AN: Full Title – Rendezvous Then I'm Through with You (Inside Out – Eve 6). Yes, this is still a story! I was never going to abandon it, but all the reviews woke me up to the fact I needed to get back on this. :) Thanks. All for you! A little assistance, if you could, I've been thinking about rating this M, but I'm not sure. Please tell me what you think.
Now I'm lying on the table
With everything you said
Keep that in mind the way that it felt
When the most I could do was to just blame myself
I know, you know, everything
I know you didn't mean it
Start it all over
I know you didn't mean it
Remember more than you'd like to forget
This Photograph is Proof (I Know, You Know) – Taking Back Sunday
So what if you can see the darkest side of me?
No one will ever change this animal I have become
Help me believe it's not the real me
Somebody help me tame this animal
Animal I Have Become – Three Days Grace
Her eyes scanned around the darkened apartment as she clutched the paper and ring in her free hand, pointing her wand threateningly with the other. The only light came from behind her in the kitchen; it was so weak it hardly spilled out any farther. Not that she needed to see to know that someone's eyes were following her every move. It was a sense.
"I know you're in here," she said, soft and dangerous. "Show yourself. Either way, you'll not be leaving here alive."
A disembodied voice, delayed in its response due to surprise over its blown cover, came from near her bedroom. "It would be unwise to kill me before you have even heard what I have to say." The familiarity of it was disturbing.
She paced closer to the spot she deduced where he was standing. She spat back, "I seriously doubt that."
"Then what is that in your hand? Hmmm…answer me that." The taunting nature of the answer instantly inflamed her already touchy temper. That's when she knew exactly who had dared step foot in her apartment and try to make a fool out of her.
"Lies," she hissed out. His outline was growing stronger as she closed in. Not to mention, a little, silent spell had increased her ability to see in the dark. The stark blonde hair was now easily visible. "Your specialty as always, Draco."
He seemed a taken back at her sudden use of his name, but smoothed over it. "No," his silky voice continued, "it's proof that what I say is true." He motioned automatically to her hand holding the ring and the note. "A little persuasion to get you to come back with me."
She figured he could see her well enough as his gaze matched her movements exactly. "You know I could kill you right now."
Draco remained unruffled. "Of course you could, Granger, but you won't, because if you had really wanted to, you would have done it sooner. Now surrender your wand and I can take you where you need to go."
That only caused her grip on her wand to tighten. "Am I supposed to fall for that one? Knowing you, this is probably just a set up to kill me. You're very apt at deception. I mean, who would have guessed your turn to the Light side with your history."
"Could I not say the same for you? A bloody staunch Gryffindor now a Death Eater killing her friends. Tsk tsk. You had us all fooled." His eyebrows shot up in amused irony. "Plus if he had ordered you dead, I'd have done it as soon as you stepped through that door. We have enough reasons to, but oddly enough he asked for you alive and untouched; you are to come with me…willingly."
"And if I don't?"
"What you have in your hand is to convince you otherwise." Once again he pointed to her clasped hand.
Following his gaze, her eyes quickly raked over the contents. A glint of the white gold flashed through her fingers, crinkling against the parchment. It could have all been fabricated. Anyone could have fished the jewelry out of that river or made a convincing attempt at his script. But what if it was true?
Silence pervaded. Picking up right where he left off, Draco added, "If you don't want to, then I guess, I'll just have to go back alone and tell him of your decision. He was so hoping you'd accept."
Not liking his tone of voice, she glanced swiftly at him before felling him with an unspoken Body-Bind. Draco had lost some of his ability to block people from his minds. He had gone soft. Striding over to his stiff body, she bent down low to his ear, a hand held to his throat, "If you are lying to me I swear," she pulled his head up threateningly and spoke the rest through her teeth, "they won't find enough of you even to bury. Are we in understanding? Do not play around about such things."
Standing up, she hauled him up with her. Her eyes locked on his, making sure that every next word was not forgotten. "No promises about what I might do? Alright? Don't try to pull anything stupid, Draco. I know what you're thinking." She pressed a finger to his temple.
Releasing him from her grasp and the spell, Draco coughed from her strong spell and hold before rising up from where he had fallen on the floor. "Well," he started, his face reflecting the fact he finally realized what he was dealing with, "nobody expected you to be one of kept promises. Dammit," he rubbed his chest, "just an agreement to come under a few of our safeguards. To maintain our secrecy and all."
Her mind was racing, debating on whether or not to take the risk, to jump. Her unyielding silence prompted Draco to continue his pitch, "Come on, Granger, you always were the impossibly curious one. I can tell you're just dying to know. What do you have to lose?"
At last, showing a sign of weakening, she said, nearly inaudible, "Everything." Abruptly, she dropped her wand to the floor and rolled it over to him. "No promises." Her eyes narrowed as he moved forward, right in front of her. His lopsided grin was one of conquest.
As he obscured her vision and everything went black, a bit of apprehension slipped in. She should have at least had a little more fun with him before agreeing, but…this seemed to be the only way. The Dark Lord had devoted years to the finding of the underground's strong holds, yet had failed. Now they were inviting her willingly. Her impression of what Draco was saying appeared sincere, at least he believed in what he said; her probes into his mind did not reveal any attempts to deceive her.
She remained calm as he bound her hands magically behind her; the enigmatic objects clutched tightly in between. As she held them, her mind kept trying to dismiss their existence. It could not be true. She had taken care of that; it was all in the past for good. Then why was she consenting to go with him?
"And here we go," muttered Draco, draping an arm over her shoulder.
They began to twist and turn out of sight; all the while she forecasted doom and amputation for his arm if he didn't remove it soon. But her words were cut short as a slight pop indicated their departure and they instantly reappeared elsewhere.
Everything remained in the dark as her feet found solid ground once more. Promptly, she shrugged off Draco's arm and said venomously, "Secret's safe, now take this off. I'd rather like to see what I'm about to walk into."
"We're not actually inside yet, Granger. As soon as we get there, I'll take off the spell, until then…" He began to pull her forward and down a flight of stairs. "Patience."
Grudgingly, she allowed herself to be led by the elbow, keeping quiet, just planning out in excruciating detail the horrors for Draco when she got her wand back. No one spoke to her that way and lived to laugh about it later. The floor leveled out and he stopped her.
