A/N: First, love to my reviewers.
Second- This is the latest installment in "A Delightful Diversion". I anticipate several more entries in the series; This piece is mainly to set the tone for the rest. The rest will probably be quite dark; consider yourselves warned. And yes, they will contain CP.
Time seemed to pass slowly for both Harry and Hermione. They could both sense the electricity in the air, the gathering storm. The Death Eaters could feel it to, down to the lowest and stupidest if them. Lucius strode about with a smug look, having left the shadow of Azkaban while he basked in the good favor of the Dark Lord.
Voldemort had given permission for the prisoners to be taken for an airing once every day, depending on their good behavior and the number of Death Eaters available for a security detail.
The two were not allowed to meet. Even at meals, they were forbidden from speaking. Harry took the air every morning and Hermione the air at late afternoon. It was getting closer to May and the air was sweet and still; when Harry walked he could hear birds calling their mates, and when Hermione walked, those same birds flew home and roosted in the awakening trees.
Hermione felt encased in layers of cotton wool. She was often tired, due mainly to the fact that she was being kept mildly sedated 'just until things calm down, my lamb'. Her grief was running it's course, more or less. Some days she found she could go hours without thinking about her parents; some days the slightest thing would set her crying for hours. The Lestranges continued to be sympathetic, when they were there. They rarely were.
As for Harry, the only people he interacted with regularly were Voldemort and Snape. Voldemort came and visited him at least twice a day. He brought things for him—books, carefully bowdlerized sections of the Prophet, an apple or a handful of almonds. He made few demands on Harry, apparently content to watch his enemy, now his captive, work on the mountain of homework Snape assigned him. Theory only, of course. His wand was missing, and Harry had a feeling he would never see it again. A decision had been made to keep Hermione's until she felt a little better.
The night of May 1 was clear and rather chilly. The last few days had seen an increase in that strange energy. The werewolves had been seen hanging about a great deal. They had been heard howling despite the lack of a full moon and the two former Trio members had come to the same grim conclusion-the potion Snape made had worked. The werewolves could now transform at will. Hermione shivered and drew the eiderdown more closely around her shoulders. The world had gone mad and she struggled against it, crying to herself against the light she felt dying a bit more every day.
Below a great commotion was abruptly heard and then cut. They were cheering as he harangued them. Hermione found it hard to believe that Bellatrix and Rudolphus were with them, along with the Malfoys, people she had seen and even gotten to know a little over the past …however long it had been.
The pop gun sounds of Apparations started. It sounded like a lot of people. She rolled over and buried her head under the pillow. Something was afoot. She could do nothing. For the first time she consciously wished for a moment she was dead.
Harry didn't hear it. In his windowless room he heard nothing. He flipped a quidditch magazine of Draco's and thought longingly how good a chocolate frog would taste. The Dark Lord had brought him a flagon of potions that Snape said would help him rebuild the muscle mass starvation had stripped from him. It had a kind of chocolate taste. He drank it and went back to his reading. The room was warm, the house silent
He put his head on the crook of his elbow and let his eyes slowly fall, breathing deeply. His back rose and sank with the sweet calm of the young. After tonight he would never be young again.
They were both woken by screams and cries from down below, a clamor both confusing and strange. Both had the same thought, that the Order had come and rescued them. Harry leapt from the bed and ran for the door, crashing forcefully against the magical barrier, sprawling on his back. Hermione got up but more slowly, unsteady and slightly nauseous from the medicine. She too tried to escape and was rebuffed. She was the first to get the horrible news, the first to understand. Bellatrix ran through the door like the hounds of hell were after her. She was strained with blood, stank of sweat, flecked with mud and other things. A cut on her cheek bled sluggishly down her neck. She was laughing.
"Hermione! Hermione!" She grabbed the girl and spun, still laughing. Rudolphus appeared in the doorway, shod in dirty boots, leaving great brown clots of earth on the cream colored rug. He too was injured, he too laughing. "Bellatrix, calm down! Let the poor thing wake up!" But he seemed pleased by his wife's exuberance. The sounds from below didn't get softer—they rose in pitch and volume.
