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Factor Z

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Hermione Granger dipped her quill into the pot of ink and then brushed the feather against her lips. She almost had this equation balanced. What if I move the x factor to the right and then add in the moon phase formula, she thought before she reworked the last part with the adjustment. She was concentrating so intensely her nose was only a handbreadth away from squashing against the desk as she jotted down the new sequence of numbers.

Hermione was a lead Arithmancer for the Ministry of Magic. However, they paid her as if she were a cleaner because, as others reminded her often, she was only a Mudblood.

After the Dark Lord had killed Harry, Hermione had been lucky. She was put in chains while most of the Weasley family and other known Undesirables had been tortured and then executed.

Hermione languished in Azkaban for almost three years before she was released. Draco Malfoy, of all people, had spoken on her behalf. He made a case to the Dark Lord that every able-bodied witch and wizard available would be needed to help rebuild wizarding Britain.

And so, Hermione had been freed and given a job in the Ministry of Magic Research Center under the supervision of Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy. Hermione had also been lucky enough to find the remaining Weasley family. She now lived with George, Percy, and Ginny above Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. It was astonishing that the joke shop was even allowed to stay open, but even in dark times, wizards loved a good joke product. It seemed strange to Hermione, as joke stores weren't that much of a thing in the Muggle world.

Ten years had passed since the war ended, and wizarding Britain remained mostly the same. The Dark Lord had eased the restrictions made during the war so Mudbloods were no longer being rounded up, but he did further separate the Muggle and wizarding worlds. Wizards and witches could no longer have one foot in each world. They could either stay in the wizarding world or be killed. It was an easy choice for most.

All communication and entry into the Muggle world were cut off. No longer could a wizard get to the Hogwarts Express or Diagon Alley through the Muggle world. A wizard had to either travel by Floo powder or Apparate directly onto the platform or shopping district. Heavy anti-Muggle charms were installed around all former entrances from the Muggle world and the entrances themselves bricked over.

Any wizard or witch found consorting with a Muggle was executed. No questions asked. Any wizard or witch found to be living in a Muggle area and not one of the all-wizarding villages or districts was given twenty-four hours to find proper accommodations, or they would be executed.

The Dark Lord did not believe in leniency for disobedience. It was a miracle Malfoy had been able to argue on her behalf, but she suspected Snape may have had something to do with it as well. However, the official version was that Malfoy had been the instigator, and he did have quite the clout being the son of the Minister for Magic. The Dark Lord wasn't so gauche to be the Minister, No, that's what a minion was for. The Dark Lord was the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, a more behind the scenes position and a position that allowed him to be judge, jury, and executioner.

Hermione wasn't given the privilege of knowing what she was working on. She only knew that something wasn't improving and that it was her responsibility to turn the numbers around. It was frustrating; she could work the equations as many times and in as many ways as she wanted, but without a deeper knowledge of what she was working on, she knew she would never come to a satisfying answer.

"Granger," Severus said silkily from behind.

Looking over her shoulder, Hermione gave him a small smile. "Sir, hello." She understood he was doing what he could to get along in the world, same as her. And she rather thought he was easier on her than he needed to be. She was grateful for that.

"It's almost midnight. Whatever you are working on can wait until morning." He then swept away from her cubicle and out of the department entirely.

Hermione sighed. She really should have gone home hours ago, but she had been at a finicky spot and wanted to continue. If she solved this equation, then maybe she would figure out why this project was so important to the Dark Lord. And it was. She knew because she had been called into his office six weeks ago, and he had been the one to tell her what was needed. It wasn't the first time she'd had an audience with him, but she did hope it was going to be the last.

The Dark Lord had changed since the final battle. Hermione didn't know if it was glamour charms or something more permanent, but he looked handsomely human—except for his red, snake-slitted eyes. Those showed him to be the monster he was.

Deciding to follow Snape's advice, she packed up her things and headed for Diagon Alley through an exit now directly connected to the Ministry. Yet another small change. Begrudgingly, Hermione did have to admit it made sense to have wizarding Britain's two largest employers, the Ministry and St Mungo's, directly connected to Diagon Alley.

As she stepped through the staff exit, she waved to Justin Finch-Fletchley, the night guard on duty. Diagon Alley was nearly deserted. It was a Tuesday so most of the pubs and clubs were closed. Not that there were many on Diagon Alley to begin with. Knockturn Alley, on the other hand, had quite a few that were still open, and Hermione had to pass its entrance on her way home.

As she crossed the entrance from the far side of the street—she made it a point never to walk on the same side—she drew her cloak tighter around her body. Just peering down the alleyway gave her the chills. She knew that's where the Ministry-operated brothel was located. It was the stuff of nightmares for witches in general.

Instead of execution, witches who disobeyed or displeased the Dark Lord on lesser infractions often found their punishment was life in the whorehouse. All anti-pregnancy charms were outlawed because of the number of casualties during the war and, from what Hermione had gathered from whispered conversations at the Ministry, getting a whore pregnant was richly rewarded by the Dark Lord. She hoped she could continue to deliver results to the Dark Lord. If not, he may banish her to the whorehouse just because he was angry. Hermione shuddered; she felt sorry for those women and desperately did not want to become one.

Almost past the entrance of the alley, she heard something that made her bolt into a run.

"Oi, Mudblood Granger," a man's voice sing-songed.

Merlin, how was I recognized, Hermione wondered as she whipped her wand out. As a Mudblood, her wand use had been severely restricted. She was allowed small charms and defensive shields but no hexes, jinxes, curses, and definitely no Dark magic, even in cases of self-defence.

She hadn't made more than a few strides when someone grabbed her left arm and yanked her back. Her assailant then shoved her against the nearest storefront.

Theo Nott stood over her, smirking, his hand still clutching her arm. Four other wizards flanked him, all of them wearing Death Eater robes. She recognized the two with their hoods down, former Slytherins, the lot of them. Wizards she had attended school with.

"Nott," Hermione said shortly and nodded her head, breathing hard. She didn't dare remove her eyes from the group. She hoped they would just tease her and be on their way. It wouldn't be the first time she was harassed. One time, Nott's father and his friends had caught her on her way home from a late night at the Ministry, and she had been raped. She was grateful that a child had not resulted from the assault. Her body trembled as adrenaline and fear coursed through her veins. This couldn't be happening again, she thought desperately, looking for a way out of the situation.

"Why so scared, Granger? I was just telling the boys I was looking for a spot of fun," Nott sneered at her. "Wasn't I?" There was a muttered general agreement behind him.

"I'm sure I wouldn't be any fun," Hermione said demurely and dropped her head, attempting to look as meek and deferential as possible. She still kept eye contact though. She couldn't afford to let them get one over on her: she would be done for if that happened. She battled against her panic, taking even breaths through her nose.

As Hermione called her magic forward ready to cast a shield charm if necessary, one of the wizards behind Nott broke from the group and began to circle around to her right side. Hermione tracked him from the corner of her eye and pointed her wand more in his direction.

"Come now, Granger," Nott taunted. "I hear from Goyle's father that you're loads of fun." It had been Gregory Goyle, Sr who had raped her. She hadn't known exactly who the culprit was until Snape had overheard Goyle talking and confronted her about it.

"He was intoxicated at the time. I'm sure he was only mistaken," Hermione replied calmly. She didn't feel calm, not even a little bit. Her hands were sweaty, and she fought to keep a firm grip on her wand as her wand arm trembled.

The wizard on her right side lowered his hood. It was Draco Malfoy. Hermione wasn't sure whether she should breathe a sigh of relief or not. She hoped he would help her. He had in the past after all. But she didn't know what Nott's position in the Ministry was or whether it was above or below Malfoy's.

"Alright, Theo. You've scared her. Why don't you continue on home?" Malfoy suggested, taking a step closer to Hermione.

"Why? So you can have her to yourself? She must be a good fuck, especially if a Malfoy wants to fuck her more than once," Nott quipped to the group, resulting in raucous laughter.

"And if I am? What are you going to do about it?" Draco replied in a bored tone.

Hermione's eyes widened. Is this what people thought? That she allowed Draco to sleep with her? That that's why he protected her? She'd suspected something along those lines but hadn't ever wanted to delve too deeply into it. She was just grateful for the small bit of protection he had offered.

Nott backed down, and he and the men behind him slinked off in the direction of the residential district, Domice Alley. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief as she watched them go. She turned back to face Malfoy. His face was shuttered, and his shoulders were tense. He looked angry, and Hermione wasn't sure if he ever would actually fight his friends on her behalf. She wasn't sure she wanted to find out.

"Thanks, sir," Hermione muttered and turned to leave. She didn't dare put her wand away now; she was too skittish.

"I'll walk you." He looped his arm through hers.

Hermione was shocked he would even deign to touch her but kept silent. Could Malfoy actually want to sleep with her? There wasn't much Hermione would be able to do if someone of Malfoy's station decided they wanted to. Hence why her rape had never even been investigated, let alone prosecuted.

It wasn't long before they arrived next to the joke shop near the stairs leading up to her flat. Taking a deep breath, Hermione studied Malfoy's face. He had saved her on more than one occasion. If he were only waiting for her to offer, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to sleep with him.

"Sir, if you want, we can go upstairs, and I can—"

"Gods, no, Granger!" Malfoy said with disgust and shock. He dropped her arm and paced away before coming back toward her while running his hands through his slicked back hair, not looking at her.

"I let them think that, but I would never... I'm married. I would never break my vows to Tori," Malfoy told her and finally met her eye.

Hermione was relieved and gave a small smile. "Good, I didn't want to. But if all your friends thought it, I thought that maybe…" She didn't finish her sentence, and she looked away before he could see the mortification in her eyes.

"Granger, I don't know why I keep saving you... Probably because some small part of me knows you don't deserve the life you're living. But I don't want to sleep with you." He awkwardly patted her shoulder, and she looked back up at him. His face was entirely sincere, and she could detect some embarrassment at the topic of discussion.

She gave him a full grin then, relieved that they felt the same way. "Thanks again, sir," she said, turning to unlock the door behind her.

"'Night, Granger," he replied as he walked off.

After climbing two sets of stairs, Hermione slipped inside her quiet flat. Someone had left a lamp on for her in the sitting room. She smiled softly as she turned it off and headed to the bedroom she shared with Ginny. It was smaller than the room they had once shared in Grimmauld Place but bigger than the one at the Burrow. It was comforting to fall asleep listening to Ginny's breathing as she had done for so many years.

The following morning, both Percy and Hermione were the first ones up. They worked at the Ministry, whereas George and Ginny minded the joke shop, which brought in most of their income. Hermione knew the Dark Lord had his fingers in everything, and he wouldn't allow any of them to find a different job even if they'd wanted to.

As Hermione waited for her tea to warm, she gazed out the window. The owl that delivered the Daily Prophet was late, which was odd. Its loud screech was what usually woke her up.

"Morning, Hermione," Ginny yawned as she shuffled into the kitchen, sitting down at the small breakfast bar. Still in her flannel pyjamas, she folded her arms on the worktop and laid her head on them.

"Hi, Ginny. I didn't wake you last night, did I?" Hermione asked as she finished buttering some toast and placed it on a plate in front of Ginny. She put two more pieces in the toaster for her own breakfast.

"Yeah, but I fell right back asleep. What time was it?" Ginny rubbed her eyes and grinned when she saw the toast. "Thanks!"

Hermione smiled and nodded. "It was about a quarter after midnight. I got lucky. I was almost ambushed near Knockturn Alley."

"Oh, no, Hermione!" When Hermione had been raped, she had stumbled home in the middle of the night, being careful not to wake any of her flatmates as she cleaned herself up. But Ginny had heard her crying in the shower and spent the night by her side.

"It was fine. Malfoy stopped them. You know the rumours about him and me..."

Ginny nodded yes, her eyes widening. "Did something happen...between you and him last night? Did he…"

"No, I asked him up last night, as a sort-of thank you. But he declined. Seemed perturbed at the idea, really," Hermione mused.

"Huh, that's so weird," Ginny replied.

"I can't figure him out. I'm just glad he doesn't actually want to shag. That would make department meetings awkward," Hermione laughed.

"Who doesn't want to shag?" George asked as he stumbled into the kitchen, scratching at his bare chest. He only ever wore pyjamas trousers to bed.

"Put a shirt on, George," Percy snapped from behind, already dressed and ready for work.

George covered his nipples with his hands, feigning coyness. Percy rolled his eyes, and when he looked away, George gave him the two-fingered salute.

Hermione hid her snort of amusement behind her hand and then turned her attention back to the window above the sink. "Daily Prophet owl is late today," she commented.

"S'not here yet?" George yawned.

Hermione shook her head, as she snagged one of Ginny's pieces to toast and ate it.

After finishing her toast, Hermione turned to grab her messenger bag and leave for the Ministry with Percy when she heard a pecking at the window. The owl had finally arrived. Ginny opened the window and offered the owl a bit of toast. Once Ginny had hands on the newspaper, the owl flew out, and George shut the window to keep the cold out.

When Hermione and Percy were about to head down the stairs, Ginny's loud cry brought them rushing back into the kitchen.

"What is it, Ginny?" Percy asked his eyes wide. He looked around the flat, searching for danger, an ingrained response after so many years of war.

Ginny held up the paper so Percy and Hermione could see the headline. Hermione gasped and snatched it out of Ginny's hand.


By Eliza Linton

Dear readers, as this reporter published weeks ago when I first learnt from an important anonymous source, indeed ambitious legislation has been in the works. In the wee hours of the night, the Wizengamot passed a mandatory marriage law: The Matrimonial Union Statute. It includes the following directives:

All wizards, regardless of marital status, must marry a witch of a different blood status. The wizards must petition the Ministry directly for a new wife, which will be approved or denied based on a formula that was discovered in the Ministry's very own Research Center. In cases when a wizard is already married to a witch of a different blood status, a child must be born within the next two years. If no child is born within that timeframe, the union will be dissolved, and the wizard must then petition for a new wife. The witch will have six months to accept a petition. If she does not accept, she will be taken into Ministry custody.

Witches will receive petitions and, in the case of more than one petition being received, may choose at her own discretion. Witches who receive no petitions will be taken into Ministry custody. Witches who are above childbearing age or incapable of having children will continue their lives as normal. However, if they are married to a wizard of the same blood status and the Ministry deems the wizard capable of producing viable heirs, the wizard will have to petition for an additional wife.

After ten years, each union must produce at least three children. If after that point and both parties agree, the union can be dissolved.

I must worryingly announce, my dear readers, that the population of wizarding Britain is precariously low. Unless there is a magical baby boom, we will dwindle to extinction. This law is to ensure that outcome never happens.

Our gracious Dark Lord has had the best minds of our age working on this problem, and he believes this is the optimal solution for all of wizarding Britain.

As the Dark Lord, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, was quoted as saying late last night, "The consequences of the wars we've faced to get our great nation to the point we are now were harsh and exacting for us all. We must rise together as a community to combat the problem of low population. I expect all citizens to participate with enthusiasm."

This reporter will eagerly await her petitions as she knows all witches in good-standing will. Wizards of wizarding Britain don't take too long to petition for the witch of your dreams: she may be snatched up before you know it.

"Oh, gods," Hermione moaned when she finished the article. She did this. She was sure of it. It was her equations that she had been working on for the last six weeks that made this law get passed. She paled as she handed the paper to Percy and headed down the stairs for work, dreading to see the kinds of petitions she would receive, but dreading more if she didn't receive any at all.

Chapter Text

Muttering the counter-spell to his alarm charm for the third time, Thorfinn Rowle groaned as he rolled himself out of bed. Even with the few extra minutes of sleep, he didn't feel rested at all. Standing next to his bed, he rotated his shoulders, trying to relieve some of the pain and tension he felt there. He'd lived a hard life, and as Head Auror, it wasn't any easier than it had been during his days as a Beater for the Ballycastle Bats.

Lifting his arms over his head, Thorfinn stretched as he walked to the other side of his room where he kept his power rack. Professional Quidditch had introduced him to the idea of weightlifting, and he kept up his routine even after the disastrous year when the clubs had all folded during the Dark Lord's takeover.

The clubs had reopened the year after the war ended, but by then, Thorfinn's career had already been heading in a different direction. He never stopped following and rooting for the Bats, but it was still painful to think of what his life might have been like had the Dark Lord and his war not happened.

Being a Death Eater hadn't been what Thorfinn wanted; he'd been forced into it by his father just before the start of the second war. It seemed to be the same story for many of his year-mates in Slytherin; but unlike them, all their fathers had joined the Dark Lord of their own free will, years before the First Wizarding War had even begun.

Thorfinn had always been a big man, and the training provided by his professional Quidditch career had only enhanced his physique. Even within wizarding society and the Dark forces, being a larger man garnered respect. He had risen through the ranks quickly, in part due to his size, but also due to his deft hand during duels and his talent in Occlumency. He became especially well-known for his skill with memory charms and the Imperius Curse.

As he braced himself for another warm-up bench press, he plotted his day. His secretary Margie Cowley would be back today; she'd been out most of the week. He wanted to meet with her first thing so they could get his schedules coordinated. He counted as he went through his last few bench presses, making sure to breathe in and out at the proper times: that was the secret to lifting weights, one of his Mudblood teammates had once told him.

Finishing his set, he wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and moved on to squats. Since taking a desk job, Thorfinn relied on his morning workouts to keep him in fighting shape; they also helped to clear his head and keep him focused. He began his power clean set, lifting the weighted barbell from the floor past his waist and holding it at shoulder level; then dropping the barbell and starting all over again. He counted his repetitions as he also worked on his Occlumency shields. Occlumency was a funny art; it worked differently for everyone.

Thorfinn liked numbers, so counting was how he began building his shields one by one. Each repetition of his workout represented another shield going up in his mind. One did not rise to Head Auror under the Dark Lord's regime without being decent in Occlumency. Above all else, Thorfinn was a survivor, and everything he did was with that one simple goal in mind: survive.

As he finished his deadlifts and moved on to ab rollouts, he pondered what the day would bring. The Aurory, formally known as the Auror Department, had changed its mission. It used to be a law enforcement agency tasked with capturing Dark witches and wizards, but now since Dark witches and wizards were in power, the Aurory enforced any law passed by the new regime. The new laws necessitated foot patrols for all of magical Britain. This meant a swell in the Aurory ranks. So being Head Auror was nothing to sneeze at, even if it wasn't the life Thorfinn had planned for himself.

After he finished his workout, Thorfinn headed to his en-suite bathroom. He had worked himself hard and sweat trickled down the firm muscles of his body as he stepped under the cool stream of water in his shower.

Just as he finished washing his shoulder-length hair, he felt a warm pair of hands on his back. He sighed heavily and turned to find his wife, Katrina, starkers behind him.

"I don't have time this morning, Katrina," Thorfinn growled in irritation.

He was a straight man, and Katrina was an attractive woman, but after four years of marriage, she was only ever interested in sex when she wanted more galleons. If Thorfinn allowed her access to the Rowle vault, she'd bleed them dry within months.

"Oh, Thor, you're Head Auror. You can show up whenever you like," Katrina cooed, kissing his chest, her hands roaming toward his half-hard cock.

"How much?" Thorfinn asked as she teased his member with her fingertips. Thorfinn would rather not be used in such a way, but since Katrina so rarely allowed any contact between them, he couldn't help but close his eyes and enjoy it.

Katrina responded to his question by kneeling and licking his cock, pumping it and making him harden further. Thorfinn groaned when she swirled her tongue around its head. He buried his hands into her long, straight, blonde hair as she took him in as deep as she could. Thorfinn was a big man and had the cock to match. Very few witches would have the skill to take his full length, but Katrina tried her best. He hadn't even realized he was thrusting his hips until he heard Katrina gag and felt her pull away.

She gave him a dirty look, prompting Thorfinn to remove his hands. He held them up like he would if someone had him at wand-point.

"Sorry." He hoped he had sounded contrite enough for her to continue. His leaking cock strained toward Katrina, begging to be touched. His bullocks were full and aching, ready for release. He could feel a whimper in his throat, trying to work its way free.

Smirking, she took him in her mouth again.

The sigh Thorfinn let loose was a mixture of relief and desire. Her warm, wet mouth was heaven. This time, he kept his hands out of her hair and, instead, braced them against the shower walls on either side of him. He had to close his eyes and clench his fists to keep him from winding his hands into her hair again.

The cool water from the shower pounded against his back as Katrina stopped her licks and nibbles and began sucking his cock in earnest. Gods, he thought, if there's one thing Katrina's good at, it's this.

As she pumped the base of his prick with her right hand, she reached down and began fondling his balls with her left. It was what he needed. Thorfinn couldn't stop the groan that spilt from his lips as he dropped his head to watch his cock disappear in and out of her mouth. He'd passed the point of no return, and it took everything in his power to keep from pumping into her again. He felt pleasure wind tight at the base of his spine and let out a low grunt as he came, watching Katrina swallow every ounce of his seed.

Katrina looked up at him coquettishly as he recovered his breath. She was a Selwyn by birth but had no money of her own to speak of. She hadn't even come to Thorfinn with a dowry.

"How much?" Thorfinn panted. He closed his eyes. He knew he had just been played and didn't want to see the triumphant smirk on her face.

"Three thousand Galleons," Katrina answered as she stood. She braced her hands on his chest and leaned in to kiss his cheek.

Thorfinn eyes shot open, and he glared down at her. "Merlin, Katrina! What for?"

She had the grace to blush and look away.

"I have debts, Thor. I am expected—"

"Expected to do what? I've expected nothing of you but a damned heir!" Thorfinn growled and clenched his fists at his side. All the good vibes from his orgasm were gone, and now he really wanted to hit or hex something.

"We are Sacred Twenty-Eight, Thor! I have to continue to show the rest of society that, despite everything that has happened over the last ten years, we are doing well. How am I expected to compete with the likes of Narcissa Malfoy on the pittance you give me?" Katrina demanded, her eyes flashing angrily at him.

"Don't compete! Get pregnant. Start popping out whelps: more than one, and you'll have bested Narcissa Malfoy in the only way that truly matters," Thorfinn told her coldly. This was an old argument, one they had fought over many times.

"And what am I to tell Libatius Twilfitt next week at my fitting? The Ministry's Annual Hallowe'en Ball is only three weeks away."

Thorfinn ground his teeth. Katrina was impossible. He turned around to face the spray of water and scrubbed his face with his hands. Slightly calmer, he wrenched the knob on the shower, turning it off, and faced her again.

"It will be in your vault tomorrow," Thorfinn snapped at her as he exited the shower. He didn't chide her for her behaviour; he knew she'd used him, but he'd used her just the same.

They didn't bother to exchange goodbyes before she left his suite.

Picking his wand off the dressing table, he flicked it to dry himself, then left the bathroom to get dressed. He had never been gladder that Katrina had insisted on separate bedrooms. She infuriated him, but there was nothing he could do about it: Katrina had been foisted upon him by both his father and the Dark Lord, and Thorfinn had not been in a position to refuse their demands. Since he had been eager to start a family, he had overlooked the lack of it being a love match, hoping love would grow between them with time, and married the witch. But their marriage had only ever been a barren, unhappy union.

Once dressed, Thorfinn stormed outside past the wards. He turned and glared at his childhood home, Rowle Rock, before Apparating to the Ministry.

When Thorfinn first sat down in his office, he was greeted with a departmental memo regarding a new marriage law. Both he and Katrina were pure-bloods, which meant he would have to find a second wife. But that was the least of his concerns. He worried more about the amount of work, organization, and human resources this new law would require.

His Aurors were already working overtime. He would need to appeal to the Minister and the Wizengamot for more funds to hire more people. He groaned. Dealing with Malfoy was always such a chore.

Many hours later, while he was in the Atrium leaving for home, his Dark Mark burned. It didn't burn as often as it used to, but the Dark Lord still used it when it suited him. Thorfinn sighed quietly and closed his eyes, preparing himself mentally to face his master.

Opening his eyes, he touched his wand to his Dark Mark and was instantly Apparated to the Chief Warlock's office on the tenth level of the Ministry.

As soon as he appeared, Thorfinn dropped to one knee and bowed his head, waiting for his master to acknowledge him.

"Rise, Rowle," the Dark Lord bid.

Thorfinn rose to find the Dark Lord seated behind a large, ornate wood desk. The same desk Ulick Gamp used in his days as Minister back during the early eighteenth century.

The Dark Lord gestured to the black-leather club chair opposite him, and Thorfinn slouched in the chair, his customary, unconcerned look on his face. Since the Dark Lord was much less willing to kill his Death Eaters now that he ruled wizarding Britain, Thorfinn could afford to show how relaxed he was to his master.

"How may I be of service, my Lord?" Thorfinn asked as he met the Dark Lord's red-eyed gaze.

Sensing the subtle penetration of the Dark Lord's mind, Thorfinn spun forward images of his day, and because he knew the Dark Lord would ask, he showed him the memory of Katrina on her knees, sucking his cock dry.

The Dark Lord's mouth turned up, and his eyes crinkled briefly. "You enjoy holding power over your witch, don't you Rowle?"

Thorfinn smirked and nodded. He would let the Dark Lord come to his own conclusions based on whatever he saw in Thorfinn's mind. The Dark Lord enjoyed thinking all of his Death Eaters wanted to be like him: depraved and desiring power at the cost of everything else.

"With the new law, your current wife will need to be set aside. She was a Selwyn, a lesser branch than Xanthus'," The Dark Lord stated as he leaned his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers. "The last one alive of her immediate line."

"Yes, my Lord." Thorfinn swallowed; the Dark Lord's vast knowledge of all his subjects was always intimidating.

The Dark Lord nodded. "Well, you can kick her out or, if you'd like, continue to house her while she awaits her petitions. I care not what becomes of her. However, for you, I have a certain replacement in mind: an Arithmancer, who is quite brilliant but needs a firm hand. I want you to be that firm hand."

"Thank you, my Lord." Thorfinn waited in deference for the Dark Lord to reveal the name of the Arithmancer, his future wife.

"You will petition for Hermione Granger," the Dark Lord ordered with a small smirk.

Thorfinn furrowed his brows, "The Mudblood? Potter's Mudblood?"

"The very same. She's been living with the remaining Weasley family and works under Snape and Draco Malfoy in the Research Center. She's the one behind the numbers that resulted in the new law, actually. Not that she's aware of it." The Dark Lord laughed; it was a high-pitched and cold and sounded like a knife being dragged across a chalkboard.

Thorfinn internally cringed but, outwardly, smirked as expected.

"I understand the great sacrifice I'm asking you, to sully yourself with such filth, but as I said, she needs a firm hand. One you are uniquely qualified to provide."

Thorfinn didn't have the same fanatic opinion about blood purity as most pure-bloods he knew. Don't get him wrong. He was thankful he was a pure-blood and of how his status afforded him a place in the upper echelon of society. But he'd known a lot of half-bloods and Mudbloods during his years in the Quidditch leagues, and they'd been just as good at Quidditch as the pure-bloods. Even as a Slytherin, he hadn't cared that much about blood status. What he had cared about was winning the Quidditch Cup.

"I shall petition for the witch as my Lord wishes," Thorfinn replied, his indifference coming across as unwavering obedience. "My own wife has had trouble conceiving. Hopefully, the Mudblood will give me an heir."

"See that you do." The Dark Lord waved his hand in dismissal. "You may leave."

Thorfinn gave the Dark Lord a deep bow and then left the room.

On the way to the lift, Thorfinn thought about stopping at the Marriages, Births, and Deaths Department to start his petition for the Granger woman. But it was late, well after six in the evening, and he reckoned the office would be closed anyway.

There would be time enough later in the week to submit his petition. He had six months, but Thorfinn knew it would displease the Dark Lord if he waited too long.

Thorfinn sighed. It had been a long day.

As he prepared himself to Apparate home, he could only hope Katrina would be making herself scarce. She usually did after she asked for large sums of money, but if she were in a good mood, she may want to spend the evening in his company. Thorfinn didn't want to deal with her after the day he'd had.

He thought about the Dark Lord's latest order. He would love to be done with Katrina, and now he could, but he had made a vow to care for her and would do so as long as she was his wife. He just hoped her new husband could keep her in the style she thought she deserved.

What Thorfinn couldn't figure out was why the Dark Lord wasn't concerned about Katrina. She was a pure-blood, Sacred Twenty-Eight even. Shouldn't he be concerned with her blood being passed on? Or was he confident there were plenty of half-blood and Mudblood men who would petition for her?

Was that part of the Arithmancy equation Granger had been working on? Maybe pure-blood couples were finding it more difficult to have children? Thorfinn thought back on how, over the last year, none of his fellow pure-bloods had become parents. In fact, he was sure only a handful of children had been born to his acquaintances in the last ten years. It made him wonder if half-bloods or Mudbloods were also having so few children. If all his questions could be answered by Granger's work, Thorfinn wanted to know about it.

Thorfinn was suddenly curious as to what the current population numbers were. How many pure-bloods were left in wizarding Britain? Or half-bloods? He knew the war had taken out a lot of the Mudblood population, but since the separation of the worlds, Mudbloods were brought in as infants and adopted by pure-blood families. Or, at least, that was the line the wizarding public was being fed. Maybe there weren't that many Mudblood children being born either?

Thorfinn could only hope that this marriage law would fix the birth rate in wizarding Britain. And if Granger spent fewer galleons than Katrina did, all the better for him.

Chapter Text

Hermione trudged towards work, dread caging her in worry, tightening around her wrists and ankles. She knew the data she had been working on caused this law to come into effect. Her old self would have railed and ranted in the streets. Done anything but accept becoming a broodmare. But now she found herself imagining the type who would want to marry her: centenarians still in need of a match, or worse, sadistic Death Eaters wanting a Mudblood plaything. She shuddered as she walked into the Ministry.

The Ministry was abuzz with activity, much busier than it had been in weeks. While memos and petitions swooped about, Hermione had to fight her way through the crowds of people coming in through the fireplaces. She sighed in relief when she finally made it into a lift.

Her department held the same energy as the rest of the Ministry. As soon as she sat down in her cubicle, Snape tossed multiple data sets onto her desk to input into her calculations.

All day she worked, trying to refine the numbers, but she wasn't having any luck. Perhaps once information from the new marriages and the resulting births arrived, the additional data would provide clarification to the murky results she was getting now. There was an outside factor, a 'Factor Z' as Snape coined, influencing everything. But Hermione couldn't figure out what it was. She had punched in everything she could think of: drought, famine, war. None of them influenced the numbers the way this 'Factor Z' did.

At the end of her shift, Hermione's brain hurt, and Factor Z still eluded her. None of the new data had worked, no matter the combination, no matter how much she had begged it. Her next step would have to be a question-and-answer session with Snape and possibly Draco Malfoy. Maybe they knew something she didn't.

When she arrived home, she found Ginny sobbing on the couch. Percy wasn't home yet, but George was, and he was attempting to comfort her by telling jokes, which was only causing her to sob harder.

"What's the matter?" Hermione asked, tossing her cloak and bag on a nearby chair, then rushing over.

"He's horrific!" Ginny cried and shoved a piece of parchment at Hermione.

Hermione took it and saw that it was a petition for Ginny's hand in marriage from a Tristan Bulstrode.

"Bulstrode? Aren't they pure-bloods?" Hermione asked.

"Nah, they have a grandmother that is Muggleborn," George replied. He gave up on his jokes and sat next to Ginny, wrapping her in a hug. Hermione rather thought he should have tried that to begin with.

Hermione read over the parchment. Bulstrode was thirty-nine, never married, worked as an Auror...and was, oh Merlin, a Death Eater. She flipped over the sheet to find a list of his physical attributes, personal interests, and an attached photo.

"He earned great marks on his NEWTs, enjoys Quidditch, and he's not bad looking," Hermione remarked. And he wasn't. He had dark, wavy, shoulder-length hair, and his clean-shaven face showcased his regal features. His light green eyes stood out in the photo, but the smirk that played across his face made him look cruel.

"He's a Death Eater!" Ginny shouted and renewed her cries.

Hermione sat on the other side of Ginny, hugging her tight. "Oh, Ginny. This is only your first one. I doubt they'll all be from Death Eaters. I'm sure one is on the way as I speak," Hermione said, trying to reassure, not just Ginny, but herself.

It had been close to a week, and Ginny hadn't received another petition. She was beginning to panic. She walked around the apartment in a daze with frequent bouts of crying.

Ginny used to be so fierce. Maybe this was what war and living under an evil dictator for ten years did. Hermione didn't know, but she was growing weary of listening to her. Hermione had her own problems.

Hermione had not received a single petition even though both George and Percy swore up and down they had petitioned for her. This meant the Ministry was blocking certain petitions for her, specifically. Hermione was terrified of the possibility that the Dark Lord wanted her taken into Ministry custody—euphemism for the Ministry-owned whorehouse—or worse, he wanted her for himself. Her anxiety went through the roof at the thought.

Maybe she was overthinking things. If the Ministry wouldn't accept George's or Percy's petitions, maybe she only needed to find the right person they would accept?

Walking past an eager flock of unopened office memos, she knocked lightly on Snape's closed office door. Odd. He usually kept it open when alone.

"Enter," he drawled.

As Hermione opened the door, Snape glanced up from the parchment in front of him. He sighed when the memos flew into his office and piled onto his desk.

"Yes, Miss Granger," he said in irritation.

Hermione hid her trembling hands behind her back and squared her shoulders. "Sir, I was wondering if we could chat for a moment. It's a delicate matter."

"Come in, then," Snape sighed as he tossed down his quill.

Hermione entered the office quickly and then shut the door. She strode to his desk but didn't sit until he gestured for her to do so.

Snape leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

Hermione took a moment to get a handle on her nerves until he made a get-on-with-it gesture.

"Sir, as you know, the Matrimonial Union Statute states—"

"I don't have time for prattle. Get to the precise point," he drawled.

"Yes, of course... I...ummm... I haven't—"

"Spit it out," Snape snapped.

"Wouldyoupetitionforme?" Her face warmed, and she looked down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap.

"Miss Granger, repeat what you just said, this time slower. And try not to sound as if you've taken one too many Wide-Eyed Potions."

Hermione took a deep breath and, still not looking at him, asked, "Would you petition for me?"

If possible, Snape's office grew even quieter. She couldn't stand the silence any longer and lifted her head.

Snape was staring straight at her, but his face gave nothing away.

"I am sorry, Miss Granger. I am ineligible to petition for you," Snape said quietly, a hint of regret cracking his austere expression.

"But I read the law. It only requires a different blood status," she stressed, her voice getting more shrill. "I'm a Mudblood; you're half-blood: that's the difference!"

"In this case, not different enough. The law will officially be amended during the next Wizengamot session. The Ministry wants Mudbloods to marry pure-bloods. End of story."

Hermione dropped her head into her hands. "But that doesn't make any sense," she moaned, fear sinking her heart as an image of the Dark Lord's red eyes flashed in her mind. "Both Percy's and George's petitions were denied."

"I suggest appealing to a pure-blood, one with strong loyalties to the Dark Lord," he offered. "Perhaps the Dark Lord doesn't want to breed dissent."

"Who? Who else is there?"

"Draco," he said matter-of-factly.

Hermione shook her head, thinking back on Draco's rejection. "I'm fairly certain he'd rather shag, let alone marry, anyone else but me."

"You think too little of yourself, Miss Granger. And Draco won't be able to use his father's influence to escape this law. He must set aside his wife, and he's not a fool: better the devil you know than the devil you don't. Draco can't escape the law completely, but he will have more say about who he'll have to marry."

"And what of you? Who will you petition?" Hermione asked, forgetting whom she was speaking to.

Snape raised an eyebrow.

Hermione felt herself begin to colour. "Oh, sir, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to pry..."

"It's close to the end of the day. You should hurry if you don't want to miss Draco," Snape said, offering her a reason to make a quick exit."

Hermione bobbed her head. "Thank you, sir. Have a good evening," she replied hurriedly. Then she sprinted out of his office.

If she had to marry a pure-blood, Malfoy was her best bet. She couldn't think of any other pure-bloods she was on good terms with. If she couldn't find someone to petition for her, her only choices would be the Ministry-backed whorehouse or death. Hermione would rather choose death than allow herself to be fucked by anyone who wanted to.

She found Malfoy still in his office, his door open. He played with a practice Snitch as he often did when he was thinking. She understood the compulsion, also liking to keep her hands busy while she thought through a problem.

"Malfoy? Do you have a moment?"

"Granger," he said, surprise clear on his face. "What can I do for you?"

Hermione entered his office and shut the door. She reddened at his lifted eyebrow.

He waved his hand motioning for her to choose a chair across from him.

She eased into a seat and set her hands on her lap. Malfoy wasn't as intimidating as Snape, probably because they grew up together. The memory of her punching him flitted through her mind, but she managed to quell a smile at the thought.

"I need help," Hermione began. "It's about the Matrimonial Union Statute."

"Bloody law," Malfoy grumbled.

Hermione almost grinned.

"Yes, well, I haven't gotten any petitions. And I was wondering if—"

"You were wondering what?"

"If you would petition for me."


Hermione nodded.

"Me? You want me to petition for you?"

Hermione couldn't make herself meet his eyes. This was so mortifying.

"Can't, Granger."

"What do you mean you can't? You're a pure-blood! I'm a Mudblood! You're loyal to the Dark Lord. It's what they want!"

"You are spoken for already. Orders from the Dark Lord himself," Malfoy told her quietly. He didn't sound very happy about it.

"Wh-What does that mean?" she asked, feeling she might lose what little lunch she had been able to get down.

"It means the Dark Lord has already decided your fate, and I'm not it."

"It doesn't mean Madam Cresswell does it?" Hermione could feel a shiver of fear run through her at just mentioning the name of the brothel manageress.

"Merlin, no! Gods, Granger." Malfoy shuddered. "Despite your low birth, the Dark Lord does value your brain and Arithmancy skills."

Hermione felt her stomach sink further. Oh, gods, let it not be the Dark Lord. She'd prefer almost anyone more than him.

"Then who is it? Who has the Dark Lord picked to marry me?"

"I don't know. I'm a little surprised whoever it is hasn't petitioned already. Not a good way to get in the Dark Lord's graces," Malfoy muttered.

Hermione couldn't decide if the Dark Lord was only playing with her and planned on marrying her himself, or if the wizard decided for her was only a massive arse. It was killing her not knowing what was going to happen.

"Thanks, Malfoy," she mumbled as she left his office.

All she could do was wait.

It had been three weeks since the announcement of the new marriage law, and Hermione was on tenterhooks. She still hadn't received a petition. She was barely able to eat or sleep, and her work was suffering as a result. She was glad that Snape and Malfoy were being understanding. In fact, Snape had sent her home early several times in the last week because he caught her staring at a wall mindlessly.

While lying in bed, she fiddled with a Muggle Rubik's cube, contemplating what was likely to happen to her. She flipped the cube around in her hands deftly, moving sides and squares around in a set pattern. Every time she solved it, but it brought her little satisfaction.

She rolled out of bed, unhappy it was a Monday. Another day of nerves and trepidation. What if it her petitioner was Lucius Malfoy? Or Antonin Dolohov? Or, Merlin forbid, the Dark Lord. All had tried to kill her in the past, in fact, she still bears scars because of each of them.

She shook her head as she got into the shower. It won't do to dwell on it now, she thought to herself as she had dozens of times since the law was announced. Closing her eyes, she let the hot water wash away her worries.

"'Mione! You've got mail!" George shouted from the kitchen as Hermione exited the bathroom.

This was it. This was her petition. She was sure of it.

She ran to the kitchen in just her towel, her wet hair dripping down her back. She tore the envelope out of George's hand and ripped it open.

Sure enough, it was her petition. The person who petitioned for her was Thorfinn Rowle: Death Eater, Head of the Aurory, and attempted murderer of Hermione, twice over. She felt faint and swayed on her feet.

George grabbed her under her arms, and she leaned back against his chest as she tried to catch her breath.

"Nonono," she whispered as she read the parchment in front of her that listed all of Rowle's associations and his background.

She turned the parchment over to see a photo of the man. He was a hulking brute with dirty-blond hair that hung past his shoulders. He didn't smile, but his dark-blue eyes seemed to pierce Hermione's soul with their devil-may-care gleam. She tried her damnedest to ignore the truth that he was, in fact, gorgeous.

Hermione dropped the parchment to the floor and turned in George's embrace, sobbing into his chest. This was horrific. Sure, Ginny had been matched to a Death Eater, too, one she refused to even meet with. But Hermione had been matched with one of the Dark Lord's Inner Circle, one of the worst, meanest Death Eaters out there. And one who had tried to kill her, not once, but twice.

Memories of that last altercation raced through her head. How she had protected both Harry and Ron in that Muggle cafe, casting a Memory Charm on both Rowle and Dolohov. Memory Charms could be reversed. What if Rowle remembered?

She knew it was going to be bad; she knew she should be thankful it wasn't the Dark Lord himself, but she still felt as if her life was over.

As George offered comforting shushing noises while patting her wet back, Hermione decided she would have to speak with Malfoy again. Maybe he could help her? Why did it have to be Rowle?

The first thing Hermione did after she arrived at work was find and corner Malfoy.

"Malfoy, you have to help me. I cannot marry him!" Hermione implored, grabbing onto his sleeve.

Malfoy yanked his arm free and then ushered her into his office, closing the door. "Whom can't you marry, Granger? Beggars can't be choosers."

Hermione growled. "Rowle! He's nearly killed me on two occasions! It's worse than asking me to marry Blaise Zabini or Lu—er... The point is, he's vile and I can't marry him!" She could kick herself for almost mentioning Malfoy's father.

Malfoy surprised her when he chuckled. "Were you about to say my father?"

Hermione blushed and looked down at her clenched hands. She seemed to be doing that a lot lately.

"Can you intercede on my behalf? Please. Maybe, if you petition for me, the Dark Lord will allow it."

"I can't, Granger. Everyone has been given explicit orders not to pursue you. Rowle gets you as a reward. He's a sick fuck, and I'm sorry that the Dark Lord chose him for you. But he's not the worst. Mulciber or MacNair would have you dead within the month."

"I'd rather be dead," Hermione mumbled.

"Don't say that, Granger. If I think you're suicidal, I'll have to commit you to St Mungo's," Malfoy warned.

"Oh, no. Don't do that. I'm not really suicidal. At least not yet… And you're right: it could be worse. For a while, I thought the Dark Lord wanted to marry me." She laughed awkwardly.

Draco paled.

"But now, it's clear that's not the case. And I'm not giving up. I have one card left to play."

"Good luck, Granger."

"Thanks, Malfoy. You too."

She left Malfoy's office and headed straight for Snape's. If Malfoy couldn't help her, maybe Snape, a member of the inner circle, could. Maybe he would be able to get her an audience with the Dark Lord so she could plead her case.

Unfortunately, Snape wasn't in, and he would remain absent due to Death Eater business.

Every day Snape was away, she received numerous interdepartmental memos from Rowle and took to coming in late and leaving early, finishing work at home in order to avoid him.

Finally, over a week later on Wednesday, Snape returned.

Hermione rushed into his office and, not bothering with pleasantries, said, "Sir, I need an audience with the Dark Lord. He cannot expect me to marry Rowle!"

"He can and does," Snape drawled.

"But, sir, Rowle has attempted to kill me twice! Please just get me an audience, and I will plead my case. You don't have to do anything other than that."

"Are you sure you want to put yourself at the mercy of the Dark Lord?"

"Yes, positive."

Snape sighed. "I'll see what I can do."

Hermione shut her eyes for a moment in relief. The Dark Lord valued her, right? He wouldn't want her terrorized in her own home, unable to perform her work. At least, that's what she hoped.

Chapter Text

Thorfinn ran his hands through his hair in frustration. This Granger witch was being ridiculous. He'd petitioned for her over a week ago, and since then, she'd ignored every memo he'd sent to her. She was literally hiding from him. Just the other day, he'd watched her cast a Disillusionment Charm on herself so that she could escape.

He didn't want to marry the silly bint any more than she so obviously wanted to marry him. But he had orders to follow. This was the last day he would try to track her down at the Ministry. If she refused to talk to him, he would have to go to her home.

It had taken Thorfinn weeks to find the time to petition for her in the first place, and now, here she was playing this ridiculous game of cat and mouse. He just wanted to get this marriage over and done with so he could concentrate on his job. There were riots happening in many of the small wizarding hamlets that dotted the British Isles. Thankfully, Diagon Alley hadn't experienced any, but Thorfinn wasn't sure the peace in the alley would last.

The riots weren't only about this ridiculous marriage law but also about the birth rate in general. Magical babies weren't being born frequently enough. The last numbers Thorfinn had seen were that for every one hundred pregnancies only five of them produced viable, magical babies. The rest were either miscarriages, stillbirths, or squibs. It was becoming a dire problem. Thorfinn knew the marriage law would improve the birth rate, but the people weren't happy about the law either.

Right now, he was determined to corner his bride-to-be. Since he wasn't allowed in the Research Center, he stalked the corridors near the Research Center.

The first time he'd waltzed through the doors of the Research Center, he'd watched the Granger girl squeak like a mouse and run into Draco Malfoy's office. Then Snape had exited his office and told Thorfinn, in no uncertain terms, that he would not be allowed into the Research Center to distract one of his top employees—new marriage law or not.

And while Thorfinn was head of the Aurory, Snape was higher ranked in the inner circle and his former Head of House. Thorfinn was used to listening to him, and he didn't really want to get on Snape's bad side. So, Thorfinn had taken to lurking outside the Research Center whenever he had a spare moment.

He heard a muffled curse behind him and whirled around to find Granger scampering in the opposite direction. Her bushy hair flew behind her as Thorfinn hurried after her.

"Granger! Oi! Granger!"

He finally caught up to her in a deserted part of the corridor. Reaching out and gripping her arm above her elbow, he spun her around to face him.

"Let go of me, Rowle," Granger growled at him as she attempted to yank her arm free.

Thorfinn wasn't about to let her get away. He tightened his grip and pulled her closer.

"I don't think so, witch," Thorfinn snarled as he backed her against a wall. "We're going to have a chat, whether you want to or not."

He caged her in by placing both palms on the wall behind her. He could see she was breathing hard, and he worried she might pass out.

As he allowed her a moment to steady herself, he glanced down at her, taking in her baggy brown robes and frizzy hair. She certainly wasn't a beauty, but her cheeks were flushed and that added a certain charm to her appearance.

Granger took a deep breath and then bit out, "We have nothing to discuss."

Thorfinn threw his head back and laughed, crowding her space with his body even more. He was so much larger than her; she was only a slip of a thing. She didn't even come up to his shoulder, and he bet his fingers would touch if he wrapped his hands around her waist. But he had to admit, she was incredibly brave—or barmy—to talk to him in such a manner.

"I beg to differ, my darling bride-to-be," Thorfinn smirked, turning on the charm.

Granger's face reddened, and he could see her hair crackling with magic as she attempted to control her emotions. He'd always liked a feisty woman. He also liked her body: small and petite.

"I haven't accepted your petition," Granger spat and glared at him. She shoved at his chest with her hands, but he didn't budge an inch.

"You will," Thorfinn assured her, grabbing her wrists with his left hand and pinning them against the wall above her head. He loved using his size and strength to intimidate. Although, she didn't look very intimidated at the moment.

"I will not," she gritted out. "You've tried to murder me twice!"

"Meh, that's all in the past. Now we're all on the same side," he grinned at her, playing with a curl of her hair near her face with his right hand. He pulled it, watching it spring back.

He knew she couldn't say she disagreed. That would be admitting she didn't support the Dark Lord, which would be a death sentence. And as the Head of the Aurory, he'd be required to arrest her for prosecution.

"Besides, would you prefer someone like MacNair or Mulciber? The Dark Lord could just have easily given you to one of them, and he still could," Thorfinn said, the distaste heavy in his mouth. He might be a Death Eater, but he wasn't anything like those two sick fucks.

"Oh, gods, no," Granger breathed, her body going as slack as a doll's against his own.

Thorfinn smirked and released her wrists. He moved to touch her face and tuck the strand of hair he had been playing with behind her ear when quicker than he imagined possible—


Thorfinn was startled into stepping back as a flock of birds flapped all around him. He swatted his hand as the birds crowded his face.

While he was distracted, Granger ducked away and ran up the corridor, quickly disappearing around a corner.

He might work to keep his body fit, but he had been out of the field for several years. He felt ashamed of how slow his reaction time had become. He'd have to remedy that if this was the behaviour he'd have to expect from his soon-to-be wife. He couldn't help but grin.

Thorfinn returned home that evening just as Katrina was leaving. After the marriage law had first passed, he had let her know she could stay at Rowle Rock for as long as she needed, but since then, he'd been seeing less and less of her.

A week after the law, he'd made the mistake of asking her how she was doing and had suffered through her bitching at him that she was fine and wanted to be left alone. So he left her alone.

But he had grown curious and went to the Marriages, Births, and Deaths Department to learn how many petitions had been placed for her. None. Not a one.

He had hoped she'd be long gone before Granger moved in, but clearly, that wouldn't be the case. First, he'd see how the two witches got along. If they didn't, he'd have to figure something else out.

He sighed as he settled into a chair in his study and poured himself a Firewhisky. He didn't hate Katrina; he only despised that she spent every knut he gave her. Every single one. He was generous with his allowance to her, but he wasn't a Malfoy. He didn't have enough wealth to last the next fifteen generations. He had to conserve what he could for the future and build upon it, if possible.

The truth of the matter was that the wizarding economy was shit and had been shit since the Dark Lord took over. Not that it had been booming before, but at least then, he was able to add to the family vault by playing for the professional Quidditch leagues. But the Ministry paid shit. Even as Head of the Aurory, he was earning a fraction of what he had as a Beater. It was a joke when one considered how much he did. He laughed humorlessly to himself. But it wasn't like he was going to ask the Dark Lord for a raise.

The following day, Thorfinn was summoned to the Dark Lord's office via his Dark Mark. When he arrived, he found Granger standing in front of the Dark Lord. She wore the same drab robes he'd last seen her in. Was that all she ever wore? Then he wondered if she hid some very naughty knickers under those very plain and boring robes. He hoped so.

Granger was so focused on the Dark Lord that she hadn't heard him Apparate in. He leaned up against a wall and listened.

"...can't marry him, my lord."

The Dark Lord chuckled. "And why is that, Miss Granger?"

"He's a brute. And he's tried to murder me... Twice!"

Her hair crackled with magic as it had in the corridor yesterday. Thorfinn wondered if it always did that when she was upset. He couldn't remember the last time he saw a person, who wasn't being tortured, showing so much emotion in front of the Dark Lord. It just wasn't done. He had to admire Granger's bravery for doing so. Or was it stupidity? He wasn't quite sure. The girl was rumoured to be very intelligent.

"If not Rowle, whom would you rather I select?" The Dark Lord narrowed his eyes at Granger. "And you better not mention a Weasley if you want either of them to be alive tomorrow."

Granger froze and stared wide-eyed at the Dark Lord. She gulped and nodded, her huge hair bobbing with her.

Thorfinn liked her hair. It was wild and messy and free, just like he imagined her spirit must be.

"P-Professor Snape or Draco Malfoy would be fine, my lord," Granger said quietly. She met the Dark Lord's gaze directly, and again, Thorfinn was impressed. Not many were strong enough to endure the Dark Lord's Legilimency or daft enough to risk him slipping into their minds.

"Severus? You expect me to wed you to him? He's only a half-blood," the Dark Lord scoffed, sneering.

"And while Draco would be a good candidate, Lucius has begged a favour that Draco would, at least, marry a half-blood. So he is also off the table. Besides, both Severus and Draco are quite partial to you, Miss Granger. I need someone who can guide you with a firm hand, who can be a proper husband, who will wear the trousers, as it were." He dropped his feet off the desk and leaned forward in his seat, steepling his fingers in front of him.

Thorfinn felt pride swell in his chest. The Dark Lord thought highly of him. That's why he had been chosen. He didn't dwell on why what the Dark Lord thought of him mattered. That would only dig up similar feelings he had for his father's approval, and he had worked hard to bury them over the last six years since his father had been killed.

"Maybe, you'd prefer MacNair. I can try to restrain him, but his sexual leanings are…bloody, to say the least," the Dark Lord warned, grinning.

Thorfinn smirked. He'd said the same thing to her yesterday.

Granger shuddered in response to the Dark Lord's suggestion. The magic hissing and popping about her hair strengthening.

Thorfinn had a fleeting urge of burying his hands in her hair, but he shook his head at the reckless thought. She hadn't even agreed to marry him yet.

"Maybe just not someone who has attempted to murder me," Granger proposed, her voice growing more shrill.

"Which of my Death Eaters have you not engaged in battle with, my dear?" the Dark Lord drawled. He leaned back in his chair again as he contemplated the witch in front of him.

Thorfinn already knew the answer. None. At least none of the Inner Circle, none the Dark Lord was willing to gift such a prize as Granger. And while Thorfinn didn't particularly want to marry her, he did recognize that she was a great gift the Dark Lord was giving him. A gift to be protected and coddled and kept so she could continue her work for his lord.

Granger's shoulders slumped. She'd come to the same conclusion, it appeared.

"If you truly don't want to marry Rowle, you can always go down to Madam Cresswell's brothel. It's where all the unwanted or stubborn witches will go," the Dark Lord delivered his ultimatum with a voice of steel.

Granger trembled with growing fear.

Thorfinn went to step forward, but the Dark Lord held up his hand, stopping him.

"Rowle has promised to be good to you. Haven't you, Rowle?" The Dark Lord smirked when she whipped around to stare at Thorfinn, her eyes sparking.

"If you spend fewer Galleons than my current wife, you'll be an improvement," Thorfinn shrugged guilelessly.

Granger narrowed her eyes at him. "Why don't you use all your newfound savings to find someone else to marry and have your brats," she spat.