"Now, I'm taking it off." As he began the spell, a voice down the hall shouted, "Draco! You're back. Where have you been? Who's that…?" Feet started running toward them. He began trying to push her to the right, away from the noise. "Dammit…what are they doing up here? Dammit," he kept cursing under his breath.
"Oh my God…it's her," a woman's voice shrieked right in front of them. "What's she doing here? Why isn't she dead?"
The blindness was maddening. She wished he would hurry up and correct her vision so she could figure out what the hell was going on. Before she could snap at him again, he jumped in, apparently talking to whoever it was that showed up, "I'm on business, so I need all of you to clear out right now. You are not supposed to be on the upper levels at this hour. None of this concerns you."
"To hell it doesn't," a man this time said. "She killed my wife. It was her all along."
A firm hand grabbed her roughly and yanked her from Draco's grasp, taking her farther down the hall; her heels digging into the floor in protest. "Do you recognize me, you filthy traitor?" he asked, above Draco's protests, slamming her against the wall.
"Considering I can't see you, no, I'm afraid I don't," she deadpanned. "Please feel free to refresh my memory."
Having caught up with them, Draco's voice sounded from close by, "Let her go, Oliver, or I'll be forced to curse you. I told you, I'm under orders to take her to the boss."
A memory resurfaced. Oliver? Oliver Wood? Oh yes, his dear wife, Katie Bell, or rather Katie Wood, had been found to be smuggling wanted peoples out of Britain and to North America. She had to be dealt with and only one person had been called to take care of the problem. "She didn't beg for her life," she butted in, addressing the face she knew hung in front of her, "but she did beg for the life of her child. Why did you leave her alone that night, Oliver? Surely, you didn't think you had safeguarded the house to the best of your ability. Ah," a slight smile graced her features, "but you must have or else why would you have left your wife and two year-old son alone?"
"You bitch." He pulled her back and started to bash her repeatedly against the hard wall. Draco was yelling in the background as she fell blindly to the floor; the rest of the group, she deduced, must have been keeping him restrained. "He's four now and somehow remembers. Waking up, crying about a woman in black always after him."
She sensed the Crucio coming and did her best wandlessly to block it. No sound escaped her lips and her body barely twitched; Oliver seemed angered even more by her lack of showing any outward pain. He did not know that it took numerous times under that curse to not even scream, to not cry. But they didn't know. None of them knew. Holed up safe underground, rescued. They never lived through her hell. As the curse was lifted, she rolled over onto her back, regaining normal breathing.
"You have to mean it, Wood," she advised up to him. "You have to want me to feel so much pain that I'd rather give up and let it be over, that I'd rather just die. You just haven't got it in you. But come on try again. This time with a little more feeling."
"He's wrong about you," said Oliver contemptuously. "You're too far gone."
A new set of shoes clicked over the cold floor. It was the woman from earlier. She could recognize her slightly hysterical voice. "Is that all you're going to do, Oliver? After we find out she's the one who's been doing all of this? After she betrayed us over all these years?"
No response came; instead someone new grasped her shoulders, pulling her back to her feet. She still had on the stiletto boots and wobbled briefly on the thin heels. "If you won't kill her, I will," the woman directed toward where the group of onlookers must have been standing.
"Tonks," Draco shouted, "wait! Let him deal with her. This is none of yours battle. I'm supposed to–"
"Shut up, Draco. Since when was the last time you were so dedicated to a mission. He won't even miss her if he never knew she was here. Dressed like the little slut she is, probably serving her master in more ways than one." She grasped a handful of her hair and said, "I don't need a wand to do this."
"Nymphadora," she answered, emphasizing her name. "What a lovely surprise. If only I could see what color your hair is today, but sadly, Draco still hasn't taken off his Obscuro charm."
She rolled with the punch that landed on her jaw, bracing herself with her still bound hands against the wall. The ring and paper fell to the floor as she had to open her hands. The tinkling of metal against concrete rang down the corridor.
"What is that?" snarled Tonks. "You were never worthy of this. Not then and especially not now." She could feel the breeze as Tonks apparently waved the ring in front of her. "You were never worthy of him."
"It was never for you to decide. Looks like even in my absence, you still failed," she growled back. "Now if you're done, Draco and I have plans." Surprising Tonks, she bumped her back with her upper body, advancing down the hall without the faintest idea of where she was going or even what was in front of her. She was wishing that dolt, Draco, would hurry up already. This was not what she came for. If she wanted a fight, she'd go pick on Snape. It was looking more and more like a setup.
"Not so fast." She got tackled from behind, promptly rolled over and pummeled in the face while Tonks screamed vulgarly down at her. She felt her lip split and blood run from it. Aiming her leg the best she could, she kneed Tonks who let out oomph and quickly moved off of her. The group could be heard coming down the hall at them, yelling. She started to crawl away, trying to get back on her feet when Tonks' hand grasped her ankle, pulling her back.
A fresh onslaught of punches and curses had begun as Tonks was being joined by others; a sharp heel to the face deterred one of them as she heard him howl in pain, trying to struggle against the clearly one-sided attack. Where is Draco when you need him? she thought dryly. Probably took his wand. Her head was thoroughly starting to ache and throb. She had a pretty high pain tolerance, but after awhile she knew she was going to pass out. That point was closing in as a new voice joined the fray.
"Stop," it said. Then louder, hoarsely, "Stop it! Don't hurt her." As if on command, all the hands reluctantly left her and she just lay on the floor. The figure stood next to her and continued, "Didn't I say she was not to be touched?"
Her body remained frozen to floor as that voice angrily reprimanded the group; she heard them scurry away. "I no longer need you, Draco. Give me her wand and that note on the floor." There was a pause. "Where is the ring?"
"Tonks," Draco said simply. "They jumped me."
"I'd imagine. But I asked you to be discreet." Arms were picking her up off the floor. She tried to wriggle away, but found it impossible under the circumstances. Tied hands. Lack of vision. Inability to talk. (Broken jaw by the feel of it.) Plus, she was beginning to slip away into unconsciousness. She barely heard what he said next, "I never actually thought she'd-" At that moment, her mind plunged into darkness, leaving her completely limp in his embrace. One she knew all too well.
