Written for DMHGficexchange 2009.
This is a story about choices and the fact that some types of 'freedom' don't actually allow you many choices at all. I thought the themes behind the quote were specific enough to apply this storyline (whether readers think so, is another matter, of course!). Also, for Draco to be what he is here, I feel he would have needed to endure a major tragedy in his life, so apologies in advance for the angst. I've tried my best to make the sentiments expressed in the quote apply to both Draco and Hermione, though in slightly different ways. Thanks very much to Bunney (Krissy) for her beta-ing expertise. Any errors are the result of later editing.
FIC REQUEST DETAILS:
Would you prefer an art or fic gift?: Fic
Song, Poem, or Quote (title/original creator): "Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." (Statement made at his sentencing hearing in 1918 / Eugene V Debs, American labor leader)
Describe your ideal gift in as few words/keywords as possible (plus rating): Post-Hogwarts and a (if not happy) positive ending (PG13 to NC17, whatever fits your story).
Dealbreakers (absolute no-no's): Kowtowed, weak Hermione (physically or mentally).
~Viva La Revolution~
God, but he hated the opera.
Thankfully, it was all over before the fat lady even started singing. The small, busy little orchestra was working itself up to her grand entrance. The audience sat in unmoving silence, politely expectant. Going to the opera was still quite new to them.
Like everyone else, Draco's eyes were fixed on the stage. His mind, however, was elsewhere. When the explosion occurred, causing the five-tiered crystal chandelier overhead to shimmer ominously, he was probably the only person in the theatre who didn't jump out of his seat.
The noise was ear popping in its proximity, but this was nothing compared to the sheer pandemonium of the theatre patrons. In its brief lifetime, the opera house had been host to no less than three suspect fires, and due to a monumental miscalculation in architecture, hasty evacuation had always proven to be difficult. Apparition was barred in Magical London unless you made your way to a secure, designated Apparition point. This was located in the foyer, which happened to be where everyone was rushing.
Seated in one of the private boxes on a sublevel to the left of the stage, Draco watched with resignation as people stampeded to the exits. What had once been a very dignified procession of formal black eveningwear, pearls, and silk had degenerated into blind, animal panic.
Acrid, grey smoke was billowing into the performance hall from the south entrance, assisted by a brisk, late-winter draft. There was no fire yet, but it seemed to be only a matter of time.
"Draco!" Pansy clutched at his forearm. His wife looked terrified, but had enough control of her faculties to unclasp the ruby necklace she was wearing and shove it down her deep bodice. The matching earrings and bracelet went the same way. Never having quite perfected the art of less-is-more, it took her a minute or so to find additional places to stash the diamond tiara and rings she'd also been wearing.
Mrs. Pansy Malfoy owned excellent jewelry because Draco knew how to reward. All men with money and difficult wives did. If Pansy made it out of the theatre with nothing else other than what she was wearing that evening, she could still live out the rest of her life quite comfortably.
"They are not here tonight to rob you," Draco said quietly.
She sent him an annoyed glance. It was a miracle she heard him over the din. He rose to his feet in one fluid, black motion and helped her shrug into her mink coat. She would have had it on quicker had she not been quite so frantic.
"Well I'm not taking the chance!" Pansy sniffed. She wasn't hysterical, but she was getting there. "They took Millicent's engagement ring right off her finger when they attacked her garden party!"
Point of fact, no, they did not.
It was only because the ring wouldn't come off Millicent's stocky little digit. Who knew why she was still saying it was stolen? No doubt Millicent's browbeaten little fiancé would rush out to buy her a replacement. Eligible pureblooded women of breeding age were increasingly hard to come by. At thirty-five and already twice married, Millicent Bulstrode was still considered a prize.
As much as her engagement ring would have been to the Resistance's cause.
Draco's men were predictably waiting for him in the candle-lit corridor outside. Their black robes were peppered with mortar dust. It had been a very close thing indeed.
The Resistance was becoming increasingly bold in their attacks since news of Voldemort's illness had come to light.
Pansy knew what to do; she had had plenty of practice. She went directly to the waiting Death Eaters, to be safely escorted to Malfoy Manor. Idly, Draco counted to five before she remembered to turn around. She was a stickler for appearances, after all.
"Be safe," Pansy whispered, her blue eyes large and bright in her ashen face. He saw her right hand absently pat down the spot under her coat where her tiara was hidden.
Once Pansy was whisked away towards the Apparition point, Draco started down the curving, plush-carpeted corridor with the remainder of his men. He removed the long, constricting, outer layer of his formal robes and tossed it. One of the other Death Eaters, a younger recruit, jogged to the front of the pack to deliver the news.
"Tell me," Draco said, demanding a report.
"Sir, there was a device laid at the theatre entrance. Not large, but it took out a sizeable portion of the façade. Seems like they knew you'd be here this evening."
No, actually they didn't.
"Mmh," was all Draco said, sidestepping a hysterical matronly type who came hurtling at him from her own private box, garbling something about a missing husband. The question begged to be asked.
"No sir. Mundanes. Three of them."
That brought the procession to a sharp halt. Draco came to a standstill and the men behind him had to stop short, nearly colliding into their Commander's back. Draco's glare could have ignited kindling.
"What the hell were they doing outside after curfew?" It was eight-fifteen. Anyone who was not a Ministry Official or a Death Eater was supposed to be at home. Voldemort, in one of his more lucid moments, speculated that ordinary citizens (or Mundanes, as he liked to call them) had dinner cooking on the stove by six-thirty. Anything later was immediately suspect. The curfew didn't do much for Wizarding eateries, to say the least. In any case, most licensed businesses closed up after five anyway.
"Coach drivers, sir," reminded the Death Eater. "They would have been specially Permitted to work this evening for some of the patrons. A few of them were smoking on the steps when it happened."
Collateral damage, thought Draco. It was always easier to say the phrase when it was someone else's husband or father...or son.
"And has word been dispatched to our Master?"
This met with general, uncomfortable silence. The Death Eater beside him was eager, young and ambitious. But this was one of those questions that led to more difficult questions. He met Draco's gaze, saying nothing. Unfortunately for the lad, Draco Malfoy could outstare a cat.
"Sorry, sir," caved the recruit. "Given his condition…we thought it best, well if..."
