-1-Chapter 1- The Fall of Order-

It seemed so long ago, when she last kissed her love goodbye, but Hermione Granger lived still in that one moment of joy, before Ron Weasley and Harry Potter entered the cave. She had been left on watch duty, to ensure the boys wouldn't have any unexpected guests. After several cold, lonely, worried hours, she ventured in after them, and found nothing at all, no bodies, no evidence of a struggle, and no sign that they had succeeded in locating and destroying the final horcrux. They had travelled together for almost two years, seeking out and destroying horcruxes, fragments of the soul of Lord Voldemort, held trapped in objects of historical significance all over the world. There had been many moments where they thought that they had located all of the horcruxes, only to find they had been led astray by misinformation or thwarted by the death eaters.

Hermione herself was now twenty years old, and had completed her education by owl post, while she had been hunting for horcruxes with Harry and Ron. She gained all Outstanding NEWTs, in the final examinations taken before Hogwarts was closed. She had studied advanced defence against the dark arts from books while they had been hunting for horcruxes. Ron had learned the same material from Hermione directly in a number of practical lessons. This was how they had grown close in the few months before his disappearance. Harry had preferred to study alone, and completed his NEWTs, along with Ron, both passing with a smattering of Acceptables and Exceeds Expectations.

This time, Harry had seemed so sure they had found the place, however as Hermione entered the cave, she was already trembling in fear that it would be another incident such as in Albania. There, they had lost Neville Longbottom and Charlie Weasley to a curse, sealed into a locket they had been pursuing as a suspected horcrux for some time.

Now it appeared that Ron and Harry had fallen victim to the same fate. Days, it seemed, passed inside the cave, with Hermione calling their names, exploring every corner of the dark, stale cave. However there came a time where hunger and fatigue won out, and Hermione was forced to return to Grimmauld Place, and inform the Order of the Phoenix that two more of their members were now missing in action. From that day, it seemed the war was lost altogether. The orders numbers dwindled, many, indeed, lost fighting their fallen comrades, who had been made into vicious inferi by the Death Eaters. Others fell victim to curses, which couldn't now be treated, as St. Mungo's had now fallen to the dark side. Grimmauld Place became as an infirmary and bunker to the fallen, hopeless witches and wizards who still fought for good. Eventually the inevitable day came, the secret-keeper of the Order, Kingsley Shacklebolt fell under the imperius curse, and the Death Eaters descended like a great consuming fire onto the wounded, demoralised Order of the Phoenix. With their last line of defence shattered, the Ministry fell within a few weeks to the overwhelming force of Voldemort's followers. Hermione, Tonks and a few others had escaped headquarters on Buckbeak's back moments before the Death Eaters consumed the house.

They escaped as far as Hogwarts, where a few last survivors were taking shelter under the protective enchantments on the castle and grounds, however, with no staff or students, the enchantments began to fade slowly from the once sure safe haven, for none of those taking shelter there had the skill or knowledge necessary to sustain or renew the ancient enchantments placed around Hogwarts by the founders. Thus after a few cold, tense months, the Death Eaters breached the front gates of Hogwarts, and captured all who were inside. The few who could fight, fought as valiantly as they could until they succumbed, Tonks took out six Death Eaters before falling to the bite of a werewolf. The last Hermione saw of her was a flash of violet as she was dragged away by a pack of rabid werewolves.

Hermione took out as many Death Eaters as she could, chased down the familiar, but now dusty and dark corridors of Hogwarts castle. She staged her last stand in the astronomy tower, hoping to summon a broomstick to rescue herself. Along the way she charmed several suits of armour to life to help her, these slowed down the Death Eaters for a short time, however they continued the chase relentlessly into the astronomy tower. Hermione used a summoning spell to try to summon an old broomstick from the broom shed down by the quidditch pitch. She heard the broom whistling through the air toward her, but then, the door of the tower burst open, and a figure burst in with a roar of "GRANGER!!".

It was Snape, face scarred from battles against the Order, hair burned back to its roots, he was barely recognisable, but it was certainly him. Hermione heard the broom she had summoned clatter off the wall of the tower as her concentration faded. Such was her emotion at seeing Snape again that her spell failed. She regained her concentration and attempted a disarming spell, however, two masked Death Eaters disarmed her before she could finish the spell. Snape approached her, and she shot him a look of pure hatred. He spat on her already stained robes, "No saviour for the mudbloods now Granger, no snappy retort or arrogant showing off now… You'll be beneath a house elf in the new world, I'll make sure of it." With that, he stunned her into unconsciousness.

-Chapter 2- The Sorting-

Hermione awoke to the sound of sobbing. There was a small, young family nearby, dressed as muggles, but very inexpertly. Three children, all younger than eight were huddled with their father and mother, shivering because of the cold. The man and woman looked with despair into each other's eyes as the door rattled. Hermione sat up, her eyes bleary. They were in a damp, musty dungeon, most likely still in Hogwarts, but it was colder than the Hogwarts dungeons had ever been, and the only light came through a small window on the door, barred over. She guessed that they were in some of the never used dungeons under the lake which predated even the school above. A figure came through the door dressed in black robes, a Death Eater. Hermione reached for her wand, but it was missing. The figure spoke to the family in a gruff, triumphant, familiar voice- "Thought you could get away with that disguise Fawcett? You did a worse job than that blood-traitor Prewitt… Come on, on your feet!" Hermione whispered to herself "Macnair…" as he dragged the family to their feet and shoved them out of the cell. "We've got a nice new home all set up for you, you'll be going to Norway to harvest potion ingredients for the Dark Lord." He laughed raspingly as he left the cell.

Hermione was then left alone for some time. She checked all around her cell for weak points, rusty bolts, however it was all secure. She placed her head in her hands and wept for a while, even if she did escape, where could she go? The muggle government would have fallen by now, with no ministry of magic left to safeguard them and the muggle people would be no doubt enslaved. Voldemort would already have most of the muggle world leaders under his control, either by the imperius curse, or naive appeasement pacts. Hermione was certain that by now her parents, as the parents of a known muggle-born witch were either dead or put to work as Voldemort's slaves. She was certain that she had no home to return to, however she was still desperate to escape, if only to avoid the fate the Death Eaters had for her. Still weak from the fight, and the stun curse, she lay down on the wet floor and sobbed for what seemed to her like an eternity. Then, just as before, the cell door opened, this time an unexpected voice, soft and young, frightened sounding echoed dully into the cell- "On your feet, mudblood!". Hermione raised her head slowly from the wet stone. "Sure thing, Nott." She put as much disgust as she could muster into her voice. He kicked her hard in the stomach as she made to rise, and her head fell hard against the floor, leaving her head resounding in pain like a great throbbing bell. "You ought to show some respect you filthy dog" he spluttered. Hermione laughed harshly, rising lazily to her feet, hunched from the pain in her stomach. "I… remember you Nott… That little snake who used to stare at the girls… as we walked by… lurking in the shadows… Oh we knew what you were all along Nott… Parvati said once…" Nott advanced quickly towards Hermione, wand pointed into her face, sweat dripping from under his skeletal Death Eater mask. "She's dead… all the better for her, the little blood traitor… her filthy sister too… I gave her all the chance I could, offered her the mercy of the Dark Lord… to take her for my wife… the little blood traitor underestimated the power of the Dark Lord's anger… and the death eaters… I left her and her family to their mercy…" He laughed bitterly, trying to infuse his voice with humour and mirth, but he ended coldly "They got what they deserved… You… You'll not speak… of her… or anything…" He fumbled with his wand "S-silencio". Hermione laughed again, audibly at that, "You have to mean it Nott… full concentration and all, what's the matter? Never pay attention in Defence against the Dark arts?" He struck her hard on the cheek, she fell back onto the floor, dazed for a moment. "I don't need my wand to shut you up mudblood… Come on… let's see what fun they've got for you outside." He laughed the same humourless laugh as before, and dragged her to her feet, and out the door.

