Summary: semi-historical AU. Only enslaved Mudblood Hermione knows the famous composer Voldemort's darkest secret. TMR/HG/DM

Author's Note: so, confession: I suck at fending off the plotbunnies. *feeds one a fanfiction-carrot* Hopefully it'll only be a few chapters, but I say that every time.

Disclaimer: the HP universe does not belong to me; I am just borrowing.

Act One: Andante

"Hurry up! The Malfoys are going to be here soon!" hissed one of the other servants, Seamus, through the cracked doorway. Hermione scowled but didn't supply a retort, as the task of getting into her 'nice' servant uniform was rather demanding. This one had a corset waist—because, apparently, being an indentured servant wasn't painful enough—and took quite a bit of heave-ho-ing to lace up.

Red in the face and admittedly a bit out of breath, Hermione jammed her feet into the plain black shoes that she wore every day that were much too small, and stumbled out of her quarters that she shared with all of the other maids.

"Miss Pansy's going to have a fit when she sees your hair," warned another maid, Angelina, a bit crossly. Hermione snapped back at her as the trio hurried along the narrow hallway that led from the servants' quarters to the front of the enormous city mansion in which the Parkinson family dwelled. It took up a sizeable plot of Hogsmeade grounds and was big enough that Hermione rarely went outside. Even though it was a gloomy grey December afternoon, and even though there was even more work to be done than usual, Hermione was cheered by the prospect of seeing the light of day and breathing fresh air.

It wasn't just that the Malfoys were coming that caused the entire household into a flurry of commotion—though that did tend to generate a bit of upheaval, as Pansy was trying to become betrothed to the younger Master Malfoy—but it was mainly because the Malfoys were bringing a guest.

It was the arrival of the infamous new composer of the court, who went by the name of Voldemort, that was really stirring up things.

"I heard he's beautiful," gossiped Angelina as they tumbled out of the side entrance into the muddy alleyway. Angelina and Hermione had something in common: they were both in love with men of the Weasley clan. "The finest example of a man in all of Hogsmeade, so they say..."

"Enough of that shite; we've got to hurry or Miss Pansy'll have our heads," snapped Seamus brusquely as he led the two maids round to the front of the mansion. The city street of Hogsmeade was packed with carriages and peddlers, though a particularly notable carriage had stopped at the gaudy baroque entrance of the Parkinson house.

The carriage itself was as fashionable as the Parkinson home, as both dripped with gilding and decoration. Even in the grey wintry daylight it was a mass of glimmering decor. Hermione was not as subdued as Angelina or Seamus—a quality that rather frequently resulted in beatings—so she did not keep her head down as was expected of a girl of her class. Instead she openly stared as Seamus went to aid Lady Narcissa Malfoy out of the carriage.

As usual, the stunning blonde was bedecked in the latest fashions out of Paris, which today meant that Seamus had to fumble with near metres of lovely brocade. Pansy and her mother Iris descended the front stairs of their home, though neither woman set a slippered foot on the muddy road.

"Narcissa, darling, you look enchanting," cooed Iris as she and Narcissa curtsied to each other. Next out of the carriage was Lucius Malfoy, who was also painfully fashionable. He barked something cruel at Seamus before adjusting his powdered wig and stepping out of the carriage nearly as daintily as his wife had.

"We've brought the notorious Voldemort with us, Iris," he greeted, stooping to kiss Iris and Pansy's hands and earning giggles of delight from the two women. "And my son, Draco."

Pansy's breast heaved as she gazed sycophantically at the young blonde man who now exited the carriage, clad in a fashionable grey ensemble that brought out just how icy grey his eyes were. Angelina and Hermione glanced at each other to roll their eyes knowingly before rushing to aid the servants the Malfoys had brought along to help the horses round back.

But Hermione's shoe caught in a rut in the road and she stumbled just as the last passenger of the carriage stepped out. She clumsily landed at the foot of the carriage as Angelina and Seamus gasped.

"Damn," Hermione muttered. She looked up to notice the fine, polished buckled shoes of the last passenger. Voldemort she thought dimly, letting her eyes trail further up.

She had heard rumors but none of them had done him justice. Voldemort was younger than she had pictured, with lovely, aristocratic, finely sculpted features and dark waves that fell into stunning eyes of an unidentifiable shade. An amused smirk was curling his beautiful pale lips. He was the very epitome of what all Purebloods wished to be, with his lovely but masculine features, fashionable but restrained clothes, and evidently sharp wit.