They thought it best simply not to tell Voldemort. To not give the Dark Lord another reason to fly into an irrational, deadly rage. Voldemort had killed the bearer of bad news one too many times for the act to merely be the by-product of tyrannical rule.
It was becoming the by-product of insanity, rather.
Their Dark Lord was bat-shit crazy. That was about all there was to it, really.
He had been diagnosed with some heretofore unknown disease of the subconscious that was turning his already magically patch-worked insides into so much mush. Some said it was an ordinary reptilian ailment that had been given new, magical legs. There was no cure. They knew this because they had been made to look.
Like an injured bear, a terminally ailing Voldemort was unstable and dangerous. He had been biting the hands that had been feeding him for a few months now. He only trusted Draco, tolerated a few of his surviving senior Death Eaters and only just managed not to decapitate Blaise Zabini long enough to sign the slips the Treasury Department kept sending down. He was the mad king that thought himself fit to rule.
Draco and his team stopped outside the opera house. The late, winter cold was like a slap in the face. It whipped at his long hair and the hem of his robes. There was no press. No swarming reporters taking pictures of the enormous, smoking crater where the imposing front steps of the grand theatre had once been. Chunks of broken, jagged, white marble lay in soot-blackened heaps. The destruction was contained, precise.
Draco's usually expressive mouth flattened into a grim line.
This would not be reported. There was no one to report it to. There were no newspapers. Indeed, there were no publications to speak to the masses. There was just Voldemort. And his message to the masses remained the same – fear me.
Suffice to say the message had wavered since his illness. He was not the object of fear any more. Draco rather suspected Voldemort knew this.
Overhead, the Georgian-style opera house loomed, tall and white. It looked out of place in the colourful mishmash of architecture that was Diagon Alley. Gringotts was by far the most austere, somber building on the street, but even the bank seemed livelier in appearance.
Death Eaters were crawling all over the site already. The bodies of the victims had been removed. At first, no one noticed that he had arrived at the scene. But as usual, his presence alone usually seemed to distort the space around him. The other, investigating Death Eaters approached him like skittish mice around a suspect bit of cheese.
Several of the evacuated patrons and Ministry officials were staring at the night sky. Above their heads, beyond the low parapet of the flat, opera house roof, the familiar message hung in the air. Not the Dark Mark, of course. That hadn't been used in over sixteen years. The memory of it was gathering dust in Draco's pensieve.
No, this was a new one altogether and it did not need a newspaper to advertise its particular meaning.
R E G A R D S, D .A
Voldemort lived in a fortress that had once been the Parkinson family's primary residence.
Pansy's father did not live long enough to see his teenaged daughter wed to an equally teenaged Draco. Harry Potter's body hadn't even been cold yet before the Slytherin pair had been thrown together and married. It had been important to Voldemort to unite the old families as quickly as possible. To that end, nothing worked better than a marriage.
There hadn't been much protest from either Draco or Pansy. Or if there was, no one listened.
Pansy's home was her dowry and Draco had paid it to his Master's cause. She didn't need it any more, apparently. Wives were the property of their husbands and her home was wherever Draco chose to put his head down.
Draco sent word ahead to the fortress, which was why the Dark Lord's private guard was expecting him when he arrived. Ten of them, in their customary red robes and gunmetal masks, met him at the gated entrance to the property.
There was no love lost between the Death Eaters and the Dark Guard, but the men were not stupid enough to search him themselves. They took his wand and the dagger he kept in the holster on his calf and trusted that there was nothing else to be surrendered. And then they took him through the labyrinth of corridors to Voldemort's chambers.
The room was incredibly humid. This was because it was easier on Voldemort's failing lungs. The heavy, dank air settled on Draco's skin, irritating him. He did not enjoy warm weather. The Malfoys had always thrived in the cold.
Voldemort was seated at a table, writing slowly on a parchment when Draco entered. The room was mostly dark; there was not nearly enough light for an ordinary person to read or write. But Voldemort never needed much light to function. Draco suspected the few lit candles dotted around the room were more for his attendants.
The scratching of the quill continued for a few minutes more, accompanied by the Dark Lord's laboured breathing. Draco felt a familiar trickle of disgust at the degenerated state of his once virile Master.
Despite his illness, Voldemort was still elegance incarnate. There was a reptilian quality to him. This meant that when he had a mind to, he moved in short, sharps bursts. Like indecisive smoke. He was dressed in dark grey robes with runic symbols stitched in silver. The belled sleeves were long and kept dragging across the ink well each time Voldemort dipped his quill. Draco didn't think he noticed.
"It is dire news?" Voldemort asked, casually. His hand was starting to shake. Whatever he was writing was becoming nearly illegible, but he seemed determined to get it all down. "It must be dire news indeed for my Commander to see me personally."
"Yes, my lord," Draco said, and then he told him about the attack on the opera house.
Voldemort's quill snapped in his tightened fist. Black ink, or possibly blood, pooled on the parchment. "I want that Mudblood bitch captured and her men slaughtered! Dumbledore's Army will be destroyed! It will be done before my end!"
Draco kept his light grey eyes downcast, respectful. "Our efforts continue, my lord."
Voldemort leapt to his feet so quickly that Draco had to restrain himself from taking a cautionary step backwards. "I do not want them to continue!" Voldemort hissed. The movement had cost him too much. He clutched at his skeletal chest as deep, cavernous coughs wracked his body before slumping down into the chair once more.
Draco knew better than to move so much as a muscle. He simply waited until the coughing, then the wheezing, had ceased. The house elf who had been waiting silently in the corner rushed forward with a goblet of some dark, steaming liquid.
"I want your efforts to be successful," Voldemort said, after he had drank heavily of the potion. "You will do this or your end will be the same as mine. I will see to it personally."
That was foolish, Draco thought. It was foolish to issue that kind of toothless threat if previous ones had never been followed up on. By Draco's count, he ought to have been dead several times over by now.
"I understand." Draco bent his head in a low, slow nod. It was almost a bow. The back of his neck was exposed. It was a calculated gesture that said: You are my master. I live and die at your sufferance.
Had Voldemort still retained his Legilimency abilities, he would have ascertained quite a different line of thought altogether from his thoroughly loyal Commander.
I'm close enough to kill you.
