boys walking with her to class. She pushed it deep in the center shelf, next to a book with screams and rubble and a dark-haired boy hanging lifeless in a half-giant's arms.
The dead horses came to a stop. Their carriage door opened, and a hand extended to her. She took it, and cold fingers twitched in hers as she descended the first step. Her eyes followed the hand up to a rounded face with gaunt eyes.
A shelf in her mind groaned. The boy mouthed her name and a book came tumbling down, its pages fluttering open to missing toads, clumsy potions, and stuttered invitations to balls—
She felt her lungs collapse, black spots in her vision. And then a warm hand on her back— urging her on.
Drawing a sharp breath, Hermione dropped to the final step of the carriage. She squeezed Neville's hand before she released it, taking in his sun-weathered face and split lip. He wore long black robes, belted with a gold rope. His bruised eyes searched hers.
"That's enough gawking, Longbottom."
Neville jumped as though he'd been kicked. He swiftly stepped backward, limping to the next set of carriages. Draco pressed his hand to her hip and steered her in the other direction, moving them toward the courtyard. Lucius and Narcissa had already swept ahead of them.
Hermione tried to refocus, but each step she took from Neville was like an icicle in her chest. Her friends were being starved and beaten. And she was dripping in diamonds.
She felt the weight of her dress dragging her down, her knees buckling. Draco paused, gripping her elbow and pressing his lips to her ear. "You can do this."
The words wove through her.
"Pull back a bit." His thumb rolled a slow circle on her elbow. "So they know you're still in there."
She dipped her chin in a nod, and after a sharp breath they continued walking. Hermione centered her attention on the warmth of his hand, preparing her mind for the onslaught of people she was about to encounter.
They were here for the True Order tonight. And Harry needed her to finish what he'd started.
By the time they entered the courtyard, her waters were calm, and Neville had been tucked in the deepest book on the center shelf.
A crowd mingled, their laughter drowning out the low music. Draco lifted two champagne glasses off a floating tray, and Hermione blinked, accepting it.
"Draco," a slick voice called out. "Good to see you."
Hermione remained still at Draco's side as Marcus Flint sauntered over to them. Penelope followed a pace behind, wearing a simple black dress cinched with a golden rope. Marcus nodded at Hermione. "Granger. You look as enchanting as ever."
Hermione tipped her head in acknowledgment, tapping her fingers against her champagne flute.
"Flint," said Draco coolly. "All better, I take it?"
Penelope looked up at Flint as he detailed his recovery, her eyes misty with some unknown emotion. Hermione filed it away, allowing her gaze to wander.
She skated over Narcissa and Lucius, deep in conversation with Rookwood and his wife, and a group of laughing men she recognized from the gambling tables. Under the lantern light, she found several other Lots standing near their owners — each of them in a simple black dress with gold rope. Hermione's heart pounded as eyes flickered in her direction.
Draco extricated them from Flint with an excuse and a hand on her elbow, and Hermione tried to relax her posture as she leaned into his ear.
"No. You weren't given a dress code." She heard him swallow. "You're supposed to stand out."
A shiver danced down her spine, but before she could think about it more, he was directing her to greet Blaise, Theo, and "Giuliana." Oliver Wood stood two feet behind Theo, his eyes cast downwards. He looked healthier since Hermione had seen him last, but his eyes were lined with dark shadows. Both he and Giuliana wore black robes belted with a gold rope, though Giuliana's were shorter and lower-cut.
"And a 'happy anniversary' to you, Draco," said Blaise, twisting the cap off a flask. His eyes flickered over Hermione, and he gave a low whistle before taking a swig. "You look like a million Galleons, Granger."
She inclined her head in thanks, folding her hands in front of her.
"Feels good to be back at Hogwarts, doesn't it?"
"Mate, keep your voice down," Theo hissed. Hermione saw him rub his wrist anxiously. "This is not the night to be drunk off your arse—"
"This is precisely the night," Blaise slurred.
"Blaise." Draco's voice was stern, and Hermione looked up to see his eyes hard as ice. "Get yourself together."
Blaise looked like he was about to laugh, but he seemed to straighten up. "Right you are, General." He held Draco's eyes as he slowly lifted his flask and took another swig.
Theo pinched the bridge of his nose. Hermione's eyes darted to a nearby couple, glaring at them.
"I need to speak with Minister Egger. I'll see you both inside." Draco steered her away, and turned back over his shoulder with a hiss. "Behave yourselves."
Hermione took a calming breath as they glided across the courtyard, pushing away her thoughts of the evening's plans. She curved her lips in a demure smile as Draco greeted the Swiss Minister and his wife — the one Draco had been seen standing behind in the Prophet while he was in Switzerland. As they stood and chatted, shifting around the growing crowd, Hermione chanced a glance around the courtyard.
Lucius and Narcissa were now speaking to Selwyn and his wife. The Swiss Minister paused to retrieve a fresh glass of champagne, and Hermione caught a glimpse of Theo walking with an unfamiliar man. The man pressed a spindly hand on Theo's shoulder as he directed him toward the archways, with Oliver following from a respectable distance. They stopped to greet a pair of diplomats, and the skeletal man turned — Albrecht Berge. Hermione's eyes dropped to the stones again.
