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Bellatrix hates her, but then Bellatrix hates almost everyone who isn't the Dark Lord so it's not very surprising or off-putting. That everyone else hates her is a bit of a surprise. Lucius will not speak to her unless forced. Narcissa is kind in her own way, which mostly involves leaving her in the care of a house-elf. Draco is who she focuses on though. They are of the same age, the youngest to sit at the Dark Lord's table, and surely they must have known one another.
"We did," he says when she finally corners him in the gardens. "Not well, but we knew each other." He's staring at the roses and she honestly cannot imagine a boy caring so much about flowers. He's hiding something. That, or he hates her too. She recognizes the sneer he throws at his aunt's back better than the forlorn expression he wears most often so she imagines it's how she knows him best.
"I was in Gryffindor." She says the words slowly, pulling the knowledge from deep in her mind.
The pale hand that's lifting one of the roses jerks and he pulls back with a hiss. She sees blood dripping from his finger and watches in perverse fascination as it falls to the gravel beneath their feet. He pulls a handkerchief out of his coat and begins to awkwardly tie it one handed. Hermione huffs and steps close to him. She doesn't miss the way he starts when she invades his personal space or the way he flinches away when their fingers touch as she takes the cloth from him. She's careful to avoid touching his bleeding hand directly and once she's done, steps away further than before.
"Is that why everyone hates me? Because they're all Slytherins and I'm a Gryffindor?"
"Don't you dare compare me to that rat!" she snaps. It's a surprising sound. She supposes it's more natural now than it was when she first woke up in the Manor.
Then, she was afraid and lost and couldn't even remember her name. She remembers fighting Narcissa's surprisingly strong arms holding her down and Severus' sleeping draughts. Every muscle ached and it was a week before she could sleep peacefully even with the potions. When she was recovered enough to walk she was taken to the Dark Lord and he told her what had happened, how she'd been attacked and Obliviated by the Order. It took a month before she stopped jumping at the sight of dark cloaks and masks. Her nightmares continue but she imagines they are her mind trying to break through the spell that keeps her memories beyond her reach.
Draco inspects her and she knows he's searching to see if she remembers anything she hasn't said.
"We hate each other," he says finally and she takes note of the present tense. "You were always the best in every class and I hated you for it."
"But why did I hate you?"
He shrugs and walks away. Over his shoulder he says, "Because I hated you first."
It's a horrible reason to hate someone, especially for a Death Eater. She will have to find a real reason.
She is given tasks - magical items that need repairing, curses that need undoing - and she finds she has a good head for problem solving. She enjoys spending her time in the Malfoys' library, reading through old books of enchantments. She is never disturbed there and is soon staying up all night in search of just the right spell.
Some books she swears she's read before but can't remember what comes next until she reads the words. It's enough that she starts setting those books aside. No matter how certain she is that they hold the answers she wants, she will not read them. Either she will find the answers in other books or she will remember them.
She never remembers.
The work gives her something to focus on and for that she is grateful. When they thought she was too weak and fragile to work, all she had to do was think about the life she can't remember. Sometimes she'll see a name or a word that jogs her memory only to have it slip away and she works harder. Small as her job may be it will hurt those who took everything from her and she wants that more than she wants to remember.
Exactly one month after her first solid memory, an ugly orange cat wanders into the Manor. It saunters past the Death Eaters guarding the doors, slips into the dining room where the Dark Lord is holding a meeting, hops up on the table, and swishes its tail at Nagini. While the snake is still hissing in rage, the cat makes a beeline for Hermione and forces its way into her lap, where it curls up as if it owns her legs.
She is about to say that she has no idea what the creature is and where it came from, but Wormtail speaks first.
"Always hated that cat."
The cat leaps to its feet and hisses menacingly at the man. Nagini seems to approve of this, as she stops stalking the cat and instead returns to her master's arms. The Dark Lord chuckles as Nagini wraps herself around his shoulders and the meeting resumes.
Hermione does not recognize the cat but she knows that her dreams are easier that and every night the beast chooses to remain in her bed. She enjoys having him around and her hands remember how he likes to be petted even if she does not. He sits with her most days while she studies and chases vermin she cannot see. She hopes one day he will catch Wormtail.
Severus comes to see her once a week. To examine her, he says, and it pops into her head that he is a powerful Occlumens, second only to their lord. She tells him when it happens and he stares at her for a long time before saying, "Your memory is still intact, it seems, only you are barred from it." He does not say if this is good or bad, only that it is.
