The war was going badly.
Hermione could admit that in the silence of her own head, even if she would never tell Harry.
A guerrilla war, fought in backwoods clearings and wharf-side warehouses between small groups of black-clad wizards, some of whom faced former friends and estranged relatives over raised wands. Some of whom would never know each others' names or faces. Even Hermione didn't know the names of everyone she fought beside. It was safer that way. Or so Dumbledore said.
She was tired. She'd been fighting Voldemort in one way or another for the past ten years, the last seven in this semi-open warfare, and she knew it had to end soon, one way or another. For her, if not for the Order of the Phoenix. Though, with the way things had been going the past few months, she had a feeling the end wasn't going to be pleasant for anyone.
She slid onto a stool at the bar and ordered a vodka tonic. She hadn't planned on drinking tonight, had promised herself she wouldn't, but the pub looked so warm and inviting, she couldn't help it. A vodka tonic was nice and light. Not really like drinking at all.
As she waited, she twisted the engagement ring on her left hand.
It had been three months since Ron disappeared, and she was starting to give up hope. Hope that he was alive, at any rate. Lately, and far too often for her own comfort, she found herself hoping he was dead, and that it had been quick and painless.
She couldn't dwell on the reasons she feared seeing him again. She was doing what needed to be done to secure his safety. The problem was, he'd know -- he'd *know* the depths to which she'd sunk, and she wasn't sure he'd believe it was all for him. She wasn't sure she believed it herself. Either way, it didn't bear thinking on.
She finished her drink quickly, and realized that one wasn't going to be enough. She caught the bartender's eye and tapped her glass. He winked and smiled, placing a new drink before her. "Courtesy of the blond bloke at the end of the bar."
She looked over, but saw no one she knew. She felt a quiver of ... something unfamiliar in the pit of her stomach. Here she was in Muggle London, drinking to forget her most-likely-dead fiancé, and strangers were buying her drinks. She could almost laugh at the absurdity of it. Didn't they know there was a war on?
But of course, they didn't. And it was part of her job to make sure they never found out, since she moved easily between the two worlds. Another reason for the clandestine nature of their activities -- trying to stay ahead of the Death Eaters and protect the Muggles. It was almost like fighting the war on two fronts, because no witch or wizard could depend on help from the Muggle world if they were exposed.
She shook her head to clear it of such grim thoughts and smiled vaguely in the direction the publican had indicated, raising her glass to salute whomever had bought the drink.
Someone slid into the seat next to her, and she wondered if she was going to meet a stranger, and what would happen.
She turned, but no stranger's face met her gaze. No, the face was all too familiar, and after the last three months, she was sure she'd be seeing it in her nightmares for years to come.
"Drinking alone, Granger?"
His voice was soft, but carried easily over the noise in the crowded pub.
"Malfoy." She poured as much venom as possible into the word. In the back of her mind, she wondered if she might be overcompensating. She pushed the thought away as just another thing she couldn't deal with at the moment.
He reached out and ran a thumb over her left hand, grazing the ring on her finger. "He's dead."
She gasped, closed her eyes, overwhelmed by nausea. Malfoy's grip on her hand tightened, reminding her she was not alone, not safe. She took a deep breath, fought back the tears, and opened her eyes, staring at his face.
He met her gaze unflinchingly, iron grey eyes softening only slightly. "He died well, Granger. And not in pain. I made sure of that."
"Murderer," she hissed, and tried to pull her hand away, but he was stronger.
"It was suicide. I offered him a quick, clean death in place of the torture my father and the Dark Lord --" even here he wouldn't say the name, "were planning for him." His voice was cold, unfeeling, and if she hadn't been watching him, she'd have thought him completely unaffected. But his face was pained. She looked away. He was the enemy. She hated him, and wanted him dead, now. She ran through the Unforgivable Curses in her mind, and thought they were well-suited to his unforgivable actions.
She took a gulp of her drink to buy herself a moment. Then, "Why should I believe you?"
"Hermione." His voice cracked like a whip. He never called her that. Never. "Why would I lie?"
"That's what you do, Malfoy. Your entire life is a lie."
He inclined his head. "Touché. However, this is what you wanted, isn't it?"
She struggled to pull her hand out of his. "I want my fiancé back, you bastard."
He ignored her interruption and continued. "At least you know, now. He died painlessly. He didn't give us any information." Slight emphasis on the 'he' reminded her who, exactly, had passed on information to the Death Eaters, but she ignored it. She'd done what she'd had to do. She never imagined it would end like this. Had refused to imagine it. Malfoy was still speaking. "He kept you and his family safe." Draco's lips twisted. "His last words were for you. 'Tell her I love her.'"
She swallowed hard. What had Draco told him? "Malfoy--"
His eyes were far away, his voice bitter. "What was I supposed to say? 'Sure, old chum. Shall I tell her while I'm fucking her?'"
