Hermione remained crouching, letting the last vestiges of loss shudder through her body, the last threads of hope to unravel and drift away. None had survived—not one of the wonderful boys and men she had grown up with, been cared for and loved by, was alive.
Over this past year, she had hoped against hope that somewhere, somehow, they had been spared—perhaps imprisoned, as she was now. But it seemed, if Draco was to be believed, that none had been so fortunate. No doubt their complete elimination had been part of some macabre plan, a continuation of Voldemort’s vow to preserve the darkest of wizarding bloodlines, shutting out the light for generations to come.
But what Voldemort failed to realise was that, even after all of the atrocities he had perpetrated, there was still plenty of good in the world, and plenty of people still willing to give their lives for an opportunity to remove his mouldering carcass from it once and for all.
Whilst, on some level, she had assumed that the absence of any concrete information about them over the past year could only mean one thing, the reality was so incredibly difficult to accept. All she could see in her mind’s eye were their faces, brave and resolute behind the blood and dirt, forcing her into the Room of Requirement, commanding her to escape while there was still time—Harry’s reassuring nod, Ron staring wistfully, as though he had somehow known it would be the last time. Hermione rubbed her tear-streaked face against her palms, trying to drive the heart-wrenching image from her head.
There had been ten of them in the end, thrust into safety by those who cared for the lives of herself and her friends, more than they cared for their own—she, Ginny, Luna, Parvati, Lavender, Padma, Cho Chang, two younger girls Rose and Laura, and finally, Tonks, shouting to be allowed to return to Remus. But the door had been sealed. Probably by Remus, himself.
Despite their reluctance to leave, they had made it back to Hogsmeade safely and, with a combination of stealth and magic, had managed to trek and Apparate to the Scottish border before being ambushed by a pack of werewolves. Lavender and Laura had been captured and dragged away into the darkness, screaming. It had been impossible to save them, but the pure terror in their cries still clawed at Hermione’s heart as she remembered.
The rest of them had spent a fearful night in a cold, dilapidated shed before proceeding to relative safety, moving from house to house across the countryside, bunking down in the eerily quiet abodes that had once belonged to the brave souls who had remained behind at the Battle of Hogwarts. Hermione’s own house had been a temporary haven at that time, and had come to provide shelter on a number of occasions since then for members of the Resistance.
Hermione wondered what the members would think if they knew what she now knew. Would they be more or less committed to the cause knowing that so many of the people they were fighting for were no more? How would Tonks deal with the news?
Despite having a young child to care for, she had insisted on the early creation of the underground organisation and had been the unofficial head ever since. It now had many dozens of members, including the high profile Aurors, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Hestia Jones, as well as recent arrivals such as Olympe Maxime, who had been unable to return to France after the fall of Beauxbatons.
However, it hadn’t been all gains. Padma and Cho Chang had gone missing, presumed captured, only three months after they had escaped. Parvati had been desperately searching for her sister, scouring the notice boards for news relating to her disappearance ever since, and now Hermione wondered why Draco hadn’t mentioned either of them.
Only a few weeks previous, they had also lost contact with Luna who had been recruiting in Germany after Durmstrang had allegedly pledged allegiance to the Dark Lord. The raids had been ramping up. It was thought that Luna had most likely been captured by a raiding party similar to the one that had seized Hermione, which made her wonder if her good friend might, in fact, be alive and well, residing somewhere nearby. However, the prospect of another Death Eater being willing to care for their slave, sparing them the torture of the dungeons seemed unlikely, making her hopeful thoughts about Luna’s fate suddenly sink like a stone in her breast.
Scrubbing her hands against her face with a breathy sigh, Hermione forced away the tears. Despite her fear and sadness, she couldn’t afford to wallow. Not when she now knew there were at least twenty-five women and girls who were still alive. Some she knew. Others she didn’t. Regardless, she was determined to find a way to help them. But there was little more she could do until she found out who they were. And that required her fulfilling her promise to Draco.
When she finally stood, joints creaking a little from the extended duress, she realised that the potions that she had left to cool on the bench earlier had now been decanted into vials with neat black labels in Snape’s handwriting. He must have done it while she was asleep. It seemed strange that he hadn’t woken her, or at least left them for her to do but, again, she was discovering that the dark wizard was anything but straight forward. And whilst Draco’s recent revelations had shed more than a little light on the reason for at least some of his behaviour, the part that remained a mystery was what had happened between them in the dark. He had been under no obligation to heal her and yet he had. Secretly. And it had been executed so carefully, his touch so impossibly gentle, that she had been brought to tears.
But one thing she did know about Snape was that he did nothing on a whim. There was always a reason. She just needed to find out what his was. Was he softening her up for the blow? Physical? Sexual? Both? There was no particular reason for him to do so, especially since violence, and particularly sexual violence, seemed to be mandated by not only Voldemort, but by the rest of his Death Eater associates. Perhaps Snape’s actions had simply been intended to ease his conscience when he finally did end up doing it. Assuming, perhaps without justification, that he did indeed possess a conscience.
Hermione pushed up her sleeves a little, careful not to expose more than her wrists, as she scuffed across the room. She began tucking the vials under her arm to carry across to the storage cabinet, but as she turned to deliver them, the main door suddenly flew open and Snape was there. She noticed immediately that he wasn’t moving with his natural ease. There was a distinct hobble to his gait as he entered, a rigidity to his shoulders that suggested pain.
He closed the door, then looked at her. It wasn’t the usual sidelong glance or dismissive flicker. He gazed at her fully and Hermione sensed the remnants of what had transpired earlier simmering between them. It was still there, his touch in the dark. She felt it. And she sensed that he did too. She also sensed a change in him. The firm set of his jaw seemed to be less about pain and more about resolve. She knew then that he would be taking action, and she was under no illusions as to what form it would take. Her heart kicked up to a gallop as she realised she needed to work out how to deal with him as soon as possible. The books, if they were the ones she needed, would hopefully be the key. But she didn’t trust Draco to necessarily get them as requested or, if he did, to deliver them with the urgency that she now felt.
