AUTHOR'S NOTE:

This story is CEYLON's FIC CHALLENGE. Here were her requirements:

Like always this challenge is about Draco and Hermione's love story but during the time of misery under the Dark Lord's reign.

1. The setting is a very dark post-Voldemort world wherein he won the war.
2. Make it realistic but I want a darker Draco that is a serious Death Eater.
3. This story must have an adventure; both Hermione and Draco must have a purpose and mission to fulfill.
4. Aside from using Theodore, Marcus, Daphne and C. Warrington you must also include Luna, Katie, Seamus and Alicia as supporting characters.
5. Lucius and Narcissa, who are very loyal to the Dark Lord, hate Hermione. (I love them in your other stories but it has to be done.)
6. Hermione must hate the Weasley family specifically Ron and Ginny. The reason is up to you. They must have small or non-speaking roles.
7. Lots of passionate sex. Consensual or non-consensual.
8. Snape is alive and has an important role in this story.
9. There must be lots and lots of angst like cruelty to war prisoners, discrimination to slaves and execution of traitors etc.
10. A happy ending. (Please do not kill Draco and Hermione.)

OKAY, here's part one (this will be a multi-part fic)…


Disclaimer: I do not own "Harry Potter" or any of its characters, nor do I profit in any way from the use of said characters and situations in this writing.

Story Details: Weaves one major plot bunny through the middle of "Half-Blood Prince" novel, but doesn't change any of the facts in that story as JKR wrote it. Novel canon up to the Final Battle (May 2, 1998). After that, it's an Alternate Universe entirely (Harry loses the war, Voldemort wins).

Timeline: 2001 (will not give an end date, as that's a spoiler)

Characters (alphabetical order, by last name): Katie Bell, Dobby the House-Elf, Seamus Finnegan, Marcus Flint, Hermione Granger, Astoria Greengrass, Daphne Greengrass, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Remus Lupin, Draco Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa Malfoy, Theodore Nott, Severus Snape, Alicia Spinnet, Lord Voldemort, Cris Warrington, Ginny Weasley, Ron Weasley, Blaise Zabini

Summary: Harry Potter was dead. Voldemort won the war. In the aftermath, Britain has been devastated, and the surviving society divvied-up by the Death Eaters and Snatcher loyalists into tiered levels of usefulness and social attractiveness. Draco Malfoy is counted amongst Voldemort's followers, but considered near the bottom of the rung because of his past failures. Over the years, he's watched a mass genocide take place - participated in it against his will, and he's grown tired of war. More than anything, he wishes for one more chance to see her, the woman who's haunted him since he was sixteen - Hermione Granger, the third in the Golden Trio, the woman he gave his virginity to and who he's always secretly loved. Where is she? Has she been captured or killed? After three years, there's been no sign of his witch... And then, one afternoon, she appears before him like magic, and the path before Draco becomes clear: he'll join her cause, give her any information she wants to defeating the Dark Lord... but that loyalty will come at a price - her in his bed, as his wife. Will Granger take the deal, and if so, where will that lead Draco and his small group of friend-dissenters?

Rating: MA+/NC-17 (very explicit sexual situations, including: graphic heterosexual sex, loss of virginity, masturbation, rape, homosexual unrequited love; profanity; alcohol consumption; graphic violence, including: murder, torture, fist-fighting, wand dueling, use of nasty curses). THIS IS A VERY DARK FIC WITH EXTREME ADULT THEMES!

Images to go along with this fic (characters, outfits, places mentioned in the story - remove all spaces to load the URL properly): http:/ / s905 . photobucket . com / albums / ac260 / RZZMG / Three


THREE

By: RZZMG


CHAPTER ONE

September 19th, 2001

The air always smelled like sweet charred meat on Wednesdays and Sundays. Those were the days of the week the corpses of the prisoners who had died in the Death Eater internment camps all across England, Ireland and Scotland, or those who had died in battle – on either side - were burned. It was to prevent pestilence. After all, millions of Muggles and thousands of wizards and witches made quite a stink when they rotted, and they putrefied the water table when buried en masse. Burning them seemed the only way to guarantee life for those who could still breathe, even if they subsisted on little better than poisonous fumes themselves.

The camps were set up in most major cities with populations over 100,000, and they were presided over by Snatcher-Death Eater teams of six (three of each working in conjunction together). The camps were Unplottable, and magically warded to prevent escape of any kind. Prisoners who were too sick, too elderly, the mentally deficient, or those who required continual medical attention – the Firsts, or First Tier individuals - were killed outright. Those who weren't too sick to work, but who were too physically deformed or suffered from a long-term illness that was slowly killing them (like consumption, cancer or AIDS), were kept to do the manual labor of loading the dead bodies and carting them away. The Seconds – those with no or little magical skill who could still work, or those too unattractive to sell - were sent into the cities to provide labor for factories or into the country on supervised work farms. The Thirds – the good looking, choice individuals, or those with special magical talents that were in demand - were auctioned off to the highest bidders on the London Block for whatever purposes the new owner saw fit – usually as sex slaves, sometimes house servants, occasionally tutors. The system had been in place for over three years – almost from the beginning of Voldemort's reign of terror across Europe - and by now, it was perfected. A well-oiled machine that required only fresh bodies to replace broken cogs and clean out the bilge.