She spotted Dolohov's profile across the courtyard, scanning the crowd. Slughorn bumped into him before they could lock eyes, and Dolohov snarled as sherry spilled onto his shoes. To her left she found Hannah Abbott, standing a few steps behind Runcorn from the Ministry, her face pale. Runcorn was speaking lowly to Minister Cirillo as her eyes drifted over Hannah.
Draco was interrupted by Minister Santos and his wife. Hermione acknowledged them with a pasted-on smile, and when they moved past introductions, she glanced around again.
Rita Skeeter was speaking with Pius Thickness, her eyes drifting over his shoulder to watch Yaxley's conversation with the Austrian Minister. Hermione found Rabastan Lestrange next, laughing with Flint and Penelope. Her stomach jolted, and she swiftly scanned the crowd for ginger hair. She found none.
In a dark corner on the opposite archway, Hermione caught a flash of lupine eyes — Fenrir Greyback, standing with another large, vicious-looking man. A heavy volume shuddered — one containing pages of blood-matted blonde curls and Lavender's vacant blue eyes. Dropping her eyes to the stones again, she took deep breaths.
Draco suddenly excused them and took her arm, dragging her quickly through the crowd. Hermione barely had a moment to orient herself when Draco stopped in the arched entryway — just as Katya Viktor reached the stairs.
Hermione watched Katya's shoulders stiffen before her beautiful face lifted.
"Draco, darling!" She stepped up to them and kissed Draco on the cheek, her eyes quickly skimming over Hermione as she pulled away. "I had so hoped to see you tonight!"
"It's been too long." He seemed taller as he stared down at her. "I had hoped to find you at Edinburgh last month, but of course…"
Katya's eye twitched, and she quickly shook her head in sympathy. "What a mess that was. I know we're not supposed to discuss it"—she glanced over her shoulder—"but I was so glad I had caught the flu that morning. Thank Merlin you were safe."
She flashed her bright teeth at him. Draco held her gaze, and the seconds stretched until he returned her smile.
"Nothing made me more relieved than hearing you'd stayed home. But Katya—" Draco abruptly dropped Hermione's arm and took Katya's elbow, leading her into the Entrance Hall. He jerked his head for Hermione to follow. "I've been sending letters. I do hope you're not still ill."
His tone was icy, like his father's. Hermione watched Katya's ribs expand in her sapphire dress.
"I've been away, unfortunately!" She let out a nervous laugh. "But I'm so glad I ran into you, truly—"
"Perhaps I could come by this week." Draco's feet halted. "How's Tuesday?"
"Oh, Tuesday is no good, I'm afraid. I'll be—"
"Wednesday." Draco's tone was firm.
Katya hesitated, her eyes dragging up to his. "Wednesday is perfect, Draco." She smiled. "I'll be at home."
"Wonderful." Draco released Katya's arm. "I so look forward to it."
Katya managed another smile before turning away, stepping up to the heavy wooden doors. They swung open, and she walked into the Great Hall, her shoes clicking faster than necessary.
The doors swung shut, sealing off the noise. Hermione moved next to Draco. "Be careful," she whispered. "She's afraid of you."
"She should be," Draco said darkly. "She sent me to die at Edinburgh. If it forces her to see me, it'll be worth it."
A tinkle of bells sounded through the courtyard, and Hermione jumped at the sound. She closed her eyes, drawing deep breaths through her lungs. The guests were being summoned to dinner, and she and Draco would join them. With a hand at the small of her back, Draco swiftly led her through the doors and into the Great Hall.
A swell of noise met her ears. The Great Hall was only half-full, but Hermione had never seen this many people in it. The room seemed to go on forever, magically expanded to twice its usual size. Hermione gripped the stem of her champagne glass as they walked past tables set with elegant tablecloths and lavish centerpieces, the silver glittering in the light of the candelabras. The banners were gone and the ceiling was without stars.
An elderly man with an Italian accent called out to Draco, and they paused. Hermione barely registered the feel of his dry lips against her knuckles before Draco led her away.
She wondered how many people were here tonight, celebrating Voldemort's victory.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Lucius and Narcissa walking parallel with them, down the main aisle. All four of them headed towards a table at the end of the hall.
Eyes skated over her face and neck, and Hermione let her gaze drag across them in turn. She kept her spine straight and her lips curved, as if she, too, were cut from stone.
To her right, she saw Minister Santos and his wife were taking their seats next to Minister Cirillo. To her left, Minister Thicknesse and Dolores Umbridge seemed to be in deep conversation. Umbridge wore a gown of pink sequins and lace, and as they passed, her eyes met Hermione's with a coy smile.
They reached the end of the aisle. Lord Voldemort stood at the center of the High Table, his thin lips smiling. He wore green robes of crushed velvet. Bellatrix stood at his right in brocaded black. Her eyes narrowed at Lucius and Narcissa as they climbed the steps.
The room felt cold. Hermione focused on her heartbeat as she and Draco cut to the left and followed his parents.
"Lucius," said Voldemort softly. "You and your family are very welcome."
"Thank you, my Lord." Lucius and Narcissa inclined their heads, and once they straightened, Voldemort gestured to the chair across from him. Lucius pulled out the chair across from Bellatrix, and Narcissa settled in it silently. Lucius took the chair to her right, directly in front of Voldemort.
