A/N: Sorry this took so long. Muse is back. Kinda.
Death or something like it came to collect at precisely ten-thirty that evening, two days after our grisly (and fortuitous) discovery of the hidden bunker in the woods. It is testament to how dire our situation is that we were lulled into contentment for two days.
Two days. Because of SPAM.
I shall never live this down.
I will also forever regret reading the peeling, faded label of the first tin we opened. So many unpronounceable Muggle additives designed to preserve this hellish rendition of 'meat'. It ought to be impossible, but SPAM is worse than Diagon Alley alfresco sausage. At least the latter is cooked fresh, even if it does contain ears, hooves, tail and whatever part of whichever animal happens to come in small, white tubular structures.
So we gorged ourselves on SPAM and were sated. Sated enough that there was an effective truce-if not an accord-for forty-eight hours. As of several minutes ago, I had been feeling quite full and rested. Sadly, my respite was fleeting.
I double over, bracing one palm against the floor while the other makes a fist in the rug. Nothing will help. I know this because the Summons is designed to feel this way if you are foolish enough to not answer it. Or unfortunate enough to be in a position where you are unable to answer it. The pain is both incentive and punishment and it is so very effective.
At first I was resigned, because I bloody well knew a Summoning was coming and had steadfastly avoided thinking about it. And then I was enraged because here was yet another hardship I would have to endure because of Hermione Granger.
I contemplated bludgeoning her to death with her newly acquired boots. But ah, then I would not be able to demand a demonstration of the...what was it called? A rifle. She spent some time yesterday studiously cleaning the thing. I took the weapon back after it was rendered gleaming from her efforts. The weather has been too foul to venture outdoors for any large stretch of time. I aim to learn the rifle's workings when this latest blizzard ceases.
If I survive this latest hell, of course.
Merlin. Another fresh wave of pain hits me, like molten rock licking down from the Mark inside of my left forearm, coursing through to the rest of my body. This is so much like Cruciatus and yet...different. Cruciatus is mindless agony. You lose all concept of time under it. This is concentrated; directed, around that damnable Mark and I know precisely what is happening and am acutely aware of each minute that passes.
I felt the stirring, the tingle under my skin that was the precursor to Voldemort beginning the incantation. And then there is a kind of pulse; a neutral surge of magic. Fittingly, the pain does not actually begin until my former colleagues commence their Apparation to the Dark Lord's side.
The first pain brought me to my knees. The next sent me to the ground, and it will get much worse before it gets better. A few more hours of this torture and I likely will actually consider going to him had I a wand.
Shaking and drenched in sweat, I peel off my soaking shirt and kneel before the fire. I might as well be standing in it, because the agony makes me wonder if I'm being roasted alive. I do not make a sound, however. The Mudblood lies a short distance away, occupied with the dreamless sleep of ignorance.
I put my head on my knees and rock. This will be the second and longest time I have ever endured an ignored Summoning and there will be no relief on this occasion. No remedy that had been on hand the last time.
I wonder if the pain will kill me. I know of others who have ended their lives from it, but none who have actually died as a direct result. If I see the next sunrise, I'll remind myself to write down my experience somewhere, for posterity.
More pain now. It is quite marvellous, this pain. Nearly a beautiful thing to be able to feel something this pure after so many years of contrived, manufactured emotion.
So much for not making any noise. I do believe it is I who am making that awful racket...
Hermione sat upright. Something was wrong. It was dark and freezing in the cabin, which was highly irregular given the intensity of Dragonfire. She turned to the fireplace, still blinking sleep from her eyes.
Good lord, the fire was nearly extinguished. There was a great big pile of ash and a few smouldering embers. She rushed forward, forcing herself to calm her panic as she gingerly feed the embers, not daring to even breathe until the new bits of kindling and wood erupted into healthy flame. After this, she tossed in large chunks of firewood until she was satisfied the fire was in no further danger of being snuffed out from lack of tending.
It was then that she noticed Malfoy was gone. The cabin door was ajar and winter had sneaked inside.
She found him in the snow.
It didn't take long. All she had to do was follow the sound of the screaming.
