The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Draco chugged another gulp of firewhisky down his throat. It burned, badly, but he needed the sort of courage one could only find in spirits. He didn’t regret his choice, but it was definitely taking its toll on him.
He had walked across the courtyard the day of the Battle. He had been welcomed by the Dark Lord into his ranks, taken his place by the side of his parents. He had seen Potter come back to life for a moment, as Nagini slid down from Lord Voldemort’s shoulders, like lightning, and sink her fangs deep in the boy’s throat. And arm, and thigh, and a hundred other places on his body.
Hogwarts had stilled. For both an eternity and a fleeting moment. Then all hell had broken loose.
He had fought, tooth and nail, pushing the memories of those students and teachers behind a screen of smoke in his mind, justifying his actions with the bare necessity of staying alive, of keeping his parents alive.
In the end, the Dark Lord won. Draco was rewarded with riches taken from the fallen, with apparent oblivion concerning his earlier failures and also those of his father. He was also rewarded with power. A permanent seat at the table of the Dark Lord. A place high in the ranks of his new Ministry. But also power harvested from the dying blood-traitors that had not turned coat, and from Mudbloods. They had stolen their magic, so the rituals to take it back were at the disposal of any Pure-blood wizard or witch.
He took another sip, thinking of Astoria and their new-born son. He shouldn’t be drinking, they both deserved better of him, but this mission was carving chunks out of his soul. He had to go hunting today.
He had chased traitors and filthy blooded wizards and witches before, but he would be lying to himself if it didn’t admit that this was different.
He was set to hunt a very special witch. The last survivor of the Battle of Hogwarts. The brightest witch of their age, they used to say of her. Granger had survived in the shadows for eight years now, outwitting them at every turn, barely being seen, never staying in the same place for long. She had to be broken by now. All of her friends had died. One by one they had been taken out, purposefully left to rotten on display, so that the resistance got the message.
Some had. Some had turned themselves in. Blood traitors and Mudbloods didn’t stand a chance of surviving, but they could earn themselves a merciful death wrapped in green light. Half-bloods had better chances, if they proved repentant and submissive enough. They were slowly allowed back into wizarding society, though ever watched carefully. Any slip and death followed swiftly.
But not her. Hermione Granger had never wavered, would never yield. So the Dark Lord had made it Draco’s mission to eliminate her.
It had taken him weeks to find the tinniest clue, but once he had her trail, he was relentless. It was nine months now since he had first tracked her. Today, at long last, he could tell where she was going to be.
Today, he would find her, fight her, and capture her. Alive. That was important. Aunt Bellatrix wanted to finish what she had started. So he would bring Granger back to Malfoy Manor, and relive the horrors of a day gone by once more. Except this time, it wouldn’t be a nightmare.
He eyed the tumbler, considering a fourth dose. He decided against it. As much as knowing his life hang in the balance would sharpen his instincts, she would be a formidable adversary. He had to gather the courage he lacked, still, from another source.
He bowed his head to his parents, who had been sitting silently in the room all along. They knew the weight on his shoulders. They were in no position to relieve it. After the Battle, Draco managed to plea for his mother’s life, but she had been shunned from society ever since. His father had not, but he never recovered his position in the Inner Circle. There was a new Malfoy by the seat of power, though, so he was content.
Draco left the room without a word and went upstairs to his chambers. There, he found Astoria asleep, still pale and weak from the birth. His son slept just as peacefully in a crib by the side of the bed. A regal looking thing made of dark wood with silver embellishments, every inch of it speaking of privilege, made lighter only by a veil that descended upon the child, shielding him, and a mobile of magical creatures.
He watched his son sleep, placing his hand on his belly and chest, feeling his breathing. He stood there for a long time, watching the dragon on the mobile dangle in the air, watching over the baby, too.
He would do it for his son’s sake, for Astoria’s sake. If he failed, they would suffer for it, at that he could not allow. They did not deserve to perish for his shortcomings. With a new spring to his step, made of the sheer determination of doing what was necessary in order to keep his family safe, he left his chambers, then the Manor, and Disapparated just outside the gates.
He found her by the sea, like he knew he would. It was a silly thing to do, but Gryffindors were never counted amongst the wise. Deprived of a house and of all the places she ever felt safe in, she had found another way to find peace.
There used to be a cottage nearby, but they had destroyed it, burned it, and Vanished the ashes for good measure. Draco had never noticed the grave on the hill until he had traced her to it. He wanted to destroy it at first, break another tie of hers to a world that no longer existed, but his conniving mind had seen another way.
Gryffindors were emotional and way too fond of their heroes for their own good. So he let the tombstone stand and waited. This was the first place he had traced her to, it was befitting that it were also the last.
He had traced her here on September 2nd at first, and his spells told him she had been there the day before. So he kept returning and soon found a pattern. September 19th, her birthday, and there she had been. October 31st, the day that had started all of this, and there she had been. March 1st, Ron Weasley’s birthday, and there she had been again.
