Title: Burning Hunger
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and am making no money from this story, all Harry Potter copyrights belong to J.K. Rowling.
Summary: In a world where Dragons prey on the innocent countryside, Hermione Granger is sacrificed to assuage the Silver Dragon's terrible appetite. Trapped between her blazing sensuality and her desire for home, she must choose where she belongs. D/Hr AU
A/N: This is AU. As in it takes place in a universe OTHER than JK Rowling's, but uses her characters. I've noticed that this is much, much less common in the HP fandom than it is in other fandoms, but maybe it's just the D/Hr ship? Anyway, more notes later. This is just a let-you-know.
Chapter One: The Sacrifice
The Dragon came at sunset, as it always did.
Flying low over the countryside from the Western Lands, its magnificent silver body reflecting the color of blood, the Dragon snatched and clawed at the precious cattle of the farmers.
As it casually ripped apart the shrieking animals, the thick blood slowly ran down its body, staining its scales scarlet. Hunger appeased, its malevolent silver eyes burning brightly, the Dragon moved inexorably onwards to the crops, spewing fire as it flew slowly over the land as it sated a more cruel appetite.
The people of the village knew better than to interfere with the Dragon's feeding. When it had first started terrorizing the duchy a month ago, Lord Parkinson had sent his finest warriors to meet the creature in battle. All of them perished in terrible agony.
One of them was the Lord's son.
Needless to say, there were no more hunting parties.
This was over a month ago. Now, the numb, defeated people hid and patiently waited for the silver terror to leave. After it left, they quietly tried to piece their lives back together, but the strain was growing too great.
Over half of the crops sustaining the village and the duchy attached to it had been burned, most of the cattle destroyed. As it was, it looked as if they wouldn't survive the winter. Another attack would devastate them and doom their small population to death.
Something had to be done.
The entire community, from the crazy old witch woman to the youngest newborn babe had gathered in the Lord's stronghold as he held court to decide what to do about the Dragon.
They had already held a meeting of a similar nature the month prior, after the disaster of a battle that resulted in the loss of some of the duchy's best warriors. At that time, the Lord had decided to send for the legendary Harold Potter, the Dragon Slayer, and to let the Dragon run wild until someone with more experience could come and take care of the problem for him.
However, no word had come from the North, and the days were shortening. Soon it would be winter, and with the crops utterly destroyed, the village would have no chance of survival, Dragon Slayer or no.
Now the people were in an utter panic.
Women were crying, babies were shrieking, and men were yelling as they crammed into the Hall of the small Keep. The stench of their unwashed bodies combined with the rank smell of their terror wafted to Lord Parkinson and his retainers sitting upon a raised dais at the end of the rough-hewn Hall.
Lord Parkinson was a decent lord, if a little neglectful. He never spent more than what he had in his coffers, he usually pronounced good judgments, and if he was a bit of a weakling, well, the people had seen worse.
His daughter was another story. Sixteen, petite and passably pretty, Lady Pansy was utterly spoiled. The only female among a pack of five siblings, she was doted upon by her mother and given everything she could possibly desire. Now of an age to marry, she had been to the King's court numerous times, and had several offers.
Now, Pansy was lounging restlessly on her seat near her father, half-heartedly listening to the throng of peasants as they voiced their complaints. She and her siblings were due to leave the province for the capital tomorrow morning, to escape the terrible wrath of the Dragon.
Pansy shuddered delicately as she contemplated that monstrous beast. She had never actually seen it, but she was positive it was an ugly, slimy creature. She was glad to be gone from the country and back to Court to settle on a betrothal contract, her only worry was that rumors of this mess would drift to the other nobles and her chances for making a good match would be diminished.
Lost in her musings, she was jerked out of her reverie by the sudden shriek of her mother, "No! I will not allow it! There has to be someone else!"
Pansy blinked at the sea of eyes that had suddenly focused upon her while she was thinking of her new Court dress. Had she missed something?
Her father sighed wearily as he tried to placate his distraught wife, "We have exhausted every other avenue, Petunia, and this is our last recourse. Our only recourse. I love her too."
Pansy started feel uncomfortable at this turn of the conversation. What had she missed?
"I forbid it!" Pansy's mother screamed, turning upon her father, "You heartless bastard. How could you feed your daughter to that monster?"
Feed your daughter…
All of the blood drained from Pansy's rouged face, leaving her looking like an expensive porcelain China doll, as the phrase echoed endlessly through her brain.
…Feed your daughter…
It wasn't uncommon that villages in desperate straights would sacrifice a local maiden to a Dragon if it looked like a Slayer wouldn't get there in time. It was also rumored that the nobler the blood, the higher the likelihood the Dragon would be satisfied with the offering never to return.
