Song Suggestion: Florence + The Machine– "Which Witch" AND xxxtentation– "Revenge"

A million thank yous to my wonderful beta, MyPrivateInsanity, and my alpha group. I would have missed so many little plot holes and mistakes without them!

If you haven't yet, you should go check out the ao3 version of this fic for lots of embedded art that I've been gifted, along with fanfics inspired by this story.

The Spider's Web

Hermione held on to Draco through the cell bars until she grew fatigued and slid to the ground. He followed, cradling her jaw, stroking along her skin as if starved for her touch.

She couldn't help but ruminate. "What if your father—"

"He wants us to reconnect. I'd never forgive him if he didn't help me with this. More than that— it would cross a line for me, and we'd never return to what we were— what he wants. I don't like to put trust in him, especially after he lied about the ritual, but— don't let anything he says at the trial make you doubt. When you get to the atrium, he's bribed a man to come and talk to Titus, giving you a distraction to act."

A part of Draco would always be the boy clinging to his father in the graveyard, a desperate hope for paternal love. And maybe there would always be a part of Lucius clinging to his son, wishing to give him the remnants of the world.

"What if I can't get to the galleon?"

"Then we'll go to plan B. One that I didn't tell my father about." He paused and frowned. "Because it's a weekend, all of the main floos in the atrium will be closed. I paid a janitor to turn one on, cordoning it off with tape, pretending it's undergoing maintenance. The powder will be in a jar on the ground. Go to the manor first, so that they can't track you. From there, floo directly to 12 Grimmauld Place."

He'd created the contingency plan not only for if the first went awry, but in case his father didn't hold up his end of the bargain.

She didn't recognise the location.

"Is that your property?"

"No, but you know the owner and have been promised safe access."

Hermione noticed his rigid stance. "You don't like this option."

"I don't," he admitted. "But it's better than being caged to Nott."

Each option carried too many risks, too many things that could go wrong.

"I have to get back into my chains soon before anyone returns," he warned.

"I know."

But they kept holding each other. Hermione didn't want to let go, afraid she'd never be able to touch him again, despite his promises.

But eventually, they had to untangle themselves. She grasped at his shirt to tug him back, but he clutched her wrists, kissed them, and pulled away. Walking back to the chains, he reattached the shackles, letting himself hang in an uncomfortable position.

Mipsy arrived with lunch and then an early dinner before she heard the familiar tap of boots down the darkened corridor.

Having nowhere to store the key, she placed it under her tongue. It tasted sharp and burned slightly, and she hoped she didn't accidentally swallow it.

Draco held her desperate stare. Only when Titus loomed in front of her cell door did she manage to rip away her gaze.

The Butcher's face was flushed, sweat running in rivulets down his throat to his cloak line, dark curls plastered to his neck. "What the fuck is Malfoy doing here?"

No one answered his question and irritation rolled off him. He glanced between them with suspicion.

"Bribing your way into chains to be close to her is a very… interesting move." He tilted his head in thought, opening the door to her cell. It creaked on its hinges as he stepped inside. "I should be angry, but I suppose it doesn't matter. I hope you both took the time to process the inevitable separation."

The rattle of the door closing almost made her jump, and she pressed her nails further into the mattress, sitting on the edge, both feet pressed to the stone floor.

She refused to meet his eyes as walked over and lifted her chin.

"Come to rape my mind again?"

He tugged away like her skin burned. There was blood on his wrists, dried just above his gloves.

"I'll ignore your biting tone." He hesitated and sighed. "It won't be necessary to look through your memories. Not today. I've gotten what I need for now. The rest can be obtained when you're less volatile."

A moment of relief washed over her, followed by a sinister premonition of things unsaid.

Whose blood stained his wrist?

"Where have you been?" she asked.

A cut on his cheekbone shone under the orange overhead light.

"Cleaning up an infestation."

Scenarios played out in her mind, each worse than the next. She thought she might have heard the echo of screams, the ghosts haunting his steps.

And she also knew he wouldn't answer her questions.

"It's time to go, Sprite. I'll even allow you to say goodbye to Malfoy— through the bars, of course."

Hermione wished to destroy something precious to him, just so he knew how it felt. To console herself, she rolled the key around with her tongue, imagining the moment of escape.

"And if I fight you? Would you force me?"

"Hermione— I don't enjoy seeing you like this. If there was a way for this to play out differently—"

"Don't lie to her." Draco dangled from the chains, hands discoloured from blood loss, eyes focused on Titus through his blond fringe. "Stop pretending you're not enjoying the situation, even her pain. You've been fantasising your revenge for so long you'd fuck this moment if you could."

Titus' hand clenched into a fist by his side, and his expression shuttered. He straightened to his full height and walked out of her cell with precision, dragon hide boots clicking against the stone, and entered Draco's, only stopping when they were eye to eye.

They glared at each other for a long time, neither backing down.

"I told my aurors that if you resisted arrest, they were allowed to beat you." Titus stood with his feet apart, hands locked behind his back— his usual stance of power— entirely comfortable in his authority. "I only wish I could have done it myself."

Draco grinned with his split lip. One of his eyes had already begun to blacken with a bruise. His mask had snapped into place long ago.

Draco stayed silent. The lack of response didn't bother Titus. In this environment, with the stone walls and muted light, far underground, stripped of anything soft, the Butcher was in his element.

"I bet you think you could withstand my usual torture?" Titus gave an answering grin, white teeth flashing in the dim atmosphere. "But I've destroyed tougher men than you. After I'm finished with them, they can never be put back together, both body and mind. It's too bad I can't show you what I'm capable of, but your daddy saved you again."

"So you obey my daddy too?"

Titus took out his favoured knife, infused with dark enchantments— the same knife he'd used to carve Blaise. It had been a family relic, and Titus kept it close for both practical and sentimental reasons. The cuts from the blade rarely healed well, unless the master willed it. He placed the razor-sharp tip next to Draco's jugular, close enough to be a threat, but he didn't pass the skin barrier.

Hermione shoved down her desire to save him, knowing any involvement from her would make it worse.