She found Malfoy a short distance from the cabin with his left arm plunged shoulder-deep into the snow. Getting him back inside the cabin had been tricky, seeing as he chose to faint roughly several meters outside the front door.
He was no garden gnome. It took her every bit of strength she possessed and quite a bit of swearing to drag him back inside the warmth of the cabin. An insensate person was a hundred times harder to move than one who had some of his faculties about him. Once inside, Hermione shut the door against the deadly wind and paused to catch her breath.
And then she attempted to understand what in God's name had happened.
Malfoy was awake again, after a fashion, and was huddled over on the rug in the foetal position, shaking violently and holding his left arm against his chest.
Was he sick? It looked like he was injured. Could you actually overdose on SPAM? She approached cautiously.
"Malfoy?" Hermione began, attempting to unfurl him.
He was saying something, fast and low. She couldn't make it out. Trying to quash her nervousness, Hermione bent her head down to him, flattening her palms on either side of his face so she could get a proper look at him. She was so stunned by the incredible heat of his body that she nearly dropped his head.
"What in world is happening to you?"
His eyes opened. Widely dilated pupils rendered them nearly black.
Hermione frowned, not understanding. "You mean a Summoning Spell? That's what's happening? Did you try to Summon something wandlessly?"
He swallowed, shut his eyes and for a moment the shaking progressed to what looked like a seizure.
Terribly alarmed, all Hermione could do was hold his head in her lap to try to prevent him from banging it against the floor. And then, just as suddenly, Malfoy went still. He wasn't dead, judging from his long, drawn-out groan.
His eyes opened. They were unfocussed, but this time Hermione was able to make out more grey than black. She stared down at him in acute concern while he blinked up at her. She was belatedly aware that she had his right cheek effectively pressed into her bosom. Now was not the time for maidenly sensibilities.
Or maybe it was.
"Move away," he said, listlessly.
She obliged, rising to her feet. Malfoy propped himself up on his elbows and scowled up at her. Nothing was said for a minute or two. She thought he might have some difficulty gathering his wits.
"Are you alright?"
"No," he snapped. He inched backwards until his back met the western wall of the cabin and there he stayed. He looked positively depleted.
"What in the bloody hell was that all about? You could have died out there," she said, hand on her hip.
Malfoy sucked in a long, ragged breath. He regarded her for a moment from under lowered eyelids. "Water."
'Water' only had the two syllables, but there seemed to be a pronounced 'please' buried somewhere in that word. He sounded very vulnerable and perhaps that was what was killing him, she decided, with a mental snort. She hurried to their water supply, filled the metal beaker and brought it back to him.
His hands shook so much that she had to hold the cup for him to drink. When he was done, she made to move away, but he stopped her.
"Wait," he whispered, catching her wrist. His grip was loose and clammy. "Observe." He held out his Marked arm and then poured the last remaining drops of water in the beaker over it.
To Hermione's amazement, the little droplets danced and spat over the black Mark before hissing into steam. "Oh my goodness…" She stared at him. "Please explain."
"I have been Summoned by my former master. The Mark responds as you have just witnessed," Malfoy whispered.
Hermione's brain jostled the pieces of the puzzle into the only picture that made sense. "And you cannot answer the Summons," she concluded grimly. "This is the price you pay, then? Terrible pain? The heat?"
"Yes," he said, his eyes closing. "It feels as it looks - as though I am being cooked from the inside."
Hermione was aghast. "Was that the end of it, then?"
He shook his head, his eyes were still shut, but a manic smile stretched across his face. "No. This is the...intermission."
"Dear God, how much more will you have to endure?"
"There is a dose of concentrated pain for every loyal servant that appears at the Dark Lord's side, wherever he may be. I count fourteen so far." His brow furrowed. "Correction. Fifteen."
Hermione didn't think Malfoy realised he had a death grip over her hand. "And pray tell how many Death Eaters are likely to attend this Summons?"
Hermione swallowed. "I hate to break it to you, but I don't think you're going to survive five more seizures of that magnitude."
He licked his lips and finally opened his eyes. Some of his usual vigour had returned, though it was still more mania than anything. "Pro'lly not." There was almost a challenging gleam there. "Would you miss me, Mudblood?"