Draco stepped forward, and Hermione kept her head lowered as he paid his respects to Voldemort and his aunt. He pulled out the chair to the right of his father, looking pointedly at the chair next to him. Hermione approached the table, expecting him to sit, but he seemed to be waiting for something.
"Mudblood Granger," Voldemort hissed, and Hermione's pulse skyrocketed. "You do not have a greeting for me?"
She quickly dropped into a low curtsey. "Of course, my Lord. Forgive me."
Bellatrix tutted her disapproval. Draco's knuckles went white on his chair.
"Thank you for allowing me to attend tonight, my Lord."
There was a stilted silence. Then Voldemort hummed his acknowledgment, and Hermione felt like she could breathe again.
She waited with her head down until Draco pulled his chair out, and followed suit, her heart still thumping in her ears.
People murmured and laughed around her, the table groaning and chairs shifting at both ends. Hermione kept her lips curved and her eyes fixed on her champagne, letting the noise blend together like bubbles in a flute. The chair to her right pulled out, and she looked up to see Theo bowing to Voldemort. Oliver stood with another Lot against the opposite wall, their heads down and hands folded.
Blinking, Hermione glanced over her shoulder. The tables were packed, the Great Hall nearly full. And all around them, black robes with gold belts lined the walls like sentinels. She was the only Lot allowed to sit at the table.
Her mind rippled, but before she could calm it, a melodic voice dripped like honey across her ear.
"My Lord. I am honored to sit at your table."
With slow movements, Hermione turned in her chair to take in Ginny Weasley, sparkling in silver and dripping in diamonds. Avery bowed next to her, his hair slicked back.
Hermione's eyes fell to her napkin. Draco shifted in his seat.
"Ginevra." Voldemort's voice was low and amused. "What a jewel you make."
"You flatter me, my Lord."
Voldemort laughed softly, and a freezing chill whipped across Hermione's still waters. She lifted her eyes as Avery and Ginny walked around the table, and caught Bellatrix's lips twisting as they passed.
A chair dragged in front of her, and Hermione watched Avery and Ginny take their seats — Avery to the Dark Lord's left, in front of Draco, and Ginny directly across from Hermione.
Hermione's eyes dropped to her glass.
The conversation began flowing again. The jewels across the table sparkled, drawing her in. Hermione studied the pale bubbles in her flute until her mind was somewhere blue and deep.
The Great Hall filled with sound, boisterous and grating.
A palm slapped the table, and a group of men laughed.
A man across the table whispered in a girl's ear. Her hair was red.
The pale-haired boy next to her cleared his throat. "More champagne?"
Hermione drifted back into her body. "Please."
Draco ordered her glass to fill itself. Hermione reached for it, sipping as she turned to take in the rest of the table. On the other side of Ginny, Rookwood and his wife had taken their seats. They were speaking loudly to the Selwyns, who sat on the other side of Theo. Further down, Crabbe Sr. and Yaxley sat across from one another, staring down into their whisky glasses. Hermione's fingers dragged across her necklace as her gaze moved to her left, where Lucius and Narcissa were speaking lowly to Voldemort and Bellatrix. Rodolphus Lestrange was to the right of Bellatrix, his younger brother next to him. Hermione scanned the Lots on the surrounding walls, but Ron was nowhere to be seen.
At the opposite side of the table, the Carrow twins, the Travers, and Jugson were just settling in.
There was an empty seat next to Narcissa, and just as Hermione zeroed in on it, a thick hand tugged the chair backward, its legs scraping against the stone. She followed the arm up to see Dolohov's eyes focused on her. He dropped his gaze to Narcissa, greeting her with an arrogant smirk.
Hermione turned back to the table, clearing her mind and erasing the feeling of Dolohov's eyes on her.
"Theodore," Avery said. "Brilliant work in Canada." Theo nodded and swallowed his champagne, his fist curling tighter around the stem. "Lucius and Bellatrix as well"—Avery waved his hand toward the two of them—"Congratulations to you all."
"Thank you, Aron," Lucius hummed. A pause. "I do hope you and Berge are working hard on the Fog, Theodore. I look forward to seeing a report on your improvements this week."
Bellatrix's voice raked across Hermione's skin. She blinked to see Bellatrix tilting her head at Lucius, her finger circling the rim of her glass. "How so, brother? Did it not successfully penetrate the True Order base?"
"No one disputes that Baffin Island was a success." Lucius's tone was soft and condescending, as if lecturing a child. "But it also had…unintended effects."
Voldemort simply watched them, his fingertips pressed together.
"The death of filthy Muggles." Bellatrix pouted and leaned forward. "You care for Muggles now, Lucius?"
The table was deathly still. Draco wiped his palm on his trousers.
"I care for desired results. Unless the Fog can be controlled, not a single one of our allies bordering France will allow us to release it from their boundary line."
Avery coughed. "A fair—"
"They don't have to 'allow' us anything." Bellatrix's lips were twisted in a snarl. "The Great Order must take. All your delicate maneuvering has boiled down to nothing more than inaction. If not for Brecht and me, we'd still be rotting in Switzerland—"
Voldemort lifted his hand sharply, silencing her. "Enough. I'm sure between the two of you, we will have infiltrated France by the end of the week." His scarlet eyes flashed to Theo. "Do work hard this week, Theodore. I trust you won't disappoint me."