"If I could, I think I'd take your tongue first." Titus ghosted the blade along his skin. "Your father was so worried for his only son. He'd have done anything for your freedom, but we settled on a deal. A rather forgiving one. Dolohov ordered financial restitution paid toward the affected families from Hermione's attack, and Lucius cleared out an entire Gringotts vault for it."

Titus left out the rest of the deal on purpose, but they all knew what it entailed.

The tip of the knife now pressed into the hollow of his throat right above his bone, and a single drop of blood trailed down into his shirt.

"You should kill me now."

"Tempting. I've never wanted someone's death more."

"If you take her from me, I'll never stop hunting you." Draco looked cold and calm. "You'll never be able to rest, always sleeping with one eye open. You'll see then what I'm capable of."

Titus ripped away the knife, flipping it once and catching the hilt, as if toying with the idea of stabbing.

"Always such an arrogant fuck. Didn't I warn you that one day the big dog would rip out your throat? You should lick your wounds and stop instigating fights, because the next serious snap at me will be your last." Titus tucked his knife back inside its sheath. "You're right though. While I don't wish for Hermione to suffer, seeing you in chains pleases me. Even with your father's deal, I think I'll let you hang there until the agony helps you understand that you've lost. And if that doesn't work, I can always employ other… methods."

As if to dismiss him, Titus began to walk out the cell.

"She'll never love you again," Draco taunted at his back. "Even if you get everything you think you want, you won't get that."

"Is that what you believe?" He scoffed. "Her love is strained right now, but once she gets over her anger toward me, she'll seek the comfort and safety I provide, as she always has. I'll have every part of her again, including her heart." His blue eyes sparked under the light as he spared one glance back, relishing every word. "So on a lonely night sometime soon, when you're in bed getting your cock sucked by some whore, crying pathetically while imagining the taste of her, just know I'll be thoroughly enjoying everything you've lost."

Draco slammed forward, chains rattling as he stretched them as far as he could go. The iron mask broke once, exposing a dark expression underneath, something slightly insane. He sucked in a deep breath to regain control of himself.

"Do you know how I'm certain you'll never have her back?" Draco lowered his voice. "Because you don't fucking understand her, and you never will. What she needs are things you're incapable of giving. The person you think she is doesn't even exist."

Titus didn't turn around to respond, but what Draco said bothered him. He twisted his head side to side as if stretching before a fight. "As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. While you were her first, I will be her last. I can be a very patient man, especially for her. You're in her past now, Malfoy. A distant dream. And after today, I'll make sure you never see her again, except in my arms."

Draco's expression snapped closed with occlumency, but his stare remained cold. A ripple of tension travelled down Titus' jaw as he slammed the cell door behind him, returning to hers. The metal rattled as he unlocked it.

"Get up, Sprite," he bit out. "I've changed my mind. You're not allowed to say goodbye. There's no point. It's time to go."

One look at Draco and Hermione translated his quick glance. Go with the plan.

She'd do it for him— for all that he risked getting her to safety. She trusted that he'd find a way back to her, linked by fate. It might be scary and possibly lonely waiting for him to join her in exile, but it would be better than any life in store for her in Great Britain.

Titus led her through the darkened corridors, one hand on the small of her back, a warning more than comfort. Due to it being a weekend, the route remained empty of people.

The heavy silence added to her disquiet.

"My shackles are hurting me." They'd been chafing her since the morning.

"You should have considered that before killing someone," he snapped back, anger leaking out through his usual calm, much greater than she'd ever seen before. Even through his fury, he reached down and tapped her wrists with his wand, casting a cushioning charm. She resisted twisting them in relief.

"Where are you bringing me?"

"To the Wizengamot."

She didn't have to pretend surprise or dread. Even knowing ahead of time, the confirmation twisted her gut into knots.

"What's the point of the trial? I already suspect you've rigged it in your favour."

"There are still rules to obey, even on a surface level."

Hermione thought Titus would bring her to the courtroom, but instead he led her up the lift and into an empty interrogation room. The familiar cold metal table and chairs greeted her.

"I thought you said we'd go to the courtroom?"

"It's just a short detour."

She tried to dig her feet in, but he pushed her forward, and she stumbled into the room.

"There will be no more disobedience today," he warned. "Or I'll be forced to publicly discipline you. Do you understand?"

She did.

Hermione would need to tamp down her rage to get through this, comforting herself with her future escape.

Showing she could follow orders when it suited her, Hermione walked to one of the chairs and lowered herself slowly. Placing her wrists on the table with a clink, she swished the key to her cheek so she could talk. "Would you really punish me publicly?"

He ran a hand along his face. Once again, she noticed the blood on his wrist. It left dark crimson trails past the sleeves of his uniform.

"I would take no pleasure in it. Nor would I go past what's necessary. And afterward, I would heal you and then thoroughly make it up to you. But yes, I'd punish you, if I was ordered to."

Though she knew he could, the admittance stung— his capability to hurt her.

His eyes stuck on her trembling hands, brow furrowed. He probably thought the shivers were from fear instead of rage, because his expression softened.

"They won't punish you this time, even with the severity of your crimes. Not if you follow my orders. I've already made my deals and sacrifices too. So just let me lead today. Give me your trust, and I promise everything will work out okay. While you may forever lose your full access to magic, if I feel I can trust you, I plan to eventually upgrade your shackles from obsidian to a neutral metal. There's nothing to fear from our future."

The hypothetical nightmare he painted weighed on her, as if shoving her into a box she couldn't fit inside.

Titus tapped his wand against his thigh in agitation.

"The courts need to be convinced that you're not a threat, and that might require sacrifices from you as well. You won't like what's to come, but it must be done. To them, you're only worth as much as you produce. Successfully birthing a pureblood heir might have given you more leverage, but at the moment, your worth is only in your potential. The trial will just be to assuage the Wizengamot that I'm fully capable of handling you."

His logical evaluation of the situation was correct, but it didn't matter. None of it mattered. Not Titus' affection. Not the court's decision. They could rip her choice from her clenched hands, but she could never be a domicile house pet again.

Not when she'd been shown she could be more.

Just as Hermione began to fidget in her seat, Dolohov entered the room, striding forward confidently in dark robes, with the sleeves pulled up to show the twisted skull tattoo on his left forearm, signifying his status as an original Death Eater. He gave a single nod to Titus before taking the seat across from her.

