Thorfinn grimaced as another cramp tore at his abdomen. He didn't know what to make of it. Had he somehow been cursed when he was out in the field earlier?
As he was about the cast a spell for curse detection on himself, Draco Malfoy burst through his office door. With Malfoy, an interdepartmental memo from Snape fluttered onto his desk. Thorfinn snatched up the memo, reading it as Malfoy huffed and gasped Hermione's name.
"Why is Snape taking Hermione to St Mungo's?" Thorfinn leapt from behind his desk, the intense pain rolling through him now making sense.
"I don't know," Malfoy said, wincing at Thorfinn's tone. "She cried out in pain, and then Severus sent me to find you. She did mention something about her lunch not agreeing with her."
Thorfinn nodded, feeling himself relax a bit. "Right." Any Healer would be able to fix a bad stomach bug, no problem, and with Severus in tow, even if it were something more sinister, Hermione would be fine. That was what he kept telling himself anyway.
Striding past Malfoy, Thorfinn smacked him on the back. "Thanks, Malfoy." Then he raced out of his office to find Hermione.
"Auror Rowle?" Healer Fawley knocked lightly on the door frame of the tearoom.
"Healer Fawley, what's the news?" Thorfinn asked, walking to him and shaking his hand. After he'd first arrived at St Mungo's and spoken briefly with Snape, he'd requested that the Rowle family Healer attend Hermione. He wasn't risking her in the hands of the incompetent fools who'd released her to Goyle. This time, he didn't plan to leave without her. If that meant he had to sleep at her bedside for a week, he would.
Fawley indicated that Thorfinn should follow him outside. "Please, come with me."
In a quiet corner of the corridor, Fawley said, "Mrs Rowle is recovering, however...I'm afraid she has indeed suffered a miscarriage."
Thorfinn exhaled a long breath. "But she'll be alright?" His heart hurt over the child that would never be, but the thought of losing Hermione was far worse.
"With time, she will. She'll be able to carry another child once she heals," Fawley confirmed. "Let me show you to her room."
After descending a stairwell to the floor below, Fawley led him to one of the private recovery rooms. Thorfinn followed him in to find Hermione lying in a bed. Her eyes were closed, and her cheeks were wet with tears.
Thorfinn strode forwards and grasped one of Hermione's hands. After he heard the door close, he spoke again, "Hermione? Love?"
When she opened her eyes the pain and hurt that filled them took his breath away. His entire body ached at the anguish he saw in them.
"I lost the baby," Hermione said softly, her lip trembling as a fresh wave of tears spilt over. "I'm so sorry."
"Oh, love," Rowle sighed and sat on the edge of her bed. Pulling a handkerchief free, he dabbed at her face. Then he drew her into a hug, and she leaned her forehead against his chest as sobs shook her body. Holding her tight, he felt his own grief well up.
He didn't know what to say to make her feel better, so he said nothing and just held her.
After a few minutes, her sobbing lessened to quiet sniffling. Thorfinn surreptitiously wiped his own eyes and cleared his throat as he pulled back from Hermione. She seemed calmer, and he offered her a soft smile.
Thorfinn tucked a stray curl behind her ear. "Healer Fawley said we can leave in the morning."
She nodded tiredly.
"Hermione, this isn't your fault. Sometimes this happens, and we already—"
"I'm well aware of the issues impacting the magical birth rate," Hermione snapped and pulled away from him.
Thorfinn let out a slow breath and ran a hand through his hair. "I know you are," he said gently.
"I'm upset," Hermione began, her voice growing shrill, "but I'm not a delicate flower. Stop talking to me as if I might shatter at the drop of a hat. As a matter of fact, I'd rather not hear your voice at all. Leave."
Nodding, Thorfinn stood from the bed and sat in the chair beside her. She had a right to be angry after all the shit she had already endured. If it made her feel better for her to vent at him, he wouldn't deter her.
"Really, Finn," Hermione said exasperatedly. "You can leave. I'm a big girl. And I want to be alone."
Thorfinn shook his head. "No. After what happened last time, I'm not going anywhere until you are ready to come home. It's not negotiable, Little Witch."
