A Different Kind of Gravity
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed on Chapter Four! Saene, satoz, lizzy likes the hot guy, MrsMarbleMan, Sectimsempra, Coco96, Wicked Sapphira, DreamBigToFallHard, FrequentlyDazzled93, Lady Kaliska, JaceDamian23, chocolaterox92, signy33, Eliza Lighton, georgievixen, sunshine'n'sarcasm, priscalthum, Miss Mercury101, Edward-is-sexier-than-Mike, kamapaludo, sweet-tang-honney, nicole317, cosettex, wittyying, My Misguided Fairytale, xdeyawsx, omgahitsbritt08, oZxho, Neferet Ichigo, milkbun, kaitlynvoncat, ilovenat1995, and anonymous.
And an additional thanks to Sakura Takanouchi, the much-loved beta.
This chapter is dedicated to signy33, with best wishes for their birthday!
I'm finding out in the hardest way
The consequence of every mistake I've ever made
Baby what's it like to be alone?
(Baby, what's it like to be alone)
I don't want to know, I don't want to know
--Mayday Parade, "Bruised and Scarred."
Recap of Chapter Four:
He didn't know what had prompted him to take that particular route, but it got the job done quickly and effectively. She got what she wanted, didn't she? And so did he. He'd shown Hermione her place.
Chapter Five: Quid Pro Quo
Hermione's anger at the way that Voldemort had no doubt purposely manipulated and directed her was matched only at her anger at herself for letting it happen. She was a Gryffindor, the smartest witch of her age, as they said, so why did she let herself fall to pieces over something as meaningless as the barest of physical contact?
He was right, however, and she had to admit that, no matter how much it irked her to do so. She had no agreement, no contract with him, but he was in every position to hurt her at any moment of his choosing. Sure, she could do her best to upset the order or plans of his ranks, but that would be barely a scratch to the surface. He'd get over it, and she'd only endure more of what he'd already shown to her that he was capable of delivering.
And she really, really didn't want any kind of a repeat performance of mental havoc á la Voldemort. Once was more than enough, really.
The more she thought about it, the more she wanted to find some way to cause him pain for once, to show him that she was hardly a pushover, that everything he said about her was false. As she floated through rooms and walls, no ideas came to her. It wasn't her fault that the man was completely unflappable.
He's like a rock, she thought. An emotionless rock. How do I hurt a rock?
That particular line of logic was going nowhere fast, for her mind automatically got stuck on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness and a running tally of acids that would destroy certain kinds of rocks—none of these recollections would be even remotely helpful to her in the slightest, but Hermione enjoyed the reprieve.
Really…she pursed her lips. If I wanted to cause Voldemort pain, how would I do it?
She knew the hunt for the Horcruxes would continue without her, and destroying one or more was the first thing that came to her mind, but she was hardly in a position to do anything about that. They had discussed the possibility of Nagini being a Horcrux, but she hadn't seen the snake since she'd been in Malfoy Manor. If the snake held a part of Voldemort's soul in it, there was even a possibility that the snake could sense her and attack her if she tried to harm it.
She gritted her teeth, marking a mental X through her first plan.
She could see how well he could take his own poison, but decided that it was out of the question. He would not fall for the same trick he'd used on her, that much was certain. The idea that she could pull off any kind of seduction was laughable at best, embarrassing beyond all reason at worst. He'd used her insecurities about her own emotional connections with her friends to unbalance her, and she was sure he had no such issues.
She scratched an X through plan number two.
It seemed she had finally found something of merit with plan number three. Whenever he had stretched the physical limitations of their bond through Apparition, it had hurt her physically, if for only a moment. Reason stood to gain that the same happened to him when she had attempted to leave the Manor immediately after her 'death,' only he wouldn't have known what was happening at the time. If she made a conscious enough effort to distance or break the bond, any pain acquired should be transferred directly to Voldemort.
…Theoretically, she thought.
It was better than nothing, and if nothing is what happened then she wouldn't have lost anything by trying.
Either way, she had to get back at him, somehow. She'd taken torture from the hands of his followers, been all but locked up for days, deprived of and then overloaded with emotional stimuli, and was now thoroughly lost in his headquarters.
