Standard Start-of-Fic Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters depicted herein, and receive no compensation for writing works of fanfiction except possibly some nice reviews. Or, considering the not-so-nice subject matter of this particular fic, possibly some not-so-nice reviews!
A/N: This is a fic I wrote for the most recent dmhgficexchange. As such it is already complete and I will be posting a chapter every Friday until all chapters are up. It's a 5-chapter fic. It was written to fulfill some very specific criteria that were given to me at the start of the exchange by the person who requested the fic. I'll post those criteria at the end of the final chapter and let you be the judge of how good a job I did in meeting them. Time for WARNINGS: This is a VERY DARK fic that starts out angsty from the first sentence and never gets any lighter. I gave it the highest allowable rating for language, mature/dark themes, and dark/difficult subject matter including captivity, torture, (non-graphic) rape, emotional duress, and character death. Consider yourself duly warned. And so, onto the fic...
Things would have been so different if she'd only yelled for help sooner... but of course, she didn't; and what happened, happened.
She hadn't wanted to admit that she needed help; that she was in over her head. Hermione Granger was not supposed to get in over her head, ever, in any circumstances, because nothing was supposed to be over her head. She was supposed to be equal to anything. Yelling for help would have been an admission that she wasn't. And she'd been unwilling to make that admission, particularly because she and Ron had had an unusually volatile argument about just that subject, only the night before.
He'd wanted her to stay out of the battle; had even gone so far as to suggest that she "stick to what she was good at" and stay indoors researching different strategies and battle tactics while he and Harry - and everyone else who was dear to her, for that matter - were out actually fighting for what they believed in.
It had been an utterly unacceptable suggestion, as she had told him in no uncertain terms. Being sure to remind him, for good measure, that the engagement ring he'd slipped onto her finger barely a week earlier - it had been his 19th birthday present to her - was supposed be a token of mutual love and respect, not some medieval symbol of ownership and if he thought it meant he could just order her about however he saw fit then he had another think coming, thank you very much, Ronald Weasley!
To add insult to injury, for just a moment there it had appeared that Harry had been on the verge of joining their little "discussion" - and from the look on his face, not in support of Hermione. She'd sent such a purely withering look his way, however, that he'd quite suddenly seemed to remember some pressing bit of business in another room.
It had made for a horrible night, particularly with the specter of the battle they all knew was coming, hanging over their collective heads. She'd barely slept a wink. And her temperament hadn't improved any when, just before the fighting had actually begun, Ron had exhorted her to "at least stay close to me, Hermione, for God's sake, please!"
Those words from her fiancé, though well-intentioned and born of great love and great fear, might as well have sealed her fate. The battle had barely begun before she'd struck off on her own - not so far from "her boys" that she couldn't keep them in sight, and vice-versa - but far enough to send a definite message about her independence and capability to look after herself. Yes, far enough.
And even when she'd begun to founder, and Harry and Ron had been so beset from all sides that they hadn't immediately noticed, even then she just hadn't been able to bring herself to shout. Her pride got in the way; her half-formed cry stuck fast in her throat. By the time she did cry out, it was as good as over; she was surrounded, her wand blasted from her hand, and one of her assailants - she had no idea who; he was masked, as they all were - grabbed her by the hair; winding his dirty, calloused fingers through it and yanking her backward toward him, almost off her feet.
That was when she finally called attention to herself with a scream of shock and pain, which was answered seconds later by shouts from Harry and Ron, who'd finally realized - too late - the magnitude of danger she was in.
At this point she was pressed against her attacker, her back to his chest, one of his arms snaking around to hold her tight, immobile, both her arms pinned uselessly to her side. She could hear Ron shouting her name, over and over again, in a voice that was breaking with panic as he and Harry tried desperately to fight their way toward her; but the area in between was a seething mass of combatants so heavily packed with both friends and foes that they were making virtually no progress at all.