As he had the first time, he tugged out his knotty, pale wand and placed it in front of him on the cold metal table. A distinct threat. "I need to talk to Hermione… privately."

Titus hesitated a moment too long, standing as if petrified, hand hovering over where he'd stashed his wand. She noticed the subtle movement, but Dolohov didn't take his eyes off her.

"I won't injure your beloved pet, Nott, but she needs a stern warning. Something to think about if she ever decides to go feral again. It will only be a few minutes."

Titus still hesitated. He obviously didn't want to leave her alone with the man examining her, but eventually he squeezed her shoulder in reassurance. When the door clicked shut behind him, Dolohov's gaze roved across her features, reminding her of Draco while strategizing. There was nothing behind his stare, no anger, no happiness, just cold calculation.

"You're fortunate the blood you shed on your rampage was of no importance, or this meeting would be far more painful."

She met his stare and said nothing, though she had to fight an odd instinct to lower her gaze.

A swish of his wand, and his dark patronus dogs prowled around the room. One perched by his side, the other panted down her neck with icy gusts. Dolohov played with the wisps of shadow beside him, still thinking. Her instincts lurched with fear, remembering the feel of the shadow teeth tearing into flesh, ripping down to bone. The unending suffocation.

Despite attempting to be unaffected, she moved her wrists, just slightly, a subtle screech of shackles across metal. He glanced at them and grinned, winning a silent battle, knowing he scared her.

"I assume you're wondering why I even keep you alive, since I've promised you death. Your crimes were far more egregious than last time."

"I have wondered," she whispered.

He picked up the wand and rolled it in his fingers. She wondered about other things too— first among them, why Titus, the most dangerous man in Great Britain, bowed to Dolohov's authority. On the surface, the Death Eater seemed ordinary. Dark hair. Dark eyes. Average height. Not handsome. Not ugly. He'd disappear into a crowd, yet Titus obeyed him. It made no sense on the surface.

Dolohov tilted his head to the side as if he could read her thoughts.

"Even the most unlikely creatures can prove more important than they first appear. You see, society functions on a strict structure. Each person plays a part to keep things stable, and not everyone gets the choice on which duty they must perform. While yours was once straightforward, now it holds much more weight. Can you guess how?"

He didn't want her to know. He wanted to inform her. The dog's teeth reminded her to play the game.

"I can't," she answered.

"Titus Nott had the intelligent foresight to make himself indispensable to me. No one else can curtail the Order or control the muggles as efficiently as him." Dolohov drummed his long fingers against the metal, showing slight irritation. "But since you've been gone from his life, his impeccable work ethic has waned. He's distracted, making careless mistakes. To me, his desire for you is disgusting, immoral, and a weakness, but I understand we all have our vices. Even Achilles had his tender heel. Who am I to judge? In the end, I only need him to be content, so that he continues with his good work. And that's where you come in."

The dark patronus placed its canines along her throat, and the nerves prickled underneath. She froze with the proximity, pulse fluttering.

"He argued for your worthless life. Told me that Draco Malfoy was young, easily led astray by a strong-willed witch. That you just needed a heavier, more experienced hand. Someone that knows you. In his care, you weren't so rebellious. The points were sound. Perhaps he's right. I've granted you your life, and from now on, you'll honour that by fulfilling your duty to society, whether you like the role or not. Give him a son, suck his cock, pretend you love him. I care not how you do it, but you will make him happy."

"And if I don't?" Hermione couldn't help but ask. The shadow dog's teeth bit down harder. Currents of pain raced down her neck and through her limbs. She silenced an agonised gasp by pressing her lips tightly together.

"Killing you would only turn Titus against me— a very foolish move when he's so useful, potentially destabilising the strict structure. However, if you insist on continuing to be obstinate, I will have to take more drastic measures. Next time we face each other at this table, I'll take a finger. And then the next time, your others. Your toes. Your hands. Your arms. Your eyes. And if that doesn't work, I'll carve up one of your friends in front of you. I'll even let you choose the limb I dismember— or maybe I'll even force you to do it yourself." His gaze turned sharp as knives. "Tell me when I should stop."

Her panic rose inside her at the image he conjured. Body parts sliced away on a whim, butchered for daring to want anything more out of her life. For helping her friends and innocent people. Her vision darkened, the sensation of falling and drowning as the teeth of the dogs continued to gnaw on her skin. But the sparks of pain grounded Hermione, reminding her that she was still alive, and she needed to keep her wits.

"You can stop."

The dog let her go. When she opened her eyes again, she saw Dolohov analysing her again, tucking away his wand in a reverent way.

"Very good. I think we're finally on the same page. After today, you're going to settle down. You're going to please your new master in whatever way he wishes. You'll gladly fulfil whatever depraved fantasy he imagines. So go ahead and misbehave. I dare you. You've irritated me enough that I'd enjoy seeing you screaming for my mercy."

She trembled again as he stood abruptly, heading for the door. With a swish of his hand, the dark patronus disappeared into the ether, and when he exited, she collapsed against the cold metal table, slowly sucking on the key inside her mouth for solace.

Standing in front of the imposing doors to the Wizengamot, waiting to be allowed entrance, Hermione kept herself rigid in Titus' grasp. He held onto the back of her neck, slowly brushing his thumb along a trail down the soft curve.

"You're too quiet," he whispered.

She hadn't said a word since Dolohov left, not even when he'd asked to know what they'd discussed, sensing it had disturbed her.

She wondered if Titus would let Dolohov cut off body parts to control her.

He would, she suspected. What was a hand compared to a life? What was a leg? Or a tongue? At what point would it stop?

"Don't do this," she finally begged. "I was happy. I'll never disobey again. Just let me go back to him."

Once upon a time, a simple plea would showcase his dimples and a soft grin, shaking his head in amusement as he gave her what she wished. Now he glanced down at her with hard eyes.

"Happiness is a fleeting thing to pursue. Safety and stability are far more important. I'm confident that in time you'll learn to find your joy again within those parameters, and I promise to do my part to help you find it."

