'The web was woven curiously,
The charm is broken utterly,
Draw near and fear not,—this is I,
The Lady of Shalott.'
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Lady of Shalott
one year later
"I pray thee, good Mercutio, let's retire/ The day is hot; the Capels, abroad/ And if we meet we shall not 'scape a brawl/ For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring."
"Excellent," said Hermione, leaning down to ruffle Jamie's hair. "Most impressive work, Jamie."
Jamie closed Romeo & Juliet and beamed at her lady with a trademark gap-tooth grin. "Well, I am getting better, aren't I?" she said smugly.
"Yes, I think so."
Jamie giggled, swinging round where she perched on the footstool to watch Lady Riddle stand and take little Wendell out from his crib. The baby boy was cute as a button and he roused with a little pink-lipped yawn when his mother gently lifted him, smacking his lips. He huddled into her arms, greedily seeking more warmth. Jamie sighed adoringly.
Hermione bounced the tiny body lightly. "Hello Wendell. What do you say to an afternoon stroll, hm?" she murmured.
Wendell blinked at her. His eyes were large and dark with long spiky eyelashes, like his father's. Hermione kissed his nose, snub like hers. "That's what I thought," she said and led them outside, Jamie trailing along loyally.
They entered a spring day in full bloom without parasols or pesky stockings to keep away the sun. She sat them down on the edge of the courtyard fountain and hummed a nursery rhyme while dipping Wendell's small feet into the cool streaming water. The sun beat down on them relentlessly, turning her tan skin darker and making the varying shades in the marble basin of the fountain glow like Illumination Charms.
She sensed a pair of eyes watching her.
Hermione looked up and found Master Riddle gazing at her from an open doorway, smoking a cig. Here at home, her husband was Master Riddle – and sometimes just Tom. At the restored Ministry and everywhere else, he was Lord Voldemort: the prime leader of reformed England.
She arched a brow at him, as if to say, You've dragged yourself away from work somehow, I see. And he raised one back, as if to say, Your point being…?
Hermione rolled her eyes, turned her – and little Wendell's – back on Master Riddle, lifting her skirts and sinking her feet into the water too. She planted a kiss on Wendell's chubby cheek, whispering, "Do you think your father will take the bait?"
After what she thought was a thoughtful pause, Wendell blinked at her.
So they waited and, soon after, Master Riddle was sitting down at their side and flitting a kiss over Hermione's own cheek. She turned her head quickly, catching his lips instead, and he tutted. "Feeling sly today, are we, Lady Riddle?" he murmured.
"Not sly, only kissable," she quipped cheekily. He kissed her again, before pulling back to sit down and lift little Wendell from his mother's arms and into his own lap.
"Did you miss me?" he asked Wendell and pretended to listen attentively for a moment, nodding. "Ah, yes, he's missed me very much. Far more than he'll ever miss you, I'm afraid, Hermione."
She scoffed. "Oh really?"
"Really." He leaned close to her over Wendell's head, smirking. "Truly even."
"Somehow, I'm inclined to believe I am hearing a bit of poppycock."
"Little Wendell would never lie."
"No. But his father would."
Hermione splashed her feet in the warm water, getting her skirts wet and not caring. She never cared for those frivolous sorts of things anymore. She never scratched her hands or heard book characters in her head, either. Not since treatment began. "Master Riddle," she said lightly. "How is my proposal of S.P.E.W. coming along?"
Master Riddle grimaced, as he always did when she brought up S.P.E.W., and his wife shot a sharp glare at him. He quickly schooled his features into a becoming smile. "It's coming along very well–"
"You haven't even addressed it yet, have you?"
He cleared his throat. "Well, it isn't that I haven't 'addressed it,' per se. I've been rather pre-occupied and the house-elves aren't comfortable at all with the notion of independence. They're very keen to the feudal systems-"
"Feudal systems?" she repeated, miffed. "No, no, that's unacceptable. This is not the Middle Ages. House-elves deserve their rights too, you know, especially since the other appeals have been granted for the centaurs, the werewolves, the goblins, the Muggleborns, the Animagi, the Merfolk, the vampires, the giants-"
"I know," Master Riddle interrupted. He put a finger under her chin, tilting her head toward him, and her stern expression ever so slowly gave way to something warmer. "I know and I promise I'll address your proposal first thing Thursday morning. S.P.E.W. will be everywhere. I can even make little badges to send around, if you'd like…" The rest of his words drifted away as he enveloped her in a kiss, catching her lips and molding his against them.