She writhed and kicked as best she could, but an instant later the hand that had been fisted in her hair withdrew - only to reappear at her throat pressing a dagger hard against her skin. She gave a terrified gasp and swallowed convulsively; the blade bit into her and she could feel her blood welling up around it, trickling down to soak the collar of her shirt. There was no pain, not yet; just a spreading, sticky warmth that was horribly, horribly wrong.
Ron gave an inarticulate cry of rage and began blasting a clear path toward her with his wand; employing a spell that was throwing witches and wizards into the air five and six at a time regardless of whose colors they wore.
It was still too late.
She heard her captor muttering to someone nearby - something about her being a "keeper" - (I'm not the Keeper, she thought dazedly in her shock and confusion, Ron is) - and then he was asking for a portkey; "got my hands a bit full here, mate - what do you say you give us a portkey so I can go cage this pretty little bird?"
"No!" she screamed. "Ron! RON!" he was close now; their eyes met, for just the briefest fraction of a second; his were frantic nearly to the point of madness -
And then the ground lurched beneath her and the world spun sickeningly as her assailant activated the portkey and they both were whirled away.
She landed badly, thudding down hard on a dark flagstone floor. One of her arms was twisted beneath her and a bolt of pain shot through her wrist; she heard an awful, sickening crunch. Sprained, or broken? She didn't know. Either way, it hurt like a bastard.
Still, she tried to scramble up, tried to run – but to no avail. She hadn't even gained her feet when the Death Eater struck again; a booted foot catching her hard, right in the stomach. It was a brutal impact and knocked the breath from her body, sending her sprawling back to floor. At that point she simply curled into a ball, wanting to protect herself as best she could from any further blows.
Seconds later a harsh, guttural voice rapped out the words to an incantation and both her arms were wrenched behind her back and tightly bound by magic. She screamed again as fresh agony lanced through her injured wrist, but her pained cry did not earn her any mercy.
She was being hauled to her feet then, and half-shoved, half-dragged down a dim, torchlit corridor. She had no idea where she was; much like Hogwarts, this place gave off an aura of extreme age – but unlike her beloved school, the walls here practically radiated malevolence. Wherever she was, it was an evil place; evil right down to the foundation. The despair began to settle over her right then, not even a moment after she'd arrived.
The passageway was cold and dank, and like something from a nightmare it seemed to stretch on forever. Then came a flight of stone steps that seemed to descend forever. Toward the bottom, she stumbled; her captor was right at her elbow and could easily have caught her, but elected instead to let her fall. He barked out a harsh, sadistic laugh as she did so.
Arms restrained behind her back, she had no way of catching herself. She tumbled down a good dozen steps or so before fetching up at the bottom, fresh agony exploding through her. That was the first time she wished for unconsciousness; for oblivion. It wouldn't be the last.
And, she didn't get her wish. At best she "grayed out" for a moment or two; then she was being hauled back to her feet. Her legs, though, would no longer support her. They buckled immediately, causing her to spill floorward once more. Her abductor grunted in annoyance and wrapped an arm hard around her waist, holding her against him and providing at least partial support as he pulled her along a new passageway that was, if possible, even darker than the previous one. There were stout wooden doors set into the stone walls on either side of this corridor; each door had a small, iron-barred window set into it at roughly eye level. Hermione realized she was looking at cells... she was in a dungeon.
No sooner had she realized this than the Death Eater stopped in front of a door chosen seemingly at random, peered through the tiny, crude window that had been hacked into the wood, gave another grunt - this time of satisfaction - and shouldered open the door. The room inside was stone from floor to ceiling, unlit, and bare except for a thin, narrow, soiled mattress in the far corner.
She was still processing her appalling new surroundings when he forced her to move again, pulling her over to the filthy mattress and forcing her down. It wasn't until this point that Hermione (who despite her book smarts had remained, in many ways, startlingly naive) realized his true intent. Then she fought like a madwoman.
