AN: Thank you to my beta, Kaz, and to Lunalelle for inspiring me to write this pairing!

Illumination

"What seest thou else, in the dark backward and abysm of time?"-Shakespeare,The Tempest

Hermione awakens slowly, her body is aching in the aftermath of the curse that has been thrown at her. She remembers Malfoy's cold gray eyes and evil smirk as she had writhed in pain on the floor. It is a preferable memory to the way the Final Battle had ended—against all hope, all the planning and the surety that they would prevail—Voldemort and his Death Eaters have killed every last one of the Order, including Harry and Ron, and have emerged victorious. Hermione had stared into the nameless eyes of some masked Death Eater, fully expecting to join her friends in death. Instead, the Death Eater had removed his mask and smirked. "Oh, no, Mudblood. We have some unfinished business to attend to," he had snarled

Draco Malfoy had taken great pleasure in honing his skill with the Cruciatus Curse, laughing as she'd screamed on the floor at his feet. Her wand had been broken, and her spirit and her body were surely not far behind. Death would have been a welcome respite from what she was certain Malfoy had planned for her. The worst had been seeing Ginny Weasley at his side—Ginny, who had abandoned her friends and family for the self-same man who was torturing her brother's girlfriend before her eyes. Ginny had looked away from the scene, and Hermione had finally fallen unconscious under the pain. I think that was the worst betrayal of them all. None of them would ever understand why Ginny had chosen Malfoy over her friends and family.

The room she now finds herself in is cold and made entirely out of stone. There are no windows, and she feels as if she is in a tomb. Perhaps Malfoy has buried me alive. The thought does not last long as she sees the figure of a man reclining in a stone chair, his face hidden by the thick folds of the hood of his black cloak. Hermione thinks perhaps it is Malfoy, until she becomes aware of a pair of sinister, glowing red eyes.

The Dark Lord himself is staring at her. Hermione screws her eyes shut, hoping he hasn't noticed she is awake. It is a futile hope—certainly he is there to kill her—but her natural survival instinct takes over. A sibilant voice echoes in the stone room, saying, "Ah, Miss Granger. So you awake to my moment of triumph."

She scrambles back against the stones, wrapping her arms against her knees. She shudders at the sound of his voice, unable to speak. Her throat feels raw, as if someone had tried to choke her. Perhaps they had—she did not remember much of Malfoy's torture of her. She braced herself, waiting for the flash of green that would herald her death. At this point, it would be a relief

I belong with Harry, and Ron, and Luna, and the Weasleys. Hermione keeps her eyes firmly on the shrouded Dark Lord, determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing her hide her eyes when he finally kills her. He points his wand at her, and she takes a deep breath in preparation. So this is how it ends. I wish I could avenge you all.

Instead of "Avada Kedavra", he says only, "Scourgify". She finds herself clean of the dirt, grime, and blood that was clinging to her, and she looks down at herself in amazement. Confusion is written clearly on her face as she raises her eyes to his once more. "But—"

"Malfoy has asked me for you, Miss Granger." His voice is as cold and merciless as she had always thought it would be. "He apparently feels an urge to repay several debts accrued from your days at school."

She winces. Draco Malfoy's hatred of her had not abated even after school had ended. He'd corrupted one of her best friends and no doubt he wanted to make her pay in sweat and blood for the crime of being Muggle-born, and for fighting on the opposite side in the War. She tries to keep her face impassive.

Voldemort points his wand at her again, and hisses "Imperio", catching her off guard. She is slow from the torture and the exhaustion of the final battle, and indeed the weeks of sleeplessness that presaged the end, and the Dark Lord's will is strong. He is far more skilled than the imposter Moody had been in her fourth year. "Stand up, Miss Granger, and approach me."

She is unable to resist, and she moves towards him even as her mind screams at her to stop.

He stands as she nears him. He is tall, and she can only see those serpentine crimson eyes staring down at her—his face is somehow obscured by the shadows made by the hood of his cloak. His eyes reflect no emotion, but she feels triumph flowing off of him in waves, drowning her senses. He reaches a hand out and draws one long, cold finger down her cheek. Tears leak out of her eyes, but she remains still underneath his touch. The spell will not allow her to move.

With a wave of his wand, he releases his hold on her. She steps back immediately, and he laughs in the darkness—the cold, high-pitched sound terrifying her more than anything else has yet done. Her body trembles as she stands before him. "You do not want me to give you to young Malfoy," he hisses in his cruel voice. "He takes much after his father, and I do not think you share Narcissa Malfoy's appreciation of such talents."

