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Bend or Break

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Danger. He reeked of it. It oozed from every pore and crackled through every thick lock of blonde hair hanging about his shoulders. Danger. It was branded into his forearm. It twinkled in his blue eyes. Danger. He seemed the incarnation of it. She watched him over the rim of her drink in the dingy pub on Knockturn Alley that a witch like her had no business being, and she couldn't help thinking everything about him simply screamed danger.

He was powerful, too. She could see it in the way he moved; the way he held himself. Already dangerous based merely on his strapping build; all broad shoulders, bulging biceps and powerful legs, his overall power as a wizard oozed a warning as well. He was far more powerful than he looked, she realised, and it occurred to her as she sipped her drink, intent on seducing him right on out of there, that this was a bad idea.

She should find someone else. Wait for a different Death Eater to wander into the bar. This one might be the only one who could freely wander about without someone spotting him and recognising him as an escaped prisoner, but surely he'd have buddies with him. Surely the Order could find a better Death Eater to kidnap. Certainly they could do better than the likes of Thorfinn Rowle - a baser human being she was sure she'd never met. And she'd met Ronald, so that really was saying something.

No, this wizard was all brawn and power and sex appeal that would've made her knickers damp if not for the ugly black magic stamped into his left forearm, marking him as her enemy. Hermione Granger took another sip of her drink while every instinct she had was screaming that she shouldn't pick this one. No, she had a mission. She had to find a Death Eater and seduce him into coming 'home' with her. And long before reaching that destination she was going to find the seduction interrupted by several member of the Order, Remus Lupin and Alastor Moody among them, before the Death Eater would be captured and dragged off for interrogation.

She'd been roped into the job because there really weren't that many witches in the Order. Molly would be too easily recognised. Tonks was pregnant and Ginny was too young. And Minerva could hardly sign up for the job without being recognised as the former teacher or classmate of most of the wizards calling themselves Death Eaters and serving their Dark Lord. So the job had fallen to Hermione. She was to seduce a Death Eater out of the bar to be kidnapped – something Harry and Ron had laughed about heartily when she'd pointed out that she had absolutely no clue how to seduce a man. Sirius had been forced to step in and show her what to do.

And now she sat in this wretched bar, eyeing the first Death Eater to have come in the door and she was thinking that this couldn't have been a more outrageously insane plan than just walking right up to Voldemort himself and asking him how he felt about having no nose. She'd already been iffy on the plan from the beginning, but this was just barmy. She couldn't do it. Not with this wretched man.

She shot a glance from beneath her hood in the direction of Remus, who was sitting in the corner of the bar and looking nothing like the Remus she knew given that he had his fangs out. She shook her head at him subtly, indicating that she couldn't do it. Not with this particular Death Eater. It would end badly. For one, he might recognise her, not matter the Polyjucie potion she'd been ingesting all evening to make her look like an attractive red-head with corkscrew curls. For another, he was Thorfinn bloody Rowle and he would surely overpower whoever the Order had in place to grab the Death Eater once she'd gotten him out of the pub and into the alley.

Remus flashed his fangs at her in warning for looking at him and for being a coward. Hermione bared her own teeth in return without meaning to before she focused her attention back on Rowle. This was a bad idea. He was going to do a lot of damage to the extraction team before he was subdued. Worse, he was a wretched bastard whom Hermione would enjoy stabbing with something sharp, repeatedly, in the eye.

Gritting her teeth, Hermione threw back the rest of her drink before pulling the hood off her head under the pretence of shaking her hair – a beacon for every eye in the pub given its vivid red colour and the wild curls that bombarded about her. The muggle girl whose hair they'd absconded with was certainly pretty, but Hermione wasn't fond of the attention she drew wearing the other woman's skin. Merlin, when she'd looked in the mirror at home she'd decided, rather worryingly, that she looked the way she imagined any daughter she might have sired by a Weasley would look.

Flipping her hair the way Sirius had taught her would draw even more attention, Hermione shook it out and got to her feet. She felt unsteady in the dress and heels she'd donned for this little seduction plot. Leather boots that hugged her legs all the way to mid-thigh were worn over thick lace leggings and paired with a corseted lace dress that barely hid her assets from full view – all beneath a heavy, hooded black cloak – she certainly looked the part in the alley. Ron had told her she'd looked like she was asking for it.

The idea of approaching Rowle made her feel like she was asking for it, given her mission. Pretending she was oblivious to the attention of the other lecherous patrons within the bar, Hermione picked up her empty glass and carried it back to the bar, setting it down and waiting for service. She'd made sure to watch Rowle for more than an hour before making her move. She didn't want to make him suspicious, but honestly she was doubting her ability to effectively pick him up in any kind of sense.

