He may have bound my sight, but my mind is flooded with the smell and sound of the first new space I have been in for... weeks?
His boots click on stone... and all I can see is a short stretch of wall to the empty corner of the room ... and I track every step as he circles me in the dark and I lash out with his wand and miss again and again ... as he follows me though his underground passage to hell ... paces towards the bed where I’m wishing I could shrink to nothing...
I freeze for a moment. But the stone is smooth beneath my feet and the air smells of sun-warmed wood and polish, not dust and damp. And the boot-clicks are punctuated by the measured tick of an old clock.
No, we're not there. This is just a normal room in his house. Though last time he took me for a walk we started on a 'normal lawn' and ended up in nightmare.
He's supposed to protect you now.
Like I believe that. And like it's any comfort to think about that contract when I still have no idea what I've agreed to do.
Another doorway: the rustling of his robe louder to my ears as we pass through. There's a fireplace in this room – I can't feel the heat but I can hear the flames crackle and the wood spit. And I can smell the smoke ...as I sit by the common room fire watching the glow fade before going up to bed...
But his hand on my shoulder anchors me here, bidding me swerve left or right with a pressure so slight I have to strain to sense it.
My leg brushes something solid. A chair? What is in this room: stately home treasures, or Dark Arts horrors?
To him – to them – they're probably the same.
Another door – there's a faint creak as it opens for us. Once we're through, he pulls back on my shoulder. I stop.
He lets go. Thank God. I clamp down on the urge to shake my arm, to shake off the memory of his touch.
And then his hand is on my right wrist and his robe brushes my ankle and I can feel him behind me...and he turns my hand over in his then strokes along each of my fingers in turn...
Don't touch me!
I jerk away, twisting my hand to break his grip – but his fingers clamp tight.
Stupid, stupid...stupid girl! Didn’t I tell you not to leave the path?...
I cringe against his displeasure, waiting for a slap, a spell, a sneer.
You can do anything...
I can’t bring myself to speak into the silence, to plead that I didn’t mean to react like that, but I need to show him somehow.
I bow my head.
I belong to you.
I hate myself.
All I can hear is my breathing, and his breathing.
And then he lifts my hand up and forward and there's smooth, hard wood under my fingers.
He lets go and nudges me forward. My toe bumps something solid. I almost lose my balance but my right hand grips the wooden rail.
Stairs. He couldn't just tell me. Why isn't he talking to me?
His hand is on my shoulder again, guiding me to ascend. So we do – me lifting my robe with my left hand and feeling for each tread with my foot, he following behind, a shadowy presence looming somehow so much larger because I can't see.
Here comes the candle to light you to bed, Here comes the chopper to-
Feel for stair with right toe. Lift right foot. Slide it onto the tread. Straighten knee and shift weight. Feel for stair with left foot...
There's a faint smell of roasting chicken coming from somewhere.
God, I'm hungry. When was the last time I ate?
...You know we mustn’t forget to feed our pets, Draco...
Feel for stair with right foot...
But there isn't another. I'm at the top of the staircase. My foot comes down hard; I stumble forward. And float. My hands flail in empty air ... and his eyes meet mine for the briefest horrible instant and then I am spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning...
Heavy steps behind me. I'm floating upright now, I think, spinning slowly.
What the hell is he playing at?
As if the memories, and the contract and... everything else weren't disorienting enough?
My feet touch the floor. I sway, trying to keep my balance. The stairs could be one step away in any direction.
My hand brushes something soft. And I feel so dizzy that I'll fall if I don't grab on, so I cling to that anchor of stillness until I'm sure which way is up.
Until I realise that I'm leaning on him.
I push myself away just as he grips my wrists to hold me steady at arm’s length ...as blood wells up between his fingers and runs down to drip drip drip from my elbow...
I shake my head. There's no pain. No blood. Not now.
He turns me around, pushes me forwards, then left, and then carpet muffles our steps to silence.
At last – after a slow minute, or ten – he touches my shoulder. I stop; he steps around me. A door opens on the right. We walk through.
The door closes behind us. I wait for his signal to walk on, but it doesn't come.
He's just standing there, watching me.
Fine. I've had weeks of waiting in the dark. I can handle this.
...forced to stand with my nose to the wall as he stands just behind me and I wait, wait, wait while he revels in just how intimidating it is to have him breathing down my neck when I can’t even see him – and then lays his wand on my neck...
Didn't he say something about not playing games?
I shift my weight from one foot to the other, bracing myself for a cutting remark.
It doesn't come.
Maybe he's not here at all.
And if he's not here – what is?
I hold my breath. Silence.
Well, he didn't exactly tell me not to speak. He just stopped speaking to me. And he doesn't sound as if he's about to start.
Nor, thankfully, does anything else.