The women never did either.
Lady Pansy wasn't stupid. It may have appeared so, but she was actually quite canny and her mind worked quite rapidly. Due to her upbringing, the only use she really had for her keen mind was to occasionally plot the downfall of some Court rival, or to capture a handsome bridegroom.
Now, seized with panic Pansy's mind whirled. If ever there was a time to use all her cunning and wiles, this certainly was it.
What were the qualifications for the sacrifice? Virginity, obviously, nobility and beauty. Who else? Pansy thought desperately, Someone else in this backwater has to fit the requirements…
Everyone looked at Pansy for a stunned moment as she leapt to her feet and trumpeted her conclusion. She saw her mother's stunned features swiftly morph into calculating glee.
"Hermione Granger!" Pansy's mother repeated triumphantly, jumping up as well and raising her hands out to the crowd as she began to extol Hermione's virtues. "She is a perfect candidate! Much better than my daughter. Her beauty is unrivalled, her intelligence unmatched. Her blood is of the older stock, and it is said that her ancestors descended from those who used to rule these lands, that her blood carries great power. Even though she is only a minor noble now, her blood is perfectly acceptable. Yes, she will make a much better sacrifice than my daughter."
Pansy was a bit miffed at this comparison, but decided to let it go for the time being. She tensed with tightly wound anticipation as she surveyed the assemblage, gauging their reaction. This was a matter of life and death after all. And as she listened to the ecstatic murmurs of the villagers, the color started to return to her face, and her breathing became easier.
She had done it. She had changed their minds and saved her life.
"… She's a spinster anyway, no jilted lover waiting to rescue her…"
"… Bossy little minx. I offered for her once, and she looked down her nose at me…"
"… Bookish and unnatural. What female knows how to read? It's better to give her to the Dragon than have her casting spells on us…"
"… Financial drain on her family. What can be done with a twenty-two year old woman anyway?"
Pansy sighed in contentment. She wouldn't be eaten after all.
The villagers had come for her in the night.
Armed with axes, pitchforks and fire, the mob descended on the small Keep housing the Granger family and its retainers.
Hermione had gone to bed, as usual, following a very typical day. It had been moderately good, if exhausting. The dragon hadn't completely burned all of their crops, so as they ripened, all of the estate was frantically gathering as much as they could for the oncoming winter. After a short supper with her tired family, she bid them goodnight, took a bath and wearily crept into her warm bed.
In the dead of night, she erupted from sleep as many large, grasping hands cruelly tore at her body.
Screaming, kicking, fighting off the bandits with all of her strength, her sleep-fuzzed mind was confused and scared. Desperately crying for her father, mother, anyone to come and save her, a meaty fist smashed into her gut stealing her breath and her fight.
In a daze, Hermione felt her body lift from the bed, filthy hands groping, grasping at her exposed body. Vaguely, as if in a dream, she heard voices swirling around her head as she was carried.
"… She's to be a virgin! Don't touch her; else the Creature won't accept her..."
"… Just wanted a little taste. Seems an awful waste…"
She was set down into a chair and heard a woman screaming.
Her head pounding fiercely, her body aching, Hermione made an effort to focus on the scene around her.
She was in the Great Room of the Granger Keep. While not as grand as the Parkinson Castle, the Keep was large enough for a prominent family. Filling the large space was a mass of unwashed peasants, armed with pitchforks, wicked looking scythes and axes. Their greedy eyes devoured her, assessing the slender curves revealed by the linen shift she wore to bed.
The shriek cut through Hermione's paralysis, spurring her to action.
"What is the meaning of this!"
The people stilled, surprised by the power emanating from their heretofore mute captive. Hermione stood abruptly, dark eyes snapping, "Why are you here in my home? My father is the vassal of Lord Parkinson, and his wrath will be great when he hears of this. So leave peaceably and perhaps you can keep you lives."
Hermione glared as members of the crowd only smirked at her in reply, while others hung their heads, ashamed to meet her gaze.
A small, round man, his face pointed and pinched stepped forward. Hermione stood firm, her small frame trembling with fury, "Peter Pettigrew. Perhaps you can tell me the meaning of this foolishness?"
"Milady, we are here on the orders of Lord Parkinson."
Hermione's face drained of color, but her gaze was steady.
Pettigrew timidly stood up to the imposing lady, wondering, not for the first time, if this was a mistake.
He had always admired the Lady Granger- she was a kind woman and always helped the cottagers whenever their families were ill, or if they had fallen on hard times. It was generally known that she wouldn't marry, and at the alehouses most of the men would talk about the shame of it all.
For Hermione Granger was a beauty.
She wasn't beautiful in the classical sense of the word, her features were too strong, but there was something sensually, elementally striking about her.