"Draco's right," she spat. "I'll never love you again. How could I?"

His hand stilled, thumb near her pulse. She bet he could feel how hard her heart pounded.

He bent forward to whisper in her ear. "No matter how much you lash out, I won't be swayed. This trial might hurt your spirit even further, and I'm sorry for that. Even if you hate me, just know that everything I do is for you. One day, this will all be behind us, and I hope you understand my reasons and forgive me. As my own concession, I'll give you the same unbreakable vow I'd promised before the Trial, and I'll grant you six months to readjust into your new life before trying for a baby. Hermione— you must know that I want to treat you as more than my breeder. I want you to be my wife in everything but name."

"Your wife?" Hermione snarled. "Did your father ever place your mother in shackles? I can't be your wife and your slave."

His lips brushed near her ear, pulled close to his expansive chest.

"My mum never killed anyone, love, and I can't risk you sabotaging this trial."

The silencio hit her without warning, stealing her voice, just as the heavy doors groaned open.

Hermione shifted in the iron chair, chained down even further. No matter how much she moved, she couldn't get comfortable, sitting straight, poised on the it's sharp edges. The chill of the courtroom raised the hair along her arms, the temperature just above freezing, intentionally intolerable.

Titus stood beside her, dressed in his full auror outfit sans mask, and in front of her was a sea of purple robes – the most important members in wizarding society.

The trial was closed to the public, and only Lucius sat in the stands. He clutched his cane, pin-straight blond hair like a waterfall down his shoulders, and an imperious expression decorating his face. Hermione didn't stare at him for too long, finding it disconcerting to see so much of Draco in him, focusing once again on the threat before her.

A full Wizengamot. Every single member. The rare sight intimidated her, showing the serious nature of the trial. All but a few of them exhibited their mutual disdain, and their solemn faces seared into her.

Walter Filibus sat in the center— the Chief Warlock. He'd been presiding over the trial for several minutes already, going over procedure. Hermione found it hard to concentrate on his statements, remembering the way he'd gently held out the blue candy to her as a child.

An ambivalent expression replaced his past benevolence as he narrowed his eyes on her, attempting to be neutral.

Hermione saw right past it. Saw right past all of them.

They hated her, as they always had. There had never been a moment they'd seen her as fully human, worthy of the rights of the average wizard.

Walter Filibus adjusted his bifocals and shuffled his parchments. "We are here today to determine the right of possession of the breeder, Hermione. Specifically, the severance of ownership from Draco Lucius Malfoy, and her transference to new ownership. She is—"

"Hem-hem," a high pitched, saccharine cough interrupted him. It belonged to a stout older woman sitting in the front row with grey hair and a pink collar sticking out from under her robes. She smiled sweetly.

Filibus looked as if he was attempting every strategy of patience. "While I normally wouldn't tolerate being interrupted, you may speak, Dolores."

"The girl has shown herself to be a menace to society, a dangerous role model for other breeders, having killed several men of precious magical blood. I vote that we put her to death."

Titus dug his hand into her shoulder, the only outward sign of his emotions.

"Your request is dismissed." Filibus gave a dramatic wave of his hand. "Her guilt is not the purpose of this trial. The authorities have already cleared the charges, and any mention of her violations will result in removal of the offending Wizengamot member. When a muggleborn misbehaves, no matter the offence, the blame should be focused on the owner, who displayed negligence. I will not have this courtroom become a mockery, just because the situation is unprecedented."

The woman displayed a sharper edge as she turned up her nose at Hermione.

Feeling secure in his order of his courtroom, Filibus continued, going through the rest of the introductions and the procedures of the courts, until the true trial began.

"Titus Nott, as the main accuser in this case, you may now present the official evidence you have gathered as a Mediator, demonstrating why Draco Malfoy should lose his right to a breeder, potentially ending the Malfoy bloodline. This is no light accusation and must hold substantial weight to move forward."

"Honourable Warlock and esteemed Wizengamot, my first line of evidence is right here." Titus stepped forward, reached into his cloak, and extracted her wand. She almost gasped at the sight of the delicate vines crawling up the side, wishing she could hold it close to her heart.

Titus laid the evidence before Filibus. "This is Hermione's wand."

The judges gasped in unison. Dolores clutched at the front of her robes.

"Who gave this to her?" Filibus asked.

"Draco Malfoy."

Another round of gasps.

Liar! she tried to shout, but nothing exited past the silencio. Hermione clutched the edge of her hard chair to control herself.

The blows kept coming. Titus revealed to the courts that during an interrogation of Draco he discovered that he'd allowed her to wander Diagon Alley polyuiced and without supervision. That he gave her access to restricted knowledge, including dark magic and advanced potion making. And the worst— that Draco gave her contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.

She should have known Titus would use the information he'd gathered over the past year against her. That he'd never been content or forgiving. Even still, it hurt to hear the mixture of lies and truth.

"Is there anyone that can corroborate your accusation? A witness, perhaps?" Filibus asked after a long discussion.

"Yes. There is a witness."

For the first time during the trial, Titus glanced back at Hermione with an odd expression, and it took a moment to interpret. She saw an apology— guilt— and it set her on edge. She braced herself for an invisible threat.

But nothing could have prepared her for Katie walking through the double doors, Marcus beside her. Her head was bowed, expression hidden by dark hair. She seemed skinnier than usual and paler too.

Katie refused to meet Hermione's horrified stare as Flint led her friend to a chair to her right, much more comfortable than her own. She lowered herself slowly, wringing her hands in a nervous movement that Hermione had never seen before. Katie had always been one of the bravest of the group, self-assured, jumping headlong into any adrenaline-based activity. To see her so terrified caused the hair along her neck to stand in alarm.

"What evidence can this witness provide?" Filibus asked.

Once again, Titus reached into his cloak and to her surprise, took out another wand.

Katie's. She recognized it immediately. Had risked a great deal to obtain it.

After she'd retrieved the wands from Nott manor, she'd hidden them at Malfoy manor and had never given them back, besides Julie's. So how could Titus have possibly known about it?

Perhaps he'd found them in his search. But an instinct inside her hinted at another, more insidious conclusion.