Nott led Hermione at the tip of his wand out of the dungeons and all the way up to the great hall, where there were a few death eaters slouched in the various common room's relocated armchairs and couches. They had been redecorating too, with the Hogwarts banner which hung, dusty, now changed to the image of the dark mark. The candles which had always hung suspended in mid-air were not to be seen, instead a giant burning lamp lit the scene, suspended from the roof. The beautiful cut stone ceiling still showed the sky outside, but it had faded, and now only hinted at the weather outside. Today a tint of pale blue played faintly across the stone. Two death-eaters in the corner played at catching the precious stones that fell from the house-points meters, which were now smashed. However, the stones vanished as they tried to make off with them, only to reappear back in the smashed glass and fall again.

As Hermione entered the very different great hall, she saw many heads rise in disgust. She recognised a few of them, Macnair, Rookwood and the Lestranges leered at her with a superior air. She had fought them all in the department of mysteries, but that seemed like an eternity ago, like child's play compared to the harsh reality of the last few months. Other faces she recognised only vaguely, faces she had passed in Diagon alley, or students who had been at Hogwarts when she had, but had never spoken to her. Not just Slytherin students either, there was a young man nearby who had been in seventh year when Hermione entered first year, wearing death-eater's robes, and she was certain that he had been a ravenclaw prefect. However many faces were hidden by masks, people drinking, playing cards, the great hall had been made into some kind of grotesque lounge.

Hermione was buffeted along through the great hall, mostly ignored by the death eaters, except for those that leered at her in disgust.

Nott led her to a small door to the right of where the teachers table once stood, the very same door Harry had disappeared through when he was chosen as school champion by the hexed Goblet of Fire back for the triwizard tournament. Hermione was shoved inside alone, and the door was slammed behind her. The room was dimly lit, with a fire crackling dimly in the grate. Hermione gasped slightly as she looked around, all around the walls, were the portraits blackened and destroyed, as though by a great fire or acid. Then from the shadows, a voice spoke, "Well, Miss Granger, we needed some peace, and those portraits were being rather uncooperative…" It was Snape again. Instinctively Hermione reached for her wand, but her hand fell limply at this reflex in dismay. Two figures stepped out of the shadows, Snape, scarred and burned, and Lucius Malfoy, who was still rather unscathed, though most pitiable looking. His eyes were sunken, and his face, thin. He looked as gaunt as Sirius had when he had escaped Azkaban, but his eyes were not dead, they glinted rather tragically, as though about to burst into tears. His robes, though clearly expensive were unkempt and dirty. The one remaining untainted feature of his appearance was his posture, still proud and regal, superior. Snape gazed with disgust at Hermione for a moment, then spoke- "Miss Granger, were I to have my way you would have what useful information you keep extracted from you and then you would be disposed of in accordance with my own… ah… particular whims." He paused in an expression of utter distaste and malice. "However… it would appear that Mr. Malfoy here is in certain need of a new servant, a muggle, preferably, but with experience enough of the wizarding world to understand how to maintain a wizard's dwelling." Hermione couldn't see what this had to do with her, she was a witch, an experienced one, and Snape knew it. However he continued, "You have been stripped of your ill gotten wand, and will live as the muggle you were born to be, Mr. Malfoy has heard, for many years, from his late son Draco, how… ah… intelligent you are.." At the mention of his son's name, Mr. Malfoy choked for a moment, as though in a hiccough. "And much as I tried to rectify his impression of you, he wishes you to become his servant, to work for him, and care for him as he believes you best can." Hermione gazed at Lucius Malfoy in amazement, wondering, above all else, why he would wish for a servant that would be so utterly against all he stood for and believed as a wizard. Mr. Malfoy did not meet her eyes at any point, instead staring into the fire, his face grey with emotion. Snape continued, "You will leave immediately, and pray Miss Granger… pray…That we may never meet again."

Snape strode to the fire and produced a small bag from one of his pockets, from it he sprinkled a familiar powder into the fire, he then gestured coldly to Mr. Malfoy to step into the now roaring green flames. He raised a sceptical eyebrow as Lucius Malfoy whipped out of sight into the flames, he then shook his head, Hermione didn't understand, Mr. Malfoy was more than capable of apparation. She looked quizzically at Snape, who gestured her with a curled lip into the fire, she didn't say anything, apparently this link was a once off setup by the floo network, under the command of the death eaters.

Snape exited the room muttering darkly about underestimation and foolishness.

-Chapter 3- Message in a Bottle-

Hermione whipped blearily into a darkly lit room, which smelled of beef and foot odour. She regained her balance, and stepped out of the flames, which whipped down to barely glowing embers when she stepped away, over by a thickly curtained window, Lucius Malfoy stared out through a small crack into the day. He strode away from the window, sighing faintly, and produced from somewhere about his person a pipe, which he lit, filling the room with a mild sweet odour. He then strode over to a chair which was sitting to the right of the fireplace, and beckoned Hermione to sit opposite him, on the other side of the fireplace. By the dying light of the fire both faces were in red shadow. He then spoke, "As Severus so eloquently put it, you are to care for me as my servant… You should expect to be treated no better than a common house elf in my home, and while you were asleep, Severus bound you to me using similar such spells." He paused to gather his breath, speaking seemed to require effort and cause great distress to him. "Therefore… it is quite inadvisable to attempt escape or betrayal… You are bound to serve the master of this manor until such time as he chooses to liberate you…" He attempted one of his old snide smirks, failing, as his eyes retained the same tragic expression. "But don't hold your breath."

Hermione twisted her face into a look of pure contempt and malice, however she was unable to entirely hide her pity for this lonely widower. Silence fell in the room as Hermione was unsure what reaction any movement would bring from Mr. Malfoy. He turned from the curtains and spoke again-

"Your things have been brought here from your muggle hovel, but you will find your ill gotten wand and other objects of our world have been removed… Come, I will show you to your… Quarters. You will find them most fitting." Hermione was highly confused, tired and worn down as Mr. Malfoy was, his tone was nonetheless almost genial. He strode to a door on the left side of the room with a stooped shuffle, not looking toward Hermione deliberately.

They walked in silence up stairs, down corridors, in a house which seemed on foot almost as vast as Hogwarts, the halls lined with portraits, which, to Hermione's surprise were all inanimate, and unmoving with expressions of shock and anger. The halls felt nothing like Hogwarts, even in its latter days, it never felt as musty and sorrowful as this place. Draughts blew from the old windows, under doors, clearly Mr. Malfoy had not maintained his housekeeping spells, nor hired anyone to maintain them.

They turned a corner and faced a small corridor, to their right was a room, small and bare, with dusty, uncovered floorboards, no decoration, and a mouldy, grimy old window, which looked over a dingy disused old stable. On the exterior wall, a damp mould grew, and against the same wall of the door, a small single bed, with brown dressings stood, barely big enough for a child. At the end of this bed was Hermione's school trunk. Hermione felt her stomach jolt unpleasantly as she struggled not to think about how this had been obtained. Mr. Malfoy spoke once more, "I will rise at midday tomorrow… I will expect a breakfast prepared, and the floors cleaned in the kitchen and lounge area by then. Also, clean the second floor row of bedrooms, they have been gathering dust. To keep you out of my sight all of this will be posted on a cleaning scheduler in the kitchens, in the basement, the necessary materials will be there also." He hesitated for a moment, before sweeping out of the room, slamming the door and disturbing the clusters of dust, and momentarily choking Hermione.

She walked over and sat on the bed, which had springs so fatigued that the bed almost sank to the floor when she sat on it. Hermione was exhausted, she hadn't slept since the night before the Death Eaters took Hogwarts, not counting the stunner, which only tired her out more. She lay down into the bed, which smelled of wet dog, horse, and the same old smell which seemed to permeate the entire house. She couldn't sleep however, her mind was racing, even now, trying to figure out the extraordinary change in Lucius Malfoy. Though she knew that Narcissa and Draco had been killed in some clash with the order, and much as she tried to take solace in this, she failed, feeling only pity for this anguished widower. But she still couldn't figure out why she had been chosen as a house elf of sorts? Ironic though it was, Mr. Malfoy wouldn't do this just to get her back for everything… Clearly she was missing one big piece of the puzzle.