Hermione clutched the bottles tighter as she began to perspire again under his intense, black gaze. Would she even have time? Perhaps he wanted to do something to her now? He continued to stare. Had his wards perhaps alerted him to Draco’s breach of the door locks? Did he want to know who had been there with her?
Suddenly he turned his back on her, stalked stiffly across the room to his chambers and disappeared inside.
Hermione released the breath she had been holding with a shuddery gush before proceeding to the storage cabinet, the trembling bottles tinkling faintly with each step.
He must have known that Draco had come to see her. Otherwise surely he would have asked. Did he know the reason for Draco’s visit? If so, why did she need to keep it a secret? Would Snape interrogate her about the missing ingredients? And if she didn’t tell him, would he conclude that she harboured some more devious intent?
There were so many unknowns and anxiety-riddled possibilities buzzing unpleasantly through her head that the small amount of relief she had felt upon waking had completely evaporated. All she had now was a very small plan, with the potential for some very big consequences. How it would unfold from here on in was anyone’s guess, but she had never been one to take things lying down, even if Draco clearly considered that to be her only option for meeting her slave responsibilities. It just wasn’t in her nature. On the contrary, she intended to meet Snape, like everything else she had tackled in her life, head on.
“What do I need two for?” Draco looked with a puzzled frown at the two bottles that Hermione held out to him.
“One is for you. And one is for the other infected party, the girl.”
Draco snorted, taking only one. “She’s someone else’s problem now. I gave her back.”
Hermione stepped forward. “You will give the other one to her,” she demanded, pushing the second bottle into his stomach. “She might be a slave but she’s also a human being.”
Draco scowled as he reluctantly shoved both bottles into his pockets. “You wouldn’t say that if you saw her.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re not any more. The Broken. They’re basically . . . nothing.”
Hermione couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. “Are you saying that you break them until they aren’t even human?”
“Barely.” He scratched the back of his neck as though unsure of whether he should be feeling guilty or not.
“But you did that to them!” Hermione cried. “It’s your fault. You are responsible.”
“No, I’m not,” Draco objected, his voice jumping an octave. “I didn’t do it. I haven’t broken a single one.”
“I’m talking about the Death Eaters,” Hermione seethed. “You, as a whole, are responsible for doing this, for dehumanising them. Your father did it, didn’t he?”
“Well . . . yes,” Draco muttered, finally looking suitably uncomfortable.
“Fuck,” Hermione growled, spinning away, arms wrapped protectively around herself. How could she help them if they were in such a state?
“But that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person.”
“What?” Hermione jerked back around, staring at Draco’s pale face as though he were insane. “Not a bad person? Lucius Malfoy?”
“That’s what anger and frustration can do to people.”
“And what does Lucius Malfoy have to be angry about? Too much blood on his perfectly manicured hands?” Hermione sneered.
“You think this is all roses for us, don’t you?” Draco looked at Hermione with a seriousness that surprised her. Usually he was snarling. Or pouting. Or both. There had rarely been an attempt to genuinely communicate. But this felt like one. “We aren’t allowed to leave this fucking castle. Not unless we are doing a job—on a raid or fighting. Mother refuses to come here. She doesn’t agree with what Voldemort is doing. She wants us out of here but, if we were to leave, we would be as good as dead.”
“But he won, didn’t he?” Hermione scoffed, still quite unable to accept the fact even after all this time. “Why is the evil bastard still so paranoid?”
“Because he’s still fighting—the rest of the Wizarding world, the Muggles, the fucking Resistance, and he doesn’t trust anyone.”
“So you think it’s perfectly reasonable for your father to destroy people, kill them, because he is slightly restricted in his ability to move around.” Hermione was still incensed that they had somehow managed to make themselves into victims, legitimising their inhumane treatment of everyone else.
Draco shook his head angrily. “His marriage has been ruined. He’s under constant scrutiny like the rest of us. And he’s expected to break the slaves, that’s how they’re punished and kept in servitude.”
“And isn’t it lucky for him that he also happens to greatly enjoy it,” she snapped bitterly.
Draco muttered something under his breath before reaching under his robes and dragging out two books. He tossed them at her.
“This is all I could get my hands on. I don’t expect you’ll find them very useful. But you owe me now.”
Hermione shook her head, determined that he shouldn’t renege on their deal. “I’d say we’re even,” she stated, clutching the books to her chest in case he tried to take them from her.
He looked her up and down before releasing a huff of irritation. “Fine.” Then he turned to go.
“What about their names?” Hermione rushed after him. “The rest of the girls in the dungeons?”
“I’d say we’re even.” He sneered, the Draco of old, before jerking the door open and closing it with a bang.
In the low light of the torches, Hermione pored over the books, scanning the words and line drawings, committing each morsel of information to memory. They were both rather clinical. One was primarily about sexual positions and the other focused on anatomy and physiology. However, she still found them useful, especially the information on receptor density, nerve pathways, reflexes and erogenous zones. She could work with that and, in the absence of a great deal of experience, she would need to. Then there was the fact that she was a super quick learner. Her capacity to adapt ‘on the job’ was what gave her confidence that she would be able to successfully pull this off—so to speak.
The thought of actually performing the act made her feel physically ill. But there were many things that she hadn’t wanted to do in the past but had forced herself to engage in as a means to an end. This was about survival. And not just her own. She would just have to muster every ounce of her courage, swallow her pride, and perhaps even be prepared, according to this latest rather graphic diagram, to swallow just a little more than that.