"Not only did Draco Malfoy permit Hermione to have a wand, he also intended to give wands to other muggleborns." Titus held up the wand for the court to view properly. "After a more thorough investigation, I discovered the Flint breeder already had one in her possession."

Chaos ensued. Judges stood from the seats, shouting, fists raised.

It required several strikes of Filibus' gavel to bring order. Even then, it took a much longer time for everyone to quiet and return to their seats. When they did, Hermione could see their expressions had shifted into condemnation. What Titus presented was damning. A crime unthinkable to them.

"Is this true?" Filibus asked Katie.

"Yes— Draco allowed Hermione to get me a wand," she lied, looking like she might hyperventilate. "I didn't mean to do anything wrong." She pointed at Hermione. "She made me accept it. I didn't want to take it. Please, let me stay at Flint castle. I can't— I don't want to go to anyone else."

An invisible knife entered Hermione's chest. She glanced down, as if seeing the bloody wound in her heart. Her mouth opened, and even if she'd had her voice, she wouldn't have been able to make a sound.

Marcus pulled Katie closer to his side, rubbing at her back and whispering things in her ear, as she trembled and sobbed.

"Don't cry, my dear." Filibus produced a pitying expression. "You've done the right thing today. We fully believe you were pressured into accepting the wand, and that you would never do something like this again. Everyone knows that proper muggleborns are happy in their station and have no desire for true magic."

A part of Hermione wished to obliviate herself, even if it resulted in damage to her brain. The betrayal burned so deep, she didn't know if she could ever recover from the shock. Her oldest friend had just lied to the Wizengamot, blaming everything on her, even knowing the potential consequences.

Had she been coerced?

Of course she had been.

All Hermione knew was that she would have never betrayed Katie in the same way, even under duress. Hermione would have died for her, just like she would for Julie or Dean or Finch. Her coven had been her heart, her soul.

A dark hole opened, swallowing her whole. The fall was endless.

Hermione kept shaking her head in disbelief, eyes burning, unable to concentrate on what Titus was saying to Filibus, knowing the man she'd once trusted with everything had orchestrated this slicing pain.

How could you? she screamed soundlessly.

But Katie refused to look at her, wringing her hands, tears streaming down her face.

Deep down, she understood her motives stemmed from fear, and a part of Hermione already forgave her, but it didn't stop the pulse of heartache across her chest, silencing any logical defence of her friend.

Hermione watched in a haze as Filibus called Lucius down as a representative for Draco. When he got to the front, he clicked his cane, standing with confidence.

"I take full responsibility for my son's actions," he emphasised each word with a slow drawl. "There is no need for a vote on the matter. As the head of household, I voluntarily sever the ownership."

The court burst into another flurry of conversation, whispers and exclamations, silenced with a bang of the gavel. Walter Filibus was beginning to look annoyed at the continual interruptions.

"With this decision, I also beg for clemency," Lucius continued. "I now believe Draco was far too young to oversee a breeder. Seeing his mother's death at such a young age affected him more deeply than I first suspected. As a consequence, he bonded to the girl unnaturally, confusing the normal roles. I petition for the courts to allow him a second chance. Time to mature and contribute in other ways, and allow him to eventually obtain another— more docile— breeder."

This time the Chief Warlock allowed discussion; the rise and fall of voices reverberated around the room as the Wizengamot talked amongst themselves. Filibus stayed quiet, sitting back in thought.

Draco had warned her that his father needed to play along, so she refused to feel hurt by his words. But still. The thought of Draco competing for someone else almost broke through her control.

To give her mind something to focus on, she imagined their future in exile. Lazy days tangled together. Perhaps near the sea where they could swim on the shore. Or maybe there'd be a forest nearby that she could explore, searching for creatures and secrets.

"I agree with Lucius," Titus' voice broke past the cacophony, once again standing beside her. "How many of us were foolish in our youth, unready for adult responsibilities? Add to that a high-spirited muggleborn, and it was doomed to fail. However, I also believe in forgiveness. It would be an unthinkable travesty if the Malfoy line died out, especially with how our pureblood lines have already dwindled over the ages."

"Well said." Filibus held his gavel, poised as if to strike again at the smallest sound. "If we were all judged by the indiscretions of our youth, not many of us would be able to sit in these stands as a moral authority." A short round of congenial laughter broke through. "The Malfoy line should not be extinguished so easily. With that said, the charges are serious. There needs to be a probationary period for Draco, possibly three years. Maybe a mentorship with someone in the ministry. Someone who could guide him to the right path. In that time, if he shows contrition and makes a vow never to repeat the same mistakes, we'll allow him to enter the Trials again to obtain another breeder, preferably one with a gentler temperament. I don't believe this needs to be taken to a vote either. We are all witnesses to the terms, and it doesn't need to be publicised. Does that sound fair to all parties involved?"

Lucius gave a deep nod, blond hair like a curtain. "I'll take it upon myself to make sure he learns to behave in the way a pureblood heir should. I assure you that he can be a great asset to the wizarding world if he is given mercy."

Titus touched her shoulder as if noticing she was unravelling, but she didn't truly feel it. Didn't feel anything. It was as if she'd been disconnected from reality, floating in some other world, viewing the events separate from herself. Her pain had diminished into nothing.

What did it matter— any of this— if she was to be in exile? Let them make their edicts. Let Katie keep her safety. Let Titus believe he won.

Walter Filibus rolled up his parchments and set them aside. "The last matter of business is the transfer of ownership. Titus, as you've told me, you're prepared to put in a second token for your previous ward?"

"I plan to, yes." The hold on her shoulder turned to a caress of fingers on her neck in a subtle way the audience couldn't see. "When she was in my household, Hermione behaved properly and thought of her duty as sacred. I'm confident that she'll once again settle in my care, and I'm looking forward to finally honouring my family by producing a child to carry on the Nott name."

Behaved. She wished to tell the courts that she'd learned dark, wandless magic under his nose, obtained the wands, created a coven. He'd never been in control of her spirit.

"I believe you're right." Walter Filibus readjusted his bifocals. "The best fit for Hermione would be with you. However, procedure must still be held sacred. As per tradition, if another person wants to compete for the right to obtain her, then they can enter their token by the end of this trial." He glanced around. "Would anyone present want to compete against Titus Nott for his claim over the breeder, Hermione?"