He caught her fist as she tried to punch him. "Granger, please. Don't be tiresome."
She was shaking with rage -- his calm indifference infuriated her -- but he held both her hands now; she wasn't able to reach for her wand.
"That's better," he whispered, his warm breath sending delicious shivers down her spine. "Get angry."
She flicked a quick glance around the pub, but no one was paying them any attention. She raised her eyes to his. "God, I hate you, Malfoy."
"I know." A quick grin. "The feeling is mutual." He nipped at her earlobe, and laved away the sting with his tongue. "Let's go."
He tossed some crumpled notes onto the bar and led her out into the night.
"It's not safe--" she began, but he stopped her, his mouth hard and hot over hers. She slipped her arms around his shoulders, fingers tangling in the silky blond hair at the nape of his neck. He tore his mouth from hers and she whimpered in protest; his lips trailed fire along her jaw and then down over her neck.
"Not ... safe..." she repeated, before she lost coherent thought. He pulled back and grinned. It was at moments like these that she almost believed she could like him.
"Round the corner," he said, and led her into an alley next to the pub. He muttered a spell and she nodded in approval. Anyone looking would simply see a couple in the throes of passion; embarrassing, but not identifiable.
He pushed her back against the brick wall, and she let him, feeling a rush of moist warmth between her thighs.
His hands were already up underneath her jumper, cupping her breasts. His thumbs brushed over taut nipples and she moaned, arching into him. "Now," she said.
They exchanged no soft words of love. He slid his hands along her bottom, and she wrapped her legs around his hips, working the buttons on his jeans easily with one hand. With the other she gripped his shoulder.
"No knickers, Granger?" he teased, brushing her wet sex with his cock.
She cupped his face, her thumb tracing the high arch of his cheek, and thrust her hips at him. "Now, Malfoy," she demanded. Teasing was for long, lazy nights with Ron.
He grunted in response and pushed into her, stopping only long enough for her to mutter a contraception spell. And then they moved in time.
She drank it all in -- the scent of his hair, the brush of his stubble along her neck, the heat of his breath in her ear, and most of all, the hard thrust of his cock inside her body.
As they pushed and pulled against each other, each trying to consume the other, memories flashed through her mind...
--The first time she met Ron, on the Hogwarts Express, his hair on fire in the sunlight.
--The first time Ron kissed her -- Christmas, fifth year, under the mistletoe, hurried, almost chaste, but with intent.
--The first time they made love, after months of teasing and sneaking, fumbling hands. The first time for both of them. His lips on her body, his cock inside her, his voice whispering, "I love you, Hermione" into her ear. It traveled to her heart, and set down roots, blossoming under his tender care.
--The last time they made love, arguing about the contraception spell. He wanted a family, wanted to recreate the happiness he'd known as a child. She wanted to wait until Voldemort was defeated, couldn't imagine bringing children into the world as it stood now.
She felt the tension build, spiraling tighter, as Draco lost his rhythm and came. His hand slid between them, circling her clit as she began to shudder. He covered her mouth with his, swallowing her moan of pleasure as she climaxed, hips bucking against him as the world burst into a million shards of light.
"God," he panted when he finally broke the kiss. His hair shone silver in the moonlight, so different from Ron's fiery red. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, and she rested her chin on the top of his head.
"Shh." He raised his face, kissed her again, softly, and she wanted to drown in the taste of him. She stared up at him. His eyes glittered in the dimness, and there was something, some indefinable emotion in them, and part of her wanted to hold him there until she could identify it.
"Why?" She asked every time, and every time he refused to answer.
He kissed her and Disapparated, leaving her tousled, bruised and boneless, her curiosity unsatisfied yet again.
It had begun the night after her fight with Ron over the contraception spell. Malfoy appeared in her room -- dirty, robes in tatters, usually perfect hair mussed and lank. He straddled her, hand over her mouth.
"Don't say a word, Granger." His voice was rough, and for the first time in their long acquaintance, she actually feared him. "They've taken Weasley," he said. "He's at the Manor." She bucked her hips and bit his hand, but he was stronger. "I always knew you'd like it rough," he muttered, and she struggled under him with renewed vigor. He Disapparated, leaving her gasping in fear.
A phone call to Harry (modern electronics proved safer on many occasions than traditional wizardly communications, as most of the Death Eaters looked with disdain on Muggle technology) confirmed what Malfoy had told her.
Ron was in the hands of the enemy.
What she didn't understand, and most definitely didn't share with Harry, was how she'd gotten the news.