She awoke in a much more comfortable position than earlier. The mattress she was laying on was lumpy, but much softer than concrete could have ever thought of being. In a testing manner, she moved her jaw from side to side and found it had been repaired. All around her was still dark which instantly pissed her off because she was tired of being deprived of the very important sense of sight. She refused to admit her own stupidity as the simple act of opening her eyes alleviated that problem. Everything remained in a dim shroud, but the outlines of the room were visible, a simple, sparse bedroom. She rubbed her freed wrists, taking that as a sign of pure foolishness, inviting her to take matters into her own hands once again, in a manner of speaking. Scanning the small space, she found she was the only one occupying it at the time, and feeling her alerts go down at that, she gingerly took time to touch her face. Nothing felt out of place or even injured, no pain came from the pressing. Someone had attended to her. Narrowing her gaze, she found a shadowed doorway and knew what lay in it.
Sitting up, she placed her hands on her knees and looked down at her still short skirt, knowing one man had been killed while she wore it. Would she make it two? Could she? Shattering the silence, she said, "No magic can bring back the dead."
"But it can bring back the near-to death," his voice answered. The same one that had come to her in dreams, the ones that plagued her, now worse than the memories of that final battle. That was nothing compared to when he emerged from the gloom to stand in relief from the candles that floated around. Like the night in the Shrieking Shack, that long night, when he had finally admitted his love for her. His inability to be without her and yet there he stood in front of her again, perfectly able to carry on. He was damn good at just carrying on.
Her face remained impassive; one could really learn a thing or two from Snape when he wasn't being a complete arrogant bastard. "I killed you, Remus," she affirmed to him, "if you even are him; Polyjuice isn't that hard to brew." She paused, sizing him up, "I saw the light leave your eyes. The other Death Eaters cleaned up afterwards; they all saw your dead body." She stood up. "There's no way in hell you should be standing there."
He moved closer, now fully encased in the candles' glow. His commonplace Muggle clothing clashed with her vamp nightwalker outfit. He looked no different from that time in the alley, except he now carried a souvenir from that encounter. Emblazoned on his cheek was the fading imprint of lips. Her lips. "When you try to poison someone, Hermione," she stiffened at her name, "make sure you administer the right amount."
"I did," she shot back, staring him down. None of this was registering. It was all too incredibly far-fetched, yet wasn't that the reason she came in the first place. To satisfy her curiosity?
Remus came closer to her, saying softly, "I know you didn't give me enough to kill me, nearly enough, but not quite. Ayes said you may have been also betting on my regeneration to kick in and help stave off the poison."
"Ayes?" she said skeptically. "His family has been nothing but a crop of loyal Death Eaters. I worked with him that day when I…" She trailed off, understanding what he was saying. How easy for him to take over the job of ensuring that Remus was in fact dead, to persuade his fellow Death Eaters to just go on home and let him handle it. But clearly instead of making sure no pulse was left and leaving Remus to be found horrifically murdered; it was clear he had dragged him off to safety. Of course, the underground would never flaunt the fact he lived; it would prove too dangerous for those involved.
"You are not the only ones with spies," Remus said as if reading her thoughts and then finishing them for her. "Thanks to him I was able to get the antidote in time. I was so close to the other side that I'm sure whoever was with you wouldn't have given me a second glance anyway. But if he had not been there, someone would have eventually found me."
Her brown eyes never left his dark gray ones as she casually leaned against the bed post. She didn't want him to see her shake, to see her weak. The shock was overwhelming. "Eventually is the key word. After seeing your group, or rather, being their punching bag today, I clearly overestimated them." She sighed for effect and said in mock wistfulness, "But a girl could hope."
"Are you saying what I think you are?" She wished he would stop his advance toward her; he had closed the space between them to under a yard. "That you really…"
"Alright, Remus," she cut in harshly, "do you want me to say it? Fine, I will. I really still have a bit of a soul left, a conscience. I'm sure that will be terribly disappointing for all of your little followers to hear." She did a brief imitation of Tonks, "'Granger, not soulless after all? How tragic…' Please don't spread it around too much. I have a reputation to maintain."
"That wasn't what I was going to say, but reassuring nevertheless." He was right in front of her; she had resorted to pushing her back into the post, her means of escape gone. Why hadn't she moved to the side? Why did she even have to open her mouth when a door was right in front of her? "Your feelings never left you, Hermione, did they? You could only suppress them so much, for so long, until he pushed you to the breaking point and they weren't so downtrodden, were they? Is that why you spared me? Something came alive inside you once again and you couldn't let it go…"
She raised herself up to her full height, using the boots as leverage. Her face, a mask, settled within inches of his. "I-don't-feel," she emphasized each word. "I am a shell: devoid of life, emotion and every other godforsaken remembrance of what I used to be. Don't even start to feel special because you survived; I miscalculated. Sorry, my fault. But don't you ever say," her finger pointed furiously at him, "that I feel. Don't you even try to understand." Her hands had balled themselves into fists and she suddenly began to pound them violently against his chest as if to relay what exactly she had experienced. Soon she was screaming along with her constant battering. "Don't! I don't!"
Her pace was slowing and Remus easily caught her fists and held them still. The tirade had brought a change about her as if it was the string pulling a curtain back to reveal a very tired and drained woman who could no longer look him in the eye. She tried to withdraw herself from his grasp, but he remained resolute. Unlike in the alley, at the moment, he was in control. "Remus," she locked gazes with him; her eyes held a dead, haunted look, "kill me. Put me out of my misery. God knows, no one else will."
He let her hands go, knowing that she wasn't going to raise them against him again or for the moment at least. They swung heavily to her side. Remus placed a hand on her left cheek, but she instantly pulled away at the touch. She eventually found no amount of turning or pulling away would help as he captured her other cheek in the same manner and held her still. "That's not the answer," he reasoned gently. Her eyes had returned to stare at the floor. "You can end this misery yourself, but not with suicide. Just stay here. Choose us." He lowered his head down to her level, his expression pleading. "Choose me."
If he really loved her enough, she felt he would do what she asked. It wasn't that hard. It was a mystery in itself that he hadn't already done it of his own freewill. She'd always known before any of this Remus was always different. Now she'd even venture to say he was a bit touched in the head. Her guard was down. Had she not let him touch her, hold her? Was she losing her mind…? "Let me go," she commanded faintly. She had come so close to just letting go; it was too late. She had to keep telling herself. Too late to start now.
Smugly, her features lit up in their old calculating ways, the façade that was always safe to wear. "Always the idealist, Remus." A joyless smile turned up the corners of her mouth. "I'd get my wish anyway if the reception from earlier is any indication. Simply turn me out to the wolves." Her own ironic statement made that grin wider. Her hands clasped the wrists that maintained their spot near her jaw. "I said, let me go."