She flopped over on the bed and fumbled at her trunk, it was half full… All her old schoolbooks were gone, "Good" she thought, for they were sure to remind her of Ron, and she would only cry then. Her invisibility cloak, money, jewellery, dress robes and other magical trinkets were missing also. Only her plain black school robes were left for apparel, greying now from wear, and the fabric beginning to thin with age. She had been enlarging them since first year. She fumbled to the bottom of her trunk, and found an old mechanical alarm clock, which had belonged to Godric Gryffindor, or so they had thought. It turned out to be a plain muggle one, and not even connected to Gryffindor in any way, but she had liked it, and so kept it. She found her muggle cell phone also, her heart leapt, she pressed the power button hopefully, and the screen lit up momentarily. Then scrambled pixels appeared on screen, and the phone arced electrical bolts into the air, shocking her slightly, she dropped it onto the bed, where it shut off again. "Well, yeah" she thought, nursing her shocked hand, "Too much damn magic here." The phone had been in her trunk since first year of Hogwarts, when her muggle parents had naively bought it for her to keep in contact, with a knowing smirk she popped it in the trunk, knowing it would never work at Hogwarts. She rummaged for another short time, looking in vain for something, anything, that might help her, then, inside one of her old school robes, hidden in the stitching, her hand felt something hard and round. Her eyes lit up, realising what it was. She ripped the patch from the inside of the robes, and out toppled one gold galleon. She smiled wider, it still held the date 02.03 where the serial number should have been. It was the command galleon from Hermione's enchanted set of galleons, which she had used in her fifth year to communicate in secret with the members of the DA. Her hands shook in anticipation as she held the galleon, she lowered her head to it, and spoke clearly to it- "Set, DA meeting." The numbers disappeared, replaced with the word "password", she spoke again- "Crookshanks". She her voice quavered as she spoke again- "Malfoy Manor" she said. She knew it was probably wishful thinking that any of the DA would still have theirs, she thought ever more bitterly that it would be wishful thinking that they would even still be alive, but it was better than nothing.

She slipped the galleon back into her trunk, and set the old repaired alarm clock for 06:00 hours, set the time, which she had noted on a grandfather clock on her way there. She then disrobed, noted there were no pyjama's in the trunk, and so dressed in the thinnest of the old school robes, and drifted off to an uneasy sleep.

-Chapter 4- The Black Spirits-

The next morning her alarm clock woke her from a light, but much appreciated sleep. Hermione rose deftly from her bed, throwing off the old duvet and springing onto the aged floor. She'd been thinking about getting up for about half an hour, but resolved not to do it until the alarm rang for her. She slipped on an old set of school robes, the front of them had been rather badly sewn up. They were the robes she had worn into the department of mysteries in fifth year, and she had allowed Ginny to practice her seamstress spells on them once they were all well enough to laugh about it all, "how naive" she thought. She slipped on her only pair of shoes, the ones she'd been wearing for weeks since she left grimmauld place, and opened the door, unsure exactly where to go, but she supposed she was to find the kitchen, however once she stepped foot into the hall, candles illuminated ahead of her, affixed to the walls, and then another set flickered into life farther down the hall.

She followed them, and they led her down a few corridors and a few flights of stairs into a warm, dry part of the house. The halls here were not as murky, and the smell of decay not as strong, replaced instead with the smell of baked earth and pine. The candles behind Hermione extinguished themselves as she walked, leading her eventually into the kitchen, which looked like the epicentre for domestic manual labour.

There were neatly folded stacks of washed and unwashed clothing, and a large tin washbasin to their right. These, along with drying racks filled an entire quarter of the room, as they had clearly been left unattended and simply piling up for some time. Sunk under medieval looking alcoves were an old coal range, a boiler and a rounded counter, which looked as though centuries of knives had been wearing away at its surface. The ceiling was rounded and tapered from the corners to a shallow point, and the entire room was built of exposed (in places blackened) red brick. Hermione found it quite an efficient, and really quite pleasant room, full of the smell of cleanliness and old cooking.

Immediately in front of her, there was a blank sheet of parchment pinned to the wall. As she approached, words began to appear, a list, and annotations-

"-For the attention of the housekeeping-

Today's Tasks

-Clean floors in kitchen and lounge Mrs Skower's Magical Citrus Floor Treatment, back of cleaning closet.

-Clean second floor row of bedrooms Matron Marianne's Wonderduster, hanging on closet door, Witch's Friend Wendoline on the windows, next to floor treatment.

- Prepare breakfast, Egg, bacon, fried tomato, sausages Master is allergic to nuts, likes sides of Ketchup, mayonnaise, grated garlic on bacon, eggs fried, weak yolks, master will rise at midday, breakfast 15 minutes later.

If there be any confusion as to where to go, simply ask the house."

"Ask the house?" She thought for a second, then said aloud "Where is the servants closet?". An entire line of red bricks turned yellow, and then one of the bricks turned red, and then the next, and the previous one turned back to yellow. The red brick "moved" along the line of yellow towards a door to the right of the laundry, which revealed a downward spiralling flight of stairs, which led to a room in which Hermione had to crouch, lined on the left and right with hammocks, made of some kind of skin. On the wall beside of one of the hammocks were sketched very crude drawings which looked like the plans of a building, and scrawled underneath it, "Nummber 4 Privvit Drave".

At the end of this room was a door, and the yellow line ended at it. Hermione extended her hand, and at the touch of the doorknob, the yellow bricks briefly flashed to blue, before returning to their murky red colour. Hermione opened the door, to find a strong smelling closet full of bottles with oddly shaped caps and faded labels. She took the bottles she had been instructed to by the parchment, and returned to the kitchen. She knew how to use the cleaning materials, for during her time as head of S.P.E.W, she had cleaned the Gryffindor common room herself, using the same materials.

She inclined the bottle of "Mrs Skower's Magical Citrus Floor Treatment" and spoke gently to the bottle, "Floor, please". The bottle shivered, jumped from her hand and began skating back and forth over the floor at high speed, leaving a strong smell of lemons behind. A few minutes later the floor was clean, apparently an attractive red colour, though she could never have guessed that through all the layers of dust, which lay there because of all the clothes that had been washed in that room recently. The bottle then fell to the floor and squeaked "Have you tried Mrs Skower's high quality silver polish? Guaranteed to put a shi-" Hermione snatched the bottle, muffling the noise, she wasn't fond of Mrs Skower's nattering, it had nearly got her caught when she was cleaning the Gryffindor common room once, since then she had always muted the bottles.

She put the floor polish into her pocket, and called to the house again "Where are the second floor bedrooms?".

As before, a single line of red bricks shone yellow, and she followed the red brick upstairs, out of the basement. The line continued along the wall, now etched in the plasterwork. The red brick became an arrow, which guided her up another two flights of stairs to a damp smelling corridor on the second floor. There were five bedrooms on her left, and five large, shuttered windows on her left. The shutters were closed, but Hermione could hear birds chirping outside, and the see first rays of sunlight hitting the house through the gaps in the wooden shutters. She opened the first door on her left, and was startled, a mould had sprung up rather aggressively in one corner of the room, and grown all over the entire furnishings of the house. This mould being magical it was breathing and making ugly squelching noises, recoiling against the fresh air. The smell was putrid, and the air, warm and steamy. Hermione recovered from her initial shock and recognised the growth from her herbology lessons. "You're Inherbalis Luciphis, a fungal variant of devil's snare". She smirked, "I know how to deal with you." She reached for her wand, and found only the bottle of Mrs Skower's, which began "Don't forget our buy one ge-" and she shoved it back into the darkness of her pocket, silencing its annoying chatter. "Damn!" she thought to herself, annoyed. She leant against the wall, trying to think of some way to deal with the creature. A pheasant grated its call outside, and then Hermione got an idea.

She went to the window and jammed the rusty latch open, then threw the window up. She then undid the latch on the shutter and threw them open, letting in the rising sun. The room groaned and the mould began to recede, rising from the furniture in tendrils, then withdrawing them from the light. The mould went right back into the corner of the room, where it receded into a crack in the wall of the adjoining room. It occurred to Hermione that this mould was probably bigger than one room, considering its size in this one room, so she threw open the four remaining shutters and opened each door in turn, driving the mould towards the final bedroom.

