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The Unbroken

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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. 

Hermione Granger.

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?”

“My lord.”

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.

“Anyone else?”

“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.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione followed him. Her steps were short, hampered by the chains. His were long. And yet he never seemed to draw away, a wall of black gliding just ahead of her. They traversed corridors. Familiar but not. In fact, it wasn’t long before she had completely lost her bearings.

Had the fundamental structure of the castle changed? Or had the inner illusions simply been manipulated?

Whatever the reason, Hermione soon felt incredibly lost, scuffing along the bitterly cold flags, feet bare like a neglected child—devoid of innocence, devoid of trust. Circumstances had forced her to follow this man but he was no longer known to her. His betrayal of all that was good and honourable was incomprehensible. He was a stranger. 

All she knew of him was that he now owned her—she bore his mark, still burning like hot coals through the soft belly of her forearm—and he had been given permission to do with her as he wished—the worse, it seemed, the better.

The soundtrack to their journey was her dragging footsteps and the rhythmic chink of chains. He was silent, a hulking shadow devoid of warmth. A Dementor.

She stumbled and fell, her feet clumsy blocks of ice. The leg irons cut into her cuts. He paused without turning, allowing her to slowly, painfully right herself. Then started again.

Hermione shuffled on, zombie-like, head down, delirious with fatigue. She hadn’t slept in more than two days but she wasn’t naïve enough to hope that their destination would provide any relief. She suspected that restful sleep was a luxury that she would be unlikely to enjoy again, especially not here, not now. Indeed, she’d seen too much, experienced too much, to trust that safe refuge could constitute anything other than a fleeting delusion.

After what seemed like hours, but was obviously far less, they stopped. Lifting her head with some effort, she found that she could just make out a door in the poorly lit alcove. The shadowy form before her shifted, touching the handle. The tumbler rolled. They entered.

It took a few moments for Hermione to fully absorb her surroundings. They stood in an expansive room, fitted with several long benches harbouring glassware, cauldrons, scales and various other pieces of equipment. Further devices adorned shelves in the cluttered cabinets, while a multitude of packed book cases lined the walls. There was a large, heavily draped window opposite, and two secondary doors, one at either end of the room. It was clearly the potions laboratory, and yet they weren’t in the dungeons. She supposed it was because the dungeons were now a prison.

Suddenly he spoke, “Have you eaten?”

Hermione attempted to respond but found that she had no voice. It hadn’t been used in days. She hadn’t answered a single one of their questions. She’d not uttered a sound.

He turned to look at her, one dark eyebrow raised in question, the other sustaining his trademark frown.

She shook her head.

With a ruffle of robes and flick of his wand, he produced a large mug, contents steaming, and handed it to her.

She brought her shackled wrists together, cupping her hands in grateful acceptance. But instead of drinking it, Hermione found herself holding the mug like a sacred urn, staring at the thick, amber liquid, wondering at when she had last been offered anything resembling a hot meal.

People had been scared of her, of being found with her, one of Voldemort’s “most wanted”. A cold basement to sleep in was as much as she ever dared to request. She couldn’t bear to think of what had become of the old woman with the kind green eyes who had taken her in.

Closing her own eyes against the pain of that image, she took a tiny sip.

If it was poisoned or drugged, she couldn’t tell. But in that moment she didn’t care.

The soup provided relief, warm and rich. During her months in hiding, she had come to realise that even something as small as this could be enough to keep her believing that life held more than just suffering and sorrow.

And when she felt his hands upon her, gently removing the shackles from her wrists and then her ankles, she felt the relief sink like a stone, lodging in her throat so that she could no longer swallow. That was the problem with any sort of indulgence, with allowing even a hint of kindness to slip under her guard. She just couldn’t afford it. Swallowing everything down, she drew a deep, galvanising breath, and opened her eyes.

He was gone.

Looking around, she saw that he’d relocated to a cabinet across the room.

“Rub this balm into your wrists and ankles morning and night,” he instructed, holding up a small jar. “And apply this to the burn.” He lifted another small vial between thumb and index finger. “Once a day until it heals over.”

She nodded.

He gestured toward the far corner of the room. “You will sleep here.”

“Here?” she croaked.

He turned to stare at her. “Unless you would prefer to reside in the cells?”

She quickly shook her head.

He paused as his black eyes roved over her. “I have arranged this as a matter of convenience. This is not your space. You are entitled to nothing.”

She stood quietly, figuring that mute acquiescence was probably best.

“You will do exactly as I command. You will not deviate from my instruction for any reason. You will not attempt to leave. And you will not attempt to make contact with any other person. Do you understand?”

She nodded.

He continued to glare at her.

“And you will wear this.”

Lifting a hand, he summoned what looked like a balled-up white sheet.

When he tossed it to her, she caught it against her chest, careful not to spill a drop from her mug. Letting the material hang from her fingers, she saw that it was a cotton dress. Voluminous. Long sleeves. High neck. Somewhere between Victorian era and asylum-ware.

“Thankyou.”

“I beg your pardon?” His eyes instantly hardened, glittering with dark fire like two black opals.

“I just . . . I wanted to . . . thank . . . you.”

He was across the room in a flash. His hand shot out, clamping around her throat.

She dropped the soup. It splashed like vomit across the floor.

“Do. Not. Thank. Me,” he growled.

He squeezed her throat harder.

Her vision began to fade.

“Ever.”

With a final shove that sent her stumbling and choking until she slammed against the wall, he whirled around and stormed over to one of the side doors, disappearing inside with a resounding crash.

Gasping, tears streaming from her eyes, Hermione crawled over to her corner, dragging herself into the low-slung cot that rested against the wall, before wrapping herself in the only blanket. She buried her face in a cushion, determined not to allow herself to indulge in more tears, in more self-pity. It wouldn’t help. It never did.

She wasn’t the one who had died, after all. Her bones had not been stripped of her flesh, and been subjected to the final humiliation of having to support Voldemort’s arse.

She suddenly snorted, a strange snotty sound that was both macabre and ridiculous.

Was this it? Had she succumbed? Had she finally surrendered to the merciful respite of madness?

Before she managed to work it out—too mad, perhaps, to tell—she fell asleep.

***

Hermione awoke to find herself staring at a wall. Her eyes trailed back and forth along a crack, its jagged path traversing the length of one of the ancient bricks. Had that happened in the war? Or had it simply fractured under the stress of time? She touched it with her fingertip, sliding gently as if to soothe before slipping her fingernail inside. She harboured her own, of course. The question was whether she too, could hold together under the strain. Was she strong enough to withstand this—the bone-crushing intensity of it all? 

Withdrawing her hand, she bunched the blanket in her fist and drew it up under her chin. At least she had a bed. And it happened to be surprisingly comfortable. She didn’t even mind the cushion instead of a pillow. She rubbed her head against it a little for confirmation. Then she tried to swallow but had to close her eyes against the pain. He was incredibly strong, as volatile as she remembered, and he still clearly loathed her.  

Then she smelled it. Pumpkin.

With a frown, she rolled over to see another mug of pumpkin soup sitting on the table by her bed. Beside it was a small bread roll.

She glanced at the door he had raged through earlier. It was closed.

Sore throat be damned. She was having it.

Pushing herself up to a sitting position, she retrieved both items from the table and tore off a small piece of roll. Popping it into her mouth, she chewed slowly, the joints of her jaw feeling like they had rusted over, before taking a sip of soup to wash it down.

Good. Really good.

She continued to take mouthfuls, even indulging in a slurp or two as she proceeded to devour what remained.

And as she ate, she took in her surroundings. Apart from the table beside her, there was a modest chest of drawers with a bowl and pitcher on top. The towel folded neatly beside added to the likelihood that this was for washing herself. At the end of her bed, against the wall, was something that looked like a round bucket with a lid. A toilet? Magically plumbed?

The thought of doing her business out in the open was mortifying. She would just have to time it for the middle of the night when there was minimal risk of being disturbed. That’s if she could work out when the middle of the night was. The complete block-out of the heavy drapes made it difficult to know whether it was even night or day.

She reached down to fondle the dress that she’d managed to drag across the floor with her. It was incredibly soft. Almost impossibly so.

Where did he get it? Had he transfigured it from something else?

As she folded back the hem to study the tailoring, she was struck by an even more significant thought.

Why was it even here?

She looked around her corner of the laboratory.

Why was any of it here? Had he somehow known? Before the episode in the Great Hall, had he already been aware that she would be given to him? Or had he prepared everything just in case?

She popped the last piece of roll into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

It didn’t make sense. He had nearly strangled her. He could have. Easily. But then he’d allowed her to sleep. He’d replaced the food. Like an apology.

She swallowed, setting the empty mug aside before picking the crumbs off her blanket and eating those too. Who knew when her next meal would come?

With a heavy sigh, she drew her knees up, hugging them tightly to her chest. As her fingertips played across her throat, the bruising there, she wondered if she still had it in her—the fortitude to survive all this. Or if, after more than a year of clinging doggedly to existence, she would fall at the hands of the man who had originally been entrusted with her protection.

The sad irony of that thought sat like a leaden lump of defeat in her chest.  

But then there was the soup. Magically heated. Placed with care.

It was thoughtful. Considerate.

It was . . . not him.

She sighed again. Whomever he was, whatever he was trying to do, she would definitely remember not to thank him for it.

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione sat on her bed, letting her eyes rove over the landscape of laboratory equipment, burnished by the warm glow of the magical lanterns fluttering around the room. She found the clutter comforting—like her father’s study when she was a child. She could never allow her eyes to roam too quickly when she had managed to creep in there unnoticed, lest she missed something important amongst the mountains of books and papers—a clue to his past, to his work, to who the real man was.

Like the small, pewter cannon perched atop his latest manuscript. The letter opener with the carved ivory handle, worn smooth with age and use. A pipe she had never seen him smoke but that she always had to touch, to smell, even though she had to climb up the bookshelves to reach it. A set of framed prints, teapots in whimsical pastels, like those from a Mad Hatter’s tea party. A poem, embroidered—she would trace her fingertips around the intricate floral border as she recited the words.

 

Hark, I hear a robin calling!

