A/N: First, thanks to my reviewers. I appreciate the time you take to help me improve.
Second, I intend to turn this concept into a longer story that would tie the threads of these narratives together. I'd like to know, though: How are y'all feeling about the level of CP? I delibrately left it vague in this part because I didn't want it getting tedious. Would y'all as a whole, prefer graphic, described CP ( think 'A Fragile Understanding'), vague, implied CP a la this story, or somewhere in between, like 'Business and Pleasure'?
Third: If there are any pairings ( CP, not romance) you think would be fun, give a holler. At this point, let's restrict it to our current cast.
Finally: Wormtail is a horrible little man, but he wouldn't let me alone until he got his due. For the Harry fans among you, never fret, Potter will be back. He's being quite lazy at the moment, and Hermione and Draco have had to pick up the slack. Any suggestions on how to motivate him? ;)
Breakfast was a subdued affair. Harry and Hermione were brought down separately, Harry first. When Hermione entered the room, followed by Bellatrix and Narcissa, the men rose from the table almost as one. Lucius and Rudolphus came forward to lead their wives, Snape a step behind to escort Hermione. His hands were hard and icy cold, stained faintly purple under the nail beds. He looked tired, as though his store of spleen had run dry and left a man of seventy versus the spry man of indeterminate age he had been when she had seen he last.
Harry was studying her. She flashed him a smile and he smiled back, but wanly. He had dark patches under his eyes, his lips were colorless and the sunset of bruises on his cheek conspired with the rest of his appearance to make Harry look like a prize fighter in the midst of a final losing round, swinging and swinging as his opponent battered him into the ground.
She couldn't have looked much better. Narcissa had lent her a clean robe and a ribbon for her hair. Over Hermione's protests she had Tibby apply a light coat of makeup. Her lips felt greasy but, she had to admit, she looked a little like a model from a muggle fashion magazine- glossy, artificial and terribly thin.
The house elves brought the food, great bowls of porridge, platters of kippers and eggs, hot bread and butter, coffee and juice. The elves passed the plates and everyone tucked it, some more readily than others. On the other side of Snape, Draco Malfoy was chewing a roll with evident pleasure. Lucius chatted amicably with his brother in law about quidditch, occasionally asking Draco or Snape for an opinion. To Hermione's surprise, Snape was a fan. His firm support was for the Chudley Cannons, while Lucius favored Puddlemere United. Draco was torn between the Tutshill Tornatoes and the Falmouth Falcons, but all three agreed that the team to watch internationally was the Sweetwater All Stars.
Harry was silent, though he was a rabid Quidditch fan. He picked listlessly at a plate of kippers and eggs, lost in thought. Hermione nibbled some bread and sipped juice. She cast her eyes to him and kept her face still. Harry mouthed something and after a moment she realized he was asking after Ron. She shook her head ever so slightly. Nothing. She knew nothing, had seen nothing, felt sure that in her heart she would have known if he was… she couldn't finish. As for the other thing, the great panicked darkness, she did not know at all. She wondered if Tralawney lived in this, the vicous fingers of the future always reaching out to strike her in the heart.
There was a hush, a sudden clattering and everyone stood again. A slight chill fell in the room. A slow scuffing was heard and the Dark Lord swept in, accompanied by Nagini and the cringing Wormtail. "Please, be seated." He gave a gracious wave, and the company sat again. He ate nothing but took the place at the head of the table, while Lucius agreeably moved to Hermione's other side.
The hum gradually resumed. Other Death Eaters filtered in and out, relaying news or simply to have an early morning grovel. They were patrolling the grounds as well; Hermione could see them out a window, dressed in robes and masks, wands at the ready.
Breakfast was nearly done. The elves took her plates and mug, though no one made a move to stand. Like a king, the Dark Lord expected his sycophants to wait for him to rise. He sometimes held them in place for hours, simply watching his little puppets idling at his pleasure.
Draco Malfoy was having an excellent day. He had heard ( if not seen) Potter's little tete a tete with the Dark Lord and laughed hugely from his hiding place under the floor of the drawing room. He had carefully stupefied the captives, giving old man Ollivander a good kick as he passed. He thought about touching the unconscious Loony Lovegood but decided that his standards were far too high.