"I have something for you first." He removed his hand from her face and she let go of his arm. Digging around in his pocket, he eventually retrieved her engagement ring. "It was taken from you during that disadvantaged position you were put in earlier." It easily slipped back onto her finger. "A little different than the first time I did that."
Neither the luminance of the stone nor the soft luster of the metal was lost in the poor lighting. It was mesmerizing to look at; it was like a gateway that opened to so many memories, both of happy and horrid times. "I buried this away a long time ago. I've buried you too many times." Her gaze finally left the ring to question him. "Why can't you just bury me?"
Remus was pulling something new from his pocket before unfurling a much worn out looking photograph; it depicted the two of them laughing and leaning on another, a little drunkenly, at a Christmas party. He kept trying to nuzzle her neck and the picture Hermione kept pushing him away with a giggle. "Because she," he pointed to the smiling woman in the frame, "is still in here." He placed his hand over her heart; thanks to her bustier, the contact was skin on skin, searing in the contact.
"No," she rejoined, shoving him in a way much different than that of the picture. "She's not." Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted her wand lying idly nearby on a small table. Striding over, she reclaimed it and trained it on him. He looked stunned as if believing he was at last getting through to her and yet she continued to turn away. "I can't choose, Remus. That moment came and went ages ago. I'm bound." She pointed at her upper arm where the faint outlines of her Dark Mark were tattooed. "I gave up the ability to make decisions. It kept me alive."
He regarded her in silence. Not saying a word, he progressed at her defensive position. "Stop," she hissed at him, but a spell never hindered him. He did not halt until her wand was jabbing him in the stomach. "Kill me."
She looked at him as if he had gone mad. "What?" she managed to say.
"Decide, Hermione. To kill me or not to kill me. You've already made one choice tonight; you agreed to come here. Now make another. Prove you still can."
For once in a long time, someone had rendered her absolutely speechless. How stupid could he get? Inviting her here and then readily asking her to end his life. They weren't supposed to ask; they should be begging for mercy instead. "Don't tempt me again. I'll do it," she said resolutely, pressing the tip in farther for effect.
"Will you?" The question was plain enough. Yet she faltered. She was frozen in that moment. It was only broken by his hand once more finding its way to her face, caressing it. She closed her eyes to the touch, willing it away, pushing back against the wall. His thumb found her bottom lip and traced it. Remus whispered to her, "You've forgotten your lipstick tonight."
"And every night since I used it on you." He was able to push in closer as her wand went lax in her grip, except this time she rose up as he pulled her forward. Soon the weapon lay forgotten on the floor as the sound of their breathing filled the void between them. Her fingers touched where she had placed her kill mark; that cherry red lip print faded from that night. Her eyes flicked rapidly over his face, knowing exactly what was going to happen, knowing she wouldn't stop it. Those gray pools, full of expectation, were so near that what she said came out breathily, "Since I kissed you."
"Let's not leave it on that note." With that, he drew her head up to his level and paused as if expecting her at this point to try and end it, but when that did not happen, his lips claimed hers. This time there was no pain from the poison, no blood as it worked its way into his system, no betrayal. Only her allowing, letting her mouth open to grant him admittance. Their hands tangled in each other's hair.
In a little while, Remus had taken up loosening the laces that crisscrossed her abdomen, keeping her outfit snug. She had not even noticed him doing it, the action feeling like the natural thing to do, until the bustier fell away and he stopped his barrage on her neck to take in the sight. With only a barely there lacy strapless bra for coverage, her pale skin stood out in the dimness. Unlike the last time he had had this opportunity, her skin was marred by countless scars, some small and faint while others encircled from her stomach all the way to the small of her back. One that was visible before caught his full attention, the one that began below her collarbone and snaked up toward her neck. She stood firmly as he softened at the horrifying spectacle.
"The Dark Lord is very persuasive," she croaked out, her lips becoming flushed from all the action they were receiving.
He pulled his shirt off over his head, revealing what she already knew lay beneath. His own chest and back were as scarred as hers from numerous transformations and battles. He did not shy away from her disfiguration, but in its place he grabbed her around her bare waist, kissing the scar that he had been present for. The long white mark that he had not been able to heal that had seemed to etch itself on her heart. He wanted them both to disappear.
They paused briefly to remove their shoes as she took the longest with her knee-high boots. She didn't even notice the spare stake she had stuck in one clatter to the floor as her body eagerly returned to press itself against Remus. The unexpected chill of the floor hurried their way toward the bed. Their kisses became more rapid, more insistent, and more passionate; it was a release of tension, years of pent up emotions, all of the anger, confusion, hate, loneliness, their simple need expressed in this one instant. As if it would be the last time they would ever get the chance.
Remus made quick work of her skimpy skirt, finding the hidden zipper. He allowed her to undo his belt and trousers. She crawled backward on the bed, letting him follow her, still never breaking the contact. He stared down at her as he leaned on his arms that rested on either side of her. So different than the very first time. Back then she was so innocent, unsure and blushing like mad. The woman under him was battle hardened and scarred, her Death Mark an ink blot that stood out angrily against her smooth skin, all that beautiful innocence gone. Her words had haunted him from that fateful night in the alleyway; the condemning, the accusations, but mostly, her last words, whispered so softly through his pain he could barely hear her indistinct repentant words.
So few words. The only reason he had faith in tonight. In them.
Breaking the moment, he bent down, running a finger over her lower lip before trailing it down to the front clasp of her bra. He undid it and allowed her to free herself from it. She did not shy away from his eyes, technically it was not new to him, but as they rushed to fill the void between them and fully pressed their exposed bodies to one another, a heat flared up and coursed through them. For once, she knew she wanted nothing more than him at the moment; all those times for 'no' were gone, a distant memory, compared to what was happening at the moment. She was being a fool, she knew that. What is it they always said? Fools rush in. And then get themselves killed. They put everything in jeopardy. She couldn't help but laugh if Snape could see her now being so rash.