Since the apartment she and Ron shared was often used as a meeting place, a fallback location to regroup if things went wrong, they'd never set up anti-Apparation spells. But she considered it now. She was clever enough to rework the spell to exclude only Malfoy, but he must have had a reason for coming to see her -- Draco Malfoy never did anything without at least one reason, and some sort of benefit to himself -- and she was desperate enough for news of Ron to leave herself open to another visit. She would be more prepared next time, though, and not allow him the upper hand, at least physically. She would admit to curiosity, as well. Malfoy had never before shown any compassion toward her or Ron. She wondered what he wanted, and if giving it to him would save her fiancé.
Three days passed before she saw Draco again. Once again, he Apparated into her bedroom, late at night. She threw the blankets off and jumped up before he could pin her to the bed. He was his usual immaculate self this time, in expensive robes, with not a hair out of place.
"Tell me something, Granger," he said. "Weasley's not talking, and if I don't have some information to give them, they'll kill him."
"Why do you care?"
He shrugged casually, elegantly. "I don't." But his presence told her that was false. She needed to think, and found that his nearness befuddled her. She wondered if maybe Ron wasn't the only one in danger if no information was forthcoming. "But I thought you might," he said in that lazy drawl she hated so much. "After all, you're in love with him, aren't you?" His voice dripped with scorn.
"What would you know of love, Malfoy?" She matched his tone; years of dislike had hardened into enmity, so it wasn't difficult.
He closed the distance between them in two strides, grabbing her wrist and pulling her close. "Enough to know I could make you forget him if I so chose." He took her chin in a bruising grip and raised her face to his. Then he pushed her away. "But I don't want to."
She was close enough to him for his body to belie his words. Emboldened by desperation, she rubbed herself against him. "Liar."
His smile was wicked, knowing, and his eyes glinted silver in the moonlight. He slid one hand around her waist, keeping her pressed to him. The other he threaded through her hair, cradling her skull. He kissed her, the slightest brush of his lips against hers, sending a shock of electricity through her body. She gasped.
Mouth against her cheek, warm breath making her shiver, he whispered, "Tell me something I can use, Granger, and I'll make it worth your while."
Her mind raced with ideas -- lies she could tell, false plans she could reveal -- anything to save Ron. Draco's lips slid along her neck, finding the sensitive skin at the base of her throat. She let her head fall back; it wasn't difficult to feign desire -- blood coursed through her veins like molten metal, hot and heavy, and she whimpered.
His hand, warmer and stronger than expected, caressed her leg, fingers stroking up and up, tangling in the thatch of hair at the juncture of her thighs.
"God." The word burst from her, beyond her control.
Control. She had to stay in control. She tried to focus, but Malfoy was skilled, teasing her clit with his thumb as his fingers curled up inside her.
She imagined Ron's face, Ron's hands.
Anything to save Ron.
"Lupin," she gasped into his ear. "Lupin's left England. He's in Macedonia, trying to capture Black. He's traveling alone, via Muggle transport."
The first lie.
Draco kissed her, his tongue hard and slick in her mouth, and she came against his hand. He let her fall, limp, onto the bed, and licked his fingers.
"Interesting," he drawled, and disappeared.
And so it began.
Ron was dead.
She couldn't quite make the words make sense. She slumped against the wall, repeating them to herself until they were nothing more than gibberish.
Ron was dead.
Malfoy was lying.
He had to be.
Except. Except. He wasn't. He hadn't lied to her in the three months since this... thing ... between them began.
She was the one who'd done the lying. She'd lied to him, to Harry, to herself. She'd been the one who'd broken faith, not Draco.
But she wouldn't regret it. Couldn't regret it. She pulled out her flask, and with trembling hands, drank the contents in one long swallow. The harsh flavor of the cheap vodka burned, bringing tears to her eyes, but it couldn't erase the taste of Malfoy's tongue in her mouth.
She pushed herself upright, clutching the flask tightly. Most Aurors carried one, in homage to Mad-Eye Moody. Most people's contained antidotes for various poisons, or plain spring water. Hermione's contained vodka. She'd developed a taste for it, after Draco began visiting.
Two nights after their second encounter in her apartment, Malfoy cornered her on the way home from the liquor store.
"Having a party, Granger?" he asked, raising an eyebrow and looking at the bag she carried.
"No. I--" How to explain the fact that after he'd left her, she'd drunk until she was sick, finishing the only bottle of vodka in the apartment. She'd found that alcohol had a wonderful, numbing effect. It helped her to forget that Ron was in danger, that she'd allowed Draco Malfoy put his hands on her, and that she'd enjoyed it.
Then she realized she didn't have to explain anything to him. He was nothing, no one.
Except that she didn't quite believe it.
He kissed her hard, then took the bag from her and slipped an arm around her waist. To anyone watching, it must have looked charming -- a young man helping his girlfriend carry home the groceries.
To Hermione, it felt like a mockery. A mockery of Ron and her life with him.