"Miss Granger," the Dark Lord hissed.

Thorfinn enjoyed how wide her eyes became.

"M-My lord, I apologize. That was rude of me," Granger stumbled to say.

The Dark Lord tapped his wand against his open palm. Thorfinn knew the gesture well.

"My lord, allow me to take my bride-to-be away. You have larger concerns to deal with than one Mudblood. I'll make her see reason and accept my petition," Thorfinn said with a deep bow. He hadn't survived this long without learning how to grovel with the best of them.

"Go, take her. You best get her to agree by any means necessary," the Dark Lord threatened, again tapping his wand against his hand. "Leave."

Granger gulped, curtsied, and scooted out of the office. Smirking, Thorfinn offered his own bow and followed her out.

"Have a good day, Thor," Bev, the Dark Lord's secretary breathed. She was always flirting with him, but if she was a day younger than ninety-five, Thorfinn would be shocked.

Thorfinn ignored Bev's greeting and sprinted out of the reception area. "Granger, wait up!"

She stopped abruptly but didn't turn around to face him. Together, they walked to the lifts.

"You didn't have to do that," she muttered so quietly Thorfinn wasn't sure he heard her correctly.

"Oh, you mean save your arse from the Dark Lord? All in a day's work, love," Thorfinn replied with a grin.

"Listen, Granger, I don't care what you want for a wedding, or clothes, or whatever. Pick whatever you want. Let's just pick a date and get this thing done."

"I haven't even accepted your petition," Granger growled as she entered an empty lift. Thorfinn followed right behind her.

"But you're going to, right? I mean...would you really rather end up at the whorehouse? You're a smart girl, Granger. You know what goes on there."

"I am nearly thirty. I'm not a girl," she said coldly.

"Fine, you are an intelligent woman. But your smarts won't protect you from the likes of Mulciber, MacNair, the Carrow twins… Need I go on?"

"Alright, I get it. I'll accept your petition... Just give me a little more time."

Granger darted her gaze away from his, and Thorfinn knew she was lying. But he wasn't sure about what. She had no other options. She had to marry him, or she would go to the whorehouse. He knew she wouldn't pick the whorehouse, so what was she lying about?

"I'll give you a week. Think about it; come to terms with it; cry with your friends about it. I don't care. But, you'll be accepting my petition next week, or I'll track you down and make you."

"Make me?" Granger scoffed, her nose flaring with anger.

Rowle pushed the stop button for the lift, and it came to a screeching halt. He pushed Granger into the back wall, pressing his body into hers. Moving her hair aside, he nuzzled the crook of her shoulder and inhaled deeply. He liked the way she fit against him. He liked her scent even more. Maybe marriage to the Mudblood wouldn't be so bad?

"Yes, I can," he whispered into her ear, "if that's what you want." Then he nibbled on her earlobe, trailing kisses down her throat.

Thorfinn pulled back, pleased to see the effect he had on her. She was flushed, and while her hands had started out pushing at his chest, they now clutched at his robes as if she didn't want to let go.

His head still lowered, Thorfinn grinned at her, his hair curtaining them in their own little world. Granger's eyes were closed, and her head rested against the wall of the lift. She looked like she was enjoying herself.

He whirled around and hit the stop button again to resume the lift. He could hear her panting behind him, but he ignored her. He was already half-aroused just by one little ear nibble and a few kisses. This witch was either going to be the best thing that ever happened to him or the death of him.

Chapter Text

Hermione was shaken after her meeting with the Dark Lord and her subsequent encounter with Rowle in the lift. Rowle both disgusted and intrigued her. She didn't like how her body had responded to his at all. It couldn't happen again. She refused to allow it to happen again.

When she arrived home that evening, she found George and Ginny running around their flat, frantically hiding clutter in the back of the cabinets, under the settee cushions, and behind a potted plant.

"What's going on?" Hermione asked.

Nobody answered her. She set down her messenger bag and didn't see Percy's briefcase. Likely, he wasn't home from work yet. Hermione had been hoping for a quiet evening; maybe a glass of wine. She sighed.

"What's going on?" Hermione asked again, now irritated. This time Ginny stopped long enough to answer.

"Bulstrode will be here in fifteen minutes," Ginny snapped. "Get dressed. Put on something nice."

"Why do I have to wear something nice for your fiancé," Hermione mumbled as she made her way to her room, dodging George on the way.

As she rifled through her wardrobe, she thought about George's and Percy's search for a wife. She hadn't spoken to them about it in a while. She hoped they were able to find someone. The law wasn't clear on what happened to wizards who were unable to find matches. She assumed they would be sent to Azkaban.

After tugging off her boring, brown Ministry robes, she pulled on her equally boring, blue dress robes. There weren't many reasons to dress smartly since the war, but Hermione liked to be prepared.

When she returned to the sitting room, Ginny was nowhere to be seen. Hermione assumed she had gone to get ready herself.

"I thought Ginny was still refusing to meet with Bulstrode," Hermione commented to George, who was fluffing a pillow on the settee. Considering the way he was pounding the pillow with his fists, either he had never fluffed a pillow in his life or something had him really wound up.

"She was," he grunted as he pounded particularly hard. "But then she got an owl from him saying he'd be by whether she liked it or not. Threw her into a right tizzy."

Frowning, Hermione hummed. Just then there was a knock on the front door.

"I'll get it," George said, giving the pillow one last good 'fluff.'

Hermione peered down the corridor to check on Ginny, but the bathroom door was still closed. She went over and knocked on it lightly.

"Ginny, Bulstrode's here." Hermione heard a moan, so she knocked a little louder. "You alright?"

"Yeah, be right out," Ginny answered, sounding sick.

Hermione had hoped with time that Ginny would come to terms with her match. But it was clear she hadn't.

Over the last few weeks, a crazy idea had been brewing in the back of Hermione's mind. But maybe it wasn't so crazy. She'd have to ponder it some more after their guest left.

She could hear the low voices of George and Bulstrode in the sitting room. As she raised her hand to knock again, the bathroom door opened.

Ginny stood there in her best robes with her hair in a lovely little updo that Hermione could only attain with copious amounts of Sleekeazy's Hair Potion.

"You look beautiful," Hermione said as she smiled at her friend.

"Thanks…" Ginny said, smiling weakly. Then she narrowed her eyes. "Too bad it's for that pig."

Ginny straightened her back and swept past Hermione. After a few steps, she stopped and stretched out her arm, waiting for Hermione to take her hand. Hand in hand, they entered the sitting room.

Standing next to George, Bulstrode looked very pretty. He had dark, wavy hair without a hint of grey. His eyes were a nice light-green colour, and his mouth was full and a lovely shade of rose. But then he smirked.

Hermione could see untold amounts of cruelty on his face. She shivered and felt a wave of sorrow pass over her knowing that Ginny was going to be stuck with a man like him.

"You must be Ginevra." Bulstrode's smirk deepened as he stole the hand Hermione had been holding, kissing its back. Not letting go, he then used it to drag Ginny closer.

Hermione watched as Ginny's eyes widen when she realized he intended to kiss her. Ginny ducked her head and yanked her hand from his grasp.

"Bulstrode," Ginny muttered in greeting as she fled towards the armchair, sitting down.

"Ginevra, please call me Tristan," he said smoothly.

"I'd rather not," Ginny snapped. "And if you call me Ginevra again, I'll hex you."

Tristan laughed and turned to George. "She's a spirited one. Like a dragon...or an unbroken mare."

Something about the way he spoke made a lump of dread form in Hermione's belly. She couldn't let Ginny marry this man. There was something extremely off about him.

"When shall we set the date, my sweet?" Bulstrode asked as he perched next to Ginny on the arm of her chair.

"I'm sorry, but...I've changed my mind," Ginny replied, leaning as far away from him as she could.

Bulstrode threw back his head and laughed.

Hermione exchanged an uneasy look with George. The lump of dread in her stomach turned into pure panic.

"Oh, you can't mean that dear, sweet, Ginevra," Bulstrode said as he reached to pet Ginny's head.

"Don't fucking touch me!" Ginny leapt from her chair and reached for her wand.

Bulstrode's demeanour changed instantly. He lunged, grabbing Ginny's throat and wand hand, shoving her against the wall.

"I'll touch you however I wish, you blood-traitor cunt." He punctuated the slur by slamming Ginny's head into the wall. "Do you understand?" Bulstrode hissed.

Hermione struggled to hold George back, needing to use every ounce of strength she had. The last thing they wanted was to get in trouble with the Death Eaters.

"Please," Hermione quietly pleaded with George. "If you attack him, you'll be thrown into Azkaban. We'll be left without you." It was an underhanded thing for Hermione to say, but she was desperate.

George gritted his teeth and cursed, the same pained expression he wore after Fred's death appearing on his face. He still hadn't gotten over being left behind. His body stilled, but the underlying tension was still there.

Tears in her eyes, Ginny was nodding along with whatever Bulstrode was whispering in her ear.

Hermione felt sick that she had given Ginny such a hard time about her match. Of course, any Death Eater was going to be a bad match.

The front door opened with a burst of colder air, and Percy stood in the doorway, taking in the scene.

"Am I interrupting something?" Percy asked calmly, but he couldn't completely hide his worry from Hermione.

Letting go of Ginny, Bulstrode turned around to see who had joined them. He glanced over at Hermione and George, George's barely contained violence clear. Then Bulstrode returned his gaze to Percy.

"No, I was just leaving. In six weeks, then, Ginevra," Bulstrode stated more than asked as he turned to face Ginny.

Ginny bobbed her head, tears trickling down her cheeks.

"Beautiful," Bulstrode crooned, leaning down and placing a kiss on her cheek. Without saying another word, he left, shoving past Percy.

"Oh, gods," Hermione moaned as soon as Percy shut the door behind Bulstrode. She rushed forward and pulled Ginny into a tight hug.

"I'm so sorry, Ginny. We'll figure out something else; I promise," Hermione murmured as she tried to comfort Ginny, who was now sobbing.

"H-H-He told me i-i-if I didn't accept he'd k-kill George!" Ginny wailed.

Hermione looked at George with wide, concerned eyes.

"Fucking ponce couldn't take me," George scoffed.

"He's a Death Eater; he has about a thousand friends ready to back him up," Hermione responded. She was still holding Ginny, soothingly rubbing her back. What a nightmare. Hermione was matched with her would be murderer, and Ginny was matched with a crazy, cruel monster.

"What are we going to do?" Ginny despaired.

"Survive," Percy stated. "We're going to survive.

Hermione still hadn't accepted Rowle's petition—and she wasn't going to if she could help it. It had been a week since her audience with the Dark Lord, and she was working on a plan.

George and Percy had it easy: they were pure-bloods and not Death Eaters. Most Mudblood or half-blood witches would be happy to have either of them. So, it wasn't a surprise to Hermione when she learnt that all the petitions George and Percy had sent out—besides the ones to her— had been accepted.

Out of the bunch, George decided on Ellie Cattermole, a frequent customer of the joke shop, who was several years younger than Hermione even. Percy had his eyes set on Susan Bones and was thrilled she'd accepted. She was the last of the Boneses, and while the family was no longer considered pure-blood, the Bones name still had recognition and power.

Hermione was actually a little surprised the Ministry had allowed Percy's match go through. Although, Percy had never been seen as a strong supporter of either side. Maybe the Ministry and the Dark Lord, only cared about high-risk cases, like hers.

George and Percy wouldn't marry until Hermione's and Ginny's situations were resolved. Two married couples and two single witches in the same cosy flat would make living arrangements too tight.

But Hermione had a plan, and it was an easy one: she was leaving wizarding Britain entirely, and she was taking Ginny with her.

Hermione spoke passable French so they would travel to France first. Then, once they had enough Muggle money, they would board a ship to the States. But first, she had to get them to France.

"Ginny, you have to come with me," Hermione said for what seemed like the hundredth time that week.

"No, I refuse to risk that fucker killing either of my brothers," Ginny responded tiredly. It was an old argument already.

Dinner was over. George and Hermione sat with Ginny on the settee in the sitting room, drinking Butterbeers, whilst Percy silently watched them argue from the armchair.

"Percy and I can take care of ourselves," George stressed. "Please, Ginny, go with Hermione."

After a week of saying nothing on the matter, Percy finally broke his silence. He stared at the fire as he spoke unable to meet anyone's eyes.

"I'd rather duel him, knowing I'd lose, than watch him torture you for years, Ginny. I want you to survive. Bulstrode would eventually kill you. It may not be next week or next year, but one day, he is going to snap. Go with Hermione," Percy implored her. "Between the two of you, you can protect yourselves and get away."

Hermione felt tears prick at her eyes. She was witnessing her family breaking apart. It might be for the best, but it was still hard to swallow.

Ginny had tears streaming down her face by the time Percy was finished. Percy was her paterfamilias, and Ginny had needed to hear what his opinion was before she could make her decision.

Ginny stood and knelt in front of Percy. Wrapping her arms around him, she cried into his sweater, knowing what he had said was true.

Hermione turned away and dried her eyes. She'd had enough tears. It was time to pack.

Rummaging through her wardrobe, Hermione was thankful that someone had saved her little, beaded bag. One day, out of the blue, it had appeared on her work desk. She didn't know who had left it, but she was thankful. With the restrictions on her magic, Hermione would have no hope of being able to recreate the complex charm. Her bag was the perfect thing to bring with them since they would need to travel light and might have to flee at a moment's notice.

Apparition within wizarding Britain wasn't an option, but Hermione was fairly certain once they reached France, they'd be able to Apparate if they had to. Their magical Trackers would only be able to monitor magic while they remained in the United Kingdom and Ireland. As long as that hadn't changed, and it likely hadn't given the Dark Lord's arrogance, Hermione felt comfortable leaving with no other means of transport.

Earlier in the week, Hermione had snuck into Muggle London during the middle of the night. First, she had found a Eurostar schedule. Next, she'd lurked in a crowded pub and sat for a while, building up her nerve. She'd felt awful for what she was about to do, but it was the only way.

Before she would be noticed, she'd stolen a woman's handbag and then hidden in the lavatory. After leaving the woman a few Galleons to replace what she took, Hermione sped out, shoving the woman's handbag into the arms of a passing server. Luckily, the woman had carried just enough cash to buy passage out of London.

"I can't speak French," Ginny complained as she packed her own bag, which would be placed inside Hermione's beaded bag once she was done.

"C'est facile. Je t'apprendrai," Hermione replied.

"What? See, this will never work!"

"I said it's easy and that I can teach you. But it shouldn't matter much. We won't be in France long, a couple of months at the most. And Paris is a huge tourist area. We can find you a job for English speakers."

Ginny sighed heavily but didn't say anything else.

That evening, they had one last dinner as a family and said their goodbyes. They each knew it was likely they'd never see each other again. As hard as it was for Ginny to leave the last of her brothers, it was just as hard for Hermione. The Weasleys had been her family for so long; she didn't have anyone left. She would have been happy to live with the Weasleys for the rest of her life, and she hated that she was once again being forced to go on the run.

"It's time to go," Hermione said, glancing down at her wristwatch. It was four in the morning, well past the time even establishments on Knockturn Alley would be open.

Ginny and she left their flat under the cover of darkness and walked toward the now-closed Leaky Cauldron. Even though the courtyard entrance between the Muggle and wizarding world had been blocked off, the Ministry had become lax about other things. A side alley, not far from the pub, backed a similar Muggle alley. The area was usually patrolled frequently, but ever since the marriage law had passed, Hermione had noticed fewer Aurors on Diagon Alley while walking to work.

Just as Hermione had hoped, the area was empty like it had been earlier in the week. Using a nearby downpipe, they climbed the brick wall and then jumped into a skip filled to the brim with refuse on the Muggle-side of London.

Hermione couldn't believe their good fortune; so far, everything was going as planned. The rest of their journey to France was just as unremarkable. Everything just worked, and Hermione was a bit shell-shocked when they arrived in Paris.

Ginny was just as stunned. Prior to the war, she hadn't spent much time in the Muggle world. It was all new to her: the modern looking train, the cars whizzing by, everyone walking around with a phone to their ear. The phones were even new to Hermione.

They made their way to the nearest Muggle hostel. Hermione was wary of attempting to join wizarding France. She didn't know what kind of propaganda machine the Dark Lord had going on internationally. She didn't want to step foot in wizarding France only to be apprehended and carted off to Azkaban or worse.

She considered herself and Ginny lucky for having made it out of wizarding Britain at all. She could only hope their luck would hold.

Hermione coughed again as she jiggled a paper cup, hoping someone would drop a few euros into it. She and Ginny had been in Paris for almost a month, and they were both very ill. They had found a small room to let. Madame Durand, the woman who owned the house, let rooms to other women who needed them. Most of their housemates panhandled like Hermione and Ginny or sold themselves.

A tall Muggle dropped some change in her cup, and Hermione whispered her thanks without meeting his gaze. Besides being incredibly exhausted from her illness, she felt humiliation. But she was only doing this until they had enough money to get to the States. That was the one goal in Hermione's mind: stay hidden, stay under any sort of magical radar, and get to the States.

She stayed out for a few more hours before she slowly made her way across town to home. Home, Hermione snorted. That house wasn't a home; it was a hellhole. Nothing was clean, not the rooms, the bathroom, and certainly not the kitchen. Ginny and Hermione shared their room with two other women. Eight women lived there total, and it was only a three-bedroom house. It was a hovel really.

Hermione stopped at a market for some bread and a little soup. Ginny needed the food; she was sicker than Hermione and hadn't been able to get out of bed that morning. After paying, Hermione placed most of the euros she'd earned that day in her beaded bag. The few left, she placed in her pocket to give to Madame Durand for rent. That was the deal. No weekly or monthly rent, she just had to give some of what she earned every day to Madame Durand. Hermione hoped what she had would be enough.

Hermione entered the house, and for once, it was blessedly quiet. But it was short-lived.

"Hermione," a thick, French accent called out.

Hermione flipped the light switch and saw Madame Durand sitting alone in the dark parlour.

"What have you for me?" Madame Durand asked, holding out her claw-like hand.

Walking over, Hermione dug into her pocket and pulled out the few bills and coins she could spare and dropped them onto Madame Durand's hand.

"That's all?" Madame Durand's tone was congenial, but Hermione heard a hint of distaste.

"I bought some soup at the market for Ginny. It'll help her feel better so she can go out tomorrow. We'll have more for you then."

"You better," Madame Durand threatened. Then she waved her hand, dismissing Hermione.

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief as she heard Madame Durand light a cigarette.

As distasteful as their current circumstances were, they couldn't afford to get on Madame Durand's bad side. They'd truly be homeless then. Hermione shuddered at the thought of living on the streets, especially with Ginny being in the condition she was in.

Hermione reached the room she shared with Ginny and heard a horrible hacking cough from inside. She stepped inside quickly and was pleased to see none of their other roommates were in; they were likely on the street turning tricks.

"Oh, Ginny, how are you?" Hermione asked, setting down the bag with the bread and soup. Kneeling beside the mattress she shared with Ginny, she placed her hand on Ginny's sweaty forehead. Ginny's fever had worsened.

"'Mione," Ginny rasped before she was seized by wracking coughs once more.

Hermione put her arm around Ginny's shoulders and lifted her up so she could eat. Then Hermione whipped out her wand and locked and warded the door. She did another diagnostic spell on Ginny, but it came back clean. Whatever was wrong with her, it wasn't a normal illness.

Hermione's own coughing started up again; she was convinced it was in sympathy to Ginny's.

"Ginny, you're running a higher fever. Should we try a Muggle hospital?" Hermione asked as she resettled Ginny on the pillows.

"And fuck up all the hard work we've done? I'm sure they're watching Muggle hospitals," Ginny complained. "I'll be better in a few days. I promise."

Hermione placed a cold flannel on Ginny's forehead and proceeded to help her eat some of the food. She ate far less than Hermione would have liked.

Chapter Text

"Find her!" the Dark Lord snarled as he threw another Cruciatus Curse at Thorfinn.

Thorfinn whimpered his way through the pain, trying his best not to scream while every nerve ending in his body burned. He writhed on the floor for what seemed like hours but was actually only minutes.

Finally, the Dark Lord relented.

Thorfinn panted on the floor for a moment. He hadn't been subjected to the Dark Lord's Crucio in years, and his body had grown used to not being tortured regularly. On shaky limbs, he forced himself to his knees, not wanting to be cursed again for showing weakness.

Bowing, Thorfinn pledged, "My lord, I will find her immediately."

"See that you do, Rowle," the Dark Lord threatened. "Leave me."

Trying not to vomit, Thorfinn stood and strode to the exit of Dark Lord's office. Once outside, he closed his eyes and slumped against a wall. It had taken all his remaining strength to walk out of the room rather than crawling out.

Setting down her morning cuppa, Bev asked from her desk, "Thor, shall I call someone?"

"I-I'll be fine," Thorfinn answered, wincing. His limbs shook from the effects of the torture curse. He'd be shaking for days with how many times the Dark Lord had cursed him. The worst part, it wasn't even Thorfinn's fault. Not really. How was he supposed to know Granger would be foolish enough to leave the country.

But she had. And she'd been missing for almost two months. Thorfinn had been discreetly looking into where she could have gone, not wanting to suffer the Dark Lord's wrath, but unfortunately, he'd only made his job harder: now, she could be almost anywhere. He hoped a conversation with one of the Weasleys would result in her whereabouts or, at the very least, her direction of travel. Thorfinn wasn't ready to die, especially over a dumb witch he was being forced to marry.

He took a deep breath and pushed away from the wall. He slowly made his way toward the Minister's office where Percy Weasley was an undersecretary. Percy Weasley had been a surprise. A year after the war, he'd gone to the Dark Lord and professed his allegiance to him. He'd claimed that he would have been disowned if his parents had found out his true loyalties, but now, that he was officially the paterfamilias, he was ready to take his place in the Dark Lord's ranks. Weasley must have been of some use during the war because the Dark Lord had branded him almost immediately and ordered him to spy on his remaining family. But since Granger has been missing for so long without a word, it seemed Weasley may have returned to his blood-traitor ways.

Thorfinn had never needed to speak at length with Weasley, mostly only communicating through written correspondence, on occasion, or chatting about mundane topics at parties. Thorfinn hoped Weasley would just tell him what he needed to know.

Edith Boot was the Keeper of the Keys to the Minister Malfoy's office. She guarded the outer office like a dragon guarded its hoard, keeping out anyone Malfoy or his undersecretaries didn't want to see. Thorfinn rarely had reason to see Malfoy; he mostly dealt directly with the Dark Lord. Since he was Head Auror, he hoped Boot would let him pass without an appointment.

"Ms Boot, you look better every time I see you," Thorfinn flirted.

"Auror Rowle." Boot batted her eyes up at him. She leaned on her elbows, showing him her generous cleavage. "What can I do for you?"

"I was hoping to speak with Percy Weasley. Is he in?" Rowle asked as he smirked down at her.

"I'm afraid not, Auror Rowle. Mr Weasley is still on his honeymoon, married Susan Bones around six weeks ago."

"Ah," Thorfinn uttered in reply, swearing internally. Weasley had left on his honeymoon around the same time Granger had disappeared. Either Weasley was ignorant of the fact Granger and his sister were missing or he had been clever enough to know he would need an alibi. Thorfinn's jaw clenched. Regardless, now, he'd have to track down the remaining Weasley.

"He'll be returning tomorrow," Boot informed him. "Do you want to make an appointment for then?"

"No thank you, my dear, but please, give him my congratulations."

Boot simpered up at him, and Thorfinn left, walking as tall as he could while fighting his lingering pain.

Striding into Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Thorfinn was immediately annoyed by the bright colours and moving objects that filled the shop. He batted floating displays out of his way as he searched for Weasley amongst the chaos.

At the rear of the shop behind the checkout counter, Thorfinn finally found him. Weasley stood behind a cash register, ringing purchases up for a wizard.

Thorfinn hung back until the customer left.

"Weasley," he growled, approaching the counter.

Weasley cringed. "What can I do for you, Auror Rowle?"

"You can tell me where my intended is," Thorfinn replied as he leaned forward over the counter. He was taller than Weasley by several inches, and he used his height to his advantage.

Weasley grimaced and attempted to take a step back, but Thorfinn shot out both hands and grabbed Weasley by his robes, pulling him forward until he was half over the counter.

"I-I don't know where...exactly," Weasley said with worry and chagrin.

"Tell me what you do know," Thorfinn demanded, giving Weasley a shake.

"Only if you promise you won't hurt her."

Thorfinn narrowed his eyes. "Are you in love with her?"

"Merlin, no!" Weasley shouted with a laugh. "She's like a sister to me, so I care a great deal about her. And you, you're a big, bad, mean Death Eater... But if you aren't going to hurt her and just want to marry her, I wouldn't be opposed to telling you what I know."

"Why?" Thorfinn asked, narrowing his eyes. Since Weasley was a Gryffindor, he had expected he would need to throw a few curses to get any answers. Weasley was giving in much too easily.

"Because something's wrong with my sister. It's on the clock," Weasley answered, starting to struggle in Thorfinn's grip.

Thorfinn released Weasley. While Weasley scrambled off the counter, Thorfinn opened and closed his hands. Adrenalin pumping through his veins from his confrontation with Weasley had worsened his trembling limbs, particularly his hands.

"I promise I mean Granger no harm," Thorfinn declared, hiding his hands in the folds of his robes. "The Dark Lord has ordered me to find her and bring her back so I can marry her. She's the best Arithmancer the Ministry has employed in centuries, and the Dark Lord still has need of her. Now explain."

"It'll be easier if you see it for yourself rather than me trying to explain it to you," Weasley said. "I'll need to close the shop for a bit to show you."

Weasley left to make sure no other customers were hiding before locking up. Then he led Thorfinn to a door that, once opened, revealed a staircase. They climbed the stairs in silence, and when they entered Weasley's flat, Weasley offered to make tea.

Thorfinn accepted, requesting peppermint tea. He was still nauseous, and the tea would help settle his stomach.

"Please take a seat while I get the tea ready." Weasley gestured for Thorfinn to sit at the table in the kitchen.

Thorfinn sat down. On the wall above the table, he found the most interesting clock he'd ever seen. It had three hands, all of them the same length, but instead of pointing at numbers, they pointed at places and events. One hand, the one labeled 'Ginny,' pointed at Mortal Peril. The one labeled 'George' pointed at Home, and the one labeled 'Percy' pointed at Travelling.

"That's the clock I spoke of downstairs," Weasley said as he waited for the kettle to boil. "Mum's brothers made it for her and gave it to dad and her as their wedding gift. We had to take off everyone else's hands. It was too depressing having them all stuck on Mortal Peril after they had died. Ginny's has been on Mortal Peril since she and Hermione left about six weeks ago."

"Where did they go?" Thorfinn asked, tearing his eyes from the clock.

"Paris. Some Muggle train goes there," Weasley answered. "But that's all I know."

Merlin, it's lucky they're still alive, Thorfinn thought, rising from his chair. "Thanks for offering the tea, mate, but I've got to go."

Without another word, Thorfinn rushed out of the flat. If he wanted to have a fiancée and not face the wrath of the Dark Lord, he had to find Granger before it was too late.


Thorfinn quickly updated the Dark Lord of his conversation with Weasley before checking on the new patrols he placed in Diagon Alley after Granger's disappearance. The patrols were made mostly of barely trained, new recruits, but there was no help for it.

Next, he Transfigured his robes into Muggle trousers, a long-sleeved shirt, and a jacket before Apparating into Muggle London near King's Cross Station.

Thorfinn wasn't a total neophyte when it came to Muggle culture. His years spent traveling for Quidditch had brought him to many places that intersected heavily with the Muggle world.

He soon discovered he needed to make his way to the nearby St Pancras Station, which had trains that traveled to many cities on the continent, including Paris. His instincts told him he was on the right track, so he used multiple Confundus Charms to get a seat on the next train.

Once he arrived in Paris, he cast a spell that would locate any person under the Dark Lord's magical Trackers. Unfortunately, he needed to be relatively close to Granger or the Weasley witch for it to actually work. Thorfinn had a feeling it would be a long day.

For hours, he combed Paris, all the while, wanting to find Granger and get home as soon as possible. He was already suffering from one curse; he didn't want to suffer from the effects of another one on top of it.

Entering a rougher part of Paris, Thorfinn cast the locator spell again and, to his surprise, he felt a tug. He was getting close.

He continued to cast the spell over and over again, following the tug of the spell, each time the tug grew stronger.

Turning down another winding street, he spotted a woman in rags, exiting a pawnshop. She immediately entered the next open shop, but Thorfinn ignored her: she was clearly not his fiancée.

Striding further down the street, he cast the locator spell once more and felt the strongest tug yet in the direction of the homeless woman. She was exiting the shop she had just entered and looked frantic.

Thorfinn narrowed his eyes and studied her closer. She was petite and had a tangle of curls, hiding her face... Maybe she was Granger.

The woman was about to open the door to another shop, but he blocked her way.

"Excusez-moi," she said before looking up at him.

"Granger," he growled, grasping her arm tightly.

"Rowle! Let me go!" Granger shouted and then began coughing.

"Merlin, witch, I can't believe you're capable of even standing." Thorfinn was less holding her captive and more holding her up the longer she coughed.

"You know why I'm sick," Granger rasped with hope.

"Yes, it's why we need to leave straight away." Thorfinn was about to Apparate them back to London when Granger started thrashing in his arms and shrieking at the top of her lungs.

"Noooo! I have to call for an ambulance! I can't leave Ginny!"

"Whatever type of Muggle contraption an ambulance is, Muggles won't be able to cure what's wrong with her."

"Help me, then. Please! I-I'll do anything. She's dying!"

Thorfinn swore under his breath as tears filled her eyes.

"I'll help...if you promise to marry me as soon as we're back on British soil," Thorfinn offered.

"Yes, anything! Please, just help."

"Fine, let's go. Lead the way." Thorfinn sighed. "The sooner we get to your friend; the sooner we can go home and get better."

"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked. "Are you ill too?"

"Too many questions, not enough time."

He wrapped his arm around her back and almost smirked when she squeaked. With his support, she led him away. Feeling Granger safe against him, he didn't want to let her go until they were back on English soil. And even then, he might not.

The more they walked, the worse Granger's cough became. Thorfinn thought he might actually have to pick her up, but before he had to, they arrived at the house; although, calling it a 'house' was being generous.

"They're Muggles," Granger warned as she climbed the ramshackle front stairs with his help. She pushed open the door and tugged Thorfinn in after her.

"Who's your friend?" a smoky voice asked once they were inside.

"Nobody, Madame Durand. He's just helping me get Ginny and then we're leaving," Granger replied, tugging on Thorfinn's hand.

"You know better, Hermione. No tricks in the house," Madam Durand scolded, blocking their way. "But I won't mind...if he can stay with me, too." She winked at Thorfinn. "I don't bite...unless you want me to."

Granger sighed, swaying on her feet.

"Aren't you a fine, well-built man," Madame Durand purred as she sauntered toward Thorfinn. "Are you British? Ou est-ce que Hermione a trouvé un Français à baiser?" She reached out a hand to touch his chest.

Thorfinn scowled and batted Madam Durand's hand away. "Hands off, madame," Thorfinn gritted out, glaring down at her. Usually, his size was enough to warn anyone off, but all she did was simper.

"Mmm, you are si magnifique. Délicieux," she said seductively.

Thorfinn had had enough. He pushed Madam Durand aside, to her indignation, and he helped Hermione past.

In a small bedroom, Weasley slept on a stained mattress placed directly on the dirty floor. She clutched a blood-spotted cloth, her hand resting on her wheezing chest.

Granger dropped to her knees beside her. "Come on, Ginny, wake up," she urged, touching Weasley's cheek. "We're going home."

Weasley coughed weakly, fresh blood staining her lips, and blearily opened her eyes. "'Mione… sorry… broke promise..." she gasped out between coughs.

Then, a moment of calm settled over Weasley, and she smiled. "Love you 'Mione... Let my brothers know I love them, too…" Her breath caught as her eyes widened, her smile growing wider. "Mum..."

Thorfinn looked on slightly horrified when Weasley's chest stilled.

"No! Ginny! No!" Granger pleaded. She pulled out her wand. "Rennervate!"

But nothing happened.

"Granger," Thorfinn said. He pulled on her shoulder, but she shook him off.

"RennervateRespirareSentinam sanguinem!" Granger shouted, whipping her wand around.

Still, Weasley's chest didn't rise.

"Granger," Thorfinn said louder. She was clearly in denial, continuing to cast one spell after another.

"Hermione!" he yelled her name in desperation.

She looked at him with wide, tear-filled eyes.

"I'm sorry, but your friend is dead. There's no bringing her back."

"No, no, no, no," Granger moaned as she buried her face in her hands, gulping big breaths.

Thorfinn pulled her close, and she clutched at his jacket. He sighed. He always felt out of his depth when he had to deal with a crying witch. He looked down at Weasley and debated whether to bring her back with them. It could mean more torture at the hand of the Dark Lord, but it might soften his intended toward him. He rubbed her back and patted her head, trying to provide what comfort he could.

"Shh, shh, witch," Thorfinn crooned. "We'll bring her home."

Finally, Granger quieted after what must have only been a few minutes but seemed much longer.

"We left so she wouldn't die. How can she have died? I don't understand," Granger whimpered, her face still buried in his jacket.

"It's because of the Dark Lord's Blood Curse. Let's go home, and I'll explain it all."

Granger nodded, and Thorfinn was grateful she was at last not being difficult. He'd had enough of difficult witches in his life.

Grabbing both Weasley's body and Granger, Thorfinn Apparated them directly into his bedroom at Rowle Rock.

"Rosey!" Thorfinn called out as he deposited both Granger and Weasley's body onto his bed. Granger immediately latched on to Weasley's hand, clutching it into her own as a fresh wave of tears poured down her face.

His house-elf popped into the bedroom.

"See that my intended is seen to," he demanded, pointing at Hermione.

"Mistress Hermione," Rosey whispered reverently. "Rosey is taking the best care of the mistress, Master Rowle."

Satisfied, Rowle nodded.

"Granger," Thorfinn barked to get her attention. Once she was looking at him, he said, "Wait for me here. Do not leave this room. Let Rosey help you. I'll be back soon."

Then he left to speak with the Dark Lord. It was way after hours, almost nine in the evening, but the Dark Lord kept late hours. Thorfinn suspected he might even live in the Ministry or, at least, sleep there quite often.

Passing by Bev's empty desk, he knocked on the Dark Lord's office door and heard a muffled thump. There was a bit of rustling, so Thorfinn knocked again.

"Enter," the Dark Lord commanded.

Thorfinn pushed the door open, and as he did, Bev ran past, holding her robes together. Thorfinn's brow furrowed, not wanting to process what his mind was telling him.

"You better have good news, Rowle," the Dark Lord groused.

"I do, my lord," Thorfinn said as he took a knee and bowed his head, hiding his disgust.

"Get up," the Dark Lord muttered as he resettled himself behind his large desk.

"I was successful in bringing Granger back. She's at Rowle Rock as we speak."

"Good. Is that all?"

"Unfortunately not, sir," Thorfinn took a deep breath. "She was with the last Weasley witch. But by the time I arrived, it was too late. The Weasley witch is dead."

Not even a flicker of annoyance appeared on the Dark Lord's face.

"No great loss, then," the Dark Lord commented matter-of-factly. "Pure-blood witches are no better than sterile mules. What's one less." The Dark Lord waved his hand in a shooing motion. "Leave. Tell Bev to return on your way out."

Thorfinn did as ordered, trying not to vomit a little in his mouth as he did so.

Riding the lift to the Atrium, his hands were shaking uncontrollably again, and it was a result of what the Dark Lord had said. Did the Dark Lord no longer care about blood purity? That had been the entire point of both wars. But the Dark Lord had essentially just told him that witches with pure-blood didn't matter...that they weren't worth saving. One thing Thorfinn did know now: if pure-blood witches could no longer produce children, the population crisis was likely far, far more dire than anyone realized.

Chapter Text

Percy Weasley sighed as he walked into his office early on Monday morning. The previous evening, he'd returned from his amazing, six-week honeymoon with his new wife, Susan Bones-Weasley. And now, looking at the pile of parchment in his in-bin, he blanched. It seemed the other undersecretaries had decided not to take it easy on him, despite the fact he'd been on his honeymoon. He was the youngest in the Minister's office, and it often meant he took on the brunt of the work. But still, he was fortunate. Because of the amount of work the joke shop required, he doubted George would even be able to take a honeymoon with Ellie once they did get married.

He poured himself a cup of tea and then jumped into getting himself caught up on various memos and department-related tasks.

"Mr Weasley?" Edith Boot's voice broke through Percy's concentration.

Percy looked up to see her standing in his doorway.

"You're needed in the Minister's office, sir."

Edith wore an expression that Percy didn't like. He'd seen the clock, seen Ginny's hand stuck on Mortal Peril. George had shown it to him first thing, the night before.

He stood from his desk and stiffened when Boot patted his shoulder. He knew then. This had to do with Ginny. Maybe she was recovering from an awful spell accident, and that's why her hand has been stuck on Mortal Peril. Percy hoped so; he refused to imagine anything worse.

Percy buried all thoughts of his family deep inside his mind. Lucius Malfoy wasn't the Dark Lord, but he was still a very good Legilimens. Percy didn't want to walk into his office with vulnerabilities floating at the top of his thoughts. Instead, he focused on thinking about the memos he'd been reading.

Striding towards Malfoy's open office door, Percy could see Malfoy speaking with Thorfinn Rowle.

"Minister Malfoy?" Percy called out, knocking lightly on the door jamb.

"Weasley, come in," Malfoy invited. "Shut the door behind you."

Percy did as Malfoy requested and sat next to Rowle when Malfoy gestured for him to do so.

"There has been some news, Weasley," Malfoy declared. "By now, I'm sure you're aware that Auror Rowle has been searching for Hermione Granger, last seen with your sister."

"Yes, sir." Obviously, George's information had helped Rowle find Ginny and Hermione. Percy relaxed slightly. If they were only jailed in Azkaban, he could work with that.

Malfoy gestured at Rowle, and Percy turned to face him. He was struck by how large Rowle was, taller than both he and Malfoy, and they were both considered tall men.

"Mr Weasley," Rowle began, his voice deep, almost guttural, "in Paris, I found Granger and your sister. Both of them were gravely ill… I'm sorry to say that your sister was too ill to be saved. She has crossed into the Veil."

Percy sat silent for a long moment, denial battling with the stark truth of Rowle's words. He'd sworn fealty to the Dark Lord to protect what little family he had left, all the while, having to lie and keep secrets from them. And for what? He'd failed. Ginny was gone.

He clenched his fists tight to keep them from shaking and bit down hard to stop the sob that wanted to rip from his throat.

Taking a depth breath, he asked, "Is Hermione also dead?"

Rowle recoiled at that. "No, Granger's alive...barely. But she'll recover."

Looking down at his hands, Percy bobbed his head. "Good. That's good." He forced himself to relax his hands and look up. "Where's my sister's body?"

"Yes, that's why I'm here," Rowle answered. "Her body is awaiting you at Rowle Rock."

Percy swallowed hard. "Th-thank you, Rowle...for returning her. Minister, I'd like—"

"A week off," Malfoy interrupted. "I'm sure that amount of time should suffice.

"Yes, sir. Thank you." Percy thought a moment. "Sir, I'd like my sister to be buried next to the rest of my family in Devon…"

Malfoy nodded in understanding. "I'll be sure the Department of Magical Transportation knows to approve travel passes for those you want to attend your sister's service.

"Thank you, sir."

"Minister, may Weasley and I use your fireplace to travel by Floo powder?" Rowle asked.

"Of course," Malfoy said, magnanimously. "The Floo powder pot is on the mantle to the left."

After exchanging standard farewells, Rowle stood, and Percy followed in a haze, feeling as if he were underwater viewing his life from far away.

"Auror Rowle, I need to inform my brother of the news and will need his help with Ginny. Could we stop by his shop first?" Percy requested, grabbing a handful of Floo powder.

Rowle turned and gave him a once-over before nodding.

"The fireplace in George's office is connected to the Floo Network, but you'll need to remove the block the Floo Network Authority placed on it," Percy informed Rowle.

Rowle waved his wand at the fireplace, muttering spells under his breath until the fireplace glowed purple for a second.

Stepping into the fireplace, Rowle shouted, "George Weasley's office!" disappearing in a puff of green.

Percy waited a moment to make sure Rowle had made it through before following in kind.

"...find them?" Percy heard George asking Rowle when he arrived.

"I did..." Rowle answered haltingly.

Then George spotted Percy and, seeing Percy's expression, his face fell.

"I'm sorry," Percy said quietly, needing to shut his eyes.

George swept past Rowle and grabbed Percy into a hug.

Percy hadn't been expecting the contact and stumbled as George's weight hit him. He felt George's shoulders shudder, and Percy squeezed his brother tight.

"Ginny?" George asked.

"She's gone," Percy managed to choke out, "crossed into the Veil."

"Is Hermione… Did she…"

"Hermione's alive," Rowle answered awkwardly. "She's at my home, recovering. Your sister's body's there as well."

George began to break down, and Percy was having to hold him up.

"Not now, George," Percy said quietly. "Let's go get Ginny. We need to bring her home. We need to make sure Hermione is okay." Percy squeezed George's left shoulder.

Nodding, George forced down his sorrow, wiping his wet cheeks with his hands.

Once again in control of their emotions, Percy and George proceeded to follow Rowle through the fireplace to Rowle Rock.

Arriving in the entrance hall of Rowle Rock, Percy looked around. The interior was medieval, the stonework having the same weathering found at Hogwarts.

Rowle beckoned them forth, and Percy reassuringly clapped George's shoulder as they followed.

After climbing a set of stairs, they entered a large bedchamber. On the other side of the room was a massive bed, and on it, Percy could just make out Ginny's bright-red hair and Hermione's brown mess of curls.

He and George rushed forward.

Both women were pale and thin, but Ginny had a greyish complexion that signified death.

Percy choked back a sob, but George couldn't contain his whimper.

Hermione mumbled in her sleep, her left hand locked with Ginny's.

"Ginny…" George groaned as he stared down.

Hermione frowned and slowly opened her eyes. She blinked, a puzzled look on her face.

Percy thought his heart might fail at the heartbroken expression that soon took over her face.

"G-George… P-Percy…" Hermione sputtered, tears pooling in her eyes.

"Oh, 'Mione," George said as he sat on the bed and pulled her close.

George and Hermione cried together, and Percy wished he could cry with them. He wished he could openly show his emotions as they did. But he couldn't. He was the paterfamilias and a Death Eater. Rowle was a decent sort, bringing his sister's body home, but Percy couldn't risk showing that kind of weakness in front of one of his brethren. He wouldn't. He clenched his fists tighter and blinked rapidly, willing his emotions away.

Hermione continued to weep in George's arms until she passed out without warning.

"Is she going to be alright?" Percy asked, smothering the alarm he felt well up. He couldn't lose another one of them so soon.

Rowle sighed. "Yeah, she'll be fine, but she needs rest."

George set Hermione down gently and stood from the bed, pulling a handkerchief from his robes.

Dabbing Hermione's cheeks, George croaked, "Hermione needs to be at the funeral."

"I said she needs to rest," Rowle lashed out.

George mulishly said again, "Hermione needs to be there."

Before George and Rowle started a proper argument, Percy interjected, "We can wait a few days until Hermione's well enough to attend."

"The Healer said she needs to be on bed rest for at least a week," Rowle said stubbornly.

"Rowle, Hermione's family," Percy explained. "Ginny's as much her sister as ours. She would be devastated if she couldn't say goodbye."

"Fine. Five days," Rowle offered, running his hands through his hair.

"Three," Percy countered, walking to the side of the bed where Ginny lay.

Rowle glared at him. "I can't make any promises."

"Mate, she's going to be your wife. It'd be bad form to start out like this," George cautioned Rowle.

"Fine, three days," Rowle conceded. "Where will you need to take your sister?"

As Percy took Ginny's cold, stiff hand in his own, he answered, "Our family home, the Burrow."

Giving a quick nod, Rowle left first for the entrance hall to unblock the connection.

Percy lifted Ginny's feather-light body, cradling her close. After a last glance at Hermione's still form, he and George left

Percy stared into his tea. He and George had seen to everything: they'd prepared Ginny's body for burial, washing and cleaning her body and hair. Dressing her in her favourite robes. Placing her wand in her hands over her chest. She looked beautiful, ethereal, almost as if she were only sleeping. But no matter what spell they used, her spark was still clearly absent.

Currently, Ginny laid in the sitting room in the oak coffin George had fashioned for her, but Percy couldn't bear to look at her again. He was sitting at the old, scarred table in the Burrow's kitchen and could hardly stand to be in the Burrow at all: it held so many wonderful and terrible memories.


"Yeah." He turned to see Susan standing at the bottom of the kitchen stairs.

"You should come to bed," she said gently as she moved to stand behind him. She placed her hands on his shoulders and squeezed.

Her touch brought him back to when he was still only a gangly child, to when his Mum would comfort him and his Dad would playfully tousle his hair, to when all his siblings would laugh and play so carefree. His shoulders hunched, and finally, he allowed himself to cry.

Susan stepped around and pulled him to her. He buried his face into her belly, and she stroked his head and shoulders. It had been a very long time since Percy had cried so much, probably not since the end of the war.

He exhausted himself as he sobbed into Susan's abdomen. She took it all, standing stoically, offering him what support she could. He couldn't believe what a failure he was. He'd lost his sister, the sister he'd sworn to protect after he'd watched most of his family be tortured and then slaughtered. Until that point, he'd been an idiot, too pompous and focused on his own life. But after the war, he'd made it his life's mission to take care of what little family he had left. It had been the only reason he'd taken the vile Dark Mark. But, now here he was: a failed protector, a failed paterfamilias. A failure.

The morning of the funeral dawned cold and gloomy: perfect funeral weather.

Looking away from the window, Percy rolled out of the warm bed he'd shared with Susan.

The Burrow was cold, he and George not bothering to renew any of the spells. They couldn't bring themselves to bring the Burrow back to its former glory. Now, it was only a sentinel to the dead, watching over the Weasley family buried on a hillside not far from the house.

Percy showered quickly and dressed in his best set of black robes. He and George wanted an intimate funeral, and Rowle had been surprisingly gracious, offering two experienced Aurors to keep away any press.

Rowle was something of a surprise for Percy. At first, Percy hadn't wanted to see Hermione with a Death Eater. He'd been particularly upset when his petition for Hermione hadn't been approved by the Dark Lord. Hermione felt like his sister in every sense, but he'd not wanted her to have to leave the safety and comfort of the only family she'd known in wizarding Britain. However, in the few instances Percy had interacted with Rowle in the last few days, he was impressed with Rowle's character. Maybe, just maybe, Hermione wouldn't be so bad off in his care. He hoped anyway. He hoped that she would be happy. happy as anyone could be in this post-war world.

"Ready?" Susan asked softly as she slipped her warm hand into his larger colder one.

Percy nodded.

Susan had also been a surprise. He'd petitioned her for political reasons, not expecting anything close to what his parents had shared. And yet, here she was, offering him comfort when he needed it most.

They still had a lot to learn about each other, the six weeks they'd spent together during their honeymoon, notwithstanding. But so far, she seemed a solid woman, who was sweet and warm and caring.

When, for the first time in many years, he'd bared his branded arm, she'd let him explain before jumping to conclusions. She was truly amazing and deserved happiness. He hoped he could make her happy. He knew he couldn't now, not right away. Maybe after the pain of Ginny's death lessened. Maybe then. Maybe a child would help them both. They'd certainly been trying for one. Since their hasty marriage, not a night passed that she didn't offer herself to him and he could lose himself in her beautiful body.

He gave her a closed-mouth smile, and she smiled back, squeezing his hand. She was already such a wonderful wife; when the time came, he knew she would also be a wonderful mother.

Hearing a knock on the front door, he opened it to find a small crowd of people.

Most who entered were former Gryffindors, classmates of Ginny, Ron, Percy, or George. Professor Snape came, as did Andromeda Tonks with Teddy in tow. That was it as far as surviving members of the Order. George's fiancée Ellie had also arrived, carrying a stack of pre-made dishes. Finally, Rowle and Hermione walked through the door. Hermione was pale and still impossibly thin. She leaned heavily on Rowle, who had his arm looped around her waist.

Susan and Ellie left to take care of the food and flowers guests had brought, and George joined him, wanting to see Hermione.

"Percy, George," she greeted with a small smile.

"Alright, 'Mione?" George asked.

Hermione nodded, giving George and then Percy a hug.

As Rowle guided her to the viewing line, Percy noticed a Snitch in her hand: her token of farewell.

Hermione's eyes had looked haunted. He was sure she felt guilty about what happened. But he knew it wasn't her fault. He hadn't known about the Dark Lord's Blood Curse, but he did now.

Rowle had explained it. The Dark Lord had placed a monstrous Blood Curse around the British Isles. It would kill any native with magical blood within weeks if they left British soil. And the purer a person's blood, the sooner it killed them. It was actually shocking Ginny had managed to last the six weeks she did. It also explained why Hermione had survived.

Percy almost couldn't believe the Dark Lord was daft enough to create a Blood Curse; it could have all kinds of unintended consequences. But as soon as the thought entered his brain, he buried it deep. There was always a risk that the Dark Lord might show up, unexpectedly.

George and Percy waited at the entrance of the Burrow for another thirty minutes, and when nobody else arrived, they decided it was time to begin the burial.

Percy herded everyone outside while George levitated Ginny's coffin up the hill.

The service was short. Percy thanked everyone for coming and read a short poem. Then George spoke. George's speech was beautiful and sad and a little funny: it was perfect.

Together with George's help, he lowered Ginny's casket into the hole that had been dug, and with another flick of their wands, the dark, rich dirt, which had been removed, was replaced.

George settled her marker: it was simple, as were the seven other most recent markers in the graveyard, with just her name and dates of birth and death. Lastly, he conjured a beautiful wreath of lilies and juniper to lay atop.

The crowd drifted back to the Burrow, each of them saying their goodbyes until it was only Rowle and Hermione left.

Hermione sat in the kitchen, sipping tea as Rowle hovered behind her. The more he saw Rowle and Hermione together, the more Percy thought they fit. Rowle was good for Hermione, he could see that. When she'd finished her tea, Rowle poured another cup for her: a herbal blend of chamomile and lavender to assist in her healing process.

Percy and George joined Hermione at the table, but Rowle stayed standing, looking uncomfortably large in the Burrow's tiny kitchen.

"I'm sorry," Hermione whispered. She didn't cry though. Percy suspected that she was as cried out as he was.

"There's nothing to forgive," George told her. He reached across the table and gripped her hand.

Hermione shook her head. "Of course there is," she snapped. "Ginny would be alive if I hadn't begged her to come to France with me."

"Maybe," Percy acknowledged. "But she'd also be married to Bulstrode. The Dark Lord gifted her to Bulstrode, and once the Dark Lord's mind is made, there's no changing it. She wouldn't have been able to escape him any other way. How many years of abuse would she have had to suffer, otherwise?"

Hermione closed her eyes and shook her head again. "But—"

"No buts," Percy cut her off. He too reached across the table and grabbed Hermione's other hand. "You are as much a Weasley as the rest of us. You did what you thought was best. Ginny died because of the Blood Curse, not you."

Hermione hissed. "A Blood Curse..."

Her eyes widened, and Percy could see the wheels in her head begin to whirl.

"Not something that ought to be discussed without a proper charm," Rowle scolded.

"Regardless," Percy went on, "it wasn't you who killed Ginny. She was a victim of circumstance. And at least she died free and in the care of someone who genuinely loved her."

Hermione nodded but dropped her gaze to the table.

Percy sighed. He knew she still blamed herself. How could she not? He still blamed himself. He knew it would take a long time before either of them could forgive themselves. All they could do was continue to survive one day at a time.

Chapter Text

Hermione felt adrift. She wasn't sure what time it was or which day of the week it was. Since George and Percy had come for Ginny's body a few day ago, she hadn't left Rowle's bedroom, and she was still too weak to even leave the bed. Rowle came back every night to sleep here, but he let her have the bed, while he took the settee in front of the fireplace.

She barely ate and never spoke to Rowle when he was around—which wasn't often. He woke early for work and came home late in the evening. Except for Rowle and the house-elf Rosey, who popped in to leave food and check on her, Hermione hadn't seen anyone else. She was left alone for too many hours and with too many thoughts.

Hermione couldn't believe Ginny was dead, that she had killed her best friend. George and Percy would never want to speak to her again. Their only sister, a third of their surviving family, gone because of her.

By now, Percy and George had probably already conducted Ginny's funeral. She wasn't surprised she hadn't been invited. Who would want their sister's killer at such a sacred event? And that's what she was: a killer, a murderer. She hadn't cast the spell that had killed Ginny, but Ginny wouldn't be dead if she hadn't followed her to France. Hermione was sure of that.

The Dark Lord... What would he have to say about her murder of a pure-blood? She was surprised Rowle hadn't come home one day only to drag her back to the Ministry for prosecution. Countless times, Hermione had been told explicitly and in subtler ways that the life of a pure-blood was worth more than the life of a Mudblood. So many times that she had actually come to believe it. Now, referring to herself as a Mudblood was as commonplace as having a cuppa...

The bedroom door opened, interrupting her dark thoughts. She watched as Rowle strode into the room, heading straight toward the bathroom. Hearing the shower turn on, she snuggled deeper beneath her covers and feigned sleep. Thus far, it'd saved her from having to speak a word to him.

Hermione was truly dozing when she sensed a presence beside her. Old instincts kicking in, she roused herself, finding Rowle towering over her. For a moment, all they did was stare at each other.

"When was the last time you ate?" he asked softly.