Hermione scowled at him, but he didn't budge. She turned over so that her back was to him, hunching her shoulders around her ears.
Thorfinn's heart lurched at the sight. He knew she was hurting, but she still didn't trust him enough to let him comfort her. He desperately wanted to reach out but figured she would rebuff him again. Instead, he settled into the chair to wait, only knowing he'd Transfigure it into a camp bed in a couple of hours.
When Thorfinn woke the following morning, it was with a stiff back and an aching neck. He had fallen asleep with his arms on the bed; his head pillowed in them, sitting in that blasted chair all night.
A hand drifted over his hair, and he sighed, enjoying the sensation. That was what must have woken him. Blearily, he lifted his head.
Hermione was looking at him with an unsure expression, and she removed her hand from his hair. "I'm sorry." A tear fell down her cheek, and she wiped it away roughly. "For how I acted towards you. I… I don't… I'm sorry." She looked at him imploringly and began to sob once more.
Thorfinn surged up and cradled her in his arms. "Shhh, Little Witch. Nothing to be sorry for."
"Sh-shouldn't have been so angry at you," Hermione replied into his chest between shuddering gasps.
"It's alright." Thorfinn rubbed her back. "I understand, truly."
Even after Hermione's crying stopped, she stayed snuggled into his chest, clutching at his robes.
Thorfinn adjusted his position on the bed, turning so that his back was against the headboard. As he continued to hold Hermione while she processed her grief, he tightened his arms around her, vowing he would always cherish her. She was such a strong witch, and her soul had been the purest, most beautiful thing he'd ever beheld. He placed a light kiss on top of her curls.
Two days after Hermione was released from St Mungo's, Thorfinn decided it was time to deal with Goyle. It had been over two months since the Dark Lord gifted Goyle's fate to him and Hermione. He didn't want the Dark Lord to think they were ungrateful. Every time Thorfinn saw Goyle in the Aurory, he felt his blood boil, but he didn't know how Hermione felt.
After dinner that night, Thorfinn broached the subject. "Have you given any thought about our wedding present from the Dark Lord?"
Hermione lifted her brows. "Goyle? Haven't you already taken care of his punishment?"
"I'm biding my time, lulling him into a false sense of security before I strike."
She shook her head. "That is such a Slytherin approach. I'd rather you give him a good tanning the Muggle way and be done with it."
Thorfinn smirked at her. "That's such a Gryffindor approach." He smiled when she laughed.
In truth, he hadn't decided yet what to do with Goyle. He wanted to murder the man, but the Dark Lord had mentioned a past between Goyle and Hermione. Thorfinn wanted to know what it was. Had they been lovers and Goyle spurned her? Had he made trouble for her and the Weasleys? Maybe now was the time to ask her. Perhaps they could use Goyle's punishment as a bonding moment. Thorfinn certainly felt like cursing someone into oblivion would, at the very least, lift his spirits.
"What's the history between you and Goyle anyway?" Thorfinn finally asked.
Hermione's eyes snapped to his. He could see trepidation as well as anger and perhaps sadness.
"It's not important." She looked away from him.
"Must be for him to defy the Dark Lord as blatantly as he did."
"I don't imagine Goyle is smart enough to find his way out of a paper bag, let alone realise when he's flouting the Dark Lord," she muttered darkly.
He watched as she unconsciously wrapped her arms around herself and an expression of disgust crossed her face. Thorfinn felt his stomach lurch. He was well aware of some of the more depraved inclinations of his brethren. He didn't want to put it into words as bile rose in his throat even as he thought it.
"He raped you." It was a statement, not a question.
Hermione glared at him, but Thorfinn could see the truth of his words on her face.
She sighed. "It doesn't matter. It was years ago."
Hermione shook her head and bit her bottom lip as a tear made its way down her cheek.
Thorfinn suddenly felt like a monster. He hadn't meant to make her cry. He dropped his head into his hands in vexation at himself. Once more, he'd bollocksed everything up: first with Katrina and now Hermione.
"No, it was only once," she said, her voice croaky. "When he was about to do it again, the Dark Lord found and...saved me."