List, the wind is from the south!

And the orchard-bloom is falling

Sweet as kisses on the mouth.

 

In the dreamy vale of beeches

Fair and faint is woven mist,

And the river's orient reaches

Are the palest amethyst.

 

Every limpid brook is singing

Of the lure of April days;

Every piney glen is ringing

With the maddest roundelays.

 

Come and let us seek together

Springtime lore of daffodils,

Giving to the golden weather

Greeting on the sun-warm hills.

 

Her lips moved soundlessly now around the warmth and optimism of each phrase. Because they were her father. His hopeful outlook had gently guided her, his only daughter, prone to catastrophizing and maddening perfectionism, to let go, to simply accept. And his memory had remained with her throughout this past year, tucked into the lining of her threadbare jacket.

Slipping her fingers inside now, dipping into the hidden pocket pressed against her heart, she removed it, the frayed slip of paper, worn thin, trembling like a trapped butterfly between her fingertips.

Carefully unfolding it, she gazed at the faded, grey strokes of his handwriting.

‘You can’t have the rainbow, little bear, without the rain.’

And a love heart.

The smile quivered on her lips.

She still remembered when she’d found it as a child, secreted between the pages of ‘The Wind in the Willows’. It was after a bout of sadness from which she thought she’d never recover. She’d moped about for days before curling up to escape with Ratty and Mole. There she’d found it and, wishing to keep that burst of love alive forever, kept it. 

She had protected herself with these and others of his words, feverish recitations staving off the cold terror of being hunted, chipping away at the futility that threatened to bind her thoughts, shedding warm light on the bitter loneliness that pooled in her chest.

Even in his absence, he had saved her. And he was saving her still, that man of perpetual Spring.

Except that he now had some serious competition. The man of perpetual winter. As cold and bleak as a snowstorm inside an ice cave.

Where was he?

She could hear nothing from behind the door to what she assumed were his chambers.

Had he left altogether?

Her eyes flickered to the exit. She was tempted to try the handle but the memory of his hair-trigger temper was just too vivid.

Then her gaze settled upon the pair of healing remedies where he’d placed them on the bench. She rolled off the bed and padded over, gingerly tugging up her jacket sleeve to expose the angry red burn, blistered and weeping. It hurt. But so many things did that she now felt quite separate from it, and could look at it with a curious detachment that seemed like it might, in the long-term, be both helpful and harmful to her. 

Drawing up a small amount of viscous green liquid from the vial, she dropped it in long, shimmering threads onto the burn. The relief was profound and almost instantaneous, a creeping coolness that numbed and soothed, percolating into the depths of her flesh as though she were porous.

And then she scooped her fingers into the milky balm of the second jar and applied it to the bracelets of raw skin encircling her wrists and ankles where the shackles had mercilessly abraded. The mushrooming relief built into a wave of soothing warmth that seemed to spread even further, easing the tension all of the way into the weary muscles of her neck and shoulders, and relieving the tightness that had commandeered her hamstrings and buttocks as she’d squatted uncomfortably, breathless, desperately hoping to remain undiscovered.

As she shook herself, testing the newfound looseness of her joints, she lifted the jar to the light to examine its contents more closely. Taking a sniff, she raised an eyebrow, impressed. It really was an exceptional preparation. It must be his own. No one else produced potions of this standard, and it suggested that he still had access to quality ingredients. Her eyes jagged over to the door on the far side of the room. Was that where he stored them? Hermione found herself suddenly warming a little to the idea of providing assistance.

Replacing the lids on both jars, she returned to her modest corner and set them on top of the chest of drawers. It was only then that she realised that the water pitcher there was actually full. She dipped her fingers into it. Warm. He must have seen to that too.

As she poured the water into the large bowl, she found that the level in the pitcher didn’t change. More magic.

Chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully, she continued pouring until the bowl was full. All of these little contradictions were becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile but she decided that she would have to let them go until she understood him better.

In the absence of another cloth, she took the corner of the towel and dipped it into the bowl before starting on her face. She was dirty. She could feel the grime caked on her skin but slowly, methodically, she managed to wipe it away, rinsing often. With a quick glance over her shoulder at the door to his chambers, she peeled off her jacket and top, wiping down her arms, neck, chest and stomach before moving on to her lower half. Torn and filthy, she found that removing her jeans provided considerable relief. Her legs weren’t too bad but her feet were a mess. She spent a significant amount of time trying to remove half of the road to Hogwarts from between her toes before patting them dry, planning to apply some of the healing balm to the cuts there.

Finally, casting another fearful glance over her shoulder, she quickly removed her bra and knickers. She didn’t give those parts of her body as long as they needed, but she was far more concerned with ensuring that she wasn’t caught cowering naked in the corner of his laboratory. Snatching the dress from her bed, she slipped it on without undoing the buttons. It proved to be surprisingly warm and comfortable but the fit was less than flattering. Tent-like would be a generous description. In fact, when she tugged at the front, it became clear that she could fit nearly two of herself in there. Still, it could be worse.

Hermione proceeded to wash her underwear in the bowl before hanging them over the horizontal bar that ran beneath the nearest bench. Then she emptied the dirty water into the toilet bucket and was relieved to see it instantly disappear.

Good. One less thing to worry about.

Finally, she washed out the soup mug and filled it with warm water from the pitcher, slaking her thirst before returning it to the drawers with a deep sigh. It was not quite a breath of contentment—she couldn’t possibly go there. But, despite her ordeal, she found that she was starting to feel surprisingly human again—certainly better than she had in the dirty, dark cells of the dungeon.

Opening the top drawer to put away the mug, she found another surprise. Shoes. Actually clogs. They were carved from wood but each contained a cushioned inner sole. Placing them on the ground, she slipped her feet in. It was a relief to finally have something to buffer her against the bitter cold of the floor, but when she took several steps, she was perturbed by how noisily they clacked against the flags. She suspected that it was deliberate, enabling him to keep track her.

Nevertheless, she considered it better than other potential methods. Certainly his mark on her arm could serve as an effective summons, and she would prefer to avoid the use of that if at all possible.

The main issue that she was left with now were the matted tresses that she could feel tangled into skeins of lumpy knots under her fingers. Her hair was horrible. And whilst it was a problem that she could easily fix, in fact she could have cleaned herself and her clothes without any difficulty at all, she never would. Indeed, as soon as she had been captured, she had vowed to do nothing that might arouse suspicion about just how much wandless magic she could perform. It was her wild card. And she would be holding it very close to her chest until the very last.

So her hair remained a mess. Her underwear remained wet. Her clogs remained cloggy. But she treated herself to a leisurely tour of the bookshelves that lifted her in a way that nothing else could. His collection was mind-boggling. There were so many that she wanted to peruse, and many that she did, just fleeting snippets in case he were to suddenly arrive. Would he allow her read them? Even just one?

She supposed that he might be more willing to acquiesce on something less important than the old and rare texts that adorned the vast majority of his shelves—a work of fiction perhaps. But there were none. At least not until she arrived at the small shelf that sat by his desk. Her index finger halted upon a cracked, black spine. Edgar Allan Poe. No real surprise. Then Robert Louis Stevenson's, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Hermione smirked to herself. That was hardly a work of fiction in Snape’s case. As she congratulated herself on the clever jibe, even if it was only in her own head, her hand froze.

Then she slowly plucked it out.

Well worn. Well loved.

‘The Wind in the Willows’.

Fingertips tracing over the cheerful cover, her eyes returned to the door to his chambers.

She stared hard at it. As though she could somehow see through to the man within.

Then she murmured. As though he could somehow hear.

“Who are you?”

***

“I do not recall offering the use of my laboratory as a drying station for . . . .”

Hermione opened her eyes in time to see the dark wizard give an angry swipe of his hand, sending her underwear sailing over to land on her bed. She quickly snatched both items up and shoved them under the blanket.

He started banging things around, refusing to look at her.

“Get up.”

Wriggling furiously, Hermione managed to pull on her knickers which were thankfully dry, although she was unsure of exactly how long she had been asleep. Her bra would have to wait but it wasn’t like its absence would cause a problem. The dress left practically everything to the imagination except, perhaps, for the tell-tale signs that she did, in fact, possess a body of indeterminate shape and size.

He glared at her then, making her worry that he was reading her thoughts.

He wasn’t.

She would have felt it.

Sliding quickly out of bed, she slipped on her clogs, thankful for the fact that she’d used the toilet in the night and her bladder was feeling reasonably intact.

She was thirsty, and hungry, but decided it would be better to stay on his good side. Or his less bad side. Whatever it was that he really possessed.

“Yes, Professor.” She nodded, indicating that she was ready.

He stopped mid-clang, holding a small cauldron in his hand.

“You will call me Master. Is that clear?”

“Yes . . . Master.”

His gaze lingered upon her as though he had something more to say. Instead he banged the cauldron on the bench before summoning another. There were now six lined up in a row.

“What is it that you would have me do?” she asked, then added, ‘Master’, in case it was required.

He glanced at her again, as though detecting a hint of derision. She lowered her head, attempting to look suitably unassuming.

“I will be brewing a batch of sleeping draught. Collect the appropriate ingredients from the storeroom.”

She took a tentative step forward before pointing to the far door. “In there?”

“Obviously.”

Without further hesitation, she clopped her way across the room, finding the storeroom door unlocked.

The room’s interior was far bigger than she had expected, and extremely well organised. Storage jars and baskets for dried ingredients were on the left, in front of which were hanging a large set of brass scales. Vats and dispensers of various coloured solutions were at the far end. The right held pickled ingredients and those stored in oil, as well as a transparent humid-chamber for fresh ingredients. There was also a large chest on the floor that she pulled open to reveal neatly stacked containers of frozen ingredients. Spare jars, bottles and vials were up high on the right.

Aware that the sleeping draught required lavender, Hermione immediately went in search of it, finding the flower in both dry and fresh varieties. She selected the fresh lavender from the humid-chamber, and also pulled out a number of sprigs of valerian. It took a little longer to find the jar of Flobberworm mucus, as it was hidden behind a number of other ‘creature extractions’. Then she carried all three back into the laboratory, setting them at the end of the bench where Snape stood.

