A/N: I know its been forever. I'm SO sorry. RL is kicking my ass at the moment and I'm trying to keep my head above water. Any and all mistakes are my own and you have my sincerest apologies.
When Draco arrived in the guest wing, Kreacher was motionless outside the room that housed Theodore Nott. He was impressed with the elf's protective nature. Across from him stood Dilly, who was leaning against the wall and watching the closed door with a determined frown as if she expected it to open at any moment. When she heard him coming, she looked up and her expression lightened.
"Master! You is alright!" she squeaked.
Draco smiled. "Of course I'm alright. With Miss Hermione looking after me there was never any doubt."
At the mention of Hermione, Kreacher's ears drooped and his stoic façade crumbled. He sank to his knees and dropped his head. "Kreacher is going to see Master Potter now you is here, sir. Kreacher is needing to be punished for hurting Miss Granger."
Draco looked down at the elf's morose visage and his lingering fury at Kreacher faded. He couldn't be angry for something Hermione had commanded. And it worked out that Nott had in fact been a genuine member of the Dark Court, he might have saved both their lives by assisting with the ruse. Nothing could be done to Kreacher now that would make him feel any worse than he already did.
"That won't be necessary. Kreacher, we are running a dangerous game here and sometimes to survive we have to do things we hate, hurt the ones we love or stand back and watch as those we care about are hurt."
His thoughts went to the night he had been forced to watch as his Aunt Bellatrix tortured Hermione, helpless to do anything to stop it.
"Miss Hermione's plan was sound. You did as you were asked for the sake of the mission. Hermione is fine. I healed her as soon as I woke up and she is none the worse for wear. I'm thankful you were there for her."
"Kreacher did not like hitting Miss Granger, sir. But Miss Granger said that Kreacher would do it if Kreacher was Miss Granger's friend. Kreacher did not want to do it, sir." The normally stoic elf hung his head and muttered over and over. "Kreacher, won't. Kreacher, won't."
"Kreacher," Draco said, trying to get his attention. "Kreacher!" He had to repeat himself several times before the distraught elf finally stopped and looked up. "Some of the hardest choices we make are often the most important. You chose to do something horrible last night in order to help Hermione. We are all being forced to say and do things we don't want to so we can win this war. The day we stop the Dark Court is the day we no longer have to make those kinds of choices." Draco's eyes hardened. "And we will stop them."
Kreacher composed himself and nodded. "Yes, sir." Regaining his stoic and gruff expression, he stood up. "Kreacher will be going to Master now and telling him of Miss Granger, sir."
Draco nodded and looked at Dilly who had remained silent. "Will you go and see if Hermione needs anything? She should probably eat something."
Dilly bobbed a curtsy. "Yes, Master."
Both elves popped away and Draco sucked in a deep breath at the same time he drew his wand. Time to deal with Nott.
When he opened the door he immediately saw Nott standing at the windows that overlooked the front drive and adjoining park-like acres. When he looked back to see who had entered the room, Draco was gratified to see the momentary look of surprise that flashed over his face.
"Nott," Draco said casually as he leaned against the doorframe, seemingly careless.
Nott stood tense. "Malfoy," he replied. "You're looking remarkably well this morning."
Draco smirked but offered no explanation.
Neither one said anything for a long moment. Draco knew that silence, on top of essentially being imprisoned in Malfoy Manor, would cause Nott to be nervous and more likely to divulge more than he intended. Nott may be nearly as intelligent as Hermione, but he didn't have a fraction of the courage.
"Enough with the games, Malfoy. What do you intend to do?" Nott spat with false bravado.
Draco straightened and strolled into the room. Nott flinched as the door magically closed on its own.
"That depends entirely upon you, Nott." Draco absently ran his fingers along the room's fireplace mantle as if inspecting for dust. "Your continued existence is dependent on how reliable your information is. If you lie to me or try to deceive me in any way, your unexplained disappearance will be reported in the Prophet next week. Should you choose to cooperate … well, let's just say your life will be much improved."