However, something struck her as odd about the fourth room. The mould was far less invasive here, and it was weighted towards the left side of the room. Hermione found this odd as most forms of fungal Devil's Snare will usually try to take up as much surface area as they can, however there wasn't a single spot of growth on any of the right hand side of the room. She used a mirror she had found in the second to reflect the sunlight into the fourth room, for the window next to it was obscured from the rising sun by another wing of the house. She killed the growth entirely in about half an hour, chasing it back and forth through shadowy areas into cupboards full of dead doxies, mice and rats (which the fungus had been sustaining itself on). The growth had ample opportunity to slip into the fifth room, however it wouldn't go near it.

Hermione then used a few cleaning materials rather creatively to form a dissolving potion to get rid of the remains of the vermin, and then all that was left was to allow Matron Marianne's Wonderduster, Witch's Friend Wendoline and her old friend Mrs Skower to finish the job. In about an hour Hermione had cleaned the first four rooms, however she was quite wary of the fifth bedroom, knowing anything that would intimidate a member of the Devil's Snare family would warrant caution.

She opened the door slowly, carrying her mirror, for this end of the corridor was still quite dark, despite the window being opposite the door. The room was pitch dark, and the air smelled stale, but not unpleasant. Hermione used her mirror to project light, however all the light was being absorbed into the air as though a smoke or thick shroud was within the room. She stumbled into the room, meaning to find the lamps and light them, however as soon as she entered she got a shivering sensation, as though she had walked through a freezing cold shower.

Her mirror projected light onto the roof, illuminating a sea of odd shapes. It seemed the shroud was only six feet tall, Hermione found the bed and climbed up onto it, ignoring the horrible feeling of coldness that was permeating her entire body. She had left the mirror where it was so as to cast light onto the roof and illuminate the top of the cloud. She then realised what the cloud was, and although she meant to shriek and run, her legs couldn't move and her voice couldn't speak.

Ghosts, tens of them, heads protruding above the cloud, all facing the door with terrified angry expressions on their faces, their normally milky white forms turned black. Hermione knew what had happened to them, these ghosts had been petrified, for the effect was exactly the same as what had happened with the basilisk and Nearly-Headless Nick in Hermione's second year. She bounded down from the bed and escaped the room as soon as her legs would allow her to move, she went to the first window and bathed in the rays of the rising sun, gasping for breath. Being suspended in those ghosts had been horrible, but Hermione wasn't thinking about her physical condition right now, she was trying to figure out this mystery. There couldn't be a basilisk in the house, however she was sure all those ghosts belonged to this house. They all had the same pale pointed face, and they were clearly dressed in the rich finery of the Malfoy's.

Hermione then heard footsteps bounding towards her, she was a little nervous, though she had no clock, it couldn't be midday yet, the sun was still rising.

Lucius Malfoy dashed into view, as Hermione felt the colour rise in her face. Mr. Malfoy was dressed only in boxer shorts, showing off his entire form, although he was gasping for air, he had clearly run all the way here from the other side of the house, where his bedroom must be. Hermione was most impressed, "He's doing well for a guy of his age" she thought, then realised her position, and turned even redder.

"You…- needn't…-clean…-fifth…-bedroom…- Don't…- enter…" He gasped, and he stumbled forward, and with an expression of dismay saw that she'd already been in the room, as the bottle of Mrs Skower's floor cleaner was on the ground in between the legs of the ghost of a witch. "It must've fallen there when I ran out" she thought in horror. "You…- saw?" he gasped, in between huge breaths. "Yes, petrified ghosts" she said.

"Had to… no… other way" he gasped, regaining his breath. "Like the portraits…" she thought. "I will return now to bed, you should rest also… I still expect breakfast at midday, but if you don't rest… you'll be down for the day, ghosts do that to muggles." He said distractedly. "Wizard's too." Hermione thought, rather annoyed at his bigoted remark.

Mr. Malfoy turned and stalked away down the corridor with a slight stoop, but Hermione couldn't help but admire his toned form. She stood for a minute, the blush not having left her face, annoyed at herself, and returned then to her bedroom. She set the alarm and lay down, considering herself, the ghosts, the mystery of their petrification, and the enigma of Mr. Malfoy.

-Chapter 5- The Traitor's End-

Several weeks passed eventfully, each morning Hermione would rise, complete a few ordinary jobs, have breakfast in the kitchen's at the house elves dining table, cook Mr. Malfoy's breakfast, and then spend the evening trying to get on top of the house, which was halfway towards growing as wild as Grimmauld Place. Mr. Malfoy never praised her, however she could tell he was most impressed with her work by the now almost courteous manner with which he now seemed to regard her when they passed. Hermione had resolved the pile of clothing which had been washing itself for years, drying itself, then forming a pile which had been shrinking itself to save space. Mr. Malfoy had simply been banishing his dirty clothing to the kitchens for years, trusting the automatic washing enchantments Narcissa had placed there when the house elf left to wash them and return them. However these enchantments had been neglected, and the clothes were not returned, but simply built up. Mr. Malfoy had been conjuring socks for about 6 months now, never bothering to resolve the situation, as the piles were not that bad to his eye. However Hermione investigated and found several pairs of trousers that had shrunk to the size of a mouse's scarf. One quick enlarging potion later and Mr. Malfoy's clothes were restored. This coincided with the beginning of his geniality towards her.

Each afternoon with growing excitement Hermione went to the kitchen's to check her assignment for today, for it was a real challenge for her to resolve the insane magical issues which arose in the house without the use of a wand. In sixty days she'd only had to ask for Mr. Malfoy's help with a wand twice, to deal with an aggressive family almanac that made the monster book of monsters look like a picture dictionary, and once more to deal with an enlarging cabinet which each time she went to clean caused her hands to grow to enormous size. She turned her back and a wasp flew in there, starting one of her less fun adventures, being chased around the house with huge hands by a gigantic angry wasp. Eventually Mr. Malfoy sprang forth from his lounge and stunned the wasp, and returned Hermione to normal. She could tell in this case he was suppressing a laugh. She, herself was on the verge of hysterical laughter too.

Slowly but surely, however, Malfoy Manor was becoming a more pleasant place in which to live. Hermione had managed to get the entire second floor to behave "normally" with a number of threatening exclamations at the odd behaviour of several walls and roofs, which decided to "hide" their dirt every time she came near, simply to avoid being washed.

However other parts of the house were still putting up a fight, the east wing still disagreed with her presence in the house, and showed it by reversing gravity on her as soon as she stepped foot in it. She had sorted this out with an incantation Mr. Malfoy had given her on a scrap of parchment, but the wing was still unruly, changing temperature and growing and shrinking and rearranging on her. She was glad she hadn't had a "project" in the east wing for some time. Obviously Mr. Malfoy had figured out she couldn't make much progress with the part of the house Narcissa had spent most of her time in. Besides the east wing was still the cleanest most presentable part of the house.

Hermione's first few months in Malfoy Manor reminded her strongly of her first few months at Hogwarts, for the building was at least as ancient and eccentric. One day Hermione was assigned to restore the room opposite Mr. Malfoy's lounge, the room through which Hermione had entered the house. The front door was in between these two rooms, however Hermione figured out on her third day she was not permitted outside, as this door had vanished as soon as she reached for the handle. Hermione was pleased with this room, it had a boggart in a huge old wardrobe at one end, at the other several gnomes who had set up indoors, and on top of that, destroyed and adapted an old invisibility cloak to clothe themselves with. The centre of the room was just a bare dusty floor, as an old tigerskin rug had scuttled up to the roof, occasionally diving down to kill some gnomes.

Hermione spent a fun part of the day hunting the gnomes and throwing them out of an open window, recovering the scraps of invisibility cloak as she went. She used steam from a hot kettle to pick out the invisible gnomes and catch them. The tigerskin rug, remained on the roof during all of this.