She furrowed her brows. She didn't actually know. Had she had some toast that morning? Or was that yesterday? Her days had all begun to bleed together.

Rowle pursed his lips when she didn't answer. "You haven't washed since I brought you here, either," Rowle pointed out rather rudely in Hermione's opinion. Taking a pesky shower was the last thing on her mind.

She rolled her eyes before closing them, doing her best to ignore him. She was mourning and doubted she had the strength to take a shower even if she wanted one.

Rowle sighed heavily and squatted beside her. "You have to take care of yourself, little witch." He brushed a dirty lock of hair away from her face.

Antagonistic behaviour, she could handle. Meanness and rudeness, she could ignore. But this, this act of caring, was too much. Tears welled up in her eyes.

Rowle cupped her face and then pulled her into his arms.

Hermione would rather not take comfort from the great, big plonker; but her suffering heart ached for it, and he was offering it so selflessly. He crooned into her ear, holding her tightly, running a large, calming hand over her matted hair and down her back. Something about this behemoth of a man made her feel safe, protected. She was a modern woman and had always been independent, but here she was, a twenty-eight-year-old clinging to a virtual stranger as she sobbed her heart out.

After she had calmed some, Rowle lifted her and carried her to the bathroom. Getting a good whiff of herself, she had to admit she stank.

Once he set her down on the floor, keeping a steady hold around her waist, he inquired quietly, "Rosey's out on an errand for me. Can you do this yourself? Or will you need my help?"

Blushing, she crossed her arms over her breasts. "I promised to marry you, but we aren't married yet," Hermione bit out. If the slimy scoundrel thought he deserved an eyeful after a few moments of comfort, he was greatly mistaken, pure-blood or not.

His eyes hardened, and Hermione turned away from him, supporting herself on a nearby wall. She didn't want to see him looking at her with disgust. She couldn't bear it.

"Fine," he replied, exiting the room but leaving the door open a crack.

Hermione sighed in relief and sat down heavily on the floor. With determination, she removed her clothes. She was stronger than she had thought, being able to fully undress by herself, but she was still quite feeble. Weeks of illness and eating infrequently had left her dizzy and breathless after such a simple task.

She crawled over to the shower. There was a bath too, but Hermione wasn't quite ready to literally drown in her sorrows.

She groaned as she reached up to turn the water on and moaned when hot water cascaded down onto her face. It felt heavenly, the best thing Hermione had felt in weeks. She leaned against a wall and drew her legs to her chest, luxuriating in the steam that swirled around her.

Starting awake, she found Rowle crouched outside of the shower, looking at her worriedly.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

Hermione nodded but, as she attempted to scramble to her feet, slipped.

Rowle caught her before she could fall on the hard, slick tiles. Fully clothed, he stepped into the shower and hauled her upright against him, blocking the spray with his back and squishing her breasts against his chest.

"Did you even wash?" he asked, frowning down at her.

She shook her head no, and he sighed as he reached for the shampoo.

Hermione leaned against him, grateful for his support, and then immediately felt ashamed. She didn't deserve to rely on anybody. And she certainly didn't want to rely on him like she currently was.

She began to struggle in his hold, but a light swat on her bum had her gasping in indignation.

"Stop your nonsense," he murmured. "You'll only tire yourself out again."

He soaped up his hands and began massaging her scalp. It felt wonderful. The shampoo smelled of spices and mint, a very masculine scent. His hands were firm, and he used his short nails to scratch her head all over. When he was finished, he shuffled them forward to rinse her hair.

"I'm guessing you need help with the rest, too?" he rasped.

Still groggy, she didn't understand why his voice sounded so odd. But she knew she was too weak to properly bathe herself and nodded.

He moved them back out of the spray and grabbed a bottle of body wash. It complemented the shampoo, smelling of oranges and rich, earthy oakmoss. Rubbing his hands together to form a lather, he started at her shoulders and soaped each of her arms down to her fingertips, making sure to get between each of her fingers. For reasons Hermione couldn't quite fathom, her heartbeat quickened, and her breaths became shallower.

When he was finished with her arms, he soaped her back, all the way down to her bum.

Her breathing hitched, and she understood the earlier rasp in his voice: the thought of bathing her had aroused him. To her amazement and consternation, she was feeling tendrils of her own arousal curl through her at his touch.

Hermione again tried to pull away from him. She didn't want to be aroused by him, and she didn't want him to be aroused by her.

"Not so fast, little witch," Rowle said as he turned her around and pulled her back against him. He slid his soapy hands down her chest and around each breast, cupping them lightly, before continuing his journey downward. He soaped her abdomen and hips, then slid a hand between her legs.

His hands on her were sweet torture, and she moaned when his hand left her mons and moved to her thigh. However, she didn't know if she had made the sound in protest because his hand had been there, to begin with, or because it had left.

"I don't think you have the stamina for that yet, Princess," he chuckled as his hands slipped lower and lower down her legs.

He squatted behind her, letting her bum rest on his broad left shoulder, and picked up her left foot and then the other, scrubbing them clean.

Hermione closed her eyes at the sensations he was causing. He was right: in no way was she strong enough to have sex. And she very much did not want to have sex. Not with him. But, at the same time, she couldn't deny the way he was making her body feel. His touch was light, not quite clinical, but not overtly sexual either.

"Time to rinse," he said as he stood and shuffled them forward into the warm spray once more.

Running his hands down her body, he washed all the suds away, then he turned her so she was facing him, rinsing her back and hair a final time.

She couldn't quite bring herself to meet his eyes, but with one of his hands clasped around her waist, he used his other to tilt her head back.

Hermione wasn't sure what the look on his face meant; it was pensive and maybe a little confused. When she flicked her tongue out to lick her lips, his eyes focused on her mouth, and when she bit her bottom lip nervously, the hand on her hip tightened.

Slowly, so slowly that Hermione knew she could have pulled away, he brought his lips to meet hers. She found she didn't want to pull away. She wanted to know what it felt like to kiss him. If she were being honest with herself, she'd wanted to know since that time in the lift all those weeks ago. She wanted to taste him. To match his flavour to the scent of him, the scent that had invaded her nostrils and mind, being stuck in his room. She wanted to erase the hardship of the previous weeks from her mind and lose herself in the man before her.

When his tongue danced out, seeking entrance past her lips, she opened for him gladly, welcoming him into her mouth. A light moan reached her ears, and she was somewhat shocked to find it was coming from her, that he was causing this reaction in her.

His growl of response pooled desire in her abdomen, leaving her core aching. Her nipples strained as they hardened against the fabric of his shirt. She became light-headed from the intensity of it all, and her knees gave out. Rowle's hold kept her from falling but not from breaking their kiss.

Rowle stared at her like he couldn't quite believe who was in front of him, who had just been kissing him with such wild abandon. Hermione felt herself redden in embarrassment and shame, realizing she had snogged Rowle to hide from her pain, to forget about her forget about Ginny. Hermione tried to duck her head, but he tilted her head back once more.

"Little witch," he sighed.

After shutting the shower off, he stepped back and Summoned a towel that he wrapped around her body. He carried her into the bedroom and sat her on the bed. Then he dried his own clothes with a flick of his wand before drying her off in the same manner. For once, her hair didn't frizz into a massive bush.

Next, he helped her slip into a ridiculously large pair of flannel pyjamas, presumably his.

"Should have shrunken these," he mumbled as he knelt to roll the legs up while she worked on rolling the sleeves.

She shrugged. "It's alright." It didn't really matter what she long as it was something.

Rowle's bedroom door suddenly banged open, startling Hermione and Rowle. A tall, lithe, blonde—gorgeous—woman stood in the doorway with a ferocious look on her face. Hermione wrinkled her brow. Who was she?

"Is this her, then? The Granger bitch?" the woman asked.

"Katrina," Rowle's voice warned as he stalked forward, leaving Hermione on the bed.

"Have you married her yet?" Katrina spat. "Or is she just warming your bed like any other Mudblood whore?"

"We've already had this conversation," Rowle stated coldly. He grabbed Katrina's arm above her elbow and dragged her from the room, slamming the door shut behind them.

Hermione sat on the bed, nonplussed. She had forgotten that Rowle had a wife, a wife he was expected to set aside for her. She sighed heavily and shuffled to the nest of pillows at the head of the bed. She didn't want to think about anything anymore, and sleep beckoned her.

She woke at some point when Rowle tucked her under the covers, pulling her close once he lay beside her. She smiled—guess she was warming his bed—and soon fell back asleep wrapped in his arms.

Hermione woke to Rowle shaking her gently.

"Time to get up, little witch," he said as he pulled the covers back.

Instead, Hermione rolled over; she had nothing to get up for.

"Weasley's funeral is in an hour. I assumed you'd want to go," Rowle told her as he stood from the bed.

Stunned, Hermione turned to face him. "Ginny's?"

He nodded. "It was postponed entirely for your sake."

Hermione's eyes prickled. Percy and George didn't hate her. She made to sit up but instantly felt woozy.

"Rosey!" Rowle called out, and a second later, the house-elf appeared.

"Get Granger some porridge," Rowle ordered. He glared at Hermione. "You need to eat, or you won't make it through the day."

Hermione nodded; she knew Rowle was right. And she owed it to Ginny to say goodbye. Plus, she desperately wanted to see Percy and George; they were her family: all that she had left.

After she ate as fast as she could, Rowle had to help her get ready and dress her in a new set of robes.

Holding her tight, he then Apparated them outside the front yard of the Burrow. Once a bout of nausea subsided, she was surprised to see two Aurors guarding the front gate. They both nodded at Rowle as he led her inside. Hermione was sure she would have fallen if not for Rowle's arm around her waist.

George's and Percy's welcoming hugs were a relief, but entering the Burrow was still painful. She hadn't been here since before the war had ended, and it brought back too many memories, the happy ones the most painful of all.

She directed Rowle to help her to the viewing line. Her steps faltered as they neared, and Rowle tightened his hold around her.

When her turn came to view the casket, a moment of panic overwhelmed her. She wanted to run away; she didn't want to accept what she was about to see...but she had to.

Lifting her head from Rowle's chest and looking down into the casket, she first noticed Ginny's bright-red, shiny hair. Ginny's hands were clasped above her heart, holding her wand. She looked beautiful but empty. So very empty.

"Ginny," Hermione whispered, reaching her left hand out and setting it on top of Ginny's cold, lifeless hands. Inhaling a trembling breath, with her right hand, she placed the Snitch she'd brought inside the casket.

"That's for you. For the afterlife. To fly free and wild. I'm sure the boys wouldn't mind a good match, and I know you'll give them a run for their Galleons." Tears slid down her face, but she didn't falter. She owed her friend this.

"I'm so sorry, Ginny. If I had known, I would never have taken you away. I would have found a different way to save you. I…" she trailed off, not finding the words to express how much regret and remorse she felt. Her throat tightened, and she gritted her teeth to keep from sobbing.

"It should have been me," Hermione said in a low, fervent voice. "It was my idea. It should have been me."

Shaking her head, she hissed, "I don't want to say it; I don't..." Choking on her words, she finally said what she needed. "G-goodbye, Ginny." She lifted her hand from Ginny's. "Love you, too."

Walking away from Ginny, who had been her best friend, her sister, Hermione felt numb, too many emotions hitting her at once.

The journey up the hill to Ginny's awaiting grave was difficult, but the service was beautiful and brief. George spoke so lovingly of Ginny that Hermione couldn't stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. She sniffled and Rowle handed her his handkerchief. She squeezed his hand in thanks.

After the burial, Hermione was ready to face George and Percy, so she and Rowle went back to the Burrow and waited in the kitchen. While George and Percy said their goodbyes to the rest of the guests, Rowle made her the tea Rosey had been brewing for her.

As she sipped her tea, Rowle stood behind her, and Hermione felt comforted by his presence. George and Percy hadn't forbidden her from attending the funeral, but that didn't mean they weren't upset with her. She braced herself for the worst. For the accusations. For them to call her a murderer.

But they didn't.

She could have sobbed in relief. Not only did they not blame her, they still accepted her as part of their family. Hermione felt so relieved that she gave them both especially long and tight hugs before she left.

It wasn't until she was home, funny how Rowle Rock was suddenly home now, that she started bawling. Rowle held her as she cried and gasped for air. She was grief-stricken, and tired, and overwhelmed, and so, so relieved that Percy and George still loved her.

She fell asleep in Rowle's arms again that night. And when she woke from a nightmare, he soothingly rumbled words into her ear and stroked her back, calming her back to sleep.

A few days after the funeral, Hermione woke up, as usual, finding herself alone in Rowle's bed, Rowle already having left for work. She was feeling better, stronger, and she decided it was finally time to explore the house. As much as she hated to admit it, it would be her house someday.

Rosey had left her a breakfast of porridge, toast, and tea. Hermione sipped her tea and enjoyed the brief warmth it brought. She finished her toast and porridge before heading to the bathroom. After her tea and porridge, she still felt cold to her bones and thought a long soak would help warm her.

She stayed in the tub until the water turned lukewarm, then dried herself and dug through her beaded bag for something to wear. Everything she pulled out was worn and dirty, and guiltily, she called for Rosey to clean and mend her clothes. Rosey was happy to comply and whisked them away.

She searched Rowle's wardrobe for something she could shrink to fit her and found a worn pair of Slytherin sweatpants and a Quidditch jumper. She loved Quidditch jumpers and how warm they were, remembering when she used to wear Ron's and Harry's all the time. She shrank Rowle's clothes and donned them before leaving the bedroom.

The house was large, and Hermione suspected magically expanded. It was medieval in its appearance with its stone floors and small, mullioned windows. She counted four levels, and a lake surrounded the property, a bridge connecting it to a gatehouse. There were a few outbuildings that Hermione could see, and beyond the lake, there was a deserted moor.

She finally found herself in what appeared to be a library. It wasn't as expansive as the library at Hogwarts or the Ministry, but it had a respectable number of books.

While she browsed through the collection, the door slammed open. Startled, Hermione dropped the book she had been holding and whirled around to find Snape striding in.

"Miss Granger," he greeted once he stood before her.

"S-sir," Hermione replied before picking up the book and shoving it back into place.

"You haven't been at work in weeks. And I have it on good authority you returned from your trip a week ago."

Hermione huffed out a breath. Up until that moment, her job hadn't even crossed her mind. Due to her lengthy absence, she assumed she'd been fired.

"I'm sorry, sir. I haven't felt myself this last week," Hermione muttered, staring at her feet. She blinked rapidly, trying to will the tears away. She didn't want to cry in front of Snape.

"I expect you to be at work next week, Miss Granger."

Hermione didn't meet his eyes; she just nodded.

"Look at me," he hissed.

She looked up at him and was shocked to see compassion. He quickly schooled his face to his usual expression of disdain.

"You've made it this far. Don't give up now," he murmured, holding her gaze. Then with a swift nod, he left the room.

Hermione swallowed past the lump in her throat. For Snape, that had been downright heartwarming. And Snape was right: she needed to get back to work and solve what Factor Z was. By now, she was sure there were loads more data to plug into her formula. Could Factor Z be the Blood Curse? She'd have to ask Rowle what he knew about it. Maybe Snape or Malfoy could help, too.

She left the library to head back to Rowle's room. She kept copies of her research and formulas in her beaded bag, and she could get started today. Maybe the time off had helped to freshen her perspective.

Rounding a corner, someone shoved her to the side. Hermione stumbled but caught herself on a small table. Looking up, she found Katrina glaring at her, wand in hand. Rowle said Katrina was rarely home...guess she wanted to pay her a special visit.

Katrina's eyes narrowed when she took in Hermione's outfit. "Listen here, you uppity, Mudblood bitch, digging your paws where they have no business" she hissed as she stalked toward Hermione.

"I don't want any trouble," Hermione tried in a calm voice, backing away.

"You don't belong here, filth." Katrina flicked her wrist, sending a stinging hex at Hermione's thigh.

Hermione flinched but didn't cry out. She wouldn't show Katrina how scared she felt. "I'd leave if I could."

"Thorfinn is a possessive man; he's not going to let you leave," Katrina spat condescendingly. "But I could help you."

Katrina's subsequent grin chilled Hermione. She could imagine just how Katrina wanted to help her leave. Rowle wasn't due home until the evening, and Hermione's wand was locked away in his room, of course. If Katrina truly had murderous intentions, she could easily kill Hermione, and nobody would know for hours.

"Er, thanks," Hermione hedged, taking a step back, "but I'm okay."

"I don't think it's okay that you're living in my husband's bedroom, Mudblood. Do you?" Katrina asked menacingly as she took a step closer.

"N-no," Hermione stammered at a loss. All she could try was the truth. "But Katrina—"

"Don't say my name, you Mudblood cunt! It's Mrs Rowle to you," Katrina growled.

"M-Mrs Rowle, the Dark Lord is the one who commanded our marriage. I'd much rather—"

"I don't give a flying fuck who commanded it. If you're dead, it won't matter, will it?" Katrina stepped even closer and now had her wand pointed at Hermione's head.

"Wait, listen, Mrs Rowle. If you kill me, the Dark Lord will be furious with you. And it won't matter if you kill me, Rowle would just have to marry someone else." Hermione's heart beat wildly. She hoped Katrina would see sense.

There was a quiet pop, and Rosey appeared in the corridor behind Katrina.

"Mistress Katrina, Rosey is having your tea ready." Rosey's right hand worried the fingers of her left.

Hermione could only hope that Katrina would back off now that there was a witness.

"This conversation isn't over, Mudblood," Katrina growled as she whirled away.

Hermione let out a deep breath and felt her knees buckle. As she shook from adrenaline, she vowed to speak to Rowle tonight. He needed to know how barking unhinged Katrina was.

Unfortunately, she'd never get to talk to Rowle that night.

Chapter Text

Thorfinn was having a pretty dreadful day so far. Four of his Aurors had called in sick, and so to fill in the gaps, he had been in the field. Foot patrols in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade were not what he had wanted to do all morning when he had a dragon heap of paperwork that needed to be seen to. He was already bone-tired, having to deal with multiple acts of unrest, and it was only mid-afternoon.

An hour later, he finally managed to make it back to the Ministry where he found Snape and Draco Malfoy sitting in his office. Sighing, he closed the door behind him.

"Gentlemen," Thorfinn greeted them tiredly before he walked to his desk chair and sat down. It wasn't unheard of that Snape, a fellow member of the inner circle, would seek him out, but since the younger Malfoy was also in his office, he could think of only one reason why they were here: Granger. He gritted his teeth; he knew of the rumours about Malfoy and Granger. His eyes focused on Snape, and Thorfinn had to keep them from narrowing with suspicion, wondering if Snape also desired Granger.

"Rowle," Snape greeted with a nod of his head while Malfoy stiltedly addressed him using his proper title.

"Well, tell me what you're here for," Rowle said, his irritability creeping into his voice. He really wanted to get to the Archives, Registries, and Census Office to check the population numbers before the end of the day.

"It's about Granger…" Malfoy began but didn't finish when he saw the look Snape threw his way.

"Miss Granger," Snape instead continued, "is a valuable member of the Research Center. She hasn't sent word since she's returned from her…travels. We're concerned."

"You can stop with the pretence," Thorfinn replied. "She's recovering well enough from the Blood Curse. She'll return when she's able."

"Fine. No pretence," Malfoy said, failing to hide his anger. "We're here because we know she was worried about you being her match."

Thorfinn mused over why Malfoy was angry...or was it jealous.

Thorfinn's irritability grew. "Mmm, yes, I believe that was the reason behind her travels," he sneered.

"We just want to make sure she's alright," Malfoy told him. "That she isn't being harmed and will be able to return to work soon."

Snape glared at Malfoy. Clearly, he disapproved of Malfoy's approach.

Judging from Snape's and Malfoy's current behaviour, there was a clear indication that they'd continue to stick their noses into Granger's personal business. It would only be a matter of time before they realised his reputation of being a heartless monster was mostly only an act. Thorfinn sighed.

"I don't enjoy hurting women," he revealed. "Never have."

He let his statement sink in for a second before he continued. "Physically, she's fine, but emotionally… The death of the Weasley witch is proving difficult for her. I'm not sure what to do to help," he admitted.

"I might be able to," Snape offered.

Thorfinn raised an eyebrow at him.

With a small huff and roll of his eyes, Snape elaborated, "I am her former teacher. I am aware of what motivates her."

"Do you now?" Thorfinn said through clenched teeth.

"Put your fruity mind to rest, Rowle," Snape drawled. "I've known Miss Granger since she was but a child and have grown fond of her in a paternal sense, nothing more; I assure you."

"Fine." Thorfinn glared at Malfoy. "Snape," he stressed, causing Malfoy to snort, "you may stop by Rowle Rock and see her." He turned to look at Snape. "But she isn't fully recovered yet. Don't overtire her."

"Understood," Snape replied. "Thank you for your time. And do keep us updated on Miss Granger... She does have friends in this world."

Thorfinn gave Snape a slow nod as Snape and Malfoy rose from their seats.

Hearing his office door open and then shut, he sighed and started on the large stack of paperwork on his desk.

Later that evening when Thorfinn returned from work and entered his bedroom, he was pleased to see Granger cuddled up to his pillow, sleeping. He smirked as he remembered the kiss they had shared. Granger had been hot as hell, and he definitely wanted more of her. She'd been enthusiastic and passionate and oh-so-beautiful. It had taken everything in him not to take her in the shower.

Looking down at her now, he couldn't wait until they were married and he could fill her womb with a child. It was only a matter of time; she'd given him her word that she would marry him. When he thought she was ready, he would waste no time to collect on her debt.

Reluctantly, he left her side for the bathroom. He needed to wash off all the filth from the day before he joined his witch. His witch. When did he start thinking of her as his? He was technically still married to Katrina. As he turned on the shower, he wondered if Katrina had received any petitions. Even if she hadn't, he'd only have to put up with her for three and a half more months; then it would be out of his hands.

After Katrina had burst into his room, he'd told her, in no uncertain terms, to leave Granger alone. He had also ordered Rosey to keep an eye on things, just in case. And since then, from what Rosey had said, Katrina had continued to spend most of her time away.

As he lathered up his body, he couldn't help but think about when he'd done the same for Granger. Her pert breasts, silky skin, and tempting folds filled his mind. Taking hold of his length, he imagined it was her hand, firmly sliding up and down. He imagined her lips on him again, her lust-filled whimpers betraying her. He wanted to taste her and feel her tightness around him. He wanted to hear her beg for him to—his body stiffened. Grunting, he came hard, wishing it was inside her.

Panting, he quickly rinsed off and then turned off the shower. As he walked back into the bedroom, he dried himself with a charm.

Too tired to bother putting something on, Thorfinn climbed into the bed, naked. With another flick of his wand, he extinguished the candles in the bathroom and bedroom and then lay down, pulling Granger close.

As he fell asleep, he realised he'd forgotten to visit the Archives, Registries, and Censuses Office. He hoped tomorrow he'd have the time to check the population numbers.

When Thorfinn woke the next morning, he felt too warm and pushed off his covers but still kept Granger close. He grimaced the moment he noticed the uncomfortable dampness of sweat on his skin. Blearily opening his eyes, he looked at Granger. He gasped when he saw her: she was deathly pale, and locks of her hair stuck to her sweat-drenched face.

"Granger?" he asked, shaking her lightly.

She didn't rouse; instead, her back arched and her body began to convulse.

"Granger!" he yelled in alarm and rising panic. For a second, he had no idea what to do. "Shit!" Granger needed help. He had to get Granger to help.

As soon as she stopped convulsing, Thorfinn leapt out of the bed and threw on the first shirt and pair of trousers he saw in his wardrobe.

He hurried back to Granger's side and yanked the covers off of her: she was wearing his Slytherin sweatpants and an old Slytherin Quidditch jumper. A deep, fierce wave of protectiveness and possession swept through him at the sight, and he knew then that he would do whatever he must to protect his witch.

He scooped her into his arms and raced down to the entrance hall.

"You're going to be okay, little witch," Thorfinn said softly before he grabbed a handful of Floo powder. "St Mungo's!"

"I need a Healer!" he shouted as he exited one of the fireplaces in St Mungo's Admissions Department. He glanced down at Granger. Now, her skin and lips had a blue hue, and she was having difficulties breathing.

"I need the fucking Healer-in-Charge!"

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two wizards and a witch sprinting towards him.

"H-head Auror Rowle," a short, round wizard stammered nervously, out of breath. "I'm Abhail Pye, the Healer-in-Charge. This is Healer Regan," he pointed to the witch to his left, "and Healer Flynn," he pointed to the wizard to his right. "Please, follow me."

Thorfinn followed the Healers into a small private room and gently laid Granger on the available bed, immediately feeling the loss.

As Healer Pye Summoned a clipboard and a quill, the other Healers went to Granger's side and began casting diagnostic spells.

"Sir, what is her name and relation to you?" Healer Pye asked.

"Hermione Granger"—eyes widening, Healer Pye did a double-take at Granger—"my intended," Thorfinn growled his last two words.

Healer Pye's face paled, clearly understanding that failure wasn't an option.

"What's wrong with her?" Thorfinn asked.

"My best are running tests, now," Healer Pye said calmly. "Do you have an idea of what may have caused Miss Granger to become ill? Any potions she's been taking or working on? Any curses she may have sustained?"

Thorfinn ran a hand through his hair. "No… She had just recovered from the effects of a blood curse, but my family Healer assured me she would fully recover."

"The name of your family Healer," Healer Pye requested.

"Conor Fawley."

"Thank you, sir. We'll get it all figured out," Healer Pye told him. "In the meantime, why don't you take the lift up to the tea room."

Thorfinn nodded and, with one last look at Granger, left the room.

Pacing the length of the tea room, it felt like he'd been waiting for hours. He checked the time and groaned: only forty-five minutes had passed so far.

"Auror Rowle."

Thorfinn whipped around to see Healer Pye standing behind him.

"Is she going to be okay?" Thorfinn asked, both eager and afraid to know.

"We've managed to stabilise Miss Granger and slow down the progress of what's ailing her. She seems to have come in contact with some sort of poison. We're not sure which one; a bezoar didn't work. We'll keep trying things," Healer Pye assured him.

A poison... The only person he knew that had contact with Granger recently was Snape: a Potions master. But Snape wanting to kill her didn't make sense.

"I'll be back soon," Thorfinn said, pushing past Healer Pye.

He needed answers, and he'd stop at nothing until he got them.

After three futile attempts, Thorfinn found himself yelling profanities at the impenetrable door of the Research Center. His suspicions had also increased. Why hadn't Snape removed the charms? He began pounding on the door.

"Snape! SNAPE! Get out here!" Thorfinn shouted between the strikes.

As he was about to slam his fist on the door again, it opened.

"Rowle. What is the meaning of this?" Snape asked furiously, stepping out and closing the door.

"It's Granger; she's been poisoned. She's in St Mungo's, and the Healers have no idea what type of poison it is. Did you do it?" Thorfinn hissed. "Does the Dark Lord no longer have a need for her? Is...Is he only playing—"

"Rowle," Snape interrupted, "I did not poison Miss Granger." He looked at Thorfinn seriously. "I swear it. Take me to her," he demanded.

Thorfinn felt a weight lift off his shoulders. "Okay."

"Wait here," Snape instructed. "I need to get my Potions bag."

Snape left him in the corridor, not bothering to shut the door. Peering in, Thorfinn didn't appreciate the curious looks from the employees inside, so he crossed his arms and glared daggers at them until they stopped.

"Let's go," Snape said less than a minute later, black bag in hand.

It wasn't long before they were back at St Mungo's, and Thorfinn was leading him to Hermione's room.

"Master Snape," Healer Pye greeted Snape fondly and with a great deal of relief.

"Healer Pye," Snape greeted in return, surprisingly with respect. Wasting no time, he asked, "What antidotes have been tried?"

As Snape and Pye discussed topics he could barely recall from his days at Hogwarts, Thorfinn stared at Granger. She looked even worse than when he'd first brought her back from France. But there was hope. She wasn't alone. He was here; Pye was here; even Snape was here: all of them wanting to save her.

Snape bent over her and waved his wand, casting a few diagnostics. He then opened each of her eyes and shone a light on them with the tip of his wand. He frowned when there was little reaction. Snape opened Granger's mouth and sniffed her breath.

"Fuck," Snape muttered and whirled around to dig in his bag.

"What is it?" Thorfinn asked.

"Apples...or likely the venom from a Jaculus. It's a small, nearly extinct type of dragon that prefers to eat and live in trees, apple trees in particular, hence the smell. Many old tales stem from the creature and its poison. The only reason she's alive is because of the lingering effects of her past treatment for the Blood Curse; it luckily contained Wormwood," Snape commented as he turned back to Hermione and began dumping potions down her throat.

Thorfinn was more scared than he wanted to admit to himself. "Will she live?" he asked.

"Only time will tell," Snape said. He turned to Healer Pye. "She's to be given a vial of Infusion of Wormwood every three hours on the dot. Do not miss one dose. Once she awakens, the dosage will need to occur every six hours for five days. I'll come back this evening with all of the doses you'll need."

Snape bid Rowle and Pye goodbye and exited the room, his robes billowing behind him.

"I'm sure Miss Granger will be right as rain in a few days," Healer Pye said as he patted Thorfinn's arm. "Master Snape is the most skilled Potions master I've ever known. He helped to save a lot of lives after the war. I'm still sad I couldn't convince him to become a Healer. His bedside manner notwithstanding, he would have been brilliant.

"You should go home and rest, Auror Rowle. I'll send a house-elf if her condition changes."

"I will." Thorfinn shook Pye's hand. "Thank you."

For a few more minutes, Thorfinn stayed with Granger. How had she come in contact with the Jaculus venom? He knew that in the past she'd found basilisk venom, which was similarly rare. Did she poison herself, hoping to die? It didn't seem like her. One of the things he knew and admired about Granger was that she didn't just give up.

Once Thorfinn arrived home, he headed to his study and poured himself a glass of Firewhisky. A glance at his watch told him it was only eleven o'clock. It had been a hard morning.

"Rosey!" he called after his first sip.

"Master Thorfinn," Rosey greeted with a small bow. Then she narrowed her eyes at him and placed her hands on her tiny hips. "Master shouldn't be drinking before lunchtime."

Thorfinn rolled his eyes; Rosey could be such a mother hen. "It's already been a long day, Rosey. I've been at St Mungo's because Granger was poisoned. I need something stronger than just tea today." He took another sip. "I was too tired to ask last night. Tell me about Granger's day yesterday."

Rosey pulled on her ears as she spoke. "Yesterday, Mistress was having fun learning about her new home. Rosey made sure all the rooms Mistress saw were smelling fresh and no Biting Fairies were hiding. Master's library was Mistress's favourite.

"Mr Snape came by and spoke with Mistress. He wasn't here for very long, but he helped cheer up Mistress. But then Mistress Katrina stopped Mistress Hermione in the corridor.

"At first, Rosey thought they'd introduce themselves, and Rosey would be serving them elevenses together. But then Mistress Katrina was mean to Mistress Hermione. She called her names and hexed Mistress Hermione. Rosey was able to call Mistress Katrina away before Mistress Hermione could be hurt more.

"Then last night, when Rosey prepared dinner for Mistress Hermione, Mistress Katrina came into the kitchen and ordered Rosey to get her clutch bag for her. Now, Rosey thinks Mistress Katrina must have put poison in Mistress Hermione's food while Rosey was away. Rosey is a bad elf." Covering her face with her hands, Rosey sobbed, her ears drooping.

Clenching his jaw, Thorfinn sighed heavily. Fucking Katrina!

"Rosey, don't cry. It'll be okay. Granger's too stubborn to let something like a little poison do her in. It's not your fault that Granger is sick; it's Katrina's. And she'll pay for what she's done. Where is she?"

"Mistress Katrina is visiting Malfoy Manor."

"Why don't you pack Granger a bag for when she wakes up. Maybe add a few book to it from the library."

"Yes, sir," Rosey said, brightening up. "Rosey will also pack one of your old Bats jumpers. Mistress seems to like Quidditch jumpers."

Thorfinn smiled and nodded encouragingly.

Rosey's ears flapped, and she popped out of the room.

As Thorfinn finished his drink, he debated whether he should show up at Malfoy Manor to fetch his soon-to-be-ex-wife or wait for her to come home. What would piss her off the most? He suspected being embarrassed in front of Narcissa Malfoy would be the worst.

Decided, he strode quickly from the room and left Rowle Rock.

A house-elf led Thorfinn to a sunny conservatory, artificially sunny since it was almost Christmas and perpetually cloudy in Britain this time of year.

He walked through a forest of delicate greenery, searching for Katrina, and found her chatting with Narcissa and Astoria Malfoy about the upcoming Ministry's Winter Ball Celebration.

"Mrs Malfoy, Mrs Malfoy," Thorfinn said warmly once he reached their sitting area and caught their attention. He glared coldly at Katrina. "Wife."

"Mr Rowle! What a pleasant surprise," Narcissa Malfoy greeted him. She stood and Thorfinn took her hand, kissing the back of it as was proper.

"I apologise on Astoria's behalf for not standing; she's been a bit under the weather lately."

"Think nothing of it," Thorfinn replied, going to Astoria and kissing the back of her hand too.

Astoria weakly smiled. "Mr Rowle."

Thorfinn was shocked at how frail Astoria appeared. It seemed what ailed her was worse than a-run-of-the-mill illness.

"Thorfinn, my darling, what are you doing here?" Katrina asked, a fake smile on her face.

"I needed to see you, my dear, and Rosey let me in on your schedule. I hope you don't mind?"

Katrina's smile wavered. "Of course not."

"I'm afraid I must steal my dear wife away from your pleasant company, Mrs Malfoy," Thorfinn informed Narcissa. "I had the pleasure of receiving a Howler from Libatius Twilfitt about the status of her account, which I'm sure is only a misunderstanding." He managed not to laugh at Katrina's reddening expression.

"Of...course," Narcissa said haltingly. "It was so lovely to see you again, Katrina. The tea you've been bringing has done wonders for Astoria."

"I'm glad to do it, Cissy. Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure as always." Katrina rose and grasped Astoria's hands. "Dear Tori, I hope you begin feeling better soon." She kissed Astoria's cheek.

"Thank you, Kat," Astoria whispered.

It must have been a trick of the artificial sunlight, but Katrina's eyes seemed to glisten.

"Come, Katrina," Thorfinn said roughly as he grabbed her arm and led her out of the manor. He didn't say a word to her until they arrived back at Rowle Rock.

Once they were ensconced in the sitting room that connected their bedrooms, he poured himself a glass of Firewhisky. "Want one?" he asked her.

Shaking her head, she glared at him and then moved to stand in front of a window.

"Suit yourself." He sat in one of the wing chairs near the fireplace and took a long pull of his drink. "I know what you did to Granger. I was going to allow you to live here for as long as I could. But I won't have you putting the future mother of my children at risk."

Katrina gazed out the window into the moor. "You think she'll be able to have a child so easily?" she asked, snorting.

"Not now, no thanks to you," Thorfinn snarled. In truth, Granger would need a lot of healing before she would be ready to have a child.

Katrina turned around to face him. "I could still have your child, Thor," she asserted.

"No, you can't. We've been trying, remember. For four years, we've been trying. Face it, Katrina, you're barren."

She looked away but not before Thorfinn saw an expression of pain and guilt cross her face.

"Katrina…what have you done?" he asked her with a growing suspicion. "Tell me!"

"I've been brewing my own contraception potion. It's just, you see...I couldn't stand another miscarriage. My heart needed a break, Thor! But I swear, I'll stop taking the potion. I'm ready to try again."

"Miscarriage? When have you ever had a miscarriage?" Thorfinn asked as he set his drink on a side table. It was news to him that Katrina had ever been pregnant.

"I had seven miscarriages within two years," Katrina said as her eyes welled up. She turned away from Thorfinn.

Thorfinn stood up and went to stand next to Katrina. He grasped her chin lightly and encouraged her to face him. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's a witch's pain to bear alone," Katrina muttered as if she were reciting something she'd been told over and over again. She jerked her chin out of his hold and wiped her tears. "Most happened early on during the first trimester. I didn't want to get your hopes up."

Thorfinn felt his heart break over this tragedy that Katrina had suffered alone. And he felt anger at himself for not noticing his wife's pain, for unknowingly increasing it with his hurtful words.

Shaking his head, he turned away from her. In the end, it was too late.

"I'm sorry Katrina, but you need to leave," Thorfinn said, feeling both sadness and anger at the situation.

Katrina made to go to her bedroom.

"No, Katrina, I meant my home. From this day forth, you are no longer my wife. You can no longer claim the name Rowle. I want you gone by tonight."

"Thor, you can't! You promised me!" She threw herself onto her knees in front of him. "I can have your child; I promise! I'll do whatever it takes. I swear it!"

Thorfinn could see tears in her eyes once more, and he almost relented. But then he remembered Hermione convulsing, of her looking so small and pale in that hospital bed struggling for each breath.

"And Granger? You won't harm her again?" he asked rhetorically.

Katrina's expression went from remorseful to furious in a flash. "That fucking, uppity Mudblood bitch. She's why you're reneging on our marriage vows!"

"It's the law, Katrina! The Dark Lord commanded me to marry Granger and keep her in line. I didn't choose her of my own volition. It was a fucking order."

"You're Head Auror! Can't you get out of it?"

"No!" Her naiveté about the Dark Lord astounded him. But most wizards and witches choose to believe only the Dark Lord's charming public persona, so not all the blame could be placed on her for her ignorance. "But now, even if I could, I wouldn't. I can't trust you anymore. I want you gone. Don't make me kick you out myself, Katrina. I should have you thrown into Azkaban for attempted murder!"

"Fine! But you will regret this Thorfinn Olaf Rowle!" Katrina screamed before she marched into her room, slamming the door.

"Rosey!" Thorfinn called.

Rosey popped into the room. "Master Thorfinn."

"Katrina is no longer your mistress. Make sure she's out of here by tonight. Help her pack. Do whatever you need to get her out."

"Of course, Master Thorfinn," Rosey said, unable to hide her overenthusiasm. She entered Katrina's bedroom, easily stopping a vase before it crashed into a wall.

Thorfinn poured himself another finger of Firewhisky. He wondered where Katrina would go. It would only be a matter of time before the money in her account ran dry, and she was too proud to ask the Malfoys for help. He forced himself to stop worrying over her. Now, Katrina's future was her own.

Finishing his drink, he decided to head to the Ministry for a few hours and then go check on Granger at St Mungo's. He wanted to be by his witch's side when she woke.

Chapter Text

Katrina was angrier than she had ever been in her entire life. Thor had broken his promise to look after her, broken his marriage vows, and wanted to throw her out as if she was nothing more than yesterday's refuse. Mother's words about never putting one's trust in another had never haunted her more than now.

After the wretched house-elf stuffed as many of Katrina's belongings as possible into a trunk, Katrina shrank it and then grabbed her coin bag off her dressing table. Flying out of her bedroom, she made her way to the fireplace in the entrance hall. Unable to stop herself from taking one last look, she turned around and gasped in a choked breath before leaving the only home she'd known for the last four years.

Exiting a Ministry fireplace, she added herself to the queue for the Diagon Alley exit. A few minutes later, her stomach growled as she wandered onto the street. What was she to do with herself?

She didn't want to bother Astoria as ill as her only true friend was, and if she were being honest with herself, after having to care for her own sick mother for five years, she'd prefer not having to see Astoria in pain. And buying a room for the night wasn't an option with a scant three Galleons and seven Sickles left in her coin bag and Gringotts having already closed for the evening. In addition to the money that remained in the account Thor had given her, she'd squirrelled most of her allowance away over the years into a secret account for a rainy day, but none of it would do her any good until Gringotts opened the next morning.

Fucking Mudblood cunt, Katrina thought for perhaps the hundredth time that day. Everything would have been fine if Thor hadn't dragged that swotty, fancy-Arithmancer bitch home. A random slag, Katrina wouldn't have minded, but her replacement and a reminder of what she could never be had been a step too far.

Katrina had always wanted to pursue a career in Potions. Ever since her first year at Hogwarts, she knew she had a knack for it. When she'd suggested her aspirations to her father, he'd laughed before slapping her across the face, reminding her of her place.

But she was young yet, having only turned twenty-seven this year, and now that her father was dead, she had hoped to, at least, begin a mastery. But then the fucking marriage law had happened.

She'd thought she still had time to come to terms with everything. With the help of a fertility potion she could brew, she was sure she would have become pregnant with Thor's child before the deadline; even though, the possible pain of losing another baby terrified her.

She eyed the entrance to Knockturn Alley as she passed by. Madame Cresswell's was down that way, she knew. If she couldn't find someone to petition her, it was where she'd likely end up, regardless of the choices she made now. She couldn't believe she hadn't received any petitions: she was a beautiful, pure-blooded witch. She cursed Thor and his intimidating exterior, it likely the reason why.

Should she just go to the brothel? It would mean a hot meal, a place to sleep, and a way to earn her own money. Katrina shook her head. She wasn't ready. She wasn't ready to give up on her dreams. Not yet.

Entering Domice Alley, she had to move with the flow of the crowd, most of the wizards and witches around her eager to return home from work. She continued down the street, looking for 133½ Domice Alley, the address of her sometimes lover Antonin Dolohov. He was a half-blood, which meant he could petition for her. She could only hope that he would. She hadn't seen him in several weeks, but their relationship was casual enough that it wouldn't be odd for her to show up on his doorstep.

A blonde woman, not nearly as attractive as Katrina, answered the door. "Hello. May I help you?" she asked, her large, blue eyes seeming to look through Katrina.

"I'm...a friend of Antonin Dolohov," Katrina answered. "Does he still live here?"

"Oh, yes. Antonin!" she called over her shoulder. "You have a visitor!" She stepped back and beckoned Katrina inside.

"Coming," Antonin replied in his Russian-accented voice from the kitchen.

"I don't believe we've ever met," the blonde said as she shut the door. "I'm Luna, Antonin's wife."

Hearing Luna's words, Katrina felt livid. His bloody wife! The lifelong-proclaimed bachelor was fucking married to a shorter, less comely version of herself. She sighed. Of course.

Antonin entered the sitting room, wearing grubby trousers and an equally grubby vest. When he spotted Katrina, his eyes darted to Luna, actual embarrassment on his face. He looped an arm around Luna and kissed the top of Luna's head.

Katrina studied the pair. They were decidedly odd together. Antonin hulked over Luna and had, at least, thirty years on her. And yet, Luna glowed with happiness as she looked up at him. It hurt Katrina to see. She had once looked at Thor like that before she'd realised his courtship of her had been a sham. Her subsequent joyful acceptance of his marriage proposal had also been a sham, the result of a cruel ultimatum made by her father.

"Katrina...what are you doing here?" Antonin asked, his unease thickening his accent.

"Thor threw me out, so I was hoping I could stay for the night, but—"

"Certainly, you can stay the night with us," Luna enthused.

"Really?" Katrina asked surprised but then wondered if Luna literally meant with her and Antonin. She'd rather not sleep with a woman, but she really did need a place to stay... If she was caught in one of the alleys alone, she might be raped and left for dead. She shuddered at the thought.

"Yes, anything for a friend of Antonin's," Luna replied with a dreamy smile.

"You can stay in the guest room," Antonin elaborated, understanding Katrina's hesitation.

Katrina sighed in relief, and when Luna, without asking, sat her down in the dining room and placed a huge bowl of stew in front of her, Katrina gave Luna a genuine smile.

As soon as Katrina stepped foot onto Diagon Alley the next morning, a pack of four Aurors surrounded her.

"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded, feeling some hope. Had Thor changed his mind?

When her wand arm was grabbed painfully, she shouted, "What do you think you are doing! Do you not know who I am? My husband is Head Auror!"

"We know who you are," an Auror to her left said with a sneer. "And you're not Auror Rowle's wife, not anymore."

Katrina's heart plummeted. "I-I am still a pure-blood witch," she said, fear making her voice waver. "Unhand me!"

Instead, the Auror holding her tightened his grip and Side-Along Apparated her into the Aurory. He then shoved her into a holding cell, slamming the door shut.

She grasped the bars about to shout but she flinched and quickly let go when she realised they were magic-draining. She cursed softly. On the upside, at least her belongings hadn't been confiscated.

A few moments later, Katrina heard footsteps coming closer to her from the left. She couldn't see anyone yet but could tell it was more than one person. She guessed it would be Thor—clearly, he was more vindictive than she realised. However, it wasn't Thor she soon came face-to-face with; it was the Dark Lord.

Internally groaning, she pursed her lips, knowing she looked a mess. She hadn't slept well, the sounds of Antonin and Luna fucking late into the night replaying over and over in her head. She'd been glad to head out before the two woke, deciding it best to leave them a note of thanks rather than face them.

"Katrina Selwyn," the Dark Lord said with a dark chuckle.

Katrina curtsied low, holding it a good two seconds. "My lord, it's an honour."

Knowing better than to meet his gaze, she kept her eyes on the floor in a show of deference. She couldn't help but jump when she heard the door to her cell squeak open.

"You've caused me quite a bit of inconvenience, Miss Selwyn," the Dark Lord murmured dangerously as he stalked towards her.

Katrina's eyes widened. Inconvenience? What was he talking about? She chanced a look at the Dark Lord but didn't see a charming grin on his face as she'd expected; instead, all she saw was a menacing glare. His red eyes blazed with a fury that filled her with a terrifying dread. She quickly looked back at the floor as she began to tremble.

"I-I'm sorry, my lord," Katrina said, confusion written on her face.

The Dark Lord's hand shot out and grasped her chin. She gasped at the coldness of his fingers on her warm skin. He then wrenched her head up so she would have to look at him.

"Hermione Granger," the Dark Lord answered Katrina's unsaid question. "Hermione Granger is only mine to do with as I wish. Whether she is to live or die, it's up to me. You almost stole what is mine," he said, his voice scarily light. "As such, you are now mine. What little freedom you had is forfeit." He pushed her away, and Katrina lost her footing, ending up on her arse. "You will soon learn your place and true value, Katrina Selwyn.

"She's to be taken to Madame Cresswell's immediately," the Dark Lord informed the Aurors standing outside of the cell. All the while as he spoke, he stared dispassionately at Katrina. "She has an allowance account at Gringotts; it's to be frozen. If she has any belongings on her person besides her wand, confiscate them. Lastly, see that her wand is limited to Mudblood-status usage."

"Yes, my lord," they replied in unison.

Katrina couldn't stop the flood of tears escaping from her eyes and down her cheeks. She was going to be a whore. She was losing most of her possessions and the ability to hex those who meant her harm. Somehow, the Dark Lord commanding it made it all worse.

As she was marched out of her cell, Katrina fisted her hands and stood tall. If she had to be a whore, she vowed to be the best, damn whore Madame Cresswell's offered. It would only be a matter of time until she had countless wizards eating out of her hand.

The moment Madame Cresswell saw Katrina, she fawned over Katrina's appearance.

"Beautiful, my dear," she crooned, cupping Katrina's cheek.

Katrina beamed at her.

"Ah, ah, too much smiling ruins the face."

Katrina dialled down her smile to more of a knowing smirk.

"Better, better. She'll do, gentlemen." Cresswell dismissed the Aurors with a flick of her hand.

Once the Aurors were out of sight, she beckoned Katrina to follow her.

"Rules, to begin with, my dear," Cresswell said, walking at a brisk pace, "then I'll show you to your room and introduce you to the other girls."

Katrina soon found herself in Cresswell's office. The space was large and as sumptuously decorated as the rest of the house in soft pastels. The carpet beneath her feet was plush, and Katrina longed to take off her shoes and dig her toes into it. On the shelves behind Cresswell's desk were photographs of Cresswell with various dignitaries. Katrina spied both Lucius Malfoy and the Dark Lord looking imperiously out of their frames.

Cresswell and she sat down in a small sitting area in the corner of the office, nearest the fireplace.

"First of all, my house services only a distinguished type of clientele, most of them Death Eaters. I understand you were married to a Death Eater, so you shouldn't have a problem with that." Cresswell looked at her sharply.

"Yes, Madame Cresswell," Katrina answered smartly.

Cresswell summoned a tea set and poured a cup for them both. Katrina hadn't bothered with breakfast and drank her tea a bit too eagerly.

"We are open all day, every day. There are three overlapping shifts in a day, each nine hours, which includes an hour for eating a quick meal and sprucing up between clients. You'll only be scheduled for one of them. Switching shifts with others isn't allowed; it caused too many headaches. Since you were mandated here by our Dark Lord, you will work every day of the week and will get no percentage of your earnings. Room, board, clothing, and potions shall be provided. All of my girls are on a strict potions regimen to ward off diseases but not pregnancies. I get a large bonus if you get up the duff." Cresswell smirked.

Katrina paled. She felt stricken at the thought of having to live through a never-ending cycle of pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths, or, the worst, her newborn babies being ripped from her arms.

Cresswell narrowed her eyes at Katrina and snapped her fingers. "Maisy!"

A house-elf wearing a pillowcase trimmed with lace appeared.

"Bring toast, jam, and biscuits," Cresswell ordered. "It looks like you could use more than just tea," she commented to Katrina.

"Thank you, Madame Cresswell." Katrina felt gratitude as she blinked rapidly to clear the tears that had formed in her eyes.

"Clients are always right and can request anything," Cresswell continued. "You aren't allowed to turn any client away. No exceptions," she said sternly. "If a client wants to humiliate you, perform corporal punishment, or string you up from the ceiling, they are allowed."

Katrina's stomach turned at the thought of having to endure such sexual deviancies, so someone—likely a person she knew socially—could get off. She set the piece of toast she'd been eating down.

"You are required to maintain proper hygiene: bathing before and after each shift, freshening yourself between clients, et cetera.

"You must also keep your room clean. Be sure to strip your bed daily and place your soiled clothing in the provided laundry basket in your room. House-elves will help tidy up as needed. If any toys are used, those also must be cleaned after each client."

Katrina nodded along as she tried to follow the rapid pace at which Cresswell was talking. It was a lot to take in. Only twenty-four hours ago, she'd been sipping tea with Narcissa and Astoria Malfoy, chinwagging about high-society gossip. Now, here she was in a brothel, receiving instructions on how to be a proper whore. It was surreal. She took a deep breath and picked up her piece of toast again. The topic of conversation was distasteful, but she needed to eat. She needed to keep up her strength.

"You are allowed to socialise with the other girls, but I expect no fighting. I don't want to see it or even hear about it.

"If you make trouble or don't take a client, you'll be thrown in Azkaban or executed, depending on the Dark Lord's preference, understand?"

"Yes, madame," Katrina said meekly.

"Good," Cresswell encouraged, softening her tone. "You're beautiful. You should do well here."

Katrina smiled at her.

"Now, let's talk prices. You are required to collect payment before each visit and ensure that it's deposited in the till. I generally operate the till during peak hours, but during slow times, it'll be one of the girls who've been here a while.

"One hour costs forty-five Galleons. Two hours cost eighty-five Galleons. You'll notice they get a bit of a price break the more they spend. Three hours cost one hundred and twenty and so forth. The prices are listed near the till. Four hours is considered Half a Night, regardless of the time of day, and cost one hundred and fifty-five Galleons. Eight hours, or a Whole Night, is two hundred and eighty Galleons. If a client wants more than one girl at once, he gets a five Galleon discount for each one. If a client wants to kiss, it's an additional ten Galleons an hour. For any BDSM play, it's an additional fifty Galleons an hour.

"If you become pregnant, you will still have to work during your pregnancy, but when you begin to show, we also charge extra, depending on how far along you are. But we'll worry about that if it happens. Got all that?"

Katrina nodded slowly. "Yes... Are we required to count the Galleons?"

"There's a scale by the till. No need to count, just make sure the weight adds up to the appropriate amount."

"Alright..." Katrina said. She felt dazed as if she was under a Confundus Charm.

"I know it's overwhelming, my dear," Cresswell said kindly, patting Katrina's hand.

"Once you've tallied eight hours of paid work, your shift is considered complete. Since you won't be getting a cut, it doesn't make a difference if you decide to work extra. Although," Cresswell tittered, "the more money you make me, the happier I shall be with you.

"It's best to have a client for a Whole Night because that's money in the till. Upselling is the key in this game."

Katrina bobbed her head but said nothing. What could she say? It's not as if she had a choice in the matter.

"Alright, let's get you to your room and settled in. Later, I'll send up Maisy to get your measurements to send to the seamstress. With your complexion, I'm thinking golds and bronzes."

Almost a week had passed, and Katrina was settling into her new accommodations nicely. The brothel was almost as finely appointed as Rowle Rock; although, Katrina's room, room thirty-five on the third floor, was quite a bit smaller than she was accustomed to. She was the newest witch, which meant she had one of the smaller rooms, but it wasn't the smallest since she was one of the better-bred girls, considering her beauty and Blood Status.

She hadn't had to work for the initial few days while a Healer made sure the potions to prevent the spreading of disease took. Cresswell wasn't daft enough to risk a high-ranking Death Eater catching Genital Fire Warts for a few Galleons.

Today, Katrina was in the middle of her very first shift. She had to work from three in the morning to noon, the least desirable shift. Once she proved her worth, Cresswell promised she would be given a better shift and living arrangements.

Katrina's first client had been a low-level Death Eater: someone younger she hadn't known that well. He'd come in her quickly, and while he'd paid for a full hour, he'd only stayed for thirty minutes. Two hours later with no clients in sight, Katrina soon realised why Cresswell suggested it best to get a client to stay for as long as possible.

Hearing Cresswell's fawning lilt nearing, Katrina perked up, knowing another client was about to enter the parlour.

Katrina shouldn't have been shocked, but she was when none other than Lucius Malfoy sauntered into the room. She almost swallowed her tongue when he locked eyes with her and strode forwards.

