Hermione Granger jerked awake.
Without pretense, her mouth formed a silent scream. After several wide-eyed moments of gasping, her mouth slowly closed in relief. It had just been a dream. It was all a dream.
Her mouth was parched and her entire body sore, she noted dully, needlessly. She always felt like this; she always felt like death warmed up with a particularly incompetent warming charm, which was only to be expected when one slept on the hard ground of the forest floor night after night.
She blinked, the lingering effects of horror from her nightmare already abruptly fading. The complete darkness that surrounded her was odd but not rare. She must have fallen asleep at the last place her feet could carry her, exhausted and alone as always. She was just in one of the more deeper parts of the forest.
Her arms made to grasp the worn bottle beside her sitting body, and instead felt something incredibly smooth. It wasn't dirt and it surely wasn't dirty plastic. It was a floor, something that felt incredibly close to... marble.
Shivering, her fingertips glided against the smoothness.
"You're awake," a voice commented quietly, echoing slightly.
The sudden realization that she was trapped in a room made Hermione's breath catch in her throat as she scrambled to stand. Choking in terror, she blindly reached for some kind of holding or wall or anything but grasped nothing but the cool marble.
A soft light flicked on with a low murmur, and Hermione immediately located the wall and scrambled to place her back against it for an advantage she would surely need.
Her eyes slowly adjusted, and she saw the soft glow was coming from a large fire. She could make out an armchair and the fireplace. Upon further wild staring, the small room appeared devoid of anything else except those items.
But she was wrong on that account. For Hermione, gaping in horror, noticed there was someone in the armchair.
"Who are you?" Hermione asked, still staring around the room for some kind of weapon, or advantage of any kind. She needed something heavy, preferably sharp, that she could attack this person with.
"We've met," the voice said.
"I've met a lot of people, you'll have to be more specific," Hermione replied, stalling for time. She was trying not to panic, not to let fear overshadow everything else. But she had heard the horror stories. The stories of the people who were captured; who were raped, tortured, and killed viciously. And not always in that order.
Inching along the wall, her hand crept toward a sword that seemed to be, perhaps unwisely, mounted on the wall.
"Don't touch that, please," the voice commanded, pleasantly enough. A thin manicured hand held a wand over the edge of the armchair ominously, pointed directly at her. She froze, her hand trained over the artifact. Weighing the pros against the cons, she slowly moved back into the shadows.
"Thank you," the woman replied, her wand disappearing. "Once upon a time that belonged to my father, and it is very dear to me. I'd rather it wasn't injured in a poorly construed attempt of resistance."
"Right," Hermione replied, a tad sarcastic despite everything. "Sorry." How easy it was, she thought absent-mindedly, to fall back into the cycle of humanity.
She hadn't the faintest clue what she was supposed to do from here - she didn't know what the woman's intentions were with her, if she was a friend or a foe. The events from last night were replaying in her mind on a reel sickly, and she found her hope rapidly depleting.
Seeing nothing else to do, she tentatively slid down the wall and waited for the woman to speak again.
"I'm surprised you haven't guessed who I am yet," the woman commented, her tone slightly patronizing.
"Well you're a woman, obviously," Hermione said, pausing before adding, "Or a man with a talent and range for voices."
The woman snorted. "I assure you I am one-hundred percent female."
"You're French, too," Hermione said, wrapping her arms around her knees tightly.
Was this a game? If so, what kind of game? Was there a wrong answer, a right one? Was she meant to answer correctly at all? Would answering bring imminent danger?
She knew how Death Eaters thought. They would prolong the torture as long as they could, and mind games were a specialty of several.
"It could be anyone. I've been to France on every summer vacation with my..." Hermione faltered, choking on the last word of that sentence.
"Your parents," the voice caressed the air, suggesting.
"Yes," Hermione mumbled, sounding more like a question than the statement it was.
"Yes," she gritted her teeth, shaking in a mixture of grief and fury. Was the woman making fun of her, of her losses? She couldn't tell. She couldn't tell anything!
What was happening? Why did this woman want of her?
Was she to become what so many before her had?
A silence filled the room as Hermione fought waves of emotion down. She could stomach death – could stomach the thought of Ron running into the light of Lucius Malfoy's wand so bravely - except her parents. They had been entirely innocent.
Voldemort had hunted them down like all the others, sending Fenrir Greyback to --
"Delacour," Hermione hissed, desperately pushing the memories away. "You're Fleur Delacour."
"Ten points to Gryffindor."
Hermione sighed wearily, tiredly. "What do you want with me, Delacour? I've heard the rumors surrounding you, and none of them are particularly pleasant."
"Have you," Fleur said flatly. "What are those gossips saying about me now?"
"They're saying that you sold out your family." Hermione spat, frowning in disgust. "That you sold your parents out for a pat on the back and watched their deaths with a smile on your face. They say that you killed Gabrielle yourself."
"Hmm. Assumptions, assumptions. Everyone is always making them." Fleur commented vaguely. "You shouldn't believe everything you hear."
"What should I believe?" Hermione said, smiling oddly, a bit hysterically as she looked at the ceiling. "What is the truth anymore? Was anything I just said true?"
A short pause before, "Some parts of it are, yes."
"Perhaps," Fleur remarked, leaning so that Hermione could see her dim outline for the first time. "We all have our secrets. Tell me how you've managed to elude the authorities for so long."