Draco walked her home without saying another word. When they arrived at her building, he followed her upstairs.
At the door to her apartment, she reached for the shopping bag, but he moved it away. "Aren't you going to invite me in?" He lowered his voice. "I have news," he paused and she felt like rolling her eyes at his dramatics, "of your fiancé."
The magic words, more powerful than any spell.
She knew he could be -- probably was -- lying. But, even so, she let him in. She was already preparing herself for the fact that he would touch her again. She tried to convince herself she was only doing it for Ron, but the lowdown quiver in her belly wasn't due solely to anger and fear.
Draco placed the bag on the kitchen counter and leaned against the doorjamb.
"So," he said. "Here we are again."
"I don't have time for idle chatter, Malfoy," she said, trying to remain calm. She bit the words off precisely. "Say what you came to say, then leave."
He inclined his head.
"Weasley is in my charge, and he is still not talking. He has a startling resistance to pain."
She winced; he pushed off the wall and stalked toward her.
She raised her chin and stood her ground. "Why don't you use Veritaserum?"
"Oh, we will," he answered. He ran his thumb over her cheek. She shivered and he smiled. His lips followed his hand, and in between kissing her jaw and temple he said, "They just like to cause pain." He claimed her lips, and she let him, drugged by the coffee and mint taste of him. "They know nothing anyone says under duress is true," he continued against her mouth, lifting her up onto the counter with unexpected strength and moving to stand between her legs. "But it's early days yet. They're having fun. Who am I to stop them?"
The one in charge, she thought bitterly, but was distracted by his touch, unable to hold onto the notion for more than a moment.
His hands were cool on the heated skin of her thighs, sliding up under her skirt, and she wondered why she never wore jeans anymore. He stroked her through her panties and she realized that jeans would have made this more difficult -- would have given her time to think, time to pull away, but this way, she had an excuse. "It all happened so fast," she'd say, if she ever did tell anyone about this, which, of course, she wouldn't.
"Tell me something," he whispered, his lips gliding over the sensitive skin of her neck. "Something I can use."
She gasped and he covered her mouth, kissing her with a force belied by his languid movements.
Her hands slid along his shoulders, down his back, and she was no longer simply being acted upon, but acting, wanting.
She wanted him -- wanted this -- whatever it was.
And she would give him what he wanted, as well. But this time, it would be on her terms.
She broke away from the kiss. "After," she said, and not even he would argue in the face of her resolve. Not that she gave him a chance, pulling his mouth back down to hers and scooting forward on the counter so she could wrap her legs around his waist.
They were done talking for the moment. She worked the buttons on his trousers with fumbling fingers, and he grunted in approval when she freed his cock and stroked him roughly. He slid his thumbs beneath the elastic of her panties and drew them down her legs until she could kick them off. She was wet and ready and not interested in the preliminaries.
Draco murmured the contraception spell and slowly pushed his way into her. She closed her eyes and imagined Ron; it wasn't that different, really, except that it was completely different. Ron was sweet and funny and always tasted of strawberry licorice. He whispered words of love to her, told her she was beautiful and made her feel treasured. Malfoy was both languid and deft, and rougher than she was used to; she told herself she deserved it, wanted it that way. Wanted it to be as different from Ron as the moon was from the sun. Malfoy said nothing of love, said nothing at all except, "Yes," and "Fuck" and "God," as he came.
She felt her own orgasm rising, a tidal wave of pleasure overwhelming her senses, flooding her body with bliss as she shuddered and shook, unable to stop herself from talking nonsense words that he swallowed with a kiss.
They slumped against each other, sated and sticky. She wasn't going to think about how she'd have to scrub down the counter with bleach. She wasn't going to think about anything. She was going to close her eyes and pretend...
But Draco wouldn't let her. "Granger," he said, breaking into her contented daze. His voice had lost its harsh edge, though, and he was almost likeable in that moment.
She sighed and nibbled at his jaw, so pale and sharp and sprinkled with golden stubble.
"Millicent Bulstrode is a double agent." It came out in a rush. He blinked, and she wondered if she'd misplayed her hand. He knew Millicent far better than she ever had, but she knew Millicent had been identified as an agent of Voldemort trying to insinuate herself into Harry's inner circle as a reformed Death Eater. Now that threat would be neutralized.
Draco began laughing. "Oh, that's wonderful. That's just perfect." He kissed her again, laughing and open-mouthed, and she felt tears prick at her eyes. Too much like Ron.
She pushed him away, unable to look him in the eye. "Look. It's not funny. I, she-- Just take care of Ron."
He grabbed her chin and forced her to meet his gaze. "I will." She had no reason to believe him, and every reason *not* to, but she accepted that he would. For his own twisted reasons, and as long as it served his purpose. He released her then and took the tea towel from its place on the draining rack. "Now, let's get you cleaned up."
