After reading another of Antonin's bloody messages, Hermione threw up all over the floor. How was it all happening again? She wanted to scream but no words came out of her mouth. Only vomit. It was all one big horrible nightmare she prayed she was about to wake up from.
Her legs no longer able to hold her weight up, she collapsed to the floor next to the body. Pain went through her entire frame when she landed hard on her knees right in the middle of a puddle of blood. What happened to her didn't seem important. She wouldn't acknowledge her own hurts, not when there was carnage close enough to reach out and touch.
All of her instincts that something was wrong had been correct. Even though she wasn't an expert on death and crime scenes, she knew enough about wounds and blood to know the violence wasn't fresh. It happened hours earlier. Probably soon after she stepped outside of the cottage to Apparate to the Ministry alone. She knew she shouldn't have left him behind. Why did she listen to him?
There was far too much blood for it to have been quick. Antonin played with his victims. When she dared to look at Craig's handsome face, she nearly threw up again. If she had anything left in her stomach, she would've. Mutilated beyond recognition, he could've been anyone if she didn't know his muscular body and the fucking syrup stain on the sleeve of his shirt. He hadn't even been able to change his shirt before the maniac came bursting in. Maybe Craig thought he was Hermione and wasn't prepared to immediately put up a fight. They'd been so safe there for days they had both grown complacent.
Whatever happened to him was brutal and long. Antonin made it hurt. How many hours did he suffer? Was death a welcome release at the end or was he still fighting to survive? Her eyes burned but she couldn't bring herself to cry. It was a state of being she had never been in before. Was it even possible to live with so much pain in her heart?
Nowhere was ever going to be safe enough to get away from Antonin and his murderous plans. She should've understood that from the very beginning. What started out as an amusing joke to her had been nothing but serious to him. The nightmare wouldn't be over until he was dead or she was.
Hermione reached out to touch Craig's left arm. It was stiff, no longer as warm as it should've been. Feeling his flesh beneath her fingertips made it all real. The tears finally burst out. He deserved so much better than to die an agonizing death alone. She wished he'd never walked into her life. It was unfair to him.
She allowed herself only a couple of minutes to break down and cry the tears she held inside. Falling apart completely was tempting, but she knew she couldn't just give up. Once she was calmer, she stood up. She had to do something. Antonin had to be stopped and made to pay for his horrible crimes.
The thought of leaving Craig alone broke her heart. Endora sat on an open windowsill surveying the chaotic mess of the main room. Someone needed to know what happened there. She found a piece of paper to scribble off a note to Harry with the location of the cottage and a brief explanation of what happened. Even though she learned years earlier how to cast a patronus and use it to send a message, she knew if she tried to cast the spell, it would fail. There wasn't enough happiness left in her heart to conjure one up. Maybe there never would be again. At least she knew Endora would get the letter to Harry. She couldn't bear it if Susan was the one to find his body next. It was already bad enough that Craig died a painful, drawn out death. His relative didn't need to be traumatized too.
The very moment she saw Endora fly off towards London with her letter, Hermione returned to the gruesome scene. She got back on her knees, not caring she was in a puddle of congealing blood. Only a small part of Craig's left forearm was free from blood. The bottom of his sleeve was ripped, but it was enough to shield at least part of his skin. She pressed her lips against the cooling flesh of his arm.
"I am so sorry, Craig. I never wanted this to happen to you. I loved you. Please forgive me."
Hermione didn't know how she was going to keep living after his death, but she owed it to him to at least try to avenge his murder. If she managed to survive that, she could worry about what came after then. It hardly seemed important. What kind of life could she have without him that was even worth living?
Before she ran out of the cottage to her fate, she forced herself to take one final look at the horror she was responsible for. She knew she couldn't break down again no matter how much she wanted to. She had to keep going. Craig deserved at least that much.
Outside of the cottage's protective enchantments, she thought about the damned manor. Seconds later her feet landed at the gates. She didn't hesitate to go straight to the front door. Maybe she was being foolish approaching what was most likely a trap, but she didn't care. Maybe she didn't want to make it out alive.
Tape covered the front of the massive door proclaiming it a protected crime scene by order of the Auror Office in the Ministry of Magic. After Craig reported the note she received confirming Antonin had been hiding inside, Harry took a team of aurors to inspect it again. Antonin was gone long before they arrived. Ignoring the sign, Hermione threw open the door with a strength she didn't realize she possessed. Raw fury was powerful.