He didn’t look up.

“I’d like you to take an inventory of what we currently have and what must be ordered.”

“For the whole storeroom?” She balked. Surely it would be easier for him to do such a thing. He was familiar with all of the ingredients and how they had been arranged. And he would have records of everything that had been ordered to date.  

“Are you incapable of counting?”

“No, but I—”

“Do you have more important matters to attend to?”

The fierce furrow of his brow and the subtle flexion of his long fingers made her take notice.

“No . . . Master.”

“Then I suggest that you make a start . . . immediately.”

She placed a hand upon the bench directly before him. “I will need parchment . . . and a quill.”

He stared at her hand but didn’t look any further. “On my desk.”

Dragging her hand away, she left, collecting both from the desk before returning to the storeroom.

It was difficult to know where to start.

Scanning the shelves, she decided that the dry ingredients were probably easiest. They were clearly labelled and she could weigh them using the scales.

Scribing neat lines on the parchment, she wrote the names of the first few ingredients and then set about weighing them.

It wasn’t long before Hermione found herself totally engrossed in the process, each basket and jar providing a new visual, tactile and olfactory thrill. She had always enjoyed poking through the ingredients but she could now paw at them to her heart’s content, allowing each to trickle deliciously through her fingers.

When she’d finished those in front of her, she kicked off her clogs and climbed onto the bottom shelf to reach the baskets at the top. There were some really interesting items up there. She found bundles of dried cuttlefish, seahorses and sea urchins that she was delighted to find smelled less of decay and more of the sea. Then there was a basket filled with sets of desiccated wings—bats and gargoyles, even dragon whelps. The next basket she pulled down was filled with shiny beetle carapaces. They were most unusual. Some were blood-red and others a burnt orange colour. Were they the same species? Or had they been accidentally mixed together?

She decided to check.

With the basket tucked under one arm, staring thoughtfully at the contents, she approached Snape from behind, touching him lightly on the back of the elbow. “Professor . . .”

He stiffened. Then growled, “What?!”

“Sorry.” She suddenly remembered herself. “I mean, Master.”

Then she stepped around him, placing the basket on the bench. “I just thought I’d check what the situation is with these beetles. It looks like they might be—”

She stopped.

Her gaze had drifted to his hands. It seemed that he had been chopping ingredients with a sharp scalpel. Now there was blood welling out of what appeared to be a deep cut in his thumb.

“I’m so sorry!” she gasped, immediately reaching out to touch the wrist of his injured hand. “I didn’t mean—”

“Leave . . . it,” he snarled through clenched teeth, jerking his arm away before tucking his thumb into his palm as though it weren’t injured. “Where are your shoes?”

“They’re . . . I took them off to—”

“Leave them on . . . at all times.”

Hermione stepped back a pace. “I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

“Stop . . . apologising.” His dark eyes flashed as he turned his back on her and strode away.

She returned to the storeroom with the basket. Staring at the bloody carapaces she wondered at how a man like Snape, the ultimate spy, could be so terribly jumpy. Perhaps he wasn’t used to having another person in his space. Regardless, it seemed that she had been right about the purpose of the clogs. Slipping them back on, she proceeded to work her way through the rest of the dried ingredients.

Sometime later she heard him cry out. “Come here!”

It sounded urgent, strained.

She rushed out with parchment and quill in hand.

His fist, the one that had been injured, was curled into a painful knot. But that didn’t seem to be the root of his problem. He grasped his forearm with his other hand, hissing as though in pain.

“I must go. You will need to complete the draught.”

“Of course,” she responded earnestly. “I have almost finished itemising the dried ingredients.” She placed the parchment in front of him.

Snape stared at it. She’d done a good job. Exceptional, in fact.

She looked up at him, her eyes full of hope, even concern, clearly desperate to please him.

As his Dark Mark screamed again, he lifted his hand and hit her hard across the face. She toppled over, sending a cauldron flying, contents splattering across the floor.

When she looked back at him, blood trickling from her nose, he took in the shock, the hurt, the fear and betrayal, committing it to memory.

He had seen the likes of it before. He’d ruminated over that expression so often that he thought he’d be immune to it by now.

Who knew if she understood?

It was of little consequence anyway.

“Clean it up,” he ordered, before pushing himself upright and heading for the door.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Severusss,” Voldemort’s quiet acknowledgement was sufficient to send a warning prickle through Snape’s scalp, even before he’d managed to close the door to the meeting room.

He was the last to arrive. The rest of the Death Eaters regarded him with a mixture of interest and snidery, while the dark lord’s hands rose to clamp expectantly on either side of the table, as though he were preparing to pick it up and throw it.

“So kind of you to join ussss.” The serpentine hiss that issued from Voldemort’s mouth chilled and mocked in equal measure. Clearly his surprisingly reasonable mood from the day before had all but evaporated.

Snape knew then that he had judged the circumstances correctly.

“Pleassse, take a ssseat.”

Snape’s gaze flickered around the few empty chairs at the table.

“Beside me.” Voldemort tapped his index finger in a slow, deliberate rhythm as he ran his pale tongue with excruciating languor along the cracked ridge of his bottom lip.

“Yes, my lord.” Snape nodded but his movements remained unhurried. It would not pay to appear anxious.

He took his seat.

The room was as quiet as a church, all eyes upon him.

“It has come to my attention,” Voldemort’s gaze roamed over those seated on either side of him, settling upon the faces of those who had obviously been responsible for divulging whatever information he was about to reveal, “that the Mudblood slave did not spend the evening in the dungeons. It seems that you have taken it upon yourself to provide private accommodation. Is that the case?” 

“My lord.” Snape’s eyes jagged to Lucius who smirked and crossed his arms as though enjoying the prospect of seeing how he could possibly talk his way out of this. “I considered it an effective means of ensuring that the considerable potion-brewing workload could be covered without having to adhere to the schedule of the dungeon keeper who, in my opinion, is little more than an indolent lout.”

Snape had found that attack was often the best defence in such situations.

“I am not interested in your views on the work ethic of the dungeon keeper.” Voldemort’s eyes narrowed. He was not buying it. “You will agree that this appears to be very much a case of preferential treatment.”

“I can assure you, my lord, that this represents nothing of the—”

“Silence.” The dangerously restrained delivery, the subtle rise of one finger, held more gravity than if he had shouted. “You will now show me . . . the truth.”

Inclining his head, Voldemort focused his scarlet gaze on the dark wizard. Snape’s hand curled into a tight fist in his lap but he kept his mind open, allowing his master to delve inside.  

Even though he was prepared, Voldemort moved through the labyrinth of his mind at such high velocity that Snape often found it difficult to keep up. However, there was also an advantage to the speed with which the dark lord searched, in that he was effectively forced to apply a filter to separate out the significant events from the multitude of other thoughts, images, sensations and emotions that existed. Voldemort’s preference was for occasions with the highest frequency of angst, tension and turmoil and, since he was moving chronologically, he found the episode from the previous day first.

Snape experienced exactly what Voldemort saw.

She looks at the white dress that he has thrown her, allowing it to dangle with disdain from her fingertips.

“I hate you.” She scowls.

Then he rushes at her, clamping his hand around her throat. The blood pools in her face. She shudders, on the verge of collapse.

Voldemort grinned. “Perhaps I have underestimated you, Severussss.”

Snape inclined his head stiffly. He couldn’t afford to appear too relieved that the manipulation had worked. It had taken hours of intensive focus to subtly change the original memory. Her ‘thank you’ no longer existed. Nor did the look of genuine gratitude that had accompanied it.

Snape had developed the technique over the course of years, working on the principle that memories are never static, that they change each time that they are remembered. By continuously recalling and subtly changing the way his memories were represented, he was able to make permanent alterations to them that were small enough to defy detection.

Voldemort had moved on. He was again soaring through Snape’s mind, ruffling through the insignificant and mundane before happening upon the event that had occurred earlier, just prior to his departure from the laboratory. There had been insufficient time after the incident for further manipulation, but mercifully it required none. It was perfect.

Voldemort’s grin broadened, and then a rare chuckle emerged. “You really have committed fully to this, haven’t you?”

“My Lord.” Snape delivered another subtle bow. “I will see to it that the Mudblood fully understands the magnitude and consequences of her indiscretions. She will learn to serve us well.”

Voldemort’s grin dropped away. “We shall see.”

Snape inclined his head again, wishing he hadn’t pushed quite so hard. “Indeed. When my lord deems it so.”

“Won’t you tell us, my lord?” Bellatrix’s whine pierced the silence. “Has he done her yet or not?”

Voldemort’s lip curled a little. “Not.”

“Amateur,” Lucius muttered from across the table. “My Lord, perhaps if I could—”

Voldemort raised a hand to silence Lucius.

“I have confidence, after viewing the events of the past day, that Severus is more than capable of making the Mudblood submit.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Severus murmured, his icy gaze not deviating from Lucius, who was glaring just as coldly at him. “Now, if you will excuse me, I must see to your other requirements.”

“Of course.” Voldemort gestured urbanely toward the door. “Do not let us keep you.”

There was a barb there. Another one. But Severus had no intention of subjecting himself to any further scrutiny.

With a courteous bow, he pushed his chair back and exited.

***

Hermione jumped when he entered, spilling a little of the draught mixture onto the bench. She had filled twenty-three bottles with the contents of the five remaining cauldrons so far, and considered that she should have enough to fill another seven—if she could avoid spilling any more.

He was moving quietly, shifting objects around behind her. There was the scrape of a stool. The clink of metal.

“Perhaps you would like to take your meal now?”

Hermione turned, still holding the handles of a hot cauldron with two small cloths.

He had laid a place with food, drink and cutlery at the end of a bench.

Was that where he had gone? The kitchens?

His exit had certainly been more dramatic than such an errand warranted. Half of her face was still hot and aching from the blow. It had been totally unprovoked. As had the previous. Clearly he was trying to confuse and overwhelm her, lashing out in an attempt to keep her off-kilter. However, she had lived with extreme uncertainty for many months. And had encountered evil in a multitude of shocking forms.

Her main concern at that point was survival. And keeping out of his way seemed like the best way of ensuring that.