Hermione thinks he might be smiling, but she can only see his eyes. I am not yours to give.

"On the contrary, Miss Granger," he says, and she forgets for a moment his skill in Legilimency. "Potter's failure to kill me means that you are mine with which I can do whatever I please. As is the world, Miss Granger, as is the world." His laughter again chills her, and she is not sure if it is from cold or from terror that she shivers so violently.

"Give me to Malfoy if you so desire," she says in a peculiarly dead voice. "It no longer makes any difference." Perhaps in his rage Malfoy will kill her, or perhaps she can plead with Ginny to end her life. Surely her old friend owes her that much, at least?

His cold hands reaches out and touches her shoulder, and with a whispered command, she slips from consciousness.

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When she awakes again, she is tied to a bed.

The room is larger—still windowless and chilled, but there was a fire, which seemed to be more for light than for warmth—or perhaps she is just cold beyond any fire's ability to warm her. There is a figure reading in a chair, a glass of wine on the table next to him. She expects to see the white-blonde hair of one Draco Malfoy, but the figure is hooded, and she cannot see his profile which is turned towards her. She does, however, see the title of the book he is reading: Liber Mortis.

Malfoy is reading the Book of Death?She tests the bonds that hold her hands but finds it must be some enchantment for there are no ropes physically holding her down. Regardless of not seeing what restrained her, movement is futile, and struggling against the invisible bonds is useless.

"Young Malfoy is not spending his time reading in the aftermath of our success, Miss Granger. I believe he and Miss Weasley—Mrs. Malfoy now, I would assume—have other things occupying their time."

Voldemort.

Hermione is in what appears to be his room, and she looks around wildly, as if expecting to see a wide variety of torture devices or similar. There is nothing but bookshelves, and she gapes as she takes in the titles—all works of dark magic that would never have been in the Restricted Section of Hogwarts. In fact, the Ministry would have seen to it that such titles were destroyed before they would be found in any library.

"There is no Ministry anymore, I'm afraid," Voldemort says, his attention still with his book. "No longer will they destroy these or any other instruments of dark magic merely because they are not strong enough to control them."

She fights against the invisible bindings, even though she knows it is useless. Unbidden comes the thought of her wand, broken at her feet, and Malfoy's cruel taunt, "Without this, you are as worthless as any Muggle…let me show you what I do to Muggles in the Dark Lord's name."

"No one is strong enough to control dark magic," she says, Gryffindor courage inspiring her to fight.

"I am." His voice is imbued with arrogance. He turns crimson eyes towards her. She feels her heart pounding in her chest—she is bound to his bed and completely at his mercy, a trait she knew he did not possess.

"Do you know, Miss Granger, why you did not awaken in the dungeons of Malfoy Manor as young Draco requested of me, faithful servant that he is?"

She tries to shake her head, which of course remained still on the mattress. "No," she says, her voice sullen. She dislikes the waiting he is putting her through. Kill me, torture me—just be done with it.

He laughs again; she is unsure if it is from her tone of voice or the thoughts running through her head. "I have only known one other person who would have known what this is," he says, raising the book and inclining his head to her slightly. "That particular man is not interested in having a Mudblood whore to torment. His wife appreciates his more—unusual—proclivities. It is a pity he did not pass his knowledge of the Dark Arts to his son, else I should have been pleased to honor young Draco's request. As it is, I have not arrived where I am today by destroying things that might possibly be of value to me. And sending you to Draco … make no mistake, Miss Granger, he would destroy you." The pleased tone of his voice causes her to close her eyes.

Hermione stares at him, unable to believe what he has just told her. "I am saved from Draco's wrath because I have recognized the book you're reading?"

"Not only recognize, but I think you would be more than interested to read it, no? Knowledge…the most forbidden fruit, dark magic, is it not? Wouldn't you like to peruse it, Miss Granger?" He holds the book out as if offering it to her, and she turns her head away.

Suddenly, the book flies towards her, levitated by him to hover above her. She finds her hands released from her bindings, and grabs the book as it falls—more to keep it from striking her in the head than out of any desire to read it. A strange thrill rushes through her at holding it, however. The Liber Mortis was so forbidden, one would receive a lifetime in Azkaban for merely owning it, and here she was, holding it in her hands…

"You will read this."