Oh, this is ridiculous! If he's here, he's just trying to mess with my head when he said he wouldn't, and if he's not, it doesn't make any difference anyhow.
I fumble with the knot of the blindfold, half expecting him to seize my wrists and hiss out a punishment. And for a moment I think I feel his hands on mine and I freeze – but then the blindfold comes free.
The whiteness almost hurts ... It’s so bright. Everything glitters with frost...
This room is about the same size as that other room, but that’s the only similarity. Everything here is white: white carpet, white walls, white embroidered bedspread on the four-poster in the far corner, white fireplace to my left with a huge mirror above to reflect the whiteness, white coffee table beside the fire holding a white tray with white crockery...
But all I have eyes for is the window.
Twelve square panes of glass, three wide by four tall.
I glance behind me. He’s not there.
For God's sake, he left you here, didn't he?
It might not even be a real window. Maybe it's like the ones in the Ministry that Harry told us about.
The light is real though, wherever it comes from.
I kneel on the window seat and press my palm to the pane. It's cold. I rest my forehead there, afraid for a moment to look at what's beyond.
Then I look, and the beauty of it brings tears to my eyes.
Oh, it's nothing special: just a walled garden and a lawn beyond and a group of bare-branched trees over to the left, their shadows pointing away as if their spirits are trying to escape the soil they are bound in. But it's green and alive and for the first time in God knows how long there's no sign of him.
I need to breathe. I need to breathe deep of clean air, to hear birdsong and smell plants instead of dust, to see the sun ...to place my hands flat on the frozen ground...
I wrestle with the window. It doesn't budge.
Well, what did you expect?
I didn't 'expect' anything. I need- I just need-
To know that it's real. Normal.
A tear rolls down my cheek. I can feel myself trembling - I can't hold it in any longer. The awful blanks in my memories, the strange familiarity as they came back, the horror at what they’re showing me, the unknown threat of the contract, the... what happened last night: all of it pours through me in heaving sobs.
I wish I could drown in it.
I hug my legs tight. All the time I was trapped down there, I never knew what he was going to do next. And I still don't know. Why does this feel so different?
Because this whole bright room is a lie to hide the evil in this house, and I don’t know if tomorrow I'll be facing the lie or the dark. Down there at least I knew to expect the dark ...his hand between my legs... his teeth on my neck... the-
I dig my fingernails into my wrist, focus on the small clean pain. I can't think about what happened in that place. Not if I want to survive.
And I need to eat. I investigate the tray beside the fire; there's a plate of cold chicken and cold vegetables, and a glass of water. I nibble slowly, savouring each bite, concentrating on what is here and now.
This room is too big, too bright. There's nowhere to hide ...from four booted feet, framed by the bed I’m hiding under...
There is another door, though, in the wall between the window and the door I came in by. I try the handle. Miracle of miracle, it opens.
Behind is a bathroom. Not much bigger than the other one, but carpeted, and the claw-footed bathtub is raised up a step.
And it has its own window. With the same view as the other one, though at a slightly different angle. So the view is either real, or a very, very skilled fake.
I’m not sure which would be better. My heart needs it to be real, but to be able to see outside but not get there...
...You belong to me. Do you want me to prove it?...
He worked so hard to make me hate him. And now... now, he's almost pretending to be reasonable. Is he trying to make me not hate him now?
I wish I could vow to hate him forever. But I can't even do that.
..."See how much she hates me?" he gloats...
..."I won't hate you, Lucius Malfoy." A talisman against the dark...
Damn him! I punch the wall. The pain is almost enough to distract me from the claustrophobia, the knowledge that however more comfortable this place is – and it is – I'm still trapped. Trapped in a silver-plated cage.
I watch through the bars while the sky darkens from rose, to lavender, to indigo.
It's dark by the time I turn away. Not completely dark – by now I know the difference only too well. As I turn back to the room I can make out the shape of the bed. I climb up onto it and watch the light fade to almost-black.
...You thought we were finished, didn't you? On the contrary, Hermione. We've only just begun...
The room is bright. I roll off the bed, frantically straightening my robe – but he isn't here. It's daylight I'm seeing. And I'm smelling... toast?
Where am I?
The window. I remember the window. Filling the room with harsh light.
It feels odd to be in the light when he's not here. As if he must be watching, waiting...
I rub my eyes, run my hand over the embroidered counterpane. If this is an illusion, it’s a very good one.
And that ring is heavy on my finger.
And he said the games are over.
Right. And you believed that?
Well, one thing hasn’t changed: I still don’t know what the hell he’s up to.
The tray by the fireplace has been replaced; it looks like I was right about the toast. It’s accompanied by a glass of pumpkin juice, a pot of tea and a small bowl of porridge. And a small envelope. Inside is an even smaller note.
~ ~ ~
Dear Miss Granger,
I trust you slept well.