“I’d like to finish here first, Master, if you will allow me?”

Snape paused, appraising her for a moment before nodding. “As you wish.”

Then he headed into his chambers, closing the door more gently than on previous occasions.

Hermione proceeded to fill the remaining potion bottles before placing the dirty cauldrons in a sink. There was no running water, so Snape would either need to Scourgify them or cast a spell to enable the taps to run. Either way, she was done for now. And she was starving.

Propping herself on the stool, she picked up her fork and speared a piece of carrot. There were also several slices of some sort of roasted meat, probably lamb, a cluster of baked potatoes and green beans with gravy. Her mouth was watering so much that she was practically dribbling each time she shovelled in another forkful. It was all so delicious that she was soon moaning with appreciation, sipping from a tall glass of water only when she could tear herself away from the food.

Then, just before she’d finished, she heard his door open again and he came out with a cup and saucer, placing it on the bench in front of her before dipping into his pocket and retrieving what turned out to be a pair of sweet biscuits. He placed these delicately on the edge of the saucer.

She didn’t look at him. She couldn’t. Not after what had happened the last time she’d faced him.

After a moment, he turned and retreated to his chambers.

Hermione sipped the tea. It was exactly as she liked it. Then she nibbled a biscuit and closed her eyes to savour the wonderful taste.

It was so tempting to relax, to simply be grateful to have received a meal, a delicious one, and a cup of tea. But who knew if this was simply another way to entice her to let her guard down, to soften her up before the next attack.

The knot in her stomach was a permanent fixture. And it reminded her to be vigilant. She could never trust this man, and he’d made it easy for her to realise that. For that, at least, she was grateful.

***

The following few days were a blur.

Hermione quickly developed a routine that had her rising early, before Snape was even up, washing herself, freshening up her dress which basically involved rubbing a solvent on the stains and some lavender and lemongrass oils into the seams to combat odours, and preparing the laboratory for brewing. Then she would work till late, labelling bottles, polishing glassware and sorting ingredients so that she could locate them at a moment’s notice.

She received two meals a day, which was plenty, and he provided a jug of fresh water so she didn’t have to drink from the pitcher that she used for cleaning. After three days, he set the taps to run so she could clean the cauldrons and glassware as needed. And on the fifth day she even managed to wash her dress late at night in one of the sinks, drying it overnight on a stool.

The long hours of work meant that her days passed quickly and the fact that she always had a task to focus on meant that she didn’t have to interact with him any more than necessary. They spoke rarely. The silence started off roaring with discomfort, mainly because she was so wary of him. But soon it began to feel surprisingly natural. He made some early demands of her, but since she was proactive and able to pre-empt much of what was required, he eventually seemed to relax a fraction. At least he didn’t hurt her again.  

On the morning of the seventh day, Snape left early and returned a couple of hours later, visibly agitated, stating that they required a triple batch of the healing potion, Skele-grow. Hermione knew that there were at least thirty bottles in the storage cupboard so she could only guess that there had been significant casualties somewhere, most likely involving the loss of limbs.

She wasn’t a violent person—at least not unless it was absolutely necessary. But this news made her heart soar. Despite Voldemort declaring victory at the end of the Battle of Hogwarts, the fight against evil had never stopped. The Resistance had been training volunteers and stockpiling weapons the entire time.

Hermione knew because she had been working with them in remote recruitment right up to the time that she was captured, managing to make all links with them disappear just in time. The fact that they had struck some sort of significant blow against Voldemort’s forces, meant that they were still strong. The thought made her smile.

“Now!” Snape’s commanding voice bellowed just behind her.

She jumped in fright, before scurrying off to collect the ingredients.

When she returned to the laboratory, he was gone, but he had left eighteen cauldrons lit and was clearly expecting her to coordinate the lot by herself. It was a vote of confidence if nothing else. Working methodically, Hermione managed to keep all of them on the go, plucking and grinding, sprinkling and stirring, timing everything to perfection.

It was only when she was about half way through that she became aware of her dress sticking uncomfortably to her back. The heat generated by so many cauldrons cooking at once, and without the natural chill of the dungeons, meant that the room was like an oven, and she was sweltering like a beef wellington in her ridiculously impenetrable dress. On top of that, each time she bent down to smell or investigate a potion, she found herself treading of the front of it.

In frustration, and seeking some small amount of relief, she tucked the front of it up, folding the hem into her knickers. It was so long that it still hung to her knees but at least allowed a small amount of freedom. Then she pulled up both sleeves and undid the top four buttons at the front until she felt she could breathe. Finally, she pinned her hair up as well as she possibly could considering its state, spearing a pair of glass stirring rods into it to keep it in place. Even then, she was so hot that she had to wipe herself with a damp cloth, hoping that the evaporation would cool her enough to keep her going.

After continuing to the next break in the recipe, she poured herself two glasses of water and downed them in quick succession before returning. She wanted to sit for a moment but there weren’t any more gaps, and so she forged on.

About three quarters of the way through, she heard the door open, but was in the middle of timing four revolutions anti-clockwise for each, and so kept her focus on the cauldron before her.

His footsteps approached and then stopped.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m about . . . three . . . four,” she counted under her breath before continuing, “I’m about three quarters of the way through these. They should only be twenty minutes longer and then I can—”

“What have you done to your clothing?”

“Oh I . . .” She glanced down then before shaking her head dismissively. “I was too hot. This place is like a furnace.”

“Fix them.”

Hermione threw a look at him before moving on to the next cauldron. “I have to do these.”

“Now.”

In irritation, she flicked her skirt out of her knickers, feeling it waft down to cling to her damp legs. Then she started turning the next one.

“And the rest.”

Hermione noisily blew a stray tendril of hair out of her face but continued to turn the cauldron.

He advanced a pace.

“Are you deaf?” he growled angrily.

Glaring at him, she shoved her sleeves back down, before bowing her head to focus on finishing the turns with absolute precision.

“And . . . the . . . buttons.” He let each word hang for dramatic effect.

It worked. She was suitably disconcerted. But she was also pissed off. If he wanted these potions done, she would have to be upright and conscious to do it.

“I would prefer to leave them,” she said, “just until I’m finished.”

“You will do them up immediately.”

“Why give me a dress with buttons if I am unable to undo them?” she cried as she turned on him. “Why not provide one without buttons at all?”

This time she didn’t even see him move. One moment she was glaring at him, the next she was spun around and propelled like a battering ram into the nearest bookshelf. Her ribs cracked against one of the shelves and she let out a gasp of pain.

Then his breath was against her neck, sliding down her skin it in hot bursts.

“Why must you question . . . everything?” he growled, his voice a throaty rasp as though wrenched from somewhere deep within.

Even as she struggled to draw breath, Hermione found herself incensed by the suggestion. Of course she questioned everything. She always had. But she had barely voiced a hint of what had passed through her head this past week. She had spared him practically all of it . . .  to avoid just this.

Holding her breath, fingers curling around the shelf that bridged her nose, she felt his large hands close around her waist.  

“Do not assume that your lack of understanding is due to an absence of reason.” Hermione’s scalp prickled as his words insinuated themselves into her ears and his fingers, pressing into the soft flesh of her belly, rolled downward toward her pelvis.

“I have warned you in the past against the unfounded regard you have for the superiority of your own intellect.”

His hands stopped their descent, flexing against her pelvic bone as though undecided whether to proceed.

Hermione gripped the shelf tighter, her knuckles popping with the effort.

Then he suddenly began a gliding ascent, hands riding the curves of her body through her dress until the pain in her ribs caused her to mewl with barely-concealed agony. He stopped just below the curve of her breasts, pressing inward, trembling. What was it . . . effort, anger, restraint?

“If you wish to survive . . . do not . . . assume . . . anything.”

His voice was so tight, so full of emotion, that at first she didn’t notice it—something hard, pressed into the small of her back like the barrel of a gun.

She knew exactly what that was.

Was this what turned him on? Pain?

Suddenly he released her, backing away.

She took the opportunity to draw some deep, desperate breaths.

Flexing his jaw, Snape quickly flicked his robes across his front before pausing to regard her.

One of her arms was wrapped around her ribs. Her forehead rested against the book spines.

One might have read it as defeat, but he knew her better than that.

She wasn’t broken.

Far from it.

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione listened to the sound of his footsteps as he moved quietly across the floor to her right. There were a series of shuffles and scrapes as she imagined him turning the remaining cauldrons. Then there were more footsteps, receding, followed by the hollow thud of a door closing. Either he had returned to his chambers or he’d left the laboratory for good.

Either way, Hermione finally felt safe to turn around, wincing as another shot of pain jagged through her side. She must have fractured a rib. Perhaps more than one. Still, she thought, bracing her arm against her side as she ventured toward the cauldrons, she’d suffered worse. Although at that time she had possessed a wand to be able to do something about it. Alas, no more.

It seemed that the Skele-grow preparations had not yet spoiled. And whilst she was sweating even more profusely than before, and the pain hadn’t abated in the slightest, she couldn’t let all of her hard work go to waste. So she continued. Her feet were leaden and her head felt like it was filled with helium as she slowly proceeded from one cauldron to the next, stirring, sniffing, adding pinches of calcium carbonate and charcoal. She seemed to lose track of time as she drifted around the room, but eventually she registered that the potions were complete, removing them from the magical heat sources, which instantly dissipated.

Feeling incredibly faint, Hermione leaned on each bench, in turn, as she made her way over to her corner. She drank straight from the water jug, letting it trickle in cool runnels down her chin and neck, welcoming the blossoming damp that crept down her chest as the heat trapped in the room continued to remain as stagnant and stifling as ever.

Swaying a little as she stood beside her bed, Hermione proceeded to unbutton her dress, her fingers trembling with the effort. She pulled the material down over one shoulder, and then the other, struggling to extract her arm from the sleeve on her injured side. When she finally had both arms clear and the dress was pooled like a deflated circus tent around her waist, she unclasped her bra with one hand and slipped it off her shoulders, sighing with relief as the pressure on her ribs lifted a little.

