Actions

Work Header

These Ties That Bind

Chapter Text

Ophelia by Friedrich Wilhelm Theodor Heyser

”Ophelia” by Friedrich Heyser

 



2010

There was something Ginny Weasly needed to remember.

As she pondered what this might be, it fluttered away, spiraling ever further out of reach, lost on the slightest summer breeze. There was something about this that should concern her, but she'd quite forgotten why.

'Ginny, come here my love.'

Ginny looked up. Her eyes trailed a line around the room. Up and down over the old stone, the desk piled high with papers, the assembly of waiting chairs all facing her. At last she found what was calling to her.

Harry. It was Harry. Her Harry.

He was reaching for her, his elongated fingers stretched out. A spider intent on catching her in its web.

Watching.

Waiting.

He sat beside her upon a raised dais, a large silver chair gleaming in the half light. She was positioned to his right hand side, their fingers would touch if only she would lift her hand. Panic clutched at her throat, her chest raised a fraction, as she endeavored to steady her breathing. His eyes snapped down, she could never hide anything from him. A flash of something like anger shadowed his face. He quickly quashed it, smiling wide, teeth shining.

His hand lifted. He was waiting. Harry didn't like to be kept waiting. A miser preparing to collect his bounty. A well earned reward at the days end.

He'd changed a lot since their school days. Boyish good looks melting away to something harder, sharper. Cheekbones that carved long hollows through his cheeks. A high pointed nose that was a reflection of his ancestry and a long shaggy mane dropped to his shoulders, feathering his robes. He'd stopped cutting it short a few years ago now. The telltale spectacles he'd sported through school were also long gone. Instead his piercing green eyes cut through without a hint of glass to shield you from his all knowing gaze. He was handsome in a rugged sense. There were lines around his eyes that hadn't been there before. A face that'd fought through seemingly endless battles to come out on the other side. Whole, but never quite the same.

It'd been 12 long years since the death of Voldemort and yet he still held them clutched in a wet blanket of smothering fear.

He was dead.

He died.

Yet in them he managed somehow to live on. It was always his greatest skill after all. In nightmares, in his followers that hid in the shadows, a candle refusing to be put out no matter how hard they tried.

The scar on Harry's forehead carved through his skin like a small crater of thin lines weaving outwards. A map marking the horrors of his youth, stark against pale skin. He wore heavy black robes of exquisite make, a sign of the wealth and status Harry now insisted they represent. Ginny wore a long green dress of silken emerald which clung to her thin frame like molten lead. Harry liked how the colour set against her hair. As if she were made from fire and earth. A spring goddess come to bless them with her never ending good cheer. Or at least that's what he used to say.

She too had let it grow. It swept down her back like a long crimson tide. When she was allowed outside she liked to tangle wildflowers through it, their scent bleeding through the emptiness that radiated from her skin like glimmering dust. She smiled, her red lips parting as she sauntered over to him and he wrapped an arm about her waist, lowering her onto his lap. Her silken dress slid over her skin as she made herself comfortable, propped on one leg. One of his fingers immediately began stroking her hip. Slow, languishing strokes that made her want to lean into him.

Harry was talking to someone. She looked up, finding an unfamiliar face. There were so many of them now.

Boring.

She dropped her head inspecting her fingernails. They were chewed to the quick. She couldn't remember doing that. She felt his hand slide higher, making its way up the curve of her thigh. Her dress curled away as his fingers roamed. The sound of her name echoed through the cavernous room and her head snapped up. Many eyes greeted her. Some of them scared. Others leered as if they hoped to devour her whole. It was to one of the latter Harry spoke. Harry's hand slid up the nape of her neck, his fingers tangling through her hair at the base of her skull. He gently tugged and her head tipped back, baring her throat.

'Would you like to touch her Roan?' he whispered. 'I can see it in your eyes. How you hunger for her.'

She felt his other hand slither further up her thigh. His touch was like an electric breeze lifting gooseflesh on her skin.

'Beautiful isn't she. Often I look at her and am taken away. My heart completely stolen anew.'

He sighed, a sound so piteous and profound.

'She is like the rose tangling through the weeds. A bright star that is blinding in her beauty. We can only hope to bask in her splendour.'

Ginny felt his thumb ghost over her cheek.

'But you're mine. Aren't you love?'

'Yes,' Ginny smiled, curling her fingers through his.

'Do you understand what that means Roan?' His tone had shifted now he wasn't talking about her. There was a biting menace there.

Ginny grinned.

Harry released her hair and she nuzzled into him dropping soft kisses on his throat. He groaned, turning to face her. Capturing her with those green eyes. She was powerless under his gaze, a creature bent on pleasing him.

'Not now love. I need to show our guest what happens to those who look at you.'

She nodded, sitting back.

'See how she obeys? You would do well to learn from her example.'

People were shouting now.

Odd that they would do that.

Harry raised his wand.

Ginny blinked.

It was only her and Harry now. He watched her studiously, his eyes raking over her with possessive intent. 'Did you have a good day today my love?'

‘I… I think so.’

‘That is good to hear.’ 

His hand was still gripping her thigh. She noticed looking down that her dress was different. Instead of silk, it was chiffon. A floating green cloud of decadence. 

Harry brushed the sweeping fabric aside revealing her skin, blinding white against the black of his clothing. He burrowed his head into the crook of her neck and she lay a kiss atop his brow. The warmth of his breath feathered her skin, a phantom promise of the love he refused to relinquish. Harry lay a kiss there, then another in the dip beneath her jaw, his lips softly sliding over her throat. She tipped her head back, a smile lighting her lips. 

Then he took those with his own. He kissed her hard enough to bruise. His wandering hands hiked ever higher, finding the soft and sensitive flesh between her legs. He whispered the pad of his thumb along the apex of her thighs, careful to wait for her intake of breath. When he elicited a gasp he grinned wickedly, mouth gently crawling along her clavicle with precise, circling heat. Ginny’s fingers clenched, marking her flesh with red prints where she clutched her knees. Harry’s tongue swirled, teeth scraping up her throat, his hands awakening wild wanting, rupturing her like fractured glass. A sea of mirrors, light reflecting into infinite caverns of frenzied fire. She found herself pressing down against his thigh, hips seeking sweet friction as he teased, tormenting her. 

‘Spread your legs wider for me love,’ he ordered. 

Her pulse spiked under his command, a wave of heat threading through her fingertips. She did, shuffling to drape her knees on either side of his muscled thigh, adjusting until she was positioned just how he liked, the arm of the chair digging into her back. His eyes flashed with approval and his hand skimmed, under her dress playing over the line of her underwear, the soft lace a delicate whisper of fabric against her skin. Flames trickled down her spine, puddling like a gentle heartbeat in her lower abdomen growing stronger with each stroke of his fingers.  

‘I am mad for you,’ Harry buried his forehead in her throat, inhaling her scent, his lips playing up to the shell of her ear. ‘Mad as the sea and wind and all the things between.’ 

Her hand lifted, sliding higher, creeping towards his neck. There she cupped his jaw and he hummed, the vibrations rousing. Provoking a coiling tension to rise in her gut. 

‘Take it,’ she exhaled. ‘Take what is yours.’

His breath slithered over her skin while his hands snaked over her body triggering a perverse whistle of wanting to skate through her teeth. With a chuckle that cut like gravel, he arched his head back and it was all she could do to meet the chaos that writhed behind his eyes head-on. Bound to his gaze she floated lost in time and place by a smouldering intensity that bordered on unnatural. A sinister silhouette engraved in silken jade. Thick air circled them, an oppressive fervour drenching their desire. Harry’s palm slid beneath her underwear, his touch lifting the hairs on the back of her neck. A soft gasp exited her lips and he wet his lips, pupils widening, his gaze darkening to pitch. Thirst battled its way to the surface, a scorching river of lust setting him aglow.  He gently eased a finger inside all the way to the knuckle, fastidiously pressing into her core. There he started to slowly languish, gaining momentum with every gasp he wrought. Ginny’s hips undulated, discovering an easy rhythm as sparks fizzled up her spine. Harry’s mouth found its way back to skin, nipping at her jaw until his lips came down on hers, stealing the breath from her lungs. His kiss quickly turned feral, his fingers claiming. Another joined the first and Ginny moaned a low sound of contentment. He smiled in satisfaction. 

With an arm twisted around her back, he caged her with hardened pressure dragging her into him until there was no space left between. And for a time she was nothing more than flushed pink cheeks and panting desire. Arousal collected in her stomach like a tight fist, thrumming down, down, down. He possessed her with predatory intent. Savage, desperate and consuming. 

‘Ginevra,’ he hummed into her lips and she jerked, heart thumping painfully in her chest. Adrenaline coursed through her and she tore herself free, his arm managing to catch her before she could topple off his lap. Ginny’s airway momentarily constricted as she came face to face with the carnivorous stranger that ravished her. A face both familiar and foreign. She reeled but his hand raked through her hair pulling her back in. A violent tremor cut through the haze splitting her mind. 

Someone whimpered. 

It might have been her. 

Blink and he was above her. Sweat between them, a heavy weight pressing down. 

‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ 

Blink and he was kneeling, tongue flicking, thumb swirling. Mouth hot, kisses scorching, skull tipped back, hair splayed like wildfire over silk sheets. Back arching, hands fisted in his hair. 

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ 

Blink and she was back, exhaustion spreading like roots through her veins. Ginny let her head fall, rolling over his shoulder. A boneless surrender, eyes fluttering shut. Long fingers slid around her throat, Harry’s thumb pressing into the hollow beneath her jaw. His mouth descended on hers, his grip tightening until she rasped, chest rising and falling as she panted desperately. 

‘It’s ok,’ he murmured into her lips, his voice calming and familiar. ‘You’re ok Ginny.’ 

The name brushed over her fractured nerves settling her like a skittish cat. Fiendish hands raked through crimson locks, enticing the malleable and compliant creature back. She eased into him, fingers gliding down his shoulders, nails digging into his robes. He pulled her closer, tightening his embrace. They were locked together, their bodies moulding in a wild tailspin. Her breathing was ragged, his skin on fire. He feasted on her as if he wanted to tear her apart and consume every part of her. 

She wanted—she wanted—

'My Lord,' someone called from behind them.

They both ignored it, continuing to worship each other in blatant view of any who should pass.

'My Lord I apologise. You are needed.'

Harry tore himself away, as if it were the most impossible of tasks. His eyes bored into hers and she let her thumb run over his lips. They were red where her lipstick had marked him.

'I love you,' she said.

He smiled. That familiar crooked smile. Yet biting. Menacing. He owned her body and soul. An obsession that was claiming in its intensity. Perhaps it was his eyes. The way they saw far too much. And far too little.

'I will return to you.'

'I know. You'll always come back to me Harry. We go together.'

He brushed her lips with his.

Blink.

She was standing now though she couldn't recall the steps that required her to get here. A red headed man was kneeling in front of her. It sent a pang of loss through her heart. It'd been so long since she'd seen her family. She felt a body come up behind her, arms looping around her wait.

'He deserves to be punished doesn't he my love?'

'Punish,' she repeated. 'What did he do?'

'He tried to steal you away from me. He tried to take you. You don't want to go with him do you?'

Her head shook, stands of her red hair flying. 'No. I love you Harry. This is my home.'

'Good girl.'

He dragged her hair aside, sliding it over her shoulder. His lips were back on her throat and she leant into him. His arms clutched at her tighter. She felt him lift her arm, placing a wand in her hand, curling it into a fist. He did not let her go, instead forcing her arm up, aiming at the captive before them. The man was screaming something. A dull roar that filled her head, cotton wool smothering her senses.

Crucio.

Blink.

Suddenly the hall was empty.

Only Ginny sitting in the chair on her own. When did she sit back down? There were people there before... weren't there? She winced as her skull thumped painfully, the sign of a headache on the horizon. That's what always happened if she thought too hard about anything. Better to learn to let go. It was less painful that way.

So Ginny sat.

She sat so long the chair started to bite into her muscles, the wooden surface hard against her skin. Still she did not move. Beneath her feet the sun sliced through the room a golden thread of light cutting through the dark. A line slowly creeping, crawling it's merry way over the ground.

Watching.

Waiting.

A creature at risk of merging into stone. A flower that would never wilt. The colours still vibrant, yet the soft petals long since hardened. Reach out and touch it, the entire thing would crumble. Fight so hard, for so long, you might forget what you were fighting for. All that light touches is not a promise of splendour. More often than not it is the gold of fools. A trick. A false wish taken before it could be earned.

Ginny wasn't sure when she first started to fade. There were a million tiny moments. An infinite array to pull from the deck. The house of cards stacked ever higher as she receded deeper and deeper. A castle built on shifting sand. One wrong move and the entire thing would topple crushing her to death. It was difficult to conceive why she would move. There was nowhere she needed to be. Nothing she was required to do. Her back was aching to the point that her legs began to shake. A sharp pain shuddered up her spine. Her gaze flicked over the room watching as people scurried through the large hall refusing to meet her eye. That's how it always was here, so few would be foolish to look at her. Harry didn't like when others looked at her.

Astonishing to have found herself in a place that felt so cold. Ginny grew up in a home brimming with warmth. Photos peppered the walls. Broomsticks lay splayed haphazardly where they were dropped. A ticking clock that never hushed its timely tune. A hand painted kitchen table with an array of mismatched chairs. Shouted good nights as they all lumbered up to rooms piled high with precious mementos. Each ardently guarded, a laborious jumble that reflected the owner. Hand stitched blankets littering lumpy sofas well worn by a family who sat reading, talking, laughing.

No one laughed in Potter Manor.

Where the Burrow was a mix of burning joy and life, her home was an icy tomb. She missed the smell of herbs wafting through the window. The sight of the fields as the sun dipped behind those rolling green seas. The sound of many footsteps banging up and down the stairs. An endless song, the drumming that spoke of safety. Comfort. Home.

People didn't make sound here. It was quiet. Always quiet. As if all the sound had been leached from the inhabitants, absorbed by the ancient stone walls. Flickering light blurred the scene. Darkening corners making space where shadows might creep. Heavy rugs of navy and green sat thick upon every floor. It did little to stem the cold. Large portraits had been hung, lining the walls with a plethora of achievement. Faces staring back at her, their eyes resembling bats in a cave. Observing from behind the safety of their painted worlds. An enormous fireplace, cold and empty, sat like a silent sentinel watching over it all. Once it might have been a gateway to freedom. Not anymore.

Ginny's hand curled into a fist, missing the wand that should have been there. Why did she not have it? She winced as more pain lanced her forehead. A flash of silver caught her eye and she swung her head left. There was a window there, a large ancient window that stretched floor to ceiling. Beyond the glass she could just make out the lake glimmering in the noon day sun. She sighed wishing she could go there.

There was no reason she couldn't per se. Only that she'd quite forgotten how to move of her own volition. There was something about this that should bother her but she'd forgotten that too. The hours melted by... Fast then slow. Then not at all. Then she'd blinked and a whole week had passed.

'My Lady.'

Ginny turned to find a small woman before her. She had blonde hair that shone like moonlight. There was something familiar about her but she couldn't recall. There was a lot she could remember these days. As if she were caught in an ever present slippery fog clinging to her mind. Blocking the thoughts from finding purchase. Perhaps she'd taken too much Sleeping Draught again.

'Would you like to come with me?'

Ginny's head tipped to the side. Why did it matter if she would like to do anything?

The girl was a maid. One of the many servants that were required to maintain the upkeep of Potter Manor. She reached out a hand, slowly, as if scared to spook a wild animal. Ginny merely stared at it, not quite sure what to do.

'I have some breakfast for you My Lady. My Lord would like you to come and eat.'

Ginny stood. Her back rejoiced at finally being free of her frozen waking slumber. She almost stumbled stepping off the dias, both her legs had gone numb. She relished in the tingling sensation that shot up her thighs as they came back to life.

The girl led her through a series of winding hallways. All decorated the same. Old stone walls, ancient tapestries and garish gilt decor. It almost hurt to look at. There was not a single picture of her and Harry anywhere. All that served as a reflection of their existence was a large portrait of them that sat in his office. A place only his eyes could touch. Upon reaching the kitchen the maid gestured for her to sit at the table. Ginny sat. She would really rather have continued standing, her back still quite sore from the hours seated but she sat anyway. The word 'no' had long left Ginny's vocabulary after all.

A plate of crumpets was placed before her. They were dripping in butter and honey and her mouth was immediately watering. Ginny loved crumpets. Especially the ones Molly Weasley and her used to make from scratch every Sunday morning. They used to do it every weekend before she went to school. Then only when she was home for holidays.
Then not at all.

A shadow of Molly rippled before her eyes like an old film, an apron stretched around her belly, strands of her mane of wild vermillion sticking straight up from the oven heat.

'Hear Ginny like this.'

She'd take her small hand and as one they'd stir the batter, gently folding the ingredients together. Then came the fun part. Gathering up the dough and forming little balls on an oven tray. They could have done this with magic of course but where's the fun in that. At least that's what Molly Weasley used to say. The result would be a sticky mess where they'd both be covered in flour by the end of it.

The boys would stampede through the front door then. The wood snapping against the wall as each of them charged inside. Boots shucked, hats dropped, hands leaving a trail of mud wherever they touched. Arthur Weasley would come last, his wand already out clearing the dirt and debris the boys would carry with them. Charlie would scoop her up and Bill would pretend to steal her nose. Fred and George would pilfer some of the freshly baked crumpets in all the commotion. Ferrying them up to their room before Molly could see. Ron would stand in the corner, his face lifted in awe. There was none he looked up to quite like his brothers. Meanwhile Percy wouldn't be there at all. He'd be upstairs, his nose in a book, the pages turning rapidly as he gorged on tale after tale. He used to read to her. At least she thought so. Stories about knights at a round table. Or princesses trapped in a castle. She liked the one about a magic ring best.

The crumpets were getting cold yet she did not lift a hand, did not reach for one. A cup of tea was carefully placed beside the plate and Ginny looked up smiling in thanks.

'Do you not like crumpets, My Lady?'

'Oh yes. Very much.' Her eyes darted back to her plate.

'Can I—is there anything I can get you?'

'Oh no thank you.'

'Well—eat up. I'm sure it's good.'

Permission granted Ginny tore into the crumpets in front of her. The honey and butter dribbled down her chin and she looked around her for a napkin only to be handed one by the servant girl. It didn't take long for them to be gone. Ginny licked her fingers clean savouring the taste of it. It would be nice to see her mother again, if only to bake crumpets on a Sunday morning. Her eyes twitched, her brow furrowing. A thought buzzed through her brain, an irritating nat bent on ruining her fun. She shooed it away.

The tea was likewise delicious. Made exactly to her liking. With a contented sigh she leant back in her chair, careful not to set it creaking. Harry didn't like loud sounds. They hurt his head. Or at least they used to. His headaches were few and far between these days.

Another window was carved into the wall next to her, though this one was swung wide in an attempt to entice a cooling summer breeze. The scent of lavender wafted through the opening and Ginny tipped back her chin sucking in the freshness. A butterfly fluttered into the room and Ginny lifted her hand. To everyone's surprise but hers it landed on the tip of her fingers. Ginny smiled, elated as the tiny creature crawled down her thumb finding home in the palm of her hand.

'Oh isn't that sweet,' the maid sighed from across the table.

Ginny looked up. She laughed. Without warning she lifted her other hand, clapping them together. The maid jumped back, half losing her footing and almost tripping. Ginny glanced back down, slowly opening her hands. The butterfly had been flattened under the force of the blow. Lifting it higher she surveyed its wings, a dazzling mix of ochre and black veins. A monarch butterfly. A wanderer.

Not anymore.

Tilting her hand it began to slide, until eventually it dropped to the ground landing without sound. Ginny tipped her head back meeting the maid’s gaze. Whatever she saw there made her eyes widen, her hands tremble. She took another step back.

Ginny's hand curled around the cup in front of her. It was cold now.

'I'd like some more please,' she said quietly.

'Oh,' the she straightened. 'Some more tea?'

'No. More butterflies.'

The girl froze halfway lifting the kettle from the stove. Her mouth popped open and closed as she pondered what to say. Nobody refused Ginny Potter.

'Of course My Lady. I will—I will ask someone. Of course.'

She scurried away and Ginny giggled into her hand. Tapping her foot once she kicked out, sending the butterfly corpse skittling across the old stone. It landed in the fireplace and promptly caught ablaze. She watched it burn. The wings went first, their delicate colour melting into blackened ruin. Next came its antenna, its head. The body went last. As if clinging to the life long since lost to it.

'Lucky,' she said without thinking.

The word brought her up short. Why would she think something like that?

Her life was perfect after all.

That tiny voice was needling at the back of her mind again. Like a grating empty echo refusing to silence. She reached for it desperately seeking it to quiet but the thoughts fluttered away like old moths bleeding into dust.

There was something she was supposed to remember.

Chapter Text

1999

Voldemort is dead.

He's dead.

Voldemort is dead.

He's dead.

These were the words that Ginny recited to herself on repeat. She could understand now, when everyone spoke about the fear that carried after the first war. How even though he was gone, his body destroyed, it was difficult to really believe it.

She'd seen it. She'd seen it for herself. Yet still she'd wake in the middle of the night terror choking her, sweat drenching her skin. Still she'd hear a loud sound and jump, wand whipping up ready to fight off some unknown foe. He was like a sickness that managed to infect, the poison leeching her veins refusing to leave.

But Voldemort was dead.

He was dead.

His body burnt and broken.

Ginny still dreamt of it. Most likely the images would never fade. Her sleep never restful. That was the thing about war, it lingered long after the final bell was rung.

In the end the battle of Hogwarts lasted two months, far longer than anyone could have imagined. Long enough to bleed their resources, kill their resolve and destroy any hope of winning. Yet in the end, somehow, they did. The first two days were mayhem. Bloodshed and mass casualties on both sides. That was until the school triggered a secondary safety measure that apparently hadn't been needed since the late Middle Ages. It'd been so long everyone forgot it was there.

As the Death Eaters approached, ready to take the castle, a bleeding fog rose from the edges of the Forbidden Forest. It twisted through the air like a thick plume of smoke blinding them. Any who entered—who tried to cross too far into the school grounds—would begin to suffocate. First they'd become confused, lost. Then they'd start to choke, their throats quickly constricting and filling with the smoke as it solidified transforming into liquid. They would drop, quite literally drowning on air.

A few of them tried to apparate and that was when they discovered the final fail safe. Burning. Their bodies combusting in furious flames before they could get to safety. It was ingeniously cruel, perhaps designed in retribution for the many attempted burnings that the wizarding world suffered. Either way it granted them time, space to rest. Recuperate. Treat their sick and wounded. Lay their dead in a safe place where friends and family might mourn.

That left the space between.

No Man's Land.

They lost a lot of good people there.

Ernie Macmillan was torn to shred by werewolves as he attempted to flee. His body parts left at the edge of the barrier, a line of limbs to demonstrate what might happen if they should be foolish enough to try to escape. Three fifth year Ravenclaws were tortured, their screams magnified for hours until someone finally put them out of their misery. Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell were captured and taken to the Death Eater camp. Three days later Angelina was found wandering aimlessly through the Fog. No one knew what happened to her and she refused to say. She threw herself off the Astronomy Tower a day later. Katie was never seen again.

A couple of third years were blinded when a Death Eater caught them with a curse that caused knives to explode through their eyes. An entire group was flayed, their skinless remains hung within view of the headmasters office—a not so subtle message to the memory of Albus Dumbledore.

There were so many more.

A curse that compelled acid rain to fall on them. Ginny still had a scar on her right arm. A bone breaking curse that effectively made the density so brittle those hit with it had to claw their way back to the castle as their bones cut through skin. A memory spell that provoked a group to forget who they were and kill each other. A curse that triggered a gangrenous effect, essentially meaning those inflicted would be forced to watch their own body rot in a kind of horrifying fast forward. An infinite array of cruel inventions intent on killing, maiming and destroying any sense of morale. It was a stretch of land that would forever stink of death and decay.

At first Aberforth kept them in good supply, ferrying in food and materials whenever they needed. Reinforcements too shuttled through as more of the Order arrived. That was until he was discovered by Death Eaters. They killed him. A Killing Curse straight through the heart. After that a small legion of them came charging through the tunnel, a few even making it into the Room of Requirement. It was Padma Patil who shut the way blocking the rest from joining the attack. That was according to the written account of a survivor who'd managed to escape. They'd been using it as an infirmary in an attempt to hide the wounded if need be. One of the Death Eaters triggered an explosive curse. No one survived.

Bill and Fleur were in there at the time.

It was the second Weasley death after Fred. He'd been taken out when an blast cut through one of the upper hallways. It broke her family when it happened. Then the war took another one. There are no words for the empty pain that she felt during those days.

Harry was nearly catatonic.

He'd been fighting to leave since the first day. Insisting that if he gave himself up they might find a way to escape. Voldemort wanted Harry. He told them as much every night as he detailed all the ways he was going to kill the ones Harry loved if he didn't surrender. Kingsley locked him up and assigned round the clock guards to his room. Only Hermione, Ron and Ginny were permitted entry in an attempt to keep him sane. It didn't stop Harry though for it was as they neared the end of the second month when he managed to escape. It was widely speculated that Ron was the one who let him free. No one could ever prove it though. All they knew is that the two guards were stunned in the back, their memories wiped. Harry didn't have his wand as it'd been torn from his hand weeks earlier so there wasn't much cause to think he'd acted alone. Both Harry and Ron denied it but refused to reveal the true culprit. Harry just kept saying it was him, that he'd managed to steal back his wand and stun them. It wasn't all that believable.

His liberation came a day after there was a mass loss in No Man's Land. Voldemort himself entered the fray and cast a small localised earthquake hoping that if he somehow destroyed the land it would end the Fog. It did not. The earthquake, however, did have a devastating effect in that the ground swallowed up a small group of their fighters. They all suffocated to death.

Remus Lupin. Hannah Abbott. Cho Chang. A host of other Order members Ginny didn't know. Charlie Weasly.

Ginny could understand why if Ron had done it. They'd lost three brothers in just under eight weeks. Molly was inconsolable. Madame Pomphrey ended up dosing her with extended Sleeping Draught to keep her from racing out of the castle herself.

After his escape Harry made his way into the Forbidden Forest wearing his invisibility cloak set on killing Voldemort. He figured that it didn't matter what happened to him afterwards. As long as he got Voldemort first. When he got there the Death Eaters were assembled and he revealed himself right in the middle of their little camp apparently scaring the shit out of them. Harry struck hard and fast with the Killing Curse. Voldemort deflected and it ricocheted killing Hagrid who they'd kept as prisoner. Devastated Harry was then forced to battle Voldemort while the Death Eaters watched on.

'I should have died,' he murmured to her afterwards. 'I killed Hagrid. I deserved to die.'

'No Harry,' she brushed her hand through his hair. 'It was an accident.'

'It doesn't matter. Doesn't bring Hagrid back does it?'

'None of them will come back. But that's because of Voldemort. Not you.'

'I never cast the Killing Curse before. You have to mean it. I meant it then. I don't know what that means—maybe I'm evil after all.'

'You're not evil Harry don't talk like that!'

'Maybe. But good people don't kill their friends.'

It was a secret he only told her, to everyone else it was Voldemort’s curse that Harry deflected not the other way around. According to Hermione he only succeeded due to the Elder Wand. The wand would not kill its true owner and Harry won it from Malfoy during their days on the run. Its loyalty was to Harry and so Voldemort's Killing Curse rebounded instead, catching him full in the chest instead. It felt like escaping the war and anguish on a technicality. A cruel joke to all that were lost in the days leading up to his death. But the power of the Elder Wand had a massive effect and when the spell rebounded it caused an explosive amount of magic to detonate. The result was an enormous crater in the ground, Voldemort’s burnt and broken body at the centre. Harry was flung backwards, lucky to survive. Half the Death Eater forces died on impact—the rest were taken out by the survivors from Hogwarts who charged upon hearing the sounds coming from the forest and realising Harry was gone.

Nagini, the last Horcrux, completely shredded.

'Do you think the Horcrux was destroyed?' Hermione had asked as they stared down at her remains.

'I don't know? What would happen if her body was gone?' Ron frowned.

'You're right. It's gone,' she nodded. 'I read that a Horcrux is like a parasite. It leaches into the host. Once the host is destroyed there's no way for it to just move into something else. Besides, where would it have gone? There was nothing for it to latch onto.'

With the snake dead that was it. No more Horcruxes. She didn't know about them at the time but Harry and the others had explained it all after the war. Six in total.

The diary.

The ring.

The locket.

The goblet.

Ravenclaw's diadem which they managed to pull out of the Room of Requirement before it was destroyed. All the grotesque parts of Voldemort he'd torn from his own soul.

Gone.

It was truly terrifying to learn she'd once confided in and nearly been subsumed by one such object. Stranger still to think of Ron, Hermione and Harry out there on their own for a year. It'd been so different for Ginny. She spent half the year battling the Carrow regime with Neville and Luna and the other in hiding with her parents at Aunt Muriel's. It was Neville, not Harry or Ron, who called her back to Hogwarts. A fact she would have reprimanded them had the situation not been so dire.

There was so much to be done after the battle. Anybody who might be fool enough to think that winning a war is where the work ends should be punched and often. Endless depositions and court hearings. Death Eaters carted in one by one, their crimes listed with horrifying clarity for all to hear. Then there was cataloguing the bodies. All the missing, the forgotten. A seemingly limitless cacophony of atrocities attributed to their demise. Dark Magic the likes of which most good and honest folk could never imagine. Burnings. Beheadings. Cutting. Carving. Bleeding. Torture. Bodies piled high, strung up for all to see. A Killing Curse would have been a mercy for some.

There was sorting through those that claimed to be under the influence of an Imperius Curse. Determining who was telling the truth and who was lying. Hundreds of prisoners carted off and yet still hundreds more to come. Not to mention those who toed the line. Where did they sit in all this? Were they complacent or hiding under the guise of fear? Or were they simply lying about everything? Hiding behind false tears.

According to her dad there was an entire division dedicated purely to the production of Veritaserum. Kingsley kept pushing to start using the Cruciatus Curse but fortunately most agreed that torture wasn't the way. A person might admit to anything under threat of pain. They all knew that now. Not to mention Death Eaters were well practiced as a general rule. Their ruthlessness was never more present than in their own forces.

Harry, Hermione and Ron spent a full three weeks at the Ministry of Magic after the Battle of Hogwarts. They were debriefed at length regarding their year in hiding. The Horcruxes however remained a heavily guarded secret by the Order of the Phoenix. No one wanted anyone else to get any ideas.

Snape's body was found in the Shrieking Shack. Snake attack. Evidently Voldemort had set Nagini upon him. He died alone and in pain, murdered by the man he sold his soul to. A fitting end for the man who’d betrayed them all. From what she heard Snape had been buried in an unmarked grave in a dark secluded spot deep in the Forbidden Forest with the rest of the Death Eaters who died that day. Good riddance to the lot of them. It was more than they deserved. Harry only wished it'd been him that finished the job.

There were several heated debates as to what to do with Voldemort's body. In the end it was destroyed in view of all the survivors at Hogwarts. An effort to alleviate fears. A way to prove he was really gone.

Then there were the funerals.

Weeks of them.

Ginny discovered she was grateful when at least there was a body. A level of certainty came with that. But there were so many without. For them there were just memorials. Uncomfortable affairs where the guests tried and failed not to imagine what happened to them. As the Boy Who Lived Harry was invited to all of them. It was agony to watch him try to pick and choose which ones he could go to. Ginny of course went with him. Dutifully holding his hand through it all.

'I couldn't do this without you Gin,' he'd whispered. Over and over again. 'I couldn't do this without you.'

After that came her brothers.

That was when Ginny had her first breakdown. Up until that point it'd been a matter of going through the motions. She'd learnt how to separate from self. How to nod, and smile. How to offer kind words in moments where words could never help. How to stand in place when her body was screaming to run, to flee.

Bill, Charlie and Fred made it real.

It was a small affair. A burial down by their family graveyard at the edge of their property where all the Weasleys ended up. Fleur with them. Then a wake at the Burrow. A subdued day punctuated by Molly's sobs as she clung to Arthur. A painful wound of the heart that only seemed to grow.

It was George who snapped them out of it.

'Fred would have wanted us to laugh!' he shouted. 'They all would want us to be happy. We won the war. We fucking won. So we're going to laugh. We're going to be happy.'

He dropped a fistful of fireworks then which exploded in his face sending them all into hysterics. Exactly as he'd planned.

After that they gorged on firewhiskey until they could barely stand. Arthur summoned a band and they danced as more fireworks shot through the sky. At some point someone started a silent prank war which got steadily more and more obvious as the evening went on. It culminated when everyone pretended they couldn't see Ron for twenty minutes straight and ended when he started threatening to head to St Mungos. Then Hermione cast an invisibility charm on him which missed because she was drunk. Instead it hit the house and the entire thing blinked out of sight. It took them three hours to figure out how to make it reappear in their inebriated state.

Ginny had to be carried upstairs to bed. Harry dropped in beside her curling his arms around her waist. He'd been staying in her bedroom since after the war. In the past her mum might have objected. She didn't much care for anything now. He lay a kiss on the back of her neck and she snuggled into him.

'I couldn't have done this without you,' she whispered and his arms tightened around her.

'We go together,' he murmured back. 'Always. It's us. We do it together.'

Then there was the almost impossible task of finding a shred of normalcy.

Daily life after so much death.

The losses had carved their way through her family like a physical thing. More often than not Arthur Weasley would come home and collapse on their old sofa. Completely lacking the energy to make his way upstairs. Ron developed insomnia. He'd prowl their home, wand raised ready for any Death Eaters that might have gotten away. Molly struggled. There was no other word for it. The loss of three sons was debilitating. She barely got out of bed at all and when she did it was usually to look after Percy who was in even worse shape than she. George went back to his flat in London. By all accounts he was out partying every night, sleeping with every muggle girl in the city. In time he managed to pull himself back together, if only to keep Weasley Wizarding Wheezes going. He threw himself into it body and soul, as if it directly marked Fred's legacy and he was committed to making it successful. The shop expanded first through Europe. Then the States. Even Australia and New Zealand had one now. There wasn't a school on earth safe from the wild and weird inventions of Fred and George Weasley. After a while Ron started to get involved in the business, if only to pay his way through Auror training. But Percy... Percy lost something the day Fred died. A piece of him that he seemed never able to get back.

For a long time Ginny was just... adrift. More often than not she'd lie awake and feel the world turn. A constant cycle that refused to cease.

Day. Then night.

Day. Then night.

A vicious rotation. A moment of bliss each morning before her memory caught up. Then pain. So much worse in the remembering.

But Ginny was not one to lose herself to grief. She went back to Hogwarts to complete her final year with Harry and Hermione. Ron too for a short spell but it didn’t stick. It was nice doing it with them. Returning however was more difficult than she'd imagined. A large statue was erected in the Hogwarts grounds. The names of those who fell scratched into the stone.

Lavender Brown.
Colin Creevy.
Aberforth Dumbledore.
Remus Lupin.
Hannah Abbott.
Cho Chang.
Seamus Finnigan.
Angelina Johnson.
Katie Bell.
Ernie Macmillian.
Parvati Patil.
Romilda Vane.
Rebeus Hagrid.
Horace Slughorn.
Fleur Delacour.
Bill Weasley.
Charlie Weasley.
Fred Weasley.

The list went on and on. At least fifty more casualties, both Students, Teachers and Order members. Names of people she didn't even know. Harry used to go out there every week. Like he was tethered by some sadistic hook he could never be free of. So many of Dumbledore's Army. So many that he'd spent hours training. Preparing for what was to come. In the end it was not enough.

Ron tried but didn’t last long. Said he couldn't go back to where it all happened. That he couldn't walk that hall where Fred died. Ginny found she couldn't keep away. As if she were bound to it somehow. Often she'd just end up there. Sitting in the window, softly crying to herself. Fred would have whacked her over the head for it but she did it anyway. Sometimes she'd whisper to him, little stories about her day. How she was doing in her classes. Giving him updates on how everyone in the family was doing. How much she missed him.

It was as she sat there one day when Harry came running down the hall. She leapt to her feet readying for attack. He skidded to a halt taking in her stance.

'What is it? What's wrong?' They asked at the same time.

It was Harry who broke first, a crooked smirk lifting his lip.

'You first.'

'Why are you running?' Her chest was heaving. 'Is there something-'

He took in her state, his eyes roaming over her wet cheeks, her wand raised.

'Nothing's wrong Ginny.' He stepped forward wrapping his arms around her. 'Nothing's wrong.'

He held her until her heart began to slow. Her breathing evened out. Then she punched him.

'Ow!' He darted back lest she try again. 'What was that for?'

'If there's nothing wrong why were you running like that? I thought—I thought-'

'I know what you thought. I'm late for my Transfiguration NEWT.'

'Oh. Right. Of course. You should go.'

'No.' He stuffed his wand in his pocket.

'What?'

'You're upset. Tell me why you're upset?'

'You have your exam Harry.'

'I'm Harry Potter,' he waggled his brows mischievously. 'I think they'll let me take it another time.'

'Oh is that right.' She could help but grin. 'Big man are you?'

'Oh the biggest. Didn't you hear?' He leant forward conspiratorially. 'I killed Voldemort.'

She leant back against the wall crossing her arms. 'Oh hmm... yes I think I heard about that. I was also there if you recall.'

A ripple of pain shadowed over his face. 'Of course I do.'

'I'm sorry Harry I-'

'It's ok. I know you were joking. It's just I forget sometimes... and then I remember.' He raised a hand tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. His other thumb wiping away her tears. 'I know you were there. I know how hard you fought. I'm just so glad-'

He took a step closer to her. Like that the air between them shifted. It'd been months since they'd left the Burrow. They'd moved back into the Gryffindor common room and it was like a wedge had grown between them. He hadn't come to her. She hadn't been able to bring herself to go to him. Not when she was always crying. The hallway temperature kicked up a notch and Ginny could feel sweat pooling under her shirt.

'-so glad nothing happened to you. I know everyone thinks I saved them. That I'm some big hero. But you—you saved me. I don't think I ever thanked you for that.'

Tears pricked her eyes.

'Ginny please don't cry. You deserve to be happy.'

'I am happy. I can't wait to be done with this place. To finally move on.' He stiffened his hand dropping to her shoulder.

'What is it?'

'We're nearly finished here. What—what comes after this? For you? For... us?' His fingers tightened, worry furrowing his brow. 'I can't live without you Ginny.'

'You'll never live without me Harry. It's us right?'

The words didn't appear to calm him. His eyes darted over the ground, his jaw clenching.

'Tell me.'

He was silent for several moments, his hand brushing up and down her arm. As if it grounded him somehow.

'In truth,' he huffed out a sigh. 'I'm scared. I'm terrified of, out there. Here—Hogwarts I found a home. I don't have a home anywhere but here. Here it's safe.' He winced, pressing a hand to his forehead. 'Here I can breathe. Out there I never could. I know I have to—to grow up. But I can't help but feel like I'm going to lose myself to it all. My life has always been about fighting Voldemort. To be free of him—I don't know who I am without that?'

The words tumbled from his mouth and Ginny gathered him into a tight hug.

'You have a home in me Harry, she whispered in his ear, her other hand stroking his back. It's you and me. We go together, always. You'll never be alone again. I promise. You and me.'

Those were the words she said out loud.

She kept the last three for herself.
'I'll die first.'

Chapter Text

2010

A shard of sunlight curled it's way through the room setting an orange hue blazing over the well worn furniture. Thick, faded couches were placed here and there, cushions of every colour jumbled on top while tiny tables peppered the floor. Books piled high littered the large window frames and bookcases. You could almost hear the old shelves creaking under the weight. That and shuffling feet as patrons perused the crockery and linens for sale. Clinking china punctuated by the whirr of the coffee machine. The scent of caffeine and tea permeated the air lending a cozy feel to the day.

Hermione sat across from Ginny in a cafe down the road from the Manor. It'd sprung up about a month after they moved in which was incredibly convenient. They'd squeezed into a comfortable corner away from the main thoroughfare hoping to find some privacy. She was dressed in standard muggle attire. Tshirt and jeans. She wore her hair pulled back, an assortment of pins stabbing carelessly here and there to hold back the wild mane. Ginny tipped her head to the side. She looked thinner than usual, her bones jutting out around her clavicle. Her cheeks sharper than she was used to.

A pot of tea was lowered onto the table in front of Ginny.

'You're not having anything?' She asked Hermione.

'Oh erm yes.'

She nodded her head wistfully, her fingers wrapping around the arms of her chair. Another cup was placed in front of her. She did not touch it.

Ginny felt a pang of worry for her friend. There was something off about her.

But then she was always tired these days. Evidently working as the lead Analyst for the Ministry of Magic Dark Arts and Artefacts Division took it out of her. According to Hermione the job was well worth the reward. That did not make it any less exhausting. Ginny once thought to become an Auror. It would've been like old days, fighting evil. Harrowing adventures with Dumbledore's Army all grown up. But then Harry got sick. He dropped out of his training and she followed soon after to take care of him. His health had improved substantially over the years but Ginny never made her way back. Strange to think how so much had changed. The years trickling by so fast. It was like trying to hold water in her hands. So easily lost.

She barely even saw her brothers any more. Everyone just got so... busy. She couldn't recall the last time her mum and dad had come to the Manor. It was remote but they could apparate. Harry had it guarded well but the lines were always open for her family. They just never came.

George kept the shop going even without Fred. Ginny couldn't stand to go in there. It was bitingly cruel. Every invention screamed at her like an old bruise. By all accounts Percy was doing better. He'd been discharged from St Mungo's after his very public breakdown. It'd been in the Ministry, during a high profile trial. He'd completely lost it. Almost killed the defendant in front of everyone. It'd been Antonio Dolohov so nobody in their circle cared much. Could understand it even. The man was a vile mix of cruel sadistic intent and bloodlust.

But according to her mother he was recovering, if slowly. He was back at the Burrow on a tightly monitored schedule. It was for this reason they often couldn't get away. She would have gone to the Burrow but Harry didn't like her going anywhere without him and he was just so busy these days. His role was incredibly demanding and there simply was never a good time. Come to think of it It'd been a long time since she'd left the Manor at all. Apart from the cafe of course.

It was a lonely life she led.

The thought stabbed at her brain and she baulked from it. Her brow twitched. She was being selfish. Her life was perfect. Waited on hand and foot. Taken care of by the world's most devoted husband. But there was always this feeling that she wanted... more. It might have been pleasant to have a career, or something, anything really. At one point she'd thought to be a teacher as well. She'd excelled at charms at school and had learnt to love helping her fellow students during their days back in the DA—Neville in particular relied on her support. She briefly pondered how he was. It'd been an age since she'd seen him too, not since her and Harry's wedding. He'd been a groomsman along with Ron, who was best man, and George. They'd wanted Percy as well but he told them no. It would have been too much for him. Too many people.

It'd been one of the happiest days of her life. She couldn't recall being that jubilant. Content. Not for a while. But maybe that's what growing up was. She was nearing 30 after all. Harry's birthday was only weeks away. There was so much to do, work and children to take care of. Growing up sucked, she decided.

She dreamt of her days running through the halls of Hogwarts—not the ones where she was running from Death Eaters and any manner of dark creature—those where she'd been surrounded by her friends. Where their laughter echoed through those ancient halls, the stone capturing their wicked pranks and jokes for eternity. She'd hoped one day to send her own children there. It would've been truly magical to walk through the burnt brick at platform nine and three-quarters. Ferry a boy, maybe a girl, onto the train. Watch it depart, the smoke billowing out as she waved goodbye. Harry would have loved that. She would have loved to have given it to him. But some things aren't meant to be she supposed.

Ginny took a long sip of tea. Over the brim she watched Hermione mirror her, she did not take a sip however.

'So how's work?' Ginny asked in an attempt to tear herself free of her funk.

'Oh. You know.'

'I don't actually. I don't get out much.'

Hermione perked up. 'You should. It might be good for you. Maybe—maybe a visit to see Luna.'

Ginny shrugged. 'Perhaps. She never answers my letters.'

'Are you sure she's getting them? Owl mail isn't always reliable.'

'I send them by Floo Powder. I was worried about the Owls like you say. Still nothing.'

'Right. Well maybe-'

'I was talking to Harry about you last night,' Ginny cut in. 

There was a loud clatter and Ginny looked up. Hermione dropped her cup. Tea splashed everywhere.

'Oh sorry. Oh I'm so sorry! Sorry Ginny.'

'Hermione your hands!'

'It's ok,' she wiped them on the sofa.

'It wasn't hot?'

'Oh no. No it wasn't hot.'

A server came to collect the pieces.
'Sorry. I'm so sorry,' Hermione blathered.
The Server glared at her.

Ginny chuckled as she walked away. 'What's her problem?'

Hermione was flustered, her face tipped down as if she feared someone might hit her.

What on earth?

'Harry—you spoke to Harry about me?' she stuttered. 'What did you say?'

'I was telling him how much I enjoy seeing you. He misses you I think.'

Her face darkened. 'Does he now?'

Ginny nodded. 'I don't see what happened between you two? Surely there's a way...'
She tapered off as Hermione's eyes fluttered shut. She placed her hands into her lap. Ginny noticed they were shaking.

'Harry knows what he's done.'

For a moment it looked like Hermione was going to cry. Then Ginny blinked and she was fine again. Sitting back and smiling. Must have been a trick of the light. Ginny's mouth stretched in a thin line. Hermione was holding a book now. She flipped it open trawling through the lines of text.

'I love this quote,' she said. 'A robin redbreast in a cage, puts all heaven in a rage. A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeon, shudders hell thro’ all its regions.’ Her eyes darted up- ‘What do you think it means?'

Ginny shrugged. 'It seems quite obvious to me.'

'Does it? It doesn't remind you of anything?'

Ginny's brow furrowed with confusion. 'What are you talking about?'

Hermione peered around. Finding no one in their vicinity she leant forward. 'Ginny, can I ask you a question?'

‘Of course.'

'Where...’ she worried her lip. ‘Where do you think we are?'

Ginny stared at her blankly. 'What do you mean? We're in the cafe?'

'Are we?' Hermione’s eyes continued trawling over their surroundings as if a hostile creature lurked within the shadows. Her gaze snapped back to Ginny. 'A cafe? Are you sure?'

'What are you trying to say-' she gasped as a thin hot poker stabbed through her skull.

'Ginny!' Hermione leapt to half standing.

'It's ok,' Ginny lifted a hand, setting her cup down. She rubbed her forehead. 'I'm ok.'

'Sorry Ginny. I shouldn't have.'

'It's fine. Really. I should be going anyway. When can I see you next?'

'Oh any time,' Hermione slumped back in her seat. 'Come by anytime. I'll be here.'

'Really? You don't have to work?'

'Er...' Hermione's eyes darted to her lap. 'Of course. Yes of course. But I'll make time. I'll always make time for you Ginny.' She smiled.

Ginny stood to leave, dusting off her skirts. There was a healthy ration of crumbs lining the wool. She half snorted at the sight. Lady of Potter Manor yeah right. It was as she was turning to leave that a thought needled at her brain. Something she wanted to ask Hermione.

'You haven't seen Ron have you? I can't ever seem to get in touch with him.'

Hermione appeared to flinch. 'No... No. Not for ages.'

'Sorry I shouldn't have asked. I know your breakup was... weird.'

'It's fine. Don't worry about it. We're good now. Maybe—maybe you should ask Harry?'

'Yeah. Maybe.' Ginny waved, crossing the room.

'Ginny,' Hermione called after her. Ginny swung around. 'Take care of yourself.'

'I always do,’ she chuckled. 'You and Harry are the same.'

Hermione's eyes flashed. 'Yes. I suppose we are in a way.'

'It breaks my heart to see you fighting.'

Hermione shrugged, leaning back in her chair. She lifted the book readying to settle in for a good afternoon session with her nose in a novel. 'Not everything is always what it seems.'

'What's that supposed to mean?'

'Oh nothing. See you Gin.'

~

Ginny stepped through the fireplace and was immediately swallowed and with another step she was spat out into the main hall of Potter Manor. Voices echoed through one of the hallways and Ginny hurried to make herself scarce. A thief in her own home. The Manor was abuzz with party preparations for Harry's 30th birthday. A tingling slither of excitement rolled through her gut. People would be here. People she knew. With that pleasant thought she hightailed outside before anyone tried to stop her.

Her feet traced the familiar path to the lakes shore. Each step allowed her chest to expand. The air to fill her lungs. The Manor would never feel like hers. She passed the East Wing which was currently being refurbished. A thick layering of metal scaffolding coated the brick like an unsettling exoskeleton. She half scoffed. Her house had wings. It was ridiculous. She'd always be the girl from the Burrow. In her room up the rickety, put back together, stairs. A haphazardous tangle of barely secured structures that was home. Hand me down clothes. Darned socks and mended shirts. She could see Molly now, staying up late. Wand hovering over a thick stack of her brood's almost shredded clothing. They'd have been down at their makeshift quidditch pitch battering away at each other all afternoon. Destroying all the work her gentle loving hands did.

It surprised her that Harry wanted to live in a Manor at all when he'd first suggested it. They'd always talked about getting a little house, something like his parents in Godric Hollow. He'd even talked about knocking it down, building something new in its place. Ultimately he'd been too frightened of the bad energy, like it might easily welcome the same horrors of the past. He experienced a slew of nightmares for weeks after that. So when he'd suggested the Manor she'd accepted despite her own discomfort. It felt like living in a museum sometimes. Long hallways going on forever. A million and one rooms she barely entered. It radiated wealth and status, a reality that would always feel foreign to her. She wouldn't be surprised if it had a dungeon.

Ginny liked it better by the lake. It was why she'd decided on this property in the end. Touring home after home with Harry's hand tangled in hers. It was when they snuck away from the realtor a few moments that they discovered the gardens. A wide stretch of flowers bloomed like an endless sea of colour. Roses filled the air with their rich scent. A plethora of tiny woodland creatures scurrying over the grounds. Then there was the lake. An enormous half moon carved into the earth. Lily pads with frogs croaking their eternal song. Fireflies darting through the air. Moss lay thick around the rocks poking out of the water's surface.

Once she reached the lake she angled left, further away from the house. It was beneath a gnarled old oak surrounded by blooming wildflowers she found what she was looking for.

A grave.

There was no name.

Weeds tangling over cracked stone, a mark of how long it'd been since her last visit. She dropped to her knees quickly tearing them free. Her hands she then leisurely brushed over stone, her fingers trailing over the divets where words had been carved into it.

Amor Deponitur.

Love laid to rest.

Then a series of looping letters underneath.

A luminous star not given the chance to shine. Extinguished but never forgotten.

A slow tear rolled down her cheek and she caught it angrily swiping it away. Crying wasn't going to bring them back. Her hand spasmed and she flinched, leaning back on her haunches. There she stared blankly for minutes, hours, until her feet went numb and the sun dipped lower in the sky. It was inherently peaceful here, a quiet solitude afforded in places the living commonly evaded, as if death were catching.

After an age she stood, hurrying the few steps to the garden shed and collected the items she needed. Some gloves, a small shovel and a handful of seeds. While gathering she noticed her maid just behind the line of trees doing a strange kind of dance. One step forward, one step back. Over and over again like a lost pet. Her moonlight hair flashed in the sunlight almost like diamonds, a soft radiant reflection that was reminiscent of… something. But what she couldn’t be certain. Ginny observed her absentmindedly for a time, absorbed in her movements before turning back to resume her task.

Back at the grave Ginny planted rosemary, for remembrance. Pansies for thoughts. Lilies for love lost. She tucked them into their beds, sprinkling them with a layer of water and tears. As she folded them into the earth tiny stems instantly shot through the dirt curling upwards. Ginny sat back watching them grow. First the stem, then a petite bulb falling like a large raindrop. Then the flower, its delicate petal steadily unfurling before her very eyes. Without a wand her magic had begun to spill out on occasion, most often when her emotions were either especially high or low. Evidently this was one such occurrence.

The spilled magic was like a balm, a release that she felt in her bones. Ginny sighed, tipping her head back. The sun on her face was like an Energising Draught. The rays bleeding into her skin and flooding her veins with reinvigorating warmth. It was hard coming here. The echo of a song whispered through her ears and Ginny hummed lightly under her breath. It wasn't the same though. The melody long since played out, no one in the audience left but her.

'I like seeing you like this.'

Ginny smiled. Turning around she found Harry leaning against the tree. He stood out, like a black stain, stark against the summer day. Light trickled over his features bathing him in a velvet hush, his eyes locked on her.

'Do you?'

'Yes,' he straightened, strolling towards her. Upon reaching her he extended a hand, curling his fingers under her chin and tipping it upwards. 'Before all of this.'

She lowered her lashes. 'I like coming here.' Her eyes snapped shut. 'I feel connected again. I seek that always.'

'I want that for you. You should have everything you want.'

'Is that true?'

He looked away, releasing her, fist clenching. 'You might not believe it. But yes.'

Ginny fingers feathered the earth and she plucked a daisy from the lush grass, spinning it between her fingers. 'I see them sometimes. In my sleep.’ She ripped the head off the daisy letting it fall back into the dirty. ‘My dreams gift me what waking cannot.’ Her gaze lifted to find Harry’s attention locked on her hands. He wore a rather grim expression. ‘We could go back. Couldn't we?'

His eyes flashed. 'No. There's no going back.' He approached her again, a hand outstretched.

She sighed, shuffling away from his touch, shoulders tightening. Hurt rippled over his face. It was like a knife through her heart. But… another part of her relished in it.

'I love you Ginny,’ he murmured.

'I know you do, Harry. I love you too. But this love is crushing. Do you not feel it?'

He ran a hand through his hair. 'Yes. But it’s all I have left.'

She flattened her dress over her knees, picking at the fabric. Harry knelt down in front of her.

'Is everything set for the party?’ she asked. Anything to prolong this, to stave off the inevitable. Elongate the moment where he was kind and she was real. A rarity in their reality.

'More or less.'

She nodded. 'Where have you been. It's been days. At least I think it has.'

'I had to travel to France,’ his lips thinned.

'You couldn't take me with you?'

'No. It is safer for you here.'

'What were you doing?'

He huffed out a breath. 'There was another faction of agitators discovered in hiding. They were hoping to sew their malcontent throughout Europe.’

Ginny's fist clenched. 'What did you do with them?'

'Their base was destroyed. The people have been taken into questioning.'

Her shoulders tightened. 'Are they here?'

'No my love,' he cupped her cheek. 'I would never bring them here.'

She schooled her features into something diminutive. Wide eyes and parted lips. 'I worry when you are gone.'

His expression mellowed and when he spoke his tone was laced with sardonic inference. 'You have no need to fear. I will not be killed by those who are too weak to see as we do.'

'I thought this would be over by now. But it just keeps going.'

'We will crush them.' He set his jew vehemently. 'Don’t concern yourself with such affairs.'

She arched a brow. 'What should I do instead? Languish in the garden like one of your statues?'

His nostrils flared. 'I need you safe. I can’t do this if you are not safe.'

Her head angled to the side, crimson hair spilling over her shoulder. 'Safe from who exactly?'

Harry’s gaze was cutting 'I told you what it was to marry me. What it might mean.'

Ginny felt her spine tremble but couldn’t stop the words from falling from her lips. 'Yet you take away my wand,’ she whispered. ‘You make me weak—‘

'I protect you,’ he snarled. ‘I will always protect you. You have no need to fight. Not anymore. Never again. Not after—'

'Don't. Don't say it.' 

A gust of wind tore through the glade, the long grass whipping, undulating like gentle waves. A flurry of leaves tangled through the air. Ginny's hair was swept upwards, a twisting mess of shredded flame. She smiled sadly, angling her face into it.

'You are so beautiful,' Harry whispered. 'The most beautiful creature I've ever seen. I love you. I protect you. I keep you safe.'

Her eyes fluttered, her fingers twitched and she hissed. 'These lies are catching.'

Suddenly he was gripping her wrist, tearing her to her feet. Green eyes latched on her face as if she were the last lifeline on earth. She watched his expression darken, the shift from her Harry to the... Other. The one that was cruel and clever. Full of sharp tongue and cutting words. The one he never wanted to be. The one he'd become either way.

This Harry did not love her.

This Harry owned her.

Like a prized mare or a golden trophy. His eyes echoed the words she knew too well.

Mine.

A love that was dipped in obsession.

'You're remembering.'

It wasn't a question and she didn’t bother answering.

His gaze faltered. ‘Please don't do this.'

Ginny refused to look away. 'Ha! Me?’

He shook her roughly. ‘I give you everything. All you have to do is trust me. There is no looking back now. There is only my beautiful wife and our home—‘

‘Is my beauty worth more than my honest words?’ she bit back. ‘You turn away more often than not. Should I hide my face or would you look upon it and see what you have done? See what you have made me?'

'Gin—‘

'I won’t be buried under your fear. You'll have to lay me at my grave first.’ She threw out her free hand, gesturing to the headstone. ‘Perhaps I can join them—'

His grip was hard enough to bruise. 'Don't talk like that.'

She barked out an empty laugh. 'Are you going to make me?'

He shook her again, harder this time. 'Stop this—'

'At least then I might be free—'

Fingers snaked around her nape, pressing his forehead to hers. She wanted to bat him away. She wanted to lean closer. The two parts of herself warring as they always did.

'I'm not made for losing you,' Harry whispered. 'I can not survive it.'

Ginny stared at him long and hard. At this juncture she could either rile him further and regret it later or relinquish the fight. She would never win. So she did what she always did, succumbed, fell back behind the veil, letting her lips curl into a small smile. The smile of a woman long since lost.

'I suppose in that we are the same.'

Harry calmed instantly, his mouth forming a familiar crooked grin. It'd been so long since she'd seen it it quite took her breath away. Her Harry. The Other quickly fading back into the mud.

If only it would stay there.

Her eyes softened. 'There you are.'

'I’ve always been here,’ Harry tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. ‘I never left.'

Ginny took his hand in hers, fingers intertwining.

His eyes wandered, emerald green flickering over the expansive lake. 'We are tied, one can not live without the other. Mine. Yours. It is to be made of mirrors. Our reflection is the same. All I see is you.'

Her brow furrowed. 'Why then can I not?'

'Ginny—'

'Harry please you don’t have to—'

His expression hardened. ‘I’m sorry.’

There followed a sound. Whispered words. It might have been a spell. Cold hands crept along her skin. A heavy fuzz building in the corner of her eyes.

Blink.