Back inside the manor she headed straight for the drafty library. She wasn't sure how exactly, but she knew that was where she would find Antonin waiting for her arrival. He sat on the sofa where they spent many hours reading and fucking with both arms stretched out on the back. It was criminal how casual he looked.
A binding spell cast non-verbally rooted him in place with the inability to move even his arms. Clearly unafraid of his visitor, he had the audacity to laugh. She wanted to avada him right there but it didn't feel nearly painful enough. He deserved to suffer and beg for death.
The evil bastard didn't even try to move after she cast the spell. He seemed to find the whole situation he was in terribly amusing. There was something seriously fucked up in his head. How could she ever have found him the least bit attractive? It was all pure madness. Even his chuckle made her skin crawl.
"I see you found my present. It took me a very long time to wrap it."
She wanted to flay every tiny square centimeter of his skin off bit by bit. She wanted to torture him until he begged for mercy and then keep torturing him more. The world would be a better place with him broken into a million pieces and drained of every last drop of blood.
"How did you keep finding us?"
"Simple. Tracking spells."
"But we checked…"
"Yourselves? That would be too obvious, but a tracking spell on your bear's cat's collar might easily be overlooked."
That finally explained the mystery of why he would break into Craig's flat to seemingly do nothing but prove he could. Why didn't they think to check Sabrina for anything other than physical injuries when they learned she attacked Antonin? It also explained why they had an entire week of calm after the cat ran off to explore.
"I've been watching your bear for months since our little altercation, waiting patiently to recover my full strength and exact my revenge at the perfect time. I knew that he would never leave his cat behind. Sentimental fool."
Hearing him insult Craig after what he did to him was too much. Though she knew there was a risk in approaching Antonin even with him bound up magically, Hermione wanted to cause him physical pain. She slapped his cheek as hard as she could. The sound was loud in the quiet house. All the slap managed to do was make him smile. She did it a second time.
"I love when you get physically violent. I've been looking forward to feeling your teeth on my skin again, your scratches on my back."
"That's never going to happen again."
"Are you sure about that? I seem to have a very interesting effect on you."
The way his eyes looked her body up and down made Hermione physically ill. Again the temptation to just cast an Unforgivable, damn the consequences, was strong. What was she waiting on? Why she was hesitating? He should've already been bleeding and screaming.
"If you really wanted me dead, you would've already killed me. You would've come barging in here with more than just a binding spell on those pretty lips of yours."
Could he read her mind? Several times before he kidnapped her and during her forced stay in the manor she wondered if he could. Each time she started to ask him if ever studied Legilimency, she stopped herself, too afraid to know the truth. How did the monster know her so well? Were they really as alike as he claimed?
She closed her eyes for a second and shook her head to banish those thoughts. It was imperative that she not let him get inside her head. Any distraction could keep her from her ultimate desire. The bastard had to die. He should've been killed a long time ago.
"Of course I want you dead. It's what you deserve."
"I'm sure there are others who would agree with you, but I am curious why I'm still alive. Were you hoping for one more screaming orgasm before you kill me?"
Disgusted by his question, she scoffed. Even just the thought of enduring his touch once more made her want to peel her own skin off.
"Just lift your skirt and come sit on my face. I'll happily oblige."
A stinging hex shot out of the end of her wand straight into his stomach. He grunted at the initial shock of pain but then smiled. Hermione could tell she was only making him more excited. If she didn't have him bound she had no doubt he would be trying to pull her down onto the sofa with him. It sickened her to think there might have even been the tiniest part of her that would want that.
She never could understand her desire for the maniac. It made no sense. Maybe Craig's belief that there were some actions that could never be explained logically was true. She would probably never know why she was so willing to let Antonin inside her. Madness? Boredom? A death wish? All of the above?
Even just thinking about Craig hurt her heart and made it difficult to breathe. There was no longer even the slightest question whether or not she loved him. Of course she did with every cell in her body. Trying to imagine moving on without him was too painful. How could fate be so cruel to dangle love right in front of her and cruelly snatch it away?
She didn't even know if Craig knew she loved him before he died. He was a perceptive man. Did he understand it without her saying it? What was he thinking as Antonin tortured him? Was he regretting every moment he ever spent in her presence or was he still clinging to the hope that maybe one day they would be married and start the family both of them wanted?
"Why couldn't you just leave us alone?"
Even a life spent looking over her shoulder with Craig would've been better than what she had to look forward to without him.
"All of those years receiving my letters every single day and you still don't believe I meant what I said and that I always keep my promises?"
"Then you should've just killed me and left everyone else alone."