Inhibition gone, her hands roved over his torso, enjoying the feel of his skin and wiry muscles underneath her fingertips. They shortly found his boxers and discovered they were not restraining in any way, shape or form. She tugged on them and had to wait on his help before he could adequately remove them. Now all that separated them was her own lacy underwear, the very ones that bloody vampire had dared toy with earlier. Remus did not do the same; he gently removed them, being sensitive to her sudden tensing of their absence. Gods, the last time she had something like that happen, it was more like a savage rip, followed by a ravaging. Nothing loving, nothing tender. Only the want of her cheap flesh.
She was broken.
He knew that. The outside showed the physical torment, but the emotional and mental were hidden inside. In plain view tonight. He also knew she hated revealing it, especially to him. Ever so gently, he held her beneath him as she gradually relaxed, her legs loosing. As he settled between her, he watched her eyes clench shut as if to block out a memory. Remus kissed her eyelids to quell whatever it was and remind her it was only him.
So shattered, so damaged.
He wanted nothing more than to fix her.
To make her whole again. To breathe life back into her.
She was all he had left.
Incessantly, she kept pressing her ear to the door in order to hear exactly what was going on inside. No one was supposed to be anywhere near his rooms at the moment; that was what had been handed down through the chain of command. As if she'd listened, she wasn't going to leave him with her alone, not after what happened. She could repeat her previous deed and no one would ever know about it until it was too late. Their words were indistinct and she began to cast a charm in order to magnify the volume, but a hand on her shoulder caused her to start and twirl around.
"Tonks," said Draco, drawling out her name, "I don't believe you are supposed to be here. I really don't remember Remus asking any of us to eavesdrop on his conversation."
"What gives you any more right to be here than me?" she shot back, mad that she had been interrupted. She had not forgotten who had also been sent to retrieve the engagement ring. One that should have been hers. The only reason she forked it over was Remus' face peering down the hallway at her. She could never say 'no' to him.
"I was simply asked to find you. Now that I have, I'm to bring you back." He made to grab her arm, but she jerked it away in time. She looked furiously at him, her hair flaming red. "My wand has been returned to me. Don't make me use force." He showed her the proof as he whipped it out from his robe pocket.
Draco waving around a wand and threatening did not faze Tonks; he did it on a daily basis. She scoffed at him then at the door. "Do you really think that all that is going on in there is just a 'conversation'? She's probably strangling him to death as we speak! We can't trust her. After everything she's done, I can't believe he is even considering…I mean…she tried to kill him."
"Strangulation is doubtful," mused Draco, a few shouts were coming through the wood though. "I'm quite sure he took her wand in there with him. Won't be too hard for her to get that back." He raised his eyebrows. "Lupin is a funny fellow. He took me in after what happened to my family; he took in a lot of people no one ever thought deserved the right." He could not help but plaster his infamous smug expression on his face as he said, "Plus, he loves her. Makes him want to try all the harder with her."
That set Tonks off just like he knew it would. Her face instantly flushed in anger, matching her choppily cut fiery hair. "How can he even consider loving her? That…that…thing which has been going around masquerading under our noses, killing off countless people aiding our cause. Impossible! When I have been here the whole time, I, who has never left his side in the fight against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named –"
"Everyone has their breaking point," Draco cut her off softly. He did not want Remus to hear them outside and have to investigate. "Nobody could have stayed in there as long as her and not come out changed or, as in her case, completely changed. How long could you have carried on if you thought everyone had either died or left you behind?"
"But," countered Tonks, already preparing an opposing statement, "shouldn't the thought of Harry's death and Ron's, plus all those others we called friends, have motivated her to go against that creature that had caused it? The monster that destroyed all of our lives. Why is she so special that she gets this chance? If it had been anyone else…we'd have…"
She stopped as Draco held a finger to his lips for her to stop and then followed it as it pointed toward the doorway. A louder noise was emitting from beyond the door. Someone was crying out. Not in pain necessarily, but in pleasure. Presently, another voice, a much deeper and masculine one, joined the other. Draco's eyes were trained on hers and he simply could not help himself; Tonks had been falling stupidly over Remus for years and would not realize he would never see her the same way he saw the woman to whom he was making love to at the moment, the one whose name he was calling out. "What sort of 'conversation' would you call that, Tonks? Still want to call it strangulation because I really don't think people make that noise when that sort of thing is happening to them? Unless you're into something a bit kinkier…"
"Shut up, Draco." She furiously wiped away a tear that ran down her cheek. "Don't you ever know when to shut the bloody hell up?" With that she turned her back on him and stalked off in the opposite direction, wanting nothing more than to scrub her ears and brain clean of those horrid sounds from earlier. She was back for one night and already…already… Tonks could feel the waterworks building up and fled faster.
Against her better judgment, she found herself being dragged unwillingly into sleep. 'Don't fall asleep with enemies around you' was surely high up in the rules for keeping oneself alive. But then again, she was on a roll with things that would probably end up killing her, so why deny the simple pleasure of slumber? Her eyes only closed when she was assured of his drifting off and of the fact he had locked the entrance. She had not slept in over a day and his added warmth only caused her to slip into oblivion that much faster.
He did not know how long he watched her while she slept. Amazingly to him, her face smoothed out as she dozed as if she had not a care in the world. One could almost venture to call it a serene expression, if she could ever obtain that. All her worries washed away, she looked so much younger, like she had before the war, before her capture. Before too long though, a grimace distorted that vision as something invisible to him caused her torment. Remus wanted to reach out and run a finger over her furrowed brow to calm her down. But she rolled over away from him before he ever had a chance.
Now all he could see was the brutal pattern crisscrossing down her shoulders and spreading over her back. Her hair obscured some of it; the thick russet curls streaming out behind her. The ones not too long ago he had had his fingers entwined in. Tentatively, he held a strand between his fingers, reveling in its soft, silky texture. He brushed back the tendrils that had fallen off the pillow to expose more of her back. A particularly gruesome pair of scars was on her sides, near her hips. It looked as if someone had sunk their fingers into her skin so hard that the nails had broken through, leaving a perfect set on each side. He could only imagine as to what they had been doing to her when that had occurred. Unexpectedly, she began to shake in her sleep.
Drawing closer to her, he completely moved her hair back and softly placed a kiss in the curve where her shoulder met her neck. Not stilling, he wrapped his arm around her waist and brought her back to rest against his chest. He would have never dared such a move while she was awake or were not in obvious need. Even with all that had transpired, she continued to be unpredictable and volatile and he did not want to push her too far, too fast. Amid the movement, she was stirring in wakefulness. At first, she stiffened at the close contact, however relaxed, realizing it was only him and not something from her dreams come to life. Huskily, he murmured her name between kissing down her shoulder. He was pleasantly surprised as her hand bent back, actually encouraging him on as she sleepily tousled his hair.
