Lucius Malfoy whistled, a tune that dipped and rose with an unusually merry cadence as his footsteps rang out on the stone flags of Hogwarts castle.
He felt rather spritely. He might even go as far as to describe himself as ‘chipper’—a stupid Muggle word that he would normally deride but which seemed befitting of such an occasion. He was, after all, about to acquire a rather delicious prize—a just reward for his many long and challenging years as loyal servant to the Dark Lord. And one that he had very nearly given up on.
She was among a handful of Potter loyalists who had managed to escape the chaos of the final battle. Whether she had gone into hiding or remained on the run the entire time was currently unknown, but after more than a year solidly entrenched in the upper echelons of their ‘most wanted’, she had finally been captured.
Lucius twirled his cane before popping it smartly off the flags and catching it in his fist. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt quite so invigorated. When the raiding party had returned that morning and triumphantly announced their bounty, those intense feelings, that visceral need to dominate and decimate the self-righteous fools who had attempted to undermine his family, had returned. He had yet to set eyes upon her, but simply knowing that she was down there, locked safely in the dungeons, waiting for him, was sufficient to have his balls tingling in anticipation.
He licked his lips, allowing his tongue to linger in the cleft below. There were myriad ways that he could take her apart; he wasn’t even sure how or where he would start. But to ‘break’ someone like her—a filthy Mudblood but nevertheless exceedingly clever, volatile, stubbornly intractable and utterly fuckable would be an unparalleled trip. Better than any drug.
All he knew was that he would draw it out, revel in each exquisite thread of sanity that he was able to unravel and pluck from her, each barb of resistance he was able to erode, until she was beyond begging, beyond even existing, as pliant and malleable as clay.
‘Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Mud to mud,” Lucius murmured as he approached the door to the staffroom. “It will bring me the most exquisite pleasure to drag you back to the pit from whence you came, little girl.”
Throwing open the door, he strode into the room and inhaled deeply, filling his nostrils with the scent of toast, bacon and coffee. A sharp flick from his cane knocked a heavily-laden house-elf aside with a terrified squeak, allowing him a clear path to the ‘head’ of the table, the spot reserved for Voldemort when he was in attendance but which currently sat unoccupied.
Hooking his cane over the back of his chair, he surveyed those eating breakfast with a haughty sneer before releasing an exuberant ‘Good morning!’ and plonking himself down, scraping his seat noisily against the floor.
It wasn’t long before the bait was taken.
“Someone’s woken up on the right side of the bed for a change.” Bellatrix nodded, picking something out of her teeth with a black fingernail. “Cissy decide to stay the night, did she?”
Lucius gave a dismissive shake of his head as he poured coffee. “Hell hath not yet frozen over. Only then will she seek to grace this miserable dump with her presence.”
Bellatrix watched as he summoned two slices of toast with a curl of his finger, snatching them enthusiastically from the air before commandeering the pot of marmalade and spooning an obscene amount onto each.
“If I didn’t know better . . .” she began slowly, eyeing him with suspicion. “I’d say you’ve had a bit of good fortune . . . or perhaps received some news.”
Lucius’s gaze slid around the others at his end of the table. Everyone was now looking at him with interest. Well, almost everyone. Snape, who was sitting two places to his right, continued to gaze intently at the newspaper on his knee. Lucius ignored him.
“As a matter of fact.” Lucius propped one elbow on the table, rubbing his fingertips together with barely masked glee. “I happen to know that a certain Mudblood came in with the last raid. And I shall be petitioning the Dark Lord to allocate her a master as soon as possible.”
Snape looked up then. The briefest of glances, but enough for Lucius to know that this little nugget of information was news to him too.
Draco snorted before stabbing a fat slice of bacon and hacking at it with his knife. “You don’t expect to get her, do you?”
Lucius abruptly stopped rubbing. “I don’t see why not. I made it abundantly clear from the very beginning that I intended to personally see to her punishment upon capture. Through her affiliation with Potter, she is responsible for a variety of attacks against the Malfoy name. The Dark Lord will, no doubt, consider my personal grievance sufficient justification.”
“If that’s the case, I have more reason to make a claim to her than you do,” Draco retorted.
Lucius’ teeth clenched in irritation. His son’s arrogance in recent months had really started to piss him off. “Is that because she set you on your arse in third year? Do you really think the Dark Lord will seek to reward such weakness?”
Draco scowled. “It’s not just that. I’ve had to put up with her for seven years. You’ve barely had anything to do with her.”
“’Tha’s right, Malfoy.” Lucius jerked around, recoiling when he saw Scabior’s face leaning too close. “You can’ just make the claim ‘cos you don’ like ‘er. An’ you got three of them lasses a’ready, don’ you?”