"Yes, my Lord." Theo jerked a nod next to her. His fingers shook against the tablecloth.
"Lucius. Draco will go to France when the time comes to deploy the weapon. He's seen more offices than battlefields lately."
An amused cough from down the table — Dolohov.
"Of course, my Lord," said Lucius. He cleared his throat.
Bellatrix smirked and settled back in her chair. Hermione saw Narcissa reach for her water.
The conversation bubbled up again. Draco's ribs rose and fell sharply next to her. Hermione focused on her breath, filing away her emotions.
A high-pitched laugh burst from the other side of Theo. She blinked to see Selwyn's wife and Rookwood's wife laughing together.
The chatter resumed. Hermione watched Rookwood's wife lean over her place setting and whisper, "You did hear that the Hungarian Minister isn't here, didn't you? Gustus says he declined—"
Her husband placed a firm hand on her wrist, glaring at her.
"Anyway." Mrs. Rookwood sat up straight again, fanning her face and looking around the room. "Is it warm in here? Elf!"
With a crack, a small elf from the kitchens appeared at her side. "Yes, missus."
"Do you not have Cooling Charms? And also, there are no nuts in the feast, correct? I have a deathly allergy—"
Hermione's vision blurred as she stared at the elf, wobbling beneath the weight of the heavy chain around his neck. He squeaked his reply and she tore her eyes away, studying the back wall.
When her mind was clear again, she reached for her flute. Avery was speaking to Draco. Bellatrix was leaning into Voldemort's ear, murmuring something, and Hermione watched him nod. Rookwood and Selwyn had Theo's attention.
Taking a sip of her wine, Hermione let her eyes pass over Ginny. Her skin was painted and her hair perfectly coiffed, just as it had been on New Year's Eve. She was looking over Hermione's left shoulder, watching the Great Hall.
"Rabastan," Avery called down the table. "Where's your boy? I'm sure Ginevra was hoping to see her brother tonight."
Draco set down his glass. Hermione filled her lungs, counting each heartbeat. Ginny didn't so much as blink.
"I wanted to bring him, but… he got a bit mouthy this morning. He was in no fit shape." Rabastan chuckled into his glass, and Bellatrix joined him, licking her teeth.
"Shame," Voldemort said. "But I suppose some horses take years to break in."
The empty smile on Ginny's lips twitched.
Voldemort abruptly stood from his chair. A moment later, someone in the back of the Hall started clapping, the sound building like a wave before crashing against the shoreline. Hermione turned over her shoulder and found a thousand people on their feet, applauding for the Dark Lord. Her books shivered.
Voldemort smiled, and lifted his hands to silence them. He cast a Sonorus with the Elder Wand, gazing upon the crowd. When he finally spoke, it was a quiet vibration against Hermione's skin — a poisonous whisper in her ear.
"Welcome, my dear friends. We gather here to celebrate the victory over our enemies — exactly one year ago today."
The clapping started again. Cheers from the back.
"You have placed your trust in me, and I will prove myself worthy of it. We will not rest until every witch and wizard bows to our most noble and sacred cause: preserving the purity of the magical blood we have been entrusted with for millennia."
The applause swelled, pummeling the walls.
"The strides we've taken to bring this new world to order have been fraught, but worth the sacrifice. The past century cannot compare to what we have accomplished together in the last year. And as I look upon the faces of our partners from across the world, I know soon, all wizard-kind will stand with us.
"Our rearmament is running according to plan. With the help of Colonel Albrecht Berge"—Berge stood from his seat next to Umbridge, nodding to polite applause—"we have powerful new magic at our disposal to protect our interests."
Berge took his seat.
"My friends, soon enough we will no longer live in the shadows. We will no longer cower beneath Muggles or cater to their barbaric whims. Make no mistake: our goal is not the triumph of the Great Order, but the liberation of wizardkind."
The windows rattled with noise. Hermione picked up her goblet, water splashing onto the table. She set it down again.
"In honor of your hard work and sacrifice, I am pleased to announce that my gift to you — Edinburgh Castle — is ready to reopen at last."
A murmur cascaded through the Hall. Draco's shoulder twitched next to her.
"To continue our celebrations on this, the anniversary of our great victory, the revels at Edinburgh will resume immediately. I invite all of you there tomorrow evening, and I expect every man, woman, and Lot to attend."
Ginny closed her eyes. Hermione blinked, refocusing. They would go to Romania tonight, and be expected back at Edinburgh tomorrow.
"Today's generation carries the fate of wizardkind. And we will be victorious if we are of one mind, and one intent: magic is might."
"Magic is might," the crowd chorused.
Voldemort picked up his glass, and there was a shuffle as his audience did the same.
Bellatrix stood swiftly, her chair dragging against the stone. "To the Dark Lord's power!"
"May he reign forevermore."
Hermione drank her champagne down to the dregs as the Hall burst into deafening applause. Her ears were still ringing when it ended.
The feast appeared on the tables a second later. A clatter of serving spoons joined the chorus of conversation.
Ginny's face was white as she grabbed Avery's plate, filling it with pheasant and roast vegetables. A book in Hermione's mind trembled, falling open.
A happy day at the Burrow, her plate in her lap and her knees touching Ron's on the couch — Fred calling, "Oi, Gin! Get me a plate while you're up, will you?" — and a sharp retort from the kitchen: "Do I look like a house-elf?"