He was gentle with her, and he didn't just wash her, he brought her to orgasm again; she was trembling and weak when he left, pulling the door behind him with a smirk and a nod.
She took the bottle of vodka from the shopping bag, slid to the floor and drank, unable to hold back her sobs.
Weeks passed in this fashion. Draco appeared, they had sex -- each time rougher and more public than the last -- she gave him some carefully calibrated bit of misinformation, and they went their separate ways until the next time.
She began drinking earlier in the day, to fortify herself for his visits. So she could get the taste of him out of her mouth. So she could get up in the morning and sleep at night.
She knew Harry was worried. He'd offered more than once to stay with her; when she refused, he asked her to stay with him. Mrs. Weasley tried to persuade her to come to the Burrow, but she couldn't. She couldn't face them all while she was betraying Ron, even if it was to save him. She knew they wouldn't understand.
Her superiors at the Ministry noted her lateness, her distraction, the now-permanent dark circles under her eyes, though she cured her hangovers with spells and covered the scent of liquor on her breath with mints. But there was no one she could confide in. Mr. Weasley stopped by her office every day and brought her lunch, lovingly cooked and packed by his wife, but she could no longer look him in the eye. She knew she didn't deserve the Weasleys' kindness, and the food Ron's mother prepared for her stuck in her throat.
Now, though, now everything was different.
Ron was dead.
The game was over.
Hermione stumbled home, her mind awhirl with plans to avenge her fiancé.
She discarded the Unforgivable Curses. Avada kedavra would result in too many questions she didn't want asked or answered, and she knew that Harry wouldn't approve, even if Malfoy deserved it. She found herself thinking that Harry was too soft on his enemies. He didn't have the burning hate she did; he'd spent so long fighting that he seemed to almost respect the Death Eaters, as if they were playing chess and Voldemort were a worthy opponent.
Thinking of chess made her think of Ron and their first adventure, the first time Harry had faced Voldemort at Hogwarts. She shook her head, and fell asleep to dream of Ron as the knight he'd been so long ago, and she was the queen who'd struck him with her broadsword. Only this time, Ron didn't survive. She killed him, and stood weeping tears of blood over his body.
Hermione woke with a start, crying.
She had similar dreams the next two nights, her nimble mind indulging in a usually repressed tendency for morbid melodrama, instead of cooperating with her determination to plan Malfoy's painful demise.
She spent those two days in a haze of alcohol, anger and sorrow. No viable plan presented itself to her. She had no way of knowing where exactly Malfoy was, beyond the vague intel Dumbledore's spies provided, and Harry was being less than forthcoming with her. He often let loyalty and friendship blind him to things -- that was how she'd hidden the whole sordid mess from him for the past three months -- but even he could see that her slow deterioration had accelerated, and his mouth was set in grim lines when she refused to explain why.
And then Draco, in his wonderful, egotistical way, made all her planning moot.
He Apparated into her apartment three nights after their meeting at the pub, his face a mask of indifference, but there were lines around his eyes she'd never noticed before. He didn't speak, and she realized she had nothing to say to him.
She knew what she had to do.
All the edges were blurred, thanks to the vodka still lingering in her bloodstream from her liquid dinner. She felt remote, as if she were watching instead of acting, and that made playing the scene easier. She pulled him down onto the bed with her, mouth eagerly seeking the heat of his, hands fumbling at the buttons on his trousers.
He didn't speak, didn't seem surprised at her desperation, the speed at which she had him inside her. He thrust into her with fierce abandon, the only sound the moist slap of his flesh against hers, and the small grunts they both made as they strained for release. The waning moon, two days past full, bathed the bedroom in brightness, and she spent a moment memorizing his cold, pale beauty, silvered but never softened by moonlight.
He lost the rhythm first, his eyes screwed shut, his mouth drawn into a grimace that could have been pain as easily as pleasure.
She reached over to the night table, fingers first stroking then gripping the heavy Waterford crystal vase that had been an engagement gift from her great-aunt Hermione, for whom she'd been named.
Draco came, shuddering in her embrace, and when he collapsed against her, she hit him in the head. Twice. He groaned and passed out.
She rolled him over and slid off the bed, scrambling for her wand.
His body went rigid, trousers still bunched around his ankles, and she realized she probably should have cleaned and dressed him before petrifying him. She hoped Harry would be too stunned at her coup to notice.
She rang Harry on his mobile, praying he wasn't facing Voldemort down at that very second, where a distraction could be fatal. She giggled at the whimsical turn her thoughts had taken, and had to fight for control when Harry answered with a curt, "Yes?"
"It's me," she whispered. "You need to get here immediately."
"Hermione? Is everything all right?"
"S'wonderful, Harry." She fought back another giggle. "I've got a present for you."
