Recalcitrance Part I: Defiance
They were in Knockturn Alley of all places, its dark twisting passage strikingly similar to the scaly back of a slithering snake. It twisted and wound around violently, the dark cobbled street encrusted with dirt and the glittering green remnants of liquor bottles. The foreboding shops that created a canyon in the single alleyway fashioned ominous shadows within the dark confines, dark figures lingering just beyond the edges of one's vision.
The occasional rustle of someone's cloak would trickle past, footsteps, nearly silent, muffled against the dirt that cloaked the cobbled walkway. No one stopped to chat to one another, eye contact wasn't met, and physical contact was avoided at all costs. If you did accidentally bump into someone you would most likely be found seconds later pressed against a dark wall with a wand at your throat.
The insides of the shops were barely visible through the dark tinted windows that needed to be cleaned of what seemed an accumulation of year's worth of dust, sometimes even the odd splattering of some form of dried liquid. Sometimes such liquid was a dark, crusted red. Blood, most likely. You would only be able to see inside the shops if you pressed your nose against the glass, and cupped your face with your hands so there wasn't any extra light hitting your eyes. This was probably due to owners not wanting stragglers looking into their shops. Their customers would know where to go, not flounder outside and look in. This wasn't a place for window shopping.
And this was where Harry, Ron and Hermione found themselves late one March afternoon. Why you ask? Well, because Ron wanted to, and Harry and Hermione didn't want him to do something stupid and end up in more trouble than could be avoided if they were there with him. He was a curious young man, to the point of stupidity even, and he had always wanted to be the first of the Weasley children to defy their terrifying mother's order to not turn down that dark alleyway. Well, congratulations Ron, you did it.
"Can we please go back now?" pleaded Hermione in a harsh whisper as she trotted behind the excited red head.
Ron turned back to her, his eyes alight with excitement and grinned goofily. "Aw, come on Herms, loosen up."
"No, I will not loosen up," she hissed, getting more agitated by the second. "We're not meant to be down here! Ron, please-"
Hermione fell silent for a few seconds, her mouth agape indignantly.
"Don't shush me you-"
"Ssh!" he hissed again, waving his hand at her as if she were an annoying fly.
Hermione huffed, but didn't reply. She pulled the collar of her cloak higher up around her neck, needing something to do with her hands before she started fidgeting too much, and stuffed them deep into her pockets. She scanned the shadows, noting how many human shaped darker splotches there were that seemed to stick to the shadows. In fact, she noticed that no one person, apart from the three of them, was walking straight down the middle of the alleyway. She frowned and set her jaw, the cogs in her mind making links to random facts that she was picking up with each passing second as she observed the alleyway.
Suddenly she grabbed Ron's collar and dragged him silently into the shadows of the alleyway, that was, until Ron started to protest.
"Hey, what do you-" he groused loudly.
Hermione's face scrunched up painfully at his noticeable behaviour, and quickly reached up and clamped her hand over his mouth, resulting in his muffled protest.
"Shut it," she hissed, and waited til he quietened down. "People here don't walk right down the middle of the damn alleyway. If we're going to be down here the least we can do is not draw attention to ourselves, you fool."
Ron nodded silently and drew her hand away from his mouth with a grumble, "you could've warned me."
Hermione huffed, crossing her arms and rolling her eyes. "Just go have your fun so we can get out of here."
Ron tutted. "You're such a prude, Hermione."
Hermione opened her mouth to retort, but quickly shut it, her jaw aching as she grinded her teeth together, wishing for some modicum of self control.
'I will not hit him, I will not hit him, I will not hit him, I will not hit him,' she chanted in her head, her eyes shut so she wouldn't see the big red ape that was standing in front of her.
She opened her eyes again when she heard Harry's calm whisper.
"Hermione's right, we should go soon. It's not safe for any of us being down here."
Ron tutted again before whining loudly, "Just five more minutes, please. I really want to go into this shop that sells shrunken heads that apparently give you advice."
Hermione heard Harry sigh, and saw his silhouetted shoulders shift slightly. "Alright, but only five minutes."
"Yay," Ron muttered excitedly, sounding more like a five year old than a twenty year old.
He quickly scampered off, leaving Harry and Hermione to trudge after him hurriedly.
"You only let him because you're curious," she hissed angrily. "Look, wonder boy, I don't know about you, but I think that going down a Death Eater infested alleyway is the stupidest thing you could possibly do right now. You're the most famous man in Britain, wanted by the most evil man possibly to walk the earth, and now you're trudging down an alleyway that most likely holds at least one of his followers like there's nothing to worry about."