She was standing in front of an enormous mirror situated towards the edge of her bedroom. A gown of voluminous viridian tulle floated luxuriously around her frame. It sported a tight bodice with a curved neckline that scooped under her clavicle. The layered skirts ballooned outwards, the gathered lining like melancholy flowers swishing gently as she swayed to and fro. Her hair was tied back into a thick looping braid in the shape of a figure eight.

Her face was painted in a ethereal mix of makeup. Cheeks carved, blackened lashes, a glistening shimmer reflecting over her skin. Blood red lips, the colour punctuated by a sizeable glittering string of weighty jewels that dug into the back of her neck. It was an assortment of interlaced diamonds, the largest of which was the size of her thumbnail. It drooped over her throat like a miniature twinkling galaxy. Even in the half light it was blinding.

She might have marvelled at her own beauty had she any recollection of the steps required to get here. As it was she felt discombobulated and unsure. Her legs buckled and she nearly collapsed, managing to catch herself on the back of a chair. There was a red scratch on her palm. It looked like a partially healed cut.

Where had that come from?

A head popped into her room. The maid from the kitchen. 'My Lady—oh My Lady you look lovely.'

Ginny's head snapped up, her eyes wide with fear, half brimming with tears. Upon seeing her the maid gasped rushing into the room. The door snapped behind her causing Ginny to jump.

'My Lady what's wrong?'

The girl’s hands extended as if she wanted to reach out, to lay a calming hand over her skin. She did not.

'I don't know what's happening to me,’ Ginny’s throat bobbed. ‘I think—I think I'm losing my mind.'

The girl's eyes softened. 'It's ok. Please don't—'

The door opened again.

This time it was Harry.

The girl straightened, lowering her eyes to the carpet. She stepped back.

'Come love. Our guests are here.' He reached out his hand, his eyes on her. He stood there.

Watching.

Waiting.

Ginny's eyes darted around the room. There was no escape. No way out. Sucking in a deep breath she faced him.

'Of course.'

She took his hand.

Chapter Text

2000

Snow was falling. Large flakes of brilliant white that plummeted, flurrying through crisp night air. Falling fast. It bathed the pub in a dusting of powder that thickened by the second. Ginny groaned. They were walking home. It was going to be a perilous journey.

It was an old pub, the rich mahogany walls peppered with weathered photographs. Some showing the history of Leeds, others heralding their prized football team through the years, the rest an assortment of random paraphernalia and nicknacks nailed directly to the wall. There was a long bar scratched and worn with age. It was layered with an array of local beers on tap and an enormous selection of liquor stacked on old shelves behind. Like all pubs the rich scent of yeast and old cigarettes permeated the air—a sickly stench that never went away. It was punctuated by oily chips and vinegar. A fire crackled merrily in the corner, the old stone chipping at the edges. TVs had been secured to the walls at some point, their screens alight with a myriad of sport and gambling. The rest of the patrons were a mix of old regulars, the townies that had been there forever, and uni students. It was such a group that George was currently chatting with while he stood at the bar awaiting their drinks.

Ginny's eyes darted around the room happily. Harry was seated with Ron in front of one of the televisions. He was trying to explain muggle football to an exuberant Ron who was getting more and more into it by the second. He yelled at all the wrong times causing the hardcore supporters to swing around angrily. There'd be a fight soon if they weren't careful. Their cheeks were both flushed red, a rosy hue indicating the warmth given by the fire and their ever decreasing sobriety. Ginny's mount quirked at Ron's loudness, Harry's half-glazed eyes, his glasses tipped off his nose. George meanwhile was flirting up a storm with a bunch of muggle women. He had a series of shots in front of him and was obviously gearing up for a big one. But that was George ever since Fred died. He went a little too hard.

They'd been headed to a quidditch game outside Leeds when there'd been an announcement of a bomb threat. Evidently the newly formed terrorist group, the BloodBorn Ascendants, left a rather unsettling message for the Head of Qudditch Affairs. His cat nailed to his door with a promise to kill everyone at the event tonight.

It left the organisers scrambling trying to figure out what to do. Mass outrage followed. Half arguing that they shouldn't be dictated to by threats, the other half increasingly concerned about spectator/player safety. It all culminated when Victor Krum said he refused to play until the issue was resolved. The game was cancelled leaving their party in an incredibly foul mood as a result. It was then George suggested they go to a muggle bar and get roaring drunk, a task at which they had been succeeding at since the early afternoon.

Neville was supposed to come but he'd accidentally stuck his hand in a box of piranha vines—again—his fingers gnawed off in seconds. He was now in St Mungos having his bones regrown. Besides that Neville had been studying Herbology and by all accounts it was going well, not including all the mishaps. Ron on the other hand was in his second year of Auror training while Ginny and Harry were still slogging away in their first. A fact which Ron gleefully liked to remind them of more often than not.

Hermione had completed a few months of Auror training and then pivoted almost entirely. Horrified by the sheer lack of knowledge when it came to understanding the Dark Arts she'd stepped back opting instead to go into researching them. According to her, they couldn't fight what they didn't understand.

'If we'd known about Horcruxes before Voldemort might have been taken out much sooner,' she'd stated vehemently. 'But because it's considered taboo we didn't. There are Death Eaters still out there—we have no idea what they might be planning.'

Apart from that she'd become a fierce advocate for the equalisation of magical beings. Werewolves, vampires, giants. Any manner of sentient creature.

'They all joined Voldemort because the wizarding world refused to make space for them. They were ostracised and so aligned themselves with the only side that was willing to accept them.'

She was well and truly back into her SPEW days.

'You should see the library,' Hermione was saying. She was sat across from her sleeves rolled up, her hair wild, getting wilder by the minute. She ran her hand through it now, flipping it to one side. 'It's nuts. There's so many books.' Her hands kept flapping with excitement. 'I had to fight one off the other day. It tried to suck out my soul. I suppose a dementor hex or something of the like.'

They were situated in a booth closest to the fireplace causing Ginny to keep shucking layers as the alcohol progressively warmed her. Hermione, always a bit of a lightweight, was entering her 'educational' portion of the evening. Ginny nodded halfheartedly as she became more and more animated with each pint.

'Not to mention the infinite number of Dark objects just floating around. Did you know I identified one in a muggle museum the other day? It was this doll that would steadily leech the sanity of its owner and eventually send them on a mad killing spree. Just step right up, touch of madness only 5 quid.

'Holy shit.'

'Indeed. Last week we confiscated a record player that set people in a trance. They will literally dance themselves to death. Also a knife, that when you stab somebody it sucks the life right out of you.'

'Well… if you're going around stabbing people,' Luna mused. 'You probably deserve it.'

She was sandwiched between them her fingers curled around a steaming hot cup of tea. They'd tried to convince her to have a beer but she'd been afraid there might be Yeast Pixies in there—whatever the hell that was.

Hermione slammed her beer down the foam sloshing over the side. 'And two little kids accidentally found their way into their grandparents' attic. Apparently they'd been supporters of Grindelwald. Anyway they found this spell that—'she lifted her hands pressing her palms'—merged them together. Their mother tried to fight it but the harder she pulled the faster they fused.'

'What happened to them?'

'Dead. Apparently it only took two minutes to happen.'

'Bloody hell!'

Hermione nodded, staring blankly ahead. She shook her head, snapping out of it. 'So how's Auror training Ginny?'

'Ergh.' Ginny threw back her head. 'Amazing but exhausting. We'll finally be partnered with an Auror next month. I'm hoping for Tonks. Though Ron said he had her and it was a nightmare.'

'I would take much stock in what Ron says.'

'I never do,' she grinned. 'Harry will get the first pick obviously. I'd say the Aurors are more excited to have him than the other way round.'

'I think he's keen on Robards from memory.'

'Yeah that's what he said last time I asked. But who knows. He's been a bit off of late.'

'How so?'

'Oh I dunno. Lots of headaches. He's had to call in sick loads. I'm trying to help him get through but if he doesn't pick it up I'm not sure he'll pass the year.'

'I hadn't heard he wasn't doing well,' Luna frowned.

'You know Harry. He doesn't like to complain.'

'Isn't that the truth,' Hermione agreed wryly. 'How are you two doing by the way?'

'Oh we're great! We're just settling into the flat at the moment.' Ginny tapped the table, taking a long sip of beer.

'Ok elaborate,' Hermione smirked knowingly.

'We are great. Really. But things are a bit tense...'

'What? Why?'

'Well because—ok you can't tell anybody.'

'I promise,' she nodded a bit too enthusiastically.

'Because we're together all the time. I can barely keep my hands off him. I am trying to be respectful but... how long am I going to have to wait?'

'Wait for what?'

'Er—you know?'

'Hermione's brow furrowed.'

'Sex.'

Hermione choked on her beer, spraying it over the table. Ron whooped, clapping at her misfortune before turning back to Harry. Ginny slapped her hand over Hermione's back while she spluttered attempting to compose herself.

'Oh my,' Luna said.

'You really haven't—you know—yet?' Hermione's eyes bugged out. 'I—what—how? Are you serious?'

'Hermione shh!' Ginny swatted her in the arm.

They both collapsed into giggles. Luna merely smiled serenely her eyes darting between Ginny and Harry. Ginny poked her in the ribs to make her stop and she squirmed with a low giggle.

'But seriously?'

Ginny nodded slowly. 'Everything but.'

'I mean-'

'Right!'

'Is there... an issue?' Hermione's brows lifted her mouth stretching down.

'No! Merlin no. Trust and believe everything is in working order.'

'Then what on Earth?' Hermione was gobsmacked.

Ginny sighed. 'I don't know. But I swear the shower head has really become my best friend.'

Hermione lost it again, taking Ginny with her. They rolled around their booth in silent laughter.

'It's not faaair,' Ginny whined when they recovered. 'I just want to—you know? You know.'

'I know. What exactly is the… complication here? Have you talked about it?'

'Perhaps he's still worried about bad things happening,' Luna offered quietly.

Ginny nodded. 'I'd say you're right. And I try to. But he always gets weird... and then sad. So I leave it.' She buried her face in her hands. 'Look, I'm ready. It's him that's not.'

'So you're not-'

'Oh Merlin no. Me and Dean were... well let's just say he was well endowed and he knew how to use it.'

Luna's mouth quirked. 'I never would have guessed.'

Ginny lifted a brow. 'Why did you think we dated for so long?'

'Fair enough,' Hermione's smirked. 'I don't know. Perhaps he just needs time.'

'Yes but how much time. I'm being very patient here.'

'A saint really,' Hermione snorted.

'That's what I think! There's a little too much... sorting myself out if you know what I mean.'

'I do and don't tell me anymore, thanks.'

Ginny chuckled, taking another sip of beer. It was lukewarm. She waved her wand under the table and it chilled immediately. She took another sip as Hermione glared at her.

She was saved however by their server who began dumping share plates on their table. Chips, wings, some nachos. A perfect assortment of muggle food to pair with an evening of drinking and debauchery. The boys all hurried over, collapsing over each other to get a seat closest to the food. Ron squished in next to Hermione and dropped a kiss on her head. Harry gently curled himself around Ginny, his other hand grabbing at a heap of chips. He immediately began trying to shove them in her face and she pushed him away laughing.

George dropped a tray of shots on the table and they all bellowed, banging their hands against the wood. His eyes flicked to Luna in the middle, the tea clutched in her hands and back.

'Now, now kiddos. Drink up.'

Ginny smirked. Without thinking she snatched the lemon and salt, dabbed it on her hand. Grabbing a shot she licked the salt, tipped her head back, sinking the drink in one before shoving the lemon in her mouth. Sucking happily she looked back to find them all staring at her.

'Where in Merlin’s soggy undies did you learn to do that?' George half laughed.

'You'll never know,' she waggled her brows.

'Been hanging around muggle bars then eh?' George snickered. 'I always knew you took after me.' He grabbed her shoulders playfully and she shoved him off.

Harry planted a kiss on her nose and her cheeks flushed. Ron was grinning from ear to ear. He'd been in an exceptionally good mood all day and only complained about the quidditch being cancelled ten times. Normally he would be sulking in the corner all evening.

'You're looking particularly happy with yourself,' Ginny said suspiciously.

'Yes you're colours are all pink,' Luna waved a hand over his head. 'Like a salmon.'

'Ron's been paired with the new guy,' Hermione squeezed his arm. She dipped her eyes forward. 'He's American.’

Ron sighed dramatically. 'Lincoln Fitz. Fitzpatrick that is. He's a bloody beast. Top of his class at Ilvermorny. Graduated early and rose in the ranks on the fast track. The guys next level. Nobody can beat him.'

'Oh yeah?' Harry looked up from where he'd been wolfing down nachos.

'Old family. Like way back.'

Hermione frowned. 'That doesn't mean anything.'

'Oh I know Hermione. I didn't mean old wizarding family. He's muggle born.'

'What! Really?'

He smirked. 'His parents are some big hot shots. Apparently they own half of New York. His family does man-you-fact-tour-ing.'

'Manufacturing.' Hermione and Harry said at the same time.'

'Yeah. They make muggle cars. The first in the States from what he says. ‘pparently it was a huge surprise for his folks. You should see him. He's just so... cool.'

'Someone's in love,' Ginny purred.

'I might be. Honestly. So get this,' Ron swung his hands wide. 'We were on the chase. On the tail of this fuckers and he's—I mean he's running. The bastard deserves a medal or something. I come after him, swing around the corner and he hits me full in the face with a Confundus Charm. I'm wailing like an idiot and Fitz jumps in. Seriously the guy barely moved and this kid was down. I've never seen anything like it'

'You let yourself get hit with a Confundus Charm?' George grinned.

'Not the point of the story George,' Ron rolled his eyes.

'Yes but it was my favourite part.'

'He wanted to fight in the war,' Ron continued ignoring him. 'But the Magical Congress refused to interfere.'

'They all say that,' Hermione muttered darkly.

'Well with him I believe it. He's actually wanting to meet you, Hermione.

'She sat up abruptly. 'He is?'

'Yeah I was telling him about your studies in the Dark Arts and the Equalisation of Magical Beings. He reckons what you're thinking is revolutionary. Could change the wizarding world for the better. Says he was trying to get something off the ground in the States but kept getting push back.'

'Well no one's going to say no to the girl who helped kill Voldemort,' George swept into a low bow.

'And you deserve it!'

'Thanks Ron. I'd like to meet him. He sounds... intriguing.'

He nodded, swinging around. 'You should ask for him Harry. I'll be set for rotation in a month or so and he'll be free. He can teach you things man.'

Harry stiffened. 'I was going to go with Robards. He's the Head Auror and he's already reached out to me.'

'Yeah but he's been around for ages. You want some new blood don't you.'

'Maybe. I'll think about it.'

'Either way I'll be getting a real partner soon. I'll ditch them as soon as you're ready Harry o’ course but it'll be great not to feel like such a lackey all the time.'

George smirked. 'Been out getting tea for Lincoln have you?'

'I like tea,' Luna smiled.

'I think you'd like beer more Luna,' George quirked. 'Or there's a little muggle treat called LSD I think you’d get behind. Maybe some magic mushrooms to start you off.'

'George!' Hermione stood up to whack him over the head.

'What's LSD?' Ginny asked Harry.

'I'll tell you later.'

Ron rolled his eyes. 'No tea, just lots of research and staying in the office. I want to get out there!'

'Speaking of—did any of you see the prophet after this morning?' George asked, hooking into a wing.

They all grimaced except for Luna who appeared to be reading her tea leaves.

He froze. 'Ok yes I understand you're all very traumatised by their treatment of you but come on—you need to know what's going on.'

'You're talking about the militant group in Bristol?' Hermione picked at the nachos not meeting his gaze.

'Obviously yes. They found the base of one of those BloodBorn outfits. They were experimenting with Dark Magic and had even managed to create a spell that... well they say it was like a radioactive burst. Only it speeded the effects. First the skin would melt away, then your bones—then the rest.'

Hermione and Ginny exchanged a look. 'Ew.'

'Crazy powerful too. Apparently it could take about a hundred people in one go. It's probably why Krum didn't want to play this evening. Likes his face on his face. So...' he looked at them expectantly. 'Whadda you make of it?'

Nobody spoke.

'Oh come on, you three—‘he pointed at Harry, Ron and Hermione—‘in particular really don't have an opinion on this?'

Ron squinted at him. He wobbled in his chair. Hermione steadied him, sticking a chip in his mouth. 'Eat,' she instructed. 'Maybe tonight's not the night George-'

'Tonks has been following up on it,' Ginny said stiffly.

'You're ruining the fun,' Ron said a little too loudly. 'Can't we just have a normal night?’

'I spose you're right. It just shits me. They're like fucking cockroaches. They just keep coming back.'

'It doesn't matter,' Hermione reasoned. 'Without Voldemort they lack any real power.'

'Harry you're awful quiet,' George pressed.

'I just want to drink beer with my friends George. I spent my teens talking about Voldemort. I'm not particularly keen to do so into my twenties.'

He huffed out a breath. 'Well I suppose that's fair.'

'Ma—one of the analysts I work with said that they're just a bunch of low level outsiders anyway,' Hermione said blushing. 'Nothing to write home about.'

'Oh yeah? And how'd your analyst know that?'

'Because it's what we specialise in George. It's his job.'

'Sure sure.'

'Another round I think,' Harry smirked at Ginny.

She cuddled into his side. 'I'll drink to that.'

~

Hours later they were headed to a hotel they'd booked in town after collectively deciding they were too drunk to apparate home. To be fair Ron tried. He just fell on his face, splitting his brow open. After that Hermione insisted they all sleep it off here.

It was quite beautiful wandering along the canal at this hour. So late there was nobody else around. Just them laughing and catcalling as they sloshed their way through the dense thicket of snow. George raced ahead and started bellowing out a song. It was a muggle melody. An old jazz number about doing it 'my way'. He'd dated a muggle girl who was really into that kind of music for a month and apparently he'd learnt to love it too.

Only George knew the words but they all joined in just the same. Soon they were all singing along their heads tipped back as they shouted. Hermione surreptitiously cast a blanket charm so they wouldn't wake up the whole neighbourhood. Always so considerate.

Ginny was hooked under Harry's arm singing her heart out. Her cheeks were that delightful mix of cold and hot.

‘For what is a man, what has he got?’

The snow was really bucketing now. Fat balls of ice making their path more treacherous with each step.

‘If not himself then he has naught.’

Ron slipped in the snow nearly pulling him and Hermione into the canal. They shrieked, righting themselves.

‘To say the things he truly feels.’

Not skipping a beat George looped an arm over Ron half carrying him away.

‘And not the words of one who kneels.’

Luna spun arms wide, her tongue sticking out and she tasted the falling snow. She teetered on heels but managed to right herself before she toppled over. At some point she'd given in and had a pint.

‘The record shows I took the blows.’

George twisted around swinging his arms like a conductor.

'And I did it myyyyy waaaaaaay!'
They all roared.

As the song crescendoed coming to a close Ginny leapt out planning for a big finish. She tripped and—ARGH—fell, taking Harry with her. They collapsed in a heap laughing hysterically. Ginny rolled over peppering Harry with kisses and he mockingly swatted her away.

'Oh come on!' Ron groaned from the front. 'I need a piss.'

'Ronald!' Hermione was scandalised.

'Just go in a bush.' George was leaning over the canal now, his face pale. He swayed and Hermione and Luna hurried over to his side.

'I love you,' Ginny whispered into Harry's ear. 'I would lie in the wet snow with you every day.' She giggled snuggling into him as his arms tightened around her waist.

'Ginny you're everything I've ever wanted. I love you too.'

Snow fell lightly tapping cool kisses against her skin. She'd never felt warmer.

Harry crooked himself up on one elbow staring down at her. His eyes blazed hungrily devouring her face, as if he wanted to remember every detail. She flushed looking away. He was so intense when he got like this. As if the whole world faded away and there was only them.

Harry and Ginny.

The very two last beings locked in a swirling melee of endless bliss. This was the promise of after the war. Joy. Happiness. Peace. Bill, Charlie and Fred were gone. So many of their friends lost. But it was moments like this, lying in the muddy slush, that made her heart feel like it might be whole again.

Harry gripped her chin, turning her back to face him. His eyes captured hers and it was like being swallowed whole. She wanted to fall into those green pools that glimmered like an endless lake in summer. His finger ghosted over her cheek and she leaned into him. His mouth tipped into a crooked smile and she was almost obliterated by the blinding need that flooded her belly.

'Marry me.'

Ginny's mouth popped open. She heard a tiny squeak and a shuffling behind them. In the corner of her eye it looked like George had slapped his hand over Hermione's mouth. They were staring, eyes like saucers. Ginny flushed deeper.

'Harry,' she flicked him with her gloved hand. 'You're drunk.'

He reached up gently, tucking her hair behind her ears. He began attacking his pocket with his other hand trying to rip something free. There was another more drawn out cry from Hermione as he pulled a small box out. Ginny suddenly couldn't breathe. He flipped it open.

Inside was a... ring.

'It was my mothers,' he said quietly. 'After Vol—after she died, Dumbledore had it placed in my vault in Gringotts. I didn't even know until a year ago.' His eyes lifted and there were tears gleaming in the corners. 'I guess he thought I might want to give it to someone someday.'

Her heart squeezed painfully at the shadows that feathered his face. So much pain. So much loss. If she could bottle it she would. Take it and tuck it away so he might never feel it again.

'Oh Harry-'

'Marry me. Ginny I love you. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I want to see you every day. I want to walk beside you and hear your laugh. I've never wanted anything like I want you. I love you so much it scares me.' He cupped her cheek with his palm. 'Say it. Say you'll be mine forever and I'll vow to be yours. I'll protect you. I'll love you. I'll give you everything I am. Just say you'll be mine.'

A sob broke through the night. Ginny couldn't be sure if it was hers of Hermione's.
Probably both.

For a moment Ginny forgot how to speak at all. She burrowed her face into Harry's shoulder. Warm. Safe. Home. There never could be a heart as full and happy as hers.

'Yes Harry,' she whispered. 'A thousand times yes.'

Chapter Text

2010

Harry led Ginny through the winding halls heading for the grounds. He hooked an arm under hers tugging her close and locking her to his side.

'You look lovely tonight.'

'Thanks,' she smiled serenely. 'You look rather handsome yourself.'

That was an understatement. He wore perfectly tailored dress robes that hung off his lithe frame like decadent melted chocolate. The colour so black your eyes might get lost in it. Around his neck he'd secured a crisp white bow tie. It almost looked like the same one he'd worn to the Yule Ball so many years ago. How she'd lusted after him even then. It was a level of dashing that made her bite her lip and he grinned wickedly, green eyes flashing. Over his fingers he'd donned a series of rings, their wedding ring and another that was much larger. It sported a sizable jewel in its centre, the colour blood red. There was a small imperfection cutting right through the middle that made the colour dance in the low light.

'That dress is divine,' his eyes roamed up her body, lingering over her shoulders. 'I look forward to peeling it off you later.'

Ginny smirked, dipping her head coily. 'I shall think on that. You, me. This dress torn to shreds. You, standing over me.'

Harry licked his lips. It looked like he wanted to say more but they reached the end of the hall. The enormous doors were swung wide revealing a truly enchanting scene. Fairy lights had been draped over the great oaks, the tiny golden spheres blinking. Flowers lined the walkway, their rich scent punctuating the air. Servers scurried about with glasses of champagne, handing them to finely dressed guests who shuffled around talking quietly. An enchanted band played softly in the corner, the instruments moving under phantom hands. A billowing fountain was emitting a plume of smoke that feathered the ground with a thin white film that leant an otherworldly feel to the evening.

The moon had been magically magnified, the enormous orb glimmering where it almost touched the horizon. Beneath it revellers twirled to the music, their robes sweeping over the ground. There was entertainment too. A group of acrobats twisting and turning on the green. A set of men on broomsticks performing death defying stunts as the crowd hollered below. In one corner an old soothsayer was stationed at a lavishly decorated table, a large crystal orb in its centre. Her eyes fell on Ginny at the same time she looked over. She winked.

Ginny's mouth twitched as she turned back to Harry who was guiding her further into the fray. The party featured an odd assortment of guests. There was a collection of vampires preening by the fountain as they sucked on opaque goblets. Next to them stood several Hags cackling as they picked at a platter of what looked like raw meat. The server who’d given it to them scurried away as fast as his feet would take him. Eyeing them was a small group of selkies and sirens lingering close to the lake their long hair like heavy ropes sweeping down their backs. There was what appeared to be a band of Muggles gaping openly at three stunningly beautiful Veelas. They stood next to what she could only assume were Werewolves based on the tattoos lining their necks.

Wizards roamed through them all, their robes sweeping through the film of billowing smoke. Ginny picked out a few famous Quidditch players, a couple of Wizarding Celebrities and a handful of high ranking Equalisers, Harry’s inner circle among them. Thomas Goldstein who might have been cut from the pages of Witch Weekly beside Giuseppe Bellarosa the silver tongued Italian Vampire. Then Callisto who Ginny knew to be part Siren and Giles Bishop who was a descendant of Salem and close friends of Fitz.

Thomas, the newest to their entourage, was tall and golden, his chestnut skin gleaming in the low light. He stretched taller than even Harry, his thin frame bedecked in a plain muggle suit of dark tweed, an Equaliser pin fixed to his lapel. He had a face that rivalled the old gods and his teeth gleamed bright white as he laughed. Giuseppe meanwhile was wearing heavy black robes secured tight around his throat. He sported a long nose, high cheekbones and a thick shock of black curls that fanned his face. When he spoke his hands darted rhythmically through each intonation as if he were conducting a great symphony.

Callisto had a thick plume of curling black hair that she kept throwing over her shoulder as she listened. She wore an almost sheer thin black slip looped with burning red velvet strips that secured the dress to her body. Gold necklaces and bangles hung from her neck, wrists and ankles that stood out stark against her ebony skin. She was barefoot. In another life Ginny probably would have liked to be friends with her.

Lastly Giles might have been a not too distant relative of Remus Lupin, what with his light brown curls and fair complexion. He was long and slender in an almost delicate way and sported a wide smile that carved dimples into his rosy cheeks. As a collective none of them looked older than 35 though you could never be sure with Giuseppe.

What came next was a rather boring montage of praise as they welcomed their guests. Praise for Harry. Praise for Ginny’s beauty. Praise for their home. On and on it went. She was surprised to discover there was a large mix of Americans in the crowd. They drawled with heavy accents, their voices a touch louder than all the rest. There were also a number of French and Italians. Her hand was raised and kissed more times than she could count. It was a level of formality she could never quite be comfortable with. Ginny tried desperately to find a face she recognised, a pair of familiar eyes to meet hers. But as time went on a sinking feeling steadily built in her gut.

No one from the old days. Well—only Cormac McLaggen but she didn’t count him. No Tonks or Teddy. No Luna. No Ron and Hermione. No George or her parents. Not even Neville. At some point all their friends from the Order had faded into the background. She would have been happy to see Zacharias Smith at this point. Well—probably not but, they hadn’t come. None of their old friends had come. But then out of the shadows a gleaming scalp of bright white appeared.

'Malfoy,' she half shouted in shock, earning a few looks.

'Ah Draco,' Harry offered his hand which the other took. 'Thank you for coming.'

'I wouldn't miss such a decadent affair,’ he smiled tightly.

Ginny almost croaked.

What the hell was he doing here?

'You have been well?' Harry asked.

'Quite well,’ he offered softly, a tone a far cry different from the one she recalled. ‘The factory has been quite lucrative this last quarter as I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear.'

'That is good.'

'The Library at the Ministry too has been successful. We have now catalogued almost eight thousand hexes. Perhaps it would've been more... if we'd only had our best analyst.'

'Ah,' Harry's eyes flashed. 'But she is busy.'

Ginny felt her heart stutter. There was something about that look that was decidedly Other. It was gone before she could fully process however.

'But of course,' Malfoy dipped his head. 'And My Lady you look stunning. I find myself enraptured as I never thought I would be to your ilk.'

'What an odd compliment,' she muttered dryly.

Fortunately Harry didn't hear him however as a booming voice echoed through the grounds. One that was noticeably New Yorker. Ginny turned expecting to find yet another stranger drooling at her feet only to meet a face she knew. One she never quite knew how to feel around. Lincoln Fitzpatrick was dapper in a way that men simply weren't anymore. He wore his golden hair brushed back, swept perfectly across his scalp, not a strand out of place. Instead of dress robes he sported a muggle suit of deepest ebony, exquisitely tailored and set to his frame with perfect angularity. It carved its way over his broad shoulders, cinching delicately at the waist. His shirt underneath was a dark cream, the colour accentuated the fuchsia pocket square tucked into his suit jacket. He waltzed over to them with a debonair air that radiated power. Ginny watched the many eyes that trailed in his wake, as if they were glued to his tall figure.

'Harry!' He shouted again, clapping him over the shoulder.

He pulled Ginny in for a hug as if they were the closest friends. She watched Malfoy’s expression darken behind him.

'Happy birthday my good man! You’ve finally entered the dirty thirties. It is a fine place to be. So much more money and so fewer fucks to give.' He threw back his head laughing.

Harry grinned from ear to ear. 'It is good to see you.'

'Of course it is.'

He grabbed the empty glasses of champagne from Harry and Ginny throwing them over his shoulder. He barely spared them a glance as they crashed smashing to the ground. Instead he turned, swiping two fresh glasses before shoving them into Harry and Ginny's hands.

Eccentric might have been the right word.
Perhaps show off was more apt however.

'And look at this creature,' he stood back to regard her. 'My my. There is none in the Magical Empire that could put a candle to your beauty. Harry, you are a lucky man indeed.'

'That I am,' he smiled at her warmly.

'But come! I must steal Harry away for a moment.' He leaned in conspiratorially. 'He is entering the world of true men and as his trainer once it is my duty to plug his gullet with the finest whiskey to mark the occasion. You will excuse us?'

Malfoy stepped forward. 'Allow me a dance with the Lady of the house while you are gone.'

Harry stiffened and for a moment it appeared he might refuse. Instead he smiled, his lips pulling in a thin line. 'Of course,' he half gritted out.

He released Ginny planting a kiss on her lips—it lingered a little longer than appropriate—before turning to follow Fitz to a secluded corner.

Ginny found Malfoy's arm wrapped around her as he dragged her towards the dancers. She was debating throwing him off but her mind warred between the need to talk to someone she knew and her hatred of Malfoy. In the end she let him take the lead—she needed a bit of fun. A jaunty tune struck up as they reached the dance floor. Malfoy curled his arm around her waist, carefully positioning it high on her back, before setting them in motion. His hands were clad in black leather gloves which felt a little odd but was honestly nicer than having to touch skin to skin. He was a fine dancer, leading them in swift circles as they swung through the other dancers.

'Weasley, you're looking well.'

Her brow snapped up. 'I am a Potter now.'

'Really?' he snorted. 'I think you'll always be a Weasley.'

'Perhaps. I wouldn't expect to see you here.'

'What makes you say that?'

'Oh only that your family tried to kill Harry multiple times growing up. That and your father tried to kill me with a cursed diary. Do you often attend soirées held by those you and yours have attempted to bodily harm?’ She tapped his arm where she knew his tattoo would still be inked. 'As a former Death Eater I'm sure those are not short in supply.'

A silence filtered through the air. She felt his hand twitch at her back. His eyes dipped to the floor as if to hide his reaction. When they lifted back however it was as if she'd said nothing out of the ordinary.

'Ha! Malfoy chuckled. 'Those days are long since past Weasley. I only wish to serve now.'

'Serve what exactly?'

His eyes darted to the side and his lip curled. 'Our Lord and master of course.'

She rolled her eyes not dignifying that with a response.

One of the performers on broomsticks zoomed overhead and the guests all craned their necks skyward laughing. When Ginny looked back down Malfoy was staring at her.

'It is a fine night.'

She sighed. 'Are we really to talk about the weather?'

'I suppose not. But I find myself limited in conversation when it comes to you. You are evidently not much for enjoying small talk with former enemies. Shall I tell you of a book I read the other day instead? Or perhaps regale with a tale of my prowess in the Ministry.'

'None of the above. How about we just don't talk.'

He cocked his head to the side. 'If that is what you wish.'

Ginny frowned. She wanted to talk about anything. To anyone. She was desperately lonely in this house all the time.

'No,' she said, not meeting his eye. 'Tell me about the book.'

'Oh it was an excellent one to be sure. It spoke of a man who one tore his soul into seven in order to claim immortality.'

Something flickered through Ginny's mind. A candle begging to be lit. She smothered it.

'That's horrible.'

'It is.'

'What happened to him?'

'You do not know? You don't remember reading anything like this?'

'No. I wouldn't have asked otherwise.'

'Right. Well the parts of his soul were destroyed. He hid them in objects you see. Then one by one as they were demolished he weakened. Until only one remained.'

'What of that one?'

'No one knows. It is a mystery that plagues us all.'

'A rather frustrating end.'

'You could certainly say that.' He chuckled but the laughter did not quite reach his eyes.

They continued to trail a line through the garden. It was then Ginny realised they were alone, a fair way from the other dancers. Rather than feel unsettled an odd sense of elation circled her gut. Malfoys mouth quirked as he debated his next move.

'So tell me Weasley, have you seen Granger of late?'

Ginny balked. 'Hermione? Yes I saw her just yesterday.'

His eyes opened a fraction more. 'You did?'

'Or... maybe it was last week.' Her brow furrowed. 'Either way, yes.'

'And was she well?'

'Why do you ask?'

'She was researching some of the Dark Artefacts in my home for me.' She felt Malfoy's arm around her tense. He waited. When she still not answer his lips curled. 'So?' he pressed

'She is quite well.'

Relief cracked over his face. For a second it was there, then it was gone. 'Good. That's good. You're sure?'

'Yes,' she bit back a little irritated. 'She was tired. Her work takes a lot out of her. But quite well aside from that.'

'Right.' He ran a hand through his hair. 'Good. Next time... next time you see her, give her my regards.'

Ginny considered him. She cocked her head to the side. 'Is there something between you?'

His brow twitched, his lips pulling inadvertently down. 'No. Of course not. We are merely colleagues.'

'Right,' Ginny smirked.

'Ginny there is nothing.'

She started as he shook her roughly.

'You can not tell anyone that.'

'Why?' She went to shove him off but he held fast. 'Embarrassed because she's not pure blood? You're disgusting.'

'No. No that's not it at all.' Realising what he was doing he released her, stepping back. 'I feel no shame. I only hope... to keep her safe.'

She snorted. 'Sure you do. You're a real piece of work.'

He planted his hands in his pockets. Ginny watched them ball into fists beneath the fabric.

'I suppose you're not wrong. But either way. Let her know that I'll be coming to see her soon will you?'

'I'll tell her. Whether or not she cares will be a different thing entirely.'

Relief washed over his face. 'Thank you. Thank you Weasley. Shall we return-'

Malfoy's eyes snapped behind her.

Ginny felt arms wrap around her waist. She turned to find Harry staring at Malfoy, eyes hard.

'Draco, you appear to have found yourself off the beaten path. And with most precious cargo. Whatever were you thinking?'

Malfoy paled. He covered it with a wide smile.

'It would seem my dancing skills are not as they once were. Or perhaps my ability to handle champagne. I apologise.'

Malfoy tipped into a light bow.

That was weird.

Harry went to move away, dragging Ginny with him.

'Did you receive my letter?' Malfoy called after them. He looked so small standing alone in the dark. 'I sent it earlier this week.'

'Oh come Draco,' Harry sneered. 'It's a party. No work talk.'

'Of course. I shall leave.'

‘Unless you’d like to join us?’ Harry’s hand lifted, his fingers tracing the line of her ribs. He tucked his head into the nape of her neck, nipping gently against her earlobe.

Malfoy's mouth popped open. ‘I—er—what?’

Harry’s head tipped to the side, waiting. He wasn’t one to ask twice. Ginny smirked twirling her fingers over Harry’s.

Malfoy tipped his eyes to the ground. ‘If that is what you wish.’

‘It is neither her nor there to me. What do you think Ginny?’

‘I don’t often share,’ she crooned. ‘But he might be a fun conquest.’

‘I agree,’ Harry mused. ‘I’m curious what sounds he’d make. I can’t help but wonder what you’d look like together. I don’t think I’d mind watching that.

Malfoy gaped openly, completely taken aback.

Harry laughed deeply. ‘Oh run along if you’re going to be boring little ferret.’

Ginny sighed, angling to follow him to find Harry holding her back.

'Walk with me, he whispered.

He swept her through the oaks finding a secluded alcove blanketed in shadow. In an instant her back was crushed against the stone and he was hungrily devouring her neck, his hands palming her body, her breasts.

'Harry your guests-' she breathed.

'I care nothing for them.'

He ran a finger over her lips and she snapped, catching his thumb with her teeth. He pressed his lips to hers then, his tongue sweeping into her mouth. She opened for him with a sigh. He kissed her slowly at first, his tongue brushing delicately with hers. His hand curved up the side of her neck, twisting her face upwards to meet his. She felt his fingers wrap around her throat pinning her in place. The other hand ran down her arm, lifting it to lock it above her. His mouth trailed a line down her jaw, over her neck and she moaned. His thumb twirled against her skin as he sucked on her ear. She felt his pelvis crush into hers and could feel just how much he wanted her.

'Can't wait?' she chuckled.

'No. It would seem I am too impatient.'

Releasing her wrist he ran his fingers through her hair, tearing it loose. It fell, floating over her shoulders like silk. She tipped her head back and his tongue ravished it's way down her chest. She felt her dress pulled down and his fingers course over her breasts, her nipples pebbling under the touch. His mouth replaced his fingers sucking hard and she groaned a little too loudly. He snapped a hand over her mouth and she bit his tongue playfully. He rose back up his eyes like fire.

He dragged her closer, his hands roaming over her body. She moaned into him, tearing the tie from his neck. Her fingers tore at his shirt, the buttons popping free. She let them run over his chest feeling the hardness of him against her touch. She leant forward running her teeth over his skin and he groaned something that sounded like-

'Fuck.'

He pushed her back, nipping at her earlobe before running long, languishing kisses down her throat. She rubbed her palm against the hard lump of his pants and he groaned curling into her, his breathe hot on her throat. His fingers swept over her ribs and he lifted her ever so slightly. She gasped as rolled his hips, pressing himself against her. With slow gentle movements he began to move, his body undulating against hers.

'Teasing,' she could barely get the word out.

He leaned forward whispering in her ear. The feeling of his breath on her skin had her shuddering.

'You want this?'

There had, and always would be, only one answer.

'Yes.'

In the next moment her dress was lifted, his hands roaming up her thighs. She felt her heart skip, need engulfing her. Her fingers scrabbled at his pants, attempting to tear him free and he slapped her away gently.

He clicked his lips. 'No, no, no. Not just yet.'

He lifted her leg, angling her just right. He trailed through her folds, hissing at the wetness he found there. He dragged her underwear aside pushing a finger inside her. He swirled it around, his heavy moan languishing at the tightness he found. She dug her nails into his shoulders, holding on for dear life. He started slowly, drawing a playful arc in her core, bending her body back to angle her just right until she was gasping, her chest thundering.

Another finger slipped inside, his other hand cupping her from behind. He pushed her into his hand, and she felt him go deeper. A strangled cry broke free and he smothered it with his mouth. His teeth were nipping at her lips as he found his rhythm. His fingers pumping faster.

In that moment she was there, splayed out against the stone wall. But she was also elsewhere, looking down at them from afar. A man with black hair loomed over a woman. She was crimson fire and burning blue flame as he claimed her with his hands. She watched the woman's breasts rise and fall as she tried to suck air into her panting body. She watched the man snatch her lips with his, his hands buried under her skirts. They fit together like perfect pieces moulded from the same clay.

'Are you ready for me?'

With a snap she was back in her body, his eyes boring into hers.

'Mhm.' She could barely speak.

His pants dropped and when he entered her it was fast, all of him at once. She cried out at the fullness, her voice echoing in the night. She heard the band pick it up a notch, their playing growing louder. He froze, his body lost in the throes of infinite nothing. That moment where pleasure takes hold and you are everything and nothing all at once. She wrapped an arm around his neck, her leg tightening about his waist. The stone was harsh and biting against her back as he began to slide out. Then back in. In and out. There was no time for slow. No thought but now. All of him. All of her. Now.

With his mouth he feasted on her as if half starved. His fingers wrapped around her arms hard enough to bruise. Her breathing was embarrassingly loud and she tried to suppress the quiet yips that burst through her mouth but she was completely lost, her body floating away on a cloud of ecstasy. She felt every inch of him as he ground into her, their bodies slapping together in perfect sync after years of practice. Her vision blurred and she half cried out as his face shifted, blurring into the one she knew so well.

'Harry-' she moaned.

For a second her mind floated away, folding over the sea, undulating as he crashed into her. He lifted her leg higher, driving himself deeper. So much deeper. She cried out as he buried himself to the point of aching. She arched into it and he grunted moving faster. Her lips found his and their tongues tangled together their sweat mingling as their blood heated. He fucked her fast, her body bouncing with his hard thrusts. This was nothing but burning need. He pumped into her over and over until she was writhing under him. She would be sore tomorrow but she wanted more.

Harder. Faster.

She wanted to feel him. She grabbed his face between her hands forcing his gaze to meet hers. Their eyes locked together and she saw it. That wild fury that was obsession. Possession. It was like staring into the eye of a storm, she was powerless before it. Blown away on the slightest breeze, her body twisting through endless waves of power.

'Please,' she rasped. 'I need—I need-'

His fingers wrapped back around her throat. He tightened, slowly starting to squeeze. Not too much, but enough for her eyes to roll back into her head. His other hand dropped down circling that sensitive area between her thighs. She twitched, leaning down to bite into his shoulder.

'You're mine,' he breathed into her skin.

'Yours,' she agreed, nodding.

His eyes burned even brighter. 'Together?'

She whimpered, sighing yes a hundred times into his skin.

She felt it then. A cacophony of sounds blasting through her ears. A wild thundering as bliss rose like a fierce wind bursting through the shutters. She cried out just as he bellowed their bodies clenching around the other. Ginny fell back, her body boneless and a tingling sensation fluttered up her spine.

She smiled lazily as he captured her lips again. This time slowly, as if relishing in the taste of her. He continued to drive in and out riding her through release as she shuddered under him. At last he lowered her leg, easing it to the ground. She clung to him for a moment and he chuckled, running his hands up and down her arms.

He pulled her dress back up, curling the sleeves over her shoulders and she started trying to button his shirt. Half of them were missing however and he chuckled again pulling his wand from his pocket. With a tap the buttons reappeared and she did them up lighting a kiss on his chest with each one. He didn't bother with the tie.

'Shall we return to the party?' I suppose our guests will be waiting.

Ginny ran a hand through her hair. 'I need to clean myself up,' she smirked.

His eyes raked over her. For a second it looked like he might try to take her again. 'Right,' he nodded. 'Go through my office.'

He pointed to a door to their left. She moved to go but he captured her lips for a full five heartbeats before releasing her.

'Don't be long.'

With a coy smile she set off, careful not to fall in the darkness. Harry's study door swung open and she swept through, running a hand through her hair. It was a complete mess, she'd have to call a servant to come fix it.

It was as the door snapped closed behind her however that she jumped in shock.

There was somebody already in there.

~

Ginny gasped as a man straightened in front of Harry's desk. Moments ago he'd been rifling through the drawers, evidently searching for something. Papers littered the floor where he'd obviously thrown them in his haste.

'What are you doing here?' they both said at the same time.

'This is my house,' Ginny barked. She squared her shoulders trying to feel braver than she was. She was wandless and he held one directed at her chest. 'You should leave. Leave now before-'

'Ginny!' the man cried out.

He rushed over the carpet, his arms wide as if he wanted to hug her. She backed away, her back slamming against the wall.

'Stay away from me.' She lifted her hands to block him.

Hurt rippled over his face. He slowed but did not stop his approach. 'Ginny it's me. It's Dean!'

She blinked. Her eyes fogged and she shook her head. His skin appeared to bubble, melting into something she knew. Then he moved and it was gone. A stranger.

'Dean what—you're not Dean.'

His brow furrowed. 'You don't recognise me? Please Ginny. You have to help me.'

'Help you—I don't know you—get out of my house!'

'You do know me!' he implored. 'It's Dean. Once we were friends. More than friends. You remember don't you? Your Dean. We used to be good together once.'

'Don't come any closer.'

His eyes searched her face. As if wishing her could will her to see him as he pretended to be.

'Ginny, you need to tell me what he's planning.'

'What—I have no idea.'

'People are going to die if you don't.' His hand worried over his wand. Rolling it between his fingers. 'They said you didn't remember but I didn't think-' His eyes darkened. 'That bastard. Ginny, you need to come with me. It's not safe.'

He went to grab her arm and she sidestepped him racing to the desk. At least she wasn't against the wall anymore.

'I'm not going anywhere with you.'

He lifted his wand.

Her eyes widened. 'Take one more step and I'll scream.'

'Ginny it's ok. It's ok I'm not going to hurt you.'

He moved closer.

'Stop!'

She went to scream but he rushed forward slapping a hand over her mouth. They stumbled backwards slamming into the desk. The necklace was torn from her neck in the struggle, the diamonds pinging over the floor. She felt him twist. Realisation shuddered through her. He was trying to apparate but couldn't because of the wards around Harry's office. With a hiss he gripped her wrists meaning to drag her from the room.

He was going to take her.

Take her away from Harry.

No.

The word cemented in her brain.

Ginny's hands scrabbled out behind her in search of something—anything. Her fingers landed on the thin silver letter opener and she brought it up slashing forward. It carved through his throat blood spurting over her face. She blinked, her mouth popping open as not Dean snapped a hand to his neck. Blood gushed over his fingers and he staggered back. His eyes were wide, a mix of confusion and betrayal.

He fell, dropping to the ground. His body twitched, his hand falling away. He flopped liked a landed fish his fingers clawing at the ground. She watched in horror as blood exploded from his lips as he rasped for air that would not come. In seconds his movements began to slow, his legs kicking stiffly against the floor. Then he stopped.

No sound.

Nothing.

Just more blood rushing from his neck. They was so much. She didn't know a human could have this much. It was going everywhere.

Ginny stood frozen, half sitting, half standing across the desk.

It all happened so fast. One moment he was there the next he was on the ground blood pooling around his body.

Ginny whimpered, stumbling back. She crashed into the wall dropping to the ground. A sharp lancing pain cut through her skull and her hands clamped painfully. She tried to open and close then but they stayed firmly fixed together. Her chest was tight—too tight. She tried to suck in air but it wouldn't come. There was a terrible rasping noise echoing through her ears. Black spots pebbled her vision and she collapsed her face hitting the floor. She croaked weakly through a jaw that would not open.

Her mind swirled a wild tornado of fear roaring over her skin. Her eyes fluttered weakly as the thread holding her together snapped.

She couldn't see.

Couldn't breath.

She was lost in the folds of empty space her heart pumping an off kilter rhythm.

It hurt.

It hurt so much.

Then darkness.

Chapter Text

2000

'And so I will leave it there now that I have told you every mortifying story I can think of. To the bride and groom!'

There was a heavy dull roar as applause broke through the evening. Glasses of champagne lifted, their gleaming contents bleeding through the darkness. George banged on the table madly whooping. Across from her, her mother was doing her best not to look shocked. Ginny thought she saw a curtain twitch from above. Her eyes darted upwards to catch the shadow of Percy. He lifted a hand and then disappeared behind the fabric.

It'd been a long day that sped by in the blink of an eye. Ginny waking to Hermione shoving a mimosa under her nose, a lacey white robe yanked over her shoulders. Then someone doing her hair, her makeup. A dress of bright white slipped over her body. Flowers placed into her hands. Then stairs. Those same rickety stairs she'd descended a million times. So different today. She'd noticed every scrape, every dint. All those marks she'd worn over the years. It was the last time Ginny Weasley would walk those stairs. She'd be Ginny Potter after today.

Music. A sultry mix of jazz and violins welcoming her march.

Luna and Hermione leading the way in dresses of burgundy that swept over the grass. The layers floating delicately as they went, lifting like petals in a summer breeze. Arthur Weasely stepping forward, his arm linking through hers. Molly Weasely standing just behind. Both faces already wet. Then an isle with Harry at the end of it. It was only at that point it really sunk in. She was marrying Harry Potter. Her childhood crush, the love of her life. Every step felt like an age, her feet winding the path that she'd laid out years before.

Harry stood straight, his hair somehow combed flat, his glasses freshly cleaned. Ron elbowed him in the ribs and a fierce smile burst over his face. Ginny almost forgot to breathe. His hand outstretched, her fingers intertwining with his. The two of them standing side by side trying desperately not to laugh at the awkwardness of it all.

Next came the vows. That's when everything else melted away. Their words like lone promises folding between them. Kingsley, who was celebrant, lifting his wand. A thin strand of pure white tangling around their wrists. Then Harry's lips on hers. Cheering and clapping. Tears as she was embraced over and over again by her closest friends and family. All the faces of those she loved.

They'd kept the affair small. Intimate. Her family was there of course. Neville, Hermione and Luna. Kingsley, Tonks and Teddy. Oliver Wood, Lee Jordan, Alicia Spinett and Minerva McGonagall. Gabrielle Delacour was there too, fending off Dean Thomas. Penelope Clearwater—though she'd mostly invited her for Percy's benefit. It didn't matter though as he hadn't come down.

A few of her close school friends and some of their new Auror colleagues they liked. There was Lincoln Fitz of course who was a showman without parallel. Kvothe Zafi and Anise Mariko who'd similarly transferred from Egypt and Japan respectively to help train the next batch of Aurors. Kvothe was significantly older than the rest of them and hosted a wealth of experience. Vida Babette, a Frenchwoman who was known around the office as a force to be reckoned with. Ginny was obsessed with her and was looking forward to training with her after Tonks.

Circe Scamander, who sported a Scottish accent so thick that Lincoln, Kvothe and Anise required someone to act as translator most of the time. Oscar Warbeck who was incredibly posh and a rumoured relative of the muggle royal family and a known relative of the famed singer Celestina Warbeck (Molly had been fawning over him all night). Then Safira Vulchanov, ‘Valentine' as everybody called her, who was a bounty hunter turned Auror after the war. She was an odd sort who mostly unsettled everyone but Harry and Ginny liked her. Harry in particular said she reminded him of MadEye—as if that was a good thing.

Ginny's extended family were in attendance though it somehow only highlighted how few adults were on Harry's side. So many they loved here and yet so many not. It was easy to feel their ghosts on days like this. Ginny pushed the thought away. Now they all sat beneath a canopy of twisting flowers and fairy lights along a table piled high with a scrumptious mix of food and drinks. They'd set up a short ways from the Burrow, the yard utterly transformed for the occasion.

Unlike Bill and Fleur's wedding they opted for open air. There was something about sitting under heavy fabric that made Ginny feel suffocated. She wanted to see the stars. They shone brightly overhead even now and someone (probably Hermione) had enchanted them to look like they were constantly falling. Reporters had been trying to sneak onto the property all day. They'd left that to George to handle. The constant sound of tiny explosions indicated he'd taken it a little too seriously perhaps. With every set of fireworks that popped into the sky he hollered 'got another one!' from his seat at the table.

Lifting to his feet he smiled at the guests seated at an array of round tables before them. He was the MC and was doing a fine job at keeping everyone in hysterics. They'd all been slurping on champagne since late afternoon and more than one guest sported a rosy hue on their cheeks. Hermione had given a short speech first. No doubt it would have been longer but she was overcome with a rush of tears and Ron had to escort her back to the table trying his best to conceal his laughter.

'You can tell it to us later,' Ginny whispered as she sat.

She was then engulfed in an explosion of bushy hair and tears as Hermione hugged her.

Next came Ron's speech which ended up feeling more like a roast. Neither Ginny or Harry were surprised. He'd been egging them on ever since that night in Leeds—promising a speech that would bring the house down. He did not disappoint. He regaled the guests with embarrassing stories to the point that most of them were rolling silent laughter, tears streaming from their eyes.

Looking rather proud of himself he hurried over to lay a kiss on Ginny's cheek and offer a back slapping hug to Harry before resuming his seat.

'Thank you for that Ron,' George chuckled. 'I am sure we all know Ginny and Harry better now. Perhaps some more than we'd like.'

Someone whooped from the back, Ginny couldn't be sure who though it sounded like Tonks.

'And now might I introduce the one's response for bringing little Ginny into the world. Molly and Arthur!'

More applause as her parents approached the podium. Harry entwined their fingers. He lifted her hand, laying a kiss on her knuckles. He did it without thought, as if it were like breathing.

Molly shuffled forward taking front and centre while Arthur stood behind her softly weeping, a large smile stretched across his face. His eyes were crinkled to the point of disappearing between the folds of his skin. They looked so delicate, age and the war pulling at their skin. Taking care of Percy took a lot out of them too. Ginny made a mental note to check in more often.

'Ginny,' her mum sighed. 'My only daughter, how this day brings me so much joy. Yet so much sadness. I have watched you grow from a fierce little thing into a phenomenal woman.' She beamed at her. 'I could not be prouder of you my darling. There are simply no words.'

She sucked in a shuddering breath. Next to her tears were streaming down Hermione's face already. Arthur was nodding intermittently—agreeing without the words currently locked in his throat. Ginny curled into Harry and she grinned at her parents.

'There is nothing a parent wants more than to see their child happy. To watch them find love. To watch them be loved in a way that you know they deserve.' Her eyes flicked to Harry and back. 'To watch you grow has been such a privilege Ginny. To see you today—my heart is so full it spills over. We love you so very much.'

Her fingers tapped against the paper in her hands, wrinkling the sides. Her eyes lifted to the boy beside her. The boy who had become her husband.

'Harry, she smiled. 'You have been my son since the moment you first stepped through my kitchen. Our family owes you so much and now you are truly one of us though we always knew you were. I know how you love her. I could not bear to part with her if I was not sure of it.' She peered over the edge of glasses, smirking. 'You take care of our girl.'

Ron and George banged on the table wagging their brows.

'Or else her brothers will sort you out.' She laughed but a ripple of pain shadowed her face. The ghost of Bill, Charlie and Fred plain in the way her eyes tightened.

She inhaled another steadying breath. 'Harry, I know your mother can not be here today in body. But I am certain she, and your father, are here in spirit. Let me be her voice for you now.'

Ginny watched Harry's throat wobble.

'Congratulations my darling. I am so happy for you. You've found a good one here—don't muck it up.' She winked.

Ginny watched a slow tear spill over Harry's cheek. She leant forward to kiss him and he wrapped a hand around her waist pulling her tight.

'To Ginny and Harry,' she raised her glass. 'A love forged in our darkest days. A light that brings us all so much joy.'

The crowd cheered their drinks lifted into the air. 'To Harry and Ginny!'

~

Harry swung Ginny around the dance floor, her skirt sweeping over the enchanted moss. Above them a flurry of pixies spun through the air, their song folding over them as they sprayed stardust in their hair.

'This is so embarrassing,' Ginny muttered in Harry's ear.

'Yes nothing I love more than for people to watch me dance,' he said wryly. His arm squeezed around her back. 'But I suppose if I must do it I'm glad it's with you.'

She sighed into him relaxing. 'It's been... a day.'

'That it has.'

'How are you feeling?'

'I don't think I've ever been happier.'

'No headaches?'

'No headaches. Nothing could spoil this for me.'

'Good. I wish your mum and dad could be here too.'

'I know. I think they would have loved all this—you.'

Ginny nodded. 'I know it.'

They'd visited their graves at Godric Hollow the day before. Ginny left a wreath with the same flowers as her wedding bouquet with Lily, a way to make sure she was included in the day.

As they danced a song played through an old gramophone sounding somehow hauntingly beautiful. It was one they'd heard in a muggle cafe down the street from their flat in London. It'd been playing as Harry handed her a coffee. The week had been particularly gruelling—Auror training—and they were both exhausted. There was another BloodBorn attack and they'd pulled in the new recruits to help slog through a slew of evidence that might help discover their locations.

It appeared they were mostly inline with Voldemort but if anything they were even more extreme out of sheer desperation. Lacking any real power they resolved to cause as much havoc as they could. Bombings and poisoning. The British muggle government had started to discuss whether the IRA was back though they staunchly denied responsibility. Some of the attacks were especially heinous—targeting muggle schools and kindergartens. Ginny walked in on such a scene and completely lost it. They were vicious in a way that was hard to fathom, as if they wanted to completely destroy any sense of safety people had started to hope for after the war. They attacked often and everywhere. Most likely to stretch their forces thin. It was working.

A few of their colleagues were to go undercover as Robards figured if they could identify a few of their leaders they'd be able to bring the whole thing down. Ginny and Harry were too high profile for that so instead they were stuck with the desk duty. They'd pulled three all nighters in a row and were really starting to feel it.

On that morning the sun gleamed through the windows, revealing the perfect spring day outside. It lit Harry up from behind and it was in that moment her heart sang, a bursting of all the dams in her mind. There was no other man for her. This was it. In that most mundane of moments, when he arguably did not look his best, she knew. This was the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with. He'd proposed just under a month later.

Harry leaned in, singing quietly along in her ear. 'Like a river flows, surely to sea...'

His voice was soft and husky as his breath whispered over her ear. He spun her out and back in. Harry didn't sing often but when he did it was just for her. She recalled the first time he had and how she'd been shocked by his tenor.

'...Darling so it goes, some things are meant to be,'

They circled, their bodies swaying gently to the music. Everything else faded to black. It was only her and Harry voice in her ear.

'...Take my hand,'

His fingers looped through hers. She curled into his shoulder letting him guide her through the steps.

'...Take my whole life too,'

He leant back his green eyes meeting hers.

‘...For I can't help, falling in love with you.’

His lips brushed against hers. There was a loud cheer and like that the moment was broken. They snapped back to earth.

Suddenly the tempo shifted and more bodies joined the dance floor. Ginny stepped back and was quickly whisked away. First she danced with her father. Then George. Then Ron. Then Neville. Then back to Harry. By the third rotation her feet were on fire and her cheeks were aching from smiling so much.

Stumbling over to a table she dropped into her seat and Harry quickly began serving her a healthy portion of roast and potatoes and she hooked in chewing madly. As she ate her attention was angled towards Hermione who was currently in a rather boisterous conversation with Ron, Neville, Luna, Circe and Fitz. They were all sucking on champagne and fire whiskey and based on the trajectory they'd been going for a while.

Fitz had been Harry's Auror trainer for about a month and he was already just as smitten as Ron. Hermione too enjoyed his company, if only because he was the only one who enjoyed a lengthy debate as much as she did. It didn't matter that they were on the same side most of the time.

'Think of it,' he was saying. 'Muggle science with wizard magic. We could create a new empire where we live together. We don't have to be afraid of one another. We can end the old divide. We can stop hiding.'