Be ready by 9am.
~ ~ ~
Though if he really needs you to work on something...
Oh, what’s the use? When have I ever been able to second-guess him? I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.
Just the thought makes me feel ill. I... He...
I belong to you.
The memory sends ice through my veins. How can I work for him when at any moment he...
All I want to do is crawl under the bed and hide.
Yeah, 'cos that worked so well last time you tried it.
Nine o’clock. It would have helped if he’d left me some way of telling the time.
I’m sure the toast is very nice, and there’s jam that looks homemade, or elfmade I suppose. But I'm too tense to eat. I manage a few mouthfuls and about half of the pumpkin juice. I can’t touch the tea.
I go to the bathroom and splash water on my face. There’s a mirror above the sink; my hair is a mess but in the absence of a brush there’s not much I can do about that.
I wish I could put on a better mask. How can I possibly face him looking like this? Feeling like this?
...Well, well, Hermione. That was delicious...
God, I'd like to spit on him.
I can’t think about it.
I don't want to go.
You don’t have a choice.
I dry my face and hurry back to the bedroom. But he's not there. Neither is the breakfast tray. But in front of the door is a house-elf, standing proud in a starched white pillowcase. Its – or her, or his? – ears curl slightly at the sight of me.
"The Mudblood is to be taken to the Master now."
I bristle at the word. I expect it from them, but from a fellow-prisoner... Still, living here it probably has to talk like that.
I crouch down. "Hello, I’m Hermione. What’s your name?"
It curls its ears in so much, they almost covers its eyes. "The Mudblood is only to be talking to the Master. The Mudblood must come now." It holds out a bony hand.
I flinch back.
But I have to go. I have to face him. I have to force myself to do it the same way as I've forced myself to stand up and face him after every other horror he's thrown at me.
Well, if I can't manage a brave heart, brave words will have to do.
I reach out towards the elf. Strong fingers wrap around mine and in a dizzying second we’re wrenched from white to black.
With another crack, it’s gone.
For a moment I panic at the sight of the stone floor. But I can see, so I can’t be back there – and anyhow, this room is quite different.
The first thing that hits me is the smell – herbs and flowers and burnt stuff instead of dust and ingrained fear. It’s a long room, stone floored, with a long workbench down the middle. High up on the opposite wall is a line of foot-high windows. Below them every inch of wall is hidden by shelves, stacked deep with bottles and vials and scales and cauldrons. At the end of the room is an old wooden desk and a chair. And seated on the other side, a familiar dark figure with a mane of white-blond hair.
My mouth goes dry.
He beckons me forward without a word. I try to meet his gaze, but...
No. I can't let him win. I may feel as if I'm about to throw up, but I will face him.
I'm feeling cold as I sit. I will myself not to shake.
The desk is bare except for a long, narrow box. He pushes it towards me.
I gape at him. Does this mean there's a wand in that box? Is there some memory he didn’t return that would make sense of that?
He laces his fingers together. "You heard me," he snaps. "Don’t make me repeat myself."
But did he really say...
Bad idea. REALLY bad idea.
I open the box. There actually is a wand inside.
Vine wood. Eleven inches. But not mine.
I glance at him. His lips are pressed together, his eyes slightly narrowed.
I pick up the wand. I feel the faintest tingle of magic – this wand would work for me, but it doesn’t particularly like me.
I put it back in the box.
He leans forward. "Do it."
This is surreal.
I meet his gaze. "Why? You'll only punish me if I do."
"The question you should be asking, Miss Granger, is what I will do if you don't. And I would advise you not to test me for the answer."
Always the bloody sneering superiority! God, how I want to hex him, to grind him into the ground, to hit back for what he-
Don’t go there.
I am shaking now as I pick up the wand. I do not want to do this.
I'll cast something painless and reversible. At least then he can't-
You're not seriously going to do it.
I look up at him. His hands are locked tight together. He looks as tense as I feel.
But why? If he's afraid of what I'll do, why order me to do it?
I'm so, so sick of his games! Anger surges through me as I flick the wand-
But what’s the point? Do I really think he's going to let me hurt him?
I put the wand down.
He frowns. "Do it, Miss Granger. We haven't got all day."
But he means it. God knows why, but he does.
Okay. I don't need to want to do it, I just need to do it so we can get onto whatever the next movement is in this danse macabre.
The wand feels heavier when I pick it up; as I swish and flick it's like stirring treacle.
A wisp of power eddies to nothing.
He just splays his fingers on the desk and looks at me, but there's no fury or even contempt in his eyes.
A muscle in his cheek twitches. He leans back.
"So, Miss Granger." He pauses. "It appears the contract is in place. The wand is yours, but as you've just seen, you can't use it against me, so I'd advise you not to waste your time trying. In fact, you won't be able to use it for anything I don’t want you to."