The bruising was already extensive. Gingerly, she ran her fingertips over the angry purple marks wondering whether she should attempt to heal the bone with wandless magic. It was a reasonably difficult spell. And she wasn’t in peak mental condition. But, most importantly, she had promised herself that she wouldn’t. Not unless it was a matter of life or death. This wasn’t.

Reaching for the jar of healing potion that had worked wonderfully well on her wrists and ankles, but was unlikely to penetrate much further than skin-deep, she unscrewed the lid, but then stopped, frozen.

He was standing right there.

Watching her.

She had no idea how long he’d been there, standing still as a statue, or from where he might have materialised, but it no longer became important when she saw him give a casual swipe of his hand, instantly plunging the entire room into darkness.

It was the first time that the torches had been fully extinguished since she had arrived. He tended, instead, to turn them down low so that they filled the room with the warm glow of a campfire throughout the night. But now, even though it was day time, the blockout of the windows was so complete that the entire room was pitch black.

The shifting darkness made her feel completely disoriented, the mounting fear sticking in her throat such that it seemed to crackle as she swallowed.

What the hell was he going to do?

She felt him even before he touched her, just his presence behind her, like static electricity but not. Magical energy. Potent. Deadly.

She stiffened, bracing herself for the attack.

But the arrival of his hands on her bare shoulders, easily spanning the curve of each, holding them, exuding a welcome coolness against the oppressive warmth, made her tightly wound muscles instantly slip a fraction despite herself.

Then, as he slowly slid down her arms to her elbows, she felt the tension recede even further until suddenly she found her head trying to rock back. She immediately snapped it upright, determined not to succumb. Lifting her elbow, he exposed her throbbing ribs. Then he brought his other hand around, encircling her with his arm to lay his palm over the entire expanse of her damaged ribcage.

She bit her bottom lip, unwilling to make a sound. But the way he now drew the hurt from deep inside her, like a poultice on an abscess, felt so raw—like he wasn’t applying healing so much as absorbing her pain—that she couldn’t manage to trap the breathy sob before it slipped past her defences.

It felt particularly infuriating because it was he who was responsible for what had happened. This was his fault. He had no right to her gratitude. But there it was, blossoming like the first buds of Spring within and through her. She had her father to thank for her resilience and her, albeit exasperating on occasions like this, tenacious optimism. She would just have to accept that it was innate, and that it was meant for her, not for the man holding her in a way she had never invited or desired.

But that resolve lasted only a few moments more as the warmth continued to flood her insides, while a fresh wave of cool relief simultaneously rolled across her skin, making her shudder with reluctant pleasure.

He might own her, her body, due to some fucked up universal disaster, but her inner world was entirely her own, impenetrable, always.

Her hair suddenly prickled. He was touching her there, tugging at it. Then she realised that she still had the stirring rods embedded in what could only be described as an untidy lump of knots. He slid one rod out. And then the other. Her hair didn’t cascade to her shoulders as it would if it had been normal hair. It simply sagged, her obstinate curls trying desperately to hold their unseemly form.

She was suddenly embarrassed by how awful it was. And how itchy and revolting it felt.

“I don’t have a hairbrush,” she muttered bitterly.

It was such a silly thing to complain about. Especially considering the sum total of horror and injustice she had been witness to, and that she had experienced firsthand.

But sometimes it was the small things that one could be undone by.

He didn’t respond but she suddenly felt his fingers trawling gently through her tresses, gradually tunnelling down to the twisted roots until her intractable crab of hair began to release its pincer-like grip on her scalp. She felt each section slowly unfurling, languorously lolling in supremely soft curls that brushed pleasantly against her neck, a sensation that she hadn’t felt in too long.

Another involuntary shiver rippled through her.

Then his fingertips burrowed back to the source and began to massage with startling precision into the lines of stress that traversed her poor, perpetually-burdened cranium. It was as though he understood how viscerally she would feel it, how deeply it would tap into her, exhuming what she had thought were irretrievably buried emotions.

That’s when she felt the hot prickle behind her eyes. It happened so rarely now that she was genuinely shocked when the tears began to fall.

She closed her eyes, each shaky exhalation seeming to drain her further until she had nothing left, not even the strength to stand. But when her legs gave way, she didn’t fall, his arm wrapped around her middle holding firm.  

In one fluid movement, he lowered her gently onto the bed before tucking her limbs in one by one.

The last thing she remembered was the blanket being drawn up to her chin.

A cool palm briefly on her forehead.

Then nothing.

***

“The shielding potions are ineffective. They must be improved, Severusss.” Voldemort held his wand casually enough between his fingertips, but the fact that it was drawn at all was sufficient for Severus to be on guard. “The damage was far greater than it should have been. Either this ‘Resistance’ is becoming more powerful. Or we are becoming weak. Which is it?”

“There are a number of possibilities,” Severus replied, keeping his voice neutral.

“Yessss,” Voldemort hissed, tapping the tip of his wand with slow deliberation against his thumb. “And how do you intend to improve our situation considering the existence of such . . . possibilities?”

“I will review the ingredients—seek to test some alternative combinations to determine if the efficacy can be improved.”

Voldemort leaned back in his chair, his slitted eyes scanning the rest of those at the table who were keeping very quiet, clearly hoping that they wouldn’t be the next to incur his wrath. “Perhaps you should have considered such alternatives beforehand? Before this incident? After all, that is your job, is it not? Or are you too busy managing the benevolence society for Mudbloods?”

Severus could see the Dark Lord’s anger building. He said nothing.

“I do not trust her,” Voldemort spat, leaning forward menacingly. “I do not trust her filthy hand in the brewing.”

Snape remained silent.

Suddenly the pale wizard seized his forearm, grinding his thumb into the spot where his Dark Mark throbbed from just being this close to him, making it flare with fire.

Snape gritted his teeth. Then the Dark Lord was inside his mind again, soaring with determination, seeking evidence.

The memories had been churning through his own mind for half the night. He now desperately hoped that they would hold.

Voldemort located the incident quickly. Her brewing. He interrupting. It probably wasn’t ideal to highlight potential brewing infractions considering the current issues. Still, it showed how quickly her transgressions were dealt with. How forcefully he was willing to impose himself.

Then it continued on to his view from the shadowed corner, watching her from under the cover of the Disillusionment spell. The deep bruising to her ribs. The fear in her eyes. Then darkness.

Voldemort snatched his hand away, regarding him with suspicion. “A blackout?”

Snape relocated his trembling fist under the table as casually as he could. “The lights are extinguished to ensure that the girl is unable to meddle with the books and equipment. The ingredients storeroom is also locked.”

“Indeed.” Voldemort’s lip curled derisively. “However, I would suggest that this could have been taken further. Your torment was petty, a ‘dry run’ at best, wouldn’t you agree?” He flexed his wand. “Perhaps you require a touch more . . . encouragement?”

Suddenly, he jabbed the tip at Severus, a blue bolt shooting out and striking the dark wizard in the chest, sending him flying backwards, chair toppling over with a crash. Even on the ground, the spell continued to wrack his body, causing him to seize and contort uncontrollably, making it almost impossible to draw breath.

As he lay ticking and twitching, painful shocks zapping through his limbs, he vaguely registered Voldemort’s growl, “Dismissed,” followed by the scrape of chairs as the other Death Eaters rose and exited the room.  

The bleary image of Lucius’ smiling face came into view above him. The blond wizard leaned down and slapped him lightly on the cheek with his hand. “I hope she’s worth it, old chap.” He smirked before stepping over him and heading for the door.

The room was almost empty when Severus felt hands grasping his arm, pulling him upright.

Draco.

Severus couldn’t even speak to thank him, still reeling from the force of the spell.

“I want to see her,” Draco murmured quietly, glancing at the door to ensure that no one was listening. “Alone.”

Severus drew himself up to his full height, glowering menacingly despite the pain.

“I won’t touch her,” Draco assured him quickly. “I promise. I just need her . . . assistance.”

Severus regarded him warily, his black eyes seeming to scope every millimetre of the younger man’s features.

It was a full minute before he delivered a reluctant nod and, turning with difficulty, staggered away.

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione woke to the sound of her stomach growling. It was no longer dark. The torches had been reinstated. However the time, once again, eluded her.

She rolled over for a better view but the room was empty. At least, that’s how it appeared. Of course, she had thought the same earlier, only to discover that he had apparently been hiding, watching her. Still, there was nothing that she could do to control his behaviour. And it certainly hadn’t turned out badly for her. She was feeling surprisingly relaxed and content. Mainly because she was no longer in pain, the room was now much cooler, and her hair was still a pillow of springy softness beneath her. None would last, but she would be doing her best to manage them better in the future.

And she would try to manage Snape better too. 

She had expected the cold austerity that he exuded on most occasions, even the short temper and violent outbursts. It was pretty much as she’d experienced him throughout her years of schooling. What she was not accustomed to were the moments of stark contrast in between, particularly the gentle, almost tender, way he had healed her.

This was a man with whom she would have to be very careful.

He was obviously deeply emotional. And he didn’t seem to have absolute control over how he responded. Whilst he might have hurt her intentionally, he seemed to be filled with guilt or regret afterwards. And she was positive that she hadn’t imagined the weight of his erection pressed against her back. He could have done something more to her when she was practically naked in his arms, in the darkness, and yet he hadn’t.

Clearly, there was more going on with him than she could currently comprehend. But the chances of him explaining it to her were basically nil. He had been a spy. He was not trusted. And he trusted no one in return. And then there was the fact that she was here as his slave. He owed her nothing. He certainly didn’t owe her a comfortable place to sleep, or the level of protection she seemed to be receiving as a result of being cosseted away in his laboratory.

She sighed, tunnelling her fingers into the roots of her hair. It was clear that she wouldn’t discover what she needed to know through conversation. She would have to watch him, his cues, more closely. And she would have to stop pushing his buttons. He had so very many of them, both externally and internally, it seemed. She would have to do her best to be more . . . conciliatory . . . or at least less obstinate. Then he might begin to let his guard down.