Absolute silence. A single movement would have been heard, but no one stirred, staring resolutely ahead.

Hermione realised the courtroom had been closed off to the public intentionally. Titus didn't want to bother with any rogue competitors, and of those wizards in attendance, no one would dare pit themselves against the Butcher.

They waited the allotted time.

"Since no one came forward, we will put the matter to a vote," Walter Filibus said. "Those in favour of the transfer of ownership to Titus Nott raise your hand."

Every single hand in the sea of purple robes raised.

The crack of the gavel signalled the end.

And that was all it took, a single vote to return her to her old cage.

"Congratulations, Titus." Walter Filibus gave a true smile. "Your parents would be pleased with your decision to finally carry on the family name. As the new owner of Hermione and a Mediator on the case, I'll allow you to decide what to do with the wands."

"Thank you, honourable Warlock," Titus said. "While the destruction of wands is generally unacceptable, I believe a demonstration is imperative to this situation."

Titus walked forward to the podium. He didn't look at Hermione, facing the judges, grabbing and holding up Katie's wand up for everyone to see. She didn't even have the time to process what he was about to do when he snapped it in two. A shower of magical sparks followed.

Katie gasped at the sight of her broken wand, hand to her mouth, and cried harder. Flint pulled her as close into his side as he could.

When Titus grabbed Hermione's wand, she attempted to stand in panic, the chains rattling, preventing her from moving. He hesitated— for just a moment— turning so that his eyes met her desperate stare. He allowed brief softness to peek through, giving her a twisted hope that he'd change his mind.

She'd been fourteen when she'd first held it. Made of vine wood. Ten and three-fourths inches long, possessing a dragon heartstring core. Crafted by Ollivander. If she closed her eyes, she felt its weight in her hand, remembered the wondrous sparks it emitted in celebration when she'd first held it, proof she belonged in the wizarding world.

Titus clasped her wand between his strong hands— hands she used to hold for security.

Don't, her lips moved without sound, shaking her head in horror.

Forgive me, he mouthed back.

For the second time in her life, she saw a shower of sparks erupt from her wand as Titus snapped it in half.

Hermione's heart snapped along with it.

She didn't remember the immediate aftermath. Maybe she screamed or fought against her constraints. Maybe she stayed frozen, stuck in a trance, unable to understand how someone who claimed to love her could hurt her so much.

She did remember watching the Wizengamot filter out. Katie had called her name a few times, which she ignored, and then finally Marcus led her away, supporting her as she sobbed against him.

Titus gently undid the silencio and her chains that kept her bolted to the chair. She didn't resist as he tugged her up into a fierce hug.

"Forgive me, Sprite," his voice was rough in her ear. "Like I warned you, they needed to be convinced. There was no other choice. Forgive me."

Hermione resembled a doll in his hold, going limp, unable to force her limbs to move.

She blinked, certain she'd wake up from the numb haze, if only she distanced herself enough from the pain. In the cocoon of her mind, nothing could hurt her, burrowing deep within herself. Seeing her wand snapped in half didn't exist in those dark, calm spaces.

When Titus began to lead her out of the courtroom, whispering assurances of his love, she looked in wonder at her legs, amazed they even held her upright.

The key still rested under her tongue. Its bitter metal taste was the only thing keeping her tethered to reality.

"You knew about the wands," she found her voice as it echoed in the corridors. A few Wizengamot judges passed them by, patting Titus on the shoulder as they went. "You knew I had taken them from the manor."

It was the only conclusion that felt right.

"I discovered your hiding place by accident shortly after the Trials," he admitted. "Sometime in the future, I'm going to need to know how you obtained them, along with the other items." Titus kept one arm draped around her waist, holding her up and propelling her forward.

Her mind struggled to work efficiently, conjuring the little hole under the floorboards where she'd hidden the wands and books.

For an entire year he'd known of them, which meant—

"You let me take back the wands, so that you could frame Draco."

He didn't answer her charge, but she knew the answer.

"I found them in my search of the manor. They were cleverly hidden, but it made it easier that I knew what to search for in the first place."

She flinched, wondering about the fate of Dean and Finch's wands, but didn't have the courage to ask yet. Destroying wands was considered a great sin, since there were very few wandmakers, and they could be reused.

Why didn't he bring Dean or Finch to the trial?

"I left the book," she whispered. The skin bound one. The darkest magic she'd ever encountered. They both understood which one she'd referenced. "What would you have done if I'd taken it?"

"I would've had Malfoy imprisoned in Azkaban," he admitted. "The courts would've seen the possession of it on par with a terroristic threat, given his other charges. Even his father might not have saved him."

She'd visited Nott Manor to plot Julie's escape, but he'd been laying a trap for her as well, planting evidence.

Hermione's instincts to leave the book had paid off. She wondered what about the book was so dangerous it would have kept Draco in chains. Titus knew the importance, and as a Mediator, he'd be allowed to study it.

"Where are we going?" Her body still felt like it trudged through tar.

She feared the extra implications of owner transference. Despite his promises, did the court expect him to stake his claim over her right away?


"I'm not—" she started. "I can't—"

"Do you really think so low of me?" He caught on to what she hinted at. "You're in no state to do anything but rest and recover. I promised you six months, didn't I? And even then, I'd never force you. I'd give you even longer if I could."

"But the ritual—"

"Was to break the curse," he whispered. "It's not relevant to our situation."

She knew that, but it calmed her to hear.

Six months— as if he truly believed that was enough time to transfer her affection and seduce her to his bed. Did he think she'd so easily forget the sparks of her snapped wand?

She'd never forgive him for that.

Hermione dug her fingernails into the skin of her palms, hard enough to give her something to focus on. It didn't matter how much time he'd prepared to give her. It didn't matter what plans he made at all.

Because she wasn't going to be there. In just a few short minutes, she'd be in France, waiting for Draco to find a way to her. She rolled the key in her mouth to keep the numbness from encroaching.

There was so much she wished to scream about, but she calmed herself, examining her environment. The corridors narrowed as they ascended into the upper levels. The lift rattled as they entered and exited.