Draco hated visiting any of the camps, especially on burning days, but he especially loathed the camp in Scotland that rested over the former site of his one-time secondary home. What remained of Hogwarts was nothing more than a hollowed-out hole deep in the earth. Every brick, stone, piece of glass, or chunk of wood had been pulverized until it was nothing but dust. Voldemort had personally seen to this destruction after killing Potter and setting things in motion, and it had taken him arduous months of curse-breaking all of the layers of enchantments to complete it. But he had done it, and now as Draco looked out over the empty, hollowed-out abyss, he felt sick to his guts for the loss. His childhood place of safety – for a few years, at least – was now the Abaddon pit, the realm of the dead.

As a 'loyalist' in the middle rungs of the chain, it was his duty to bring in new slaves that the Snatchers had captured, and to see that these bodies were properly processed - i.e. branded and turned over to the camp's duty officers (for Hogwarts, that was his old housemate, Marcus Flint, and his lieutenant Cris Warrington). It was a duty Draco felt was unfairly assigned to him. But Tom Riddle had never forgiven Draco's father for failing him so many times, nor for the son failing to actually be the one to Avada the Headmaster (Snape had done it for him, because Draco could not), and now Draco was relegated to the same level of trust in the hierarchy as that fucking animal, Fenrir Greyback. It was a god's damned travesty for a human being - much less a pureblooded wizard - to be lumped with the likes of a monster, much less a cannibal.

As the new prisoners proceeded silently in line for inspection, Draco examined his nails, noting the dirt under them again. He hated when his hands got messy. He could never seem to get them clean nowadays, not of mud or of blood.

Mudblood.

The thought of her again cut his very soul up once more and he shook his head physically, focusing on the line of dull, filthy, exhausted individuals walking past, trying to count them. He slipped each time he got to three, as that was her number. Potter was one, Weasel was two, and Granger was three. The Golden Trio. It frustrated him that he couldn't count higher every time he looked into a face, because every time he got to three, he started looking for her specifically, hoping she would miraculously appear before him in the lines.

Not as if he could do much if she did. If Hermione Granger ever showed up in a line, she'd become Voldemort's personal property immediately. Unlike the Weasel, she had no death sentence over her head; it was capture at all costs. The Dark Lord wanted her alive and unharmed. Draco suspected he knew why, too, the fucking hypocrite.

He sighed, counting again, getting stuck continually on three.

He'd tried for the last three years, in fact, to put Granger from his mind. She was surely dead by now. He'd seen no mention of her on any of the rolls, hadn't heard a peep about her whereabouts or ultimate fate since the day Potter had been killed. He looked for her, of course, although he'd never have admitted it to anyone – not even her, had he found her. Some obsessions weren't meant to be shared aloud.

Draco glanced up into the stormy clouds far above, pushing the misting rain off his long, platinum bangs, seeing only grey. Everything was always grey now, everywhere he went.

Today, he knew, would have been her 22nd birthday.

X~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~X

October 26th, 2001

Draco watched Flint order Katie Bell's death. He remembered the shiela from his Sixth Year. Her curiosity had nearly killed her by proxy when she'd opened the package with the cursed necklace that he'd arranged to have sent to Dumbledore. That hadn't felt right to him, that she'd been an unwitting victim of his treachery.

But then, everyone was an unwitting victim all the time, weren't they?

He watched her bloodied form, her face purpled and pulped by frequent beatings, being marched over to the edge of the pit. She'd been impregnated by Warrington, that sick fuck, when he'd repeatedly raped her, and now she was going to pay for his sins. As if any of this were her fault. As if she could help having a failing heart valve, which made it possible for her to be in this place to begin with.

The Snatchers and Death Eaters walking behind her tormented the young woman every step of the way, teasing, pretending, waving their wands at her face and laughing as she sobbed and begged them to just get it over with. Finally, they'd given her what she'd asked for – but not by a quick, nearly painless magical means. No, Warrington stabbed her in the belly with a butcher's knife, kicked her over the edge of the hole and waved bye-bye down at her as she'd screamed the several hundred feet to her death.

Sickened, Draco turned away, his fists clenched at his sides, and he'd hurried to a spot behind one of the hastily erected bunkers and vomited his guts out.

This war had never been about blood purity or restoring wizards to their rightful place openly in the world, as he'd once been indoctrinated to believe. No, this war was nothing more than the excuse for the truly demented to wield power at their whims, and to give them the right to carve out destinies – other people's, their own. Dumbledore had understood that from the get-go. Draco suspected Potter had even comprehended that fact there at his end. And poor, pathetic Katie Bell - she definitely knew it in the moment she'd been murdered.

None of this felt right to him at all. It never had.

X~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~X

November 7th, 2001

The Manor House was cold and quiet, like the mausoleum it had become over the years. Death Eaters did not come here anymore to report to Voldemort, thankfully. The madman had taken his fight to Russia, to bring Durmstrang to its knees. Beauxbatons may have fallen easily just last Christmas, but the Dark Wizards of Durmstrang were more than a match when united, so the Dark Lord had gone personally to see to either their willing submission or to their complete destruction.

