A/N: You guys know I love you, right? Not creepily, but I feel a very real affection for my reviewers/readers. That said:

This chapter is likely to be controversial. I feel I have an obligation to write characters consistent with both JKR's portrayl of them and the internal characterizations and logic of this series. This means sometimes characters might act in ways I would not endorse in real life. Please don't send me angry notes about how evil my characters are.

The contract between writers and readers is a partnership . As a reader, you suspend disbelief and show understanding that my writing is not perfect. As a writer, I strive to make constant improvement and give you my best efforts, including the courtesy of being artistically honest. I would rather write a character who is an authentically bad person than one who is nice but unrealistic.

Warning: Contains CP and violence, ie flashback to character death. Angsty.

Rudolphus Lestrange was not a nice man. He was a sadist, a murderer, a racist. He willingly followed Voldemort. He knew what his wife's tastes in entertainment ran to and did nothing to discourage even her most debased whims. If anything, he encouraged her because it amused him to watch her. He took pleasure in acts of basest cruelty.

For these reasons, he had led the deputation to eliminate the elder Grangers. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. He and Bella, as a married couple, were among the few considered acceptable because they could provide the girl with both a chaperone and a protector.

Rudolphus, along with a few younger Death Eaters, had flown to the tiny town of Bendemere. The Grangers, or the Wilkinses as they thought they were, lived in a tiny house on the very edge of town. The Death Eaters arrived about ten o'clock local time. One of them, Offray, carefully warded the house a mile in all directions. The others, Rudolphus and Sutcliffe and Kurten, carefully snuck up to the main door.

The muggle scum within were sitting on a sofa, watching some kind of glowing box thing that sang like a radio. Rudolphus raised his wand. The others tensed, the air electric with resolve and anticipation, and Rudolphus blasted down the door.

The man leapt up and the woman screamed. The four masked Death Eaters poured through the door and immobilized them almost at once. "Hello there, Dr. and Dr. Granger. No no, don't bother protesting. I know she altered your memories."

They took them outside and Rudolphus smiled indulgent as a father as Sutcliffe and Offray played with the bound and screaming muggles. Kurten watched the whole thing with detachment, almost boredom. "Not up for some fun, James?"

Kurten shrugged. " They're just stupid muggles. I'd rather get back to my wife than watch them scream."

Rudolphus smiled. "How devoted of you. All right, boys, lets have an end to it."

The two stopped, not without a little regret, and Rudolphus approached the dying muggles. "Know you die in a Cause far greater than the sum of your pathetic lives. Avada Kadavra." They slumped, and the scene was carefully staged to make it look like murder.

The four men prepared to Apparate back to the international Portkey sight near Alice Springs. At the last minute Rudolphus stayed them long enough to reach around the muggle woman's neck and snatched off a medallion hanging there. He seized her blood slicked hand and tore off the rings as well. Pocketing them, they left the Grangers in cooling pools of crimson gore. The whole affair took less than twenty minutes.

All the same, when he heard the girl's moving about he was tempted to get up and check on her. He was as much a product of his upbringing as anyone else, and he bore the Granger girl no particular ill will. If anything, he liked her spirit and approved of the way she entertained Bellatrix so he didn't have to.

Days after the expedition, Hermione woke in a muzzy haze of potion. Her bladder ached and her mouth was cottony. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and padded to the WC. She felt dull, muted. She was not disturbed. Rain was pattering down the window pane. She could hear movement and voices. A baritone voice was singing a bit of "Hail Smiling Morn". There was a tray with a few soft rolls and a charmed pitcher of cold water. She poured herself a goblet and sat on the sofa, staring into the ashes of the sweet smelling fire.

The world, she reflected, should feel different to her. Things ought to have changed. They hadn't; the voice below was tuneful and perhaps a bit drunk, the water had a very faint tinge of iron, the rain still fell.

She wished she could turn the lights up to make the room brighter; she disliked sitting in tomblike darkness. Tomblike. Darkness. Dead. Dead. Dead. Not true. Dead. Can't be. True.

She wandered aimlessly back to the bed and something caught her eye. A gleam of gold in the dying light. A small pile of jewelry. The world seemed frozen. She reached her hand out as though in slow motion and carefully picked up the topmost pieces, a wedding band. She flipped it over and read the inscription she knew she would find there " Anne-Marie from Cyril, May 16 1976."