"I expected an angrier reaction," Titus whispered, narrowing his eyes on her. "What's going on in your mind right now?"

He should feel suspicious. The act of calmly walking along beside him without a fight signalled resistance.

"Absolutely nothing." She didn't want to give him anything more of herself. Not even her anger. Vengeance would get in the way of escape.

"That's a lie. I know you're hurt right now, and I'll spend the rest of my life—"


He obeyed her sharp request, breathing out a forceful breath in frustration, continuing onward. The path felt as if it stretched forever, a purgatory, filled with all the things she regretted.

He acted as if he hadn't destroyed her whole life and then plucked her damaged body from the ruins. She'd rather he had left her in the ashes to burn with everything else.

Hermione wanted to hurt him deeply, wished to unshackle herself just to curse him, but she suppressed the instinct. She'd promised Draco not to let anything in the trial get to her. So she welcomed the numbness in her soul— the cold wall of protection she'd built when her father died.

Entering the atrium, the grotesque statue made of dark stone dominated the grand room, Magic is Might inscribed at the bottom. A wizard and witch sat on ornate thrones, crushing naked muggles beneath them. She'd seen it many times in her life, walked past it without a second glance. But today, it was as if she viewed it with fresh eyes, seeing it for what it was.

Beside it was an old fountain where the previous statue used to exist— the supposed residence of a galleon portkey.

Focused on the bubbling fountain, Hermione almost missed the auror approaching them. He looked to be older than Titus, yet remained lower in rank.

"Sir," he attempted to hand Titus a rolled scroll. "I need you to sign off on something before you leave."

"I'm off the clock," Titus snapped in a dangerous voice. "Can it wait?"

"I'm very sorry sir. I'm afraid it can't. I have to turn the paperwork in today." The man's eyes widened and flicked to her.

Titus gave a heavy sigh. "Alright, hand it over."

This was the man that Lucius had sent as a distraction. It had to be.

Making sure Titus was looking the opposite direction, scribbling his signature on the scrolls, Hermione spat the key into her hand, giving herself a moment to think.

She'd need to be fast, a clear plan in mind, without second guessing decisions. Which meant she needed to rule out a plan. Realistically, she didn't have time for both.

Exile or the unknown. The fountain or the floo.

From her vantage point, she visually scoured the fountain for a black galleon. Her heart sank, unable to find it, though she might just be missing it— or it might not be there at all.

Unlike Draco, she didn't trust Lucius. His monologue in the courtroom felt too true, too real. Hermione took a moment to grieve the dead dream of exile. She buried the hypothetical future deep in her thoughts and focused on the only other option available.

She could see partially down the floo corridor, though Titus' bulk blocked most of her view.

He was still distracted, talking to the auror. A part of her never wanted to move, frozen with fear, but she had to try. Once Titus took her to the manor, she might never be able to get away.

She tapped on one shackle and then the other. Click. Click. The sound echoed louder than she expected, but she caught the shackles before they could clatter to the floor. Again, she waited, but he was still focused on the parchments.

Her magic rushed back into her hands, as if it had been waiting to be freed, ignited by her rage. She couldn't beat Titus in a duel, especially wandless, and dark or complex curses might expend too much energy. Her only option was surprise.

Now or never.

"Aguamenti!" Having the source of water right next to her, it didn't take much magic or precision to force it forward in a sudden wave, slamming into both the men in front of her.

She didn't wait to see how they fared, sprinting forward, throwing up a shield around her just in case. It felt like she waded through a nightmare, ankle deep in sand.

No one followed her or tried to stop her, but she had no time to critically think about why that would be.

She hurtled around the corner into the corridor housing the main floos to the ministry.

And then abruptly stopped.

Lucius stood like a statue by the cordoned-off floo, the jaw of powder in one gloved hand.

Hermione clutched at her chest, surprised to feel her heart still beating.

"You weren't supposed to know about this one," she said dumbly.

Lucius scoffed. "I was the one who taught Draco everything he knows. Of course, he had a second plan I didn't know about. He even had a third plan that you didn't even know about, just in case your mind was compromised. I discovered them all."

Even though she never trusted Lucius, the sight of him standing there— the implications— shattered everything inside her.

"Why?" She poured all her condemnation into a single word. Draco had told his father his plans and had counted on him, even reluctantly. And in return, Lucius betrayed him

She grieved for Draco, waiting in a ministry cell, desperate to trust his father's love.

"You were a liability," he explained. "He became reckless. As much as I wish to give my son everything, I have limits to what I'll allow. At the rate he was going, he would have killed himself."

Her brain finally caught up to the situation, connecting all of the dots.

"You were the one that messed with my portkey."

"I keep a tight lock on every portkey I own, rare as they are, and I always know when Draco's in possession of one. He's very skilled in apparition, especially to the manor, so I knew that this time the portkey was for you. I'd hoped it would strand you somewhere you couldn't return."

"You put me in danger."

"I did no such thing," he sneered. "A muggleborn is too valuable to really be harmed. It only protected Draco. It would have gotten rid of my lingering problem without greater interference from me."

Titus entered the corridor calmly, stepping up behind her. A heavy hand landed on her shoulder. "Are you sure he didn't plan anything else?"

"The window of opportunity for escape had already been narrow, so most likely not, but you shouldn't discount Draco."

"I'll give him that. He can be clever when he wants to be. Hopefully, he starts to direct it to something more useful."

She hated the way they talked around her, as if she couldn't hear it.

Hermione found it a struggle to take in a full breath.

"I can't guarantee he won't attempt other plans to get her back," Lucius warned.

"I'm already preparing for that. As we discussed long ago, I'll excuse some of his schemes, as long as it's not too destructive or he doesn't touch her."

The words "long ago" stuck out to her. Her thoughts raced in circles.

"How long have you planned—" Hermione closed her eyes, understanding every horrid thing. "You sold me to him, didn't you? From the beginning. In those first days when Titus came to you to make a deal after Draco sent him away. You never planned to let me stay with him at all, even if I had behaved perfectly."