"I see." It seemed Thorfinn owed the Dark Lord a great deal of thanks. That did not sit well with him at all.
Hermione looked up from her research at her desk in the library. "Finn, you're home early." She smiled and then quickly frowned. "Why are you home early?"
"It's a surprise." Thorfinn encouraged her to stand and follow him, excited to show what he had for her.
"Outside?" Hermione asked when she saw the main door of the house come into view.
"Yep," Thorfinn said, popping the p.
Thorfinn further guided her across the small bridge over the moat that connected the house to the moorland beyond. He could feel the reluctance in her steps, so he held her hand more securely as he led her into the wide-open landscape.
They walked for several more minutes until they were at the crest of a small hill. From there, they could see Goyle down below in the middle of the field. He was lying on his side with both his ankles and wrists shackled. The chains of his restraints were tied together behind him, bending his body into a bow. Goyle was a portly man, and it clearly strained his muscles to be held in such a position.
"Finn...who is that?" Hermione asked, unable to identify Goyle since he faced the other direction.
Thorfinn raised an eyebrow at Hermione. "Our wedding gift from the Dark Lord."
Hermione brought her hand to her mouth. "Goyle."
He offered his wand to Hermione. Her fingers twitched; it would be over a decade since she'd last held a wand with no restrictions. Hermione swallowed hard. After a long moment, she accepted the wand, pointing it at Goyle.
As they drew closer, the trembling of her hand became more apparent. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. She gasped in a breath and stopped, a distance of ten feet still remaining between them and Goyle.
"No," she shook her head, pressing the wand back into Thorfinn's hands. "I don't want any part." She turned to go.
Thorfinn growled in frustration. "Wait, Hermione." He stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, and she turned to face him.
"Finn, I'm not torturing and killing him. It's one thing to tell myself I'd never do such a thing, but faced with it, it's tempting. He is an embodiment of the evil that has turned my life into a living nightmare. I want him to suffer as those I loved and lost suffered. But if I do it, I'd be no better than those who murdered all my friends and family." She cried harder. "I want to. I want to. But I can't do it. I can't."
"Alright," Thorfinn placated. "We don't have to do that. But The Dark Lord expects Goyle to die."
"How about we Obliviate him instead? We can frame him for a serious crime. Get him sent to prison in the Muggle world."
Thorfinn frowned, thinking. "It would require a lot of interaction with Muggles to ensure he went to prison, which would put us at risk with the Dark Lord. Also, there's no guarantee he wouldn't one day escape using accidental magic. We should just kill him. If you won't, I will. He's a blight on any world. Let's kill him and be done with it."
Hermione's lip trembled. "I don't think I can."
"Okay." He stroked her cheek. "I'll take care of it. You can go back to the house."
Thorfinn turned his back on her and stalked forwards. While he and Hermione had been speaking, Goyle had managed to flip himself over.
Goyle looked pleadingly at Thorfinn as he neared. When Thorfinn's face remained unmoved, Goyle's expression turned resigned.
Thorfinn removed the silencing spell he had cast. "Any last words?"
"No. Make it quick," Goyle responded, staring into Thorfinn's eyes resolutely.
Bending over and grabbing Goyle by the front of his robes with his left hand, Thorfinn pulled back his right arm and punched him in the face, knocking him out. "You do not get an honourable end." Thorfinn let Goyle's dead weight thud to the ground. "You do not get to look death in the eyes."
"Avada Kedavra," Thorfinn intoned solemnly. A bright green flare of light flashed out of his wand and hit Goyle.
Thorfinn heard a gasp. He whirled around to find Hermione looking at him wide-eyed. He wondered why she had stayed instead of leaving. Perhaps she needed closure. If Goyle symbolised her past and now was dead, perhaps she could finally move on, focus on starting a new life with him.
"Little Witch, go home," he said gently. "It's over."
Inhaling a shaky breath, Hermione turned and ran in the direction of Rowle Rock.
He dropped a Portkey to the Ministry on Goyle's chest. "Portus."