"What about knitted scarves?" Hermione suggested in a hushy lilt, a moment later. He cocked a brow.
"Well, why not? They're warm. And they're certainly more useful than little scraps of metal you stick on your coat."
He shook his head. "I don't believe I shall ever understand you, Hermione."
She sighed and laid her head on his shoulder, running her fingers through Wendell's head of thick dark hair tenderly. Master Riddle kissed her temple, as if he couldn't help it. She closed her eyes under the firm pressure of his lips.
"You understand me better than anyone else," she said finally.
"I could say the same thing...but it would be a lie. I confess that Wendell knows me best."
Hermione scoffed and Master Riddle kissed her again, this time on the nose, then on a spatter of summer freckles. "What are you doing?" she asked, laughing.
"Kissing my lady before I have to go and endure an entire night without her, but of course."
She sombered at the reminder. "But you'll be here tomorrow afternoon, won't you?"
Her eyes drifted to their son, who was sleeping again. She touched Wendell's cheek carefully. "Can Wendell come earlier?"
"Maybe," he said. "If Jamie is able to bring him again."
At Hermione's sullen expression, Master Riddle put his mouth to her ear and whispered, "We'll be here, darling, no matter what. Don't worry."
"I know. But I can't help it sometimes." She caressed his hand where it rested lightly on her knee, tracing the crisp white folds of his glove. From time to time, she still begged to be let out of St. Mungo's, but then she remembered why she was here – why she needed to be here... and she only had to stay for a little while longer besides. Her time was almost up.
Her home, with Master Riddle and Wendell, was waiting for her outside the neat red brick walls of the psychiatric hospital, as Tom always reminded her. Her old home, a grand manor filled with blood and deception, had been burned to the ground with her half-dead – half-murdered, she corrected herself – brother inside it. It had been necessary, Master Riddle said, to destroy all evidence of what she did. All the witnesses of his search party were sworn under Unbreakable Vow never to speak of what they'd seen at Malfoy Manor that day.
She'd been evaluated by Healers, her wounds healed, and her person tried at a very private, very exclusive hearing only attended by two Ministry officials and the Lord of Magic, Voldemort. In the end, she was under court order to undergo treatment at St. Mungo's until she was proved mentally fit and could be freed – and then only if she could be monitored at all times. Her wand had been snapped minutes after the trial, right before her eyes. She was banned from using magic, and if it were not for Master Riddle or the fact she was with child, a Dementor would have sucked her soul out months ago.
At first, Hermione had been angry, terribly angry, and only Master Riddle's daily visits could console her. Who were these high and mighty strangers to tell her what was right and wrong? There was no right and wrong, she had seen that. There was only the sane, who thought about bad things, and the insane, who acted on those bad things. Because she decided to take the course of her life into her own hands for the first time, because only she could save herself and secure her freedom, she had been sorted into the latter category. Her being a witch did not help matters by any means also.
Things weren't all bad, however.
There was Wendell. There was Master Riddle. There was the eighteen months she had left to endure here, if she behaved accordingly. There was no Lucius Malfoy in the world, no Lord Dumbledore. No one spoke in her head anymore, except for herself.
Master Riddle kissed her once more and stood to go. Hermione caught his sleeve, brushing the wayward lock of hair in his eye aside, hiding the impending misery his absence brought so he wouldn't see. Master Riddle loathed to see her desolate. Ever since he found her with shards of glass pitted in her chest, he hesitated to leave her alone for any length of time. She'd become unfathomably dangerous in his eyes, a murderer just like him, an orphan. He could not contain her. He could not control her. He could not predict her.
He loved her for that. Finally, he loved her. For her corruption.
Hermione heard them walking away, Master Riddle and Wendell and Jamie. She closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to see them go. Things weren't so bad, she reminded herself. She survived. She escaped her own self-destruction.
Finally, the English flower had proven herself.
AN: I am so sad that DD is over. :'( *what am I going to do with my life now?*
A humongous, gargantuan thank you to all of you. I just… You're all really spectacular. Your advice, support, and lovely words took this story into a whole new direction that never even occurred to me when I started this. I'm so happy you stuck through this with me. It truly helps me grow as a writer.
You're also the best whores/readers a gal could ask for and I'm seriously going to miss you! (Unless you stay with me in one of my other fics so I can see your lovely faces again? Yes? Maybe?). I mean, think about the possibilities here.