The panic to find Granger had woken him, though he knew at some level, as did they all, this was going to happen. He had raced outside, heard the all clear, and while he had missed finding she and that scum Greyback cheek to cheek, his room was on the way past hers, and he stood in an alcove not four meters away, listening as his aunt walloped the bane of his academic life until she howled. And did she ever! He had almost choked with laughter as the mud blood screamed promises of good behavior and expressions of pain. He would never carry on like that, to be sure, if he were in the same position.
Besides, his father had already promised him a pensieve of the Potter incident as soon as possible. He could replay his rival's abject humiliation as much as he liked. He anticipated getting a good deal of utility out of the thing. He wanted a bird's eye view of the mud blood's comeuppance as well, and thought his uncle Rudolphus a game sort who would likely give it to him. He had to restrain himself from rubbing his hands with glee.
The Dark Lord gave a signal that dismissed the Death Eaters and the captives with them. Draco followed the rest, never noticing that the snake Nagini was following. He gave Potter a good shove and was duly shoved back, but his real object was Granger. Her guardians unattentive, he managed to push her into a wall. " I loved hearing you get it, mudblood. It was hard to tell whether the beast had bitten you or not, the way you were screaming. I hope she does it again tonight."
Unfortunately for Draco, Nagini heard everything. She slithered back to her master post haste and relayed what she had understood of the conversation. The Dark Lord clinched his fists in fury. That miserable little over bred whelp… he debated making an example of him, but decided that a wholly different example could be made with less effort and bother. There were simply not enough to publicly kill anyone he didn't absolutely have to. He called Wormtail smiling, and Wormtail gave a squeak and came.
Draco felt a hard hand on his shoulder. The repellent face of Peter Pettigrew loomed above him. He recoiled and slapped the hand hard. "What is it then, you oaf?"
Pettigrew swelled with importance. "The Dark Lord summons you, young Malfoy."
At once Draco's mouth grew cottony. He didn't want to die; he had no choice. He hoped whatever it was would be quick, and that his mother wouldn't have to watch. He went on shaking legs to the dining room, where the Dark Lord still sat unmoving. Draco bowed low, trying to keep the quaver from his voice.
"Your lordship summons?"
"Yes, Draco.' No sibilant hiss, this. His voice was power and darkness and might. Draco felt he would wet himself but did not. Sweat rolled down his face, which was the pallid blueish white of a fresh corpse.
" I understand you engaged young Miss Granger today. Is this true, Draco?"
Draco was a Slytherin. "Yes, my lord, I asked what Quidditch team she…"
So was the Dark Lord. "I am shocked, Draco, that you seem to believe you can lie to me and get away with it. Legilimens." The morning's events played themselves backing hideous color, and a good number of other things as well. Voldemort smiled.
"So Nagini was right. I'm disappointed, Draco. I thought you understood how important the plan is to our Cause."
Draco tried to open his mouth but nothing came out. He was dead, dead, dead. His heart was racing.
"Ordinarily I would kill you, but I bear you too much affection. I held you as an infant, you know, when you were only three days old. Instead, I believe that steps should be taken to see that the punishment fit the crime."
He snapped his fingers and Wormtail scuttled forth like a plague bearing rat, which in many ways he was. He bowed so low his head brushed the floor.
"Wormtail, take Draco into the sitting room and take care of this for me. I would do it myself but I'm busy, and I don't want poor Draco to suffer waiting a moment longer than he must."
Wormtail gave Draco a dog like grin and Draco's guts roiled. Because, of course, dogs are servile creatures; except when they scent fresh blood. A dog that scents fresh blood, especially one long denied, is likely to tear it's prey apart.
Draco found himself being half dragged down the hall. The stubby little freak could move, Draco had to give him that. Pettigrew led him to the salon, mercifully free of people at that hour, when so many had to work or make public appearances, at least until the Dark Lord triumphed and the Death Eaters would be ascendant.
Wormtail was giving him that grin again, pointy little teeth gleaming with saliva. He sat down, still grinning, and Draco screwed up his courage and approached.
Lunch was, if anything, even more subdued. Lucius escorted Potter down the stairs about two o'clock, followed a few minutes later by Bellatrix and Hermione. Narcissa, having remembered why she and Bella never got on, had an opportune 'head ache', meaning she couldn't bear any more talk of blood purity or harangues about the many ways she had failed the Dark Lord and was holed up with a trashy novel and a box of chocolate bon bons.