Nott backed away from the veiled threat, knowing he was at Draco's mercy. Even if Draco killed him it would only increase his standing in the Dark Court. And considering the punishment and subsequent damage he had received only the previous night, it would be seen as an indicator of Draco's strength. "I told you last night—"
Draco interrupted. "We both know that I wasn't at my best last night and as much as I am appreciative of your efforts, you didn't disclose even a fraction of what you know. The question is how cooperative are you willing to be? How valuable is the information you have and why should I believe anything you say?"
Nott sighed heavily. "You know Blaise and I never really got involved in the time of the Dark Lord. Zabini was overseas with his mother, and my father was always more the Lord's servant, not me. The things we saw … that we were forced to do …"
Draco watched as his childhood friend swallowed, showing real emotion for the first time in Draco's memory.
"We went to school with so many of them, Drake. Mrs. Burbage was one of our teachers." Theo looked up at Draco, stripped of his usual haughty demeanour. "I was lucky. My family wasn't ever favoured like yours was. I was able to fade into the background for the most part. All I have ever wanted was to finish school and work at the Ministry as an Unspeakable. I thought after the Dark Lord was killed that I could finally do it." He swallowed and looked down at the floor. "But then my father was convicted as a Death Eater and my family name was disgraced. The Nott family doesn't have a fraction of the money or clout that the Malfoy name carries. No one would ever believe I hadn't been part of it."
Nott looked up, his jaw clenched. "I was one of the first to be contacted by your uncle. He told me of his newly acquired slaves and what his plans were. I couldn't stand back and watch like I had before. I offered to buy them." He hung his head and sank into a nearby chair. "I think it's my fault. I think that's where he got the idea for the slave trade. By offering him money, by trying to do a decent thing and save two people I didn't know he realized that he could turn a profit, and I condemned so many more to the same fate."
Draco internally softened, recognizing the guilt and self-recrimination on the other man's face. "And Zabini?"
Theo rubbed at his face. "He was summoned. One of the recent captures claimed to be related to Blaise; Rodolphus contacted him to confirm or deny it. When Blaise got there I had already purchased her. It was one of his step-sisters from one of his mother's many dead husbands. She had been almost dead when I heard her name. It took every ounce of skill I had to save her. Blaise came to me demanding her return and an explanation. After I explained all about the new Dark Court and my efforts on behalf of his step-sister he was incensed. We've been working together for the past year and a half. I buy the sickest and weakest and 'sell' them to Blaise once they're well enough. He has more money than I do, so he buys the more valuable slaves in the auctions—half-breeds and creatures mostly. I mostly win mine in the wagers."
Draco sighed. After sliding his wand into its holster in his sleeve he crossed his arms across his chest. "What do you offer as proof?"
Nott looked up, his elbows on his knees, chin on his knuckles. "I can't speak for Blaise; we operate in cooperation not as a team – too dangerous. For myself, I can summon the only other person who knows my ruse." He sat up. "And what of you? Other than Granger, what assurances do I have that you're not just biding your time until you kill me or turn me in to your uncle?"
Draco cocked an eyebrow haughtily at the man's audacity. "First of all, you are in no position to be making demands of any kind. Secondly, as you said Hermione's willing presence speaks for itself. But if you are so adamant for an un-refutable demonstration of my honesty..." Draco drew his wand and, with a flowing movement, a silvery shadow of mist shot out of the end.
Theo Nott sat back in wonder as a Patronus in the image of a snarling three-headed dog ran across the room and through the wall. He looked back at his childhood housemate in awe. "You can perform the Patronus charm?"
Draco merely smirked in reply. The answer was obvious.
"I don't question your skill. I only ask because no one I know has a happy enough memory to be able to perform that particular spell." Nott sat staring for a long minute before realizing Draco had no intention of explaining. "How is Granger this morning?" he asked but cringed back when Draco very nearly snarled at him.
Draco took an aggressive stance. "Hermione is none of your concern."
"Alright. Sorry. I only ask because she was so upset last night and amazingly seemed to be unable to perform the most elementary spell work." Theo held his hands up in surrender. He watched as Draco ground his teeth in anger.
"Winickus nearly killed her. He raped, tortured, and branded her. It included the smashing of her wand hand and nearly crushing her skull in retaliation for her skill and intelligence." Draco was breathing hard and having to focus on controlling his instincts at the memory.