Hang on. He – the one who tortured me into oblivion because he couldn't accept I was a witch – he's given me a wand?
I meet his gaze. "So what do you want me to use it for?"
His hands clench, and relax.
"You already know that."
"No, M-Mr Malfoy, I don't. You wouldn't tell me yesterday."
He glares at me. "I'm not talking about yesterday. Do I really need to spell it out for you?"
Yes, actually you do.
I cast my mind back. What has he talked to me about, apart from the evils of the Muggle world and the superiority of purebloods? Hagalaz vectors, history, Binding magic, twisted justifications for the Dark Arts...
I'm really tired of guessing games. Why's he being so bloody cryptic?
We're in some kind of potions lab. He's given me a wand.
"You want me to brew potions for you?"
He rolls his eyes. "If necessary."
Necessary for what?
I might be tempted to hex him properly after all.
He leans forward, as if to speak – and then Summons a small box from a nearby shelf. It's filled with glittering green powder.
"I can't spare a house-elf to be at your beck and call," he says, putting the box down in front of me. "You can use the Floo to get between here and your room. I've isolated the connection from the rest of the network, so don't try to go anywhere else. This is the Still Room and you are staying in the White Room. Is that clear?"
Still Room, White Room. I nod. "But-"
"I expect you to work on your own; you should find sufficient equipment and basic ingredients here. I will make regular visits, and I will expect progress to have been made. If you need anything specific you can ask me then. Is there anything you might need in the meantime?"
Is he trying to wriggle out of the contract? If he doesn't define the task, how can it ever be finished?
My fingers close around the wand. I may not be able to use it against him, but it makes me feel more like a witch, an adult, an equal-
No, not an equal. But something more than a prisoner.
"If you want me to work for you, you have to tell me what you need me to do."
His nostrils flare. I keep my eyes fixed on his. He stares back at me.
He looks away first.
His eyes lose focus for a moment. Then he blinks, turns to his right and Summons two books. He drops them on the desk between us.
"There! Does that help?"
I snatch my hands away. I've seen those two books before, and would have been quite happy never to have seen them again.
What was it he said after the time he trapped me with The Black Book of Binding? 'I don’t need your help, I’m just curious about your "unique perspective" on a few matters of minor interest'?
Is that what he's getting at? Looks like he's decided he does need my help after all.
Oh, he needs help, all right.
"You want me to learn Binding magic?"
"Oh, hoorah. You do have a brain."
I fold my arms. "Why are you making me guess? Do you really want me to do whatever it is?"
His mouth twists. "Of course I-"
He stands, leaning over the desk, his eyes on a level with mine and only twelve inches away.
I'm shaking. But I refuse to move. Even if every atom in my body is screaming at me to run away.
"Let me make one thing clear," he says. "The fact that your living arrangements are a little more comfortable than they were previously does not give you the right to question my motives. Particularly in matters of which you have no understanding."
I don't want to be this close. I never wanted to be this close. But I can't look away.
I don't want to know, but I must.
"What do you want me to bind?"
He pushes himself upright and looks up at the ceiling. "I don't want you to bind, idiot girl! I want you to unbind!"
He looks down at me. He takes a long slow breath. And then another.
"Or to be more precise, Miss Granger, I want you to loosen. If you can."
He sits, folds his arms, and watches me.
If I can? Is this another impossible task?
But why would he go to all the trouble of setting up the contract if he didn't want to get something out of it?
He did. Your binding agreement not to leave until the task is finished.
And if the task can't be finished...
I half feel I'm going to dissolve in tears. The other half wants to punch his face.
But the look on his face stops me short. I'm expecting a smug grin, or at least some trace of self-satisfaction as he revels in the way he's trapped me. Instead, he's frowning.
"What's your problem?" he sneers. "You were quite able to attempt the impossible before. Was that all you could do? Or are you just unwilling to do it for me?"
Attempt the impossible? All I've done is try to survive. If that's what he means, I can't see how he expects me to apply it to him.
I've had enough of this. "If you actually told me what you want, maybe I could answer that."
His eyes narrow. He rests his chin in his hand and watches me... no, not me. He's focused elsewhere.
But then he does look at me. "What I want," he says, dragging out the words, "is for you to apply your theory of reversible Hagalaz Vectors to the practice of Binding magic."
Reversible Hagalaz Vectors...
"Not if I reverse the Vector," I say, defying his plan to tangle me in hate.
A mocking laugh in response. "That's impossible!"
And he'd tried so hard for that to be true, tried so hard to make it impossible for me not to hate him.
"If you really want to waste your time trying to change that, don’t let me stop you. No one can reverse that sort of working once it’s started, Mudblood. No one."
But I proved him wrong. Not by reversing a spell, but by stepping aside from hate.