Draco considered what this meant long-term.

If his Master won in the land of the Cossacks, next year it would be the most logical course of action to attack Africa next. The Dark Continent had only a single school in Luxor, but the curriculum was completely different from the European schools, as the students in Egypt focused mainly on obscure Divination techniques, Alchemy, and Dark Arts necromatic rituals pertaining to the quest for human immortality; all were impractical magicks for battle situations. The knowledge of ancient and powerful Egyptian curse magicks had been lost millenia ago. It was, therefore, most likely that Luxor would fall without much of a fight. And with the rest of the African nations mired down in ethnic and tribal self-imposed segregation, the continent would take little effort to subdue.

After Africa, the Dark Lord could easily hop the ocean to South America. There was only one wizarding school on the continent - in Buenos Aires. Once it fell, there would be little resistance.

Australia, Oceania and Southeast Asia would be next. Their wizarding numbers were much smaller than other areas of the world, so in all probability, Syndey could be taken in less than a week, and Papeete, San Fernando, and Bangkok in one day a piece, and that would effectively sweep the area.

The powerful Asian institutions - Beijing, Kyoto, Seoul, Andhra Pradesh and Bishkek - would take a lot of the fight out of the Death Eater army, though. Aside from sheer numbers on their side, the different Asian cultures had spells that western wizards had never even heard of before - as well as an army of Inferi and Golems at their command. It would probably behoove Voldemort to parley with them instead, but that all depended upon how many recruits the Dark Lord could convert in his other conquests. If he had enough, he'd bring the fight, just because he could. And he wouldn't care how long it took to crush them to his satisfaction.

The Middle East would be wiped clean. Voldemort would waste no time in an area that contained no wizarding schools, very few resources that wizards could actually use, and a plethora of Muggles gripped by religious fervor.

The Yanks would prove the hardest. They were damned formidable as a culture to begin with, and their cowboy President had no problem using their nuclear arsenal as a final solution, if need be. And with their neighbors to aid them on either side, it would be as costly a war as Asia. Coupled with the fact that with so many schools to collapse - Chichén Itzá, San Juan, Berkeley, New Orleans, Boston, Vancouver, Quebec - it could take years to bring this continent to heel. For that reason, Voldemort would probably leave it for last. He'd want it, though, that much was sure. There were too many potential assets here to pass up.

That's when it occurred to Draco that Snape may have been right all along: this bloody war would never end. Not unless someone killed Voldemort and all of his major lieutenants before any more areas of the world could fall to them. Because once the momentum had been built, it would be hard to squash it.

He'd have to hide these memories and thoughts deep, for it wouldn't do to have his Master know Draco's treacherous planning.

X~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~X

November 29th, 2001

There was a raid today on the Hogwarts internment camp and Warrington and Flint were both killed. Draco hoped they'd suffered badly at the last, the dumb motherfuckers.

The question on everyone's mind, though, was who was responsible? The last he'd heard, the resistance had been dealt its death blow when the oldest Weasley son – William - and his troupe of do-gooders had all been Avada'd last autumn in a surprise raid. With his former teachers at Hogwarts all believed to be dead, and most of the Ministry either converted or killed, and the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix hunted down, who did that leave?

He held his suspicions in check, not wanting to get his hopes up.

X~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~X

December 1st, 2001

She was alive. He'd seen her. He'd talked to her. She'd touched him. Healed him.

Draco tried to keep his heart in his chest, ordered it to calm itself, and disciplined his mind to keep his lunch in his stomach instead of on his shoes or the floor where it wanted to hurl itself.

He'd apparated to the Hogwarts pit this morning to investigate the attack on the camp, as he'd been ordered by Amycus Carrow. The camp was abandoned, having been compromised, and wouldn't be reestablished until the cause of its defeat was determined, so Draco felt safe in removing the Death Eater hood from around his head just then. He hated wearing the woolen cap; it smothered him, made him feel less of a human being, so he only put it on when required. Today, the hood could stay off - at least for now.

Walking the magical ley lines first, tracing the pattern of spells used for defense, he'd then walked back over them to feel out the offensive spells. What he'd picked up hadn't made any sense: there hadn't been any magical attack on the wards. And when he rose thirty meters into the air with a confidently cast "Levicorpus," and looked down at the land below, he couldn't see any patterns of physical battering, either. Dropping back down with "Liberacorpus," he then cast every spell he could think of to try to detect different types of magic that had been in the area within the last week. Almost immediately, he identified the resonant energies of two Transfiguration spells, and a slew of successful Confundus castings. So, someone had snuck in, jinxed the guards to distract them, and attacked from the inside. Simple. Clever.

He walked the entire camp, meter by meter. At the door of Flint and Warrington's bunks, there was also the trace 'residue' of a spell he was completely unfamiliar with, but the signature was too slippery and elusive to hold onto long enough to catalogue. It felt similar to a Disillusionment Charm, but... not quite. Whatever it was, it was the most powerful magic to cross this plane since Voldemort had finished off the castle, and it rattled Draco's teeth just to detect it. So, this was how the intruders had snuck up on the base commanders, and possibly how they'd managed to get away, too.