"Are you drunk?"
She pursed her lips and twirled a strand of hair around her index finger. "It's entirely possible I am," she said finally, though she wasn't sure if her giddiness was due to the alcohol or to the thrill of being able to avenge Ron's death. The barely functioning, still-rational part of her brain was voting for hysteria. "But when you see what I've got for you, you shan't care." She paused, trying to corral her meandering thoughts.
"I'll be right there," Harry said, and he hung up before she could respond.
She was in the bathroom when she heard Harry calling her name from the living room. Lupin was with him.
She zipped her jeans and wrestled her hair into a ponytail. "In the bedroom," she said, leading the way.
Harry's lips thinned as he took in the scene -- the messy bed, Draco's state of undress, the bloodied vase.
"Did he -- What did he-- Hermione, are you all right?" He pulled her into a tight hug, cradling her head against his chest.
She squeezed him, sorrow and anger and fear welling up inside her, almost overwhelming the heady wave of euphoria she'd been riding since she'd clocked Draco and begun her revenge.
"No," she said, "he didn't. I mean, we did. We--"
Lupin spoke then, sparing her from having to explain. "We need to take him someplace safe."
She nodded, clinging to Harry. He stroked her hair gently and then let her go. He turned toward the bed and murmured, "Mobilicorpus," and Draco floated up from the sheets.
"Take your wand," Harry said brusquely. "I'll take Draco. Remus, you take Hermione."
"I can Apparate," she protested.
"You're drunk. The last thing I want is for you to splinch yourself." And he was gone.
Remus put his arm around her and the world dropped away for a moment, leaving Hermione dizzy and nauseated.
The next moment, they were standing in the living room of Lupin's house in Hogsmeade.
"I'll make some coffee," Harry said. "Hermione, you sit and tell me what's going on. Remus, please get Malfoy downstairs and --"
Lupin nodded and began maneuvering Draco down the stairs to the cellar.
They had meetings there, and Snape kept them well supplied with potions and antidotes. Plus, there was a windowless room with a twelve-inch-thick steel door, perfect for storing werewolves, and prisoners. They could revive Malfoy, question him, and no one would ever know he was there.
Hermione dropped onto the couch. She was exhausted, and she wanted a drink. Harry handed her a cup of coffee and sat next to her. A drink, but not the kind she craved. He didn't turn away, though, so she couldn't supplement the coffee with a splash from her flask. Instead, she leaned her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. She was almost asleep when he said, "So. What's going on, Hermione?"
She opened her eyes, and, unable to meet the question in his, dropped her gaze down to the coffee cup still cradled in her hand.
"He was in charge of Ron's imprisonment," she said, after the silence became uncomfortable. "He came to see me. Told me Ron wasn't talking. So, instead of Ron giving away our secrets, I did." She watched Harry's hands tighten on the mug he held, knuckles white. "You're going to break that," she said, and for a moment she sounded like her old self.
"You gave Malfoy information." Harry's voice was flat.
She shivered. "Yes. Well, misinformation, actually. Carefully constructed half-truths that he would believe." She leaned forward, set the mug down on the coffee table, and turned to face her friend. "I thought it would keep Ron alive. And it did. For a while."
Lupin interrupted. "Malfoy's conscious. I've cleaned him up and --"
"Tie him up," Hermione said.
"He's immobilized," Lupin replied. "And I've taken his wand."
Harry sighed. He removed his glasses and rubbed his forehead. "Look, Hermione, why don't you lie down and get some rest? We'll deal with Draco." He replaced his glasses and rose. "You're sure you didn't tell him anything of importance?"
"Nothing that was true."
"Mata Hari?" Lupin said, and his lips curved in a tired smile.
She was a little surprised at the reference, before remembering how well-stocked his library was, with both magical and Muggle books. She responded to his warmth with a smile of her own. She could relax now. "Except on our side, not theirs."
"How long?" Harry asked, still not soothed.
"Since they took Ron." She put a hand on Harry's arm. "Didn't you wonder when Millicent Bulstrode disappeared? Or when they walked into the trap in Dundee? And the raid in Kensington?"
He squeezed her hand briefly and she could see some of the stiffness leave his shoulders. "Okay. Now, sleep."
She didn't want to sleep. She wanted to go downstairs and hex Malfoy. Jinx him. Subject him to itches and rashes and spots, set blast-ended skrewts crawling under his skin and flobberworms up into his nostrils. And that was just for starters.
But she knew Harry, could tell when he would be pushed no further. So she agreed, and lay back on the couch.
Surprising no one but herself, Hermione slept.
When she woke, dim grey light was filtering into the room through drawn curtains. Remus and Harry were in the kitchen, talking softly. She heard murmurs but couldn't make out the words.
Not waiting to hear what they had in mind, she slipped down to the cellar, intent on making sure Malfoy was suffering.