Hermione then turned her attention to the boggart, and she calmly strode over to the wardrobe, expecting it to turn into professor Mc Gonagall again, such as the last boggart she'd encountered had done. Hermione considered herself a young woman too sensible to have "fears" that a boggart could use against her, so she was confident. She threw open the doors of the wardrobe and a figure stepped out from the dust. Hermione gasped.

"Ron…?!" she said in disbelief. Ron Weasley stepped out of the wardrobe and dusted himself off. Hermione felt her stomach lurch uncomfortably, this was not what she had expected at all. "Hermione I'm back! I wasn't even hurt in that cave." he approached her with a stupid looking grin on his face. "Oh… oh God" Hermione stuttered, he seemed ugly to her somehow, even though he looked the same. "No…" she said… "No Boggart, I'm not afraid of Ron coming back…" she hesitated for a second. "It's all I, all I want!" she took on a defiant tone, realising immediately how untrue this was, how seeing Ron again wasn't what she wanted at all… she was disgusted with herself. Then she laughed suddenly, pitifully, but with enough humour to distort the image of Ron on the boggart, it became a weird hazy shape, Hermione kept laughing, and the boggart became more and more distorted. "You…- Ha-ha, you're right boggart." She collapsed onto the floor laughing, tears streaming down her face. The boggart exploded in wisps of smoke. Hermione rose, wiped her tears away… "I don't love him anymore…" she finished. "It took a boggart to make me face up to that, but I really am totally over him… so much so I don't know if I'd ever want to see him if he did turn up… that's my greatest fear?" she was still giggling lightly to herself as she left the room to go fetch a broom to prod the Tigerskin rug off of the roof.

Several hours past, and all Hermione's humour had faded, she'd been wrestling with this rug for hours, in a battle of the wits she had managed to knock all of its claws off, and with gashes on her arms and back, she was in no mood to play its games anymore. She wanted to get to the door, but she knew the rug was hiding in the shadowy corner behind the door frame, ready to pounce. She chanced herself, and threw her splintered broom handle into the other side of the room, the rug pounced, falling for her decoy, and she ran out the door, gasping with the thrill of escape.

She made towards the lounge, but was stopped by sounds of quiet sobbing from inside, she hesitated for a moment, and then knocked for entry. A small voice replied "C-come in". Hermione entered, feeling her back turning cold from the blood oozing from her wounds. She walked towards the centre of the room where there was a fire burning "Mr. Malfoy I-…Mr. Malfoy what's wrong?" she was Lucius Malfoy, sitting regally on a couch with a cup of tea before him, and a book closed on the armrest to his left. His eyes were red and his cheeks shiny. He wiped his face with his sleeve, "Nothing, nothing" he replied. "What do you need Hermione?" She registered his use of her first name, she was very pleased by this. "I, I've just been having some trouble with a Rug in the other room there, I need to treat some, eh, injuries. I was wondering whether you had a medicine cabinet somewhere." she finished rather lamely.

Lucius Malfoy rose from his couch alarmed as he noticed the blood dripping from Hermione's robes, and the pale look on her face "Oh my, here, I can help you, I've no medicine cabinet, but I learned some medic's spells when I had to… with…" he choked for a second, about to break into tears again. "I'll need you to lift your robe so I can heal your wounds." Hermione hesitated for a moment, and then lifted her robe, showing the scarred and wounded back of her body. Mr. Malfoy conjured a small cloth from the tip of his wand and slowly began daubing down her wounds with a coldness that felt so good to Hermione, whose entire back was searing with a hot pain. He then waved his wand over her up and down several times and she felt her skin return to normal, if a little tender. "I have also removed your scars, I never… considered before the pain we…" He choked again. He ran his cloth over her once more, this time mopping up the blood. Hermione felt good again, however this time it was because of his tender touch. He conjured a new set of white robes for her, and averted his gaze momentarily while she changed. Her face had become red, as the situation was very close for her, she knew she shouldn't feel like she did, but she wished to herself that he might turn around and see her. She was then snugly fitted into the robes, which were warm and very comfortable. Mr. Malfoy beckoned her to sit with him, and have some tea. "You've worked very well for me these past few months… my comfort has improved substantially since your arrival, but now I would like your company, and surely you should like a break from that rug in the other room". They sipped their tea together, sitting close together, looking into the book, which turned out to be a photo album. It wasn't an easy situation for Hermione, Mr. Malfoy was showing her photo's of a happy young family on holidays, at play in the garden. In every photo, Draco Malfoy was the image of happiness, with his friends, whom Hermione recognised as Crabbe, Goyle & Nott. "He was a good boy Hermione… I know you never saw that side of him… I couldn't regret that more now…" Hermione was most perplexed by Mr. Malfoy's apparent disregard of his old doctrine. "My son… they killed him…" he said, more to himself than to her. Hermione felt very uncomfortable, she had been on the side of those who had killed Draco. "I only found out today… It wasn't… yours…" he continued, his eyes welling up. "Apparently himself and a group of the Dark Lord's servants were to go to a home in Dover, we'd received word that a number of muggle-born's had been hiding there." Hermione was even more perplexed, her had used the word "muggle-born" instead of "mudblood". "My… my son saw his old schoolmates hiding there… he stood in the way of the dark lord's servants… stopped two of them… but… They killed him Hermione… they used the curse… and he died…" he had stopped sobbing now… his voice was full of bitterness. "They told me the muggle borns had used muggle weapon's and shot him… but… Nott told me the truth today… I got it out of him by owl post… I always suspected some foul play… but not… never." They sat together in silence for a few moments, his head was hung in shame. "All those people I helped to… I never understood death before…"

Hermione had felt an urge welling up inside her, she eventually succumbed and put her arm over his back, and came closer, embracing him. He looked up astonished "You should be disgusted with me… I've been using you for slave labour all this time." he finished and their eyes met, and then Hermione almost without thinking smoothly glided toward him, and began kissing him, expecting him to push her off. However he embraced her tighter, and kissed back. By then, Hermione's logic, control and sense had left her, and she followed her desire. On Mr. Malfoy's couch she enjoyed every inch of the man she had come to admire and eventually love. Mr. Malfoy seemed to enjoy it as much as she had also. They healed each other that night, laying together several times, and not another word was spoken between the two, the only sounds were an odd gasp and sigh. They took the weight of the war, their trauma, and shared it with one another in a very profound way.

-Chapter 6- His Burden to Bear-

Hermione awoke the next morning, smiling at the reassuring beat of Mr. Malfoy's heart against her head. She realised it was 7am, time to begin that morning's jobs, she made to rise, but felt a hand on her arm, and Mr. Malfoy's eyes opened, once again blue and lively, not bitter and empty. "Your parchment is blank this morning, Hermione." Hermione lowered her head again, but realised her moment of bliss was over, and she had to get up, and negotiate the consequences of the last night. Lucius continued "Thank you for last night… I'd almost forgotten what a soft touch felt like." Hermione went red, and smiled, she wanted to tell him how he had made Ron look like a blundering amateur… but she was content to stay silent as long as he was comfortable to speak. "You know I brought you here out of guilt… Even before I knew what they had done to Draco, I felt guilty for the way he had treated you, under my guidance… I never understood the error of my beliefs until recently." He closed his eyes, "I am sorry." She leant forward and pecked him on the lips, "You didn't think I wasn't guilty too? I believed you to be a malicious man bent on the destruction of everything I love, but you've taken me in, saved my life, and now you've reminded me of what it is to feel…" she faltered. Lucius sat up, and Hermione slipped her robes on, she smiled suddenly "You'd begun to doubt your beliefs… is that why you had to freeze the portraits and petrify the ghosts?" Lucius smiled and replied "Oh you wouldn't believe the hounding they gave me… They began making my life a living hell shortly after Draco died… they thought we should've ascended above the rank of grunts in the war, and then when I went to Severus to ask for your service, they went berserk… I couldn't sleep, ghosts took it in turns to shadow me, walk inside me, heckle me when I tried to go to bed, slam doors… Eventually I used a freezing charm on the portraits and used the killing curse on the ghosts, simply to get some peace." he hesitated.

