"You had gone into London to look after your parents. Ron and I were getting ready to leave Grimauld when an owl arrived. It was from him. He was hiding out in the mountains and he…he wanted to help. Had information that would be useful to the Order. Nobody trusted it but…They wouldn't let me go alone, so we set up a meet outside the city. He showed up and it turned out the information he had was good. That's how we found the next couple Horcruxes."
Hermione shook her head. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"You…well, because I had planned on killing him."
Her eyes widened. "What?"
He sighed, rubbing his face. "You need to realize, I was still coming off of Dumbledore, Hermione. And no matter how much you tried to convince me he hadn't done it willingly, it didn't register. I wanted him dead, end of story. The fact that he proved useful made that inconvenient but…I didn't want to tell you in case it turned out I would have to cut ties." He glanced at her before sighing. "Anyway, he kept sending the Order information while we were still searching. They managed to break up some Death Eater camps, but…something was always off. Nobody noticed it until later. The camps he was sending them to were starting to form a pattern. He wasn't just sending locations of random camps. We kept missing someone or something important with every camp. He was targeting something. Then, right before we returned to Hogwarts, a last letter came with one more camp. Arthur told me later that it was a slaughter. Both sides got hit hard. When they looked through the wreckage, he showed up. Arthur said he had never seen someone become so ill so quickly. Started raging at the Order members at the same time as he was getting sick all over the place. But…"
Harry went over to a cabinet and, unlocking it, he pulled out a stack of envelopes. "This was what he was looking for."
He handed it to Hermione. She instantly recognized them with some shock. They were the letters she and Draco had exchanged during that sixth year of Hogwarts.
"His father took them about a week before he contacted us. He was convinced they were using them to get to us. He was trying to find them using us and it turns out he was right. You two talked too much. They were hurting us using what you told him."
As she paled, he returned to her side. "It…What he did got a lot of good people killed, but it also saved a lot of lives. Turns out that same camp was set to go after your entire extended family, as well as several other families of Muggles and Muggleborns. We decided that it would be better if as little people found out about it as possible, especially you."
Hermione felt violently ill. She remembered that battle. She remembered how many people did not return from it.
"I…why is he being hunted then?"
Here, Harry paled. "The new Wizengemot caught wind of it. Kingsley tried to get the whole thing stricken, but the Wizengemot…they wouldn't let it go. All they saw was one boy using an entire system for his own personal issues. Also, the rest of the Ministry started finding out that someone leaked information to Voldemort's army that led to so many people getting killed. They needed someone to pin the whole mess on and so they decided he was going to be crucified for it."
She shook her head, mind spinning. Getting up, she gathered her things. Harry stopped her before she got to the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Where do you think-"
"You can't tell him I told you-"
She slapped his hand away, glaring. "You had no right," she whispered. "You had no right not to tell me that! I was just as involved, but you hid that from me!"
"Nobody wanted it getting out! The Ministry was still in chaos, London still a frenzy! You had your parents to worry about, and besides! You and Ron were still on, so it-"
She shoved her finger into his chest. "Harry Potter, you lied to me! I…I had a right to know!"
His stomach dropped at the sight of tears in her eyes. "Hermione-"
Shaking her head, she went to the door. "Don't talk to me. Ever again, Harry. Don't come near me."
She disappeared before he could catch her. Swearing, he scribbled a quick note to be sent to Ron and then left his office. He had a good idea of where she was headed.
The news channel played back the events of the day but the volume was so low that all Hermione could hear was a low drone. The room was dark save for the flashes from the television. Outside the bedroom, she could hear someone talking but again everything seemed dimmed. Her own heart was beating so softly she wondered if it was still ticking. Body throbbing in a familiar but unwanted pain, she could only lie there on the bed, staring through half-closed eyes at the television.
Claire's screams returned to her in a jarring manner, reinforcing the pain she already felt. It was rare that Craven actually struck Claire. He usually threatened her or Hermione, but last night had been different. Claire had uttered something so completely prohibited that even Hermione would never say.
"Daddy's gonna come soon."
Heart constricting, Hermione closed her eyes. Craven tolerated her defiance with a sick pleasure and Claire's with the irritability one gets when swatting a fly. But one thing that would send him into a controlled rage was any mention of Claire's father. It was not to be spoken of because, to the rest of the world, it never occurred. Claire was Craven's daughter. Hermione was Craven's wife. There had been no other and even within the confines of the estate it was to remain that way. For Claire to dare step out of line had tested Craven's nerves.
A flood of pain crushed the air out of her lungs, leaving her gasping. It had been so long since she had allowed herself to even think about Draco, but lately he had been returning to mind. She knew Harry and Ron were still in contact with him, using him as an informant for the Enforcement Department. But they kept decidedly mute on the subject, using vague phrases to describe his state and giving little else to satisfy the desperate thirst she had to know what had become of him. The last time they had laid eyes on each other…
The door swung open. "So, you're awake?"
She did not even bother hiding her distress as Craven came around the bed to look at her. His lip curled.
"What a sight. The brightest, most stunning witch of the age pining over Britain's most wanted."
"Shut up," she whispered. He snatched her arm, pulling her roughly to her knees.
"Which one are you thinking about?" he inquired, eyes flashing dangerously in the darkness. "Your first night with him, hm?"
"Shut your mouth!"
"Thinking about how long he fucked you-"
She tackled him to the ground, pain forgotten. He easily overpowered her though, laughing at her blind rage.
"It hurts, doesn't it?" he whispered as she screamed beneath him. "Maybe I'll go get that bitch you call a daughter-"
"Stay away from her!"