The steel door was warded with a series of spells, as well as an electronic combination lock that Remus had insisted on. They'd hoped it would confound the Death Eaters, if it came to that.
Hermione took a deep draught from her flask, and punched in the numbers. The combination was easy to remember. 10-31-81. Too obvious, she'd told them, but Sirius and Remus had refused to change it.
Draco sat in the middle of the room, tied to one of the dining room chairs. He looked wan in the dim light; the bruise on his temple was a virulent purple against the white of his skin and pale gold of his hair. There was a small bandage over the cut, and his hair was free of blood.
He stirred as she watched him. There was confusion in his eyes at first, but then the lazy, arrogant mask she was so used to seeing slid into place.
"That was low, Granger, even for you," he said, his voice a sandpaper rasp.
The apology formed unconsciously, and she bit it back, instead countering with, "At least I let you come first."
That surprised a bark of laughter out of him. "Yes, yes, you did. You'll pardon me if I don't thank you for it."
She had to smile at that, even though his sangfroid irritated her. She hated that he could seem elegant and in control even while tied to a chair.
"Well, I thought one of us should enjoy our little... trysts."
His lips curled in a sneer. "Please."
"All women fake it at some point or another, Malfoy. It just happens rather more often with gits like you."
Draco shook his head, sneer still in place. "You keep telling yourself that, Granger, but we both know you wanted it as much as--" He stopped and looked away. She could have crowed in triumph.
He wasn't disconcerted for long, though.
His voice was soft, insinuating, when he spoke again. "Everyday I listened to Weasley prattle on about how loyal you were and how beautiful and how much he loved you and would never betray you. And I laughed and laughed. Because he thought you were some kind of goddess, and I was fucking you. In his own bed. And he never knew.
"He never gave up any useful information. I'll say that for him. He was a moron, believing in your fidelity, but his breeding showed true. You, on the other hand--" he paused, and she tensed, waiting for the barb. She wasn't disappointed.
"I should have known Mudbloods have no sense of loyalty."
She punched him. Even knowing it was coming hadn't stopped the sting of his words. It was worth the pain in her hand to see his head snap back. He turned his head and spat blood.
"Feel better, darling?" he taunted. "And you call *me* a bully. I never hit you while you were tied up." A wicked smile crossed his face. "I bet you'd have enjoyed being tied up and fucked, Granger. Pity we never did that."
She knew he was goading her, pushing her into anger. He always had an agenda, always worked his way under the skin of his enemies, making them angry, prone to mistakes. He knew exactly how to get to her. He'd never been able to when they were kids, because then she hadn't cared. But now, their relationship was different, and she no longer had the upper hand, even if he was the one tied to the chair.
She reached out, but instead of hitting him again, she stroked his cheek.
"I did what I had to, Malfoy. You of all people should understand that."
"If that's what you need to tell yourself--" he broke off as the door swung wide.
She jumped back. Harry and Remus stood in the doorway, surprise etched on their faces.
"Hermione?" Harry said. "What's going on?"
"Nothing." She moved away from Draco, concentrated on not stumbling. She needed another drink, badly. Lupin examined her, nostrils flared and eyes narrowed, but said nothing.
"We're going to question him now," Harry continued. "I think you should wait outside."
Harry took her arm and led her into the hallway. "I'm worried about you, Hermione. He's tied to a chair. He's injured. And you *hit* him."
"He killed Ron."
"How do you know that?"
"He told me."
"He told you?" Harry looked shocked. "He just came out and told you. And you believed him."
"Harry, there are some things you should know--" She took a deep breath. She'd avoided the details the night before, but she knew she couldn't hold off his questions forever. She dreaded the look in his eyes when she told him the depth of her disloyalty. She hadn't betrayed the Order of the Phoenix, but she'd been unfaithful to Ron while he was most vulnerable. She didn't think Harry would ever understand why.
Lupin stuck his head out of the room. "He's taken the Veritaserum."
She forced her face to stay blank, not to show how horrified she was at the idea of Draco telling Harry and Remus what she -- what they -- had been doing the past three months. While she knew she'd done the right thing, the only thing possible under the circumstances, she wasn't sure the men would see it that way. Men had funny notions of honor and loyalty, and they didn't always understand that when it was a question of protecting Ron, or anyone else she loved, that she could -- and had -- done things that other people might have balked at.
"Wait here," Harry said to her. "This shouldn't take long."
She paced the hallway, sneaking a few sips from her flask, even though she knew Lupin would be able to smell it on her breath. She didn't care.
Harry was right. It didn't take long. He and Lupin came out of the room about half an hour later. Harry looked upset; Lupin's face was expressionless, but his eyes were pained. He gave her arm a comforting squeeze, and said, "You should probably talk to him."