"Damned Mudblood. So sorry, Master Voldemort, this one's a disobedient one—get up, you stupid bitch!" Iris shrieked shrilly. Coming back to reality, Hermione scrambled to her feet, skirts even heavier than usual with mud, just as Voldemort was laughing softly.

"Please, calm yourself, Lady Parkinson," he drawled. His voice was a smooth, sensuous, and cultured baritone. Hermione rose to her feet and instinctively met his eyes, even though she knew it'd mean the beating of her life later. "I appreciate a little spark in a servant," he added as an afterthought, stepping off the footpedal of the carriage, his eyes still locked with Hermione's. He was significantly taller than her and she had to look up at him to maintain eye-contact.

"S-sorry, sir," she stammered, her cheeks burning, as she hurried away to join Angelina and Seamus with the horses. Her blood was rushing in her ears and she for once kept her eyes to the ground like was generally expected of her. The Malfoys and Parkinsons went inside, though Hermione felt a pair of eyes on her before the door finally shut.

"You are a bloody idiot," Angelina hissed as they led the horses down the alleyway to the stable. "I can't believe you did that!"

"I didn't exactly plan to trip on purpose!" Hermione retorted hotly once the shock had died off. Seamus was shaking his head.

"You're not going to be able to sit for weeks after the lashing they'll give you," he said with a low whistle. Hermione's stomach tightened forebodingly. Her only hope was that they might forget this particular insult after their dinner and leave her in peace. "Come on, we'd better get inside. You've got to serve the tea," Seamus added as they went into the kitchens.

Inside the kitchens, House Elves were frantically busy as usual. Pots bubbled over, meat roasted over spits, fires roared in stone ovens, and elves rushed in and out with water from the wells.

They planned for Angelina and the other maids to serve the tea, as they thought it best to keep Hermione out of sight after her fumble on the street, but that fell to the wayside when Angelina was needed elsewhere. Hermione found herself adjusting her lace cap that was a part of her uniform and brushing the mud off her heavy black muslin skirts. Her curls were coming free of her tight bun and her only hope was that her hair might mask her face and keep her identity less obvious.

Clutching a heavy tray of the finest china overflowing with fresh biscuits and pastries, Hermione followed another maid, Alicia, out to the drawing room, her eyes trained on the marble floors. The Parkinson home was dripping with baroque finery, as was the fashion, and her reflection gleamed back at her off of hundreds of gilded or polished surfaces as she swept along the halls.

"Try not to draw attention to yourself, and maybe they'll forget," advised Alicia grimly as they stood in front of the carved French doors to the drawing room. Through the gilded door she could hear Iris and Pansy's screeching laughter and that unfamiliar sensuous baritone. Just keep your head down, Hermione told herself, bracing herself as Alicia pushed the door open, the soft warm light falling on them in counterpoint to the icy darkness of the unlit hall.

"His highness Grindelwald will listen to nothing but young Voldemort's compositions," Lucius was bragging in a smug tone. "It certainly has landed us many royal invitations, what with Voldemort staying with us."

"That's so fascinating," cooed Iris, leaning forward and displaying ample cleavage to Voldemort. Hermione sneaked a glance at Voldemort again. He was relaxing back in a brocade chair and she was again struck by his angelic features which contrasted with his devilish mouth and eyes. She almost giggled at how very bored he looked. Before she could be caught, she looked downward again as she followed Alicia to place their trays on the crystal and brass tables positioned near the seats. "What sort of music do you compose, Voldemort?"

"Please, Lady Parkinson, call me Tom. Voldemort is my court name," said Voldemort in that same detached, cultured voice, though Hermione detected a hint of reluctance. Probably enjoys having a special court-only name, Hermione observed with some disdain.

"His compositions are quite novel. The previous court composer has been asked to step down in favor of Voldemort," informed Lucius. With a trembling hand Hermione set the tray down after Alicia. In swift, silent steps, Alicia was already heading out the door. Not trusting herself to not trip, Hermione went at a slower pace, feeling eyes on her, though she couldn't be sure whose they were.

"Not Dumbledore?" demanded Iris, aghast. "He's been the court's composer for ages!" she paused, realizing her mistake as the Malfoys looked disdainfully at her, and added hastily, "Not that I'm complaining. His music was dreadful."

"Forget that—Dumbledore was an old man," said Voldemort offhandedly, a smirk in his tone. "Tell me, Lady Parkinson, is that the very servant who tripped in front of the carriage earlier?"

Hermione froze, her blood running icy cold and then burning hot. Damn. She realized now how foolish it had been to hope she'd escape this room unscathed. Her muscles tensed as she waited for Iris' response. But she did not look down. No, Hermione was determined to keep her pride—it was one of only two things she had left of her own.