Draco wouldn't need his wand or a dagger or anything else designed to bring death. He could just walk forward and snap that weak, pale neck. A mere boy could have felled the Dark Lord at this point. It would not be a difficult thing to do and it was not a difficult thought to think.
But then leaving the fortress would be the tricky bit. Sometimes, if you cut off the head of a snake, the body could still toss and thrash for a minute before eventually succumbing to death.
The rest of the snake waited outside the room.
And Pansy and their young daughter were at home.
Draco stood, awaiting dismissal.
"You may go now," Voldemort obliged, returning to his writing. The potion had temporarily restored him, seeing as his hand was steadier.
Before leaving, Draco caught a glimpse of what his Master had been painstakingly scrawling.
They were execution orders.
Ah. So there was to be a new wave of suppression killings shortly; a bit of early spring cleaning to weed out future trouble, no doubt. His men would be called on soon. Draco glanced at the last three names on the list. The first two belonged to Mundanes he did not recognize. The last one was 'Longbottom'.
What was that Muggle saying?
You can't teach an old dog new tricks. This has as much to do with the fact that dogs were simple creatures, albeit in a clever sort of way. Dogs were exceedingly good at being dogs, even if the odd rebel thought it was human instead.
You could teach a dog all sorts of things so long as you got to it while it was relatively young, while the mind was malleable and retained information better. You could lay the foundations of that dog, for the rest of its life. And it would thank you for it.
The same could not always be said of people. Some people are capable of learning new tricks. The difficult part about this is being able to stop performing your old routines even if you wanted to.
For the Commander of Voldemort's Death Eaters, this was a hard one to pull off. Draco had learned a new trick, so to speak, and going through the motions of his old life was becoming very difficult.
Frankly, it was hell.
It would be true to say that Voldemort would have had Draco, mind, body and soul, for however long he was required, had Draco's son simply not died.
After that, Draco was the crack in the wall, and he was spreading. So the death of one teenaged boy marked the silent, creeping downfall of Voldemort's reign. Just as the death of another teenaged boy seventeen years before, had marked its inauspicious beginnings.
Pansy had conceived Soren, their first child, when they had been in many respects, children themselves. Lucius had waited longer to become a father, not that this had improved his parenting skills to any noticeable extent. If anything, he had treated Draco like a prized possession and a commodity. Draco was certain that Lucius had cared for him in his own, Lucius sort of way, but it had not been with the staggering, overwhelming, fearful love that he and Pansy had felt for their son from the moment the boy had come into the world.
Mind you, it was a love that he and Pansy did not feel for each other, but that was acceptable. That was...doable. There hadn't been any doubt that they would marry. It went beyond expectation after Voldemort had ascended. Draco knew Pansy harboured some affection from him in the beginning, but that had been fleeting and childish. Romantic foolishness wasn't wise in a magical Britain ruled by Voldemort. There simply wasn't room for it.
With the birth of Soren, Draco had discovered in himself a startling capacity to love with an all-consuming fierceness. Suddenly, alarmingly, there was no more passion left to spare for Voldemort's dubious cause.
It was hard to square the continuing miracle of a new life you helped to create, with the world that Voldemort had created. The Dark Lord was about suppression and coercion and obedience through fear. None of these things made sense to Draco when he looked at his son. He saw for himself what kind of results you got when you gave of yourself freely. Taking was all good and well until you wanted something real and lasting in return.
So after Dumbledore, Hogwarts and then Harry Potter had fallen, in that order, the following years were a whirlwind of blood, law making, law enforcing, and the never-ending effort to quash a very persistent Resistance. Draco and his young family had stood in the middle of this maelstrom.
Even with Potter dead, the people did not 'come along quietly'. No. It had been a rather drawn out, messy affair. And through it all, Draco and Pansy had managed to keep Soren out of it with an obsession that bordered on desperation.
Pansy actually deserved a medal for this particular feat. She was what she was, but to her credit, she was also an exemplary mother.
Inevitably, the majority of the people who remained in Wizarding Britain were brought into line. At first, from the grief and terror of defeat, and then, from sheer human resilience to Get On With Life no matter who was at the helm, evil Dark Wizarding Lord or not.
And then Soren turned fifteen and previously childish questions like papa why? and papa how? became: I will! and I shall! and then the inevitable you can't stop me! Well yes, he couldn't stop him from going along on a mission because Draco simply hadn't known about it. If he had, he'd have locked the boy in the Manor dungeons until Soren came to his seemingly limited senses.
What good was it being Commander of the Death Eaters if your own son didn't fucking listen to you?
Voldemort, utter bastard that he was, specifically invited the boy to go on that mission. This was of course before illness and insanity had struck him down and he had been charisma incarnate. At the height of his post-Hogwarts powers, he made for a very convincing overlord. There were eyeless, one-celled organisms living on the bottom of the ocean that would have followed him. Voldemort loved being loved and for a time, he was...believable.
What chance did one young, impressionable boy stand?
The mission had been against the Resistance, a ragtag group of fighters founded by the surviving members of Dumbledore's Army. They were the proverbial hair in the hard-earned soup that was Voldemort's rule. A trap had been set and it had been rather effective if you ignored the fact that their Master's definition of successful included the sacrifice of twelve of their own men to destroy the Rebel Safehouse.
Correction. Twelve men and one boy.
Soren hadn't even been old enough to take the Mark or Apparate or even grow a decent beard.
Draco had experienced Cruciatus and he had experienced plain, old-fashioned torture once when he was briefly captured by the Resistance. But when he was told about the death of his only child, the pain was quite literally indescribable.
It was a supernova of agony. It was like dying over and over and over and never wanting it to stop because maybe the next pain would be your last. And so you lived in hope that the grief would simply have to kill you.
It didn't. The irony of the worst pain imaginable was that you didn't die from it.
A heavily sedated Pansy locked herself in Soren's Quidditch be-decked room, pulled out her son's clothes from his closet and held on. She didn't do herself any favours by unearthing a box of his baby things from the attic and carrying a pair of blue, knitted booties around the house for weeks. The look she gave Draco during this time was perfectly acceptable, welcomed almost, because Draco felt that it was true.
You let him die. You might as well have killed him yourself. I hate you.