"Katrina, you're looking lovelier than ever," Malfoy said in a low, cloying voice, his eyes roving over her body in only a golden négligée and knickers.

Katrina swallowed thickly. "Thank you, sir," she said demurely, feeling gross that her best friend's father-in-law was so openly ogling her.

"You likely haven't heard... Astoria passed yesterday."

Katrina gasped. Tori was dead? Katrina had just seen her a week ago. She felt tears begin to slide down her cheeks.

"It was to be expected," Malfoy continued. "She'd been ill for quite a while. I'm sure you are aware of what ailed her."

Katrina nodded as she sniffed and wiped her face. After Astoria had first become ill, she had confided in Katrina that she'd had the bad luck of falling victim to the Greengrass Blood Curse: a curse no one in her family's past ever survived. And for some reason, Astoria was weakening far quicker than previous Greengrasses. Katrina had researched the malediction extensively, hoping to discover something to save her dear friend, but had found nothing.

When she'd learned of Granger's illness and how similar her symptoms were to Astoria's, it didn't take Katrina long to determine Granger also suffered from the effects of a blood curse. Katrina pinched some of the healing tea the Ministry had given to Healer Fawley for Granger, improving upon it, hoping for a cure. It hadn't cured Astoria, but it had eased her coughing fits better than anything given to her previously.

Lucius handed Katrina his handkerchief. "Now, at least, Draco can concentrate on finding a half-blood to wed," he mused.

"Thank you, sir," she said, indicating the handkerchief, "and for telling me about Astoria; she was a cherished friend."

"You're welcome, my dear," Malfoy replied as his fingers played with a lock of her hair before trailing them down her left shoulder. "The funeral will be tomorrow morning at nine, and of course, you are welcome to attend."

Katrina shivered at his touch—but not in a good way.

"Well, I must be off. I have a regular appointment." His lips curved, lasciviously. "Good day, Katrina."

"Good day, sir," Katrina bid, happy when Malfoy left for the stairs.

Katrina quickly rose and left for Cresswell's office.

"Madame Cresswell," Katrina called out to get Cresswell's attention.

"Yes, Katrina," Cresswell spoke, her sharply arched eyebrows lifting.

"Madame, would I be allowed to leave for a few hours tomorrow?"

Cresswell chuckled. "Of course, my dear. This isn't Azkaban. There's a book near the till that you'll need to sign before you leave and after you return."

Katrina sighed in relief. "My dearest friend crossed into the Veil, and I want to attend her service."

"Oh, a funeral the morning?"

"Yes, at nine."

"I'm afraid to say you won't be able to attend, then."

Tears once again filled Katrina's eyes. "W-what. Why?"

"Because you'll be working," Cresswell stated firmly. "Switching shifts isn't allowed. I'm already being more than lenient; leaving the parlour during your shift isn't permitted unless it's to your room with a client. This," she indicated Katrina standing in front of her, "can't happen again. Understood?"

Katrina's insides were twisting and knotting. Her heart felt as if it were being rent apart. "Yes, Madame," she softly said. But inside, inside she was screaming.

Later that same day, Cresswell rounded every available witch into a side parlour for the daily meeting.

"Ladies, first I want to let you know we've a new addition," Cresswell said excitedly. "She's resting in room thirty-four." She looked hard at them. "I expect every one of you to welcome her once she's out and about..."

As Cresswell yapped on, Katrina wondered who the new witch was. Room thirty-four was right across from hers. Since she was done with her shift, maybe she'd take a peak later to see who the new competition was. It would be a good diversion to get her mind off Tori.

As much as Madame Cresswell wanted everyone to get along, everyone knew it wasn't possible because everything was a competition whether it was vying for a better room or a better shift; even the quality of food depended on who brought in the most Galleons.

Katrina waited until after she'd taken a short nap to pay her new neighbour a visit. Peeking out of her door, she made sure there wasn't anyone in the corridor. Silently, she slipped out of her room and into room thirty-four.

Katrina's eyes nearly popped out of her head when she recognized who was in the bed: Granger!

Granger was thin and so pale she barely looked alive. Only Granger's chest rising up and down steadily let Katrina know Granger was indeed alive.

Fucking Mudblood bitch! How the fuck did Granger end up here? Was Katrina destined to have to put up with this swotty cunt forever? Or was the Dark Lord testing her?

Katrina narrowed her eyes as hatred welled hot and heavy in her chest. She was incensed. But she had to hand it to Granger, she was one tough bitch to be able to survive the Jaculus venom.

Despite how Katrina felt and what she wished to do, she wasn't a fool; she'd learned her lesson. Whatever game the Dark Lord was playing, she wanted no part in it.

The next day, Katrina was thrilled to see Tristan Bulstrode strolling into the establishment looking as dapper and handsome as Katrina remembered. He was at least ten years older than her, but their families had socialized when she was younger. She'd always thought they would have made a brilliant match. However, her father had disagreed, saying Bulstrode was only a half-blood and had made her marry Thor instead.

"Lovely, little Katrina Rowle!" he exclaimed as he swept towards her, his quick recognition filling her with pleasure. "I haven't seen you in ages."

"It's Selwyn again," Katrina replied softly, blushing on cue.

"That pesky marriage law, eh?" Bulstrode said jovially. "It's proving to be quite bothersome. Recently, found out my fiancée, Ginevra Weasley ended up dying."

"Oh..." Katrina uttered, unsure by Bulstrode's tone how to respond.

"But enough of my mutterings. Mind if I take you up for a spin?" Bulstrode asked, waggling his eyebrows.

Katrina blushed again and giggled.

"I'll take that as a yes. Four hours should do it." Bulstrode pulled out a bag of Galleons. He looped his arm through Katrina's, and she led him to the till.

"Any extras?" Katrina husked, glancing at him coquettishly. "Kissing is ten Galleons an hour…" she suggested, licking her own lips while letting her eyes dart down towards his mouth.

Bulstrode smirked. "No kissing, but I did throw two hundred extra Galleons in there. I like to spank; that's alright, isn't it?"

Katrina giggled again and nodded. She turned back to the scale and measured the bag. Three hundred and fifty-five Galleons on the dot. She handed to bag to the girl behind the till and led Bulstrode upstairs to her room.

What followed became the worst day of Katrina's life.

Bulstrode beat her within an inch of her life. Always keeping her awake and aware enough to know what was happening to her, never letting her pass out. And when he finished beating her, he raped her. He abused her body so desperately, she needed to go to St Mungo's for treatment. But still, before she could leave, she had to thank him as she had thanked all of her previous clients, per Madame Cresswell's orders. Once the words had left her mouth, it was then she realised what the Dark Lord had meant. She wasn't a whore; she was a slave.

Two days later, Bulstrode returned.

Katrina moaned at the sight of him, knowing she couldn't turn him down. She was healed, barely, and had just been cleared for duty that morning.

"Katrina!" Bulstrode greeted her like he hadn't caused her severe internal bleeding.

Katrina swallowed the bile that rose in her throat.

"Tristan, how are you?" she asked as warmly as she could manage.

"Just fine, just fine. I actually had hoped to speak with you." He grinned down at her, his light-green eyes sparkling.

"Oh?" Katrina asked as casually as she could.

"Yes, I spoke with the Dark Lord today...about you. You see, I'm the reason you haven't received any petitions. He set you aside for me in case my first petition fell through."

Katrina thought she was going to throw up. It was a credit to her strength and acting ability that she didn't. She managed a weak smiled. "The Dark Lord is the one who put me here; I doubt he'll be wanting me to leave."

"Oh, but he does! Just not right away. He said we can marry the day before the deadline. So only two more months. Isn't that grand? I'll have to visit often so we can plan our nuptials."

Katrina's heart sank like a stone. She'd thought nothing could be worse than being a sex slave; she'd been wrong.

"Wonderful," Katrina said, her face aching from the smile she was trying to keep.

"Well, then, I'm actually short on time today. Is two hours alright with you, my love?" Bulstrode withdrew a bag of Galleons.

Katrina nodded numbly and led him to the till.

Chapter Text

Thorfinn was exhausted. He hadn't been sleeping properly since he'd raced Granger to St Mungo's earlier in the week. Every evening, he had sat by her bedside until he'd been kicked out, going home only to spend hours lying awake in bed.

When Thorfinn arrived in Granger's room tonight, Healer Pye informed him that she'd woken briefly earlier today but had been sound asleep since then. Ever since he'd placed Granger on his bed at Rowle Rock, she'd spent most of her time in a bed, and not because Thorfinn had worn her out in the most delicious of ways. He sighed.

Sitting down and taking her hand in his, he brooded about all the things he should have done differently. He should have paid closer attention to Katrina. He should have done a better job of protecting Granger. Thorfinn shook his head. What was done was done. He needed to focus on what he could do. The Dark Lord's order was clear: he needed to make sure Granger married him.

You won't be able to protect herYou'll fail her just as you did Katrina. He reflexively relaxed his hold on Granger's hand as he attempted to banish his insidious thoughts. Thorfinn wasn't stupid. He knew when it was better to just forget about something and move on. He had to bury any thoughts he had about Katrina. He had to follow the Dark Lord's directives, or they all might suffer the Dark Lord's wrath. He was a soldier; he was good at focussing his mind in a new direction when given an order. Granger would be his wife and the mother of his children. She was his life now.

Thorfinn gazed down at Granger. He was beginning to suspect his desire to keep her safe was more than just self-preservation. Granger was...extraordinary. She was a fighter. She'd endured so much in such a short amount of time, and she'd survived. He couldn't believe how strong she was, and he admired that strength. It was the kind of strength that wizarding Britain needed right now.

As he rubbed his thumb across the back of Granger's hand, he softly said, "The Ministry finalised the paperwork today, Little Witch. Katrina is now legally my ex-wife. We can marry as soon as you're able to, and once we're married, few will dare try to harm you; you'll be protected."

He leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on the back of her hand, savouring how soft and warm her skin felt on his lips. He pulled back and found sleepy, brown eyes looking at him.

"Rowle?" she said, her voice soft and scratchy from disuse.

"Hey, Little Witch." Thorfinn smiled in a gentle manner and cupped her face with his left hand. She leaned into his touch and closed her eyes briefly. Thorfinn felt his heart soar.

Granger opened her eyes again and blinked up at him.

"Why'ere?" she slurred.

"Just waiting for you to get better." Thorfinn squeezed her hand, and she squeezed it back. Then he ran his thumb across her petal-soft lips.

She hummed in contentment and nodded slightly before she closed her eyes again.


She didn't stir. She'd fallen back asleep. At least he'd gotten to talk with her for a bit. He sighed and pulled his hand from her face, glancing at his watch. It was almost ten, which meant a Healer would be around any moment to kick him out for the night. He squeezed Granger's hand once more and leaned over to kiss her forehead.

"'Night, Granger," he murmured and then turned to leave St Mungo's.

Thorfinn rolled his head to loosen his stiff neck as he entered a lift at St Mungo's. Another busy day had passed, and it was already after eight. All day, he had dealt with more unrest in the various wizarding hamlets around Britain. He hoped things would settle in a few months when results from the marriage law would be seen.

Striding out of the lift and into the Potion and Plant Poisoning Ward on the third floor, he was happy to be in St Mungo's once again to sit with Granger.

"Do you need any help, Auror Rowle?" a Healer who had tended to Granger asked.

Thorfinn furrowed his brow. "No. I'm just here to visit Granger." He pointed down the corridor to Granger's room.

"But sir," the Healer said, frowning, "she was discharged this afternoon."

Rowle froze. "On whose orders?" he growled.

"I'm sorry, sir. Only Healer Pye has the authority to release any information. Spells prevent us from revealing anything except to blood or bonded family."

Thorfinn gritted his teeth. He hated this type of bureaucratic nonsense. "And where's Healer Pye?"

The Healer cringed. "He's gone home for the evening."

"'re telling me that my fiancée, who has been comatose and is weak, has been stolen."

"Not stolen," she explained meekly, "but released. All protocols were followed." Sensing his mood, she went on shakily, "I-I truly am sorry I can't be of more help, sir."

Thorfinn took a deep breath to keep himself from hexing the staff. Without saying another word, he left to catch the first available lift. His body trembled with frustration and anger as he thought about what his next step should be. What he needed to do was locate Pye, and that meant he would need to return to the Aurory.

Being Head Auror had its perks, such as when he needed to find a private address. It was as simple as consulting a directory stored in his department, and after a quick detour, Thorfinn was now already making his way to Pye's home.

Thorfinn discovered Pye, like most wizards and witches, lived on or near Domice Alley. It being almost nine in the evening, the alley was sparsely populated, most citizens having already returned home from work.

Usually, he would have had one of his subordinates bring Pye in. But this was personal, and he couldn't risk the Dark Lord finding out. Thorfinn had to do this himself. He only hoped Pye would have enough sense to tell him what he needed to know. Merlin, it was incomprehensible that Pye allowed Granger to be released without his knowledge. Hopefully, Thorfinn could track down Granger tonight and, by tomorrow, go to the Dark Lord about Pye and his staff's incompetence. He didn't think of it as snitching; it was more self-preservation. He couldn't allow others to fuck him over. They deserved to pay for what happened on their watch, not him.

Pye lived in a three-storey building on a quiet dead end off of Domice. Each floor of the building held one flat, and Thorfinn could see the lights to Pye's on the third storey were on.

Entering the building, Thorfinn took the stairs two at a time and was pounding on Pye's door in less than thirty seconds.

"Pye!" Thorfinn shouted as he pounded.

Healer Pye opened the door after only a short delay, wand in hand.

"What is the meaning of—" Pye cut himself off and lowered his wand when he got a look at Thorfinn. "Oh, Head Auror Rowle, what can I do for you?"

"You can tell me where my fucking fiancée is," Thorfinn growled as he pushed the shorter man back into the flat, slamming the door behind him.

"S-she's not with you, sir?"

Thorfinn grabbed Pye by the front of his pyjama shirt and pulled him close.

"Do you not realise," Thorfinn hissed, "it was the Dark Lord who ordered Granger into my care? By releasing her without my knowledge or permission, you've indirectly violated that order. As Head Auror, I could have you and anyone else involved brought up on charges."

Pye's eyes widened, and Thorfinn shoved him away. Pye tumbled backward and fell on his arse. Thorfinn would have laughed if he weren't so bloody angry. Granger's release made absolutely no sense. She had finished the regimen of potions prescribed by Snape, but Pye was the one who said she needed to stay a few additional days.

Not wanting to waste time arguing about the finer details of Pye's fuck-up, Thorfinn got right to the point. "Who did you release Granger to?"

"O-one of your men. He was in Auror robes," Pye answered, terror in his eyes. "H-he came in and told me Miss Granger was to be released, that she would finish her recovery elsewhere. He provided a letter with your signature and signed the release papers, all proper."

Thorfinn took a deep breath, trying to calm down. Maybe the Auror had been working on the Dark Lord's orders. "What was the name of the Auror? What did he look like?"

"His name... I…" Pye frowned and sweat dripped over the deep wrinkles of his forehead. "I... can't recall. But he had dark hair…I think."

Thorfinn swore under his breath. A dark-haired Auror? That was more than half of the Aurors in his employ. He glared into Pye's eyes and was about to give him a tongue-lashing when he noticed Pye's unusual expression of confusion. Pye rubbed his head as if it hurt, and that solidified Thorfinn's suspicion: Pye's mind had been manipulated, probably an Obliviate with a possible false memory. But there was nothing Thorfinn could do at the moment; he wasn't skilled enough at Legilimency to try and parse through Pye's mind.

He offered a hand to Pye and helped him up off the floor.

"We're going back to St Mungo's, and you're going to show me Granger's file," Thorfinn ordered coldly.

"Oh, er, of course, sir... Anything to help." Pye cleared his throat and straightened his clothes. Looking down, he realised he was dressed in only his pyjamas. "May I change first?"

Thorfinn gave Pye a once-over. "No."

Ignoring Pye's protests, Thorfinn dragged Pye out of the flat and down the stairs. As soon as they exited the building, he Apparated them outside of St Mungo's.

"Where will her record be?" Thorfinn asked as he threw open a door to St Mungo's and pushed Pye inside.

"Well…that depends. It could still be up on Potion and Plant Poisoning. Or if the records cart has gone round, it could be on the cart. It could also be down in the records room either filed or in the process of being filed."

"For fuck's sake, can't we just Summon it?"

"No, there are Anti-Summoning Charms for privacy reasons."

Thorfinn growled with frustration.

Pye guided him past the welcome witch and towards the lifts, turning red when the witch wouldn't stop staring at him.

"Let's try the Healer station first, and we'll see." Pye pressed the button for a lift an unnecessary number of times.

As they waited, Thorfinn paced. Every minute felt like a month. He had to find Granger. The urgency running through his body was only matched by the fear of why Granger had been taken. Had the Dark Lord decided to give Granger to someone else? Thorfinn's stomach sank at the thought. But if the Dark Lord had decided that, why hadn't he told Thorfinn?

Once their lift arrived on the third floor, Pye and Thorfinn rushed to the Healer station, Pye's slippers slapping against the floor with each step. Thorfinn didn't see the Healer he'd spoken to earlier as they approached the desk. Pointing his wand at Pye in warning, Thorfinn pushed Pye in front of him.

"Healer Pye," a Healer Thorfinn had never met said in surprise. "What are you doing here? I thought you'd left for the day."

"I had, Healer King. However, I need to see Hermione Granger's file once more. It's about her release orders."

"Certainly, sir. I don't believe the cart has made its way up here yet. Let's see if I can find it." Healer King started ruffling through files on the huge circular desk. "Ah, here it is." She pulled the file free and handed it to Healer Pye.

Thorfinn stepped close so he could read over Pye's shoulder, but he couldn't see anything until Pye tapped the file with his wand. When he spotted a letter written on Aurory letterhead, he demanded Pye hand him the entire file. His signature was indeed at the bottom of the document, but after he cast a spell for authenticating signatures, his name disappeared. All the signature lines for the release papers also became blank. It was a dead fucking end. Fuck!

"You didn't think to check the signatures?" Thorfinn asked Pye.

"Well," Pye said, fidgeting, "it's not usually standard procedure..."

"Un-fucking-believable," Thorfinn muttered, glaring at Pye.

Thorfinn ran his hands through his hair. What the hell was he going to do? He'd lost his fucking fiancée for the second time. If the Dark Lord didn't kill him this time, it would be a bleeding miracle.

Later that night, Thorfinn nursed a glass of Firewhisky in his study. He stared into the flames that Rosey had conjured in the fireplace as he contemplated what the theft of Granger meant. The Auror ranks were full of Death Eaters, and while Thorfinn wanted to believe they were all loyal to him, he knew they were also loyal to the Dark Lord. And the Dark Lord was a hell of a lot scarier than Thorfinn could ever be.

So that begged the question: was Granger released on the Dark Lord's order?

Thorfinn didn't know. And now, he'd hit a brick wall. There were over two hundred Aurors, and anyone of them could have been the Auror who authorised the release...if it were an Auror at all. It was so galling that someone had forged his name. Had the forgery been a one-off or had it been going on for a while? What exactly was going on in his department? Thorfinn wasn't sure, and he was afraid to bring his concerns to the Dark Lord's attention. Normally, he wouldn't be, but if he did this time, the Dark Lord would learn he had lost Granger—again.

What would the Dark Lord think if he pulled all his Aurors from the field in order to find out who possibly did it? He'd surely have Thorfinn's head on the spot. Especially considering the current social instability. Thorfinn rubbed his face in frustration and then took a large swallow of his Firewhisky.

Should he just come clean to the Dark Lord? Maybe the Dark Lord was testing his loyalty. Thorfinn knew that Hermione would be found faster if the Dark Lord knew about her disappearance. But Thorfinn wasn't a fool. The Dark Lord could kill him over this. And Thorfinn wasn't quite ready to admit defeat yet. First, he'd try to figure out which Auror had a grudge against him or Granger. If that didn't go well, then he could go to the Dark Lord.

As it turned out, Thorfinn didn't get a chance to even begin his investigation into his Aurors. The Dark Lord came to him.

The following morning, Thorfinn had just sat down at his desk, intent on reviewing Auror files, when the Dark Lord glided into his office, casually shutting the door behind him.

Scrambling from behind his desk, Thorfinn knelt before the Dark Lord, bowing his head. He knew he was fucked. He could only hope that the Dark Lord would give him a chance to explain and not kill him instantly. He had to be very careful to turn this to the best of his advantage.

"Are you incompetent, Rowle?" the Dark Lord mused softly.

"No, my lord," Thorfinn told the floor. He didn't dare look up.

"And yet your betrothed has once again gone missing."

The Dark Lord now stood so close that Thorfinn could see himself in the reflection of the Dark Lord's shoes.

"I'm working on finding her, my lord."

Thorfinn felt the Dark Lord's magic force his face up. Thorfinn slammed as many Occlumency shields as he could muster before he met the Dark Lord's eerie red eyes.

"It seems to me that you don't take very good care of your things," the Dark Lord said too calmly, making the fury in his eyes all the more frightening.

Thorfinn felt a chill race down his spine. This was it: his one chance to try and explain, to try and fix this.

"I'm sorry, my lord. This was out of my hands. An incompetent Healer—"

"Why was Miss Granger in St Mungo's to begin with?"

Thorfinn took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak. But what could he say? If the Dark Lord knew Granger was missing, then he also knew why she'd been in St Mungo's. The Dark Lord was clearly playing with him. He closed his mouth, saying nothing. The Dark Lord wasn't wrong, he had failed Granger.

"You miscalculated how Miss Selwyn would react to Miss Granger. You've made a series of mistakes in regards to Miss Granger," the Dark Lord answered for him. He tutted, repeatedly slapping his wand into his other hand. Thorfinn did his best to not jump at each small thwack of the wand against the Dark Lord's palm. "Crucio."

The Unforgivable was said so easily that if Thorfinn hadn't been in excruciating pain, writhing on the floor at his master's feet, he would have thought the Dark Lord had only been making simple conversation.

The curse burned through Thorfinn's veins, and his nerves popped like firecrackers as his limbs and muscles contracted. He had to grit his teeth so he wouldn't bite his tongue.

He couldn't have been under the curse for longer than a few minutes, but it felt as though it had been hours. The Cruciatus Curse sapped his strength and left him trying to catch his breath and shaking uncontrollably.

In a daze, he gazed at the Dark Lord's shiny shoes once more, gathering his strength to kneel. He had just made it onto all fours when the Dark Lord spoke once more.

"I'm exceedingly disappointed in you, Rowle... Crucio."

Agony ripped through Thorfinn's body once more. This time he hadn't been steeling himself for it and promptly bit his tongue, tasting blood. He thought for sure this was going to be the end. That this time, the Dark Lord would kill him. He almost hoped so. Anything to end the pain and torment he was feeling now.

Sweet relief swept through him when the Dark Lord removed the curse. This time Thorfinn didn't move a muscle, afraid to do anything that would further anger the Dark Lord.

"Get. Up," the Dark Lord hissed.

Thorfinn wanted to thank the stars. If the Dark Lord was ordering him up, it meant he would live another day. He rose shakily to his knees and bowed, wanting his hair to hide his face.

"I've come to a conclusion, Rowle," the Dark Lord said, smiling. "If I find Hermione Granger before you do, I'll marry her myself."

"O-of course, my lord," Thorfinn replied. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He had to find Granger before the Dark Lord. He felt an overwhelming urgency; if he didn't find her, they might both end up dead.

"You have two days."

"Thank you for your leniency, my lord." Thorfinn also silently thanked Merlin he was still alive.

The Dark Lord swept from Thorfinn's office, and Thorfinn collapsed onto the floor, vowing that whoever put him in this position would soon be dead.

Chapter Text

Voldemort was very displeased. He needed Granger found as soon as possible so she could go back to figuring out why the magical birth rate continued to fall. Only he knew the actual statistics: of the few children born during the past decade, half of them had been squibs. Voldemort wasn't just concerned about the population decline; he was incensed by it. What was the point of being the Dark Lord if he couldn't rule over a large and vibrant population? He'd made enquiries to several other European governments, but they'd wanted nothing to do with him.

By now, those governments should have been toppled and under his dominion, but the population decline in Britain had stalled his plans. It was why he had cast the Blood Curse. He couldn't afford to lose any more magical blood. It was also why he'd enacted the marriage law. If pure-blood witches weren't having children—and that seemed to be the case—then half-bloods and Mudbloods would have to propagate the population. It was distasteful, but at least, he wasn't subjecting his followers to breeding with filthy Muggles.

But he still didn't know why, and for that, he needed Granger's genius in Arithmancy. But she had disappeared. Again. How could Rowle keep losing her? Skimming Rowle's mind, he knew Rowle valued the status his gift of the Mudblood gave him. Truthfully, he didn't care about the details; he cared about the fact that she was the only Arithmancer talented enough to figure out what was causing the declining birth rate.

But it wasn't just the declining birth rate that had Voldemort troubled. There was something wrong with the magic in Britain. It was subtle, but he could sense it. Every year, it felt slipperier and required more power to use.

At first, he thought it was just him. But then he'd had the Research Center conduct a few experiments, and it was discovered that it was the same across all of Britain. Had the Muggles found a way to steal magic in mass? Or was this a result of the Blood Curse? He would need to know the exact reason to fix it. Whatever it was, it was another piece of the puzzle that Granger had to figure out.

Voldemort needed Granger. And since Rowle was unable to keep her in hand, well, then he would have to do it. He didn't particularly want to marry anyone, but if that was what it took to keep her safe, alive, and working, he'd tolerate the inconvenience.

If he were to marry, he would be expected to have children, which he had no interest in doing. For him, sex scratched an annoying itch, no more. Although, when the urge reared its bothersome head, he did prefer his witches willing: like Bev. Voldemort smirked as he thought of his elderly secretary. She was just so damned eager and had quite the skilled mouth. He daydreamed momentarily about the way his cock looked as it fucked Bev's face but then scowled when his prick twitched in his trousers. Bev was out for the day, something about her ailing brother. Voldemort sighed. He wasn't about to wait until Bev returned for his needs to be addressed. He would just have to visit Madame Cresswell's establishment tonight.

He rarely visited the Ministry-mandated brothel, but when he did, those there always treated him like their lives depended on it—which was true. He chuckled and shook his head, focusing back to the legislation in front of him. He needed to concentrate now if he wanted to reward himself later.

It was almost ten in the evening when Voldemort finally left his office for Madame Cresswell's. He decided to walk to the brothel, wanting to enjoy how his subjects bowed and scurried around him like well-trained pets. They made him feel powerful and in control and helped to push aside his worrisome thoughts.

Reaching Cresswell's front door, he hoped there was a skilled girl left. He hated it when they were inexperienced and either fumbled or snivelled the entire time. If none of the better girls were available, he knew Cresswell would fetch one for him. He grinned. It was good to be the Dark Lord.

His grin widened when he remembered he had ordered Katrina Selwyn to the brothel just a few days ago. From Rowle's mind, he knew she had a talented mouth. Maybe he'd take her. Her further humiliation would be a balm to his nerves.

Decided, he opened the door to Madame Cresswell's and grimaced as the stench of aroused bodies and alcohol washed over him. Over light chamber music, he could hear the muffled sounds of drunken laughter and conversation coming from deeper inside.

"My lord!" Madame Cresswell greeted him from behind the till. She came forward, waving at another girl to take her place, and curtsied for him.

"Madame Cresswell, business is well, I trust?"

"Of course, my lord. You honour us with your presence. Let me show you to the parlour; some of my best girls are still available this evening," Madame Cresswell simpered and gestured for Voldemort to proceed her into the room on the right.

Voldemort entered the parlour and was pleased to hear a bevy of 'my lords' from everyone before they either bowed or curtsied. He waved his hand for them to carry on as he gazed around the room. The witches were barely clad, and he eyed their flesh with a clinical eye, recognising beauty but not being moved by it. He didn't see the Selwyn girl and turned to Madame Cresswell.

"I was hoping to have Katrina Selwyn this evening," he stated, raising his eyebrows.

"Of course, my lord. She would be honoured to see you; however, she's just been released from St Mungo's. She had a client who was rather hands-on and needs a little more time to fully recover. But if it's your wish, I'm sure she would be happy to serve you."

Voldemort wrinkled his nose. He would never understand a wizard who beat a witch unnecessarily: willing was always better. He was fairly certain who had been the culprit for Selwyn's hospitalisation and knew it likely wouldn't be the last.

"No, let her rest."

"You are too kind, my lord. May I interest you in another of my skilled girls? Marietta here," she pointed at a brunette who hurried forward and bowed obsequiously, "is very talented in some Taoist practices…"

Voldemort examined the girl closer and narrowed his eyes. He could tell she was wearing a concealing glamour on her face and around her neck. Was it so hard to find a willing witch?

"Maybe someone blonde today," Voldemort requested.

Madame Cresswell turned to another girl on a sofa who had been occupied with one of his Death Eaters, the younger Nott.

Theodore Nott rose and bowed low, and Voldemort absentmindedly nodded his head in acknowledgement, more interested in studying the girl. She wore an eager expression and was squeezing her legs together from arousal.

"Hello, my lord," she greeted him. Her voice was husky, and her bright copper eyes gleamed with wicked playfulness.

"Your name, my dear?" Voldemort asked as he grasped her hand and had her twirl for him, finding only perfectly unmarred skin.

"Flora Smith, my lord." She smiled and winked at him.

Voldemort smirked back. She would do nicely. He liked them saucy.

"You'll do. Lead the way then." He motioned for her to go towards the till as he reached into his robes and pulled out a heavy bag of galleons.

Voldemort magically redressed himself as an exhausted but, thoroughly, satisfied Flora Smith lay panting on the bed.

"Come back anytime, my lord," she said as she moved to stand.

"Relax, my dear. No need to get up."

"Thank you, my lord. You are most kind and generous."

He nodded and left her room, stepping into the corridor of the third floor. As he shut the door behind him, he spied Cadmus Goyle entering a room.

"...for it now, Mudblood bitch," Cadmus said as he closed the door.

Voldemort narrowed his eyes. Mudblood? Granger? Had Cadmus played a part in Granger's disappearance? It seemed unlikely; Cadmus had been a loyal follower since they attended Hogwarts together.

Stalking down the corridor, Voldemort stood in front of the door Cadmus had disappeared behind. He couldn't hear anything inside likely because of a Silencing Charm. He gripped the knob to open the door but found it wouldn't turn. Pulling his wand from his robes, Voldemort took aim at the door and blasted it open nonverbally.

He entered the room and discovered Granger lying on a bed. Cadmus stood next to her with his trousers around his ankles, taunting her while rubbing his prick. Granger looked terrified as if she had just woken from a nightmare only to find herself in another.

"What is the meaning of this?" Voldemort barked at Cadmus.

"My lord!" Cadmus shouted and fell as he turned around to greet him, tripping over his trousers.

"Speak!" Voldemort snapped when Cadmus fumbled to tuck his rapidly deflating cock away instead of answering his question.

"I-I was just showing the Mudblood what we do to her kind—"

"This Mudblood is under my protection, or did you miss the memo?"

Colour drained from Cadmus's face, and cold sweat appeared on his ruddy skin.

Voldemort strode forward and lifted Cadmus into the air with a flick of his wand.

"I-I didn't know, my lord. I swear I didn't—"

"Silence!" Voldemort bellowed into Cadmus's face. Cadmus had been a loyal subject for decades; he was the closest thing to what Voldemort would call a friend if he had a desire for such a relationship. A sharp, unwelcome feeling stabbed at his chest, and he gritted his teeth.

"Crucio!" Voldemort screamed, his mouth twisted into a snarl.

"Stop…" Voldemort heard from the bed. He turned to find Granger struggling to sit up, her arm outstretched.

"You'd have me stop torturing your would-be rapist?" Voldemort asked her, his voice low and dangerous.

Granger's eyes grew distant, and she wrapped her arms around herself.

"No, my lord. Do as you see fit," she said softly, dropping her gaze. Losing the strength to hold herself up, she fell awkwardly back onto her pillows.

Releasing the curse, he asked, "Tell me, Cadmus, how did you know to find Granger here?"

"S-St M-Mungo's," Cadmus replied, his body shaking uncontrollably.


"I-I was at St Mungo's, overheard some Healer talking about her being brought here." Cadmus stammered, unable to meet his gaze.

"Stop lying to me!" Voldemort sent a powerful Stinging Hex at Cadmus's crouch, causing him to scream.

"N-not lying," Cadmus whimpered.

Voldemort grasped Cadmus's chin and hissed, "Legilimens."

Cadmus had always been pants at shielding his mind; his barriers were so thin that Voldemort had stopped bothering to dig further than the top layer. Easily penetrating deep into Cadmus's head, he quickly found what he was looking for. Cadmus had been injured in a riot during peacekeeping duties. While at St Mungo's getting treated, he'd overheard a couple of Healers discussing Granger. Wanting a taste, he'd gone back with forged paperwork and stolen Granger out from under Rowle's nose. But this hadn't been the first time Cadmus touched what wasn't his. Voldemort's fists clenched. Also, Cadmus had never read the memo about Granger; it sat unopened underneath a pile of forgotten paperwork.

"Fool!" Voldemort shouted and threw Cadmus from him. "This is why I never made you Head."

Cadmus landed in a heap on the floor, and Voldemort pointed his wand at him once more.

"Crucio," he said, a smile forming on his face when Cadmus began to shriek. He held him under the curse for five minutes, merrily counting the seconds in his head before releasing him.

Disgusted by the betrayal of his oldest follower, Voldemort turned his back on Cadmus's unconscious form and regarded Granger. She looked half-dead and pathetic. Taking a deep breath, Voldemort buried his anger. He'd found his prize, and now, he just needed to nurse her back to health.

"Where's Rowle?" Granger asked.

"Don't concern yourself over Rowle. You are now under my protection. You'll be joining me at my house, and we'll be wed shortly after."

Granger's eyes widened as Voldemort bent and picked her up. She was much too light, and her face was pale and sickly looking. He vowed the first thing he'd have his house-elves do was feed her.

"I understand you're shocked by the honour," he said, his red eyes twinkling.

"B-but, m-my lord," Granger sputtered, tears beginning to form in her eyes.

"Hush. No need to worry any longer. I'm taking you where you'll be safe. You weren't even safe in St Mungo's. How a slip of a thing like you makes so many enemies…" he trailed off. She had considered him one of her enemies... probably still did. It didn't matter though: she was his now.

Carrying Granger bridal style, he exited the room and descended the staircase. He entered the parlour to another chorus of 'my lords,' and Madame Cresswell hurried over.

"My lord?" Madame Cresswell inquired, seeing Granger.

"You may have been unaware, Madame," Voldemort said sharply, "but Granger is mine. I will be taking her with me."

"Of course, my lord! I hadn't known. Auror Goyle brought her to me, saying it was under your orders," Cresswell explained quickly.

"Yes, well, he's upstairs...resting." He shifted Granger in his arms. "I shall be taking my leave."

"My fireplace is at your disposal, as always, my lord." Madame Cresswell said, gesturing in the direction of her office.

Voldemort nodded. "Lead the way."

After saying their farewells, Madame Cresswell gave him a handful of Floo Powder and politely wished Granger a speedy recovery.

"Riddle Manor," he stated simply, and in a whirl of flames, he was standing in the Green Parlour with Granger comfortably in his arms. He'd spent a lot of time and Galleons restoring the estate of his vile Muggle father to his own taste. Leaving the parlour, he proceeded to carry her through many rooms and corridors, the tap of his shoes echoing around them.

"My lord?" Granger asked feebly. She rested her head against his body unable to hold it up anymore.

"Almost there." He smiled, enjoying her neediness.

Halfway to their destination, Granger went limp in his arms. He would need to get her the proper help tonight rather than wait until morning.

Once a house-elf had settled Granger into a bed and was watching over her, he returned to the Green Parlour. He used the fireplace to demand the presence of his personal Healer, Edgar Higgs, and Severus. They had helped him formulate the healing tea for Granger, and if she was still suffering from any lingering effects of the poison, Severus would know the best course of action.

He poured himself a Firewhisky as he waited for his guests: it was going to be a long night.

A week later, Voldemort was at his wits' end. Granger wouldn't talk to him. She barely attended to her hygiene. And she wouldn't eat. When he usually felt as he did, he would torture the cause of his frustration. But he couldn't abuse the source of his aggravation this time. If he tortured Granger, he'd probably end up killing her, and he needed Granger alive.

At least she took her potions—when Severus gave them to her. She apparently didn't trust him or his Healer. Voldemort did wonder what it was that made her trust Severus. Severus had murdered Dumbledore. Voldemort would have thought that would lose him any loyalty with someone like Granger. And yet, she trusted him. He guessed that, since they had been working together for some years, Granger had let bygones be bygones. With time, maybe she would be amenable to working with him, as well, and they needed to work together, sooner rather than later.

The new numbers from the marriage law had come across his desk a few days ago, and things were looking grim. Even with the law, the pregnancy rate had decreased.

He sighed as he stood from his desk and left to see Granger. Every day, he would visit her multiple times and try to get her speak to him. The first few instances when she'd kept mute, he'd threatened her with his wand, but she either had balls of Goblin steel or she'd given up. Voldemort couldn't afford for her to give up, so his new strategy was to talk to her. He'd talked about the population crises. What the numbers might mean for their world if they couldn't solve it. He also found himself talking about the strange quality that magic seemed to have taken. She'd never say a word. But she would track his movements as he paced around her room. Still, because of her stubbornness, she was only getting weaker. He'd thought about placing her under the Imperius Curse, but Severus worried it might damage her mental capabilities. He needed to do something.

Wrenching open the door to her room, he discovered her motionless on the bed. Fear seized him momentarily until he saw her shoulder move as she took in a breath. He despised the near-constant feeling of anxiousness her presence had brought him.

"Miss Granger?" he monotoned. He wanted her to wake up, but he didn't want to scare her.

She frowned in her sleep and rolled from her side onto her back.

"Miss Granger," he said in a firmer tone.

Voldemort watched as her eyes blinked open, and she turned her head to face him. She didn't bother to sit up, and he wasn't sure she'd have been able to even if she had wanted.

"What about Rowle?" he asked out of the blue.

She lifted an eyebrow; it was the biggest reaction he'd seen from her all week.

"If I gave you back to Rowle, would you eat again? Begin working again?"

Incredulously, she nodded.

Voldemort felt white-hot anger surge through his veins. He'd done nothing but care for her, and all she'd done was ignore his generosity. He'd never felt more like cursing someone than he did at that moment, but he managed to hold himself back. This was for the best; he wouldn't have to deal with Granger's theatrics anymore.

Not liking the lump of disappointment he felt in his chest, he left the room to summon Rowle.

Chapter Text

Hermione had never felt so weak. She truly hadn't been trying to kill herself, but the thought of consuming any food or potions the Dark Lord provided had turned her stomach. She did sneak a few bites of food when Snape saw to her care, but it wasn't nearly enough. Even if logic dictated that the Dark Lord wouldn't go through all of this trouble just to kill her, she couldn't make herself trust him.

The Dark Lord had dumbfounded Hermione when he'd offered to 'give' her back to Rowle. His phrasing drove her batty; she wasn't a thing to be given to anyone. this world, she was: she was a Mudblood. Hermione sighed.

While she didn't want to like Rowle, some part of her already did. Just knowing she would be seeing him soon made her chest flare with hope and something like...desire. Groaning, she wrapped her arms around her stomach. Her head throbbed, and her belly churned sourly.

Rolling onto her side, Hermione shakily grabbed a glass of water from a bedside table and managed to take a sip and return the glass to the table.

More than anything, Hermione wanted to go home. And oddly enough, Rowle Rock felt like home. When had the idea of living at Rowle Rock become so palatable? Hermione didn't know. All she knew was that she wanted to be out of Riddle Manor and far, far away from the Dark Lord.

"Granger," a rough voice said.

Hermione turned and found Rowle gazing at her from the doorway. She blinked her eyes, wondering if she were dreaming.

Rowle strode across the room and sat on the edge of the bed.

"Little Witch," he whispered to her, cupping her face with his hand.

Eyes fluttering shut for a second, she nuzzled against his touch, inhaling deeply. He smelled so good, like spices and citrus.

"You'll come home with me?" he asked, brushing his thumb over her cheek.

She looked into his piercing blue eyes and nodded.

"You'll start eating again?"

She nodded once more.

"Let's go then."

Rowle stood and then lifted her up into his arms. She laid her head on one of his broad shoulders, relaxing as the heat from his body warmed hers.

Hermione had almost fallen asleep, swayed by Rowle's gait, when she heard the Dark Lord's voice. She opened her eyes to find herself in the Green Parlour.

The Dark Lord peered at them and said, "I'm afraid I can't let you both go just yet."

"My lord?" Rowle inquired, his arms tightening around Hermione.

"You'll need to marry before I allow you to leave," the Dark Lord elaborated, his lips twisted into a grin.

"What?" Hermione gasped, a bout of dizziness hitting her. Marry! She had promised Rowle she would wed him, and she would have stuck to it. She gritted her teeth. It seemed the Dark Lord would always steal what was hers.

"Of course, my lord." Rowle looked intently at Hermione. "Can you stand?"

"I'm not sure," she said weakly.

As Rowle set her carefully on her feet, he kept one arm around her waist, anchoring her to his side. She felt secure tucked into his body but knew if he let go, that her legs would give out.

"Good," the Dark Lord approved. "I shall be your witness. Let me call for the officiant. Rowle, your arm."

Rowle lifted the left sleeve of his robes, and the Dark Lord placed his wand on Rowle's Mark. A second later, Lucius Malfoy appeared in the room and immediately lowered himself into a graceful bow.

"My lord," Malfoy greeted and then rose. "Rowle."

"Malfoy," Rowle replied, glancing down at Hermione.

"Lucius, I wish for you to perform a bonding ceremony," the Dark Lord ordered.

Malfoy glanced at Hermione's sad appearance before looking at Rowle. "Well, you have my congratulations," he drawled, his snide insinuation evident to everyone.

"Get on with it, Lucius," the Dark Lord muttered irritably. "The girl must be conscious for the bond to be legitimate, and she looks as if she might faint at any moment. Use the Olde Vows."

"As you wish, my lord."

As Malfoy moved to stand in front of them, Hermione leant closer to Rowle, who had grown stiff at the Dark Lord's words. His right arm still wrapped around her waist, Rowle grasped her right hand with his left.

"As your hands are joined, so too shall your lives be," Malfoy declared in a bored tone, tapping their joined hands with his wand. A bright, white ribbon of magic wrapped around their hands and wrists. "The oaths made today may either hinder or strengthen your souls. Do you still seek to enter this rite?"

Hermione frowned. She had been to Bill and Fleur's wedding, and their ceremony hadn't involved any elements of an Unbreakable Vow.

"Yes, I seek to enter," Rowle intoned.

When she didn't immediately reply, Rowle squeezed her hand, and she repeated his words haltingly. She gasped when another ribbon appeared, but this time it dug into her flesh, stopping just short of breaking her skin. Magic also flooded into her body, and it felt wrong...constricting. The magic was viselike, and Hermione was sure she wouldn't be able to pull her hand free even if Rowle loosened his grip.

"I bid you to look into each other's eyes," Malfoy instructed. "Thorfinn Olaf Rowle and Hermione Jean Granger, do you vow to share each other's trials? If so, say 'With my soul, I vow.'"

As Rowle stared deeply into her eyes, she swallowed before responding in unison with him. She gritted her teeth when another flare of magic bound their hands tighter.

"Do you vow to share each other's burdens?"

"With my soul, I vow," Hermione repeated, hissing in a breath.

"And do you vow to share each other's pain?"

Rowle's nostrils flared, but his gaze didn't waver.

Again she said with him, "With my soul, I vow," and gasped when ribbons of magic seemed to bound her entire body.

"And so the binding is made," Malfoy declared.

The magic clamped down, and Hermione couldn't stop a cry of discomfort from escaping her lips. Tears trickled down her cheeks. Her hand and wrist felt as if they had been dunked into a vat of acid. An ache rose deep from within her; her soul, she supposed. She could feel it calling out and held her breath.

Rowle had also stopped breathing, and the moment she exhaled, he exhaled with her. Something shifted; the pain in her soul eased, and warmth filled her. For a fraction of a second, she thought she felt him. She sensed loyalty, bravery, and even kindness.

"The ties of this binding are formed forevermore by magic, by your spoken vows, and by your joined bodies. So mote it be." With one last tap of Malfoy's wand, the magic sank into their skin with a final searing flash and then disappeared.

Hermione's awareness wavered as she fought not to blackout. As she struggled to stay conscious, she caught snippets of a spell "Co...ti...Coitu..." and felt the touch of a wand.

Hermione tore her eyes from Rowle's and looked at her hand. She found the tip of the Dark Lord's wand on her, and even though her skin did appear sallow, no marks hinted at the pain she had just experienced.

"Really?" Rowle asked the Dark Lord incredulously as Malfoy chuckled.

Hermione inhaled a deep breath through her nose and attempted to focus on what was being said.

"Yes, Rowle, really," the Dark Lord intoned smugly as he lifted his wand from Hermione. "By the way, it was Cadmus Goyle who stole your wife from St Mungo's. Keep in mind, it wasn't his first transgression against her. I'll leave it to you to come up with an appropriate punishment." He smiled. "Consider it your wedding gift."

"Thank you, my lord..." Rowle said, frowning. "I'll take care of it."

Hermione sighed. Now Rowle would ask her about what Goyle had done to her in the past, and she'd have to worry about Rowle exacting revenge of the torturous and, possibly, fatal sort. She'd prefer never having to think about her rapist ever again. Waking up to him towering over her had been quite enough.

"May we take our leave, my lord?" Rowle asked.

"By all means." The Dark Lord grinned lasciviously.

Rowle offered him a short bow before scooping Hermione into his arms and moving towards the fireplace, the other two wizards trailing behind them.

After she weakly bid the Dark Lord and Malfoy farewell, Rowle called out their destination.

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief when they arrived at Rowle Rock. She hadn't realised how much she'd missed this place until now.

Rowle promptly left the entrance hall and headed for the staircase.

As he climbed the stairs, Hermione felt a rush through her body: her skin heated, her nipples grew erect, and her core began to ache. Placing an urgent kiss on the side of Thorfinn's neck, she wanted to sink into Rowle's embrace and never come up for air.

"Ah, don't start that, Little Witch," Rowle moaned.

Hermione hummed and slipped her tongue out to taste him.

Rowle inhaled sharply and practically ran the rest of the way to his bedroom. As he settled Hermione's handsy body onto the bed, he called for Rosey.

As soon as Rosey popped into the room, Rowle said, "Get Snape. Tell him Granger needs his help and that he needs to bring his Potions bag."

"Yes, Master Thorfinn."

Since Rowle was being uncooperative, Hermione grabbed at the dressing gown she wore. She wanted it off. It was too hot, and she wanted Rowle. Godric, did she want Rowle. When he sat on the edge of the bed, she tried to pull him to her again.

"Little Witch," Rowle said as he gently pushed her hands away, "you need to calm down. I don't think you can handle sex just yet."

Hermione frowned at him. And then it clicked. "The Dark Lord did this, didn't he?"

"Yes, Coacti a Coitu," he supplied.

"Forced coupling," she translated the Latin phrase. "A compulsion spell."

"Clearly he's eager for this marriage to be consummated and legal."

She watched Rowle run his hands through his hair and stand, his body vibrating with tension. Even before the spell, she wanted him, and after their shared shower, she believed he felt the same. The spell would heighten any present desires. If he felt anything like she did, he was using great restraint to not take her.

"Any chance I can get a shower in before Snape arrives?" she asked slyly.

Rowle breathed out heavily through his nose. "You are going to be the death of me, witch."

Rosey returned a second later. "Master Snape will be here shortly."

"Rosey, Granger needs a bath. Help her."

"Granger?" Hermione purred. "Don't you mean Hermione."

Rowle swallowed hard.

"Rosey being happy to help Mistress Hermione," Rosey enthused. She scurried over and grasped Hermione's wrist.

Hermione felt a pulling sensation and then found herself sitting naked in a bathtub full of steaming water. It felt heavenly. Her muscles ached, and the warm water soothed them. The throbbing between her legs remained, but she tried to ignore it.

Rosey levitated a soapy flannel, and Hermione sighed in bliss when it slid over her back and down her arms. After cleaning her skin, Rosey started washing Hermione's hair. It was very relaxing to have Rosey's fingers massaging her scalp, and Hermione found her mind wandering.

Over the last few weeks, Rosey's help had been unparalleled; Hermione only wished Rosey did it because she wanted to, not because she was enslaved to the Rowle family...her family now. She sighed as Rosey proceeded to rinse her hair one last time. Hermione would need to ask Rosey what her thoughts about being freed were.

"Thank you." Hermione smiled tiredly at Rosey as she drained the tub with a snap of her fingers and placed a towel around Hermione's shoulders.

Rosey's ears twitched. "Mistress Hermione needn't thank Rosey, or all Mistress be saying all day is thank yous. Mr Snape is with Master. You's be needing something to wear."

Hermione nodded and moved to stand.

"No! Mistress Hermione mustn't get hurt," Rosey said as she yanked at her ears in a state of near panic.

"It's okay. I won't get up," Hermione murmured soothingly. "But, Rosey, if anyone has ever hurt you or ordered you to hurt yourself, I'm not like that. I promise."

Rosey stared at Hermione for a second and then smiled meekly. She snapped her fingers, and a gorgeous, peach, silken dressing gown materialised in her hands.

"Rosey help Mistress Hermione. I's be drying your hair and dressing you. Then I's be putting you back into bed."

Hermione smiled at the return of Rosey's bossiness but frowned a moment later.

Now knowing what she and Rowle would be doing, she hated her frailty, but on the upside, her ill health had successfully gotten her out of the Dark Lord's clutches. She shuddered as she thought about what he might have wanted if she had been strong and healthy; it was probably for the best that she hadn't been.

True to her word, in a jiffy, Rosey had dried Hermione's hair and clothed her body. Hermione luxuriated in how the material of her dressing gown felt against her heated skin.

After another snap of Rosey's fingers, Hermione found herself propped up against the headboard in Rowle's bed. Their bed, now. From where she sat, she watched as Rowle and Snape murmured near the fireplace.

"Hermione," Rowle said with relief, noticing her and prompting Snape and him to move.

Hearing Rowle say her name, she squeezed her thighs together. The dressing gown protected Hermione's modesty but couldn't hide her peaked nipples. She wished Rosey had placed her under the covers.

"Miss Granger," Snape greeted her, setting his Potions bag on the nearest bedside table.

"Sir," Hermione said, blushing as he took in the appearance of her spell-induced arousal. Thankfully, he said nothing.

Snape handed three potions to Rowle and then pulled another two from his bag.

"These two are nutrition potions, take them now," Snape commanded and placed one in each of her hands.

Hermione swallowed them down consecutively and screwed her face, tasting something similar to raw potatoes and overcooked Brussel sprouts.

Banishing the vials back into his bag, Snape snatched a green potion from Rowle's hand. "This one is a general healing potion." Rather than handing it to her, he hovered it near her lips until she opened her mouth and then poured it down. He did the same with an Invigoration Draught.

"The last is a Pepper-Up Potion," Snape explained, gesturing to the last potion in Rowle's hand. "Take it just before."

She knew she should feel embarrassment under the circumstances, but she couldn't care less at this point. She could barely keep her hungry eyes off Rowle but did manage to say a 'thank you' to Snape.

"I expect to see you back at work soon, Miss Granger," Snape said while staring daggers at Rowle.

After Snape left and the door softly thumped shut, Rowle crawled onto the bed and handed her the last vial. He'd taken his boots and socks off while she was bathing and was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of trousers.

Hermione felt her blood pressure spike at the look he was giving her. She reached a hand towards him.

"Ah, ah, Little Witch. Take your potion first," he said, indicating the forgotten vial of Pepper-Up.

Hermione blanched. She really hated Pepper-Up Potion but, closing her eyes, swallowed it down. Once the steam stopped shooting from her ears, she opened her eyes to find Rowle staring at her ravenously. She inhaled sharply and felt goose pimples rise on her skin.

Hermione bit her bottom lip and watched as Rowle's eyes tracked down from her face towards her nipples standing at attention behind her dressing gown. A slow grin spread across his face, and he moved, positioning her lower on the bed and placing his hands on either side of her head to prop himself up.

"Like what you see, Little Witch?" Rowle asked as he brought his face so close their breaths mingled.

"It's the spell," Hermione said breathlessly. She closed her eyes. It wasn't exactly the truth.

Rowle chuckled low and dark. "Sure it is, sweetheart." He tilted his head to the side and pressed his lips to hers.

Electricity shot through Hermione's body, energising her. She opened her mouth for him and latched onto his shirt, attempting to pull him closer and deepen their kiss. Writhing underneath him, Hermione spread her legs wider, and his hips settled between them as if they were made for each other.

"Salazar, Little Witch," Rowle breathed as he broke their kiss. His deep-blue gaze held awe and lust, and Hermione couldn't stop herself from grinning at him.

"Seems we may be compatible," she murmured, trailing her right hand down his back and delving her left hand into his mane.

"Seems so," he punctuated by rolling his hips. His hard length rubbed against her core, and Hermione's eyes fluttered as she arched her body towards his.

"Fewer clothes," Hermione muttered, tugging at Rowle's shirt. She needed to feel more of his skin.

"Mmm, I can get behind that." Rowle rose, kneeling between her thighs, and unbuttoned his shirt, tossing it aside.

"Trousers, too," Hermione demanded, her eyes hooded as she watched him. She wished she were strong enough to remove his trousers herself.

"I like the way you think." He quickly unbuttoned his trousers and pulled both them and his pants off.

Hermione's jaw dropped when she saw his cock. There was no other word for it: it was huge.