Trapped underneath his arm, she came to rest again on her other side now facing him, looking him over. A smile never graced her features, only a thoughtful expression. "Now what?" Hardly any words, yet they spoke magnitudes.
"That's not my question to answer." He paused. Sometimes she was infuriatingly hard to get a read on. "I know where I stand. You only need to figure out where you do."
She finally grinned, incredulously, as if she found it funny that he could believe that. "You think I can stay here? I'm quite clearly not wanted alive. You can't keep them at bay forever. Not to mention, they'd only think you were keeping me around for the bed sport."
Cheeky little wench. At least, they had never managed to beat that out of her.
"But you can't go back. Not after…"
"I can always go back, Remus. Always. The Dark Lord does not kill one as productive as me for just scampering off for a romp with the enemy. Sure, if he finds out where I've been, it's going to hurt, but not so much if I revealed your location. If I sold you out."
His arm flew off her as he realized what she had been at all along. It wasn't redemption; she was here to give her fellow Death Eaters a chance to wipe them out. She knew immediately what thoughts crossed his mind as he rejected her touch and looked at her as if he saw her for the first time. "Hell, Remus," she interjected before he actually pushed himself off the bed in this state, "if I were going to do that, I would have done it already. Alright?" She propped herself up on one elbow. "I'm not. Remus," her fingers brushed his shoulder, "I won't."
"Then why do you say things like that? This is not the time for careless words, Hermione; you of all people should know. Trust is hard to foster in times like these. I want nothing more than to have that again with you, but you make it so difficult. Why?"
He did not flinch under the warm weight of her arm on him; his gaze remained steady and trained on her. "Haven't you ever noticed it's always easier to break things into a million pieces than to try and put all the little bits back together? I've learned it's just less painful to do the shattering than to stick around and clean things up. I was just conveying the fact that I've easier options than the one I'm making right now. The one that's keeping me in this bed."
Reclaiming his hold on her, Remus held her close to him once again. Her head rested on his bare chest as he ran a quick hand through her hair occasionally. "I don't care for any of them," she whispered. "I can't change that, Remus, not even for you. They are all pathetically self-righteous and undeservingly so; I know most of them did not venture back to Hogwarts. None of them have ever seen the true horrors of the Dark Lord and they dare judge me for coming out alive under the circumstances." She sighed uncertainly. "You are going to be the death of me."
"I think we are going to be the death of each other if we keep this up." He had meant it as a joke, but they both quieted at the significance of the statement. Would this relationship prove to be what ultimately ended their lives? Past experience pointed to 'yes'. How could it go on after everything that had transpired?
Breaking the stillness, she asked, "Where are we in exactly? You couldn't have built this complex yourself."
"Muggle bunker. A military storehouse left over from the war. Very handy to hide fugitives."
Abruptly, she asked, "When did you start following me?"
He was ever so slowly running a hand up and down her spine; she was resisting the urge to shiver. As she looked back, it was so obvious someone had been trailing her. She had been too preoccupied and inattentive to be fully aware of it. "As soon as I was able to. At first, I convinced myself that I was doing it trying to find the opportune moment to enact revenge, but the more that became known to me about that night, the less that lie held together. Every time I saw you, I couldn't bare the thought, so then I followed you waiting for another opportune moment. One where I could approach you, because no matter how well you think you hid it from others I could see that you were afraid, ready to break. I just kept waiting."
A bit of anger tinged her voice. "Scared?" Waving it off, she continued, "What time did that opportunity knock? I really don't recall this moment."
" Moscow. I watched you throw your ring off a bridge and I heard what you said. I knew then. So I retrieved it from the waters and found it ironic when I remembered the date. I sent it to you the way we always got materials from one another. And waited to see what you'd do."
"And here I am," she finished for him. "Against my better judgment and the knowledge that this endangers everything that has managed to keep me alive…"
"Yet you haven't moved an inch," reflected Remus aloud.
"You're a good toss in bed," she groused, taking up a less heavy tone from her earlier assertion. "Is that what you were waiting for me to admit? Not that I'm saying this beats that one time we ended up in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and on top of your desk. I-" Her words ended shortly as she quickly grasped her upper arm and breathed in deeply. A hiss of pain escaped her lips as she sat up completely with Remus following suit.
"What is it?" he asked hurriedly.
"He's calling," she panted out, "and he's rightly pissed off." Revealing her Mark, it now was completely black, a moving skull and snake that kept telling her that she was wanted. Her master was calling. Wrapping up in one of the bed sheets, she slid off the bed.
"Where are you going?" Remus' own legs were venturing to touch the floor; he looked ready to tackle her.
She rolled her eyes; he was so…so…Remus, defender of his little hovel. "Take it easy, Remus. I'm not going to him, no matter how long this thing burns. I doubt he'd appreciate me showing up in a bed sheet anyway, much less after shagging a resistance leader. He tends to frown on such behavior. I was getting up to look for some tea. Got a spot?"
It was hard to see her as a real threat as she stood swathed in a navy sheet, barefooted and disheveled hair, asking for a cup of tea. Looks could be so deceiving. Remus found his boxers strewn haphazardly from before and put them on. He padded over to her and pulled out a kettle along with a tin of tea bags from a lonely cabinet. He busied himself about fixing it as she plunked down in one of the room's few chairs that sat clustered around a beaten table. She stared pointedly at the door, knowing someone was pressing their ear to it. The shadow under the door and the slight pressure that kept unsettling it gave whoever it was away. She could guess who it was on the first try.
As Remus sat a teacup clinking down on the table, she grasped his chin and brought him down to her level. She crushed her lips against his and although that caught him off guard, he did not resist, instead stroked her cheek and deepened the kiss. She intoxicated him, even after everything that had transpired. On the other hand, she was hoping Tonks was enjoying the show. If you're going in for the kill, you might as well go for the heart. The door was now unlocked thanks to her and it stood slightly ajar, just as she had planned. Breaking apart, she asked Remus, "Can I borrow a shirt? I can't run around starkers. I'm afraid that could garner me some unwanted attention."
"Only a shirt? What about the rest of you?" he asked, unable to keep the amusement from his voice.