"Are you referring to the blithering simpleton idiots that are currently running the operation?" Hermione said, drawing boldness from familiarity. "It's not terribly hard."
Fleur smiled, leaning back once again in her chair. "Remember that you're talking to one of those blithering simpleton idiots," she reprimanded sharply.
"I'm not afraid of you," Hermione lied.
She was. She was afraid of pain, of death. She had watched children die, stolen from their mothers and murdered before their time. She had seen the light fade out of so many people's eyes. Death should have been expected, really; a relief even. She had accepted long ago the only reason she was alive was sheer luck.
But the thought still made her blood run cold; it still propelled her to live as fully and as long as she could. It still made her fight.
She could never just let those bastards win.
Fleur smiled slightly, knowingly as she detected the hitch in the girl's breathing. "Yes, you are. You're afraid of me and you're afraid of the pain I could cause you. But we all die some day, so why be afraid? Pain is irrelevant. Cowards die many times before their deaths."
"Shakespeare," Hermione remarked, surprised. "But he was a Muggle writer."
"Are you calling me a coward?"
"No." Fleur mused, sounding amused. "Young, maybe, but never a coward."
"I want to know what you're planning to do with me." Hermione said, after a moment. Glaring at the back of the chair, she continued, "Are you my friend or enemy?"
"I'll do whatever I want with you, I suppose. I do own you now. But whether we're friends or enemies depends largely on you."
Hermione remained silent for an entire minute before eventually snarling, "What?"
"I bought you."
Hermione sneered; bright hot fury washing over her and replacing the fear as she again snarled a single word. "Why?"
"Because you were for sale."
"You can't own me," Hermione began, red seeping into her eyesight before being cut off.
"But I do, legally."
"I can't just sit around and agree with that," Hermione finally spat, standing.
"I would if I were you," Fleur commented, laughing as her wand reappeared over the edge of the chair, once again trained on the girl. "Sit down, Hermione."
Hermione remained standing, glaring at the back of the chair defiantly.
"You're not leaving this room until I choose, so sit," the woman hissed more forcibly.
Stubbornly, Hermione did not move an inch. Smiling, she uttered one word, the one thing she found she was still in control of for the moment.
"No." It gave her immense comfort.
Hermione heard a sigh, and then watched as Fleur stood up, facing Hermione dead on for the first time. Hermione blinked as she took in her face. She looked exactly the same, and exactly different. The looks were all still there, she knew that much. But there was harshness in her face, a kind of unbridled smile that frankly scared her.
"Hermione, Hermione, Hermione," Fleur sighed, smiling in the eerie way she had just described. "You're going to have to learn to accept it. It's what you are now, what defines you."
With a burst of defiance, Hermione mocked, "Fleur, Fleur, Fleur. You can't own a person's mind."
"No, you can't," Fleur acknowledged, smiling still and getting closer rapidly.
"But you can break someone's easily enough."
Hermione's eyebrows shot upward before she darted toward the sword on the wall.
Sputtering five seconds later and not knowing quite what had happened, she found herself pressed into the wall with a wand inserted firmly into her neck.
"Now," Fleur began, more casual than one would usually look holding a wand to someone's throat, "I told you that I'd rather not have that sword injured in a poorly construed attempt of resistance, did I not?"
Hermione glared, gagging slightly when Fleur jabbed the wand further into her throat. Their noses were practically touching.
"Well, didn't I? It's very dear to me."
"Maybe," Hermione coughed, clutching her throat with soothing hands when Fleur rolled her eyes and lowered her wand.
"Then don't do it if I tell you not to."
Hermione straightened, glaring as she ignored what Fleur had just said completely. "I'm going to ask you one more time, Delacour, and I'd like an answer this time. Why the hell did you bring me here for? What's my use to you?"
"Why do you think?" Fleur replied, smoothly, watching her intensely.
Hermione frowned. "I'm not in the habit of asking what I know."
Fleur stared at her before stepping back and pacing the fire's edge. "I don't know why," she finally said. "Perhaps I hold more curiosity over you than the average person. Perhaps I was interested in what you had become, what so much death and bitterness would make you. Perhaps I was being considerate of what would happen to you had I not acquired you.
"Perhaps I needed a new kitchen maid."
"What I don't understand is how could you – you, of all people – have joined him?" Hermione spat. "You were engaged to Bill Weasley."
"If you're jealous I can assure you it would have been a marriage of convenience and nothing else," Fleur laughed softly, picking up an ivory poker and stroking the fire carefully.
Hermione rolled her eyes, sneering in disgust as she continued, "Maybe I'll never understand why you sold out the people that loved you; maybe I can't and shouldn't want to."
Fleur looked up, dropping the poker before staring straight into the eyes of the other girl.
"You should understand that I'm a survivor first, Hermione, and a multitude of other things afterward."
A/N: I've been gone so long, haven't I? I'd like to say I've changed; I'd like to say that my writing skills have become MUCH better (because I've reread everything, and wow, I seemed to have had an aversion to spell checker.) But you'll be the ultimate judge of that, I suppose.
I've reformatted the story for the last time. (I swear!) I just had a few plot changes to make and then, I wasn't digging Fleur's accent. On retrospect, it seemed tacky.
But anyway, I'm back, blah blah blah. I hope this doesn't suck as much as I happen to think it does. Reviews are welcome and encouraged but after ten months of absence, I have a new appreciation for lurkers.