I can't help but shiver at the memory: the first time he touched me, the first time he used my name, that dark hunger in his eyes...
"Well, well, well, Hermione. What an endlessly entertaining creature you are."
And then... but I'm not thinking about that. I'm thinking about The Black Book of Binding. About the way he tried to tempt me with the forbidden fruit of Dark Magic.
You wouldn’t turn your back on an opportunity to further your knowledge.
But I would. I don't want to learn how to take another's will with fear or love or the need to belong.
To learn to reverse that kind of spell, though? No-one could object to that. Except that to learn how to reverse it I'd have to understand how it's done in the first place. I'd have to learn what he wanted me to learn. And now I don't have a choice in the matter, thanks to his sodding contract.
He's still watching me, the slightest frown betraying his impatience.
I want you to unbind.
But unbind what? A curse? A charm?
He's still resting his chin in his hand, elbow on the table. His sleeve must be Charmed not to slip down, but I know what's behind it.
That's ridiculous. He would never-
But the expression on his face is serious. Tense. He's afraid I'll refuse.
But you can't.
No. He's not afraid I'll refuse. It's not me he's afraid of at all.
I grip the seat of the chair. If I'm wrong, he'll probably kill me. But if I'm right...
I can't afford not to know.
I watch his hands carefully. I know I can't defend myself with this wand, but any warning might help.
"You want me to reverse the Dar-"
"Don't say that!"
I flinch back. But he doesn't seem angry. And if I was wrong, I'd expect outrage at least.
But does that mean I'm right?
He looks just the same, but suddenly it's as if I don't know him at all.
"You can't say things like that!"
Because heaven forbid we could actually be clear about this. It's only a 'matter of minor interest', after all. Nothing that could possibly prove the least bit harmful to him or to me.
"Why not? Nobody can overhear us."
His lip curls. "The Dark Lord always knows."
I... I don't want to think about that.
He leans back. "In any case, Miss Granger, reversal is putting it a bit strongly. The consequences of that could well be fatal – for you as well as for me. As I said before, what I require of you is more of a – loosening."
"What do you mean, exactly?"
He looks at his hands for a moment before meeting my gaze.
Then he looks down again. "No. We don't need to discuss that now."
And what does he think I'm going to be able to do before he deigns to talk to me?
I try again. "Why-"
His head snaps up. "My motives are none of your concern!"
Yes they bloody well are! If he's asking me to do what I think he's asking me to do, if Voldemort's second-in-command isn't as loyal as everyone thinks he is, that has to make it easier to defeat him.
He didn't say he wants to defeat him, he said he wants to be free of him. Or freer.
Same thing. Voldemort doesn't let people just walk away.
But 'loosening' doesn't mean walking away, does it?
So what is he plan-
He stands abruptly. "You don't need to think about it, Miss Granger. You just need to do it. I will expect to see some progress when I next visit."
But he's gone.
You don't need to think about it.
But I do.
I stand up and walk the length of the room – twice as far as I could walk in any direction in that other place. With the added bonus of being able to see.
But that doesn't help me know what to think. He's evil. He hates me for no good reason – he's made that brutally clear, over and over and over. That hasn't changed. And yet...
No. He's no less terrible. But he's not quite what I'd thought, either.
If he means it.
And that's what makes no sense. He's the most bigoted, vicious, racist person I've ever had the misfortune to come across. A Death Eater, through and through. So what's he doing even thinking of tampering with the Dark Mark?
Does it matter?
On one level, no. He's set me a task and under the terms of the contract I have to do it whether I like it or not. And, all things considered, it could have been a lot worse. Essentially, he's asking me to work against Dark Magic. So, even trapped here, I have a chance to strike a blow for the Light.
The only catch is that I'm stepping back into the war on his side.
No, not just on his side. If he goes against Voldemort, that has to work to our advantage, surely?
Perhaps this why they left you here.
Perhaps that's why they let him take you in the first place.
No. No. I will not believe that.
And I'm not sure I believe him, either. It makes no sense. What if this is all another of his twisted games?
I examine the shelves. There’s stacks of cauldrons, a mess of glass bulbs and pipes that must be the distilling apparatus this room is named for, and a wide variety of potions ingredients – all the basics and several I've never heard of. There are also a few gaps in the rows of jars, which makes me wonder what's been removed and why.
But the bigger question is what he expects me to do with all this stuff. What have potions got to do with the Dark Mark?
But maybe they do. I don't really know much about the Dark Mark. Unfortunately, the only way I can find out about it is to ask him.
Good luck with that.
Better to concentrate on the theory, then: applying reversed Hagalaz Vectors to Binding Magic. From what he made me read in the Black Book, house-elf binding, at least, relies on a certain amount of emotional manipulation, which is basically what Hagalaz Vectors describe.
So if some emotional states can Bind, can others Unbind?