She ignored that, though the return of his usual lasciviousness was slightly reassuring. "There has to be something we can do!"
"There is no remedy, only-"
"Yes? Only what?"
But he wasn't able to tell her because it happened all over again. It was horrendous. Hermione sat beside him as he twitched and shuddered. At several points, he attempted to claw at his Marked arm and she resorted to sitting on him to thwart his attempts at self-harm. When it was over, he lay on his side, breathing raggedly. She allowed him a minute to recover, but didn't dare let him sleep because she had no idea how long the latest 'intermission' was going to last.
He was fading. Steeling herself, Hermione brought her hand around and smacked him across the face. The sound of the slap made her cringe. He did not respond. She moved her hand again and this time, he caught her wrist and squeezed to the point where she felt the bones of her wrist shift.
She winced. "Welcome back."
"Little bitch," he hissed, though without much gusto.
"Listen to me, Malfoy, I am not going to have to drag your sorry carcass out into the snow to bury you. "
He appeared to consider this. "Leave it to the wolves, then."
"Might do," she said, "only that would be cruelty to animals."
The ridiculous turn in conversation managed to snap him out of his delirium somewhat. He was slightly more serious now. "There is nothing you can do. I am going to die."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Bloody melodramatic Malfoys. You're worse than your son! Now, are you going to tell me what this mysterious cure is or not?"
He stared at her, looking contemplative despite his obvious exhaustion. His answer was a raspy request for her to come closer. Hermione leaned down such that her ear was close to his mouth. "Yes? What is it?"
"You are quite fine, you realise? Finer than you should be, than you have a right to be." He shifted and his nose bumped alongside hers. "For a sodding Mudblood."
Now it was her turn to be confounded. She stiffened and it took some willpower not to move away. His breath ought to have burned, because of the great heat emanating from him, but it was cool and clean against her cheek.
"Lucius," she said, more gently this time. "We don't have time. Tell me what I need to know."
He was slipping into unconsciousness again. There was nothing for it. She slapped him across the face a second time. His eyes snapped open and he glared at her. It wasn't him behind his eyes, thought. He was lost in delirium.
"Malfoy, for the love of-"
"My name," he precisely enunciated, so precise that she it felt like he was cutting it into the air, "is Magic and shall not pass your lips," he hissed. "You do not have a right to it."
"Be a bigoted arsehole later, right now I need you to tell me how to stop this from slowly killing you! What do I need to do to help you?"
"You cannot help me."
"Why? Because this requires magic?"
He snorted. "No, because this requires you."
She wanted to murder him, which was probably not the right attitude for a nursemaid to have. "Explain!"
"The connection to Voldemort cannot be broken so long as I carry the Mark, but it may be interrupted."
"And pray tell me how do we interrupt it?"
He was quite blunt, when it came to it. "Sex and a blood offering."
Hermione was aware her mouth had formed an 'O' of belated understanding. "You're serious?"
"Deadly. My wife was a good enough substitute the last time this happened."
"This has happened before?" Hermione didn't mean to shout her incredulity.
She was thoroughly disgusted. With Malfoy. With Voldemort. With any enterprise that operated on the assumption that pain, fear and suffering was the best way to ensure loyalty and obedience. She felt the familiar hatred and revulsion stir to the surface, nearly eclipsing her concern for Malfoy. "You people are mental to follow that cruel bastard."
"Life is cruel, Miss Granger," said Malfoy. He jerkily drew up one long leg, resting an arm across his knee. It was odd seeing him move without his usual fluidity. "Nature is cruel. Living is not for the weak. Only the fittest, the keenest of us survive to populate the future. It does the world a disservice to coddle the lesser beings, to promulgate their-"
Hermione waved a dismissive hand in the air. She'd heard villainous monologues before and was not impressed. "Yes, yes. Very good. Now, are you going to tell me how it happened the last time and what you did to fix it, or shall I just run with the assumption that the wolves on this cursed mountain are going to fatten come morning?"
She was quite sure Malfoy had probably hexed people into next year for being this rude to him.