He had a number of other witches already flitting around him, drawn like moths to a flame as the terrible trollops in the bar tried to gain his favour and talk their way into bed with him. He'd been laughing and chatting most of them up in a way that somehow managed to seem dangerous even though, in this instance, he was prey rather than predator. Hermione could feel it when he looked at her. Merlin, she'd always been able to feel it when this particular wizard looked at her.

It itched between her shoulder blades and worked its way down her spine like an icy finger.

But she didn't let it show. Hermione studiously ignored the big blonde wizard, knowing from past experience with him - a lifetime ago - that if there was one thing that Rowle couldn't stand, it was being ignored by a witch. When the bartender reached her, Hermione ordered another drink and watched him pour it. She noted with some amusement it took him longer than it should have because of the way she leaned forward suggestively to order it, wafting her Amortentia spiked perfume. Fred and George had insisted she ought to use some – an invention of theirs - to make certain that if she got close enough to whichever Death Eater she encountered, she'd be able to lure him away from the bar with her without question.

When the bartender brought over her drink, Hermione leaned on the bar to drink it slowly. She glanced at Rowle out the corner of her eye, still feeling his gaze upon her and fighting the urge to squirm under his gaze. She hated that feeling. She hadn't felt it since the big idiot had been at Hogwarts with her, but right now she wanted nothing more than to walk out of this bar and never have to look at him again. Only the fact that the Order would interrogate him – violently, if Moody was going to be involved – stopped her from running.

The witches around him had all begun to pout to find he wasn't paying attention and Hermione was momentarily waylaid when some drunk littler lecher stumbled over to her, obviously catching the scent of her perfume and lured into attraction to her.

"Pretty little thing like you in a place like this, love?" The drunk slurred his words, replacing all the 'T's in his words with a 'W' sound and tripping over the endearment.

"My, but it's blessing being in your presence," Hermione replied sarcastically. She was really hoping Remus would be able to do something about this mess before it got out of hand.

"Is, ain't it?" the drunk chuckled. "You want to make a little magic, beautiful?"

Hermione laughed at his terrible attempt at a pick-up line, even knowing it would likely encourage the poor, rotten-toothed fool but unable to keep her scornful laughter to herself.

"I'm doubting that you're in possession of a working wand," Hermione replied. She snickered to herself. "Someone get this fool a handful of Floo powder?"

She addressed the suggestion to the bartender, who smirked cruelly, one corner of his mouth quirking up before he rounded the bar and did just that, dragging the drunk wizard over to the fireplace in the corner and shoving him into it, dropping some Floo powder and sending the git home. Hermione was rather pleased by that and just slurping up the last of her drink – using a straw she'd conjured for herself because she didn't trust the notion of putting her lips on the glassware in the dodgy place – when it happened.

"Some bastard giving you trouble, little lady?" Rowle's deep voice asked from behind her and Hermione's spine straightened a vertebrae at a time.

"I kind of like trouble," Hermione replied. She didn't dare look at him, suddenly feeling vulnerable when the man placed both hands on the bar, one either side of her slim frame.

He didn't touch her, but she felt more than saw the way he nodded to the bartender. Hermione watched the man behind the bar begin to fix them both another drink and it made her nervous.

"That right?" Rowle asked.

Hermione nodded, suddenly feeling much less cool than she'd been playing. There was something so unsettling about being in his immediate presence. She'd always felt it. Even when she'd been just a silly little third year while he'd been in seventh year, Hermione had been entirely too aware of the unsettling feel of his presence. Back then it had felt like fear – an icy sort of chill that crept under her hair and ghosted across the back of her neck. Now? Well, now it felt a lot more like damp knickers in spite of the chill running down her spine.

"And you?" Hermione asked. "How do you feel about trouble, Mister…?"

"Rowle," he answered. "Thorfinn Rowle. And I'd say I'm pretty familiar with trouble."

Being that he was in Knockturn Alley, where most people considered it a badge of the highest honour, rather than something shameful and criminal, his Dark Mark was on display. He'd rolled up his sleeves and revealed the wretched stain upon his skin and upon his soul. Hermione wanted to curl her lip and flinch away from it – from him – but she didn't dare. She had a job to do. She had to seduce this wretched wizard and she had to do it quickly, before he realised how inept she was at the art of seduction.

"Does it have anything to do with this?" she found herself asking. Her hand barely trembled as she brushed it over the back of his forearm before slowly – slowly – curling her fingers around the flesh to brush over his brand.

It sent a shudder of revulsion down her spine when she felt an awful pulse of the blackest magic inside the mark upon his flesh. Akin to suddenly discovering some foul parasite upon one's own flesh, it made her recoil in revulsion, but also sparked an immediate yearning to remove the ghastly thing from the flesh it inhabited. Just as she felt the strongest urge to jerk back from it in disgust, she also felt the need to draw the darkness from his flesh like drawing pus from a festering wound.