When the sedatives were finally taken away, months later, she didn't lash out with the venom he'd been expecting. Pansy just became Pansy again. Pansy who enjoyed a pampered, lavish lifestyle involving lots of jewels and parties, as befitted her stature. But her exterior was as brittle as it was shiny. You got the impression that if you chipped too hard, some of that earlier pain would seep out in a slow, toxic drip.
Finally, they had something in common.
"Will you kill him?" she asked quietly, over dinner one evening. Her expression was calm, cool. They both knew who 'he' was.
Draco hadn't bothered lying. The wheels to end Voldemort had been in motion within days of Soren's death.
Of course he would kill the creature. He would kill him with his bare hands if logistics allowed.
Pansy thought for a moment and then sighed over her first course. "Not now, though. There will be a more...appropriate time." Her mind was weaving through future possibilities.
Two years after that conversation, Draco stood in the nursery that had once been Soren's, holding that aforementioned Future Possibility.
Her name, quite aptly, was Solace.
She was fourteen months old and was simply not settling for her nanny, a house elf called Mawgie. Draco had just conducted a Floo Conference in his room to discuss findings from the opera house attack when he had heard his daughter's crying. Pansy lived across the hallway, in a separate room that adjoined the nursery, but she was out for the evening.
"What time did Mrs. Malfoy leave for the Bulstrodes's party?" Draco asked the elf.
"Mistress is leaving for Miss Millicent's just before curfew, sir," said Mawgie, who was holding an assortment of comfort items that Solace did not currently find very comforting.
The baby was awake, though not widely so. Her head was pillowed on her father's shoulder, her hands absently fiddling with his collar. She was - despite a genetic predisposition to having a large personality - a quiet and introspective child. Due to a lack of hair, the average observer wouldn't have been able to tell that the few blonde wisps on her head belonged to a girl. Pansy remedied this state of affairs by smothering the child in pink.
This evening's selection was a light pink, fleecy jumpsuit with sheep on it. It was a continuing mystery to Draco as to why sheep were associated with sleep.
Solace raised her head to look sleepily at her father. She stuck her thumb in her mouth with a meaningful, sleepy expression that she expected him to implicitly get.
Draco got it. His daughter was after a nightcap.
He dismissed the elf for the evening and then detoured to his rooms to douse the Floo fire he'd been using. Carrying Solace on his hip, he then padded downstairs. It was very dark, but this didn't seem to worry the twosome.
In the long, draughty kitchen, Draco set his daughter down on the small table where the staff usually ate. She watched from under droopy eyelids as he warmed up a beaker of milk with his wand. When it was ready, Draco sipped at the milk to test the temperature first before carefully handing it over to his daughter.
"Sankoo," Solace said solemnly, because Pansy liked manners in her children. And then as if to contradict that fact, she started slurping loudly.
"She looks more like you every time I see her," said an amused voice from the shadows.
The owner of it was either very brave or very foolish. Draco's fist instinct – so finely honed over the years that you could sharpen kitchen knives on it - was to kill. There was no other recourse in dealing with an intruder inside his home. Firstly, the Manor ought to have been impossible to break into, so the presence of a successful intruder screamed Extremely Competent Danger. Secondly, Solace was right there with him and this tended to imply a murder first, ask questions later attitude to home defence.
Luckily, recognition of that soft voice stalled Draco's hard-wiring. He'd known that voice since he was eleven years old.
Hermione Granger stepped out from under the late Harry Potter's invisibility cloak and smiled at him. "Only with less hair, of course."
He'd been working with Granger and the Resistance for two years. It had been interesting to note that the initial volatile hatred from their distant schooling days had not eroded completely. Not even when his side had won.
There was something about her that just got under his skin and permanently stayed there. Despising her on face value, however, had been much easier across a crowded Great Hall and all the assorted distractions that childhood and growing up provided.
Remove those distractions and what you ended up with was him and a very grown up Hermione Granger in a room together and well...you could almost feel the intelligence burning behind those brown eyes, couldn't you? She radiated the knowledge that she was perhaps better and smarter than you, but that was all right because you couldn't help it. Draco found himself responding to her as surely as a butterfly-light caress over just the right spot. Granger held his attention as no other woman did.
He needed her to do what had to be done. But this didn't mean that he actually liked her.
It was much more complicated than that.
He wanted her.
She had always been clever and disciplined and every other tiresome little virtue that good people naturally were, but along the way, Granger had also acquired patience and an enviable calmness. This was utterly essential in their line of work. Going to pieces at the first hint of bloodshed tended to lead to heavy drinking and pensieve abuse.
These latter traits annoyed the hell out of him. Where did she get off being so fucking zen when she was the one scrabbling at the outskirts of their society, looking for a foothold? They'd been dancing a strange little dance, the Rebel Leader and the Death Eater Commander. That was for bloody sure.
In their relatively recent association, he'd saved her life a few times, indirectly. She'd returned the favour once when he'd been captured by some of her colleagues who didn't care for their alliance. It wasn't the resulting injuries that had nearly killed him. Rather, it was his lack of interest in living. That had been after Soren and before Solace, of course.
Solace was done with her milk. She simply dropped the beaker. Draco was ready for it. Teaching her to put something down gently after she was done with it was Pansy's latest battle. That and spinach. Did every mother have to take it as a personal affront when their child didn't love the boiled, pulpy vegetables they painstakingly hand-prepared? Well, technically Cook prepared them, but this was a minor detail for Pansy.
Granger was grinning at him. She was very smart, but Draco was sure she wasn't able to read minds just yet.
She was wearing her usual attire of combat fatigues that always appeared to be three sizes too big. The only thing that fitted on her was her boots. A good pair of boots could save your life, after all. He supposed Resistance-wear only came in the one generic size. The clothing was in various shades of grey and dark green, because Granger said that black added extra layers to shadows. It never did to give Death Eaters a reason to poke around in the shadows you happened to be hiding in. More black just made the dark look three-dimensional.
"She's big now," Granger commented. "The last time I saw her she was just a babe in arms." She stepped forward and ran her slightly grubby hand over the baby's head. Solace's one and only tuft of white-blonde hair immediately sprung upwards. It was alarmingly reminiscent of Harry Potter and so Draco flattened it again with his hand.
"Your passwords to get in here worked, by the way," Hermione told him, in between cooing at the baby.
"I expect they did. They're my passwords."