"Easy there, princess, someone might think you're impressed," Rowle said, smirking at her as he grasped his length and gave it a few pulls.

Hermione snapped her mouth closed and flushed. With shaky hands, she pulled at her garment. She wanted Rowle inside her, needed it.

Rowle helped, grabbing the belt of her dressing gown and untying it. As he pushed the sides back, Hermione couldn't look at his face and closed her eyes, feeling them prickle. She knew what she looked like right now: emaciated.

"Beautiful," Rowle breathed, caressing her skin reverently. "I've never met a stronger witch."

"W-what?" she asked with shock, opening her eyes.

"You're a warrior, a survivor. And your soul, it beautiful..."

He planted kisses from her ear down to her jaw and neck until he reached her shoulder.

Her worry over her appearance lessening with each caress of his mouth, Hermione wrapped her arms around Rowle. "Please."

"Don't worry, love. I've got you," he mumbled against her skin as he made his way down to her breasts.

It had been entirely too long since Hermione had been with anyone; that coupled with the spell the Dark Lord had cast made her feel as though she might go mad if Rowle didn't take her soon. She locked her legs around his waist and rocked herself against him as best she could.

"We'll get there, Little Witch," Rowle told her. "Be patient."

He lightly licked her left nipple before sucking the entire thing into his mouth, flicking it with his tongue.

Arching her neck, Hermione cried out in pleasure.

He then slipped his fingers between her wet folds and began to tease the edge of her opening, slowly circling before dipping just the tip of his index finger.

"Mmmmmm...yes," she moaned. "More..."

"Fuck, you're responsive," Rowle growled. He kissed the valley between her breasts. Switching his attention to her right nipple, he slid his fingers up to tease her hard clit.

"Circe," Hermione gasped. She was panting at this point and feeling more sluggish by the minute. For a split second, she lost herself but fought her way back. She knew she didn't have much time.

"If you want to fuck someone who's conscious, you better get started now," she warned.

Rowle looked at her face. "Shit." Whatever he saw concerned him enough that he abandoned her breasts and settled himself more fully between her thighs.

"I'll make it better next time," he promised, placing his left hand by her head while using his right to position his cock.

"Hurry," Hermione pled.

He nudged her clit with his heavy length and then gilded its tip along her folds until he found her sopping centre. With slow, steady pressure he buried his entire cock into her heat.

"Uhhhhnnnnn," Hermione uttered. He was beautifully thick and long and stretched her exquisitely. He felt good.

"I'm guessing you want me to continue," Rowle said, slowly pulling out halfway.

"Merlin, yes," Hermione moaned loudly.

Rowle slid back home, and she canted her hips, causing him to slip even deeper inside her and curse.

He changed his position so that he was resting his weight on his forearms and could look straight down into her eyes. Watching her face, he found a rhythm and angle that had Hermione's toes curling.

Hermione noticed her vision dimming and groaned. "Don't wait."

"Fuck, stay with me, Hermione." Rowle started pumping faster and harder. "Stay with me…"

"Don't wait," Hermione said again. She didn't want to lose consciousness; she wanted to at least witness him losing himself in her. "Come." She squeezed her inner muscles as hard as she could.

Rowle gasped, and his pace became frantic. Then with a long groan, he came, spurting deep inside her.

Hermione smiled, and then she blacked out.

Hermione awoke to Rowle, who only wore trunks, bench pressing at the power rack in the corner. In the past, she had turned around and ignored him, but this time, she let herself admire his chest and the way his muscles rippled with his effort.

"If you don't stop looking at me like that, Little Witch, you're going to make it difficult for me to finish my routine."

"I-I'm not looking at you," Hermione fumbled to say. "I was looking at your equipment."

Rowle raised his eyebrows.

She turned bright red. "I meant your weightlifting equipment. It looks Muggle-made."

"It is. Bought it during my professional Quidditch days after a Mudblood teammate suggested it. Most wizards never think about something like lifting weights to gain strength. How much magic one can command dictates one's power is the general rule. But for a Beater? Can't use a wand on the Quidditch pitch to bat iron Bludgers around. That requires muscle."

Hermione rubbed her eyes and managed to sit up. "Are you sure no magic is involved?" She stared at the size of the plates he was using; they were enormous.

Rowle chuckled. "No magic. Just sticking with it every day. If it bothers you, I can move it out of here."

Hermione waved him off. "No, it's fine. It's your house."

"Yours, too," Rowle said with a frown.

Hermione nodded but looked away. Focussing on the grey winter weather outside the window, she contemplated her current situation. She was now the Mistress of Rowle Rock. But it didn't feel like it; it only felt like she was playing house. She and Rowle had shagged, but she still didn't feel comfortable enough to call him by anything but his surname. She sighed.

Maybe she should go back to sleep for a while. Let herself escape into unconsciousness for a bit longer... No. She was married now. Making this work would also be up to her. She would have to make an effort to get to know him.

Recalling the Quidditch kit she saw in his wardrobe, she asked, "You played for Ballycastle, correct?" She tried to remember if Ron or Harry had ever talked about him, but she had usually tuned out those conversations.

"I was recruited right out of Hogwarts," he said, grunting as he lifted the barbell up to his waist, held it, and then lowered it. "Played for eight years before the teams disbanded the last year of the war."

"Oh. Why didn't you go back? Didn't you like it?"

Rowle dropped the barbell; a Silencing Charm on it caused it to not make a sound when it hit the floor.

Blowing out a frustrated breath, Rowle said, "Of course I liked it. I'd trained my whole life to be a Quidditch Beater. I wanted to make one of the national teams, English or Irish. But I was also a Death Eater, and the Dark Lord required me elsewhere."

"Oh," Hermione responded. She hadn't meant to anger him or to ask him painful questions about his past.

"Sorry, it's not you, Little Witch. I'm still bitter that I wasn't allowed to continue my Quidditch career once the war was won."

Hermione nodded but didn't say anything more. She had noticed he'd said 'won.' She always said 'over.' It showed the huge distance between them. He didn't even bat an eye when he referred to Muggle-borns as Mudbloods—even now that he was married to one. She didn't know what she felt for this man, but how could she manage to spend the rest of her life with someone who disdained people like her? Who had fought in a war to eliminate people like her?

"Hey, are you alright?"

Hermione looked to her left to find Rowle sitting on the bed, regarding her with concern. She nodded and realised her cheeks were wet with tears.

"Come here." He pulled her into an embrace.

Hermione didn't have the strength to fight him. Although, even if she had, she probably wouldn't have. He felt...nice. He was sticky from his workout and his beard tickled her skin, but she didn't mind because he was also warm and her head fit perfectly on his shoulder.

He hugged her tightly, and Hermione slipped her own arms around his waist. If nothing else, she enjoyed the way he held her and the way his body felt against and inside her. But she knew what they currently had wouldn't be enough. Like Rowle said, for something to grow stronger, they needed to keep at it every day.

Based on what the Dark Lord had revealed to her at Riddle Manor, trials, burdens, and pain were definitely on the horizon. They had to strengthen their relationship, or neither of them would survive.

Chapter Text

A fresh wave of tears threatened to fall as Draco wandered through the outskirts of the Muggle village closest to Malfoy Manor. It was a death sentence to be in the Muggle world, but he didn't care: Astoria was dead. He gritted his teeth, stopping his grief from spilling over.

Draco was so sick of the empty words of sympathy from his father and supposed friends. He just needed some time away. To be alone. To come to grips with the fact that Astoria was gone. That he'd never again hear her sweet laughter or clever tongue. Never get to hold her close.

She had been beautiful: both inside and out. He had loved the feel of her silky, long, dark hair and the kindness in her brilliant blue eyes. Even if she had been too weak to ever bear a child, he'd never considered divorce. He'd been happy; she'd been it for him.

Astoria had only been dead for a week, but Father was already pushing for him to petition for another wife. Draco had less than three months to find a half-blood to marry. But with Astoria gone, life was dull and colourless. Draco wasn't sure if he wanted to keep on living.

As he trudged along, fierce late-January gusts began to blow the snow on the ground into the air and around his body. With the increasing winds, the falling snow quickly changed from flurries into a snow squall, and ten minutes later, he couldn't see ahead more than five feet.

Draco stopped in front of the first building he found that had its interior lights on; it had a hanging sign in the shape of a swan but no name to clue him to what type of establishment it was. He tried to learn more by peering through the windows, but condensation obstructed his view. At least he knew it was warm inside. He opened the door and stepped in.

As Draco shook off his cloak, he looked around and discovered he'd entered a well-lit pub. Only a handful of people were scattered about, talking in low voices or nursing drinks. It was toasty, and inviting music played from two square boxes hanging behind the bar. The pub was quiet enough that Draco could think but had enough background noise that he wouldn't feel alone. This would do until the storm passed.

Traipsing over to the bar, he sat down at an end corner. He kept the hood of his cloak up though, his hair colour was too distinctive, but he did take off his gloves and unwrapped his scarf from around his neck.

"What can I get you?" a brash voice asked.

Turning his head, Draco found a dowdy, brown-eyed barmaid with greying red hair standing behind the bar.

"Firewhisky," Draco muttered.

"Never heard of it. For whiskies, we carry Jameson and Bushmills. But if you're feeling fancy, I think we may have a bottle of Green Spot somewhere."

Green, his and Astoria's favourite colour. Looking down at his hands, Draco smiled weakly, feeling tears pool in his eyes. "Green Spot, then," he replied, his voice sounding wobbly.

The barmaid stood there a beat longer, and Draco thought that she might say something more, but fortunately, she didn't.

A few minutes later, a glass of whisky was placed in front of him. Its amber colour looked inviting, so Draco picked it up and drank it down in one gulp. It didn't have quite the same bite as Firewhisky, but the flavour was passable. He set the glass back down with a loud tap.

"Another?" the barmaid asked.

Draco nodded and watched as she poured him another finger of whisky. Since the funeral, he'd spent most days bladdered and had no plans for today being any different.

Swallowing his second glass, he swiveled on his stool and let his eyes roam around the pub, spotting something of interest.

Once his glass had been filled for the third time, Draco stood from his seat. He carried his drink carefully, not wanting to spill a drop, and walked towards the back corner booth where a chessboard rested on top of the table.

Sliding into the booth, he picked up the Black Queen. Instead of marble, she was carved of wood and covered in paint, which had started to chip away around the bottom edge. Her features looked worn from the many time's fingers had held her.

"Do you play?" a woman asked with an Irish lilt, lifting a white pawn off the board.

Draco looked up.

The woman who stood near him had rich auburn hair and fair skin covered in freckles. She wasn't beautiful, one might even call her plain, but her brown-topaz eyes held an unexpected warmth and intelligence. Strangely, she reminded him of Granger. Another person Draco felt he had failed, just as he had Astoria. He swallowed hard and glanced back down at the Black Queen in his hands.

Flipping her hair over her shoulder, the woman glanced behind her.

Draco watched as the barmaid gave her a quick nod, and the woman faced him once more.

"I'm Sarah." She stuck out her hand.

He looked at it for a moment before shaking and releasing it quickly.

"Draco," he mumbled.

"That's a funny name." She tilted her head to the side and studied him.

Draco wished he could disappear. He didn't want to be examined by this bothersome Muggle and only wanted to be left alone. Shrugging in response, he focused his attention back onto the chess set and returned the Queen to its position.

Sarah sat across from him and placed the pawn that was in her hand on the board in an opening move.

Draco frowned and looked up to see Sarah staring at him expectantly.

"I can teach you if you don't know how to play," she offered.

Draco narrowed his eyes at her and moved his Bishop's Pawn forward, beginning the Sicilian Defence. His lips twitched when she fell for it and placed her Knight on the F3 square.

From there, the game progressed, and Draco forgot about Astoria for a while. He forgot about refilling his drink, and when the barmaid set a glass of water on the table for him, he drank it without thinking, concentrating more on his next move.

He and Sarah played three consecutive games, and Draco won each one. He felt vindicated; while Muggles might know chess, wizards were still superior.

They were about to start their fourth game when the barmaid set a steaming plate of Shepherd's pie in front of each of them.

"You two have been at it for hours. Time to eat," the barmaid insisted.

"Thank you…uh…" Draco had never caught the barmaid's name.

"Mary." She grinned at him.

He felt the corners of his lips turn up slightly.

"Sarah, here, is my granddaughter. Freshly home from finishing uni. She graduated at the top of her class."

Sarah reddened. "Gram…"

"Och, no need to be modest." Mary patted Sarah's shoulder and looked at Draco. "Sarah won't be staying here in this little village forever. I'm sure she'll be heading off to a large city like London once she settles on a job." Smiling, she made her way back to the bar.

Draco had never heard of a 'uni' but guessed it was the name of her school; it didn't sound very distinguished.

"What type of work are you looking for?" he asked her and took a bite of Shepherd's pie. It was the first time he'd spoken to her. Whilst they'd played, she had chatted, whereas Draco had kept his answers monosyllabic.

"Data science," Sarah answered.

Draco lifted an eyebrow; he had no idea what 'data science' was. Should he ask her to elaborate? Or would that make him look stupid? He kept his mouth shut; he didn't want to look foolish in front of a Muggle, even if he knew he would never see her again. It just wasn't in his nature. He turned his attention back to his food.

"A data scientist looks at datasets and uses them to extract meaning and interpret data. It uses a lot of statistics and maths, as well as machine learning and computers, and mostly deals with collecting and cleansing data," Sarah added with a shrug.

"What kind of data?" Draco asked as he thought about what he did in the Research Center. His work seemed awfully similar to what Sarah was describing.

"Oh, all kinds. It depends on where the work is performed. If it's for the government, it will be things like population data, housing statistics, maybe crime data. If it's for a business, it will be marketing data or product sales numbers, things like that."

"Huh." Draco didn't comment further. It, indeed, sounded almost exactly like what he did.

"The biggest part of my job will likely be computer programming. As I'm sure you know, computers are everything these days, and machine learning is a huge part of it."

"I...see..." Draco said. Half of what she said was gibberish to him. Computer programming? Machine learning? He didn't know what any of that meant. "Why haven't you decided on a job?"

"Just felt I needed a bit of break after uni. I went directly after A Levels. So I didn't have a gap year. Now I'm thinking about taking one."

Merlin, her answer to his simple question wasn't any better, Draco thought as he tried to process what she had said. Gap year? Did that mean taking a year off from schooling? He snorted. He wouldn't know much about taking a year off. Since fifth year, his life had included non-stop warfare, and now, twelve years later, his life wasn't much better.

Sensing that his mind had wandered, Sarah asked, "What about you? What do you do?"

" in research for the government." He hoped that was a safe enough answer.

"Oh? Research?" She brightened. "Which department? "

"I can't talk about it." Draco shrugged and then smiled. The wizarding world had secret departments like the Department of Mysteries. He betted that the Muggle world did too.

"Oh!" Sarah's eyes widened in comprehension. She lowered her voice before asking, "Is that why you're here in Wiltshire? For research?"

Draco nervously fiddled with his wand in his pocket and shook his head. "No, I live near here. I don't come into the village often, but today, I had to get out of the house."

His heart sank as he remembered why.

"Oh, right then," Sarah said awkwardly, sensing Draco's saddening mood.

They finished the rest of their meals in uneasy silence.

It was only after they had eaten that Draco realised he couldn't pay with Galleons. He reached for his coin bag, wondering if he could transfigure his Galleons, but he didn't even know what Muggle money looked like.

"Er..." Draco stood up. He could feel his face heating up. "Where's the toilet?"

Sarah pointed at a hallway located on the other side of the pub, and Draco spotted a toilet sign on the wall next to the hallway opening.

"See the sign?" she asked.

Draco nodded.

"It'll be the second door on the right."

"Thank you," Draco said quickly before sprinting away.

As soon as he entered the single-person toilet, he locked the door and then started to pace. What was he going to do? The obvious solution would be to cast a spell. Maybe Imperio Mary into thinking he'd already paid. A sick feeling in Draco's belly told him that wouldn't sit right with him. He didn't want to lower himself and steal someone's free will. Another option was to just leave. But a Malfoy not paying a bill would be nearly as bad. Then an idea struck.

First, he pulled out a few Galleons from his coin bag. Next, he cast a Disillusionment Charm over himself, the sensation of a raw egg trickling down his head making him shiver. After glancing into the mirror to ensure he was invisible, Draco made his way back into the main room.

He found Sarah still sitting in the booth, deep in thought, and tapping a pawn against her lips. He smiled and walked behind the bar, stopping near the till. When Mary went into the kitchen, he opened the drawer of the till with a wordless Alohomora and found coins and...colourful paper.

Unsure of whether coins or paper had the higher denomination, Draco Transfigured two of his Galleons into 'Twenty Pounds' and another two into 'Twenty Pence.' Then he closed the till as quietly as he could and rushed back to the toilet to remove his Disillusionment. He wondered if he should Transfigure more for later—Later? You're never coming back here! He shook his head but, in the end, Transfigured a few more Galleons anyway. Just in case.

Draco hurried out of the toilet and returned to his seat. Sarah had replaced her pawn.

"Fancy another game?" she asked.

Glancing out the window and seeing it was dark, Draco shook his head. "I can't. I have to get back."

Sarah frowned. "Alright... Let me fetch the bill for your drinks." Smiling, she said, "The food's on the house."

As she strode to the bar, Draco had to turn away. Her denim trousers hugged every curve of her bum and legs; it was scandalous.

Sarah chinwagged with Mary for a bit and then retrieved a slip of paper that must be his bill.

"Here you go," Sarah said, handing over a small sheet of paper.

Rising from his seat, Draco reviewed his bill. 'Black Swan Pub' was printed at the top, and his total was £7.20. He pulled out one note and one coin and offered both to Sarah.

Accepting both and taking a step towards the till, she said, "Let me get your change."

Draco sighed in relief. "No, keep the change," he insisted.

"Thanks," Sarah beamed. "And thank you for the games. Maybe we can play again sometime."

Draco gave her the smallest of smiles. "You must enjoy losing." Striding towards the exit, he chuckled softly as she promised that, next time, she would have him eating his words.

Once outside, Draco put on his gloves, wrapped his scarf around his neck, and then just stood for a moment. His heart felt surprisingly lighter. However, the moment was short-lived when he recalled how much Astoria loved freshly fallen snow. He sighed and began his trek back towards the Manor.

Five days after his first visit to the Black Swan Pub, Draco was back. It had been unintentional. He'd left the Manor only wanting a nice walk around the grounds, but instead, his feet had brought him back to the small Muggle village of Tilshead.

At the moment, he stood in front of the entrance of the pub and debated whether he should enter or not.

The door opened, startling him. As a patron exited, Draco spotted Sarah inside, and their eyes met for a split second. Draco made his decision. He grabbed the door before it could close and found himself walking inside.

Once he had settled at the bar, Mary smiled at him and sauntered over. "Whiskey?"

Draco nodded. "Please."

"Fancy seeing you here," Sarah commented, plopping onto the stool next to him.

Draco turned to see a playful smile on her lips. At that moment, he thought she looked beautiful. Her smile turned her ordinary face into a captivating one, and he couldn't find it in himself to shut down her attempt to socialise with him.

They played chess again. This time, she won two out of four games, and Draco felt his world shift: Muggles weren't as inferior and unintelligent as he'd thought. He considered himself quite skilled at chess; it was rare that he lost to anyone except Severus.

They ate once more, this time a mouth-watering steak-and-kidney pie, which was so delicious it put the food at the Manor to shame.

"Who's the cook?" Draco asked, scooping up another forkful.

"Oh, Miss Maggie from the village does. But they're all my grandmother's recipes." Sarah grinned. "Good, isn't it?"

"Very," Draco replied, finding himself grinning back.

He left when it was once again dark outside. When he arrived home, Mother was waiting for him.

"Merlin, Draco! Where have you been? You've been gone for hours?" Narcissa shrilled as he shed his cloak and gloves.

Draco unwound his scarf as he thought about his answer. He couldn't very well tell her that he'd been off in the Muggle village.

"Just a long walk, Mother. I needed to clear my head."

Narcissa apparently didn't believe him.

"Really, the grounds are beautiful with the freshly fallen snow. And I've been sheltering myself in this house, drowning my sorrows instead of dealing with them." While he'd been gone, Draco didn't feel like he'd dealt with his emotions over Astoria's death at all, but now, he did feel a spark of something. He wasn't sure what it was quite yet.

"Alright," Narcissa agreed. "Let's get you warmed up with a spot of tea."

She beckoned him forth, and he smiled softly. Mother believed tea solved everything.

It soon became a regular occurrence for Draco to play chess and share dinner with Sarah. He continued to wear his cloak when he visited, but once inside the pub, lowered his hood.

More and more, Draco found himself laughing with Sarah; something he hadn't done with anyone other than Astoria in recent years. But unlike Astoria, he found himself laughing so hard tears would roll down his cheeks. This Muggle girl brought out something in him that he hadn't known he had.

Today, since a loud crowd was watching a football match on the telly, they decided to go for a walk.

It hadn't taken Draco long to figure out football was a Muggle version of Quidditch. He had watched a few matches with Sarah. She would cheer for Southampton when they played. The residents of Tilshead seemed to support Southampton and Swindon equally, which was why the crowd at the pub was so large and rowdy: Southampton and Swindon were playing each other.

Just a month ago, Draco couldn't have imagined he would know what football or a telly was. He'd learnt a lot about the Muggle world spending hours every week at the pub.

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather be watching the match?" Draco asked Sarah.

She shook her head, the bobble on her hat bouncing as she did. "Nope. This is better." She grinned at him and looped her arm through his.

Draco's heart lurched and then raced. They hadn't touched before, and he thought that having a Muggle touch him would make his skin crawl. But he rather liked the way her arm felt against his. He moved closer, tucking her further into his side, and thought he saw a grin on her face before she looked away.

When they returned to the pub, they were in high spirits and were relieved to find it mostly empty. Draco ordered them each a shot of whisky to warm them up.

"Cheers," Sarah grinned, tapping her glass against his.

Draco returned the grin, and they both swallowed their drinks in one go.

Sarah poured them each another drink and then guided Draco to the corner booth that had become theirs. Instead of sitting across from him, as usual, she urged him further in so she could sit beside him.

"What are you doing?" Draco asked. He'd wanted to play a few games of chess.

Sarah took a look around the pub; nobody was paying them any attention. She turned back to Draco and licked her lips, leaning closer to him.

Draco froze as Sarah closed her eyes, clearly expecting him to kiss her. He couldn't kiss her, he'd just—

All of his thoughts vanished when Sarah pressed her mouth to his. Her lips were soft and warm, and before Draco knew what he was doing, he was kissing her back. He cupped her head with one hand, pulling her against him, and just let himself feel. Feel the way her soft skin felt under his fingers. The way her searching kisses felt against his lips. It was heavenly. Draco never wanted it to end.

It didn't end, not there anyway. Not that night.

Draco followed Sarah up to her room above the pub. They tumbled into her bed with a passion he'd nearly forgotten.

Later, when they were both sated and exhausted, he wrapped her in his arms and fell asleep: it was the soundest sleep he'd had in years.

The next morning, Draco had to explain to his mother why he'd been out all night. He lied. He couldn't tell her he'd slept with a Muggle. He couldn't tell anyone. If the Dark Lord discovered what Draco had been up to, he would kill him and Sarah and, likely, her entire family without a second thought.

After speaking with his mother, he went up to his bedroom: the one he used to share with Astoria.

It didn't take long for the shame of sleeping with Sarah to set in. He'd been married to Astoria for nearly a decade, and in the last few years, they hadn't had much in the way of a physical relationship, but he'd always been faithful to her. And now, he felt like he'd cheated on her.

But he hadn't. Astoria had crossed into the Veil. He wouldn't be able to see her again until he also met his end.

Draco sat hard on his bed. His soul ached, and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. How could he have betrayed Astoria like this? How callous was he, thinking with his cock instead of his brain? Worse, Sarah was a Muggle. Maybe he truly had a death wish because the Dark Lord would surely kill him. He grimaced as the thought crossed his mind and shook his head. No. He didn't want to die now. Despite the fact that it would allow him to be with Astoria once more, he felt like there was more he had to do. More to live for. And the thought of not seeing Sarah again warred with his confusion over his feelings for Astoria. Could he still love Astoria and honour her memory if he wanted to be with someone else?

As a child, Draco had always known when he'd made a bad decision; he'd get this sick, uneasy feeling deep in his belly. It took him a while to put a name to it: guilt. But his emotion over sleeping with Sarah didn't feel like that. He knew he should feel guilty, but what he and Sarah shared, it didn't make him feel wrong. What they had felt right. And maybe that was his answer. He could still love Astoria and want Sarah. He wasn't foolish enough to think that he loved Sarah, but he thought that given enough time it may become that. And that contemplation both thrilled and terrified him.

For the rest of the day, Draco worked on strengthening his Occlumency shields, burying Sarah's beautiful brown eyes deep within his mind.

Chapter Text

Hermione's top priority when she had first returned to work two weeks ago had been to find Snape and thank him for all his help during her recovery. After Snape had given her a somewhat-awkward yet polite response, he had invited her to sit in his office, and they had caught up. It was during this conversation that she had learnt about the passing of Draco Malfoy's wife.

The moment she had heard the news, Hermione's heart had broken for Malfoy. As soon as she had left Snape's office, she had found Malfoy and offered her condolences, letting him know she was there for him if he ever needed to talk. He had truly loved Astoria, and she could tell how crushed he was by his appearance: wan, gaunt, and unkempt with stubble on his face.

Hermione feared he was going to drink himself to death. She'd walked into his office a few times in the weeks since she'd been back and had smelled alcohol on his person.

She just didn't know what to do for him. Regardless of Malfoy's considerable grief, the Dark Lord would expect Malfoy to marry a half-blood in less than two months. Hermione was worried Malfoy hadn't petitioned anyone yet. Whenever she'd tried to ask him about it, he had either remained silent or changed the subject.

Shaking her head, Hermione focussed once more on her work. If she didn't have some useful news for the Dark Lord soon, she was sure she'd suffer a punishment. The problem was nothing was proving even remotely useful. The most recent numbers from both the Marriages, Births, and Deaths and the Archives, Registries, and Censuses departments were grim. More than grim really. The wizarding population in Britain was now reaching a dangerously low level. It wasn't quite at functionally extinct numbers, but it would get there in three generations or so if there wasn't an influx of children. Without a solid answer, the Dark Lord wouldn't be able to enact a solution.

But no matter how much Hermione wanted to solve this puzzle, she couldn't figure out what Factor Z all entailed. She had been successful in determining that Factor Z was actually Factors Z1, Z2, and Z3: three separate but related influences affecting the population numbers. The Blood Curse surrounding the British Isles had to be one of them. But who could she ask to be sure? The Dark Lord would be dangerous. Rowle only knew of its existence, not the in-depth theory behind it. Malfoy was in mourning, so that left Snape. She sighed. She hated having to take up more of Snape's time; he was busy enough having to deal with the Dark Lord's other research projects...

A fuzzy memory of the Dark Lord popped into Hermione's head. Research Centre...experiments...something wrong with magic. Everyone's magic…all of Britain requiring more power and...spells...

The Dark Lord believed something was wrong with their magic? No, not believe, the Research Centre must have corroborative evidence for him to say such a thing.

Well, if the magic in Britain was requiring more power to use, what did that mean? Hermione knew each wizard and witch had their own 'well' of magic, for lack of a better term, but she hadn't done any research into what exactly that 'well' was. In addition to a witch or wizard's personal magic, there was also wild magic: ley lines, ancient circles, et cetera. This wild magic was what wandless creatures such as centaurs, house-elves, dragons, and all other manner of magical beings relied on. Is that what the Dark Lord meant by magic? It wasn't only a witch or wizard's individual magic that was declining, but the magic in all of Britain. How could that be? Did that mean magic would eventually disa— No, she couldn't finish that question; it was too frightening to even contemplate. She shook her head. There had to be a reason and a solution for the decreasing magic. Was it being blocked or stolen? Why wasn't the wild magic naturally restoring itself? She had so many questions and not nearly enough answers.

But, perhaps she now had two pieces to her Factor Z puzzle: the Blood Curse and the decrease in magic. She would need to get her hands on the data resulting from the experiments the Dark Lord had spoken about.

Hermione groaned to herself and collected her most recent run-through of the population equation, intent on bringing it to Snape's office to discuss. He wasn't an Arithmancer, but he was knowledgeable in the field. Somehow, in the years since the war, Hermione had become the chief Arithmancer in wizarding Britain, despite her name never having been published in a paper or book. That didn't mean her research wasn't known; it was, but since she was a Mudblood, she had never received credit for it.

As she stood from her chair, she glanced across the large room to Malfoy and Snape's offices. Both doors were closed, which meant either they were busy or gone. She hoped Snape was in. He could at least point her in the right direction with the additional information she needed.

After knocking on Snape's door multiple times with no answer, Hermione's shoulders slumped. Snape must have already left. She looked at Malfoy's door. Maybe Malfoy could help her. He was Snape's deputy, and his father was the Minister. She crossed the room and, as she tapped her knuckles on the door, was almost knocked over when Malfoy burst out, reeking of strong drink.

"Alright, Malfoy?" Hermione asked as she regained her footing, no thanks to him.

"Yep, just fine, Granger," Malfoy grinned at her. Actually grinned. She was taken aback by his exuberance and narrowed her eyes.

"Rowle," she reminded him. "Do you have a moment? I have some questions about some recent research—"

"Maybe later," Malfoy brushed her off, rushing away. "I already have a prior commitment."

Hermione groaned and returned to her desk. Now what?

As Rowle did every day since Hermione had returned to work, promptly at six in the evening, he arrived at the Research Centre to take her home. At first, she had resented the implication that she couldn't be trusted or take care of herself, but now she was just grateful it gave her an excuse to leave her stressful research behind.

Hermione smiled as she saw him stride into the Research Centre. Her first day back had been interesting. Snape still hadn't removed the spell blocking Rowle; and when Rowle had tried to enter, he had instead bounced off the doors, producing a thunderous thunk and plethora of creative expletives. Hermione had held back her laughter as she'd summoned Snape and requested him to remove the spell. Rowle had been less than pleased.

"Ready to go, Little Witch?" Rowle asked as he leaned over the wall of her cubicle.

Hermione stowed her work in a drawer and then dried out her quill with a flick of her wand. Frowning, she noticed she had to actually mumble the spell to get it to work. Since Hermione had remembered her one-sided conversation with the Dark Lord, she'd been paying closer attention to her magic all day. Her right hand shook as she gripped her wand tighter and stood. What she was noticing had her stomach in knots.

"What's wrong?" Rowle asked.

Hermione inhaled a deep breath and blew it out. "Is it taking you more intent to cast spells?"

He looped an arm around her waist and guided her out of the Research Centre towards the lifts.

"I don't believe so... But, now that you mention it, I did have to mutter the silencing spell on my weights this morning."

"Mmm," Hermione hummed deep in thought. She really needed to see that research. Hopefully, Snape would be in tomorrow.

"Does this have anything to do with the population crisis?" Rowle asked in a low voice as they reached the lift lobby.

"Maybe... I've isolated Factor Z as much as I can and have determined it consists of three individual elements. I think I've discovered two of them, but…" Hermione trailed off as more witches and wizards, intent on going home, poured into the lobby.

"We can discuss it after dinner," Rowle suggested.

Hermione agreed.

After they entered a lift, Rowle pulled her even closer. Her back was to his chest, and as he wrapped both arms around her, she leaned into him. She loved the physical comfort he brought her and was a little miffed that they hadn't had sex since that first time. She tried to be understanding: his job was incredibly stressful, time-consuming, and tiring, especially since the rioting and unrest had increased since their bonding ceremony. He was probably also giving her space to acclimatise to the marriage. But after the first time of feeling him inside her, something had awoken in her, and now she wanted more. Was there something wrong with wanting her husband even if he wasn't her husband by choice? Hermione closed her eyes as the lift slid sideways and gripped Rowle's arms to steady herself.

"Alright?" he whispered.

His hot breath on her ear sent a rush of arousal through her. Hermione nodded, glad that he couldn't see her flushed face.

When the lift arrived in the Atrium, she followed the crowd out and towards the fireplaces to go home. Home. It was still strange how much Rowle Rock felt like home. But it did. And in ways that the flat above George's shop never had. Her breath caught. Most days, it was easier not to think about George and Percy because that inevitably led to thoughts about Ginny, which would inevitably lead to crying. Hermione felt as if she had cried enough over the last month to fill the Black Lake. She was done crying. Now, she had to figure out a way to live.

Rowle and Hermione never did discuss the problems she was having with her equation. Once again, Rowle sequestered himself into his study with 'work'. Her stomach sank. What if he was disgusted by her? He was as stuck in this relationship as she was. What if he wanted Katrina back? And she and Rowle had never really discussed his murder attempts against her. She did have to admit that it was wartime when those had happened, and since their forced engagement, he had been nothing but kind to her. Protective, courteous even.

Sighing, she decided it would be a nice night for a bath...and maybe that trashy romance novel she had found in the library a few weeks ago. If Rowle wasn't going to scratch her itch, she'd have to do it herself.

In the en-suite, Hermione drew a bath. The cast-iron behemoth could easily fit three people, but then she thought about Rowle and decided it could probably fit Rowle and one normal-sized person.

Shaking her head, she pulled off her clothes to put into the laundry basket. As she climbed into the bath, she realised she'd left the book on her bedside table and Summoned it.


She frowned and tried again, this time muttering, "Accio The Captive Witch." She heard the book thump onto the floor, and her frown deepened into a scowl.

"Accio The Captive Witch," she said much louder, and the book finally sailed into her hand.

Determined not to think about what her casting meant, she set down her wand and opened the book.

The book was awful, full of clichés and cheesy dialogue. It was also extremely sexist, and Hermione almost put it down. However, she was determined to get to at least one naughty scene. When she finally reached the first risqué scene, she imagined Rowle as the love interest and herself as the main protagonist.

As she read, she slipped her right hand down her neck and toyed with her nipples, stimulating first one, then the other until they hardened. Twisting each erect nub, she enjoyed the tingling sensation that travelled to her core. She closed her eyes for a moment, savouring the arousal that was coursing through her body. Then she let her hand slide beneath the warm water, tracing a line between her ribs and over her belly. She'd put on a little weight but was still too thin. Trying not to think about it, she widened her thighs and cupped her centre. That felt good.

Hermione opened her eyes and read more of the passage. It really was trite, all turgid lengths and heaving bosoms. Unable to read another word, she dropped the book to the side of the bath and instead imagined what she wanted Rowle to do to her. That helped. Using her newly freed left hand, she caressed her left breast and slid the fingers of her right hand amongst her folds. She circled her clit, barely touching it, while she fondled her nipple with the other hand.

Hermione jumped when she heard a soft moan and turned to find Rowle leaning against the door frame, watching her with half-lidded eyes. He'd shed his robes and was only in trousers and his shirtsleeves.

Rowle glanced down at the book on the floor and chuckled. "The Captive Witch, eh? Don't stop on my account," he said, his voice low and gruff.

Hermione turned bright red. What did he expect? He'd promised her a better shag and had yet to deliver. As sexy as it was knowing he wanted to watch her pleasure herself, she didn't want him to only watch... To get him join her, maybe she needed to be the instigator. That decided; she licked her lips, keeping eye contact with Rowle, then delved one finger into her tight channel. Shutting her eyes, she gasped at the sudden intrusion and tossed her head back.

"Merlin," Rowle muttered.

When she opened her eyes, he was closer, standing next to her, watching.

"Just going to stare at me?" she asked breathlessly as she inserted a second finger.

"Is that an invitation?" Rowle responded having already begun to unbutton his shirt.

"Yes," Hermione gasped, still working her fingers inside.

Rowle groaned and pulled off his pants and trousers quickly, freeing his hard length.

Hermione moved forward to make room for Rowle behind her. He straddled her with one of his long legs on either side of hers, then pulled her towards him so that her back was resting on his chest. She loved the feel of his erection against her, hot and hard, and became more aroused just thinking of him being inside her.

Slipping his arms around her shoulders, Rowle trailed his fingers across Hermione's skin maddeningly slow and feather-light.

"Show me how to touch you," he murmured into her ear.

Hermione was sure she'd never heard a sexier statement. His right hand drifted beneath the water, and Hermione guided it between her legs. Directing his finger, she set it in a slow circle around her clit, the same teasing motion she was doing earlier.

"Like that," she said as he moved his hand. She couldn't stop a thrust of her hips as she laid her head on his right shoulder; his finger was thicker than hers, and every now and then, it brushed her clit.

Hermione shivered at the sensations he was causing. She removed her hand from his and placed it on his cheek, urging his face toward hers. Their lips connected, and they both groaned into the kiss. Grabbing his left hand in hers, she guided it towards her chest. As he massaged her breasts, she arched her back repeatedly, her bum creating a delicious friction against his length.

"Merlin," he muttered, breaking their kiss.

"Please," Hermione pleaded as Rowle continued to tortuously circle her clit. She desperately wanted something inside her; she positively ached for it.

"Tell me what you need," he murmured between kisses on her neck and shoulders.

"More. I need more." She lifted her hips, trying to get him to slip his finger inside her.

He moved his hand along her folds, teasing her entrance, and pressed down on her clit with the heel of his hand.

"Like this?"

"More," Hermione moaned. She guided his hand once again, sinking his finger inside her. "Like this."

"Salazar, witch. You're so fucking tight," he murmured into her neck as he pumped his finger.

Hermione groaned at the sensation and his words. "Please," she begged.

Rowle increased his pace, their combined movements creating splashes and waves.

Hermione ground herself against his hand. She was so close. The tension in her winding tighter and tighter.

Rowle bit down on her shoulder and slid two more fingers inside her, stretching and filling her.

Light exploded behind Hermione's eyes as she was thrust over the edge. "Rowle," she moaned, riding his fingers with total abandon. Wave after wave of pleasure spread throughout her body, and she didn't hold back, encouraging Rowle to move harder and deeper with each blissful pulse.

Spent, she collapsed against Rowle. Hermione felt better than she had in months, cocooned in Rowle's warmth with his fingers still buried inside her heat.

"You should probably start calling me Thor," Rowle said.

"Not gonna call you a god's name," Hermione panted.

Rowle chuckled. "How about Finn then?"

"Finn..." she said, trying out the name and enjoying how it felt and sounded.

"Merlin, I like the way you say that. Say it again."

"Finn," Hermione said breathily, rocking herself against him.

"Witch," he hissed through his teeth.

Finn removed his hand from her pussy and grasped her hips with both hands, lifting her.

Hermione caught on to what he wanted and reached between them to position his member. With her legs hooked over his and her feet supporting some of her weight, Finn slowly lowered her onto his cock. Even if it did sting a bit, the stretch and slide of him were exquisite.

"Fuck," Finn muttered once she was fully seated on him. As he eased her up again, he drew his hips back and then slammed forwards.

Hermione met his stroke, pushing him deeper. His cock hit the spot inside her that had her seeing stars, and she cried out.

Finn set the rhythm, steady and slow, and Hermione laid her head against his shoulder, basking in her pleasure.

"You are..." He moaned before continuing to say, "Tight, wet, perfect, and mine; I thank Merlin that you're mine."

Hermione's heart beat faster. His words made her feel desirable, sexy, and more self-assured in her wantonness.

He slipped a hand down, lightly caressing her clit with his thumb.

"Can you come again, Little Witch?" he asked as the pace of his thrusts increased.

Hermione nodded; she was already so close. The warmth of the water, the sound of his voice, the feel of his body wrapped around hers, they all propelled her towards the edge.

"Please," she begged. "Want to come with you."

"Fuck," Finn gasped, his hands clutching her hips harder for a moment.

One, two, three more hard thrusts, and then he squeezed her clit, wiggling it with the perfect amount of pressure.

She was gone. She whimpered from the intensity of her climax, unaware that her nails were digging into Finn's thighs.

As her pussy tightened and released around him, Finn groaned and spilt himself deep inside her, murmuring praises into her ear.

Panting from their exertions, they let their muscles go lax.

Hermione sighed in contentment; she was so comfortable she could fall asleep.

"Finn, we must do this again," she stated drowsily. "But we mustn't wait too long for the next time. How about...tomorrow? Tomorrow morning?"

Finn kissed the top of her head. "Tomorrow," he agreed.

"Tomorrow morning," she repeated.

"Of course, tomorrow morning, then. How could I refuse such a captivating witch?" he asked, playfully referring to her naughty novel. His chuckle was the last thing she heard before sleep claimed her, a smile on her face.

Hermione hurried through the blustery winds of late March, wishing for warmer weather. The deadline for the marriage law was a week away, and Hermione was worried about Malfoy. She was sure he still hadn't petitioned anyone. Would the Dark Lord give him a reprieve? Hermione doubted it.

She took a deep breath, attempting to calm herself. Two weeks ago, she'd discovered she was pregnant. Currently, she was cautiously delighted but nervous, and Finn had asked her to mind her stress level, which Healer Fawley had also reiterated.

Finn had been ecstatic when she'd told him, lifting her and then hugging her tightly, twirling them in circles. Hermione couldn't help but smile indulgently at him when he'd started arranging her pillows for her or offering her foot rubs.

But now, two weeks later, his behaviour was stifling. It was part of the reason she had stepped out for lunch and gone for a stroll. But now, after thirty minutes of walking down Diagon Alley, she was freezing and ready to return to the Ministry.

Making her way through the Atrium towards the lifts, Hermione thought about her upcoming meeting with Snape. They were going to discuss what other elements could be influencing Factor Z.

After her last work-summary memo, the Dark Lord had not been pleased with her hypothesis about the Blood Curse. In fact, less than ten minutes after her memo had flown off, he'd sent her a reply telling her it couldn't be the reason and that he also wouldn't be sharing any of his notes about it.

On the positive side, he had allowed the information about the 'magical effectiveness levels' in Britain be released to her; it hadn't been much, but it did confirm a possible correlation. The next step would be to start looking through Ministry and pure-blood archives to help determine the causation. She'd already looked in the Rowle library, but it didn't have much on magical theory. Maybe the next time he actually bothered to come into work, she could convince Malfoy to let her search his library.

At her cubicle, Hermione gathered the parchment for her meeting and headed to Snape's office. When she entered, she was surprised to find Malfoy sitting across from Snape. Even more surprising, Malfoy appeared put-together: shaved, his hair coiffed and his robes pressed.

"Master Snape. Mr Malfoy," Hermione said as she settled into the chair next to Malfoy.

"Mrs Rowle," Snape greeted her. "Please enlighten us on your latest findings?"

Hermione flicked her wand, and her parchment floated into the air so they could all easily view it. She then enlarged it and highlighted all the key sections.

"We've already discussed that Factor Z likely consists of three components," Hermione began. "The Blood Curse—"

"The Dark Lord disagrees," Snape reminded her.

Hermione pursed her lips. "I'm aware, but the Arithmancy doesn't lie." She didn't come right out and say that the Dark Lord was wrong, but he was, and she and Snape both knew it.

Snape gestured for her to go on.

"There is also the declining levels of magic in Britain—"

"What do you mean?" Malfoy asked.

"I don't know enough about magical theory to explain it in detail," Hermione admitted. "But I do know research has found it is taking more intent, more will, and more power to produce even simple spells.

"I'm still stuck on the third piece, but I do have an idea…" she trailed off as a painful cramp in her midsection stole her breath. She swallowed and grimaced. That hadn't felt like it could be anything good.

"Alright, Granger?" Malfoy asked.

Hermione nodded as the pain disappeared. "My lunch must not be agreeing with me."

"What is your idea?" Snape asked, getting back to the presentation.

"I think it might have something to do with Dark Magic—" Hermione cut herself off before a groan could escape her lips as another wave of pain, this one more pronounced than the last, ripped through her body.

"Granger?" Malfoy asked again, touching her arm.

Hermione's eyes shot open at the touch, and she realised tears were leaking from them. She didn't want to admit it to herself, but she knew what was happening. She knew. Her hands began to shake. Why? Hadn't she lost enough? This had to be a dream. An awful, awful dream.

"Go get Rowle," Snape ordered Malfoy as he stood from his desk and moved around it to kneel in front of Hermione.

"No…" she moaned, placing her hands on her stomach protectively as a third wave of agony stabbed through her.

"Hermione...are you pregnant?" Snape asked quietly.

Hermione nodded, more tears falling.

Snape helped her to stand and then inhaled sharply.

She followed his eyes to see a pool of blood where she'd been sitting.

"Not waiting for Rowle," he said in a clipped tone.

Snape grabbed a piece of parchment and dashed an interdepartmental memo off before he quickly charmed it away. He then grabbed Hermione's shoulders and twisted to his left, Apparating them straight to St Mungo's.

Chapter Text

Katrina placed a smile on her face when a young wizard she'd never seen before entered the parlour.

Only a week remained until she was done with this hellhole that doubled as a whorehouse. Only a week was left until she would marry Bulstrode. A week until she would be left to the mercy of a man who beat her senseless every time he saw her. But she hadn't endured everything she had during the last few months to not survive now.

"Hello," she said to the wizard, having caught his attention.

The wizard was scrawny and utterly unremarkable in every way, except for the heavy coin bag hanging from his belt.

Rising from her seat, Katrina beamed at him like he was the handsomest man in the world.

"Er, hullo," he replied, a look of astonishment on his face.

"A true pleasure, sir. I'm Katrina. What name should I address you as?" she asked as she placed her hand on his arm, leaning closer so that her cleavage brushed his chest.

"Um, Troy," he fumbled to say.

"Troy," Katrina purred before she curtsied deeply for him.

Troy flushed. It was clear he wasn't Death-Eater material and likely the son of a well-off merchant or Ministry official.

"No need to be nervous." She eased his left hand into hers and soothingly massaged his fingers. "Is this your first visit?" Katrina looked at him through her lashes and was pleased to see he couldn't keep his eyes off her chest.

"Y-Yes." He lowered his voice and said, "My father bid me to bed a witch before I'm to be married."

"Well, why don't you join me for the night? We have a lovely eight-hour package. I'll be able to show you all the ins and outs, as it were." She giggled and slipped her arm around his waist, pulling him to her.

"I-I don't thi—"

"Trust me, Troy." She glided her fingers across his cheek as if he were a cherished lover. "Four hours won't be nearly enough."

"If you're sure..."

Katrina grinned and grasped his hand, leading him to the till.

As Madame Cresswell observed from behind the counter, Katrina said, "For the whole evening, that'll be two hundred and eighty Galleons. Do you want to kiss me, darling?"

Troy blushed and nodded.

"Then that's three hundred and sixty Galleons, but with the first-timers discount of fifteen per cent, it comes to three hundred and six."

Katrina smiled at him warmly when he handed her his coin bag to weigh the correct amount, which she made short work of.

Madame Cresswell opened the till. With a slight curve to her hips, she said quietly, "Well done.".

Turning to guide Troy upstairs, Katrina smirked at Cresswell and then felt the knot of dread in her gut ease: she'd managed another night where she wouldn't have to service Bulstrode.

Katrina woke up bright and early, even though she could have slept in. She had finally been able to get off the first shift, a goal she'd been working towards for months, and last night had been her first day on the third shift, the best shift. Today, she wanted to enjoy a quiet morning stroll.

Unfortunately, the clothes provided to her did not include anything she could wear outside; it was all négligées and lingerie. With her wand under Mudblood-status usage, she couldn't Transform anything and had to don the clothes she had come to the brothel in. She was able to Transfigure her outer robe from a bright blue to a dull grey, which would hopefully help her to blend in.

Stepping outside for the first time in months, Katrina felt the warmth of the sun on her face, a pleasure Katrina hadn't realised she needed. Just being outside was enough to lift the perpetual pall of gloom that she had been living under.

As Katrina sauntered along Knockturn Alley, she enjoyed the calmness around her. It was early enough that the alley was sparsely populated, although Katrina knew if she wandered to either Diagon or Domice Alley more people would be rushing about.

She reached Diagon Alley and browsed the windows of each shop she passed, just for the joy of it. She'd loved window shopping, usually because it led to actual shopping. Seeing new products and colourful displays had always brought her some happiness, and it held true now.

Hearing some shouting further down the street, Katrina wandered towards it and discovered a demonstration of some sort. She'd heard rumours that protests and riots were occurring but had never witnessed one, not when she had been married to Thor and certainly not since she'd been virtually under house arrest.

Katrina drew closer, wanting to know what they were chanting.

"NO LAW, YES LOVE!" they repeated in unison, their one voice growing louder and louder in Katrina's ears.

The demonstrators continued their march at an alarming pace, and before she could avoid it, the large group engulfed Katrina. There had to be at least a hundred and fifty people squeezed together in the narrow alley.

As Katrina fought her way past, someone stepped on her robes, almost causing Katrina to fall. She began to panic. She had to get out.

Katrina started shoving and pushing until she reached the front of a shop. Pressing herself against the building, she managed to keep to her feet as the crowd swarmed past.

Hearing the tinkling of a bell, she glanced to her left.

"Alright there, miss?" a shopkeeper asked, poking his head out the front door of his store.

Katrina nodded, frightened by what had just happened but determined to enjoy the rest of her morning. She wasn't going to get very many more of these.

The day had finally arrived: Katrina's wedding day. Well, her second wedding day, but one that was as much a sham as her first.

Many of the other women in the brothel were tittering as they helped her get ready. Katrina had a fake smile pasted on her face. She felt as if she were viewing the scene from a long way off but supposed she was giving the right answers to their bubbly questions.

Katrina was also worried that the Dark Lord or someone else skilled in Legilimency would be in attendance, so she studiously buried all of her mutinous thoughts, trying to make her mind as blank as possible.

"It's so exciting!" Flora chirped in her ear.

Katrina nodded, but her eyes were bright with unshed tears rather than with excitement. What if Bulstrode managed to kill her tonight? She didn't know exactly what had happened to Bulstrode's first fiancée, Ginevra Weasley; Katrina hadn't dared to ask him. While working on the tea for Astoria, she'd sussed out Weasley had suffered from the same blood curse as Granger, but it would not surprise Katrina if Weasley had actually been murdered at the hands of Bulstrode.

Since their engagement, Bulstrode had been exceedingly careful each time he visited her, careful not to hurt her too badly, to not cause injuries that would put her in St Mungo's for longer than a night or two. But he'd had to, hadn't he? If he killed her, he'd be banned from the establishment for good. And neither he nor Madame Cresswell wanted that. It was good business to let him to beat her. Cresswell made a lot of money allowing corporal punishment. Katrina snorted to herself. Corporal punishment. What a joke. She'd thought it would be a spanking or two, not the brutal, sadistic beatings Bulstrode had subjected her to. After the first time he had taken her, she had been thankful that the burn spots had healed. He'd lit the tip of his wand and covered her arms and chest with burns. She'd been horrified and had thought she was permanently disfigured. Thankfully, she hadn't been, but the blisters themselves had been painful and slow to heal.

Katrina shook her head; she needed to focus. Today, she had nobody else to rely on but herself and her own wits. She would survive this just as she had survived everything else in the last few months. If nothing else, this experience had taught her that she was far stronger than she'd given herself credit for.

"It's time!" Marietta called out.

As Katrina rose to her feet reluctantly, a handful of peonies, Bulstrode's choices, not hers, were thrust in her hands.

The gaggle of women then ushered her all the way to Madame Cresswell's office, afterwards quickly scurrying away. Katrina would be using the fireplace to travel to Bulstrode's home where they would be married. He had said the ceremony would be intimate and that there would be no reception. The better to begin the torture… Katrina clamped down on that unhelpful thought and steeled herself for what was to come.

"Thank you, Madame Cresswell, for everything," Katrina said, curtsying.

"Be well, Katrina." Madame Cresswell smiled, but the smile didn't reach her eyes.

Katrina didn't know if Cresswell was upset to lose a revenue stream or because she knew what fate awaited Katrina. Perhaps she was indifferent. In the end, it didn't matter. Katrina nodded her head and turned to the fireplace.

Grasping a handful of Floo powder, Katrina shouted, "Bulstrode Estate!"

Exiting the fireplace on the other side in a swirl of green flames, Katrina came face-to-face with her intended. He smiled at her, his eyes twinkling in delight. She swallowed hard.

"Ah, my beloved bride. You look just as I envisioned," Bulstrode greeted her.

Katrina extended her hand to him, and he lifted it, kissing its back. She smiled engagingly at him. If nothing else, months in the brothel had taught her how to act flawlessly.

"Shall we?" Bulstrode tucked her hand in his and led her from the reception room to a dimly lit sitting room.

Her surroundings looked as if it could use a few cleaning and brightening charms, and Katrina wondered if Bulstrode had a house-elf. It didn't look like it. Remembering Thorfinn's prying little rodent Rosey, she was glad.

Standing in front of a lovely view of the gardens and countryside was Gregory Goyle and another wizard Katrina didn't recognise.

"Katrina, you already know Mr Goyle," Bulstrode introduced her, and Katrina dropped a small curtsy. "And this is Edmund Travers," he gestured to the wizard besides Goyle, "he's a good friend of mine and attended Durmstrang. He'll be performing our bonding."

She gave Travers a polite smile and curtsied again. "A pleasure to meet you all."

"Let's get on with it," Bulstrode said, jerking Katrina closer and then moving them into position.

The ceremony was longer than Katrina would have liked. The whole time her body tensed tighter and tighter in anticipation of what was to come.

"So mote it be," Travers intoned, yanking Katrina from her dark thoughts.

"Excellent, thank you, gentlemen. I shall see you at Cresswell's next week, as usual. Come, wife," Bulstrode said, practically dragging Katrina out of the room into the hallway.

"Aren't you going to see our guests out?" Katrina asked politely.

"No, the wards will tell me," Bulstrode said vaguely as the stairs came into view.