“My current slaves should have no bearing upon the matter,” Lucius snapped, feeling his good mood rapidly slipping away. “I am the most qualified to break her. I have the experience and, with the exception of the Dark Lord, I am the most powerful wizard here.”
All eyes immediately went to Snape. But Snape continued to peruse the paper, taking a nonchalant gulp of coffee. It annoyed Lucius no end that the others clearly considered the dark wizard to be superior in that regard. Still, they couldn’t argue with Lucius’ experience. Snape didn’t even have a slave. He was yet to break a single one.
“Who’s to say that the Mudblood must go to a wizard?” Bellatrix’s wheedling tone set his nerves on edge as she lifted the handle of her knife, twisting the sharp point against the table. “I also happen to have some unfinished business with that one. And I can tell you now,” she lifted the knife to her mouth, dragging the jagged edge down the tip of her tongue, “just the thought of tasting her again makes me wet.”
With a growl of disgust, Lucius shoved his chair backwards before leaping up and storming from the room, robes billowing fiercely in his wake.
The Great Hall was crowded. It was by far the greatest turnout for any ‘slave sorting’ to date—even the werewolves and Snatchers were there. Lucius’ fierce grip on his cane was starting to make his knuckles ache but he couldn’t seem to relax. The morning’s conversation had unsettled him. Clearly, this was by no means a done deal. And the way that the Dark Lord seemed to be revelling in the heightened interest, an enigmatic smile curling his thin lips, added to Lucius’ disquiet.
“Bring in the Mudblood,” Voldemort hissed from his throne of bones at the front of the room, fists curling around the giant femurs that made up the arms. Hagrid.
Hermione staggered into the hall ahead of the bald, snaggle-toothed squib who had taken great pleasure in dragging her from her dungeon cell by the roots of her hair, and proceeded to manhandle her throughout the entire journey.
With the shackles around her bare ankles threatening to trip her at every step, and the sharp prods from the squib’s stave slicing into her ribs, it was all Hermione could do to remain upright through the cacophony of howls and hisses that frothed forth, fetid like scum from the seething crowd. The last time she had been in the Great Hall, the warm ‘Heart of Hogwarts’, it had been with her friends and mentors, in solidarity against tyranny. Now the expansive room was a cold den of evil. And the pale creature, white as the bones upon which he sat, was death.
She was yanked to a bone-jarring halt before him.
Voldemort waited for the jeers and cat-calls to die down. “It is pleasing to behold the level of unreserved abhorrence that our enemies are still able to incite, even with the time elapsed since our most satisfying of victories.”
Another wave of hoots and taunts rose and fell.
He grinned malevolently at her, scarlet irises like bloody holes shot through his skull. “And whilst it is tempting to slaughter this one in the manner of her predecessors.” He stroked the bones of his throne, of her beloved friends, with gnarled claw-like fingers. “I have been convinced to deny the Mudblood a quick and merciful death, condemning it, instead, to a life of slavery.”
The cries that followed included increasingly fervent and graphic descriptions of what she apparently deserved.
Voldemort raised a hand to silence them. “I would therefore invite those of you interested in claiming the slave as their own, to approach.”
Without hesitation, Lucius Malfoy strode forward, swinging his cane with authority. “My lord, as discussed earlier, I consider myself to be the most qualified for such an undertaking. This particular slave will require an experienced and firm hand in order to ensure subjugation and control. I also intend to ensure that all of her past indiscretions are corrected with the harshest of punishments. When I am finished with her, she will wish that she had been on the right side from the outset.”
Voldemort nodded appreciatively before allowing his gaze to sweep the room. “Anyone else?”
The eyes of all present swivelled as one to lock onto the younger Malfoy, who had stepped forward to stand only a few metres from his father.
“I would similarly welcome the opportunity, as I am yet to be awarded a slave of my own, despite my demonstrated loyalty to your cause.”
“Which is exactly why it would be most inappropriate to do so,” Lucius interrupted, advancing a few more paces toward the Dark Lord. “This slave should never be offered to an inexperienced master. She has a long history of deception and has proven to be particularly lethal.”
Draco advanced also, addressing Voldemort directly. “My father has three slaves already. Surely a master with three others is going to be compromised in his ability to give full consideration to a fourth.”
Lucius glanced anxiously between his son and Voldemort. “You can have them,” he blurted with an embarrassing lack of decorum.
“What did you say?” Voldemort peered at Lucius.
“He can have them, my Lord.” Lucius beamed and opened his arms wide in an attempt to appear gracious. “Draco can have the others. They have already been broken—perfect for an initiate. He can have all three. Or you may wish to grant them to another—whatever my lord pleases.”