'They’d fear us,' Ron scoffed into his glass.

'Why? Think of all the ailments they die of every year that we have the cure for! Think of all the bones and bodies that could be regrown. Think of how our housing enchantments could help with their population demands. There are so many muggle problems that we can solve with the wave of a wand. Is it not a cruelty that we do not?'

Hermione's head cocked to the side. 'You really believe this, don't you?'

'Of course I do! It is the future. Muggles and magic together. We could stop the likes of the BloodBorn without question.'

'Historically speaking the track record regarding muggle/wizard interrelations is not encouraging,' Hermione reasoned.

'So what we never try again? You don't strike me as one to give up so easily.'

He winked and she blushed.

'Not to mention was it not difficult? I know it was for me. I lost all my childhood friends because of the lies I had to tell. I grew up as a muggle. I had no idea what I was—what to expect.'

She stared at her feet. 'Yes it was rather difficult.'

'Don't get me started on my parents! Their lives were upended. My mother was a socialite for christ sakes. Her whole life was in front of the camera and then suddenly her only son had to be hidden away. I mean all the times their memories were tampered with-'

'What!'

He nodded. 'On numerous occasions my parents were made to forget periods of my life because they were deemed too dangerous for non-magical people to know.'

'That's atrocious,' Neville spluttered.

'Yes it does seem a bit extreme,' Luna agreed softly.

'Perhaps it is different here than home,' he shrugged. 'Hermione, have you been able to share all of your life with you folks? Or even half?'

'Well... no.'

'See. It's backward. It's the start of a new millennium. Does that not call for new thinking? I mean think of all we could do for the muggles to make them feel secure. We could line their atom bombs with magic to be completely infallible. We could magic their guns to never miss.'

Even Hermione looked affronted. 'That's a little radical don't you think?'

There was a stiff silence that followed.

Lincoln slapped his hand over his knee. 'Ah but you are all too serious and so fucking British sometimes.' He took a swig of whiskey.

'It sounds interesting to me,' Luna mused. 'Not the part about weapons—but my father always said the wizarding world has always lacked imagination. It is easier to exist in the now than look to tomorrow. People refuse to believe in something until somebody else tells them to.'

'Well said!' Lincoln nodded enthusiastically. 'Did the muggles not suffer almost as much as you during the war? Yet they could not defend themselves because they were not even allowed to know they were under attack!' He licked his lips. 'This is it. I can feel it. It's already happening now. Progress will not be stopped. You're either leading the charge or dragging by its coattails. I know where I'd rather be.' He chortled at his own joke. 'Interrelations between our peoples is the future, I'll tell you that for free. The same for vampires, hags, giants... werewolves. The lot of them.'

'But they're dangerous,' Ron reasoned. 'Surely they proved as much during the war. The werewolves all but ran to You Know Who.'

Ginny watched Circe stiffen, her hand running through her thick black curls.

Meanwhile Harry bristled. 'You would judge them all for the acts of the few? Lupin fought on our side. He died for what we have now. He didn't get a choice in what he was but was a good—no a great man.'

Circe's eyes were glistening, completely wrapt in what he was saying.

'Yes of course, but arguably Lupin was special. The rest of them though-' Ron said dryly.

'Don't be such a Hufflepuff Ron,' George poked him.

'Oi!' Circe bristled swatting George in the back of the head.

He started completely stunned and Luna broke into a fit of hysterical laughter. Circe smirked in her direction.

'My dear boy you know I have no idea what that means,' Fitz smirked. 'Harry's right. Voldemort gained the following he did because he was willing to accept those our society doesn't.'

'He hated them,' Ron frowned.

'But he offered them something the wizarding world did not,' Hermione sighed. 'The same can be said for a number of other magical creatures. And I would argue too that what choice did they have? They were ostracised and so went down the only road made available to them.'

'Couldn't have put it better myself! Fitz banged his hand on the table. See—this is the future. Making space where those who have been crushed might grow.'

'You really think it possible?' Circe asked quietly.

Luna was sitting next to her and tipped her head to the side in that knowing way. She always saw more than everybody else.

Fitz waited for Ron to translate Circe's thick accent. 'Anything is possible,' he beamed once he understood. 'I grew up as a muggle after all. Then overnight all of—this,' he swung his hands out. 'Magic. We can do anything, we just have to be prepared to fight for it.'

It was then Ginny noticed more of their guests had sidled over. Some wore expressions of concern, but others were rapt. He was a fine talker Lincoln. Had a way of wrapping people around his finger.

'Are you expounding again Fitz?' An Egyptian accent slithered from the crowd. The other Aurors wandered their way over. All but Safira who had vanished after the ceremony.

'I never stop Kvothe,' he smirked.

Kvothe's eyes flashed. 'Perhaps today you might try—it is a wedding after all?'

Their gaze locked and suddenly the air was thick and Ginny tensed. Kvothe was a staunch traditionalist where Lincoln was a self proclaimed radical progressive. It was safe to say they butted heads. Often.

'Right you are,' Fitz conceded. 'It is possible I have had too much to drink. I must be off but before I go—I took the liberty of arranging a little wedding present.'

He whispered into his wand and there was a burst of light on the other side of the yard. Several figures emerged and it only took Ginny thirty seconds to lose every shred of dignity.

'That's not-' she half choked.

Hermione was instantly next to her fingers clenching her arm. 'It is, isn't it?'

The figures swept over to a stage that appeared out of thin air.

'The Weird Sisters!' Ginny and Hermione shrieked at the same time.

'Who?' Ron leant forward trying to get a better view.

'Only the greatest wizarding band to ever,' Ginny gasped.

Myron Wagtail stepped forward smiling. 'This ones for Ginny and Harry.'

'Harry dance with me!' She was clawing at his shoulder and he looked half amused, half terrified.

Not waiting for an answer she grabbed his hand dragging him from his seat. The rest of their guests flooded the dance floor, their feet already slamming to the beat of the music.

Ginny was immediately in the thick of it shouting along to This Is the Night with Harry bumping along with her.

...When all is dark and there's no light...
...Lost in the deepest star of night...
...I see you...

Ginny swung around planting a fat kiss on Harry's lips. From the corner of her eye she watched Fitz offer a small salute to her. His fingers brushed his brow and he smiled wide. He turned, then disappeared.

Chapter Text

2010

When Ginny woke she was lying on the ground, the carpet brushing uncomfortably against her face. An off putting rust scent punctuated the air making her gag.

Why was she on the ground?

It all came flooding back. The fight. Not Dean who tried to take her hand and apparate away. The knife in her hand. The blood.

A sick feeling rushed through her stomach and Ginny twisted to the side to vomit. Her gut heaved and her throat burned as she expelled champagne and canapés. Half wishing she'd eaten something more substantial she attempted to sit up. Her hands unclamped and Ginny cried out as feeling rushed back into her extremities.

Maybe it wasn't real—just another bad dream. She had a lot of nightmares of late. Ginny's eyes narrowed at the tiny beads of light that reflected throughout the room. With a start she realised they were diamonds. A hundred tiny jewels that once clung to her neck. It was a gift from Harry and she'd let it be broken. She winced, he was going to be so angry with her.

Allowing her gaze roam a bit further, her attention caught on a figure. A man lying face up, completely unmoving. A large pool had already started to harden over the carpet mingling with the swirling patterns.

Well fuck.

She stared at the cooling body splayed with arms wide feeling a rising tide of panic sweep through her. With a start she realised his wand had rolled over the floor and was very close to her hand. Without thinking she curled her fingers around it. The magic soared through her at the touch somehow steadying. But... she wasn't supposed to have a wand.

Snatching it up she tucked it behind a book on the shelf behind her. She scrutinised the hiding spot for a few moments, her chest rising up and down.

If Harry found out…

Not the problem right now, she decided.

Having a wand stashed away could be a good thing, if only to defend herself better in the future. Right now, however, she needed to deal with the body. There was a horrible rasping sound escaping from the back of her throat. Her hands shook at the thought.

The body.

She'd killed somebody.

But... why?

The details were getting murkier by be second. As if a slow tide was gently receding back into the sea taking her memories with it. Ginny wasn't a murderer, this didn't make any sense. But her first instinct had been to cut and carve, to drive away her fear with metal. She needed to clean this up. The thought popped into her head and she was immediately moving, her body dragging slower than her mind, the limbs like stiff rubber refusing to cooperate. It was Harry's birthday. Harry didn't like mess. He was going to be so angry with her. Especially when she couldn't explain why.

Why did she kill him?

Now that was gone too. With each second that trickled by her reasoning faded. A slow fog enveloping her, a wet blanket of doubt. Either way it didn't matter. The man was dead now. All that was left was to hide the evidence. Harry couldn't know else she would have gone for his aid. She pondered alerting one of their guards but they would only tell Harry.

Cloth. Need a cloth.

She brushed off the negative swirling melee of thoughts opting for action instead. There was blood everywhere. Ginny whipped around ready to hurry to the bathroom. The moment she passed through the door however she froze. A creature made from stone completely unable to step forward, or back. A cleaving pain cut through her forehead and she cried out snapping a hand up. It was agony. A million tiny needles stabbing at her brain. She swayed, wobbling on her feet feeling completely discombobulated. For a moment it felt like gravity pitched upside down and she was free falling through empty space. Her toes clung to the ground desperately trying to remain glued to the earth lest she be lost entirely. Her hand snapped out gripping the door jam and everything righted itself with a quick snap.

Ginny breathe. Just breathe.

She sucked air into her lungs, scrunching her fingers into fists to stop their shaking. Standing upright she took a step forward hurrying to-

To what?

She couldn't remember. There was something important... But as she stood there the thought wouldn't come. As if it were a winged creature flying ever further out of reach. Her head throbbed painfully. Her dress felt too tight, the layers of silk clutching at her skin.

The evening wasn't proceeding as she'd hoped. Perhaps she was merely upset. It didn't make sense that none of their friends were there. Surely it hadn't been that long? Hermione said she couldn't come when she saw her. The rest of them though? It was hurtful. Cruel. Harry deserved better than this. She was going to throttle Ron next time she saw him. She worried her lip.

In truth she was tired and would've liked nothing better than to go to bed. But it was Harry's birthday. She wouldn't miss it.

With a sigh she swung around reentering the room, a sense of strange foreboding weighing heavy on her shoulders. The door had swung wide open again and the floor was covered in leaves. A thick layering of dried maple leaves coloured crimson. Relief washed over her. It was the leaves. That was it. She was going to clean them up, they'd blown in when she'd come through moments before. She wasn't forgetting things, she was fine. Everything was fine.

Not bothering with a broom she dropped to her knees quickly scooping up the mess. The leaves were stubborn, sticking to the carpet in places so she started thrusting, gathering them into a pile. They were oddly viscous, an unexpected sensory experience on her hands. It didn't take long to shove them all through the door. She stood breathing fast.

Her hands felt wet which was odd. There must have been water, perhaps it'd been raining earlier. She wiped them on her dress, hoping it wouldn't be too noticeable.

Stepping back she reviewed her handiwork. The room looked just as she'd found it. With a deep, calming breath she swung around heading back to the party. Just outside however she ran smack back into a tiny elderly woman smoking by one of the old oaks.

'My!' the woman cried, almost tumbling over. Her eyes shot wide as they hurried over Ginny. 'Are you alright?'

It was the soothsayer, one of the entertainers evidently on a cigarette break.

'I'm quite alright thank you,' Ginny went to walk away but the woman reached out, snatching her arm.

She was eying Ginny curiously, as if trying to find words lifted from a heavy stack.

'My my,' she whispered. 'Let me look at you.'

Before Ginny knew it she was squared before the tiny woman as she poked and prodded her neck and shoulders.

'Ummm... what are you doing?'

'Shh shh. I am working.'

She had a thick accent Ginny couldn't quite place. Definitely Eastern European.

Ginny went to retreat. 'Excuse me-'

'Argh no.' She slapped Ginny's hand gently. 'I help you silly girl. Stand still.'

Ginny froze. She couldn't say why. Perhaps the echo of Molly Weasley in her ears. That demanding authority that refused to be ignored.

'Hmm,' she mused. 'This is nasty business.'

The woman yanked Ginny's neck, forcing her to lean down so she might stare into her eyes. With two gnarled hands she began kneading at her temples. Her mouth moved all the while as she whispered softly under her breath. Words Ginny couldn't understand. Static electricity rippled over her skin and Ginny winced, her leg kicking out involuntarily.

'Stop!'

Ginny tried to shove her off but the old broad was surprisingly strong. The woman was sweating now as if she fought some unknown foe. Her fingers clawed at Ginny's skin in a way that was almost painful and one hundred percent invasive.

Just as Ginny was wondering if it would be ok to punch an elderly woman, her face carved into a vicious grin. She stepped back clapping her hands together and Ginny wobbled as a flash of bright white cut through her eyes. A sense of vertigo washed over her and she cried out stumbling but the woman caught her with sure hands. She blinked and a million images zoomed through her mind like an old video tape in rewind. Too quick and full of static.

Wincing, she rubbed her temple. 'What did you do to me?'

'I am sorry, my child,' she said sadly. 'What comes next will not be easy.'

'What are you-'

Ginny swung around. There was a loud roar from behind her, they were bringing Harry's cake out.

'I'm sorry I have to-'

But when Ginny turned back she was gone.

~

Ginny charged over the green intent to get to Harry's side. The guests were congregated towards the food station, a series of long tables piled with steaming meats and pungent cheeses. Quickly slipping through she could hear Fitz's booming voice. He was giving a speech praising Harry. Ginny hurried her steps.

It was when she bumped into someone and they turned to apologise that everything shifted. An unfamiliar face rounded on her and she watched as their welcoming smile upended, becoming a frown. Then their eyes widened. A hand lifted, covering their mouth. A scream pierced the night.

Everyone froze.

They all turned, their bodies moving in slow motion, and suddenly a hundred eyes snapped to her. Ginny fought the intense desire to flee. It wasn't like her to be afraid of crowds but her throat tightened painfully. She took a step back.

Nobody moved. They all just kept staring.

‘Fuck,’ she heard one of them mutter.

Like that they all began to whisper. A feathering of sound grating against her ears.

More of them were pointing. She looked down, inspecting her dress, finding nothing out of order. Movement caught her eye and her head snapped back up. The crowd was parting, making way as someone shuffled through the sea of bodies.

Harry.

A sigh of relief burst from her mouth. She reached for him and he zipped to her side, gripping her shoulder, his eyes half mad. He began madly inspecting her, lifting her arms, twisting her body.

'What is it? What's wrong?'

'Ginny,' he barked. 'What happened to you?'

She met his eyes and they were brimming with fear.

'Nothing. Nothings wrong. What are you talking about? I'm fine.'

She lifted a hand to touch his face. He recoiled, backing away from her touch. A flush crept over her cheeks and she chanced a glance at the guests behind him. Had they seen him reject her? It was mortifying. Hurt settled heavy in her gut.

'Ginny, what's all over you? It looks like-' His words were biting, full of concern.

Fitz was there now too. He was shouting for a Healer. Several guards rushed forward, their wands at the ready. Malfoys face materialised out of the sea of people. Horror carved its way through his features. She watched his wand slide out of sleeve pocket and then he was backing away, disappearing into the thick of the crowd. Some of the guests were fleeing, as if a hidden foe had just popped out of the bushes. Ginny didn't know what to make of it.

'Nothing I-'

She looked down, spreading her arms wide. Something spluttered. A flicker of colour. It was gone in the flash.

She blinked.

There it was again.

Blood. She was covered in blood.

Her mouth widened, popping open and closed.

It was there.

It was gone.

There.

Gone.

On and off again like an old lightbulb bathing her in horror one moment, nothing the next. She didn't know whether to scream or cry. Running from the room seemed like a good idea. She did that.

Kicking off her heels she sped, racing down the never ending hallways, her dress billowing out behind her. The bathroom door came into view and she slammed through it. The handle cracked into the wall from the force of it, there'd be a mark later. Not bothering to check she raced to the mirror.

There it was.

There it wasn't.

Was.

Wasn't.

The flickering wouldn't stop. It was like being caught in a lightning storm designed by a macabre bringer of nightmares. Reaching over the basin she turned on the tap sticking her hands under the water. A trail of blood dirtied the silver hardware. The white porcelain smudged scarlet.

Then it was gone.

Then it was back.

Gone.

Back.

She shoved her hands back under the water. Scrubbing. Scrubbing. Scrubbing.

'Clean,' she hissed. 'Why won't you be clean?'

But the more she scrubbed the more the crimson nightmare burst through her vision. It was like being trapped in a waking nightmare, all she could see was blood. It was everywhere. The white sink coated in a dark red stain.

Then it wasn't.

Then it was.

She sobbed, grabbing for the soap. It looked like there black tendrils of smoke sweeping through her fingers. She shuddered and scrubbed harder. Harder.

It might have been her blood now.

Hands latched around her body tearing her away. A lancing pain shot through her forehead and she screamed. Her body thrashed wildly as she tried to get free.

'Ginny stop!' Harry was shouting.

But she couldn't hear him. She couldn't breathe. Couldn't see. She thrashed wildly her hands slamming against his chest, his face. Her eyes flooded with a rush of red. Blood. So much blood. Her body shook. There was nothing but blood.

She just kept screaming.

~

When Ginny woke next it felt like she'd been dragged through a meat grinder backwards. Her muscles ached to the point where it was physically painful to move. A heaviness sat upon her skull almost crushing in its intensity. She tried to open her eyes only to snap them shut immediately due to the pounding force of her migraine.

Ginny was in her bedroom, the heavy curtains pulled shut blocking out the sunlight. But even the barest hint of light was like a scorching poker through her skull. She tried to recall what happened but it was fuzzy, a far away image that slipped further the harder she tried to reach for it. It'd been Harry's birthday, that much she could remember. She'd gone, greeted their guests, seen Fitz and danced with Malfoy. Then her little rendezvous with Harry in the alcove.

Nothing after that.

The more she tried to think, the more it felt like there was something wrapping it's fingers around her throat. A wicked beast sitting on her chest blocking the oxygen from reaching her lungs.

There came a sound from beyond the bedroom. Voices talking quietly but in her heightened state she could manage to hear them.

'My Lord, if I may speak plain?'

Silence. Harry must have nodded for the other spoke again.

'Your wife is unwell. She is seeing things that aren't there. Her brain is—it appears to be fractured. I believe it has started attacking itself. I've never seen anything like it.'

There was a tense pause.

'What does that mean?'

'It means that it is dangerous to tamper with the mind. It has been taught to cast illusions—to hide itself from threats. That is incredibly dangerous. I believe it has learnt to forget-'

'What are you implying?' There was a biting menace behind his words.

'Mr Lord I do not wish to offend,' the man stammered. 'But I can... I can see the traces of the spells used. There are a great many of them.'

More silence, then- 'What is the treatment?'

'I do not know. The brain is an incredibly complex organ. I've given her a Sleeping Draught for now and recommend giving her this daily.'

'What is it?'

'A mix of Calming Draught and Memory Relaxant. It is... it is what we give those who have suffered through a traumatic event.'

'Ah, Essence of Euphoria.'

'You know of it?'

'We have used it before, yes.'

'Right. It should help to keep her calm. But in the meantime she should be watched. She killed someone and has no memory of it-'

'She was defending herself,' he growled.

'That may be so but there are bigger implications. She could hurt someone else, someone who she cares about. Or... more likely she could harm herself.'

'I won't let that happen.'

Ginny heard the click of a suitcase.

'These cases can be difficult. She should be kept under constant surveillance for now.'

There was a shuffling of feet followed by a door quietly shutting.

Different voices now. Angry.

'That fucker was in my home,' Harry snarled. 'How?'

'I am sorry My Lord. I do not know-'

'Is it not your job to know?'

'I—yes.'

'Then you better find out. By the end of the day. For your own sake.'

'My Lord-'

'Quiet. Do you have any idea what could have happened? If any harms come to my wife I will hold you personally responsible.'

'I understand. I will do better.'

'Yes. I believe you will. But let me... motivate you.'

'My Lo-'

Crucio.

She heard a body fall to the ground. There was no sound however. No screaming. Just the dull thud of feet banging against the floor. It stopped and with it came the sound of whimpering.

'I am sorry, My Lord. I am sorry. I will find out.'

'Yes. You will. Or you will see just how unforgiving I can be.'

The door opened and shut again.

'Fitz.'

'Yes Harry.'

'I want to know why they were here.'

There was a light tinkling, a sloshing as two glasses were filled with liquid.

'I can only assume they were hoping to steal intelligence to circumvent our plans.'

'They will fail.'

'Of course. As they always do.'

'If they want war I will give it to them.'

'There is no need for that. Not just yet.'

'They got close this time. Too close. He didn't get in on his own.'

'It is unlikely. But we'll find them Harry-'

'I know we will,' Harry cut him off briskly. 'And when we do, I'm going to kill them all.'

The floor creaked under someone's feet.

'Perhaps it would be wise to send Ginny away for a while-'

'No.' A glass slammed on the table.' She stays with me. But you're right. They have gotten too brave. Bring up one of the prisoners and ready the cameras. I'll be out shortly. I think we need to remind our enemies what happens when they cross me.'

'Is that... is that really necessary?'

'Are you questioning me?'

'No. Never. Of course My Lord. Any preferences?'

'Luna will do.'

There was the sound of scratching, of footsteps leading away. Then another set approached her, soft pads lighting on the carpet. She felt the bed dip and arms curled around her waist. Ginny stiffened.

She could feel him.

The Other.

He was radiating with power. That wild fury that burnt away any shred of the man she knew. His arms tightened locking her in and his breath shuddered in her ear. Ginned snuggled back, letting her body whisper to him.

Come back. Come back to me.

She felt his arms loosen ever so slightly.

'What's wrong with me?' she whispered after a few minutes.

'Nothing is wrong with you my love.' He stroked her hair gently, her cheek. 'There's nothing wrong with you.'

'Harry... I think I'm going insane-'

'Shh, shh,' he clicked gently.

'I'm scared.'

'Don't be afraid. I'm going to protect you. I'm going to keep you safe.'

'Then... then why are you hurting me?'

She felt him tense behind her.

'I'm sorry—I'm sorry I don't know where that came from-'

'I don't want to hurt you.' His voice was so quiet she could barely make out the words. 'But... I can't lose you Ginny.'

At that moment he sounded so sad.

Tired.

As if he was just as lost as she.

Her fingers folded over his where he held her around the stomach. 'You'll never lose me Harry. I miss you. I miss my Harry. Please come back to me.'

There was a slight shift, a feathering of energy. She could always tell the difference. Right now the Other was taking a back seat. Harry's fear crushing it down.

'I haven't gone anywhere.'

'Are you so sure?'

She felt his lips on her neck. 'It's ok. You have nothing to fear. Nothing. I'm here. I'm always going to be here.'

Ginny sighed, sinking deeper into the pillows.

I wish that were true.

He was singing something quietly in her ear. It felt like she should know the melody but it slipped through her fingers. An empty hum that faded into dust. There was something wrong with her whether Harry was willing to admit it or not. Part of her was slipping, her mind warring with itself as she tried to stay afloat in a storm with no end.

Harry handed her a small vial and she drank the contents without much thought. A wave of sweet calm rolled over almost immediately and she smiled into the covers. It was to float away, all her worries instantly made small. Her muscles relaxed and that horrible tense feeling in her gut relinquished. She would worry, there might be a time for that. But not now. Not here.

'Just hold me Harry,' she murmured sleepily. 'Hold me like you used to.'

A soft kiss against her cheek.

'I'll never let you go.'

Chapter Text

2000

The door snapped behind them and Ginny was already flat against the wall, Harry's lips crawling over her neck. He pressed kisses over her spine, his breath ghosting across her skin. Ginny smiled leaning back into him. He curled a hand around her neck pulling her chin back bearing her throat.

'Harry,' she moaned. 'I need you. All of you.'

It was just as she'd planned it. Their wedding truly sped by in the blink of an eye. Only moments ago they bid their farewells to friends and family before taking the Portkey in their hands that would ferry them away to bliss. Their honeymoon.

They'd debated for weeks where to go. All Ginny truly cared about was that it would be warm, that there would be a beach and it was far, far away. There was a hidden island off the coast of Mexico that was frequented by some of the wizarding world's elite and seeing as they had to contend with Harry's star power they decided that no expense be spared to allow them the privacy they craved.

The leadup to the wedding had been insane. Their faces splashed across every newspaper across the globe. Reporters outside their apartment blinding them any time they tried to leave through the front door. It cost a fortune to gain access but it turned out Harry was incredibly wealthy what with his inheritance from both his parents and Sirius Black.

'They'd want us to splurge,' he reasoned.

She agreed.

The Villa might have been beautiful, there might have been a shock of sunlight bursting through the window, there might have been somewhere there to hand them a drink as they entered.

Ginny had eyes for none of it.

She felt Harry's mouth crawl over her spine as he lifted her hair gently sweeping it over her shoulder. His leg slid between hers pushing them wider and she ground her arse against him, smiling as she felt the welcoming hardness.

'Yes,' she breathed into the brick.

It scratched at her face, her breasts, in a way that was most pleasant. She was still wearing her wedding dress and the fabric was catching, tiny ripping sounds punctuating the air.

Harry chuckled and swung her around, spinning her to face him. Her eyes met his and there was burning hunger there. The green so dark it was almost black.

She bit her lip.

'I'm not fucking you against the wall for the first time.'

She smirked. 'I don't mind.'

'I bet you don't.'

Harry scooped her up half dragging her to the bed. She wrapped her legs around his waist, devouring his neck with her lips. He tasted of dew swept grass and salted silk and she savored the taste. Her fingers twisted through his hair as he half walked, half staggered towards the bed.

They entered a sparse room with the largest window Ginny had ever seen. It stretched from floor to ceiling, the ocean beyond glistening in the afternoon. The bed was equally enormous.

Carefully setting her down, Harry met her lips with his and for a time they just stood there, silently worshiping each other. Their hands roaming, finding purchase on shoulders, hips, the curve of a neck, their hair.

Everywhere.

She couldn't get enough of his hands. His skin on hers. She wanted more. Ginny tightened her arms around Harry, crushing his body against hers. He ran his teeth, scraping over her jaw and she shuddered. His hands crept lower, softly sweeping over her arse, half lifting her into him. He rolled his hips and she moaned again. She went to remove his shirt but he backed off panting.

'Wha-'

She half whimpered at the loss of him. It'd been pure hell to wait but in the end Harry insisted.

'I want my first time with you to be after you've promised yourself to me. I want it to be us. Always.'

Well she wasn't waiting any longer.

He straightened to full height, so much taller than her, his head cocking to the side. She stood in front of him, the bed behind, the massive window just beyond. From that angle she'd be bathed in light, her red hair almost on fire as the sun slowly set.

'Fuck,' he whispered. 'You are so beautiful.'

Ginny smiled, lifting a hand. 'Come here.'

He approached her, slowly, as if she were a mirage and if he moved too suddenly she might fade into ocean spray. She lifted her hands, curling them around his shoulder. Her mouth met his and he opened for her, finding their rhythm as she lowered her fingers, carefully unbuttoning his shirt. Stepping back he pulled his arms though letting it fall to the ground. Next he slid off his shoes and socks kicking them over the floor. It was her turn to stare now.

Her mouth went dry.

It was like seeing him for the first time all over again. He was truly the most exquisite man she'd ever seen. His body honed to sharp muscle as boyhood faded away. The curve of his crooked smile almost shattered her then and there. A black shaggy mane that stuck up at all angles curling around his sun kissed face almost like silk. His chest was so much more defined after a year training with the Aurors. It required them to be in peak physical fitness and she was certainly happy to reap the benefits.

Ginny lifted her arms and he stepped forward, carefully unzipping her dress. She felt it start to give, the fabric sliding over her skin. All at once it dropped, revealing the sheer white lingerie underneath. A strapless bra coated in delicate lace that shivered over her skin. The matching underwear clung to her hips like a second skin, a garter and tights attached to the strap of fabric around her stomach.

He lifted a hand, gently brushing his fingers across the material, as if he were touching something precious. Breakable.

He dropped to his knees before her, his eyes tilted upwards as if in holy prayer. Maybe he was. With fingers that shook with anticipation he unclipped the stockings running his hand over her thighs all the while. Ginny giggled at the excitement on his face. His eyes caught hers and they were a mix of mischievous intent and utter focused.

He started slowly unfurling the stockings, kissing his way down her leg with lips that feathered against her like the wings of a butterfly. Ginny tipped her head back snapping her eyes shut—all the better to feel him shed the layers between them. He lifted her foot, carefully tugging the last of the stockings free. Her nerve endings were on fire, every touch close pushing her over the edge. He rose, his hands sliding over her legs, her thighs to find her mouth. His lips pressed against hers and she opened for him, finding a slow rhythm as his fingers gripped her shoulders.

They gently slid over and down her back to find the clasp of her bra. With quick fingers he unhooked it, letting it fall away, his mouth never leaving hers. It was only then he stepped back again. He surveyed as if she were the finest jewel in all the kingdoms of the world.

'I can not believe I am this lucky,' he murmured and she beamed at him.

Suddenly he was back, his hand sliding around her. She was lifted and gently placed over the bed, her legs pushed apart so he might slide between. His fingers curled under the line of her underwear and he dragged them down. She lifted her hips and he licked his lips. He knelt back, reviewing her naked body splayed over the white sheets. Strands of her crimson hair swept out behind her head forming a crown of fire beneath her. His gaze slowly trailed over her, lost in the curves of her body. She reached for him and he lowered, finding home between her thighs. She ran a hand over his pants.

'These need to go,' she whispered.

He smirked, quickly unzipping. She helped ease them down his legs and then he kicked them over the floor. After that only his boxers remained. A thin, white sliver of fabric held in the bulge that twitched as she ran her hand along it.

'No, no,' he hissed. 'Do that and this will be over far too soon. I intend to take my time.'

With that he slid down her body, lips trailing over her neck. His hands circled her breasts, his thumb flicking at her nipple. It hardened under his touch and she groaned, slipping her head to the side so she could watch him. He palmed at her breast and his mouth replaced his thumb. He sucked hard and she swallowed a breath, her panting becoming heavier. His teeth scraped along the edge of her nipple, a soft sting that intensified the throbbing between her legs. She felt the wetness grow, her thighs slick with want, with need.

Harry however seemed quite happy to gorge on her nipples swapping from one to the other, his hand rubbing over her stomach, her hips, the peak of her thighs. He was working her into a frenzy and she was writhing under him. He nipped her and she yelped and he raised his head looking rather proud of himself. When he dipped back down he started to move lower, his lips tracing a line down her stomach, over her hips, down her thighs. He descended, past her navel, his face in line with the swell of her core.

She could feel his fingers trailing over the ultra sensitive peak and she sighed, arching her back into him. He chuckled, content with his teasing even as she angled her body for him.

'Now, now,' he laughed, his breath heating her skin. 'Patience is a virtue.'

'Not today you arsehole,' she panted.

He chuckled again and the vibrations of his chest over her legs had her moaning. She felt his fingers slide higher, his hands blazing hot against her skin. She sucked in a breath—but he only swept up and around again.

'Please Harry,' she begged.

Another vibration rippled over her as he laughed.

'So needy.' 

But then he ran a finger, sliding it along her entrance and they both hissed, their voices tangling together. She was completely soaked with need. He seemed to like that. The coiling throbbing in her abdomen amped it up a notch. Harry glided his finger over her, his thumb drawing small circles at her most sensitive area. Her head kicked back and he leant forward, his breath hot on her core.

'Look at me,' Harry rasped.

She did.

Her gaze met his and he was full of yearning. A wild hunger that swallowed her whole. He slid a finger inside her and she gasped.

'Don't you look away,' he murmured. 'I want to see you. I want to feel you.'

Ginny felt like she was going to burst as he gradually started to dip his finger in and out, curling to find all the right parts of her. She half shook holding herself in place and Harry started to fuck her with his finger. He added another and she bit on her lip. His eyes darkened, the black giving way to empty endless pools of desire.

They were both engulfed in flame, their bodies burning, their sweat mingling. She was panting hard, her mouth wide open as she watched him. He was an expert sending her into a wild conflagration of rapture. It was to be caught between delirium and absolute concentration. Ginny swallowed, her chest thundering, breasts heaving.

His other hand curled around her thigh, pushing her leg out. Then his tongue took over where his fingers had been. Laving over her clit, gliding timidly over wet warmth. Ginny fell back then, burying her head in the pillows. Her cries filled the room and Harry groaned into her skin. She arched as his tongue swirled, his thumb rolling over her clit. Ginny bowed her hips all the best to feel his mouth on her and he made a low needy sound. There was a heavy pressure building inside her. The taste of rust filled her mouth and that's when she realised she'd bitten her tongue.

His mouth swept over her, sucking, licking, lashing. She mewed, her body shuddering. He lifted her hips off the bed, his hands holding her backside as he feasted on her. In that moment she forgot where she was. There was nothing. Only Harry. Only Harry and his mouth-

Oh fuck his mouth.

'I'm going to-' she gasped.

And then she did.

Her eyes rolled back in her head and she cried out. The thread snapped and Ginny shattered. Her body twitched madly and Harry grinned, lowering her back onto the bed. Ginny lay there, her entire being floating away on a sea of bliss. She was a creature completely undone. Her body boneless as he rose back up to crush his lips against hers.

He rolled half onto his side, giving her a moment to sink back into her skin. His hands however roamed over her body, as if he couldn't bear not to touch her. His hand was blazing hot, her heart pounding in her chest.

The sun dipped lower over the horizon, sending a shock of burnt orange through the window, bathing the room in brilliant colour. Harry was illuminated like a drop of blistering gold. A radiant god of incandescent fantasy come to steal her heart away. Their bodies drenched in spinning light as it reflected off the undulating water. Their eyes met exchanging all the words they could not say. An invisible string woven around them, connecting them from now and for always. Her heart was pierced by a love so pure it shredded her every resolve. He held her like a single note stretching through the darkness making way for the light.

'I want you,' she whispered.

'You have me. I'm yours.'

'And I'm yours.'

She pressed him flat on his back, rolling to straddle him. She slid her fingers under the line of his boxers, over the white fabric, putting pressure on the bulge that threatened to escape at any moment. His lips parted and he moaned, jerking under her touch.

'Let's get these out of the way shall we?'

He sucked in a breath as she started to lower his pants, pulling them down his muscular legs and over his feet. When they came free she sat up spinning them on the end of her finger and he laughed, rumbling beneath her.

'Look what I've got under me,' she purred. 'If it's not the Chosen One.'

She chucked his pants lowering her hands to drag over her nails down his chest. There was a light dusting of black chest hair and she twisted her fingers through it. Leaning down, she kissed him. First his neck, then down his throat. She let her hand glide over his erection, her fingers wrapping around substantial girth. He groaned again and she smiled into his skin. The silky hardness twitched as she began to slowly work him, coating him first in the wetness between her thighs.

'Ginny-' he groaned. 

She watched his lashes flutter, her eyes glued to the smallest shifts in his expression. His lip curled and his jaw clicked.

'You ready?' she whispered.

'Fuck yes.'

With that she slid her fingers around him, guiding him into her. They both froze, their mouths half wide in shock. She pressed herself down and he slid further into her. His hands wound around her arms hard enough to bruise. His eyes were laser focused on her and she slowly filled herself with him. An explosion of senses rolled through her and she leaned down to kiss him. Her body lifted and he slid out ever so slightly. Then she pushed back down welcoming him home. He groaned, losing all control and suddenly she was on her back.

She was completely at his mercy and he knew it. A smile curled his lips and Harry stilled, lowering to gently nudge at her core. Excitement skittered through her stomach and he entered her deliberately, relishing in the feel of her. She tossed her head back and he started to move. Ginny wrapped her legs around his waist, clawing her fingers over his shoulders. His hips churned and a breathy moan exploded from her mouth. Harry swallowed it, his lips claiming hers.

He pushed into her over and over, his eyes holding hers all the while for they were partners in this pleasure. She threw her arms back, gripping onto the bedhead as his thrusts intensified. He pressed his forehead to hers, green eyes blazing. She was surrounded by him. Drowning in his skin, his touch. It was to be left without thought. Without body. Without anything but him.

Deeper thrusts now, lifting her leg to angle himself better. She cried out as he sunk into her, his length grinding out waves of pleasure. Ginny bowed off the bed, her body rising to meet him just as viciously. He brushed his lips against her skin, his teeth grazing while his fingers slid through her hair, pulling tight.

Ginny was lost in a torrid wildfire that set them ablaze. A burning, roiling smoke casting them into flame. The fumes like the sweetest nectar on her tongue. His eyes were scorching, searing, burning a brand into her skin. Ginny felt a rising tension coil in her core. A flickering spark that blossomed into a thousand stars exploding through her vision. It left her teetering on the precipice of the divine. He rode her with maddening hunger. Their bodies intertwined, their heat. It was to burn, burn, burn .

It was to relearn how to breathe, to taste, to touch and smell. She was smoldering, melted copper and broiling gold. Harry pumped into her, burying himself between her thighs, their bodies slapping together where they were joined.

Love is love but this was more. It was falling through the folds of the infinite. To spread out, make space. For them an ordinary love would not suffice. It was a marrying of fire and black ice. A jewel so rare it was more valuable than all the starts in the galaxy. He was lightning and thunder and she was the sand waiting to be shattered glass.

A heart shaped into a home.

Harry was panting, sweat dripping down his chest. Ginny latched onto him, clawing down his back. Each pounding stroke was bringing her closer to the edge. A chain tightening with each thrust. Ginny's blood was on fire. Harry moved without restraint, lifting her hips to seat himself deeper. She cried out.

Ginny's control was slipping. She could feel it in him too, in the way their bodies clenched. Set to perfect rhythm.

They'd waited long enough.

They came together, Ginny's scream merging with his bellowing roar.

She was obliterated, her body shaking under him. Her muscles straining from the delicious pounding she'd taken. Harry collapsed onto her, his cock slipping out of her leaving only a slick wetness between her thighs. Ginny tangled her fingers through his hair holding him as their breathing slowed.

'Now that,' Ginny whispered. 'Was what I fucking wanted.'

Harry chuckled into her shoulder evidently not able to move yet. He leant back to look at her and their eyes met exchanging all the words they could not say.

'I love you,' she smiled almost drunkenly.

'Love is a word that could never express all that I feel.'

It was like holding fast to a dream—only this was real. He curled a finger through her hair. It was wet and clung to her skin with sweat.

'We are made of mirrors,' he murmured. 'Our reflection is the same. All I see is you.'

'You're mine,' she grinned.

'And you're mine. Always. It's you and me. We go together.'

She snuggled into him, their bodies still wrapped together.

She nodded knowing she would never agree to anything more.

'You and me.'

~

'Gin you're going to burn.'

'I don't care, let me fry.'

'You won't be saying that later.'

'Perhaps. But then I don't think you'll be complaining when it comes time to apply the healing balm to my skin.'

His eyes gleamed. 'I suppose not.'

Ginny swirled her cocktail. It was a fruity variety that was perhaps a little too sweet for her liking but she slurped it down regardless. They'd spent the last several days in bed only moving to bathe and eat. Something they found could be just as sensual as their bedroom activities. Harry would wash her back, the suds popping over her skin. The loufa would inch lower, lower. Then they'd be right back where they started. She pressed against a wall. Him entering her from behind, their bodies slippery and wet. After that she might feed him strawberries one by one. Or perhaps he'd draw lines of whipped cream over her skin. It didn't really matter what it was, they'd find a way to turn it into sex.

'I never want to leave this place,' she groaned.

They were lying by their private pool, the beach waves rolling in the distance. It was one of the few occasions they'd managed to get outside without ripping each other's clothes off.

'We could always extend our stay,' Harry mused.

Ginny whipped up into a sitting position. 'Are you serious?'

'Well I don't see why not.' He was smirking from where he lay beside her. Studiously refusing to catch her eye. 'I mean there are certain perks of killing Voldemort after all. I'm sure the Auror Academy won't fault of us for-'

Ginny was on him in seconds, her legs straddling him. He sat up to meet her, his lips crashing into hers. She curved her fingers over his swimmers, finding him hard and ready. She went to slip her hand beneath the fabric-

Harry flinched.

She sat back.

'What?'

He blinked rapidly, swaying slightly.

'Nothing,' he murmured. 'Maybe a little sun stroke...'

He was rubbing his temple, his eyes glazed and unfocused. It reminded her of something but she couldn't remember what.

'Harry what's wrong?'

'Argh!' He slapped his hands against his forehead and Ginny leapt off him.

She knelt down beside him her fingers digging into his shoulder.

'Harry-'

'It's ok.' He stood. 'It's ok I think I need-'

He stopped speaking and in that moment Ginny knew fear unlike anything she'd ever known.

'Harry what is it-'

She froze.

He fell as if in slow motion, his legs crumpling under him as he dropped. She wasn't quick enough. His head cracked on the ground, a horrible sickening sound as she rushed for him. He'd started to convulse

'Harry—Harry what's wrong!'

He flopped on the stone, his eyes rolling back in his head. It was like one of his episodes but worse. So much worse.

'Harry!' Harry, please come back to me.'

He wasn't stopping.

His lips were turning blue.

Ginny leapt to her feet grabbing her wand from the table. She was back at his side in less than a heartbeat. She raised her wand, gripping his wrist like a lifeline. It was a long shot but Harry needed help. Now.

She apparated and a fierce pain carved through her right arm. When she landed there was blood everywhere but the familiar tile sent relief washing over her. Mediwitches wandered about, clipboards in their hands. They all froze as Ginny and Harry popped into existence. Ginny's arm was bleeding a large gash from where she'd splinched herself. It was too far. Her body shook, black spots appearing at the edge of her vision. She was going into shock.

But that didn't matter.

Nothing mattered.

Because Harry wasn't breathing. 

'Help!' She screamed. 'Somebody help me!'

Chapter Text

2010

What do you do if the one you love is lying to you?

That was the question Ginny asked herself more often than not of late. It was the question that kept her up at night. That pulled her from bed in the morning. The question that had her walk those endless halls muttering quietly to herself at all hours. Her hands wringing, her heart clenching.

It didn't matter that Harry would seek her out, gently guiding her back to bed. Was he her helper or her jailer? Could she trust his words or were they full of holes?

In her dreams she would stand in front of the mirror and find it split right down the middle. Her eyes held wide like vacant windows.

Was this madness?

A shadow elongating, the darkness snapping at her heels. The Ginny she was and the Ginny she'd been molded into.

Which one was real?

It was to be hammered down, her reality made paper thin. A life folded into tiny pieces to fit someone else's puzzle. All these thoughts and more wove their way through the fabric of her mind. A spider web sticking and snapping with each strand drawn.

Meanwhile Ginny was floating, her body enveloped by cool water. Above her the trees bent to and fro in their endless dance, the leaves whispering their constant song. A bird cried out, it's shrieking call echoing hauntingly. It was a raven, a sign of things to come.

Ginny feathered her fingers over the surface of the lake sending a shock of ripples rushing through the water. She'd been coming here almost every day since Harry's birthday. It was the only place she might have a moment alone, though even now a hulking figure loomed by the lake's edge. Her bodyguard. Or her captor. It was hard to be sure which.

A gust of wind skittered past and the water dusted over her skin. She snapped her eyes shut, blocking it all out. The whole world might melt away if she concentrated hard enough. Sleep had been eluding her since the party. It made her sluggish, her brain ticking infuriatingly slow.

She might have pushed all this away but she wanted to remember. She wanted to understand. Or at least she did until she had her morning medicine. All Harry would tell her was that there'd been an attack and she'd been hurt. As a result he'd doubled down on security leaving her with a constant shadow forever in her wake. This offered little opportunity for snooping.

Ginny wandered the halls like a ghost, her footsteps barely making sound as she whispered over the stone. She'd stopped brushing her hair, stopped dressing in the mornings. Instead she roamed the grounds in her long white nightgown barely registering the fabric on her skin. She'd been taking Euphoria daily as per her doctor's instruction and it left her floating, as if she were hovering outside her body watching herself.

There was something wrong about this and she tried desperately to care but it was so easy not to. Instead she hummed under her breath a thousand songs that echoed through her head, her voice filling the empty space. The lake allowed her time to think, to plan. Harry was keeping something from her, that much she felt was certain but it was hard to trust herself. There was so much still clouded in smoke.

A flower floated past her and she reached out gripping it in her hand. The petals were brown and soggy, her fingers crushing it into pulp. She'd risen early this morning and hurried down to the lake before anyone else woke. An hour ago her bodyguard had appeared like a silent wraith, his hulking form taking up far too much space in the corner of her eye. They were forbidden to talk to her, as if she were too delicate for even the slightest conversation.

'My Lady!'

Ginny's eyes snapped open. Another smaller figure stood by the waters edge now. It was the small blonde woman. Perhaps if she didn't move they would go away—

'My Lady!' the voice called again. 'We must get ready for tonight!'

Ginny groaned.

The Opera.

She had zero desire to go but Harry insisted. They were expected to attend and he feared what going without her might imply.

'We must show our strength,' he implored. 'They need to see you. To know that they failed.'

Fine words but what they essentially meant was that she didn't have a choice.

Ginny sat up in the water letting her feet slowly fall to the ground. It was squishy, the slime lining the lake bed squelching beneath her toes as she edged towards the house. It sat like an old toad on the other end of the green. Potter Manor, an enormous cage.

Where once there might have been servants and staff flittering over the grass like ants to an anthill there were none. Part of Harry's strategy to keep them safe. No one was allowed in or out of the Manor without specific clearance. Ginny had never been alone like she was now. It clutched at her throat forcing her to seek out small spaces. She'd even started talking to the portraits if only to hear her voice at least once during the day. Harry was gone more often than not seeing as he couldn't hold his meetings at the Manor anymore.

The maid threw a towel over Ginny's shoulders and they began the long walk back home. Ginny noticed she walked with a limp.

'Are you ok?' she asked quietly.

This earned her a dark look from her guard but she ignored him.

'I am quite alright My Lady,' the maid smiled.

It did not reach her eyes.

They continued their march in silence. At the house the door was opened for Ginny and she was led to the bathroom, a steaming bath already filled in the corner. Ginny dropped the towel, slipping her nightie over her head. It dropped to the ground a sodden mess, brown stains lingering where it'd dragged in the mud. The maid guided Ginny to the tub, helping her ease in the water. She handed her a cup filled to the brim with Euphoria. Her eyes were fixed to the ground.

'Your medicine My Lady.'

Ginny took the vial, but when the maid turned she spat it in a pot plant beside her.

She'd made the decision a few days ago in a bout of unexpected lucidity. Usually her medicine was given to her at 8am on the dot.

Every morning without fail. On this day in particular she'd overslept, allowing more time for the drug to make its way out of her system. It allowed her all of five minutes to make a plan. She'd been spitting out Euphoria every day since.

There comes a time where you must either choose to accept your fate or fight. A drawing of a line in the sand. Ginny teetered on the edge of it. To step forward meant giving up everything she loved. Stepping back meant giving up everything she was. It left her paralysed, the seconds slowly trickling by. The fact was, her mind had been stolen from her. Ginny was in trouble. She was in trouble and no one was coming to save her. It was a hard lesson learnt far too late. When everything is gone and the ones you trust are hiding things, sometimes you need to be the one to save yourself.

It was time to remember.

Even if it hurt.

~

'How are you feeling?'

'Oh good,' Ginny smiled up at Harry, keeping her eyelids low.

It was the half glazed look she'd been practicing for days. She couldn't let him see that she was off Euphoria or he'd likely force it down her throat.

It was a particularly unpleasant visual.

Ginny stood in a sea of concert goers, each one vying to get closer to Harry. They swept around him like rocks to a stream attempting to catch his eye with each circulation. Fortunately there was a dense line of security surrounding them keeping most of them at bay. A few were permitted entry and Harry graciously greeted those he deemed worthy of an introduction.

Most of them were dressed in fine garb, an unexpected assortment of muggle suits and wizard robes. Next to them a young woman clung to the arm of a man at least twice her age. She smiled up at him but her eyes were dead behind her shining white teeth. The servers looked drawn, their skin almost gray, hollows in their cheeks. Fitz sideled over at some point and was murmuring something in Harry's ear. Ginny stood next to him staring at nothing. Playing the part of the doll she'd been reduced to. Resentment burrowed into her brain, a growing fungus that poisoned her regard.

Ginny nodded absently at what she hoped was all the right intervals. It was easy to keep her mouth shut after so many years of practice. But different now that their words penetrated her skin. Before they merely swept over like the changing tide.

'My Lord they are moving in the North again.'

'Then you will stop them.'

'My Lord wonderful news. France has fallen, they seek our aid.'

'You will travel there first thing and offer them just that.'

'Of course.'

'My Lord I am afraid there's a rat in your Inner Circle, the attack at your home could not have happened without it.'

'Do you think me such a fool to be swindled so easily?'

'Er—no My Lord.'

'You, take him outside and deal with him.'

One of the guards dragged the man from the room.

Then Fitz.

'Harry my man what a night it is. And how is Ginny?' Asked as if she didn’t stand mere inches from him.

'She is quite well.'

'Good. Good,' he said, not sounding as if he cared in the slightest. He leant in closer 'I must speak with you privately after the show. There is civil unrest in California. They need a show of support. Perhaps we could travel there tomorrow-'

'Of course. We will discuss it. Later.'

'As you wish.'

Without context none of this meant anything to her. But the longer she listened, her head tilted nonchalantly to the side, the more her pulse quickened.

France had fallen? Civil unrest in California?

What the bloody hell was going on?

Not for the first time Ginny wondered who on earth it was she was married to. How long had she been a background character in her own story?

It was a heady thought that left an uncomfortable sensation in her gut. A whirring of wasps refusing to quiet. It was becoming increasingly difficult to school her features in blank, amenable compliance.

She deserved better than this.

The thought lit a tickle of fire that zipped down her spine. The sensation caused her to almost smile, but she caught herself just in time. She needed to be patient. A fly on the wall listening.

Watching.

Waiting.

If she was caught she might not get another chance.

Ginny started. There was someone in the crowd she needed to see. The knowledge bubbled to the front of her brain before she even thought it. She blinked. It was a sharp tickle, a gentle nudging that prickled over skin.

Legilimency.

Someone was planting the thought there. She might have been afraid but it didn't feel malicious. In actuality it felt familiar, as if whoever it was had been in her mind before. She knew it instinctively.

A server swept past her, a phantom touch on her arm.

Ginny looked up.

Her eyes trailed after them as they made their way around the room. It was becoming fuller by the second as more revelers arrived. The Opera would be starting shortly. She needed to be quick. There was a loud gong and Ginny jumped. Twisting to where the guests were beginning to congregate at the bottom of the stairs she saw it.

A face.

She blinked and the form solidified into something she knew. Her eyes bugged out and she was moving before she realised.

'Ginny?' Harry called after her worry lining his tone.

'Just going to powder my nose,' she called back over her shoulder, not stopping.

She watched Harry stiffen, signaling for a guard to follow her. Ginny sped her footsteps, her heels softly thudding over the carpet. Weaving through the guests she zipped around a corner finding a long empty hall. She followed it, her fingers trailing along the wallpaper. A figure stepped out from behind a door and Ginny slowed.

It was a woman.

She cocked her head to the side, watching Ginny through shrewd eyes so large and black it was almost off putting. A short woman who exuded height rather than matched it. She was dressed in a simple black suit, an apron tucked around her waist.

She tore it off now letting it fall to the ground. A thick plume of yellow hair was tied back into a low bun framing a weathered face lined with age. But there was something off about it, as if the wrinkles didn't quite penetrate her skin. She shifted and they faded revealing a young face marked by a thin white scar through her left brow. She stared at Ginny, waiting. There was a smattering of freckles dusting her nose. A smile curled her lip, one that Ginny would know anywhere.

She winked.

'Safira?' Ginny gasped. 'Safira, is that you?'

Safira's eyes flashed at the sound of her name.

'You can see me now eh? That's good girl, we can work with that.'

'What—what are you talking about?'

'We need your help Ginny. Find us. When you're ready.'

'Us? Who's us?'

But she was already slipping back through the door.

'Don't tell him you saw me.'

Ginny rushed after her but there was a loud crack. She'd disappeared.

Ginny stood in the doorway chest heaving. A hand hooked around her arm and she was dragged backward.

'My Lady, the bathroom is this way.'

'Oh—I' she tugged back but the fingers tightened.

'My Lady, it is not safe.'

'Right. Of course.'

She turned and followed the guard to the toilet hurrying inside to catch her breath. She leant over the basin, her fingers clawing at the sink. Her head tipped up and there was a vicious smile on her face.

This was it, what she'd been waiting for. A something in her endless sea of nothing.

Be cool, she chided herself. You keep it together.

Breathing deeply she squared her shoulders exiting the bathroom. Harry was waiting outside his hoard of security by his heels.

'Everything alright?'

She took his arm, smiling up at him. 'Yes of course. Shall we?'

He looked like he wanted to say more but he nodded instead leading them through the stairway and into their seats. They were in a private box with only Harry and some of his close acquaintances. Fitz was the only person she knew. Ginny sat towards the front, Harry beside her.

The first act began and Ginny barely even noticed. The curtain lifted revealing a dazzling scene of rich, vibrant colour. The performers began to sing, their booming voices carrying through the theater. Ginny watched them stalk across the stage, the man and woman circling each other like vultures. It was a battle between tenor and soprano, their voices bleeding together in perfect harmony.

She was staring at the stage watching them twist and turn, their arms raise and lower. There was so much passion, so much life. It was a showing of Turandot, the intensity of the instrumentals almost unbearable. Suddenly everyone was clapping and Ginny lifted her hands barely registering. It was over in the blink of an eye and she was back outside a glass of champagne shoved in her hand. She sipped it slowly letting the bubbles ease their way through her bloodstream.

Then back inside for act two. It sped by just as quickly. Outside again. Another glass of champagne. Back inside for the final act. All she wanted was for it to be over. To be able to go home and think. Ginny listened to the music. It swelled billowing over her skin like misted rain. She let her eyes shut and her mind switch off. It was like being lifted, flying amongst the highest ceiling. Gravity shifted and Ginny was swinging through endless space, her body a bubble of empty air. She glistened amongst twinkling stars, the melody carrying her far, far away. There came a light. A shining star that burned so much brighter than the others. Ginny floated towards it as if chained to a sadistic tether, her hand reaching for what felt like home.

The moment she touched it everything changed.

A flash and a slew of images shuttered through her mind's eye. Things seen and unseen. Worlds she thought were real shuddered peeling away to reveal the truth. Hidden horrors swept under the rug. A mirror where one was cruel and one was kind.

And Harry.

Harry standing above it all. His hands swung as she scuttled about tied to the strings he'd carved through her limbs. She moved listlessly, sluggishly.

A wand raised. A thousand times.

Again and again and again.

A pair of shoes swinging from the wall. A red headed man on the floor—no—Ron's body crumpling under torture. He was screaming. Hermione in the cafe, the light flickering revealing an ugly stone cell. The kindly maid patted her hand. Luna. Luna limping, Harrys words filtering through her mind.

Luna will do.

He'd hurt her.

He'd punished her for Dean.

And Dean—

Ginny felt her breath catch. Harry looked over and she sat rod straight, forcing her heaving chest to steady. Dean approaching her—

'It's not safe Ginny.'

He'd been trying to help her. He'd been trying to help her and she'd—

Ginny stood staggering out of the room. She stumbled like a drunk woman, her hands clinging to the security guard who barred her way.

'Let me through,' she whimpered.

He did not.

Ginny's knees gave out and she dropped to the ground. Harry was beside her, his eyes wide with fear. She thought he was calling her name but he was so far away. His voice muffled behind cotton wool. She needed to get it together, Harry was going to realise, she was going to fail. Another lancing pain through her skull. She cried out as more terrible images flooded her vision. People screaming out. Bodies falling over and over. A hoard of faces all shrieking her name.

Ginny's wand lifting under his hand. She was torturing them. She was torturing them all as she laughed through glazed eyes. A million and one terrible truths kept locked away. The door shuddered crippling under the weight of it until suddenly with a loud crack it splintered. The pieces exploded through her fractured mind. Like a worn puzzle they slowly lowered into place. Ginny's eyes snapped open. The opera singer's voice carved a hard line through her heart. So full of yearning.

Broken by betrayal.

She could hear it in the other room. The drumming quickening. The horns blaring louder. The strings heightening. There was a loud clang and Ginny jumped.

All of it.

She remembered all of it.

Harry. The things he'd done...

Ginny choked her vision splotching.

'Ginny!'

She could hear him now. Her name on his lips sounded like ash and bones. She wanted nothing more than to hit him.

'I'm ok,' she whispered. 'I'm fine.'

Keep it together. Keep it together.

She was not keeping it together. Her plan was failing, she was failing.

But all she could see was Ron's face, George’s face stretched in horror as they writhed on the ground. They was screaming for her.

Stop Ginny! Stop!

It was filling her ears. She was drowning in their screaming.

How many times? How many times did Harry make her punish them?

She was caught in a nose drive spiraling down, down, down.

She'd wanted this—wanted to remember. But it was breaking her. Carving her up from the inside. Her blood was on fire scorching hot liquid pumping through her veins.

'You're not fine!'

'I am,' she gasped. 'Just a migraine. I'll be fine.'

'We're going home.'

She tried to pull away. But Ginny felt his hand tighten around hers. He spun and the ground underneath her shifted. They landed with a thud and Ginny fell backward half sprawling over the carpet. He left her there on the floor at the end of her bed. She scrunched her hands against her forehead trying to squeeze the pain away.

Harry swept across the room, his robes billowing as he went. There was the sound of tinkling glass and Ginny sucked in a breath. He approached her, the vial glistening in his hand. She wouldn't be able to fake it this time.

She'd failed.

Harry dropped to his knees, carefully tipping her head back. She had no choice, she swallowed the liquid down trying not to choke. His hand brushed through her hair.

'All I do, I do to take care of you.'

What have you done?

'Of course,' she agreed.

'I love you Ginny.'

I hate you.

'I love you too Harry,' she said.

'I'm going to take care of you.'

'I know,' she smiled.

The last thing she saw was Harry's face as she descended into false bliss. A thought popped into her mind as she fell, one that bellowed carving its way through the forced delirium.

I'm going to fucking kill you.

Chapter Text

2001

'Harry get in the fireplace I won’t bloody ask you again.'

'Ginny it's fine. Really we don't have to go-'

'Yes we very much do need to go. Fireplace. Now.'

He approached her groaning all the while. She gripped him by the hand dropping the green powder which immediately engulfed them.