Funny. Draco couldn't abide anyone touching his daughter other than him, Pansy and Mawgie. Yet he didn't mind Granger doing it. She had never professed a fondness for children, but had said on more than one occasion that Solace was an old soul. This therefore meant that they got along just fine.
He sometimes wondered if Granger might have had any children of her own with Ronald Weasley, had he survived the Hogwarts siege. Probably, was the only answer he could come up with. A Weasley without a horde of offspring to call his or her own was probably a family shame.
Granger gave him a sideways glance. "Those guards out there are another matter. If it wasn't for the cloak, I'd be rotting in an Azkaban cell right about now. You lot are beyond paranoid."
Draco snorted. "You'd be so lucky. They'd interrogate you first, a complicated process involving rusty metal tools, hot oil and several months."
"Oh?" Granger said, amused. She was still occupied playing with Solace, who was yawning so violently she nearly fell off the table. "What ever happened to good old fashioned Cruciatus? By the way, I think your kid's tired, Malfoy," she added, reproachfully.
Granger was standing very close. Draco's nostrils flared slightly as he caught her scent. She smelled of the outdoors. Campsite smells. Wood smoke, earth, cold-air-on-skin and a hint of something sweeter that was Granger herself.
"Wait here," he instructed, as he carried Solace to the doorway. "Do not leave the kitchen under any circumstances. The guards are not permitted inside the house, but we shall take no chances. Use the cloak if you need to."
Granger gave him a look that said 'duh'. "Take your time. I'm going to find something to eat." She was already inside the pantry cupboard. He was presented with the back of her head and her neat, french braid.
That was another thing. Granger was always hungry.
Draco knew it wasn't exactly easy living at the Resistance camps. They lived like nomads, melting away into Muggle London whenever they needed to. No wonder she was so lean. Being chased for seventeen years probably helped.
Having had her liquid supper, Solace was asleep before Draco laid her down in her cot. Mawgie was snoring softly in her makeshift bed in a corner of the nursery. Draco tucked the blankets around his daughter, turned off the lamplight and checked the wards twice before shutting the nursery doors. No spell was safer than Mawgie's care, but it helped to be extra careful.
It occurred to him, with a small chill, the monumental trust he was putting in Hermione by giving her the means to enter the safe sanctuary of his home, where his daughter slept. But then, he did hold her life and the life of her comrades in his hands, too.
The trust went both ways.
In the kitchen, Granger had built herself an impressively tall sandwich; the kind of sandwich you have to eat sideways or risk dislocating your jaw. She was sitting at the table, chewing with an obvious relish that Draco found enviable. He couldn't recall the last time he had taken real delight in a meal. Eating felt like a necessary chore lately.
"She went down okay?" asked Granger, in between mouthfuls. A pickle fell out of the corner of the sandwich. She caught it deftly and popped it in her mouth. Draco hadn't realized he owned pickles.
He stood at the door, arms folded. She obviously wasn't risking both their lives in visiting him at home simply to have a nasty sandwich. "Why are you here?"
Hermione stood up and carried her now empty plate to the sink. "I was just about to get to that." She licked her fingers as she looked at him. "Let's go for a walk?"
He took her to the hothouses, where Pansy grew fat, fragrant, multi-hued flowers that adorned the numerous parlour tables in the Manor, even in wintertime. The two garden nurseries were located beside the woodland skirting the western wing of Malfoy Manor and as such provided a decent amount of cover to escape into, should the need arise.
Granger walked with him, hidden under the invisibility cloak she had inherited from Harry Potter. Oddly, they were somewhat used to doing this during their meetings.
"I was there the night you attacked the opera house," he told her, once he had shut the paned, glass-house doors behind him. There was more glass above them and near-stifling humidity all around. It was reminiscent of Voldemort's chambers. Pansy liked to keep the temperature high, as required for her flowers. The heat was already making his robes stick unpleasantly to his body.
There it was, a flicker of concern. It flashed across her face.
"You were there? What do you mean you were there? I warned you!"
"Because Pansy announced we would be attending. And to do otherwise would have aroused suspicion. I knew the attack would be superficial, in any case."
The coolness was back in her eyes. She deliberate eyed him up and down, noting his very obvious fitness. "Well, I take it you escape unscathed, then?" she asked dryly.
"I did, yes. Three Mundanes were not so lucky."
Her glance fell down to her hands. "Yes, I heard." There was such remorse in her voice. She never did get used to the death of innocent bystanders. "I'm a murderous criminal, Malfoy. Regardless of whether we succeed or not, I can't help feeling like there'll be a reckoning one day over what I've done to get us here."
That was yet another thing. If the Resistance did any good (such as stealing restricted medicines and distributing them among struggling families, for example), she used 'we'. Everyone reaped the praise. If there were casualties, on the other hand, they were her fault. Her plans.
He hated to imagine the size of Hermione Granger's conscience. It probably had its own Quidditch team.
"Some people think you're a hero," Draco said, neutrally.
She snorted. "I'm the same as any of those poor bastards in Azkaban. I'm a criminal and I'm a hero and I'm supposed to be a fugitive from justice and yet..." She looked at him contemplatively. "Yet, I'm freer than you are."
"Says the woman living in the woods, stealing baubles from the upper class to fund her activities," muttered Draco.
"Your freedom is illusory, Malfoy. Yes, you live in a big house and you are Voldemort's trusted right hand, with all the trappings that life can bring you. But-" her eyebrows rose, "-you have a family that can be taken away from you, likewise a number of your Death Eaters, I imagine. That's not real freedom. It's just another way of surviving. You know this, because the worst has already happened to you."
Draco was getting impatient now. So far, she hadn't asked for dates, times, locations, names, which was why she usually paid him a visit. And he hadn't requested a meeting to ask for a proposed schedule of Resistance attacks. She still hadn't told him why she had come.
"You're here to see me tonight to discuss semantics?"
"I'm here to tell you that it ends next week," she said, with grim finality. "I came personally to give you notice so that you have time to move your family. The Resistance will be launching an attack on the Ministry Headquarters in six days."
He obviously hadn't heard her correctly, even though his hands had formed fists at his side. "Come again?"
"We attack next week," she repeated.
Draco was incredulous. Who was this foolish, impetuous creature standing before him and what had she done with cautious, meticulous, Hermione Granger? She wasn't talking about revolution; she was talking about bloody disaster!