"I grew up with those ghosts, those portraits, I had a good friendship with them all, they helped me to maintain authority in this house… I had to betray them to bring you here…" his face stiffened. "But the old wizarding ways need to be rethought… we cannot continue in this xenophobic way… we must respect the muggle's.." he looked at Hermione… "You've taught me that… you've shown me what can come from a muggle family." he looked towards the ashes in the fireplace in silence for a moment, then he continued- "You are a witch Hermione… you always have been… my ignorance blinded me to that for so long, even while you were here I denied it… but you are a witch. Come, follow me." He rose to his full proud posture, and looked about ten years younger because of it. He strode across the room, and Hermione followed him. Lucius walked the corridors with pride, every bit the master of this home, which (Hermione noted with a smirk) was almost entirely restored to it's glorious state again, as a result of her creative restoration work, even without a wand.

He came to the end of a hall in a part of the house where Hermione hadn't finished her work yet, and waved his wand over a blank area of wall. A door appeared there, wooden, but reinforced with steel. He waved his wand again, muttering something quietly, and the door slid sideways into the wall. The room was somewhat cluttered with boring looking boxes, and a few sinister looking ornaments, one of which, Hermione recognised as a bangle adorned with Rowena Ravenclaw's coat of arms. Lucius walked over to a small chest, opened it with a tap of his wand, and gave it to Hermione. "Too long have you been my subject." He waved his wand over her. "The spells of servitude are lifted, you are free." Hermione looked down at the chest, inside was her wand, wizarding money, and other magical trinkets, including a pair of Mythril earrings Ron had given her for her nineteenth birthday.

She took the chest and took her wand out of it, hesitating for a moment, and then she pocketed it. "Thank you" she said, feeling very odd indeed. "Lucius… I…" she began. Lucius stood there silently, looking oddly pained. "I want to stay for a short while… I want to finish the job I began here…" Mr. Malfoy's eyes lit up- "of course you may stay Hermione… but with all the comforts and privileges I could afford a guest in my home… I have no wish to have you stay in that room any longer, it is the least pleasant in my home, after all, you may choose any quarters you wish." Hermione paused for a moment, then said "I'll need to think about it… but that can come later… I presume you want breakfast". "That would be nice" he replied timidly.

They enjoyed a breakfast together, talking with good humour about the eccentricities of the house, as Lucius explained where each bit of "personality" had come from. Apparently the bulk of the helpful charms had been put in by a guest in 1821 whose grandfather opened Zonko's joke shop. Hermione listened in fascination as Lucius talked about his house and his heritage, talking about all of it unashamedly, including the nasty historical events the house had played a part in.

She knew he'd gone a long time without anyone to talk to and was glad to be able to provide a conversationalist. She began to understand how he had been so bigoted, as he prided himself on knowing the total history of the entire wizarding world. He was almost obsessed with it, and the addition of muggle-borns to the mix disturbed his encyclopaedic knowledge of wizarding history. He remembered himself well and spoke only with regret about his bigoted past. He'd clearly been tired of fighting for a cause he no longer truly believed in for a long time, pride, and the whispers of generations of dead Malfoys in the form of portraits had kept him from realising it for a long time.

Hermione could see that he'd been wanting to say all this for a while, and he continued talking right through past lunchtime. He conjured up a few sandwiches and just continued talking. He said even Narcissa hadn't listened to him like this in a long time. Hermione never drifted off, but listened, awestruck, at the boundless insight into "the other side" she had been ignorant of.

Eventually the subject came down to Lord Voldemort, and Lucius wasn't in fear any more about expressing himself. "I once believed him to be the wisest and most powerful wizard in the world, most worthy of ruling… But I've seen, over the years the way he was, the way he is, and I can tell you he is not even a man, more like a boy, obsessed with ruling the playground, and owning all the toys."

Hermione spoke now, for the first time in what seemed like hours "So you renounce yourself from him?" Lucius hesitated briefly, "He has renounced me already, he no longer trusts me, and thus I am free from his investigations, I only want to live in peace, my only excursion back into the world was to be my act of charity in taking you in."

"Thank you." she said timidly.

-Chapter 7- The Falling of an Empire-

The next few months passed peacefully for Hermione and Lucius, their one nighter became a long standing affair, until eventually they settled into domestic happiness. Hermione ended up sharing Lucius' marriage bed, as she'd rather meant to suggest when he offered her any room of her choice. Their lives were happy for those few months, spent mostly restoring the house to a state Lucius could only remember from when he was a child. They worked now as a team, the cleaning of the house having taken one month, then came the much trickier repairing of the wayward domestic enchantments built up over centuries.

Hermione had the kitchen working automatically with a few creative spells. It turned out her muggle knowledge was worth something after all, as she managed to combine several spells and have ideas muggle's had only imagined on TV. She converted a part of the kitchen into a food preparation area, where the food would be prepared by magic, with no need for human input, however her first attempts weren't so successful.

("What is it?" Lucius asked. Hermione replied cheerfully "A cheese and ham sandwich?" Lucius peered closely at the sandwich, "Is that my sock?". )

Eventually, however they reigned the house in, for the most part. They left the east wing of the house be, for Hermione had no desire to touch Narcissa's corner of the house, and Lucius had no desire to be reminded of her. Therefore the door to the wide, ornate corridor was left closed and locked, sealing Narcissa away to be forgotten until the time would come to dig her up again.

Lucius himself had taken on a new, longer journey, one of redemption. He began with his own domestic situation, taking on a historical study of the journal of the house. The journal of the house was a book, centuries old and inches thick. It contained every change that had been made to the house, either physical or magical. Each time he found an enchantment, a spell that had been applied, he traced it to its barely functioning modern equivalent, and either restored it, or removed it. Slowly but surely, the layers of spells began to unravel. Various of the spells had been hiding entire rooms, full of dark artefacts or long dead magical pets. These rooms were among the weirdest in the entire house. In one room, adjoining a nursery, an entire room had been created and hidden. This room was bouncy and inflatable, like a muggle bouncy castle. Hermione and Lucius had a fun day off from work playing here, discovering the ordinary looking room smoothed, or changed shape if they were in danger of striking one of the corners. By the end of it their faces were both red and teary from having laughed so much all day. Lucius had thrown out his ankle when he landed oddly, and Hermione sported a black eye from having thrown herself upon him by surprise, however they both admitted afterwards, they hadn't had as much fun in years. All the scars of the war began to fade on their characters as they took joy in one another's company. Each day they would work until fatigue told them they could go no further, or almost, they always saved their last bit of energy for each other at the end of the day, then when each was fulfilled, (to Hermione's delight, often twice or more) they would drift to sleep in each other's arms.

One morning, Hermione awoke to find the bed next to her was empty, she placed her hand on the spot where she knew he had lain, and found it quite cold, he had been up for a while. She looked across at the personal alarm clock, which read 7am (the personal alarm clock was an ingenious invention of Hermione's, which she had enchanted so that only the person who set it would hear it, and thus, in a shared bed, either person could sleep as late as they wished, although Lucius often got up very soon after Hermione anyway, but never before). Hermione rose swiftly from between the sheets and put on her robes. She snatched her wand from her bedside table and scurried downstairs to the lounge, which was now the centre of their domestic activity, they ate there, and read together there, relaxed there, and listened to the Wizarding Wireless. On her way there, she began to smell cooking food, she smiled, Lucius had never really taken to using the automatic food preparation area. She entered the lounge, and saw Lucius scurrying about rolling a fried breakfast onto plates. He paused when he saw her, and immediately forced a smile onto his face, though it looked pained. "Good morning Hermione! Breakfast is served!" Hermione approached the table, and sat down, raising an eyebrow- "You used the food prep area?" Lucius laughed in a forced kind of way and said "Well what did you think I did? Hired a house elf?" Hermione peered over the top of her food, and although the sausages, bacon and eggs looked okay, she recognised that the toast was not covered in butter, but rather, with washing up liquid, and her salad contained sliced strawberry instead of tomato, dressed with moisturiser instead of mayonnaise, but she began to eat, quite baffled by Lucius' odd behaviour.