One of her suitors wrote her a sonnet, complementing her fine, creamy skin, her full red lips, and her beautiful russet ringlets.
She laughed at him and sent him packing the next day.
Peter Pettigrew admired the Lady greatly, but not at the expense of his own life.
"Lady," he said timidly, "Erhm, well…"
"Get on with it!"
Pettigrew took a deep breath and spoke quickly, "You have been chosen by the assembly to be sacrificed to the Dragon at Sunset. If you do not comply, the penalty of death and dishonor will befall on all who hold the Granger name."
"Uh," Pettigrew stuttered, "Lady, you have been chosen by the…"
"Yes, yes," Hermione interrupted angrily, eyes glittering, "I heard that part. Tell me this, Peter Pettigrew- why was I chosen, and why was I dragged out of bed like a common criminal, mauled by these ruffians, and why must I do anything you say?"
The crowd parted.
Lying on the floor were her parents, her beloved parents, her baby sister and her brothers, tied up like dogs.
"Hermione," Her mother pleaded, "Don't do it. Don't give yourself to that beast!"
"Silence! If you don't give her up, you're a traitor!"
The mob's silence broke. They began yelling at each other, arguing and screaming, crying and pleading. After a moment, their rage and fear turned on a more convenient target- the Grangers.
As they beat them, tortured them, hurt them, Hermione watched, helpless.
"Stop! Please stop!"
The rabble hushed as they realized Hermione had spoken.
"I'll do it."
The crowd broke into rapturous cries, drowning out the screams of the Grangers.
Peter Pettigrew rubbed his dirty hands together eagerly. "Ready her."
The dressing chamber, usually a hubbub of women chattering, was eerily silent as the women prepared Hermione. Bathing her skin with the finest of soaps, they perfumed her body with the finest Turkish incense. They dressed her carefully in a lovingly crafted white silk gown, which flowed over her curves like water.
Hermione had known these women all of her life, but none of them spoke to her. None of them would look her in the eyes.
In an odd way, it was like being prepared for her wedding, Hermione thought bitterly.
The women artfully wove flowers through Hermione's mass of curls, and smoothed cosmetics on her face.
She was ready.
Eerily calm, she walked to the clearing that the men had prepared. Silent and pale, she knelt as the nervous priest gave her the last rites. Solemnly crossing herself, she stood and looked at the trembling priest, her dark eyes accusing.
Unable to bear her terrible gaze, the elderly man ran away, tears running down his face.
Two men grasped Hermione's silk-encased arms and gently led her to the stake. Tenderly, as if she was a bride being given to her husband, the two men tied her to the piece of oak that was to be her grave.
Hermione's head rose sharply as she heard the familiar voice. "Ron?" her raspy voice croaked, "Ron, leave me! You must leave, it isn't safe."
"I don't care!" Ronald Weasley fought the horde of men with his fists, angrily trying to reach Hermione.
"Stop it, Ron!"
Never able to defy her, Ron stopped resisting the men, and hung from their arms, defeated. Betrayed blue eyes bored into her brown ones. "Why, Hermione? Why aren't you fighting? I know you could get yourself out of this."
"I have to do this. Otherwise my family will suffer, and I could not bear that."
"Hermione," Ron gulped, his voice swallowed by emotion, "Hermione, please."
"I…I can't, Ron. Please, please understand. "
His bright head turned for a moment as he was overcome. In a low, dead voice he asked, "May I say farewell?"
"All right, but no freeing the sacrifice, or we will kill her on the spot."
Nodding slightly, the crowd parted as Ron strode to Hermione. His large, warm body enveloped her in a embrace. Hermione's eyes closed in pain, and she quietly said, "Goodbye, my friend."
"I'm sorry, Hermione." Ron whispered in her ear, "So sorry."
A solitary tear trickled down Hermione's delicate cheek. Licking her dry lips, she whispered, "Me too."
The other men dragged Ronald away from her as the first tendrils of sunset began to light the sky. His frantic blue eyes were upon her as he fought the others fiercely, taking blow after blow in his renewed efforts to get to her again.
Go, she mouthed silently.
Unwillingly, he froze and stared at her. Then, with a heavy, broken heart he went.
So here she was, alone, tied to a stake in the middle of the fields, watching the sun slowly set on her last day.
She tried to think of anything, everything but her imminent death. Concentrating on the pain in her wrists, she tugged on the bindings fruitlessly, chafing her wrists until rivulets of blood ran down her fingers, dripping onto the golden wheat beneath her feet.
I might as well accept it, Hermione thought, I really am going to die here.
As her sharp eyes scoured the sky for any trace of the Dragon, she thought of her life, and of her regrets.
