Hermione thinks she knows what went wrong—or, at least, she has a plausible theory.
She thinks that, when the chandelier fell and Harry took back the wands, and he and Ron Disapparated with Dobby and Griphook, it was the pain in her bones that held her back.
The Cruciatus Curse, she thinks, the Cruci-bloody-atus Curse!
She’s taught herself to swear quite fluently in the cellar of Malfoy Manor.
Pacing up and down, alone in the dark, she’s learned to combine the words for body parts, and sex, and going to the toilet in a defiant chant that focusses her mind brilliantly. When Lucius Malfoy has her dragged up from the cellar, when he ‘interrogates’ her with hexes and potions, and with crude physical threats, she silently recites her obscene mantra, and it sustains her when all her other resources have failed.
Then, in the lulls between his assaults, she lets herself resurface, and watches and listens.
Because she needs to know what’s going on.
She saw Bellatrix’s knife pierce her Disapparating friends, and she has no idea if it injured or—Please God, no!—killed Harry or Ron.
And the not-knowing is worse than any physical pain.
But if Harry and Ron did escape unhurt, she reasons, why haven’t they come back for me?
What, in Merlin’s name, is HAPPENING out there?
It’s some consolation that the Malfoys look wretched—Draco’s so painfully thin, his head’s bowed so low beneath a burden his aristocratic frame was never designed to carry, Hermione can’t believe that things are going well for You-Know-Who.
She watches Draco, as he tries to disappear down the cracks between the floor tiles, and thinks, It’s the shame he can’t bear! It’s destroying him, and that troubles her, because—despite everything that’s passed between them—it makes her feel...
Not sorry for him, exactly.
No, it makes her feel sympathy for him.
Because he’s as much a prisoner as she is. And, she thinks, it’s worse for him. Because I’ve been caught by the enemy, but he’s being tortured by his own side.
Many a man's reputation would not know his character if they met on the street.
Severus Snape’s a regular visitor.
Hermione hates him now—Dumbledore’s murderer, Voldemort’s enforcer...
Sometimes, when he’s watching Lucius’s struggle to pry the Order’s secrets from her and, defiantly, she looks up into his black eyes, she thinks she sees a glimmer of pity in them.
The smug bastard!
Unlike Lucius, who’s degenerating into a blond Neanderthal, Draco’s growing more and more fastidious.
He’s like an anorexic girl, thinks Hermione. Worrying about his appearance because that’s the only thing he can control.
His father seems to blame him for the family’s disgrace, and punishes him by allowing Fenrir Greyback to bully him, and his mad aunt to molest him. Lucius sends him down into the cellar on any pretext, hoping—Hermione assumes—that Draco will somehow get her to drop her guard.
What Lucius doesn’t realise, she thinks, is that Draco’s too busy shutting everything out to bother with me. I could dance naked, reciting ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’, and Draco wouldn’t even notice.
“Are you all right?” she whispers one day, when—pale and wraith-like—he sets a tray of bread and water down beside her. “You look terrible.” And, without thinking, she touches his hand.
Draco pulls it back as though she’s scalded him. “You’re not exactly Witch Weekly’s Lovely Witch of the Month, either, Granger.”
His voice is hoarse and his sneer’s a ghost of its former self but, for some reason, Hermione’s relieved to see him making the effort. “I was just wondering how you were.”
“I’m fine,” he says. “How are you?”
“I’m cold,” she replies, truthfully, “and tired,”—her voice drops—“and I’m frightened.”
Draco regards her for several long moments. Then he glances up the stairs and, as if he’s suddenly made his mind up, he moves a safe distance away from her, and conjures a blanket.
“Here,” he says, tossing it at her.
“Thank you.” She wraps it round her shoulders. Then, “Draco,” she says, very softly, “why don’t you get out of this place? Why don’t you just run away?”
She’s expecting him to say, “Because of Mother and Father,” but, instead, he pulls up his immaculate sleeve and shows her his forearm.
The Dark Mark.
He might run, she thinks, but he couldn’t hide. “Oh, Draco—”
“Just shut it, Granger,” he says, bitterly.
Over the next few days he comes down to the cellar more and more.
Hermione thinks it’s because he can’t bear to be alone, and—when his mother’s not there—she’s the only person he isn’t afraid of.
He doesn’t say much—just sits there, shivering, lost in his own horrifying thoughts.
Eventually, she lifts up a corner of her blanket and, after a moment’s hesitation, he crawls in beside her, and they lie together awkwardly, sharing each other’s body warmth.
After he’s gone, she wonders why she hadn’t thought to take his wand from him.
When it happens, it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Hermione’s grown used to lying in his arms, and the feel of his erection, pressing against her belly, doesn’t bother her—she’d felt it with Viktor and with Ron, after all, and she knows from her reading that boys can’t help it.
This time, though, it’s different.
This time, as he gathers her close, he relaxes, and moulds her body to his; this time, he nuzzles her neck and, when she tilts her head to admit him, his kisses send lightning bolts into her breasts and down between her legs; this time, his hand slides over her belly, and she feels it working, unzipping her jeans and unbuttoning his own trousers.
This time, she knows what’s coming, and she wants it.
And although, technically, she’s still a virgin, her hymen’s already been broken by an internal examination, so—when he eases himself inside her—there’s no pain, just wonder, and a warm, comforting fullness.
For a long while he lies motionless and Hermione’s perfectly content, but then he starts to thrust and she realises that this is how it’s supposed to be, this is how it’s meant to feel, and—Oh God—it’s beautiful! She wraps her arms around him, lifts her legs and crosses her ankles behind his back, and rocks against him—God, it feels so good!—and he clamps a hand over her mouth to stop her moans betraying them.