They ate in silence, Hermione looking across at Lucius could see he was extremely preoccupied, his eyes flicking towards the fireplace and the window periodically. When she could take no more, she asked innocently "So, what has you up so early this morning?" Lucius' face fell, and he looked across at her, not meeting her eyes, "I just wanted to surprise you". Hermione left the inedible half of her meal, rose from her chair and walked around the small, ornate breakfast table to where Lucius was sitting, attempting to negotiate a sausage into his mouth with his fork, and failing miserably. When he saw her approach, he tugged at the sleeves of his robes. Hermione placed her hand gently on his shoulder, and he stopped trying to eat at once, "Lucius, you know I know something's wrong… Why don't you tell me what's the matter?". Lucius tugged at the sleeve of his robes, exposing his forearm, onto which was etched the dark mark, but it wasn't there, not even slightly faint, simply gone, vanished. Hermione knew it had been there last night, for she had scratched it cheekily as they made love.

Lucius spoke, his voice quavering, much like it had been when she had first arrived in Malfoy manor, "I woke up early this morning, because I felt an intense burning pain in my arm, I feared Lord Voldemort was bringing me out of retirement, summoning me to his side, but when I looked, I saw the mark had not turned black, but instead was burning an intense red, and moments later, with a hiss, it vanished from my arm."

Hermione felt herself growing pale, her mind reeling with the possibility of what this meant, however, she did not disclose her suspicions openly, in any case she was certain Lucius suspected the implications of this too. "Lucius… It couldn't mean…" Lucius looked at her painfully, "I have sent a number of owls to other death eaters, people I know will know what has happened, Avery, Parkinson… Snape." I had hoped not to disclose this to you until I had an answer for what had happened, I then covered my tracks by hurrying this breakfast and filling the house with a cooking smell." He finished sheepishly. Hermione smiled wryly at him and said "I did wonder why it smelled more like porridge than a fry up." Lucius smiled properly for the first time all morning, but before they could finish, they were interrupted by a small buzzing sound from Lucius' midriff. His belt bore three red coloured crystals, and one of them was rumbling violently, Lucius frowned at it, and tapped it, the crystal turned green. "Lucius? What is it?" Hermione said.

Lucius mumbled absent mindedely, "Can'tve got there already." he the looked up and replied "Oh, this belt tracks my letters, each time I send a letter I bond a pair of crystals and put one with the owl, when the letter is delivered, the crystal will vibrate and change colour… this crystal represents Avery's letter… and he lives at least eighty miles away. I only sent my letter a few minutes ago." His belt then vibrated again, another crystal turned green, then less than a few seconds later, the final crystal began to vibrate. Lucius removed his belt and stared at it, all three crystals were glowing a bright green. Hermione asked timidly "What does it mean?" Lucius spoke again, clearly bemused. "Either all three, Avery, Parkinson and Snape are very nearby, or…" he frowned- "or my letters have been intercepted." They stood for a moment, staring at the belt, and then they both jumped, a loud, sharp tapping suddenly began at the main lounge window. They strode together to the window, opened the curtains, and there, flapping at the window, tapping, was an owl, clutching a large roll of parchment, with print visible on its outside. Lucius unlatched the window, and the owl swooped in, dropping its paper on Lucius' armchair, and then proceeding to the remains of breakfast, where it pecked at the plates, hooted indignantly, and fluttered over to Hermione, and began nipping her sharply on her shoulder. Hermione was bemused "What does he want? A reply?" recalling the time Harry had ordered Hedwig to attack herself and Ron until they responded to one of his letters. Lucius flicked his wand the owl, stunning it. "We'll not have that." he frowned. He strode over to the thick roll of parchment, picking it up from his armchair. He then sank into it, staring at the roll in disbelief. "Lucius? What is it?" Lucius thrust the roll of parchment gently towards Hermione, she took it from him cautiously. She didn't need to remove the twine keeping it rolled up, she could already see the title, like a ghost from the past, the Daily Prophet. She exclaimed "The Prophet!? It hasn't been published in…" Lucius finished her sentence, "Three years… not since we captured their publishing house."

She tentatively removed the twine, and unfurled the paper. The format was a little different than usual, no lines of articles, advertisements, or embedded headlines, just two words, printed in big bold lettering. "He's Gone!" Hermione strode carefully over to the couch and slouched back, staring at the words as though she expected them to attack her. She then flicked open to the second page, this was simply three large pictures, one of the death eaters, another of the Dark Mark, and to the right, a picture of Harry Potter, the same one which had once been used on the cover of "Witch Weekly" the article, which took up the bottom one third of the page, read as such.

"After 5 years, the reign of terror of the wizard who may now be named ends mysteriously in Little Hangleton. The body of Lord Voldemort, found. The wizarding world awoke this morning to great surprise as many of the institutions of the wizarding state were operating as before again. Mass speculation began as the wizarding wireless began to broadcast with presenters again, rather than the music which they had only been allowed under Lord Voldemort. Angus Surrey of "Surry's Midnight to 6 am show" was the first voice heard on the radio in 5 years. He reported that the death eaters had fled the building of the WWN at about 4 am this morning after a commotion. Owls have been flying nationwide for the last 4 hours full of rumour, and now, the provisional Ministry of Magic, as ordered by Rufus Scrimgeour, requested the Daily Prophet to reform after 3 years of non publishment to inform the Wizarding World that ministry of magic crime scene investigators have discovered the body of the dark wizard Lord Voldemort in a house in Little Hangleton which had served as the command centre of the dark forces. There has been much speculation as to the cause of his death, however the Daily Prophet can confirm that this was death by killing curse. Next to the body was a small stuffed bear, which many believe to have been the fabled "7th Horcrux" of Lord Voldemort. This news, which leaked in rumour to the wizarding community has sparked mass celebration, and restored belief in the "prophecy", after nearly 3 years ago the disappearance of "the chosen one" Harry Potter caused many to lose faith. The true fate of Harry Potter is still unknown, however many believe it was he who finally put an end to the Dark Lord. The ministry of magic requests all members of the wizarding community to remember the statute of secrecy, and beware of Lord Voldemort's followers, who are confirmed to have evacuated all seats of power as well as St. Mungo's wizarding hospital, Azkaban Fortress, and various wizarding dwellings around the country. Ministry law enforcement professionals, led by the aurors are beginning a hunt for any remaining death eaters, however many have already given themselves up. The ministry urges the magical community to be vigilant, as many of Voldemort's followers are said to be roving the country, and will be armed and dangerous. Full list of the Victim's of the second age of Lord Voldemort- Page 5, Where the ministry went wrong- Page 8..."

Hermione had turned a deathly pale colour, if Harry is alive, that could mean Ron is too, what is more, the prophet just reported that the Auror's would be coming for Lucius in a matter of hours. Although since repairing the enchantments on the house, it was now unplottable, it was only a matter of time before they were found. Lucius spoke wearily and quietly for the first time in several minutes- "They're coming for me, aren't they?" Hermione looked across at him, feeling a tear seeping into her eye, "Y-yes." she replied in much the same voice. I shall stay as long as I can… but I mustn't be here when they come, or they will arrest you too…" Hermione began to choke and sob, "Hermione, when they come, you must not try to follow me, you must stay… We may only have a short time left together… but if you follow me, they will arrest you too... You must claim you hid here after I left to go on the run, and that you were my servant the entire time… we must make all appearances that that is all you have ever been." Hermione remained silent, but her face was red, and tears were streaming down her face.

Lucius revived the owl with a flick of his wand, and dropped a few knuts into a coin purse affixed to the owl's leg. The owl hooted angrily and set off out the window, making sure to drop a bomb on the carpet on his way out.

Lucius then strode out of the room, saying as he went, "I must move your things back to your room, I will be back shortly." Hermione was left alone for several minutes, sobbing to herself. She was very much in love with Lucius Malfoy, and the idea of being apart from him caused her insides to feel like stone. She thought she would rather be on the run with him than safe and back with Ron… she laughed bitterly to herself… Ron was only ever just a teenage friend who she had developed a crush on, and mistaken, because of all the contact together for love. She was just afraid of being alone, that was why she had gone with Ron, she hated herself for her prejudices now, all those few weeks she had wasted not being with Lucius. She cried harder, then a voice rent the hall, which filled her with dread. It was a suit of armour, which doubled for a doorman. They had restored his enchantments so that he could alert them to visitors. It called to the hall "Sir, we have visitors."