He never reads her mind, not that she notices, and always leaves her with a sleeping potion and strict instructions to only take it after a nightmare awakens her, never before bed. Whenever he does this he watches her, frowning as if he expects something from her in return.
She likes his visits not because she enjoys having her borrowed Manor room filled with the smell of foul herbs or because Severus is nice, (she does not and he is not,) but because while they have their tea beneath her window she knows he will answer all of her questions honestly, no matter how painful or dissatisfying the answer. He is the one who told her that her parents are missing. When she asked about school, thinking lessons and friends would be better than a house that is not a home and no one to talk to, he told her that the Dark Lord wanted her close at hand, though he could not tell her why.
In their first meeting since her talk with Draco she asks, "Why did I hate him?"
Severus raises an eyebrow and she knows he's taken note of the past tense. "Children hate one another for many reasons, not all of them good, but many of them long-lasting." This is the wordiest answer she has ever gotten out of the man and decides that Draco is a promising topic of conversation.
"Was I really better than him in all our classes?"
"Yes. Try not to rub it in. He is having a difficult time."
She remembers Draco's somber expression and the way he sometimes looks as though he might cry for no reason at all.
"Why isn't he at school?"
"That," Severus says slowly, "is complicated. I think there are very few places he would wish to be less than here."
"Does the Dark Lord want him to stay, like me?"
Severus nods. "That is part of it, yes. Draco must prove himself."
She has more questions than ever now but Severus stands to leave. He hands her the small vial of sleeping potion and waits, as always, for a response she does not have. When ten seconds tick by and nothing, he nods curtly and leaves. She pushes her windows open to get rid of the smell and sits in the window to watch darkness fall over the hills.
The cat is missing, as he often is, and Hermione is curled up in her bed, reading an old diary she found hidden behind the herbology tomes. It's getting dark and she should get up to light the lamps but a dragon has just appeared and she cannot tear her eyes away from the book, even if her eyes are beginning to hurt.
The door opens and Narcissa breezes inside. The lights go up and the woman sets a box on the tea table before going to the dresser.
"What?" Hermione asks quietly. "Mrs. Malfoy, what's-" Her darkest robes come flying at her and she catches them, giving the clothing only a cursory glance before frowning at Narcissa.
The woman returns to the table and takes the box in her hands as if to lift the lid. She pauses, her expression shuddered, before opening it. Curiosity gets the better of her and Hermione stands so that she can see what Narcissa has brought. A pale silver mask stares back up at her and a thrill races up her spine.
"You'll be coming with us tonight," Narcissa says. "Put those on and sit. I'll do your hair so that it doesn't get in your way."
Hermione rushes to do as she's told and tries not to think what it means that Narcissa watches her sadly in the mirror.
She's fought before. She knows that now. Spells fall from her tongue on instinct and she knows when to duck and hide and dodge. Her breath is stuffy in the mask and she worries she's becoming lightheaded, but Narcissa told her not to take it off under any circumstances so she soldiers on.
Bellatrix is fighting a centaur and a man so big he must be at least half-giant. Hermione rushes to help, smiling behind her mask because she knows Bellatrix will hate her even more now.
"Reducto!" a girl's voice shouts and something slams into Hermione, knocking her down so that the spell flashes over her and hits a tree.
Woodchips rain down and through the dust Hermione looks up to see who saved her. He wears a blank mask like her own, but the blond hair falling over the top means it can only be Draco.
"Thank-" He is gone before she can finish.
She finds him in some sitting room which she's sure has a name but she doesn't care to know. His feet are up on an end table, balancing him so that his chair can stand on only its two back legs. His head is falling back, his eyes closed peacefully. The cat rests on his stomach, enjoying the slow circles Draco draws along its spine. Draco's other hand is mirroring the motion on his own chest, pressing firmly and slowly. Hermione watches, unwilling to move from the doorway. The collar of his half-open shirt falls and she sees the scar.
"Oh!" she gasps, realizing that that's what he's massaging. The front legs of the chair slam into the ground and Draco whirls to his feet, sending the cat tumbling to the floor. It rolls, hissing, to its feet and stalks over to a couch.