"Are you insane?" he hissed. "As we have previously discussed, in four months, half of the Death Eaters and the Ministry will be attending the anniversary of Voldemort's ascension to power. They are holding the celebrations at the Hogwarts ruins this year. Voldemort has specially requested that I remain in London, in his stead. I will have control of the remainder of the Death Eater unit and the entire Ministry and somehow you think next Sunday is a better time?"
"This will not wait until the Ascension Anniversary, Malfoy. We're ready now."
He wanted to shake some sense into her. Her proposal was ludicrous! "Ready, are you? You and what army? If you do this now, you do so without the support of me and my men!"
"Your men hardly constitute an army," she countered. She was running a fingertip along the petals of a creamy, phalaenopsis orchid. "I think you overestimate their utility. They are Death Eaters, after all. Their loyalty resides with their Master."
"My men are loyal to me!" he seethed. "You know this!"
"Prove it," she looked up at him, her chin jutting out. "Rally them and fight with us. You have six days." She plucked the orchid, brought it to her nose to see if it smelled as pretty as it looked. "Rest assured I'll be in touch again before then."
He had heard enough. Her ridiculous plan was going to get all of them killed. When she made to leave, he caught hold of her wrist and spun her around to face him. This only worked because she let him. Granger was slight in stature, but she had picked up a few tricks that could render an unsuspecting man purple-faced and folded over for hours.
"Listen, you fool! If you attempt a coup now, you will fail! Do you understand me?" he shook her lightly. "You will be obliterated without my help. And when they torture you, which I assure you they will, you're going to bleat like a live lamb strapped over a spit. You've waited seventeen years for the right moment. What are a few more months? Don't destroy everything that we've worked for just because you're over-eager!"
She stared down pointedly at his hands holding her slim wrist. The orchid bloom was crushed. She seemed more concerned with the loss of the flower than with his anger.
He pulled her closer to him so that she was flush against his chest, her head tilted back to look him in the face. "If you mean to attack next week, I'm afraid I cannot let you leave," he warned. "You will not expose my part in this."
"What will you do?" Hermione whispered in defiance, "kill me?"
Draco's expression was grave. "Keep in mind that the choice you are giving me is between your life and my daughter's safety. So yes, Granger, I will fucking kill you if you choose to do something as stupid as to attack Voldemort without my help!"
His voice was shaking with emotion. They both heard it. Worse still, contrary to his own threat, he released her.
Granger backed away from him. She should have run, but she didn't. She should have at least looked like she wanted to run, but alas, she did not.
Cursing at her lack of self-preservation instincts, Draco caught her again and swung her back against a workbench full of empty pots. It tilted on two legs before righting itself once more. Several ceramic platters and clay pots clattered to the ground. Draco advanced before she recovered her balance. He pinned her against the workbench, holding her wrists behind her.
This was not happening. In the two years that they had been working together, he had come to trust her judgment. Granger had always been an oasis of logic in what had become a fathomless sea of violence and chaos.
They were both breathing harshly. Her thick shirt had pulled across her right shoulder, exposing the smooth skin across her collarbone. It was lightly freckled skin. He knew this because he had seen her often enough in the summer months. Granger raised herself on her toes, testing how much room there was between her and the edge of the workbench, which at the moment was pushing into her lower back. There wasn't any.
Her pelvis ground against his abdomen as she wriggled. Draco grunted. If she slipped down a few inches lower, the smug look would probably be wiped clean from her face. He was as hard a rock and there wasn't a bloody thing he could do about it. His grip on her forearms tightened from anger over his own lack of control. She could do little more than arch her chest out against him. This of course, did not help his personal situation.
And then, nothing happened.
Amazingly, seemingly satisfied that she was well and truly trapped, Granger relaxed.
He was the Commander of Voldemort's army. A certain fortitude and lack of sentimentality came with the job, even if he may not have had these traits to begin with. Survival meant acquiring them fast. If Draco wanted her dead, he could do it. He was confident she knew this.
And apparently Granger smiled in the face of it?
"Malfoy," she breathed. It seemed to be a sentence in itself. She sounded…pleased.
"What?" he snapped, enraged didn't begin to describe what he was feeling. He risked looking downwards. The risk didn't pay off. Her face was flushed. A few curls had escaped her braid. He was acutely aware of the rise and fall of her chest against him. The ends of his long hair touched her face. She had amazingly smooth, fine skin for someone who spent so much time living outdoors.
"I wasn't serious about launching the attack next week," she told him. "I just wanted to see how far you'd go to protect our arrangement."
Fuck her. So it was a game? A dangerous game. And they were both dangerous people, but her...this woman had the power to change worlds. Her self-confidence was unholy.
But maybe she was just a little bit afraid, because as blatant as her current, obviously insane invitation to touch her was, she wasn't making the first move yet.
Unless of course he was reading her signals all wrong, but he doubted it. He was good at reading people.
"This was a test?" he sneered. Grown men were known to cower from him when he was only mildly irked.
Livid as Draco was now, all Hermione did was nod. "The Anniversary in May was always the plan. There is so much at stake, as you yourself said. We needed to make sure you were ready for the end game. If not, we have alternative plans that need time to set in motion."
"You doubt my commitment, after everything that has happened!" he demanded.
She tugged at her captured hands, a subtle reminder that he was still holding her in a wrestling lock. He promptly released her and stepped back, looking almost startled to realize that he had been holding her at all.
Hermione rubbed her wrists. "No, Malfoy. Not me. I didn't doubt. I saw you not two weeks after your boy was killed, remember? I saw your commitment to our cause firsthand. I'm afraid my people did not. They don't see what I see. And I represent more than just my own interests, yes? We had to be sure." Her dark eyes were fever-bright. "I'm sorry. We had to know."
He looked away. He still wanted to hurt her. Granger had become a treasured, phantom presence in his life, a living symbol of the kind of future Solace might look forward to if they managed to pull it off. More than just the success of their coup rested with her plans. He trusted Granger to deliver that future.
She had no call to doubt him. No call at all. It stung like he didn't know anything could still possibly hurt.
"Draco..." This time, his name was an apology.
It was the first time she had called him by his first name since, well probably since they'd been children.
"When does Pansy get home?" Granger suddenly asked. Her tone was less self-assured now.