"The last time, I was forced to attend a Ministry function and was unable to abscond without being observed. It's not a matter of what I did, but who. Narcissa, to be precise. In the cloak room at the Goyle residence. Followed by a shallow cut to her palm."
Hermione was silent for a moment. "Blood magic," she said, quietly, "enhanced by physical congress." He'd been right before. There was no remedy because she was not about to give him what he needed for the spell to be neutralised.
"And now, Mudblood, you leave me to die," he said.
Hermione didn't leave Malfoy and Malfoy didn't die, as much as he begged to at certain intervals.
Though, truth be told, she'd been sorely tempted to run away once or twice. Not because she couldn't stomach watching him, but because she knew she was apparently the only person who could ease his torment and she had made the decision not to.
He was right. She could not help him avoid the pain. What was required was...well, it was ridiculous frankly. And besides, she wasn't sure she trusted that he was telling her the truth. Malfoy was a very good liar. He was liable to tell her anything in order to achieve the upper hand in their situation.
He assumed he was handling their situation, but really, he was stranded just as she was; wandless and with no means to contact the world beyond their godforsaken mountain. He was a fugitive from the Dark and the Light. He had so more to lose and more to fear than she did. And he knew that. He was helpless, left out in the cold, quite literally, with no way to even protect that which was most precious to him - his son.
With this realisation came a wave of understanding. And calm. In their temporary winter prison, Lucius Malfoy could menace her and threaten to harm her, but she was the only thing that stood between him and a death sentence or something close to it. She was the prize, his ticket, his shield and bargaining chip.
A clever man did not abuse his only chance at freedom and Lucius Malfoy was one of the cleverest.
Hermione looked at him a little differently, then, as he slept with his head in her lap. That had been the best position to keep him in when he seized. It allowed for the least amount of damage to his head. His hair was slicked back with perspiration. He twitched every so often, his abused muscles spasaming long after the final seizure had passed.
She laid her hand against his forehead and breathed a long, ragged sigh of relief when she felt cool, damp skin. Long minutes past. Malfoy's breathing eased and the tension fell from Hermione's shoulders. She shut her eyes and said her thanks, though to whom, she didn't know.
It was difficult not to be moved by what she had witnessed that morning, for he had been immensely brave in taking his punishment. She didn't know for sure if he truly believed he'd been about to die, but she was pretty sure he'd wanted to.
He stirred, eyes opening. Not surprisingly, he was completely disoriented. "Cissa," he rasped.
"No, it's Hermione."
She fetched more water for him and then helped him sip it. Her name apparently rang no bells. His brow furrowed for a moment, and then his expression turned to one of panic.
"My boy. They will try to take him. You will help him."
Hermione signed. Even in delirium, he barked orders. On this, she couldn't offer any real reassurance, merely placation. "I'm sure Draco will be fine. He's very resourceful. And he's not alone. He has his mother, doesn't he?"
Malfoy's eyes closed. "Yes." He nodded. "Cissa is with him." When his eyes open again, their expression was one of fear and bleakness. It was stunning in its authenticity. Hermione found herself riveted.
"They come for me now. Best that you leave." He was agitated, licking his dry lips and trying to sit up.
Hermione pushed him back down. "No one's coming, Malfoy. No one even knows we're here."
"Here is not where we are meant to be! But here is known. This is someone's special place or else the spell would not have brought us to it…"
Hermione processed that. He was right. They had Apparated there. That could only mean that the place had some meaning to either her or Malfoy...or the young man that had happened upon them at the last minute. That was it! This was his place! It held some meaning or connection to him, whether he was aware of it or not.
Which meant that they really were not safe and that the Death Eaters could very well be coming.
"Cissa," Malfoy said again.
Hermione turned her attention back to him. "No, Lucius, it's me. Hermione."
There was a brief moment of clarity. She knew this because the ice crept back into his eyes. It was tempered by sheer exhaustion, however. "You."
To her surprise, he tried to pull her down next to him. Hermione immediately stiffened, confused and embarrassed and ever aware of the rules. The danger had passed and he was on his way to being well again. Their previous distance, caution and aversion had to be re-applied.