She put it down, still calm. Somehow her legs carried her back to the sofa and she collapsed there. Instinctively, she pulled her knees up to her chest and cradled them with her arms. The world moved on around her, she was a mote of despair.

Rudolphus had drifted off clothed in an easy chair in he and Bellatrix's room. Pure blood couples never shared rooms ordinarily; times were hard and they made do.

The girl should not have been out of bed. He got up and threw on a robe over his trousers and shirtsleeves. "Hermione? What is it, lamb?"

Her voice sounded a million miles away. " They're dead, Rudolphus. They're really dead."

Rudolphus came in and sat cautiously on the other end of the sofa. He put a hand on her arm and was not rebuffed. " Yes, darling, they are. Just like we told you."

"How did these get here? Mum never took them off."

Rudolphus cursed himself as a sentimental idiot. "The Dark Lord thought you'd like a memento." He moved a little closer. She still didn't move. Didn't seem to be breathing, even.

" That was very thoughtful of him. I suppose I ought to say thank you, when I see him."

Rudolphus didn't like this sudden tractability. Or the creepy, flat tone of voice she was using. "You certainly can, darling, but he knows you feel grateful. All he wants right now is for you to get better."

"I'm not sick."

"No. But you aren't well either. Let's get you back into bed, shall we?"

She shook her head. "I slept all day. I want to sit up."

Rudolphus sensed a struggle. "No, Hermione. Snape says you need rest and quiet."

" When I sleep, I see things."

"What things?"

" Dad would never have killed her. Or himself. Never. He didn't even yell."

The lights flared in the next room. Bellatrix was up. Excellent. Now he could deal with two hysterical females rather than one.

"Young lady, this is not up to you. Get into bed or face the consequences."

"They couldn't help being my parents."

Bellatrix appeared at the door way, hair sleep frizzed and eyes half open. "Rudolphus?"

"Hermione and I are having a discussion, Bellatrix. Everything is all right."

Bella squinted skeptically at her husband and her protégé and made her way to an overstuffed chair. She had a sense she should be here, if nothing else because once she was up, she was up.

Rudolphus felt conflicted; how dare the little chit say 'no' to him? How dare she say these things? On the other hand, the fact she dared made him respect her. It was a rare girl who had enough grit to resist the blandishments of such a handsome, imposing specimen as himself ( Draco was actually rather humble, as pure blood males go).

"I know it's hard to accept but--"

"Why, Rudolphus?. Why would you do a thing like that? What did they do you?"

Her courage really was extraordinary. Stupid, ill advised, rash, insane. But extraordinary. What a shame he had to crush it. For her own good, naturally.

" Stop that! You don't know what you're saying."

"It's all my fault they're dead."

Rudolphus forced air between his teeth in a gesture of disgust. She couldn't go on like this; not only would her emotions eat her up inside, she could get them all killed if someone heard her and realized she'd figured it out.

He made his decision. Reaching over, he grabbed her around the wrist and tugged her up and over to the vanity bench, and then upended her on his lap. Without a word, he wrapped an arm around her to hold her in place. Then he lifted a hand and brought it down, hard.

SMACK "You will not defy me." SMACK "You will obey and do as you're told."

SMACK "You will stop talking foolishness." SMACK SMACK SMACK

Finally something penetrated Hermione's frozen emotions. Pain. Rudolphus was strong; his swats hurt, not as much as the brush but enough that in short order it felt like a bad sunburn. She began to squirm, strangely relieved he was doing this. It gave her something to focus on that wasn't the horrible pain in her chest.

Rudolphus felt relieved as well. The girl was responding; he had no intention of stopping until she well and truly let go. Tightening his grip, he pulled up the skirt of her nightgown and bared her. She cried out. "Please don't!"

"If you liked it, Hermione, it wouldn't be a punishment. Bellatrix, may I borrow your brush please?"

She kicked harder. His hand hurt, really hurt, and she didn't want that horrible brush blistering her backside, especially not after Rudolphus walloped her with his hand. She sniffled and gulped, but no tears fell.