Hermione jumped from the couch, going to the window, and in the distance, she spotted a shadowy throng of people, running from the main gate, towards the front door. She ran out of the lounge, to find Lucius, but he was already there, tearing down the stairs towards her, his face almost blue. Hermione had stopped crying now, she was just as pale as him, they locked the front door magically, and ran into the lounge. Lucius spoke, his voice on the verge of breaking into anguished sobs. "You k-know what I must do." Hermione looked at him with a look of utter despair, "I want to come too… I l-love you Lucius…" Lucius looked down at her, briefly, and a hint of a smirk came into his face, and a single tear rolled down his cheek, then he spoke "I have never known times like these before… You have restored me to the man I perhaps thought I was, but never could have been… but now I must flee, or they would destroy us both… I have loved you like I never loved Naricissa, thank you Hermione, I will always love you." The front door crashed into the hall as a scurry of footsteps and voices sounded into the hall. Hermione kissed, and embraced Lucius, they shared one final moment together, then he gently pushed her away, and disapparated with a final, ominous crack. Hermione's feet failed her, and she fell onto the floor, her vision utterly obscured by tears. She was sobbing noiselessly, her heart broken, and her voice unable to make a sound. Her pretty young face was twisted in pain, and her body retched and shuddered uncontrollably in anguish.

-Chapter 8- The Unwelcome Reunion-

The lounge door burst open, and Harry Potter and Ron Weasley bolted in and dived to their knees beside her, Ron took her in his arms and embraced her, Hermione felt his warmth on her, but felt nothing. Ron kept repeating "It's okay Hermione, whatever he's done… It's over now…It's okay, we're here… It's all over." She cried harder than ever.

Harry went out to the hall to help the others search the house, Ron cradled Hermione as she wept, to her, he might as well have been anyone, she didn't care about him, she barely felt anything at all for him, bar the familiarity of his voice, he could've been a stranger. There were shouts from upstairs, Hermione caught the words "We can't get in!" she knew they were trying to break into the east wing of the house, she knew they wouldn't make it, if Narcissa's malice could keep Hermione out, it could keep anyone out.

They tried for some time to get in, but eventually they gave up, and simply used exposing spells to try to find anyone inside. Once they were satisfied the east wing was empty, they disapparated with Hermione's things, leaving just Ron and Hermione alone together in Lucius Malfoy's lounge.

Hermione spoke at last, mastering her emotions painfully- "H-how did you find me?"

Ron replied, "As soon as I saw the message you put on the galleon, I knew this was where we had to come, and I knew where it was because of all the times Dad raided this place."

Hermione felt the bottom of her stomach disappear… the galleon, he had found her because of the galleon. "You s-still had it? After all this time?" she replied, finding it hard to speak still. "Of course I did, it wasn't like I was going to mistakenly spend it, and I got it from you…" he had gone quieter at the end of this sentence, and made to kiss her, she turned away. "Ron…- I…" she began. But Ron put a finger to his lips and said simply, "I understand, too soon right?"

Hermione considered her words carefully for a moment, "Ron, after the cave, I- I thought you were dead… How did you both survive?" Ron frowned momentarily, "we were lured into a room with a golden staff on a plinth in the middle, and the door sealed behind us, we spent some time trying to get the staff, and more time trying to open the door, maybe two hours in all, but when we came out, we knew something was wrong, it was much too cold, much too dark…" Hermione realised, a little disgusted with herself, that she really cared very little for the fate of her two best friends, her life had changed so much since then, there was only one thing, one person she cared about right now.

She gathered from Ron's disjointed speech that they had been caught in a zone where time had been magically slowed down while they had been inside, and they were caught there for many months, when it seemed like only hours. "Oh Ron… I'm so glad you're back." she felt very uncomfortable, her insides were screaming to get away from him, he seemed so ugly to her now. Perhaps sensing this, and misinterpreting it as a desire to get away from the house, he suggested they leave for the burrow at once.

They disapparated together and reappeared moments later outside the kitchen door of the Burrow. "Mum will be so pleased you're back, I'm sorry in advance." he said with a smirk. He opened the door and a large off-red haired blur engulfed Hermione with a squeal. "Oh you're alright!" she was buffeted inside. She realised with some relief that Mrs. Weasley didn't know about her and Ron having ever gone out, so things would be a little less awkward. Mrs Weasley looked to have aged quite a lot since they had last met, in Grimmauld Place, only a few months earlier. Her shiny, curly red hair had been replaced by a matte, dead mass of marmalade and grey, and her once plump figure had slumped slightly, making her look gaunt.

Mrs Weasley ladled out freshly prepared soup with croutons and garlic bread into eight bowls, herself, Ron and Hermione sat down to eat, joined shortly afterwards by Harry, Ginny, Luna and two other unfamiliar wizards, who spoke with Brazilian accents. "It is an honour to meet you, we've heard much about you from Ron." Hermione found herself being addressed by one of the two wizards. "Thank you, pardon my asking, but who are you guys?" they looked at each other, "I'm Pablo, and this is my brother Alfonso, we were the ones who destroyed the final horcrux for Harry, we did it years ago, before Lord Voldemort had risen again." Hermione was extremely shocked, "We thought we were the only ones who knew about horcruxes… Gosh, so Harry could have defeated Voldemort at any time?" The young men nodded, smiling widely. Hermione realised, not for the first time since she had been captured, how arrogant the three of them had been all along. Harry then interjected (Hermione could see him clasping Ginny's leg under the table, she spilled some of her soup down her robes and turned red) "The final horcrux was actually Hufflepuff's brooch, you know, the one we discovered in that waterfall in Cairo." Hermione thought back, realising Voldemort could have been vanquished almost a year earlier, then rather selfishly realised had he been defeated, she could never have hooked up with Lucius. She felt another surge of emotion for what had lost, and ate her soup in silence. The rest of the meal passed as Harry (his soup going cold) boasted of his defeat of Voldemort by getting Pettigrew to help him become an animagus, killing Nagini, and taking her place, infiltrating his way into the Riddle house, which he knew his way around thanks to a dream he'd had once. The rest was down to a bit of surprise action, and a killing curse.

That evening, Ron and Hermione were about to go to bed- "You'll have to stay in Ginny's room tonight, as you used to, can't have Mum knowing anything." he said.

Hermione thought to herself, "Knowing what, Ron? You're the one that doesn't have a clue." she thought bitterly of how she couldn't stand Harry or Ron anymore, how unsubtle they were, immature, and basically, everything Draco Malfoy had ever thought about them. She tried to be happy and join in when Mrs. Weasley pulled an old bottle of wine from a cupboard, and had a small party for the trio of heroes. She claimed she had sent an owl inviting the Daily Prophet to the burrow tomorrow morning, for the trio to tell their tale. Hermione realised with a pang, that maybe Lucius would see her, seemingly happy back with Ron, and on the "other side" again. She couldn't bear the thought, she wanted the quiet life of Malfoy Manor back, where there were no sides, no ego's. Just love, a peaceful life.

That night, after a lot of lying to Ginny about her and Ron, and listening to a lot of nonsense about Harry and Ginny, Ginny eventually fell asleep. Hermione lay, wide awake until the first glimpse of sunlight crested the hill overlooking Ottery St. Catchpole. When she finally fell asleep, her dreams were with Lucius.

Hermione spent a further two painful weeks at the burrow, plotting and dodging Ron's crass overtures towards her. One night, late, she rose and slipped away, she muted herself with a clever spell, ensuring she could leave in silence. Only Ginny saw her go, she whispered "Go to him" as she left. Hermione turned and whispered back (with a flick of her wand, she restored Ginny's hearing) "Tell Ron I'm sorry." she replied. Ginny smiled, and drifted back to sleep.

Hermione Granger slipped out the back door of the burrow, leaving behind a life that was no longer hers, she waved her wand over the burrow, lifting her sneaking enchantments, and disapparated, to find the love she had found, and hoped never to lose again.