Thorfinn took a deep breath, staring at the empty spot Goyle had occupied. He couldn't help but feel satisfaction that Goyle was dead. It was better for the world that Goyle was gone. Thorfinn truly believed that and knew that nothing Hermione could say would sway him. He didn't understand how she had lived eleven years in this regime and still not understand that sometimes people had to die.
Thorfinn crawled into bed late that same night to find Hermione still wide awake. She lay on her side, reading a book, not bothering to acknowledge his presence.
After a few minutes, she asked, "Did you feel it?"
"The rip in your soul when you murdered him."
Thorfinn glared at the sheer canopy above. That's what this was about? "My soul didn't rip from removing a blight from this world."
"Murder rips your soul. It's a well-known phenomenon."
"True, but I didn't murder him. Hence, my soul wasn't ripped. I did the world a service, and both my soul and magic recognised that service," Thorfinn said tightly.
Thorfinn felt her roll over, and he did the same so that they were facing each other. Her brows were furrowed in the way that meant she was thinking hard. Did she think he was heartless? He'd not only murdered Goyle but countless others in the service of the Dark Lord. He wasn't particularly ashamed of it. He wasn't going to be upset because he did what he had to do to survive. This may not have been the life he would have chosen as a child, but it was the life he was given.
"Would you still murder me?" she asked.
Thorfinn wrinkled his brow. "Of course not."
"You wanted to once. Well, twice actually."
"During the war? You're asking if I still want to kill you because we crossed wands during the war a couple of times? That was eleven years ago."
"What if the Dark Lord ordered you to? Tomorrow?"
"Where is this coming from?" Thorfinn propped his head on his hand.
Hermione set her book aside and sat up. "I just want to know where I stand. I'm a Mudblood; surely you have more loyalty to the Dark Lord than to me."
Thorfinn detected a hint of bitterness in her voice. "What more do you want from me, Hermione? Declarations of love? Should we act like characters in some tragic romance novel and run away to live in another country? Knowing we'd consign ourselves to death?" He blew out an irritated breath.
"I don't know," she admitted. "The Dark Lord took my family from me, and now, I'm stuck with you: a man who's tried to kill me. A man who doesn't think murdering someone is that big of a deal. It's hard to feel secure when I know that should the Dark Lord order it, you'd kill me too." She wrapped her arms around herself, hunching her shoulders and making her smaller than she already was.
Thorfinn sat up and cupped her cheek, forcing her eyes to his. While he stared into their depths, he found sadness and loneliness and wished he could take them away. Thorfinn wasn't sure what he felt for the woman before him but knew he admired her strength and intelligence. She was a survivor, and the world was only getting darker by the day.
"I'll tell you this, Hermione Rowle. We are going to survive. I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens. You're a Rowle now, and Rowles always take care of their own."
"You didn't with Katrina," she whispered.
Thorfinn's lips tightened. Her words were true, and that's the worst part. "You're not Katrina." It was the best he could do.
"What did she do to you?"
Obviously, he hadn't hidden his pain as well as he thought he had. He swallowed hard. Should he tell her? He knew she was compassionate, but it felt too soon to open himself up to her this way. And yet, there was something in her eyes that made him want to tell her all of his darkest secrets. He dropped his hand from her cheek and rubbed nervously at his left forearm.
"I've always wanted a family. A big one. Lots of kids' feet pitter-pattering on the floor. I was an only child, and this house always seemed too big, too quiet for my father and me. Katrina knew this. She knew I wanted children, and…" Could he admit his biggest failure as a husband to Katrina?
Hermione reached out to take one of his hands into her own. "What happened?"
"She had miscarriages, many of them, but didn't tell me about them. Then she started taking a contraceptive potion. Didn't tell me about that either. She never gave me the chance to be there for her. To mourn the children we never had. She kept it all from me."
"She kept her pain from you. Maybe she was protecting you." Hermione lightly rubbed her thumb in circles on the back of his hand. The gesture was small but strangely calming.
"Maybe." Thorfinn had been so angry when he first found out that he hadn't given it much thought at the time and, since then, had made it a point to forget.
"I'm not saying she was right." Hermione shrugged. "But sometimes women feel that their pain will only burden the ones they care for."
"Right," Thorfinn whispered.