He let his feet take him whenever they wanted at that point, allowing his mind to puzzle through the problem. He tended to think better on the move.

Why would only two people be sent to attack a base with three well armed, proficient Death Eaters and three equally powerful Snatchers? Not to mention tempting the offensive and defensive spells on the area. That seemed like a suicide mission. But the assailants hadn't died; whoever had done this had gotten away clean. So, what were they really after, if not to strike a desperate, last blow?

He considered the facts in logical progression. First, this camp wasn't a main base of operations. Second, it didn't house important prisoners. Third, it was too far removed from London, and Flint and Warrington weren't men of enough importance to warrant receiving any chief intelligence debriefings. Fourth, the attack had been well planned out, as evidenced by the fact that the infilitrators had managed to get past the elaborate wards surrounding the place, and cast spells within the confines of the prison camp without backlash (meaning, they'd figured out how to resonate their auras to mimic Death Eaters; one of the 'gifts' of bearing the Dark Mark was that your magical aura changed). Fifth, the only members of Voldemort's number to be killed were Flint and Warrington. The others - Vaisey, and the three Snatchers - hadn't been touched.

Draco hadn't gotten an official head count of the camp after the attack, when everyone had been herded out to the nearby prison in Inverness, but he had a sneaking suspicion that when he analyzed the data, he would find some of the prisoners missing. This had seemed like a 'break out' mission, not an assassination attempt. Flint and Warrington must have just been an accident... No, from the fact that both had been found in their bunks, not lying in the mud outside, they had been snuck up on specifically for the purpose of ending their lives. Revenge killings.

He blinked when he approached the edge of the pit, not even realizing he'd stalked to this distance. Unable to stop himself, he looked down in the exact spot he'd seen Katie Bell fall. Below, he could just barely make out her remains. Fucking Warrington hadn't even had the decency to cast an incinerate spell on her corpse to make sure she hadn't become worm food. She'd spoiled out here, all these weeks.

Just like he would die someday - rotted and alone.

It was suddenly too much. Too much pressure. Too much hatred. Too much fucking regret. He couldn't breathe. All he could see was Bell's broken body, the face caved in, blackened by the elements, her arms spread out to her side... as if she were awaiting crucifixion... or salvation.

He'd done this to her. By inadvertently hexing her to begin with all those years ago (her heart had been damaged by the cursed necklace, and because of that, she'd been deemed unfit to be anything but a prisoner loading bodies and had been brought here months ago, by him, for that purpose). By not reporting Warrington for raping her as soon as he'd heard. By not stopping any of them when they walked her over here that day and tortured her to death. This was all his fault.

HIS FAULT.

He backed away from the pit, put his hands to his head and started screaming. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, all right? I'm fucking sorry!" He raged and tore at his robes, throwing them off. He didn't care that he was getting drenched in the downpour. He let the heavily falling rain defeat him, because inside, he was defeated by his own guilt. He raked deep gouges down his cheeks with his fingernails and fell to his knees, crying. Red, sanguineous fluid splattered on his hands, rolling off into the mud beneath his fingertips.

Mud. Blood.

"Where are you?" he'd cried to the menacing grey sky, "Where are you, Mudblood? Where are you?" He stood, whirling in circles, feeling like he was flying to pieces, talking to ghosts. He knew she wasn't there. He knew it, but he was crazed with needing to tell her, praying she'd somehow hear him. "Stay away! You hear me? He wants you! The bastard wants you! STAY THE FUCK AWAY!"

"I know, Malfoy."

The universe stopped.

She had just talked to him. He'd heard her gentle voice speaking to him. He'd cracked. Finally, it had happened. He was truly nutters.

"Malfoy, I don't have much time," Granger spoke again, sounding hurried, urgent and fearful. "I can't explain everything right now, but I want to come to your house tonight and talk to you. Ten o'clock. Can you lower the wards for me? Is there anyone else there?"

He turned around then to find the source of his madness, and his breath caught in his chest.

It was her.

"Granger? Am I... dreaming again?"

She closed the distance between them in a rush, putting a soft hand on his shoulder. Just as she had that afternoon when he'd awoken in the infirmary after being hexed nearly to death by Potter in Myrtle's bathroom. "Draco, you're in shock. Let me help."

He didn't even bat an eyelash when she raised her wand to his face. It hadn't even occurred to him until later that she could have done anything she wanted in that second – even taken his life or Imperio'd him – and he wouldn't have raised a hand to stop her. Instead of hexing him or destroying him, though, she healed him instantly, and cleared his mind of the crazed mania. Suddenly, there was clarity.

He stepped back and hastily looked around, terrified someone had seen them. Every dark patch, every deep pocket where light did not reach was a potential enemy. He silently Accio'd his wand from where he'd dropped it near the lip of the hole, preparing three spells in his head in case of attack. "Get out of here," he warned her, not looking her in the eye, keeping his face trained on the edge of the forest, where he could almost feel them being scrutinized. "Someone's here. Go, Granger. Run!"

She put a hand on his arm. "It's Theodore Nott. He's with me." She pointed to a section of the forest where the trees were bunched up – and right where Draco's attention had been fixated, although he hadn't actually seen a blasted thing. "Disillusionment Charm. He's playing chameleon right now."