She knew. They had fought, they had won. People she loved were dead. She froze, leaving Bellatrix to laugh and dance alone. Rudolphus collapsed on the sofa, clearly exhausted. "Hermione? Come here, pet, we need to talk."
"They're dead. All of them. Dead." Bellatrix trilled another laugh and plopped down forcefully beside her husband. She was shivering with glee and anticipation. There was to be a great fete and they would be recognized at last.
Rudolphus dug an elbow into his wife's side. "Shut up, you'll make her upset."
To Hermione: "Come here, darling. Better you hear from us than from…someone else."
She went. Did she have a choice? She went and sat down on his other side, well away from demented Bella and her blood stained rictus of a grin.
"There was a battle. A large battle. At Hogwarts."
"Who's dead, Rudolphus? Who else is dead?"
He reached out and tried to put a hand over hers. She pulled away without looking and he didn't push. " The Order attacked us, Hermione. They attacked the school. Amycus Carrow fire-called and told us they had got in and were attacking almost at random. Several students were maimed or killed. Some idiot released fiend-fyre."
"Who's dead? Please, who's dead?"
"It's hard to say. Most of the ...causalities came from the fiend-fyre."
Hermione discovered later that this was half true. The age of Voldemort, as historians would call it, was an age of half truths. For now she wanted to be alone. She got up and tried to go in the bathroom to get away from them. They stank of death in every sense.
A hand caught her arm. "There's more, precious. I need you to listen. Otherwise you're in for a nasty shock."
Hermione turned. She wanted to hate him, to rage, to yell. She couldn't. She felt as though a great lead weight had settled on her soul. She sat back down and looked at him.
Rudolphus would have preferred a scene, honestly. He wouldn't have to worry about her spoiling the fete if she knew what was going to happen, but that didn't mean she had to be so damned reasonable about things. Where was adolescent temper when one needed it?
"Sweetest, Bellatrix is a little confused. Everyone didn't die. Not everyone. Many of your friends are alive and as well as could be expected. They'll be here tonight. You'll probably get to see if not speak to them."
"I'm expected to attend?"
"You will attend, if you wish to assure the safety of the children downstairs. What I need is a promise from you that you'll behave and do exactly what you're told. Do I have your word?"
Hermione nodded slowly. "I have no choice, do I?"
He smiled. "No, pet, but it's better this way. Really it is."
Bellatrix had stopped laughing for the moment and seemed to listen. "That's right, princess. Wouldn't want your little friends hurt because ickle Hermione couldn't keep her mouth shut, would we?" Hermione didn't answer. Bellatrix tangled her nails in her hair and yanked Hermione's head up. "Better answer me, princess."
If it wasn't ungentlemanly, Rudolphus would have slapped Bellatrix's head into the nearest wall. Hermione shook off a little of the drugged calm and tried to pull away. Bella tugged harder. "Answer me, damn you!"
"No. No, I don't want them hurt."
"No whom, little girl?"
Hermione winced. "No, Bellatrix!"
Bella let go. She hadn't behaved like this for days; she'd been nearly normal. In quiet Bellatrix could almost remember who she had once been. In excitement she became frenzied, wild. Azkaban had stripped the layers of inhibition from her like varnish, and the twitching, once beautiful wreck sitting on the sofa was proof.
Rudolphus finally intervened. "Enough! This is inelegant and below your station, madam Lestrange. Help the girl get ready or get yourself ready and call an elf to assist her. I'll be back in an hour."
He left them alone. Hermione was surprised to discover she felt safer with the men she was certain had killed her parents than with his wife, who probably had not. The deranged woman had seemingly forgotten her. She wandered into her bedroom and returned with a set of robes in a pretty deep violet. She put them on the bed and waited.
"Well? Are you going to undress or not?"
Hermione felt her face flush. "Here?"
"Yes, here. I have to modify your dress robes."