She shrieks, he is suddenly standing next to her, and she is unaware he has moved. She meets his eyes, wondering why she can only see those burning crimson orbs and no other feature of his face. Perhaps he has no others left.

"I shall teach you Dark Magic, Miss Granger. If you do not perform to my satisfaction, then I shall conclude you are not deserving of my mercy, and I shall send you to Malfoy."

"Mercy?" She cannot help the incredulous tone of her voice. "You call this mercy? Holding me here, against my will, and forcing me to learn—"

"I doubt anyone has ever forced you to learn, Miss Granger," he says, and she finds she cannot look away from him. "Your friends are dead, and no doubt you wish to join them. Do not think I am sparing you out of any misplaced feelings of remorse—I have none. I well remember that you, Miss Granger, were the brains behind the Order, and I know my plans that you have destroyed with your insufferable knowledge. You would rather die than be corrupted, would you not?" Again, he trails a finger down her hair, and she wants to move away from him but finds she is unable to do so.

"I shall force you to learn this magic, and if you are as strong as your Gryffindor pride denotes, and as clever as you think you are, then you shall be turned and I have gained a valuable witch for my dark court. If, however, you are correct and the magic destroys you … what a fine vengeance it shall be, to destroy you with the one thing for which you pride yourself the most - knowledge. If you are not as clever as you think or as I have been lead to believe, then I shall let Malfoy have you. Either way, I shall have my vengeance, Miss Granger, be assured of that. I do not do this for mercy." The word is a hiss.

She is not able to see his face, but she imagines him to be smiling.

ooooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooooo

She tries not to read the book, but she cannot help herself.

If she remains awake and sentient, she can't help but think of her friends and what happened, of the life that she has lost, of the bright and shining future turned to dust under the footsteps of the monster that has triumphed against all odds—for who really expected the mad, would-be tyrant to be successful? So the book is a refuge, and for a little while, Hermione can forget. She can pretend she is at school, losing herself in the pursuit of knowledge as she had done for so long…

Voldemort arrives every day to quiz her. She is not allowed to move around when he is in the room, but otherwise, she is given free reign while he is out, which he is most of the time. He has an empire to run, he does not neglect to tell her this at every opportunity. If he is in the room and not quizzing her on her "studies", he is reading by the fire.

Sometimes, she thinks about rebelling, but then she remembers Malfoy. She thinks of how she would spend the day if she were to ignore the books—alone, with nothing to do but think—and she picks up the book. She reads, she learns, and Hermione expertly answers his questions.

He is a demanding teacher. He glories in her missed answers—just like Snape, she thinks, immediately angered at the thoughts of the hook-nosed potions professor, who had found old loyalties too difficult to break and had betrayed the Order. Voldemort does not content himself with a cruel taunt or a grade of zero when she gives the wrong answer, however. Sometimes, she receives no food for days and contemplates eating the book she is assigned to read. Sometimes, he uses Crucio, at which he is much more skilled than Malfoy

Hermione has never seen him. He wears his cloak and the hood, so all she has ever glimpsed of him are those red eyes. She desperately tries not to think of it when he is with her—she does not want to anger him, but she does not want him to show her what lies beneath the hood. His voice is enthralling; cold and sibilant, like a serpent gliding over cold glass. When he enters the room, he brings a chill with him that the fire fails counter, and she shivers.

When he quizzes her on an advanced potion to be found in Most Potente Potions, he punishes her for her answer. In the throes of his Cruciatus curse, she manages to cry out that she is right. He halts the curse and threatens her with more if she does not cease her prattle. But she does not stop arguing, and instead of cursing her, he pulls up a chair and argues back. Their debate rages for an hour, and she forgets for a moment to be afraid and loses herself in the passion of her argument. It is the first time they argue, but it is not the last.

They debate curses, hexes, transfiguration. He laughs at her knowledge and calls it naïve, throwing books at her. In a sneering voice, he tells her to read them before she attempts to match wits with him again. She notices that his voice has lost that high-pitched chill and sounds like that of a normal man. When he leaves her with a copy of a book on advanced dark hexes, she wonders why it is his voice is so different. Chewing on her hair as she devours the text, the answer comes to her in a rush; it is the first time she has hear emotion other than pleased arrogance in his tone.