He didn't take his eyes off the spot, even though he couldn't see a stitch of his old friend, who was still and blended perfectly. "Why did you come here?" Then, it hit him. "You're the ones who attacked this camp."

"We can't stay out in the open like this, Draco," she stated the obvious. "I have to go. It's too dangerous for both of us. Is it safe to come to your Manor House tonight at ten? We need to talk."

He nodded. "My parents are with the Dark Lord's army on the continent. No one lives there but me and one house elf. No one visits."

She dropped her hand from his person. "Then, I'll see you tonight. Don't tell anyone, promise?"

He looked back at the spot Theodore Nott was supposedly hiding, and still, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. When he whirled around, she was no longer there. She must have Disillusioned herself well, because he couldn't even catch a glimpse of a moving blur, or strange patterns in the air where the rain hit and bounced off. Even her tracks in the mud were gone.

"Don't tell anyone, promise?"

It had been the exact same thing she'd said to him that day in the infirmary when he'd berated her for coming to his side.

X~~~~X

It was now ten o'clock, same night, and Draco stood alone out on the front balcony at his home in Wiltshire and looked for any sign of her. He'd dropped the safety wards a minute ago, but so far, she hadn't shown. The rain had passed – for the moment – and the moon cracked her mystery face from behind angry, black clouds. The wind blew his hair back, chilled him, but he refused to cast a warming spell. If he caught pneumonia and died, it would be only what he deserved, after all.

Something moved along the far row of tall yew hedges, near the front gate. He gripped the stone balustrade before him with his free hand, rocking on the balls of his feet with nervous energy.

"Hello, Draco."

She was behind him again. How had she moved so fast without apparition? He turned, wary, keeping his wand in the palm of his hand.

"Inside, quickly," she gestured, stepping through the open French doors into his bedroom, not looking back.

He followed, curious, and waved the wards back into place before stepping inside. He then locked the door behind him and set the privacy charms. When he finished, he finally turned to her, giving her his full attention. She pushed back the hood on her robe, and immediately, he noticed the changes. She'd grown into the beauty he'd glimpsed back in Sixth and Seventh Year at Hogwarts, but her face was also tinged with knowledge and sorrow. Her hair was about the same, but less bushy, more lifeless. Her golden-brown eyes were harder and she looked tired. She didn't smile.

Then again, he had changed as well. Grown up, grown out - lost his innocence.

They stared at each other across the meter or so between them, and it was a pathetic reunion, he thought.

He couldn't hold her gaze for long, and looked down at her form instead. She wore Muggle clothes. They didn't flatter. The jumper was huge and dirty, the jeans equally as filthy and torn at the left knee, mud-crusted hiking boots. A dark blue wizard's robe was clasped around her neck, though. It needed hemming as it was too long, he wryly though. Overall, she looked hungry and tired and in desperate need of a bath. "How long's it been since you ate?" he asked. "Or showered?"

Her cheeks flushed with obvious embarrassment. "We do what we must to survive," she replied offhandedly. "But this isn't why I've come…"

He held a hand up and stopped her. "Moppy, come to me," he bade into the room, and with a crack, a three-foot tall, blue eyed, female house elf apparated in. She twisted her magenta dress between her small fingers.

"Yes, Master?" the creature asked in a timid voice, noting Hermione's presence immediately. "How may we serves?"

"Moppy, please prepare a hot meal for my friend here to eat, and a week's worth of food supplies to go," he requested. "And draw a bath in the spare bedroom. And bring her some of Pansy's old clothes to change into. If you would, please."

Hermione started to protest. "That's not necessary…"

He held up a hand again. "You'll hurt her feelings if you say no," he used one of her known weaknesses against her.

Hermione looked down and to the side, obviously embarrassed. "Draco, I didn't come to make pleasantries. There isn't time."

He shrugged and indicated the emptiness surrounding them. "There's always time now."

Draco watched her struggle for an excuse, but he also saw, fleetingly, the winsome desire to be clean and well-fed again pass through her eyes. Who wouldn't want such things? Especially now, with the world gone to the loons. And he could offer such luxuries easily. It might be the only thing he could do for her. "I won't stand for you being so filthy," he growled, then amended himself quickly so as not to appear too eager. "Not in my home."

The predictable response riposted. "Then I should leave. I wouldn't want my... my Mudblood germs to get all over you ever again."

"Sit," he ordered, pointing to the couch. "And forget your pride, Granger. Gods know I let go of mine a long time ago."

There was at least a minute there where he was sure she would walk out, and inside, he suffocated at the thought. He watched the emotions flit across her face – fear, anxiety, guilt, interest, and finally wearied acceptance. With a nod, she moved to sit on the black leather couch that aligned before his warming hearth. His shoulders unknotted and he joined her, sitting far enough away for both their comforts. "Talk," he bid, unsure as to how to proceed, but needing to hear her voice – that obnoxious, know-it-all voice he'd missed so very much.

She stared into the fire, the orange flames licking her irises, bronzing her orbs. "I... Draco, I know you want out. I've been watching you since my birthday. You're getting bad at hiding your disgust. I think… they know it, too. Flint did. Warrington, too. That's why they… killed Katie… like they did. I think it was a test, to see how you'd react." She sighed heavily. "Do you want to leave them, Draco? Leave the Death Eaters for good? Stop them from doing any more evil... like what they did to Katie? Do you want me to... take you away and hide you? Tell me true. Please."