"But, you still let her go. You didn't protect her as a Rowle. How can I trust that you won't do the same to me?"
"Katrina and I were bound with only words and a marriage contract; our vows were empty. For you and me, we used the Olde Vows; we used magic. Our vows are soul bound. I may be loyal to the Dark Lord, but our fates are tied, just as our pain is." He placed a hand on his stomach. "I felt the loss of our little one just as you did."
Hermione's eyes widened a tear from each eye slipping down the sides of her nose.
"If the Dark Lord ever orders me to kill you, it would mean he wishes for my death also. As long as I'm loyal, you are safe."
Thorfinn sighed and felt tears prick at the back of his eyes.
"But when it comes to you trusting me, I don't know," he admitted. "I don't know how to make you trust me. But I do know this: what we have, it's different than what I had with Katrina. I feel differently about you than I ever did with her. And I know, deep down, in my soul, I know that I would do everything in my power to protect you. From everything and everyone."
Hermione's brows were furrowed as she searched his eyes.
He didn't know what she was looking for, but she seemed to find it.
She offered him a soft smile. "Okay."
Thorfinn smiled back. "Okay."
With a wave of his wand, he put out the candles in the room and pulled her close to him under the covers of their bed. He still didn't know how he felt about the little witch in his arms, but their discussion seemed to have cleared the air. He felt good. Better than he had in a long while.
The eighth day of April brought the deadline of the marriage law, and Thorfinn knew it was going to be a busy one. He left for work earlier than usual, leaving Hermione a note of explanation.
The first thing on his desk was a list of citizens who had not complied with the law. Scanning through, Thorfinn was surprised to see Draco Malfoy's name, but he wasn't surprised to see Katrina's. He clenched his jaw, breathing in and out a long breath.
Technically, everyone had until midnight tonight to marry. Thorfinn would worry about tracking people down once he got the report from Marriages, Births, and Deaths tomorrow morning. Today, he would focus on efforts to keep the amount of unrest in the streets under control. It was becoming the main portion of his job.
After a long day at the Ministry, Thorfinn returned home much later than expected. He and Hermione spent most evenings in the library, so that's where he headed. Just being in the same room as her eased the ever-present tension in his body. He was seriously contemplating moving his desk from his study next to hers.
Pushing open the half-closed library door, he found Hermione standing behind her desk, a horrified expression on her face.
"What is it?" he asked immediately on alert.
Hermione looked up from the surface of her desk. "Finn," she said with relief. "I think I'm going to need your expertise."
Moving closer, Thorfinn saw what Hermione had been staring at: a knife covered in tacky blood.
Thorfinn rushed forwards. "What in Salazar's name is that?" He quickly took in that she showed no signs of being cursed.
"It came from an owl."
She shook her head. "There wasn't a note or a return address."
"Did you touch the knife?"
"No, I opened the envelope and let it fall onto the desk. It arrived a moment before you did."
Thorfinn pursed his lips as he thought about what to do. The protocol would be to take the weapon to the Aurory. He'd have to cast some Auror-level detection charms on it, and it was against the rules to perform the spells in front of a civilian. But, if this somehow involved Hermione, he couldn't risk it.
Thorfinn pulled his wand out of his wrist holster and whispered, "Sanguis Videt."
"Blood detection?" Hermione asked as the spell worked.
He nodded, and a few moments later, Thorfinn had the answer to one of his many questions.
In scarlet letters above the bloody knife, 'Tristan Bulstrode' was spelt out.
Hermione gasped, and he exclaimed an oath.
"The red colouring means Bulstrode is dead," Thorfinn explained. "If it were orange, he would still be alive."
Hermione's eyes widened.
The name hovered ominously for a few more seconds, soon disappearing in a puff of smoke.
Fuck. Bulstrode was one of his Aurors. This wasn't looking good. The Dark Lord would not be pleased. Wait a minute. He recalled Hermione speaking Bulstrode's name before.
"Hadn't Bulstrode been Ginny Weasley's fiancé?" Thorfinn asked.
"Yes... Ginny had been terrified of him."
This made no sense. Who had killed Bulstrode? Why had the knife been sent to them? Thorfinn was almost afraid to cast the next spell.
