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Factor Z

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Hermione shook her head and tossed her quill on the desk in disgust. Horcruxes. Horcruxes were the answer. She felt like a prize idiot. All these months she'd been working on Factor Z and what was causing magic to fade, and never once did she think about the year she'd spent chasing down Horcruxes with Harry and Ron. It would have been funny if things weren't so dire.

The more Hermione thought about it, the more she was sure the reason the wild magic in Britain wasn't replenishing itself was because of the backlashes of Dark magic from the Horcruxes.

She still had her books on Horcruxes: the ones she'd nicked from Headmaster Dumbledore's office and had stored in her beaded bag. When she returned home that evening, she would need to re-evaluate the after-effects of a destroyed Horcrux.

After each Horcrux had been eliminated, there had been a magical backlash, and five had been eradicated within two years. That must have exacerbated things.

Hermione closed her eyes and remembered what it had felt like to stab the cup in the Chamber of Secrets. There had been a sickening wave of magic that had flowed out of the Horcrux. It had nearly bowled her and Ron over.

But the real question was: What happened to such a large quantity of the Darkest magic when it was released like that? Hermione had assumed it was reabsorbed. But what if that wasn't the case. What if wild magic rejected the Dark magic released? Or worse, what if the Dark magic somehow infected the wild magic?

No, neither could be right. There would be pockets of the Dark magic everywhere, then. Right now, all magic was slowly bleeding away.

Suddenly, Hermione felt goosebumps break out on her arms. Magical creatures relied on wild magic. Were they doomed? If magic disappeared altogether, would all of Britain's magical creatures also disappear? With horrifying clarity, Hermione knew that would be the case.

The thought of being without magic was horrifying. Wizarding Britain would certainly collapse. Magic ran everything in the Ministry, in the alleys. Without the magic of Muggle-Repelling Charms and concealment charms, places like St Mungo's and Hogwarts would become visible.

Hermione wasn't afraid of Muggles, but she also wasn't naive. She knew what they were capable of when they felt threatened.

Holding her head in her hands, Hermione took a deep breath. There were still way too many questions that she didn't have the answers to and some she didn't even know to ask. She wondered if there was a way to possibly extend the charms on Britain's wizarding sites before too little magic remained.

It was already known that inanimate objects held magic longer than living creatures, something to do with souls. Would magic-infused objects, such as Portkeys and brooms, still function after magic had vanished? Hermione thought so, but her knowledge of magical theory wasn't as robust as she might have liked. She tried not to think about what her life would have been like had Harry defeated the Dark Lord. However, at times, like now, when she felt so hampered by her post-war experiences, Hermione found herself fantasising about having access to any knowledge she wanted, from whomever she wanted.

Frankly, Hermione felt like panicking, which was out of character for her, but ever since her miscarriage, she'd felt particularly raw. The first time she'd been able to relax had been in Finn's company. Her heart hurt to think about Finn. The looks that man gave her when he thought she wasn't paying attention were heartbreaking; they spoke of such love and devotion that Hermione would catch her breath. However, the instant he realised she was looking, his face transformed into an easy smile to cover his true feelings.

Hermione was glad to see the feelings Finn expressed, even if he was trying to hide them from her. And despite everything, she was pretty sure she was falling in love with him. Her head told her it was ridiculous for her to: he was a Death Eater who didn't even acknowledge that his soul had torn when he'd murdered Goyle. Cadmus Goyle, rapist-pig though he'd been, had nevertheless been a person, and Finn refused to understand what it truly meant to have taken Goyle's life. But regardless of her head, her heart still wanted him, body and torn soul.

"Mrs Rowle," Snape drawled from behind her.

Hermione felt her stomach drop. She would have to inform Snape about her findings. He was always so hard to read; she didn't know how he would take the news.

Hermione smiled weakly and turned around. "Sir, are you free? I think I may have just made a breakthrough."

Snape's face tightened minutely. "Let's discuss it in my office."