Unfortunately however, given her injuries, disorientation and the fact that her arms were still bound behind her, her attacker had little difficulty in subduing her. "Now don't be shy," he told her in a mock-gentle voice, even as he bore down on her with all his weight, literally crushing her into submission, suffocating her until she could barely breathe, let alone struggle. Her injured arm, now pinned beneath both her own weight and his, was screaming with a near-blinding agony. "I'm going to keep you for quite a while, so we may as well get better acquainted, wouldn't you agree? Hm?"
"NO!" she half-screamed, half-sobbed as he ripped her shirt apart from collar to hem, leaving her horribly exposed, frantic to cover herself and completely helpless to do so because of her bindings.
"Mmh," he said appreciatively, taking in the curves and swells of her body, a satiny sky-blue bra the only shield now between her breasts and his eager eyes and hands. "Nice. Very nice, little bird." He yanked off his mask and hood and she saw with fresh horror that this was someone she knew; someone she'd actually gone to school with - Marcus Flint, the erstwhile captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team. He leered down at her for a moment and then... then his hands were everywhere at once, running up and down her body with a terrible, rough possessiveness; carelessly breaking the clasp of her bra, grabbing, squeezing, pinching, as she sobbed beneath him, so hard she could barely breathe.
"I'm going to have months of fun with you," he told her hoarsely, and was just lowering his head to plant a bruising kiss at the base of her throat (which was still warm and tacky with her blood) when quite abruptly he pulled back - hissing a sharp breath in through his teeth as pain contorted his features.
"God damn it," he swore, his right hand clamping hard over his left forearm, where he bore Voldemort's Dark Mark. "Shit!"
He was being summoned, Hermione realized, as he scrambled to his feet; called back to battle by his master. He stood over her just a moment more, looking severely disappointed as he yanked his mask back into place.
"Sorry, love, but duty calls," he said, crouching briefly back down beside her and catching her face in both his hands. He pulled her toward him, subjecting her to a revolting, sloppy kiss - then stood again. "Don't you worry, though... we'll pick up right where we left off, soon enough. Oh, and here -" pulling his wand from a pocket, he vanished the bindings on her arms; then strode to the door, pausing to grin back at her as he opened it. "Now you can't say I never did anything nice for you."
Then he was gone, the door thudding shut behind him. She heard him employ a complex locking spell, followed by his footsteps echoing away. For a long time she lay exactly as he'd left her, her whole body shaking hard with reaction, struggling desperately to get her breathing under control, and come to terms with where she was - with what had happened to her.
It was a losing battle. This was... was... there was no coming to terms with this.
Eventually she rolled to one side and then carefully, gingerly, pushed herself to her knees, using her good arm while cradling the hurt one against her body. She pulled her ruined shirt closed again, as best she could one-handed, and staggered to her feet.
Vertigo engulfed her almost immediately, and she fell sideways against the wall, the impact jarring her injured arm further and wrenching a cry from her lips. She almost collapsed back the floor, but managed to keep herself upright with the wall as a support. Forced herself to take a deep, bracing breath; then another, and another. Put one foot in front of the other; it was shaky but she managed it. Crossed to the door and tried it. Logically she had known it would be locked - she'd heard him speaking the words of the incantation, after all - she had known she had no right to hope for anything else. So the sheer force of the despair that hit her, upon simply having her fears confirmed, caught her somewhat off guard.
She slid down the wall to the floor, there in the corner by the door, as far as she could get from the horrible, filthy mattress. Though the flagstones were freezing cold - rather damp as well - and the mattress was the only scrap of softness in the room, she wanted nothing to do with it whatsoever. Not after... after... she couldn't even articulate the thought. Just pulled her knees to her chest, dropped her face onto them, and cried, and cried, and cried. These were not the violent, body-shaking sobs of a few moments before, when he'd still been on top of her; no, these were slow, hot, stinging tears of helplessness and defeat. She cried like a child that has no understanding of how things have gone this suddenly and horrifically wrong.
Curled in a ball in the corner, she cried herself to sleep.
Voices in the corridor woke her, and she had just the briefest instant of a fierce, shining hope that maybe they were the voices of rescuers... of people who loved her... of Harry... of Ron... but no sooner was that hope kindled, than it was dashed.