Harry merely grunted in reply and Hermione was thus rendered speechless, her mouth hanging open like a gaping fish would for air. Although they did often ignore her when she went into 'lecturing mode,' as they called it, she still became extremely vexed whenever they did so. She only lectured them when they were doing something extremely stupid. And now was one of those times.
They finally caught up to Ron when he stopped outside a particularly shady looking shop, his face slit with a goofy looking, childlike grin, and he grasped the brass doorhandle to enter the shop.
"I don't think you should go in there, Ron," Hermione cautioned wearily. This place really was giving her the creeps.
Ron sighed as if he was suffering a great deal and looked back at her with a disgruntled glare. "If you're so worried, why don't you wait out here and keep watch in case some shady person comes and tries to kidnap me like the damsel in distress you seem to think I am."
Hermione gave him an icy glare in return, folding her arms over her chest. "Fine."
And with that, Harry and Ron walked into the shop, leaving Hermione to scout the outsides, looking much like a lost little girl with her arms wrapped protectively around herself.
She carefully pressed her back against the wall just to make sure she wouldn't have to look behind herself as an extra safety measure. The alley was mostly quiet, eerily so, with the exception of the odd rustle of a cloak, or the odd tap of a shoe connecting with a surprisingly clean cobblestone. Dark shadows of people passing slithered and slinked around her, the dark tendrils of their cloaks swishing mysteriously.
Hermione's head snapped to her left when a bright yellow spark flashed in the corner of her eye, but found nothing to be the source. Of course there would be nothing, the alleyway was dark. Perhaps it was someone just lighting a match. There was no reason to possibly think it was a wand shooting off a spell.
She relaxed somewhat and closed her eyes, feeling the tension leave her shoulders. She rolled them experimentally and slumped more against the wall with a heavy sigh. There was no reason to fret, really. She felt really relaxed, like she was floating gently, warm water enveloping her form like a trickling brook, the stream tickling her skin, washing all her worries away gently until what was left was a haze of happiness that had no source.
A voice broke through the haze. 'Come to me.'
Hermione's eyes lazily opened halfway, leaving them hooded sultrily. Had anyone been looking at her specifically they might have noticed the slight milky haze that covered her irises, but alas, the only people that might have spared her a second glance were currently enthralled by the sarcastic, horrifyingly blunt shrivelled heads hanging in the shop behind her.
'Come.' commanded the voice again. It was deep and gravelly, and utterly enticing.
It was easy to follow the voice, easy to remain in the haze. She was happy here, merely floating.
And so she started walking.
She vaguely wondered how her feet knew where to go, but quickly surrendered her curiosity once again as a particularly relaxing wave of nirvana washed over her. She stopped in front of a dark figure, darkness washing over their form, a solid shadow.
She was pulled into a tight grasp, and was apparated away with a pop.
Harry and Ron exited the dark shop, both with rather bashful faces as they went to meet up with their friend.
The heads, although entertaining to hear criticize other people, were rather blunt and dreadfully truthful. Both boys had been skinned alive with the shrivelled heads' analysis of them, and they both felt rather sorry for themselves.
Upon leaving the shop they looked around expectantly as if there was meant to be someone waiting for them.
Ron turned to Harry with a baffled and slightly weary stare. "Where's Hermione?"
The pair apparated in front of a white mansion.
Hermione was vaguely aware of the figure striding in front of her towards the large wrought iron gates that lead to the white building beyond them.
Hermione's feet started moving. She was hazily aware of the gates opening, and some pretty white feathered animals trotting up to them curiously as they passed, before one was blasted away by the figures wand.
They entered the house, leaving behind a flock of screeching white peacocks scrambling around, and one bathed in red, lying completely still.
Hermione wasn't aware of how it happened, but the next thing she knew, she was in a room full of hazy, blurred people. She could faintly hear the chatter and excited screeches before she followed her dark figure to a throne with a blurred body lounging atop it.
And then the haze lifted. Hermione screamed.
Pain coursed through her body, a raging inferno burning her from the inside out, her insides bubbling and spluttering convulsively. Knives stabbed into every inch of her body, raking them across her skin and peeling it off in one fell swoop. Her head was imploding on itself, her brain shrivelling til it turned into liquid and sloshed around in her skull. Her spine snapped and shattered, each vertebrae providing shrapnel that lodged itself into her flesh.
And then it stopped.
Hermione curled in the foetal position, breathing heavily, and shaking. It was odd, the sensation of suddenly not being in pain. Usually some form of throbbing or stinging followed, but this time... nothing. The only clue of what had been was in her memory and in the sickening shudders that rolled through her curled up form.
She glanced up when she heard the hiss of Lord Voldemort himself.