Nott grimaced. "That explains why she was so skittish as she escorted me to my quarters last night. She mentioned something about physical attacks being more intense than magical ones."
Nott flinched when Draco levelled a threatening look at him. "And why was she feeling the need to talk about magical attacks?"
"I didn't do anything!" Nott hurried to explain. "I tried to reassure her that, as Mistress of Malfoy Manor, I couldn't attack her magically; that the Manor wouldn't allow it without severe consequences."
Draco couldn't help but think back to the time Voldemort realized that Narcissa was only protected from magic. He could still hear her screams in his head and couldn't hide the flash of pain that crossed his face.
"I'm sorry about Granger's hand," Theo offered. "Is there nothing that can be done?"
Draco shook his head. "Magic can't fix everything."
A knock sounded at the door, interrupting the conversation. Draco smirked as it opened and Harry Potter strode in.
"Morning, Malfoy," Harry said casually. "A little early for an interrogation after last night isn't it?"
Draco half snorted. "You've talked to Hermione already I take it?"
It was Harry's turn to smirk. "Last night … this morning. She was rather concerned about your worthless hide. How is your newest reminder of the slashing curse?"
Draco absently rubbed at his chest as he glared at Harry. "Shut it, Potter. It's not like you meant to carve me open like a Christmas turkey. You're not ruthless enough to have done it on purpose."
Harry only shrugged, obviously unconcerned. "Maybe. Maybe not."
Nott looked from one man to the other, stunned that the two lifelong enemies were in the same room without hexes being thrown, never mind exchanging borderline friendly banter. He swallowed when Harry's attention focused on him. It was unnerving having the wizard who singlehandedly defeated the greatest dark wizard in history stare you down. By all accounts the man in front of him had died and then come back to life only to kill the Dark Lord and end the Second Great Wizarding War.
"And what do we have here?" Harry asked with narrowed eyes. "Theo Nott. I've been hearing some interesting things about you, Theo. My sister seems to think you're working against the Dark Court. Now normally I tend to believe most of what she says, but in this case I'm afraid you're going to have to provide some tangible proof."
Draco watched in amusement at Nott's eyes darted back and forth between the two of them nervously. It was obvious that he didn't have the slightest clue who Harry was talking about when he referred to Hermione as his sister. Draco knew that's how Harry felt about her but to state it openly, he wondered at Harry's motives.
"Sister?" Nott questioned cautiously.
"Come now, Nott. You're almost as smart as she is. Surely you can reason out who I'm talking about," Harry taunted.
"You're having a little too much fun with this, Potter. Rather Slytherin of you," Draco commented as he also enjoyed watching Nott squirm.
Harry chuckled darkly. "Didn't I ever tell you? The Sorting Hat tried to put me in Slytherin. Of course it was after I had met you so I didn't want anything to do with your House after that."
Draco rolled his eyes.
"Hermione Granger," Nott said carefully. "She's the one you're calling sister."
"Well done, Nott," Harry praised exaggeratedly, clapping mockingly. "Now, about that proof."
"He's offered to summon someone who he claims is in on his rebellion," Draco commented.
"Of course he could be lying," Harry replied.
Draco nodded. "It would give him the perfect opportunity to spring a trap,"
"…and summon Death Eaters to take us out," Harry finished the thought.
Nott again stared back and forth. "That is the creepiest thing. How the blazes am I to believe you're actually Harry Potter when you are finishing the sentences of your nemesis Draco Malfoy."
Draco chuckled. "He does have a point, Potter."
"Well seeing as he's the one imprisoned in the Manor, he's going to have to take our word for it." Harry retorted. "It's not like he can ask me a question that no one but the two of us would know, we never had that kind of one to one contact."
Draco shrugged and turned back to Nott. "Now to the matter of the person he wants to summon as proof. We can't have them summoned here as it would definitely blow my cover if it is a trap."
"Right then," Harry said straightening. "The Shrieking Shack."
Draco nodded. It made sense. It was completely unconnected with either side, relatively remote and wouldn't cause collateral damage if it did turn out to be a trap. He looked to Harry. "You understand we can't go with you."