"Oh, pay her no mind, sir. Rest assured she'll be disciplined for her mistake."

Voldemort ignored Iris.

"Stop walking, girl. Tell me, what is your name?"

Hermione didn't know what to do. She held very still, keeping her eyes on the door, and tentatively opened her mouth to respond when Pansy interrupted.

"Does it matter? She's just a Mudblood," she said, sniggering derisively. All the times I've had to clean up your disgusting chamber pot, all the times I've laced up that corset over your cow-like body, and you can't even defend me? Not that she'd been expecting it, but the lack of sympathy from Purebloods never ceased to shock Hermione. It was as though they truly believed Mudbloods were subhuman.

"We really ought to sell her, but she came cheap, and you know how hard it is to find young Mudbloods for cheap these days," added Iris with a loud pronounced sigh. Hermione's blood boiled and she pressed her lips together to stop herself from speaking. Anything she spoke would only further damn her in their eyes and would make escape from this dreadful place all the more difficult in the future. Still, it did please her slightly when Voldemort made it clear that he was ignoring the others.

"I asked you a question, girl. What is your name? And do turn around and face me when I am speaking to you," ordered Voldemort in that same velvety voice. It was embarrassing how it made the hairs on her neck stand on end. She had heard he was a powerful presence but she had always assumed that had been mere exaggeration. She could now see how he had risen so quickly to such a high status in the eyes of the Hogsmeade court.

"Do what he says, you stupid Mudblood," Iris barked. Hermione drew in a breath and turned around to face the guests, her cheeks burning. All eyes were on her.

"My name is Hermione, sir," she said in a controlled tone, making sure she did not look directly at any of them.

"Look at me, Hermione," Voldemort commanded. Hermione slowly, haltingly, raised her eyes to his face, taking in first his pale lips and then his dark eyes flashing with a beckoning wickedness. Must he humiliate me like this? There was absolutely no chance she'd escape without a beating now, though had there ever really been? "That's better. You don't seem the type to take orders well," he commented in a softer, silkier tone.

"No, she's not. Just the other day I had to beat her well and good for talking back," boasted Pansy, who was desperate for the attentions of any of the men in the room. "Been a nuisance ever since we bought her."

Voldemort was making it quite clear that he was not listening to Pansy, as his eyes were still on Hermione. She yearned to look away. A smirk was curving his lips.

"Do you enjoy giving your mistress a hard time, Hermione?" he queried, arching an elegant dark brow, amusement flashing in his eyes.

"No," Hermione replied docilely. It's more like I seem to do it whether I want to or not, she thought inwardly, though she kept that to herself.

"Really, my lord, don't bother yourself with a filthy little slave like her. Get out, girl," ordered Iris. Swallowing, Hermione turned and obediently left the drawing room. Just before the door shut behind her, however, a new cold and drawling voice that she recognized as Draco's spoke up.

"How much do you want for her?"

"The younger Master Malfoy has paid quite a large sum of gold for you to become his newest concubine. You leave today. Pansy has quite generously lent you one of her old dresses to wear because obviously your current garments are not suitable," prattled Iris the next morning as Hermione stood before her in the parlor. Hermione's heart was beating a steady and violent tattoo against her throat as she stared in shock at her now ex-owner.

"C-concubine?" she asked weakly when she had found her voice. Pansy stood next to her mother, glaring down at Hermione.

"I don't understand it either, Mudblood, but the gold he paid for you ought to pay for several new servants. Losing you is no tragedy, as you're completely worthless as a servant, but maybe you disgusting Mudbloods are better suited as little whores," sneered Iris. The old anger boiled in Hermione but she knew better than to talk back—what if Iris beat her so badly this time that the younger Malfoy reneged his offer? At least if she went with Malfoy it would be a fresh chance at escape. No, it was wisest to keep her mouth shut.

"Take the stupid dress. It's out of fashion anyway. Draco demanded that we pretty you up a bit," said Pansy sulkily, thrusting one of her old dresses at Hermione. "I told him it was impossible, but he insisted I at least try." It was an enormous amount of fabric; the finest silk money could buy and the most delicate lace. Hermione was uncommonly intelligent and recognized this gesture not as one of generosity but one of strategy. Pansy was likely hoping Draco would recognize the dress and think of Pansy every time he bedded Hermione.

A concubine... the bile was steadily rising in her throat. At the less-than-tender age of twenty-two, Hermione had still managed to maintain her status as a virgin, which was shocking given that girls of her class usually had been raped by their masters before the age of sixteen. But Hermione had been carefully safeguarding her womanhood for a certain man...