Hermione gathered her parchment and followed behind as he led the way.

Once settled with the door closed, Hermione laid out her findings.

"So, we know three influences comprise Factor Z: the Blood Curse"—Snape sniffed, but Hermione ploughed on—"the decline of wild magic, and the third is…" Suddenly realising what she was about to say, she paled. Snape was a Death Eater, one of the Dark Lord's most high-ranking members of the inner circle.

"Go on," Snape said softly.

Hermione refused to meet his eyes. "I don't know if I can say, sir." She hadn't felt so afraid in months. Generally, she felt like she could trust Snape; he'd done so much for her in this post-war world, after all. But she was about to spill one of the biggest secrets from the war. Something that she knew the Dark Lord wouldn't want to get out.

Snape sighed heavily and withdrew his wand. He cast several privacy charms and a Muffliato.

Hermione breathed somewhat easier, but now she didn't know how to broach the topic. Would Snape even know what a Horcrux was?

"Please, Hermione, speak freely. I swear I'd rather meet death than ever cause you harm. I've never said it aloud, but I do care for your well-being a great deal."

Hermione's eyes widened. Did Snape have feelings for her? She studied his face and, thankfully, only found the worried expression of a friend or parent.

She inhaled deeply. "Do you know what a Horcrux is?"

Snape sucked in a sharp breath.

Hermione saw a flood of understanding on his face.

"Yes...I know of them."

Hermione nodded. It wasn't surprising; as an inner circle member, he probably had easy access to a wealth of information. "I don't know if you've ever been present when a Horcrux has been destroyed, but they release a huge magical backlash. I think that five large Dark magic backlashes are what's causing the wild magic to retreat. I think…" She almost didn't want to voice her thoughts aloud. If they weren't said, it meant that it wasn't necessarily true, right?

"You think what, Hermione?"

"I think Britain's magic is resetting itself." She held her breath, afraid that despite the privacy spells, the Dark Lord would hear and kill her.

Snape leant forwards. "Resetting itself? In what way?"

"I think the wild magic is going to continue to weaken. That we are going to be without magic very soon and there isn't anything we can do about it."

Snape stared fixedly into Hermione's eyes. "The Dark Lord cannot know."

Hermione's jaw dropped. Snape was going to keep this from the Dark Lord? Was he suicidal?

"What do you think the Dark Lord would do with this information?" he asked her.

"I-I don't know."

"I'm afraid I do. The Dark Lord will act like a jealous ex-lover. Destroying the thing he loves the most so nobody else can have it."

Hermione's blood chilled in her veins. "You mean…"

"Yes, I think the Dark Lord would rather destroy everything and everyone in wizarding Britain rather than allow them to leave for the Muggle world."

Hermione shuddered and didn't say anything. She thought about what Snape had said and realised that the Dark Lord was just sociopathic enough to follow through with something so heinous.

Sighing heavily, Snape leaned back in his chair. "So we're going to have no magic in a matter of what? Weeks? Months? Years?"

"A year, maybe two. I don't know the rate of decrease or how much magic is currently remaining. Too many unknowns to be sure. But I can't see how it won't happen. When it does, wizarding Britain as a society will either need to be fully integrated into Muggle society, hiding in plain sight as it were or, well, we'll be exposed. The magic imbued in objects might hold for a little longer, but with no wild magic to support it…"

"We're fucked then."

Hermione snorted a laugh and nodded. She wasn't sure if she'd ever heard Snape curse before.

"When are you due to meet with the Dark Lord next?" Snape asked.

"In a week." Hermione felt tears building and blinked them away. "What am I supposed to do?"

"We'll find something else for him to think about. I'll take care of it."

Hermione smiled her thanks. Once again, Snape was helping her, protecting her from the Dark Lord. Maybe he wasn't quite the loyal soldier he liked to play. She would have to think about it, especially knowing what she knew now.

"Don't stop," Hermione panted.