Brilliant. He wants me to brew a potion to make him a nicer person.
Still, it's actually quite an interesting problem. There's just so much I don't know – about Binding, about Voldemort's own nasty form of it, about him.
Well, I already know more about him than I ever wanted to.
Only the worst side of him.
But is there anything beyond hate and contempt and pureblood pride?
You'd better hope there is, if you don't want to fail.
No. How can I even think about this? I know what’s behind the hate and contempt and pureblood pride. More hate, more contempt, a cold disregard for anyone who stands in his way. And... and...
Don’t think about that.
Right. I can’t afford to go anywhere near... what happened down there.
But it HAPPENED! How can I even contemplate looking for something beyond his monstrosities when he’s shown me just how much of a monster he is?
You belong to me...
I shudder, wrap my arms around my chest.
Okay. I can’t go there. That was done to someone else by someone else. I need to find out who this someone is.
Even thinking that feels like a betrayal. But it isn't. This isn't acceptance and it isn't forgiveness: it's survival.
But what chance do I have if he keeps refusing to talk to me?
Well, there's not much I can do about that right now. About all I have to go on at the moment are the books. Maybe they'll help me come up with some questions he will condescend to answer.
There aren't many books on the shelf where An Introduction to Thanatonic Magical Theorie and The Black Book of Binding came from, and they all concern potions: advanced textbooks, a very large book that I've seen at the Weasleys' called Home Brews: Remedies for Everywizard and a battered copy of Moste Potente Potions. Nothing else on Dark Magic.
Maybe those books are too dangerous.
Maybe he just doesn't want me reading them.
But he must have better books than this. He lives in a manor house – he has to have a decent library, right?
Not that he ever struck me as the reading kind.
Though he did claim to have read Bridget Wenlock’s Triskaidekology. If he’s got something that rare, surely he’s got others? He has to value books as a status symbol if nothing else.
Maybe I can play on that to get access to the library. If there is a library. And maybe there’ll be a book there that will tell me more about this contract he’s trapped me in.
Like he won’t have thought of that?
It’s still worth a try. But he’s not going to let me see any more books unless I can persuade him that these don’t have what I need.
So, he’s left me The Black Book of Binding, which should tell me about what I need to undo, and An Introduction to Thanatonic Magical Theorie, which he thinks will show me how do undo it. I’d better start with The Black Book. Then at least I’ll have a clue about what I’m looking for in the mishmash of dry formulae that make up the other one.
But how the heck do I do that without getting sucked in? I can’t imagine he’ll be very happy if he comes back in three days’ time and finds me stuck there.
And I can’t let that happen if I’m to have a hope of him taking me seriously. Or of allowing me access to his other books.
Is this a test, then?
Doesn’t matter. Either way you have to pass it.
I have a wand, at least. So I can turn the pages without touching the book. But that won’t be enough. Even when he was turning the pages for me I felt compelled to keep reading. I need to stop myself touching it. And I need to find a way to make myself stop reading.
I'd love to see Ron and Harry's faces if they heard me say that...
Better not think about them.
True. I need to focus on this. And I don’t want to think about them while I’m stuck here. This place would taint my memories of them, and I couldn’t bear that.
There’s a repelling charm I could use to keep a distance between the book and me. But I don’t know whether it would still work if I used Accio, and anyhow I could always just end the spell. Perhaps that would force me to break concentration from the book enough to break its hold, but I can’t risk that. Unless I could make the repulsion permanent... but I’d need to read the book to find out how to do that.
I should learn that anyway. Then I could use it on him.
He wouldn’t let you.
I’m thinking about this all wrong. Touching the book makes it worse, certainly, but whether I’m touching it or not, the important thing is to find a way to stop reading. I need some sort of alarm, then. One that will shut the book after a set time.
But it’s not possible to set spells to activate in the future – it’s too separate from the will of the caster. Which is just as well, really. There’d be utter chaos otherwise.
Potions can have delayed effects.
I pace to the other end of the room. Inspiration doesn’t strike; I can’t see another way round this. I need to stop reading not because the book closes, but because I can no longer read.
I pull Home Brews: Remedies for Everywizard from the bookshelf, and turn to the section on sleeping potions.
I don’t want to do this.
But you have to.
I check the instructions for a potion that will give me half an hour of reading before sending me into oblivion. Using less valerian root should give me a little more time.
I check the shelves; all the ingredients I need are here. I set up a cauldron on the long bench, then go back to the desk to pick up the wand.
I turn it over in my hand. The last time I was alone with a wand, it was his. I was such an idiot, thinking I could use it to take him on. That moment when I thought the Portkey was working... I can hardly remember what it felt like.
Don’t think about it. Hope hurts too much.
I line up the ingredients in the order I’ll need them. I find a knife in a drawer and carefully chop the valerian roots.