...And now it was all for naught. The image of the man she loved, a rich but exceedingly kind Pureblood, rippled in her mind's eye to be replaced by the image of Draco Malfoy forcing himself on her.

Now she really might just throw up.

Ron...I'm so sorry, she thought miserably. The Weasleys never consorted with the Parkinsons, but she had once been owned by a family that socialized with the Weasleys regularly. For years now she had been hoping to escape into Ron's arms, but would he want her after she had spent time as a concubine of one of the men he hated most?

"What are you still doing standing there? Get out," screeched Iris, and without further ado, Hermione rushed out of the parlor, clutching the dress, tears streaming down her cheeks.

The other maids weren't speaking to her. They did not understand her sorrow at being purchased by the younger Malfoy. She drew a bath alone and washed with icy water, staring at Pansy's old dress hanging on the wall. It was a confection of pale green silk with silvery trim; she'd never worn anything remotely as costly or fashionable in her life.

Angelina was at least kind enough to help her into the dress, though she didn't utter a word to Hermione as she helped her comb her hair. The lace trim on the elbow-length sleeves did not quite mask the branding that all people of her status had—in plain scarring Mudblood was emblazoned on her right forearm. To see the scar sickened her.

All too soon Hermione found herself dizzy from the constricting corset of the dress, her hair in a complex system of knots at the nape of her neck, being escorted into one of the plainer carriages the Parkinsons owned. She still felt she might vomit, so she pressed her head against the cool pane of wood as the carriage bumped and jerked along the rutted mud road towards Malfoy Manor, her stomach lurching with every movement. It was another gloomy early December day, with dustings of snow coating Hogsmeade like sugar. As a little girl she had delighted in the sight, but now she could only think of how it presented yet another obstacle in escaping—she couldn't survive in the bitter cold. Another warm season had passed without the chance of escape, and now again she'd have to wait. Would she ever be free?

With another lurch they came to a shuddering halt; they had reached Malfoy Manor. The footman helped Hermione down—she'd never been helped with anything in her life so it was a startling and unpleasant experience—just as another carriage arrived at the front of Malfoy Manor. The handsome young composer Voldemort stepped out of the carriage, clad in a dark cloak and hat.

"Ah, if it isn't Draco's new pet," he greeted, tipping his hat to Hermione as they stood in front of the enormous house, Hogsmeade bustling along around them.

And then she really did throw up. Hermione clapped a hand to her mouth before turning and rushing to a rut at the edge of the road and emptying the contents of her stomach. To her shock when she turned back to Voldemort, his dark eyes were glinting with amusement. "I must admit I've never gotten that particular reaction from a lady before," he commented with a smirk.

"I-I'm not a lady," she managed to stammer hoarsely, her throat still burning from throwing up. Voldemort's expression was unreadable as he replied in a soft tone.

"You are now."

"These are your quarters. You will refer to him as Master Draco and will obey him fully," instructed the head servant, a horrible toadlike woman named Dolores Umbridge. Even the corset she wore could not contain her girth. Hermione had been a servant all of her life and knew that the only ones that got paid were the fat ones. By this simple fact she knew they were initially of very different statuses, though now with this concubine business she wasn't entirely sure of her status. Voldemort had said she was a 'lady' but was that a term used in a tongue-in-cheek manner or was it genuine? Was she now considered a lady due to her biology, or did she have new privelges?

"What are my daily chores?" she inquired, wincing and actually for once missing her servant clothes. This dress was far too tight—no wonder Pansy's breast was always heaving. She had never had her cleavage on display before either and was not used to knowing that such a large expanse of her pale skin was now there for any man's viewing pleasure. Dolores—who insisted on being called Madame Umbridge—simply gave a high-pitched, girlish giggle that did not match her toadish exterior.

"Oh, only to entertain young Master Draco," she said sweetly, gesturing for Hermione to enter the opulent room. "Whenever and however he wishes," she added a bit ominously, though her tone had not changed. Hermione grimaced, the sour bite of vomit still lingering in her mouth.


"You'll find your new clothes in the wardrobe. You may as well get rid of that horrific garment—the Malfoys will never tolerate such a display of lack of fashion," sniffed Madame Umbridge, waving her hand disgustedly at the pale green dress. Hermione paled slightly at the thought of having to struggle into a potentially even more constricting garment. "Now, hurry up. Master Draco will return momentarily and he is not a man who likes to be kept waiting."