She and Finn were in the shower, at first, getting ready for the day. But when Finn had dropped to his knees, Hermione hadn't tried too hard to stop him.

His tongue whirled around her clit, and his fingers pumped inside her. She was so close.

Hermione slid her hands through his wet mane. "Please, Finn."

The warm water cascaded over them as he drove her higher and higher. Her back was flat against the shower wall. She had her right leg thrown over Finn's shoulder, opening her to him completely. His beard was both soft and ticklish on her delicate skin, and she shivered at the feel of it.

A twist of his fingers, and a hard suck on her clit, and Hermione found herself tipping over the edge. She tossed her head back against the wall, a loud sob escaping. Her left leg gave out, but Finn caught her.

Once her climax had subsided, Finn hooked his arms around her legs. He then pressed her against the wall again, the head of his cock teasing her folds.

Hermione wrapped her own arms around Finn's shoulders tightly and nestled her face into his neck.

Finn entered her swiftly, and they both moaned. He felt so incredibly good inside her, stretching her so sweetly.

"Merlin, fuck, Little Witch," Finn breathed into her ear as he eased his way out and back inside.

He soon built a rhythm that had Hermione crying out with every thrust. She loved these moments with him, almost irrationally it seemed. The sexual chemistry between them was explosive, and despite all of the other issues they had to face, Hermione found it all too easy to get lost in it.

Finn drew back slightly to gaze at her face. "Come with me."

Hermione met his eyes, and her breath caught in her throat at the look on his face. It was one of those looks. The ones he usually hid so well from her. Hermione felt incredibly exposed as if he were seeing directly into her soul.

"I…" she trailed off as Finn slammed into her hard. She didn't even know what she'd been about to say.

"I know, Little Witch," Finn agreed with whatever sentiment had been about to come out of her mouth.

His pace quickened, and Hermione knew he was close. She wanted to be right there with him and slipped a hand between them to rub her clit.

"That's it," Finn groaned. "Come with me."

Hermione cried out when her orgasm hit her. Her back arched, and she clung to Finn's shoulders as she shuddered around him. Finn thrust two more times, and he too was falling over the edge, joining her in bliss.

Finn slowly let her down to her feet, keeping her pressed against the wall. He tipped her head up and gave her a heated, fervent kiss.

Hermione felt like he was trying to express all the emotion he felt but didn't want to say, and she returned it with equal intensity.

Finally, when he broke away from her, he mumbled, "We're going to be so late."

Hermione snorted a laugh. "I think we're already late."

Hermione was writing a report for the Dark Lord. She carefully concealed facts while still attempting to make it look as if she were making progress solving Factor Z. She had to be very careful, and it was quite tedious.

"Mrs Rowle?"

She turned to see Snape.

"You're needed in my office."

Hermione frowned. They hadn't scheduled a meeting. She began to panic. What if the Dark Lord were here? Too focussed on her work, it was absolutely possible for the Dark Lord to have come into the Research Centre without her noticing.

When she stepped into Snape's office, she was more shocked to find Finn than if it had indeed been the Dark Lord.

"Finn?" Hermione asked as Snape flicked his wand, shutting the door.

"I'm here on official business," Finn said.

Hermione nodded and took her seat next to him, wondering what in the world was going on.

"When was the last time either of you saw Draco Malfoy?" Finn asked, flipping open a small notebook.

Hermione blinked. She hadn't seen Draco since the day the marriage law took place almost two months ago. She'd assumed he'd finally complied with the law and was enjoying an extended honeymoon.

"Not since April seventh, I believe," Snape drawled.

"Same," she replied. "He was at work. It was a Tuesday, I think. He didn't show up for work the following day."

"And neither of you have had any contact with him since?" Finn asked.

"No…" Hermione replied. "Has something happened to him?"

"I also have had no contact with Mr Malfoy since April seventh," Snape answered. "The Dark Lord asked that I place a monitoring charm around Malfoy Manor and the Research Centre once it was clear he had disappeared."