Shakily, Hermione complied, rising on her elbows first, concentrating hard on making her muscles rigid or relaxed enough for them to stop shaking. Her shoulders shuddered as new strain was put on them, it was as if they themselves were expecting the pain again and were preparing for the onslaught. She then dragged herself up onto her knees slowly, shutting her eyes against the unpleasant feeling of the muscles around her spine twitching along the vertebrae. And then she was hauled roughly to her feet. Her legs crumpled slightly under the sudden need to hold her body weight.
"You will be rewarded greatly for this feat, Mulciber," hissed Voldemort, "Leave now."
Mulciber. Hermione closed her eyes, reciting what she had learned about the man, but only came up with one fact:
He was a master of the Imperius curse.
She was brought out of her thoughts when she heard the feral hiss of the most frightening man in Britain.
"Well, well, well," the Dark Lord hissed, "if it isn't the Mudblood Granger. I'm told you were found in Knockturn Alley, a shady place if there ever was, and yet you, a beacon for the light, were found there. I must admit, I am intrigued."
Hermione took a deep breath and finally stood up straight, ignoring the hisses from various people in the room that followed the action.
The Dark Lord's slitted eyes bore into hers and she met his stare bravely, her chin tilted up in defiance.
"And what, may I ask, were you doing there?" he asked lowly.
"Looking at shrivelled heads," Hermione answered bitterly, her face scrunched up in a hateful scowl.
If she ever got out of this alive she was going to beat Ron into a bloody pulp.
Voldemort's head tilted to the side curiously, his face impassive as he twirled his infamous wand through his spidery fingers. Without dropping his gaze he brought his free hand up to his side and motioned for someone to come forward with two curling fingers.
Hermione glanced over to the approaching footsteps and found only a masked figure, no face. The figure kneeled a few meters away from its master and held up a single vial filed with a clear liquid. Hermione's eyes widened.
Clear liquid. Veritaserum.
Her eyes flickered around the room like a quick excitable bird, looking for any possible exit. She found none except the door in which she was led through. She looked at the vial again and felt a wave of panic wash over her. If they got that down her throat they would be able to know anything.
So, she ran.
Quickly turning on her heel, her hair spinning around with her, Hermione sprinted wildly to the only door she knew would lead outside, only to be hit with a curse which resulted in her panting on the ground, for as soon as the pain hit her it was gone. It was like someone had flicked a light switch in rapid succession. Her muscles tensed again and she started trembling with new vigour.
She was hauled up once again, only to be shoved back in the direction she came. She stumbled over her own feet and crumpled to the floor, her chin cracking on the white marble. Hermione clutched her damaged jaw; the only hazy thought in her head was that she hoped it was broken so she wouldn't be able to speak. She was hauled up again, the screeching of a chair grinding against the floor grated on her ears. She was shoved down onto it, and had her arms drawn behind her. Before she knew what had happened, she found herself tied down, and an expectant looking Dark Lord bearing down on her, Veritaserum in hand.
She put up a good fight, she really did. She bit down on her lip so hard it bled just so she wouldn't have to open her mouth.
Unfortunately for her, Voldemort hit her, and he hit her hard. As soon as her lips opened to emit a painful gasp, the liquid was poured down her throat, and a hand clamped down on her mouth and nose. She held her breath for as long as she could, the liquid bubbled on her tongue, like she had a mouth full of aspirin in it, and it burned her cut lip.
This is what happened when Veritaserum came in contact with open wounds. It was an acidic substance, and burned away at injuries where the nerve endings were exposed. This was the only way it could be detected when administered. It was a tasteless, clear liquid with no smell. But if you had an open wound, you would definitely feel it burning. That was why, often, people wouldn't be given the substance when they had stomach ulcers or something of the like.
It was only when black spots started erupting in front of her eyes did she finally swallow.
Upon seeing the Dark Lord's satisfied expression, disgust welled up in her belly, and she cursed at her own weakness. Why couldn't she be like some three year olds who held their breath til they passed out? Surely she couldn't be weaker than some errant toddler? But no, she just had to swallow. And now they would be able to use her as a human tape recorder.
Her head fell onto her chest in defeat, her upper body weight hanging off her shoulders as she slumped forward in the chair. She was a failure.
She glanced up through her errant mass of hair when the Dark Lord hissed, "Now, Mudblood, question one..."
It took them nearly three hours of questioning til Voldemort was finished with her. By the end, Hermione had tear streaks, crusted and salty, running down her cheeks. Her lip was red, raw, and bloody with the effort to not answer despite the Veritaserum, and it wobbled pathetically as if teetering on an edge, threatening to tumble off into an abyss.
"You may leave now."