The abrupt question ought to have been like a cold bucket of water in his face. Draco was burning and it had more to do with than mere anger at her twisted little test of his loyalties. The situation with Pansy was…complicated, to say the least. They hadn't been man and wife in the physical sense for a very long time. There had only been a brief common accord resulting in Solace's planned birth. And there hadn't been much of a relationship for years before that, even.
"Midnight," he heard himself say. His voice sounded gritty to his own ears. And the guilt seemed to wash away. He wanted what he needed. Or maybe that was the other way around?
Granger frowned. It wasn't a worried frown, it was just thoughtful. "Good."
She started unbuttoning her shirt.
Some of her bravado was an act. He could see it in the trembling of her fingers and the fact that she wasn't meeting his eyes at the moment. That steely resilience did not go all the way, it seemed. If you dug deep enough, you found that softer core that spawned her compassion and kindness.
Merlin help him, he wanted to be so deep inside her that he touched that part of her.
"What are you doing?" he asked, frowning.
"You want me, don't you?" she whispered.
Yes. So badly that sometimes the gnawing, festering want was all that convinced him he was still alive. That and his love for his children. But these were not youthful, impetuous times, which was just as well because they were no longer impetuous youths.
He felt drawn into her and indeed, he stepped forward, close enough to place his warm hand against her bare breast like he'd been fantasizing about doing for many months now. Granger shuddered. She was too thin. He could feel her ribs and her hammering heartbeat so close to the flesh and bone of his hand.
Her breasts were fuller than he had expected, and…perfect. Lust corroded caution. Caution was so painfully exhausting. He wanted to take her, consume her, drive into her hard so that it hurt and call her all the vile, cruel names he had thought about her. The need to worship existed beside the need to punish. It was madness, but it was what he craved.
Draco's darkly gleaming wedding ring was cold against her heated, flushed skin.
They both stared at it for moment.
Granger made the decision for him. She brought her gaze up so that he was looking at her eyes. "I'll take that as a yes," she said. She unzipped her trousers, wriggled out of them with more sensuality than ought to have been possible given they were men's pants and much too big.
Now completely nude except for thick, ribbed socks and her lace-up, combat boots, she stepped back until she was once again pressed up against the wooden workbench.
She sat on it. Then slowly parted her legs for him. The welcome was ancient.
There was a good chance they would both be dead in four months. What was one last sin to add to more than three decades already peppered with regrets?
Viva la revolution and all that, right?
Draco stepped between her slender legs, still fully clothed. His expression as he looked down at her nakedness was darker than the sky that loomed over the glass ceiling. His mind was a swirling mess of dark, base thoughts, slithering and entangling. Under the abundant moonlight, her pale skin was luminous. Her booted feet dangled enticingly over the bare floor.
He roughly cupped her face with both hands and savaged her mouth, allowing himself only a fleeting taste of her before he pulled away.
She made a protesting noise.
"I wouldn't have stopped you leaving," he confessed, speaking centimeters away from her lips. Her eyes were still closed, she darted forward to catch his lips again but he kept just out of reach. This small punishment made him feel a bit better "I lied. You had reason to doubt me."
Hermione opened her eyes, gave him a kind look. She gently tucked some of his hair behind his ear and then rested her forehead against his. "I know. I wouldn't be giving myself to someone who'd been willing to murder me not five minutes ago. Give me some credit," she laughed. It was full of nerves. "Like I said, I see you."
Draco bent down to pick up her discarded clothing and managed to drape her shirt over her shoulders without looking at her. "Don't give to me what I'm not free to take."
He knew she was not naïve enough to mistake him for a gentleman. He hadn't been one before and he sure as hell wasn't one now. It was just that Pansy did not deserve infidelity from him when he was already so many other monstrous things.
Granger was a truly remarkable creature. Nothing fazed her. She buttoned the shirt, hopped off the table (with no regard for splinters, apparently) and pulled on her ridiculously oversized trousers, which she then secured in place with a worn, brown, leather belt. Within seconds, her beautiful, beguiling body was hidden away under baggy, utilitarian layers of clothing.
In a few hours, she would be back at her campsite, plotting, planning, reading maps and schedules, eating stolen food by the fire with her people, sipping hot tea in chipped enamel mugs under the stars...probably laughing a little because hey, they were still alive and there and still fighting, weren't they?
He wondered if she slept alone when it got unbearably cold. Or when it got unbearably lonely, maybe she...
Draco shut his eyes. It was ridiculous to be possessive of someone you didn't posses.
"You're not free right now," Hermione agreed, as she knelt down on one knee to fold up her trouser cuffs. "But if we succeed, you're probably going to have more choices than you'll know what to do with." She handed him a rolled up piece of parchment that she produced from inside her right boot.
"Six attacks over the next month. They're all listed there. Destroy it after you read it, please."
Draco returned her 'duh' look from earlier.
She saluted him. Her tone was teasing, but the look in her eyes was very serious. "Goodbye, Commander. I'll be in touch well before May. Count on it."
He could still taste her. But who they were and what they were doing was never far from his mind.
"It will be safer to leave through the woods," he reminded. "Don't Disapparate until you reach the Muggle road. You'll be past the sensor barrier by then."
Hermione filed all this away, smiled rather enigmatically and then disappeared into the trees outside.
Pansy was packed and ready. All that was left was for Draco to say goodbye. He had been prepared for this for months since that eventful meeting with Granger, of course. Though this did nothing to ease the reality of it.
Solace was refusing to let go of him. He had just returned from London and hadn't had time to change from his flying robes. His daughter never failed to find the latches of his weather resistant tunic riveting. She chewed on them.
"Solace, come along," said her mother, not for the first time. "Mummy's got a pretty pink cup cake for you."
This succeeded in grabbing the child's attention. She peeled her face from the crook of her father's neck to have a look.
To Pansy's mild lament, Solace was essentially food motivated when the motivation didn't involve spinach. They weren't the sort of parents to use the 'stick', and apparently the preferred method of 'carrot' was sweet pastry.
"Go to your Mother," said Draco, after kissing her on her head. Solace went to Pansy and started on the cup cake with gusto. She still kept her enormous grey eyes trained on Draco however, sensing that an important goodbye was imminent.
"You have everything you need?" he asked his wife. There was an air of formality about their conversation. He was used to this, but it was more pronounced this afternoon.