Umbridge turned and walked down the corridor but stopped halfway down to turn back to Hermione, a rather sinister smirk on her ugly face. "And if the older Master Malfoy wishes it, you may be asked to entertain him as well. He did purchase you, after all."

Hermione did not have a chance to say something cruel in return; Umbridge disappeared round the corner. Grimacing at the older woman's warning, Hermione shut the door behind her as she entered her new quarters. The favored hue of most Purebloods was emerald, and accordingly the chambers were nearly drowning in the dark green shade. Hermione was happy to remove Pansy's old dress and with great satisfaction she kicked it into a corner, stomping on it for good measure as a way of getting out all of her pent-up hatred for the despicable brat.

Stripped bare, Hermione went to the wardrobe, drawing in deep gulps of air while she could afford to. Soon she'd be laced up in an inhumanely tight dress and would not be able to breathe so deeply. She opened the dark cherry carved doors, revealing the inside to be packed to bursting with expensive-looking garments. In resignation she chose the loosest-looking one she could find. There wasn't much time—she had to begin plotting her escape while she could.

Around May it'll be warmth enough to survive for a few months without shelter, she reasoned as she adjusted her hair and stared at herself in a floor-length mirror with silver trim. Her own reflection was unrecognizeable—she could almost pass for a Pureblood, though from years of servitude she was a bit too thin and wiry to really look the part of a pampered little princess.

Truth be told, sometimes she was weary of plotting for escape. But she'd never give in—she'd never become docile and accept her fate like the other Mudbloods. She refused to be a caged bird for the rest of her life.

Soon there was a knock on the door. Hermione was struck by this sudden new unexpected luxury as the door opened to reveal Draco Malfoy.

"My new toy has arrived," he drawled. His choice of wording made Hermione's cheeks flush, but she knew better than to react. Lull him into a false sense of security and then when he trusts you... inwardly she plotted, outwardly she pasted on a feminine, subservient smile.

"Good evening, Master Draco," she greeted in a hushed, demure voice, curtsying deeply, her new dress sweeping the floor with the movement. She heard a scoff.

"Come on, Mudblood, stop playing. Pansy told me all about you," he demanded tartly, striding across the room and gripping her chin in cold, strong fingers. His eyes were as icy and grey as the December sky and left her feeling nearly as chilled. "She told me just how disobedient you truly are," he said, lowering his voice as he raised her face to look at him. Abruptly he dropped her chin. "But none of that yet. You're accompanying me to the Opera this evening," he said imperiously, pacing about the room, examining the surroundings with faint interest.

"The opera?"

He paused to look back at her over his shoulder.

"Tom's composition is being played tonight for the King," he drawled. "Naturally as he's our guest we must go." His eyes roamed appreciatively over her form. "Good thing you're dressed already. I didn't know Mudbloods knew how to dress," he continued thoughtfully. "Be at the front door in an hour for the carriage."

Hermione clutched Draco's arm as they ascended the stairs of the Opera House, the light snow swirling around them. The Opera House was packed with finely dressed Purebloods and Hermione laughed to herself about how much (and yet how little) her life had changed over the course of one day. Did any of them know of her blood status? Draco had used a charm to cover up her branding (which was performed nonverbally so that Purebloods alone knew how to cast it) and Hermione could not remove the image of his pale hand clutching the wand—the thing she coveted most—from her mind. Mudbloods were not allowed a wand, but from a few instances (which had landed her several life-threatening beatings) Hermione knew her magic was just as strong as any Pureblood...if not stronger.

But now was not the time to think of that; she was escorted into a private balcony seating and immediately was handed a goblet of the finest elder wine that gold could buy. It was nothing short of amusing to be introduced as 'Lady Granger' and to be treated as equal to a Pureblood woman. Hermione's trick for survival was to keep her spirits and sense of humor up, and this was a chance to flex that particular ability.

She had never heard music before other than her various owners playing on their pianoforte or something such as that; thus when the enormous orchestra began to play Voldemort's composition, she was floored. Lilting, soft melodies gave way to booming, crashing crescendos. Hermione watched in awe as Voldemort conducted the musicians, looking lost in the music.

"He's considered a genius. Naturally, as he's the last son of the Gaunt family—the most noble blood besides the Malfoy line," confided Draco. Hermione was a bit surprised that he was bothering to talk to her at all, and not for the first time she wondered about his reasoning for choosing to buy her. The last thing Hermione was was foolish, and she knew that there had to be some specific reasoning for why he had bought her. Was it to prove to Pansy that he had no desire to wed her?