Her eyes finally settled upon the bench and the meal that must have been placed there while she was sleeping. Tossing back the blanket, she pulled her dress up from where it sat still pooled around her waist before slipping her arms into the sleeves and securing the buttons. Swinging her legs out of the bed, she scuffed into her clogs and stood a little unsteadily before clopping over to the bench. The metal plate cover, she found, concealed a deliciously hot mound of scrambled eggs and bacon on toast. Beside it were a cup of tea and a small Danish pastry.

Her mouth instantly flooded. That was another thing. She certainly couldn’t complain about the food. Hooking her foot around the leg of a stool, she pulled it under herself as she speared her fork into the fluffy mass of eggs. Even one meal a day would be enough if it was as delicious as this.

She had finished the entire plate, bacon rinds and all, and was half way through the Danish—sticky blueberry as it turned out—when she was surprised by a loud knock on the door.

Snape hadn’t had a visitor the entire time she had been there. She gathered that he met people somewhere else; probably to ensure that she didn’t eavesdrop on their conversation.

She stared at the door, unsure of what to do.

The knock came again.

“Are you in there, Granger?”

Draco?

Hermione slid off the stool and approached the door.

“What do you want?”

“I’m coming in, okay? So don’t . . .”

Hermione frowned. So don’t what?

There was the sound of the door being unlocked and suddenly Draco was there, glancing anxiously over his shoulder as he slipped through the gap before slamming it closed behind him.

She looked at him. He looked back.

There was no greeting that seemed appropriate for the history that had passed between them. He had helped to kill her friends, or had at least been on the side responsible. Now he was free to do as he pleased, while she was a slave. ‘Hi’, didn’t seem to quite cut it.

“You look better than I’d expected,” he said.

Hermione’s normal response would have been to eviscerate, or at least emasculate him, on the spot, but it was said without an ounce of sarcasm, or even the trace of a sneer. He was being honest. And it was true. She had just enjoyed a long rest, a huge meal—she still had Danish crumbs on her fingers to prove it—and her hair had been tamed into a far more sane arrangement, more composed than what he would have witnessed at the sorting.

And of course there was the inevitable comparison with countless others who were forced to pass their days in the hell of the dungeon cells.  

“Indeed. I have been rather . . . fortunate.”

“I’ll say.” Draco nodded, but it was with a slow thoughtfulness that put her on edge, as though he knew more about her circumstances than she did. No doubt he did.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” she asked, less able to keep the sarcasm at bay.

He snorted then, his eyes crinkling with what appeared to be genuine amusement. Clearly the easy life of the ‘unopposed’ enabled him to take such jibes with less rancour than he had in the past. 

He lifted his hand to his chin, rubbing the fine bristles with a hint of self-consciousness. “I need you to brew me a potion . . . in secret.”

Hermione crossed her arms. “What’s it for? A personality infusion? A compassion boost?”

He shook his head with a wry grin. “No. In fact, I’m not exactly sure what it’s for.”

“Well how do you expect me to brew it then?” she responded tersely.

He wiped his palm across his mouth before shoving both hands in his pockets. He was definitely looking self-conscious now.

“It’s for a . . .” His eyes flickered downward as he rocked onto his heels. “For an affliction.”

Hermione frowned. “What sort of affliction?”

He looked at her then from under knitted brows, biting his bottom lip as though unwilling to say more. Finally he sighed in resignation. “I’ve got something going on with my . . . you know, my genital . . . area.”

Hermione stared at him, bewildered. Draco wanted her to help him with a dick problem?

“I’m not quite sure—”

“It was that girl . . . that slave,” he blurted out, the one my father gave me after the sorting. “She gave it to me and I don’t know what it is.”

He was looking worried now, jaw working fretfully as he gauged her response.

Hermione raised a hand in an attempt to appease him. There didn’t seem to be any need to make him feel worse, even though she didn’t imagine he would afford her the same consideration.

“So you had sex with her?” she said.

“Of course. That’s what they’re for,” he snapped, before seeming to catch himself, looking away from her with embarrassment.

Hermione did her best to ignore it.

“And what are the symptoms?”

“It’s just . . .” He gestured toward his groin. “It’s just . . . you know . . . sore.”

“Sore how?” Hermione responded evenly, trying to quell her mounting frustration. “Is there pain on urination? Is there a discharge? Are there blisters?”

Draco stared at her, as though seeing her for the first time. “How do you know so much about knob rot?”

Hermione felt the twinge of a smile on her lips. But she didn’t intend to share it with him. “Just answer the questions,” she stated drily.

“Well there’s not . . . there’s no blisters.”

“That’s fortunate, as you may have been stuck with it for life.”

He looked down again with a mixture of fear and disgust. “It’s painful when I . . . pee . . . and there’s some . . . some stuff coming out of it.”

Hermione strode over to a shelf then and pulled out a book. “It sounds like Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea. Both are bacterial. I could make one potion that addresses both.” She started flipping through pages.

Draco released a sigh of relief. “Yes . . . can you?”

“I can . . .” she responded, before snapping the book closed with a loud thud. “But I won’t.” He looked at her then, aghast. “Unless you do something for me in return.”

His brows lowered as he eyed her warily. “What?”

“I want to know what’s going on. I want information.”

“Voldemort would kill me,” Draco hissed, glancing behind himself as though the Dark Lord were about to suddenly materialise.

“Nothing high level,” Hermione assured him, advancing a couple of paces. “I just want to know who’s here. Who’s still alive.”

Draco shook his head uneasily. “If he were to find out . . .”

“Who’s going to tell him?” Hermione asked. “Me?”

Draco stood with his hands on his hips thinking, occasionally looking groin-ward. Finally he acquiesced. “Okay, what do you want to know?”

“How many are in the dungeon cells?”

“About . . .” Draco looked upward, recalling. “I’d say about twenty-five now.”

“Now?” Hermione reiterated.

“Some have died.”

Hermione drew a deep breath but couldn’t allow the wretchedness of the situation to stop her, she had to know. “Who are they? Men? Women?”

“All women. The men were killed.”

Hermione put a hand to her face, rubbing her forehead as she absorbed the harrowing news.

“Who are the women?”

“They’re young. Our year and down mainly. A few Muggles too. Most of the older ones were killed.”

“Who are they? What are their names?”

“There’s . . .” Draco shook his head. “I’m not . . . we don’t call them by their names.”

“But they have fucking names.” Hermione’s voice rose. “At least they did little more than a fucking year ago.”

“I know . . . but I can’t.” Draco huffed, rubbing his face as well. “There’s Katie Bell . . . And Hannah Abbott . . . and some others.”

“I want their names,” Hermione stated fiercely.

“I’ll get them,” Draco replied hurriedly. “I’ll give them to you when I get the potion.”

Hermione glared at him, the blood thudding like a death knell in her ears. But she couldn’t afford to get him off-side. This was the only chance she had of finding out.

“Fine.” She turned away from him. “I’ll start working on it today.”

She stood, waiting for the sound of him leaving. But it didn’t come.

She turned back. “If that’s all?”

“You should probably know that Snape is being targeted.” Draco delivered the news in a low voice, as though afraid of being heard.

“By whom?”

“By ‘you know whom’.” He gave a knowing nod.

“Why?”

“Because of you.”

“Me?” Hermione was taken aback.

“Voldemort thinks he hasn’t done enough to you.”

“Enough? I’ve been beaten black and blue.”

“Yes, but he hasn’t . . .”

“Hasn’t what?”

Draco looked embarrassed again. “He has to fuck you. He has to make you submit.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s part of it. That’s how the slaves are broken.”

Hermione crossed her arms defensively across her chest. Things were starting to make a lot more sense.

“By ‘targeted’ do you mean that he has been hurt?”

“Yes.”

She chewed her bottom lip. If Snape was being hurt to hurt her then it was serious. She combed her fingers through her hair, trying to think.

“I need something else,” she announced suddenly.

“What now?” Draco snapped irritably. “Surely I’ve given you enough.”

She raised her index finger, as though making some sort of concession. “Yes, but not only am I willing to make the potion for you. But I promise I won’t tell Snape about it.”

“I didn’t expect you to,” Draco growled angrily. “I told you it had to be done in secret.”

“Well now you know for sure that I won’t be telling,” she quipped back.

“Fuck.” Draco scowled. “What do you want?”

“I need some books from the library.”

“On what?”

“Sex.”

Draco’s brows drew together in puzzlement. “You’re not a . . . a virgin?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “No . . . I just need a bit more . . .”

“It wasn’t Ron, was it?” Draco looked at her with a mixture of surprise and disgust.

“Shut up,” she snapped, turning away abruptly. “Just get them. Make sure they’re . . . detailed.”

“I really don’t think you’re going to need them,” Draco informed her, heading for the door. “You just have to lie down and let him—”

“Goodbye.”

Draco shrugged to himself.

His hand was on the knob when she stopped him again.

“Why ask me? Why trust me with something this . . . personal?”

He turned back. “Because you’re the only one with access to Snape’s ingredients.” She regarded him for a while before raising an eyebrow in acknowledgement. “And because you already think I’m a dickhead.”

The hint of a smile touched her lips.

“I’m not one to fly in the face of popular opinion,” she responded evenly.

He snorted again, finally admitting to himself that this was one of the reasons he had wanted to see her. He hadn’t had a decent roasting like this in a long time.

With a shake of his head, he opened the door and slipped away.

As soon as the door had closed, Hermione crouched down, buried her face in her hands, and wept.

 

 

Chapter Text

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.

 

 

Chapter Text

He had recovered. Or so it seemed, as Hermione watched Snape moving around the laboratory without a hint of the hobble that had troubled him the day before. She continued polishing vials, following him from under her eyelashes, wondering why he appeared to be collecting random ingredients on the far bench. There didn’t seem to be an obvious relationship between any of them; certainly not a typical potion that could be brewed.

He looked up and caught her watching. Quickly placing the current vial on a tray, she picked up another and peered intently at it, as though buffing it to a perfect shine were the primary purpose of her existence.

The truth was that she had several slightly more important things to consider in that moment. One of them was how to approach the immeasurably fraught situation with the man prowling about on the far side of the room. The entire dynamic was so far outside of her realm of experience that she wondered how she could possibly hope to not only execute it successfully, but to assure an outcome that would be to her advantage. She didn’t have a well thought-out strategy. However, she did have some knowledge about how men thought and behaved, and was hopeful that Snape would possess at least some elements common to the men that she knew. Or had known.