Stubborn little brat! Rudolphus paused long enough to take the brush from his wife, whose face was pink, her eyes avid, storing the scene for later. He sat it down beside them and put his leg over Hermione's so she didn't hurt either of them.

" I understand you're upset Hermione. You have every right to grieve, but you will not make false accusations, and you will not ignore your elders and go your own way. That will always get you punished, no matter what. And believe me, Hermione, if you didn't like Bellatrix's smacking you'll like mine even less."

He picked up the brush and brought it down. CRACK CRACK CRACK

"OWWW! Rudolphus, stop it! That hurts!"

Hermione wiggled, desperate to get away from the burning, throbbing pain. She couldn't kick, couldn't move. All she could do was lie there. She felt helpless and small. She hated feeling small.

He was right, too; Rudolphus had played semi-professional quidditch for a few years after Hogwarts, and fourteen years in Azkaban hadn't wasted his muscles completely. His smackings did hurt a lot more, which said a lot, because Bella's were pure Hell.

Rudolphus was a little impressed. The girl could take a lot. He was half tempted to push her to see what she could do… but there would be time for that later. Right now he would end this. He pushed the girl forward and began to swat her sit spots. She jumped and twisted but he held her down and kept paddling her.

Hermione couldn't bear any more. She felt like she was sitting on a stove top, the pain was intolerable. The shell finally cracked completely and she burst into tears, hard. All the fear and grief of the last forty eight hours seemed to fill her at once, and they demanded to be let out. She dropped her head, let her body go limp and keened.

"OWWW, they're dead, they're dead, Mum Mum I want my Mum, oh God oh God OWWWWW stop it stop stop it…"

Rudolphus stopped but Hermione didn't seem to notice or care. If anything, her howls got louder and more desperate. He put the brush down and covered her, let her lie there and get it out.

After a moment she started to gag. Her tears had come so thick and fast they choked her. Rudolphus quickly righted her. He had no idea what to do; he had managed to help her express some of her grief, but now he had a lapful of wailing teenage girl.

Bellatrix jumped up. " Pick her up, Rudolphus." He slid Hermione off his lap and set her on her feet. She wavered and started to fall and he caught her through sheer speed of reflexes. She was rubbery in his arms, almost helpless.

Bellatrix came up behind Hermione and gently supported her until she could stand. Hermione was still weeping, overwhelmed. Rudolphus took hold of Hermione's elbow and guided both women to the sofa. He sat down and gently pushed Hermione down, mindful of how sore she was. She pressed her head into his shoulder and kept bawling. "Mum, I want my Mum."

"Of course you do, Poppet. Bellatrix and I will do anything we can to help you feel better, won't we Bellatrix? Hush now, darling, you'll make yourself sick again."

Bellatrix looked perplexed. She was perplexed. It seemed to her that she ought to be doing something. But what? She was good with the Unforgivables, but cruciating the girl was probably not helpful in this situation. When she was upset at that age, she was comforted by a house elf. Her parents had never had time.

Her reached out and awkwardly put a bony hand on the girl's heaving back. "Don't cry, Hermione. Don't…"

Rudolphus began to rock gently. Bellatrix tentatively put a hand in Hermione's curly, sweat matted hair. It was soft, and she ran her fingers through it, humming.

Hermione was tiring. She had never cried so hard in her life. Her throat hurt, her eyes were dry and burning, her mouth was like sand paper. She tried to say something, anything, and Rudolphus put a finger lightly to her lips. "No, pet. You aren't going to talk, you're going to sleep. Close your eyes, like a good girl. That's right, go to sleep. We'll take care of you."

She felt sleep pulling her insistently down. From a long ways away, Rudolphus lifted her and carried her to bed, putting her on her stomach. He tucked the covers around her neck and doused most of the lights with his wand.

"Will you stay ?"

Bellatrix nodded. "One of us has to."

She looked at her husband a long time without speaking. "Rudolphus? Are you ever…sorry we didn't have children?"

She really is mad, he thought. "After tonight? I've never been so glad of anything in my life."

She nodded. "I agree. More trouble than they're worth."

He kissed the top of her head and she let him. "Good night, Bellatrix."

The room was silent except for Hermione's deep breathing. Bellatrix adjusted the blanket a little and sighed. Poor child, the worst was likely yet to come.