She looked for any sign of the King, but of course he had a private balcony, hidden from his subjects. It was just as well, because she enjoyed watching Voldemort. The music was surprisingly emotional and she wondered if it was a fluke. She had not gotten the impression that he was such a complex man, and it was absurd to think of any Pureblooded man having experienced another trauma in his life to imbibe his art with it. The music was moving; at times despairing, other times euphoric. What Pureblood had gone through enough trial and tribulation to know it so well?

It's probably just that I am finding emotion in his art. Indeed there were points in the symphony where her eyes burned with raw emotion and it surprised her. She hadn't cried since she was a very small child, and she wasn't about to start again now.

After the symphony had finished, Draco led her to a narrow hallway that ran along the edge of the Opera house to wrap behind the stage. It was very dark; the thunderous clapping of the audience could barely be heard here.

"I wanted to play with my new toy," he explained in a low hiss, pinning her against the wall, his cologne clouding around them and making her dizzy. Her instinct was to fight as her brain shut down into panic-mode. She'd spent so many years protecting her body that to be forced to just let him do as he pleased went against her very wiring. "Got a bit of fight in you, eh?" he observed as she struggled against him. She waited for him to slap her but he only watched her with those pale, pale eyes.

The dress was so tight and she was aware of his eyes flicking downward for an instant to her decollete. Then he pressed his lips to hers, the action surprising her. Hermione began to press against his chest to try and push him away, but he reached up, hands encircling her wrists, and pinned them against the wall. His tongue was foreign in hers, but luckily his grip did not hurt. Suddenly he pulled away. "Not ready to play, I see," he drawled, releasing her wrists. "We'll try again at home."

She had learned that the best defense was silence, so Hermione said nothing. She followed him back down the hall to their private balcony, where Lucius and Narcissa were congratulating Voldemort.

"Such a moving performance," sighed Narcissa, dabbing at her eye with a gloved hand holding a silk handkerchief. They turned to Draco and Hermione when they entered.

"Ah, Lady Granger. What did you think of the music?" Voldemort asked, arching his brows at her. Lucius scoffed.

"Don't make the poor Mudblood talk of such intellectual matters," he sneered with poorly-feigned sympathy. Hermione had to sharply bite down on her tongue to stop from reaming him out, and was grateful when they left the Opera House to get in their carriages; it gave her no extra chance to supply an angry retort. Anger will get you nowhere, she reminded herself.

Hermione was disappointed that she and Draco were in a carriage alone; even being jeered at by the elder Malfoy would have been preferable to another possible attempt at coitus. Sickened, Hermione kept her eyes trained on the floor of the carriage as they rode in silence, waiting for Draco to do something.

"Tell me, Mudblood, are you a virgin?" he asked in that cold, bored, drawling voice. Hermione's will snapped.

"That's none of your business," she said acidly, shifting away from him. Draco gave a harsh, callous laugh.

"I believe that, as your new owner, anything concerning you is my business." He sighed loudly. "No matter. I'll find out tonight, I suppose."

The others had already reached Malfoy Manor. When they were invited to drink more wine in the drawing room, Draco quickly declined, and soon Hermione found herself standing in her new chambers, staring straight ahead as she felt Draco's fingers at the ties of her dress. The relief of being able to breathe comfortably was dashed by the sick feeling in her stomach. There is nothing you can do to stop it, she thought dully. If only I had a wand... and then it came to her: it would mean sacrificing her virginity, but if she could get Draco to fall asleep in her chambers, she could easily steal his wand. And if she had a wand...

"You're awfully quiet now, Mudblood," Draco observed as he finished unlacing her gown. He roughly yanked it from her shoulders so she was standing in her complicated undergarments.

"Isn't that what you want?" she asked, admittedly intrigued by how interested he seemed in her response to him. She felt hot breath on her neck as his hands came around to rest on her hipbones.

"No. I want you to scream my name with pleasure," he said in a smirking tone, gripping her hips a bit too tightly. Her heart was pounding as he pressed his lips to the crook between her neck and shoulder, his tongue darting out to flick against her skin. "I think you are a virgin," he said softly. "You're so very responsive..." His teeth ran along her skin and his hands slid from her hipbones up to her breasts, which were thankfully still covered by her undergarments. She shuddered, horrified, at the touch.

"Does it matter?" she asked sardonically, her tone drenched with a confidence that she did not have at the moment. Even with the plan of stealing his wand, she was still not happy about giving herself to a man who had bought her strictly for his own pleasure. She couldn't help but jerk out of his grasp. Teeth grazed her earlobe.

"...Yes, I suppose it does," he sighed, his breath rushing over her skin. Suddenly he pulled away. "I'll not bed you tonight."