"I think I have enough material with my clothes to transfigure them into trousers. Besides, I thought I could wear one of yours for old times' sake."
Remus nodded then took a sip of his tea before exiting out a side door, presumably the rest of his living quarters. She bored holes into the door with her gaze upon his leaving. Tonks had been watching them, she was sure of it. "It's terribly impolite to snoop around like that, Tonks. Might as well come in and make yourself at home." She calmly sat her teacup down as the other actually accepted her invitation and entered the room quietly. Tonks' face pinched up as she shot daggers with her blue eyes at the other, the damn trespasser on what she considered hers.
A stare off ensued as they eyed each other uneasily. "You are such a whore," Tonks finally spat out. "Coming in here as if nothing had ever happened, like we are just going to forget what you've done…"
The brunette held up a hand, a skeptical expression on her face. "Excuse me; I didn't realize that being raped made a person a whore. I rather protested every time they held me down and tore off my clothes, but I interrupted you, didn't I? Well," she waved her hand, "please continue."
"You can't play the victim anymore, not after you made everyone else one." Tonks glared reproachfully at the sheet being used as clothing. "You bewitched him, didn't you? There is no other explanation for his actions. Remus would never behave in such a manner; he knows what's at stake. He knows exactly what you are. You showed your true colors when you tried to kill him."
"You found me out," she said with chilled delight in her voice. "I bewitched his pants right off of him. Oh dear," her eyes widened in mock shock, "I just lied to make you feel better. He actually took his pants off quite willingly. Now I'm being honest. What a change this place brings about me."
Tonks' glare narrowed further and her hand grasped her wand, but even in her fit of rage, she became to back off as she saw with horror that the other also had possession of her wand. Tonks lapsed into silence, contemplating the best way to enact vengeance and to also make it out alive.
Taking another sip from her rapidly cooling tea, she asked, "Do you know what power tools are?"
"What kind of stupid question is that?" shot back the redhead.
"You did not answer me. Do you know…?"
Her response flew severely from her mouth. "Yes, I know about the Muggle contraptions. What about them?"
The seated woman's gaze became far off as she spoke, "They had raided a Muggle's house, killing them all, but they had found some very interesting things. A power drill," she ticked them on her fingers, "belt sander, a jigsaw, a few other novelties, other items from the Muggle carpenter." She held her hands up, wrists pointed toward Tonks. "They were particularly fond of the drill and all the varying bits for it. They tested all the sizes on me." Neat rows of circles in differing diameters pocked her skin. "They'd repair the skin, but leave the pain, so they wouldn't have a bloody canvas for the next day." She lowered the sheet to reveal a lower part of her back where a shiny smooth piece of skin stood out. "Belt sander." Then lifted it to show her leg which had a crude design carved into it. "Jigsaw."
Tonks was now avoiding her gaze, but spoke up nonetheless, "Am I supposed to feel pity for you? Anyone here would have died rather than succumb to him." Her head rose up in boldness. "You were weak."
"Tell me. When would you have passed out?" She cocked her head slightly to the side, asking her to reply. "At first, I couldn't make it past the third drill bit, but then I managed to be conscious for the entire set. They were amused with those for the longest time." A cold grin crossed her lips. "Right before that they had an obsession with a newly discovered skin separating spell. They'd strip you naked, sometimes alone and occasionally with a group to further the humiliation." She looked down at her arm and gave her skin a small tug. "Skin has amazing elasticity; it could separate from the muscles, from your body and stretch outward for a ways until it finally broke."
She enjoyed the disgusted grimace that lit up Tonks' delicate face. That had shut her up effectively enough. No one called her weak. Her body and mind had gone through more than her little brain could ever dare imagine. Softly, the hardness gone from her voice, she said toward the side door, "Remus, I'm done if you'd like to rejoin us."
He cautiously stepped out from the shadows, holding a plain green shirt in his left hand and his wand in the other, fully clothed himself. She rose, flicking her clothes into her outstretched palm, not looking at Tonks who remained rooted to the same spot on the floor. Passing by her, she crossed over to Remus and took the shirt from his grasp. "We were just having a little talk. Catching up on everything we've missed." He looked worriedly from one to the other. "No worries, I'm finished with her," she added quietly. "I'm going to get dressed now. Thanks for the shirt."
She left the two as Remus began to have words with Tonks about how she was not to be down on that particular floor or to come into his quarters. Tonks argued back how she had been invited in. He called out her foolishness at entering a room with someone as dangerous and impulsive as her. Although, he felt his life was not in any danger, he could not vouch for the safety of everyone else. Then how could he even conceive bringing something like her there anyway? She heard a door shut violently with Remus telling Tonks to not even try to understand the current circumstances.
Entering the bathroom, their voices died down. The sheet dropped to the floor and she began to put on the clothes provided and merged her former outfit to create a simple pair of blue jeans. The image reflected back in the cracked mirror almost could have passed for her during her days at Hogwarts. Except she had never held the troubled appearance that hung around her now. The Dark Mark also obscured the vision of her former self in the reflection. It began to contort more so than earlier, causing her to grasp it hard as if to lessen the pain. His calling was incessant; it felt like it was burning deeper and deeper into her flesh. She brought back her hand and stared down at it slick with her blood.
Not wasting any time, she ran back into his room and flew past Remus. She began shoving her feet back into her boots, paying no mind to the stream of blood that ran down her arm. Remus made his way over to her, confusion etched all over his face. He took in the sight of the blood that now dripped off her elbow and into a pool on the floor. He grabbed the nearest material and pressed it to her arm. "Hermione, what's going on? Your Mark. I've never seen one…"
"You wouldn't have," she said back, "because by the time you saw that person, they would have been dead. He's coming for me." She fingered her ring briefly before locking gazes with him. "He knows. It's his little way of telling me, daring me to run. Taunting me with that knowledge." She stood up hurriedly, letting his makeshift bandage fall away to the floor. "I have to leave. I need to leave right now."
"Wait," he seized her uninjured arm, halting her move to the door. "This place is well protected. He won't be able to find it, he can't get in."
She smiled a little at his reassurances. "I'm sorry, Remus, but I think he's been in my mind. That is enough for him. I can't stay here. I told you I'm bound to him. He owns me and he's coming to lay claim. I will not be here when that happens. Let me do you one last favor and keep you alive by going." She wrestled her arm from his grip and ripped open the door to an empty corridor, wand at the ready.