She looked left and right, unsure just where she'd taken a wrong turn. It didn't help matters that every single hallway looked exactly the same; the Malfoy family seemed as creative in their decorating as they were with their insults.
She plunged through a wall and found herself in a fairly nondescript bathroom, crossing the white tiled floor to peer out of the small window. She deduced that she was on the ground floor and that the room seemed to be facing the back of the house, as she wasn't familiar with that part of the grounds, and it seemed to stretch for quite a distance.
Even better, she thought. Whatever link bound them seemed to take residential topography boundaries into account, so Hermione hoped that she'd be able to get far enough towards the edge of the property to weaken the bond or even break it. The more time she had to stretch it before he arrived, the better, too. She knew he'd probably figure it out fairly soon, but by that time she hoped her little revenge plan would have been completed.
…Theoretically, she huffed.
Hermione passed through the wall and stepped onto the immaculately cultivated grass that made up the back of the Malfoy estate. It would have been pretty if she could have forgotten for a moment just where she was, but she didn't have the time. She didn't have the time for a lot of these things, she realized, not when her friends were out there continuing their mission without her.
She surged onwards, resolutely stamping her way through the grass, enjoying the way her ghostly shoes left tiny little imperfections in her wake.
She glanced behind her towards the manor once as she continued across the vast field that made up a large section of the Malfoy's immense backyard. She'd already passed a few rows of hedges and colorful flowers that bloomed even in this colder weather, although the sun was up and shining brightly as if to mock her less-than-cheerful mood. She'd traveled a lot farther than she'd thought as the house grew smaller in sight the further she traveled, and her once-dwindling optimism grew with each passing step.
After what seemed like an hour of solid walking, Hermione was beginning to find whole new reasons for disliking the Malfoy family. She paused to catch her breath, leaning against a tree to take advantage of the shade it offered. She couldn't tell whether the minor exhaustion she was feeling was due to the distance she had just covered or the fact that she was nearing the edge of the Malfoy's property, but gave herself a few minutes of rest to regain her energy. She had a feeling she would need it if she hoped to have the strength to break their strange bond.
After a few more minutes of walking she began to feel it. The air seemed thinner, like it was becoming harder and harder to breathe properly. Hermione strained to put one foot in front of the other, so she paused, took as deep a breath as she could, tensed every muscle in her arms and legs, and pushed off from the ground in as poltergeist-appropriate a way as she knew how.
She was prepared to feel the weight that immediately settled back somewhere behind her shoulders as she surged through the air, grim determination written into her face as she struggled to keep her momentum going. She could feel it—could almost hear it as something around her seemed to rip before the air in her lungs gave out and tears sprung to her eyes as she resisted the force tugging her backwards.
No…No! I must do this! She shouted inside her mind, fingers scrabbling on the too-thin air as she fought to keep moving. It barely registered that her feet were pedaling in mid-air and she wasn't moving any longer before a curtain of blackness seeped into her vision as the ground rushed up suddenly to meet her. She landed awkwardly, pain shooting through one arm as she twisted around and tried to sit up, taking in great gulps of air as the invisible weight of the barrier settled firmly around her.
The ground seemed to pulse suddenly, the leaves and branches of the trees shaking with the force of what Hermione was sure was Voldemort's response to her actions. Hopefully, he'd felt everything she'd done in double.
Once more, she felt it; this was the end. Bright lights, blurred vision, the works. The only thing left was…Hermione frowned in confusion as Voldemort's head popped into her vision, an equally disgruntled expression on his face. Her head was still swimming, and she wondered, why is the last thing I'm hallucinating you?
Oh, dear, I said that out loud, didn't I?
"Yes, you did." He tried to look smug, but the effort was ruined by the look of anger and, dare she hoped, pain, on his face.
"Hold still, I'm apparating us back to the Manor."
"No," Hermione argued resolutely, attempting to wriggle away in the direction of the barrier even as Voldemort grabbed her arm. She winced; he just had to pick the injured one, didn't he?
She landed on her feet, surprisingly, coughing as she struggled to regulate her breathing before promptly falling into the wall in Voldemort's antechamber. The inconveniently asymmetrically-patterned wallpaper spun in Hermione's vision, and she spared one thought to curse it and another to force down the nausea that the side-along apparition had caused. She turned back to face the other occupant in the room, who was glaring at her as though she'd done something to deserve it. She half hoped she had.