Or not. He wrapped one heavy arm around her waist and dragged her to him.
"Sleep," he slurred, his eyes already closed.
Merlin help her, she lay down next to him. She was, snotty, hungry, utterly exhausted and quite suddenly, very cold. He held her flush against him, her back pressed to his chest, her head pillowed on one of his arms. After a minute or two, his warmth seeped into her. His even breathing told her he was sound asleep.
Bugger it all.
Hermione shut her eyes and gave in to her exhaustion. You were entitled to seek what meager comforts you could, on a day like this.
My father used to tell me that Malfoys are not made, they are born.
But after more than forty-three years of living, I have discovered that that's a pile of Hippogriff shite. Yes, the magical talent and Pureblood lineage is there, but not the man.
The man is his potential.
I was seventeen when I first bent my knee in fealty to Lord Voldemort, and thank Merlin for it, because you might have noticed my legs shaking with fear had I been standing at the time.
I believed wholeheartedly in the cause. I would have died for it. To me, the notion of Pureblood supremacy is no mere theory. It is fact. Voldemort's ideas about how to promote that supremacy was not open to subjective scrutiny, however. His word was law, his view was the view.
Identifying the choices available to me were easy. There were two paths I could have taken. Either I pledge my allegiance and enjoy the mixed blessings that come with being part of a wealthy, fringe-dwelling, elite with aspirations to revolution. Or I decline and face ostracision as a best case scenario, or most painful death as the worst.
Which path would have best seen out my potential, in terms of what it meant to be a Malfoy?
You bet your best broomstick I took the Mark. I took the wife they assigned me, took on whatever mantle they wanted to pin upon my person and I became the kind of Malfoy family patriarch my forebears would have been proud of.
But there are times (invariably quiet and solitary times) when I wonder if I truly have achieved my potential. My definition of a worthwhile life is one where my survival and that of my progeny is no longer the major consideration.
My life thus far has been one of subterfuge, concealment and occasional incomprehensible violence.
It has involved creating chaos, suffering and damage as a strategy. As a means to an end, Voldemort kept telling us. Only the end never came, and the chaos continued. And there was no well-being, no good life. Just the never-ending wait for one.
Voldemort's ideology only held value because of its potential to create a world where Purebloods lived the good life. That potential was never realised. Just as mine has never been realised.
The question arises, then, whether it was the ideology that was flawed in the first place, or merely Voldemort's particular attempt to enforce it?
I do not like where my thoughts are taking me. I blame it on my recent misfortune that my mind seems so keen to test the boundaries of my darkest, most secret musings.
Well then. Where else shall I send my thoughts?
Unfortunately, the goings-on in the physical world are not providing me with any reassurance either. I register the pleasant fact that I am apparently alive and well, though I ache everywhere. I feel as though I've been trampled by a Centaur.
There is more to take in, however.
Young Hermione Granger is tucked into me like the smaller of a pair of spoons. My chin rests atop her curly head. My left leg is draped over the both of hers, effectively pinning her to me. It is my hand, however, that deserves the strictest admonishment.
It has worked its way under her bulky clothing and is caught in the soft vise that is the space between her breasts, cupping her left breast.
Instantly, I am hard. Painfully hard. I honestly cannot remember being this aroused in a very long time. I shut my eyes, wondering when and how my mature man's body was apparently replaced with that of an over-responsive whelp's.
It would be a welcome respite from my troubles to simply bed the girl, I suppose. Clearly (and rather disturbingly), she arouses me. I am not so intellectually dishonest to claim to not understand why. She is a healthy, young female. She is not unattractive nor unintelligent (nothing dampens my ardour like a stupid woman). Further, she continues to challenge my authority, which for some reason has added to my desire to demonstrate-in the clearest way possible-my mastery over her.
Would it be rape, then? Would that be the only way to bring her to heel?
Perhaps. As always, I am not a fan of sexual assault. I find successful persuasion much more rewarding.
I tighten my hand around the soft, rounded weight of her breast. It fits perfectly into my hand, warm and supple and familiar in that base, primal way that men know about. I lower my head, seeking the fine skin of her neck, just behind her ear and the beguiling scent that to be found there. It is different with every woman.