The ward at St Mungo's was busy as usual.

They bypassed the emergency room where a series of unfortunate souls drooped over their chairs. There was a man who's entire body appeared to have broken out in a thick layering of warts. A woman who sported a large hole directly through her chest. It was honestly impressive she was still alive. Two boys who looked to have accidentally turned their ears into robins. They chirped happily as they sped past, heading directly for the Neuro ward. A place they'd become far too familiar with since their honeymoon.

It'd been months since that first episode and Harry was doing a little better—if not seizing to the point where he stopped breathing counted. Which at this point Ginny did, if only to feel like they were achieving something. Anything.

Harry dragged his feet, his face retreating behind the stone wall the closer they got. A couple of witches marched by them, the Equaliser logo emblazoned on their shirts. It'd started to pop up everywhere. On shirts, posters lining Diagon alley, spray painted onto muggle streets.

The emblem featured a wheel cut into four sections, each signifying the different peoples they advocated for. The wand for Magical humans, the tooth for Magical hybrids, the eye for sentient Creatures both magical and non-magical and the hammer for Muggles. The wheel itself represented progress. An ethos built around moving into the next phase of population interrelations.

There must be another rally today, Ginny thought. Hermione had asked her to go to one once but she was too busy. She barely had enough time to brush her teeth let alone march for the rights of magical and non-magical beings.

Ginny pushed that aside, instead honing in on the task at hand.

Harry.

'Well no one survived a killing curse to put in bluntly. We have no idea what the long term effects might be.'

'Right.' Harry's lips thinned and he was gripping his chair.

They were sitting in the office of a curse and hex specialist who had focused his work on the impacts such magic might have on the brain long term. He was a gruff sort, wide chested with an enormous mustache he liked to peer at his patients over. As if it made him more authoritative to do so.

Ginny reached over taking Harry's hand in hers. She gently massaged his palm, refusing to allow him to feel alone even for a second. He shot her a wry smirk before directing his attention back to the doctor.

'How are the headaches since last time I saw you?'

'Not too bad.'

Ginny elbowed him.

'Worse.'

'A lot worse,' she reiterated and Harry glared at her. 'Can you give him anything for the pain? Some nights he can barely sleep.'

The Healer nodded. 'Of course. He spun around lifting a vial from the cupboard behind him. Take this whenever the headaches get bad, it's a mix of Calming Draught and Memory Relaxant. We call it Essence of Euphoria. Be careful though, taken too often it can cause significant drowsiness, complacency and memory loss.'

Ginny frowned at it. 'There's nothing else?'

'Not for the type of pain he's experiencing.'

The Healers eyes darted to the side and Ginny nodded. It was likely to help with his paranoia as well which only grew daily.

'But it's just a bandaid solution. We need to understand the underlying cause. If we can do that—maybe we can figure out a way to heal you for good.'

'Yes. We'd like that,' Ginny huffed.

Now it was Harry's turn to squeeze her hand.

'We'll take some more scans and see if anything comes up.'

'More scans, great,' Harry muttered dryly.

Ginny didn't blame him, this round and round was doing her head in.

Harry stood stepping into the corner of the room and the Healer waved his wand performing a quick Skimming Charm. A golden thread of light billowed around Harry's skin checking his vitals. The Healer inspected them calmly nodding.

'Well you're still fit as a fiddle in body.'

Harry nodded blankly and Ginny's lips tightened into a thin line.

Another wave of his wand and the image of a brain appeared before them. The Healer poked at it, twisting and turning it.

'Hmm.'

'What?' Ginny and Harry said at the same time.

'Well I don't know but it looks like—it looks like there's traces of a secondary essence here... But that doesn't make any sense.'

'Why?' Ginny stood coming closer. 'What does that mean?'

'Well there should only ever be one. Yours. It's that magical marker that is unique to all of us. It's what makes us what we are.'

'What does it mean that you see two?' Harry asked, furrowing his brow.

'Well I don't know if I do but there's something odd. Here look,' he lifted his wand and the floating brain expanded.

At this scale Ginny could see something. Like a dark band fluttering around the surface, an almost invisible thread, like a shadow, tangling it's way through the flesh.

'And it's not just the brain,' the Healer went on. 'It goes through every part of him.'

They all stared at it utterly perplexed.

'It is likely a trace of the Killing Curse Mr Potter. Unfortunately for you we don't have any other survivors to compare it with. Perhaps the caster left his mark on you.'

As if only realising the implication of his words the Healer paled. Harry gritted his teeth, his hands curling into fists.

Ginny wanted to punch the stupid Healer in the throat. Violence likely wouldn't get them anywhere however.

The Healer swept his hand through his hair with a sigh. 'I wish I could do more. I mean you're Harry Potter for Merlin's sake. But I feel like this goes beyond me. I know another specialist, they're more familiar with the Dark Arts. If there is a trace there might be a way to drain it.'

Both Ginny and Harry perked up at that.

'You think so?' Ginny asked careful not to sound too optimistic.

'I'll put you in contact with them, perhaps they can provide more clarity of the underlying issue.'

Ginny offered a tight smile trying to hold back her frustration. 'Thank you.'

It was like this every time. Everywhere they went. No one could offer a single clue as to what was ailing Harry. They went from Healer to Healer never leaving with anything solid.

Meanwhile Harry only got worse.

At times it felt like he was fading. When he looked at her his eyes were blank, hollow. As if he were far away, likely in a nightmare hellscape fighting to be free. He never stopped fighting. That wasn't Harry's way. But he was exhausted. He rarely slept. She knew this because she caught him downstairs smoking and sucking down whiskey like it was tea.

Both were terrible habits but she couldn't bring herself to make him stop. It was only when he was good and drunk that he'd crash, limbs splayed out over the couch. When he'd wake it'd never be better. He'd just be hung over and as sleep deprived as before. They thought it couldn't get any worse. That was until the fits started. Horrible seizures that tore at his body, leaving him a thrashing wild animal on the floor. Or sometimes he'd turn to stone. His entire body locking up, his jaw snapped tight. She'd roll him onto his side, hoping desperately he wouldn't swallow his tongue.

There on the floor they'd stay until finally he'd relent, his body spent and exhausted collapsing in her lap. She'd sweep her fingers through his hair singing softly for hours. It was the only thing that seemed to calm him. Caring for Harry was quickly becoming a full time job. She pulled back on her Auror training, there simply wasn't time what with the Healers visits and Harry's intermittent episodes.

She could see how it was affecting him. Slowly whittling away at the man she loved so dearly. It was certainly not the life they'd envisioned for each other. There was a lot less laughter. A lot more hospitals. On top of that Harry's paranoia only seemed to be growing by the day. Exacerbated by his condition. Often he'd wake, leap from the bed wand at the ready. He'd spend all night sitting in a chair in the hallway.

Waiting. Watching.

As if Voldemort or Death Eaters might explode through it at any moment. Ginny had a feeling he was actually seeing them but he never admitted it. The secrets between them were expanding, driving a wedge through their well oiled unit.

They'd moved out of their flat in London and into a house in the countryside hoping some fresh air might help. This only seemed to make Harry unreasonable jumping at every sound. Ginny ended up organising for their home to be hidden with Fidelius Charm, Ron as Secret Keeper. No one else was allowed to know where they were, not even her family. If she wanted to see them she'd go to the Burrow. Her mum and dad missed her but they worried for Harry just as much as she. It was too hard, too horrible. His illness slowly isolating them from the life they had.

She didn't blame him. It wasn't his fault after all. But it didn't stop her from staring into the mirror for hours on end wondering where the Ginny Weasley she'd once known went. Not even during the war had she felt this lost. It was different then, they'd had an enemy. A tangible something to fight. But this never ending uncertainty was eating away at them both.

It was impossible to fathom anything could be worse than war. But watching the man she loved fade before her was a battle she could barely take. Her newfound outlet of late was sobbing hysterically in the shower where Harry couldn't see her. Easier to let all her pain and anguish melt away with the running water. A cathartic rinsing of the body and soul. It never lasted long enough. Another fit. Another fight. She'd be back right where she started. Sitting in the bottom of that shower crying like a baby.

They were stretched to breaking point. Eventually something had to give.

So Ginny did what she did best at this point. She smiled. Took whatever pain remedial they offered. Snatched up the name of their flimsy referent. Gathered Harry and went home. Their home where no doubt he'd be screaming in agony in a couple of hours.

~

'Ginny! Harry! I come bearing gifts.'

Not much for knocking Ron barged through the front door of their new house. Half stumbling down the hall he smiled from behind a large christmas tree.

'What the hell Ron.'

'It's Christmas Gin, you need a tree,' he smirked knowingly.

'Do we?'

'Yes. You absolutely do.' He dropped it in the middle of the living room showering the carpet with pine needles.

Great.

'Where's Harry?' he asked, wiping his hands on his pants.

'Here.'

A bushy black head came into view and the two men embraced.

Ron immediately started rattling off a list of the Quidditch stats for the latest season while Harry eased himself into a chair by the dining table.

'You got a tree stand?' he enquired.

Harry shrugged.

'I think we might have one in the shed. We used it last year.'

Ginny watched Harry's face shadow at her words. It'd been their last Christmas in the flat. Only a few months before they got married and everything changed.

'I'll go get it.'

Ginny turned away, not wanting to see, not wanting to witness the pain that crinkled at the edges of Harry's eyes. He was looking particularly pale today. The glazed look that indicated he'd taken Euphoria this morning.

'Here Ginny I'll help you.'

He followed her out of the house into the brisk winter air. Together they crunched through the snow to the old shed. The old door was half rusted shut and it took them a few tugs to get it open. Ginny rustled around for a few minutes before finding what she was after. She handed Ron the stand and he started brushing off the spiders that had taken root since they'd moved in softly whimpering all the while.

Turning back Ginny took in the little cottage they now resided in. It was cozy, a tiny brick structure with two floors. She watched the smoke unfurl from the chimney shooting up into the overcast sky.

'So how you been Gin?' Ron asked, not looking at her.

'Did Mum send you to ask that?'

He shrugged. 'Can you blame her? She worries.'

Ginny sighed. 'We're ok. Harry's started a new treatment and we're hopeful.'

'I didn't ask about Harry Ginny,' he frowned at her. 'I can ask him that. I want to know about you.'

She smirked. 'I'm fine Ron.'

'If you say so.

'How's Perc?' she asked, changing the subject.

'Well apparently he's verbal so that's a bonus. Mum's been working with him, getting him to go downstairs at least once a day.'

Ginny felt her heart swell. It'd been so long since she'd heard his voice. 'That's great!'

Ron beamed, looping one arm through the stand, the other under Ginny's. ''Yeah you should come by the house some time. I know mum and dad are missing you.'

Ginny groaned. 'I know.'

'You guys coming for Christmas?'

'We'll be there,' Ginny nodded knowing she couldn't promise that. 'And Hermione? I haven't seen her in ages,' she mused.

Ron was suddenly looking at everything but her.

'What is it?'

'Yes she's good,' he said slowly 'I think.'

'You think?'

'Well I haven't seen her in a bit either. She's really into that Equaliser stuff.'

Ginny baulked.

The Equaliser movement seemed to be getting bigger by the day. It was actually an initiative of Fitz's. A focus on equalising magical beings which was right up Hermione's alley. According to Harry, who was still in touch with Fitz by owl mail, they were expanding to include non magical beings as well. Apparently they wanted muggle representatives which had sparked a massive debate circling the International Statute of Secrecy.

The Ministry was staunchly against it. The Equalisers thought it was time to test out the knowledge of their kind with muggles. It was a discussion that was going nowhere fast. Hence the protests that we're taking place almost weekly now.

'She is?'

He nodded. 'Yep.'

There was something about how he said that. She twisted him around to face her.

'What's wrong?'

Ron tipped his head back and sighed. 'I think—I think it might be over for us.'

Her mouth popped open and she gripped his arm forcing him to look at her.

'What!'

'We tried Gin. We really tried. But we're just so different.' He tore off his beanie and slid a hand through his hair. 'I love her. I'll always love her. But we fight about everything. It's exhausting.'

'Right.'

'We had a big chat a couple weeks ago and decided we were probably better as friends.'

Ginny gaped at him. 'A couple of weeks ago!' She slapped his arm. 'Why didn't either of you say?'

Ron looked sheepish. 'You've got enough going on Gin,' he reasoned.

She stiffened at that. He wasn't wrong but it still sucked. As if her life were trailing on without her.

'Anyway. Maybe don't tell Harry just yet...'

'I'm not going to lie to him.'

'Fine... well just wait till I'm gone.'

'Pretty sure it should come from you.'

'Yeah yeah,' he waved her off as brothers were prone to do. 'How's Auror training? You still going right?'

'I go when I can. I was starting Legilimency with Safira but... I want to support Harry. It's hard to have the energy you know?'

His mouth stretched into a thin line. 'Yeah. Maybe I can help out more? Take him to the Healer sometime.'

Ginny considered crossing her arms against the cold. 'I think he'd rather just hang out. He can't really go anywhere with you but maybe-'

Ron's face stretched into a wide smile.

'What?'

'I know just the thing'.

'And?'

But he was already off charging back to the house. 'Harry!' he bellowed. 'We're going out!'

'I just said he can't go anywhere,' Ginny rasped.

'Really?' an excited voice cried back from within the house. 'Where?'

Harry's head popped through the back door.

'It's a surprise mate. Get your coat!'

Her stomach clenched but she forced herself to hold back the words. Harry needed to get out, Ron would call her if anything went wrong. At least she was pretty sure he would.

They arrived home hours later swaying like reeds in the breeze. She'd been curled up on the couch reading a book when they slammed through the front door.

'You guys have fun?' she smirked, taking in their rosy cheeks. The coats that hung askew from their shoulders. Snow lining their boots.

'What did you do?'

Nothing big. We just went to Hogwarts and played wizard chess in the old Griffindor common room.'

'What!' she started. 'You can do that?'

'He's Harry Potter,' Ron waggled his brows. 'He can do anything.'

He clapped Harry on the back. He was smiling from ear to ear and Ginny almost shattered at the sight of him happy after so long.

Ginny chuckled, eying them warily. 'That's all?'

'Well no.' Ron looked sheepish.

She planted a hand on her hip.

'When we finished up with chess we thought we'd pop into the Three Broomsticks, have a little butter beer for old times sake.'

'Butterbeer?'

Harry scratched the back of his head. 'Well no. Firewhiskey.'

Ginny forced her face to remain neutral. 'Right. Well I'm glad you had fun.'

'Thanks Ron. You don't know how much this meant to me,' he huffed out a long sigh. 'To have some normal.'

'Anytime Harry,' Ron clapped him on the back. 'We've been through a lot of shit together. 'This is just another day. We'll get through it like we always do eh?'

'Yeah,' Harry smiled, his eyes lighting. 'Yeah we will. Love you mate.'

'Love you too Harry. See ya Gin.'

Harry was in a great mood for the rest of the evening. When they made love that night it was like something had reignited in them. Harry pushed into her, his lips claiming, his hands pressing against her in all the right places. They moved together, their hips rolling in tandem as their mouths crashed together like two waves long lost to a different tide. It was to find that safe place where they were always meant to be.

'I love you,' Harry murmured. Over and over again.

'I love you,' she whispered back until there was nothing but the sound of their quiet voices echoing through the dark.

A promise that refused to be lost to the ever expanding sea of doubt.

~

A few weeks later Ginny sprung from her bed to race into the adjoining bathroom. A wave of nausea rolled through her and she heaved into the toilet. The muscles around her stomach clenching painfully. Harry was by her side in seconds, his hand warm as it swept across her back. His hair was stuck up on one side where he'd passed out.

'Food poisoning do you think?' Harry asked. He went to stand. 'We should probably stop ordering from that Thai place. Last time I didn’t shit right for a week—‘

’Harry nooo,’ she moaned from inside the toilet bowl.

He opened the cupboard under the sink, quickly sorting through the assortment of medicine they had on stock.

Ginny groaned resting her head on the toilet seat.

It didn't make sense though. She'd barely even nibbled at dinner, too tired to care much about eating. A slice of toast couldn't make her—

Ginny sat up her body ramrod straight. Harry froze, turning slowly. His eyes trailed over her concern lighting his brow.

She started madly counting her fingers.

She did it again.

'What? What is it?'

'I-' she counted again.

'Ginny stop you're scaring me.'

Excitement and worry filtered through her at the speed of light. Terror. Joy.

She was twisted up somewhere in between her mind zipping around all that it might mean.

Her face stretched into a wide smile.

'Harry. I think I'm pregnant.'

Chapter Text

2002

'Tell me exactly what the Healer said.'

Ginny sighed, dragging the bottle of wine towards her. She quickly unstoppered it, dropping the cork into a bowl on the table. It was brimming to the top these days. Whether a sign that she was too tired to empty it or was merely drinking that much she couldn't be sure. Probably the latter.

Without looking at Hermione she poured herself a large glass watching the red wine splash as it fell. She mirrored the same with Hermione's before sitting back, curling into the dining chair.

'Same thing as always.'

Ginny quickly recounted what the Healer told them regarding Harry's worsening condition. Harry had wanted to see Hermione but he'd suffered through a particularly difficult fit earlier and was now passed out in their bedroom. Hermione ducked her head inside on arrival but he'd not stirred a muscle. They'd decided to go downstairs and hope he'd wake at some point. To eat at the very least. He ate so little these days it worried Ginny to no end.

'They honestly have no idea,' Ginny slammed down her glass, wine sloshing over the side.

She dropped over the table folding her face in her arms. She felt a warm hand on her back, gently sweeping up and down. It was comforting but not altogether helpful.

'I don't know how long I can keep doing this. The no answers thing. How can nobody know? What if—what if there's no getting better.' She peeked up Hermione who's eyes were wet. 'What if this is it? What if every day is his last best day? Am I doomed to watch him die? I don't don't know what's worse. Letting him kill himself or letting the disease eat away at him.'

Hermione gasped. 'What?'

'Oh yeah. He asked me, you know? If I'd help him just die. He's breaking apart and I'm not—I don't think I can save him. I'm not strong enough or smart enough or powerful enough. I'm just me and me is not enough.'

'Ginny stop this-'

'No Hermione.' She sat up shrugging her off. 'What was the point of all this? What was the point of the Boy Who Lived and the Chosen One and all that fighting—fuck—fighting his whole goddam life just to end up like this? He deserves so much better than this! He—I-'

Her words cracked and she lost it. She fell over the table, her sobbing cleaving it's way through like a physical thing. Hermione was next to her in seconds, her arms wrapping around her. They sat like that for longer than Ginny would have liked. But she was empty, unable to stop her body from spewing all the pain and misery over the table. In part it was cathartic, a release of all her pent up rage and frustration. But it never solved anything. Never fixed her problems.

At last she sat up scratching at her slobbery nose. Hermione handed her a tissue plucked from the sideboard and Ginny trumpeted into it.

'Anyway, he's started a new treatment.'

'Tell me about it.'

'According to the Healer it's like a transfusion of magic,' she explained. 'Essentially they put him in a deep sleep and funnel it through a cleansing mechanism.'

Her brow furrowed. 'A cleansing mechanism?'

'A pure source of magic.'

'Like what?'

Ginny shrugged. 'I believe the last time they used a unicorn horn.'

'Right so the intention is to filter out any traces of dark magic? That seems... interesting. If not incredibly temperamental.'

Ginny rolled her shoulders, her eyes narrowing. 'What are you saying?'

'Only that it feels dangerous.'

'Of course it's dangerous,' Ginny glared at her. 'But what's the alternative? Harry's in agony. Every day. We have to do something.'

Hermione sat back throwing her arms wide. 'I know Ginny. I know I'm sorry I didn't mean to sound judgemental.'

Ginny sighed. 'I know you didn't. Look, honestly I don't fully understand. Basically the Healers run his magic dry then allow it to rebuild overnight. I believe they're trying to procure a philosopher's stone for his next session.'

Hermione took a slow sip of wine. 'Is it working?'

'It's too soon to say. Right now? I think so. He's sleeping more. But who knows. They said it might get worse before it gets better.'

'That's ominous.'

Ginny shrugged again. It was what she did these days because there were never words to explain. Never the right matching of letters to describe all that they were dealing with.

Ginny twirled her finger over the rim of her glass. 'I overheard them talking. Things they didn't want to say to my face.'

'What?'

'That maybe the Killing Curse is just working its way through his system. Maybe he possessed some kind of protection for a time but it's wearing off, killing him slow instead of fast.'

Hermione said nothing confirming Ginny's suspicions.

'You've already thought this haven't you?'

Hermione tapped her fingers nervously on the table. She was shrinking under Ginny's withering stare.

'I've thought everything just about once. It doesn't mean anything.'

'Do you think it could be true?'

'Honestly I have no idea.' She took another sip of wine. 'But no. I don't think so. If it was the Killing Curse alone surely it would be attacking his body not his mind?'

Hermione's head cocked to the side, her jaw slackening. Ginny knew that look anywhere. It was the signal Hermione had flown away disappearing behind a wall as she worked through a particularly nasty problem.

'What? What is it?'

She flinched, snapping out of it.

'Nothing. It's nothing.'

'Well let's not pretend I even believe that.'

She was being a little rude but she didn't much care. It was hard to care about anything these days. Only Harry.

'Look,' Hermione shot her a wry look. If it's something I'll tell you. If not—well then it's nothing and it doesn't matter.'

'Research time?'

'Research time,' she agreed with a tight smile.

Ginny returned it, her lips curling at the corners. 'Anyway—what's new with you?'

Hermione's eyes were suddenly everywhere but her face. 'Oh... nothing.'

Ginny's brow quirked. 'Well that's a fat lie. Spill.'

'No—I don't want to-'

'Hermione tell me. I'd love not to talk about anything but Healers and hospitals and treatment plans for five seconds at the very least.'

'Right. Ok well... something happened,' her gaze snapped to Ginny. 'Something weird.'

'What?'

'I—err—well—‘

‘If you felt like spitting it out anytime soon that’d be just peachy—‘

’ImayormaynothavekissedDracoMalfoy.'

The words spilled from her mouth at warp speed and Ginny almost spit her wine over the table.

'What!'

'I know!'

'What—how—I—what? Why?'

Hermione rubbed her forehead, she’d gone beetroot red. 'I don't know. He's—we've been working together cataloging his families artifacts.'

'And what,’ Ginny was perplexed. ‘You just kissed?'

'No! There was this old music box. It started playing and... and well...'

'What?'

'I think it had a lust spell underlying the song.'

'Oh my god.'

'Yes.'

'So you kissed? That's it?'

'That's it. I realised what was happening and-'

'And what?'

'I slapped him. That sort of cut things off pretty quick.'

Ginny started laughing. An erratic, manic sound that exploded from her, her whole body shaking. It was a mix of shocked exhaustion and the vision of Hermione slapping Malfoy in the face. She laughed so hard she started crying again. Tears spilled down her cheeks and Hermione glowered at her.

'Yes yes. Hilarious.'

'I'm sorry Hermione,' Ginny snorted. 'I'm so sorry you had to kiss Malfoy. Ergh.'

Hermione's brow quirked.

'What?'

'Maybe not as ergh as you might think.'

Ginny straightened abruptly. 'Excuse me-'

There came the sound of soft footfalls from down the hall. Ginny stiffened.

'Hey Hermione,' Harry sideled into the room. 'Ginny. What are you talking about?'

Ginny turned away, fiercely wiping at her face.

'Oh nothing,' Hermione said with forced cheer. 'Just catching up.'

Harry leant against the wall. Whether because he was getting comfortable or because he couldn't hold himself up she couldn't tell. He was staring at her, eyes intense. He saw her tears misinterpreting them.

'She never wants me to see,' he said. 'She likes to hide it. What I'm doing to her.' Fury flashed in those eyes as they held hers locked. 'I pretend I can't hear her through the wall. Like the shower is this fortress of solitude. But I hear it. I see it. I know exactly what I'm doing to her.'

'Don't talk about me like I'm not in the room,' Ginny ruffled. 'That's not fair.'

'Fair,' Harry chuckled darkly. 'Fair?'

He tipped his head back and roared with laughter. She felt Hermione's hand tighten on her arm.

'You're bloody right none of this is fair,' he snarled, his eyes tipped to the ceiling.

'Harry-'

'Leave Hermione.'

'Don't talk to her like that,' Ginny snapped.

'It's ok.' Hermione stood. 'I need to go anyway.'

She squeezed Ginny in a tight hug moving to the hallway. When she reached Harry she hesitated, before leaning in to hug him too. It was really uncomfortable to watch. Harry remained frozen like stone, as if he could barely feel her at all. Instead his eyes stayed latched onto Ginny's face. It was how it felt these days. As if she were the only one he saw. The door clicked behind Hermione with a snap.

'Talking about me were you? Just your invalid of husband.'

Ginny slumped down in her chair. 'Harry, I'm too tired to fight with you tonight. I can't—please don't-'

She felt him cross the room and tensed. There was something weirdly menacing about his presence these days. It didn't make any sense but any time she was near him she'd feel this odd sense of dejavu. She felt the ghost of his palm on her back. It hovered there as she waited to see if he would touch her. He did not. Instead he lowered it to the table lifting the packs of Marlboros.

'Come on, have a cigarette with me.'

'I don't smoke.'

'Just—come and sit with me. Bring the wine.'

She did, the chair screeching over the floor as she pushed it out. Harry winced.

'Sorry.'

She'd forgotten. He couldn't handle loud sounds anymore. They grated on his nervous system in a way that could trigger another episode. She was usually so careful, tiptoeing around her own house. A mouse trapped in a cage of her own making.

She followed him out onto the patio grabbing a cardigan as she went. It was crisp outside, the cool air icy against her skin. Harry dropped into one of the seats and she the other. Not bothering to pour himself a glass he drank straight from the bottle. He handed it to her without speaking and she took it, sucking down several gulps. It wasn't especially healthy—but it helped. He lit first a cigarette for her, then for one himself with the end of his wand.

He sat back taking several quick drags and she followed suit. The nicotine quickly flooded her veins and she sat back feeling a little dizzy. Ginny didn't smoke often so it didn't have the same effect on her. She'd usually just end up with a headache and a gross taste in her mouth. But Harry wanted this and she'd give him anything. Anything just to see him smile again.

He did so now, that familiar crooked grin half lighting up his pale face. He wasn't looking great if she was honest. His cheeks were hollow, skin gaunt. There was a simmering fury that seemed to follow him around like a haze. As if he were a desert mirage fuelled by rage alone.

She felt him grab her hand and weave his fingers through hers. They sat like for a while, letting them silence hold them. There was so little to say now. The words got lost somewhere along the way even if their love held like a fledgling candle through the storm.

It was all they had.

It had to be enough.

'I want you to promise me something,' he said, staring out into the darkness.

There was a line of trees just beyond their garden. They swayed, their branches melting into each other like phantoms hovering through the velvet blue night. Harry had a fit out here thinking they were dementors once and had been bed ridden for a week. Afterwards Ginny stormed outside and cut down the lot of them. That was a year ago now. She made a mental note to do it again tomorrow.

They had a sizable yard. Ginny had thought it might be nice to get a dog once. She'd always wanted to get one growing up but her mother had never allowed it. Enough children without adding another beast to feed, she always said. But her eyes always twinkled in that loving way that was unique just to her. Ginny understood what that meant now though. Not having time and energy for anything else.

'I'll promise you anything Harry. But you have to tell me what it is first.'

'I think—I can feel—something coming.'

She stiffened. More of his paranoia surfacing? She'd have to tell the Healer.

'I know you don't believe it,' he sighed sensing her movement. 'But there is something. You used to trust me on this. I need you to trust me again.'

Her jaw locked at that. When had she stopped believing him? What if it was Dark Magic resurfacing?

Harry would know.

Harry always knew.

She turned to face him but he was still staring out into the night. As if it made it easier not to look at her. 'What's coming Harry?'

He shook his head, his black mane fanning around his face. It was so long now, nearly feathering his shoulders.

'I don't know. I wish I did. I just know it is. He dropped his head. I'm not going to be able to fight this time.'

'You don't know that-'

'Ginny I love you but I can barely keep upright if a bird squawks too loudly. I'm not going to be any good in a fight. And who knows—my Boy Who Lived status has run out. Without Voldemort I'm not any different to any other fighter.'

'You think there's another war coming?'

He took a long drag of his cigarette, swallowing the smoke with wine. 'I know it. But that's not what I want you to promise.'

'Ok... what is it?'

'I think I'm slipping. There are days when I can't remember things straight. I'm seeing things all the time. I can feel like there's this power growing inside me.' He rubbed a hand across his temple. 'It might be because Voldemort was in my head for so long. It could be because the Killing curse isn't meant to be outlived. I don't know and I don't really care. But I need you to promise me that you'll leave. If things get bad—if I start to...'

'If you start to what?'

'If I hurt you. If I hurt anybody. Ginny I'm just so angry. All the time. I feel this fury inside me like a knife. It wants to cut. It wants to be free. That isn't normal.' He let go of her hand. 'I need you to get away. I need you to make sure I'm locked up so I can't hurt anybody.'

Her eyes narrowed. 'Harry I'm not doing that.'

'I need you to promise. And if it comes down to it—' He tapped his cigarette sending a cloud of ash fluttering through the air. '—I need you to kill me.'

She sucked in a breath. 'Not this again.'

'This is different. This isn't,' he gritted his teeth. 'Assisted suicide. Voluntary euthanasia at this point.'

'Harry stop-'

'The others won't. They'll keep trying to fix me. But I'm broken. You and I both know that now.'

'We don't-'

'Yes we do. Let's stop pretending ok. Just for right now.'

He turned to face her for the first time, his eyes capturing her. Those familiar green pools, so distant and foreign. As if everything she'd known had been scooped away. 

'Ok,' she said.

'Promise me. Promise me you'll kill me.'

'I'm not going to promise you that. It'll never happen.'

'If you're so sure it'll never happen then you don't have anything to worry about.' He smirked. 'Please Ginny. I wouldn't ask it of you if-'

She stood up, closing the distance between them. He cut off staring at her as she positioned herself in front of him. She kicked his legs apart sliding between them.

'You want me to kill you, is that it?'

With one hand she pushed him back in his chair. He was weak from the day, she shouldn't be doing this. But she was just so angry. She looped her legs over his climbing on top of him, straddling him. His heart was beating fast, she could feel it beneath her fingers as she ran her hand over his chest.

'You want me to kill you?'

She leant forward laying a soft kiss on his neck. He sucked in a breath. She heard the wine drop, the bottle rolling away. It'd been a while since she'd touched him. Weeks perhaps.

'How should I do it then?' She dropped a kiss on the curve of his ear. 'Push you off the roof?' She laid another on the other side of his throat. 'A knife through the belly?' She kissed his jaw. 'Mmm perhaps something more inventive—a body lock and then roll you in the sea?' She kissed his cheek, his brow, nuzzling into his skin.

Beneath her he was shaking.

'Or maybe you want me to finish it how it all started. A Killing Curse? You have to mean it, you know.' She laid a kiss on his mouth, whispering the words into his lips. 'Do you think I could mean it? Do you think I could ever want to kill you?'

'Ginny stop,' he tried to push her away.

She didn't budge. Instead she started to fiddle with his pants. The zipper came free easily, and she slipped a hand inside. He hissed as her fingers curled around him. He was hard despite himself.

'Tell me. Tell me how I should kill you.' She sat back curling her fingers through his hair. 'I'm waiting.'

Her hand began to slide up and down and he shuddered a moan slipping through his lips. His head had fallen back, his eyes were closed.

'Could you kill me?'

He stiffened at that, head snapping upwards. 'Never.'

She gripped him harder and he hissed again. 'Then don't ask me to do the same.'

'It is—different.'

She was really working him now. His chest heaving beneath her.

'How so?'

She felt his hand wrap around her back, locking her in place. Her own desire was rising now. A heavy throbbing shot up her spine and Ginny shivered above him. She let him go instead lifting her skirt aside. A wall of material stood in the way.

'Oh no. Tights,' she sighed, moving to stand up.

Harry gripped her hips and held her in place, instead ripping them apart with two hands.

'Well well,' she chuckled. 'Not that tired after all?'

She slid her underwear aside and lowered onto him. They both groaned as they connected, his length sliding into her heat. He eased out slowly and she sucked in a breath. His eyes locked with hers and he pushed down filling her. His cheeks were flushed red against his pale skin and she knew she'd be equally painted scarlet.

He kissed her roughly, gorging on her. She was lost in the intoxicating scent of him. It filled her nose, swept over her tongue and sent tingling ripples of want bleeding over her skin. His eyes and hands danced over her curves with equal zeal as if he simply could not get enough of her. It was a sensory experience that he wanted to extend.

She knew as much when he leant forward his lips replacing his hands, his tongue darting over her skin as he tasted every inch of her. Her heart was thundering beneath her ribs forcing her breathing to race. She was almost vibrating with need. He drew a hand across her cheekbone, her jaw. He rolled his hips and she arched back.

'We're going to have a baby Harry,' she rasped. 'I need you.'

Harry lay a hand over her stomach. 'I know. It's all I've ever wanted Ginny. To have a family with you-' His voice was quivering. 'But what if I can't?'

Her fingers twirled through his hair and he wound his arms around her waist pulling her tight. She rose back, brushing her mouth with his. It was an unleashing. The next second he was everywhere, she was surrounded by him. He kissed her like a man half starved, as if it were the last time. Ginny made a note to kiss him more, touch him more. She'd been so careful, as if he might break. It never occurred to her just how much that might hurt.

'You can. We can. It's us Harry. Never forget that ok. It's us.'

The chair beneath them was creaking as she increased her pace.

'You need to fight,' She pulled back, crushing her body to his. 'Please.'

'I know,' he groaned. 'I will.'

His hands were roaming over her body, under her jumper, his thumbs caressing her ribs. She leant down, meeting him with her lips.

'I love you Harry.'

A ragged gasp.

'I will always love you.'

He brought his hand around her front, his lips trailing down her throat. He played over the sensitive peak between her thighs and she moaned, angling into him.

'Come on Ginny,' he murmured. 'Come for me. You do so much. Let me do this for you.'

She dug her nails into his shoulders, riding him with wild abandon. They were both lost to it, that raging inferno sweeping through their lives. It was blazing a path of black ruin, leaving gleaming embers behind. They zipped through the darkness desperately seeking light. Refusing to be subsumed into shadow.

She wound her arms around his shoulders, her hips rolling unsteadily now. They were locked, a woven thread twisting around their moving forms. Ginny felt it tighten. Harry dragged her forward and he sank deeper. She cried out, her vision exploding into a thousand tiny stars. He felt her shatter, her body clenching around his and he groaned, twitching under her.

They shuddered together, slowly riding through release. She didn't move. Her arms stayed locked around him, her head buried in his neck. There was a light sheen of sweat glistening over his pale skin. This was home.

She pressed her forehead to his, their eyes locking together. 'See. Us. We go together. I can't—I can't kill you.'

He stared up at her, his eyes mad with hunger.

Fear.

Love.

Torment.

'I know,' he sighed. 'I know.'

There was something about the way he said it. A mournful song rather than a realisation she loved him just that much. As if he knew the day was coming either way, and if she wouldn't, nobody would.

Chapter Text

2002

'You'll be back of course?'

'Of course.'

Ginny and Vida shared a glance. They were both lying and they knew it. Neither of them could promise that.

Ginny was in the Auror office finishing up her last shift before she'd be heading off on maternity leave. The office was bustling as per usual. Memos flapped through the air, their yellow wings glistening under the harsh fluorescent lights. Lightning cracked in the distance and Ginny started. Evidently the old window had gotten stuck on 'rainstorm' again.

Desks sat to each corner, their surfaces piled with a mix of papers and random objects. Only Safira's remained starkly clean, a singular quill and ink positioned at the very edge. Likely it wasn't even hers, she wasn't much of a desk worker.

Vida's sported an array of photographs from the scenes of a recent BloodBorn attack on one side and a signed photo of her favourite French Quidditch player on the other. At some point she'd spilt an ink pot and just never cleaned it up. The result was an ugly black stain that Ginny couldn't help but stare at as she bid her farewells to her trainer.

Vida, like Tonks, was fearless and had turned out to be a brilliant mentor. The woman stood before her now, her face a hard mask. She was taller than Ginny, her long frame stretching to the point where Ginny had to tip her head back to meet her gaze. She watched Ginny through clever tiger eyes stark against her ebony skin.

Her hair was pulled back in a tight band, a shock of coils bursting through the back. She was dressed in plain muggle sweats, as was part of her cover. They’d been investigating the BloodBorn for a month or two and finally had enough intel to trial a sting operative. Apparently they were planning an attack on an old Order member but they didn't know who yet. It was Vida's job to find out and stop them.

At nearly 6 months pregnant Ginny couldn't have gone anyway but it still stung. Vida had been acting as Ginny's mentor after Tonks and they'd grown quite close. Now Ginny was leaving to have a baby and Harry just kept getting sicker. There was very little chance she'd be back in the office any time soon.

'I'll keep you updated with our progress,' Vida promised.

'You don't have to do that.'

She scoffed in a way that was decidedly French. 'I know, but you're just as much a part of this.'

Ginny offered her a weak smile that didn't reach her eyes. She certainly didn't feel like she deserved anything. She'd only been coming in three times a week for the past several months anyway. It made it difficult to fully embed herself in a case but Vida did her best to utilise her.

'Tu fais ce que tu peux,' was her constant response whenever Ginny arrived late or had to leave early. She'd apologise profusely to the point where her own voice grated on her ears but Vida was endlessly patient.

'You do what you can.'

Always said with kind eyes and a smile.

All the Aurors had been staggeringly supportive of her and Harry. She supposed they had a reason to be more understanding than others might. Their profession did tend to attract those with a history in endurance. There wasn't a single one of them who hadn't experienced hardship or grief in some way.

Vida lost her parents to a muggle bombing. Kvothe's wife was murdered by a vampire just a year after they were married. He was a teacher before then. Safira grew up in the Soviet Union and was effectively raised behind the Wizarding Iron Curtain which by all accounts was incredibly repressive. It certainly explained her eccentric nature now. Oscar and Circe, like her and Ron, lived through the second Wizarding War. Circe's entire family was killed in a werewolf attack orchestrated by Fenrir Greyback. Apparently she was out at the time and returned to find them all dead. Oscar's older brother sent him away before Voldemort rose to power and he'd gone missing by the time he returned. He was one of those who would always be left questioning.

Fitz was muggle born and spent his whole life ridiculed and ostracised in America for it. The bigotry ran deep over there according to him. Not especially surprising. Anise kept to herself mostly but whenever she caught Ginny's eye she she could see it there too. Pain's shadow, it had a way of sticking to people. Once you felt it you could see it everywhere, in anyone who shared that darkness.

Kvothe and Oscar entered the room then and Ginny internally groaned. She'd been hoping to get away without having to do the whole uncomfortable goodbye thing.

'Ah Ginevre,' Kvothe wandered over to them. 'It is your last day?'

He surveyed her through piercing kohl lined eyes the colour of rich pecans, framed by thick black lashes. For a moment she felt like a deer in headlights, her limbs locking under his gaze. Then he bowed graciously and she was freed.

'For now,' she half rasped. 'Yep.'

'Well if you need anything.'

He went to raise a hand, perhaps to lay on her shoulder but stopped thinking of better of it.

'Anything at all-'

'Of course. I know. Thanks.'

An awkward silence stretched between them. She'd always been intimidated by Kvothe. He was incredibly experienced and highly regarded internationally. For him to even know her name was an honour. His eyes flicked to Vida behind her.

'So how is he?' He asked quietly.

'Good days and bad days.'

He nodded. There wasn't much more to say.

'Ginny!' Oscar sideled in behind him. 'You weren't going to leave without saying goodbye!' He wagged a finger at her playfully. 'How dare you.'

He was dressed in prim wizarding robes, not a hair out of place. Though incredibly posh and not someone Ginny could usually relate to, she'd grown to be quite fond of Oscar. He was just so likeable, what with the enormous smile that always stretched across his face and his insatiable desire to know everything. He held an excitement and wonder for life that Ginny feared she might have lost long ago. It was like a balm being in his presence and she'd come to seek him out on days when it felt like life was dragging her under.

She smirked. 'I'm not much for farewells.'

'No I suppose I'm not either,’ he acknowledged. ‘Shall we say tata for now instead? I find it leaves a window for the future.'

She chuckled. 'I'd like that.'

'Will you come for a drink with us at least? We're going to celebrate Safira's capture of Lestrange.'

'What!' Ginny spluttered. 'Which one?'

'Rodolphus.'

The ever elusive Rodolphus Lestrange and his brother Rabastan had evaded arrest since the final battle at Hogwarts. Bellatrix died when Voldemorts’ curse backfired. Based on numerous accounts from Death Eaters during their trials she'd been stationed directly behind him and therefore unable to escape death during the explosion. The brothers however had disappeared when Harry rose from the dead like the scaredy cats they were. A lot of the wizarding world posited that they'd also died in the blast but rumours had started they were responsible for the birth of the BloodBorn Ascendants. As Voldemort's most loyal and trusted servants it made sense for them to want to continue his message even after his death. Safira, arguably the best bounty hunter on earth before she turned Auror, had vowed to bring them in. Evidently she was halfway to her goal already.

Oscar nodded brows waggling. 'While he was on the john if she's to be believed. I find I do not care much if it's true. The idea of him being arrested dick out is somewhat poetic.'

Ginny laughed. 'I suppose it is.'

'So come on!' he gripped her by the shoulder. 'I know you can't have a pint but we'll get you some chips or something. Maybe a cheeky muggle mocktail.'

'Oh, I'd love to but I've got to get home. Harry's waiting for me.'

His face shadowed. 'Right. Well ok. You let us know when the shower is and we'll be there.'

'Will do Oscar. Can't wait. Have fun at drinks. Catch ya later.'

She spun around before anyone else could engage her in conversation speeding down the hall. The door was but two steps away when-

'Hey girl,' a voice drawled from behind and Ginny spun around.

'Safira,' Ginny smiled when she materialised out of the dark corridor. Safira had a knack for fading in and out of the shadows. Likely it was what made her so good at her job.

'Congrats on Lestrange.'

Safira grinned wickedly. 'Ah yes. I'll nab the slimy brother by next week if we're lucky.'

'He's confirmed alive?'

She nodded. 'I saw him. He ran. Again. Coward.' She spat, the scar on her brow twitching. 'So you are going to have baby?' she asked in her thick Russian accent.

'Yep.'

'A shame.'

Ginny tried not to laugh. Safira was incredibly direct, a trait that was quite shocking upon first meeting her. As was everything about Safira really. But she was a genius. A Occlumens that rivaled the best of them, an expert potioneer and incredibly knowledgeable about the Dark Arts. Like Kvothe Ginny was half terrified, half in awe of her.

'You will be back?'

'I hope so.'

'Hmm.' Her mouth drew in a thin line. She stepped forward to the point where she was almost invading Ginny's personal space. Her eyes scanned Ginny's face.

'No. You will not be back. That boy has stolen you.'

Ginny balked. 'Excuse me?'

'And you let him.'

'You—I—what!' Ginny spluttered her rage rising like an old friend. 'You have no idea what you're talking about!'

Safira smiled again, her head cocking to the side. 'But then maybe not. You still have fire girl. Do not lose that.'

She swung around before Ginny could respond, disappearing back into whatever shadow realm she'd emerged from.

~

There was a biting frost that lay thick in the air as she exited through the street entrance of the Ministry. Christmas lights were still strung up as she sped through the city streets. She was supposed to head home, in truth she could have apparated or caught the Floo. But there was a crushing weight in her chest that was making it hard to breathe. Ginny didn't want to take that home to Harry.

People were laughing, rushing home, the post holiday spirit still bleeding into the city's inhabitants. There had always been something about London at Christmas. It seemed to come alive, imbibing everyone with party fever that lasted well until the end of January.

The New Year introduced opportunity and the city was rife with optimistic good cheer. It was present in every face she passed, in every store front promising a 'new year, new you.'

Not so for Ginny Weasley.

If only she could lift her wand and blow a hole right through those window panes. It'd scare the living daylights out of the muggles too. No more smiling faces here. Then they'd cart Ginny off, declare her insane and lock her behind padded walls. At least then she might get some peace.

'It was just too much,' they'd say.

'She tried,' they'd agree.

She'd be free to hide away behind her walls of false insanity. But then Harry would be left alone. She immediately scolded herself for such selfish thoughts her feet carrying on, beating out a steady drum on the pavement.

Ginny had eyes for none of it. Her heart was breaking. Her body was swollen, the pregnancy draining her reserves. Leaving was harder than she thought. Somehow it was the final nail in the coffin, the end of her believing Harry might get better. There was a hand clutching at her throat, a lump rising that would not be silenced. Ginny charged, slipping through the stream of Londoners. She banged into a few in her haste and a healthy amount of expletives followed in her wake.

She barely registered them. It was to be padded in cotton wool. The sights and sounds obstructed leaving her cushioned in a secluded well without light. She stared upwards seeking to feel the warm kiss of freedom on her face, to taste the life she'd dreamt of. Even then she would settle for simple, an existence that wasn't shadowed in horror. It was a privilege that eluded her from the moment she'd tasted bliss. As if it were too sweet, rotting before they had the chance to experience it, savour it.

Fear had been her constant companion for so long it was hard to imagine what it felt like to exist without it. Fear woke her in the morning and clutched at her through the long nights. Fear sat with her in waiting rooms and Healers offices watching her through dark, cruel eyes. Circling her like a vulture and slowly nipping away at her courage. Fear ran its hands over her swelling belly and peppered her with questions she could not answer. Only a few more months and the baby would be here. What then?

Trafalgar Square loomed in the distance and Ginny beelined for it. It'd be busy, a place where she could easily disappear into the crowd for a time. Upon reaching it she sideled to a more quiet corner of the fountain curling up onto the stone exterior. It was ice cold beneath her, the water almost frozen through.

Behind her there was a busker playing a guitar, her husky voice echoing through the square. There was a melancholy nature to the tune and Ginny leaned in to listen. She realised her mistake almost immediately but it was too late.

She no longer wanted to listen to the words, they were too real for her to hear right now, but she found she couldn't move. As if her limbs had locked as the lyrics rippled over her exterior. Heartbreaking. Full of love and promise.

Come with me my love
To the sea
The sea of love
I want to tell you
How much I love you

Do you remember
When we met?
That's the day
I knew you were my pet
I want to tell you
How much I love you

Come with me my love
To the sea
The sea of love
I want to tell you
How much I love you

It was a sad, slow rendition that tore at her heart, shredding her hard exterior. The first tear that trickled down her cheek Ginny swiped away angrily. The next one she let fall. Down her cheeks, rolling down her throat. In seconds she was soaked with them. A wracking sob burst from her throat and a few tourists taking photos looked her way. Some of them appeared concerned, others uncomfortably amused. She was crying in public.

Great.

But having started it was now impossible to stop. Ginny tipped her body forwards, folding in on herself. Great wracking sobs shook her shoulders to the point of aching. This was bottled up pain that couldn't be stoppered. It released like spilled wine bleeding over the floor staining her dreams of perfect bliss. She'd been so close. They'd been so close. But maybe a love like theirs was too big. Too strong. Now it was being snatched away like a gift given too soon.

Ginny cried.

She felt like she'd been thrown against the rocks, her body shattering over and over. For so long she'd put the pieces back together, held her head high. Forced herself to see the light in tomorrow. She couldn't see that anymore. She couldn't feel that hope.

Suddenly a warm hand was rubbing against her back, a touch she would know anywhere. Ginny sucked in a ragged breath curling into her mothers lap as Molly Weasley held her in a way that only mothers can.

'Let it out my darling,' she whispered.

At some point she must have picked her up, led her to a secluded spot and apparated because out of nowhere she was sitting in the living room of her childhood home. The Burrow smelt as it always did, a mix of Mollys cooking, a plethora of fresh herbs and dust.

'I don't think I can do this,' Ginny whispered when she could finally find her voice. It croaked from the damage she'd inflicted with her embarrassingly public breakdown.

'I know my darling,' Molly murmured. 'We all think that sometimes. But we're stronger than we think.'

'What if—what if Harry never gets better. What if—what if this it? I don't think I can survive that.'

Molly tightened her hold on Ginny to the point of crushing. 'I wish I had the words.'

Her voice wobbled and it was then she saw Molly was crying too. Arthur stood quietly in the corner, his arms wrapped around his chest.

'I wish I knew how to fix this,' she went on. 'I am so sorry. I wanted so much more for you both. You deserve so much better.'

'What am I going to do? He can't—I can't live without him mum.'

'You've got the baby. That's all you need to think about now. Both of you.' She nodded fiercely at this. 'Why don't you take a break tonight. Stay here? I'll make you some crumpets and tuck you in your old bed. You need to take care of yourself too.'

'What about Harry?'

'We'll send Ron by. They can have a boys night. It'll be good for him.'

'Ron doesn't know how to take care of Harry.'

Molly shot her a wry look. 'Well he'll have a wand. If there's anything really wrong he'll send a patronus.'

'Oh. Ok. Yeah. I'd like that.'

Molly lifted her slowly from the couch, easing her up the rickety stairs. Her room was just as she left it, posters of the Weird Sisters clung to the wall. A picture of her and Harry in their last year of Hogwarts on the desk. It was only then she realised how much he'd changed. Gone was the soft and gentle boy she'd fallen in love with. He'd been replaced by some Other. A hard, angry man. His sickness stealing away what had once been good.

Molly helped her into the bed, pulling her jumper over her head.

'How did you know?' Ginny asked.

'The clock,' Molly replied her eyes crinkling.

The clock that now showed three hands pointed at lost. It must have terrified Molly to see Ginny's move there too.

Ginny lay back and her mum leant forward a song already on her lips. It was one she'd always sung to her as a child, whenever she'd had nightmares too big to fight on her own. Ginny listened to it now, her mind easing, her body quickly drifting to sleep.

~

'Where is she!'

'Please be quiet!'

Shouted voices echoed from downstairs and Ginny was on her feet in seconds. She wobbled at the velocity of her movement managing to right herself on the door jam.

Lumbering down the stairs as quickly as she could she found there was someone at the door.

Harry.

He looked angry.

Furious.

'You're trying to take her from me!' he bellowed, his voice so loud it almost shook the old walls.

'No of course not Harry,' Molly gasped.

'Then let me see her.'

He shoved past her and Arthur caught Molly before she could fall.

'Of course.' She stared at him as if staring at a stranger. 'But she's asleep.'

'Harry-' Ginny crept forward. 'Harry what's wrong?

'Ginny!' his face lit up and he rushed to embrace her. His arms tightened around her waist and he tucked his head into her neck breathing in the scent of her. 'Ginny when you didn't come home-'

'Didn't Ron come by?'

He rose up glowering and that's when she saw Ron standing tiredly at the front door. He'd edged in after Harry's outburst.

'Yes. He did.'

Her eyes met Ron's, he shrugged half shaking his head. Harry's paranoia was back. When it flared up like this he didn't trust anyone, only Ginny.

'Oh ok,' she ran her fingers through his hair and he visibly calmed. 'I see. It's ok, we can go home now Harry.'

'Are you sure darling?' Molly's brows were furrowed as her eyes darted between them.

Harry glared at her. 'She wants to come with me.'

Molly stiffened her mouth stretching into a thin line. Behind her Ginny watched Arthur's hand trail down her arm. He squeezed her wrist, just once. He was peering at Ginny in a way that felt too invasive. As if he saw behind the walls she'd so carefully stacked to keep her family from looking too close. From seeing what she wasn't yet ready to face.

That Harry was becoming unhinged.

Obsessive.

Dangerous.

'Yes of course,' Ginny said quickly hurrying out the front door.

'Ginny,' Arthur called after her.

'Thanks for letting me rest here for a bit. I feel much better. We'll go.'

She could sense them all behind them. Ginny hurried her steps. They swept over the grass and she curled into Harry. She could feel how fast his heart was beating.

'I'm sorry,' she whispered when they were far enough away. 'I'm sorry I scared you.'

'It's ok,' he nodded. His hand was running up and down her back as if proving to himself that she was really there. 'I'm ok now.'

She wasn't sure if he was talking to her or himself.

As they reached the Apparition line Ginny swung around to farewell. Her heart clenched at the sight of her old home gleaming in the dark. Molly, Arthur and Ron stood in the doorway, their silhouettes cutting the golden glow. She lifted her hand and waved. They did not reciprocate.

Chapter Text

2002

Harry was screaming.

Ginny heard it even from within the deepest throes of sleep, her body tethered to the sound. She would know it anywhere. When she woke up he was thrashing, the bed jostling as he tossed and turned under the covers. They were drenched, a cold film encapsulating them both in an icy cage. His eyes were clamped shut, his mouth stretched wide. The muscles in his neck carved terrible lines as they strained beneath his pale skin.

'Harry wake up!' she laid a hand on his shoulder. 'Wake up!'

He lashed out, his fist whacking her in the chin. She fell back, her head smacking against the bedhead. Her vision glistened with stars and she groaned attempting to right herself. Her fingers wrapped around her swollen belly and she patted it gently.

'It's ok baby. It's ok. Daddy's just having a nightmare.'

Half dazed she approached him again, with greater caution this time.

'No! No stop!' Harry shrieked again and again, his voice cracking. 'You're hurting them! Stop, you're killing them!'

Tears sprang in Ginny's eyes. It was the nightmare she knew only too well now. Always the same. Harry would be walking through the halls of Hogwarts, the ancient stone crumbling around him. There would be a low keening sound, echoed muffles that only he could hear. He would be walking, lost to the endless hallways without end. Behind each door he would find a new horror, a scene bleeding through from his darkest fears. His past bursting through vengefully to cut him right down the middle.

He'd run along the hall, faster and faster, more and more tormenting images bursting from within the darkness. Hermione laying on the ground as Bellatrix carved 'mudblood' into her skin. Ron splayed over the grass, his body covered in blood where he'd splinched himself. Percy and George screaming as they tried to rouse a wide eyed Fred. Remus trying to climb out of the earth which just kept swallowing him over and over again. Dumbledore coated in a green haze, his body falling back, his legs twisting as he fell from the astronomy tower. Sirius being struck in the chest with someone unknown spell, his body disappearing behind the veil of death, the echo of his last laugh still frozen on his face. His mother standing over his cot which was actually a coffin. She'd fall, her body shattering under the Killing Curse, crumpling to join James Potter cold and unmoving on the floor. Hagrid hit with Harry's own curse as it ricocheted off Voldemort.

Then there would be the faceless mass, a blob of flesh and bone writhing on the ground. They'd be shrieking, wailing, weeping, howling. All those who Harry didn't even know that had died for him. That had died to give the Boy Who Lived a fighting chance.

Above them all would be Harry.

It was him, always him.

Cursing them.

Maiming them.

Mauling them.

Killing them.

It didn't matter how many times Ginny told him it was not his fault, that he didn't hurt any of them. He wouldn't listen, couldn't hear her words. The dream would return night after night like a clawing creature shredding away at the man she loved. They'd only seemed to get worse over the last couple of months, his treatment somehow exacerbating his already delicate condition.

'Harry,' she half sobbed. 'Please wake up!'

She latched onto his wrists to keep him from hitting her again. He was so strong and she wrestled against him. Suddenly he was on top of her and Ginny cried out as he knee dug painfully in her side.

'Harry stop!'

But he was lost to the nightmare. Flying away on a sea of horrors completely oblivious to the woman crushed beneath him. Harry was slapping her, scratching at her face, his hands everywhere, painfully yanking at her hair.

'Harry!'

'I'm going to kill you!' he roared, his hands fastening around her throat. 'I'm going to kill you.'

Ginny couldn't breathe.

Couldn't move.

This unsettling truth folded over as she tried to suck air into her lungs. Harry loomed above her, his hair wild, his face bright red. He kept screaming, his hands crushing her larynx all the while. Ginny scraped at his fingers trying to get free. Her nails bit into his skin but he barely seemed to register.

'I won't let you hurt them!' he shrieked, his eyes snapping open.

They were empty black pools completely devoid of anything she knew. A stranger loomed over her and a flash of crimson burst from their obsidian centre. Harry's lips curled into a smile.

Black spots blurred her visions and her hands slowed, moving sluggishly. So heavy. They were so heavy. Her right hand dropped banging into the bedside table. A thin wooden stick rolled under her fingertips and she gripped it with all the strength she had left. The last of her energy. But she couldn't speak, couldn't say the words. Snapping her eyes shut she willed the magic to come either way.

'Get him off,' she begged to the empty space. 'Don't let me and the baby die this way.'

There was a burst of light and a loud crack and Ginny gasped as air flooded her lungs. Her eyes burst open to find Harry slumped at the base of the bed.

He was kneeling, his eyes blinking rapidly as if unsure how he got there. His chest heaved and his ragged breathing slowed. That's when he saw Ginny. There was a tuft of red clumped up hair stuck to his hand where he'd accidentally yanked it free. His eyes were drawn to it, darting drunkenly from her face to the strands of crimson. They roamed over her skin, the scratches and blood, lingering at last on her neck.

Ginny lifted her hand to hide it, the bruises she could feel blooming in her flesh. She wanted to hide it from him, but it was too late. She watched realisation splinter him, a shiver of ruin pulverising his features. A wracking sob burst from his throat, his eyes bugging out manically as he imploded from within.

'No,' he rasped, his voice torn and broken. 'No!'

He started banging his head against the wall, his hands scrunching into fists.

'Harry stop!' Ginny croaked, leaping across the bed.

She went to lay a hand on him but he screamed, skittering away from her. Ginny whimpered, hurt, mixing with fear. Her bones ached, her soul busted into fragments.

'Get away from me!' he roared. 'Don't you fucking come near me!'

'Harry,' Ginny wept, her hands dropping to her sides.

'Don't,' he hissed, his eyes capturing hers. 'Stay away from me. You—you stay away from me.' He stood on shaky legs. 'I need to go.'

Ginny started fighting against the sheets locking her in place. 'It's the middle of the night.'

'Don't follow me Ginny.' He turned away from her, ripping the door open.

'Harry no-'

He raced down the stairs and she followed him, their footsteps banging against the wood.

He spun around and his eyes flashed red. 'I SAID DON'T FOLLOW ME!'

She watched his arm lift, the back of his hand rising. She saw it all then as if in slow motion. His hand cracking over her skin, her body collapsing under the force of it. She flinched back, dropping down onto the stairs before he had the chance.

Shame carved its way through his face.