"Something wrong?" She couldn't help the delirious smile that rose to her lips.
"Clearly," he answered assuredly. "If you would be so kind, enlighten me on just what the hell you were doing?"
"You're smart, you figure it out," she muttered.
"Let's review, shall we?" he began. "You attempted to break my hold over you—nearly succeeding, by the way—and didn't you think for a second that you or I would come out without a scratch at the other end?"
She paused. Her vision was starting to clear and the massive headache and tingling feeling in her right arm was also starting to fade, but her rationality seemed to have abandoned her altogether.
"…I believe that was the general idea," she offered.
"And wouldn't that qualify as just slightly more than counterproductive?"
"…Well, not if it worked," she said.
"Well, now that you've finished your cry for attention, congratulations, you've got it," he continued. "What do you want?"
"I feel funny," Hermione managed, still trying to keep her balance by inconspicuously grasping the chair rail.
Voldemort rolled his eyes. "Naturally. But, I think you should recover with no lasting damage," he said, sarcasm almost tangibly dripping from every word.
"You think? I don't think I like those words," she muttered.
"You're wasting my time," he bit back. "I'll return when you're recovered." He hesitated. "If you recover. Your possible brain damage is not my problem."
By the time she gained the strength to form a decently witty response, he'd already stormed out of the room. Hermione slumped onto one of the couches in the room, not even caring that she had floated halfway through it to lay her head on one of the surprisingly comfortable decorative pillows.
I don't see what his problem is, half his staff suffers from brain damage, she thought defiantly. If only…it was contagious…the Lestranges' minds are addled enough for the lot of them…
After a few minutes of sitting and doing nothing, she began to feel restless and slid a book from the top of the stack towards her.
It made her feel slightly better that she could have sworn she saw Voldemort limping as he exited the room…she laughed to herself as she opened the cover.
He returned several hours later, a large stack of books in his hands. Upon further observation, Hermione discovered that it was actually a very small stack of books, but each book was about the size of one of her school trunks. She tried not to pay any attention to him, but curiosity got the better of her and she leaned over to look at the titles as he set them down on the coffee table.
"I suggest a compromise." Hermione had never been happier to hear those words coming from his mouth, especially when he was offering a first-edition copy of A Compendium of Common Curses and their Counter-Actions. Hermione was just about salivating as she spread the books out across the table. There were books on death omens, books on healing magic, and even a copy of Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide to Household Pests. She lifted a copy of Poltergeists and You: Banish your Demons in Twelve Easy Steps! and lifted an eyebrow.
"What are all these for?" She asked.
"Like I said, it's a compromise. I believe that with the proper motivation and research, we should be able to find a cure for your condition," he answered briskly.
"We?" She asked skeptically.
"I believe that's what I said." She didn't blame him for sounding more than a little brusque, although she partly wondered if that was because Lockhart's book was one of the closest pieces of literature on the subject of poltergeists.
"And what's my end of the deal?" Hermione asked. "I'm not going to help you with any of…your research." She wrinkled her nose, mind filling with all of the creatively horrible ideas her brain could conjure up.
"My dear, what do you think I am doing in my spare time? I am aware that you have been investigating the premises, but the drawing-room and my laboratory are hardly indicative of the unending evils you seem so bent on attributing to me."
Hermione snorted in response, choosing to ignore his misplaced endearment and the prickling, uncomfortable feeling it brought to the back of her neck, still waiting on his answer.
"And while it would be a trial to be without your company any longer than I am already forced to endure, I believe we both will survive, and besides, I am perfectly capable without your assistance." He sounded justifiably amused, and Hermione scowled at his capacity to turn everything around to be about him, even when the situation was clearly about her. "No, what you will do for me is precisely not what you did this afternoon. You will not attempt to disrupt the bond until such time that we have determined a mutually secure method of breaking it. Permanently. At which time you are free to live out the remainder of your short life, and I will continue on with mine. Do we have an agreement?"
"Fine," she responded, clipped.
"Now," he continued, as if the previous events of the day had all but vanished, "I have read all of these books"—Hermione rolled her eyes—"and there are a few valid points we need to consider."
"So, you're seriously going to help me with this?" She asked incredulously, waving her ghostly arms around for emphasis.