She had spent years on the run, she knew that patterns were dangerous. Patterns were predictable and she never had one to her hiding places, nor to the places where she stole what she needed. She had resorted to stealing from Muggles, preferably in big cities, where it was easier to hide and blame robbery on others. Her lack of a pattern had made his life miserable. But today, she was predictable.
May 2nd. The day that ended it all for her. The day that started it all for him. Today would confirm the pattern, and today he would end it. Granger would not be coming back for Dumbledore’s death or Potter’s birthday.
Draco raised shield upon shield on himself. She would not have a clue as to his presence. Then, he stood there, waiting for his unsuspecting prey.
He saw her Apparate not far from the grave. Her clothes used to have colours to them, he was certain, but time had strained them out of the fabric. They also used to fit. Now, they just waved about her bones in the unforgiving wind. She casted several spells, wanting to make sure she was alone. He felt them all touch his wards and carry on, not noticing him. She didn’t even bother Disillusioning herself.
Eight years on the run would do that to a person, he figured. They had dulled her. She was prey, and she was finally starting to give into that role. He had seen it happen over the weeks. She had become easier to track, she would forget a ward every now and then, jolt at every sound and movement of the leaves. All he had to do was remain unnoticed, and she was his for the taking. She wouldn’t even have the chance to turn her wand on him.
He slowly walked to where she kneeled before the grave. He was so close that he could see her shoulders move with her breathing. On this day, eight years ago, she had lost her two best friends, and now she mourned them, quietly, in front of the only grave she had left. The grave of a House-Elf, of a traitor to its own kind. Oh, how she had fallen.
She clutched what used to be a beaded purse in her hands. It was what she used to carry her entire life. Her books, her clothes, her food when she could get it, her letters, her pictures. All those things to which a figment of the world as she used to know it had attached to. She had lost some of those things, during the years. She had lost the Invisibility Cloak in a quarrel with Death Eaters years ago, forced to leave her camp in haste. That had been the closest she had ever been to being caught. And she had left dead bodies in her trail that day. Not because she had turned to casting the green curse, but because she resorted to things like dropping boulders on them.
She was no predator. She could never really mean to kill, to harm. She was prey.
So he captured her.
He had brought her back to Malfoy Manor. She never resisted, she never had the chance. She was ambushed and taken. Simply. Now, she was bound, silent, and unconscious, levitating ahead of him as he walked to the dungeons. He would see her secure down there, chained to the wall, deprived of her wand and of her Expanded purse, fully awake and aware, and then summon the Mad Witch.
Her hair waved as she floated through the corridors, loose, as wild and bushy as ever. Amidst its unruly tresses, he spotted the glint of a necklace. Another memory, probably. He had to look away, for the smokescreen of his mind seemed about to falter. He walked with a steady pace to the farthest dungeon, pointing his wand at the heavy door first, removing the wards, then at the lock, opening it.
Draco placed Hermione’s body on the floor, noticing how her clothes crumpled around her frame, having nothing to sustain their shape. He commanded the chains to reach out from the wall and capture her wrists and ankles with quick, sharp movements of his wand. He needed to be done quickly, because reality was catching up with him and his mind was not faring well in the face of such aggression.
He summoned her wand and her purse to his hand. Just as he was about to turn around and leave, he pointed his wand at the sleeping shape on the floor and said “Renervate”. After that, he was too slow to leave. He hesitated.
He faltered for she whispered his name. Not a spiteful Malfoy, but a Draco that was full of wonder. She was not marvelled to be here, simply astonished and in disbelief of having been caught, truly. Her voice was hoarse; it clearly had gone unused for a long while.
He looked back over his shoulder and that was his undoing. She had risen to a sitting position, causing the chains to rattle. She had raised her eyes to him, and he was instantaneously lost in her dark eyes. They were common, the colour of mud, and yet all he had craved for years.
“Draco?” Her voice was so incredibly unsure. He had never heard Hermione Granger be anything but absolutely sure. It was heart-breaking to see such a formidable creature reduced to a shadow of its former self. The memory this place alone enticed in her mind should have been enough to make her scream in horror of what was to come. She did not scream, though. She just looked at him.
The rational side of his mind was screaming for him to leave. Telling him, again and again, that she was nothing but a Mudblood; that she deserved this, that she should be left to face the consequences; that he should have been upstairs already, dispatching an owl. But instead of turning on the balls of his feet and departing the dungeon, he stayed.
And Hermione thrice damned Insufferable-Know-It-All Granger smiled meekly.
He had no other choice but to be transfixed by that smile. She was not happy to see him, he figured, but she had been deprived of human contact for so long that the mere presence of another person in the same room as her was enough to elicit a smile.
“I never thought I’d see you again.”
It was a statement, one that required no answer. Draco felt compelled to give it one, anyway.
“I have been hoping to see you for a long time, now,” it wasn’t a lie, it was just an occultation of his true motives for that wish, “you’ve kept me waiting.”
They were both silent, then. Her eyes lost in the steel of his, while his eyes tried, and failed miserably, to release themselves from the mud in hers. Draco saw her expression change. He saw all hope leave that gaze, and a sort of peace came down upon them. Her eyes glistened now. She was a brave doe at last cornered by the water, she would shed a tear for her end, but she would look it square in the eye. Always the Gryffindor.