Lucius did a double take when he saw his son. Draco's eyes were red with weeping, his hair disheveled, his usually immaculate robes wrinkled and blotched with tear stains. He seemed hesitant to sit in the hard chairs, and he couldn't keep still. Had the boy been hurt somehow? He tried to telegraph concern with his eyes, but Draco lowered his head and wouldn't look at him. Lucius felt a stirring of unease.
The Dark Lord entered and they stood and made their manners to him. Lucius ignored the way Potter pointedly didn't bow, but Bellatrix gave Hermione a hard pinch after she rose and hissed something. Lucius rolled his eyes—trust Bellatrix to take it five steps too far!—but at least the mu-the Granger girl would keep her occupied and not denouncing he and Avery and Nott and everyone else to whomever was kind or stupid enough to listen.
They sat, and Lucius watched his son very carefully the whole meal. The boy was squirming. He shifted and wriggled and bit his lip. He sniffled. He hadn't seen Draco like this since he was ten, perhaps eleven, the last time he had been… Lucius shook his head to clear it.
"Lucius, I must speak to you." Lucius rose and followed the Dark Lord. He would, it seemed, be the bearer of bad news that night. As would the others, in a distinctly different way. Sad though Lucius might have been to miss the fun of the raid (or rather raids), he was proud he had been chosen for such a difficult, delicate task. It proved his worth. He would push the thought of his son's strange conduct from his mind for now.
As for Draco, needless to say he did not have a good night. The only reason the Dark Lord had let him off as lightly as he had was because he judged the humiliation he was undergoing to be quite worth Draco's childish attempt to lie.
Dreaco's bad day wasn't over yet. At four o'clock sharp he knocked on the door of the Red Room, where Hermione was being kept. Bellatrix answered the door scowling and kept scowling while he explained his mission. Jerking herself aside she gestured to the couch, where Granger was reading "Hogwarts: A History" for the seven hundred and tenth time. Draco cleared his throat.
"Pardon me, Granger, but I wanted to, uh, apologize for earlier. I was wrong to make fun of what happened with Greyback and I promise I'll never call you mu-that name ever again."
Hermione wondered who had imperioused Draco and to what ends. He didn't seem to be cursed—she carefully studied his eyes and could see nothing wrong with them.
Draco felt like he was swallowing a mouthful of live coals. He'd never live this down, never! Tears formed in his eyes and forced himself to stay calm.
"I want you to know I got…punished for what I did."
Hermione felt a prickle of empathy despite herself. Had they cursed him? Tortured him?
"Would you care to—sit down?"
Draco shook his head violently. "No! I mean, I'm sure you want to get back to your book."
The light came on. She had to smother a grin. Served him right, the spoiled little prat. She hoped he didn't sit for a month.
She had to know. "Was it very bad? With Vol- the Dark Lord, I mean?"
Draco's pale face blanched even further. "It wasn't he. It was Wormtail."
Now Hermione did feel bad. She wouldn't want that repulsive little pustule anywhere near her either. Draco looked like he wanted to die. "If you wouldn't mind, Malfoy, I'd like to get back to my book."
Draco turned tail and walked quickly, almost ran, from her room. The Dark Lord stood there, giving him a little smile. "There now, that wasn't so hard, was it?"
He knew damned well Draco felt like his heart had been torn out. To ask anything of a mud blood ! The shame was burning in his veins like cold fire.
He knew what he had to do. "N-no my lord." He bowed low, hoping his agony was finally at an end. Voldemort nodded. Draco ran to his room and, for the first time in years, cried into his pillow in rage and embarrassment, like a punished child. It was all so damned unfair!
The Dark Lord entered and Hermione rose with Bella to avoid the inevitable pinch should she refuse. Behind him was Lucius Malfoy and Rudolphus, and behind them was Snape, bas –relief face a mask.
The door closed Dark Lord gave them leave to sit. Hermione's stomach cramped with anxiety. The Dark Lord motioned for Lucius to move the footstool over so he would only be a little taller than Hermione. Bellatrix sat down next to her, tried to school her face into 'worried sympathy' and failed. Lucius guarded the door.
The Dark Lord reached out and seized her hand in his bigger, icy cold one. "Hermione, you must be very strong. We've received some terrible news. There's been an accident…"
Bella had been right. She didn't sleep naturally for days, and when she did she slept thinly, often moaning. Her sleep would never again be free of terrors—the nightmare had only just begun.