Hermione flinched, shoving the memory aside. She swiftly snatched up Draco's plate, reaching for the roast beef and parsnips, her hands dancing around Ginny's. When it was piled high, she set it in front of him and waited, twisting her fingers in her lap.
Silver scraped against china as the guests began eating. Draco paused on his third bite, tilting his chin in her direction. Hermione served herself a few spoonfuls. Ginny followed her lead.
A voice in the back of her mind told her to stay present. A louder one said it was too dangerous to leave her guard down across from the Dark Lord.
Hermione stared at her water glass, watching the ripples in the surface as glasses were lifted or fists pounded down. The echoes of movement lulled her back until a book closed on the Burrow.
Draco spoke to Theo on the opposite side of her. She kept a smile on her face as she grazed her fork across her plate. Ginny's glass filled again every time she took a sip.
Soft hands moved a fork and knife, attached to pale wrists encircled in diamonds.
Hermione chewed her potatoes.
All freckles on the girl were gone. Blue veins popped beneath her pale skin, her red curls wild and loose around her shoulders. A large hand curled around the back of the girl's chair.
Hermione set her fork down.
The hand threaded through the girl's ginger waves, twisting locks around its thick fingers.
Hermione tore her eyes from Ginny and Avery.
She ate her vegetables.
She nodded politely.
She smiled when men laughed.
Minutes or hours later, the plates were cleared, and the tapping of wands on glasses chorused through the room.
Draco turned in his chair, and Hermione followed.
A man in gold robes made his way down the line of tables, smiling broadly. Memories sparked — bags of gold, identical grins, an amplified voice calling out bets, a quick glance at her backstage—
Hermione tucked it all away, and watched as Ludo Bagman came towards the front. Even from here, his smile looked strained.
"My Lord," said Bagman as he swept into a low bow. "When you tasked me with hosting our entertainment this evening, you honored me." He turned to the hall. "And the night has only begun, ladies and gentlemen, I assure you! After dinner, we have a surprise waiting for you on the Quidditch Pitch."
The crowd tittered, and Ludo nodded, his forehead shining with sweat. "But first, the Dark Lord has asked me to oversee something special this evening. Something that aligns with the spirit of our celebrations. A story! One that will live in our traditions for years to come: the Dark Lord's Triumph over the Boy Wizard!"
Ludo threw out his hand, and the doors to the Great Hall flew open. Two guards entered, dragging a small person behind them. Their boots marched in perfect unison as the room rippled with murmurs. Hermione craned her neck, but she was only able to make out the person when he was tugged to the front of the room.
A boy, no older than fourteen, wearing a Gryffindor uniform. He had jet black hair and a wiry frame.
Black spots appeared in her vision.
The guards shoved the boy to Bagman's feet. His eyes flitted wildly about the room, his breath quick and frenzied. He looked at the people around him like he'd never seen anything like them before.
Hermione tried to swallow, but her throat wouldn't close. He was a Muggle.
"There was once a young boy who thought he could challenge the Dark Lord Voldemort. His name"—Bagman produced a pair of round glasses from his pocket—"was Harry Potter." He shoved the glasses on the Muggle boy's nose, and Hermione could see from here that one lens was splintered. Harry's glasses.
The crowd screamed as Hermione turned back to her dinner plate, dragging lungfuls of air. Bellatrix cackled, clapping her hands. A slow smile spread up Voldemort's pale face.
"This boy—" Bagman's voice faltered, and he cleared his throat. "Thought he was untouchable!"
A chorus of jeers and boos. Hermione forced herself to turn and watch. The boy had been Leg-Locked, his face was red and mouth open as Bagman circled him. He'd been Silenced.
"He was arrogant and foolish. But above all, he was dangerous." Bagman dabbed his brow with a handkerchief. "He encouraged the mixing of magical blood. He befriended blood-traitors and Muggleborns."
At this, Bagman swiveled toward the High Table and gestured to Hermione. The guests hissed as they turned their eyes on her.
Draco crossed his legs and shifted his chair, partially blocking her from Ludo's view.
"He hid behind the skirts of witches and wizards far more powerful than himself. In his futile resistance, he caused an unspeakable loss of magical blood."
A fork clattered across from her.
"And so," Bagman continued, "on a May morning one year ago, the Dark Lord challenged this cowardly, dangerous boy to a duel."
The Muggle boy fell over, struggling against his Leg-Locker Curse. The crowd roared with laughter.
Bagman blinked down at him and stepped to the side. "My Lord, he's all yours."
All eyes turned on Voldemort. He smiled, standing from his chair.
Bile rose in Hermione's throat as Voldemort slithered around the table. Draco's chair dragged further in front of her.
Voldemort descended the steps to stand before the shivering boy. "Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived."
A boom of laughter, and Hermione's gaze drifted above the crowd.
Voldemort slashed his wand through the air, and the boy staggered to the left. Hands shoved him back in the aisle.
There was a lake with still waters. A mountain range surrounded it. The waters were deep with hidden secrets, but the surface was calm.
Jets of purple and red burst in her vision as a small body writhed and shook on the floor. The audience cheered, pounding the tables
Her mind was a library. Shelves upon shelves of novels and journals and biographies. She found an empty shelf—
"STOP IT! STOP!"