My erection presses against her backside, grinding against her tailbone; so hard I imagine it may in fact be hurting her. I know it is hurting me.
I should cease this madness. This way lies complications.
I feel her abruptly come awake and I hold her to me for those few, early seconds of wild, panicked struggle. It is a gamble. She will either balk and cry foul or her body's natural inclination will win out.
She lies stiff and still, her breathing fast and frightened. Ten seconds or so tick by. Ten seconds is apprehension, anything after that, I would submit, is anticipation.
No words. No protests. Free will given over.
Thank you, Miss Granger. I will take what you would not have offered me only hours ago.
My mouth is upon her neck, upon that sweet-scented spot I had mulled over earlier. She breaks out into shivers.
I turn her towards me, taking her chin so I can seize her mouth. Her hands flatten over my bare chest, but she does not push; merely tests. Her passivity is not to my liking, but as with all novices, she will improve with time and experience.
It soon becomes apparent that she has no idea how to kiss, this girl of nineteen. Virgins are a damned nuisance, but they do have their charms. Though I am surely the last man in the world that should be the recipient of Miss Hermione's Granger's particular charms.
The world is so very silent. The wind is asleep. There is only the crackling of the Dragonfire and the enchanting little gasps of the girl beneath me.
I pull away so I can look at her. See what is happening. Listen to what is happening. Fucking is a conversation, even when it is done in complete silence. You bed partner will tell you about his or her doubts, fears and longings. They tell you about how they have been treated before. They tell you what they want of you without speaking. And we do the same, of course. We are at our most vulnerable and I would argue, most honest, in those brief moments before orgasm is achieved. With a great deal of practice, one can manipulate this conversation. One can lie.
Hermione Granger's expression is not manufactured. The girl is completely without guile. She looks half out of her mind with terror.
Ah. It appears I am having a one-sided conversation.
I pretend to be hard of hearing as I rub my thumb over her cheek. Her jumper has ridden up, exposing a pale, flat belly and navel. I lower my head and kiss a prominent hip bone. She gasps and sucks in her stomach. I press my lips along the points of her ribcage and drag her clothing further up as I go, until her breasts are completely exposed and her arms are caught above her head. She is goose-flesh all over.
Further protests do not seem to be forthcoming, but that does not mean she isn't shouting them out to me.
Aesthetically, she is as close to perfect as can be for her particular size. There are about a dozen things I should like to do to her breasts, least of all, taste them, but I desist.
I do not enjoy a wasted conversation. She has nothing important to impart to me right now. I want her guilt to override her fear.
I pull her clothing down, managing not to graze her skin at all.
She sits up with her arms folded tightly across her middle, eyes downcast. Everything about her bearing tells me she is ashamed. Her face and neck are scarlet.
"You're um...well," she observed.
She's looking me in the eye now. Good girl. If I wasn't still in so much pain, I'd find her discomfiture terribly amusing.
"Apparently," I say. My voice is so hoarse, I scarcely recognise it.
She nods, licks her lips and manages to increase her blush. "Are we going to see a repeat performance of what happened last night?"
"I doubt it. The Dark Lord would not risk Summoning his Death Eaters again so soon." I hoped I was right.
"Good," she replied and then rose to her feet. A minute was spent simply standing there, wringing her hands. Honestly, the girl is as easy to read as a child's picture book.
"I'm going to get some fresh water," she informed me.
She walked to the door, and paused. "Malfoy?"
"Don't do that again. If you do, I swear to you I will not support your application for amnesty when we return to the Ministry."
Ah, cleverly played. I stand. I nearly faint in the effort, but it's vital that I am on my feet when I say this. Her eyes lift. At my full height, the top of her head barely reaches my shoulders.
"And what happens if you ask me to touch you again?" It is a taunt, and I expect nothing more than a juvenile, knee-jerk response from her.
But she actually appears to seriously consider the question. Her returning stare is so direct it's almost disconcerting.
"Then I'm really not worth saving," she replies, with a shrug. And then she takes the metal bucket, opens the door and walks out into snow.