He threw open the first door to the right of the stairs and shoved Katrina inside. "Ah, see. They've left. Alone at last, my dear."

Bulstrode took hold of her upper arm and shoved her towards the bed.

"Husband," Katrina said breathlessly, her heartbeat frantic, "would you allow me a wedding gift first?"

Bulstrode frowned. "A gift?"

"May I suck your cock?" Katrina asked as beguilingly as she could.

His lips twisted cruelly. "With a request like that, how can I refuse?"

Bulstrode pushed down on her shoulders roughly.

As gracefully as she could, Katrina sank down onto her knees. She began unbuttoning his trousers and chanced a look up at him. His expression was sinister. She bit her bottom lip and then smiled, doing her best to look coy. Unsurprisingly, his cock was already half-hard. She stroked it a few times before placing a kiss on its head.

Bulstrode sunk his hands into her hair, loosening her pins. Katrina pulled out the most cumbersome one and placed it in her lap, letting it fall into the folds of her skirt. She brought her left hand back up to cup his sac, and his cock hardened further.

She sucked Bulstrode's length as deep into her mouth as she could, never taking her eyes off of his face. His member hit the back of her throat, and she sucked even harder, hollowing her cheeks and swallowing reflexively. He closed his eyes in pleasure. Ah, there it was. She moved her left hand from his balls to between her legs, moaning as if this act were turning her on too.

Katrina buried her hand deeper into her skirts, gyrating her hips, and her fingers found the hairpin she'd dropped—except, it wasn't only a hairpin. A quick twist and the blade hidden inside was revealed.

As hard and quick as she could, she stabbed Bulstrode's left inner thigh and then yanked out the knife.

Bulstrode shrieked and tore himself away from Katrina.

The arterial spray of blood on Katrina's chest told her she'd hit true, and she tossed the knife out of easy reach. The blood was hot and kept pulsing onto her; it smelled like iron, and Katrina was sure she would never be able to suck a cock again. While Bulstrode was distracted, she grabbed his wand from where she knew he stored it in his robes and then snapped it in half.

At the sharp sound, Bulstrode looked up from his leg.

Staring at his broken wand in disbelief, he shouted, "WHAT DID YOU DO, YOU CRAZY BITCH!"

Katrina rose to her feet and backed away a step. "Why husband, I thought you enjoyed it rough."

A haze of fury appeared on his face. "YOU FUCKING CUNT!" he screamed, lunging at her. "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR THIS!"

Katrina tried to scramble out of his way, but her legs became tangled in her dress. Bulstrode landed on her hard, moving his hands around her throat.

"Get off me," Katrina croaked as she shoved at his arms, even as his hands began to tighten at her throat. She thrashed in his hold, but he was so much heavier than her. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her lungs begged for air. The pressure in her head grew and grew.

Right when she thought she would lose consciousness, Bulstrode's grip loosened, and she wheezed in a breath. A few moments more and his hands went slack. Katrina fought not to panic, having thirteen stones of dead weight on her. She gathered all her strength and rocked her body. Again. And again. Until she could move out from underneath him.

Katrina's breath came in short bursts as she crawled away. Tears continued to fall from her eyes and mingle with the blood that was everywhere.

She counted to three hundred in her head, then scrambled forward, checking for a pulse. She cried even harder: he was dead.

She was free.

Now, all she had to do was get to the Muggle world. She looked down at her gory appearance. That wouldn't do. Dripping blood, she searched for a bathroom

Katrina showered quickly and changed into a dress she found in a wardrobe; all the clothes inside were new and had been too short. She guessed that they had originally been purchased for Weasley, and the dead bastard hadn't bothered to at least resize them for her.

She spent a few minutes rooting through Bulstrode's things, looking for anything useful. In addition to the three hundred Galleons she found on him, she discovered five hundred Galleons in a drawer. She added all the coins to her bag of Muggle currency she'd acquired after closing out her secret savings account at Gringotts the previous morning.

She searched for Bulstrode's owl and found it perched in his office. Smirking, she wrapped the knife in a piece of cloth and shoved it into an envelope. She addressed it and sent it off. Now, at least, her tracks would be obscured.

An hour and a half after becoming a widow, with only her wand and money and the clothes on her back, Katrina left Bulstrode Estate on foot. She hadn't come across a house-elf while exploring, which was all the better. It would be a while before Bulstrode was found, and hopefully, Katrina would be far away in the Muggle world by then.

After two hours of walking, Katrina found herself in a tiny Muggle hamlet. So far she hadn't had to interact with any Muggles. She was petrified to do so, but she was also exhausted and hungry and had only a vague idea of where she was.

A young boy, wearing odd trousers and a shirt with SWINDON emblazoned across his chest, stepped out of a nearby building. He dropped a white and black ball onto the ground and started kicking it around with his feet.

Katrina grinned; a small Muggle was much preferable to a full-grown one.

"Excuse me, young sir," Katrina said, waving her hand to get his attention.

"Me?" the boy asked, pointing to himself and glancing around to see if anyone was behind him.

"Yes, you. Is there an eating establishment close by?"

"Only place you can get a meal around here is the Swan."

"And where is this 'swan'?"

The boy gave her a strange look, likely seeing the bruises on her neck. He pointed down the street. "That way."

"Ah, yes." She gave a nervous laugh, wishing she could wield her wand. "Thank you most kindly."

The boy shrugged. "Welcome. Later, miss."

Katrina continued down the street until she came across 'The Black Swan'. Entering what was a pub, she spied a clock on the wall behind the bar and saw it was past three, too late for a lunch crowd and too early for a dinner crowd. Not ideal. It would have been better if she could have blended in.

She sat at the empty bar, and an elderly barmaid with greying red hair bustled over. "Anything to drink, dearie?"

"Water will be fine for now. May I have a menu?" Katrina requested.

Something in the barmaid's demeanour changed, and she gently handed Katrina a menu. "Here you go. I'll go fetch you your water."

"Thank you."

Katrina glanced at the menu with trepidation. It was covered in some sort of clear, filmy substance and felt unnaturally slick. Thankfully, it appeared Muggles ate food very similar to wizards.

When the barmaid returned for Katrina's order, Katrina said, "I'd like the shepherd's pie." It had always been a childhood favourite. If there were ever a moment for comfort food, now was it.

"It'll be right up," the barmaid assured her.

Katrina nodded sharply and looked down at her hands. She'd scrubbed at them viciously in the shower, and they were clean, but Katrina thought she still smelt blood. She wrinkled her nose and then suddenly found herself fighting tears. Her hands trembled as she buried her face in them. So much blood.

"Och, there, there, dearie," the barmaid came around the bar and patted Katrina's shoulder. "Why don't you tell Miss Mary all about it."

Katrina flinched at Mary's touch, but it was more because of what happened with Bulstrode than Mary being a Muggle. Looking up, she wiped her eyes with the back of a hand, sniffing loudly.

"There's a good girl." Mary squeezed the fingers of Katrina's left hand. "What's got you in such a fuss?"

"M-my boyfriend," Katrina began, weaving the tale she had concocted, "he brought me all the way out here, and we had a fight. I-I can't…" She trailed off as a fresh wave of real tears came over her.

"Och, men can be nasty alright," Mary agreed.

"I'm stranded. And I slept on the way out from London. I don't even know where I am. But I do know I can't go back home; he's there..." That was true, regardless. Katrina would give anything to go back home. Back to Selwyn Hall where she grew up. But that was gone now. Forever. Just another thing taken away by the Dark Lord.

"Oh, you live in London. We're in Tilshead about two and a half hours west of London. And actually, I have to go to the city tomorrow. I also know a place you could stay. Why don't you kip here for the night, and I'll drive you up myself."

"I couldn't impose," Katrina said, knowing Mary would insist. This was the best thing that had happened to her in weeks.

"Och, think nothing of it, missy." A bell dinged from the kitchen. "That's your shepherd's pie. I'll be back in a jiffy."

Katrina gave her a watery smile as Mary patted her shoulder once more and bustled off. Things were going better than Katrina had ever imagined.

After the first tentative bite of her meal, Katrina grinned. The crazy plan she had devised weeks ago finally seemed to be coming together. And with it, her assumptions about Muggles were falling. She'd thought they were grubby, pig-like creatures; it's what she'd been taught. But glancing around this pub… it looked similar to most wizarding pub she'd been in. The floor was clean; the food was delicious. And Mary… Mary was exceedingly kind. Kinder than anyone had been to Katrina in months.

Katrina had been in London for two weeks, staying at the women's shelter Mary had driven her too. At first, Katrina had thought it was a brothel. She was pleasantly surprised to find out what it actually was; wizarding Britain had no such services for women, never had.

Besides providing food, a place to sleep, and counselling, the shelter also had a program with a store called Harrods. It would hire women from the shelter to be stockers in the back, and if they did well, there were opportunities for advancement.

Katrina's smart accent meant she was a shoe-in for a position and was hired on the spot. She'd never had a job before but thought it couldn't be that hard. Katrina had practically skipped into work on her first day.

She'd been right and wrong about the job. It certainly didn't require much of Katrina's brain power, but it was physically exhausting. She left the store bone-tired every single evening.

On the bright side, one of her co-workers was looking for a roommate, and Katrina jumped at the chance to get out of the shelter. Her roommate, Jacqueline, was almost never home, preferring to spend nights at her boyfriend's. All the better for Katrina.

Katrina avoided all wizarding parts of London. If anyone even suggested going near Leadenhall Market, Katrina found herself incredibly busy doing something else. She was desperate for information from her old world but knew if she were spotted that she'd be taken to Azkaban, or worse. Katrina was not about to let that happen. Even though she would never be able to use her wand or visit wizarding Britain again, at least she was finally controlling her own life. She would manage. She was a survivor.

Chapter Text

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."

"Did he...again?"

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?"

"Feel what?"

"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."

"From who?"

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.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Draco was currently squirrelled away in the middle of nowhere in Scotland with Sarah and his mother. He hadn't originally planned to fake his death and leave the manor, but when the noose seemed to tighten around Mother, it'd been the best available choice.

Draco shivered. He was outside their small cabin gathering more wood by hand to stoke the fire inside. Sarah was still slightly afraid of magic, so he and Mother had stopped using wands around her months ago.

Sarah's scream rent the air, and he flinched. That was the other reason he was out in the bitter November cold.

She screamed again, but this time it sounded different.

As his heart raced, Draco rushed through the snow to get back, tripping over a drift in his haste and almost dropping his bundle.

He burst through the door, and his breath caught at the scene in front of him. Sarah was crouched on the floor, holding onto the seat of one of their hardwood dining chairs. His mother had her hands beneath Sarah as Sarah moaned and whimpered.

"Almost there," Mother said calmly. "The head's almost completely out; a little more, and you'll be able to hold your baby."

Draco hurried to the fire, stacking the wood he'd gathered. He then went to the sink and washed his hands all the way up to his elbows. He couldn't believe Sarah's strength; she been in labour for almost sixteen hours.

"I-I don't…" Sarah trailed off into a low groan.

Draco knelt behind her, pushing down on her hips to provide counter pressure as the Muggle birthing book had recommended.

"Merlin, you're so strong," Draco said. "I know you can do this."

Sarah took a deep breath, and Draco felt the muscles beneath his hands tighten as another contraction started.

"That's it, good girl, push!" Mother urged.

Sarah shrieked as the baby's entire head fully emerged. "I can't. I can't."

"Breathe, breathe," Mother said soothingly. "The hardest part is over. One more contraction and this will be all over."

"You've got this, love; you've got this," Draco encouraged. He shut his eyes, feeling the prickle of tears.

After one more push and a guttural yell, the loud cry of their child filled the room. Sarah collapsed back into his arms, and Draco felt tears trickle down his cheeks.

He wrapped his arms around Sarah and buried his face in her neck. "You did it. Merlin, you did it, you beautiful woman."

Once Mother had cut the cord, Draco helped Sarah get on the bed. As soon as Sarah was comfortably situated, Mother handed the baby wrapped in a green blanket to Draco. He stepped aside so that she could help Sarah deliver the afterbirth.

With no magic and only the most basic prenatal care, the sex of the baby had remained a mystery. Overcome by emotion earlier, he hadn't thought to take a peek. Sarah had agreed to follow the wizarding custom of the father announcing the sex. Draco held his breath and unfolded the blanket: a boy. His son. He looked into the wailing infants face, at his shock of blond hair. His son. Merlin, how he loved this tiny human already.

Draco placed a tender kiss on his son's brow. His chest puffing out, he proudly said, "It's a boy."

"He needs to nurse," Mother reminded him, beaming.

Draco handed his son to her carefully. She carried him to Sarah and showed her how to latch him to a breast.

Draco couldn't believe it. He felt so lucky and, yet, terrified at the same time. Faking his death had gotten the Dark Lord and the Aurors off of his mother's back, but he was worried that he might still be tracked; another reason he avoided any magic.

Draco's jaw clenched when he thought of his father. His father knew, of course, but disagreed and refused to see Draco or Sarah, not even his grandchild. Draco took a deep breath. When Draco thought about it logically, it made the most sense for his father to stay away. Lucius Malfoy was the Minister, after all, which meant he worked very closely with the Dark Lord. The less his father was around, the less his father thought about him and Sarah. Draco trusted that his father didn't want him harmed, but the Dark Lord scared the Hippogriff dung out of Father. Draco wouldn't put it past the Dark Lord to force Father into giving them up.

"Love," Sarah called from the bed, "come join us".

Draco grinned at the sight before him as he sat next to Sarah on the bed. He stared in awe at the miracle that was his son eagerly feeding at Sarah's breast.

Draco cupped Sarah's cheek and kissed her lips with reverence. "I love you," he whispered.

Sarah closed her tired eyes and smiled.

"He's a Squib," Mother stressed.

"Show me a child who's been born in the last two years who hasn't been a Squib," Draco protested.

Sarah and his son, Scorpius, were sleeping as he and Mother held this quiet conversation.

"You could give him to a well-off Muggle family," she pleaded.

"Mother," Draco growled, his warning clear. He and his mother had argued over this almost every day since Scorpius had been born a little over two weeks ago.

Her lips tightened. "You haven't married her; you can still return to the wizarding world."

"I can't. We faked my death," Draco hissed. "There is nothing for me there."

The hurt look in her eyes twisted Draco's stomach. "I didn't mean it like that, Mother."

She looked away from him and subtly wiped her cheeks.

Draco pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly to him. In truth, he doubted he and Sarah would have survived as long as they had without his mother. She'd been there for them every step of the way, providing food and medical care when necessary. Draco would forever be grateful to her for everything she had done. But he would not be giving up Sarah or his son to return to the hellhole that was the wizarding world.

Even if the Dark Lord was somehow defeated, Draco wasn't sure he ever wanted to live amongst wizards again.

A little over a month had passed since Scorpius' birth, and Mother's visits were becoming rarer, which scared Draco. If she wasn't visiting as much, it meant she was being watched. He didn't know by whom, but he had his suspicions. The Muggle he'd planted in his stead was similar in appearance to Draco even before he'd forced Polyjuice Potion down the Muggle's throat. He had left the body in a small stream because he knew running water would make the results from diagnostic spells less reliable. However, if just one Auror had gone to the Muggle hamlet and asked questions...

"She'll come back," Sarah assured him.

Draco frowned. "I'm worried about who might follow her back."

"Your father?"

He hadn't been entirely truthful with Sarah about the upheaval in the wizarding world. "He is just so prejudiced against Muggles," Draco said while thinking that it wasn't his father he was the most worried about.

Draco sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He needed a contingency plan if everything went to shit. One that would at least save Sarah and Scorpius even if Draco couldn't save himself. He wouldn't let his family be sacrificed in the same way his father had sacrificed the wellbeing of him and Mother so many years ago.

Honestly, Draco had thought he was over that old hurt by now, but apparently not, judging by the anger that had just erupted inside his chest. Breathing deeply, Draco tried to calm himself. He was not his father. He would do better, be a better person.

Hermione Granger's face flashed through his mind. Granger was the noblest person he knew. No, not Granger. It was Rowle now. He snorted. No, she'd always be Granger to him. Draco wondered if she had been able to get pregnant again. She'd been so broken after the miscarriage. Could she help him? Would she? He'd done his best for her. Over the years, he'd gotten to really know her and had grown to respect her. Granger had lost almost everything, and yet, she'd managed to continue on.

Draco was very thankful that he hadn't been able to petition for her. He would have saved Granger but would have never met Sarah and Scorpius. Those two were now his world. He'd chosen them, not Father or Mother or the Dark Lord, and he wouldn't be giving them up for anything.

Draco didn't even want to consider it, but what if the worst did happen? What if something were to happen to him and Sarah? Who would Scorpius be safest with? He didn't think it would be either of his parents, and it wouldn't be right to put Sarah's family at risk. Too many questions would be asked with Severus. No, Scorpius had to go to someone else. There was no doubt in Draco's mind that Granger would help him if it were in her power to do so. And with Rowle at her side, perhaps she'd even be in the best position to protect his child.

Sarah removed Scorpius from her breast and tucked him next to her. "Draco?"

"Here, let me take him." He picked up Scorpius. "You need to get some sleep. I'll change his nappy and hold him awhile."

Sarah smiled at him sleepily and snuggled deeper into the bed. It wasn't long before her breathing evened out.

Draco knew he would only have two hours before she would need to wake up to breastfeed again. He quickly burped Scorpius and changed his nappy. Then Draco wrapped him firmly in a blanket.

He checked on Sarah again, making sure she was indeed asleep. After he put on his cloak, Draco wrote a note that explained he'd gone for a walk with Scorpius and would be back shortly.

With Scorpius snug in his arms, Draco left.

As Draco walked further away from the cabin, he thought over all his options one more time. In the end, his conclusion was the same. It was one of the wandless spells he'd mastered, and he wouldn't be monitored because Father had removed his name from the register after his 'death.'

Finally deeming it safe enough away not to wake Sarah, Draco took a deep breath. He knew he would need all of his concentration. With Scorpius clutched tightly in his arms, he turned to his left, Apparating with a sharp snap.

When they reappeared, Scorpius immediately started wailing. Draco rocked him and gave Scorpius his pinkie to suck on.

Feeling fatigued from his use of magic, Draco gazed at the imposing edifice before him. It had been many years since he'd visited. Everything was quiet, except for the slightly bitter breeze. Draco wrapped Scorpius tighter in his cloak as he set forth for the main entrance.

A house-elf opened the door. It was about to speak its first word to him when, from out of sight, Draco heard Granger exclaim, "You're home early!" A second later, a very pregnant Hermione Granger came into view next to the house-elf.

Draco felt relief flood his body.

Recognising him, Granger's eyes widened.

"Don't scream or you'll wake him," Draco said in a rush. He gently pushed his cloak aside to reveal Scorpius.

Granger covered her mouth in shock and stared at his son. She gazed back at Draco with the same intensity. "Merlin's beard, is it really you?"

At Draco's tentative nod, she grinned and reached out to pull him into a hug, mindful of Scorpius in his arms. "I'm so glad you're not dead," she murmured as she released him. Granger scanned behind him for a brief moment, then pulled him inside.

"Rowle's not here, right?" Draco asked as he stepped across the threshold.

Granger shook her head. "He works most Saturdays and some Sundays. It's when the rioting is the worst. Rosey, we need tea in the library," Granger said and led Draco down the hallway to the library.

"Congratulations," Draco said once they were both seated on a small sofa in front of a warm fire.

Granger laughed, rubbing her belly. "I suppose congratulations are in order for you too." She leant forwards to get a better look at Scorpius.

"Do you want to hold him?"

Granger's eyes lit up, and Draco didn't bother suppressing a grin as he passed his son over to her.

"He's beautiful." She ran a finger down Scorpius' cheek.

Draco smiled softly. Granger was a natural. His nerves calmed. He was already feeling better about his decision.

"He's a Squib," Draco said.

Granger nodded in understanding.

"His mother is a Muggle."

She looked at him sharply. "That...explains things. You care for his mother?"

Draco's face brightened. "Yes. My Sarah. She's gorgeous and brilliant and strong. You would love her, Granger."

Granger chuckled at his exuberance.

They spoke for a nice length about Sarah and where Draco had been all these months. Granger laughed until she was crying as he told her about his interactions with the Muggle world. Scorpius woke up and grizzled a few times, but she calmed him easily.

Checking the time on a nearby clock, Draco turned the conversation to more serious topics. "Mother helped me fake my death when we learnt Sarah was pregnant. Father covered things up at the Ministry, but the Dark Lord still suspects."

"The Dark Lord must somehow know you're still alive," Granger said. "Finn's been commanded to find you at any cost."

Draco felt his heart twist. "That's not good... I haven't been using any magic, but I'm concerned the Dark Lord will find a way to track me down. I need a way to protect us."

Granger rubbed her large belly, even as she cuddled Scorpius. "I understand the instinct."

"Can you create a Portkey?" Draco asked. "I can't risk using my wand. And I'll need the rest of my energy to get us home safely."

Granger's face tightened at the mention of a wand. "No, I can't. Even after I married Finn, the restrictions on my wand weren't removed." She paused deep in thought. "I have something that may work though."

Granger handed Scorpius back to him and stood. She went over to a desk and dug through a drawer, humming happily when she found what she'd been looking for. Granger set a small package wrapped in linen on the desk.

Draco rose to his feet, cuddling Scorpius into his side as he went to stand closer.

Removing the linen, she revealed a broken quill.

"A quill. A broken quill," Draco said in confusion.

"Seeing as how you won't be turning me in... it's an illegal Portkey to the Burrow, the Weasley family home. It's from the war. I can't create a new Portkey, but I may be able to modify the destination of this one. Where do you need it to go?"

Draco hoped to Merlin he was right about Granger's altruistic tendencies. "Here," he said the word more like a question.

Granger gasped. "You mean…"

"Granger, you're the only person I know who would protect my family as fiercely as your own. If the worst happens, I need to know they'll be safe."

"What do I tell Finn?"

Draco huffed out a breath. "Whatever you need to so that they can get to safety in the Muggle world." Draco looked away as tears pricked at the back of his eyes. He swallowed hard around the lump in his throat. "Can I trust that you'll keep them safe?"

"Yes," Granger replied with barely a thought. She stood and came around from behind the desk. Laying an arm on Draco's, she gazed down at Scorpius. "If the worst happens, I'll take them in. I'll protect them as if they were my own family."

Draco exhaled a long breath of relief. He smiled. "Thank you."

Her eyes shining with tears, Granger nodded. She then pulled out her wand. "Hopefully this doesn't set off any alarms."

After Granger gave Draco a nervous smile, she hovered her wand over the length of the quill. It glowed a dull green for a second before returning to normal. "Well, it's still active. Let's see if I can change the coordinates."

Her gaze was faraway for a moment before she did a series of complicated little swirls with her wand. Afterward, the quill rippled for a moment and then went still.

"I think that's it."

Draco swallowed and nodded.

Granger wrapped the broken quill back into the piece of linen. "Be careful with it; it has only one use." She offered it to Draco.

Nodding, he accepted the Portkey and placed it in a pocket.

"Thank you, Granger."

She smiled, but he could see the tears in her eyes. Rising on the balls of her feet, she placed a soft kiss on his cheek. "Be safe. I have reason to hope that we won't be under the Dark Lord's rule for too much longer."

Draco kissed the top of Granger's hand in great thanks before leaving Rowle Rock. Little Scorpius needed to get back; it was almost time for him to eat again.

Chapter Text

It was an early October morning, and Thorfinn had just Apparated to the shores of Dover. He felt both like an idiot and like he might as well start digging a hole for his grave. Thorfinn wouldn't even be doing what he was doing right now if it weren't for the promise he'd made Hermione. He didn't want to think about the wizarding world possibly collapsing. He didn't want to think about the Blood Curse or the need to leave his homeland.

But Thorfinn knew the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord was like a child who doesn't realise his strength while playing with a kitten and accidentally squeezes it to death. If the end of wizarding society was somehow inevitable—Thorfinn didn't even pretend to understand half of what Hermione said about it—then he imagined the Dark Lord would prefer to snuff its life first rather than let another have what he saw as his.

Thorfinn sighed and then cast an Auror-level detection charm on the surrounding area. A sheet of brilliant red lit up in front of him, not a weak spot in sight. From what he could see, the Blood Curse was in full effect at this location.

He walked a long way down the beach, checking the wall to his left to see if any portion of it appeared weak or was missing, but it looked solid. He shot a Blasting Curse at it just to see what would happen and had to leap out of the way when the spell rebounded. Afterwards, he studied the wall for any damaged and found it hadn't even sustained a scratch.

Pursing his lips, Thorfinn Apparated to a beach he knew of near the Outer Hebrides.

Thorfinn looked down and found his boots underwater. Dammit! The accuracy of his Apparition had been off. He quickly cast the detection charm to ensure that he was still within the border of the Blood Curse. The spell confirmed he was, and Thorfinn heaved a sigh of relief. He wasn't sure if leaving the area of the Blood Curse would trigger any alarms for the Dark Lord, but he was unwilling to try and find out, either.

Again and again, from various places around Britain, he discovered no weaknesses. This was proving to be a waste of time, but he had promised Hermione.

Thorfinn inhaled deeply and turned left, this time Apparating to a beach on the south-eastern side of Ireland near Lambs Head. When he arrived, pain engulfed his calf.

"Fucking shite," Thorfinn hissed.

A glance around found he was alone. Thorfinn sat down on the cold sand and lifted the blood-soaked material of his left trouser leg: a snitch-sized, bone-deep hole gaped open in his calf. He had Splinched himself.

"Motherfuck!" Thorfinn cast a healing charm to stem the flow of blood, but it did little good: he was an Auror, not a Healer. He needed to get to St Mungo's, but he couldn't risk Apparating and Splinching himself again. "Fucking Merlin," he growled and lent over to grasp a rock.

Thorfinn felt fatigued from magical drain as well as light-headed from blood loss. Breathing slowly to manage his pain, he concentrated. "Portus," he said through gritted teeth, tapping the rock.

Relief flooded him when a Portkey activated with a blue glow. Mid-breath, he felt a tug behind his navel and was gone.

When he landed in the lobby of St Mungo's with a whump, Thorfinn choked back a howl of pain. "I need some bloody fucking help here!"

A mediwitch ran to him and knelt to examine his wound. "Splinching?" she asked.

Thorfinn winced as the mediwitch cast a spell. "Yes."

"We're seeing more of those," she muttered.

She flicked her wand again, and Thorfinn sighed in relief as his leg numbed.

"Alright, I've got the bleeding under control. Let's get you up so we can regrow your muscle and connective tissue. A few more spells and potions and you'll be in fine fettle in no time, sir."

Thorfinn loved magic. Dammit, he was going to miss it.

As expected, Thorfinn didn't have to stay at St Mungo's for long. Once the muscle in his leg had been repaired, he was sent away with instructions to rest and not Apparate more than twice a day in future.

He didn't go home though; he went to the Ministry to finish some paperwork. Thorfinn did not want it reaching the Dark Lord that he was still out in the field as he'd told Mrs Cowley to relay to anyone who visited his office. That would lead to questions, and the Dark Lord asking questions was rarely a good thing.

Sitting down at his desk, Thorfinn sighed. Hermione's hope about the Blood Curse wasn't looking viable. Not wanting to think about what the consequences of being stuck in Britain were, Thorfinn dove into his paperwork. He didn't break from his work until it was time to collect Hermione from the Research Centre.

After Thorfinn picked Hermione up, he didn't mention that he'd begun investigating the Blood Curse. He did feel a tinge of guilt, but he wasn't risking either Hermione or his child because of needless worry.

Once he'd learnt Hermione was pregnant again, he'd done everything in his power to make sure her life was as easy as possible—this time around, without being too obvious about it. He'd instructed Snape to do the same. And their effort was working. Hermione glowed with happiness, and at the last prenatal appointment, he'd been overjoyed to hear from Healer Fawley that the baby was strong and healthy.

During their journey through the Ministry, Thorfinn focused their conversation on Hermione's day, and when they arrived home, he knew he had to distract her from asking about his. And that's why the moment they were both in the entrance hall, he hiked up her robes past her hips and hoisted her onto a side table.

"Finn! I'm five months pregnant! What are you doing? What about dinner? Rosey will be—"

"Rosey will know to keep everything warm," Thorfinn said, working her knickers off. He then crushed his lips against hers. Soon, Hermione's hands were wrapped around his neck, encouraging him to deepen their kiss.

Undoing his zip, Thorfinn anticipated what was to come. As he thrust his tongue into Hermione's mouth, he also buried his cock into her tight, hot sheath.

Thorfinn always loved the moment he entered her; every time, she clamped down on him so prettily that he could never stop the grunt that escaped him.

"Merlin, little witch," Thorfinn panted as he waited for her to accommodate him.

"Finn," she whined, wrapping her legs around him and urging him to move.

A flick of his wand with a muttered incantation cleared the table behind her. As Hermione lay down, Thorfinn placed his palms on her growing belly. He loved how beautiful she looked. He pulled back and entered her again slowly.

"Please," Hermione gasped.

Thorfinn smiled and increased his tempo. She'd been incredibly randy the entirety of her second trimester, and he could only hope that it'd continue. He, for one, couldn't get enough of her.

He slid his hands from her belly up to her breasts, cupping them gently. They'd grown so sensitive that he could do no more than this before Hermione mewled with protest. He adored the way her body had changed. Watching her as she lovingly rubbed her growing stomach, as she spoke about their future, had cemented Thorfinn's feelings for her; he knew, now, that he'd lay down his life for her.

Thorfinn grabbed her right leg and brought it up to rest on his shoulder for a deeper angle. It wasn't long before Hermione climaxed, groaning long and low.

"That's it," Thorfinn praised her. "Can we get another?"

Hermione grunted intelligibly, making Thorfinn chuckle. He licked the fingers of his right hand and then slid them against her clit.

About a minute later, she moaned as she reached a second orgasm.

Thorfinn pounded harder into her. "Again, little witch. Come for me again," he growled as the table below them shifted, its legs scraping on the floor. He watched her face as it contorted with bliss.

"Finn!" Hermione cried out in surprise at her sudden third orgasm.

"Fuuuck," Thorfinn groaned loudly as he felt her centre pulse around him and shot his load deep inside his gorgeous wife.

For a moment, they basked in the pleasure of their frantic lovemaking. Then Thorfinn carefully slipped from Hermione and pulled her up into a sitting position.

Hermione lightly swatted at his chest. "Help me down, you voracious beast. Rosey is going to get impatient."

"Nonsense, Rosey has the patience of an angel," Thorfinn grinned down at Hermione before he kissed the tip of her nose. "And I think for tonight, we'll be having dinner in bed."

Hermione snorted a laugh as a smile spread over her face. "And dessert?"

As Thorfinn eased Hermione back onto her feet, he grinned. "I'll leave that up to you."

It was two months later in December when the last shop in Hogsmeade closed. Hogwarts also announced it was closing its doors at the end of the autumn term—something that had never happened in its thousand-year history—but magic had destabilised enough that it wasn't safe keeping so many untrained wizards and witches in one place.

When Thorfinn first heard the news about Hogwarts, he'd been sure that it was just a false rumour. How could Hogwarts, of all places, close? It was an institution, a cornerstone of wizarding Britain. But it was happening. Even now, parents were retrieving their children early instead of waiting for them to return on the Hogwarts Express at the end of the week.

And then there were the food shortages. Thorfinn was lucky that Rosey could procure food from the house-elf markets. The wizarding ones were getting quite rough to the point that Thorfinn had forbidden Hermione from going.

Currently, despite the fact that it was a Saturday, Thorfinn was at the Ministry coordinating an army of Aurors out in the field. The constant putting out of fires across wizarding Britain was exhausting, but it was that or complete chaos.

The Dark Lord had been disturbingly quiet of late. Thorfinn hadn't seen him in several weeks. He wasn't sure what it meant but didn't think it could be anything good. A silent Dark Lord could be as dangerous as an angry one, if not more so.

"Auror Rowle! Auror Rowle!"

Thorfinn stood immediately and crossed his office. He flung open the door to find three of his best Aurors storming through the department towards him.

"What's going on?" Thorfinn barked.

Auror Ferrin answered first. "The riot in Domice Alley has converged with a smaller one from Knockturn; it's turned into one large brawl."

"Fuck. Rodriguez, send a message to every off-duty Auror to get their arse to Diagon Alley. Smythe and Ferrin, you're with me." Rowle Summoned his cloak from his office and strode towards the lifts, his Aurors trailing behind.

Riots were one thing; the havoc could be limited to property damage. Thorfinn had felt lucky that so far that was all he'd had to contend with. But outright fighting was a grim development, something the wizarding world hadn't seen for over a decade, and something Thorfinn had hoped to never see again. Human beings could be terrible to one another, and when it was as simple as a wave of a wand, the amount of cruelty inflicted could easily get out of hand.

Once Thorfinn reached the Atrium, he started jogging. By the time he burst out the front doors of the Ministry, the mob was overrunning the courtyard.

"Mother of Salazar." Thorfinn turned to his left. "Smythe, you're in charge of setting up triage and the temporary holding area."

Knowing Smythe could handle herself, Thorfinn waded into the crowd and found a Stunned Auror on the ground. He cancelled the spell and helped the wizard up. "Your name."

"Cravage, sir."

"I need you to alert St Mungo's. We'll be sending injured their way as soon as they're through triage."

"Yes, sir." With a determined expression, Cravage rushed off.

Thorfinn continued further into the mayhem. Any civilian he found casting was Stupefied, and anyone injured he sent to triage. In the first hour or so, Thorfinn was hexed more times than he could count.

As he shouted orders to reinforcements that had arrived, someone tackled him from behind. The force of the collision drove him to his knees.

"Take that, you great brute!" a witch shrieked, beating him on the head and shoulders with her handbag.

Thorfinn growled with irritation as the witch continued to hit him. When he attempted to stand, a third person barreled into them both.

Thorfinn fell hard on his side, and feet started to kick at him. He curled into a ball and had to use his arms to protect his head. He soon noticed his right hand was empty. Fuck! Somewhere along the way, he'd lost his wand. Panic welled up inside him; he had to get up.

Using his size and strength to his advantage, Thorfinn lashed out with his legs, breaking the kneecap of one wizard. It was enough to cause the people around him to stop and back away. When he thought they would resume beating him, Auror Ferrin saw his predicament and came to his aid.

The wizards and witches who had been attacking him were Stunned in rapid succession.

Thorfinn sighed in relief. He gave a grateful nod as Ferrin help him to his feet.

After they placed magic-stripping cuffs on the unconscious people around them, Thorfinn searched for his wand but had no luck finding it. Someone must have picked it up and ran off with it.

"I need a wand," Thorfinn said to Ferrin.

Ferrin nodded and opened a bag filled with confiscated wands.

Thorfinn didn't see any wands with attached tags. "Any of them logged?"

Ferrin gave him a look.

Right, too busy to log wands. Hopefully, they could sort it out after things calmed down.

An hour later, the riot had de-escalated to people only throwing punches, which meant everyone had run out of magic. The thought of not having enough magic to perform a spell was slowly becoming normal to Thorfinn. Once or twice a week, Thorfinn would find he'd exhausted himself to the point that he could no longer cast. He guessed Hermione already knew, but she never brought it up, likely not wanting to embarrass him.

Shaking his head, Thorfinn put thoughts of Hermione away; he had to focus on quelling this riot.

Thorfinn winced when one of his Aurors was punched in the face and knocked out cold. He hoped his Aurors would be able to hold their own without any magic to fall back on. Balling up his fists, he grinned. Time to get back to work. It seemed all his physical training would be paying off today.

"Finn?" Hermione called from the library the moment she heard Thorfinn walk in.

"It's me." Brushing off some ash he noticed on his robes, Thorfinn limped her way. He wasn't injured too terribly from the riot, but he was sore and very glad he would be able to sleep in the following day.

Thorfinn found Hermione at her desk hunched over some paperwork. "Hi."

Hermione looked up and then gasped. "Merlin! What happened to you?" She stood and waddled to his side as fast as she could.

Thorfinn smiled at the sight of her quite round belly, only a month and a half more until they would meet their child. "It's nothing." He gave her a peck on the lips. "Things just got a bit heated at work today."

"Finn! You call this 'a bit heated'? You look like you've been beaten to a pulp!" Hermione settled him onto the sofa in front of the fireplace and then brought him a glass of Firewhisky. "Have you been seen to? Are you sure you don't have internal bleeding or—"

"I'm fine. We had Healers onsight. I wasn't deemed bad enough to go to St Mungo's. I did lose my wand though." Finn groaned when Hermione began massaging his feet after pulling off his boots and socks. "Merlin, that feels good. I should be doing this for you."

Hermione tsk-tsked. "What are you going to do without a wand?" she asked as she worked his calves.

Relaxing into the sofa, Thorfinn took a sip of his drink. "I'm using a confiscated wand from one of the rioters; it works fairly well. Enough about me. How was your day?" Thorfinn smirked. "Did you miss me?"

Expecting to hear a snort of laughter, Thorfinn grew concerned when Hermione instead froze.

"Hermione, did something happen?"

She laid her head on his shoulder. "No," she whispered.

But Thorfinn wasn't fooled. Something must have happened today. He pulled her onto his lap and wrapped his long arms around her. "Are you okay?"

Hermione nodded yes.

"You promise. You'd tell me if you or the baby were ill or in danger, right? If you—"

"Finn, I'm just worried about something. I swear the baby and I are fine."

Thorfinn relaxed. "Okay. Well, whatever it is you're worried about, you can tell me whenever you're ready."

"I will."

Breathing in Hermione's sweet scent, Thorfinn let his stress melt away. He felt their child kicking between them and smiled: this was the best he had felt all day.

After a late dinner, Thorfinn took Hermione to bed.

His favourite pastime was losing himself in her beautiful body, and he planned on doing so tonight. Perhaps in the comfort of their bed, she'd be ready to open up about whatever had her so troubled. It wasn't like his little witch to be so quiet about a subject, but Thorfinn knew that pressing her would only make her clam up more.

He laid her on the middle of their bed and then slowly undressed her, revealing her gorgeous body to him bit by bit. She was positively radiant because of her pregnancy, and Thorfinn couldn't get enough of her. Every single day, he thanked his stars that the Dark Lord had chosen this witch for him. Now, he loathed having to thank the Dark Lord for anything, but for Hermione, Thorfinn would. He would also stand by the Dark Lord's side, again and again, to protect what he had with her.

"Finn, please!" she begged so prettily.

Thorfinn could deny her nothing and set each of her legs over his shoulders. After he placed a reverent kiss on her belly, he focussed on the sweet honeypot between her thighs.

Hermione clutched his hair and urged his mouth closer.

Thorfinn needed no more prompting and let himself indulge in his desires. He feasted on her until she came in a gush over his lips. Licking her clean, he enjoyed her mewls and how she became a writhing mess beneath him.

"Merlin," she breathed heavily as Thorfinn looked up at her.

"Name's Finn, love." Thorfinn winked at her and was pleased when she laughed.

Hermione urged him upwards, wrapping her legs around his waist so his hard cock bumped against her.

"Eager?" Thorfinn asked, slowly sliding his cock through her slick folds.

"For you? Always," Hermione panted as he rubbed the head of his cock against her clit.

He hummed his agreement and then slid inside her tight channel.

Thorfinn groaned. "Merlin, you feel brilliant."

"Name's Hermione, love," she grinned at him, holding on to his forearms as he built a rhythm.

"Cheeky witch," Thorfinn grunted and then smiled when he hit the place inside her that made her always moan so wantonly.

"More," she demanded.

Thorfinn always aimed to please. He sat back on his heels and pulled her more into his lap so he could drive into her at a deeper angle.

"Yes," Hermione moaned. "There."

Thorfinn continued at the same steady pace. He loved the way she was sprawled on the bed, her hair around her head like a halo.

"Please, Finn" she begged. "Faster. Harder."

Thorfinn gave it to her. He built a rhythm even he couldn't escape from, and only a few thrusts later, they were both crying out as they tumbled over the edge.

Afterwards, Thorfinn held her to him, unable to let her go.

"Love you," Hermione murmured just as she was on the brink of sleep.

Thorfinn's heart swelled at the declaration, the first of its kind. Kissing her temple, he promised himself anew that he would do whatever it took to keep his witch, not just safe, but happy.

Chapter Text

Voldemort really didn't want to admit it to himself, but he felt like, not only was he losing control of his people, but also of his very own mind. He was beyond irritated that the Research Centre was unable to supply the reason why magic in Britain was disappearing. He'd held Severus under a Cruciatus Curse for almost a full ten minutes, emphasising his point, and still, Severus and his underlings hadn't delivered an answer.

After that disappointment, Voldemort decided it was time to call his inner circle together. He needed to tighten his reins on the entire organisation. Perhaps a show of strength was in order to remind his Death Eaters what precisely they were living for. Voldemort had always been confident of his power over his Death Eaters, but something unrelentingly scratched at his mind that one or more of them were plotting to usurp his position.

An invitation went out to each member of his inner circle and their spouses. Voldemort didn't care for entertaining, but bringing them to his home in a show of solidarity was a must.

This evening, his entire inner circle had arrived save for Rowle who was minding another riot and Hermione who was in too delicate a state to attend. For those here, he planned to speak with each of them. He hadn't been through a full round of Legilimency with any of them in some time. And truthfully, he probably wouldn't tonight either. His magic was weakening, and it both infuriated him and scared him. But he couldn't show any weakness. Weakness bred doubt, and doubt bred rumours and conspiracies. If there was one thing Voldemort could live without, it would be a conspiracy, especially at a time like this when he felt his grip on the wizarding world loosening each day.

Voldemort strode through the drawing room where his followers had gathered. "Travers, a word."

Voldemort took his seat; it wasn't quite a throne, but near enough. He'd given up the ostentatious trappings of the war, for the most part, but there were times that it was good to remind his followers exactly who he was. Civilised or not, strength was what mattered to them.

The reason Voldemort had chosen Travers first was that Travers had never once put up a show of Occlumency. This time was no different. Voldemort cut through Travers' mind like a sharp knife through a Flobberworm. While he waded through Travers' most recent memories, something caught his eye: Travers had been the person who performed Tristan Bulstrode and Katrina Selwyn's bonding ceremony. Voldemort followed the memory to see more.

Who killed Bulstrode was still a mystery. His body hadn't been found until almost a week after he'd been killed. No murder weapon was ever recovered; although, it was determined to likely be a small, sharp object. The only magic residue discovered at the crime scene was Bulstrode and Selwyn's, which wasn't any help.

Voldemort had his suspicions that it was Selwyn who had killed Bulstrode, but without a murder weapon and any witnesses, it was impossible to prove. The official conclusion to the case had been that Bulstrode was murdered by an unknown assailant and that Selwyn had been abducted and was also probably dead.

As Voldemort circled Selwyn and Bulstrode in the memory, he watched the bonding ceremony for any clue. He stopped and bent closer to Selwyn, studying her. It was undeniable that she was a stunning witch. The dress she wore hugged her body but still remained elegant. Her skin glowed with health and allure. Jewelled hairpins—

He nearly choked on his next breath at what he saw. In Selwyn's hair, he noticed a familiar sigil on the largest hairpin. He gritted his teeth. Why was Katrina Selwyn wearing something with the Rowle family seal? She'd had nothing on her person besides her wand and robes when she was sent to Cresswell's. Had Thorfinn Rowle been aiding her? Was he involved in Bulstrode's murder? Perhaps he'd killed Bulstrode in a jealous rage.

Voldemort pulled out of Travers mind to conserve his magic. "Anything you can tell me regarding Tristan Bulstrode's death or Katrina Selwyn's whereabouts?" He didn't think Travers was hiding anything but, if Voldemort was right and Selwyn was an accessory to Bulstrode's murder, then she was either hiding in Britain or dead if she'd crossed the boundary of the Blood Curse. Now, knowing that Bulstrode's death wasn't a threat to his rule but, more than likely, simply a crime of ridiculous passion, he relaxed.

"No, my lord. As soon as the ceremony was over, Tristan asked us to leave. Goyle and I left via Floo powder. I found Tristan's body after he hadn't shown up to Cresswell's when he said he would. I checked the house for his wife but didn't find her. There were signs it could have been a robbery."

Travers looked properly terrified, and Voldemort was pleased with the sight. He flicked his hand, indicating that Travers could leave and waved the next person forwards. He wouldn't be able to keep this up but hoped he could get through at least half before he had to move on to other things.

Several Death Eaters later, Voldemort felt his energy and magic fading. He signalled to Severus, and a hush fell over the room.

"Friends," Voldemort said, "I've gathered you here today to get your help in moving our research forwards. Severus will be passing out vials to each of you." He directed Severus to begin his task. "Fill the vial with your blood. The Research Centre is very close to finding out the cause of fluctuations in magic that have been increasing over the last several months. We'll be using the blood to further this research so we can truly begin a new era in the wizarding world."

Not a word was spoken when the vials full of blood were passed back to Severus. Voldemort hadn't lied to his followers, but he hadn't told the complete truth either. Blood was very useful, particularly in tracking others. The possibility of betrayal loomed in his mind, eating away at it. It would be quite beneficial to have blood from each of the most prominent families in the wizarding world at his disposal.

At first, Voldemort hadn't known that Draco Malfoy was still alive. It was only when he had sensed that Lucius was keeping something from him that he'd decided the Malfoys needed closer scrutiny. He'd ordered Snape and Rowle to further investigate but had also created a guard of his own centred on Malfoy magic; all it had taken was two drops of the blood kindly donated by Lucius and Narcissa. Now, whenever a Malfoy used their magic, their location would appear for a few seconds on a small map of Britain as a red dot.

It was quite suspicious when a dot near the Malfoys' Northern Scotland manor house suddenly materialised and, a moment later, another one materialised in the vicinity of Rowle Rock. Why would either Lucius or Narcissa need to see either of the Rowles?

A split second later, he saw two more dots almost simultaneously appear: one over the Ministry, which must be Lucius, and the other over Malfoy Manor, which must be Narcissa...

Voldemort took a deep breath, attempting to calm the rage that flared molten hot in his chest. Draco Malfoy had always been rather close to Hermione Granger, too close in Voldemort's opinion: another reason he had given her to Thorfinn instead of allowing Draco to petition for her.

It wouldn't do to go off half-cocked to Rowle Rock. For some reason, which Voldemort chose to not examine too closely, there was something about Hermione that tugged at him. Not at his heartstrings, he didn't have a heart, but he certainly felt an odd sort of protectiveness for the witch; he had ever since he'd found her in the whorehouse. And he didn't like it. He didn't understand why he felt the way he did; it wasn't logical, and if Voldemort was anything, it was logical.

Draco was either a mastermind at covering his tracks or being helped by someone. Voldemort was leaning towards the latter option. He would start by questioning Hermione. She was usually fairly good at giving him what he wanted, and he hadn't seen her in weeks. He'd move on to Lucius and Narcissa if his visit with Hermione proved fruitless.

In the back of his mind, Voldemort realised he was just rationalising why he wanted to see Hermione. He'd been unable to get her out of his mind since the week she'd spent in his home; and he knew Rowle would be away, busily working at the Aurory. A thrill ran through him. Voldemort immediately tempered down his excitement; he couldn't lose his head over a witch. He would be visiting Hermione to gather information about Draco Malfoy, nothing more.

Decided, Voldemort stood from his desk. He gathered his cloak and then Apparated to Rowle Rock.

The wards around the Rowle estate pushed Voldemort's Apparition to the edge of the property, which annoyed Voldemort to no end. Apparition was unpleasant to begin with, but being pushed out by wards was worse because it extended the length of Apparition and used twice as much magic. He calmed somewhat when the house-elf who answered the door quaked at the sight of him.

"Take me to your mistress," Voldemort stared into its big, round eyes, "now."

"R-right this way, Master Dark Lord, sir." The house-elf led him to the library and pushed open its door.

"Master Dark Lord here to see you, Mistress Hermione," the house-elf announced before promptly popping away.

Voldemort smirked when Hermione jerked at the announcement. Her eyes widened, and the distinct scent of fear began to waft off off her, which only served to deepen Voldemort's smirk.

"Mrs Rowle," Voldemort said smoothly, nodding his head at her.

"M-my lord." Hermione stood from her seat on the sofa and then bobbed a curtsy in his direction.

A flash of irritation at her large, obviously pregnant stomach ignited in him. For a split second, he wished that it was his child she was carrying. His lips tightened. He needed to get in control of these absurd feelings he was having in regards to this witch.

"Please sit," Voldemort gestured to the sofa Hermione had just been on.

She sat on the edge of a cushion, hands demurely crossed on her lap. She was timider than Voldemort could ever remember her being, and he wondered if it was because she was pregnant or because she was hiding something.

"Shall I ask for tea?"

Hermione's voice was quiet but didn't tremble. Voldemort was pleased; he didn't want her to be too afraid of him.

"No tea, thank you, Mrs Rowle... Hmmm, 'Mrs Rowle' seems so formal, considering all the years we've worked together; you've even stayed at my home for a time." He smiled at her, genuine warmth in his eyes. "May I call you Hermione?" he purred, his voice delicious sin.

He was delighted when he saw her shiver and even more so when he realised her nipples had pebbled beneath her blouse. That was an interesting reaction.

"You may, of course, call me what you wish, my lord."

"Hermione..." Voldemort repeated her name, savouring the sound of it.

Hermione's respiratory rate increased at that, and he had to refrain from grinning.

"As you wish, my lord." She bowed her head.

Voldemort couldn't tell if it was fear or arousal she was feeling but enjoyed her reaction either way. "Good."

He sat next to her on the sofa, perhaps a tad too close for propriety's sake, but he couldn't help himself; he loved intimidating his little Mudblood, and he couldn't get enough of her sweet scent.

"What can I do for you, sir?" Hermione asked, not quite meeting his eyes.

"Tell me where Draco Malfoy can be found." He was surprised when she gave nothing away.

She shook her head, still avoiding direct eye contact. "Draco Malfoy is dead. A broom accident, Finn said."

Voldemort raised his right hand and then slid his fingers down the left side of her face before he grasped her chin, lifting her head to meet his gaze. He was feeling magically strained already and would have to be careful to not tire himself out completely.

Her Occlumency shields were good; he supposed they would have to be, her living in his regime for so many years. He could batter his way into her mind and risk magical exhaustion, but he'd rather not. He much preferred it when a person cooperated with him. Besides, Hermione may not know anything helpful, and he'd hate to destroy such a beautiful mind if he didn't have to; she wasn't the only one in the country with possible information on Draco Malfoy.

"I see." Voldemort pursued his lips and hummed. He still had her chin in his grasp and found himself focussing on her lips. Idly, he wondered what they tasted like and quickly brushed the pad of his thumb over them.

She gasped at the intimate touch.

He caressed her slightly parted lips again, slowly tracing them, her hot, heavy breaths stimulating the nerve endings of his hand. "Then tell me what he was doing here."

"H-here, my lord?" Her mouth rubbed against and teased his thumb as she spoke.

Desire began to pool in Voldemort's abdomen, but he swatted those thoughts aside.

"Yes, here. His magical signature was detected at Rowle Rock not two hours ago."

Hermione tried to shake her head in denial, but Voldemort tightened his grip on her chin, stopping her. "If Malfoy was here, I didn't let him inside. But sir, I don't understand; I thought Malfoy was dead. If he is indeed alive, I have no idea where he is."

Voldemort's lips thinned. "Is it prudent for you to be lying to me, Hermione?"

"My lord, I am not lying."

Voldemort tightened the grasp he had on her face, and she gasped in pain. He moved his hand from her chin to her neck, squeezing lightly.

"Your lies will catch up to you one day, Hermione. But for now, you are more useful to me alive. Tell me, will the child you carry be born a wizard?"

"Merlin willing, my lord." Hermione swallowed hard.

She was lying again. Even Voldemort wasn't deluded enough not to know that no magical children had been born in the last few years. There was no hope that Hermione's child would be magical; it would be a Squib, just as all the others had been.

Voldemort lowered his hand from Hermione's neck and stood. "Actually, Hermione, perhaps you could ask your house-elf to fetch us a pot of tea? I'd like to discuss your current findings while I'm here."

"Yes, my lord," she responded as he walked towards two nearby desks.

One of the desks was clearly Hermione's; it was covered in sheets of parchment with her neat, precise handwriting. Blatantly, he began rummaging through its drawers but found nothing.

"My lord, tea is ready," Hermione said, a hint of desperation in her voice.

Voldemort hid a grin. "No need to get up, my dear. I'll be over with your notes shortly." He moved onto the other desk, which was neater than his own. A moving picture of Hermione smiling and rubbing her belly on it informed him that it was Rowle's. He gritted his teeth at the sight.

He hated having to use magic but considering Rowle's expertise, it was a must. Voldemort was the Dark Lord for a reason. In Parseltongue, he cast one of the strongest detection charms he knew. Afterwards, he was quite lightheaded and had to grab onto the chair in front of him, but clearly, it had worked: two drawers glowed blue.

Voldemort was slightly disappointed; nothing glowed black or red, meaning nothing was cursed or even hexed. He proceeded to remove the protection and concealment charms from both drawers, having to wipe sweat from his forehead once he was done.

In the first drawer, he only found a large stash of Galleons, but in the second, he saw something much more interesting: the jewelled hairpin Katrina Selwyn had been wearing. A blank Gringotts deposit slip was underneath it. Rowle must have been too busy of late to pay the bank a visit. He picked up the hairpin to study it further and found a small button. Pressing it, a blade popped out. Voldemort at once had a clearer picture of how Bulstrode was killed. He returned to the sofa and sat.

"Tell me, Hermione, have you seen this before?" He showed her the hairpin. "Think very, very carefully before you speak. Your husband's life may depend on it."

He watched as tears filled her eyes.

"My dear, we've been enemies once; let's not become enemies again."