"Yes. And my grandmother is well supplied for any eventuality," said Pansy. "We'll be looked after."
"If you require anything from the Manor, you only need to owl me. I will send word when it's finished."
Pansy called Mawgie into the parlour, who took Solace and carried her from the room. A coach to an authorized Apparition point was waiting outside.
"Draco," Pansy paused. She looked determined. "I've been meaning to tell you…it's simply never felt like the right time. I don't mean to return. Solace and I, that is."
The bottom dropped out of his world, just for a moment. "What are you saying?"
A lone, fat tear slid down Pansy's cheek. It cut a silver trail down her immaculately made up face. "I'd like to stay on with my grandmother and I think it's for the best that Solace isn't here for the aftermath. Who knows how long it will take for things to get better, let alone go back to anything resembling..."
With a low growl, Draco abruptly kicked over the low table that had been laden with their recent, afternoon tea. His sense of helplessness was nearly tangible.
"Normal," Pansy finished, watching listlessly and cups, saucers, and uneaten cupcakes rolled along the floor.
"You don't think I can keep my family safe?" he hissed, staring out the tall windows. Outside, the Manor gardens were only just coming into spring. Everything was new and green and growing.
"Draco, I said this to you enough times when we were at school. I don't think there is anything you can't do once you put your mind to it." Pansy gave him a watery smile. "You're still her father, you know. And you can visit us at any time. But we aren't staying here. There hasn't been anything left here for us, not for very long time."
She was right, of course. There wasn't even a Them. Pansy was making a decision based on the future she now felt was within her grasp.
Powerful motivator, choice.
Draco turned to look at her. "We won't fail."
"I know you won't," nodded his wife. She stepped over the mess of cakes and spilled tea, careful not to stain her satin heels and gave him a quick, dry kiss on the cheek. "Solace will miss you. See that you visit often."
Freedom was infectious. Once it bloomed in one spot, like blood from a wound, it spread outwards; an antidote to apathy and the status quo. The symptoms were euphoria, unspeakable bravery, unspoken cooperation and, as is usually the case with social and political revolution, violence.
It began with the liberation of Azkaban, because Merlin knew that there were enough people in there with a grudge and a keen willingness to pick up the first big stick they could find.
After that, it was over in less than a day. The fact that half the Ministry was out of London helped. Granger was the brains behind the operation. Draco provided the muscle and the menace.
In the end, Voldemort wasn't even an obstacle. His private bodyguard, the fanatical Dark Guard, was another matter however. Suffice to say Draco had enjoyed that particular bit of the coup more than anything else.
And just like that, it was over. The Ministry and Voldemort's fortress was in ruins and somewhere inside the first floor of the latter building, Hermione was buried.
Draco had spent the better part of the evening looking for her, and quite possibly, he hadn't looked hard enough or in the right place. This was what he told himself as he dug, with bare hands, through the rubble. Half blind and near deaf from the numerous blasts, with blood streaming down his face, turning his fair hair a sickly, matted black, he dug.
Other people were helping too, because a post-Voldemort world without Hermione Granger was too scary to contemplate. She was the scaffolding for the new government, after all.
"I...I think I found her!" shouted a shaky voice nearby.
Draco looked up and true enough, a lanky young man was helping to pull someone out of the mess. Draco sprinted to the spot and as delicately as he could manage, assisted in unearthing Hermione from under chunks of concrete and brick.
Being buried alive was horrendous, especially if you were sure no one was going to find you. So he simply held her while she cried and shook and hiccupped for a bit and then gave her some privacy while she drank water and composed herself.
"It just fell in on me," she muttered, almost sheepishly. She was talking about the roof, obviously forgetting that she had been the one to collapse it. Draco had already motioned to the boy to fetch a blanket and more help. There was a makeshift triage operating meters away.
"I saw," said Draco, soothingly. "We found most of the others." He told her this because she was Granger and she would want to know.
Relief suffused her face. "And Voldemort?"
"Dead. Very dead. I think we'll be finding bits of him over the next few months. That type of dead."
"We did it, then," she surmised, leaning against him. She blinked. Her hair was white from plaster dust. They made an odd pair, to say the least. The Commander and the Resistance Leader, slumped together amidst the remains of the fortress.
"Yes, Granger. We did it."
"You'd think I'd be happier..."
The boy returned with the blanket and two more volunteers had brought a stretcher. "Try for happy later."
She tried to stand before Draco could help her up, wobbled and then:
"...Ah, don't worry about that," he said. Hermione had just thrown up over his shoes. It really didn't make them much worse. He told her this too.
She protested weakly as he lifted her off the ground and gingerly laid her out on the stretcher. He thought her leg might be broken. The pain would probably hit her, but for now, she was riding her shock.
They couldn't take her away because she was still holding tightly to his hand. The legendary, tough-as-nails Hermione Granger would not want her people to see this. She had a reputation to consider, only maybe that reputation was not required any more.
Reputation be damned, Draco thought. He kissed her knuckles and then returned her hand.
"Now what?" she asked him, looking genuinely at a loss.
Draco shrugged. "Now I give you the key to the city and you will deliver us from this shit hole."
The young man who had rescued her was beaming. Draco glanced down at the boy's hastily scrawled nametag that all volunteers had been told to wear during the cleanup. It said 'Longbottom' and Draco surmised he probably owned shoes older than the kid.
He recalled Voldemort's execution list from months ago. The boy's entire family had been slated for death. Draco reminded himself that was looking at someone who was going to live because Voldemort had died.
And in turn, the boy had been the one to save Hermione.
Draco looked at the boy's goofy smile and found himself grinning back just as stupidly.
Some of Hermione's comrades had a harder time being in Draco's presence. It would take a long time before the tag of Death Eater Commander would wear off. Draco was still a symbol of the old regime. He was a Malfoy. That would never change.
There was no one left in the prisons or the interrogation chambers or the re-education camps. The farce of a Ministry had been razed to the ground. Those who did not wish to stay had fled without threat of persecution. They were fair game to face the music, however, should they ever return.
Draco's turned Death Eaters remained, though at the moment they were out of a job and more than a little aimless. The slate was as clean as if it was brand new. A clean slate implied a whole slew of choices to come.
Draco walked beside young Longbottom as Hermione was carried away to be treated.
Choice was a concept he could definitely get used to.