Hermione crosses the room and pulls back one side of his shirt. The wound is long and straight, she can see from the way it's healed that it was made by a very dark spell. Draco steps back and swats at her hands. She tries to follow but he grabs her wrist to keep her from examining further. He freezes, his grip tightening. She looks up at him but his head is bent, his bangs hanging raggedly down and blocking his eyes from her view. He twists her arm to the left and she realizes he's looking at her Dark Mark. His mouth opens into a small O of - awe? surprise? concern? - and he lifts his free hand, extending two fingers to touch it. His hands fall away from her just before he makes contact and he steps back.
"What do you want?" he asks brusquely.
She falters. For a moment all she can think is that she wanted him to follow through and touch her, but then she sees the scar peeking through the folds of his shirt and remembers.
"To thank you. You saved me last night."
He shrugs and returns to his chair, resting his elbows on his knees and leaning forward so that he can meet the cat's eye. He makes small noises meant to entice the creature and Hermione is instantly furious that he cares more for her familiar than her. Maybe, she thinks, it really is enough to hate someone for hating you first.
"Fine," she says huffily and marches to the couch so that she can pick the cat up. "Come along, cat," she mutters, hugging it to her. She's not about to let Draco win, not even a little.
When she's in the hall she hears Draco's quiet, "His name is Crookshanks," and bites back a scream of frustration.
"Were my parents Death Eaters?"
"No," Severus says without hesitation.
She mulls that over. She'd thought they were, that she was born to this like Draco. His life doesn't fit her but she keeps trying to make it. She imagines her parents coming from old wizarding families. Her mother would be quietly loving like Narcissa, her father a bit warmer than Lucius. But it's all wrong. Her parents are nothing like the Malfoys. She knows this just as she knows that Snape is an Occlumens, that Crookshanks prefers salmon to tuna, that she is a Gryffindor.
"The Order hurt them though. In retaliation for something? That's why I …" She trails off, turning her left arm so the Mark shows.
Snape slowly lifts his eyes from her arm to her face. "Yes. I believe a member of the Order - took them from you."
She looks away, towards the window. Draco is on the lawn outside, putting his eagle owl through its paces. Even from this distance she can tell he's happy. It's in the way he carries himself. Whatever it is that makes him sad all the time is lost to him while he trains his familiar. Why should he be unhappy when he has a home and a family?
"Some things are not so much being kept from you," Severus says and Hermione realizes she asked the question aloud, "as they are simply not being discussed."
"I want to know," she says. She's angry but she refuses to admit why even in her own mind.
"You will have to ask him then."
She's allowed on more missions. The Order is fierce but every time she sees them she thinks only of the great void where her memory should be and fights even harder. She knows she's becoming wild. There's talk that she might be getting her own mask soon, one to show she's a member of the Dark Lord's inner circle. Bellatrix even smiled at her approvingly once.
She doesn't care - okay, maybe some small part of her wants the mask - but really all she wants is to make the Order hurt.
It's on her third mission that it happens. This is an especially dangerous one because of the full moon. Greyback has been known to go a bit mad himself and everyone knows the Order has their own wolf. Before they go out someone mentions him being an old friend of Wormtail's. A few people chuckle under their masks and Hermione knows this is a joke she's forgotten. Just another thing to hate the Order for.
She comes out stronger than usual, flinging curses and hexes until almost everyone from her own side is forced to move away or get caught by a wayward spell. She recognizes the cry of "Reducto!" from her first fight and rushes through the forest in search of the Order member. Revenge for something she can remember might be more satisfying. She just catches sight of red hair when something slams into her.
This time it's not Draco.
Her wand is lost in the fall and the werewolf snarls at her. Its jaws snap and saliva splatters her face. She knows now this is the Order's wolf. Greyback would never wait so long to bite.
Suddenly it goes oddly still above her. It sniffs, digging its muzzle into her hood, before backing off of her with a low, keening whine. She sits up, watching it in confusion. It looks like a dog that's just been kicked.
She gets that feeling like something's just beyond her memory's reach and almost opens her mouth to ask the werewolf what's wrong, mad as that may be. A wayward curse slams into the ground between them and Hermione rolls over, scrambling for her fallen wand. She doesn't see what becomes of the wolf and doesn't even know if he survives the battle. She tells herself she doesn't care.
Her nightmares aren't getting any better. She spends one night tossing and turning, too afraid of what might come to allow herself to sleep. At half-past-one she finally kicks off her blankets, pulls on her robe and slippers, and heads out into the dark Manor. There is nothing she can meet here that is so scary as her dreams.