Hermione does not notice when he enters the room and she is not bound to the bed for their discussion. He brings her a glass of wine, and she accepts it without thinking, sipping it as she answers his questions. If he had wanted to kill her, he could have done so by now. They argue late into the night about, of all things, Hogwarts, A History. He has a copy of the book in his personal library.

"Don't tell me one of your Death Eaters is doing a bit of light reading?" She asks him, brow raised.

He laughs, and the sound is rough and amused. "I am quite lucky some of them are able to read at all. Lucius and Severus are part of a rare breed."

He is a monster, but she enthralled by what he gives her to study. During the day, and during their conversations, she can forget the world she has left behind, the friends who have died.

It is only at night that she feels she has betrayed them. She dreams of Harry and Ron, and Luna—even Ginny (who is as lost as if she had died), of the days at Hogwarts where they remained convinced of their eventual triumph. She thinks of Dumbledore, his eyes cold where once they twinkled, even though he had fallen long before the final battle. She sobs herself to sleep, feeling as if she is a traitor.

Sometimes in the dark, she thinks she hears him laugh while she cries. She hates him more in those moments than she has ever hated him before. In the day, she reads his books to forget, but at night she is offered no such escape. At night, she cries for her friends and worries about what will happen to her when the books in his library are finished.

It is this thought he responds to, her dark savior speaking to her out of the darkness. "I have many more books, Hermione, and if you prove worthy, you will have a chance to experiment on what you have learned."

When he is gone for a long time—as often he is, establishing his Dark Court and holding endless meetings with his senior advisors—she thinks perhaps she can find a way to destroy him in the tomes she reads. Voldemort is clever, and he laughs at her because he knows she does this.

"By all means, Hermione," he purrs. "Please, do try and find a way. When you learn, then do I, and I can take steps to ensure it does not happen." His laughter is cold and cruel in the quiet of the room.

He has stopped calling her "Miss Granger," but she calls him nothing at all.

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When he comes into the room in a temper one night, her fear of him returns ten-fold.

Voldemort is ever ruled by his passions, and she struggles to keep her mind clear. It has been ages since she has answered something incorrectly as she does not want him to punish her. She says nothing, but he casts his curse on her regardless.

"They say you are my mistress, Hermione, do you know that?" he says conversationally as she screams under the curse. Her hands tear at the floor, and she bloodies her nails, but she does not feel them tearing and ripping from her skin.

She has no idea what she has done, or why he is displeased, or what to say to make him stop. This is not something for which a right answer will gain her a reprieve. Hermione remains quiet until he has worked over his rage, and he throws a book at her and snarls, "Figure out this puzzle, Hermione, or I shall send you to Malfoy after all."

Shaking, her body weakened by the curse, she picks up the book. The text is written in code, the Latin words jumbled and nonsensical, and looks impossible to solve. She cries in frustration, and he slams out of the room.

Hermione struggles, eating little, hardly sleeping, throwing her efforts into deciphering the puzzle. It is some mixture of magic and logic, and she fills up scrolls of parchment and runs through quill after quill trying to figure it out. She ignores him when he returns and reads by the fire, pacing back and forth and muttering to herself. It is no longer about Malfoy, it is about figuring out the puzzle.

The next time he vanishes, it is for the longest period yet, for two whole weeks. She figures out the puzzle three days after he has left and hates the traitorous rush of disappointment she feels that he is gone, making her unable to tell him what she has found.

When he returns, she practically screams in her frustration to give him the answer. "I know it!" She yells, leaping to her feet and staring into his red eyes. Somehow, the sight of them ceased to bother her weeks ago. "I know the answer."

He looks at her with those odd, unblinking eyes, and laughs. "Eager, are we, to avoid Malfoy?"

She looks confused and blurts, "But it isn't about Malfoy, my lord. It's about the puzzle."

She feels it, then. A rush of pleasure that sweeps through the room, washing over her, and it is the happiest she has felt since she awoke in his chamber. It takes her a moment to figure out why this is, and when she does, she claps her hand over her mouth in horror. The pleasure and the happiness is coming from him, and she has yet to present him with the correct answer to the puzzle.

His pleasure is because she has called him "My lord."

She backs up until her knees hit the bed, and she collapses, staring at him. She says nothing. The air is tense between them. "You learn your place at last, Hermione," he hisses and claps slowly. "Now tell me the answer."

She does, but it doesn't matter anymore. What she has done is infinitely worse.

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In her feverish dreams, something is moving over her, caressing her skin, driving her mad. She awakes with a moan on her lips and shudders with horror. She does not know who is in her dreams, but she wakes up restless and terrified, a dark desire for something burning within her.