She couldn't have described it again, had she tried, but when she found her nails digging into the mark hard enough to draw blood, Hermione knew she should've walked away. When he didn't flinch back or try to pull his arm away, even when she dug her nails in hard enough to break the skin, she knew she should've run. But she didn't.

"What might you know about that?" Rowle asked. His voice a warm purr in her ear as he stepped closer behind her until his long, masculine form moulded against her much smaller, much more fragile feminine one.

"Not a thing," Hermione said. She shrugged her shoulders slightly, feeling the strangest urge to melt back into his embrace when he touched her like that.

Merlin, she felt many a strange urge when it came to Thorfinn Rowle. She always had - since the moment she'd met him – but this was different. This felt almost like the Amortentia spiking her perfume was affecting her rather than him; making her want to turn in his hold and stretch up on her toes until she could taste whatever wicked words might drip off his tongue.

"A drink for the lady," he murmured. Hermione watched the bartender bring them both a drink before Rowle handed over the money for them. "So, are you going to tell me your name? Or should I guess?"

"Arabella." Hermione blurted the first name that popped into her head – which, incidentally, happened to be her cousin's name.

"Arabella," Thorfinn repeated. "Pretty name. You don't look like an Arabella."

"Oh?"

Every hair on her body stood on end when he leaned into her a little more firmly, effectively trapping her body against the bar.

"No. You look more like a little Princess," he informed her.

Hermione had to clamp down on every muscle within her to keep from apparating in terror right then. He knew. She might look different, smell different and even be dressed differently, but he knew. He must. That had always been the name he's taunted her with at Hogwarts. He'd called her a prudish, stuck-up Princess who needed to be reminded her of her place.

Despite her sudden terror, Hermione worked hard to sound normal when she emitted a flirty little chuckle.

"I think most girls fancy themselves little princesses, Thorfinn." Hermione felt dirty as she spoke his given name rather than sneering his surname, as she was much more comfortable doing.

"You reckon?" He laughed as though she amused him. "Most of the women I know would prefer to consider themselves queens."

"Most of the women you know must be conceited," Hermione replied.

Rowle laughed again, a loud booming sort of laugh of genuine amusement that she'd never heard him emit in her presence before. Scornful sniggers, cold chuckles and gleeful chortles she was accustomed to. But never laughter simply to express his amusement. The idea upset her immensely.

"They are, actually."

Hermione drank her drink carefully to avoid thinking of something to say, having to pry her hand from his Dark Mark when she realised she was drawing blood and scratching at it like a mongrel dog at the mange. She drank the cool liquid and she tried to figure out how she was going to migrate the conversation and indeed, their location, from this dingy bar to the alley outside where the rest of the Order were lying in wait to pounce upon this man.

"So," Rowle began, "you want to get out of here?"

It was that simple. Maybe it was the perfume. Maybe it was a trap for her as much as for him. Maybe he suspected her to be exactly who she really was beneath the magic of Polyjuice potion. Maybe he was just the type of bloke who would make such an offer to such a witch after learning no more than her name if he thought he could wet his dick with minimal effort.

Then again, if he'd wanted that, he could have chosen one of the twits who'd been hanging off him before he'd approached her. Hermione smirked around her straw as she gulped down the rest of her drink. It had to be a combination of all them, all thrown in with the testosterone-fuelled urge he had to lure a woman into bed with him when she'd not been one of the gnats buzzing about him. His ego had gotten involved and Hermione doubted he'd let her alone unless she agreed.

"Where might we go?" Hermione asked coyly.

"Oh, I can think of a number of places I'd like to take you, little lady," he answered.

Hermione fought the urge to roll her eyes.

"If you say something perverted like Penetration Station, I'm going to smack you, Thorfinn Rowle," Hermione threatened. She shuddered a second time when another of those booming laughs escaped him.

"That'd be just one stop if you climb aboard this train," he said.

Hermione actually snorted then. Gods, she had to get him out of there and into the hands of the Order before she did something stupid and blew her cover.

"Lead the way, sir," she said. She set down her empty glass and tipping her face sideways to meet his gaze over her shoulder.

His smirk was wicked before he skolled the rest of this drink and copied her, his glass chinking against the edge of the bar. He took one of her hands and stepped back to let her move away from where she'd been trapped against the bar. Hermione went willingly enough, being sure to avoid looking in Remus's direction as Rowle looped one muscular arm about her slim shoulders and began steering her out of the bar.

She didn't have to look over her shoulder as they walked out the door to know that Remus was following in their wake, just waiting to pounce.