He blinked and the red disappeared so quickly she was half sure she'd imagined it. His chest was heaving, sweat dripping down his forehead. Black hair stuck out at all angles, shadows his face in darkness. He stepped back, hands shaking, legs wobbling. His back slammed into the front door, the handle twisting under his hand.

'Let me go Ginny,' he whispered. 'I don't want to hurt you.'

The door opened a gust of wind bursting through the hall. And then he was gone.

~

'We need to find him mum!'

'I know Ginny I know. We will. Arthur and Ron are out there now.'

'That fucking bastard,' George growled. He was staring at Ginny's throat as Molly waved a wand over the mottled black spots that had appeared.

The bruises in the shape of Harry's hands.

'It wasn't his fault,' Ginny glared at him.

'I don't care Gin. He nearly killed you.'

George had arrived a few minutes ago in an explosion of ash as he tore through the fireplace. He'd charged across the room, taken one look at Ginny, lifted his wand and stormed out of the house. It took Ron hexing him with a body lock to get him to slow down and think. Otherwise there was no doubt he would have gone out and killed Harry. He'd been mumbling so under his breath since then.

'He's sick!'

He lifted his head to meet her head on. 'I'm going to kill him. You even think about letting him back in that house—I will fucking kill him.'

'You can't be serious? Mum tell him.'

Molly's lips were stretched into a thin line.

'Mum!'

She sighed deeply. 'Ginny it's not safe. You can't go back to that house. George is right.'

'George—George is right. Are you fucking serious?'

'I am.' She knelt down in front of Ginny, her eyes lining up with hers. 'You look at me. You look at me and you listen my girl. No one, and I mean no one lays a hand on you. Do you hear me?'

'But-'

'No. There is no but. There is never ever any situation where this is ok. Do you understand me?'

Ginny sank back into the chair feeling the horror of the night weighing her down. Chains crept around her wrists and ankles as she sank deeper and deeper under the water. Caught in the undertow, her mouth filling with acid laced water.

'I love him.'

Molly frowned at her. 'We all love him. But we can't help him if you're dead.'

Her mouth popped open and closed but she had no response, no words to fight the logic that was flooding her veins. But to admit as much was to admit that Harry was lost. Truly lost. It was a reality she wasn't yet ready to face.

'Ginny,' a small voice echoed through the stairs and she twisted around.

'Percy?'

He crept down slowly, his fingers secured to the wallpaper, as if it grounded him.

'Mums right Ginny.' His voice barely carried louder than a whisper. 'You have to think of your baby.'

'I am Perc—I promise I am.'

He smiled at her then and it almost carved her heart in two. They locked eyes and his brow softened with the same loving protection he'd always shown her when they were growing up. It was Percy who used to play games with her when all the other boys wanted to play Quidditch and she was still too small. It was Percy that read her stories and set her imagination soaring. It was Percy who held her when she cried in her first year when she felt so lost and frightened. After Tom Riddle's diary stole her away into the Chamber of Secrets.

'I'll take care of you Ginny,' he'd whispered then. 'I'll always take care of you.'

She felt the words like an echo ripple over her now. He reached forward a hand and Ginny laid her palm against his. It was their old handshake, the one they'd made up as a sign that she was feeling left out in the house of boys.

'Let us take care of you,' he murmured and she drooped further into her chair, tipping to the side. Molly caught her dragging a hand softly through her hair.

She was just so tired.

The door banged open and Percy started scurrying back up the stairs.

Ginny's attention snapped to her father who hurried into the room.

'We found him.'

~

Ginny raced outside skidding to a halt in front of the shapeless form that knelt on the grass. He looked so small like that, bowed shoulders, hands hanging limp by his side. Ron stood beside him, a mix of worry and disgust lining his brow. Something had shifted in the Weasley’s this evening, an invisible line drawn in the sand. Because if they were forced to choose, they would all choose Ginny. The war was plain on all of their faces and she both loved and hated them for it.

Harry didn't move as she approached. He didn't lift his head either.

'Harry.'

Nothing.

'Harry look at me.'

Still nothing.

'Harry!'

He shook his head. 'I can't.’

'Please Harry. I love you-'

'You shouldn't,' he cut her off blankly. 'You should hate me.'

'No-'

'Yes.’

His eyes snapped up and they were tortured. Full of a bottomless anguish that twisted around him like a choking vice. 'Ginny-'

His shoulders shook and it was then she saw that he was crying. Tears staining his cheeks with wet heartache, a sorrow so deep it was almost crawling its way through his eyes.

'Oh Harry.'

Suddenly they were both on the ground, their arms wrapped around each other.

'I'm so sorry Ginny,' Harry sobbed. I'm so fucking sorry.'

'I know. It's ok. It's ok.-'

'It's not ok. It's not-'

'You didn't mean it.'

'It doesn't matter.' He pushed her back. 'Look at you. Look at what I did!'

Ginny crushed herself against him nuzzling into his neck with almost frenzied need. His skin was burning hot under hers and she softly kissed his jaw trying to drive away the hurt, the pain. Harry kept trying to push her off but she refused to relinquish him. They needed each other like the sky needed sun. Without it there would only be an endless abyss of empty black. A fathomless void without end.

They sat like that for a time, soaking in the scent of each other, sharing in the pain that left them broken birds on the ground.

'Harry,' Arthur lay a gentle hand on his shoulder. 'It's time to go.'

'What?' Ginny looked up at her father. 'Go? Go where?'

When he didn't answer she turned her focus back to Harry.

'Where are you going?'

Harry sighed deeply. 'I'm going to St Mungos.'

Ginny clutched his shoulders. 'No you're not.'

'Just for a while.'

'No.'

'I need help Gin.' He swept a gentle hand over her forehead, his eyes trailing over her neck. His lips tightened. 'Proper help.'

'No.’

'I think- I think they're right. Maybe it'll be better this way.'

Ginny was sobbing now. 'How can it be better if we're not together.'

His fingers carefully danced across the bruises around her neck. 'I hurt you Ginny. Don't you understand what that means?

'I love you.’

'I love you. I love you too much to let myself do this,' he crushed his forehead against hers. 'I love you more than myself. I will do anything to protect you.' He sucked in a ragged breath. 'Even if that means leaving you.'

Her stomach bottomed out. 'You can't-'

'It's too late.'

'No!' She was angry now. Her fear melting into fury.

'Ginny I don't know what to do!' He knelt back on his haunches, his hand crushing against his skull. 'I feel like I'm going insane. My mind—I'm seeing things all the time now. I can hear—I don't know what I can hear but it's something.' His eyes flashed red again, she was certain this time. 'Whispering to me again and again and again. It won't stop!'

He stood and Ginny went to crawl towards him. Arms locked her from behind and she looked up to find George holding her in place. She thrashed against him but he wouldn't let go. Molly was gently weeping behind them her arms tight around her stomach. She met Harry's eyes and a whole world exchanged between them.

'Thank you,' she mouthed.

Harry stepped back, Ron and her dad on either side.

'Ginny I promised you. No one would ever hurt you. That includes me.'

She recalled his words, the images fading before her eyes. It was the first night of their honeymoon, after she'd given herself to him fully. Their first time together. Their last time before everything went to shit.

'I've wanted to do that... for a long time.'

Ginny rolled on her side to face him. He gently stroked her arm, his fingers softly brushing against her skin. 'Can I ask you something?'

He chuckled. 'You can ask me anything, wife.' He grinned. 'I like the sound of that.'

She lay a kiss on his chest snuggling into him. They were curled around each other, their legs still tangled where they'd fallen.
'Why didn't you?'

Harry sighed. It was a deep echo, so much older than he was. He rubbed a hand over his face. 'It's hard to explain.'

'Try me.'

'I suppose I was scared.'

'Of me?'

'No. Never.' He gave her a tight squeeze. 'No. Scared of what it might mean to love you. I—everyone I've ever loved has been hurt. Because of me. Everyone I care about has scars that will never heal. Voldemort did that to them because he knew it would hurt me.'

'He's gone. Harry, he can't hurt you anymore.'

'Can't he? I feel like he's still in here sometimes.' He pointed to his forehead. 'All my fears are still there. Some days all I can hear is Hermione screaming as Bellatrix tortures her. In my dreams I watch Sirius fall through the veil. Again and again and again. I watch Fenrir feeding on Lavender Brown. I see Hagrid sobbing in the Forbidden Forest. I watch the knife lodge in Dobby's—' He lay a hand over his eyes. 'I hear my mum screaming as Voldemort murdered her. She was the same age as me when she died. I didn't know—I didn't know how young that was. You can't understand—It's all I see every day. Death and more death.'

'Harry-'

He didn't respond.

'Harry look at me.' She pulled his hand away forcing him to face her. His eyes burned, glistening with the terrors of his memories. She saw it there. A steep mountain of agonising hurt. Bodies piled high with him at the top. It nestled deep into his mind infecting, tainting. 'Harry, no one is going to hurt me. I'm not going anywhere.'

He turned away. 'There's still so many of his supporters. Lurking in the shadows. Watching. Waiting. So many of them got away. They want to hurt me. Kill me if they can but they're sadistic. They like my pain.'

'I'm not made of glass Harry. It'll take a lot to break me.'

'I know that. Godric I know how powerful you are. How strong. How wonderful and beautiful and fucking—everything. You're everything. Making you mine. Wanting you. Loving you. It paints a target in your back. I keep waking up seeing you lying there. On the floor not moving. Cold. Gone.'

His arms latched around her tighter, as if she were a life raft and he was lost to the storm. His eyes widened as he saw it all again. Like a machiavellian horror show playing on repeat. The puppets always doomed to end up bloody and broken.

He grabbed her hand, staring at the ring he'd placed there. His brow furrowed, dread paling his skin. 'What if I let myself love you. What if I tell the whole world just how much. What if they kill you because of it? I don't think I can survive that. I-'

He cut off, unable to finish. Like a worn bow string still desperately seeking sound but frayed, close to snapping.

Anger flooded her vision. Ginny suddenly wanted to grab her wand and storm out of the house. She wanted to hunt them all down, find every one. Curse them until they were nothing but churned up meat on the ground. She wanted to bring Voldemort back just so she could kill him again. Slowly.

He sighed and it was like she'd been dropped in a tub of cold water. Her anger receded, finding its way back into the corners of her mind. She sat up rolling over him pinning him under her.

'Look at me Harry.'

He did.

'Feel me. Feel me right here.' She leant down kissing him, a gentle promise of love. 'Right here. You're here with me. It's us. It'll always be us. You and me. We go together.'

'We go together,' he smiled but there was still fear behind his eyes. Maybe it would never go away. 

She nodded, twisting her arms around him. 'Can you feel it? This is all we need. Just this. This is us.'

'I'm never going to let anyone hurt you,' he vowed. 'I promise.'

'I know Harry. I know.'

'Harry please. It's us. We go together. Together!'

Harry's face crumpled. 'Not this time Ginny. This time it's just me.'

They raised their wands ready to apparate. Ginny was screaming now, fighting against the hands that held her locked in.

'HARRY NO!'

He turned away.

'Goodbye Ginny. I'll always love you.'

Chapter Text

2002

Minutes became hours.

Hours turned into days.

Days melted into weeks.

Ginny's body swelled to the point where it became difficult to do much of anything really. Instead she moved about listlessly, her feet tracing a hollow line through the floor. It was to be trapped in an echo. She could still feel the world around her but it was distant, far away. Her fingers never quite felt warm. The wind whipped right through her as if she were made from the same substance. A mass of vapour without a shell to contain her. Her hair faded to the colour of dull, dank mud, coarse and broken. Where some might think the days eased her pain it only seemed to grow. A festering wound full of gangrenous intent it merely swelled, rotting away at her spirit.

Her soul was sinking into the deepest abyss. The water closing in, the pressure building up around her. Pain laced it's way through her heart, the strings biting into her with every beat. She was drenched in an anguish that left her without sound.

There were no tears.

No sad words.

Just empty silence that stretched on and on and on...

Inside she was screaming. A heavy tension wrapped around her chest crushing her ribs, blocking the air from expanding her lungs. Her skull throbbed a constant rhythmic drum. A staccato that refused to silence and only got louder through the long stretch of night. She wasn't allowed to see Harry. Not because of any rule or Healer's advice, but because he didn't want to see her. He simply refused her entry.

Part of her wanted to damn them all and refuse to be silenced. She'd take her wand and blast her way through St Mungos demanding that he permit her entrance. Chaos would be her master and she would follow it into darkness willingly. There would be no doors that could keep him from her, no walls that would part them ever again. It was a truth that vibrated in her bones, an ache that clenched at her heart.

But instead, like the useless coward she had become, she retreated into the deepest recesses of her mind. She'd bask in memories where the sun touched her face. Where Harry laughed and smiled and held her hand so warm and loving. Where his body moved over hers and his kisses drowned her in endless lust. Where he stroked her belly and laid his head down upon it whispering quiet promises to the baby that would be his. Where his secret song feathered her ear as they danced their last dance on their wedding day.

To be parted was to be split down the middle. Every step like cracked glass that sliced and stung under foot. Every breath full of smoke and burning flame leaving her throat raw. Every thought a crippling mess of muddled turmoil that rattled around her battered and bruised spirit. Ginny was sinking into a pit where sanity could not enter. That blissful place where reality was untouched by the dark stain of time. Her imagined world became all that sustained her.

A month ago she'd decided to return to their cottage, if only to have her own space. She loved her family but she was incredibly pregnant and they were all royally pissing her off. For things like asking her how she was, making her breakfast, breathing.

Luna visited often. Ron did too. Even Neville made an appearance on occasion. Molly made a point to see her every day. Popping round to help her prepare for the baby as if it might help draw Ginny out of her well of despair.

In truth she knew it should. Her fingers would stroke the bulge at her stomach and whisper sweet vows to the child that would soon be hers. She'd loved this baby since the moment she knew of its existence. It was perhaps sooner than she'd intended but that never mattered much to her. It was going to be hers. An extension of her and Harry. A life that was built from the love she'd given him.

That's why it hurt so much when that child was stolen from her.

Ginny didn't even see it coming. Perhaps that was the worst part. Being stunned in the back and dragged to her death.

It'd been a beautiful morning. The kind where the sun shines warm on your back. Where the flowers smell crisp and fresh after tunneling their way through the dew swept grass. Where birds chirped and rabbits scurried over the green. Not the kind of morning you expect to be attacked.

A few months ago they'd gotten some chickens, an idea from one of their Healers. A way for them to start preparing for their child. A way for Harry to gain some confidence in looking after something that couldn't look after itself.

But then it all went wrong and Harry committed himself. She understood why. It'd taken her a few weeks of yelling at her parents to do so but she did now. Keeping Harry in this house wasn't helping him. Pretending that they could handle this alone wasn't working. He needed help and it wasn't the kind of help she could give. It'd been the hardest lesson she'd ever had to learn.

Ginny woke early, lumbering down the stairs for her morning tea as she always did. Her stomach was enormous, a sign that the baby was not too far away. She'd planned to visit Harry that day, as she did every day, to try and draw him back into the world with the promise of her child. She fed the chickens as she did every morning and then readied to head out. Like clockwork it was. The same thing, the same time, every morning.

That was her first mistake.

Becoming predictable.

Her second mistake was apparating into muggle London rather than taking the Floo. It was stupid but she liked the walk to St Mungos. It gave her time to think, to steel herself against Harry's inevitable rejection. To look into the windows and think 'Oh I'm just browsing—my life isn't a complete wreck. Nothing to see here.' For strolling down the high street as if she was some other person who had nothing to fear. For allowing herself to be distracted, even for a moment.

A loud crack, a fierce grip on her elbow, the whispered words 'Gotchya ya filthy cunt.'

She didn't even feel the stunning spell that sliced through her back. In one moment she was on the street wandering past a Marks and Spencer, the next Ginny was lying face down on the ground. She groaned trying to roll over only to discover there was a boot pressed into her back. Locking her down.

'Harry,' she croaked. She tried to look up but her head felt like it was full of lead. 'Harry?'

It was the moment she saw them she knew true fear.

The figures were dressed all in black except for their masks which were the colour of blood. They loomed over her in a long line, some with their hands in pockets, others with wands raised in her direction. Ginny knew who they were. She'd seen their marks, their cruelty splashed across the walls of the Aurors office. Photographs revealing the depths of depravity to which they would stoop.

The BloodBorn.

One of the figures broke off from the rest, casually walking towards her. Ginny immediately steeled herself against him. A wall of iron dropped around her mind just like Safira once taught her. Her body tensed as she readied herself for what was to come. It was going to hurt. That she knew as sure as she knew the back of her own hand. It was going to hurt and she was going to have to hold. To refuse to break.

The figure dropped to one knee, raising a hand to ease his mask off. It came as no surprise when the face she'd seen so many times materialised behind it.

Rabastan Lestrange.

He smiled at her, his mouth stretching too far, his eyes gleaming with manic sadistic glee. Ginny tried to steady her shaking hands focusing instead on leashing the anger that flooded her belly. If she was angry she couldn't be scared. If she wasn't scared then maybe—maybe she might live through this.

'If it isn't Potter’s little fire crotch,' Rabastan chortled.

There was a fluttering of cruel laughter that echoed from behind him.

'What do you want?' she snarled, sounding braver than she felt.

'Ho!' Rabastan tipped his head back and roared with laughter.

When his gaze slid back to hers Ginny's stomach clenched. There was nothing but perverse pleasure there. It would seem he, like Bellatrix, preferred to play with his food before he ate it.

'So brave,' he murmured. 'You won't be brave in a moment little blood traitor.'

Ginny gritted her teeth to the point her jaw almost locked.

'Are you proud of what you've done? Betraying your own kind?'

Ginny said nothing.

'Sucking and fucking a mudblood like you have?' He poked her stomach and she did cry out then. There was no stopping it. Rabastan smirked happily. 'Letting him use you like a broodmare. Letting his filthy seed take root.'

He tsk'd and the other BloodBorn laughed again.

'What do you want?' she asked again, her voice rasping.

'You know what we want.' He was grinning at her with wild eyes.

'Harry.'

'Gold star for the little blood traitor.' He clapped mockingly. 'We want him. We want to carve open his belly and gut him like a fish. We want to make that little bastard scream.' He tipped his head back, shutting his eyes. 'Ah what a sweet sound that would be.' His gaze snapped back to her. 'But we know where that fucker is. We've known for quite some time. But he's slippery Potter. Always was.'

A few of the BloodBorn hissed and Ginny took the moment to float back. To find solace in the empty spaces within her mind. If she wasn't here they couldn't hurt her.

When Rabastan spoke again it was from far away, a tinny echo that barely scratched at her auditory function.

'So we're going to make him come to us. Aren't we. Motivate him if you will.'

More laughter.

'All you need to do—is scream.'

The boot on Ginny's back pressed down and she gasped. Then it was gone. She went to roll over—

Crucio.

Burning pain. Wild hot pokers cutting through her skin. Pain. Agonising brutal pain. A million knives carving up her flesh. She was being flayed alive. She might have been screaming but her senses were beyond recognising what her body was doing. She was separated from self. A creature of torment flung into a cruel tempest.

Then nothing.

Ginny lay on the ground twitching, her body a stiff rubbery pound of meat. Her chest contracted and she tried to suck air into her body. There was shouting but she couldn't hear. It was like her ears were filled with cotton wool. Only a dull roar, faded horror.

Crucio.

Again. Every atom of her being was on fire. She was twisted in a tornado of devouring torment. Every bone was breaking. Her blood was molten lava. Hands of steel were tearing the skin from her body.

Then nothing.

Just Ginny floating in an endless abyss. She convulsed, spasming on the floor. Her eyes blinking rapidly as she fought to regain control. To hide from it. To shield herself in the only way she knew how. 

Then pain.

Acid hands clawing at her nerve endings. Her bones were a vibrating mess. Shattering into a thousand shards splintering through her lungs. Her heart. Her brain. It was becoming hard to hold on. She was being forced through tiny cracks her body sliced. Diced. Crushed. Split. Forced back together and pulverised again.

Sights and sounds lost all meaning. There was a creature, a demon made flesh who raised a wooden dagger designed at dealing ruin. His teeth elongated forming into sharp fangs that bit and chewed and tore at her flesh. A laughing face ballooning, shrinking, melting as it revelled in her misery. It danced on her almost corpse frolicking like some demented hellion formed from the blackest nightmare.

It went on for an eternity. When she passed out they would revive her. A healing potion was shoved down her throat. Then more pain. At one point another body was shoved down next to her. At least she thought so. A face she knew. An impossible face. Her fingers reached for them. But she couldn't touch, could never feel her hand against theirs. The face ghosted merging into that of her lover. He watched her through tear stained eyes, his mouth opening and closing but there was no sound.

'I love you Harry,' she whispered at one point. Or maybe a hundred times. She wanted him to know. If it was the last thing she ever did she wanted him to know.

It was when she felt a gradual wetness build between her legs that she wished for death. She tried to look down, fighting against the throes of pain. There was Blood. Too much blood. It looked like she was hemorrhaging.

Her reality was imploding, cracking, shattering. There was nothing but pain. More pain. Endless pain. After a while she forgot what it was to exist without it. Maybe there never had been a before. Maybe there wouldn't be an after. Just this endless torment that wound its way through the fabric of her being.

Anguish.

Agony.

Unending misery.

Ginny screamed. An empty echo that tore from her throat. The room shifted. Wooden walls cracked exploding outwards.

Suddenly there was a flash of green light. Her vision was distorted and she was seeing things. Perhaps it meant she was going to die soon. The thought was somehow pleasant after such pain. It wasn't as if she wanted to be dead, but the thought of suffering any more was too hard to process. Her mind and body shied from it. Anything was better than that. Oblivion could not take her sooner.

But then a figure came into focus and Ginny felt a mix of surprise and elation. If she was going to die this was certainly the last thing she wanted to see.

Harry.

But not the Harry she knew. This was an angry Harry. Wand raised sending sparks flying, bodies dropping. He was a creature bathed in vengeance. A wraith designed to cut and carve, leaving nothing behind but blackened ruin. This wasn't the man she'd seen last. The one that crouched burnt out and broken on the grass. This one was full of unbridled fury. It radiated from him like an endless tide of scorching heat.

'Ginny,' this Harry stroked her face. Red painted green black as his eyes flashed. 'Ginny hold on.'

Harry was up, she could see his hair flying.

There were green flashes. The sound of bodies falling. A BloodBorn masked figure dropped in front of her. Then Harry's face again.

'It's ok Ginny. Just hold on. We're going to be ok.'

His voice was so far away now. She felt strong arms lift her, a warmth around her aching limbs. Her eyes fluttered shut and she smiled. Yes. If she was going to die she wanted it to be like this.

In the arms of the man she loved.

~

When Ginny came to it was to the low hum of buzzing lights and whispered voices. She followed them out of her stupor like she might a trail of crumbs leading through the woods. Her eyes blinked open slowly, the lights too bright for her sensitivity. She hissed and a hand circled hers squeezing tight.

'B—bright,' she croaked.

There was a rustling and the room darkened to near blackness and Ginny sighed internally as the painful throbbing in her skull eased, if only slightly. When her eyes opened at last it was to the face of her savior. The creature of dreams who'd carried her away from the endless pain and torment.

Harry.

There was only one question she had to ask him. It lingered on the tip of her tongue refusing to find purchase. Because once she asked he would have to answer and with that answer would come ravaging ruin the likes of which she was not sure she was equipped to survive.

With shaking hands she sent out a silent wish. 'Harry,' Ginny tried to keep her voice from breaking. Her mouth was stiff, her words jumbling. 'The baby... J—James is he—'

Harry sucked in a deep breath. 'James is gone Ginny.'

Ginny's laboured breathing cut through the din of quiet. Her hands twitched, clamping from the brutal torture she'd been forced to endure. He held her then. His arms wrapped around her tighter than breathing would allow. She sank into it feeling his familiar scent fill her up and whisk her away from the pain and anguish.

It was hard to know how long they stayed like that. The sun drooped lower in the sky, eventually swallowed by the horizon. Night crawled over the buildings bathing them in velvet black, tiny pin pricks of lights eventually bursting from the darkness. At some point she must have cried herself into exhaustion, sleep taking her into dreamless abandon.

~

The next few days zipped by in a haze where Harry did not leave her side. Her family flitted in and out but she was too exhausted to offer them much apart from weak smiles and timid hugs. All she saw was Harry. He curled next to her as she slept, held her hand as she attempted to bathe away the horrors of her torture. He massaged her shoulders when she broke down into a fit of twitching and convulsing, a side effect of the curses used against her.

It was the only thing that kept her off the ledge, from tumbling head first into the long ravine that would leave her shattered and broken at the bottom. On the third day she was ready to understand the extent of her suffering.

'How... long?'

'Eight days.'

Eight days of torture. It felt so much longer. She was lucky to be alive at all. It didn't stand to reason, but the body could weather more than the mind she supposed. Ginny scrunched her forehead trying to pull her thoughts into sentences. Finding coherence was an agonising chore that exhausted her to the point of heavy breathing and sweat beading her brow.

'How... they... find me?'

No one knew where Harry was. That Ginny would visit him at the hospital. It was a closely guarded secret they kept with their inner circle. Only immediate family and close friends. For the BloodBorn to find her at all meant—

They were curled up on the small hospital bed, Harry's hand entwined with hers. At her question Harry's eyes billowed with untamed rage. 'Vida.'

He spat the name with barely laced vitriol.

'Vida?' Ginny croaked. She'd torn her throat in the attack and it was still healing. 'But—'

'She gave you up.'

Ginny balked. 'What! No—she woudn...'
There was significant slurring, her tongue rolling like a useless fat worm.

His hand tightened around hers. 'And yet she did.'

'Where... she? I need... talk to her.'

Harry's gaze dipped to where their hands connected. 'Vida was left outside St Mungos a few days before you were recovered. You were still in deep recovery and hadn't woken yet.'

Ginny felt a curling discomfort swell in her gut. 'Where... now?'

He sucked in a breath. 'She's dead.' He met her eyes blankly.

Ginny froze.

Harry's eyes darted to hers then away. 'She blew her cover. Apparently they had her for just under a month and they tortured her incrementally throughout. At the end of it they asked her for a trade. Evidently that's what they do. Break someone and then use them to get a bigger fish. In this case you were the bigger fish.'

'No.'

'They knew she was your partner,' he went on. 'They hoped to use you to get to me. She told them I was in the hospital so they scoped it out—saw you visiting day after day. The same time, the same way in.'

'Har...ry-'

'She gave you up.' He turned to glare at her. 'She traded you Ginny.' There was anger there. Betrayal. 'They shouldn't have been able to get you. I trusted you to be smart. I trusted Ron to protect you.'

Ginny whimpered.

Harry curled a hand around her cheek cupping her jaw. 'The Auror's should have known Vida was missing,' he growled. He was barely even seeing her now. She watched him float away in a fog fueled rage. 'Robards and Kvothe should have fucking known.' He stood then, his shaking hands clenching them into fists.

Ginny remained silent. She was a little scared of this Harry. As if some Other was squatting behind his eyes.

'They sent me photos of you Ginny,' he rounded back on her and she flinched at the pure insanity there. 'They wanted me to see you. To hear you. So I would come for you.'

'W—why didn you?' She said the words before she even thought them.

She wasn't aware that part of her blamed him.

Evidently she did.

Harry physically shuddered. 'Nobody fucking told me,' he ran a hand through his hair. 'Robards and Kvothe went to Shacklebolt and had a little meeting. They knew I'd trade myself in a heartbeat. So they kept it from me. Like it was their choice to make.'

'Then... how—'

'George. He came to the hospital and showed me the recording. Showed me what they'd done to you.' He snapped his eyes shut, his nostrils flaring. 'I offered myself to them and managed to get into their base.'

She recalled seeing a man being led into the room where she was being tortured. It had felt like a dream at the time. 

'I knew they wouldn't let you go so I concealed an Exploding Whistler in my pocket-/one of George's inventions—glamoured to look like a galleon. When I saw you I managed to throw it at the wall. They were distracted and I stole one of their wands.'

Ginny stared at him wide eyed and listening. She couldn't imagine what it'd been like for him. He'd gone in there without a wand. He'd gone in there prepared to die for her.

Memories of green light flashed through her mind's eye.

'They... dead?'

'Yes.'

'All you?'

'Safira and Fitz were with me. Luna, Circe and George waiting outside for the fuckers that tried to run. They let me have Lestrange so I suppose there's that.'

'Good.'

Realising what she'd just said she crushed her palms to her temple. 'I... sorry,' she whispered.

'Don't be sorry,' he growled. 'Don't you ever be sorry to me.' He was physically seething. 'I told you. I told you what would happen if I let myself love you.'

'Harry—'

'But it's too late now,' he laughed madly. 'We're too far gone aren't we.'

'I l—love... you Harry. I'm sorry. I can't... help.'

His shoulders tightened and his jaw clenched. 'Neither can I. But I'm going to keep you safe. Just like I promised. No one is ever going to hurt you ever again. Ever.'

As if a thought suddenly popped into his head his mouth slackened. A victorious gleam shadowed his eyes and he lurched over to the bed. He grabbed her hand, twisting his fingers through hers. His wand lifted and Ginny tried to pull away.

'Harry, what... you doing?'

'You will never know pain. You will not see it. You will not feel it. To the best of my ability I will shelter you. I vow to protect you. And I will kill anyone who tries to take you from me.'

'S—stop!'

’You are mine and I am yours. You will do what I say. Say it. You will do what I tell you. Swear it!

’Harry of course but-‘

But it was too late. There was a flash of purple light dancing over their hands. The vow already filtering through his wand, the magic lifting the hairs on his arms. Ginny had always thought you needed a Bonder to finish the spell. A whispering of words between two people. Evidently not so in this case. Perhaps this wasn't a true Unbreakable Vow but it left a fierce indentation on Harry's skin. Hers remained clear.

'Harry you can't... do that!'

He tore his hand away, an odd smile curling his cheeks. 'It is done.'

She felt a balloon of concern begin to grow at the base of her stomach.

'I've been fighting my anger for so long,' Harry stared down at her eyes hard. 'But maybe this is how it was always meant to be. I feel strong Ginny. I haven't had a fit in days.'

Now that she looked at him, really looked at him, he was indeed much healthier in visage. His hair was long, hanging to his shoulders but there was a luster to it that had been faded for so long. His eyes were a bright emerald green and clear where once they had been drowned in the haze of Euphoria. His skin was starkly pale but with a glimmering sheen to it that spoke of a balanced diet and restful nights.

Harry had gotten better.

He also wasn't wearing his glasses which was an oddity in itself. Had his vision somehow improved too?

It was surreal after so many years of sickness. As if the old Harry had stepped through the door. Only there was a newfound confidence there. A dormant power that emanated from him that she had never truly understood.

He was magnificent.

Harrowing.

Ginny's mind danced between anguish and elation. Her baby was gone but perhaps her husband was back. She could not have survived the loss of both of them.

'If I'd been with you—maybe this would have happened.'

'Don... do that.'

'I've been fighting the anger all this time when I should have been embracing it. I'm more powerful than them. I'm stronger than them. They tried to hurt me through you. That was a mistake.'

'Not making any sense. Please just—'

'The Ministry can't be trusted. I've tried trusting them so many times—never again. The rest of the Aurors are just as much to blame,' he continued. 'Except for Oscar—he was at least decent enough to tell Ron. And there are still factions of BloodBorn out there.'

'Harry wait—' she reached for him but he was already edging towards the door. 'Where you going?'

'I'm going to find them Ginny,' he rolled his wand in his hand. 'I'm going to find them and kill them all.'

~

When next she woke Harry had not yet returned but another figure sat in the chair across from her. A mane of tawny hair lifted at her soft sounds as she woke. Clever, tired eyes latched onto hers with reserved apprehension.

Hermione.

'Ginny,' she sighed heavily. 'I know this is terrible timing—but we need to talk.'

Chapter Text

2002

'Her—Hermione,' Ginny edged herself into a sitting position. 'You look...different.'

Hermione was curled up in the chair next to her, great big circles lining her eyes. Her hair was a wild mane as if she hadn't brushed it in a few days. She was dressed all in black and with what appeared to be a wizard's robe tucked over the side of her chair. It was exquisitely tailored and so at odds with what Hermione normally wore Ginny's brow furrowed as her eyes trawled over it. There was also a strange energy about her, somehow softer and harder all at once.

'Haven't...s—seen you in a while,' Ginny half slurred. 

It'd been months. Since before Harry went into St Mungo's. There was an accusatory tone there and Hermione's jaw clicked.

'I'm sorry Ginny,' she tucked a flyaway strand behind her ear. 'I've been... busy.'

'B—busy,' Ginny nodded. She swept her hands out over her hospital gown. They shook a little, the muscles in her arms immediately aching from that simplest of gestures. 'Me too.'

Tears sprang in the corner of Hermione's eyes and Ginny almost felt bad. Almost.

’How are you feeling?’ she asked quietly.

Ginny didn’t dignify that with a response.

'Where...you been?'

'Researching.'

'Researching,' Ginny repeated. It was practically comical. 'Find...anything?'

Hermione sucked in a slow breath. 'Yes.'

Ginny waited but Hermione only chewed her lip. Perhaps it was cruel but she really wasn't in the mood for this. Exhaustion crept up on her too quickly for dillydallying.

'T—tell me.'

Hermione's eyes snapped up then, meeting her gaze properly for the first time. She was afraid. It sat heavy behind her eyes, a fear that sank deep.

'I think Voldemort is coming back.'

It was like being punched in the gut. Ginny felt all the air rush out of her lungs. Her brow twitched and she hissed as a pain shot through her forehead. All she could think was this. This. Again.

Ginny tipped forwards crushing her skull between two palms if only to stop the agonising pain from ripping her apart. She couldn't do this again. Not now. Not ever.

Hermione half stood but Ginny stopped her with a hand. 'How?' 

Hermione looked like she'd been recently stepped on, a wilted flower crushed underfoot.

'The last Horcrux remains.'

A swooping sensation pulled at her stomach. 'B—but—'

'I went to Hogwarts,’ Hermione explained hurriedly. ‘I was there when—when everything happened. I came to see you sooner but—well I’m here now.' She said this all at warp speed, the words rushing from her mouth. 'I believe—well—I know, the Horcrux in Nagini survived.'

'What?’ Ginny croaked. ‘But that—you said w—wasn't...possible.'

'That was then. This is now. I have reason to believe the Horcrux is resurfacing.'

'And...what…that?'

Hermione sucked in a breath, shoulders stiffening. 'Harry.'

Ginny felt her eyes flutter shut. Her chest heaved and her muscles flexed awkwardly under skin, as if they belonged to someone else.

'What...you mean?'

Hermione wrung her hands, her fingernails chewed down to the point of bleeding. 'I told you I was going to look into this. His headaches, his behaviour—it's all too reminiscent of the last year of the War. I believe there is a chance someone found the Horcrux and is... trying to revive Voldemort with it.'

'But...Harry's b—better. I just...saw him.'

Hermione visibly crumpled, her brows sinking down. 'No Ginny. Harry is not better.'

'What...what do you mean?'

Hermione scratched at her temple, it looked like she was considering something. ‘It doesn’t matter. At least,’ she exhaled. ‘At least until you’re feeling better—

‘Don’t give…me that…crap,’ Ginny spat. ‘Talk.’

Hermione folded her arms tightly. ‘Really I don’t think—‘

‘Talk.’

She threw her head back, chin tipped to the ceiling. Her fingers were digging into her arms. Then she looked down. 'Ginny there's something you need to know.'

Ginny gripped the edge of her sheet scrunching it. 'What?'

'When Harry found the hideout for the BloodBorn…’ she trailed off. Her eyes were big as saucers.

'Ok,' Ginny glared at her. 'He…told me. So what?’

'Did he tell you what he did? When he found them?'

'What...you t—talking about?'

'He murdered them. All of them.'

'I—know.'

'You know?'

She didn’t answer.

'Ginny he can't just go around killing—'

'So...what if he kill them. They...torture me. They...m—m—murdered my baby. They deserved it!'

Her jaw kept locking and her tongue was becoming heavier with every word that tried to slip by her lips. There was a string of expletives she might have shot at Hermione otherwise. Instead she settled on a withering stare.

Hermione shifted uncomfortably. At the look on Ginny's face she darted forwards until she was kneeling right by Ginny. 'I don’t think this isn't the right time. I'm sorry this was stupid—'

'What? What…you...trying to say?'

Ginny wanted to hit her. Hermione must have seen as much because she sped up.

‘They BloodBorn are terrible. I’m not—I would never argue that. Bigoted and sadistic. I’m glad the ones who hurt you are dead Ginny,’ she nodded vehemently. ‘I would have killed them myself had I been there! But they—Ginny they keep their families at these places where the hide. There are children there Ginny.’

Ginny felt like someone had just pitched gravity sideways. Suddenly it was almost impossible to feel the bed beneath her, as if she were hovering on a volatile surface instead of grounded to the earth.

‘What? What…you…mean?’

‘He killed them Ginny,’ Hermione whispered. ‘Harry killed children. Their parents might be terrible but you can’t blame them for that!’

All the air left the room. A hook had been sunk through Ginny's stomach and was dragging her back under water. It'd been so hard to fight her way to the surface, it'd almost destroyed her.

Harry killed children.

Ginny sank right under, her body flooded before there was even a chance to scream.

'He...wouldn...'

Hermione’s expression shadowed. 'And yet he did'

'You're...wrong. M—mistaken is all. I'll…ask him—'

'Do you really think that's safe?'

'Are you…kidding me? It's Ha—rry... Harry!'

'He's not acting like himself. Something is wrong. Surely you can see—'

'That's—that's not true—'

'I wouldn't lie to you Ginny,’ Hermione wept. ‘He's my friend too. And there’s more. There’s so much more. Fitz has been in his ear and it’s just—argh,’ she made a high frustrated sound. She reached out taking Ginny’s hand. ‘You’re just going to have to trust me on this ok? At least for now. He can't be allowed to do this. No one else will stop him. It has to be us.'

Ginny stared at her perplexed. Nothing she was saying made any sense. ‘Why does...matter...talking to Fitz? I thought you... like him.'

'I did,’ Hermione’s grip tightened. ‘But—he's not what I thought he was. He's dangerous.'

'He kept in touch...with Harry when he was sick. That...more than I c—can say for most.' She glared at her friend pointedly.

'I know.' She dropped her head. 'I know I haven't been around as much but—‘

'There's…no excuse I'm interested in hearing...Hermione.'

Hermione released her hand stepping back. Her expression reserved and a little defeated. 'Just be on your guard around him is all. Him and the rest of the Equalisers. They deal in such absolutes. It's an alarming way to think.'

Ginny dropped back into her bed. Her headache was worsening by the second. It felt like someone had reached in and was gripping onto her brain. They started to squeeze-

'Hermione...I'm too tired to...care about that.'

'Just keep an eye on Harry is all I'm saying—'

'W—what exactly...do you think I've been d—doing all these years?'

Hermione sucked in a shaking breath. 'Ron will too ok.'

'What are...you going to do?'

'I'm going to find the Horcrux. And I'm going to destroy it.'

'H—harry—'

'You can't tell him.'

'Why...not?'

'Because Voldemort always had a link to Harry in the past. Whatever Harry knows, he'll know too.'

Ginny winced as a red hot poker stabbed through her brain. Hermione rushed forward, her hands clawing at her shoulder. Ginny looked up, meeting her gaze. The pain in her skull intensified to an almost audible throb. Ginny winced her thoughts mincing, exploding into stardust.

‘Y—o—u need time lost... him.'

Hermione froze. 'What?'

Ginny shook her head.

You need to save him. 

‘Y—ou in...nrg to s—save chair.'

The words weren't coming right. Hermione stood slowly, her hands shaking.

'Ginny. Ginny, what's wrong?'

You need to save him!

'You is boot...frock—f—f—frock- frock!'

Ginny felt her hands clamp, her body starting to shake. Black spots exploded through her vision and her jaw clenched. Her world twisted and she was falling. Falling down, down, down, deep inside herself.

'Help!' Hermione was screaming. 'We need help in here!'

But Ginny was already far away. She snapped from the tether holding her inside herself, her being ruptured and she burst up—her mind careening around the room. She pinged off the lamp fixtures, the windows, the walls like fractured light until she finally slowed coming to a stop.

There she floated from the ceiling looking down. A small woman with flaming hair covered in bruises shook, convulsing. Another woman was racing for the door, ripping it open. Her shrieks filled the space and Ginny winced. A group of people wearing white coats raced into the room. They surrounded the shaking girl in seconds, pressing her back, wands whipping over her writhing form. 

The other girl was cowering next to the bed, her hands tearing at her wild mane.

'I'm sorry Ginny,' she was sobbing. 'I'm so sorry. But I'm going to fix it ok.'

Suddenly a black haired man was barging inside, he froze upon seeing the mess of meat that was his wife shaking in the bed. He teetered on his heels swaying like a reed. The brunette grabbed his arm in an attempt to steady him. It was as if he'd been electrocuted and he spun around tearing himself free. Now seeing who it was, his face carved into one of absolute fury. Before she could stop him he was gripping her shoulders and shaking her roughly.

'You upset her! This was you!'

'No—I didn't mean to—'

'Get out,' he shoved her and she fell back against the door.

'Harry—'

'GET OUT!' he roared. 'DON'T YOU EVER COME NEAR HER AGAIN OR I'LL KILL YOU!'

The tawny woman was cowering by the door. It swung open and she raced through it disappearing into the throng of people outside. The black haired man had fallen into a heap on the floor. He watched the Healer work his arms tightening around his chest. He was shuddering, his body going into shock. Practically vibrating with a mix of fear and fury. Then he looked skyward and Ginny could have sworn he saw her there.

'Come back,' he whispered. 'Please come back. Don't leave me here alone.'

~

The next few months passed in a haze of recovery.

Rehabilitation to help her walk again, her wobbling form straining against the role it was designed to play. She was clumsy, her limbs moving like stiff rubber as she effectively dragged her feet across the room. Over and over and over. Months were she struggled against her own extremities that locked and twitched and clamped. She was subjected to Numerous brain scans and treatments to get her synapses firing as they should. Her words still got confused on occasion and it took her a few seconds to process what anyone said and then a few more to reply. But the empty awkward space between was shortening so she took that as progress.

Headaches were now a constant part of her day. Ginny felt like there was a miniature man with a hammer constantly banging away inside her skull. She and Harry liked to joke that they'd traded though his laughter never truly reached his eyes. She was regaining all her sensory functions but it was painfully slow.

Her intellect, however, would never be what it was, there had been frankly too much damage. The Healers warned her she might experience periods of short term memory loss that would lead to confusion. She would suffer through forgetfulness and impaired thinking that could hinder her judgement. In short she was incredibly vulnerable.

It was nothing, she supposed, compared with the hardest truth she had to swallow from the confines of that bed. She would never have children, the torture simply too malignant for her reproductive organs to sustain life. It was a heavy blow that even now she had difficulty processing.

After they found out she'd cried for a week before Harry carried her from her bed to the roof of St Mungo's. There he'd conjured a small sofa that he lay her upon. She couldn't say how long they stared up at the stars floating away into that infinite abyss while tangled together under a thick blanket. It wasn't until the sun's first rays tickled the buildings with a pink and purple haze that Ginny found the words that had so far been clogged in her throat.

'You always wanted a family Harry. I can't—I can't give you that anymore.'

Harry's arm tightened around her and he leaned forward laying a soft kiss on her nose, wiping away the tears that stained her cheeks.

'I have one. It's us Ginny. Just us. We're all we need.'

'Are you sure?'

'I'm sure. You and me ok?'

'Ok.'

They hadn't spoken of it again after that.

Like with Harry, some days were better than others. She'd wake and feel like her old self, ready to take on the world. Others she'd feel dazed from the moment her eyes cracked open, her thoughts would muddle together leaving her bewildered and unsure. She'd be midway through talking to someone and forget that they were even there. Her eyes would unfocus and on occasion she even felt like there was something creeping in the corners of her vision.

Harry was there through it all. Holding her arm as she carefully hauled her legs across the sickly yellow tiles. Waiting patiently while she processed the updates he told her every day, keeping her connected to the world. He'd taken to reading to her after she'd admitted how Percy used to do that whenever a particularly bad thunderstorm forced her scurrying from her bed. She'd curl up at the end of his and he'd read to her until she drifted back to the land of nod. So Harry read to her every night as they lay entwined in her hospital bed. He'd twirl his fingers through her hair, his voice softly whispering a thousand and one fantastical tales that might drag her out of this mortal coil to grant her respite from her own misery. Ginny could not go home, so neither did Harry. He'd stroke her cheek and keep her calm when she'd experience bouts of turbulent disorientation. If ever she became too overwhelmed and flustered he'd shrink into the corner of the room, his presence comforting even when she could not bare to have him close. 

Hermione was wrong, Ginny decided. There was nothing wrong with Harry, in fact he only got better. His eyes were clear, his crooked smile guiding her through recovery. His hands were sturdy as they feathered over her skin. He slept through the night better than she did. He'd even started looking for a new home for them. One that would be secure, a place where she might feel safe again.

Her parents too became a regular fixture in the ward and her mother knew every Healer by name and half their life stories. Molly's favourite activity was coming in and fluffing up her pillows unnecessarily while her father sat in the corner reading loudly from the paper. He especially liked to regale them about the Equalisers and all of their exploits as if they were the second coming. They brought a bunch of cushions and blankets from home to cozy up the place and in time she began to even feel something close to okay.

It was a balmy day, the sky overhead muggy and thick with humid air when there came an unexpected commotion in the wizarding world. It also happened to be the day before she was to leave St Mungos. Almost five months after she'd been attacked.

As a result she was almost buzzing with energy when her friends and brothers showed up for their final visit. They'd arranged it a week ago and George even managed to sneak in a couple of bottles of Butterbeer. Ginny sipped on hers happily now, her fingers gripping the neck a little too tight, worried someone might come in and snatch it away at any moment.

Ron was standing by the window, his robed frame half blocking out the view. George meanwhile was sitting cross legged at the end of her bed. They'd been coming regularly but always managed to miss Harry's visits. She wasn't sure if it was an unfortunate coincidence or by design. They certainly never mentioned each other when she spoke with them.

'Hey little idiot,' George greeted her as per usual. 'How's the head?'

'Pretty shit to be honest,' she replied the same as always.

A vision of their first conversation after she'd regained lucidity floated before her eyes.

'Thanks George,' she'd whispered as he stood over her small broken form. 'For getting me out.'

'No worries Ginny,' he grinned. 'I suppose my years of practice sneaking around finally came to fruition. Mum and Dad will be so proud.'

She huffed out a breath as he pulled her into a tight hug. Ron's eyes however darkened at that.

'I'm only sorry we didn't get there sooner,' he muttered.

'Why... nevermind.'

'Why didn't we?' Ron swung around angrily.

'I'm sorry I didn't mean—'

Ron' eyes shot wide and George punched him in the shoulder. 'Tactless as ever. He's not angry with you Gin.'

'Bloody hell Ginny no!' Ron looked horrified with himself. This quickly melted back into anger, his eyes turning frosty. 'Robards and Kvothe locked us in the Burrow.' He appeared ready to spit fire. 'George was in his apartment in London and well—you know him. He had about six hidden ways out. They tried to keep him in but he managed to get free. Then he had to sneak into St Mungos and apparently that was almost as impossible to get into as Azkaban. But again—he's George—'he waved at his brother who saluted'—so he did. He found Harry and long story short they found you. Thank Merlin.'

He rubbed his shoulder absently, his face etched with betrayal. 'They didn't even bloody tell us right away. I only found out because I went into the office. Oscar pulled me aside and told me. Apparently he overhead Robards and Kvothe talking. They'd already had you for two days!'

Ginny felt sick. 'Really?' she croaked and George sunk onto the bed next to her.

'Really!' Ron was lost to his fury. 'I lost it, obviously, and the fuckers stunned me! When I woke up I was lying on the living room floor, a bunch of spells warding us in.'

George cracked his knuckles and Ginny flinched. 'The bastards.'

'You should have seen Tonks when she found out,' Ron shook his head. 'I swear she nearly killed Robards with words alone.'

'Good,' George barked. 'Obviously they decided the Boy Who Lived was more important than my sister.'

Ginny ducked her head. 'He is George.'

He whipped around so fast the bed creaked under him. 'No. No he's fucking not Gin,' he gripped her chin forcing her to look up. 'Don't you ever say that to me again or I'll put you in a headlock.'

'George, I'm in a hospital bed,' she smiled for the first time in an age. 'You can't put me in a headlock!'

He shrugged 'I can if you're being a git.'

That was months ago now. It'd been hard to fathom that the people she'd come to trust had been so willing to let her die. Harry should never have been traded, but it still felt like a betrayal. The shock that it was Vida who gave her up had taken weeks to process. But in truth Ginny could somewhat understand it where the others couldn't. Ginny was tortured for eight days and would have given them anything they'd asked at that point. Vida was with them for a month. She pushed the thought away, her mind reeling back into the now.

Then Neville arrived smelling a little too much like fertiliser for her taste having come straight from work as he’d done at least twice a week since her confinement. It'd taken him months to look her directly in the eye, as if he feared that same blank stare his parents shared after their torment.

'I can't believe they did this again.' He'd perched on the side of her bed so careful as if he thought she was made of glass. 'I'm only glad you're not...' he trailed off, evidently not able to finish the sentence.

Ginny didn't need him to. He'd be referring to his parents Frank and Alice Longbottom who'd been tortured into insanity by the Lestranges. It'd been impossible for her to understand what they suffered, how pain could shatter your mind before.

She did now.

'They're gone now,' she wrapped her fingers around his. 'They can't hurt anybody anymore.'

He shot her a sad smile. 'I know. I just wish they didn't get the chance—not even once.'

So did Ginny.

Her fingers curled around her stomach reflexively. She did that a lot these days.

Neville was in a significantly better mood today, all smiles and flashing teeth. 'You're finally out of here!' he grinned as he plopped a kiss on the top of her head. 'Thank Merlin for that. How are you on your legs?'

'Doing ok. I still can't run or anything but I can stand and walk on my own no problem.'

'Legs are very useful things I suppose. You forget that sometimes,' Luna mused.

She was crouched behind Ginny on the bed, her gentle fingers weaving through her hair. She'd brought in a bouquet of wildflowers and was proceeding to tangle them into Ginny's locks. The scent was a little overwhelming but it felt nice to have someone touch her. It'd been months where she only allowed Harry to press his skin to hers. Anything before that had brought it all back.

'Will you be going home soon Ginny? Luna asked. 'Shall I go and check for Nargles? They can take over pretty quickly if you're away.'

'No thanks Luna. Harry and I are moving. He's already started looking at places.'

'Oh that's good. You don't want to be stuck somewhere with bad memories. This will be good for you. A fresh start.'

Ginny nodded happily.

It was then she noticed the paper in George's hand. The front cover was take up by a large photograph featuring shouting faces, waving signs and a wave of witches and wizards running through the street. Tipping her head to the side to read it a tidal wave of flowers trickled down the strands of her hair.

'Oh! Sorry Luna.' She grabbed at them trying to halt their descent.

'That's ok Ginny. That was really pretty to watch actually.'

'What's that,' Ginny pointed to the images glossing the front page.

'Hmm?' George flipped it over. 'Ah you don't have to worry about that.'

'Yes but I just asked you-'

'Leave it Gin.'

She crossed her arms into a fierce knot across her chest and glared at him.

His mouth popped open. 'Well if it isn't the spirit of Molly Weasley.'

'Tell me,' she growled.

Ron was frowning, he and George exchanged a sideways glance.

Ginny snapped her head around. 'Neville?'

'Oh—err—well, you see—'

'Oh for the love of—will one of you tell me!'

'Hmm I think your hair might actually get redder when you're angry Ginny,' Luna chortled. 'Isn't that funny.'

'George I swear—'

'Fine,' he rolled his eyes. 'There was a big Equaliser protest. It got a bit out of control.'

'How so?'

'The Ministry tried to shut it down and I guess they didn't like that.'

Ginny was confused. 'Why would the Ministry shut it down?'

'Because they were protesting right through Whitehall.'

'So—'

George shot her a lopsided smirk. 'They were doing magic.'

'What!'

'Yep,' Ron said dryly. 'In front of all the muggles and everything. Firing off charms all down the street. Transfigured a bus into a roller coaster. Set off magical fireworks that turned into a tidal wave.'

'Ah yeah,' George chuckled. 'I made that. Not quite the intended use however.'

'A group of them were flying on broomsticks throwing propaganda all over the crowd. I heard they were levitating things and casting patronus...' His head cocked to the side. 'Patronuses? Patron-i? Either way not good.'

'They conjured birds and some of them managed to get to the Thames and they vanished Big Ben.' George waggled his brows. 'Apparently there was a witch riding a unicorn completely naked.'

'Mostly harmless,' Ron shrugged. 'But right in the view of muggles everywhere. I think they've had to bring in Obliviator's from across Europe to deal with all the sightings.'

'Woah. How can they even hide something like that?'

'They're putting it down as an arts festival where they used some kind of mirror trick to hide it. An exhibition making a statement about time or something. It's mad!'

'That's... extreme.'

'You're right about that,' Ron agreed. 'I was getting into it all with Hermione for a bit but it's not really my thing. I mean Dad thinks they're great but not sure how he'll react to this. It might be a bit much even for him. Plus I work for the Ministry and there's no doubt how they feel about the establishment.'

Ginny patted at the sheets drawn over her lower body. 'Hermione said they're dangerous. What do you think?'

'Well—I dunno to be honest. But doing magic in front of muggles is crazy. There were hags and giants out there too. They don't even care if anyone sees them—they want to be seen.

'I think whatever they're doing is going to change things,' Luna mused.

'We only just got back to normal,' Neville chewed his lip. 'I'm not sure I'm ready for this. It all feels too fast.'

'Harry's with them.' Luna asked and Ginny's stomach clenched. 'Isn't he?'

She watched Ron's lips tighten. 'Him and Fitz are pretty thick these days. I barely see him. He's just so angry at the D.M.L.E and wants to bring down the Ministry any way he can. He's furious that the BloodBorn were able to get so strong. I get it, I do. But I worry he's going down a road I can't follow.'

His eyes darted to the clock. 'Speaking of—he'll be here soon. We'll give you your privacy.'

'You know you could stay,' she began but they were all readying to leave.

Luna slid off the bed lifting an enormous coat over her shoulders. Her and Neville offered her a quick wave before slinking out the door.

Ginny’s eyes followed their departure. During Luna’s visits she’d started to notice Circe Scamander waiting patiently through the crack. Luna taking her waiting hand and together the two walked off. Every time.

Interesting.

No Circe today however.

'You know you could go to the Burrow for a bit,' George suggested, a bit too casually.

Ginny started turning back to face him. 'I'm not going to the Burrow George. How many times do I have to say it?'

She'd been having this fight with each of her family members since she'd started recovering enough to even consider leaving St Mungo's.

'Right ok,' he wiped his hand on his nose. 'Doors always open. See ya Gin.'

He swept out after the others.

'Hey Ron—wait up a moment.'

He'd just been about to follow but stalled, turning back. 'Yeah?'

'Did Hermione tell you—what she thinks?

His eyes darted down the hall and then he stepped back inside, closing it behind him.

'Yeah.'

'And?'

'I trust Hermione. I always will. We never would have gotten anywhere without her. Voldemort would still be alive,' he paused. 'Blimey—maybe he is. If the Horcrux is still out there, she'll find it. I'm helping any way I can but I was never great at this stuff. I'll fight whatever I have to if need be.' He smiled at her. 'But don't you worry about this Gin. You just focus on getting better ok?'

'I just want to go home.'

'It's safer for you in here.'

'Maybe. But I can't stay here forever. There's no point in living if I'm locked up.'

'Right,' he sighed. 'Well-'

The door opened and Harry walked in. His eyes snapped first to Ginny, full of warmth and love, then to Ron, where they hardened. In the months since she'd been recovering their relationship had become strained. A divide caused by what Ginny couldn't be quite sure. At first they'd been working together to take down the BloodBorn and it seemed to be going well. Then something must have happened but whenever she asked about it they both told her not to worry—to focus on recovering. She couldn't help thinking it had something to do with Hermione and her little mission but Harry's eyes darkened whenever she said that name so she'd stopped.

'Ron,' he nodded.

'Harry, good to see you mate.' He shook his hand but it was awkward. Too formal. Cold. 'Well,' he swung on the balls of his feet. 'I was just heading off so—see ya Gin.'

As soon as he was gone the air in the room softened and Harry turned to her eyes sparkling.

'So,' he smiled wide. 'Ready to get out of here?'

Chapter Text

2002

'I think this is the one Harry,' Ginny beamed.

'You really think so?' His arms wrapped around her waist, his chin resting on the top of her head.

They were standing by the most beautiful lake she'd ever seen. The glimmering waters stretched so far a cool hazy mist hung low over the horizon. It was lined by dense forest, the old oaks looming like ancient sentinels around its edges.

'I am,' she swung around to face him. 'Are you sure we can afford this?'

Harry smirked. 'Yes Ginny. We're incredibly rich, didn't you know?'

'Hmm, how marvellous. I’ve never been rich before.'

Harry snuggled into her, his eyes capturing hers. 'I think it'll be great for us here. A fresh start.'

Ginny sucked in a breath full of the scent of wildflowers, freshly mown grass and Harry. It was the closest she'd been to peace in—well in longer than she could recall.

'Maybe we could do something for James here. I think he'd like it.'

His eyes tightened. ''I think you're right,' he lifted a hand pointing behind her. 'Just over there by that old oak.'

She turned and felt her heart clench. It was a secluded spot, a plethora of flowers bursting through the grass.

'It's perfect.'

'Our life is going to be perfect,' Harry whispered in her ear. 'We're going to get better and be safe. No more nightmares, no pain, no nothing. Just us.'

'Just us.'

Harry lifted her hand intertwining their fingers. The sun tickled her skin and for a moment Ginny thought she saw a woven thread shimmer against her wrist. She pulled it closer, twisting it that way and this but it was gone. Just a trick of the light.

His other hand curled around her waist skimming over her stomach and Ginny sunk further into his embrace. She lifted her hand and curled it around his neck, drawing a line down his skin. Harry shuddered.

'We'll take it,' he shouted over his shoulder.

'Oh that's great,' the agent began to hurry over. 'Shall I—'

'Later,' Harry barked. 'I'll come by the office and sign all the paperwork. Now get off my land!'

'Um... right ok.' Thoroughly dismissed the agent took out their want and disapparated. 

'Harry,' Ginny broke down in giggles. 'That was so rude.'