Antonin shrugged his shoulders as much as the binding spell would allow.
"My message after I got rid of the imbecile was clear. I don't like it when others touch what belongs to me."
"I don't belong to you. I never did."
"You and I both know you don't really believe that. In fact, I'd say you know very well that you still belong to me."
Finally she was seeing the monster he was that she should've always seen. She was disgusted she'd allowed herself to ignore what was so painfully evident and on display. He was damaged and dangerous and nothing could ever change that. Not even if she somehow found it within herself at the beginning of the madness to try to love him. Some people could never be changed. She was glad she never let herself get sucked up into the fantasy that she could've ever loved him.
"I belong to no one, Dolohov… least of all you."
Antonin smirked. Her wand hand itched with the desire to curse him right in the face. Why was she hesitating? Every second that ticked by she lost a little more of her advantage.
"Did you want to belong to the bear?"
Yes, she did.
"Did you want to marry him and give birth to his cubs and live happily ever after?"
With all of her heart.
"Because that would've never happened. I saved you from the misery of him waking up one day and realizing he hated you."
As much as she knew Antonin was just trying to rile her up so she would get emotional enough to make stupid, careless mistakes, there was enough of a grain of truth in his statement to make her pause. Craig regretting his choice to be with her would always be her greatest fear. She didn't fear a painful death a fraction as much as she feared Craig despising her.
If she didn't remain calm she would make a mistake she couldn't recover from. Was that what she was secretly desiring? Had she entertained Antonin's madness for so long because a part of her wanted it to be all over? A sobering, depressing thought, of course, but was it true? Nothing about her life turned out like she expected it would. Her friendship and subsequent too-short relationship with Craig was the only part of her life that had given her any real joy for several years. Was she too much of a bloody coward to end her own suffering that she latched on to the insane murderer to do it for her? It was too late for therapy. She should've seen someone years earlier. There wasn't time to analyze all of her mistakes and the reasoning behind them.
She stepped closer to the sofa, ignoring all of the warnings shouted in her head not to get too close. The desire to slap him again was nearly overpowering, but Hermione managed to keep calm. It was more important that she learn the truth first.
"Did he suffer?"
Antonin narrowed his eyes.
"Yes, of course, he suffered. I couldn't give him a relatively painless death like I did the imbecile because he nearly killed me. I suffered when he knocked me off of that cliff after you stabbed me. Do you have any idea how many times I nearly died? Even after the Muggle saved me and I ended up in one of their primitive, disgusting hospitals."
"It couldn't have been that terrible if you're still alive."
He glared at her again. Once upon a time that look alone would've terrified her beyond description, but she was no longer afraid of him or what he could do to her. That power he used to hold over her was gone. Nothing he could do could possibly hurt her more than killing Craig.
"It was agony. I only stayed alive out of spite. Every second I was asleep I dreamed of how I would get my revenge and every moment I was awake I made plans. Hatred kept me from dying even when I longed for the escape."
Hermione rolled her eyes. How much more inane insanity would she be subjected to? It was already growing tiresome.
"So, yes, his death had to be painful. Just like yours will be too."
The binding spell was never going to hold him long. He had enough rage and motivation to fight it off. She hadn't put enough strength and power into it. Was that on purpose? In the back of her mind she thought it must have been. When she stepped across the manor's threshold, Hermione had no intention of ever walking back out. What was the point? The one bright spot in her entire life was laying in a pool of his own blood. She should've given herself up to her fate on New Years. No one else needed to die.
Antonin lunged in her direction using his entire body to knock her down to the ground. It happened so quickly, but she couldn't say she wasn't expecting it. Her wand slipped out of her hand when her elbow hit the hardwood floor. She gasped as the air was knocked out of her lungs. His much larger body crushed hers against the unyielding surface. Impossible to breathe, she started to panic.
Encouraged by her helplessness, perhaps even turned on by it, Antonin's hands gripped her throat and began to squeeze. The moment he'd described had finally come.
Every night I see your face in my dreams. I long for the moment I can feel the delicate bones in your neck crack beneath my hands.
She knew it would eventually. Unlike all of the other times he simply threatened her while they were in bed or he had her pushed up against a wall, he was serious. Before he'd only offered her the promise of pain. Laying on the floor in the damned library, he delivered. She hoped it would be over quickly. What did it feel like to actually die? What happened next? She closed her eyes, giving up totally to what came.
Craig's voice was far away. Was he waiting for her on the other side? Had he been expecting her to show up just hours after him? It was a depressing, but somehow encouraging thought. Could they have their forever there instead of the painful, hateful world they'd been born into?