The sex itself wasn’t really her prime concern. She’d had sex before. It just hadn’t been particularly lengthy or satisfying and, in reality, didn’t give her much of an insight into what all the fuss was about. However, it was clearly powerful, and damaging enough to use as a weapon. Her main objective had thus become working out how to engage with him in the manner that was expected, but to somehow remain as intact as possible throughout. He had already demonstrated how volatile and physically aggressive he could be. Despite that, and the fact that her punishment had been mandated by Voldemort, she still considered herself extremely fortunate to have landed the challenging and prickly wizard rather than someone like Lucius Malfoy. Now she hoped that, rather than seeking to break her, he might actually be willing to grant her a small amount of leeway. Perhaps even a smidgen of control.

The plan was ambitious. Perhaps foolhardy. But if she was going to be of any use to anyone, it was essential that she—

“There are several ingredients missing.”

Hermione jolted a little as his firm, authoritative voice rang out.

Shit.

Somehow he’d already managed to identify the slight irregularity in the stores as a result of what she had used to brew Draco’s potions.

Swallowing hard, she placed the vial and cloth on the bench before scuffing across the room to where he stood expectantly, deep frown lines etched into his brow. Clenching and unclenching her fists, her mind raced furiously as she tried to work out what to do.

She could claim innocence. But he would know.

She could tell him the truth. But she had promised Draco that she wouldn’t. And Snape would probably lash out, punishing her for her secrecy.

Or she could simply . . . ignite the fuse. And hope she didn’t get too badly burned.

“Can you explain?” he asked, eyebrows arching menacingly over his probing glare. 

“I’m sorry, Master.” She bowed her head slightly. “I’m afraid that I spilled some ingredients yesterday. They were contaminated, so I disposed of them.”

His frown deepened. She drew a shaky breath, attempting to strengthen her resolve. “I wonder if . . .” She swallowed, brushing her damp palms against her thighs. “Perhaps it would be best if you . . . punished me?”

One of his dark eyebrows twitched up in shock. She felt herself beginning to die on the inside but the only way this would work was if she committed fully. Looking appropriately contrite but, she hoped, just a fraction seductive, she grasped the skirt of her voluminous dress and began to slowly hitch it up.

If he was going to stop her, it would be now, as her bare legs were revealed, inch by inch. After all, it was far more gratuitous than the brief glimpses of forearm and neck that had drawn his wrath previously.

But he didn’t.

He simply watched, his intense black gaze moving over her with needle-point precision as she bunched more and more material within the grasp of her trembling fingers. When she had pulled the hem up so far that her knickers were exposed, she turned and leaned over the bench, sliding her feet apart in an effort to brace herself against whatever he may wish to throw at her.

Biting her bottom lip, she lowered her head. And waited.

Snape paused to gather his thoughts, eyes roving over the firm contours of her muscular legs, the jut of her buttocks, already too proud, too defiant, despite her suggestive intimations.

It would please him to touch her. As he had earlier. In the dark. He could simply reach out and run a single digit around the fine lace that curved across her right buttock. His skilled fingertips could slither down her taut hamstrings, feeling every twitch, every infinitesimal tremble. His hyper-sensitive skin could savour her silken warmth, her soft down, her musky damp.

He sighed inwardly. Unfortunately, this was not an occasion that would allow for a delicate touch, or for any semblance of finesse or restraint. And judging by the boldness of her stance, she knew it. It seemed that she had finally worked out what had to be done.

Reaching out, he slipped his fingers into the back of her knickers and wordlessly split the seams before tossing the remnant away like a rag.

Hermione closed her eyes. It seemed that he had taken the bait. Now what?

Whack!

A stinging blow exploded across her right buttock, causing her hips to slam against the edge of the bench.

Before she could draw breath, another came. And another. She bit her lip so hard that she tasted blood. His hand felt like it was made of toughened leather . . . with spikes—not at all as she had remembered it when he had healed her. He moved to her other cheek, building each excruciating blow with clockwork precision until her skin felt like it was being flayed off.

She had been through so much in the past two years. Endured far worse. But for some reason this simple spanking hurt like she was being thrashed by the devil himself, striking her so deeply and forcefully that she wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that both of her cheeks had ruptured. Even when he suddenly stopped to rub a surprisingly gentle palm over each, and it became clear that they were still very much intact, the constant screaming, like beacons of pain, continued.

Even though she had encouraged him to punish her, this wasn’t working out how she had expected at all. She definitely wasn’t in control. Her position over the bench, and the sense of wrong-doing that each blow implied, might have had something to do with it. Tendrils of their fraught past seemed to be twisting around them, drawing them into their old, challenging dynamic. Student and Professor. Her desperately desiring approval; he determined to disapprove. The overriding sense of unfairness. His treatment of her had always been unfair. He had been unfair to all three of them. She, Harry and Ron. Now dead.

She stuffed a fist into her mouth, moaning with a mixture of agony, despair and fury.

Snape’s hand halted mid-slap. He gazed at the angry red of her cheeks. There had been no softening of her stance. She was still working against him, actively opposing each and every blow. It would continue to hurt until she gave him control. But whether she was capable of doing that, the stupidly proud Gryffindor, was another matter.

Stepping to the side, he moved in closer, careful to focus his gaze only on her mottled backside. But at the same time, he reached out, sliding the fingers of his free hand up her neck and into the roots of her hair. The effect was immediate, a visible melting of the tension through her shoulders, along her back, and down through her buttocks and thighs.

The next blow was met with a slight elevation as she stiffened, but his continued massaging saw her gradually sink back. The subsequent ones produced smaller and smaller reactions until he delivered a slap that resulted in no response whatsoever. He followed with a soothing palm that ventured lower, gliding along the downy edge of her crevices before riding up to ease the tension with a delicate fingertip at the ridge of her tailbone. Another blow and her breathing pattern began to change. He could hear it, the choppy, erratic gushes becoming slower and more regular. The next time his palm landed, she absorbed the impact with an instinctive roll of her hips and he couldn’t help the smile that lifted the corner of his mouth. He would need to manipulate that memory for the benefit of . . . others.

He continued until she lay draped, practically boneless.

His hand had been struck numb, thudding like a slab of useless meat. It would help if he rubbed it against her but he couldn’t afford to diminish the visual impact of what he had achieved. 

“Now don’t do it again,” he muttered, tucking his hand into his pocket with some difficulty.

She slowly lifted her head and turned to look at him. Her face was flushed, eyelids at half-mast, lips slack.

It could be read as the mindless anguish of the broken.

He knew better.

“I won’t,” she replied, a statement absolutely lacking in conviction. Another he would have to work on.

Then she pushed herself to standing, swaying a little.

He withdrew his hand from his pocket, ready to catch her.

But she didn’t fall. Instead she blinked a few times, her misty gaze clearing surprisingly quickly. Before he knew it, she was suddenly standing ramrod straight, lips pressed into a firm line. Then she stepped forward, reached out a hand and boldly grasped the bulge of his erection.

“Perhaps you’ll let me take care of this, Master?” she asked, looking up at him with a dangerous level of determination. Didn’t she know how it would be perceived? Feeling the panic starting to rise, he made to push her away, but she pressed closer. “I’ll do anything,” she murmured, squeezing him gently through his trousers. “To survive.”

He hesitated. There was something that grabbed him, more insistent even than her tenacious fist. The way she delivered those words, the desperate conviction in her voice, her eyes, he found surprisingly entrancing. It was most definitely an act. A performance. But not one intended for the Dark Lord. It was for him. He couldn’t help but wonder what she was planning. He didn’t trust her in the slightest—she was far too clever not to be plotting something. So it seemed foolhardy to grant her any leeway whatsoever. But . . . then again . . . he had taken her for a reason.

She smiled, a sultry hitch of her lips, a faint shuttering of her lashes over warm chocolate, pseudo-innocent eyes. She was good. And whilst he didn’t believe any of it, not for a second, he was interested to know exactly how good she could be.

“Show me,” he said.

Hermione held his gaze. She was still floating, somewhat dissociated from the burning pain in her buttocks, dissociated even from the organ whose contours should have been sending some serious warning signals to her brain to cease and desist.

A brief exploration by her probing fingers had been enough for her to realise that she was dealing with something of very different proportions to what she had handled in the past. It should have scared her off immediately, but she was emboldened by the fact that he seemed willing to grant her at least one opportunity to prove herself. She had to make it count. And then there was the fact that she happened to have been granted just a little inspiration—he wasn’t the only one who was aroused, and she wasn’t beyond using that small amount of leverage, no matter how ill-gained.

Her biggest asset in all this, however, was the fact that she genuinely saw this as the best opportunity to ensure her own survival, and perhaps that of the others. That, and the fact that she could act. She was good at it. She always had been.

Clamping her bottom lip between her teeth, looking hesitant and just a fraction naughty, she grasped the top button of his fly, and pulled it open.

It was time to find out exactly what she was dealing with.

 

 

Chapter Text

Even though she was responsible for releasing it, when Snape’s cock suddenly emerged, it took Hermione by surprise, springing out from under his frock coat like some sort of albino python, ready to strike. She tracked its bobbing motion, eventually catching the pale shaft in her fist, which made her hands look comically small in comparison, like those of a child. Admittedly, she had small hands but Snape’s penis really was rather intimidating. She found it surprising, as she would have expected a man constantly seeking to deride and dominate to be doing so in an effort to compensate for a lack of something substantial elsewhere. Clearly that wasn’t the motivation in his case.

She stared at it now, trying to work out exactly what she was looking at. There weren’t a lot of moving parts, of course, but the book she’d read had described different regions, with different sensitivities. Despite the considerable size . . . and length, it was hard to tell the absolute detail from where she currently stood. She would need to take a closer look.

Wincing from the throb in her buttocks, she bent with some difficulty before dropping to her knees.

What was she doing? Snape frowned as he watched her handling his cock like some sort of alien creature. She tilted it up, looking with interest at the underside before moving the skin of the shaft back and forth and rubbing her thumb up over the head.