'I know.' But he was already sidling them back towards a nearby tree. He swung her around and Ginny felt the bark press against her back and Harry leaned down his lips finding hers. 'But I intend to take my wife for the first time in months and I’m not much of an exhibitionist.'

'Right here?'

She met his gaze and there was burning hunger simmering behind those emerald greens. He lifted a brow. 'Don't you like it?'

'I love it.'

He dove into the curve of her neck, his lips warm against her skin. 'Then right bloody here.'

She surrendered to his kisses, letting her head roll back as his mouth roamed over her throat. They'd been staying at Fitz's house for the last several days and hadn't been afforded much privacy whilst there. His house was certainly large but of modern design, incredibly open plan and Ginny had been content to take it slow. Find solace as Harry held her in a bed that was large enough to house them both. In a room that didn't smell of hospitals or make her feel like an invalid. She knew Harry wanted her, and could feel as much when he awoke each morning stretching his limbs over her body. But she hadn't been ready then. She was now.

She sighed as his hands found their way across her stomach, under the swell of her breasts, down the sides of her hips. A gust of wind billowed around them, setting the hem of Ginny's dress fluttering. She'd opted for a light summer frock peppered with flowers in the hopes of manifesting a home that sang of spring reawakening. The fabric clung to her frame, a thin sliver that meant she could feel every touch as if it were skin to skin.

Harrys' mouth was hot on hers and she could feel how tentative he was. Cautious. Careful. As if she might shatter under his hands. She crushed herself against him, inviting him, urging him to claim. To take. She didn't want soft. She wanted him unyielding. Without restraint.

He chuckled at the change in her demeanour. 'We should be gentle. You're still-'

'No,' she breathed into his chest. 'I don't want gentle. I want you.'

Her fingers dug into his shoulders, gripping him to her. His hand hiked her leg up and his fingers danced slowly over her skin, circling the freckles that peppered her inner thigh.

'I know every one of these,' he murmured. 'I know your body better than I know my own.'

His fingers were drawing lazy lines moving higher with each sideways stroke and she shivered at the sensation. Meanwhile she curled her hands around his neck gently touching her lips to his throat, his collar, his chest.

It'd been so long since they touched it each like this both seemed merely content to reacquaint with the other. A silent worshiping of the body that stood before them. Ginny's hand swept through Harry's hair curling the long ends in her fingers. She cupped his jaw with one hand and leant forward to kiss along the other side. He shuddered at the touch of her mouth on him but did not move. His eyes fluttered shut and he sighed in a way that expressed how deeply content he was in that moment. He was still being too soft, too careful. She growled into his mouth tugging at his robes.

There was a shade of barely tapped desperation that radiated off their skin as their mouths folded together with crushing force. She wanted him to unleash. Grabbing his hand she pressed it against her breasts, then lower guiding the other under her skirt. She moaned into him and a ragged pant exploded from his lips.

'You're not making this easy,' he growled.

'It was never easy between us,' she purred. 'Don't start now.'

Then she gripped him by the balls and he jerked into her.

'Ginny-'

'I'm yours Chosen One.'

His hands became urgent as they explored her curves, a lust filled whirlwind sucking her into the storm. He pushed her back, pressing her against the tree and she smirked up at him.

'You belong to me,' he slowly traced the line of her jaw. 'This face, this body, this mind. No one touches it but me.'

'Yes.'

'You're mine.'

'Yours,' she let her hands slide up his neck, cupping his cheeks.

'I'm going to keep you safe. Im going to-'

'Then fucking do it!'

They locked together in a frenzied tangle of limbs and he kicked her leg out dragging a hand over the swell of her underwear. He moaned into her lips at the drenched fabric he found. Their mouths smashed together all the while, his hands tugging at her hair. They were crushed together to the point of pain yet still she wanted to be closer. Couldn't stand to even breathe the air he did not.

Harry's length was a swollen bulge beneath his pants and he rolled against her, pressing himself over the heat of her desire. Her body answered, her hips tilting so their pelvises mashed together in that most perfect way. Ginny had never felt need like this. It was almost animalistic in its intensity. A surrendering to her base self that only wanted to kiss and lick and suck and fuck. To feel him inside her pumping her without fear of hurting her. She wanted to be taken hard. Fast.

'Harry-'

She ran her hands over his shoulders craving the friction like a drug. Maybe he was. She filled herself up with him. His taste, his touch, his scent. He was everywhere and everything and she was nothing. Nothing but need. She was almost clawing at him too, her nails scraping around his robes. Without thinking she tucked them up around his collar dragging it loose. He let go of her for a fraction of a second to let it fall puddling like a black stain on the green grass. Then he pounced again, but it wasn't enough.

'No,' she moaned. 'More.'

She tore at his shirt, the buttons popping free as she ripped it down the middle. He chuckled but she crushed her mouth against his, her hands slithering over his now bare chest. She snapped her eyes shut, all the better to feel him, his hard muscular frame setting the heartbeat below her stomach ablaze. It stuttered an off beat rhythm, building into a dull throb. She could feel the wet slide as her thighs rubbed together. Every particle in her being answers to him, finding home in the spaces between his.

The energy between them shifted, a static electricity scuttling across their skin. Suddenly Harry's hands were tight around her waist, his lips ramming against hers. She met him with equal zeal, her hands getting lost on the bend of his shoulders. He lifted her and she was spun before he gently lay her down in the long summer grass. It crushed under her body forming a small cocoon where he joined her.

Harry quickly waved his wand so the grass wouldn't itch or irritate their skin and Ginny smiled at his thoughtfulness. She was immediately entangled in his arms again as they embraced like two speeding trains destined for collision. His hot breath coated her skin as his mouth made its way down her neck, over her jaw. With one hand he pushed her back into the grass and she complied, widening her legs, welcoming him home.

He settled himself above her, the weight of him comforting and secure. They lay like that for what felt like an age, their bodies interlacing as their lips lashed to the point of bruising. She was drenched in him. His hands, his eyes, his skin. They held her like a fierce wind curling around her, forming a thick blanket of safety.

'Harry,' she moaned into his lips and he sat back panting heavily.

He propped himself on one arm staring down at her. His fingers traced a line down her front settling on the buttons of her dress. One by one he slowly popped them free, eventually sliding the soft material away. She wore a thin bra of white lace and he sucked in a breath, his hands gently feathering over it. She sat up and he slid the straps free, they tapered down her arms and then the top half of her dress pooled around her waist. Then his hands curled around her back and her bra unclasped under experts hands. She shucked it off and lay back letting the grass swathe her from underneath.

Harry was above her again, his mouth trailing over her neck, down her chest. She scrabbled at his pants, her fingers getting lost in the fabric.

'Need you.'

Harry took over quickly unzipping, his considerable length springing loose. She immediately took his cock in hand and he groaned into her lips. He hiked up her skirt, gathering it about her waist. He scrunched it up in one hand and and entered her, using the dress like an anchor as he slid out, then in.

Ginny softly mewed at the sensation and Harry's eyes burst with colour. His fingers scraped along her inner thigh as he lighted her leg over his shoulder. She felt him slide to the depths of her core and cried out, her voice cracking. He jerked her through the grass, dragging her body to meet his and he sank even deeper then. Ginny tipped her head back, arching into the powerful length that sent shockwaves of pleasure down her spine.

He leant forward coating her skin in a layer of kisses one hand palming at her breast, flicking at the nipple until it rolled into a hard nub beneath his touch. The other was sliding up and down her leg as he started to pump her, rocking his hips into a steady rhythm. His cock slid in and out of her heat transforming her blood into pure molten lava. He buried his face in her throat, his sweet kisses tearing at her skin. His hand swept up the curve of her neck, landing at the base of her skull twisting through her hair.

He tugged on it and she jerked, her mouth popping wide as pleasure and pain mingled into something completely new. He swallowed her sounds with his mouth, his body crashed against hers. She was sliding across the ground from the force of his thrusts and she tipped her head back with a fiery smile stretching her face. She laughed, a sound of pure joy as the pleasure enveloped her, lifting her high above herself. It was to be separated from all that she was and made into this one moment.

Her and Harry together as they were always meant to be.

He dropped back onto his haunches lifting her with him, pulling her onto his lap and she cried out as he sank so much deeper than before. Then she was riding him, her body undulating without thought. Her own name fluttered away leaving only his.

'Harry,' she moaned again and again and again. 

Harry lay beneath her his hands locked at her hips, his mouth wide as he panted, the muscles in his neck writhing under his skin. He tightened his grip, cushing his body to Ginny's. He met her with wild fury, pumping, driving, his cock buried to the point of aching. They were locked. Skin to skin. Their sweat blurring, their bodies clenching as release wove it's way through the roots of their being. They were both lost to the feeling, their echoed pants and grunts the only sound bursting through the summer day. The sun shone down burning a blazing heat against her back and Ginny was surrounded by it.

Harry was kicking his hips into her and she felt every inch of him. Desire wrapped around her like an old friend tapping at the throbbing hunger, so tender and raw. It was nipping at her senses urging her to move faster, to seek that sweet oblivion. She grabbed his hand and brought it round working the sensitive nub between her legs

'Yes,' he groaned. 'Use me. Use me.'

She did, his fingers quickening against her, her body coiling like a spring ready to burst free. Her mouth was hot and full of Harry's skin as she wove her lips over the curves of his face locking at last on his with crushing need. Their tongues lashed together almost sloppily as they lost themselves to desire. Their bodies slapping in an almost embarrassing way that made her want him even more.

And then it started to rain. A thin misting at first coating their writhing bodies in a wet film. Then getting harder. Fat drops streaming down her skin, soaking their hair. The ground churning beneath them, grass turning to mud. They barely even felt it.

They might have tunneled their way through the blackened ruin but today they set it all ablaze once more. It burned through them like an unstoppable force, the sound a deafening roar that filled her ears. Ginny felt her body start to shift, the tingling sensation below her naval stretching, ballooning, making space. It tore through her curling up her spine, twisting through her nerve endings. Behind them Ginny watched an old oak catch fire, exploding into flaming tendrils. Her magic had been held at bay for so long evidently it found freedom now. She jerked in shock and Harry bellowed into her neck. He didn't even notice as he groaned and grunted beneath her.

'I love you Ginny,' he growled.

'I know. I know. Oh god-'

'Fuck yes. Say it.'

'Yours. Yours.'

'Yes.'

Ginny bit his shoulder and he cried out. He was reaching his end, she could tell by the twitches and shakes in his muscles. The rain kept falling bleeding over their locked forms. Then he gripped her face, drawing her to look at him. Their gaze sealed and the fire claimed them.

Ginny cried out, her mind shattering into a thousand tiny pieces. One, two, three more pumps and Harry followed her into bliss as her heat clenched around his.

They fell back into the grass, completely spent their heart thundering together as they slowly found their way back to now. Harry slid in and out a few more times gently riding them through release before falling in a heap beside her. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and Ginny snuggled into his embrace.

Her dress was a ruined mess around her waist where Harry had seemingly shredded it. They were both covered in mud, their hair slick to their skin. With a smirk he waved his wand and the mud vanished, the material back together. Another wave and a dome-like barrier formed above them. Heat engulfed them, the ground drying beneath them. She curled into him, her eyes quickly fluttering shut.

'I love you Ginny,' he whispered into her hair. 'I will always love you.'

'I know.' She sighed contentedly. 'I know.'

~

'Harry—Harry have you seen my wand?' Ginny had been looking for it for the last hour and still couldn't find it.

'I'm not sure Ginny!' Harry called from the other room.

'Ah bugger. Can you help me look—oh,' she rounded the corner entering the hall to find Harry and Fitz at the fireplace. 'You're heading out?'

'Fitz and I have another Equaliser rally.'

'Hello Ginny,' Fitz offered a quick bow and she waved in return a tight smile lighting her lips.

They were both dressed in black, the Equaliser wheel pinned to their robes. It was a sight she'd become accustomed to since they'd moved into the Manor.

Potter Manor as everyone called it.

Harry was right in the thick of the movement and spent his days alternating between supporting their cause or hunting down the BloodBorn. According to him their were only a few factions remaining as a result of their efforts. Ginny had been scared to ask for clarification of what those efforts entailed. 

Harry killed children.

She brushed off Hermione's words. She'd been wrong. She was wrong. Yet, an irritating thought nagged at the back of her mind, why haven't you asked him?

But then, there are always moments when we choose to bury our heads in the sand rather than blindly seek what might cut out our hearts.

'But what about the one the other day?' she asked slowly. 'I thought you were told by the Ministry you couldn't anymore?'

There'd been another mass event, this time at a muggle Football game. A group of Veela had run onto the field and bewitched half the fans with their song and dance. The whole thing had been televised and therefore seen throughout Europe. That alone might have been easy to cover up if not for the 100 witches and wizards who apparated in as the song ended. They just stood there in pure white paint—to signify a blank canvas—for a total of three minutes before raising their wands skywards collectively making it rain shooting stars. After that they merely apparated out. Enough time for every muggle in the stands to record what they'd seen and post it online.

Harry and Fitz had laughed about it for days afterwards though they'd sworn neither of them stood in the crowd. The Ministry meanwhile had a field day and banned the movement from congregating ever again, threatening two years in Azkaban for anyone found shirking the decree.

'We were,' Harry shot her a crooked smile. 'But when has that ever stopped me before?'

She worried her lip, her finger tapping at her leg. 'I suppose not. You're really into this aren't you?'

'I am. It's the next phase of the wizarding world Gin,' he beamed. 'We could really make a difference here.'

'Right,' she nodded.

'You don't believe in us?' Fitz asked, his head cocking to the side.

'What?' Harry shot back shocked. 'Of course she does-'

'No,' he shook his head. 'You can see it in her eyes.'

'I do!' Ginny hurried to Harry's side shooting Fitz a dark look. 'I'm so happy you're this passionate about something. I just worry-'

'I know you do,' Harry murmured gently. 'But you needn't fear. We're in control now. Whether the Ministry realises it or not.'

'Harry-' Fitz was frowning at him.

They exchanged a look that made Ginny's stomach clench. Harry was hiding something from her. It wouldn't be hard. She never left the house and they didn't get the Daily Prophet anymore because Harry worried it would upset her. It'd been months since she'd seen anyone but Harry, Fitz and a few of their colleagues.

'Ok,' she said, wrapping her fingers around Harry's arm. 'I'll come with you. It might be fun.'

Harry pulled away, refusing to meet her eye. 'Sorry Gin but the Healers said it's too soon for you.'

Her eyes darted to the window, noting the dark edge as day melted into night. Another twinge of discomfort shot up her spine. It felt like there was someone whispering in her ear.

Not right. It said. Not right.

'There's a rally this late?' she asked. 

They exchanged a look. 'It's a meeting for the leaders.'

'You're... what?'

'Harry is going to change the world Ginny,' Fitz smiled and there was something almost beatific in the way he looked at her husband.

'Right. You won't get in trouble-'

'No one ever led a revolution without getting in a little trouble,' Fitz waggled his brows.

He squeezed Ginny's arm playfully and she fought the urge to recoil. She liked Fitz, why did she suddenly feel so distrustful of him?

'What exactly does that mean?'

Fitz smiled at her condescendingly. 'It's for the greater good. Surely you can see that?'

Ginny tipped her head to the side-/for the greater good—where had she heard that before?

They continued to pack their bags, tucking papers and painted signs into several rucksacks. Harry lifted his wand and they floated into the fireplace bursting into green flame. Ginny caught the Equaliser slogan etched into bright red ink.

Equality for all!
Out of the shadows and into the light. Together.

'What exactly are you hoping to achieve with all this?'

'Isn't it obvious,' Fitz chuckled. 'We're coming out of hiding.'

'You mean, end the Statute of Secrecy? Can you do that?' It was all Ginny had ever known, the thought was too heady to even properly contemplate.

'It was always the plan.'

'But what does that even mean? And what about the people who don't want to come out of hiding? We don't really know how the muggles will react-'

'So many questions,' Fitz crossed his arms, appearing somewhat bemused.

'Well—what happens then?'

'If they don't get in line,' he shrugged. 'I suppose we'll have to motivate them.'

Ginny felt sick. She'd heard that sentiment before. 'Motivate them?'

'Oh you know,' Fitz waved her off. 

'I don't know actually,' she dropped a hand to her hip. 'What do you mean?'

He rolled his eyes, turning to offer her his full attention for the first time in months. Normally he acted like she was part of the wallpaper. 'We can create an order that can not be denied. The time is coming either way. It is up to you to decide if you will sit in the background. Voldemort stole your youth. Let all that fighting be worth something—we can take this world and shape it into something better. They will need guidance at first of course. Change like this must be made. They will not listen otherwise.'

Ginny felt all the air leave her lungs in one quick woosh. She swayed on her feet. 'You wish... to start another war?'

'No,' he shook his head looking exasperated. 'I want to finish all wars. There will never be another war ever again. Not for muggles. Not for wizards. We are building utopia my friend.'

'Utopia is an imagined state. It can never be real.' Ginny was fighting the shock that his words rattled through her bones. 'Real life is too chaotic.'

Fitz and Harry smirked at each other. 'For now.'

'For now? I don't understand. It sounds like you're saying you're going to force people-'

'Freedom like this does not come without a cost,' Fitz cut her off.

Ginny swung around. 'Harry you can't really be considering this?'

'Fitz you’re talking to Ginny like she’s a fool. She is no fool,' his eyes flashed. He rubbed his fingers across his temple. 'Ginny you must understand that this is the only way to defeat the BloodBorn and their ilk for good? There will always be those resistant to change.'

’Their ilk?’

’The purebloods.’

’Harry,’ she frowned. ‘I’m a pureblood.’

’Yes but you’re different,’ he explained. ‘You married me.’

She baulked. 'What does that even mean? You cannot-'

'Progress will not be stopped,’ he cut her off. ‘You're either leading the charge or dragging by its coattails. I know where I'd rather be.'

Ginny was struck dumb, her lips chewing at the words locked in her throat. It was like watching her husband be battered down into a lump of clay and then moulded into something else. Her hand twitched and Harry's eyes, attuned to her slightest movement, snapped to attention.

'Enough.' He stepped forward pecking her on the cheek. 'You can come to the next meeting perhaps. I'll tell you all about it when I get home ok?'

There was a definite note of finality to his tone.

'Oh,’ Ginny wilted. ‘Ok.'

They stepped through the green flame leaving her standing there in the Great Hall. Ginny didn't even have two seconds to process how quickly she'd been dismissed before they were gone. And then she was standing in the hall like a ghostly apparition.

Completely alone.

Chapter Text

2003

~

January

'Harry I love our new home. I feel so settled here.'

'I'm so glad Ginny. We're going to be safe. Happy.'

~

February

'Harry do you think maybe we could have Ron and Hermione around next week? They haven't even seen the house yet.'

'You know how I feel about Hermione. I'll ask Ron but he'll probably be busy.'

~

March

'Harry can I go out today?'

'No Ginny. You should stay in. It's still too soon.'

~

April

'Harry did you take my wand?'

'It's just for your own protection. You get confused sometimes.'

~

May

'Harry who are all these people that come around? You never introduce me-'

'They're just some of the Equalisers. You know Fitz.'

'Yes but—

'Don't worry about it Ginny. You just focus on getting better.'

~

June

'Harry I tried to use the Floo the other day-

'Why would you do that?'

'Well because—

'You shouldn't do that. It's a good thing I cut them off.'

'You did what?'

'It's for your own protection Ginny. Trust me.'

~

July

'Harry have you heard from my family? I've been trying to write to them but they're not getting back to me.'

'Hmm. No I haven't. Maybe they're simply too busy. That's not very nice of them.’

'No. I thought they'd want to reach out more.'

'I'm sorry Ginny.'

~

August

'Harry I feel like I'm suffocating in here- I'd really like to go see Luna. Maybe even Neville?'

'Ginny it's not safe out there. I'm sorry I can't protect you outside these walls.'

~

September

'Harry I'd really like my wand back. Just for simple spells and things- I feel like my magic is—

'Ginny we've talked about this. Please don't bring this up again.'

~

October

'Harry what if—

'Ginny I swear if you don't stop this—

~

November

'Harry—

'NO!'

~

December

There was a storm on the horizon. Ginny could feel it all day like a soft whisper at the back of her neck. It sent the hairs on her skin rising, an electric current sitting like fluttering bees in her stomach. Clouds swept over the sky. Blue became grey. Grey became black. Eventually it was so dark they started lighting lanterns throughout the property. The servants scurrying about to shutter the windows against the winds that picked up as day became night.

A cool frost swept through the Manor chilling the inhabitants and Ginny couldn't help but feel that something was off. Harry arrived home with the first crack of lightning. She sucked in a deep breath, she'd been preparing for this all day. He sauntered into the room, his long black hair fluttering as wind tunnelled it's way through the cracks in the shutters. Her eyes roamed over him, checking the lock of his jaw, the set of his shoulders trying to gauge his mood. She'd tried this once before and it hadn't gone well.

He lay a kiss on her lips and she leaned into it curling her arms around his waist. He chuckled into her hair before releasing her. He crossed to his desk sorting through the plethora of papers piled there.

It's not like Ginny didn't try to fight, it was merely hard. Her thoughts were slower now and Harry used the silence to pad his argument while she lumbered uselessly as hers fell to pieces. At first she'd thought, maybe this month, maybe this month it'll be different. Maybe this month she'd be strong enough to win. She didn't. Then she thought well maybe this week, maybe this week I'll just tell him no. Maybe this week he'll listen. He never did. Then it was today, today was the day she'd do what she wanted consequences be damned. But then she was afraid.

Every time she'd stand by that door staring into the great big world her feet would falter. A lashing pain would slice through her memory and she'd be on the ground again. Right back in that terrible place with BloodBorn looming over her writhing form. Screaming.

Now she counted the seconds, each one rolling past either too slow or too fast. Time got twisted up elongating and shrinking as she sat there staring up at the clock as if it were a newfound enemy. Laughing at her pathetic yet diligent watch. As if this second she'd be the woman she used to know. This second she'd find the way back to who and what she was. Not this useless mass that stumbled and fumbled easier than a bird might take flight.

Ginny sucked in a deep breath squaring her shoulders. 'Harry, I'd like to visit my family.'

'Would you,' he said. It was not a question.

She felt her stomach drop. 'Yes. So I need my wand.'

He nodded, not speaking.

'Harry did you hear me?'

'I heard you.'

He still did not look up. A freckle of fury zipped up her spine. It was comforting to know her anger was still there, if not very deep down.

'Then give me my wand.'

He cocked his head to the side. 'Why?'

'I... I just told you,' she spluttered. 'Harry don't do that—'

'Do what?'

'I will—'

'You'll what?' He looked amused now. 'What will you do exactly?'

Ginny bristled. 'Stop this.'

'Stop what?'

'That!' She stabbed her hand in his direction. 'I asked you for my wand. I want to visit my family.'

He sighed deeply, running a hand through his hair. 'You really want to do this?'

'Yes I really want to see my Mum and Dad. It's been ages. It Christmas—'

He shook his head, 'I meant fight.'

'Why would we fight?'

He dropped his head going back to sorting through his papers. As if she were a mere puff of vapour, an irritant that he might swipe away. 'The answer is no.'

'No?'

'No.'

'Harry—what? No to your bloody no!'

His eyes met hers, hard and simmering. 'I'm not giving you your wand Ginny.'

She fought the desire to slap him, it hadn't gotten her anywhere in the past. 'You have no right—'

'I have every right!' he suddenly yelled, banging his hands on the desk. 'I am your husband. I am the keeper of this house—of you.'

He strode out of the room, his robes billowing behind and Ginny hurried to keep up.

'You are not my fucking keeper Harry Potter—'

'Am I not? Then who pays for your clothes and your bed and your home?' he sneered over his shoulder. 'Who keeps you safe—'

'You think locking me in here keeps me safe?'

He kept walking, striding into the Great Hall.

'You don't fucking walk away from me!' she shrieked, losing all control.

The servants had frozen and were watching awkwardly from where they stood. Upon noticing them Harry's face curved in anger.

'EVERYBODY OUT!'

Ginny almost flinched at the loudness of his voice but managed to stop herself just in time. Something like fear crept up her spine as another crack of lightning lit up the room. It cast Harry's face momentarily in shadow and she could have sworn his eyes gleamed red.

'I can't stay here...'

It was then she saw a copy of the Daily Prophet on the floor, it'd fallen out of his pocket in his mad dash to be away from her. He went to snatch it away but it was too late, she'd already seen the cover.

Ministry Attacked!
Bombing sparks fears of all out war. Eight confirmed dead. Head of Auror’s, Gawain Robards amongst slain. Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt in critical condition…

Her eyes snapped up catching the look on Harry’s face.

'Harry was that—did you do that?'

He shot her a withering look, as if to say 'obviously'

She took a step back.

'Ginny stop—'

'No Harry. This is—this is wrong. This isn't you.'

He crossed his arms over his chest glaring at her. 'This is me. This is who I've always been meant to be. My whole life has been preparing me for this,' his eyes sparkled maniacally. 'We're going to change the world.'

Ginny was struggling to comprehend and it slowed her ability to think. 'Y-you're trying to control people. You can't do that. You can't force people—'

'Why not? If they are wrong and I am right—'

'How can you be so sure?' she cut back. 'The world isn't that black and white!'

'It could be. You just need to trust me—'

'Trust you. Trust you?'

'Yes.'

It was her turn to glare at him, her heart thundering painfully in her chest.

'Harry I know what you've been doing.'

He froze a deathly quiet shrouding the hall. Ginny felt the shadows elongate, spilling further into the room. She stifled her breathing, crushing her hands into fists to stop them trembling.

His head tipped to the side and he edged towards her. 'And what have I been doing?'

She took another inadvertent step back. He mirrored her moving closer.

'You've been—you and the Equalisers have been using your influence to attack the BloodBorn. Hermione said—'

'Oh yes, tell me what Hermione

'Harry!'

'She almost killed you!'

'Did you kill children?' she snapped. 'Did you?'

His eyes darted to the floor and she felt her throat catch, chest heaving.

'That's a lie,' he said.

'Is it?' She couldn't help the wobble that entered her voice.

He stood before her, head bowed, fingers opening and closing into fists. 'So what if it's not?' he hissed. 'They deserved it.'

Ginny was crying now, hot tears staining her cheeks. She couldn't recall when the first one fell but suddenly she was drenched in them. All she could think of was James, her own baby stolen from her. Now Harry—

She sobbed. 'This is wrong. You know this! This is murder—'

‘I don’t see it that way.’

‘Then tell me how exactly you see it! How can you possibly justify it—‘

‘Future fascists.’

‘Are you—you can’t be serious!

’I have never been more serious. I will stamp out our enemies once and for all—‘

’They will come for you. They will all come for you!’

He threw his head back and laughed. 'You think you know everything? They could try. You have no idea of my power.'

'That's because you don't tell me anything! You keep me locked in this house—'

'I keep you safe—'

She was visibly shaking now. 'You keep me caged. It is not the same thing!'

He stalked over to his hands gripping her shoulders. Harry's fingers were latched around her shoulders hard enough to bruise. She lifted her arms trying to tear herself free but he wouldn't let go.

'I promised to protect you. That was my promise.'

'Then why are you doing this?'

He shoved her backwards and she stumbled banging into the wall.

'Why are you hurting people?'

'Because change is coming. Change is coming and I am going to be the one to bring about the dawn! My new empire—'

'Your what!’ she spluttered, a wave of sickness rocking through her. ‘What are you saying?'

He lifted to full height towering over her, radiating the same energy as an untapped ravenous beast. It was all Ginny could do not to cower before him.

'I'm saying that I am the mighty hammer that falls,' he growled. 'I am the power that should be feared. No one will ever hurt us. No one will ever touch you—or me—ever again.'

She wanted to retreat but she was frozen beneath his gaze, as if he were Perseus wielding Medusa's decapitated head and she were but mere stone.

'Harry stop—please I can't—stop this before it's too late.'

He chuckled darkly. 'It's already too late Ginny. It's done.'

'No! No you can't go against the BloodBorn and the Ministry. They'll kill you—'

'They could try. The Ministry is a faculty built for tyrannical fools,' he moved away and finally she could breathe again. 'They don’t deserve to be in control. How many times did you think I was going to let them endanger the people I love with their stupidity? Did you not think I was going to fight back!'

'You sound like Voldemort!'

'Well maybe he was right!'

Ginny felt the floor collapse under her feet, she swayed her legs close to giving out. 'What—what did you just say?'

Harry leered at her. 'I said maybe Voldemort was right. He sought to create a world where our kind could be free. We’re trapped Ginny. Hiding behind old walls we forged in the Middle Ages! This isn't right. We can not stop now. If there are those who can't see past their own foolish noses that's their fault.'

'So what? We kill them? We just kill anyone who disagrees with us?'

'We motivate them. If they should choose not to follow then that is their choice is it not?'

'It is not a choice when the alternative is death!' Ginny shrieked, losing all reason. 'I can't believe what I'm hearing. This is evil!'

He withdrew the smothering intensity curling back inside him. 'There is no good and evil. There is only power... and those too weak to seek it.'

'Harry this isn't you. Hermione was right—the Horcrux.'

He barked out a laugh. 'The Horcruxes? They are gone.'

There was something about the way he said it, the way he refused to meet her eyes.

'No! The one in Nagini remains! You're letting Voldemort twist your mind.'

His lip curled and his neck twitched violently. When he looked at her again his eyes weren't green. Nor where they black. They were red. A bright crimson colour that did not fade.

Ginny did fall then, her legs completely gave out and then she was on the floor her ragged breath punctuated by rain as it lashed the window behind her.

'Oh my god it's in you-'

'What's me?' he smiled.

'The Horcrux,' she croaked. 'It's in you. You were the closest thing to the blast—'

'The Horcruxes were destroyed.'

'No.' She snapped her hands against her temple, desperately clawing at her skull. 'I'm so stupid. I'm so fucking stupid. How did I not see?'

'Ginny. Stop this.'

She looked up to find him standing above her again. 'Harry we need to get it out of you. It's warping your mind.'

'My mind has never been clearer.'

'What!' she jumped up, edging away from him. 'You're sick. Let me help you—'

She went to grab his arm but he ripped it away with a hiss.

'If you are not with me you are against me!' he shrieked.

'Harry no—'

'You would betray me too? You would cut out what makes me strong.'

Ginny choked. 'You know?'

'Of course I know,' he barked. 'I've known for some time now.'

'Harry please. Let me get Hermione and Ron—‘

'No.'

'Harry—'

'No Ginny.'

'Please Harry,' she whimpered, feeling her throat catch. 'You're breaking my heart.'

He stormed over to her with wraithlike speed.'YOU BROKE MINE FIRST!'

A terrible cry burst from her throat and she clutched her chest. It felt like she was being torn apart. 'Stop.'

'You forget that I have seen your heart, and it is mine,' he blared. 'Mine!’

Her hands were pressed against his chest and she could feel his heart beating just as wildly as hers.

'I'm leaving.'

'No. You're not.'

'You can't make me stay here.'

She strode forward heading for the exit. He got there quicker and blocked the door with a hand.

'Harry stop it.'

'No,' his eyes flashed. 'You're mine. You promised. You promised!'

'Harry you're scaring me.'

'Good. You should be scared,' he gripped her by the neck, his eyes like screaming knives. 'You should be terrified. Because that's what you're doing to me.'

She seethed, anger rising like a fist. She kicked out, her boot slamming into his shin. He buckled, doubling over and falling back, leaving the way free. She darted forward racing for the door—so close.

A hand looped through her shirt tearing her back. She fell, her back hitting the floor with a horrible wallop. Pain laced through her spine and she gasped winded. She rolled on the ground readying to get up again but something heavy pushed her back down.

Harry was on top of her. He was crushing her. Fingers looped around her throat. Tightening. She couldn't breathe. He was choking her. His eyes caught hers. She would have screamed if she could. There was nothing familiar in those eyes, just menacing fury. Wild anger. A vain throbbed at his forehead, his mouth curved in an angry snarl. She kicked again, lodging her knee between his legs. He yelped, falling back, rolling over the floor.

Her body moved sluggishly, her throat stinging from where his hands held too tight. Ginny lurched drunkenly for the door. Harry's foot struck her in the back of the knee, her leg gave out and she went crashing back down. He was on her in seconds, her face flat against the carpet.

She kicked back her head and it collided with a crack. She had two seconds to slither away but he grabbed her bringing her back down. She rolled over ready to fight and scratch and claw. His hand snatched her wrists and slammed them to the ground, locking her in place.

'Mine,' he hissed. 'Mine.'

Ginny turned away trying to scream. He slammed a hand over her mouth. She could feel him kissing her throat, her lips. He was tearing at her shirt, palming at her body. She felt her skirt lift.

No.

He was tugging at her clothes.

No.

His hands were on her body. His lips were hot, bruising her mouth. 

No.

She wanted to scream. To shout. Help. She needed help. There was no one to help her. There was only Ginny.

Only Ginny. Ginny the powerful witch. Her eyes snapped shut, her hands flattening against the floor. She felt him against her. He was going to ra- she couldn't even think it. Right here in their hallway. In their home.

Anger exploded through her. A silent scream burst from her throat and the room shattered. Harry flew backwards slamming against the wall. She could feel him trying to move, trying to fight. Her fist snapped closed and the pressure increased, locking him in place. She rolled over, pulling her skirt down. With a deep shuddering breath she stood.

The mirror on the wall, the mirror they'd hung together, revealed just what he'd done. There was a cut on her eyebrow. Her mouth was red and swollen. Around her neck bruises were already beginning to show. Purple, yellow stains. Marks of his betrayal. She turned, slowly, her chest was heaving from the magic, from the wild adrenaline scorching through her veins. Harry lay against the wall where she'd thrown him. His eyes were wide and full of confused fear. The red was gone but it didn't matter.

Ginny was shaking, her hands betraying her fear. She closed them into fists.

'What the fuck is wrong with you!' she cried.

A sob cracked through her chest and she felt warm tears flow down her cheeks.

'I'm leaving you Harry Potter. You need help. But I can't—I can't do this anymore.'

Harry's face crumpled. For a moment he looked like that confused boy she'd married. The one who swore to protect her from everything and everyone. Everything apart from himself it would seem.

He crawled forward until he was on his knees. 'I don't know what happened. Ginny please. He went to grab her skirt but she ripped it away.

'Don't you fucking touch me!' she shrieked. 'You will—you will never touch me, ever again!'

'Please Ginny. Please I don't know what's wrong—I think there's something wrong with me!'

'Oh you think do you? You just tried to—'

She couldn't say the word. Wouldn't say it. Not in this place that should have been safe. A place where they would always be together. Her hand snapped across her mouth as she shuddered with heartache. A terrible cry exploded from her either way. There was nothing strong enough to block this hurt. It cleaved it's way down her throat filling her with stinging knives, Harry was sobbing now. He fell against the wall, his body shaking and clapped his palms over his eyes.

'I don't know why I would do that? Why would I do that? Not to you. Not to anybody.'

'You need help Harry. Get some help. I'm leaving.'

'You can't leave me. You can't.'

'Too fucking bad.'

She swung around and bolted out the door. A wild storm greeted her, the rain pelting down, the wind ripping at her hair. It was freezing cold, shards of ice slicing across her cheeks, her boots sliding in the churned up grass. Her lungs heaved as she tried to swallow the frigid air but it stabbed at her throat. She didn't have a wand, she didn't have anything but the shredded clothes on her back. That and her name. Ginny Fucking Weasely.

Nothing could keep her here. Not even him.

Ginny raced through the gardens aiming for the road, she'd find someone to help her get away. That or she'd just keep running until her legs gave out. Her tears mingled with the rain, half blinding her as she tore through the old Oaks, passed the lake and on her way to freedom.

That's when she came crashing into a solid invisible wall. She smacked into it. Hard.

Her face cracked, her head snapping back as she ricocheted off the invisible shield. Dropping to the ground she groaned, mud coating her hands and face. She croaked looking up to find a figure cloaked in black stalking towards her.

No.

Rolling over she leapt to her feet refusing to be taken on the ground. Lightning cracked all around them lighting up Harry from behind. His black tendrils stuck to his face like leeches, his cold pale hands reaching for her. She scuttled back as far as she could go, the shield strong and immovable behind her. A clear barrier tauntingly cruel.

'Did you... did you ward me in here?'

He slowed to a stop, refusing to speak.

'Harry Potter you let me go.'

'I can't do that Ginny.'

'Harry. Give me back my wand!'

'No.' He took a deep calming breath, his chest moving in tandem with the rumbling thunder. 'You're not going out. Not ever.'

Ginny gaped at him. 'What—what did you just say?'

'It's safe here. I protect you. Here. You don't leave.'

'You just fucking attacked me!' she screamed.

She lifted her fists. Sure she might not have a wand but she was the youngest child in a family of six boys. They'd taught her how to fight before she could walk.

'I'm sorry,' Harry squared his shoulders. 'I got carried away.'

Now it was her turn to laugh. 'You got carried away? You got carried away?'

'I stopped.'

'You stopped because I made you!'

A crack of thunder tore through the sky a deep rumbling that sounded like a giant clearing its throat. White light tangled and twisted like static veins carving the sky into shattered chunks of empty black space. Harry reached for her but she slid out of his touch, recoiling from it.

'Don't you fucking touch me!'

He flinched and her traitorous heart went out to him.

No.

She wouldn't do that.

It might shatter her to pieces but—after what he'd done? No.

'Harry I'm begging you. Don't do this.'

'I told you. I am not made for losing you. I cannot survive it.'

'You are killing me.'

'I love you. I can not breathe without you near! Do you hear me? I love you—'

'This love is crushing!'

He said nothing. Then, 'it is all I have. I cannot let it go. You are asking me to give up myself.'

'I'm not asking you bastard! Let me out. Let me out!' she banged uselessly at the ward behind her. It bubbled, the luminescent sliver billowing like silk. But it did not break.

Harry meanwhile had never looked more tormented. His face creased, shattering beneath her words. Realisation and denial like twin horrors digging their way through his features, scarring the face she knew until only a stranger stared back.

'You say that like I could cut the sun from the sky. As if it were that easy!'

'I'm sorry Harry. But this—this is over.'

Harry's face was splotched red. There were three red lines on his cheek where she'd scratched him.

'I'm sorry too,' he sighed. 'But I can't let you do that.'

He raised his wand, so quick she didn't have time to respond. There was nothing she could have done anyway.

Obliviate.

The magic swelled, a beam of bright blue slicing through the air. She watched it fly towards her, a glimmering bead marking the end of who and what she was. A free woman. He was going to make her forget. There was nothing she could do.

Her heart shattered.

The spell hit her in the chest and she felt it bloom like a flower tangling through the weeds. A cool rush of water bleeding over her skin, clouding her mind.

Remember.

A fog tangled through her brain. Burrowing into her memories. Carving, cutting, burning away. She felt it happen, completely powerless to stop it. She swayed, exhaustion creeping over her.

Remember.

Harry rushed to her side. She felt him lift his wand, muttering spells over the injuries on her forehead, her neck. He was hiding the evidence. Getting rid of what he'd done.

'We go together,' he murmured. 'Always. It's us.'

Remember.

But it was too late.

Ginny blinked.

Chapter Text

2004 - 2005

Time loses meaning faster than you might think. As the days became weeks Ginny noticed more and more chunks of time were missing. It was so similar to her first year she became fearful Tom Riddle had weaselled his way back into her mind. That's when Harry started giving her Euphoria, to keep her calm. In the beginning this bothered her. It made her sluggish and complacent. Then he gave her more. It was hard to feel much of anything after that.

At some point she stopped fighting. Her bones solidified and she stopped moving too. The wheels churning inside her mind rusted, cranking to a slow and undeniable halt.

Then she was nothing. An empty shell.

She wandered the halls, the grounds. She found her way to the lake, floating in its cool waters even as snow began to fall. It was a lonely existence. So much so that she'd taken to sitting outside Harry's office above the vent listening to the voices softly echo through the floor like phantom whispers. It was not always easy to keep track of the conversations, but for some reason she felt a light flutter of need to keep coming back. As if it would be important some day.

There were a number of voices today, muffled as they rattled through the wall.

'Harry what you are doing is wrong-'

This voice was angry. 

'And what you did is right?'

Harry meanwhile sounded amused. 

'Dumbledore told me you needed to live. He told me to keep you alive—whatever it took.'

Kingsley, Ginny realised.

'So you blindly listened to him?' Harry scoffed.

'And you did not?'

'I don't anymore. And I don't want anything to do with the Ministry either.'

'Harry I am sorry about Ginny—'

'Do not say her name to me,' Harry cut him off. 'Don't you fucking dare. Not if you value your life.'

'Are you in the habit of making threats now? What would your father say to that?'

Harry burst into laughter. 'He doesn't say much seeing as he's dead. The same can be said for my mother. Their friends. My friends. My son.'

The last word sent a tingle of sadness up her spine.

'Harry—'

'I'm done listening to you,' Harry spat. 'To any of you.'

'You can not defy the Ministry,' Kingsley half shouted. 'And don't think I haven't heard what you're trying with MACUSA.'

'What have you heard then?' Harry drawled. 

'That you are inciting war. That you are trying to start another one!'

There was a loud bang, as if someone had slammed his fist on the desk. 'The war never ended, Kingsley. It merely evolved. Progress will not be stopped. You're either leading the charge or dragging by its coattails. I know where I'd rather be.'

A long silence.

'You have made your choice then. I suppose I shall have to make mine. I wanted more for you, Harry Potter.'

'Then perhaps you shouldn't have lied to me. Locked me up. I was just a tool to you—to all of you. Another weapon to use and throw away once you were done. I don't think any of you expected me to live,' Harry laughed without humour. 'I think me still being here is going to be a big fucking problem for you.'

There was the sound of the door opening. Ginny stiffened wondering briefly if she should make herself scarce.

'Ah Harry my boy. Kingsley. I am glad to see you recovered.'

A new voice, one she knew well by now. Lincoln Fitz. 

'You would greet me as if you are not the cause of all this?' Kingsely seethed.

'What a compliment. I am hardly the catalyst. Surely the Wizarding World can only blame itself.'

'Fitz you have twisted him.'

'Change is not evil Shacklebolt,' Fitz chortled. 'Those who fear change however...'

'I see there is no understanding to be had here then.'

'Good,' Harry remarked. 'You finally see us as we are.

'The speeding avalanche, ready to wipe the slate clean?' Fitz offered. 

'You promise the end of everything?' Kingsley croaked.

'No. Only a new beginning,' Harry finished. 

There was the sound of someone storming out, the door being slammed.

'Did you have something to say?' Harry asked.

Ginny only had a brief second to wonder who else was in the room before someone spoke and her blood ran cold.

'Harry, where's Ginny?' Tonks asked quietly. 'I'd like to see her.'

Evidently she'd remained silent until this point. Ginny sat frozen, her arms locked around her legs where she was curled up on the ground. Inside she was screaming.

In here! In here!

'She's not feeling well,' Harry said without inflection.

'All the same I'd—'

'No.'

'No?'

'No.'

'Harry—'Ginny could tell she was trying to regulate her tone. Even so, a note of desperation hung low in her words'—Molly is worried sick. She hasn't seen or heard from her daughter in a year!'

'I'm not talking about this with you,' Harry huffed. 'I send Molly enough updates.'

'But she wants to see to Ginny. To talk to her.'

Ginny was on her feet before she realised she'd moved. She stood poised before the door, teetering on her heels. Her hand however hovered uselessly over the door handle.

Open the door, Ginny thought. Just open it.

But her hand did not move.

'I'm sorry Tonks I told you she's not well. Maybe next time.'

'Harry—'

'I'll see you out.'

'I'm not leaving without seeing her.'

'Guards!'

The door banged open and many feet shuffled into the room.

She heard Tonks sigh—a sad and empty sound. 'So this is how it's going to be?'

'Escort my guest out,' he said ignoring her.

'Harry please think of what Remus would say!'

'Lupin is dead. My wife is still alive. Forgive me if I don't take your advice. Now get her out of my sight.'

There was a struggle. Shouting.

And then she was gone.

~

Rain was pelting the window outside marking the window with curling silver streaks.

Fitz sat across from her, his body slumped by the fire. There'd been a fight she thought—though she couldn't recall what it was about.

'You want to know why I do all of this?' he asked.

There was a large graze on his forehead, his shirt was torn down the front. Harry was raging in the room next door though she couldn't make out his words.

Fitz ignored him pouring an ample serving of amber liquid into a small tumbler. He threw it back, swallowing it down in one before pouring another. Ginny would have liked one too but she lacked the ability to ask.

'I was engaged to be married once,' he murmured. 'She was the love of my life. We grew up together and she was—god she was pure gold.' He swirled the glass watching its contents spin. 'I didn't tell her what I was at first, not 'til about a week until the wedding. Perhaps that's my fault.' He tipped his head back and sighed. 'She was actually so excited about magic. Absolutely chuffed at the idea of marrying a wizard. I don't know how I got so lucky.’ A long silence. ‘But she was human—so fucking gloriosly human. And what do humans do?' He turned to look at her. 'They share.'

Ginny's fingers curled through the dress she was wearing, it was finer than she was used to. A solid green that made her skin crawl. Not so much as the look Fitz was giving her now though. As if he wanted to hug her and kill her all at once.

'She told her friend.' He lifted a finger. 'One fucking friend. That's it.'

He stood abruptly, throwing the tumbler into the fireplace. It exploded, the glass shattering on impact, tiny beads scattering over the floor like broken diamonds. Ginny didn't even flinch as he crossed the small space to lean over her chair. He locked his fingers around either side of her armrests, his eyes alarmingly close to her own.

Still she did not move.

'They took her memories,' he huffed. 'Everything that was me. I don't know what's worse—looking in the face of someone you love and them not know you or being dead? Felt the same to be honest.' He pressed his forehead against hers. 'What Harry's done, I'm sorry for it Ginny. I never meant for this to happen. But for change I need him and he—he needs you.' He stepped back angling towards the door. 'I know it doesn't make it right,' he chuckled darkly. 'I'm not such a fool as all that. Once things settle down it'll be like it was for you. I'm sure of it. But then—we all have to make sacrifices don't we.'

He went to leave and Ginny somehow found her voice.

'Is it possible to love someone and hate them just as much? Because I think that's how I feel.'

His brow softened and for a moment she could see the reason everybody loved Lincoln Fitz. When he saw you, it was like being lit from behind. The sun finally touched your skin.

'I suppose I wouldn't know,' he said slowly. 'But I've always thought you can't truly hate someone unless you've loved them.'

Ginny stood, her feet inching carefully towards him. She watched him suck in a breath as she approached and could have sworn he stopped entirely once she was standing directly in front of him.

'She looked like you, you know,' he whispered. 'Red hair just like this.'

He lifted a hand delicately sliding a strand through fingers. Her eyes roamed over his face trying to find the truth there. All she'd ever known was the condescending visionary who'd apparently sacrificed her for his cause along with Merlin knew what else. How small he seemed up close. He likewise watched her, staring into her blank and empty eyes.

'I think I did this,' he said at last. As if whispering a silent confession. 'I certainly didn't mean to. I think I made the monster.'

Ginny smiled. She opened the door without acknowledging him. Only as it began to swing shut did she turn, catching his eyes. 'We all did.'

~

'The BloodBorn are moving,' Fitz was saying.

'How do you know?' Harry asked.

There was a small reception of what might be considered the strangest assortment of people congregated in the main hall by the fire. Harry and Fitz were not all that surprising. Safira was a little strange. Then there was Oscar. And the oddest of them all—Neville Longbottom.

Emerald green smoke emitted through the room indicating they'd only just arrived by Floo. She fought the urge to race across the room and fling herself into the dying flames. Her hands commenced sweating straightaway and she ducked back, managing not to be seen by a hair. Crouching she peeked around the corner, her eyes darting over those gathered. A crow on the watch.

'There was a sighting out by Bath,' Safira was saying, her voice low. 'It looks like they're planning a meeting between their leaders. I've got it on good authority Lucius Malfoy will be there. The Carrows too.'

Harry swore.

'How those bastards managed to slip through we'll never know,' Safira growled. 'Smith swore he saw them die but then I suppose he must have been cursed or a spy.'

'There's a few of your old school friends too,' Fitz said quietly. 

'Who?'

'Pansy Parkinson. Marcus Flint. Adrian Pucey. Terence Higgs. Theodore Nott. Blaise Zabini. A few others but not worth mentioning. And Draco Malfoy of course.'

'That fucker,' Neville spat. Ginny didn't think she'd ever heard him swear before. 'I thought he changed sides during the final battle?'

'Perhaps he is working against them?' Oscar offered. 'But his father is their leader. It's possible he did not have a choice.'

'There is always a choice,' Harry crossed his arms. 'Always.'

Ginny wanted to hit him.

'That is not necessarily true,' Fitz patted his shoulder. 

'I don't really care,' Harry shrugged him off and Fitz paled. 'We can't make our next move with them still hanging around. The old families have too much influence.'

'What next move is this?' Safira asked. 

'You will know it when it happens,' Harry grinned, his eyes snapping to Fitz.

'And when you say deal with...?' Neville worried his lip.

'There is no need for them anymore,' Fitz cut in, glaring at him. 'Deal with the BloodBorn. I want them cut out of Britain. After that we go after the rest.'

'The rest?'

Harry shot him a withering look. 'The old families have proven they can not be trusted.'

'Harry—'

'Neville you are either with me or against me. We hesitated too many times. We were merciful. We were forgiving. They were not.' 

'What will you do with them?'

'Educate those we can,' Fitz frowned. 'Imprison those we can't. Kill those who become a threat.'

Neville's eyes shot wide. 'That seems a bit extreme.'

'Are you questioning me?' Harry rounded on him.

'No! I only think—'

'Don't think Neville,' Harry sneered. 'It isn't your strong suit.'

Ginny watched his head droop, his shoulder curling inwards. 'Right. Ok, we'll go then.'

He and Safira made to leave.

'Oh and Safira,' Harry called after her. 'Find out which side Malfoy is really on. He could be of use to us.'

They disappeared in a waft of smoke. Then there were only three.

'Fitz will you give me and Oscar a moment alone?'

'Of course,' Fitz smiled knowingly and swept out the open doors, his feet carrying him out into the grounds.

Oscar shuffled uncomfortably scratching at the back of his neck.

'I don't think I ever thanked you for alerting Ron when Ginny was taken,' Harry said softly. It was a tone he used often now. The tune a shifting spider web waiting to catch you unawares. 'Others would not have been so brave.'

With those words Oscar visibly relaxed. He smiled. 'I only did what I thought was right.'

'I heard they sacked you for it?'

He lowered his head. 'Yes.'

Harry turned to face the grounds, his hands twisting behind his back. 'The Ministry is not what it was. We need change.' He paused. 'You believe in our cause don't you Oscar?'

This was another thing he did now, saying someone's name over and over.

'Yes of course,' Oscar replied. 'What they tried with Circe—'

'That's good,' Harry cut him off. 'I see a place for you here Oscar. You could be part of all this. Change.'

He nodded his black hair shining in the light. 'I'd like that.'

Another pause. 'Oscar I'd like you to prove your loyalty.'

'Err—'

'Ron can not be trusted,' Harry went on as if he hadn't spoken. 'I need you to keep an eye on him. Him and Hermione. They are working to undermine our efforts, you see.'

Oscar's head tipped to the side. 'But—why would they do that?'

'They are confused. They don't have the same vision as you or I. They think we can win this war without spilling blood. What do you think?'

'They're wrong,' he said without hesitating. 'But—I like Ron.'

This made sense. They'd been partnered together as Aurors after completing their training. It was likely why Oscar disobeyed his orders and told Ron about Ginny before he was meant to.

'As do I,' Harry gripped him by the shoulder. 'That's why I need a friend watching out for them. Someone discreet. You can do that for me, can't you?' He steered him towards the fireplace, his hands lacing over him like a snake.

'Um. Ok,' Oscar said. 'If that's what you wish.'

'It is. Thank you Oscar. I knew I could rely on you.'

The wizard turned around to say goodbye and froze. His eyes fixed on Ginny's face where she crouched in the hall. She lifted a hand, his brow furrowed. 

Help, she mouthed. 

There was an explosion of green and he was gone.

~

'So what's our next attack?' Fitz asked excitedly.

'Well we could always blow up Parliament,' Giuseppe offered.

Callisto scoffed. 'What is with you and blowing things up? I'm starting to become concerned.' She spoke with what could only be described as a Louisiana twang.

'You're only starting—'Giles muttered. His accent was decidedly clipped by comparison—'My god woman pay attention. The man's positively pyro.'

Ginny was listening at the vent again. Inside was what Fitz had started to refer to as 'the Inner Circle' essentially the leaders of the Equaliser movement. Harry, Callisto, Guiseppe, Giles and Fitz.

'You'll forgive me if I don't care,' Giuseppe sneered. 'They used to hunt my kind for sport.'

'And mine for much worse,' Callisto growled. 'Have your ancestors ever been nailed to a wall like some kind of sick trophy? No? Then shut up.'

‘No but our teeth adorne some of the finest pure blood jewellery. Would you like to make this a competition?’

‘Boy don’t you test me, I could sing you to your grave.’

‘Boy? I’ve lived three of your puny lifetimes, have some respect. Oh and Vampires can’t drown—we don’t breathe. So you might want to rethink that one.’ He clicked his teeth. ‘Sei stupido.’

‘What did you call me!’

Bene I joke, I joke. Relax, you love me.’

'Come, come,' Fitz cut in. 'The only way is forward. If we continue to hang onto the past we'll never see our vision come to fruition.'

'I could lead another charge at Whitehall,' Giuseppe put forward.

'Because you handled that so well,' Callisto snickered.

'I've been alive a long time, Callisto. Would you like me to show you just what these hands can do?

Giles sighed. 'I'd rather not fight.'

'Then what exactly are you doing here?'

'Isn't it obvious?' he laughed. 'Adding some much needed class.'

'All of you shut up,' Fitz scowled. 'You're thoroughly pissing me off.'

Someone snorted but they didn't speak again.

'Harry you know these people,' Fitz urged. 'How do we make them listen?'

There was a long pause.

'Hogwarts.'

'The school?'

'It is a symbol,' Harry murmured. 'We take Hogwarts, we take the next generation. We hold their children, they can not fight us.'

'I like it,' Fitz said. 'Old becomes new. Would you have us destroy it?

'No. Just—just part of it. The Astronomy Tower.'

'Why there?'

'It was where Dumbledore died. Where Snape murdered him. After that everything changed.'

'I see. A message. Change is coming again.'

'Yes.'

Silence.

'I wouldn't mind dancing on that dicks grave,' Giuseppe blurted.

'What!'

'The bastard was Supreme Mugwump and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. Do you know how many laws he passed to the detriment of Vampires. I'd drain him dry if I could. Too bad he's a pile of old dust now. Perhaps I could dig him up and piss on him.'

'Harry was friends with him,' Fitz chided.

'No,' Harry cut in. 'Dumbledore lied to me. Just like they all did. He was no friend of mine. Do what you want with him.'

'Excellent.'

'Like I said,' Giles yawned. 'Zero class without me.'

'Don't be a prick.'

'Enough,' Harry barked and they all quieted. 'We only get one shot at this.'

'Of course Harry,' Callisto said softly. 'We did not mean to offend.'

'There are wards against Vampires there,' Giuseppe seemed to realise. 'I will not be able to enter.'

'We'll bring them all down,' Harry said confidently.

'How?' Fitz asked.

'I'll go see McGonagall. She'll let me in, if only to lecture me. The school will answer to her.'

'And she'll just do what you say?' Giles ventured sceptically.

'No. But there are ways to make her.'

'Right,' Fitz remarked. 'Once we've taken it, how do we hold it without wards?'

'I can raise new ones,' Harry drawled. 'That and we call on the creatures of the Forbidden Forest. They'll come to our aid.'

'The centaurs will join us?' Callisto asked.

'I'll speak with Firenze. He might be hesitant but I can make him understand. If not Bane will be more than happy to serve in this endeavour.’

Fitz clapped his hands together. 'Good man. Come Giles, we can start prepping the others.'

There was a loud crack and Ginny assumed they'd disapparated.

'Harry,' Callisto started slowly once they were gone.

'What?'

'There's some rumours,'

'Rumours?'

'Of a Black heir.'

'What?' Harry barked. 'Who?'

'We don't know,' Giles said quietly. 'Only that there are whispers that Regulus Black fathered a child before his death.'

There was a long silence.

'Interesting,' Harry said at last. 'How did you find out about this?'

'We followed two of the BloodBorn last night.' 'Flint and Pucey I think,' Callisto said.

'They were talking about it—apparently the Carrows are looking for them.'

'What do they want with them?'

'Well you know—the most ancient noble house of black,' Giles shrugged. 'They're wanting a face for the next generation of purebloods. The Blacks have always held great power both in magic and amongst the old families.'

'Regulus died to kill Voldemort,' Harry reasoned. 

'They don't care,' Giles sighed. 'If the child has noble blood—if they are pure—'

'What of Malfoy? Is he not the Black heir?'

'Looks like they're not happy with him. Not sure why.'

She could almost see Harry's smile in her mind's eye. 'I see.' Another pause then— 'There is no reason to create a threat where there isn't one. But keep an eye on it. If the Black heir so much as steps anymore near the BloodBorn they need to be taken out.'

'Of course.'

The door opened and Ginny had two seconds to stand and look lost. She came face to face with Giuseppe and Callisto who stared at her openly.

'Oh look, it's Harry's pet.'

Callisto slapped him around the back of the head.

'Ow! You can't tell me it's not weird.'

'You would question him?' she gripped him by the elbow dragging him away.

Ginny stood frozen listening to them talk about her like she wasn't even there.

'No. I suppose not. Either way she creeps me out.'

'Don't be cruel.'

'Cruel is that. What I'm doing is merely commenting on it.'

'Well. Harry says it's only temporary. She's sick.'

'If you say so. Come on, let's go. I need a drink and there's a delicious Irish dancer waiting for me. O Negative—at least that's what she says.'

~

'Harry Potter you let me see my daughter!'

Someone was shouting.

Ginny leapt out of bed scurrying to the windowsill. She peeked through it, her eyes immediately landing on five red heads out by the front gate. It was too far to make out their faces but she would have known them anywhere.

'Ginny!' Arthur bellowed.

'I can see her!' Molly shrieked. 'Let me in right now!'

'You can't be here Molly,' Harry barked back.

'The fuck I can't. You let me see her.'

'She isn't well.'

'All the more reason I should see her!'

'It's too upsetting for her. It's taken months for her to sleep through the night as it is. You need to stop this Molly.'

Harry stood like an ugly black stain against the thick wrought iron.