Draco bristled but attempted to maintain his composure.
“You would be willing to give up three slaves . . . for one?”
Voldemort’s tone put Lucius on alert. He realised then that it had been foolish to suggest such a thing. He had sounded desperate. The Dark Lord was always wary of desperation.
“Or not.” Lucius shrugged, as though unperturbed. “It was merely a suggestion.”
Voldemort’s unwavering gaze locked upon him for several long, agonising beats before he finally, mercifully, turned away.
“As you are aware, my lord, I have a number of . . . exotic . . . approaches to correction. If it pleases you, I will see to it that this slave is broken in so many ways that she will be begging for an opportunity to serve you.” Bellatrix sauntered into the centre of the hall, curling a lock of dark hair around her finger as though Voldemort revelled in anything other than suffering.
“Indeed, your methods are . . . infamous, Bellatrix.” Voldemort’s lips skinned back to reveal bloodless gums and rows of yellowed teeth.
Bellatrix smiled coquettishly in return.
It was grotesque. Hermione fought the urge to vomit.
“I’ll toss my ‘at into the ring n’all.” Scabior stepped forward.
“Me too.” Blaise Zabini followed him.
Lucius whirled around, desperate to stop the snow-balling of dross.
“He isn’t even a Death Eater.” He pointed at Scabior. “Surely that makes him ineligible.”
“I said that I would be willing to consider all nominees,” Voldemort responded levelly.
“I happen to think that I should get her,” Vincent Crabbe announced, lumbering forward to stand beside Draco.
“For what reason?” Voldemort asked.
“Well, she turned me into a newt.” Crabbe crossed his arms proudly over his chest.
“A newt?” Voldemort’s gaze narrowed.
Draco elbowed the heavyset boy sharply in the ribs.
“I got better,” Crabbe grumbled, rubbing his side.
A hubbub broke out, the whole ‘slave sorting’ on the verge of descending into a farce.
“Only legitimate nominations,” Voldemort growled, clearly displeased.
Lucius decided that it was time to bring proceedings to a conclusion.
“Well, if that is all, we should probably—”
“Severus!” Voldemort exclaimed.
The entire gathering fell silent, their attention turning to the dark, and preternaturally still, form of Severus Snape.
“Did you have something to add?”
“Yes, my lord.” Snape stepped forward with a subtle inclination of his head. “I would like to propose that the slave be assigned to me—to assist with ingredient preparation and potion brewing. Your followers, and thus their requirements, have grown exponentially. For business reasons alone, I would consider this a wise and effective allocation of resources.”
“Really?” Voldemort raised a non-existent eyebrow. “And yet this is supposed to constitute a punishment. This slave is being spared death for the purpose of life-long suffering.”
“There is no need for concern,” Snape assured him with an air of cool detachment. “I intend for her to atone . . . completely.”
Voldemort looked between the casual visage of the dark wizard and the agitated blond standing nearby, hands curled into tight fists around the head of his cane.
After a long moment of contemplation he clasped his own withered hands together.
“I happen to agree with . . .”
The entire room seemed to draw a collective breath.
“ . . . Severus.”
This was greeted with muted unrest. No one wanted to appear to overtly disagree with Voldemort’s verdict, but it was clearly unpopular.
Snape didn’t respond, remaining darkly watchful as the Dark Lord pushed himself up from his throne, gliding like a phantom down the steps until he was standing directly in front of Hermione.
“Bring me your wand, Severus,” he instructed.
Slipping his wand from his sleeve, Snape approached. As he passed Lucius, the blond wizard stepped closer, shielding his face behind his curtain of hair as he hissed, “Cunt”.
Snape ignored him, continuing forward before handing his wand to the Dark Lord with a small bow.
Sneering maliciously, Voldemort grabbed Hermione’s left forearm in his ice-cold grip and directed the tip of Snape’s wand to her scar. Murmuring an incantation that she had never heard before, he touched the wood to her skin, making it scald and bubble. It felt like she was being burned alive, but she had learned control. She had taught herself not to respond, no matter what. It was how she had evaded capture until now, and so she simply glared at him, breathing deeply through her nostrils, her jaw fixed in a rictus of defiance.
Voldemort’s sneer twisted into a disapproving scowl. With a snarl, he jerked the wand away and whirled her around so that she stumbled over her shackles, falling at Snape’s feet.
“If I have even an ounce of trouble from that filthy Mudblood, I will be holding you personally responsible, do you understand?” Voldemort hissed, his red eyes flaring with blood-fire.
“Yes, my lord,” Snape responded, glaring at the figure sprawled before him. “I understand . . . perfectly.”