"I gave you my word." Voldemort inclined his head. "I would like to be rid of this unfortunate circumstance just as much as you, if not more, so please keep that in mind."
"I will," She responded seriously. "Although you'll forgive me if I don't quite believe you."
Voldemort sighed. "Haven't we been over this already? You very clearly have a problem with certain…life choices of mine, but I suggest you put that behind you if it will influence your attitude towards our necessary partnership. Your research would not succeed on your own," he paused while Hermione spluttered, unconvinced, "and I would not like a repetition of this afternoon's cry for attention," he repeated. "And I can do without another morality lecture from you."
"And here I thought you were an expert on all subjects, poltergeists and world domination excluded?"
He smirked. "I don't dare to assume the rank of theorist or poltergeist, I'll leave those to you. Although," he paused, "I won't deny the title of dictator, if it comes my way."
Hermione managed a complacent grin. "If there's one thing I've learned from observation, the poltergeist is always in control."
"Then learn to control your attitude," he commented smoothly.
"If you ever learn to control your temper," she finished, mocking his tone.
Voldemort frowned; doing anything otherwise would be analogous to acting on her words, and that just wouldn't do. "Get to work or I will find a spell in these books that will shut you up."
"Spells don't last all that long on poltergeists, you should know that," she said, for once feeling proud of her position. "It's probably the same reason you can't read my mind, it's the same thing that happens with a lot of other magical creatures, like giants or trolls…"
Realizing that she'd just compared herself favorably to a giant and a troll, Hermione continued quickly. "I just mean that it wouldn't work. You can't banish me or do anything else of the sort. Although," she paused, tilting her head to the side as she thought, "Olive Hornby did appeal to the Ministry to get Myrtle to stop haunting her. If you like, you can go to the Wizengamot, tell them you've got an invisible spirit following you around and you just can't handle it anymore, I'm sure they'll be perfectly amenable to your situation."
"You forget, girl, I own the Ministry. They'll do whatever I want," he answered.
"So, is that your new plan? Get them to banish me and then live with the knowledge for the rest of your life—forever, if I'm not mistaken—that you just weren't strong enough to deal with a teenage poltergeist? You may control the Ministry, but the Daily Prophet would love that one," she said, masking her poorly concealed grin by pulling one of the books towards her and opening up the cover. A thick layer of dust rose from the musty-smelling pages, and Hermione coughed into her sleeve.
"We're wasting valuable time," he tersely reminded her, so Hermione relented, leaning in to read the small print of Adalbert Waffling's Magical Theory.
Hermione had lost track of time three books later, but as her eyes were now impervious from any strain, she hadn't noticed when Voldemort had retired, but the empty chair on the other side of the narrow table was proof of that, and the organized stack of books she assumed he'd already read through. Even the lamps had all been turned down, and Hermione blushed when she realized that she'd been so engrossed in her reading that she hadn't even looked up once except to grab a new book. While any information on poltergeists was irritatingly slim and mostly redundant, she'd leaned a lot about various other magical creatures she hoped she'd have a chance to put to good use. She stretched out her legs, wincing as the joints popped in protest of the awkward position she'd kept with her legs folded underneath her and her nose practically inches from the text. She started on the next one and was seriously considering inventing the Wizarding equivalent of an audio-book just to break up the monotony when she glanced over to the window and saw that, to her surprise, an orange glow was already spreading over the sky. She stretched her arms above her head as well, hoping the pops from her stiff shoulders served as a good substitute alarm clock.
She turned the page, starting on the third chapter when the information suddenly started to make sense. She trailed the passage eagerly with her index finger as she read, flipping the next page quickly to learn all of the material as hastily as she could.
"I think I've…" she breathed softly.
"Found something?" Voldemort asked, leaning against the door-frame.
"I think so."
A/N: What did I say about my updating? Don't let me get away with this snail's pace!
All of the books mentioned (with the exception of Poltergeists and You, which I added for comic effect xD) are real magical texts, according to HP Lexicon.
For anyone unaware, 'quid pro quo' means, roughly, 'this for that,' or 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours,' referring to their little cease-fire. xD
Thanks for reading this chapter, and since you're already here, drop me your thoughts in a review, please? =)