She didn't know all of the voices, but she knew one of them, all right... and well she should. That voice had taunted and harassed her throughout all her years of school... had driven her to tears on more than one occasion... had called her a mudblood more times than she could count. It was definitely not the voice of anyone who loved her.
It was the cold, dispassionate, drawling voice of Draco Malfoy.
" - don't know who's in there, Flint just said she was looker. He was right worked up about it - probably the reason he got himself killed. Distracted. So being that he's no longer in any condition to enjoy her, whoever the hell she is, I thought I'd have a look. You can bloody well wait out here."
"Like hell we will!" This second voice was vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place it. "We've got as much right to see the goods as you do, Malfoy! Share and share alike!"
"Get buggered, Zabini," Draco said in a remarkably matter-of-fact tone of voice. "I've never been particularly good at sharing, and I don't plan to start now. Now let's see... what the fuck sort of spell did he use on this thing? Looks like he was trying to contain a bleeding troll..."
"Maybe it IS a troll," came a third voice. "Maybe it's Bulstrode! Maybe she defected to the other side. And knowing Flint, he might have thought her a looker!"
Guffaws of laughter followed this remark, until Draco snarled, "will you shut up! I'm trying to concentrate here!"
As he set to work on breaking Flint's enchantment, Hermione struggled to her feet. She was stiff with cold, and sore all over from her tumble down the steps. Her stomach hurt from the one brutal kick Flint had landed there; her injured hand was largely numb now, except for if she tried to move it all; then it shrieked pain like daggers. The shallow cut on her neck had stopped bleeding, but the collar of her wrecked shirt was stiff and black with dried blood. She backed away from the door, into a different corner of the room... though still keeping her distance from the god-awful mattress.
Goods, she was thinking sickly, I'm not even a human being anymore, all I am now is the goods...
Then there was a faint snapping sound as Flint's spell was finally vanquished... and the door swung open.
Though the light in the passageway was dim, it was still all but blinding to Hermione who'd spent, by now, several hours in the near-total darkness of the cell. The figures in the doorway - there were three of them - were backlit, so she could only see them in silhouette. She could not make out the features on any of them. Apparently, however, they had no such difficulty in recognizing her. There was a moment of silence, and then -
"You have got," Draco said flatly, "to be kidding me. It's fucking Granger!"
"Give me a minute," said one of the other two, who stood slightly behind him, "and I'll be fucking Granger!"
"Nice one, Nott," said the tallest of the three - that would be Blaise, Hermione recognized him now - and the two of them snickered.
Draco, however, did not.
He simply stepped closer, raising his wand and igniting the tip with a muttered, "Lumos."
Hermione got her first good look at his face then, staring back at him with as much defiance as she could muster under the circumstances.
His pale eyes swept her quickly from head to toe and back again; the expression on his face appeared equal parts shock, incredulity, and... something else she couldn't quite place. His mouth had actually fallen ever so slightly open with surprise - which was, in itself, surprising. Hermione didn't know him terribly well (nor had she ever particularly wanted to) but she knew him well enough to understand that this was out of character. He was usually more adept at concealing his emotions behind an impeccably smooth facade.
He didn't look particularly threatening, though, which was also surprising to Hermione... or at any rate to the inquisitive, analytical side of her nature which she could never seem to turn entirely off, even in a situation such as this.
He simply looked dumbfounded... and utterly perplexed.
Then, suddenly, his eyes narrowed and he stepped closer. Something seemed to have occurred to him. "Or are you really Granger at ALL?" he demanded. He flicked his wand at her; a quick, decisive motion. "Finite Incantatem!"
Apparently he'd been expecting to dispel some sort of glamour; nothing happened, of course. At that point he actually reached out and caught her chin in his hand, turning her face first this way, then that - intent to examine her, it seemed, from every angle.
"You can't really be Granger," he murmured disbelievingly, "can you? Granger wouldn't get caught."