Finn frowned and closed his notebook. "I see." He took a deep breath and looked right at Hermione. "Draco Malfoy's deceased body was found this morning near his parents home in Wiltshire."

Hermione gasped, tears instantly filling her eyes. Poor Draco. He'd been through so much with Astoria dying.

"How did he die?" Snape asked. His voice was tight, and Hermione wasn't sure if he was angry or upset. The tragic news had clearly affected him.

"It appears to be a flying accident. We found a busted broom nearby."

Hermione closed her eyes as she processed the news. Draco had been so tortured. She hoped now he was at least in a better place. These last few weeks, she had thought things were looking up for him. He'd stopped reeking of drink and seemed to have put himself together. And just to die tragically? She wiped at her face.

"Take your wife home, Rowle," Snape said. "She'll be of no further use today."

Finn helped Hermione to her feet and followed Snape's directive. He brought her home and left instructions with Rosey on caring for her.

Hermione felt absolutely sick with grief at the news of Draco. Unfortunately, Finn couldn't stay with her, even though she desperately wanted him to.

Late that evening, Hermione felt awful. She felt both nauseous and tired. She'd refused lunch and dinner when Rosey had brought it. After passing on dinner, Hermione had lain down in bed, hoping sleep would claim her. But now, it was hours later, and she still hadn't fallen asleep. Sighing, Hermione rolled over onto her back.

"You're still awake?" Finn asked as he closed the door behind him.

Hermione sighed again and sat up. "Can't sleep. Don't feel well."

Finn shot her a considering look. "You don't think you're—"

"Oh! I'm a bloody idiot." Hermione grabbed her wand from the bedside table and pointed it at her abdomen. "Invenire Gravida."

The wand tip glowed a brilliant blue, almost blinding Hermione in the dim light of the room.

"Does that mean what I think it does?" Finn asked, crossing the room swiftly.

Hermione could only stare dumbfounded. She nodded, feeling numb. Would this baby leave her too?

"Oh, Little Witch, don't cry." Finn knelt before her on the floor. As he cradled her face in his hand, he brushed her tears away with his thumb.

"Sorry," Hermione whispered.

Finn settled next to her on the bed and then pulled her into his lap. "Hey, it'll be alright. Whatever happens, we have each other."

Hermione clung to him as her fears swirled inside her head. What would it mean to bring a child into a world like this? She was terrified of the future, of what could happen to the child that grew inside her.

Finn held her tighter.

Hermione's hips ached. They ached all the time these days. She was almost halfway through her pregnancy, and the calendar had just rolled over into October. It was her favourite time of year, and though this should be one of the happiest times in her life, she found she couldn't enjoy herself.

Things were beginning to go very badly in wizarding Britain. She and Finn had been arguing. Or rather, she'd been arguing, and Finn had been mulishly not arguing with her. But finally, today, she had cracked his stubbornness.

"I just don't see the point," Finn said.

"The point is that when magic fails, we won't be able to live in the Muggle world. The Muggle world requires credentials, which neither of us has," Hermione hissed at him. "Just try it. Go to the coast a few places and see if you can figure out if the curse is weakening."

"And if I get caught?"

"You won't. The Dark Lord won't even know. You said yourself how busy he was, trying to put down the outright rebellion going on in Hogsmeade."

Finn glared at her.

"Please, Finn, for us?" Hermione rubbed her growing belly. She didn't feel comfortable manipulating him like this, but if they could figure out a way around the Blood Curse, they could disappear from wizarding Britain entirely.

She watched as Finn's defences crumbled. He took her into his arms, sliding his hands around her swollen belly.

"I'll start trying, slowly," Finn said. "Because as much as I hate to admit it, I think you might be right."

Hermione relaxed into him. "Thank you." She nuzzled her face into his chest.

"Anything for you, Little Witch," Finn rumbled.

In her imagination, she couldn't help but add 'because I love you' to the end of Finn's sentence.