Hermione's chest seized, and she cupped her hand to her mouth—
But the voice hadn't been hers.
Her head spun around. And there stood Ginny Weasley, her lips trembling, a tear streaming down her cheek. Her silver dress shimmering under the silence of a thousand eyes.
Voldemort turned from the boy slowly, uncoiling like a snake. "Stop?"
A knife clattered somewhere.
Ginny's hands clenched the sides of her dress, her eyes wide. Avery blanched next to her.
Voldemort's cloak dragged across the stones as he swept towards the High Table, twirling his wand between his fingertips.
Hermione jolted her chair back. Her body dragged itself to its feet, the weight of thousands of gems pulling her down. Draco's hand swung to pull her back — not quick enough.
"What Ginevra means is that you've gotten it wrong, my Lord."
She heard the gasps of the Hall. A movement to her right — Lucius Malfoy gripping his son's elbow. Hermione stepped forward, concealing them from view. Voldemort tilted his head, giving her his full attention.
"I knew Harry Potter better than any person in this room." Her voice bounced against the stone walls of her childhood, throaty and unfamiliar. She lifted the corner of her mouth in a smirk. "You've not let him beg. Was he not sobbing? Pleading for his life, like the coward he was?"
A still silence.
And Voldemort's lips pulled into a grin.
"A fine point, Mudblood Granger. What a clever pet you've become."
The release bubbled through the crowd. Hermione concentrated on nothingness.
Voldemort's lips curved with cruel amusement before he spun back to the boy. Folding her hands, Hermione watched as the boy was forced to stand. Another flick of Voldemort's wand, and the boy's weeping filled the room.
Voldemort silenced the crowd's jeering with a raised palm.
"Beg," he said softly. "Beg for your life, Harry Potter. Beg me to spare you and take your friends instead."
"Please," the boy sobbed. "Please—"
Voldemort arched his wand high over his head and hissed, "Avada Kedavra!"
A jet of green light slammed into the boy's chest, his body flying backward. The Great Hall erupted as Harry's glasses clattered to the ground.
Draco pushed her in her chair just as her legs gave out. The High Table stomped and shouted with the crowd. Hermione's smile was still stale on her face when they finally sat.
Hermione watched them slip Harry's glasses onto the boy's nose, and remove the body from the Hall. When she turned back to the table, and a girl with fiery red hair was sitting across from her. The girl's shoulders shook.
The snakelike man returned to his chair, and the crowd began to stand and mingle. People approached the table. Conversations drifted through her ears.
"Excellent work with the Mudblood, Draco. I can hardly recognize her."
"Thank you, my Lord. It was a pleasure to break her—"
The man next to the redhead excused himself, and the snakelike man beckoned the girl into his chair. His fingers slipped into her hair as he murmured to her. The redhead nodded, her eyes cast downwards.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I will be better, I promise…"
There was a commotion while she stared at her pudding. A familiar laugh and then a crash. A stall of conversation. A murmur—
"Theo, watch her. I'll take care of this."
And the pale-haired boy next to her rose from his seat. She reached for her champagne glass. She drank. The quiet boy to her right murmured to it, and it refilled.
She took a bite. Sugar swam in her mouth.
The chair next to her pulled out. The pale-haired boy dropped into it.
"Apologies, my Lord. It was Blaise's birthday two days ago, and it seems he hasn't sobered up since."
The boy ate two bites of his pudding.
People came to the table for conversation. She listened without hearing. Some stood from the table. Some sat back down.
Against the wall stood two boys in black robes and gold belts. They stared at her, and glanced away.
"Let me see what's keeping him. I summoned an elf to brew up a Sobering Potion—" The pale-haired boy left again.
Hermione looked at the two boys on the wall again. The red-haired girl ate her dessert quietly. The pale-haired boy returned, muttering something to the man on his left.
A bell chimed, and the snakelike man stood, thanking his guests.
A man in gold robes stood up next. "Now, if you'll follow us down to the Quidditch Pitch, I'm sure Mr. Finnigan, Mr. Finch-Fletchley, and the Norwegian Ridgeback we've procured will have quite the show for us!"
The names meant something to her, but it vanished amidst the crowd's screams.
The snakelike man glided across the room, nodding at those who bowed and accepting a kiss to his knuckles from others.
The boy next to her guided her to her feet. She followed him down the steps, toward a dark-skinned boy and an olive-skinned girl.
"You've embarrassed me enough for one night, Blaise. I'm taking you home before I regret thinking of you as a friend."
The other boy hiccupped.
She was led around a table, and through a side door. She walked slowly in her heels.
Home. They would head home now.
She could rest.
She could take off the heavy dress and heavy necklace.
The four of them turned into an alcove — someplace familiar.
The pale-haired boy turned to her and took her face in her hands.
She stared into his grey eyes. They were endless.
She wondered who he was talking to.
He leaned forward and pressed his lips to her temple, his fingers running down her jaw.
He was warm. He was soft. She felt light.
And like breaking the surface — like she'd been drowning under still waters — Hermione gasped for air. Her body was heavy with jewels, and her knees buckled. He caught her.
"Draco—" Images flooded through her, choking off her oxygen. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks as she sobbed, heaving.