She wrenched herself away from him, pressing herself further back into the corner, yet at the same time tilting her face upward in an unmistakable show of defiance. "Get off me, Malfoy," she spat, trying desperately to project a confidence, an authority, that she did not feel.
He did step back then. There was something, it seemed, that he recognized after all; something, perhaps, in the tone of her voice or the flash of her eyes.
"I'll be goddamned," he said.
"You already are," she rejoined, "you were born that way." But her false bravado was deserting her now. Her voice was shaking; in fact, all of her was shaking. Her legs felt in danger of giving way, and her eyes felt in danger of positively hemorrhaging tears. She could feel them prickling and stinging, causing her breath to hitch in her throat, they wanted so badly to flow.
"Shut up, mudblood," he said, but without any real venom. It was bizarre, but he spoke almost... absently. "I need to think."
"Oi! What the hell is there to think about, besides which of us gets the first go?" demanded Nott, advancing to stand beside Draco and staring at her with a lewd, hungry look that she didn't much care for at all. "Which by the way," he added a second later, "might as well be me!"
"The hell you say," Draco snapped, turning abruptly on the other boy. "Hasn't it gotten through your thick skull who this is? How fucking important she is! This is a bargaining chip that should not be thrown away! And you and Zabini there -" he made a curt, dismissive gesture toward the tall, dark skinned boy - "are notorious for breaking your toys. So you can bloody well forget about it. This one is not for you."
"Fuck you, Malfoy, that's not for you to decide!" Quite suddenly, Nott and Draco were toe to toe. Hermione saw Draco's grip tighten on his wand so hard his knuckles went white - well, whiter than the rest of him, at any rate. Which was saying something.
Considering that he was very nearly glowing in the dark - his uncanny, silver-white hair in particular.
"I don't give a shit who your daddy is," Nott was continuing, "You don't have any more rank than I do! And anyway she was Flint's, not yours, and I happen to know that Flint thought you were a grade-A arsehole. So bugger OFF!"
Hermione saw Draco adjust his wand, which he was now holding at roughly hip level, so that it was trained directly on Nott. Moving slowly, deliberately, not calling any attention to his actions, he angled it upward so that any spell he cast would hit the other boy squarely in the midsection. Neither Nott nor Blaise Zabini noticed. Hermione only noticed because... well, because she was Hermione.
He's about to curse him, she thought. Her initial reaction was shocked incredulity, but when she actually thought about it... was it so shocking after all? This wasn't Harry and Ron she was looking at. These were Death Eaters. They might serve a common cause, but there were no true bonds of fraternity or love to be found here. If there was even friendship, it ran only surface-deep. She wondered whether any of them had ever really loved anything other than their own hides... were even capable of love as she knew it; a love that could compel a person to acts of deep courage, selflessness and sacrifice. The kind of love she saw all the time in the Order.
She thought not.
And in truth it hardly mattered. The important thing was that Draco was about to curse Nott... and if that happened, she decided, she would make a run for it. The cell door was still standing open. Granted, all three of the young Death Eaters were positioned between it, and her - and even if she did make through that door, she knew that she would find herself in a dim, featureless passageway deep underground... with not the slightest idea of whether she should even turn left, or right. It was a very long shot. It was almost guaranteed to fail. Particularly since her legs still felt like jelly and she was pretty sure that the corner she was pressed into was doing more to support her than they were. But it was better than nothing.
I have to try. Hopefully Zabini will become involved in their dispute. I might just slip by unnoticed if spells start flying. I probably won't make it even halfway across the room, but... it might be the only chance I get. I HAVE to try. God please help me, oh God PLEASE...
She tensed up, ready to virtually launch herself at this one slim chance for freedom.
Draco drew breath, and she could see in his face that it wasn't simply in preparation to berate or insult the other boy - no, he had something else in mind, something far more sinister.
He's going to do it, she thought, her heart thudding loudly in her ears, he really IS -
And then a new voice demanded, "What in the Dark Lord's name is going on in here!"