Harry nodded. "You need to take Hermione somewhere anyway. She has an idea about her wand hand that might help."
Draco arched an eyebrow. It was news to him so it had to be a recent revelation. He nodded. "Happy hunting. Contact me when you have the proof, or after the battle. Whichever it turns out to be."
Harry flicked his wand and once again Nott was bound tightly by ropes.
After escorting Harry and the restrained Nott to the floo, Draco went in search of Hermione in the conservatory. He found her in her favourite spot on the grass next to the pond. She was staring intently at her wand with a familiar frown on her face.
"What are you thinking about so hard, ma chanson?" He was unsure of his reception after his spectacular show of insensitivity earlier.
She turned to look at him and held out a hand, silently inviting him to join her.
As he settled at her side he brushed her hair back over her shoulder and kissed her temple. When she didn't freeze up or pull away he relaxed somewhat. "Harry said you wanted me to take you somewhere."
"I was thinking about my wand hand," she said trying to flex the stiff and weak fingers on her left hand. "I don't think I'll ever be able to perform magic properly with my off hand. And my wandless magic is abysmal because I need my bad hand for that as well. Which led me to thinking about how my only problem is being unable to grip my wand." She looked up at him. "I need to visit Mr. Ollivander. I think he might be able to help me."
"The wand maker? I didn't know he survived the war." Draco looked at the determination and hint of pleading on her face. He kissed her lips softly. "Whatever you need," he whispered before pulling back to look at her properly. "I'm assuming you know where he is. Did you contact him already?"
"Hermione, about this morning. The things I said," he offered tentatively.
Hermione waved him off and sighed. "You didn't say anything that isn't true. And nothing I didn't already know already. It's just..." she looked up at him "...we got to be really good at hurting one another and Ron … well, Ron lashes out when he's hurt. He and I aren't really even friends anymore, but that doesn't mean I don't miss what the three of us had in school. Even Harry finds him difficult to be around at times. I just don't really like having to face the hard truths about our relationship."
"I'm sorry, my love," Draco whispered into her hair. "I was jealous. I remembered how close you all were and how much I longed to be that close to you. I'm sorry I hurt you."
She smiled and kissed him so he would know he was forgiven. She ached for the boy who had been so lonely. "Take me to Ollivander's?"
Draco raised her weak left hand to his lips and kissed it gently. "Anything for you."
A short time later they Apparated to a small village by the sea. "Ollivander lives in Cornwall?" Draco asked.
Hermione nodded. "We came to a house in an area similar to this after fleeing Malfoy Manor." She shot him an apologetic glance. "He liked it so much that he decided to retire here."
Draco looked around and could see why. It was a peaceful little village and the warm sea air, calling birds, and rhythmic crashing of the waves was soothing. Hermione looped her bad hand over his arm and drew him along the lane and away from the village.
Before long they stood at the gate of a quaint two storey cottage surrounded by lush gardens and a plethora of trees whose growth was obviously aided by magic. Rustling in the branches indicated the presence of Bowtruckles.
Before they could step through the gate, the cottage door opened and Draco watched an obviously aged Mr Ollivander come out to greet them. He hesitated at the sight of Draco and looked to Hermione for reassurance.
"You will understand if I have to ask you a question?" he offered hesitantly.
Hermione smiled. "I would expect nothing less." She clasped her hands in front of her, clearly waiting.
Mr. Ollivander shifted his wand in his hand, clearly nervous. "What topic did we discuss after escaping Malfoy Manor?"
Hermione's eyes held a remembered pain, and Draco watched as her thumb subtly rubbed the scars remaining from Bellatrix's torture. "We discussed wand lore and the Elder Wand specifically."
Ollivander looked relieved. "A final question, if you will?" At Hermione's nod he continued, "What marks the grave of our rescuer?"
Tears welled in Hermione's eyes and her voice cracked on her answer. "Here lies Dobby, a Free Elf. Harry, Ron, and I buried him ourselves."
Ollivander lowered his wand and his haggard face lit with a smile. "It's good to see you, my dear." He waved them forward. "Come in. Come in!" He cast a hesitant and slightly fearful glance at Draco.