Draco was floored. How could Hermione trust him after everything that had gone down? He'd helped the Dark Lord kill her best friend, scatter her loved ones to the wind, and had aided and abetted in the murder, torture and enslavement of innocents. And yet, here she was, in his bedroom, trying to save him… again. He just didn't get it. How could anyone have faith in someone like him?

But she'd always been this way, hadn't she? Bloody Gryffindor, goody-good ideals.

That morning in the infirmary, and a week later in the Room of Hidden Things, she'd reached out to him with a similar proposition then, too. But he hadn't taken her up on either of her offers. Lucius and Narcissa, he knew, would never have gone willingly with him, and he'd have been branded a traitor by those he'd loved and revered more than the world. So, he'd stayed behind and did what was asked of him, sort of. And he'd paid for it later, under Voldemort's wand, in his own blood and in the nightmares that still haunted him.

At the time, he hadn't been strong enough to say 'yes' to her. Now... He watched her carefully when he replied. "Say I'm interested, Granger. What are you offering?"

Hermione shook her head. "I need a definite answer before I reveal anything more. In or out, Draco? Do you want to help end this madness?"

He ran a hand through his hair. It couldn't be that easy, could it? "In. On one condition."

Tension hovered in the air between them. "Name it."

Moppy returned with a small crack of thunder carrying a tray of leftovers from the night before. "Mistress' bath is ready," the small elf squeaked, placing the serving platter on the small coffee table before the couch. "And clotheses has been left, with towelses." She turned her small, thin body back to Draco and bowed. "Does Master need Moppy anymore?"

He gave a small shake of his head. "You may retire until called again later," he instructed. "Thank you."

"Moppy lives to serve the noble Master," she warmly intoned with another small bow, and with a snap of her fingers, she was gone.

Hermione was looking at him as if he'd grown three heads. He knew she couldn't believe he actually treated his house elf with any kind of respect, but Draco had learned something important after Potter's death: he couldn't afford to alienate a single person who was loyal to him, even servants. "Eat and bathe," he commanded brusquely, standing and moving to the French doors, looking out. "Then we'll finish this negotiation."

She was quiet, but he heard her pick up the utensils and the shifting of the tray; heard her soft chewing in the silence, and the crackle of the fireplace. He felt her eyes on him the whole time. "Is Nott here with you?" He couldn't see any signs, but then, that Disillusionment Charm he'd cast earlier today was good. Really good.

"No," Hermione replied, and he noted she didn't talk around her food. For some reason, her manners pleased him. He'd missed the more refined dining etiquette. Crabbe and Goyle, when he'd seen them, were pigs. "I'm alone, Draco."

He couldn't help the next words out of his mouth. "Are you fucking him?"

The silence was broken only by her shifting on the couch in discomfort. "That's none of your business."

Jealousy licked at his belly. He and Nott had been friends, sort of, once upon a time. That he could have traded places with the tall, dark haired wizard – that he could have been the one at Granger's side from the start – gnawed at him. 'Could have been' regrets always sucked.

"I buried him, you know," he confessed, his mind jumping from thought to thought as he stared out into the darkness. The moon's light had hidden itself away once more behind a curtain of angry darkness above, and splatters of rain fell erratically onto the deck outside, increasing in tempo until there was a curtain of heavy water smashing onto the stone. It was loud. "Potter. Snape helped."

There was utter stillness behind him, and then a small, smothered sob and a sniffle.

"Someday, I'll show you where he is, if you want," he offered.

His heart felt heavy with the memory of sneaking back that night alongside Snape, finding what was left of Harry James Potter and spiriting it away back to his Manor House where, he knew, the body would never, ever have been thought to have been brought. Voldemort hadn't cared, fortunately. He'd already let his Death Eaters have at the corpse, and when they'd tired of it, they'd thrown it into the lake to be fish bait. Broken, limp as a rag doll, every bone shattered, every organ mutilated, bloated from water log, drained of blood, scarred with slashing cuts, it had disgusted Draco to even touch his one-time rival's cadaver. But he'd forced himself to. Because, no matter how much he'd despised Harry Potter when alive, the boy had shown the kind of courage in the end that Draco could only dream of owning. Scarhead had deserved to be buried, not left to rot.

"The bedroom next door is the one on the right, when you exit here," he explained. "The bath should be illumed. Take your time. Come back here when you're done." With that, he turned and left hurriedly, his long legs taking him quickly down to his father's study, where he opened the liquor cabinet and poured himself a full glass of Firewhiskey to burn the image of Potter from his mind.

X~~~~X

He returned to his room at eleven-thirty, but Hermione had not yet reappeared. He hoped she hadn't left. He hadn't sensed a shimmering in the wards to indicate anyone coming or going, but then, she'd moved so mysterious and fast before that it was quite possible that whatever magic she was using was somehow undetectable. He'd never heard of such a thing, but this was Hermione Granger, and he had learned a long time ago never to underestimate her.