He waved his wand again. "Revele Magia." This time green lettering appeared, revealing the name: Katrina Bulstrode née Selwyn.
"Fuck," he and Hermione said in unison.
"Does that mean what I think it does?" Hermione asked.
"More than likely." Thorfinn clenched his hands. "What would you have me do? I can either cover her tracks by removing her magical signature from the knife or inform the Dark Lord, leaving her to his mercy."
"So she's putting her fate in our hands. She killed the monster who would have been Ginny's husband... Maybe it's her version of a peace offering of sorts."
Thorfinn sighed. "Hermione, she's preying on our emotions."
"Maybe so, but I think you already know my answer. But, of course, the final decision is yours."
Thorfinn gave Hermione an understanding smile. Katrina had played her cards well. Yes, she had tried to kill Hermione, but so had he in the past. Katrina had been his wife and a Rowle; he would protect her this one last time. But, he'd deal with removing her signature from the knife in the morning. Now, he wanted to spend a few hours losing himself in Hermione's body.
He held out his hand. "Let's go upstairs."
Hermione took it, squeezing it lightly as he led her out of the library.
The following morning, just as Thorfinn was about to roll out of bed, Hermione hugged him close.
"Will I get to see you at all today?" she mumbled into his chest.
He ran a hand down her back and kissed the top of her head. "It's going to be long days until this business with the marriage law is resolved."
"So, I should take advantage of you while I have you?" She placed a kiss on the centre of his chest.
Thorfinn groaned. "I'm certainly not going to stop you."
"Good." She pushed on his shoulder until he was lying on his back and then scrambled on top of him.
Thorfinn was already half-hard, and feeling her wet heat was quickly getting him in the mood.
She ran her hands over his chest, plucking at his nipples as she ground down on top of him.
"Fuck, witch." He lifted his hands to her breasts.
"Ah-ah." She pulled his hands away, placing them above his head. "This is for you. To keep you going throughout the day. So no touching."
Thorfinn grinned at her and laced his hands behind his head. It wasn't in him to be a selfish lover, but if she wanted to do all of the work, he'd let her.
She moved her hips, and his length slide along her folds, teasing her clit. He watched as her breasts swayed above him, and he licked his lips.
Cupping her breasts, she asked, "Do you want to fill me with your hot come, Finn?"
He moaned and couldn't help but lift his bum off the bed to increase the friction. "Yes," he managed to gasp.
She smirked at him and positioned his now hard cock at her opening. She slid down it, inch by inch, and Thorfinn thought he'd go mad from the way her tight walls gripped him. He fisted his hands in his hair to keep from reaching for her. He was determined to allow her to have this.
Bracing her hands on his chest, she began to move.
Thorfinn watched as her eyes fluttered closed while she rode him. Merlin, she was beautiful. The ache in him to touch her increased, and he knotted his hands together tighter. His breathing increased, and he began flexing his hips in time with her downward movements. He couldn't help himself.
"Circe," she hissed in pleasure after a particularly deep thrust.
"Fuck," Thorfinn moaned. "Touch yourself. Touch yourself for me, princess."
Her pace becoming frenetic, she reached a hand between her legs to rub her clit. A few more frenzied thrusts had her crying out and falling apart on top of him. She looked divine as she fucked herself to completion, and he knew then that he wanted to see it again and again.
Panting, she grinned. "This was supposed to be for you."
He unclasped his hands and placed them on her waist, snapping his hips quickly in search of his own climax. "Trust me, it was."
Hermione's face softened as she bent down to kiss his lips. "I do… I trust you."
Thorfinn gasped and threw his head back, coming hard. The earnestness in her eyes had instantly brought him over.
"Salazar," he panted when he was back to himself.
Hermione collapsed onto his chest with a contented sigh. "We should start every day like this."
He wrapped his arms around her and huffed a laugh. "I'd never want to go to work if we did. Go back to sleep," he whispered, kissing her temple and then rolling out of bed.
Once Thorfinn arrived at work, his afterglow from his early morning activities quickly disappeared. He cursed. On his desk was a warrant for Draco Malfoy's arrest.