“Draco,” came her voice again, still little more than a whisper, “why?”
Why, she asked. Why! There were so many answers to that, so many reasons for his actions. Though there was only one explanation that could say it all, without giving up much.
“Because he will kill me if I don’t.”
She let a sigh past her lips. Was she truly so exhausted, so done with this world, that she would embrace death this easily? How torn must she be that she would simply turn the other cheek? She knew he had no choice but to turn her in, to take her life, but, Merlin’s beard, she still had a choice to make. She could still choose to fight. But she didn’t. And it baffled him.
“Will you do it? Are you keeping me alive for information? There isn’t much that I can tell you. All I know is that I’m alone now.”
Draco’s heart jumped in his chest. She was still there. Her perfect, rational, quick mind was still there, under the ruins of her.
“No,” he had decided not to tell her at first, spare her a bit, but maybe he could spark the fight in her once more, “I’m required to summon Bellatrix Lestrange.”
She jolted, retreating to the wall immediately, an ill-concealed cry of fear escaping her chest, the chains playing its horrible song against the stone floor. He jolted the other way, taking a couple of steps back, suddenly very sure that she would leap forward and punch him.
Then he was dumbfounded.
She was crying. Quietly, like hunted animals learn to be, like she must have cried a thousand times in the dark of night. She was shattering before his eyes. She wouldn’t fight, he realized. The will to resist and fight back had been stripped of her, one person, one death, at a time. He had helped with that, too.
She lay on the floor, utterly broken. And all he wanted was to fix her. He needed something in this world to still be the same. He needed her to be the same.
Without thinking about it, he sat beside her, hugging her shivering body, petting her hair, rocking her in his arms. She cried in his arms, abandoned to her misery. When she stilled, she gasped as she removed her head from his shoulder. And her eyes widened.
“Why are you being nice to me, now? It makes no sense,” her voice was but a murmur, “won’t he kill you for this? Won’t your family be disgraced because you’ve touched me?”
Draco raised her chin, looking in her in the eye, trying to make sense of the conundrum she had always been to him. Could he let her die without confessing? Could he carry that burden all his life? Could she be oblivious to the fact that she was still toxic to him, after all this time?
She was the one witch that had caught his heart. He had always been drawn to her, back at Hogwarts, but there was so much between them that he had convinced himself to hate her instead. He had to hate, for he could not love a Mudblood. The girl that, despite her blood, was the brightest student in the school, the best friend to Harry Potter, who had denied his friendship.
He held her chin in his palm, a caress he had never been allowed before. He let his face drift closer to hers, his lips approached hers. She was so deprived of human touch, so starved for some affection that she would probably comply. Draco could feel her breath on his lips, shallow and fast. Maybe she was broken enough to bend to his will.
"All my life I've dreamed of meeting someone like you," he told her, not moving away but still breaking the spell of their proximity, “and all my life I’ve known that I would never meet anyone that could compare. You were all I wanted, and all I could never have.”
Her breath on his lips was delirious. He had never craved something so badly.
“You were my poison. Still are,” he let his hand slid to her neck, feeling her pulse flutter under his touch, “I can’t remember wanting anything or anyone as I’ve wanted you. But I knew, all along, that you would be the end of me.”
“Will I be the end of you today?”
She held his gaze, leaning towards him. And he was sure she knew then. She was so close that he could almost taste her, but he retreated in the end. It was too dangerous to taste such a drug when its source was about to be eliminated. He moved his body away and removed his hand from her neck with something akin to pain.
“No, you will not be the end of me.” A lie. An obvious one, but one he had to tell himself. He had to lie, like he’d had to hate.
"I can't imagine what you're going through," she leaned against his arm as she spoke, caressing his hand, “with him and his people.”
He scoffed. Even she knew he didn’t belong with them. But there was no other path for him. All the alternatives ended in death, or worse.
They sat there together. He enjoying the presence of her, at last by his side, where he was sure she truly belonged. She enjoying the touch of skin that was not hers for the first time since Merlin knew how long.
Her voice broke the silence.
“Will you kill me, please? Maim my body all you have to afterwards, let her have it, make them believe you hate me for simply existing, but please let me die peacefully. I just want it to be over.”
Draco’s mind was reeling with repulse at the thought of killing her. Still, the alternative was absolutely obscene to him. She would be tortured for days, driven mad. Her mind would consume itself at the hands of the Mad Witch.
He would not let it happen.
His aunt would be furious. She probably wanted to teach that cursed little girl of hers how to properly handle Mudbloods. He could take the punishment for spoiling Belatrix’s fun and the girl’s lesson. Hermione could not die like that. Deserved not an end like that.
So Draco raised his wand to her chest. She nodded, keeping her eyes on his.
He whispered a curse and her features shone green for a second.
He had to close his eyes in the last moment. She never did.
The body of the brightest witch of her age lay crumbled against the wall when he opened them again.
His heart never left that dungeon.