It’s better than anything she’s ever imagined, a mounting pleasure that peaks abruptly in a great, hot wave, surging deep into every part of her, forcing her to curl up around him as she rides it out, gasping her gratitude into his fingers.
And, afterwards, she’s energised—she could climb Mount Everest if someone would only point her in the right direction. “What are we going to do?” she whispers.
“I don’t know,” he replies, and she realises that, for him, it hasn’t been the momentous experience it’s been for her, though—surely—she must have given him something back and, breaking their tacit agreement, she pulls his wand from his sleeve.
“What are you doing?” he cries.
“Lumos,” she murmurs, and a soft light illuminates his features. “I just want to look at you, Draco,” she explains.
“Oh, Granger,” he sobs, hugging her tightly.
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
“Come here, Draco,” says Lucius.
Hermione, pinned to a chair by the elder Malfoy’s Body-Bind Curse, stares impotently as Draco moves into her line of sight.
“Make her talk,” says Lucius.
Draco swallows hard. “Father...”
“Come along, Draco. You know how to cast the Cruciatus Curse.”
Draco’s face crumples, and his body seems to shrink. Hermione’s heart goes out to him; she cannot understand how a father can be so callous.
“She’s a Mudblood, Draco.” Lucius goads him. “A Malfoy need feel no compassion for her sort. Your only concern is to extract from her what the Dark Lord needs to know. Now—concentrate, and make her talk...”
Draco lifts his wand. “Crucio,” he croaks, and Hermione feels a mild dose of pins and needles ripple from her chest down to her toes.
“Oh, you stupid boy,” cries Lucius, slapping his son across the back of his head.
“We’re getting you out of here,” says Draco. He’s edgy, verging on hysterical. “Tonight, before He comes.”
“Uncle Severus and me... I had to tell him about us, Granger. He could see that something had changed, and he just wouldn’t let it rest. He says that—that the Dark Lord plans to kill you, so we have to get you out.”
Hermione draws back from him, suddenly suspicious. “Why would Snape do that? It doesn’t make sense.”
“He’s doing it for me,” says Draco.
She supposes that’s plausible. Snape’s always treated Draco like a favourite nephew—a son, even. Draco trusts him, and she trusts Draco... “But then you’ll be here all alone,” she says. “Come with me—”
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Granger,” he yells, “just shut up for once, and do as you’re told!” Then his voice drops to a whisper: “Do you think I want to stay in this mad house? You know why I can’t leave!”
The Dark Mark. “But maybe something can be done,” she whispers back. “Maybe Snape knows how to get rid—”
“No.” He shakes his head. “And, anyway, that isn’t the deal.”
“Listen,” he hisses. “This is the plan. Today, I’ll send a house-elf with your food—he’s called Winky. He’s from my mother’s side of the family, and he knows the house in Grimmauld Place. I’ll order him to Apparate you there, and stay there with you.”
“D’you really think that’ll work?”
“Severus says it will. He says he can convince the Dark Lord that you got Winky to turn traitor with all your talk of house-elf rights, so—as long as I can keep up the Occlumency, and don’t draw any attention to myself—I’ll be okay, and you’ll be safe. You can get back with Potter—”
“Is Harry still alive?”
He shrugs. “As far as I know.”
“Draco...” She finds his hand.
“What?” His answering grip’s so tight, it hurts.
“I’ll miss you.”
At first, she thinks about him almost every minute of every day.
But then Harry finds her, hiding with Winky at Grimmauld Place, and she throws herself into helping him track down the remaining Horcruxes, and Draco...
Draco just seems to fade away.
Seeing him again, in the Room of Hidden Things, had been a shock.
They’d been on opposite sides, of course, and there’d been no time to do anything but fight.
She’d been ruthless—ignoring the pain in his eyes when she’d shot her Stunning Spell; ignoring him when he’d collapsed after seeing Crabbe die; ignoring him when Ron had punched him for trying to bargain for his own life...
But now, seeing him in the Great Hall, huddled with his parents, she remembers how he’d comforted her in the cellar of Malfoy Manor, and how—despite his paralysing fear of Voldemort—he’d risked his life to set her free.
He lifts his head, and stares at her as though she’s a stranger, but—ignoring Ron’s protests, and Lucius Malfoy’s scowl—she steps close to him, raising her arms and wrapping them around his neck.
For a moment, he freezes.
Then he gathers her up, burying his face in her dirty hair and, from the way his body’s shaking, she knows he’s crying.
And it’s as though they’d never been apart—his scent, his touch, his need—she’s back where she belongs. “I’m sorry,” she whispers, “I’m so, so sorry...”
She’s apologising for abandoning him, for being so overwhelmed by the war she’d pushed him out of her heart, but Draco assumes she’s talking about the future: “Why?” he asks, hoarsely. “What are they going to do to us, Granger? What will happen to Father and me?”
“I don’t know...” She comes up on her toes, and nuzzles his neck. “But I’ll tell them, Draco—now that Voldemort’s dead and he can’t hurt you—I’ll tell every one of them how you protected Harry and Ron, how you refused to torture me, and how you and Snape saved me. I will tell them.”
“D’you think they’ll listen?”
“I don’t know.”
“If they send me to Azkaban—”
“I’ll help you,”—she hugs him tightly—“I’ll fight for you. And I’ll find a way to get you out, I promise.”
His body relaxes, and she feels his breath, hot against her cheek. “I love you, Granger,” he whispers.
And Hermione’s fate is sealed.