Hermione had never married, although she had many offers. Her family doted on her, and would not force her hand where many others would. She supposed that she had read too many tales of romance and love when she was a girl. They had spoiled her for the realities of marriage, and she found herself unable to accept any of her suitors. She had felt some fondness for Ronald Weasley, but it was more like the feelings she had for her brothers than what she had pictured for her husband.
Lovely, Hermione thought wryly, so this is where my romantic notions have led me. My father did always say that my high expectations of a husband would get me into trouble. He was right. If I had gotten a husband five years ago like the other girls I wouldn't be in this mess.
Hermione sighed wearily and wished she could rub her burgeoning headache away.
The twilight deepened as she waited anxiously, the sun lowering on the horizon her only clock.
At the strange noise, Hermione's head snapped up sharply form her intense contemplation of her feet.
What was that?
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The noise slowly pulsed around her, steady as a heart beat. Hermione's eyes desperately scanned the sky for anything, hoping against hope that the Dragon wouldn't come tonight, that the strange noise meant nothing…
Hermione's heart lurched as she glimpsed silver in the sky.
Stifling the urge to scream, Hermione stood tall and took a few deep, calming breaths, and spoke, her voice loud in the still air, "If I am going to die, I will die as a woman, not as a weak sniveling creature."
Despite this brave statement, Hermione felt her gorge rise as she helplessly watched the creature fly closer and closer. She closed her eyes for a moment, and desperately swallowed her panicked cries.
No one will know if you scream, a small voice said in the back of her mind.
I will, as will God, and that is enough.
Her face stony and tense, she watched the Dragon circle the field, its sleek body spiraling tighter and tighter as it floated to the earth gracefully.
If I didn't know that thing was a vicious monster, Hermione numbly thought, I would say it was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen.
And it was beautiful.
It was about as large as Granger Keep, but sleek and compact with dense muscles that rippled as it moved. Its skin gleamed like the finest silver, polished to a mirror shine. From the tip of its long tail, along its back, and up its elegant neck, the Dragon had spines of the rarest of the colorless gemstones.
Diamonds, Hermione thought, it is wreathed in diamonds.
Hermione's eyes were magnetically drawn up, up, up the terrible body to the creature's head.
She looked into its eyes and awaited her fate.
The sheer presence of those silver eyes slammed into her, catching her unawares. They were molten pools of quicksilver, the pupils slitted like a cat. Her knees buckled as an unseen force swept through her, piercing her soul as she felt the full strength of the creature's power flow through her body.
Hermione forced down the scream that bubbled up at this invasion of her mind, heart and soul. She bit her bottom lip harshly until it bled, and concentrated on the pain. Slowly, she regained control of her body, and as her senses returned to normal, she elevated her chin bravely. She stared at those strange eyes and prepared herself for death.
God have mercy.
Those inhuman, intelligent eyes blinked slowly.
Then, in an almost human expression, the Dragon cocked its head to the side.
Hermione felt a frenzied giggle bubbling up from her chest. She couldn't help being morosely amused at how confused it looked.
Poor little Dragon, Hermione thought hysterically, probably never been presented with a nicely gift-wrapped meal such as she before. Hermione thought perhaps she should remind it to have good manners and say thank you for the lovely parting gift.
Her muffled laughter and crazed thoughts were abruptly cut short when the Dragon lunged for her in a graceful swoop. Hermione shrieked in abject terror.
The Dragon paused and turned at her scream, dropping its great head low and turning slightly to observe her with one of its silvery eyes. She silenced immediately, her heart thudding ferociously as a blast of heated air shot across her body when the Dragon's nostril flared. She trembled and quivered at the sensation and the Dragon seemed pleased with her reaction, lifting a heavy clawed hand and shredding the post she was bound to without so much as bruising her fragile skin.
The Dragon picked her up within its razor sharp grip without pause and then huge, powerful wings were spread wide, as the glorious beast launched into the night sky, streaking away into the sunset, a silvery silhouette against the setting sun, glinting and glittering like the diamonds encrusted on its back.
Hermione looked out over the darkening landscape below her and then jerked her head up, her lungs frozen in fear, she was suddenly unable to catch her breath as the great beast opened its mouth wide and let out a feral cry into the wind.
I'm going to die… was the last coherent thought Hermione had before she screamed out in pain from the intense, searing heat above her as a jet of fire shot out intothe night sky- then blessed silence.
A/N: I hope you like it! Guess who the Dragon is? This is the first part of a four or five part series- I haven't forgotten Vengeance, I promise. This is just a plot bunny that has been in my head since October. This is dedicated to Snarkywench64 who inspired this particular bunny. As always, much thanks to my beautiful beta Lorett, who helped me out a lot with the end- it's much better, trust me! C&C most welcome.