Hadn’t she ever seen a cock before? Was it possible that she was still a—

A groan erupted from him as she suddenly, without warning, engulfed him, drawing the most sensitive region of his body, the part that had not seen the interior of another person in a desperately long time, into the smouldering hot cavern of her mouth. Considering his extended period of abstinence, the intensity of his response should not have surprised him. But it did.

When his eyes finally decided to return from the recesses of his orbits he found her watching him like a hawk. Her actions didn’t appear to be particularly adept, but there was a piercing determination to her gaze. Perhaps she considered that will might be able to triumph over skill in this particular undertaking? But then he felt her tongue tracking slowly, methodically along the seam on the underside of his cock, over and over, making him shudder and groan, before she probed forward to flick at his frenulum.

And suddenly he needed more air. Urgently.

When his lips parted to allow him to suck in a rapid breath, he saw her eyebrow arch faintly, her brown eyes glinting, as though she had uncovered some significant clue. Her gaze intensified. And so did the flicking, making his cock jump like it was being shocked. He drew more frantic breaths, trying to work out what he should be thinking, how he should be feeling, wondering how all this would appear on the rerun . . . to the Dark Lord’s critical eye.

But before he could consider it further, her hand was there, sliding back and forth over his shaft. Her movements were initially erratic, without any sense of timing. Sometimes she twisted, sometimes she squeezed, moving from the base, up to his head and back. It felt more like a cock survey than any attempt to effectively stimulate. But then she suddenly seemed to focus, working with determination at the spot below his head, rolling her thumb along the underside and jerking with such an effective rhythm, that he couldn’t help wondering whether she might have been playing him the whole time.

His groans were becoming more desperate. He wanted to touch her, to bury his fingers in her hair. But it was difficult to know how it would look, especially since he didn’t feel like he was in complete control of his actions. Indeed, he wasn’t the one in control of this exchange at all. It was her. And she was doing an astonishingly good job of it.

There was another explanation for her apparent skill, of course—one that happened to concern and entrance him in equal measure. It was possible that she was simply learning all of this on the go—that everything she was doing was purely a culmination of a very rapid process of trial and error, constantly testing the relationship between stimulus and response, gradually honing and refining . . . until this.

His gaze swam as he watched her rocking slowly, hypnotically, rolling his throbbing head around the insides of her mouth. Then she dipped the tip of her tongue into his slit and he felt the urgent need to spend himself, to discharge violently into her. It wasn’t helped by the fact that her other hand had tracked back and, after sliding carefully along the seam of his balls, had arrived at a spot beyond. She felt around, as though searching for something, before applying pressure and starting to massage gently. He felt the sensation relaying directly into his prostate, making him vocalize even more emphatically, a guttural rumble that echoed around the laboratory.

It seemed impossible that she could have worked out such a manoeuvre by experimentation alone, but she had always been an extremely quick learner—the most intelligent student he’d ever taught . . . easily. And now it seemed that she was applying that exceptional talent to the task of . . . cock sucking. Or perhaps she would call it survival.

And when she suddenly opened her throat and thrust forward, burying him as deeply as she could, he was left in no doubt about how desperate she was to ensure it.

The insides of her throat squeezed reflexively around him, clamping on, slick and hot and wet. He moaned and threw out a hand, clamping onto the bench nearby, barely able to contain what felt like molten magma bubbling furiously inside, desperate to erupt.

In reality, he should have been pushing her even harder. He should have grabbed her by the hair and forced himself further into her. But she was already so fiercely determined to pleasure him, and that alone was intoxicating enough. This wasn’t the usual way that a Master took their slave, but it wasn’t something he currently wished to interfere with. Not when he happened to be enjoying one of the most extraordinary blow jobs of his life.

She pulled back, still stroking him as she drew a few quick breaths.

He was so close. Just a few more jerks and he would be—

“Master, please give it to me.” Her voice was husky, her lips slick with saliva, cinched into a pout that he intellectually knew was all an act, but that his cock bought hook, line and sinker. “I need it . . .” she whimpered, speeding up her fist and parting her swollen lips.

His knuckles turned white as he felt himself start to jerk. And then he came, surges of hot lust pumping out with another deep, desperate moan. This time it was a cry of release, faltering but renewed by each forceful burst of seed into the waiting cavern of her mouth. He watched as his cock reared and jerked in her small fist, the surprising volume that emerged into her, the thick coating of it across her tongue. But she waited patiently for him, gathering it into a pool until she had pumped him to completion, savouring the final drops with the tip of her tongue as though she didn’t wish to waste a single one. Then, eyelids fluttering a fraction as though in pleasure, she swallowed.

It was a performance like no other. One that he shouldn’t allow himself to remember, but that would be difficult to change, at least sufficiently enough to pretend that it was anything other than it was. And whilst the ripples of pleasure continued to shudder through is body, he was under no illusions that what he had allowed her to do was risky. In fact, it had the potential to jeopardise everything.

***

“Perhaps the Mudblood is finally starting to know her place.” Voldemort’s lips peeled back into a macabre grin as he swam through the memory of Snape brutalising Hermione’s backside.

Severus sat stock still, waiting for what was coming next. When the Dark Lord arrived at the vision of Hermione vigorously consuming his cock, his grin dropped away.

“It seems that I may have spoken too soon.” He glowered darkly. “A slave should never be granted such control.”

Lucius’ eyes widened, glinting like hard shards of silver as he glared at Snape.

Severus reached for his glass, slowly drawing up a mouthful of red wine before swallowing it in a single, nonchalant gulp. “Whether she forces herself or I force her is immaterial at this point,” he stated coolly, hoping to project just the right amount of confidence about his own decision making.

Voldemort continued to look displeased. “And what of the other matter. What have you learned from her?”

Snape rolled the remnants of wine around in the recesses of his mouth, reluctant to incur Voldemort’s wrath further in a single sitting. He finally swallowed.

“She has mentioned nothing of her involvement.”

“Mentioned?” Voldemort snapped, red eyes flashing. “And on what occasion would you expect this ‘mentioning’ to take place? Whilst regaling one another with tales of old times by the fireside?”

Snape cleared his throat. “She has not given any indication of her involvement with the Resistance to date.” He enunciated each word with precision to make it clear that he wasn’t attempting to deceive.

“Then get into her mind,” Voldemort snarled angrily. “You’re a fucking Legilimens aren’t you?”

Snape blinked patiently, waiting for his Master’s fury to ebb just a fraction.

“I have attempted to do as much,” he replied.

“And?” Voldemort’s eyebrows would have practically leapt off his forehead, if he’d had any.

“She is occluding.”

“Occluding?” Voldemort crowed, clearly incredulous. “The incomparable Severus Snape can’t manage to penetrate the occlusion of a Mudblood girl?”

Severus shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Then do it while she is asleep.”

“I did.”

Voldemort’s clawed hand slammed the table. “A Mudblood . . . performing Occlumency . . . whilst asleep? It isn’t possible. How would she have learned it? It takes a decade at least for a pureblood to perfect such a thing.” Severus lifted a hand in a noncommittal gesture that he knew would appear weak, but he feared that Voldemort would not accept the real explanation. “You’re a Potions Master. Give her the fucking Veritas,” he seethed through spittle-flecked lips, looking as mad and paranoid as Severus could ever remember him.

“I am afraid that if she has learned Occlumency to the level that it appears she has, I would suspect that she has also taken other precautions, such as priming herself with the Veritaserum antidote.”

“Then make a double batch,” Voldemort cried, flinging his arm in the air and looking around the table. Derisory laughter bubbled up from the others who were, once again, looking to ensure that the negative attention remained on Snape.

“The antidote doesn’t simply neutralise the Veritas, it destroys all memories associated with an event if the Veritas is consumed,” Severus replied levelly. “It is essentially an in-built trigger to self-destruct.”

Voldemort rose from his chair and Severus could feel those around him shrinking away.

“You give the filthy Mudblood too much credit,” Voldemort hissed, his voice dangerously low. “Too much leeway. And too much control. You need to torture her. Properly.”

“I believe that she was tortured for information upon her capture,” Severus replied boldly. “What success did you have?”

Voldemort glared at him but didn’t respond. He didn’t need to, the answer was clear.

“I have other . . . methods,” Severus continued. “I simply need the time to employ them.”

“We don’t have time,” Voldemort growled. “We are losing to that pathetic bunch of fools far more often than we are winning. If you can’t force the information from her soon, I will give her to someone who can.” His eyes met Lucius’ and the blond wizard gave a slight inclination of his head.

Severus glared. Clearly Lucius was still persisting in his efforts to take her from him.

“Now.” Voldemort rested both hands on the table as his gaze ran up and down the length of it. “Are there any further matters that need to be considered?”

There was a protracted silence.

Then Lucius cleared his throat. “I wonder, perhaps, my Lord whether we might seek to lighten the mood a tad, boost morale, with a slight change to the meal-time routine.”

“What did you have in mind?” Voldemort muttered impatiently.

“I believe that it would be a pleasant change for the Friday evening meal to be served by the slaves, rather than the house elves,” Lucius announced, looking around the table for support.

“Served?” Blaise snorted. “Half of them wouldn’t even be able to carry a plate. You may as well get the zombies to do it.”

“Not at all,” Lucius cried heartily. “They would be more than capable . . . most of them.”

“Who else agrees with Lucius’ proposal?” Voldemort’s eyes crawled over the gathering.

Severus felt a mounting heaviness in his chest as he watched everyone but he and Blaise raise their hands.

“Ooh, that does sound like a bit of fun, doesn’t it?” Bellatrix gave a trollish grin and threw back the rest of her wine.

“I will allow it,” Voldemort announced. “On a trial basis.”

Enthusiastic muttering rumbled up and down the table but Lucius’ eyes immediately went to Severus, his arrogant sneer telling the dark wizard everything he needed to know about this supposed ‘boost to morale’. 

Severus shoved his chair back and stood to leave. Surely he didn’t need to direct her to stay away from Lucius; that should be abundantly clear. His eyes shifted to Draco, who looked equally pleased with the outcome. Jaw cracking with the strain, he whirled around and stormed out. It seemed that, after Lucius, her only concern would be the rest of them.