"Then behave," he growled before getting off her. He straightened his clothes, watching her as she painstakingly got to her feet. "I seem to have broken you. How odd. I'm usually more careful."
Responding would only get her into more trouble, so she made for the bathroom. He followed, still fixing his tie.
"It must be such a burden, dealing with that selfish desire of yours," he said as she leaned against the counter, splashing her face with water. "Trying to contain yourself from that urge. That utter desire to have at it with me."
"Oh, don't deny it. I see it in your eyes. More and more, you've become accustomed to me. It hurts, but giving in would just be easy, wouldn't it? You never like making things easy for people, even when they're trying to protect you."
She turned to him, eyes narrowed. "Protect me? Is that what you're doing?"
His expression softened and his eyes became rippling pools of truth and honor. "Of course. Protecting you from that dangerous little psychopath living inside you. That one keeping your basic instincts down. The one making you think I'm the enemy in all of this. I'm not. I mean, perhaps the occasional forceful thrust to keep you in line. But it's all for your good, my love."
He had that look on his face that would make anyone believe him. She even believed that he was serious and that she had been completely wrong, such was his overwhelming charisma and ability. But she remembered where she stood and why she was standing there, and the enthralled hope twisted into bitter hatred.
"Do you honestly believe any of that?" she whispered. The scheme fell from his face with one wickedly smart grin.
"Forceful thrust? A good fuck, more like it." He turned to the mirror. "But it's a good appeal, isn't it? I could convince Potter to make sweet love to Voldemort if I put on one of these faces, hm? Wouldn't that be a god-awful sight?" His laugh echoed through the bathroom like shattered glass, making her cringe. It was not a public laugh and even in private he did not do it often. Only one other time had she heard it and that had been so long ago.
"Are you going to tell me what you're doing?"
"I am creating myself, Hermione." His eyes flashed. "I am…going to exceed my predecessor. I am going to do what nobody has been able to do…" Here, a grin of madness and genius interrupted him. "And nobody is going to be able to stop me."
"Isn't it funny how everyone in the history of history thinks that?"
He had her by the throat and smashed against the mirror before she could breathe. His lips brushed her cheek, half-smiling, half-murderous.
"Send one man, I will remain unscathed. Send an army, I will remain unscathed. Send the world, I will…I will destroy everything." He kissed her full on the mouth before dropping her unceremoniously onto the floor. "And I will remain unscathed." The smile dropped fully as his gaze met hers. "Tell me, Hermione. Do you honestly believe any of that?"
Her heart trembled as it had the first time she had peered into the true nature of his eyes. Deceit was this man's game, but making truth was his finest work. And the world would bow to it.
"I'm so sorry-"
"I know, I know. But I feel like I should-"
"I said stop talking!"
"I went out and got you-Holy-" Ron couldn't even finish the exclamation. His mind had shut off and his only focus was the ride he was getting from his wife. She smiled at his facial expression and ground in harder.
"I told you not to speak," she said. He just mumbled incoherently.
"So, are you going to tell me what you've been up to?" she asked after they were done. When she got no answer, she turned to look at him. He was lying there on the bed, staring thoughtfully up at the ceiling. "Ronald?"
"Hm?" He frowned and looked at her. "Again?"
She flushed and hit him hard. "Don't talk to me like I'm some kind of sex deviant."
His eyebrow rose. "I don't know, Ady. That didn't seem very saintly-"
"I was asking whether you wanted to be hexed celibate for the next ten years," she snapped and his eyes widened.
"No, I heard you!" he said hastily, sitting up. "I was just thinking about that, too."
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"A man can think about sleeping with his wife and the problems he has at work at the same time. Sometimes they're related, you know."
"We're not going again, Ron."
He scowled. "You didn't have a problem-"
"I said no." The tone suggested if he asked again, it would be the last time for a very long time. Sighing, he lay back down again.
"We're being stonewalled."
"In the murder investigation? Why would the Ministry-"
"It's not just the Ministry. Someone else doesn't want us looking into these murders."
Ady frowned. "I thought you just said it was a regular murder."
"It was at first. But something's gone wrong. The two victims were in on something, which is why they were killed. We just can't figure out what it is. Our evidence keeps dead-ending."
"What does Harry think?"
"Harry's gone back to the office to look through some things, but…I don't know, something weird is going on."
Biting her lip, she leaned over to catch his eyes. "You're being careful, aren't you?"
He smiled at her concern and nodded. "It's me, Ady. I am always careful…when it counts," he added at her incredulous look. "When it counts!"
She rolled her eyes, but the concern was still there. "It sounds like you two are getting in on more than you bargained for. Maybe you should hand this over-"
"To who?" He grunted. "Harry and I are the only officers qualified for this. Besides, I'm not handing this case over to anyone. There's too many people involved for that, now. We want to keep this close to the vest. That means no talking about it outside here, Ady. Promise?"
She nodded. "You promise to stay safe, okay?" she whispered.
"Yeah? What do I get if I stay safe?"
"Forget it. I'm done, Ron."
"Because. I'm not in the mood anymore."
"Blasted, woman! Do you have specific windows that I need to be aware of so that I can plan accordingly?"
She snorted and got off the bed. "I'm not telling you."
"You're not going to tell me?"
"Why would I tell you what times of the day I get horny?"
His eyes widened. "There's more than one time?"
"Stop repeating what I say, Ron," she said over her shoulder as she went into the bathroom. "Gosh, I'm starving. Go get me something to eat, will you?"
He just gaped. When she noticed he still had not moved, she rolled her eyes. "I'll tell you one of the times if you can bring me a good plate of food in the next five minutes." She smiled when he disappeared instantly. "Poor bloke. I really should sleep with him more."