How ironic that I thought I’d be brewing potions for him to take, and here I am preparing to send myself to sleep.
Get on with it, Hermione.
I’m afraid, I realise. Not just of the sleeping potion, but of the wand. In a way it’s more his than his was. Will using it damage my magic in some way? Will it even work for me?
He would hardly give you a wand he didn’t want you to use.
As if anything he does makes any sense.
I swish the wand to get the feel of it. It doesn’t spark, but that doesn’t surprise me; this wand didn’t choose me, after all. Other than that, it moves like mine – physically, that is. Magically it’s completely different: a dull glow instead of a living light.
It moves through the air okay as I cast the fire spell under the cauldron. So that feeling before of moving through treacle must have been because I was using it against him.
But the spell doesn’t work.
I try again, focusing on my intentions in case it might make a difference. I’m not trying to burn your house down. This spell is not going to hurt you.
A small blue flame flickers and dies.
Am I just out of practice? This is one of my best spells! What’s he done to me?
If he’s watching me somehow, he must be having a right laugh.
You know you can do this. Magic is part of you. He can’t take that away.
Right. I’ll show him.
I concentrate hard on making the movement as precise as possible, visualising exactly where I want the flame to appear, enunciating clearly...
And it works! Oh, thank God!
I quickly add the first ingredients to the cauldron.
The flame burns steadily. I can’t believe what a relief it is to see it there.
And I can’t believe how hard it was! Usually it’s as if my wand already knows what I want and the magic just flows as soon as I start the movement. But this time I almost had to force it out. Is that what magic feels like for Neville? How it was for Ron, when he was using his brother’s wand?
Is it so difficult because the wand didn’t choose me? Or because of the controls he put on my use of it?
Or is it because I Repudiated my own wand?
I really hope that's not it. I need to learn more about Repudiation – add that to the list of things to look up if I can get access to more books. In the meantime, I've got to read about Marking.
I stir the potion carefully, watching the bubbles circle on the surface. It’s changing colour just as the book says it should.
There’s a sweet-sharp ache in my chest. I blink back tears.
What’s the matter with me? I’ve never made this particular potion before, and it doesn’t smell of anything memorable. And while I enjoyed potions, on the whole, it was never my favourite lesson.
Maybe it’s just some weird side-effect.
And then I realise that, just for a moment, I was happy.
No. Not ‘happy’, not here. But just that brief satisfaction at a job well done, a task that had nothing to do with him – well, as little to do with him as anything can be here – I’d forgotten what that feels like.
Right. So don’t spoil it by going to pieces now.
I blink again. Then I turn away from the bench.
There are a few dusty bottles on one of the shelves. I rinse and Scourgify them, then pour a dose of the potion carefully into each. That should keep me going for a while.
While the potion cools, I search the shelves. It doesn’t take me long to find parchment, some ink and a quill, and a couple of glass slides.
I cast the spell that will enlarge the slides. The magic is still sluggish, but not nearly as bad as before. Turning them into mirrors is a little trickier but seems to work okay.
So now I need to deal with the book.
It's the top one of the two on the desk. I almost feel like it's staring at me, daring me - I'm raising my wand, I realise, as if to fend off the Monster Book of Monsters. Which would be a heck of a lot easier to deal with.
I levitate the book to the workbench. It wobbles a little, but thankfully I don't feel in any danger of dropping it. I place the mirrors beside it.
The other book I return to the shelf; now I just need to position the desk. I move the small box of Floo Powder to the safety of the mantelpiece, then I drag the desk and its chair closer to the workbench. The scrape of wood on stone is loud in the silence.
I arrange the parchment, quill and ink neatly on the desk.
I look at the row of cooling bottles.
I can’t avoid this any longer.
I pick up the rightmost bottle and sit at the desk, facing the book. I can feel its malevolence – a snake coiled ready to strike.
But no. This time I’m the one who’s going to strike.
So do it.
I unstopper the bottle and gulp down the contents. A slight medicinal taste, but I don’t feel any different.
A careful flick of the wand lifts the mirrors into the air. I position one above the book and the other just in front of the bench, nudging them so that I can see the book cover reflected in the lower one. It’s a bit fiddly, but that’s good: if my concentration breaks then the mirrors will fall, and I will lose my view of the book.
It’s time - and I don’t have much of that.
Another wandflick and the book opens. The mirrors wobble a little; I turn to the contents page and wait for the image to settle.
He made me read about House-Elf Enslavement before, so he must think it relevant to what he wants me to do – unless he was just taunting me with a subject he knew I’d hate. But in any case, this time it’s the following chapter that catches my eye: Chapter Thirteen, on Marking.
I turn the pages carefully, keeping the mirrors as steady as I can and making the briefest glances at the book so I don’t get sucked in before I reach the part I want to read.