Hermione looked into his eyes. "If I show you the truth about the knife, will you spare Finn?"

Voldemort didn't even have to think about it. The chance of being invited inside Hermione's mind was too enticing. "Yes." He set the knife down on the coffee table.

While he held her head gently between his hands, Hermione revealed more to him than he'd expected. She didn't start at the arrival of the knife but earlier. She showed her temptation and refusal to kill Cadmus Goyle—Voldemort had to smile when Rowle cast the Killing Curse; she showed snippets of conversations she had with Rowle, and ultimately, she showed her desire that Rowle help Selwyn. He didn't just see her thoughts as she brought them to mind but also knew what she was feeling. Her emotions left him feeling warm and calm and...odd.

Releasing Hermione, he sighed. He couldn't understand her kind-heartedness, but it gave him hope that one day she might be able to—he stopped his thought short; he had no time for such foolish notions. Instead, he picked up the knife.

"I think I'll be taking this with me."

Hermione nodded quickly. "Finn—"

"Is safe...for now. Rowle was correct: as long as he's loyal to me, he is safe. Don'risk his loyalty to me again."

"I won't, my lord."

"Good. We'll have to discuss your findings another time." He stood. "Have a nice evening, Hermione."

"You as well, sir."

As Voldemort strode from Rowle Rock with purpose, he retracted the knife of the hairpin and pocketed it. "Katrina Selwyn," he muttered to himself, "you have been a naughty, naughty witch."

It took a week for Voldemort to find the time to get to Malfoy Manor. Part of the problem was he'd been too busy preparing for the future, and the other part was he'd wanted the Malfoy pair to be home at the same time.

He was leaving nothing to fate, which was why he was standing inside Malfoy Manor on Christmas Eve; the holiday ensured that both Malfoys would be home. Voldemort would learn where Draco Malfoy was hiding. He detested not knowing things; he'd always been that way, and he was determined to come away from this visit quite a bit more knowledgeable.

When Voldemort stepped out of the fireplace, a house-elf appeared. "Where are your master and mistress?" he hissed at it.

"Master Dark Lord, Master be in his study, and Mistress be in her favourite parlour."

Voldemort was already more than halfway across the room by the time the house-elf finished speaking. "Tell your mistress that Lucius wants to see her in his study. Make no mention of me."

"Yes, Master Dark Lord."

Voldemort heard a muffled pop as he stepped into the hallway. He continued on at a brisk pace, making his way to Lucius' location.

When Lucius saw Voldemort enter his study, he nearly dropped his quill. "My lord!" He jumped from his seat behind his desk and made a deep bow. "Thank you for honouring us with your—"

"Not now, Lucius," Voldemort snapped, taking a glance around the room. He had commandeered Lucius' study as his own during the Second Wizarding War. The room was lavish, just to Lucius' taste, but Voldemort had always thought it too prissy.

Voldemort sat behind Lucius' desk and relished the way Lucius had grimaced.

After Narcissa arrived and recognised who was sitting in her husband's place, she managed to keep her face neutral. She was quite obviously hiding something.

"My lord." Narcissa curtsied for him. "What brings you here?"

"I can't drop by to see two of my most loyal subjects?" He didn't suggest they move to the nearby sitting area. This wasn't going to be that sort of visit. In fact, if things went the way he suspected they might, Lucius' study wasn't going to be prissy for much longer.

"Of course, my lord. Would you care for something to drink?" Narcissa offered. Lucius, on the other hand, remained silent but cut his gaze sharply to Narcissa.

"No," Voldemort drawled. "What you can do for me, Narcissa is tell me where you're keeping your son."

Her face crumpled. "My son is dead."

She sounded so convincing. Voldemort almost believed her, but he knew she was lying.

"Yes, that is what you want everyone to think, isn't it? Does Lucius know that Draco is alive?" Voldemort moved his gaze from Narcissa to Lucius who had his jaw clenched quite tightly. So Lucius did indeed know. That led Voldemort to quite the conundrum. He couldn't risk Lucius; the unrest in the wizarding world was much too severe for that.

"Well, in that case," Voldemort pointed his wand at Narcissa, "Crucio." He was pleased when she fell to her knees immediately. He hoped things wouldn't take too long; he was finding sustaining the Cruciatus Curse was very taxing on him of late.

"My lord," Lucius interceded upon seeing his wife convulsing on the floor.

"Yes, Lucius? Can you tell me where Draco is located?"

"He's dead, my lord. I-I saw the body."

"Lucius, you didn't use to lie to me. Why start now?" Voldemort released Narcissa from the curse. "Anything to add, Narcissa?" Blood dribbled from her mouth and onto the carpet. She must have bitten her tongue.

"Please, my lord, I swear to yo—" Voldemort stood and cut her off with another round of the Cruciatus. This time she screamed.

"M-my lord," Lucius too dropped to his knees. "Please, neither of us knows where Draco is."

"Except that I know you are both lying. Unless the two of you can be in three places at once, he's somewhere in Scotland near your holiday manor." Voldemort released Narcissa once more. "On your feet, Narcissa."

As Lucius helped his wife stand, Voldemort stepped forwards. He grasped Narcissa around her throat and peered into her defiant eyes. "Tell me where Draco is," Voldemort emphasised his demand by giving her a hard shake.

Narcissa tilted up her chin and shook her head no.

Voldemort was done playing. "Legilimens!"

He shredded Narcissa's mind apart, destroying layer after layer of her mental defences, not caring about the repercussions. What was she hiding? He felt his magic weakening at the amount of power it was taking to find an answer, but he had to know. Deeper and deeper he delved into her mind, searching for her precious secret. Finally, he discovered a memory of Draco speaking with Lucius and Narcissa.

Voldemort's hold around Narcissa's throat grew bruisingly hard as he watched the memory play out: Draco Malfoy had impregnated a Muggle; the Malfoy line was tainted, as tainted as the Gaunt line had become when his mother had given birth to him. Rage swept through him, and he didn't even realise that Narcissa was turning purple until he heard a worried utterance from Lucius.

He ripped himself from Narcissa's mind, magical exhaustion making him feel even more unbalanced. "A FUCKING MUGGLE!" Voldemort threw Narcissa to the floor and then kicked her midsection. "YOU LET YOUR SON FUCK AND PROCREATE WITH FILTH! YOU ARE A DISGRACE TO WIZARDKIND!" Voldemort kicked her again this time in the face, blood spurting from her nose.

"My lord, please!" Lucius begged, and Voldemort turned his anger on him.

"Did you know, Lucius? Did you know your son was fucking a filthy, diseased Muggle?"

Lucius was still on his knees, and Voldemort grabbed him by his hair. He wrenched Lucius' head back and dug his wand into Lucius' throat.

"O-of course not, my lord. I would have done something if I had."

Voldemort narrowed his eyes, not believing him, but he knew he didn't have the magical energy to use anymore Legilimency. "Tell me where Draco is, Lucius."

"I can't, my lord. His location is under a Fidelius Charm."

"Lucius, no," Narcissa moaned.

Tears were filling Lucius' eyes. "No, I'm not letting you sacrifice yourself, Cissa." He took a deep breath before turning back to face Voldemort. "Narcissa is the Secret-Keeper."

"NO!" Narcissa wailed.

Voldemort cursed under his breath. The only way to get Draco's location now would be if Narcissa voluntarily gave it.

Lucius clutched at Narcissa's robes, tears cascading down his cheeks. "Tell him. Tell him where Draco is, Cissa. Please."

Narcissa glared at Voldemort and spat blood at his feet. "Never," she hissed.

Voldemort bent down to grasp Narcissa's hair and pulled her to her feet.

"M-my lord, please, I beg of—"

"Silence, Lucius! Your wife will need to be punished for her crimes, the worst being allowing her son to sully himself with a Muggle."

Lucius was sobbing. Voldemort couldn't fathom how such a strong wizard could let himself fall to pieces over a witch. Hermione's face flashed in his mind. Nonsense. It was nonsense.

"Please, my lord, she won't survive Azkaban. I know she won't."

"Well, she's not going to Azkaban, Lucius. I have a different punishment in mind for her." Voldemort grabbed Narcissa's head firmly and twisted it. Snap! Her body instantly went limp, and he let her dead body fall to the floor.

"NOOOO! CISSA! CISSA!" Lucius crawled to Narcissa and pulled her into his arms.

So unfortunate. Voldemort could be merciful, but when it came to Muggles, he could not forgive. Unfortunately, Narcissa had forfeited her life the moment she'd saved her son's.

Chapter Text

Draco was worried and upset. He hadn't seen his mother in almost a month. For some reason, she hadn't been able to get away. Lost in his thoughts, he yelped when he nearly tripped on some brush. Draco stopped for a moment and readjusted his hold on the many bags in his hands.

Because of Mother's absence, he had to trek from a Muggle town with much-needed supplies. It wasn't the inconvenience that bothered him; what bothered him was that he couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was wrong. He knew Sarah and Scorpius were safe behind the Fidelius Charm. Only Draco, Sarah, and Mother knew where the cabin was; not even Father was told the exact location.

As much as he loved his father, Draco wasn't stupid. He knew he was breaking the most strictly enforced law decreed by the Dark Lord by being with Sarah. He also knew his father was a toady for the Dark Lord and a quintessential Slytherin. Father wouldn't think twice about sacrificing a Muggle to save his own skin. The one weakness Father had that affected his sense of self-preservation was Mother. Draco could only hope her influence would continue to shield Sarah.

His beautiful Sarah. She had given him joy when he'd had none, and even more, she'd given him something to live for. Draco had tried his best to hide how dangerous the wizarding world currently was, but Sarah had figured out enough. The thought of losing him or Scorpius because of some arcane force out of her control terrified her. Draco missed magic, but for him to keep her and Scorpius safe, the decision to give it up had been an easy one to make. However, now as he trudged back on a bollocks-freezing January day, he'd be lying if he didn't curse a few time how cumbersome it was without magic.

Draco's other worry besides his mother was the lack of current wizarding world news. He didn't like not knowing what was going on, but he couldn't risk finding out. Any link to the wizarding world would be a way for the Dark Lord to trace him. Draco couldn't be too careful. Sarah and Scorpius depended on him to protect them, and he would do everything in his power to do so.

Exiting the forest, the cabin he now called home came into view. Draco sighed in relief and hurried across the snowy landscape to the front door.

"Back so soon?" Sarah asked after Draco entered. She unwrapped the scarf around his face and then gave his cold cheek a peck.

Draco smiled. Sarah looked gorgeous in her worn denims and one of his jumpers. "You were right: the snowshoes helped a lot." He stomped his feet before setting the bags on the kitchen worktop.

On the cooker, he saw a large pot of steaming water.

Sarah handed him a flannel and a block of soap. "This is for you." She pulled off his hat and tousled his sweaty hair. "Now clean up, my manly man, while I see to Scorpius getting fed."

Draco snorted out a laugh. Merlin, how he loved this woman.

Later, when he turned around clean and completely starkers, he found Sarah openly staring.

She grinned beguilingly. "Scorpius is officially napping..."

Draco was tired, but never too tired for that. A slow smile spread across his face. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled her to him. With his free hand, he brushed a lock of hair away from her face before he dipped his head and kissed her. She tasted of comfort and home; Draco couldn't get enough.

"Please," Sarah begged.

Draco obliged her, breaking their kiss and then removing her jumper. He was happy to see she'd already taken off her nursing bra, which suited his purposes just fine. Scorpius wasn't quite two months old yet, so he and Sarah had just started this dance again. The first time they'd made love after Scorpius' birth, Draco had had to relearn every inch of Sarah's body. With every difference he'd discovered, he'd found he cherished her even more than he had before.

Draco guided Sarah to the bed. After he removed her jeans, knickers, and socks, he laid her down on top of the duvet so he could worship her properly.

"Draco," Sarah muttered as he kissed each freckle that graced her neck, tracing a path to her breasts.

"Let me love you," Draco murmured into her skin. He flicked his tongue out to taste her.

"Yes," Sarah hissed when he placed the peak of her left breast into his mouth.

Draco licked and tugged at each nipple, being gentle enough not to start the flow of her milk. Merlin, he adored how ample her breasts were now.

He caressed and teased his way down to her soft belly covered in beautiful silvery lines, loving her all the more because of them. They showed her devotion to him, having carried his child.

When he tongued her belly button, Sarah squealed in protest. Draco chuckled. Deciding he'd tortured her enough, he pushed her legs apart and settled his head at her core. He placed a kiss on each thigh, then another on her mons before he slowly parted her nether lips and licked her soft, sweet folds.

"Draco," Sarah moaned, diving a hand into his hair and pressing him harder against her as he worked.

Soon he had a finger inside her, driving her higher and higher. His tongue on her clit combined with his finger pumping in and out was enough to send her over the edge. Draco licked her through her climax, relishing every small cry and moan until her core squeezed his finger one last time.

Sarah tugged on his hair, and he looked up at her with a smirk. "Back with me, love?"

She smiled at him. "Get up here."

Draco obeyed, scrambling up her body to settle into the vee of her thighs.

"I need you," she groaned as his cock glided along her folds.

"You have me, all of me," he panted into her ear, and then, sliding his hips forwards, he pushed into her wet sheath.

"Fuck," Sarah muttered.

Draco loved how dirty her mouth got during sex. He wrapped both arms around her, holding himself up on his elbows as he steadily built a rhythm. Sarah urged him on with more naughty words, and Draco revelled in it as he buried his face in the crook of her neck. Her unique scent mixed with the sweet smell of breast milk was so intoxicating that he was soon on the verge of climaxing.

"Come for me, love," Draco groaned, reaching a hand between them to help her along.

"Yes," Sarah hissed.

"Fuck…" He couldn't hold back any longer and came with a long groan, surprised when he felt Sarah coming undone with him. Draco hadn't thought he'd gotten her quite there but was pleased with himself that he had.

They both were breathing hard as they came back to earth.

Sarah snuggled into his embrace, placing a kiss on the centre of his chest. "Love you," she mumbled drowsily.

Draco squeezed his arms tighter around her. "Love you too," he replied even as he drifted off to sleep.

Scorpius' cries woke them less than two hours later. Sarah rolled out of bed and lifted Scorpius from his cot. As she soothed him, she settled into the nearby rocking chair to breastfeed.

While Sarah fed Scorpius, Draco picked up a book about Muggle driving from his bedside table to read, but worries about the state of his magic distracted him.

The last few weeks, his magic had started failing entirely and couldn't be trusted. Nowadays, he didn't even bother carrying his wand. He wasn't sure if his magic was atrophying from a lack of use or if it was disappearing as quickly as everyone else's. Granger had said the Dark Lord wouldn't be ruling for much longer, so the latter would make sense. He hoped so. It would mean he and his newly made family had a fighting chance.

Regardless, they would have to leave the cabin to move to a Muggle village. Raising a child with few resources in the middle of nowhere just wasn't feasible, and as long as the cabin was marked by magic, there was a chance of being discovered.

Draco was in the process of securing them a vehicle and housing. Once that was done, he could begin looking for work or even a university to attend. Back when his magic still functioned, Draco had spent some time—out of Sarah's sight—Transfiguring some of the Galleons his mother had brought over into Muggle money, so he wasn't worried about their immediate cash flow. After he opened a Muggle bank account, he'd see about converting the rest of the gold. What he didn't want was Sarah going to work while Scorpius was still so young. If she wanted to work later, Draco could stomach that, but not right now. They wouldn't be living to the standards he was accustomed to, but they would figure things out: together.

His heart overflowed as he watched Sarah attend to Scorpius. Draco had loved Astoria; but he also loved Sarah and Scorpius, though in a different way: Astoria had been his safe place in a world of chaos. Sarah and Scorpius, on the other hand, were what he would battle the chaos to save. Draco couldn't imagine a life without them, even though he knew it meant never seeing his parents again. He would be severing his ties to the wizarding world completely. He might as well snap his wand at this point and use it as tinder, much good it was these days.

Draco sighed and pulled his eyes from the pair. He grimaced. It was time for him to learn 'The Anatomy of an Automobile.'

"I'm off to pick up the car," Draco said as Sarah tucked Scorpius back into his clothes after a nappy change.

"Oh? Okay…" Sarah nibbled in her bottom lip. "Umm, Draco, are you sure I shouldn't be the one getting it?"

"Positive." He tapped the tip of her nose and grinned. "You and Scorpius are safer here, and I figured I'd have the owner drive it around so I can get a better feel for it. I just need to drive it from the village; you'll be doing the driving after that."

"Alright, love," Sarah smiled at him. "Be safe." She leant forwards and pressed her lips to his.

Draco deepened the kiss, holding her tightly to him. He'd rather let this turn into a love-making session than have to leave and brave the frigid late January temperatures, but he couldn't afford to become distracted. The longer they stayed where they were, the more anxious Draco became that they would be found by the Dark Lord. He hid his fear from Sarah as much as possible, but she knew him well enough now to know what he truly was feeling. These last few weeks, Draco had felt it more keenly to the point that he'd snapped his wand and tossed it into the fire. It had broken his heart to do so, but the risk of keeping it had been too great.

The closer they got to escaping into the Muggle world the easier Draco would be able to breathe. When they were free from all the trappings of the wizarding world, he knew that they would finally be safe from the Dark Lord.

With one last peck on Sarah's lips, Draco left the warmth of the cabin.

Outside, the sky was grey, and heavy snow fell. Draco adjusted his scarf to better block the icy wind from his face. It would be nice once they were living in a town and everything wouldn't be a long hike away. He'd found an advert for a perfect flat above a bakery in a town further south—and further away from the Malfoy holiday manor. He just needed to finalise the deal on the car first.

Finally, making it to the village, Draco entered the grocery to speak with the grocer, Grant, whom he was buying the car from.

Grant spotted him the moment he walked into the store and waved. "David, good to see you. Didn't know if you'd make it in this nasty weather." They shook hands.

"Grant, how are you?"

"Good, good. How's your lassie and wee one?"

"They're well. Sarah's eager to see the car. Is it ready?"

"Of course!" Grant smiled and slapped Draco on the shoulder. "It even has snow chains on it that you can keep; they won't fit my new car anyway."

Together they walked through the store and out the back door.

The car was a dull-white 1988 Vauxhall Astra. Draco grew more nervous as they approached it.

"Do you think you could drive it around a bit so I can see how it runs?" Draco asked.

Grant grinned. "Sure. Hop in."

An hour or so later, Draco was slowly driving the Astra up the road towards the cabin. There was a very narrow drive that Draco had been doing his best to keep clear. With the fresh snow, he hoped the car wouldn't get stuck. At least it had stopped snowing.

Draco huffed out a breath of relief when the car made it. He smiled. Now with a car, they'd be able to move as soon as next week. The dark feeling that had been hanging over Draco for was finally starting to lift.

Draco had stuffed the boot of the Astra to capacity again. He wiped his brow and then slammed the boot door shut. It would be the last load; they'd already taken four others to their new flat, including Scorpius' cot and the rocking chair. They were leaving the bed since, thankfully, the flat already had one.

"Ready?" Draco asked Sarah as she took one last look at the cabin.

"You're sure we have to leave?" Sarah asked, her lower lip trembling.

Draco hated that he was moving them from their nest: The one they had learnt how to be partners in. The one they'd become parents in.

"I'm sorry, love." Draco wrapped his arms around her in a tight embrace. "It's just not safe. If it were, I wouldn't mind staying longer. But when it comes to magic, you have no idea of the ways a wizard can track another." He looked down at Scorpius in the car seat Sarah was holding. His son looked so small wrapped from head to toe in blankets. "We need to keep Scorpius safe."

"I know," Sarah mumbled into his shoulder. "And I know I'll never truly understand. I wish I could though."

Draco squeezed her to him. "Love you."

"You too."

"Well, isn't this sickeningly sweet."

Draco froze, and his heart fell. He knew that voice. He hadn't gotten his family out in time. He'd failed.

"What? No welcome for your lord, Draco?"

Draco spun around, keeping Sarah and Scorpius behind him.

The Dark Lord sauntered closer. He looked like he hadn't slept in days. His eyes were wild and dark circles were under them. The Dark Lord's normally perfectly coiffed hair was dishevelled.

Draco realised the Dark Lord hadn't Apparated into the clearing. Maybe his magic was gone too. If Draco could distract the Dark Lord, Sarah could make a run for it. The keys were already in the ignition.

The Dark Lord levelled a hate-filled glare at Draco; a glare that Draco had only ever seen aimed at Potter. Fuck.

"What do you lord?" Draco asked carefully.

"Me? I want for nothing, Draco. I'm the Dark Lord. The questions that really need to be asked are 'Who is that filth behind you? and 'Why have you abandoned your people for it?'"

"It?" Sarah asked aghast.

"Let me handle this, Sarah," Draco said quietly.

"Sarah," the Dark Lord sneered. "So bloody common."

Draco recalled his conversation with Hermione at Rowle Rock when they'd briefly discussed the Dark Lord. "Oh, because Tom is any better?" he asked before he could think better of it.

The Dark Lord's red eyes flashed. Suddenly, Sarah was on the ground writhing and screaming.

Scorpius woke with a shrill cry. Sarah had dropped the car seat, and Draco was relieved to see it had landed right side up. He had to get Sarah and Scorpius out of here.

"So it's true," the Dark Lord hissed, releasing Sarah from the Crucio. "You bred with mud. I suppose the child will be a Squib just as all the others have been."

Cleary, the Dark Lord, still had his magic. Draco swallowed hard. He had never seen the Dark Lord look so deranged. He had to keep the Dark Lord's attention away from Sarah and Scorpius.

"Why haven't you greeted me properly, yet!" The Dark Lord pointed his wand at Draco. "Bow!"

Draco braced himself, but an invisible hand pressed and pressed down on his spine, eventually bowing him in half. Draco pushed back against the force, but it didn't let up until he was on his knees and prostrated in the snow.

The Dark Lord was panting heavily by this time, and Draco felt hope. Perhaps the Dark Lord's magic was weaker than he was letting on. Draco might be able to overcome the Dark Lord by Muggle means. There was still an axe behind the cabin that he'd used to cut wood. He needed to lure the Dark Lord—

Pain burst into Draco's head when the Dark Lord's boot struck his temple. Draco was shocked; he'd never witnessed the Dark Lord use anything but magic to inflict bodily harm. Groaning, he looked up to see the Dark Lord entirely focussed on Sarah, who had returned to her feet. His vision blurry, Draco heard a snick and saw sunlight flash on metal. He'd never forget the sound of Sarah's scream.

"SARAH!" Draco watched as she collapsed onto the ground. He crawled to her side. A massive cut ran from her neck to her stomach where a small jewelled handle protruded, her blood reddening the snow beneath her.

"Draco..." Sarah frantically clutched at his hands as her hot blood seeped from her wound.

Without a wand, Draco knew it was near impossible, but he had to try. "Vulnera SanenturVulnera SanenturVulnera Sanentur…" He chanted the spell over and over again, holding his hands over Sarah's wound. It had to work. He loved her. He loved her. But nothing happened.

The Dark Lord threw his head back and laughed coldly, making Draco shiver.

"S-Scorp…" Sarah managed to say.

Suddenly, all Draco could hear were Scorpius' cries. He frantically dug in his pockets for the Portkey wrapped in linen. Turning around, he found the Dark Lord studying Scorpius with sick fascination. The Dark Lord pointed his wand at his son.

"NOOO!" Draco felt a last spark of magic respond to his will. The broken quill in his hand floated into the air and landed directly on Scorpius' chest. In a flash, Scorpius was gone, car seat and all.

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!" the Dark Lord roared as he whirled on Draco. "WHERE HAVE YOU SENT YOUR BASTARD SON!"

Draco ignored the Dark Lord to check on Sarah. She gave him a weak smile before her eyes lost their light. His beautiful, vivacious Sarah was gone. In silence, he stared down at her, tears rolling down his cheeks.

"You should thank me, Draco. I've rid you of that filth."

This monster, this anathema, had murdered Sarah right before his eyes, stolen his future, his happiness. Rage poured out of Draco. "She wasn't filth, you fucking psycho! She was my everything!"

Draco tackled the Dark Lord to the ground, taking him by surprise. He balled his fist and struck the Dark Lord's face with all his strength, hearing a satisfying crunch.


A second later, Draco found himself in what appeared to be the Ministry Atrium; however, everything was stark white. He slowly turned, taking in the pale, gleaming fireplaces, lifts, and floor and then gasped.

Standing before him were Astoria, Sarah, and Mother, all of them looking ethereal and smiling at him warmly.

Without saying a word, Draco raced towards them. He wrapped his arms around all three women in a tight, long hug. As he held them, Draco understood that Astoria was happy he'd found Sarah, that the reason Mother hadn't visited was that she'd died, and that, even though he and Sarah wouldn't get to grow old together, they'd still have each other forever. Draco did regret never proposing and marrying Sarah. He also regretted not being able to tell Scorpius how much he loved him.

After an indeterminable amount of time, he heard the ding of a lift and knew it was time to leave.

They all made the way to the open lift. Draco, ever the gentleman, let the ladies enter first.

As the doors closed, he smiled. Although he wouldn't be able to experience his son growing up first-hand, he knew one thing for sure, with Granger, his son would be safe and loved. She would let Scorpius know how much he and Sarah had loved him and how much they had loved each other.

Finding Sarah's hand, he squeezed it. She smiled and squeezed back.

Chapter Text

Finn rubbed his abdomen and grimaced. "How are you doing?"

Hermione exhaled in relief as her latest contraction subsided and glanced up at him through her hair. "Okay. I think our baby is eager to meet us." She grinned. "How are you doing?"

"It's clear the marriage bond has weakened, or I'd be writhing on the floor. It's starting to reach Cruciatus levels. How are you still even upright and working?" Finn asked, rising from behind his desk to come to her side.

Hermione turned in her desk chair to face him. "We've both had our fair share of the Cruciatus," she said matter-of-factly. "I guess you could say it was good practice."

Placing his hands on her very round belly, Thorfinn looked into her eyes. "Our child won't have to live in a world under his rule, won't have to fear being cursed in such a way."

Hermione smiled sadly. "I know." Closing her eyes, she enjoyed the sensation of Finn gently rubbing her abdomen.

She felt the stirrings of another contraction and leant towards him.

"It's hard as a rock," he breathed in awe, moving his hands over her belly.

His words made Hermione chuckle. "That's what been happening. All my muscles are working to push an actual baby out."

"I know. I did read all the same books as you did." Finn pecked her stomach, then breathed with her until their mutual pain passed. He wiped sweat from his brow. "But it's one thing to read something and quite another thing to experience it. And I mean really experience it."

Hermione laughed softly. "It's a wonder why the Olde Vows went out of fashion." She laughed again when Finn nodded emphatically.

As Hermione ran her fingers through his hair, she couldn't believe she'd found him in this insane world and was so happy she had. At the moment, she was terrified, and he was doing a marvellous job of keeping her calm. Magic was definitely weakening, and there was no sure way she could get to St Mungo's if something went wrong. Apparition was out of the question, and the Floo Network was acting up, sending people to wrong places or not working at all.

"It's time for you to go upstairs," Finn said. "After it took Healer Fawley a full day to make his way here earlier this week, I think he's more excited to see this baby be born than us."

Hermione snorted out a laugh and accepted Finn's help as he eased her out of the chair.

Once upstairs, Rosey helped Hermione change into a comfortable dressing gown while Finn informed Healer Fawley that her contractions were coming every four minutes.

Hermione was now feeling more excited than scared to meet the little one inside her. After the miscarriage, Hermione had hardened her heart of ever being a mother. She knew if she had to suffer multiple miscarriages that she would break. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that she really began thinking about the child she would be having. Would the child have her or Finn's hair? She hoped it had Finn's hair. It was a silly thing to imagine what-ifs, but it gave her a small measure of happiness. The world was darker and scarier than ever, and Hermione's emotions had felt raw for nearly a year now.

"Alright, let's get you up and moving around for a bit, yeah?" Finn suggested.

Hermione nodded, and together they walked around the room, pausing when a contraction hit. Finn provided counter pressure on her lower back, words of encouragement, or a cold flannel on her forehead as needed. She'd never felt so taken care of as she did right then.

Hours later, with mid-January winds whipping against the windows, Hermione heard the first cry of her baby. Tears rolled down her cheeks as an indescribable joy filled her. She turned to Finn who was also crying and just as overwhelmed. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and then her lips.

"It's a boy," Finn murmured into her ear as Healer Fawley examined the baby.

Hermione smiled. "A boy," she repeated in wonder.

After Healer Fawley wrapped the baby in a blanket, he handed him to Finn.

Finn sat on the bed, and Hermione gazed at their child for the first time.

Their son had quieted and took in his blurry surroundings. He had a swath of dark hair on his head, and his bright blue eyes were the same colour as Finn's. Hermione instantly fell madly, deeply in love.

"Hugo," Thorfinn breathed, and Hermione nodded. Out of the names they'd picked, it fit the best.

"Hugo Thorfinn," she said softly and ran a finger down his downy cheek.

When Hermione pulled her hand away, Hugo's face crumpled and turned red as he began to cry.

Thorfinn chuckled, helping Hermione settle in to feed the baby.

As Hugo latched onto Hermione's breast, Thorfinn kissed her head. "Love you," he murmured.

"You too," Hermione whispered. She looked down to stare in awe at her tiny, perfect son.

Thorfinn kissed her head once more. "Love you both."

A week later, Hermione was exhausted. She knew that a newborn was tough, but she had imagined she would at least get to nap between feedings. With Finn back at work, if it weren't for Rosey, Hermione would have passed out from fatigue by now. As usual, she was walking Hugo through the house, trying to get him to sleep. It seemed it was the only way he would sleep.

As she passed the library, Hermione heard a thump. An instant later, a baby began to cry. She looked down, finding it wasn't Hugo. Dawning horror struck her. No! She ran forwards into the library, Rosey Apparating into the room at the same moment.

Following the sound of the wailing infant, Hermione spotted a cheerfully bright car seat on the floor between her and Finn's desks.

"No, no, no, no..." Hermione rushed to the car seat. Seeing the broken-quill Portkey, her fears were confirmed. Scorpius Malfoy had arrived in her library, and neither of his parents was there. She stared at the blood dripping onto the floor from the base of the car seat. Something awful must have happened.

"Oh, fuck. Oh, Merlin," Hermione whispered.

"Mistress Hermione?" Rosey asked worriedly.

"Rosey, come take Hugo." Hermione handed him over. "See if you can get him to sleep."

"Yes, Mistress Hermione."

Hermione fell to her knees and quickly removed the blankets covering Scorpius, cringing when she saw they were spotted with blood. She didn't want to think about whose blood it was; she just needed to make sure that he was alright.

Hermione struggled with the straps for a moment before she was able to pull him free. She removed his green knitted bonnet, bodysuit, trousers, and socks until he was only in his nappy. Finding no injuries, Hermione began to sob and rock him in her arms. A part of her hoped that somehow Draco and Sarah were still alive, but deep down she knew the truth.

Hermione noticed a drop of blood on Scorpius' cheek. Crying harder, she wiped it off with her thumb. "I'm so sorry, Scorpius… So sorry…"

Sensing Hermione's distress, Scorpius began to wail louder.

"It's okay. Shhh. You're safe. Your Mum and Dad sent you to me, and I promised I'd take great care of you…"

After what seemed like hours later but were only minutes, Scorpius finally calmed down. Hermione continued to murmur to him and rock him back and forth.

"Hermione?" Finn asked, entering the library. "Why are you on the floor?" He looked confusedly down at the car seat.

Hermione found herself forcing out an almost hysterical laugh. Finn would have no idea what a Muggle car seat was.

He noticed her puffy, red eyes. "Are you alright?" Finn knelt down beside her. Peering down at the child in her arms, he did a double take. "Who's that? Whose baby is that? Where's Hugo?" he asked with rising alarm.

Hermione felt a new wave of tears fall.

Rosey popped into the room, holding Hugo, who was also crying. "Mistress Hermione, Little Master Hugo needs to eat."

Hermione nodded, numbly. As she brushed her fingers over Scorpius' white-blond head, she realised that he probably needed to eat as well. She felt her heart start to pound. Scorpius needed a bath. He needed new clothes. Oh, Merlin, what was she going to tell Finn? What if the Dark Lord finds out? Hermione gasped. She couldn't breathe!

Finn very gently took Scorpius from Hermione's arms. He murmured something to Rosey that Hermione didn't catch, but afterwards, the sound of crying babies disappeared. Finn tilted her head back, his hand cupping her cheek and his thumb brushing her tears away. He looked very serious.

"Hermione, I need you to calm down. Close your eyes. Deep breaths. Good. That's it. Deep breaths."

Once Hermione managed to regain control, she wouldn't look up; she was so embarrassed that she'd suffered a panic attack.

"Little witch, I need you to tell me what is going on. I can't help you if you don't tell me." His voice was kind but stern.

Would Finn help a child that wasn't his? She knew he loved her, but would he risk going against the Dark Lord's will for her? She had no choice but to find out.

"That Scorpius Malfoy."

"Scorpius Malfoy? Whose child is he? Lucius'?"

"No..." Hermione whispered. "He's Draco's. Draco faked his death after he fell in love with a Muggle."

"Merlin, Circe, and Nimue. Does the Dark Lord know?"

Hermione looked at the blood covered car seat. "H-He must have found out." As she started to sob, the entire story began to pour out of her mouth. How Draco had come to see her. How, not two hours after he left, the Dark Lord had come too. She told Finn about the Portkey and her promise regarding Scorpius.

"It's noticeable now when they're small, their age difference," she continued, "but in a year? No one will be able to tell. Please. We can say they're twins and just keep them from view until they're older."

"Fucking Salazar," Finn hissed. He took a deep breath.

"I'm so sorry, Finn. I didn't think that it would happen. But I...I-I—"

"Hush." Finn shook his head. "It's done. I'm not so heartless as to turn a child over to the Dark Lord. Your plan is good enough. It's not like we entertain anyway. We just have to be careful for a little while, like you said." He sighed. "If you hadn't figured it out yet, witch, my loyalty is to you, to our family." He ran a hand through his hair. "And it seems it's just gotten one bigger."

Hermione's heart brimmed with love for this man. She found herself in his arms very quickly, covering his face with kisses.

"Thank you, thank you," she murmured to him as he held her.

It was the beginning of February when Hermione began Mission Muggle Metamorphosis on Finn. He was still in denial that wizarding society was on the verge of collapse and ignoring the ramifications of what it would mean. They needed to be practical and start to plan, and because she had her hands full with the 'twins,' she would require his help.

Hermione was knackered from taking care of them but thankful that she had enough milk to feed them both. She and Finn wanted to honour Draco and Sarah's memory but knew it would be unwise for Scorpius to keep his name. It screamed of the Blacks, and with his Malfoy blond hair, Hermione wanted to obscure his identity to keep him safe. They decided to rename him Tormund and use Scorpius as his middle name. One day, they would tell Tormund about his parents, but as long as wizarding society was in her death throes and the Dark Lord was still around, both Hermione and Finn had deemed it much too dangerous for anyone else to know.

Casually at breakfast one morning, Hermione said, "Finn, we should begin exchanging our Galleons."

"Into what?" Finn asked.


"Hermione," Finn warned.

"How will we buy anything when magic is gone? With Galleons? Muggles don't take Galleons, Finn. We need to open a Muggle bank account. If you speak to the goblins, I'm sure they'll do it for a price. Please, Finn, it would really give me some peace of mind."

Finn growled. "Fine," he snapped. He kissed her on her head and then stomped out of the room, leaving for the day.

Hermione sighed. She hated bringing up the loss of magic, but at most, they had a year before magic was gone entirely. They had to begin establishing themselves in the Muggle world, now, before it was too late.

Two months later, she introduced Finn to Muggle stock trading. He'd exchanged enough Galleons now that it didn't make sense to have it all sitting in a Muggle bank. They needed to begin building their wealth Muggle style. Finn was amazed and completely overwhelmed. It wasn't something Hermione was very knowledgeable in either, so she started reading as many books on the subject as she could find—which was how Snape found her.

She and Finn had agreed she wouldn't return to the Ministry but work from home on a part-time basis. Snape periodically flew by broom to Rowle Rock for meetings, but it was a rare occurrence, and he'd send an owl ahead of time letting her know to expect him. That was until today.

She wasn't prepared for him at all. Tormund and Hugo were lying on a blanket near the base of her desk as she read The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. When the door to the library opened, Hermione had expected Finn. The blood in her face drained away when she saw it was instead Snape.

Snape didn't appear to have noticed the children. Perhaps if the babies cooperated and neither cried, it would remain so. She should have known better.

"Good afternoon, Hermione."

She nodded her head. "Afternoon, sir."

"Join me by the fireplace."

"Of course."

Hermione stood from her chair and acted like she needed something from Finn's desk to distract Snape's attention from the other direction.

Together, they walked to the settee, and she sat on his left, hoping to block his view.

"Don't you think it's time to stop with the 'sir' bit?" Snape asked with a raised eyebrow. "Severus is fine, Hermione.", Severus, wanting to be on a first-name basis was a good sign. "Severus, then," Hermione said, grinning. "It might take awhile for me to get used to it. Would you like tea?"

Severus looked down his nose at her. "What I would like is for you to tell me why there are two infants behind you instead of one."

Hermione sighed. "Finn and I took in an orphan."

"And who were the child's parents?"

"Are you sure you wouldn't like some tea?" she asked desperately.

"Mrs Rowle," Severus warned.

"I thought I was 'Hermione' now."

"What is the child's name?"


"What's the child's full name?"

Curse Severus' astuteness. Hermione slowly inhaled a deep breath. "Tormund Scorpius Rowle."

He leant to the side to get a better look at Tormund. "Scorpius…" A second later, Severus widened his eyes, fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together.

"We plan to pass them off as twins in a year or so when it'll be harder to tell their age difference," she rushed to say. "Severus, don't worry. Finn and I have it covered."

Severus gave her a measured look before changing the subject to her newest calculations on the rate of magical decline. They were still hiding the results from the Dark Lord even though he hadn't been seen in months. The Dark Lord continued to send missives, and there were the rumours too, of course; rumours that those who did see him were killed soon after.

Hermione shivered at the thought of the Dark Lord showing up at Rowle Rock again. He seemed to have an obsessive fascination with her, and she wasn't sure what she'd done to cause it.

"I trust you'll keep the twins between us," Hermione said later when Severus stood to take his leave.

"Of course," he said, sounding miffed. Severus stared down at her a long moment before a soft smile appeared on his face. "He chose well, choosing you."

Hermione felt her eyes prickle. "Thank you."

The corner of his mouth quirked upwards. "Be sure you don't raise a pair of dunderheads."

She smiled at him. "I'll try not to. I may need your help."

He gave her a wry look. "Indeed."

After one last glance at the children, Severus swept from the room.

When May rolled around, they had plenty of Muggle money in their bank account, so Hermione began working on Finn to start investing in Muggle property.

"Property? Really?" Finn asked.

"Property pretty much always holds value, Finn. We have the money; we should invest it. The stock market is volatile. Diversification of assets is key."

"Merlin, I despise all this Muggle rubbish," Finn groaned.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. "Have you forgotten? I'm a Muggle-born, Finn. I'm 'Muggle rubbish.'"

"Fuck, I didn't mean it like that." Finn gathered her into his arms. "Forgive me?"

Hermione rolled her eyes and wrapped her own arms around his neck. She pressed a chaste kiss to his lips. "Always."

"Good," Finn grinned and then kissed her, quickly deepening it into something more.

Hermione sighed with pleasure as she pressed her body closer to his. She needed this. It had been too long since they'd been intimate together. Two babies under a year old was a lot of work. Now, she and Finn didn't get to spend nearly enough time together, especially since things were getting worse in the wizarding world and Finn hadn't had a day off in weeks. He deserved this as much as she did.

She broke apart from the kiss. "Rosey!"


"Yes, Mistress Hermione."

"Please watch the children."

Rosey grinned and nodded.

Hermione took Finn by the hand and led him upstairs to their bedroom.

They didn't speak on the way, but the moment the door was shut behind them, Finn was on her. He placed his large hands on her hips and pulled her to him, her back hitting his chest. Sweeping her hair aside, he planted sensual kisses along her neck.

Hermione allowed this for a few moments, but she was determined to make this about him, make this good for him. He'd done so much for their family these past months, and he worked so hard. Her heart swelled with love, thinking about it.

Turning around, she quickly began undressing him. Once he was naked, she guided him to the bed and then pushed him on it.

He was so incredibly sexy, lounging on the bed with his cock pointed straight up. Hermione grinned and slowly undressed while Finn watched. She still felt a little self-conscious about her post-baby body, but the way Finn looked at her made her forget her fears.

She climbed onto the bed and straddled Finn's waist, careful not to touch his straining cock. Finn's hands tried to settle on her waist, but she batted them away.

"Let me," she murmured.

Finn grinned and nodded.

Hermione pressed her lips to his in a brief kiss. She grabbed each of his wrists and lifted them over his head. "Don't make me have to tie you up."

His lips twitched into a smirk, and Hermione began kissing her way down his chest. As she licked and sucked each of his nipples, she was pleased to see Finn arching towards her.

Hermione kissed and stroked his chest, abs, and each of his legs, all the while, ignoring his very prominent cock. By the time she'd made her way down to Finn's toes, he was panting and pleading.

"Little witch," he groaned as she slowly made her way back up each of his long legs.

"Do you need something, Finn?" Hermione asked between kissing his jaw and biting his earlobe.

Finn was holding himself in check rather well. Hermione had thought that he'd have moved his hands and impaled her by now.

"If you don't get on my cock in the next three seconds, I'm going to flip you over and hammer you into the bed," Finn growled.

Hermione let out a low chuckle. "You need to make up your mind. What is it you want? Me riding your cock or you hammering into my wet pussy because if—"

The next instant, Hermione was on her back, and Finn was driving into her with such force that it took Hermione's breath away. Sweet Merlin, he felt so fucking gorgeous. The power of this man made her heart stutter. Wrapping her legs around his waist, She met him thrust for thrust.

"So fucking beautiful," Finn moaned between deep, hard strokes.

He reached a hand between them, finding her clit, and rapidly stimulated it.

Mere seconds later, she flew apart. Her body tightened and clenched around Finn as her pleasure rocked over her in waves.

Finn slowed his movements, coming to a stop while Hermione lay on the bed, utterly boneless.

Hermione groaned. "Why did you stop?"

"Finn," she protested when he pulled out entirely. She grabbed for him, trying to pull him back on top of her.

Finn expertly manoeuvered out of her grasp. "I'm doing what I want, little witch. You did ask me either." He chuckled when she squealed as he flipped her over. "On your hands and knees, witch."

Complying, Hermione moaned and arched her back when he eased himself back inside her sensitive sheath. This position allowed him to go so much deeper. Hermione felt her eyes cross when next he pulled out slowly and then rammed his entire cock deep into her core.

Placing one arm around her waist and the other across her milk-filled breasts, Finn pulled her towards him so that her back was flush against his chest. With her legs spread wide, Finn pumped his hips beneath her.

In his possessive embrace, Hermione felt as if she was in a cocoon of protection. She laid her head on his shoulder as his hands began to roam her body.

Finn teasingly caressed her breasts, abdomen, and thighs until, finally, his fingers brushed her clit. It was too much. Before Hermione realised what was happening, she came hard, and this time, Finn came with her, spilling his hot seed as deeply inside her as he could.

Both of them spent, they collapsed onto the bed. Finn wrapped his arms around her to snuggle. Hermione tried getting up to tend to the children, but Finn wasn't budging.

Hermione didn't remember falling asleep and, later, only woke up when Rosey popped in to tell them dinner was ready. It'd been the best sleep she'd had in weeks.

It was a hot early June afternoon, and Hermione had been battling a bad bug for days now. Finn was worried and wanted to send an owl to Healer Fawley, but she reassured him that she was fine. But on the fifth day of finding herself sicking up in the toilet, Hermione decided it was time to use the mortifyingly received Muggle pregnancy test Severus had given her.

Hermione had mixed feelings about possibly being pregnant again. As an only child, she loved the comfort of being surrounded by lots of family like when she used to visit the Weasleys, so having a bigger family had always been a dream. However, the possibility of another miscarriage terrified her. Not the mention, there was the real fear of raising three children under the age of two.

She would wait until Finn came home. If she was going to take the test, then she wanted Finn close by. Regardless of what the test result would be, she knew Finn would be there for her.

Soon after she and Finn retired to bed that evening, she excused herself to the bathroom. She first tried casting multiple Invenire Gravida, but the results were inconclusive. She sighed and opened the pregnancy test box.

The next few minutes, she spent reading—and rereading—the directions to the white plastic stick. Finally, as the test did its thing, she stared at the clock on the wall, watching the second hand tick forwards until it was time. She glanced down.

"Shit," Hermione whispered.

As she walked out of the bathroom, Finn sat up, seeing the war of emotions on her face.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Hermione climbed onto the bed, lifted the covers up, and then handed him the pregnancy test with its dark blue plus sign.

Finn frowned as he examined the stick. "What's this?"

"A Muggle pregnancy test."

Finn's eyes shot to Hermione's face.

"I'm pregnant."

His jaw dropped, and Hermione couldn't help but snicker at his reaction.

"How did this happen? Are you sure?"

Hermione laughed nervously. "In the usual way, I suspect. And the test is over ninety-nine per cent accurate, so yes, I'm sure."

Finn looked at her as if she were his whole world and gave her a crushing hug.

"Thank you," he whispered into her hair before he began thanking her with his body as well.

By July, Hermione had convinced Finn to buy three Muggle homes and four Muggle apartment blocks in Taunton, the largest Muggle city in the county. She'd found a reputable property management firm to manage the properties and was pleased to see the amount of money they alone brought in. Hermione had almost bankrupted them of pounds to do it, but she knew that they needed a reliable income. However, there was another goal for the massive investment, and she would need Severus to accomplish it.

Motherhood had brought out the fierce, protective side of Hermione, and she found that pregnancy exasperated it. She wanted to save as many people as she could from the eventual fall of wizarding society, especially the Weasleys and any remaining Order members.

Her research indicated that magical objects such as Portkeys and brooms would retain their magic longer than magical beings. That meant rare, native magical plant and animal species would need to be relocated out of Britain, or they would go extinct, and even though objects that held a charm or curse would last beyond the drying up of the magical 'well,' they would eventually fail.

All of that boiled down to the fact that the Muggle-Repelling charms that hid places like Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Ministry of Magic would fall. Hermione didn't know what would happen when they did, but she planned to have as many people as she could integrated into the Muggle world before then.

She, Finn, and Severus would need to falsify a lot of Muggle records for them all. They had already had to do it for their investment ventures, but what they had now wasn't enough. Without any sort of proof of schooling or past work experience, their options would be limited, and that wasn't good enough for Hermione.

As she planned, Hermione worried about what the Dark Lord was doing. Nobody had seen him in months. It seemed that as soon as he'd gone after Draco and his family, he'd fallen off the face of the planet. She didn't know if that meant he was injured or if he was simply too busy. Even though she knew the Dark Lord must be losing his magic, she was still terrified of what he might be up to.

Panic was beginning to set in the weaker her magic became. She had Finn focussed on cashing out as many Galleons as the goblins would let him. Regardless of how much of the Rowle fortune he would be able to exchange, she and Finn wanted to work, but Hermione knew false documents wouldn't be enough for Finn. It made Hermione feel a little sick, but at the same time, she knew that she would do whatever she could to protect her family, even if it meant modifying the memory of a few Muggles to overlook any of Finn's 'eccentricities.'

Hermione waddled past the Rowle Rock wards, returning from her sixth-month prenatal appointment. For this pregnancy, she and Finn had decided she should go to a Muggle Healer since Hermione was convinced that magic would be gone before the baby's due date in March.

Kicking off her shoes, Hermione couldn't wait to put her feet up and read in the library. She'd been more exhausted this pregnancy with both Tormund and Hugo to take care of, although Rosey had been a phenomenal help, more than Hermione could have hoped for.

When Hermione entered the library, she found Finn looking upset.

"What's going on?" she asked. Her heart clenched, and fear swamped her body. Had the Dark Lord resurfaced?

"Gringotts has closed its doors," Finn said tightly. His entire body was tense. The stress from the last few months had been extremely hard on him.

Hermione relaxed. This she could handle. Placing a hand on Finn's chest, she asked, "Are you okay?"

"Fucking goblins!" Finn growled. "Gone! They've confiscated everything and locked the building down. I'm lucky to have escaped when I did. It was complete anarchy."

Finn had been going to Gringotts almost daily to exchange as much money as he could, but she knew that there was still a vast fortune left in the goblin bank.

"How much do you think you were able to save?"

"About half?" Finn clenched his teeth. "Not nearly enough."

Hermione wrapped her arms around him. "I've been working on it. I have all of your, my, and the children's records falsified. The Weasleys and Severus's are almost finished. We'll be fine."

She knew that it wasn't just the stress of the last few months that weighed on Finn; it was also the guilt from being part and parcel to the madness of the Dark Lord for so long. Hermione had told him that she forgave him, that he'd done what he must to survive. But she knew it wasn't enough. His past was something that would always eat at him.

With a little help from Rosey, Hermione had just finished decorating Rowle Rock for the holidays. Hermione had needed to do it the Muggle way since her magic was practically unusable. Finn was worse off: his magic was gone entirely. Nowadays, he spent most of his time reading up on the Muggle world.

Hermione was still in the habit of carrying her wand around. She pulled it out of a pocket and gazed down at it. It had served her faithfully for so many years. She didn't want to part with it. Not yet. But at the same time, it felt foolish to keep it in the house. She knew what she had to do.

"I'll be back soon," Hermione told Rosey with a small smile.

She'd had Finn buy them a car over the summer after they'd found out she was pregnant. She used it frequently to drive to Herth, a town about twenty kilometres away. It had taken Hermione, Finn, and Severus two solid weeks to create the new Muggle road and driveway that led to Rowle Rock. Then Hermione had to get the building added to the Muggle registries. The entire process had taken months, but eventually, she had made it happen. Hooking up electricity and water had gone a long way into helping. They didn't use the electricity as it interfered too much with Rosey's magic, but the water was lovely. And while Hermione didn't want to admit it, Rosey probably wasn't going to be able to stay with them forever.

As Hermione drove, she reflected on all of the changes in the last six months. A lot had happened, and still, it felt like they were just holding their breaths, waiting. For what, she wasn't sure. But she knew that the Dark Lord wasn't done with them.

Hermione parked the car and then hurried into the building, joining the queue.

"Next!" A female bank clerk with her hair in a bun gestured for Hermione to come over. "What can I do for you today?" she asked once Hermione was standing in front of her window.

"I'd like to access my safe-deposit box, please," Hermione said.

The bank clerk gave her a warm smile and made a quick call. Then she directed her to see the newly hired bank manager Mr Gentry.

Hermione walked down a short hallway to his office and knocked on the door.

Mr Gentry was a young man, perhaps younger than Hermione, which shocked her. He was nice enough and showed her to the safe-deposit vault in the cellar.

Hermione had only been in the vault once before. She and Finn had put a few items in it but not much. Hermione mostly wanted it for today. Mr Gentry unlocked her box and set it on a table for her, then left her alone.

Hermione took a deep breath and removed her wand from her handbag. Ever so faintly, she could feel the warmth of lingering magic.


A weak light on the tip of her wand appeared briefly before dying.

With one last fond stroke, she placed her wand in the box and closed the lid. For a moment, Hermione felt bereft but knew that it was for the best.

Her own metamorphosis into a Muggle was complete.

Chapter Text

"Rosey has to go, Finn," Hermione stated plainly. "I won't have her death on my hands. She needs to find a new family on the continent."

Thorfinn sighed and rubbed Hermione's back. It was the middle of January, and she was getting close to her time with their third child. He was reluctant to let Rosey go, knowing how exhausted Hermione was most of the time and that it would only get worse once the baby came.

"Let's wait a little longer," Thorfinn replied. "You need the help when I have to be away. You can't take care of everything and everyone on your own."

Hermione bristled, and Thorfinn knew he'd said the wrong thing.

"I am perfectly capable of taking care of our children, Finn!"

"That's not what I meant, little witch. You're busy helping other witches and wizards along with taking care of Hugo and Tormund. Hugo isn't even walking yet. And with the new baby coming soon, I just worry about you."

He wrapped his arms around her, loving the way her body had changed to grow his child. Hermione was tense in his arms for a moment before relaxing into him.

"I only want you to have as much help as you can," Thorfinn said.

"Can't you just quit showing up to work?" Hermione mumbled into his chest.

"I would, but then we'd lose our information stream. Just because very few people have seen the Dark Lord in the last year doesn't mean he's gone. I want to be prepared."

Hermione nodded. "As long as you understand that Rosey needs to leave. Maybe we can hire someone?"

Thorfinn frowned. "Maybe." He didn't like the idea of a Muggle in his home even though he knew that's where their lives were headed. Perhaps they could find a witch?

He sighed and squeezed Hermione a little tighter. The last two years had been difficult, but Hermione had somehow made them all worth it. Although, Thorfinn was looking forward to when things were calmed down.

Hermione looked up at him. "I need a response other than maybe. I'm worried about Rosey. Her magic is acting up. She'll need to be sent away, or else she won't leave."

Thorfinn knew he was being pig-headed about everything and was thankful that Hermione was taking care of the 'Mugglising,' as he called it. She, at least, had some idea of what she was doing. He hadn't realised it would be such as process.

Hermione had started almost a year ago, and they still weren't done. They had procured identification and gotten Rowle Rock recognised in the Muggle world, but neither of them had careers set up yet. Although, she was working on it, finding contacts. Hermione had even gone so far as to orchestrate a fake Muggle military record for him.