She shifts on the bed, finding herself wanting something she cannot name.

When Hermione speaks to him now, she calls him "My lord." There is no longer shame in her voice.

She has stopped dreaming of her friends.

No longer is she confined to the room. She now has access to the potions laboratory, where she works with her old professor in tandem. They do not speak of the days that have gone before them, as Hermione understands finally that the past is dead. She wears a dark black cloak and twists her hair up to keep it out of her eyes when she works. At night, she retires to the Dark Lord's chambers and sleeps in his bed. He is usually gone when she retires and away again when she awakens. When her dreams wake her, her body aching and empty, she sometimes sees his profile in the dark of the room and feels the chill that denotes his presence.

She does not see his Death Eaters, except for Severus Snape. It is a lonely existence, but she finds her mind is consumed by her new knowledge. At some point, it occurs to Hermione that she is being taken over by the dark magic Voldemort has forced upon her, but she thinks cynically that she is alive when so many are not. So many Mudbloods—mixed bloods, she reminds herself—are not as lucky as she. Besides, she is not crazy, she is not harming anyone. No, she is conquering this subject and that is where she will triumph over him.

They have taken to playing chess in the evenings, when he is in residence, she and Voldemort. Hermione still does not know where they are, but her last thoughts of escape were weeks ago.

"I am particularly enthused about this new potion Severus and I are working on," she tells him as she watches his knight hacking at her pawn. She grimaces as he moves into checkmate. "I do not think I shall ever be able to win against you, my lord." The words fall easily off of her lips. Hermione does not notice, but she is staring into his crimson eyes, and the air is strangely heavy between them.

That night the dreams are more intense—a strange shadowy world where cold hands caress her body; her face, her breasts, delving between her thighs, running short nails over the skin of her back, but she awakes before she can climax, and Hermione finds this frustrating. If I to become tormented by these dreams, cannot I have some pleasure as a reward?

She sees that he is in the room with her, but his head is turned away towards the dying light of the fire. Hermione opens her mouth as if to speak to him, but no sound comes out. She closes her eyes and falls back asleep.

When she finishes the last of the books in his library, he gives her an extensive exam. He threatens her with Crucio but it is not necessary for him to cast it—she has answered every question correctly. There is silence between them when she is finished.

"That was the last book in your library, my lord."

He nods slowly, crimson eyes burning. "Yes," he says slowly, "it was."

He pulls out a wand, and hands it to her. "This is yours," he says. "I had it repaired in London. There are things you will be required to do that necessitate having a working wand."

She nods and tucks it into her robe. "What of the books, my lord?" Her voice is slightly frantic. There is still so much more to learn…..

"Make a list," he says, "and I shall see that you have them. Whatever book you desire shall be yours." He leaves, but the door remains open. He no longer locks it behind him when he leaves her.

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She runs into Lucius Malfoy in hallway.

Hermione does not go down to eat with the senior advisors, remaining mostly out of sight of the court. She is still a Mudblood, even though she is one of his top advisors, and he does not require her presence at council meetings. She spends time in the library with the books, in the potions room, or working on her newfound skills in the dark arts. This new knowledge is frightening, but it consumes her. At night, she languishes in bed, dreaming of cold hands and forbidden delights. She does not tell him of these dreams, and she works hard to forget them when he is near. It is the final horror she cannot bear to face, but somehow she thinks it is only a matter of time until she confronts this terror as well, and the traitorous rush she feels at the thought shames and enthralls her.

Lucius Malfoy looks much as she remembers. His white-blond hair is still tied back in a neat queue, his gray eyes inscrutable, and he is impeccably dressed. They stare at each other for a moment, both of them unmoving. She wonders if this will be it. If she will be killed by the Dark Lord's most trusted servant in the hallway as she hurries to the library to read up on blood magic. Her arm is sore from the cuts where she has taken her blood for her newest experiment, and she is slightly lightheaded from losing so much blood. She has refused Voldemort's offer to find her someone else's blood—Hermione has some morals she still clings to, although the idea has begun to taunt her with its allure. If you had someone else's blood, you would not be in this situation of running into Malfoy, Senior in the hallway without full use of all of your senses. She cannot hex him, Voldemort would have her killed. He does not tolerate dissension amongst his ranks.