She took a deep breath, wishing Lupin would go away so she could have another nip of vodka. Then she went into the room.
Malfoy was no longer tied to a chair. He was in the process of putting his shoes on.
"What's going on?" she asked, wincing at the shrill tone of her voice.
"I'm getting out of here, Granger."
"They're just letting you go?" she asked, aghast. "But Voldemort-- the Death Eaters--"
He smirked. He actually had the balls to smirk at her, even now. "If they're not able to destroy Voldemort after everything I've just told them, they don't deserve to win this war." He cocked his head, seemed to think for a moment, and said, "Not that I think they really do deserve to win the war. But they're better than having that insane old wizard and my father in charge." His insouciance couldn't hide the venom in his voice.
"And now you're just walking away?" This couldn't be happening. "What about Ron? Why aren't they taking you to Azkaban?" She had to talk to Harry, to Dumbledore... Sirius would help if the others didn't. He didn't believe in leaving his enemies alive to haunt him.
He stood, shook himself as if he were a dog just out of the rain, crossed the room to grab her shoulders. "Listen to me," he said, his voice low and intense. "Weasley died a hero. A clean death. I *told* you that."
And she knew he couldn't be lying. Snape had brewed the Veritaserum, and nobody did it better. If she kept him there long enough, he'd tell her every sordid detail of his existence. But her curiosity, which had driven her through life, needed satisfaction.
"But, but why?"
"Any of it."
His shoulders slumped, and he looked tired. This close, she could see the delicate tracery of blue veins in the purple smudges under his eyes. He looked like a man at the end of his rope.
She felt a surge of pity and blurted, "You don't-- you don't have feelings for me, do you?"
He laughed. Right in her face. He laughed so hard and for so long that she thought he'd pass out from lack of air. "This wasn't about you, Granger. It was never about you. It wasn't about Potter, either, despite what he likes to think. And people call me narcissistic." He snorted in disdain. "Well, I guess they'd be right on this one. It was about me, Granger. It was always about me, about getting away from those lunatics who call themselves my parents. You just happened to be more... interesting than I ever thought you'd be. And a better lay, to boot."
Hermione felt her face flame, and she bit her lip to stop herself from saying something unforgivable. Not that he didn't deserve it, but she'd set herself up for his response. The very idea that he could have feelings for her was unthinkable.
Of course, three months ago, the idea that she'd have slept with him willingly, and repeatedly, would have been unthinkable, and yet it had happened.
She blinked and tried to clear her cluttered mind. She needed more vodka, but he was still holding her shoulders.
"It was a neat little plan, don't you agree?" He was bragging now, carried away with his own cleverness and the truth potion. "Neutralize Weasley, have him totally in my control, and have you as well, the threat to each of you holding the other in check. And what a blow to my father when he found out about us -- his precious son shagging a Mudblood." She felt a cold shiver of fear as she wondered how much Lucius Malfoy knew, but she couldn't bring herself to ask.
Draco was still talking. "The best part was using you to screw both Voldemort and Potter. And Potter, the stupid git, is letting me walk away, just as I knew he would." He smirked. "Oh, yes. It was a brilliant plan, and you all played your parts perfectly."
He ran the back of his hand over her cheek and she gasped, breath hitching in her throat.
"I'm tempted to ask you to come with me. A late addition to the plan. Hm." He ran a thumb across her lower lip. "You and me in America. Your Muggle background might even be useful." She opened her mouth in shock but she couldn't think, let alone form a sentence. He wrinkled his nose. "You've been into your flask again. If you don't stop, you'll drink yourself into an early grave." He paused, but her brain wasn't functioning yet. He shrugged. "Realistically, regardless of how good the sex is -- and it's very good, Granger. Don't ever sell yourself short in that department--" another pause for her reaction, but still she stared, slack-jawed, wondering if perhaps someone had slipped a hallucinogenic into her drink, or if she'd finally gone over the edge into insanity.
"Anyhow," he continued, when she didn't say anything, "we'd end up killing each other. It's inevitable. You loathe me and I despise you. It would never work."
For one wild moment, she wondered if it could have, then shook her head.
He was right. Well, not exactly right, but she didn't like him, and never would. But she felt a twinge in the region of her heart nevertheless. Their arrangement had begun out of desperation and necessity, but there was something between them now-- not love, never that, but maybe a slight hint of appreciation.
"Malfoy--" She reached up and cupped his cheek.
"Granger." He bit his lip, and looked for a moment like the little boy she'd first met ten years ago, then kissed her gently. "It's been... interesting." She was still paralyzed with shock, so he was already at the door before she could think of something to say.
"I hate you." But she said it with something akin to indulgence.
His answering grin was rakish. "I know." He grew serious for a moment, and said, "I am sorry about Weasley."
Then he was gone.