Hermione reached out and rested her good hand on his arm in reassurance. "On my honour, Garrick, he means you no harm. There is much more to the story than you know. I'm asking you to trust me in this."
Ollivander's tension melted away and he drew her into a quick hug. "With my life."
She hugged him back. "It's so good to see you."
They were escorted into the cottage and quickly presented with tea and pasties. Polite conversation and the exchange of news was the main goal as they ate. Draco complimented the old wand maker on the diversity of the gardens.
Ollivander chuckled. "A thorough knowledge of Herbology and the Care of Magical Creatures is a veritable certainty when one's livelihood is the making of wands, Lord Malfoy."
"Ah, but not many would take the trouble to cultivate the makings themselves." Draco smiled.
"Yes, the art and majesty of the craft seems to be lost on the new generation, I'm afraid," Ollivander lamented. He smiled and shifted his gaze to Hermione. "Now, my dear, I have the feeling that this is more than just a friendly visit."
Hermione's chin quivered with the attempt to hold back her tears, and she looked to Draco to explain her recent circumstances, unsure of how much to reveal.
Draco kissed her forehead and turned to Mr. Ollivander. "You undoubtedly heard of the arson of Hermione's home?" At the man's sympathetic nod Draco continued. "What only a few people know is that shortly before that, Hermione was abducted and tortured by a member of the Dark Court. In the process her wand hand was … damaged." Draco took the hand gently and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. "Nothing more can be done to repair the injuries she sustained. She is unable to close her fingers or grip her wand." Draco's account was accurate but severely edited despite the trust Hermione had for the old wand maker.
"I can't grip my wand at all, and so far I've not had much luck learning to do spell work with my off hand," Hermione said softly. She looked up at a sympathetic Ollivander. "I've come to ask for your help. I need to know if there is a way to protect myself. I won't live long if they come for me again." She shivered at the thought of being at their mercy again.
Ollivander held out his hand. "May I?" he asked.
Hermione held out her weak left hand and allowed him to examine it. When he was through he patted the back of it gently. "Do you have your wand with you?"
Hermione nodded and handed it over to him. He looked at her in small surprise. "You managed to get your old one back," he stated.
Hermione nodded. "It was found in a vault at the Ministry after the war. Since it was only lost and not stolen, the wand still answered to me. I was so happy to have it. But now …" Her voice broke on a sob, and Draco rubbed her back in an attempt to comfort her.
"Now I don't know if it's because of my hand or because I was disarmed during my attack that I can't do magic properly anymore," she finished.
Ollivander studied the wand closely and muttered several spells over it. After a few minutes he looked up with a gentle smile. "Well I can tell you that the bond between you and your wand remains unbroken. Clearly it was a good match all those years ago."
Hermione tried to smile but failed. "So it's because of my …" she rubbed at her left hand and tears overflowed.
"My dear," Ollivander said softly.
Hermione looked up into his eyes.
"Will you leave your wand with me? I know it's a lot to ask but I may be able to help you," he offered.
Hermione looked hopeful but then looked at Draco in hesitation. "I don't know. We have a week to … there's a bit of a …" She was at a loss for how to explain.
"A few days. I'll know if I can help you or not in just a few days," he explained. "However, I cannot guarantee that I can return your wand to you if what I have in mind doesn't work."
Hermione fingered her wand sadly. "It doesn't really matter I suppose. I'm barely able to use it now." She started to cry and Draco hugged her to him, shushing her as he kissed her temple.
"I will do my very best to help you with this, Hermione," Ollivander said. "It's the very least that I can do to repay you."
After politely excusing themselves, Draco escorted a vulnerable Hermione home. Since the day she had gotten her wand at the age of eleven she had only rarely been without one. In the absence of the one she had bonded to, she had made do with substitutes, but never in all that time had she felt as helpless and exposed as she did now. She was little better than a Muggle in a land of magic, and Draco felt all the more protective of her for it. Getting her home to the safety of the Manor, he tucked her into the daybed in their Den. There she could rest in complete safety. There he knew no one could find her and the layers of hexes and enchantments surrounding the Manor would ensure that it stayed that way.