Her mother was visibly shaking. She raised a hand pointing a finger at Harry. 'I will never stop you hear me Harry Potter. I will never stop coming here—'

'Ginny chose this,' Harry cut her off. 'She chose me.'

'She didn't choose this life,' her dad said furiously. 'I know that. You know that. You can't keep our child from us Harry—'

'She is not a child. She is my wife!'

They all started shouting their voices carrying up the driveway. Then it went quiet. Ginny pressed her forehead against the glass longing to be closer to them.

'Then where were you?' Harry shouted suddenly and Ginny jumped. 'I went into hospital and you and Arthur promised me that you would take care of her! You told me she would be safe—that all I needed was to get better for her and my son. Where is my son now Molly? Where is he? How is my wife? She can barely remember her own name on a good day!'

Molly fell back and Arthur caught her. 'You can not blame me for that.'

'Why? Why can't I? You failed her. You. I will not make the same mistake.'

'Harry we love you—please stop this.'

'The people who love me tend to lead short lives Molly. I wouldn't recommend it.'

George stepped forward now. 'Is that a threat?'

'You stay away or I'll have you thrown off my property.'

'Harry Potter you wouldn't dare!'

'We're done. Come back and I can't promise I'll be so forgiving next time.'

~

There was a large group of people congregating by the back porch. She was ambling back from the lake, her dress soaked from when she'd jumped in. The cool rush of water was one of the few things that helped these days. Almost every waking moment she felt like she'd been struck by a rogue jynx that left her in a constant state of flux. Her skin tingled, her heart beat too fast. She'd take a step and find herself halfway across the room. She'd touch her fingers to the ground and wildflowers would spring from the earth. She'd start to cry and rain would fall soaking the ground. It was probably just another sign she was losing her mind.

For a moment Ginny thought she might be hallucinating—it'd been an age since she'd seen more than four people in a room at any given time. That was until one of them broke off calling her name.

'Ginny!' Circe scurried over away from the pack.

There was a long scar down the middle of her face, Ginny couldn't recall having seen it before. Her long black curls that billowed around a delicate heart shaped face as she hugged her. She was carelessly beautiful with sharp cheekbones, striking grey eyes and an air of casual elegance. Ginny blinked. There was an unspoken radiance to her that demanded attention wherever she went. Today she was dressed in a long black dress that was torn and tattered in places. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright. Her feet were bedecked in thigh high boots that tied all the way up and clicked when she walked. The last time Ginny saw her was when she'd caught a quick glance of her waiting outside her hospital room. She'd taken Luna's hand—

They'd been Aurors together for a time but Ginny first met her at Hogwarts. She'd been in the twins year, a Hufflepuff. They'd not really been friends but Ginny got the distinct sense there'd been something between her and George at some point. It didn't matter though. Circe had gone home for the summer in her seventh year and hadn't come back. She was just one of the first.

'Oh Ginny, you should have been at the rally today, it was—well there aren't words.'

'Mmm.'

'And Luna! You should have seen her! She is truly amazing. She wanted me to ask about you but then here you are! She said she's been trying to get in touch with you but hasn't had a response? Have you been getting her letters?'

Ginny stared behind her as the others all filed into the Hall.

'Ginny?' Circe pressed. 'Have you—did you hear me?'

Ginny twisted around to face her. She smiled and Circe's brow furrowed the scar on her face creasing.

'Is everything ok Ginny? You don't seem yourself.

Ginny merely stared at her, her thoughts zipping around uselessly in her head. The words never came, they got twisted in her tongue and clogged in her throat. Instead she smiled hoping that at least said—

'Yes. I'm fine.'

Circe only looked more concerned. Ginny lifted a hand tracing the thin line carving its way through her skin. It looked like a claw mark that cut through her brow, down her cheek ending at her jaw. It fizzled under her touch and Circe flinched.

'What—Ginny what was that?'

Ginny tipped her head to the side.

'Are you not—where's your wand Ginny?'

She grabbed Ginny's hands and hissed, dropping them immediately. It was like pressing your finger against a live wire—pure unfiltered electrical energy.

'Ginny you need an outlet for your magic,’ Circe hissed. ‘You can't bottle it up. It's dangerous-'

'Circe!'

'Oh, Harry—'

Her eyes shot wide as Harry appeared at the door.

'Come—the meeting has started.'

'Oh. Yes of course.'

Circe turned back to Ginny gripping her by the shoulder. 'I'll see you soon, ok.'

But she did not come back.

~

There were so many more. Sometimes all she could understand were brief proclamations. They clung to her like tiny interludes hanging in space. With each breath they filtered through her like dust particles. Each one precious yet without cause or reason.

'We've done it. We've taken Hogwarts!'

'My Lord—the Weasley's are here again. They're refusing to leave.'

'It's happening. The obliviators can't keep up with the sightings.'

'Malfoy's on the run. The BloodBorn have turned against him.'

'Ginny, we're almost there. We're going to change the world.'

'Harry! This is wrong, you have to stop!'

'Hermione has been sighted in Austria. She was heard asking about something called a Horcrux?'

'We've infiltrated muggle parliament and senate. We're ready.'

'My Lord I have reason to believe their is a spy in our midst.'

’My Lord, the weapon. It’s ready.

There were a hundred and one moments that flickered past like photographs in the wind. Hard to know in which order they were supposed to go. Ginny was there but not there, a side character in her own life.

At the end of each day Harry would curl himself around Ginny, his breath hot on her neck. His lips would trial a line down the back of her throat, his hand sliding under her slip to fold over the curve of her body. A tingle of something would zip up her spine, a steady heartbeat building in the lower parts of her. His hand would follow it as if he could hear her desire echoing silently for him. She'd groan into the sheets as his fingers found home gently fucking her to the point of shaking need—until she was a moaning mess writhing against him. Then he'd enter her and they'd ride through the want like it were the only thing tethering them to the earth. An ebb and flow of the unrelenting tide that held them tied to the deepest, darkest pit. Together they'd find release and it would be the only part of the day Ginny felt anything at all.

After that his arms would tighten around her stomach and he'd whisper into her ear again and again.

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

But the next day he'd do it again.

And again.

And again.

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

A broken record on repeat.

She only wished it were true.

Chapter Text

2006

'Ginny—Ginny wake up!'

'Wha—mum?' Ginny gazed blearily through the haze of sleep and her mothers worried face came into view. 'What are you doing here?'

'We're leaving Ginny,' she pulled her bodily from the bed. 'Now. Something's happened.'

Ginny rubbed her eyes, staring in shock at her mother. She couldn't recall the last time she'd seen her, it felt like months, maybe years. Time wasn't always easy to keep track of these days. Then suddenly she was here, standing in her bedroom—it didn't feel real. In truth Ginny had experienced this dream too many times to trust her eyes weren't playing tricks on her. Only her mothers fierce grasp on her arm twitched at her senses as if to say—here, she's really here. Still Ginny could not quite believe it.

Molly appeared frazzled, her face stained red, her hair sticking up at odd ends. She was dressed in plain muggle garb and heavy walking boots. Her eyes softened at the sight of Ginny and tears in her eyes. Her hands were sweeping up and down Ginny's arms as if to prove to herself she was actually there too.

'We need to get out of here before Harry gets back.' That's when her father materialised out of the darkness.

They were all standing in Harry and Ginny's bedroom without a speck of light which was odd. Usually she left a small lamp burning through the night to keep her company while Harry was away. Only a tiny bead glinting from the end of her mothers wand bathed them in a subtle glow. She blinked again both in an attempt to properly wake up and confirm they weren't mere apparitions after all.

'Harry what?' Her brain was ticking too dimly, having only just awoken.

'Harry attacked the Ministry,' her father said, his eyes hard. 'The muggle government and military too. We think there's probably more—they're everywhere. We need to go. Now.'

'Here put this on,' Molly shoved a coat over her shoulders. The next second she dropped to her knees cramming Ginny's feet in another pair of boots.

'What no—Harry wouldn't—'

'Ginny Weasley, we don't have time for this!' her mother cut in. Her voice was that same familiar stern tone she'd known since childhood—it carved a river of pain through her heart.

'Where have you been?' she asked blankly. 'I've been writing to you? Why haven't you come to see me?' She stepped away with one booted foot.

Molly gripped her by the ankle tugging her back. 'My darling we don't have time.'

'Stop—'

'Ginny please!'

'Just wait—'

They were softly slapping at each other in an attempt to get the upper hand. Ginny moved far too sluggishly however and her mother quickly won, resuming lacing the boots.

'He never sent them Ginny,' Arthur stated plainly. 'We never got any letters. We weren't allowed in to see you. He's been keeping you locked in. He's been keeping us out.'

That didn't make any sense, she'd put the letters on the Owl herself. He wouldn't intercept her mail like that—would he? Another angry freckle tickled at her gut and she squashed it.

'How did you get in here?' she asked.

'We knew the attack was coming—we knew he'd be at the forefront so used the opportunity to break through the wards,' Arthur explained at warp speed.

'We have to go. Now,' Molly hooked an arm through hers dragging her to the door. 'We can't disapparate from inside the house-'

'No,' Ginny dug in her heels. 'Harry wants me to stay. I have to stay.'

Arthur let out a low breath exchanging a look with Molly. 'She's clearly brainwashed—we need to stun her.'

'What no—Ron!'

Her brother raced through the door, shocking her almost as much as her parents. 'He's coming. I think we set off an alarm. We need to go. Now—'

'Oh I don't think you'll be going anywhere,' a quiet voice sliced through the room and everyone froze.

Ginny was slung behind Molly and Arthur, Ron rushing to their side—the three of them forming an immovable line between her and Harry. He materialised out of the darkness his arrival having made no sound whatsoever. He stared at them, a cold ferocity practically radiating off his skin. Ginny heard her mother's ragged breathing and watched her lift a shaking hand. She was clutching her wand so tightly the whites of her knuckles were showing.

'Harry Potter you get out of my way,' she barked. 'We're leaving.'

'You can leave,' he smirked. 'Ginny stays here.'

'I'm not leaving my daughter.'

His head cocked to the side, eyes sparkling in a way that was altogether dangerous. 'Then we have a problem. Don't we?'

A small sob exploded from Molly's throat and Ginny watched her fathers inch towards her offering his arm as comfort. He couldn't take her hand as he was holding his wand aloft also, but the mere touch of his skin seemed to embolden her. Molly's shoulders straightened and her hair vibrated as she stretched to full height.

'Harry,' she said quietly. 'What happened to you?'

A thought niggled at the back of Ginny's brain but she brushed it away. She was tired. Too tired for any of this. A creeping fear was slowly curling around her throat at the look in Harry's eyes. He was completely ignoring her family, his gaze latched on her squirrelled away behind them.

He lifted a hand. 'Ginny—come here love.'

Her eyes fluttered shut and she inhaled deeply, sucking in the scent of her parents. She wanted to wrap her arms around them and feel the weight of their hold—but there wasn't time. She settled for this instead, letting her lungs fill with the memory of them. Her eyes snapped open and she went to move but Mollys hand tightened around her arm.

'No,' she glared at Harry. 'You stay away from my daughter.'

'It's ok mum,' Ginny smiled trying to diffuse the tension. 'I have to stay with Harry.'

'No Ginny,' she implored, her eyes wide and glistening. 'You don't have to stay here.'

She took another step half stumbling when Molly refused to relinquish her arm. She was clutching the sleeve of her coat with a vice-like grip. Ginny tugged again, becoming annoyed.

'Let me go!'

Ginny felt a bubble of energy ripple through her gut. Her magic had been repressed for years and it was starting to feel hot. Like a barely tapped fountain, the pressure building to the point where it might rupture at any moment. It affected her moods making her lethargic one moment, fiery hot the next. Whatever it was must have shown on her face because her family was staring at her, aghast. A small whimper rattled from Molly and Ron gasped out loud.

'What the fu—'

'What did you do to her?' Arthur murmured with deathly quiet.

Harry's neck twitched, his muscles sliding under his skin. 'I have done nothing but take care of her.'

'LOOK AT HER!' he shouted and Ginny flinched.

Not once in her life had she ever heard her dad yell.

'LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE TO HER!' fury mottled his cheeks. 'She is empty! You—we trusted you! You were like our son! You stole our daughter and destroyed her!'

Harry's eyes flashed red and Ginny cringed. 'Stop—please stop,' she whispered, trying to shove her mother off. 'I don't want anyone to get hurt.'

Arthur rounded on her and there were tears streaming down his face. 'Ginny. Oh my Ginny—'

'SHE IS NOT YOUR GINNY!' Harry bellowed. 'SHE IS MINE! MINE!'

Their wands moved at the same time. Ginny felt the ripple of wind as the magic billowed, a heavy friction thickening the air.

Stupef—

AVADA KEDAVRA!

There was a flash of green light.

Ginny watched it happen in slow motion. There was no hesitation, the curse cast as if it were nothing. The sparks ballooned and twisted like writhing snakes, the colour bleeding over the carpet, the walls—bathing them in light. It shot forward tangling, burning, blasting through the air weaving like emerald threads of death. It smacked into her fathers chest and he froze, shock and horror carved into his features.

Arthur Weasley who taught her how to ride a broomstick when she was five years old. Arthur Weasley, who held her hand as she crossed into Platform 9 and 3/4 and then again when he walked her down the aisle on her wedding day. Arthur Weasley who had given her hand to the man that cut him down. His body fell back, the darkness engulfing him as he dropped like a sack of stones.

He did not move again.

Suddenly the room was both too loud and deathly silent. Molly was screaming, her mouth etched into a wide endless shriek of dismay and terror. She dove over her husband, her hands clawing at his shirt, trying to almost beat the life back into him. Ron was swaying on his feet, his mouth wide, opening and closing slowly with the words that were stuck in his throat.

Ginny hung in suspended animation, her eyes locked on the body on the floor—willing it to move. To get up. Ron evidently was just as taken aback as she. They might have feared Harry but he clearly never imagined he would go this far.

It was Molly who recovered first. 'You bastard!' She was up, her wand aimed at Harry and Ginny and Ron screamed at the same time.

'NO!'

Harry flicked his wand lazily. His shield easily deflected her curse. A second flick, another green light and those same whispered words.

Molly fell, her face smacking against the floor.

Ginny couldn’t speak.

Couldn’t breathe.

Couldn't do anything.

She stood there an empty sack of air, her mind shattering beyond recognition. The thoughts simply wouldn't come. They jingled and jangled like fluttering moths turning to dust whenever she reached for them. Her heart was splitting, a fierce crack bursting down the middle. Threading roots cut clean leaving her floating, a child without home and hearth.

Another wave of magical energy cleaved its way through her chest and she doubled over. Her shaking hands lifted and she noticed black smoking tendrils curling around her fingers. A sense of wrongness shot through her core, wild, untapped magic lifting the hairs on her arms. Her skin was hot, a blazing inferno scratching its way through her nervous system. She watched her hands shimmer in and out of form, her eyes half rolling back in her head.

Molly Weasley who held her safe in her stomach for nine months whispering sweet wishes for a little girl. Molly Weasley who used to make crumpets with her every Sunday morning her hands circling Ginny's as they folded the ingredients together. Molly Weasley who welcomed a boy called Harry Potter into her home and into her heart without a second thought. The boy that now shot a Killing Curse through hers.

Ron was roaring now his voice echoing like a dull ring of thunder as he blasted Harry with every known expletive in the book. There were flashes of light as their curses filled the room. One zipped past Ginny's head, singeing her hair. Her nose filled with the foul smell of burning smothering away the scent of her parents. Ginny should have moved, she was going to get hit. The only problem was she'd quite forgotten how. Ron did her a favour, barging her out of the way and she fell back collapsing on the end of the bed.

Another flick of Harry's wand and ropes tangled around Ron's arms and legs. He dropped like a stone writhing, trying to get free. He lay in the ground, his face streaked with tears as he thrashed against the bonds tight around his body.

'Harry you have to let her go!' he was sobbing. 'You're killing her. You're killing all of us!'

'Shut up,' Harry hissed.

'This is wrong. You know this is wrong!'

'I'm protecting her. I'm keeping her safe!'

'You're destroying everything that she is! You're destroying everything we worked for—'

'I AM CHANGING THE WORLD!'

Ron was shaking his head, his eyes imploring his friend to come back. Ginny could have told him there was nothing left but she was too busy fighting the hostile savagery wrestling to get free. Static electricity zipped through the room, the lights flickering on and off. Neither Harry or Ron noticed. They were screaming at each other, their faces full of anguish and betrayal.

'You were the Chosen One!' Ron cried. 'You were supposed to end all of this! The bringer of Light not the bringer of Darkness! You were supposed to end the war, not start a new one!'

'You tried to take her! You gave up on me!'

'You gave up on everything! Everything we ever cared about!'

'I HATE YOU!' Harry roared, the veins on his neck popping out. His eyes bugged out, anger taking hold.

'You were my brother Harry!' Ron sobbed. 'I loved you!'

Harry lifted his wand and Ginny found her voice. She dove in front of Ron. 'Don't hurt him. PLEASE!'

Harry's eyes were on Ron. A burning madness swirling beneath the surface.

'DON'T! PLEASE DON'T!'

Harry's eyes flicked to her, they widened a fraction at what he saw there. Her skin felt like it was bubbling, her magic squirming like licking fire through her veins. She could feel it bubbling over, the cauldron filling too fast.

'I'm sorry Ginny,' he murmured. 'They'll keep coming back for you.'

He raised his wand.

'I WILL FIGHT YOU!' she screamed. 'You do this and I will never stop fighting you!'

He appeared to stumble—but it was too late. Another flash of light and Ginny felt her world crumble. Ice laced her throat, coating her in a thick cloud of confusion. She was shaking her head, her ears felt like they were full of cotton wool. Ginny smacked her hands over her eyes—it wasn't true—she wouldn't look. Her chest contracted and her breathing destabilised. It was impossible to suck air into her body. As if someone had lined her throat leaving only a thin sliver behind. Harry was shaking her, his eyes wide with worry.

She looked up then, finding nothing but hatred inside her when her eyes caught his.

'Im going to fucking kill you,' she growled.

And then she exploded. A dark mass burst from her back violently carving its way through the room. It shimmered like a greasy ball of luminescence writhing angrily between them, an amorphous entity bent on destroying everything in its path. The furniture lifted from the ground joining the whirlwind of flying debris. It smacked and shattered, the impact sending wood and glass showering down upon them. She had only the slightest sense of what she'd become. A flicker of recognition that permitted her crippled psyche a sliver of perception.

Obscurus.

A disease that afflicted children who experienced magical suppression and abuse—mutilation of self when the magic spills over. It was what killed Ariana Dumbledore. Perhaps she should have been filled with horror but instead a fierce sense of jubilation swept through her. She was free, free to destroy, to break, to crush, to kill.

She felt herself slipping. The pure biting rage filling her up, leaving no room for Ginny that she was. All that remained was annihilation. It was all consuming, exhausting her ability to process rational thought. Darkness absorbed her, and welcomed her like an old friend. She wanted to relinquish, anything but feel this pain, this loss.

It was enormous, an Obscurial born from Ginny's magical repression and pain.

The door slammed open and guards shot into the room circling Harry. They raised their wands—though some of them held strange guns—at the beast she'd become and Harry screamed.

If she could she would have smiled, her entire being filling with blood lust. They were all going to die. Ginny lunged and they scattered. She—it shot through the room swallowing the guards who ran, scrambling to get away. The power emanating from it was making the room vibrate, cracks forming in the old stone as it slammed against the walls desperately trying to get free.

She—it crashed into their fleeing forms crushing them to the ground with horrible squelching shrieks as she tore at their faces. Blood exploded over the carpet, showering the room in a red haze. They were screaming, running, casting useless spells to fight off the monster she'd become. Ginny carved her way through them leaving nothing but meat behind. She went straight for Harry, who did not even flinch. He raised his wand, eyes flashing red and began to spin his hand in a clockwise fashion. Pure white light shot out of his wand, circling her in a radiant ball of incandescence. She fought against it, her severed parts battling the resplendent prison. But he was too strong—always too strong.

Then nothing.

A cage. She screamed against it her writhing form acting before thought could bubble forward. Chaos spilled out of her a snarling mix of torrid turmoil. Her mind snapping, churning, twisting. The embodiment of wrath made corporeal bent on destroying everything in her path. She wanted to rip and tear and claw and smash. To burn and break and ravage.

The luminescent chamber held her locked, sealed behind invisible walls. She blinked in and out of existence, the scenes changing so fast she couldn't see. Time lost all meaning.

Then Harry's face, his hands fighting to contain the creature she'd become. Magic swelled, darkness hungered for her embrace. The bubbling black viscous form shuddered, the lashing tendrils slowing, calming. Harry whispered to it, his voice barely carrying. A light breeze formed delicately sweeping around the Obscurus, feathering it with gentle intention.

Ginny felt her heart respond even when her mind fought against him. It felt like something was invading her very essence. She flickered in and out of smoke, her form re-materialising into something solid. Her skin was stark white, her hair a dark burgundy, large black bruises slithering through her veins. The atoms of her being writhed as her particles stitched back together. She sobbed, her body finding it's form- to fall into his waiting arms.

'No,' Ginny groaned.

'This is why I need to protect you,' he whispered. 'I love you Ginny.'

'You carved out everything that was me,' she rasped. 'What exactly do you think you love?'

His face shadowed with rage. 'You forget I do this for you my love.' He wrapped his arms around her tighter. 'We're the same Ginny. Whether you like it or not.'

He raised his wand.

Then a new sensation, a tiny voice whispering in her head.

Calm, it said.

Be patient, it murmured.

The time will come for vengeance. It always does. All you have to do is watch. And wait.

'I don't want to feel this,' Ginny whimpered, her echo so silent in the great abyss of her agony.

Then don't. Retreat. Retreat.

A light flickered through the black, a trickling vine branching out, guiding her deeper, deeper. Ginny followed it, further into the cavernous recesses of her mind. The pain eased and she rejoiced as the crushing weight loosened allowing her to breathe. Ginny slid back through the pages of her history, flipping through the bad days away from the hurt. The pain.

'Ginny!' Molly was calling.

She ran down the stairs exploding into the living room. Arthur picked her up swinging her around in a circle, his smiling face burning like the sun. Bill and Charlie were arguing over a recent Quidditch game in the corner. Fred and George had a game of exploding snap, the cards popping over the coffee table.

Percy was snuggled in the window sill a book propped on his knee, Ron peering over his shoulder as he explained the harrowing tale to a rapt little brother. Then there was Molly. An apron tied around her waist beckoning Ginny into her warm embrace. She wriggled out of Arthur's hands dropping to the ground.

'Ginny my darling!' Molly crooned as she slammed into her arms. 'Why are you crying my darling?'

'I'm just so happy,' Ginny whispered. 'I don't want to leave.'

'Then you stay here,' Molly patted her head. 'You stay here for as long as you need.'

It was in that frozen infinity between spaces that she found her sanctuary. A time before Voldemort. A time before the war. A time before Harry Potter. To a time where the peaceful quiet softly cocooned her away from the storm. She burrowed down, down, down, into the safest parts of herself. Her mind fracturing into two segments—the innocent heart that had been broken too many times and the blank canvas that would smile and laugh without thought or feeling. She surfaced the latter letting it take over, a guardian of apathetic intent. The passive survivor.

Good, the voice whispered. That is good.

Patient. Be patient. Your time will come.

The Ginny inside herself grinned, finding solace in the dark corners of her consciousness.

All she had to do was watch.

And wait.

Chapter Text

Ginny sat.
Ginny watched.
Ginny waited.

Chapter Text

Ginny sat.
Ginny watched.
Ginny waited.

Chapter Text

Ginny sat.
Ginny watched.
Ginny waited.

Chapter Text

2010

Ginny raced through the halls, her feet slapping almost painfully against the stone. Her hand trailed along the wall to keep her steady, as if it were somehow the only thing holding her fixed in space. She burst through the main doors which grated open too slow. Not willing to wait she slipped through them feeling a sense that someone was watching, waiting. Her heart beat a steady drum matched only by her stamping feet. She needed to get away. It was all too confusing. There was something wrong—something she needed to remember—something she couldn't—

Her mind was playing tricks on her.

'My Lady!' she heard someone shout behind her.

She ignored them zooming over the grass. The lake glimmered ahead of her and she almost sobbed. She wanted to dive into its waters, find solace in the cool throws of weightless release. Her hand hit something and she hissed. Not stopped she lifted her arm to inspect the damage. A long cut etched it's way through her palm which didn't make any sense. There was nothing there to hit it on.

There were more voices behind her now, shouting echoes trailing in her wake. Why didn't they leave her alone? She just wanted to be left alone. But there was always someone lurking in her ever shrinking space. Her breath was ragged as she skidded to a halt at the lakes edge. It was a beautiful day, the sun blaring overhead warming her skin. She tipped her face upwards absorbing the rays like a creature in the throws of wild abandon.

She stepped forward, her foot hanging over the water. All she had to do was leap—

'GINNY GET BACK!'

This voice was louder, it cracked with fear. Ginny swung around nearly losing balance. She wobbled, toes close to dipping into the water. A wild wind whipped past making her dress flap madly around her ankles. Her hair swung out a burst of crimson.

'Harry? What is it?'

For it was him. At least she thought it was him. He looked the same, but different. Where his face had once been soft it was now chiselled from hard lines. His green eyes burned into her intensely, a gaze that was consuming. She wanted to go to him, feel him hold her like days past. To be welcomed into that safe embrace and feel whole in the sense that she loved and was loved in return. But there was a strange needling in the back of her neck, the ghost of worry that locked her legs in place.

'Ginny,' he was edging towards her slowly, as if scared to spook a small beast.

She tipped her head to the side smiling.

'Ginny come to me,' he stepped forward, inching carefully as though walking on a tightrope.

'It's ok Harry,' she grinned. 'I'm just going for a swim. I'll be back in time for dinner.'

Another gust of wind tore at her and she lifted her arms high. It was like she was a bird, she could fly away from all this and finally be free.

'Ginny,' Harry snapped, his eyes manic. 'There is no water. You need to take my hand. Please love. Just take my hand.'

Ginny's brow furrowed. She turned around and the gleaming lake took her breath away. Trees as tall as skyscrapers stretched high bleeding into the endless blue. A rabbit scurried across the grass, its little nose wiggling as it went. Butterflies zipped through the air, their wings shining like diamonds. Wildflowers burst from the pool's edge, their sweet scent filling her nose with the most delicious cacophony of flavour.

She swung back around to face Harry who was closer now, she went to step back.

'NO!' he screamed.

She froze in place. Something was very wrong with Harry. 'Are you ok?' she asked. 'What's wrong?'

'Ginny, we're not by the fucking lake. I need you to see. Please, I need you to come back to me.'

'Harry you're scaring me.'

'Please my love.' There were tears streaming down his cheeks.

Her heart squeezed painfully. She raised her hand to him. He was Harry, even if he was sometimes cruel. It was Harry. Her Harry.

'Yes, take my hand,’ he whispered. ‘Just take my hand.'

Her fingers were so close to his now, their skin almost touching. It was as his index finger came into contact with hers that everything changed. A veil was leisurely slipping, revealing a scene most unsettling.

Ginny blinked.

Her eyes were playing tricks on her. Harry's face shifted, the scar on his forehead seeping through skin. The air around them cooled at an alarming rate and goose pimples exploded over her skin as the evening air wrapped her in an icy grip. The sky was no longer blue but a dull, murky grey as day became night.

The trees faded, their rich walnut hue melting away to dirty slate. Because they weren't trees, they were... scaffolding. But that didn't make any sense. Ginny turned away from Harry. She heard him scream, he was saying something but a dull roar filled her head.

A stinging sensation throbbed through her feet and she looked down. There was blood, there were bloody footprints. Her bloody feet. The skin tearing free where it scratched against the hard metal. Her dress was torn in places, the material dirty at the hem. As her eyes trailed back up her chest shuttered, a ragged gasp exploding from her throat.

Because she wasn't by the lake, she was on the roof of the manor. The East wing that was currently being refurbished where scaffolding covered every inch of the facade. But Ginny, Ginny was trembling immobile at the easternmost tip. She'd run down a long metal plank and was now standing at the precipice of a steep drop.

With nothing to hold onto either side she was positioned like a diver ready to plunge. Glancing down she could barely make out how high she was. The ground blurred beneath her as fear tightened around her throat.

'Ginny!' Harry was almost on her.

'Stop!' She cried, lifting a hand towards him.

He froze, eyes wide. Tears streamed down her face, her shoulders collapsing inwards and she wrapped her arms around herself in a tight embrace.

Don’t jump, the voice inside her whispered. Don’t do it.

Another gust of wind blasted past and she wobbled. Strange that she did not care much if she fell.

'Harry what's wrong with me?' she whimpered.

'Nothing's wrong with you. You're just confused. Come with me. Come back with me.'

'Im seeing things. I can't remember anything right—it's like the days are long and short. I look at you and it's like you're fuzzy. My eyes are lying to me I think.’ She pressed her palms over her face. ‘Am I—am I crazy?'

'You're not crazy. You're not, I promise. We'll get you a Healer. I'll take care of you. I promised I would always take care of you.'

'Then why are you hurting me?'

The words came out before she even thought them. Her brow furrowed. Harry wasn't hurting her. Harry would never hurt her. Would he?

Flashes burst through her mind like an old film burnt and broken in place. Hermione in a cell, her skin grey, her hair falling out in places. Her brothers on the ground, screaming. Someone was cursing—no not someone—her—she was cursing them. Then three figures, a flash of green lights. A million other images, torn up pages of a magazine. Torture. Blood. Pain. Over and over and over again.

Then Harry. Always Harry. His hands around her throat—it hurt. His body over hers, holding her—so warm.

Safe.

He was hitting her.

He was hugging her.

He was screaming at her.

He was teasing her.

He was loving her.

He was killing her.

Then his wand, slowly lifting.

Obliviate.

Again and again and again.

'What are you doing to me!' she shrieked.

Harry's face fell. Fury flashing through his eyes. 'I'm taking care of you. Like I always promised.'

'You're lying to me. You're making me forget. Why are you making me forget? Did you—did you attack me? Did you hurt me? Did you make me crucio my brothers? Did you kill my fucking family!'

Her throat closed painfully and suddenly it was impossible to breathe. A tangle of thoughts wove madly through her mind, a broken spider web where the ends don't meet. A swirling mass of empty black nothing. An endless abyss, her silent scream empty and hollow.

She spun back around.

Don't do it! the voice inside her whispered again. Jump and you will never be free!’

She jumped.

‘NO!’

The wind tore at her skin, tears streaming upwards as she fell. Hands around her waist, a vice-like grip grabbing at her. She struggled desperately trying to get free. There was a crack. Cold hard marble against her back. Harry was above her, wrenching her eyes open. She glared at him, thrashing like a wild animal. They were in the Grand Hall, the sconces flickering in their usual way. There were servants scurrying around—it looked like they were setting up for a party. She remembered now—it was Harry's birthday.

That fucker.

Her hand punched out landing Harry square in the nose. He bellowed, falling back and she scurried across the floor away from him. Evidently he'd jumped after her and apparated them both to safety.

'I want to die,' she screamed. 'Just let me die.'

He was on her in seconds, his hands clutching at her arms hard enough to break her bones.

'You will not die. You are mine. You are mine!' He shook her roughly. 'You will not die!'
His eyes were too large, huge empty green pools sucking her in. He raised his wand.

Ginny blinked.

~

After the opera.

Ginny swam between the folds of space and time. Her body was a tiny spec in the great wide nowhere, shimmering between waking and sleeping. Dreams and nightmares mixed together into a delicate tangling mess cutting rope burns into her flesh.

'Ginny, wake up Ginny!'

Her mother was calling her, sweet whispered words beckoning her awake. But she was so happy here, so didn't want to leave.

'Ginny my darling it's time. Are you ready?'

No, she most certainly wasn't ready.

'Well that's too bad. Wake up Ginny. Wake up!'

Her eyes snapped open and everything came rushing back, an ugly tidal wave full of shrapnel and debris. Ginny leapt out of bed, already on her feet racing to the door. It swung open before she could reach it and a small form stepped through. A head of moon white hair bumped into her, the sound of clinking china rattling as they collided.

It was the maid—no—not the maid.

Luna.

It was Luna.

Ginny slammed the door shut, dragging the witch inside, her arms engulfing her in a hug so tight it sent the tray in her arms crashing to the ground.

'My Lady what—'

'Luna,' Ginny whispered into her skin. 'I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.'

Ginny released her stepping back to survey her through narrowed eyes. She was so slim, the hollow of her cheeks stained a dull colour. Dark circles like tiny slugs dragging her heart shaped face down.

'Ginny,' Luna gasped when she'd recovered from the attack. 'You can see me!'

Tears sprung from her eyes and now it was Ginny's turn to be crushed in a bear hug that set her ribs groaning. Two skinny arms lingered about her waist with surprising strength and Ginny let herself plunge into it. It was wonderful.

When at last she released Ginny she stepped back crunching over the contents on the ground. Ginny looked down and eyes caught on the vial that had somehow managed to survive the fall. It was a bottle of Euphoria. Without thinking she picked it up, lobbing it at the wall. It shattered on impact the shards dancing over the carpet, the contents leaving a wet stain that dribbled down the stone.

Luna giggled. 'I understand why you needed to do that but we should probably clean that up and make it look like you took it.'

'Right. Of course.'

Luna smiled at her happily, her eyes glimmering as the morning sun carved it's way through the room. Taking a moment to bask in the fact that her friend was seeing her—actually seeing her. Then with a small nod she leapt into action. Ginny watched her zip around the room carefully extracting what appeared to be hidden bags and belongings from behind the wardrobe, under the bed, basically any nook and cranny big enough for hiding. When she'd collected everything she hurried back to Ginny and dropped them at her feet.

'This is everything you'll need,' she said breathlessly. 'I've been testing the wards and there's a weak spot by the old oak close to that stone by the lake—you know the one you like to sit on?'

Ginny did know the one but— 'What are you talking about?'

'You're leaving. Now that you're you we need to get you out of here.'

Ginny frowned. 'It sort of feels like you've had this planned for a while.'

She beamed her rose coloured lips stretching into a wide smile. 'I knew you'd come back to us at some point Ginny.'

'Why didn't you just go?'

'I have a tracker,' she lifted her arm showing a bracelet of dark black jingling it on her wrist. 'They block magic and set off an alarm if we try to leave the property.'

Ginny started. In truth she was surprised Harry hadn't made her wear one. Then again he controlled her in other ways she supposed. The thought made her seethe.

The idea of leaving was like a balm coating her in a soothing cool wash of relief. She turned to face the window gazing out over the green and the line of trees just beyond. An intense desire to snatch up the bags and race to freedom hit her and it was almost overwhelming.

Almost.

'But he'll kill you if he comes home and finds me gone,' she said, turning back to Luna.

Luna shrugged. 'Well,' she nibbled her lower lip. 'It's not ideal. But I'm still me. It's worse for you.'

'Worse for me?' Ginny spluttered. 'Luna he tortured you.'

'No Ginny,' Luna patted her hand kindly. 'No. I get to wake up and still be me behind my eyes. You've been—well he locked you inside yourself. I can't think of anything more terrible can you?'

Ginny felt a mix of love and anger wash through her heart. Love for the friend who had thought to save her over herself. Anger that she would ever think she would leave her to die.

'And what did you think I would just apparate away?'

'You can't apparate.'

'What? Why?'

'Well for starters neither of us have a wand. And then there's a trace'.

'Wait what? A trace? On... on everybody?'

Luna nodded.

'How is that possible?'

'By decree.'

'Luna I don't know what that means. Whose decree?'

She sighed deeply. 'There isn't really time to go into all of that now. It's quite a long story you see.' She paused tapping a finger against her chin. 'Either way it doesn't matter because as I said we don't have wands.'

Ginny froze. Realisation hit her like an anvil.

'I have a wand.'

It was Luna's turn to look confused. 'You... have a wand? Are you sure?'

But Ginny was already racing across the room, sliding through the door headed for Harry's study. Careful to not be seen she scurried like a mouse down the hallways, Luna close behind. Upon reaching the door she inched it open a crack peering inside. Finding no one in there she hurried to the bookshelf promptly shoving her hand behind the books, a sense of elation ballooning in her stomach as she pulled the wand free. Luna's eyes bugged out and she dashed to Ginny's side staring at it in the same awestruck way Ginny was. Her hand feathered over the end and a trickle of magic zipped through her nerve endings and they both sighed at the sensation.

'How did you get it?' Luna asked quietly.

All her joy vanished.

'It's—It's Dean's.'

'Oh.' Luna nodded her mouth stretching into a thin line but she didn't say anything more. Grabbing Ginny's arm she gently guided her back into the bedroom shutting the office door behind them.

'Well,' she said. 'That's good—'

'I killed him,' Ginny whispered. 'I didn't mean to. But I killed him.'

'It wasn't your fault Ginny.'

'Does it matter? He's still dead?'

Their eyes met, silver clouds catching her chocolate brown.

'It matters,' Luna said. 'Trust me. He knows you didn't mean it.'

Ginny sucked in a shaking breath, squaring her shoulders. They didn't have time for this and she wanted Dean's death to mean something. If it only helped them get away.

'So I can't disapparate. What should I do? I mean I could walk but I don't know if I'll get far.'

'There are muggle cars in the garage out by the old road. I thought you could take one of those.'

'What? Why?'

'Harry collects them. Fitz got him into it. They used to go racing around the back streets I think.' She looked sad for a moment. 'It scared all the ducks away.'

'Um Luna I don't know how to drive.'

'Surely it's not difficult?' she reasoned. 'And if you have a wand you can charm it to drive itself.'

Ginny stared at her optimistic face, not feeling quite as confident. It'd been nearly a decade since she'd used magic—proper magic. A vision of black bubbling energy rippled before her eyes but she brushed it away.

No time for that either.

Something in her eyes must have given her away because Luna took her hands in hers, her once gentle palms now riddled with callouses.

'You can do it Ginny. I know you can.'

Her belief was so strong that Ginny felt it leach into her bones, the courage flickering like an old friend in her gut. It'd been a long time since she'd felt anything close to brave.

'You just focus on getting out of here ok. One step at a time.'

The bubble of anger returned and Ginny scowled. 'I'm not leaving without you.'

Luna smirked. Then she paused pondering this thoughtfully as if approaching a basic problem. One that certainly didn't pertain to life or death. 'Well I only know how to get you out,’ she mused. 'I have no idea where to go for help now. It's been a while you see.'

Ginny's head cocked to the side. 'How long have you been here?'

'Oh two years I think.'

Ginny croaked.

'Oh it's not that long,' Luna flattened the fabric of her dress. 'George has been here longer.'

'George is still here!'

She nodded. 'And then there's Ron. It's been almost four years for him.'

Suddenly Ginny was on the floor. Her legs had given out and before she realised what was happening her butt hit the carpet.

'Oh Ginny!' Luna dropped down in front of her. 'Are you ok?'

She felt as if she'd just been whacked over the head. A freckle of hope tickled her stomach but it was too much—too much to hope for.

'Did you say—did you say Ron?' she rasped her entire body shaking.

Luna's brow was creased with worry, her small hands cupping Ginny's face. 'Yes Ron's been here since... since that night.'

'You mean to say he's alive?'

'Yes,' she smiled. 'He's quite alright Ginny.'

'But—but I saw Harry—'

'Harry tried to,' Luna's kind face darkened a fraction. 'But I suppose he didn't mean it enough. The curse only stunned him. It hurt a lot from what Ron says but he's just as alive as you and I.'

Ginny was crying, joyful tears leaking down her cheeks. Luna picked up the napkin from the tray and started absently patting them.

'I'm going to get you out,' she promised Luna. 'I'm going to get you all out.'

'Oh well that's nice. Anyway,' she went on as if she hadn't just changed Ginny's world. 'As I was saying I know how to get out. But in regard to where to go—we need Hermione.'

Chapter Text

2010

Hermione looked terrible, there really wasn't another word for it. According to Luna she'd been captured about a year ago after the Equalisers picked her up outside Edinburgh. No one knew why she was there or what she was doing. Apparently she'd been tortured for answers but had so far remained steadfast against the interrogation which Ginny knew all too well was an incredibly impressive feat.

Ginny could see it in her face, she was beyond exhausted and she itched to pull her into a hug. As it was she sat in the small chair positioned outside her cell as if there was nothing amiss. There was a guard stationed by the door, eyes scanning the room so Ginny focused on keeping her shoulders loose, her eyes glazed. It was hard to know what she was and wasn't supposed to see.

As they'd wandered through the dank hallway a few minutes earlier on their way to the dungeons a roar echoed from somewhere further down. Ginny stiffened but Luna gripped her harder, steering her forward as if she hadn't heard a thing. It was hard to believe she'd walked this path so many times before but according to Luna she had. That could have been George or Ron and she wished desperately she could go to them but they had to make it seem like nothing was wrong. It was an ordinary day like any other.

Only now she saw it as it truly was for the first time. Cold stone walls, flickering light and guards stationed at every doorway. There'd never been a fireplace to step through just large archways guiding them deeper into the fortress under her home. A dark underbelly she'd thus far refused to see. According to Luna no one knew where 'the cafe' came from—that'd been all Ginny. Perhaps as a way to process a circumstance that was too horrible for her fractured mind to deal with.

Hermione's cell was positioned closest to the hallway, a small cramped room with a tiny bed, chair and toilet in the corner. It was barbaric and Ginny fought off the desire to race back to her room, grab the wand and curse everyone here. As it was they needed to be stealthy which meant pretending nothing was wrong. Just another day at 'the cafe.'

She sat and Luna shuffled over a pot of tea in her hands, gently placing it in front of them. Hermione's hair was matted, a chunk of it missing in the back, the colour a dull shade lacking in its usual lustre. Her normally copper skin was starkly pale, her eyes haunted and hollow. Scratches littered her arms and legs and her feet were bare. A particularly nasty scar lined her wrist, as if someone had pulled barbed wire through her flesh. There was an awful stain on the floor that looked sickenly like blood.

'S-so,' Ginny coughed abruptly to mask the tremble in her tone. Trying again she asked, 'So how's work?'

Hermione didn't look up, her fingers twirling patterns over the tattered hem of her dress.

'Oh work is fine,' she replied blankly.

Ginny bit her lip to stop it from shaking. She felt tears spring in the corner of her eyes but at the look Luna shot her she sucked in a deep steading breath.

'That's good. We've been so busy here—'

She rambled on for a few minutes, telling her about the Opera and Harry's birthday as if it were like any other time she'd visited. Hermione appeared to sink lower in her chair, the cup of tea sitting listlessly in her lap. The guard behind them stretched covering his yawn with a hand and Ginny watched her eyes flick to him and back.

'So,' Ginny brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. 'I was thinking about that quote you liked. I was hoping you could help me understand.'

She tried to keep her voice as innocent as possible, her head tipping subtly to the side. It was how she'd decided to signal Hermione for she couldn't openly ask her for help, not with the guards watching. She'd have to gain the information through coded a message.

Hermione was clever, smarter than anyone she'd ever met—if there was anyone who could figure out it was her. It'd been only a little while ago when she'd brought it up. At the time Ginny shut her down, she quietly pleaded with the universe Hermione wouldn't do the same.

'I love this quote,' she’d said. 'A robin redbreast in a cage, puts all heaven in a rage. A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeon, shudders hell thro’ all its regions- What do you think it means?'

In hindsight it was incredibly obvious, but then Ginny hadn't been herself. Hermione gave no indication she's understood—not a muscle out of place, not a speeding of her breath. If not for the slightest glimmer that glinted from behind her eyes Ginny would have lamented. As it was she schooled her features to be likewise blank.

'Mmm,' Hermione murmured, her voice barely carrying. 'What would you like to know?'

A spring of hope zipped up Ginny's spine. 'Well I suppose I'd like to know where you read it. And—and was there someone who shared it with you? Perhaps they could help me understand better.'

Ginny tried desperately not to enunciate help too aggressively but the word definitely had a little more emphasis than the others. Hermione's eyes flicked to Ginny's then back down to her hands. There was intelligent recognition there that cut like glass.

'Right,' Hermione mused, mussing her hair with one hand. 'I first read it in a book by Trinity Holt. Maiden name Trowbridge I believe.'

Ginny nodded, her brow furrowing slightly. Luna shuffled forward beside her, blocking Ginny from the guard. She stared skyward, a serene expression plastering her features a quiet hum filling the room.

'There was a little bookshop I visited years ago just outside Wiltshire,' Hermione went on picking at her nails. 'The owner was wonderful and offered some really great advice. I'd definitely recommend visiting sometime.'

The guard coughed behind them and Hermione froze, her hand turning to stone where it had been stroking the fabric over her knees. When he did nothing however she went on. Her eyes flicked to Lun- who promptly dropped the tea pot.

'The River Avon,' Hermione hissed. 'Where it forks—follow it and—' she cut off as the guard hurried over glaring at Luna who began murmuring apologies.

Hermione meanwhile lifted her head, an enormous smile carving through her cheeks. 'I think I bought almost 11 books which is a lot even for me! One on constellations I love.' She chuckled then, fixing her eyes resolutely back to the floor but Ginny could have sworn her shoulders lifted a fraction higher. As if a physical weight had been removed.

It took everything in Ginny's power not to let a vicious grin stretch across her face. She sent out a silent thanks to her friend for being the bloody genius she was. Help could be found at Holt, Trowbridge, Wiltshire—whatever was there Hermione was convinced would help them. Practically vibrating now she stood to leave.

'You'll come back soon?' Hermione asked quietly, not looking up.

'Yes. I'll be back as soon as I can. Bye Hermione.'

~

Ginny shot down the country lane, the car jumping and bouncing over every bump. She'd chosen a black one with a little B and wings on the front hoping it wouldn't generate too much attention but the engine growled like a mountain troll scaring the shit out of her. It zipped along faster than she might have thought possible and if it wasn't for her years on the Gryffindor Quidditch team she might have had a conniption.

In the end it hadn't been as difficult as she'd thought to get away. Luna and Ginny casually made their way to the lake with a stack of paints and a travel easel feigning an afternoon of painting. Upon reaching the rock Luna indicated Ginny stunned the guard stalking them in the back when he turned to survey the area. The witches then performed a memory charm on him which made Ginny physically ill—she turned and vomited in the grass afterwards—but they didn't have a choice. At least that's what Luna said and they'd certainly debated it.

In total Luna estimated they had about four hours before he woke up. Potter Manor was a little north of Oxford so it'd take over an hour to get to where she needed to go which gave her about an hour to seek help and an hour to get back. Travelling the muggle way was not ideal but they hadn't been able to find an alternative. Couldn't apparate. Couldn't Floo. Couldn't fly as the broomsticks were locked and monitored in a way the cars weren't. Instead she had to go slow and the clock was ticking, a grating noise in the back of her thoughts.

There'd been a plethora of shiny muggle vehicles lining the enormous garage when she managed to sneak inside. Casting a quick charm to cut off the security, Ginny grabbed a set of keys from the wall pressing the buttons until one down the line lit up. The way would be slower as she'd spelled the car to take the back lanes in the hopes of avoiding running into anyone. Surprisingly the spell had come easier than breathing—as if her magic rejoiced at being reawakened. The car rumbled to life with one tap of her wand and a few whispered pleas—

‘Animaros’

The charm Luna had recommended. Evidentially she’d read it once while researching ways to make her toaster sentient.

‘Take me there. Make sure we're not seen.‘

The car responded without a second thought—as if it'd been waiting all this time for this most desperate of tasks. Slipping through the wards felt—well it felt like every Christmas Day in one. That sense of joy and wonder that made your heart sing. Freedom.

Taking a deep breath she'd waved to Luna who looked so small and vulnerable by the lake and headed off. 'I'm coming back for you,' she sent out a quiet promise. 'All of you.'

Now she zoomed along in the car that felt more like a speeding panther than a vehicle. She was briefly reminded of the blue Ford Anglia her father once magicked to fly. He'd taken her out when Molly wasn't looking and they zoomed over the rolling green fields laughing the whole way. That was before Harry and Ron stole it in and it went feral in the Forbidden Forest. It was likely still there, a little piece of her father roaming those ancient woods.

She flinched at the memory of her father. Visions of Arthur Weasley frozen on the ground flooded her eyes. Her mother—

No. No. No.

Ginny wretched her fingers scrabbling at the window. It was all happening so fast. She'd been locked in her home for nigh on a decade and was suddenly—outside. As if we're completely normal. Everything felt too big and too close. Her eyes struggled to take it all in, the colours too vibrant, the smells too strong. It left her feeling like a wandering ant shrunk down and left to fend off a world too gargantuan to comprehend. Leaning back rasping, she twirled the ring on her finger, fidgeting with the jewel in its centre.

Her skin was prickling, her stomach churning and Ginny started stabbing at the centre console for distraction. Music blared and Ginny jumped as a man's voice filled the space. She bashed a couple of other buttons immediately, her heart thundering and the station changed, finding a female voice this time.

...Oh, the wind whistles down
The cold dark street tonight
And the people, they were dancing
To the music vibe...

The song played sweeping through the car carrying her far, far away. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel which turned without her help. Huffing out a deep breath she wriggled in her seat trying to fight off the creeping fear that billowed in, a slow suffocating blanket lowering over her mouth, her nose.

She whirled the dial and the music blared louder, so loud her ears started ringing. A button on the dash caught her eye and she punched it. Above her the roof curled backwards, the wind catching in the top almost ripping it clean off. Ginny laughed as the wind enveloped her tearing at her hair, folding over her skin. She turned the music louder—twisting the dial until it wouldn't twist anymore.

Noise. So much noise after so long in silence. She needed more—craved the sound like breathing.

She palmed the horn and it trumpeted perhaps calling far too much attention to herself but it was like a drug. She did it again and again and again relishing in the sound as it clashed with her manic laughter. And in that moment she swore she felt it, a tremor of laughter echo over her skin. The hair on her arms stood up and she shivered, feeling oddly like there was someone watching her.

'Hey Ginny,' Fred waved casually from the seat beside her.

Ginny shrieked, grabbing the wheel on instinct, almost crashing the car into the hedgerow lining the road.

'Oi keep on the road!'

'Fred!' Her head spun back and forth like a surprised meerkat. 'How—what!'

'Surprise!'

'What the hell—how—what!'

His cinnamon brow shot up. 'You tell me? I suppose you needed me, little idiot.'

She stared at his freckled face completely dumbfounded, refusing to even blink lest he disappear.

'Just taking in my good looks are you?' he smirked.

Her mouth popped open and closed like a landed fish. Then she burst into laughter. Her body shook, her hands dragging through her hair as the wind pummelled her from all sides.

'God I'm so fucking crazy,' she said when she could finally catch her breath.

'Maybe,' Fred waggled his brows. 'But all the best ones are.'

They zoomed through the country, zipping past tiny villages that looked empty but Ginny only had eyes for Fred. He sat there, one leg hooked up on the dash banging away to the beat, his freckled nose crunched up as he laughed.

Golden light filtered through behind him setting the mess of hair on his head ablaze. It was like staring into a mirror, a reflection of her past. He turned to her and winked. Tears streamed down her face.

'Oh don't cry Gin,' Fred groaned. 'You've done enough of that don't you think.'

She swiped at her face with a huff. 'It's been hard.'

'I know,' he said gently. 'And you've been so brave.'

'I miss you Freddy. I miss all of you.'

'We know.'

She curled her hands around the steering watching the pedals shift under phantom feet beneath her. 'I don't know how I'm supposed to do this alone.'

'The Ginny I know wouldn't blink an eye.'

'Maybe the Ginny you know is gone.'

'Fat likely,' he scoffed. 'Molly Weasley runs hot in your veins. You've got this.'

She tipped her head back letting the wind catch her unruly red locks. It left her feeling almost weightless. 'Bloody hell—sometimes I just want to scream. I want to scream and scream and never stop.'

'What?' This seemed to excite him, his face lighting up with glee. 'Well then do it!'

'It won't help,' she shook her head, eying him. 'It won't change anything.'

'Who cares! It changes you—that's all that matters.'

'Fred shut up.'

'I will not. Come on! Scream!'

'Fred stop!'

'Scream!'

'STOP!'

'SCREAAAM!'

She did. She threw her head back and let it rip, her throat exploding with the heavy scream that started deep down coming up, up, up. Her scream filled her up and poured over a feral burning wildfire igniting in the pit of her soul. It tore through the blackened ruin lighting it up with renewed flame. She screamed so loud and long her voice cracked, the muscles on her neck aching, her throat hoarse.

When she was done she sat back laughing while Fred clapped uproariously, whooping loudly.

'Didn't that feel good?'

'Yeah,' she smirked. 'Yeah it did.'

He reached out to her, his fingers ghosting over her arm. ‘Do you remember that time we got lost out by the old bridge?’

She sniffed. ‘Yeah. It’d been raining for days and the river was flooded. I wasn’t paying attention and slipped.’

‘This is just like that. You were so brave then even though you were so small. You managed to catch hold of an old branch. It was raining still and the water was rising and I couldn’t get to you. We didn’t have our magic yet. But you stayed calm—you told me to stay calm. All we had to do was go slow.’

‘Go slow,’ she repeated.

‘Yeah. Try to go too quick and you’d have lost your hold or the branch would break and you’d of been caught in the current. You took it easy—one hand at a time until you made it to safety. You can do that again Gin. One step at a time.’

‘You think so?’

She turned to face him and it was both terrible and beautiful. Her heart swelled and clamped. He was so beautiful, just like he’d been before his life was stolen from him. It made her want to set the world on fire.

‘I know so. You're on your way out Gin. You keep your head up.'

She nodded, her mouth trembling. Fred's eyes softened and he shot her one of his most winning Weasley smiles. Ginny laughed despite herself wiping the snot off her face and sniffling heavily.

Fred rolled his eyes. 'Such a delicate flower.'

'Hey I grew up with you as a role model—what did you expect?'

'Fair call,' he smiled. He paused then—'You get Georgie and Ron out hey?'

'Yeah,' she sniffed. 'Course.'

Taking one final look, her eyes roaming over every inch of him, she turned to face the road again. The magic was ebbing, the moment fading.

'Good one Gin,' he whispered, his voice sounding far away. 'You take care of yourself ok?'

'Ok Fred. Love you.'

'Love you idiot.'

And then he was gone.

~

She pulled into a long driveway, passing through a set of large, ornate entrance gates. They'd swung wide at her whispered words— trinity—allowing her to roll down the road, gravel crackling under the wheels of the car. She raised the top up as she inched closer, finding it felt safer to be cocooned as she approached the house. Tall manicured hedges lined either side and Ginny plastered her eyes to the window peering at the looming building in front of her feeling the edge creep back down her throat. It was a magnificent facade that rivalled Potter Manor and not what she'd been expecting in the slightest.

This was it, she thought. Now or never.

She quickly checked the clock in the car, determining she'd made pretty good time considering. Two hours to find help, make a plan and one hour to get back unless she could find a magical means of returning. She wondered briefly if there might be a broomstick she could borrow. It was daylight but she could probably magic herself invisible. The mere fact that she thought this with so much belief in herself almost took her out. She should have crazy catch ups with Fred more often. Not to mention Luna and Hermione had the best friends a girl could ever ask for.

Deciding to hang it all to hell she parked the car and opened the door quickly sidling up to the front door. Three quick taps with her knuckle and she stepped back—waiting.

The seconds trickled by painfully slow, as her eyes darted around preparing for the worst. A legion of guards swooping out to take her kicking and screaming back to that empty house. Or worse—Harry materialising out of the shadows, his hands like claws refusing to let her go.

Rolling back and forth on her heels she considered just bolting, getting into the car and driving into the sunset. But then the others would all die. That wasn't an outcome she was willing to consider. The thought managed to steel her spirit and she tapped on the door again, harder this time.

Still nothing.

It was as she was debating whether or not to just start slamming her heart out, taking fist to wood, that she heard it.

Footsteps.

Closing her sweaty hands into balls she waited, her breath quickening as her heart rate kicked it up a notch.

This was it. This was it. This was it.

The door swung open and Ginny felt like she'd been kicked in the head. For a brief moment she thought she had it wrong, that somehow she'd misinterpreted Hermione's code. Because the face that stared back at her was the last person she'd ever expect Hermione to send her to.

'What the hell Weasley!'

A pale hand reached out, snatching her inside the door ramming shut behind her.

'What the hell are you doing here?' he spluttered. 'Is Potter here with you?'

'No. Just me. I need your help. Her—Hermione said you could help me.'

'Hermione sent you?' He ran a hand through his hair. 'Fucking hell Granger.'

'You took the words right out of my mouth.'

Because before her, in all his blonde and snooty glory—was Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

“Monsigneur Love” by Thomas Cooper Gotch

“Monsigneur Love” by Thomas Cooper Gotch

 



2000

Azkaban.

Quite possibly the last place Hermione Granger ever thought to find herself. Then again—stranger things had happened. There was that time she'd accidentally turned into a cat. Or when she'd travelled through time like it was an average daily occurrence, that still felt like a bit of a chaotic fever dream. She'd ridden on the back of a Hippogriff to save a wanted mass murderer. She'd punched a Malfoy in the face, an event she would always treasure. She'd trapped an irritating reporter in a glass jar for months, perhaps one of her more sordid tales. She'd flown a dragon out of the depths of Gringotts for Merlin's sake. At the age of just seventeen she'd helped destroy the most evil Wizard in history and that was just scratching the surface. The thought made her rise a little taller and square her shoulders.

'You ready?' Tonks asked.

'Ready,' Hermione nodded.

'Are you sure?' Vida lifted a brow.

'I'm sure.'

'Ok,' Tonks grinned. 'Let's go.'

The last few years since the war had passed in what felt like the blink of an eye.

The Battle of Hogwarts still sat heavy in her memory, a stain that would likely only grow as she aged. Even now she still struggled to piece together those days, as if they'd been swallowed by stray nats and left to scatter beyond her reach.

Everything after the Fog was skewed. There was only blood and death and screaming. Days of crying, days of fighting, days of healing and then doing it all again. It all bled together the pages of her past sticking where her heart refused to go. Faces of people she'd known once brimming with life suddenly cold, vacant. Life taken before it's time. Bodies lining up to take the fall. Hearts left crippled when they did not return.

The endless cycle that thrust through her sphere of understanding puncturing her perfectly curated existence leaving nothing but woe behind.

And Harry.

Harry screaming.

Locked away and losing his mind as his friends, his family died.

A part of him was lost in those days. A part of all of them.

It was Hermione who let Harry out in the end. A decision made on the darkest night when Ron was choking on his own bile after he'd lost yet another brother. Molly was sedated. Arthur and Tonks sat like empty shells staring at nothing.