He did feel guilty that many in the wizarding world weren't going to be able to transition as well as they would. But at the end of the day, Thorfinn cared about his family first and foremost, which brought to mind his recent research.

Thorfinn had been going to a Muggle library after work most days to learn about Muggle home security. He didn't like the fact that Rowle Rock would be left unprotected once the wards and enchantments that had kept the property safe for more than a millennium fell. He wanted Rowle Rock to be a veritable fortress before magic disappeared and wizarding society inevitably collapsed.

Societies collapsed in two ways: with a whimper when they are absorbed by another society, or with a bang when everything goes to hell. Thorfinn couldn't even begin to predict which way the wizarding world would go. He hoped with a whimper, but it was possible that mass hysteria would take over. Thorfinn didn't want him or anyone he loved to be in the midst of that.

To protect his family, Thorfinn planned to hire a company to fence in all the land he and Hermione had faked into the land registrar. He would also have them install a remote-controlled gate that could be activated from the house or car, possibly cars. He'd finally earned his driver's licence a few months ago and found he really enjoyed speeding around the countryside, so purchasing another car was likely in their future.

In addition to the fence, he'd have a company install cameras and motion sensors: everything state of the art. Rowle Rock was a large property, and Thorfinn was taking no chances with his family.

The Dark Lord was always a haunting spectre in the back of Thorfinn's mind. Although Thorfinn hadn't met with him this past year, he had received many communications from him. Lucius Malfoy claimed to meet with him monthly. Thorfinn chuckled. Malfoy would be royally screwed when wizarding society finally fell.

Thorfinn and Hermione had contemplated moving to the continent, but as long as the Salazar-damned Blood Curse was in effect, it wasn't a possibility. Snape still had enough magic to check on it and, during his last investigation, found the curse unchanged. It was likely tied to the very land. That's what Hermione hypothesised anyway. If it was, that meant as long as there was magic they were stuck.

"Alright, we'll hire a nanny," Thorfinn said at last. "I'll talk to Rosey tonight."

"She's part of the family... I want her to know that."

"I will, little witch. Don't you worry over it." Thorfinn kissed her temple and gave her another squeeze. Then he grabbed his broom to fly to work since the Floo Network was utterly shot.

Thank Merlin brooms still worked. Even if Thorfinn had no magic of his own, magical objects would for a time. It would take him a little over an hour to get to London by broom. Not showing up wasn't an option.

He continued to carry his wand; he couldn't give away the fact that his magic was gone. It didn't matter much. At this point, most of his duties dealt with bureaucratic nonsense and non-magical peacekeeping, and even those were getting few and far between. Thorfinn hoped that meant wizards were slowly slipping away into the Muggle world.

Sitting at his desk in the library, Thorfinn was storing away a few Portkeys he'd found at work today. He'd decided to keep them for possible emergencies rather than use them to save on his commute.

He heard a light knock on the library door and looked up.

Rosey entered the room and closed the door behind her: another reminder that she was getting weaker. She rarely Apparated anymore.

Once Rosey was standing at his side, she said, "Mistress Hermione said Master Thorfinn wanted to see Rosey."

"Yes." With a serious expression, he said, "Now Rosey, I want you to tell me the truth. How are you?"

She didn't say anything for a moment, wringing her hands.

"Rosey, what is it?"

"Please don't send Rosey away, Master Thorfinn! Rosey's been a good elf! Rosey can't leave so close to Mistress Hermione's time! She needs Rosey! As do Master Tormund and Master Hugo!" Large tears ran down her cheeks.

Thorfinn stood from behind the desk and knelt in front of Rosey. "Shhh. It's alright. Hermione and I were discussing it this morning. Your life is more important. We'll be fine without magic, but you won't."

"B-B-But you're Rosey's family! What will Rosey do without you?"

Thorfinn wished Hermione were here. She was so much better with this sort of thing.

Rosey's cries increased, and Thorfinn couldn't stop himself from reaching out to pull her into his arms. He hadn't hugged her since he was a young child.

"And you'll always be part of our family. Hermione and I will never forget everything you've done for us. But, as a part of our family, we have to protect you. And if that means sending you away, then that's what we'll do," Thorfinn said firmly. He pulled back from Rosey to see her face. She was still teary but seemed to have gotten ahold of herself.

"How will Rosey find another family?" she asked forlornly.

"Go to France, Rosey. The Ministry there will help you find a new family."

The door to the library opened, and Thorfinn was relieved to see Hermione standing there.

She made her way over and sat heavily on the sofa near where Thorfinn crouched and Rosey stood.

"Rosey doesn't want to leave you, Mistress Hermione! You need Rosey!" She threw herself into Hermione's lap, most of it taken up by her round belly.

Hermione sighed and hugged Rosey's small body as best she could.

"I know, Rosey," Hermione said, patting her back. "I don't want you to leave either, but I won't let you kill yourself for us. You deserve a life too."

Looking crestfallen, Rosey wiped her hand across her tear-stained face. "Rosey should stay until the baby comes."

"I wish you could," Hermione said quietly as tears began to gather in her eyes. "But you need to go sooner rather than later. Your magic is spotty enough as it is. You need to leave now before it's too late."

Thorfinn gulped and looked away. He gritted his teeth together to keep his own tears at bay. Rosey had been with his family since before Thorfinn was born. It truly felt as if he were losing a close family member.

"Rosey will say goodbye to Masters Hugo and Tormund before leaving."

Hermione nodded, tears streaming down her face.

"I'm so sorry I have to do this," Thorfinn said. From his pocket, he offered Rosey a glove. "I order you to leave Rowle Rock for France after you've said goodbye to Masters Hugo and Tormund. If magic ever returns to Britain, you and your descendants will be welcomed back to Rowle Rock as family, if you so wish it."

Rosey nodded tightly, accepting the piece of clothing, and promptly burst into tears. She leant into Hermione as Thorfinn patted her back.

"We're going to miss you so much," Hermione whispered fiercely.

A few minutes later, Rosey seemed to pull herself together. With one last nod at both Hermione and Thorfinn, she walked out of the library.

Hermione broke down fully after Rosey shut the library door. Thorfinn scrambled up onto the sofa next to her and held her as she cried, wishing there was something, anything, he could do to ease her heartache.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Hermione asked as she fiddled with his Muggle tie.

They were leaving to have dinner with someone from Scotland Yard. A contact Hermione had made in regards to finding Thorfinn a Muggle job in law enforcement.

"What else would I do?" He moved to run his fingers through his hair, then remembered. He hated that his hair was pulled back neatly and tied in a bun. Hermione had mentioned he might have to cut it short to become a Muggle policeman. The thought of cutting his hair made him cringe, but if that were what it took to get the job, he'd do it.

"I don't know..." Hermione sighed and absently rubbed her belly. She only had about a month left until her due date, and Thorfinn frequently found her making the self-soothing gesture. "You just seemed so bitter about having to quit Quidditch for the Dark Lord. I don't want you to feel pressured to take a job you don't want. As much as I hate what's going on right now, we do have this opportunity of starting over. You could pursue any dream you want."

"Except play Quidditch," Thorfinn said wistfully.

Hermione's shoulders dropped in defeat. "Yeah, except that."

He pulled her into his arms and kissed her head. "Don't worry over it, Little Witch. I am living my dream: I have the family I've always wanted. And I do want this job. I'm a good law enforcement officer. Coppers are what you call them, yeah?"

Hermione chuckled. "Well, that's what some people call them. But this wouldn't be a regular sort of law enforcement job; it's considered Special Operations. Commissioner Wadsworth leads the Counter Terrorism Command."

"Terrorism?" Thorfinn thought for a moment. "That's like what Death Eaters did, right? In the earlier days? Before the government takeover?"

Hermione nodded but didn't say anything. She only observed him and waited for his reaction.

"Well, considering I've had an inside look at how a terrorist organisation works, I'll be good at it, yeah?" Thorfinn grinned at her.

Hermione returned his grin. "I'm sure you will be. We should go, or we'll be late."

"How did you find this guy anyway?"

"You can find anything on the internet, Finn. I did some searching, and I think Wadsworth will be a good fit. Turns out he has a Muggle-born cousin: Justin Finch-Fletchley. I went to school with Justin, so I sent him an owl. Justin called him up and gave him some crib notes about our situation. Wadsworth doesn't know much about the wizarding world, but he knows enough. When I spoke to him via telephone, I filled him in about your career."

Thorfinn was blown away at her thoroughness. If he had ever doubted that Hermione loved him, this sort of thing proved it to him every time.

"You are quite the clever little witch, aren't you?"

"Mmm, so I've been told," Hermione grinned up at him.

Thorfinn pressed his lips to hers for a fierce kiss, pouring all of his love for her into it.

"We need to go," Hermione whispered against his lips a few moments later. "I'll need to fix my lipstick in the car."

"Right." Thorfinn grabbed her hand and led her out of the house to the car.

They still hadn't found a nanny for the boys, but Snape had agreed to come by and watch them for the night. Since they were sleeping, it wouldn't be a difficult task for him.

Initially, Thorfinn had been surprised that Snape had wanted to come and watch the boys, but seeing the way Snape doted on the both them and Hermione, he now understood. Snape treated Hermione as though she were a beloved mentee or even his daughter. Thorfinn was already trying to get Tormund and Hugo to say, Grandpa. He couldn't wait to see Snape's face the first time one of them succeeded.

It was the last day of February when Thorfinn returned home from work to find Hermione and Snape on their way to her car. Brooms weren't working reliably for him, and he'd been taking the Muggle commuter train into London every day. It was over a three-hour trip, and he was getting mightily sick of it.

He jumped out of his Range Rover and moved to Hermione's side as swiftly as possible. "Is it time?"

Hermione nodded as she gritted her teeth and groaned through another contraction.

"You driving, Grandpa?" Thorfinn asked Snape as he helped Hermione into the passenger side of the car.

Snape gave him a withering glare. "Susan Weasley is with the twins."

"Right," Thorfinn nodded. "Great work, Grandpa. You have the Snitch in hand."

That earned another glare from Snape and a somewhat pained giggle from Hermione.

Thorfinn felt his lips twitch as Snape snatched the keys from Thorfinn's hand and climbed behind the wheel. Thorfinn settled behind Hermione and placed his hands on her shoulders, offering as much comfort as he could from the back seat of the car.

They'd had to purchase a larger vehicle when Hermione realised hers wouldn't be able to fit three car seats. She'd decided on a people carrier, and even though it had plenty of room, it, unfortunately, drove like a brick on four wheels. "Enough room for a Quidditch team," Snape sneered after he'd first seen it. Thorfinn had grinned at Snape's comment and, while wiggling his eyebrows at Hermione, had said how he'd always wanted his own team. After that comment, Hermione had threatened to replace his car with one just like hers, so he'd wisely shut his mouth to Snape's amusement.

The ride to the hospital was uneventful. It wasn't until Hermione was going through admissions that Thorfinn noticed he wasn't feeling any pain like he'd had with Hugo. His heart stuttered. Their marriage bond had completely dissolved. He felt a wave of grief knowing his soul was no longer tied to Hermione's. He wondered if Hermione had noticed yet. If she had, she hadn't said anything to him.

Early the following morning, Hermione was finally ready to push their child into the world. It went faster this time than with Hugo. After a few minutes of Hermione pushing, Dr Cox was handing a wrapped bundle to Thorfinn.

"It's a girl," Thorfinn murmured to Hermione as he counted each of the baby's toes. His princess was a squalling, red thing. Hugo had always been more of a quiet baby, but this one was making her presence known loudly and with enthusiasm. She's going to need that with her older brothers.

"Astrid," Hermione said. "Astrid Eileen."

Thorfinn smiled at her. "Snape isn't going to like that." They had gone round and round about using Eileen as the middle name if it were a girl, but Hermione had been rather adamant about it.

"He'll love it."

Thorfinn settled Astrid into Hermione's arms.

"She's beautiful," Hermione whispered as she toyed with Astrid's tuft of blonde hair.

As Hermione tucked Astrid in to begin breastfeeding, Snape entered the room.

"I'm told the child was born?" Snape drawled.

"Mmm, yes," Hermione smiled softly, never taking her eyes off of Astrid.

"Meet Astrid Eileen, Grandpa," Thorfinn smirked cheekily.

Snape glared at him and then Hermione before looking down at Astrid. For a quiet moment, he stared at the tiny baby girl. Gently, he touched Astrid's hand, and she grasped onto his forefinger.

"Congratulations," Snape said softly, the slightest of smiles on his face.

With a parting glare, Snape eased his finger away and left. He was to relieve Susan Weasley of her duties now that Astrid had been born.

Life with three children under the age of two was tough, especially since they hadn't found a nanny. Susan Weasley helped out where she could; she had yet to mother a child and insisted that looking after the boys was no problem, but Thorfinn felt guilty for requiring her assistance as much as they had.

About a month after Astrid was born, the Ministry had closed all non-essential offices, which included the Research Centre. Hermione was now officially unemployed. He as Head Auror, on the other hand, would need to stick around until the very end.

His meeting with Commissioner Wadsworth had resulted in several additional meetings and a job offer for when Thorfinn was finally free from the wizarding world. It was incredibly fortunate that Commissioner Wadsworth knew of his circumstances, or he doubted the Commissioner would have ever hired him.

His thoughts drifted to rumours he'd heard while at work today about the Dark Lord's whereabouts.

"Let's ask Severus." Hermione groaned and collapsed next to him on the bed. She'd had to tend to the children on her own today.

"Ask Severus what?" Thorfinn asked distractedly.

"To move in. To be the nanny."

"What?" he asked aghast, his thoughts about the Dark Lord vanishing instantly. "'Nanny Snape' sounds like the thing of nightmares. You want Snape to nanny our children? Snape?" Were they talking about the same taciturn man? Surely, Hermione didn't think this was the solution, did she?

"Well, it wouldn't be forever, only for a while. He's jobless too, you know. Besides, he's over here enough. And when they're older, he'll be an excellent tutor."

"Snape, though?"

"He's already their de facto grandfather, and he helps out so much. Might as well make it official. I doubt he'll let us pay him, but room and board will count for something."

Thorfinn frowned at her. He couldn't help but see the logic of her argument. He just hadn't ever imagined Snape in a role where he cared for young children. Although, to Thorfinn's amazement, Snape was brilliant with the children. The first time he found Snape with his arse on a rug laughing along as he alternately tickled Tormund and Hugo, he'd tripped over his feet and comically face planted. Hearing the commotion, Hermione had found quite a sight when she'd rushed in: all four of them laughing together on the floor.

"Fine. You'll take care of asking him?"

"Of course," Hermione murmured. She leant towards him. "Kiss me, Finn."

With a command like that, how could he refuse?

April was snowy and freezing, which made Thorfinn's commute to London by train even more miserable. He'd been dreading the collapse of wizarding society for more than a year, but mornings like this made him wish that it had happened already.

After climbing the many stairs to his floor because the lifts no longer worked, he plopped down into his desk chair. Thorfinn picked up the pile of memos for the day and sorted through them. Memos no longer flew around the Ministry; instead, they were run through a mail system that arrived several times a day.

The one at the bottom was printed on red parchment and made Thorfinn's blood run cold. It seemed that the secret of Britain's magical decline was out; the Blood Curse and border freezing hadn't been enough. The British Ministry had received letters from every magical government in the International Confederation of Wizards stating that a quarantine around magical Britain had been imposed. No British witch or wizard currently residing in Britain was allowed to travel to other parts of the world, and no foreign wizards or witches were allowed to visit Britain. The ICW specifically stated they feared the spread of the Dark magic that they theorised had led to Britain's magical collapse.

This was it. Thorfinn knew that this was the death knell to wizarding Britain. It wasn't like there had been much international cooperation between Britain and other governments in the last several years anyway, but there had never been a moratorium on travel to and from the British Isles enacted by any foreign organisations. But that was no longer the case. They were officially on their own.

The security system around Rowle Rock was almost complete, but the memo Thorfinn now held meant he'd have to hire even more people to get it finished sooner. He wouldn't leave his family vulnerable while the rest of wizarding Britain fell apart. He only hoped everything would be done in time.

May had always been an auspicious month for Thorfinn. It was the month of the Final Battle, the battle that had earned the Dark Lord his seat at the helm of wizarding Britain.

Normally, the Dark Lord held a gala celebrating his victory, but the Dark Lord was still in hiding. Thorfinn could only speculate on what he might be attempting to accomplish while sending nasty missives to his underlings. Lucius Malfoy was a ghost of himself but still ruled the country with an iron fist, although that fist seemed to be rusting and crumbling.

It was the end of May when the Blood Curse fell. It was what made the most sense to Hermione and Severus.

About seven in the evening a huge, rippling wave of unforgiving magic passed over the land. It was like the wind, unseen, but felt by all: Muggle and magical alike. It made objects return to their pre-magical states. Portkeys became inoperable. The wards around Rowle Rock disappeared. Magical plants wilted.

Magic was gone.

Soon after the event, Thorfinn found himself arguing with Hermione and Snape.

"The Dark Lord has to be dead," Hermione insisted to Thorfinn and Snape. "That's the only way the Blood Curse could have fallen."

"Or he removed it himself," Snape pointed out. "When someone dies, their enchantments don't die with them."

"I know that! But he used Blood Magic. That creates a stronger tie."

"There's no way to know what became of the Dark Lord," Thorfinn said. "Whether he's alive or not doesn't matter; he would be a Squib like the rest of us."

With dawning realisation, a wide grin spread across Thorfinn's face. He had to see for himself.

Thorfinn lifted up his left sleeve and gasped: all that remained of his Dark Mark were scars, no snake or human skull in sight. He felt tears pool in his eyes as he showed Hermione and Snape his forearm.

His voice rough with emotion, Thorfinn said, "The Dark Lord is no more."

Chapter Text

"Mumma. Mumma. Mumma. Mumma. Mummamumma..." Tormund and Hugo were chanting in unison. It was beginning to get on Hermione's nerves.

Hermione blew a lock of hair away from her face. "I'm coming," she said as she finished making their lunches.

She brought a plate to each boy sitting in a high chair. As she took a seat at the dining table while remaining within reach, she knew it would only be a matter of time before one of the wooden dishes found its way onto the floor. It was at times like this when she missed magic; a simple sticking or cleaning charm would have made things so much more manageable.

Thinking about magic brought Rosey to mind. Rosey's absence was still a palpable thing, but Hermione was doing her best. Severus had proven a great help and a true friend since Rosey's departure.

"And you never wanted children?" Hermione asked Severus. They were discussing how he'd been exempt from the Marriage Law.

Right now, Severus was at the cooker preparing lunch for the two of them. Astrid had just gone down for her nap, and Hermione was hoping to get both boys down soon too. Then she might have as much as thirty minutes to herself. She loved being a mother, but she couldn't deny that it was a challenge with three children so young, but at the same time, they were growing up so fast.

"I sterilised myself at the age of twenty, Hermione," Severus said blandly. "No, I never wanted to bring a child into this world."

"But you are so good with mine," Hermione said softly, even a little sadly. As trying as her children were at times, she'd never not wanted any of them.

Severus smirked at her. "Well, I have the option of giving them back when I've grown sick of them."

"But Nanny Snape," Hermione smiled mischievously as she pushed some banana towards Hugo, "that's why I have you—for when I've grown sick of them."

Letting the stew simmer, Severus snorted and came around to ruffle Hugo and Tormund's hair. Tormund's had changed from brown to a blond the same shade as Finn's. If not for Hugo inheriting Hermione's curl, he would be the miniature spitting image of Finn. Tormund's hair was as tow-coloured as it could get without it being white. He looked so much like Draco that sometimes Hermione felt a pang in her heart. It must be worse for Severus who had actually known Draco at Tormund's age.

"It's a child-share program," Severus commented lightly.

It was Hermione's turn to snort. "Except I have all of the financial liability."

"Another reason I never wanted children," Severus drawled. "More resources for me to sunbathe on the Riviera."

Hermione laughed. A part of her was glad that Severus hadn't married, that he was able to play such a significant role in their lives. She was immensely grateful that he had consented to live at Rowle Rock. Severus had, of course, brushed it off as a practical thing. It would mean he wouldn't have to Mugglise his own property and could ensure she wouldn't raise dunderheads. It was left unsaid, but Hermione knew it was also a relief for him to have something to do with his days until he found work.

"I'm happy you're here, suffering my children, all the same," she said as she smiled up at him.

Severus rolled his eyes and squeezed her shoulder before moving back to the cooker.

Hermione was halfway through dodging a fistful of food from Tormund when Finn strode through the doorway.

"Dada! Dada!" Hugo cried. He was a daddy's boy if there ever was one.

"Hi," Hermione raised her eyebrows. It was unusual for Finn to be home at this time of day.

"Ministry's closed." Finn shrugged and removed a glob of banana from Hermione's hair.

Hermione gave him a grateful smile until what he said registered.

"Closed?" She and Severus asked simultaneously as Finn walked to the bin.

"For good," Finn responded, heading towards the sink to wash his hands. "There were maybe thirty people there today. Malfoy didn't even bother to show. We took a vote and decided we were done. It's a surprise that so many of us continued on as long as we had. Although, after the missives from the ICW a few weeks ago, the writing was on the wall."

"Wow. So it's officially over then." Hermione felt...empty. She had been gearing up for a fight, and now...nothing. So many preparations for nought. But considering many of them had been for Mission Muggle Metamorphosis, at least those weren't for nothing. She didn't want to believe it was true, but now it was official: the wizarding world of Britain was gone.

"Yeah, I think so," Finn responded as he made a goofy face for Hugo and Tormund.

"You'll need to call Commissioner Wadsworth and let him know."

"I will. But I can't start until we hire a proper nanny," Finn slyly glanced at Severus before focusing back on Hermione "so you can return to work as well."

Hermione's lips turned up in a slow smile. She loved this man so much. He knew that she wouldn't be satisfied with staying at home, that she'd always envisioned herself having a family while also having a career.

"As luck would have it, two possible nanny candidates will be arriving later this afternoon. I'm glad you're here. The only other opinion I had available was Severus', and I was afraid he would scare them off with his questioning."

Severus sniffed with mock indignation. "Any thought as to what type of work you'll pursue?" he asked Hermione.

"I was basically a data scientist," Hermione mused. "I'll need to work on my computer skills, but I've purchased a laptop and have already enrolled in a few classes. Analysing data is something I enjoy doing, and I'm good at it. You weren't too shabby yourself, Severus. We could take classes together."

Severus snorted out a laugh. "Hardly."

"Well, there's chemistry; that's similar to Potions, or you could see about joining Finn in Special Operations."

Finn and Severus looked at each other with comical expressions, and Hermione laughed.

The sound of Hugo tossing his plate onto the floor grabbed their attention.

Hermione watched as Tormund yawned and rubbed his eyes with his little fists. She grinned: it was naptime.

"Alright, let's get you two upstairs," Finn said.

"Let me help," Hermione began to stand, but Finn shook his head.

"I've got it; you stay and eat lunch. Save me a bowl, Snape, would you?"

Severus waved him off and nodded.

"I need to take advantage of this time while I can." With his strong arms, Finn easily lifted both boys from their high chairs. "After I get these rascals down, I'll contact the Commissioner and let him know I'll be ready to start in two weeks. I want some time home with you and the children, first."

Hermione smiled at him and watched as he carried the twins out of the kitchen. She loved that man so damned much.

The night before Finn started work at the Counter Terrorism Command, he and Hermione went out for dinner while Severus stayed home with the children. Finn drove them all the way to Taunton to the fanciest restaurant in town; it was a true night out.

"What's all this for?" Hermione asked with a small smile as Finn pulled out her chair.

"You," he whispered into her ear, causing her to shiver.

Hermione beamed at him as they settled in to wait for the server, which wasn't long.

A few minutes later after reviewing the menus, they happily selected their courses and wine pairings. All the food sounded delicious, and Hermione couldn't wait to tuck in.

While they ate, they shared silly stories about their youth. It felt so good to be out doing something as normal as having a date with her husband: their first date, now that she thought about it. It seemed a shame to have been with a man for two and a half years and that only now were they sharing their first date.

Once their dessert was cleared, Finn left his chair and got down on one knee in front of Hermione.

Did he drop something? She scanned the floor.

"Hermione," he said for her attention.

She looked into his eyes, and he smiled nervously.

"I never got the chance to do this properly, so I'm doing it now. You are the love of my life. I cannot believe we found each other in this insane world, but I'm damn glad we did.

"Your strength holds our family together. Your brilliance challenges and exhilarates me. The depth of your love and soul anchors me in ways I didn't know I needed. And Merlin, woman, your bravery these last few years; it takes my breath away. You take my breath away. I love you: body and soul. And I… I choose you. I will always choose you."

He broke off for a moment and took a deep breath, the rest coming in a rush as if he weren't sure what her answer would be. "Will you choose me? Will you marry me?"

Finn pulled a small velvet box from his pocket. He opened it to reveal, not only a beautiful emerald ring, but also a matching wedding band. Hermione could just make out the Rowle crest engraved on the side of both rings, making the crest whole when worn together.

Her hand over her mouth, unbidden tears overflowed from Hermione's eyes as she nodded.

"What's that?" Finn asked, teasing a laugh from Hermione.

"Yes, Finn. I'll marry you." Hermione smiled at him and then pulled him into a tight hug. "I choose you," she whispered into his ear.

As the restaurant erupted with applause, his arms tightened around her, and he planted a sweet kiss on her lips.

Hermione forgot herself and deepened the kiss, loving how he tasted of rich chocolate and wine.

After they broke their embrace, her face was flushed, and Finn was grinning widely. He then slid both rings onto her shaky left hand.

Hermione stared down at her finger, the rings on it glinting in the low-light of the restaurant. She rather thought she would need to get Finn a ring to match.

The hot July sun filtered down through the trees on Hermione and Severus as they watched the boys clamber over the playground equipment. They were in a park, letting the boys run their energy out for the day.

"Sentient? In what way?" Hermione asked as she held a toy mirror for Astrid to look into.

"This is just conjecture," Severus said, "but I think that magic is sentient enough to know that it's been burnt. Like a child who burns his hand on a hob, whips his injured palm back, and skirts the cooker for a few days, I think that's what magic has done in Britain, a large amount of Dark magic released being what has burnt it."

"And now magic's gone." Hermione's heart felt heavy. She just wished there was something she could do about it, but there was no mathematical formula for changing the opinion of a sentient entity.

"Yes," Severus nodded. "I suspect that some beings and creatures will hold onto their magic for longer than others due to genetic variances, but in the end, it will all fade away."

"Will it come ever back, do you think?"

Tormund stumbled, and she half-stood to go to him, but he popped right back up to continue after Hugo.

Severus shrugged. "Who knows. I do think it will come back, but I don't know if it will be in five years or five hundred years. Nothing this big, this extreme, has happened before. Or if it has, it hasn't been written down anywhere." He shook his head and picked up Astrid when she began to fuss, bouncing her lightly on his shoulder as she clutched at his hair.

"So no potions then," Hermione said sadly.

"No, but we can still grow the ingredients, at least the Muggle variations of them. We can still teach wizard-born children about magic, even if they'll never see it in their lifetimes."

Hermione sighed. When she was a little girl, magic had been her escape; it had changed her life irrevocably. Even with hindsight, she wouldn't have done things differently. The long, slow decline of magic over the last few years had been almost unbearable, but now, she was happy, so incredibly happy.

As Severus continued to move through the garden he'd planted in the spring, Tormund and Hugo toddled after him.

It was a perfect September day to be enjoying the grounds around Rowle Rock; the weather was gorgeous with a sweet breeze and sunshine.

"Gampa! Gampa!" Tormund shouted.

Hugo followed Tormund's lead. "Gampa! Gampagampagampagampa!"

Severus smirked at the children, while he ignored Finn's chortling.

"I will never not find that funny," Finn said, watching the boys follow Severus like two little ducklings.

Hermione smiled at her family's antics. She almost couldn't believe her good fortune that this was her life.

"Alright, settle down," Severus said. He pointed at another plant with restrained excitement. "That one is nettle and is used primarily for the Boil-Cure Potion. It's very important to remember not to touch it without gloves."

As Severus spoke, Tormund and Hugo ate every word, his voice enthralling them as it had always done to Hermione.

"This one is asphodel," Severus said, pointing to a white flower. "It's used in Draught of Living Death and the Wiggenweld Potion."

Hermione leant back in her chair, assured that Severus had the boys under control. She closed her eyes and lifted her face towards the sky. It felt good to be outside, enjoying time with her loved ones.

"You were right," Finn said quietly beside her.

She didn't open her eyes. "About?" When Finn's hand searched for hers, she clasped it.

"Snape. He's good with them."

"Told you." Hermione grinned and listened as Severus explained fluxweed.

The sound of children shrieking in happiness and feet pattering along the floor had always made Hermione smile. The fact that there were currently four children in Rowle Rock who were chasing each other made her positively beam. Christmas was here, and the Weasleys were in attendance for the day.

Hermione watched as Astrid, who was two months shy of her first birthday, slowly toddled out of the kitchen after her brothers and Molly.

Molly, the fourth addition, who was just a month older than Tormund, was George and Ellie's. Unfortunately, Susan and Percy still hadn't been able to conceive a child but were working on it.

Hermione and Finn had ended up hiring two nannies: a young live-in and an older woman from the village who came up every weekday. Both, of course, were home with their families today, and so it was just the Rowles, Severus, and the Weasleys. It was positively cosy, and Hermione loved it.

"Good Godric, woman, again?" Ellie said from the doorway. They spoke on the phone frequently, but it had been a solid month since they'd seen each other.

Hermione shrugged sheepishly. She was pregnant again, four months along to be exact. She and Finn had decided long ago that they both wanted a large family. This one wasn't due until the end of May, but since it was her third pregnancy, Hermione was showing quite a bit more than she had with either Hugo or Astrid.

"What can I say, Finn can't keep his...hands to himself," Hermione said lightly and was pleased when Ellie threw her head back and laughed.

"I guess not. Maybe whatever you're feeding him, you can share the recipe, yeah?" Ellie sent a wink her way.

Hermione laughed. It was good to have her friends around again.

When Molly let out a cry, Ellie rolled her eyes and went to track down her errant child.

Hermione had helped the Weasleys purchase homes in Taunton, and Percy and George had found jobs in the town. George worked as a manager in a hardware store, but he was planning to open a Muggle joke shop. Hermione had warned him that it might not be as profitable as its magical counterpart.

"That's alright," George had grinned. "It's the family business, and I purchased the whole building, can't let it go fallow for too long. The income from the above flats in such a desirable location will help things, too. Diversification, like you said."

Hermione had grinned at him and promised she'd help in any way he needed.

Percy had decided to continue his career in civil service. He took a position with the city council under the Lord Provost. Once he had enough name recognition and goodwill in the community, his dream was to run for office.

They had all settled into their lives with far more ease than Hermione could have predicted a year ago. She was even more pleased that George and Percy were now only thirty minutes away.

Finn was lucky enough that the Counter Terrorism Command had a field office in Taunton. He'd already ascended the ranks to Chief Superintendent and was working on forming his own undercover unit with the promise to Hermione that he would never have to go undercover. Hermione wasn't sure she could handle being the wife of an undercover officer. Much better that he led the unit instead. Finn had natural leadership abilities, so Hermione wasn't surprised at his success.

For herself, she was working at a small private laboratory as their lead data scientist. Her computer skills were still a little on the green side, but her maths skills were unparalleled in her department. She really enjoyed the work and loved even more that she could work from home several times a week.

Hermione shook her head from her musings and pulled the turkey from the oven. Severus had prepared all of the sides, while Hermione had worked on the turkey and pudding.

"What can I help with?" Susan asked, hovering near the kitchen entrance.

"Hi, can you start bringing the sides into the dining room? We're going to eat family-style," Hermione said as she placed the turkey on the worktop and set a timer to allow it to rest. Meals were usually eaten in the kitchen since Rosey had left, but for the occasion, she had decided the dining room would be more appropriate.

"Of course," Susan said. "I wanted to thank you for inviting us, Hermione. For everything really that you've done for us." She smiled softly.

"Everything I've done for you? What about you, Susan? You stepped in when Rosey had to leave. I'm not sure we would have managed otherwise," Hermione said, moving closer to her friend. "Besides, this is what families are for, helping one another." She laid her hand on Susan's shoulder.

Susan nodded and wiped a stray tear from her cheek. "Still, we would have been lost without you helping us integrate into the Muggle world."

Hermione pulled Susan into a hug and gave her a squeeze. She knew that Susan was having the hardest time coming to terms with the loss of magic.

"Think nothing of it," Hermione said as she pulled back from her friend. "It was my pleasure. I'm just so thankful we were able to accomplish it at all."

"Me too..." Susan's smile wavered. "Do...Do you think you could help me decide on classes later this week?" she asked, her voice trembling. She had been postponing starting a career in the hopes of having a child. She must have received the fertility report from the clinic, and it wasn't good news.

Hermione felt her eyes prickle. "Yes, of course."

Seeing Hermione's reaction, Susan grimaced. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to spoil—"

Hermione shushed her. "Today is about sharing time together, about supporting each other—"

"And feeding all the little sprogs," Percy said from the doorway, looking lovingly at Susan. "They're about to revolt."

He walked into the kitchen and took Susan in his arms. "You okay?"

Hermione realising they may need a moment said, "I'll let the others know it's time to get cleaned up for dinner."

She hurried off. It had been so hard not saying a word, but what Susan didn't know—and wouldn't until later this evening—was that Hermione had spoken with Percy and let him know she would be willing to carry a child for them using Muggle technology. She smiled. Susan would be getting the child she wished for, just not in the manner she'd imagined.

Christmas dinner was a lively affair. None of the children held still for longer than a few minutes, and with at least three different conversations going on at once, Hermione deemed their holiday a success. Her heart felt lighter and happier than it had in months.

They retired to the sitting room when they were finished. Hermione, Severus, and Finn had put up a huge, real tree, which the children had helped to decorate. It had been delightful, and Hermione could tell that Severus was mellowing, ever so slightly. Watching that man with her children always warmed her heart. He was nothing like Potions professor she remembered. Now, he was kind and patient and so incredibly loving, made to be a grandpa as Finn would say.

When Hermione and Percy began passing out gifts, Tormund was snuggled into Severus' side, and Hugo sat at his feet, while Astrid was babbling cutely on Finn's lap. George, Ellie, and Susan were on the floor entertaining Molly, who was determined to escape and play with the shiny ornaments on the tree.

It was an idyllic holiday with lots of happy tears, and Hermione wasn't sure that life could ever get better than it did right then.

Later that night, as she was leaving Tormund and Hugo's room, she caught Finn staring at them through the doorway. Tormund and Hugo were still in cots. Since they slept better when the other was near, their cots had been pushed together. Some mornings, Hermione would find them adorably snuggled together in one.

"Merlin, I love them," Finn murmured into her hair as he pulled her close to press a kiss against her temple. His hand wrapped possessively around the swell of her stomach.

Hermione leaned into his side, enjoying his warmth. "I love our family."

"Me too, little witch." Finn hugged her tighter. "Do you think our exceptional offspring will let us lie in tomorrow morning?"

Hermione chuckled and shook her head, shutting the door to Tormund and Hugo's room softly. "Highly doubtful."

He grinned. "I know, I know: wishful thinking."

She peeked inside Astrid's nursery, making sure she was sleeping peacefully before walking side by side with Finn to their bedroom.

"Thank you," she said softly, admiring his sturdy frame.

"For what."

"For giving me all this: a happy home."

"No need to thank me for that, little witch, never for that." He kissed the top of her head. "If anyone should be doing some thanking, it's me. As vile as the Dark—as Tom Riddle was, his actions were what brought us together. I'll always take the good with the bad when it comes to you, and now," he gently rubbed her belly, "it's better than good."

Hermione felt her eyes become watery and smiled, nodding in agreement. "Better than good. Take me to bed, Finn."

Scooping her into his arms, he happily did so.

Chapter Text

Voldemort was used to having the best of everything. He'd not grown up with the best, but over the last decade, he'd come to expect it. Needing to live in the Muggle world didn't change anything. He still ate at the most proclaimed restaurants and stayed in the most luxurious of accommodations. But he was the Heir of Slytherin, so ambition was in his blood. He had goals, and to achieve those goals he would require the best Muggle education and connections. The problem? He couldn't get into Cambridge, the top-ranking university in Britain. Oh, he could fake his test scores: he did. He could use Imperios on the entrance examiners: he did that too. But he'd still been denied.

The reason? A Squib by the name of Josiah Boot was the Director of Admissions at Cambridge. Somehow he'd recognised Voldemort for who he was and, hiding behind the power of the university, had blacklisted him. Voldemort wanted to curse the man but decided the little magic he had left wasn't worth wasting on a fucking Squib.

That one Squib was complicating an essential part of Voldemort's plan. Voldemort relocated to the Muggle world a little over a year ago and, ever since, had carefully orchestrated his comfortable Muggle identity. But to advance his pursuits, it was vital he had a reputable presence in the science community.

Peering at his laptop screen with frustration, Voldemort decided that maybe it was time to leave British soil for a while. There were some excellent universities in the States, but the States were too far away. Voldemort wanted to stay near Britain and therefore would have to settle for ETH Zurich.

In less than an hour, Voldemort's travel arrangements were set. He wasn't about to trust his fate to an aeroplane. He would take a train from London to Paris, and from there, he would ride another train to Zurich.

Voldemort packed light, everything fitting into a small suitcase. All he really needed was his laptop, but he did pack a few essentials. He would purchase a new wardrobe after he arrived.

The March wind was blustery as Voldemort stepped outside. Pulling his suitcase behind him, he quickly found the taxi he'd called for earlier.

The drive to the Eurostar station took longer than Voldemort had expected, but he still had a spring in his step. It had been several years since he'd had the time to travel beyond the British Isles, and he was very much looking forward to it.

Settling into his train seat, Voldemort planned to sleep during the two-hour ride to Paris. It would be another four hours to get to Zurich, and he'd have more uninterrupted time to work, then.

About halfway through the journey, Voldemort began feeling ill. Afraid he might sick up on himself, he rushed to the nearest toilet. Just after he locked the door of the cramped compartment, the sensation of something yanking him forwards hit him.

The next thing Voldemort knew, he was landing hard on his arse in the middle of a torrential downpour.

"Who dares?" Voldemort growled and stood quickly, looking around. It appeared he was now on the white cliffs of Dover. How had he arrived to be here? It hadn't quite felt like Apparition, more like a Portkey. As wind buffeted his body, he turned around, finding no one and nothing.

He stuck his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders, ducking his head to keep the rain off his face. He contemplated whether or not he ought to cast an Impervius Charm when he discovered a rolled scroll in his pocket that hadn't been there before. He pulled it out and read:

Dear Mr Tom Marvolo Riddle:

The Assembly Against the Spread of Dark Magic (AASDM) on behalf of The International Confederation of Wizards has placed a quarantine around the United Kingdom and Ireland. This quarantine bans magical beings and creatures from travelling beyond the borders of the British Isles and will remain in place for as long as the AASDM deems fit.

This is your first and last warning. Those found in violation a second time will be killed on the spot.

Best Regards,

The Assembly Against the Spread of Dark Magic

Voldemort's jaw dropped. He had thought his Blood Curse was a nasty bit of magic, but this? The magic required for such a quarantine was incredibly sophisticated. He was instantly furious that he hadn't sensed it. The International Confederation of Wizards included all countries with routes out of Britain. He was trapped just as his followers were.

Livid, he screamed into the sky.

In May, Voldemort finally admitted to himself that maybe the reason magic had receded so much from Britain was due to the Blood Curse. Magic was inherent in the land. It was possible that the Blood Curse had hemmed the flow of magic. With little or no magic able to pass, it would appear as though magic was weakening.

It was as good of an explanation as any. Voldemort hated to think that the disappearance of magic was something he had caused, but seeing as how neither Severus nor Hermione had figured out what was truly going on, it was all he had to go on.

The Blood Curse had been quite the invention, or so he'd always thought. He'd Apparated to specific locations all over Britain, laying his very own blood into the soil to craft the complex spell. Even though he was now contemplating taking down the Blood Curse, he still thought that it was an exceptional achievement. He only hoped once it was gone, magic would restore itself quickly.

For three weeks, he prepared for the removal of the Blood Curse. He'd meticulously reviewed his notes and had then rested the last week leading up to today, making it a point to use no magic whatsoever.

It took him most of the day to travel to the small beach near Trearddur Bay where he'd first placed the Blood Curse. Standing on the shore, he cast a low-level detection charm and was pleased when a solid wall of red rose before him. The curse was still active and wholly intact. It was really a shame that it had to come down.

Voldemort took a deep breath and sank to his knees. He raised his wand before he began muttering a Latin chant. With a slash of his wand, he opened his left wrist, allowing his blood to seep into the ground.

The magic built up around him, producing a strong wind. Sand and his clothes swirled around him chaotically, but he kept his hand steady and his voice sure as he continued the chant.

With one final shout and a jab of his wand, the Blood Curse blew apart.

A huge wave of Dark magic rolled over the land and flattened Voldemort onto his back. He gasped in a few breaths before he passed out entirely.

When Voldemort woke up, he found himself in a Muggle hospital. He wasted no time checking himself out.

The first thing he did when he was alone was to cast the Lumos charm.

Nothing happened.

"No," he muttered to himself and tried casting it again. Still nothing. He did it again and again and again. Each time the result was the same.

Voldemort fell to knees. "NOOOO!" The destruction of the Blood Curse had removed his magic entirely. For the first time in his nearly ninety years of existence, Voldemort felt like crying. The idea that magic was dying had been abstract as long as he still had magic. But now that he didn't, he felt worse than dead.

Nearly nine months after the loss of his magic, Voldemort's plans were finally coming to fruition. Unable to go the education route, he went the business route. Behind the front of a false corporation, he signed the lease for his new laboratory in Taunton, Somerset, just this morning.

His first employees would start as soon as next week once all the required equipment was delivered. Yes, it was all coming together rather nicely.

For the first time since he'd disappeared from wizarding Britain, he felt it was finally time to begin tracking down his followers and favourites.

Muggles were still inferior in Voldemort's eyes, but now he knew they weren't so different from wizards after all. Soon after he learnt magic was weakening, he'd researched Muggle science to see if they had developed a means to steal it. He found nothing to indicate they could; instead, he discovered the field of genetics and had become very, very interested in it.

A reason for Squibs and Muggle-borns had never been fully explained in the wizarding world. But genes? After a few months of intense study, a gene that caused magic made so much sense to Voldemort. He'd cursed the fact that he hadn't realised it sooner. In hindsight, it was unfortunate he'd killed most of the Malfoys. He tried not to think of such things; such thoughts made him...uncomfortable.

"All set, Dr Valdemar."

Voldemort turned to the estate agent and smiled politely. "Thank you, Miss Crandon. You've been most helpful."

Crandon blushed. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to get coffee?"

Voldemort would have rolled his eyes at her persistence, but she'd been a superb agent. She'd found him a location perfectly set up for his needs, and he might require her again in the future. After kindly explaining he had equipment arriving later, he thanked her once more and ushered her out.

Turning around, he sighed in relief and then gazed into the space admiringly. His laboratory would serve two main functions. The primary focus would be genetic research, specifically looking for the magic gene. Voldemort planned to lead that team himself, but he would need help.

The lead scientist that would aid him was Klaus Wagner, a German national he'd met this year while attending a fundraiser at Imperial College London. Klaus had started his career almost two decades ago as a family doctor and, after a recent interest in genetics, had gone back to school to earn that degree. Klaus had approached Voldemort, unconsciously recognising Voldemort's superiority. Voldemort always attracted a certain calibre of gentleman.

"A fine space, Tom," Klaus said as he walked through the area.

"It is," Voldemort agreed with a soft grin; an expression he wouldn't have thought he'd be making two years ago. The disappearance of his magic seemed to have made things clearer in Voldemort's mind; it was as if a veil had been lifted. He felt better now than he had at any point in his life.

It was a phenomenon he'd spent a lot of time thinking about but hadn't found a concrete cause. It was possible a long-acting curse had been placed on him, and with magic gone, so went the curse. But something about that didn't quite feel right. When would it first have been placed and by whom? Or was it something inherent in the magic? Did all British wizards feel a mental clarity now that magic was gone? Voldemort didn't know, and he couldn't afford any more time on it at the moment. He actually had to leave Klaus in charge of accepting deliveries since he had other things to see to.

Voldemort clapped Klaus on the shoulder. "I'm off, Klaus. Ring my mobile if you need anything."

Just as the first delivery arrived, Voldemort strode out the door.

A few hours later, Voldemort was sitting across from Dr Richard Fitzgerald, a medical doctor that specialised in fertility.

Dr Fitzgerald took a sip of his vermouth. "And what exactly is the purpose of your clinic, Dr Valdemar?"

"It's a dual-purpose clinic. One half of the practice will be for research, specifically genetic research, which will be funded by the other half of the practice: infertility treatment. That's what I'd like you to head up."

"You plan to eventually treat prenatal genetic disorders, don't you?" Dr Fitzgerald asked.

"Yes, that is my plan. Obviously, the technology, nor the science is there yet. But in ten or fifteen years, it will be. My hope is to actually cure the mutations, not screen between different embryos."

What Voldemort said wasn't a lie, but he wasn't as altruistic as Dr Fitzgerald assumed. Voldemort would likely aid others in the way he'd stated, but his real goal was to repopulate Britain with wizarding children. Hopefully, in ten years time, the wild magic that had left Britain would begin to return and be able to support a magical population. To help those efforts, he had to find the gene that induced magic in humans.

"That is a very noble goal," Dr Fitzgerald conceded. "Send me the details, and I'll think it over."

"Of course." Voldemort smiled. "You won't regret coming to work for me, I assure you."

After shaking Dr Fitzgerald's hand, Voldemort made his way out of the restaurant. Since he was in London, he had one more stop to make before he could head back to Taunton.

Voldemort stepped off the escalator and onto the sixth floor of Harrods. The Salon de Parfum was one of the most exclusive places to buy perfume in the world, although Voldemort was not in the market for perfume today, rather he was checking in on an old acquaintance.

While shopping a few weeks ago, Voldemort had spotted Katrina Selwyn. Imagine his surprise when he realised she'd been under his nose this entire time. To say he was not pleased would have been an understatement, but he had to admire her drive and cleverness to survive. Many of his Death Eaters probably couldn't have stomached getting their literal hands dirty the way Selwyn had when she'd skewered Bulstrode, nor would they have acculturated as well as she apparently had.

Voldemort was here for a few reasons. One reason was he felt lonely. He'd surrounded himself with brilliant Muggles who respected him, but none of them could understand what he'd lost and what he was trying to bring back—but Selwyn would. It was the same reason he planned to track down Lucius Malfoy.

In the very last boutique, he found Selwyn alone arranging shelves. Voldemort's lips curved up into a slight smile as he quietly approached her.

Selwyn wore a red, form-fitting dress that hugged each one of her curves. The tall heels on her feet only added to the grace of her legs, and her lips matched the dress impeccably. If there was one thing Voldemort appreciated about Muggle Britain, it was women's clothing.

"Ms Selwyn, you are looking lovely," Voldemort said simply.

Selwyn's reaction was fascinating. She gasped and dropped the perfume bottle she'd been holding. Luckily, the boutique was carpeted, and the bottle did not break. Her entire body tense, slowly, ever so slowly, Selwyn looked up. Then all the blood drained from her face.

Selwyn gaped at him for a moment before dropping her eyes and dipping into a low curtsey. "M-My lord…"

Voldemort's smile turned wicked. She was terrified. Satisfaction rushed through his veins...but it wasn't the same; it wasn't as heady and enjoyable as he remembered.

"Kneazle got your tongue?" Voldemort said softly.

"It is an unexpected surprise to see you, my lord," Selwyn finally answered.

She still refused to meet his eyes; she didn't move a muscle. In fact, if Voldemort hadn't known better, he would have assumed she was under the influence of a Body-Bind Curse

"I wouldn't expect so. I've been busy...setting up a Muggle life for myself."

Selwyn's head whipped up, and she stared him right in the eyes. She indeed was a beautiful woman.

"What..." Selwyn murmured.

Voldemort walked closer to her. "Oh, my dear, I'm afraid you've been out of the loop. Magic has abandoned Britain; it's all gone." He came to a stop directly in front of her.

"I-I didn't know."

"I'm aware. You deserted the wizarding world to live as a Muggle. Well, you always were at the forefront of trends. We're all Muggles now. But hopefully, not for long," Voldemort grinned at her, "with your help, of course."

"My lord?"

"How do you like your job, Ms Selwyn?"

"My job? I love it. I've been working at Harrods for almost three years. I'm a manager now."

"You will need to sort your priorities. Can't work for both Harrods and me, can you?"

"You, my lord? I wasn't aware I was being hired." Selwyn coquettishly smiled, standing tall.

"Well, you are, and you may address me as Dr Valdemar. You will need to give notice to your employer immediately." Voldemort handed her large envelope. "Inside are all the details, including your starting salary, which will be three times what you're making now. Unfortunately, you will have to move out of London, but I'm sure you'll make loads of new friends in Taunton."

Selwyn respectfully gave a nod of her head. "Thank you...Dr Valdemar. I'll give my notice tonight."

Selwyn would do nicely. She was still unsettled by him, but she didn't have the mentality of a terror-stricken sheep. She was intelligent and a survivor. Selwyn would follow the winds of change, and he was that change. Voldemort lifted her hand and placed a soft kiss on the back of it. "Until we meet again." He then left her to her thoughts.

He grinned. That had gone better than he'd imagined.

It was a few weeks after Christmas, and Voldemort had been in Taunton almost a month. Settling his life and business in this particular city had been very deliberate.

Voldemort knew the Rowles lived nearby. Despite the years it had been since he'd seen Hermione Rowle, she was someone he thought of often. In fact, she was probably the person he thought about the most. There was something about her that he just couldn't get out of his mind. Hermione was brilliant, of course. There was no denying that. And even though he knew she'd never been truly loyal to him, Voldemort couldn't get rid of the soft spot that he had grown for her, no matter how hard he tried. Considering Taunton was a larger-sized town, he knew the likelihood of bumping into Hermione was slim.

It was with those thoughts running through his mind that he entered Tesco. Voldemort grabbed a shopping basket and proceeded to head straight for the tea aisle. He knew it was silly, but after he had placed a box of Yorkshire Tea into his basket, he walked through the store looking for Hermione. As usual, she was nowhere to be found.

Walking to the checkout line, Voldemort nearly ran into the person in front of him. There, pushing her trolley towards the exit, was Hermione.

Voldemort's heart beat faster. He dropped his basket and shoved his way past other patrons, ignoring their angry protests.

By the time Voldemort made it out of the store, Hermione was already loading groceries into her car. He continued walking towards her, desperate to break into a run, but refrained, not wanting to draw attention to himself. Voldemort didn't want to scare her away.

A woman with a child approached Hermione and asked if she was done with her trolley. Hermione smiled at them and nodded.

Too soon Hermione was in her car and driving away.

Voldemort had only been able to get a glimpse of Hermione, but he did notice one obvious thing: she was pregnant—again.

As Voldemort made his way back inside the store, rage boiled through his veins. Could all Rowle do was rut against her like a mindless animal? It seemed every time Voldemort saw Hermione, she was near bursting. The children were just going to be Squibs anyway. It was disgusting.

His foul mood hung around for days after seeing her.

Voldemort had been quite busy working at the fertility clinic and the research lab the past two months. He'd named the company New Beginnings Fertility Clinic. It was fitting, if a little cliche, but was proving an outstanding choice from the number of potential parents coming through the doors.

Hiring Katrina to run the office had been a laudable decision on his part. She was respected by both scientists and doctors, and the patients adored her. Voldemort loved having someone who truly understood just who he was. He also found himself admiring her tenacity.

His efforts to track down Lucius Malfoy had proven fruitless. Voldemort wondered if that meant the man was dead, but he couldn't find any evidence of that either.

Unlike with Malfoy, it had been easy to find where Hermione lived and worked. Her address was a matter of public record, and there were only so many places nearby that Hermione would find worthy enough to work at. When Voldemort had driven by Rowle Rock, he had taken note of the security system. It would be nearly impossible to trespass onto the property unseen. No, he wanted to catch her off guard. To perhaps, make her gasp when she realised who he was. Maybe she'd bite her bottom lip, a delightful nervous habit of hers.

Voldemort felt an uncomfortable tightening in his trousers at the direction of his thoughts and scowled. He would have to ask Katrina to stop by his office before he left, as she had almost every evening soon after she first started.

A few hours later, Voldemort left New Beginnings and headed across town. Hermione worked at a posh laboratory that catered to a niche market. He found the building easily and entered the car park, searching for her car.

Voldemort found her people carrier with little trouble and parked in a spot three spaces over.

It wasn't long before people began coming out the door in dribs and drabs. Then finally, he spotted her.

Hermione was animatedly talking with a male coworker, oblivious to her surroundings.

Voldemort exited his car and waited next to hers, leaning on the driver's side door.

The coworker said goodbye, and Hermione looked down at the mobile in her hand. She was much more pregnant than the last time he'd seen her. He scowled at that. He didn't like the feelings that a pregnant Hermione brought up in him.

Hermione hit a button on her key fob, and the car's lights blinked, but still, she didn't glance up from the device in her hand.

It wasn't until she'd almost ran into him when she finally looked up. Her reaction was everything he could have hoped for: She gasped and took an involuntary step back. Her eyes widened, and her breath quickened. Then she flicked her pink tongue out to lick her lips before drawing her bottom lip between her small white teeth. Colour bloomed on her cheeks and down her graceful neck. Katrina's work earlier had been for nought as he found himself hard again.

Voldemort would have Hermione, and with her at his side, it would only be a matter of time before magic returned.

He gave her a breathtaking smile. "Hello, Hermione."