"Wh—" Hermione began, but the door slammed behind him as he left. She blanched. Had he seen through her plan?

But what if I could escape tonight without him bedding me? she wondered, hope burning deep within. Perhaps she could save herself for Ron after all...

She hurriedly stripped out of her undergarments and pulled on a lace and cotton nightgown that had been supplied. She clambered into bed and waited hours, until the sounds of Hogsmeade died down and night was truly upon them. Blinking in the darkness, Hermione rifled about her wardrobe as silently as she could, looking for the most sensible things to take. It was too cold to survive now, but what if she went straight to Ron? Surely he would take her in without question; they were in love, after all. Her desperation at saving her womanhood eclipsed her sensibility that now was the very worst time to escape. She could not bear the idea of being bedded by a man she did not love. The memory of his hands on her breasts and tongue on her neck propelled her to keep going, to keep trying to escape.

She found some vaguely sturdy-looking slippers and the heaviest dress she could find, as well as a cloak. After folding one of the blankets to use as extra warmth on the streets (it was a long way to the Weasley mansion) she cast one last glance about the room before steeling her will and pushing through the door.

Malfoy manor was not silent at night—there were strange creaking noises that made her heart give little funny jumps and she was constantly freezing to look around because she was sure she had felt something brush her. Was it a ghost? No, stupid, you've seen ghosts before, she told herself a bit irritably. No need to become a blithering idiot just because you're a bit scared.

And you have a right to be scared, because this is probably the stupidest thing you've ever done, she added mentally. When she came to the end of a hallway with no sign of a staircase, she was beginning to feel even stupider than she had before. I just walked up the stairs with Malfoy not more than a few hours ago! Scowling, she turned and began creeping back along the hall, feeling her way along the walls for some sign of where she ought to go.

She was so deeply concentrating on finding the stairs that she missed that one of the doors was slightly ajar, and a chink of light was seeping from it. Later, she would wonder how she could have possibly missed it. But for now, all she could do after leaning her weight against it was tumble inside with a shrill shriek.

"Damn," she hissed at herself, looking up to see whose room she had burst into, to find a tub filled with water that was allowing steam to curl up around it. The young composer Tom Voldemort was standing in the tub. It seemed he had been just as shocked as she at her sudden appearance, because it took him a second to let out a yell of surprise and try to cover himself up.

In the flickering candlelight she had seen something on his glistening forearm...something she had on her own forearm. Hermione found she couldn't draw breath as she stared at Voldemort rather owlishly in shock.

"Y-you're a—"

"You stupid girl, shut the bloody door!" hissed Voldemort as he crouched in the tub, his lean body—and the branding—now hidden from view. Hermione flushed bright red as she scrambled to close the door she had just burst in through. When she turned back to stare at Voldemort, she leaned against it, her heart pounding.

"You're a Mudblood," she accused. "I saw it. I know I saw it," she said frantically in a low voice. The lovely composer narrowed his eyes at her before turning and grasping a towel.

"Turn away," he ordered acidly. His tone was such that Hermione even obeyed, though her breathing was still coming in short gasps. This shock—it was unbelievable—the new favorite of Grindelwald was nothing more than a filthy Mudblood?

By accident she sneaked a glance, noting the way his dark locks clung to his skin from the steam of the water, curling slightly at the nape of his neck and sticking in damp tendrils across his forehead. His pale skin was still wet and water ran in rivulets along his slim but muscled torso. It was unusual for a man to be muscled—what physical work did Purebloods have to do?—but now she knew the reasoning behind Voldemort's fine physique. Blushing, she looked down again, waiting for his command.

"Listen, little girl, what you saw tonight—it never happened," he hissed. She looked up to see a towel wrapped round his slim hips as he advanced on her, his features contorted into a mask of rage. A spike of fear shunned any attraction she might have felt at seeing his nude form, and now she pressed back against the door as he strode towards her, a long, thin wand clutched in his elegant fingers.

"You aren't going to Obliviate me," she said shrilly when she had found her voice, her eyes darting between his wand and his handsome face. "Isn't it a relief for someone to know your secret? Besides—I-I'll scream!" The trembling in her voice made that threat a whole lot less believable. Accordingly, Voldemort was smirking down at her.

"And then you'd be forced to explain exactly why you were in here in the first place. Longing to have a go at the only bachelor more eligible than Draco Malfoy in all of Hogsmeade? Or..." he lowered his voice to a whisper, bringing his head in closer to hers, "...running away and got lost?"

Hermione licked her lips, as her mouth had become quite dry.