She wanders aimlessly, allowing her feet to take her where they will. She pads silently down the second floor portrait hall. The paintings are all asleep and though the floor-to-ceiling windows offer a gorgeous view of the gardens during the day, on a night with no moon there is little to see. Except, she realizes with a start, for the light bobbing along the back hedge.
She's running before she quite realizes what she's doing and giggles when she reaches the doors to the garden, thinking it must be the Gryffindor in her.
The gravel crunches noisily beneath her feet and she winces with every step. A silencing charm wouldn't work out here since every bit of gravel is separate from every other. She's sure some paranoid Malfoy once planned it this way and curses him in his grave.
She makes her way along twisting paths through perfectly manicured beds of flowers, stopping at a break in the back hedge. There is the tiniest bit of light breaking through the distant trees and getting steadily weaker. She runs across the lawn, not wanting to be out in the open.
Fifty feet into the trees she realizes she's following some sort of path. It's overgrown but most definitely there. Another few hundred feet and the trees open up, revealing a small building with a domed roof. An observatory. She smiles at the sight of it.
She's so entranced by the little building that she forgets to hold her wand at the ready when she enters. The inside is dimly lit by small globes of magical light, built into a mosaic on the walls that reminds her of "Starry Night." She takes no time to be glad that she's remembered the name of a random painting - there's no one to be seen and she hurries to the telescope.
"It was a gift," Draco says, startling her before she can look at the stars. He's come out of a small alcove she hadn't noticed behind the door and is carrying rolled up star charts. He moves to put them on the table at the back of the room. "The Blacks have always had a love of astronomy. Father had this built for Mother as a wedding present."
It's somehow terribly romantic, though that's not something she's ever associated with the Malfoys before. They're so emotionally restrained, even in their own home - but maybe that's just because she and the other Death Eaters are there, intruding in what should be a private space.
"Who's Sirius Black?" she asks suddenly. The name has popped into her head and she can't remember why it's so important.
Draco stares at her for a long time before answering. "My mother's cousin," he says and goes to the telescope, lining it up carefully.
"Is he with us?"
"No. And he's dead."
He looks up at her sharply, instantly angry that she would say such a thing, but she won't take it back, no matter how much it hurts his pride.
"Is this why?" she asks before he can speak. "Is this why you hate me? Because you can't stand to have anyone feel for you?"
He gives one firm shake of his head and coldly says, "No."
"Then why? And why did you save me? If you hate me, why would you save me in the battle?"
"We were wearing masks, I didn't know-"
"Don't lie to me!" she yells and it echoes off the walls of the room like thunder.
Draco straightens slowly. His throat works silently while he stares at her and she knows she's finally going to get a real answer from him.
"I feel responsible for you."
"Because my parents are gone?" she asks, confused. "Because I don't remember anything?"
He shakes his head. "No, I -" His next words are so quiet that she has to ask him to repeat himself. "I'm the reason you're here, all right?" He says it like it's some horrible crime and she doesn't understand why.
"You- you brought me back? You found me?"
He's got that look again, like he might cry, and it hurts because it's never once been directed at her before.
"I found you, yes."
"Thank you," she says, putting all the emotion she can into the words. She's not sure why he's unhappy with what he did but she doesn't think she can thank him enough.
"Don't! Don't you dare!" He holds his arm out as if to ward her off and she knows before he speaks that she's missing something again. "You don't remember. You don't know."
"So tell me!" she cries, grabbing his hand so that he can't escape. "Tell me what I don't remember!"
He shakes his head, his eyes screwed shut.
"You saved me!" she says, shaking his arm as if it will make the words sink in. "Why is that so bad?"
"I didn't! I didn't save you! I failed him! He gave me a task and I failed and I had to find a way to redeem myself!" His eyes take on a faraway look as he remembers what she cannot. "I saw you during the raid and I thought - I thought, 'This is it. Bring her back and he'll forgive you.'"
She lifts one hand to his cheek. He starts but she still has a firm grip on his hand and he can't move far. "I don't care why you did it, I still get to thank you." She gives him a thin smile and heads toward the door.
"I don't hate you," he says just before she reaches it. "Not anymore."
She smiles to herself but it dies with his next words.
"But you should still hate me."