Not that I want to read any of it.
Are you sure about that?
Not entirely. But only because the weird binding magic on the book makes me want to read it.
Not that it matters. I need to know about that sort of magic if I’m to have any chance of working against it.
Here goes, then.
Chapter Thirteen: Marking
Binding Marks have been used for centuries to secure beasts to their Masters, and the magic involved has become ever more subtle since the work of Clarinda the Cruel on Ownership Brands opened the way for attitudinal modification of Marked House-Elves. In recent years, of course, visible Marking of House-Elves has fallen out of fashion as it has come to be seen as a sign of a coerced servant rather than a loyal one, though House-Elves themselves continue to prefer the security it implies. It is therefore highly recommended that wizards and witches of good breeding master the technique.
Likewise, many esoteric societies eschew visible Marks of membership, considering the dedication needed to complete membership rituals to be more deeply binding. Others, most notably the Knights of Walpurgis, value Marking as a public sign of commitment.
I should stop and take notes, but I can’t take my eyes off the page.
However, Marks of membership can have uses beyond a simple badge of belonging. As an example, introducing a Binding spell into a Marking ritual can ensure that Marked group members meet their obligations to the society and keep its secrets. As it takes great power to perform such a spell, the ritual also serves to legitimise the position of the group leader.
Marks of membership are usually embedded using enchanted ink, but the caster’s blood can be used in lieu of ink as a base for a Binding Mark. This makes the Mark impossible to reverse, but as esoteric societies typically require a lifetime commitment that is rarely an issue.
I still can’t look away from the book. I feel for the quill and parchment, and blindly summarise the last two paragraphs. There are a few possibilities for research here.
Providing, of course, that Mr Enigmatic Bastard deigns to tell me how, exactly, he was given his mark in the first place.
Using blood sounds like something Voldemort would do. But does that really make it impossible to reverse? Or is that just what Phineas Nigellus thought? Because if it was impossible, Professor Snape wouldn't have been able to spy... would he?
A Protean Charm cast on the substance to be used for Marking makes the Mark mutable at the will of the caster; the utility of such a Mark for communicating instantaneously with widely scattered group members is self-evident.
I write quickly. I can barely stop myself reading ahead.
I stifle a yawn.
When embedding a Binding spell in a Mark, a clear focus on both sides is of paramount importance, as Binding is strongest when Binder and Bound fully agree on and fully consent to the intent of the Binding. Ideally, a Legilimens should be present, as is customary at most rituals of membership.
I hope these 'rituals of membership' he keeps mentioning are covered somewhere else in the book. If intent is that important...
I rest my head on the desk.
Well, that would explain Professor Snape, wouldn't it? But it doesn't help with him. Not unless he'll explain exactly what his intentions were when he let Voldemort brand him, and that’s about as likely as... as...
I blink, shake my head, steady the mirrors. I'm running out of time. I have to read.
However, as with other forms of Binding, an efficacious Binding Mark is possible with little or consent on the part of the Bound; indeed, there is sane element of compulsion in almost every Blinding, as the intentions of Binder and Bound rarely align completely. The greater the disparity in tent, the greater the greater the strength required of the caster; it is for this treason that Bound servants tend to sound only oldest Pureblood households.
Not making sense. Need to read again.
Need to read on.
There are those who respect the use of Marks in flavour of Branding. While Branding usually results in a less precise control due to the difficulty of imposing intent in a less precise control due to the difficulty of imposing intent through the pain, fire tends visceral fear that can be effective in Binding a recrant... re-cal-cit-rant...
I can't see!
I'm sitting at a desk, my head on my hands, my feet on the cold stone floor. And it's dark. I'm trapped. I'm-
I'm in the potions room.
I push down my panic. If I look up, I can see the faint outlines of the windows, high up on the wall. It's night, that's all. I'm not back down there.
I rub my eyes. How long have I been asleep?
And I didn't read nearly enough before that potion put me under. What if he comes back? I need to have something, or he'll...
Not helpful. I can't think about that.
So. First things first: the wand.
I feel across the top of the desk; something rolls and clatters to the floor. I push back the chair and kneel, reaching carefully into the darkness. If those mirrors dropped there'll be glass around too... but my fingers close around the wand.
Now all I need is light.
...burning, burning, burning away the dark
You will not do that again...
But this time I have a wand. I can focus the magic. I won't let it consume me.
...like a star about to explode...
No. All I need to do is swish, like so, and-
I- I can't.
I don't know whether it's my own fear or whatever he did to this wand that's stopping me. But I do know I can't risk it. And without light, there's nothing I can do until morning.
I stand up and step towards the fireplace. I light the fire on the second attempt; at least I know that spell works. I feel for the box of Floo Powder and throw a glittering pinch into the fire.
"The White Room."
The fire glows green. I step into the flames.