"I didn't sell you for money," Lucius drawled as if that made it better. "Our agreement was to wait for an heir. If you'd done your duty, I might have let you stay another year or so before going back to Nott. Even in that simple task, you've been a waste of time. The healers confirmed the lack of pregnancy, even this close to the year mark. Knowing that, I've decided it's better to cut my losses now. A quick, necessary severance. Draco's young, and I'm confident he'll soon get over the sting of his first woman to find a new one."

"He won't want anyone else!" Hermione shouted, stepping forward. She raised her wrists, wishing to rip out his throat. But Titus tugged her back into place, reminding her that she couldn't win a fight like this.

The lie ran deep. Lucius had accepted the deal Titus had given him after the ritual— the same one Draco had denied. His cryptic warnings at the dinner echoed to the present.

Lucius readjusted his stance. "I've lived long enough to know that another woman can fill the void of the first. Once he has a child of his own, he'll understand why I've done this. Sometimes taking something toxic away is the best course of action. And that reminds me—" he glared at Titus. "I require your pledge that when Draco finally chooses to enter the Trials for another muggleborn—"

"He'll win, of course," Titus cut him off. "I'll personally make sure of it, even if he barely participates. When I said it was imperative that the Malfoy line continues, I meant it. He just won't do so with Hermione. Saying that, I'll need the reversal to your family's binding spell."

"I'll send you a parchment with the instructions. It can be complicated to remove, but not impossible, especially with your level of skill." Lucius scraped his cane along the tile floor while readjusting. "Before I leave, I want further assurance you'll follow through with the rest of our deal."

"It's already put into motion. Why else do you think Filibus kept the verdict from the public and mentioned a mentorship for the ministry? He plans to take your son under his wing with an internship— if he turns his attitude around. It's an enviable spot that even top graduates are routinely denied. I've already sent in my recommendation for him next year. Of course, he'll need to serve as a Wizengamot member for several years first, but who knows, maybe in fifteen years or so, he could attempt to ascend to the Chief Warlock— or possibly even the Minister for Magic."

"Excellent. I think this deal will serve both of our families very well in the long run." Lucius gave a long nod, showing his intended dismissal. He took out the jar of floo powder and threw it inside the fireplace under "maintenance," facing the dying embers.

"Draco will never forgive you for this," she spat before he could leave. "He'll hate you for the rest of his life. Until your death, you'll regret today. You'll think back on every monstrous thing you've ever done, and this will burn you the most, because after this, he'll turn his back on you."

Lucius didn't turn around at the scathing rebuke, but his shoulders tightened, as if she'd petrified him. "Who would tell him? The only people who know of my involvement are in this room."

She'd fucking tell him; no matter how difficult, she'd find a way.

"You underestimate your son. He's not an idiot."

"Even if he does suspect my involvement, duty comes before love. I've never asked my son to sacrifice before today, but the future of our family depends on his renunciation of you." He only looked at Titus one more time. "Keep her homebound for as long as possible. Until she's pregnant, if you can. Time and space will help them both with this transition."

With an air of apathy, he disappeared within the embers, leaving her alone with the Butcher.

"I allowed you to attempt an escape," Titus whispered, pulling her close to him, lips near the curve of her shoulder. "I allowed the auror to approach me, curious at what you'd do. I played along, because I know you do better when you've exhausted all your options."

Hermione closed her eyes, wishing for Harry's invisibility cloak, something to hide under.

She hadn't exhausted everything. He wanted to entomb her again, and to do that, she wouldn't go without a fight, even if it was a fool's errand.

The magic tingled in her fingers, her intention focused like a sword, sharper than the knife he possessed. She shoved off the hand on her shoulder and walked forward with deliberate steps and twisted with her wrists raised, getting into an official duelling stance.

"Hermione," Titus warned, holding out his wand in a deceptively easy manner.

She wanted him to hurt. To bleed. To scream for her mercy. It gathered in her heart, a seething dark mass of enmity.


Nothing happened.

Titus had been prepared to defend himself, but he pulled his head back, as if shocked she'd even dare to cast an unforgivable on him.

"No," she sobbed, shaking her wrists and trying again. "Crucio!"

Again, nothing.

She panted, glaring at her hands, willing the curse to life.

Why wasn't it working? It did with Blaise, and she'd somehow managed an Imperio with Harry. And she felt just as furious now with just as much intention.

Over and over again, she cast it. With each attempt, Titus straightened further, lowering his wand. His lips kept jumping from an almost grin to an almost frown.

"Oh, Sprite," he finally took pity on her. "Using a crucio on someone you love is much harder than on a stranger."

"I don't love you anymore!"

"Perhaps," he conceded. "But the capability to torture me must be cultivated. It's the grief that's holding you back, which isn't really hate. In the future, if you want to crucio me, you have to really mean it. Imperio is always slightly easier to cast, depending on the motive. Let me show you how it's done." He flicked his wand forward. "Imperio!"

Her shock only lasted a moment, unable to stop the curse striking her. It infected her instantly, vanishing her free will. Like a puppet, she rose from her duelling stance, both hands limp at her side.

"Come to me," he urged in a gentle voice. She did as he asked, without thought or care, though there was a buried voice inside her that raged at the command. When she walked into arms reach, he accioed the shackles she'd discarded in the atrium, along with the key. "Hold out your hands." She did so, and the obsidian snapped on one and then the other.

After he imprisoned her magic, Titus released the unforgivable.

But she still didn't move. Didn't speak. She continued to stare at him in a stupor, unable to comprehend that their plans didn't work— that she wouldn't escape. All of her hope burned up inside her, leaving only the lingering flame of Draco's promise to always come for her, following the string of fate.

"Such a useful object." He held up the key in the light and then tucked it into his pocket. "From the Blacks, I bet. I don't think I'll give it back." He examined Hermione after, as if looking for a wound, eyes landing on her neck. "Ah, I almost forgot." From his pocket, he took out a crystal that gleamed, casting fragmented light in pretty patterns on the ground, dangling from a black ribbon. "Your greatest mistake, Sprite, was believing that you belonged with anyone else but me."

Titus' hands wrapped around the back of Hermione's neck, gently brushing away her curls in reverence, and once again secured his universe tight around her throat.

A/N: Chant with me now: trust the process, trust the process, trust the process