To her surprise, Malfoy nods his head slightly and says only, "Miss Granger," before moving past her. She inclines her head in a return greeting. "Mr. Malfoy," she says, and they pass each other. She feels no hatred towards him, even though she should. It was he, after all, who had killed Ron. Instead, she has the vague sense that they are merely colleagues passing each other at work. He goes towards the council hall, she to the library. They meet again on occasion, and this is how each of their interactions play out.

She does not see Draco or Ginny, as they remain at Malfoy Manor. Lucius comes to the laboratory where she works with Snape and asks for a potion for his daughter-in-law, who is expecting her first child. There is a gleam of pride in his eyes and his cruel mouth softens slightly. She notices he wears a platinum band around his ring finger, and remembers Voldemort's words about Malfoy's wife. Strange to think him capable of fidelity and love, and pride in his daughter-in-law, who he had once tried to kill.

She is given projects to work on, objects that have been confiscated from the former Department of Mysteries. Sometimes, she becomes so involved in her work that she refuses to leave her office. She has been given a room where she can keep her books and her copy of the Liber Mortis, as she has almost worn out the Dark Lord's copy. There is no longer any precautions on her movements in his fortress, which she is given to know is in the north of Scotland, in some enchanted castle.

She still sleeps in the Dark Lord's bed.

Hermione Granger has been in the service of the Dark Lord for over a year. When she realizes this, she is amazed. She does not dwell long on it, for she has work to do, and the blood she has been given will not remain fresh for long. That is the problem, she thinks, with heart blood—its power seldom lasts long after the victim dies. She dislikes making complicated potions in such haste.

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That night, he is waiting for her in the room they share.

"I believe it is time to decide if I have indeed had my vengeance," he says, and she looks up, surprised.

"Vengeance?" Hermione chews on her hair, forcing herself not to think of the experiment she is working on or the potion that is brewing.

"I told you, Miss Granger," he hisses, and she blinks and moves back warily. Just because he is no longer the enemy he once was does not mean she does not fear him. All servants of the Dark Lord fear him, if they have any sense. "I believe I have profited the most, you see, from our experiment. You are indeed clever, and you have studied the Dark Arts and all I have to teach you most admirably. You refer to me as 'my lord.' My Death Eaters bow to your knowledge of the dark arts. Tell me, Hermione, have I succeeded in turning you to the darkness?"

She stares at him, nonplussed. "There is no such thing as the dark arts," she tells him, an imperious tone in her voice. "There is only magic—and those too weak to use it."

He laughs quietly in the darkness. "It would appear I have indeed succeeded." He bows to her neatly. "You have betrayed them all, you know. Your friends, your family, all those who you fought with against me. You sleep in my bed and are counted amongst my most loyal of servants. What have you to say to this?"

Hermione thinks about it long and hard before she answers him. "I have come to the conclusion that the past problems were the result of pretending the Dark Arts were some evil brand of forbidden knowledge," she says. She paces around the room, tapping her wand in her hand thoughtfully. "If we had never locked away this knowledge then there would have never been a problem. I blame this mostly on the Ministry, you see. They insisted upon treating all witches and wizards like idiots who would be so easily corrupted by the dark arts. Why, that is simply ridiculous. I am still Hermione Granger, and I am far from corrupt. I owe it to the memory of my friends to work with this knowledge for the greater good."

She does not realize what she is saying, because he is correct. The dark arts have seduced her, she has lost herself to them, and the secret of it is that she does not realize it. He smiles but she cannot see it.

Her dreams that night are more intense—the pleasure is mixed with pain, and she awakes moaning and shifting in the bed. She sees him standing next to her, watching her. They stare at each other while she writhes under his scrutiny. "Why do you wear the hood, all the time?"

She thinks she hears him suck in a breath. "You do not wish to see what I am, what I have become."

The answer is so unexpected that she laughs. "You are doing this to me, aren't you? The dreams, the hands that caress me—they are yours."

His head inclines to her, slowly. "Yes," he says, the word a hiss.

Her heart is pounding. "Why do you not just take me?"

She has said it, finally, and feels relief in doing so. The final horror has been confronted; the last vestige of her resistance has crumbled.

"I do not destroy that which I find valuable, Hermione; I have told you this before." The intensity of his gleaming red eyes unnerves and excites her.
Hermione runs her tongue on her bottom lip, grasping at the sheets beneath her. Her body feels overheated; she desperately wants to cool it. "You think it would destroy me?" She surprises him by saying, "you've already destroyed me."
"I didn't think you noticed," he says, and he moves closer to her.