The robes were different than the ones she'd worn so long before to dance with Viktor at the Yule Ball. These were pure silk, so dark it almost looked black, with subtle embroidery. Bellatrix helped her into stockings and an under robe, then tugged the graceless garment over her head. There was much adjusting pulling until Bellatrix felt the robes looked right. She pulled her wand and murmured a spell. The embroidery glowed a faint blue green. "Narcissa, Bellatrix, Tibby, Lemmy."
"What did you do?" Bellatrix gave her a look that could have struck a dragon dead and Hermione swallowed. "I mean, what was that spell ? I've never heard it before."
" A chastity ward. Only Cissy and I or the elves can undress you."
She pushed the girl onto the vanity stool and began brushing her hair. She let it hang, with just a thin velvet band to hold it back.
"Sit here while I get ready. Ruin your appearance and I'll flay you."
Across the manor Harry had a not dissimilar run in with Snape. The dour man gave him the news in the most emotionless way. Harry wanted to sick up. He wanted to punch the git in the face. "I'm sure you're well pleased about this, Snape. You played both sides and won."
Snape seemed to swell with rage like a toad. " Shut up. You have no idea what you're talking about. None. Now get dressed or so help me by God I'll have your guts for garters."
Harry obediently put on the charcoal robes he'd worn to the revel. He raked a comb through his hair and then turned to Snape. "I'm ready if you are….headmaster."
Snape's eyes burned. "I'd learn to shut up. Things are different these days, Potter. You aren't the little Golden Boy anymore. Get used to it." He spun and let Harry follow in his wake.
The downstairs was a wonderland. There were garlands of flowers draped over every surface, tables with food and drink and a band of house elves playing instruments. Death Eaters were crowded in the hall, laughing, hugging, chattering. Lucius Malfoy and his pinch faced wife circulated, playing the good hosts. Lucius came up to Harry and Snape. "Severus! Harry! How nice you could make it. How are you?"
Harry saw red. Bastard. He took a deep breath, wishing he had a book to pitch right in the man's smug—Snape's hand darted out and caught his arm. He gave Harry a look of black death and said smoothly "Fine, Lucius, thank you. Yourself?"
"The same. If you'll excuse me, I must go and speak to Walden about something.."
Snape leaned in close. "Stop. Being. Stupid. You can't save the dead, but you can hurt the living if you keep it up. He wouldn't hesitate to make an example of one of your little friends."
The evening was endless. The captives were brought in around eleven. To Harry and Hermione's relief, Ron and Ginny were among them, along with the bulk of Dumbledore's army and many of the others. They looked shell shocked, bloody, badly scared. Alive. That was the important thing.
Voldemort stepped up on a dais which had been carefully constructed at one end of the hall. " Friends, tonight is a historic night. Much as I'd like to take time to celebrate our victory further, I feel as though we ought to see business now that we've all eaten. These children, these poor innocents, have been spared.
'Though they fought for our enemies, I have decided to spare them. However, as a pledge of their families' good behavior, you, my loyal followers, will be placed as guardians. Teach your charges well; the future of the wizarding world depends on you."
A man Harry was fairly sure was Yaxley shoved the first student, a pudgy Hufflepuff third year, forward. The girl's eyes were bright with tears. A splash of blood decorated her temple. Voldemort took her by the shoulder and pushed her forward.
"Atlas, Lucilla, can I ask you to take' he bent down and asked the shivering child a question ' Iolanthe here?" A tall woman pushed her way through the crowd and took the girl's hand, tugging her along. It took over an hour, but all the children were given out in the end.
Neville had also survived. Badly wounded, he lay fighting for life, surrounded by a different sort of high society. His chest barely moved, the massive wounds on his face and chest held together shoddily. His survival would depend on his will.
The last to go from the hall were the Weasleys and Luna Lovegood. Ron had a black eye; he seemed bloody but unbowed. His eye caught Harry's for a brief second and Harry read something there. Grief? Despair? Defiance?