"Hermione," he called after her as she nearly ran down the hall. He looked so forlorn that she found herself backtracking and gave him one last kiss. Her eyelids fluttering open, her breathing was heavy as she backed up again and remade her way to the exit. A trail of blood spatters marked her path while she ascended toward the surface. She could hear his heavy footsteps behind her which only caused her to quicken her pace. She had to get out of there and out into the open to Apparate some place else. To get Voldemort and his hounds to divert their attention to her new location before they stumbled upon this one.
She had to curse a few people hanging around the upper level to let her pass. Flying up the steps, she found the heavy double doors above her head and struggled at first to get them to heed her wishes and open. Finally, she emerged on a plain filled with deadened tall grasses and a swirling gray sky above. "Hermione, stop!" Remus yelled at her from below. She let the doors slam shut behind her; one day he would understand why, one day he would realize he was better off without her and her constant threat of death. Not just for her, but also for him if he hung around.
As if on cue lightning slashed across the sky and silent figures began to materialize around her in a circle, cutting off her means of escape. She tried to Apparate out, but found they were blocking her. One of them stepped forward and removed his mask. The sneering face of Severus Snape leered down at her as he made his way toward her. His face was twisted in rage. Apparently, he had not forgotten the thorough beating she had given him not too long ago.
"You were called," he said simply.
"I hadn't noticed," she answered. At that, he grasped her bloody arm hard and pressed his thumb into her raw Dark Mark. She gritted her teeth at the pain.
He smirked down at her. "It's a little hard not to notice that. He'll be along shortly to take care of you. Defiance is not acceptable in this organization."
She found her wand to be pointless; it was as if the group was solely concentrated at containing her magic. "Always braver with somebody backing you, Snape. Come on, Sevvie; don't tell me you're scared of me. I find this whole sapping my energy bit a little underhanded. Are you that afraid of what I could do to you?"
His breathing was coming heavily through his nose, making a nasally whistling noise. "I am to wait on the Dark Lord," he said tersely.
"Always waiting. Grow some, Severus, and just kill me yourself! I'm just a defenseless little girl right now."
A loud banging broke through the storms raging. Someone was trying as she had earlier to get the heavy metal doors to open; the ones that none of the Death Eaters had paid any mind to, until now. Her head instinctively swiveled toward the noise. "Your werewolf, I presume." She glared at him. "Master can see many things when he wants to, especially when one of his follower's minds is relaxed. You've been able to keep him out for quite some time, he called it impressive, but you slipped up. He said you couldn't help yourself as you moaned out his name, as you matched his motions. Sounded like you had quite a ride."
"More than you ever got," she snapped. Suddenly, she used her wand as a physical weapon, jabbing him violently in the stomach before kicking his feet out from under him. Spinning, she began to sprint toward the door she knew none of them could see; she had to keep him from getting out. The group rippled at the changing development and she took the uncertain moment to fire off a few curses in order to blast a hole so she could escape. Regaining their senses, they turned on her.
The door was opening. She had to shut it. That's all she could think about. Her wand out, she began a locking charm, but an enraged voice thundered from behind her, "Sectumsempra! SECTUMSEMPRA!"
The first time it hit her it caused her to twirl around with its force, angry red slashes on her back showing through her shirt. As she spun around, the second ripped across her face, arms, and torso. Blood was spurting everywhere. She staggered backwards and collapsed onto the grass; her wand had fallen away uselessly. That bastard Snape had cursed her with her back turned. She began to shake as the red torrents gushed from her torn body. Next to her someone stepped up from inside the ground. She had not succeeded.
He was trying to drag her back inside. Soon more people emerged from within the earth, shouting hexes and curses to keep the group of Death Eaters at bay. Remus cradled her head in his lap as the group rushed out onto the field of battle. None of them gave her a backward glance. He kept talking to her, kept trying a spell to knit together the slash wounds. The ground was slick with blood except this time it was all hers. A cold drop hit her forehead; he must be crying. Through the haze, she could tell he was, but it had also started to rain. The clouds were releasing their pent-up loads.
The skin tried to reseal itself; she could feel it stretching. Everything was going black. She beckoned him down with a slight motion of her hand. "Like old times," she gurgled out. He did not look amused by what she said. "Except this time…"
Then she stopped.
Her hand fell away, limp to the ground.
She wasn't breathing anymore.
Giving out a strangled cry, Remus gathered her up in his arms, clutching her to his chest. He could not control the sobs that wracked his body as he clung to her lifeless body, running a hand through her wet hair as the rain continued to pour down. Nothing around him was registering anymore. Not the battle, not the bright lights of spells as they flew around him, not even the appearance of a chalk white figure. He could only focus on the once beautiful woman that he held, now gone, a survivor in every sense, finally beaten. She had come back to him. To him! And now…
His eyes lifted to see that pale thin man seemingly floating over to his crumpled position on the ground. Remus never released his hold on her nor even moved while Voldemort stopped in front of him. It was all so pointless. Life. Everyone only died in it. They all died and left him alone. His hair was now plastered to his forehead as the Dark Lord bent down in front of him.
"Dead," he whispered as he moved back a piece of her hair to reveal her calm face; Remus pulled back to keep him from touching her. "Might as well join her."
Remus did not even attempt to dodge as the green light rushed toward him. It was as if he could not longer properly feel his body anymore; he was numb. He placed a soft kiss on her chilled lips; his eyes closed as he felt the spell hit in his chest. He fell over dead in the same position.
Only their lack of breathing betrayed the fact they were no longer part of the living. If one had simply glanced at them in passing, they would have seen two people, laying in each others arms, sharing a quick kiss. Nothing more. But the rest of the bodies that littered the ground destroyed that illusion. The rain had washed away the blood that had spilled out all over the plain.
No one was left in the compound below.
A green glittering Dark Mark snaked its way above the carnage. The skull with its mouth wide open and the serpent slithering out from it. Except for once, it was battling for space in the sky as another symbol glittered above the sight. A shimmery red skull, also with its mouth gaping, had a phoenix emerging from it; its plumage ablaze.
It had burst forth in a final show for its mistress; she had planned it since day one, knowing full well that her occupation would lead to her ultimate demise. Initially meant as a sign of defiance to her killers, now it symbolized what the birds had long been associated with. An animal of rebirth, of new beginnings.
No matter how short lived such renewal had been.
Whether it is a year, a month, a week, or even only one day.