Her vision blacked. When it cleared, she was leaned back on the wall, Draco enveloping her in his arms. Her breaths grew sharp again, and she struggled as she thought of Avery's hands in Ginny's hair and Harry's shattered glasses and the boy's limp body—
Draco held her jaw in one hand and tipped something inside her mouth.
The effect was instantaneous. Her heartbeat slowed. Her muscles released. Her lungs expanded. She met Draco's concerned eyes and took a deep breath. His jaw trembled, and he tucked a curl behind her ear.
Behind him, Blaise averted his gaze. "Giuliana" was watching with her fingers pressed to her lips, tears shining in her eyes.
A few more heartbeats, and a throbbing pain started below her left eye, stretching quickly around the back of her head. Hermione whimpered as the pain pressed against her skull. She screwed her eyes shut, and then Draco was pouring something down her throat for pain relief.
She gasped, her lungs stabbing her with every tight breath.
"You did very well, Granger," said Blaise, after a few minutes had passed. "It was eerie."
She nodded, her tears pouring silently down her cheeks as the pain ebbed.
"Draco—" Pansy hesitated, her voice thick. "We should leave soon."
All of the things she had to bury in order to survive the evening rose up, pressing on the back of her eyelids. Hermione blinked her eyes open, her vision focusing on Draco. He nodded at her once, and his mouth was hard as he tugged her to stand.
He'd gotten the fang from the Chamber of Secrets. The Polyjuice plan had worked with Blaise. And now they were headed to Romania.
While Hermione tested her legs again, Blaise stepped up to Draco. "Make it count, Draco," he said lowly. He pushed something small and wrapped in a handkerchief into his hand. "This cost me more than my vineyard."
"And you're sure it works?"
"The man who sold it to me made an Unbreakable Vow, so— yes. It'll take you through the Romanian border."
Draco pocketed the International Portkey, and glanced over Blaise's shoulder.
Hermione wobbled, exhaustion seeping through her veins. Draco was at her side a moment later, holding out another potion — Pepper Up. She gulped it down and found his eyes on her. She nodded at him through the steam. Before she could think of what to say to reassure him, Pansy shoved him aside to fix her hair and makeup.
The steam finally stopped, and Pansy frowned at Hermione through Giuliana's eyes before spinning around and returning Blaise's wand. He tucked it in his robes.
"Let's get you home, Blaise," said Draco coldly — resuming his part.
Blaise's shoulders relaxed, and he stumbled out of the alcove, Draco at his heels. Hermione and Pansy followed.
Guests were still lingering in the Great Hall. Blaise stumbled into Mrs. Selwyn, and she clutched her hand to her chest when he winked at her and slurred a hello. Draco dragged him away, tossing an apology over his shoulder, and pushed him into a corner of the courtyard to collect himself.
Once the coast was clear, the four of them disappeared around the archway, turning toward the Wooden Bridge.
Hermione started to feel like herself again, the three potions in her veins working in tandem as they moved quickly down the bridge. Blaise tripped over the wood, and Hermione drew a sharp breath when she realized where they were standing. Her mind was too raw for Occlumency, but she couldn't let her memories of Harry and Ron with her on this bridge snake their way in. They had a Horcrux to kill tonight. She quickened her pace, focusing on the burn in her muscles.
A mighty roar bellowed in the distance, and the four of them froze as the night sky lit up with flames.
Hermione dug her fingers into her palms. The pain centered her. Draco glanced behind them as sounds drifted up the bridge — the delighted cries of the crowd entering the Quidditch Pitch.
Blaise staggered to look out over the bridge and whined, "I wanted to watch the dragon."
"Then you should have stopped at your second Firewhisky," said Draco, yanking him off the railing. He led them swiftly down the pathway, turning over his shoulder every four steps.
The mouth of the bridge appeared, and Hermione's breath caught. She could just make out the edge of the Forbidden Forest where they would slip past the Hogsmeade Gates.
The knot in her chest loosened as the end of the bridge grew larger in her vision. But a shadow stepped out from behind the final wooden archway, its black eyes and dark curls glinting in the moonlight.
"Leaving so soon?"
Hermione stumbled and Draco stopped cold as three jets of turquoise light arced through the bridge, illuminating Bellatrix's twisted snarl. Hermione's lips parted in a silent scream as one hit her square in the stomach, immobilizing her. Two grunts behind her — Blaise and Pansy.
Panic and dread swelled inside her, overriding her Calming Draught—
"Aunt Bella," said Draco softly. "I'll return shortly. I'm just taking Blaise home before he embarrasses himself further—"
"Don't lie to me!"
The shout ricocheted down the wood, curling up Hermione's legs and around her ribs.
Fire erupted again, and the crowd cheered. The light cast shadows on Bellatrix's face before it died out.
"You're up to something," she sang, waltzing closer to Hermione. "Disappearing twice during dinner?" She tutted. "One might question your breeding."
"Blaise was sick." His voice rose as he tried to head her off. "I was only assisting—"
"Out of my way."
Bellatrix halted before her, standing so close that their chests were almost touching. Hermione's eyes shot open in terror, her heart pounding beneath her petrified muscles.
"It's terribly suspicious, Draco." Her eyes narrowed, her stale breath on Hermione's face. "You are lucky the Dark Lord was preoccupied, tending to his little Ginger Snap." Her fingers snapped in front of Hermione's eyes.
"But something tells me," she said, circling her, "that whatever is going on"—her hand slid across Hermione's waist, tugging her back against her body—"has to do with her."