Three more people had arrived on the scene - and for Hermione, this was not a good thing.
She hadn't even heard them approach, she'd been so focused on the scene playing out in front of her.
Amycus and Alecto Carrow now stood in the doorway of the cell, blocking most of what little light had been filtering in from the hall. And striding across the room toward her, wand held aloft and putting out a headache-inducingly brilliant glare, was none other than the elder Nott; father of the boy who was about to be blasted into the hereafter by Draco Malfoy.
Or had been about to be blasted into the hereafter... this, of course, changed everything.
A sweeping wave of hopelessness crashed over her. She felt sick with it in that moment. Sick with helplessness, sick with despair.
Even her long shot was gone now. It was over. Over.
"What is the meaning of this, you two?" the elder Nott was demanding. "Draco? Theo? What is going on here?"
It was Blaise Zabini who answered; Draco and Nott Jr. were still too busy trying to burn holes in each other with the force of their angry glares. "Spoils of war," Blaise said, in a remarkably calm, almost amused tone of voice, gesturing toward her; the eyes of the three senior Death Eaters followed his hand, and came to rest on her for the first time. "She belonged to Flint, but Flint's not coming back. That makes her common property. But as usual, the little Malfoy princeling here doesn't want to share."
"Fuck you, Zabini," Draco practically shouted, "don't any of you realize who this IS! How important she is, how valuable! It's Hermione Granger, for God's sake! We've just lucked into a bargaining chip of incredible worth and I'm not going to jeopardize that just because these two -"
"Wait a minute." The elder Nott hadn't even raised his voice; nevertheless it cut through Draco's tirade like a hot knife through butter. There was a hard a edge to it that hadn't been there before. "Did you say Hermione Granger?" He stepped closer, peering into her face, his eyes narrowing much as Draco's had a few minutes before. It was an even less attractive expression on his face than it had been on Draco's.
"Well, will you look at that," he said then, mouth splitting into horrible, sneering grin. "It most assuredly is. The little mudblood twat that stunned me in the Department of Mysteries. I haven't forgotten that, you uppity little cunt."
He whirled around then and strode back to the door, before pausing to address the boys. "Theo, Blaise, I want you to listen carefully. Draco is absolutely right; the mudblood is extremely valuable because of her ties to Potter and key members of the opposition. He was right to recognize her worth on the bargaining table. In the mean time, as we hammer out an agreement with the enemy, which can be a lengthy process, I'm sure she also possesses a good deal of valuable information that we would do well to... extract. So have your fun, but do no lasting damage to her body or her mind. Is that perfectly clear?"
"Yes, sir," Blaise and Theo chorused in perfect schoolboy harmony. Hermione had to fight back the urge to throw up. Not good, not good, oh this is SO not good...
There's nothing you can do about it, her inner voice asserted, it's tone queerly calm; almost dead. Go someplace else, find a memory to live in, quick, you have to do it quick, before they begin -
Draco was still protesting, "You don't understand, they killed the last girl they -"
Again, the elder Nott cut him off. "You just heard me tell them there is to be no lasting damage. I'm inclined to believe Blaise's assessment that you were simply never taught to share. I don't deny that you have as much of a stake in the girl as they do. However, for the first time in your coddled, spoilt life, Draco, your turn will be last. For the time being, you may accompany me upstairs to report on this development. Now."
It was obvious that Draco didn't want to go. It was equally obvious he wasn't being given a choice. "Fine," he spat out, his voice equal parts anger and disgust. "Fine." He shot Hermione one last look, intense and unfathomable all at once, then spun and made for the door, simultaneously stashing his wand away and shouldering Blaise aside with rather more force than was strictly necessary. He shoved past the two Carrows in the doorway as well, and was gone without looking back. The thuggish-looking brother and sister pair, along with the elder Nott, followed.
The door thudded shut behind them, leaving a Hermione who was so terrified and distraught that she could barely even breathe, alone with Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott.
And then things got bad.
Things got very, very bad.