He placed the half-empty bottle of Firewhiskey down on the coffee table next to the dinner tray, and while sipping away at the third glass he'd poured himself that evening, he noted she'd eaten every bite of the food that had been provided. The plate had been, literally, cleaned. She'd been starving. He felt hollow in his stomach at the thought.

Ten minutes later, she came in. He felt her presence before she'd even reached the door. Her aura was like light behind his eyes, too repulsively brilliant for him to ignore. He wondered why that was; why he'd never felt this for any other person before or since. He'd first become aware of it the morning he'd awoken in the infirmary and saw her sitting by his side, and until today, he'd been poignantly aware of its loss from his life.

She moved along the backside of the couch to resume her seat on the opposite end from him. He smelled clean jasmine and soft vanilla as she passed. Glancing at her as he took another sip of his drink, he noted that her hair had been washed and now lay in soft curls about her, dried with a flick of her wand, he was sure. Pansy's soft cotton, dark blue pants and black, cable-knit sweater looked good on her, but were in strong contrast to her shoes – which she'd chosen to keep, but had cleaned up with, apparently, a Scourgify spell. She also continued to wear the blue wizard's cloak, although it, too, had been magically sterilized.

"Better," he commented. She folded her hands in her lap, looking acutely uncomfortable. As she opened her mouth to speak, he cut her off again. "Drink?" He offered her his glass.

Her face shut down and she narrowed her eyes in suspicion, setting her jaw for a fight. "You'd share with me? Aren't you afraid of catching from a Mudblood?"

He smirked. It was the first time he'd felt like doing so for months, and it felt good to regain this lost perverseness. "If I was, you wouldn't be in my home, sitting on my couch, eating my food off of my plates and utensils, taking a bath in my tub, or wearing clothes I had given to you, would you? I wouldn't be offering to let you drink from the same glass as me, either." He paused and threw out one last bit to make his point. "And I wouldn't have ever touched you."

She seemed warily confused. "But you said I was filthy."

He snorted rudely and cut her off again. "Because you were. Now you're clean." He held the glass out to her again. "Take it and drink. You look like you could use it."

Sighing in defeat, she reached out to accept his offering. Their fingers caressed in the exchange of the glass, and both noticed, freezing for a two second pause, before she removed the drink from him and brought it to her lips. She downed the half-glass in one pull, and then put the empty on the coffee table. Her hand was, he noted, trembling. "What was your condition, Draco?" She sounded trepidatious.

With only a second's pause, knowing he had nothing left to lose at this point, he spit it out. "You. I want you."

Her eyes widened and he felt the shiver in the air pass between them. She licked her lips in nervous apprehension, refusing to meet his eye, staring into the fire again. "What… do you mean?"

"You know what I mean, Granger," he murmured low. "Don't play coy."

The leather creaked as she shifted and leaned back, her face gone white as death. "You can't be serious. Why ever for?"

He shrugged, knowing she'd see the gesture from the corner of her eye. "If I'm going to throw my lot in with the losing side, and probably be tortured to death when I'm caught, I might as well get what I've wanted for years."

Now she looked at him, dead on. "You can't be serious," she repeated, and he could practically feel her growing ire. Her brows snapped downward and she frowned. "Stop playing games. Tell me what you really want, Draco."

He didn't blink an eyelash. "I told you, Hermione: I want you. In my bed, as my wife." He lowered his lids, tossing the incentives out that he knew she couldn't reject. "In exchange, you'll get everything I know about the Death Eaters – each and every one of their weaknesses, information on the internment camps, and insight into Voldemort's long term plans. I know spells that the Dark Lord invented himself and taught to only his 'loyal' Death Eaters. I'll teach you and your whole bloody rebellion all about them. And I'll fight for you, protect you, die for you, if it comes to it." He reached for the Firewhiskey bottle, uncorked it and drank directly from the lip in one big swig. When he'd swallowed the burning mouthful of bourbon, he didn't let go of the bottle, palming it for another swig soon. "All that in exchange for you. That's my price, Granger. Take it or leave it."

She stood in a flash, indignant, her fisted hands at her side. "I came to help you, you bastard! I didn't have to. I could have left you to suffer madness or worse back in Scotland. And this… this is how you treat me?"

He raised one golden eyebrow at her, took a long haul on the whiskey, and put the bottle down on the table again. "And how have I treated you, exactly? I haven't abused or molested you. I haven't threatened you. On the contrary, I've been quite civil, I think. I've fed you, cleaned you up, given you fresh laundry. I intend on giving you a week's worth of food to take out of here tonight. I will allow you to leave." He said that last darkly, letting her know that he didn't have to let her go. He could haul her up before Voldemort right this instant and reclaim his status amongst the elite Death Eaters. He could kill her and bury her body next to Potter's unmarked grave. Or he could just tied her down and repeatedly take from her what his body screamed for him to have.

In one fluid motion, he stood and stalked her across the floor, she taking a step back for each one he took forward, until her shoulders collided with the back wall. He pressed in close, barely touching, bending his face down centimeters from hers. "I would be good to you, Hermione, if you'd let me. You already know we have chemistry. And you might even come to like me someday. Maybe more."