Hermione stared at Draco as he watched his aunt, his head tilted, his arms hanging at his sides. His eyes empty, betraying nothing.
A loud cackle in her ear, and Hermione's heart leapt in her throat. "I saw you at the dinner table, ready to jump in front of a curse for her. Something about this little bitch has you cock-whipped, nephew." Bellatrix dragged her hand over Hermione's waist and hips, slipping lower, between her legs.
Draco jerked forward, and Bellatrix raised her wand with her other hand. "Ah, ah!" He halted, and Bellatrix chuckled in Hermione's ear. "Maybe she has a golden cunt to match her—"
Bellatrix froze against her, her breath puffing on Hermione's neck. She gasped.
A second before Bellatrix moved, Hermione realized what it was.
The wand in Hermione's thigh holster zoomed out from under her dress and shot into Bellatrix's hand.
Hermione began fighting against her invisible bindings as blood rushed through her ears, knowing it was useless—
She stepped around Hermione as flames soared overhead. Her expression was black with rage. "You've given her wand?"
Draco swallowed. "I can explain."
"Are you allowing her magic?"
"No. Aunt Bella, of course not—"
"Then what is this?"
Her voice echoed down the Wooden Bridge, crashing into a swell of noise from the Quidditch Pitch. Draco stared at her with empty eyes.
Bellatrix took a step forward. "I've turned the other way one too many times, Draco. You have no idea, the things I've done for you and your mother. But this is treason."
The blood in Hermione's veins turned to ice. Draco's eyes flickered, and Hermione saw his fist curl at his side.
"I'm needed in Hungary promptly tonight, or else I'd consult with your parents. As the matter stands, the seriousness of the situation calls for immediate action." She began circling him, just like she had Hermione. "This can't go on, Draco." She paused behind his ear, her eyes locked on Hermione. "You'll disgrace your entire family. You will all be killed. My sister—" Her jaw worked, and she pulled back. She finished the circle to face him. "But we can do it my way. It can be quick."
Draco's throat bobbed.
"Perhaps she tried to run, and you had no other choice. I'm sure your little friends would be more than willing to testify."
"I'll get you another one," she whispered. "A Muggle girl who looks enough like her. This one has poisoned you."
Hermione's muscles screamed, her blood whipping beneath her skin. Her bones felt like they would splinter under the pressure—
"That's not necessary." Draco's voice cracked. "I have this under control—"
"You're still weak," Bellatrix hissed. "I've been more than patient with you, Draco. But there's still too much of your father in you. Your weak, lovesick heart will destroy this family."
The crowd cheered, and when Hermione blinked, she saw Harry and Luna's faces behind her eyelids.
"Keep on this road, and by this time next week, your Mudblood will be the one tortured and killed in front of a crowd. Or worse"—she leaned into him—"your mother."
Draco took a shuddering breath. Hermione's heartbeat faded in her ears.
"I'll be damned if I let that happen. So say goodbye, Draco." Bellatrix spun back to her, her eyes glittering. "Feel free to look away. I know the Killing Curse doesn't suit your delicate stomach—"
A green light splashed along the wooden arches. Bellatrix's eyes centered on her, frozen in time, until with a push of the wind, she collapsed forward at Hermione's feet, revealing Draco with his wand outstretched — the tip smoking.
He stared at his aunt's body, and then back to her. Hermione's limbs tingled, and it took her a long moment to realize she wasn't Petrified any longer. Because Bellatrix was dead.
Draco had killed her with a curse to the back.
There was a movement behind her, and Blaise was suddenly beside her, gaping down at the body.
Hermione still couldn't breathe. A hollow wind whipped through the bridge, disturbing the black curls at her feet. Fire arced through the sky again.
"She—she said she was going to Hungary, right?" Hermione turned around to see Pansy cupping her forehead. "Maybe there's time. Maybe n-no one will miss her right away."
Hermione had never heard Pansy Parkinson stammer.
Draco still hadn't lowered his wand.
Hermione's legs propelled her forward. She bent down and snatched the wand Bellatrix had taken from her. She turned to the woods and cast a Presence Revealing spell in each direction. They were alone.
"You need to go." Blaise stepped over the body. "Pansy and I will take care of this."
Draco's fingers shook as he lowered his arm. "What?"
"We'll transfigure the body and hide it in the woods." Blaise looked back to Pansy. She nodded, dazed. "If you don't go off and kill whatever it is you need to kill, then this is all worthless. So do it now."
None of them moved.
Hermione startled back into her body as Draco transfigured her dress into lighter fabric — her heels turning into flats. Draco reached for her as she stumbled forward, and she slipped her hand in his. With a nod to Blaise and Pansy behind him, he dragged her toward the woods.
They ran through the trees, never breaking pace until they were just outside the gates of Hogsmeade. They caught their breath for a moment, Hermione's hands resting on her knees.
"You did what you had to do, Draco," she panted. "I know she was your blood, but don't be ashamed of—"
"I'm only ashamed it took me more than ten seconds to decide."
She looked up at him. He was staring at her, the moon bouncing off his pale hair and sharp cheeks. He unwound the handkerchief in his pocket, grabbed her elbow, and whisked them to Romania.
A/N: Updates on Sunday evenings EST (next update Sept 20)
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