Luna was given to Theodore Nott's father. Nott the younger was nowhere to be seen. She seemed unharmed and went willingly enough. Hermione, watching nearer the dais, wondered if she was in shock—her silvery eyes were blank.
In fact, she was close to correct. Luna, having seen horror upon horror the last few days, was in what a medi-witch might have called a fugue state. She could bear no more—she retreated to a safe place in the confines of her own head and there she stayed for the rest of her life. She eventually came back to some semblance of normalcy, but the man she married was bitterly possessed of the knowledge his wife was a shell. She drifted here and there, a gently smiling ghost. Her children would remember her as a shade, a shadowy creature that looked through them rather than at them. Such was the price of living in the brave new world the Death Eaters fashioned for themselves.
Then Ginny. Ginny looked beautiful. Harry saw past the dirt and bruises and saw his Gin. He wanted to touch her, to hold her. He wanted to tell her it was all going to be all right. She stood boldly, uncowed. When the McNairs claimed her, she disdained the proffered arm and stepped unaided into perdition. They led her off, and then it was Ron on the dais.
Ron was in shock. He had seen most his family die that night. None of it felt real to him. They were supposed to win; how was it possible they had not? His head spun. He saw Harry and tried to summon an appropriate response. Couldn't. It couldn't be Harry. Harry was going to destroy the Dark Lord.
Mulciber was summoned forth. He bowed and flicked his wand. Ron's eyes dimmed and he stepped forward like a great doll brought to life. Following docilely, he too left. That was the last time Dumbldore's Army, or what was left of it, ever met. No matter how inauspicious the circumstances, at least they had that.
"Rudolphus and Bellatrix, come forward." The Lestranges ascended as a unit. Bellatrix was gleaming, absolutely shining with joy. This was to be the happiest moment of her life, and even given the nature of her trials in later years ( for what's to become of an old soldier who won't—can't—fade away when the fighting is done?) she would not have traded that for anything in the world.
"I have entrusted you with the mud blood Granger. Hers is a rare intellect, a rare talent. I feel as though she is too valuable to waste. Would you agree?"
They bowed. "Yes, my lord."
"Then accept her with my blessings. Prepare her well, Bellatrix, for she has a destiny as important as it is glorious. Can I trust you not to disappoint me?"
"Yes, my lord. A thousand times yes."
He waved them away. They came to Hermione and took her upstairs, one on either side. She didn't dare shrink away. She could feel nothing but a numb horror. She realized at that moment that her life was over. From this chaotic womb she would be reborn. For the first time, she wished herself dead.
The Dark Lord gestured to Snape. He drug Harry forward by the arm. The Dark Lord stood next to him and put an avuncular hand on his shoulder. " And now to Harry Potter. What shall I do with him? He is fated to kill me, is he not?"
The hall had gotten very quiet. Harry's adrenaline surged. He could run but where? Fight, but with what?
" But then, what a waste that would be. This war has taken such a toll. So many lives…' the Dark Lord trailed off in feigned sympathy ' that to kill another wizarding youngster seems a terrible shame. So he shall stay with me. I will guide him, and perhaps he will prove himself worthy of command someday."
The cheers were deafening. The crush of drink reddened faces pressed close and Harry shrank back. Directly into Voldemort, who gave him a squeeze on the arm and his warmest smile. He was trapped like a bug in amber. "Smile, Harry. I have spared your friends tonight. I may not feel so generous tomorrow."
Upstairs, Hermione was being undressed by Bellatrix. The charmed robe fell at her feet and she stepped out. Bella had the house elf take it away and store it for the next formal event they would go to.
.Hermione never felt more naked in her life. She groped for her night dress and pulled it over her head. When she could see again, Bellatrix was studying her with that predator's grin. Slowly, she bent in and kissed Hermione's cheek with her softly painted lips. " You're ours now, little princess. You'll never be free of us again."
Hermione crawled into the bed and Bellatrix extinguished the lights. Still laughing, she left Hermione in the darkness.