His voice was a little louder. Was she getting closer to the end? The pain increased. Antonin's cold laughter ripped her out of her thoughts.
"Your bear was harder to kill than the imbecile. Much less trusting. I had to settle for a useless Muggle about his size instead."
She was going mad. That was the only explanation. Or she was already dead and nothing was actually real? Lack of oxygen to a person's brain could result in hallucinations. Was Antonin saying that the body she saw really wasn't Craig? There'd been so much blood she could barely stand to look at it, especially where his handsome face had once been. She had only been able to find a small area of his body not covered in blood to kiss. Had she seen the scar that she gave him the night they escaped from the manor? It was too hard to remember. She was lightheaded.
Hearing Craig's voice a little louder, like it was coming closer, gave her a small bit of hope. Antonin's hands tightened. She could feel the pain get worse. If the delicate bones in her neck hadn't broken yet, it was only a matter of time. Seconds maybe.
"I was impatient. I was tired of waiting for you to come find me. All I needed was some filthy Muggle I could kill in his place. Didn't take much effort. Your bear even left his clothes on the floor for me to steal."
She would've laughed if she could've. It was all so insane. The madman knew exactly what would happen if she thought Craig was dead and she played right into his hands. How predictable in her Gryffindor heroics and crippling depression she'd become. If there was even a possibility that she would be saved at the last second, she knew she would need to get some serious help. Healthy, happy people with fulfilling lives didn't behave like her. The pressure from Antonin's hands grew worse. Never in her entire life had she known pain that strong.
Just as she feared she was about to lose consciousness and the whole bloody nightmare would come to a disappointing end, the deadly hands were ripped from her throat. Hermione dared to open her eyes just in time to see an irate Craig physically throw Antonin across the room as far away from her as possible. Free to breathe again, she gasped for the necessary air her lungs pleaded for. She rolled on to her side, seeing her wand just within her grasp.
It wasn't over. She had another chance. No matter what, she couldn't afford to let Antonin win. Choosing to push past the pain left over from her near-strangling, she grabbed her wand and forced herself to stand on her feet. She wouldn't give up without a fight. Not when she knew there was still something worth fighting for.
Before Craig could cast his own binding spell on Antonin or take out his own revenge in a much deadlier way, Hermione pointed her wand straight at her tormentor's throat. For Oliver.
The dark slicing spell that Professor Snape invented in his troubled youth was exactly the sort of painful death Antonin deserved. Blood spurted out from his neck. She cast it at least three more times in rapid succession to ensure more wounds would speed up the process of his exiting their world in agony.
Never had she heard Craig sound so scared or his voice so anguished. She didn't understand what was wrong. Antonin was dying. Why was he upset? She looked up to see his hazel eyes wide in sheer terror.
A horrific pain unlike anything she could explain exploded in her chest. Confused, she looked down to see the tip of a rusty sword poking out of her flesh. She looked up to see Antonin laying on the floor in his growing puddle of blood with his wand outstretched. With the last of his strength he summoned one of those hideous swords over the fireplace right in her back. It would've made her laugh if she had the strength. How many times had she fantasized about plunging one of those swords in his heart? Or lopping his head off with the double-sided battle ax next to them? Well-played, Antonin. Harry kicked Antonin's wand out of his lifeless hand lest he summon up any further deadly spell with his last breath.
Hermione collapsed to her knees. Craig was there to catch her and hold her in his arms. He screamed at Harry as tears rolled down his cheeks, but she couldn't understand what he was saying. There should have been noise in the room. Why couldn't her ears focus on it? Why was she only able to hear a ringing?
She brushed her fingertips against Craig's cheek, drawing his attention back to her from Harry. The poor man only cried harder when their eyes met. He was so handsome. Why did she never ask him out for a drink after work before New Years? How could she have been in the same building with him for years and never really seen him? They could've been so happy together. She thought she would've liked to look into those hazel eyes for the rest of her life.
The room was freezing. Or maybe it was just her. It was harder to keep her focus on Craig no matter how much she wanted to stare at his face. She was weak, too weak to keep her eyes open. Hermione tried to smile, tried to tell him that he'd be better off this way. The words wouldn't come. She was glad he was still alive, that he'd be able to walk away and start over.
He deserved better than her.
Author's Note: I love you. Please don't hate me.
But… I did kind of warn you in the first chapter to be careful what you wished for in regards to an obsessive Antonin and that this story was going to be messed up. ;)