She shook her head, refusing to look him in the eye again, staring over his left shoulder instead. "If you force my hand like this, I'll never like you."

His fingers hesitantly touched hers down by their sides, tentative at first, then quickly, boldly stroking. He heard her breath hitch, saw her dark orbs widen, felt her body shudder in reaction. "How is this forcing?" He leaned his nose down to her throat, inhaled deeply, scenting her natural musk combined with the bath oils, and exhaled, breathing hotly against her skin. Her trembling grew more pronounced. He slowly ghosted his lips over her skin, traveling to the delicate, peachy-gold shell of her ear. "You once let me touch you just like this," he reminded her. "And more." The tip of his tongue barely flicked her lobe. "That one time was enough to burn me, Granger. You've haunted me since." He latched a suckling wet kiss onto her pulse and she gasped. "I've never been able to let you go."

She shook her head slightly. "Liar," she accused. "You let me go the night you went up to that Astronomy Tower." Shaking his fingers free from hers, she shoved hard against him, pushing him back. "Liar!" There were tears in her eyes – tears of betrayal, anger, guilt.

With greater weight, he pushed back, buckling her arms and smashing their bodies together. His hands gripped her wrists tightly, pulled them up above her head. "I never wanted to," he tried to explain, but she squirmed and fought against his hold, breaking his concentration. "He would have killed me and my parents. Would you just fucking listen?"

She stilled, stopped struggling just like that. "I did listen to you. That day I was brought here and tortured by your aunt. I heard you loud and clear." She turned hateful eyes on him. "You sold me out."

"I had no choice!" he countered. "If I'd said anything else, acted any other way, Bella would have taken you immediately to him - all of you. And if I'd defied her and tried to rescue you outright, she'd have tried to Avada me in a second. Her or Greyback. My parents would have stepped in the way in either case. All of us could have died. I had to take a middle road. I had to pretend I wasn't sure. It kept her off-balance, made her think twice about calling Voldemort. I was hoping she'd throw all of you in the dungeons, so I could go back later and get you out."

Hermione sneered. "Well, you certainly gave a great performance, Draco. But then, Slytherins are known for using cunning to achieve their ends." She curled her lip up in disgust. "You haven't changed. It was a mistake to come here."

She cut him up, inside and out, unmanned him, made him out as little better than a monster. Little better than someone like Fenrir Greyback. How dare she judge him! She hadn't walked his path. She hadn't seen what he had these last few years. He'd almost gone mad from the things he'd had to do and endure.

Pressing his forehead to hers, he locked eyes with her. "I can help you turn this whole fucking war around, maybe even help you kill your greatest enemy. But you know my price, Granger. No more negotiations. Are you in or out?" With that, he let her go, stepped back, struggling in his mind to control his rage and natural sexual impulses at the same time as releasing her. He was so hard in his pants that it hurt to breathe.

With a sob, she hurried past him, heading for the French doors.

"Granger," he growled, "I'll give you a week. Talk it over with your friends." He turned and tried to catch her eye. She'd stopped at the French doors, not looking, but clearly listening. "Then I want your answer, in person. Here, same time, seven days from now. Come alone." He clapped his hands once. "Moppy."

The house elf was instantly in front of him, holding the satchel full of food that she'd diligently packed. The small creature waddled over, magically levitating the sack, which was taller than she stood and fatter around than her arms could reach. She deposited the bag in Hermione's hands. "For yous, Mistress," Moppy smiled sadly. "We packs it especially good for yous, because Master Draco asks us to."

Granger sniffed back tears and graciously accepted the gift. "Thank you, Moppy," she recognized with gratitude. "Very much."

"You may retire, Moppy," Draco charged. "Good night and thank you."

Moppy bowed, wished her master a good night and left with a snap of her fingers.

Alone again, the two former lovers stared at each other. Draco's heart under his ribs ached painfully. "Seven days, Granger."

"Why not eight? Or eleven?" she countered angrily. "What does it matter how long you give me?"

He sighed, running a hand through his hair again. "Because I've been ordered to leave for the continent in eight days, to give my report to Voldemort about the camp's investigation in person." He glanced at her, suddenly feeling ten years older. "If I go, he'll most likely kill me for not having caught the perpetrators by then. And since I have no intention of dying, I don't plan on answering the summons. Which means, I've got to run. One way or the other, Granger, I'm getting out of this mess. I'd much rather it be with you."

She stared at him in dread, then sympathy – which sliced him up worse. Finally, she nodded. "Seven days then." Grabbing up the sack, she turned the handle on the door and opened it inwards. The slanted rain attacked, drenching her front in seconds. She pulled the hood of her robe up and hid away her hair and face. Draco ached, wanting to ask her not to go out in that squall – to stay with him here, in the warmth, but he forced himself still and silent, hoping this was not the last time he would ever see her.

"Thank you," she acknowledged. "For the food… and allowing me to be clean again."

The lightning flashed, signaling the storm's intensity was just getting started, followed a second later by an ominous rumble of thunder. Hermione stepped out onto the balcony, leaving the door open behind her, letting a chill wind fill the interior of his room, sucking away all the heat Draco had wanted to share with her.


TO BE CONTINUED…


AUTHOR'S EXTENDED NOTES:

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