"I-I was just looking around," she stammered, trying in vain to maintain her brave facade. She chanced a glance downward to see the raised flesh of his branding. The skin around it was grotesquely scarred as well. "Tried to get rid of it, didn't you?" she asked knowingly, feeling slightly less trepidation when she saw the products of his suffering and how it mirrored her own. She imagined how she'd feel had she been in his place. "It doesn't come off, does it? You can't even curse it off."

The tip of the wand was pressed at her throat. Hermione looked up, meeting his eyes again. "We're in the same boat here," she reasoned aloud, watching his face for some kind of sympathy. So far she found none. "We're both Mudbloods. I need to run away, you need to keep your identity a secret."

"On the contrary, girl—you don't need to run away." He was arching his elegant dark brows at her now. She waited with a violent heartbeat for his next move, and he surprised her when he lowered his wand and turned away. "Besides," he said over his shoulder, "Now is the very worst time to run away. You'll freeze to death—no shelter readily welcomes a Mudblood for free...especially a virginal one."

"I-I was hoping to get away before he... you know." She looked down at her hands and back up at Voldemort. The danger seemed to have passed...for now. "So you're not going to Obliviate me?" she asked weakly. Voldemort stepped behind a dressing screen.

"No. The brat will know something's been done...he's not nearly as stupid as he looks," drawled Voldemort. He reappeared wearing a loose white shirt and fresh britches.

"Then how do you know I'll keep my silence?" she wondered, watching him as he cleared his mess from the bath. He had done it instinctively, in the way a Pureblood never would have. Tom stopped and looked back at her. A sly grin was playing on his lovely lips.

"I'll keep mine," he said simply. He paused, looking at her thoughtfully. "But you're right—going on honor is always foolish."

Her quick mind had already come up with the terms. Hermione steeled herself again before speaking.

"I want a wand," she said, "and what do you want?"

"Nothing you could give me," Tom replied, sniggering at her derisively. "And if you really think I'd be so foolish as to give you mine—"

"I'll help you, with whatever you need," she said desperately, advancing on him. "I'll do whatever petty little tasks you need, and then you can go out and buy me a wand. And then when I can, I'll pay you whatever gold you want."

Voldemort said nothing; he finished clearing up his things and turned to regard her shrewdly.

"The wand chooses the wizard, as they say. You'd have to be present to purchase a wand. Besides, the answer is no—just recall that I can tell anyone anytime I wish of your attempt at escape tonight." His voice was at its silkiest. Hermione pressed her back against the door again, this time not for him to corner her but so she could bar him from leaving.

"And you don't know the spell to hide your scar," she countered frantically, her hair coming free of its design in her wild desperation, "Purebloods are told about that glamour when they are very young, and you've never been able to ask I bet, because it would shatter your facade! So if I gave the Purebloods reason to believe—"

"Silencio," hissed Voldemort. Hermione was enraged that he'd use his power in such a cavalier way on her, but she froze as he had when she heard creaking noises. "Get behind the screen," mouthed Voldemort just as a knock sounded on the door.

"Enter," he said in a cool voice when Hermione was masked by the dressing screen. She held her breath, willing herself to become invisible. Sometimes she'd had some amount of control over her own magic, even without a wand...could she do it now?

"Voldemort. I'm looking for my Mudblood—have you seen her?" demanded Draco imperiously. Hermione's blood boiled at the sound of 'my Mudblood.' "I heard voices."

"You must be in dire need of sleep, then, if you'll forgive me for saying it," drawled Voldemort in evident amusement. Through the weave of the screen, she saw him staring down his nose at Draco, arms crossed over his chest. He's trying to hide the scar, she deduced. "But perhaps she went down to the kitchens to look for work to do?" he suggested lightly. "You know how those Mudbloods need to keep busy."

"Or maybe she was trying to steal some food," said Draco sourly. "Fine."

"You're welcome, Draco," said Voldemort rather cheekily as the door slammed with Draco's leaving. When all was silent, Tom came round behind the screen. "Hurry up. He's going to be mad if he doesn't find you soon," he warned. Hermione glowered.

"What about our deal?" she demanded. Tom simply laughed callously and gestured for her to leave, pointing to the door. Hermione longed to argue until she got her way, but even she knew that it was foolish to keep Draco waiting for too long. With a last caustic glower, she clenched her fists and slipped out of the room.

In spite of her anger, she knew she had found a much better means of escape now—all she had to do, she realized as she slipped out of her clothes and tossed them into the wardrobe haphazardly, was convince Voldemort to help her obtain a wand.

...And with his terrible secret, she couldn't help but think that he'd give in to her soon.