"I noticed," she says, her voice tremulous. "I just did not care."

She watches his hands go up, pushing the hood off his face. She sucks in a breath, but does not scream. His face is harsh and as serpentine as his glorious crimson eyes—but she cannot find the fear that should be inside of her. This is what the magic has done to him, she thinks. She raises a hand up to him, almost in supplication. The desire swirls around her; she can no longer stand the torment. "Please," she whispers, her voice a sob.

When he comes to her, his body is cold, and it feels good against the heat of her own. She presses against him, running her hands over his smooth skin in furious delight. Those deadly cold fingers slide over her body, and she throws her head back and moans as her dreams have become shattering reality. The very thought of who he is, of who she is embracing, fuels her fear. Fear, in turn, fuels her desire, and she grasps at him in pleasure as his mouth bites at her neck.

She has studied the Dark Arts, she has given herself to the darkness in every way but this one. It seems only right that she should give herself to he who embodies all that is dark and deadly, he for whom she has forsaken what she once was. It is painful and violent, dark and sinister, and she loves it. Her hands scratch at him, she likes that she has drawn blood on his skin as he has done on hers. His tongue is wicked as it moves down her body, and she smiles in delight as it flickers over her ear, enticing her. She feels him pressing hard against her, and is almost sobbing in her terror and her desire.

His voice is still cold and harsh in her ear, but she finds it erotic. He tells her things that should horrify her, but instead they drive her desire further. His cold fingers caress her and roughly thrust inside her, the feeling is pure bliss. She comes, and she cries his name, and his laugh against her skin is a hiss. She arches into his body when he fills her, she stares into his crimson eyes as he claims her. She kisses him, and swallows his exultant shout when he spills himself inside her.

She sleeps in his arms, his face against her neck, his cold, long fingers curved possessively over her.

oooooooooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooo

Three weeks later, she takes his Mark on her skin.

It makes sense, really. She is, as he tells her, his most accomplished student. It is in front of the entire assembled Dark Court that she kneels proudly at his feet and accepts the brand on her skin. It burns, of course it does, but she is the Dark Lord's lover and pain has become her pleasure. Hermione takes the Mark and throws her head back, unable to stop a moan, as his wand sears her flesh. She hears him laugh, and she sees Narcissa Malfoy in the crowd, a knowing smirk on her beautiful face. Hermione is not the only one who has come to understand what it is to love a sadist. Lucius Malfoy nods to her with a slight smile on his face.

They celebrate when it is over, and she takes a seat to his right in the Dark Council.

Several months later, the Dark Lord and his Dark Lady are the guests of honor at Malfoy Manor for the christening of the newest member of the Malfoy family. Hermione sees Draco and his wife standing in the parlor, and after they make their bows to their lord they turn to Hermione. She expects to see many things in Draco's eyes, but not the deference she sees as he bows to her.

"My lady," he says, and there is no hint of rancor to be heard, only the reverence that should be in his tone as he speaks to the chosen one of the Dark Lord. She relaxes slightly and takes her nails from Voldemort's arm, loosening her hold as she releases a breath.

"Draco," she says, nodding in return. She finds she likes it that he has bowed to her. It is a gesture due to her because of her station,

When she sees Ginny, she smiles to see her old friend seated in the parlor holding a small baby. Ginny looks healthy and well, her face shining with pride as she looks down at her small son. Her red hair is shining and bright, and Narcissa Malfoy is standing beside her daughter-in-law and next to her husband. Even Lucius looks proud as he watches the future Malfoy in Ginny's arms squirming and crying softly.

Ginny presents the baby to Voldemort, who tells Ginny she has done well in providing a strong son for the Empire. "You have done your family name proud," he says, and Ginny flushes with his praise. Lucius and Narcissa exchange a look, and Draco squares his shoulders with pride. Ginny hands the baby to Hermione, and they smile at each other.

When they are seated at the table, Ginny turns to Hermione and places her hand lightly on her arm, where the Dark Mark burns underneath her fashionable dress robes. "You understand, don't you, Hermione? Now, you understand." Her eyes flicker briefly to Draco and husband and wife share a look across the table.

Hermione smiles at Ginny and meets a pair of brilliant ruby eyes, where Voldemort is seated at the head of the table. "Yes, Ginny," she says, looking at her lover. "I finally understand."

Finis