Hermione's head snapped up, her eyes wild and frantic.
"W-what?" she stammered, as another masked face untied her hands, which throbbed at the blood being pumped back into each finger.
"You may leave," he replied, nonchalant as he examined his fingernails.
Hermione was baffled to the point where she couldn't move. He wasn't going to kill her? The Mudblood whore of the golden trio?
He then looked up at her and gave her a cruel smile. "As enjoyable as your imminent death would be, my earlier delving into your mind resulted in a quite predictable discovery," he paused, for what seemed like effect, and raised his non-existent eyebrows in a superior manner. "Your greatest fear is abandonment, being left alone and ignored by all your peers. I know Dumbledore well enough to know that he will not take your betrayal well."
Hermione spluttered. "B-betrayal?"
Voldemort's cruel smirk grew, bordering on manic.
"Yes," he hissed, "betrayal."
And with that he raised his wand whip-like and pressed it down on her forearm.
Hermione writhed in agony for what seemed ages; her arm felt like it was being sawed off very slowly with a very small, pointed blade, small enough that it would take an age to sever the limb completely.
Please, just let it end, Hermione thought frantically.
Hermione looked up, her eyes blurred with pain-filled tears and she saw her arm was red, bloody, and marked with a black tattoo. The Dark Mark.
She whimpered at the sight and felt her breathing speed up in panic.
"I won't join you!" she shrieked, looking up at him and giving him a venomous glare, "I won't!"
Voldemort's smile turned ugly, and he snarled down at her, "Do not presume me stupid, girl! I am well aware your Gryffindor tendencies disallow you to follow my ideologies. I would not accept you even if you did wish. I will not sully myself with a Mudblood, no matter how smart."
Hermione flinched away from him as he finally showed his anger outwardly.
Pain split over her body once more. Hermione shrieked and screamed, her eyes rolling into the back of her head til all she could see were white spots erupting against the blackness of her skull. She clawed at her skin as if trying to remove something from her flesh, and her body jerked violently, as if in a seizure.
When the curse lifted Hermione was whimpering and sobbing like a little girl.
Voldemort's voice was once again a quiet hiss, "leave. Return to your precious Dumbledore if you must, but I assure you he will turn you away like the scum you are. I will not protect you, Mudblood. No one will after this night. You are alone."
He paused and tilted his head as if pondering. Voldemort then added as an afterthought, "of course, the authorities will most likely arrest you on the grounds of being a Death Eater. Congratulations, Hermione Granger, you have just earned yourself an exclusive cell in Azkaban."
Hermione whimpered again and attempted to push herself up. She gave up once she was crouching. She was so tired.
"Leave now," was the last thing she remembered before her vision went black.
Hermione woke up, god knows how many hours later, under the dark night sky and the chilled wind nipping at her skin. Not even bothering to move yet, she cracked open the eye that wasn't pressed into the dirt and licked her dry, blood encrusted lips, hissing when they stung as her saliva cleaned the wounds.
Slowly, as the haze lifted from her brain, she sat up, and looked around herself. Her eyes widened minutely in fright when she noticed she had merely been dumped outside the perimeter of Malfoy Manor. She wasn't outside the gate where it would be conspicuous. She was against the wall, a cluster of trees surrounding her aching body from sight, the very tip of the great building's roof peaking in sight.
Hermione took a deep breath, and disconnected her emotions from her brain. Her over analytical mind immediately kicked into gear and the cogs started whirring. She was a traitor, but not a traitor. She had taken the mark, but not willingly. Surely Dumbledore would see that?
But what if he didn't? What if he called in Auror's or simply banished her? Where would she go?
She was brought out of her thoughts when her forearm gave a particularly painful throb. She looked down at it and her face saddened. Marring her forearm was an ugly skull tattoo with a snake slithering through its mouth and eye holes.
No, she concluded. She couldn't see how Dumbledore, or anyone else for that matter, would see past the ugly black mark. She sure couldn't. She was a traitor. Even if she didn't do it willingly, she had still given a life's worth of information over to the Dark Lord, and that was unacceptable. Unforgivable.
She had surely cost many people their lives with the information she had blurted out tonight.
'Well,' she thought, 'first things first. I need to get this cleaned before it gets infected. Then, I need to sneak into Grimmauld place to get all of my stuff. I'll go into Gringotts in the late afternoon, just before it closes, and get my full store of money before I leave. And I'll go... somewhere... Russia maybe. It's very remote.'
Hermione stood up with a new resolve, her jaw set, and the hurt she felt in her heart locked away by the sudden onset of courage she would need in order to do this without tumbling to the ground and blubbering like a little girl.
She apparated away with a crack.