They were losing. Kingsley wasn't listening. No one could think. No one could see that they needed Harry. He'd beaten Voldemort before, he could do it again. At least that's how she rationalised her actions.

Fortunately for them it worked.

It didn't change anything. She'd still sacrificed one friend for the lives of others. Harry knew it. Ron knew it. She knew it. They all pretended it was fine. It wasn't.

Going back to Hogwarts had been a terrible idea. For all of them.

Harry was a nervous wreck jumping at every sound. His eyes would often drift to the Forbidden Forest and she'd watch the whites of his knuckles show as his hands curled into fists. Ginny wandered forlornly around the grounds, usually ending up at the old hallway where Fred died. They all knew she didn't want anyone to know she cried so Harry often 'accidentally' found himself walking through there.

Ron took on the weight of everyone's sadness by pushing forced cheer almost constantly. He'd drag them all out to Hogsmede and ply them with butterbeer. He'd set off fireworks in the new common room—the old one was destroyed in a blitz. He'd suggest game after game of exploding snap or wizards chess until they'd all be yelling 'no!' at the top of their lungs. He'd only lasted a few months before leaving.

Hermione wasn't much better. She flickered between sad and angry like a broken television, the stations bursting with tumultuous confusion. An unexpected kind of purgatory that clawed its way through her resolve. One minute she'd be sobbing the next she'd be raging. She couldn't concentrate during class, or retain information like she once had. Her grades slipped in a way that would have horrified the old Hermione. The new Hermione didn't much care. It was difficult not to feel damaged, defective, a lesser version of what'd been. But some experiences are too big, they force a severing of self leaving little or no space for what was to endure. The only way to survive is to become something else.

Harder.

Defiant.

Detached.

It was just all so hard, like fighting through quicksand each and every day. She clung to Ron like a lifeline sneaking up into the boys dorm to sleep every night. He'd curl around her, his warm body secure. Safe.

Hours later she'd wake screaming and it would take an age for him to gently pull her back from the edge. He'd stroke her back and kiss her cheeks until she'd stop crying. He'd whisper sweet promises of a better future, a life they'd share, a place away from Hogwarts. Away from all the ghosts that haunted them.

Sometimes Harry would crawl into the bed on her other side of her and the three of them would lie awake through the night. She'd cast the same protective spells they'd used while camping and Ron would pull out his old radio and turn it to static. It was often the only nights she felt whole at all.

After Ron left it was just the two of them, a silent wedge growing ever larger with each passing day even though they still slept side by side. Then they'd graduated and gone to Auror training and not surprisingly it hadn't been any better. Hermione knew she didn't have the heart for it on day one when they'd been asked to run through a stunning exercise. She simply couldn't bring herself to raise her wand, not when she was staring down Harry or Ginny, or even some of the new recruits. They all wore the same scars and yet there was something different.

They possessed the ability to fight on.

She didn't.

Couldn't.

Wouldn't.

In the end she'd stuck it out several months—it wasn't in her nature to give up easily. It was however when she'd seen the appalling state of the Department of Defence Against Dark Arts and Artefacts that she found her excuse. She could only assume it'd been dismantled during Voldemort's reign as a way to severely limit the Ministry's ability to counteract Dark Magic. Essentially there was barely anything documented leaving the entire Department almost obsolete.

'There are Death Eaters still out there—we have no idea what they might be planning. We can't fight what we don't understand—' had been her stance.

Maybe it was weird, as Ron liked to point out but she couldn't bring herself to go back to that life, often it felt like all the fight had been drained right out of her.

She was just bone tired.

Investigating felt more her speed for now. The endeavour too satiated her edging recalcitrant mentality. The fury that came from a system which allowed evil to spread, a dogmatic society given to caste ideation. Effectively a world built on bullshit divisions. The rat race that let someone like Voldemort thrive so readily. She wanted to tear it all down and dance on the ashes. She'd start with this.

It'd taken weeks to convince Robards and Kvothe to even consider allowing her access to the high profile prisoners she'd need to talk to and even longer to plan her interviews. There was so much hearsay when it came to the Death Eaters. What spells they'd used, what hexes they'd generated. There was a slew of new Unforgivables that needed to be catalogued, a result of the innovations in Dark Magic that took place during the second war if witness accounts were to be believed.

There were Dark Objects too left throughout Britain just waiting for unsuspecting victims to happen upon them. Only last week a young witch was struck down after trying on a cursed wedding dress. She'd started hexing her entire family promising of the Dark Lord's return under the all hallows moon. Lightning would strike and blood would be reborn from blood—at least that's what she'd been spewing when the Auror's finally managed to corner her. It left a significant proportion of the community shaken. 

Now Hermione hurried down the hall, her feet tapping loudly on the old stone. Two warm bodies walked with her either side, their presence comforting but not altogether relaxing. Tonks and Vida were to chaperone her in and out of the prison each week but the interviews she'd perform alone. It was part of her strategy, they'd tried everything else before. But one on one, in the dark, maybe she could get them to talk where they hadn't before. There was a lot riding on this, her reputation being the least of it.

'Are you sure you want to do this?' Tonks asked when they came to the door of her first charge.

Hermione nodded. 'It's the only way.'

'Euh,' Vida scoffed. 'We don't need to know. We just need them locked up.'

Tonks sighed. 'No. Hermione's right. We should know everything they know.'

'They will tell you nothing useful,' Vida flapped her hand. 'They will fuck with you for the fun of it.'

'I have Veritaserum,' Hermione reminded her reasonably. 

Vida shook her head. 'Voldemort trained his men against it. You will not break them.'

'Well then I'll have to get them to tell me by other means,' she turned away from them. 'Ok. Wish me luck.'

'Good luck Hermione,' Tonks whispered as she pulled the grating iron open. 'You've got this. We'll be waiting outside. This place gives me the creeps.'

She nodded before striding purposefully into the room. Inside it was dark but for a lone sconce that flickered away in the corner. It bathed the room in an umber hue doing very little to keep the chill from flooding her veins.

A figure was hunched at the wooden table that'd been propped in the centre of the room. It smelt of sweat and unwashed male mixed with urine.

Dropping into the spare seat across from her subject she repressed the desire to suck in a calming breath lest she choke. She placed her notes on the rotten wood surface, opening the folder to a picture of the man who sat across from her who still had not looked up.

Slick ribbons of dirty brown hair stuck to a pale scalp peppered with age spots. Hands sporting filthy nails were secured to the table via a chain looped through a metal bar hammered into the wood. They jingled as he moved to sit back, his gaze meeting hers.

His eyes were yellow, likely a sign of jaundice setting in. She pondered briefly making medical aware of his condition before quickly deciding against it. He didn't deserve her help. Not after what he'd done.

'Vulcan Mulciber,' she began. 'You have been identified based on witness accounts as what might be a valuable subject for study in relation to the Second Wizarding War. Can you confirm you were a Death Eater during this time?'

A sharp chuckle and Hermione felt the hairs on her arms lift.

'You know I am little witch,' he growled in a voice that sounded like gravel stones rubbing together. 'Why else would you be here?'

A slew of brown teeth appeared as he leered at her, his head cocking to the side. Suddenly he sat back sweeping a dirty hand over his head, the chains at his wrists clinking horribly. He made a show of righting his shirt, mock patting the muck from his clothes.

'You'll have to forgive me,' he clucked. 'Wasn't expecting company was I? If I'da known they was sending the mudblood princess my way I'da tidied up some.'

Hermione tapped her finger impatiently on the table. She'd been expecting as much, it was one of the reasons she'd wanted to do it. Let someone call her what they actually meant for once rather than hiding behind false smiles. She got enough of that at the Ministry.

'You were arrested at the Battle of Hogwarts after the fall of Voldemort were you not?'

'Oh aye. What a grand time that was,' he chuckled. 'Until your lot started winning I spose.'

'Mm,' Hermioned clicked her teeth. 'After that you were placed in Azkaban for a short period until trial. Is that correct to your recollection?'

He merely grinned.

'I'll take that as a yes. During your trial there were several accounts, witnesses who spoke of the atrocities you committed against them. Would you like to speak on any such account?'

Silence.

'No? I am particularly interested in the event that took place on the 12th of July 1996 at this time. Do you recall such an event?'

Still nothing.

He started chewing his fingernails and it took a great deal of effort not to gag.

'I am referring to when you led the torture of one Amelia Bones and her family. According to our sources V—the Dark Lord was also present at this time.'

He continued to stare at her.

Hermione waited. Let him be the first to fill the space between them.

'Sources?'

'There were several portraits in the room at the time of Madame Bones demise.'

He threw back his head and fell into riotous laughter. Hermione's lip curled and she intertwined her fingers to keep from pulling her wand and hexing him into oblivion.

This went on for several more seconds before he calmed, wiping a tear from his eye. His gaze fell back on her and before she knew it he thrust his arms outwards. Hermione flinched as his filthy fingers came within inches of her face, locked where the shackles held him. They wiggled like white worms coating in black before he dropped them, slapping his palms against the table.

'Are you scared of me mudblood?' he whispered. 

'Would you like me to be scared of you?'

He lifted a thumb running it over his bottom lip, his eyes darkening.

'I'd like a lot more than that from you,' he snarled. 'I could tell you all the things—'

'According to witnesses you were seen to use the Cruciatus Curse,' Hermione cut him off, ignoring him. 'An Unforgivable, as well as a curse of your own design. I would like to hear more about this.'

She met his gaze head on. There was nothing there but hatred, disgust. She could feel it right down to her bones, as if he were cutting through her with knives. That's when she did the one thing she'd promised herself she wouldn't do—she looked back down.

Damn.

It was inadvertent but it was a sign of weakness. She flicked her eyes back up but it was too late.

'Witnesses said you were able to perform a curse that—that was the equivalent of the Dementors Kiss,' she said quickly. 'That you magically sucked the soul out of your victim.'

'Oh that,' Mulciber grinned. 'Don't know anything about that.'

'This was the first instance of this curse being used according to our records. There are more and there are others I will ask—but as the first I'd like to hear about it from you.'

Stroke his ego. Make him want to tell you. That'd been part of her strategy.

Manipulation.

Domination.

Control.

Find a way in.

He cracked his knuckles together, twisting his neck back and forth.

'You invented it did you not? That was very clever of you.'

She let her eyes widen in what she hoped was false awe. His head cocked to the side.

'Got a lot of balls, don't ya mudblood,' he snickered. 'I wonder if you'd be so brave outta here.' 

'How and where did you learn to do such a thing?'

'No, no, no my filthy little witch.'

Hermione's shoulders tightened.

Manipulation.

Domination.

Control.

'You know they talk about you—on the outside—'

'Oh, they talk about you in here too,' he cut her off. 'I heard what Bella did to you,' he smirked. 'Can I see it? Show me. Please. I want to see it.'

He was crooning softly now, his voice wheedling through the room. Hermione felt the blood drain from her face. By the look in Mulciber's eyes he'd seen it. Her breath was coming short and sharp and she tried desperately to even out her heaving chest.

Anger, fueled by years of stress and anxiety billowed in the bottom of her gut. That's how it always went with her. Cover the fear, the pain, with wild fury. It was the glue that kept her from shattering into fractured parts.

'Answer the question,' she barked. 

'You kiss and I'll tell,' Mulciber puckered his lips. 'I wonder what you'd taste like? I bet that ginger bastard could tell me. I'd bet it'd be strawberries and vanilla—something sweet ey? Let me have a taste and I'll tell you anything you want to know. Better yet let me shove you against that wall—I'll give you a fuck like you've never had before. Unless you've not been blooded? You seem the type to wait.'

He kept talking, vile rancid words dropping from his lips like noxious fumes filling her lungs with stale air. She couldn't make sense of anything he was saying anymore—she'd completely lost control. It was stupid, so incredibly stupid. But with a few quick words she was back on the floor of Malfoy Manor, Bellatrix above her wand raised. All those faces staring down at her entirely uncarring as she shrieked through the agonising pain.

'I—'

'Do you really want to know what I did to Bones?,' he murmured his voice carringly eerily through the small space. 'I don't think you could handle it, little witch. You want to know how she cried for her mummy before I sliced her down the middle? You want me to tell you what her insides looked like?' He threw his head back and cackled. 'She was dirty just like you—a dirty whore just like all of your filth. Thieves and fucking useless cunts not worth the air you breath.' He rose to his feet and Hermione leapt from her chair. 'You come in here and demand answers from me! Like you've got the fucking right!' he roared and

Hermione staggered back.

This was all wrong. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. It was all she could do to keep her shaking legs from collapsing underneath her.

'I'll tear you apart you stupid bitch. I'll beat you senseless and skin you alive. You don't get to demand anything from me!'

'Did—did Voldemort-'

'YOU DARE SPEAK HIS NAME!' he roared and Hermione fell back against the door, her fingers clutching the handle.

'I'll cut off your fucking head and stick my cock in your ripe mouth. I'll shove my fingers into every fucking hole and rip you apart from the inside! You filthy fucking walking bleeder—'

Get angry , she willed herself. Tell him to fuck off.

But that's the thing about fear, sometimes it folds over your skin and leaves no space for air. It sends your thoughts skipping wildly through the storm. It leaves you cold, empty, a frozen figure weeping in the dark.

She couldn't.

She wouldn't-

So she ran. 

Hermione raced out of the room, her heart beating too fast. Her sight bubbled, too big, too small. She almost collided with the stone wall using it to claw her way through the darkness. She felt like she was trapped in quicksand her body sinking the more she struggled.

Hermione felt like fool—it wasn't a sensation she was used to experiencing. It was just like Vida promised, she was a joke to them. Her hands were shaking and the sight of them made her furious. Burning hot anger bubbled from the deep recesses of her gut churning, blistering. She knew this feeling well, it wouldn't go away unless she made it.

Usually it was fucking Ron, using his body to make her feel something—anything but this endless fury. They were always better when words didn't get between them. That or she'd go running for hours until her legs literally couldn't hold her anymore. Sometimes she apparate again and again seeing how far she could go before she'd pass out. It wasn't healthy but it was the only way. Forming a fist she punched the wall.

'Fuck!' she screamed.

It wasn't enough so she did it again.

Again.

Again.

Her fist was a bloody mess but she could feel the anger starting to ebb. Leaning back against the wall she sucked in a deep breath.

A soft chuckle billowed over her skin like fallen rain and she straightened abruptly. In her haste to get away she'd forgotten where she was and had no idea how to get back.

'You know I could help you,' the voice rippled through the dark.

Hermione whipped around. 'Excuse me?'

That's when she saw him. A pale face smiling through the black. The same one that stood above her as his aunt cursed her and carved her arm to shreds.

Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

2000

Draco Malfoy

His once snow white hair was half black with grime. What was usually perfectly slicked back was an unruly mess that hung to his shoulders the strands slick and unkempt. Grey eyes that once glared at her over text books had sunken back to muddy slate with purple worms underneath pulling down his face. His skin was covered in scratches, the red lines half festering mingling with the blue veins that were visible beneath almost translucent flesh.

He curled his hands around the bars, somehow the only part of him that remained the same. Long, slender fingers without a speck of dirt, she wondered briefly how much effort it took to keep them clean. He was dressed in scraps of black fabric that hung from his thin frame, accentuating the bones of his chest. From this angle she could make out the Dark Mark etched into his forearm, stark against pale skin. There were scratches carved through it too, as if he'd tried to cut it out with his own fingernails.

Yet somehow, despite all this he’d managed to become devastatingly handsome. Perhaps more so seeing as the last dregs of boyhood had melted away leaving only the man behind. Square jaw, high cheekbones and an effortless radiance most likely born from years of selective breeding lit him like a moonbeam slicing through the dark. Peeping from beneath his shirt she could just make a set of sweeping tattoos on either collarbone but couldn't make out the design.

Pretty face. Ugly soul.

He surveyed her studiously with unblinking eyes, as if he'd forgotten how to do that.

How long had he been here?

She knew the answer of course. She knew every prisoner that rotted behind these walls. She'd provided witness accounts for a good deal of them. Malfoy being one of them.

It'd been perhaps the worst day after the Battle of Hogwarts. Second only to the Weasley brothers' funerals. It was a surprisingly balmy summer day, the sun shining through an endless blue sky. As if the earth was unable to comprehend the dark dealings happening deep beneath the ground.

She'd sat in front of the entire Wizengamont and gone through her torture at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange.

'And when asked if he could identify you, what did Draco Malfoy say?' They'd asked when it had come to that juncture.

She'd half considered lying just to spite him. A scrap of remorse in the final days hardly counted for much. He let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts after all, a single act that changed everything. It would serve him right to rot, after all he'd stood above doing nothing while she was butchered on his living room floor. As if it were just another Tuesday, nothing out of the ordinary.

'He told them he couldn't be sure,' she said in the end.

He'd flinched as if he were just as surprised that she'd told the truth. It was the smallest movement from where he sat awaiting his verdict. A tiny twitch that only she saw, perhaps because she was so laser focused on him.

There’d been uproar of course. Hermione Granger testifying on behalf of Draco Malfoy. As if she didn’t merely tell the truth. But it wasn’t about saving him, he deserved to rot just all Death Eaters. It was about proving to herself that she hadn’t lost that most important part of herself. The part that championed truth above all else.

That was the last time she'd seen him.

Two years.

A person can change a lot in just two years, especially when that time is spent in Azkaban.

Time had not been kind to Draco Malfoy, that much was plain as the nose on her face. While he might have inexplicably retained his looks he most certainly was a different breed to the boy she'd known at school.

Hollow.

Raw.

A little unhinged.

Her lips curled back into a sneer. This would do quite nicely. She was in need of a good punching bag. She loosened her shoulders sideling over to his cell.

'Malfoy,' she purred. 'My my. How much you've changed.'

'And you,' his eyes trawled over her. 'When did you develop a mouth like a sailor? You’ve changed quite substantially. But… actually no—still a bag of bones. Perhaps it's not as good out there as we might think?'

'We?'

'The leftovers. Those you hoped to erase.

A low chuckle emanated from the cell behind her and Hermione swung around.

'So dramatic Draco,' Theodore Nott materialised out of the dark.

He looked like he'd been dragged through a bush backwards. His hair stuck out at odd ends, bedraggled and unruly. His skin was dusted with filth, his pallor decidedly unhealthy. Theo watched Hermione take him in, before offering a short bow.

She grimaced and he winked.

'Are you surprised?' another voice drawled.’

As her eyes adjusted Hermione could just make out where he lay against the cot in the cell beside Malfoy's.

Blaise Zabini.

'He always was the most theatrical of the lot of us.'

'Shut up Zabini,' a thin shrill echoed from nowhere. Hermione looked around unable to find its source but she knew that voice anywhere.

Pansy Parkinson.

'Oh look, it's the Slytherin common room,' Hermione said dryly. 'This must be a nice reunion for you all.'

'Ha! Good one Granger.'

'Don't encourage her Nott,' Zabini sighed. 

'Why?' Theo waggled his brows. 'Have you lot forgotten how to laugh?'

'No Crabbe and Goyle?' Hermione asked innocently.

'They're dead,' Zabini swung his legs over the side of his cot. He did not get up. 'The Dark Lord made them apparate through the Fog. Surely you-'

Hermione smiled.

Zabini's mouth popped open. 'You fucking bitch.'

'Wow Granger,' Theo snorted. 'How Slytherin of you- I'm impressed.'

'Those idiots could have said no,' Pansy scoffed. 'I did.'

'And what did that get you, Pansy?' Zabini ran a hand over his shaved scalp. 'A brush with the Dark Lord's snake. Like having one leg do you?'

'I can magic myself a new leg in a cinch once we're out of here,' she remarked lazily.

Theo looked sceptical. 'Can you?'

'Well I can certainly pay for one. I can't fucking magic myself back from the grave.'

'I wonder what happened to it, do you think it's still out there?' Theo asked.

'The snake?'

'Your leg.' 

'Theo when we get out of here I'm going to shove you so far up your own arse—'

He huffed. 'No need to chuck a wobbly. You see how they treat me? I think they're all just jealous that I've managed to retain my unparalleled beauty while the rest of them rot.'

'Nott. I will clobber you if you open that fucking mouth one more time—'

'You're welcome to try Zabini. I wouldn't mind a bit of a tussle.'

'Don't be crude,' Pansy barked.

'Oh don't be like that Pansy. You're certainly not my type but I'll give you a pity tumble to pass the time—'

'Shut up Nott!' they both blared.

'I'll just leave you all to it shall I?' Hermione muttered, mock peering around for the exit.

'Granger wait,' Malfoy snarled. He'd remained silent throughout, his eyes continuing to rake over Hermione, honing in on the bloody fist she nursed in one hand. It was decidedly off putting. 'I meant what I said.'

'Remind me again? You're quite forgettable you see.'

He gave no indication that the barb stung but his fingers tightened around the bars between them.

'I can teach you how to play the game,' he said quietly. 'If you're willing to learn.'

'What game is that?'

He smirked and she felt her stomach flutter.

Stop that.

'If you have to ask, you most certainly need my help.'

'Because you're such a master?'

He chuckled. 'I'm a Malfoy. I learnt to play before I could walk.'

'Go on then, enlighten me.'

He clicked his tongue. 'Nothing in life comes for free Granger. Surely you know that better than most?'

Well if that wasn't the honest truth she didn't know what was. She lifted a brow refusing to be baited so easily.

'And what exactly would you be helping me with?'

'You think we don't know about your little plan? Whispers are all we have here. They were ready for you. Just waiting to get under your perfect skin.'

Hermione glared at him, unwilling to admit he was probably right. She'd always known it was going to be hard, she hadn't expected her old wounds to open again so easily.

'And why on earth would you want to help me?'

His mouth twitched. 'Well you see what they don't warn you about prison—is just how fucking boring it is.'

'You'd betray your own because you're bored?'

'You think I care about anyone else in this dump?'

'You're despicable.'

'And you disgust me,' he stepped back, widening his arms. 'But here we are.'

They both glared at each other neither willing to break first.

Hermione's tongue forked with a hundred and one cruel sadistic remarks. But this was hardly enjoyable, they were clearly broken.

'Well as fun as this has been—' Hermione made to leave.

'You've got to think about it like you would an Unforgivable,' Malfoy was back at the bars, face pressed against the metal. 'The Dark Lord twisted Mulciber's mind, left him wanting only pain. You've got to make him want to tell you every little detail. You've got to make him need to tell you like his last breath depended on it.'

This pulled her up short. He was saying all the things she already knew, odd that their strategies would align so perfectly. The only problem was that she was a mudblood- at least according to them. She was an outsider, they all were. But Malfoy, Malfoy was the golden goose at the end of the beanstalk.

Malfoy nodded, evidentially he'd seen the cogs whirring to life behind her eyes. The start of a plan always did make itself present on her face. Harry and Ron had told her just this numerous times.

'They won't talk to you,' Malfoy pressed. 'They'll play with you like a little toy—and when the time comes they'll break you. Without a second thought. And then they'll forget you. Just as easily. Because you are nothing. You are vapour. Temporary. Our families are eternal. You will be dust and we will live on.'

'No,' Hermione laughed. 'You will all die. You're already dying. Can't you see? You'll die. In the dark. Alone.'

His lip curled. 'Hence my offer.'

Hermione crossed her arms. 'Tell me Malfoy why would they respect you? You couldn't even kill Dumbledore. One job and you couldn't do that.'

A brief pause. Then laughter, low and cruel. 'You think that was my only job?'

Hermione felt her brow twitch.

Interesting.

'Care to elaborate?'

'I'll give you whatever you want, if you meet my terms.'

'And what do I want?'

'A way in.'

Hermione pondered this. Their pure blood bullshit was a wasteland of conquered fallacies. They'd tried to build a castle on unsolid ground and were surprised when the whole thing collapsed, shattering their pety delusions of empirical dominance. She's taken great joy in being party to the catalyst for their destruction. The saga was over. They'd lost. She'd won.

Malfoy could say whatever he wanted but in the end they were mere words. Empty hollow husks that would never take root. Not if she had anything to do with it. Logic had long since left the debate, all that remained was cruel jibes. Well she'd survived much worse than that. Let them pick apart her bones if it got her what she wanted. The trade would be worth its weight in gold.

Sure the Malfoy family had been humiliated by Voldemort towards the end of the war but that was merely a power play. Tom Riddle knew how pure bloods worked better than anybody, he'd used the entire system to fuel his war. Draco Malfoy had and always would be his greatest adversary. Born of the blood that would never be his. She could use that.

Pulling her wand from her pocket she made a show of tapping it against her hand, the bloody mess immediately healing. She thought she heard an intake of breath as they all felt the magic swell. All they'd know was monthly siphoning, a process to keep the magic from building inside them when they couldn't expel it naturally. From what she'd heard it was excruciating, like being sucked dry.

'Because that's all a mudblood could ever want isn't it?' she said twirling the wand in her fingers, a show of what she had that they didn't.

Malfoy lifted a brow. 'Your kind shouldn't exist, it's really quite simple. And here I was thinking you were smart. More fool me.'

'My kind beat your kind. Perhaps pure blood isn't as useful as you'd think.'

'It's still something I have that you will never have. How that must infuriate you.'

'What an interesting philosophy, too bad I do not prescribe to your blatant bigotry.'

'Don't you understand? It doesn't matter what you think. You don't matter.'

She said nothing.

'When you are born as I am you'll find every waking moment is dedicated to satisfying your betters. I merely follow my own amusement.'

'That's what the war was to you? An amusement.'

'Of course. I'll serve my time—get out of here and go back to my Manor. I'll host dinner parties for my friends and they'll all come. Some of yours too I'd wager. You see my kind will always be forgiven. We are bred to be better. To be everlasting. I am the Malfoy heir and the Black heir. Do you have any idea what that means? No. You don't. Because you've barely dipped a toe into my world. So don't pretend you have any fucking right to waltz in here with those ugly shoes and that hideous skirt. Even now they're out there waiting for me. Waiting for the comfort of what they know.'

Hermione internally ruffled. How did he make it seem like he had the upper hand even from behind bars?

She faked a yawn. 'I find that hard to believe.'

'I'm offering you a deal and rest assured I only offer it out of sheer desperation.'

'You admit you are desperate?'

'I'm a Slytherin. We know when to call a spade a spade.'

'You know you're awfully mouthy for someone who's going to spend the next decade behind bars.'

'It was your kind that was stupid enough to take away the Dementors. To have empathy. To let us keep our sanity. Do you think the Dark Lord cared for you? For any of us. He cared for power. Power is the only thing that matters. I have it. You do not.'

She stared pointedly at his cell. 'I find I'm not quite as envious of your... power as you might think.'

'Even in here I have more than you. Surely you are not so proud to ignore that simple truth?'

He stood back, waiting.

Hermione twirled her wand.

'What exactly do you want in return?'

'As you say I have several years left on my sentence in this place. Make it one and I'll give you everything you want.'

She burst into laughter. 'Oh sure. That's all?'

He did not back down, his eyes gleaming. 'And this lot—they get out now.'

That almost made her mouth pop open. Draco Malfoy thinking of someone else?

She snorted. 'How noble of you.'

'If you think any of them belong in here you're stupider than I thought.'

'Yes we were all framed,' Theo cut in. 'Framed I tell you!'

Hermione and Malfoy both turned to shoot him a withering look.

'Are you quite done?' Hermione drawled.

'Not in this life,' he muttered but evidently knew when to shut it.

Malfoy's gaze flicked back to Hermione. 'I'll make them talk—they'll be sharing every little detail in a week. And after that I'll take you to my Manor and show you my family's collection. I'll give you a little tour into my world. I promise you won't leave the same.'

She extricated a small watch from her pocket taking her time opening it, checking the time.

'I'll think about it.'

She turned.

'Ask him what it felt like to kill Ted Tonks-'

This made her freeze and she spun around.

'What! That was Mulciber?'

She immediately kicked herself for showing her hand.

Malfoy chuckled. 'See. I already know more than you. Ask him how it made him a little bit hard and he jacked off later that night. Ask him how he tortured Bones and fingered her at the same time. How he got off on her twitching body. How he violated her inside and out.'

Hermione flinched. 'You're sick.'

'I am no such thing,' Malfoy sneered. 'I am merely better at this than you. It's the Gryffindor in you I think. Unable to see the world for what it is. A foul swell of untapped desire. Everyones just waiting for the opportunity to get off.'

'And yet you're friends with the likes of Mulciber.'

'He is no friend of mine. He's a subordinate—there's a big fucking difference. That man is a born bastard. He's a sadist and if you want to get anything out of him you'd better be ready to sink right down into that pool of sin. You don't get to come out of this clean. None of us do.'

A long silence stretched between them. So heavy it was almost palpable. Then—

'How that moron managed to survive the final days I'll never know,' Zabini grumbled.

'I'm pretty sure he hid in a acromantula corpse,' Theo volunteered.

Zabini jerked from where he sat. 'One of those spider things... Are you serious?'

Theo’s mouth stretched wide. 'You'll never know.'

A brief pause.

'Great,' Zabini spat. 'As always Nott you've made me wish I didn't fucking ask.'

'And yet you continue to do so. I think that says a lot more about you than me.'

'I'm going to kill myself,' Pansy groaned. 'I mean it. Todays the day.'

'Yes yes you go ahead and do that,' Hermione muttered.

She was thinking rapidly, formulating a plan. It was never going to be easy, nothing ever was. But Hermione Granger didn't give up, she found another way. Where the door was barred a window would always be open. Where the road was blocked she'd find a way to slip through the cracks. She'd done it a hundred and one times before this. She'd do it again. Maybe this was it. But Malfoy certainly couldn't know that. Not yet at least. Better to let him sweat, to stew in his own sense of superiority.

'You've given me a lot of food for thought. I'll consider what you've said.'

'You'll consider it?' Malfoy hissed.

'That's what I said.'

'Do you have any concept of what I'm offering? This is a once in a lifetime—shit in a hundred lifetimes offer!'

Hermione met his eyes head on, she flattened her expression. 'Right. Whatever. There's a frosty cup of butter beer waiting for me outside so I'll be going now.'

Malfoy's mouth popped open. Zabini fell back in his cot. There came the sound of something breaking from Pansy's cell.

'Cruel woman,' Theo muttered.

'As I said. I'll consider your offer,' she smiled at Malfoy who was now shaking with rage. 'Don't go anywhere now.'

Chapter Text

2000

Harry and Ginny were curled up in a corner whispering sweetly to one another, their eyes locked. Ginny twirled the engagement ring on her finger giggling as Harry ran his hand gently over her back. Hermione couldn’t recall them being so happy, it was intoxicating. She could see it in every guest's face, how their gaze swept to the couple and back with renewed vigour. As if it was a tangible promise of hope that spoke of something better.

Hermione was a paragon of doom and gloom by comparison. She’d sandwiched herself into one of the tiny chairs lining the very backyard of Andromeda’s house. It was Teddy Tonks second birthday and they’d all turned up. It was a regular Order of the Phoenix reunion sans those they’d lost in the war of course.

Hermione drained her glass of firewhiskey dry at the thought. It might have been a little inappropriate to bring to a children's party but she was beyond caring about things like that. She skimmed the backyard like an old magpie inspecting its domain, ready to swoop and peck if anyone even thought to disturb the peace.

Ron had picked up two kids by the ankles and was swinging them through the air. Molly hovered behind him ready to snatch a child if it looked like one might drop. She glanced over her way and Hermione immediately focused on literally anything else. Since Harry and Ginny’s engagement she’d been pestering her and Ron—making heavy insinuations that perhaps they too would like to settle down. Hermione was not even close to discussing that.

Arthur was deep in conversation with Luna and Neville about something she’d learnt at Avalon, the Wizarding University based near Salisbury. Like Platform 9 3/4 it was hidden behind a door accessible via Stonehenge and had been there since the early ages. She was studying to become a Magizoologist which surprised Hermione at first but in time she came to realise it made a lot of sense. From what she could hear she’d proposed doing a research paper on Nargles and it hadn’t gone down well with her Professor. Based on Neville’s expression it appeared he was still sweet on her. They’d dated for maybe a month after the war but Luna broke it off to go travelling through Europe with her father and hadn’t picked it up on her return—though she was fairly certain Neville would have liked to.

Behind them George had a witch who couldn’t be older than 18 perched on his lap. She kept laughing a little too loudly at his jokes slapping his arm playfully in a way that a little sickening. But maybe that was just Hermione being hateful. She watched George sneak a sip from a flask while his mother was turned the other way. A short distance from them Minerva and Poppy were sipping tea under the shade of a large yew tree, their pointed hats bedecked in streamers. Poppy grinned easily while Minerva kept shooting stern glances at her former student.

The Aurors congregated by the fence, two of them shifting uncomfortably. Hermione could only assume they’d come in a show of support for Tonks. She watched Robards check his watch two times in the space of one minute. He was standing with Kvothe and they were murmuring quietly to each other, their eyes darting around the guests. They were both surreptitiously watching Fitz who regaled a rather horrified group of invitees with dark tales of werewolf mistreatment through the ages.

Hermione had met him a few times now and she absolutely adored him, exactly as Ron predicted. He was a genius. He had a way of speaking that made people shut up and listen, a skill she’d never quite possessed and envied to the marrow of her bones. He’d invited them all to a rally for what he’d dubbed the Equalisers in just over a month and Hermione couldn’t wait. As she observed him elucidate she noticed his attentions were drawn to where Harry and Ginny sat more than most which was a little strange. Though she supposed this was simply because he was morbidly curious about the Boy Who Lived as nearly everyone in the Wizarding World was. She did not envy Harry that.

Circe meanwhile was chatting with Oscar and they both kept tipping their heads back, shaking with silent laughter. They were clearly having a jolly good time and Hermione half considered joining them—if only so she might absorb some of their eternal good cheer. She liked Circe. The witch was charming and thoughtful and Hermione’d elicited advice regarding her studies on numerous occasions—she was a wizz when it came to regulatory matriculation. Oscar on the other hand was always good for a laugh, he was open and easy to talk to despite his posh demeanour. They’d been briefly paired up during her Auror training and he was one of the few people who understood what she was hoping to achieve. He’d been at Hogwarts with the Carrows and knew just how deep their hatred ran. Oscar was a Ravenclaw in Luna’s year but they’d never really been close.

Next to them Safira was reading Vida’s palm—at least that's what it looked like—while Anise peered over her shoulder. The former were cackling almost as loud while Anise blushed bright red. Probably doing her love lines. She’d done Hermione’s months ago when she’d been too blasted to resist. Apparently hers ended between her index and middle fingers—the mount of Jupiter and Saturn love line—which meant she would experience pure, true love. Her eyes darted back to Ron at the thought and she wondered briefly if this was what true love was supposed to feel like. She snorted. It was all hogwash. Ginny’s had a downward curve which indicated owning—whatever that meant.

Apart from that there were a bunch of neighbours mingling about, parents of the screaming children who zoomed over the grass on tiny wooden brooms. Teddy sat in the middle of them, his little blue fuzz shining, his eyes wide, while Andromeda attempted to shepherd them all towards a table piled with snacks and party favours. It was an altogether cheery affair that didn’t quite match Hermione’s mood. She shoved her fork into a slice of cake, stabbing at the frosting.

‘Wotcher Hermione!’ Tonks dropped into the seat beside her.

‘Heya,’ she smiled. ‘Great party.’

‘Thanks,’ Tonks smirked. ‘To be honest mum organised most of it. Been too busy to offer much. And I mean… he’s two, how much is going to remember?’

Hermione chuckled, lifting a huge piece of cake and swallowing it whole.

‘Remus would love this I think,’ Tonks sighed.

And just like that the cake turned to ash in her mouth.

‘Mmm,’ she offered noncommittally.

Tonks shot her a sideways glance. ‘So how’s it all going?’

‘The deal was made,’ Hermione said quietly.

She didn’t want the others to hear. So far only Robards, Kvothe, Tonks, Vida and Oscar knew about the deal she’d struck with Malfoy. She was going to have to tell Harry and Ron at some point but hadn’t found the time just yet. Or the backbone really. There was no doubt in her mind they’d be furious, Ron in particular.

Tonks and Vida had been called in to work on the emerging BloodBorn problem so Oscar had been brought in as her replacement chaperone. It’d been a few months in fact since she’d enlisted Malfoy’s help.

After their encounter she made a show of visiting Azkaban at least twice, walking down the hall where Malfoy’s cell was located. He’d lift his head, his eyes trailing her procession. Not once did she acknowledge him. It was not until the third time she stopped, coming to an abrupt halt in front of his cell.

‘Where’s that little twink that was here with you last time?’ Theo greeted her. ‘You should bring him back—nice to look at that one.’

‘Oscar is busy,’ Hermione shot him a dark look.

‘A shame. He really is something else you know. I like them dark don’t I Zabini—’

‘Sit down and shut it Theo.’

‘Oh come on Granger,’ he sighed. ‘Let’s leave the school yard in the school yard shall we?’

‘No. I’d rather keep hating you if you don’t mind.’

‘How very boring.’

Malfoy stepped forward. ‘You’ve considered my offer?’ he asked, eyes glittering.

There was an intensity there that made her skin prickle.

‘Yes,’ she said evenly. ‘But there are several stipulations.’

‘Of course there are.’

‘The first—you will be released from here no earlier than one year from today. At that time you will be put under house arrest. No one may leave or enter your residence without permission or you will come straight back here, do you understand?’

‘That’s not quite freedom Granger—’

‘Would you prefer to stay then?’ she tipped her head to the side. ‘Because I had to fight to get you even that so you’ll forgive me if I don’t feel sorry for you locked up in a literal mansion.’

This was very true. Kingsley and her ended up in a screaming match where Robards had to literally pry them apart. Their relationship, once strong, had been considerably fried since the final days of war. He couldn’t prove it but he knew it was her that let Harry out and he would likely never forgive her for defying him. In the end it was Vida who was the voice of reason.

‘You do what you can,’ she snapped. ‘This is one of those times. If it all goes wrong we’ll lock the door on the Malfoy brat and throw away the key. There’s too much at stake for us not to kiss the donkey.’

‘That’s not quite the saying Vida.’

‘I don’t care. This is a good thing. I trust Hermione eh. So should we all.’

Hermione could have kissed her for it.

Back in the now Malfoy glared at her. ‘Next?’

‘The others will only be allowed out if you permit them to serve with you.’

His lip curled. ‘You want them to come to Malfoy Manor?’

‘Yes. Where you will all be put under house arrest.’

This was evidently not what he had in mind.

‘You want us locked in a house. Together?’ he asked incredulously.

‘Unless you want to leave them here?’

‘No,’ he said faster than she would have expected. ‘They come with me.’

Hermione clicked her teeth. ‘Such a good friend.’

‘Thanks Draco!’

‘Shut up Theo,’ he hissed. ‘Next?’

‘You will be required to swear an Unbreakable Vow for your service.’

His fingers curled into a fist. ‘What exactly am I supposed to swear?’

Hermione chuckled heartily. ‘Does it matter? We both know you're going to do it.’

‘My word is not good enough?’

‘No. Your word is garbage. Turns out you can’t join a murdering Wizarding cult without repercussions. I know, shocking. Who’d have thought.’

‘Your sarcasm is not appreciated.’

‘Then don’t ask stupid questions.’

‘Granger you’ve changed,’ Pansy snorted from the dark. ‘I like it.’

They both ignored her.

‘Anything else?’ Malfoy waved his hand sarcastically.

In doing so his shirt lifted revealing a long winding dragon curling over his collarbone. The ink matched that on his forearm and she wondered briefly if there was magic imbibed similarly. Noticing where she was looking he lowered his arm, shifting his shirt back in place.

‘Every month you will be made to drink Veritaserum and surrender to a Legilimency session to ensure you’re not… up to anything.’

‘This is a long list,’ he glowered.

‘And you’re a fucking Death Eater,’ she snapped. ‘So shut your mouth and keep listening.’

‘So crass,’ he mumbled.

‘This should be obvious but you will not share anything you’ve heard during our sessions—this will be part of your vow.’

‘As if I want to tell anyone anything I learn from those toads.’

‘Yes yes but we’ll need assurances. You understand.’

‘Of course.’

‘You will, as promised, show me all the Dark Artefacts and Histories packed away in Malfoy Manor. Any old grimoires, spells, anything that your foul ancestors concocted. You will also make those available from your inheritance of the Black estates. You will hide nothing. You will help me catalogue these items and you will work tirelessly to document all the atrocities your kind have performed throughout the ages starting with the Second Wizarding War.’

‘I can’t wait.’

‘Oh I’m sure. Last, you will be heralded for your efforts in the Daily Prophet as part of the rehabilitation program. You all will.’

She stood back and smiled at the gobsmacked expression on his face.

‘What!’

‘Oh yes Malfoy,’ she grinned. ‘Everyone will know that you’re serving the Ministry in its efforts to destabilise Voldemort’s legacy. Is that a problem for you?’

‘Of course it’s a bloody problem!’ he shouted. ‘You can’t do that!’

She leant forward threading her fingers together. ‘Is it so terrible to be seen doing the right thing?’

‘Are you fucking kidding me? Yes you nimwit! I’ll be assassinated in my bed faster than you can count to ten!’

She rolled her eyes. ‘What a shame that would be.’

‘This is your doing.’

Hermione smiled innocently. ‘It will not specify what help you are providing.’

‘As if that’s any better! I hope you're ok with my blood on your hands,’ he growled.

She stepped forward, flattening her palms over the bars and leaning towards him. ‘Seeing as my blood is probably still staining your floor—let me make this very clear for you. I am.’

Their eyes met pure fire raging between them. He looked away first.

‘Tell her to stuff it Malfoy,’ Blaise croaked. He didn’t sound well. Not well at all. ‘We’ll be fine.’

Malfoy flinched at the weak timber of his voice.

Suddenly his sense of immediate desperation made more sense. Once that might have made her feel sorry for them. Now she only saw it as what it was—leverage.

‘Think on it,’ Hermione crooned, feeling somewhat victorious. ‘I’ll be back at the end of the week. After that I will not be returning, your choice.’

‘This isn’t a choice, Granger,’ he said, not looking up. ‘I’ll do it.’

Kvothe entered hours later to perform the vow.

‘Surely we don’t need him?’ Malfoy sneered.

‘Of course we need a Bonding Agent. Without it it’d only be a Tethering Bond. Unless you would like to be sworn under fealty and be forced to obey my every whim?’

He blanched. ‘Absolutely not.’

‘Good. Then shut up.’

They approached each other, clasping their right hands together, the bars like ice between them. Hermione fought off the desire to tear her hand away, his skin was somehow both hot and cold. Smooth and rough. Long slender fingers wrapped around hers sending a shiver down her spine. Grey eyes snapped to hers and it was like being doused in freezing water, a tide of frost whispering over her skin.

Kvothe stepped forward with his wand raised. ‘You are sure?’ he asked Hermione in his curling accent.

She nodded.

With that he started whispering, and a thin tongue of luminous flame issued from the wand winding its way around their hands. Hermione heard Malfoy suck in a breath and she forced herself not to be likewise affected. This was raw magic unlike anything she’d ever felt before. It tingled up her spine, setting her blood broiling, her heart thundering. A quiet murmuring filled the room like the rustle of leaves coating them in a cocoon of electric energy.

‘Will you, Draco Malfoy, support Hermione Granger in her endeavour to dismantle the previous Wizarding occupation,’ Kvothe began. ‘Will you open your world to her and give her everything she asks for in this regard?’

The first strand tangled over their hands, the thin fiber tightening over their skin. Hermione watched it shine bright white—that was odd.

‘I will,’ Malfoy answered.

‘Will you vow to never lie to her, attempt to trick her, harm her or otherwise betray her.’

A second strand.

‘I will.’

‘Will you vow to never speak of what you hear or learn to anyone unless given express permission by Miss Hermione Granger.’

A third strand.

‘I will.’

A brief pause. ‘And will you never join any other movement aimed at resurrecting Voldemort.’

A fourth strand, this one significantly thicker than the others. Hermione’s eyes shot to Kvothe, she didn’t know this was part of the plan. Her gaze snapped back to Malfoy. He was glaring at her.

They waited, seeing what he would do. Then-

‘I will.’

’All of this do you vow to uphold until I, as Bonding Agent do mark this oath fulfilled?’

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. An Unbreakable Vow with a clause. One that put them both under Kvothe’s control.

A long, drawn out silence where Malfoy likewise considered his words.

‘I will.’

Kvothe lowered his wand. The deal made the strands bled into their skin leaving only a fine line marking where their hands touched.

It’d been months since then and she’d been visiting Azkaban twice weekly. From what she’d heard, Theo, Zabini and Pansy had been living it up in the Manor since their release. Oscar popped in on occasion to confirm they were still there and had found them drunk every time.

Malfoy meanwhile was true to his word and threw himself into her work. In truth it appeared like he was excited to finally have something to do. He had wanted to go over her interview questions, her overall strategy and subject list. He’d made major revisions in the first hour and hadn’t stopped since then. It’d taken a great deal of effort not to curse him into next week but she’d manage to refrain from losing her shit altogether so that was a plus.

They had a major interview planned tomorrow that she was equal parts excited and nervous for. Antonin Dolohov.

‘Hey,’ Ron slapped her on the back and she jumped abruptly, torn from her reverie. ‘Oh sorry, you ready to go?’

‘I suppose so,’ Hermione shrugged. ‘What’s the rush?’

He leant down to speak quietly in her ear. ‘I’ve got to prep for tomorrow. Fitz is taking me out to scope out one of the known BloodBorn haunts. I’ll probably be out most of the night so want to kip a bit now.’

Hermione felt like she’d been thrown under water. It was suddenly very hard to breathe.

She clutched at Ron’s arm, fear twisting through her gut. ‘What! You didn’t tell me that!’

‘Well no I wouldn’t,’ his eyes widened. ‘Kvothe only told me yesterday.’

He turned to Tonks for help who wisely kept her mouth shut.

‘Ron—’

‘Hermione—’

‘You can’t. It’s too dangerous,’ she rasped.

There’d been another attack last week that left the Auror’s office stunned. She’d snuck into Ron’s briefcase and seen the photos. There’d been so much blood, too much blood. It didn’t make any sense how it could only come from one person but apparently it did.

Madame Rosmerta.

According to the Prophet whoever did it broke into the Three Broomsticks and tortured her all night before leaving her corpse in pieces for the students of Hogwarts to find the next morning when they visited Hogsmeade. Several of them were sent to St Mungos for severe shock.

Hermione had been having nightmares every night since. First seeing Ron, then Harry, then Ginny, Luna, Tonks, Neville—everyone she knew torn to shreds, their body parts strewn over the floor, the walls.

She’d gone into Azkaban and hexed Mulciber in the face and received a formal warning from Robards for extreme misconduct. Ron thought it was hilarious and though she appreciated the support, humour wasn’t quite what she was going for. She was looking for someone just as vengeful and vindictive as her.

But that was Ron. All he did was laugh now. Long and loud and All. The. Time.

It made her want to throttle him which she was well aware was incredibly cruel. Why wasn’t he allowed to be happy even if she wasn’t?

Malfoy also thought it was great. ‘They respect that. Do you know how many times Voldemort used to curse his Death Eaters? They’ll be more inclined to listen to you the worse you treat them.’

Ron was gripping her shoulder. ‘Come on Hermione, you’ve got to trust me.’

‘I do trust you. But I don’t want you out there. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me straight away.’

‘Ok first of all, you didn’t even come home last night. And second—because you tell me everything?’

She stiffened. ‘That’s not—you know I can’t!’

People were staring now.

‘I don’t want to fight with you Hermione. But this is what I do.’

‘I thought you’d get less reckless, not more so!’

Ron glared at her. ‘Hermione, it's my job.’

She folded her arms into a tight pretzel. ‘Well I don’t like it.’

‘You don’t like much of anything these days do you,’ he sighed.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘I didn’t—look—nothing. Come on. Let’s just get out of here.’ He dropped to his knees in front of her. ‘I’m sorry ok. I know this stuff worries you. I’ll be ok. Really!’ he shot her a big smile and she immediately softened.

He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and dropped a gentle kiss on the tip of her nose. She smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. It hurt that it didn’t feel like it used to. Once she’d have melted and fallen into his arms. Now it only reminded her of the endless nightmares that ripped her from her sleep. At some point the two had got mixed up, a painful twisting of love and pain that left her cold and empty in his presence.

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘I just want you to be proud of me, Hermione. The same way I’m proud of you.’

‘I am. I swear I am.’ Tears pricked the corner of her eyes. ‘I just get so scared with you out there.’

‘You can’t be scared like this for the rest of your life.’

‘I know. I’m working on it. I’ll get better, I promise.’

She hoped that was true.

Chapter Text

2000

A flurry of dust moats hung low floating listlessly through the air. The walls looked like they hadn't been cleaned since the beginning of time. It was a large chamber with an enormous open air window revealing endless ocean that hung like a moving picture frame. A long jump that meant death, the way was warded so the prisoners couldn't leap through even if they'd tried. Through it a glowing ember spoke of the coming dawn on the far off horizon. That wasn't saying much, the days only lasted a couple of hours this far north.

It'd been Malfoy's idea to come here, apparently he'd been allowed to meet his representation in this room before his trial.

'Give a little to get a little Granger,' he'd said. 'Let them see the sun. Then take it away again. Make them associate you with that little bit of real life.' 

They'd set up a long table, one Malfoy procures from the Manor. According to him it was the very same that Voldemort used when he'd taken up residence in their home.

'I would have burnt it the moment I got out of here. Better to bring it here. See if it shakes some memories loose.'

It was of fine make, rich mahogany painted a deep green so dark it was almost black. Tiny snakes had been carved into the edges and around the corners forming into sturdy legs that curled to the floor. The figures almost seemed to writhe as the water reflected into the room in glistening shadows. Three chairs were positioned around it. Two on their side, one on the other. Absurd to think he would be sitting with her not with them.

They entered in silence, both internally running through the plan. Malfoy had been given a fresh set of clothes, still the same prisoner's garb but significantly less worn. He'd also been permitted to wash, his hair slick back and tucked behind his ears. His pointed nose sat high in the air as he surveyed the room, checking everything was to his liking. Ever the perfectionist.

She let her eyes roam over him once and once only. Even that was enough to set her stomach buzzing, a nasty hive of bees humming through her gut. It was a little unfair that he might appear quite so regal after two years locked away in the dark. Next to him she felt positively frumpy in her black woollen trousers and grey turtle neck. The room however was freezing, something he did not seem to feel.

She'd swapped out her previous shoes for a pair of slim line boots with pointed toes. All the better to kick him if he thought to insult her attire again. Her thick mane was gathered in a tight low bun, a few unruly strands bursting free around her ears and forehead.

She pocketed her wand—the side furthest away from Malfoy—and placed her case on the table unlatching the clasps and lifting the lid. From inside she pulled a stack of notes laying them out carefully across the table.

Malfoy nodded approvingly.

Most of the pages would be blank but Hermione knew Dolohov was a blatant narcissist. It'd stroke his ego to think they had so much research into his life's work when in reality there was only a small portion of his career as a Death Eater that interested her.

They'd been discussing their tactical approach for the past several days.

'You can't ask him anything outright. He'll clamp up faster than a Hufflepuff when a teacher comes sniffing around the greenhouse if you know what I mean. They need to be the one to offer the information first. You need to make them want to impress you.'

'How do I do that?'

'Slowly. They won't believe you if you offer random compliments. They need to respect you first.'

She snorted. 'They'll never respect me.'

He lifted a brow. 'Of course they will. All you have to do is expect it. Demand it without a single word being spoken. You are better than them.'

'You believe that?' she scoffed.

'Of course I don't,' he sneered. 'But we're not trying to manipulate me. That would be almost impossible.'

'Almost?'

'There are ways to get under anyone's skin Granger. You just need to know the right words. The right look. The right time.' He paused. 'Bellatrix was a master at that.' He appeared to be pondering something, his eyes flicking over her face. 'But think of it this way. You got me, a Malfoy, to make an Unbreakable Vow to you, a mudblood. Perhaps you are yet to realise the significance of that. Let me make it clear now—that has never happened. Not with any pureblood. Ever.'

Hermione straightened. 'Was that a compliment?'

'It is a fact,' he shrugged. 'If you can do that I'd say you can manage this.'

She waited for the other shoe to drop.

He raked a hand over his hair, sliding a fallen lock back into place. ‘Even if you're just the mudblood scrap that's going to help me get out of this dump.'

Hermione smirked. 'And there it is. You know if you could refrain from calling me slurs that'd be just peachy.'

'What would you prefer I call you instead?’ his eyes flashed. ‘Dirt skimmer? Muggle born filth? Witch bitch? Putrid Princess? Merlin's mistake? Foul loathsome evil little cock—'

Hermione bristled. 'I'll start calling you Blood Traitor then? How about that—‘

'Don't you fucking dare.'

'Then refrain from calling me any of the above and we'll be fine.'

He glowered at her.

'You know what? Never mind. Clearly you're still a child.'

'Fine,' he relented. 'Perhaps respect isn't quite the right angle. They'll want to horrify you. To make your blood curdle. To wake up screaming through the night.'

Hermione flinched. It was subtle but he definitely saw it. His brow furrowed, eyes gleaming.

'Not getting in your beauty sleep Granger?' He paused. 'I can tell.'

She narrowed her eyes. Raised her wand. A flash of white light.

His hand puckered, red scorch marks blistering his skin.

'What the fuck!'

Another wave and it healed.

'Insult me again,' she cocked her head to the side. 'I dare you.'

'Bloody hell Granger what happened to you!'

'The war happened to me,’ her expression turned lethal. ‘You'll find I don't have the same kind of patience I once did. Next time I won't heal it. Understand?'

He refused to answer, merely dropping his chin in a tight nod.

'Good. Now, Dolohov.' 

'He's already tried to kill you twice—'

'Three times—'

'And failed on all occasions, trust me he's pissed about it. Used to bring it up all the time.'

Hermione started. 'Really?'

His brow shot up and he settled back into a chair, one arm slung luxuriously over the table. A King to his morbid throne. ‘Indeed. I'd wager he's very much looking forward to this. If only to try and find a way to hurt you.’ He drummed his fingers on the wood. ‘Make you look like the fool that he feels. Let him think he's getting under your skin.'

They'd run one set of interviews successfully with this method thus far, a test of sorts. But then Travers was an idiot, so it wasn't altogether fullproof. In the end he'd given up two of the old Death Eater bases where they'd discovered a small group of snatchers and a plethora of Dark Objects they were planning to sprinkle slowly through the community in an effort to spread fear. Stan Shunpike being amongst them.

Kvothe went so far as to clap her on the back for that one. Kingsley even found his way down to her tiny office sandwiched between the Department of Mysteries and the courthouse to offer her a stiff congratulations. There was a lone desk that Ron liked to lean on when he came for visits, a singular chair with stacks and stacks of files on every prisoner in the entirety of Azkaban plus a great deal on those they hadn't managed to apprehend. Yet. 

Everything to do with Malfoy and the 'leftovers' as he'd called them was glamoured. She was going to tell Ron, she really was—just once she had more results to pad the inevitable argument that would come.

And Merlin did they argue. At first their bickering was stirring, a rousing kind of four play. They'd get all hot and bothered and end up in the bedroom. Now it was exhausting and edging on mean spirited.

The door opened and Oscar made his way into the room, a large, brutish figure in tow. His hair had grown long, now secured in a brown string. Unlike Malfoy he hadn't much bothered to keep himself clean. He had, however, been working out. That much was clear by the bulging muscles exploding from beneath his shirt. Even now his skin was glistening in a thin film of sweat, likely he'd been exercising in his cell when he'd been extracted. A large smile was stretched across his face, his eyes full of vicious intent as they fell on Hermione. She rolled her shoulders inwards, tucking her legs under her chair. She held his gaze for a brief moment before looking away.

It was somehow easier, playing the role of the fearful version of herself. Acting as if it wasn't who she actually was.

'Dolohov,' Malfoy greeted him dryly with a short nod.

Exactly as they'd planned. Malfoy would be the aggressor, she would be reactive.

The barrel chested wizard pulled the chair out, scratching it purposefully against the stone before dropping heavily in front of them. Oscar carefully unlocked the shackles at his wrists, his attention focused on Hermione. They'd argued about this at length this morning until she'd put her foot down. They needed him to feel powerful, in control. She had her wand and a carefully concealed shield charm floating between them. They'd be fine.

'Enjoying being back?' Malfoy sneered. 'You're a regular return visitor at this point.'

Dolohov snickered, cracking his knuckles in a way that made Hermione flinch. 'I've been in here almost as long as you've been alive. It feels like home.' He surveyed the room, taking in the large open window as an addict might savour the first sting of relapse. ‘Got yourself a pretty sweet gig here Malfoy,' he remarked, ignoring Hermione. 'But then I suppose that's the way of cockroaches. They always survive the fall.'

If she hadn’t become attuned to him over the last several weeks she might have missed his reaction. A subtle tilt of his chin. The barely imperceptible flare that glinted in his eyes. A widening of the pupils and a frosty chill emanating through the air. 

A warning. 

’I'd watch how you speak to me,’ he said dryly, his countenance unchanged. ‘My family knows how to... persevere as it were. Perhaps you could learn a thing or two.’

Dolohov lifted a brow. 'You might want to consider where your loyalties lie for when the Dark Lord returns.'

'He is dead,' Hermione cut in.

'The Dark Lord always comes back,' he snarled. 'Surely you know that by now?'

Malfoy and Dolohov shared a knowing glance and for a second Hermione wondered if the former actually believed that.

'So what's all this?' Dolohov indicated the papers lining the table.

'Why this is your illustrious career,' Hermione waved a hand.

'Mmm,' he grunted. 'Heard you were doing these interview things. What exactly are you hoping to learn? You'll find me not so easy to pick apart as Travers. He won't be meeting with you again I'm afraid. Had a little accident he did.'

'I heard about that,' Malfoy leant forward. 'Fell into a shiv no less than thirty times. My goodness, what a clutz.'

They both laughed at this while Hermione glared between them.  

'Go on then witch,' Dolohov clucked, wiping a tear from his eye. He was sitting back, his demeanour exceedingly comfortable. 'Tell me about myself.'

Hermione sucked in a breath pulling one of the folders towards her. She flipped it open immediately listing off his charges and major offences.

'Antonin Dolohov, considered one of the He Who Must Not Be Named's strongest allies.'

Dolohov nodded at this.

'Close affiliates of Tom Riddle—deceased-'

'Who?'

'You Know Who.'

'So you say. Fat lot of lies.'

'Bellatrix Lestrange—deceased,' Hermione started again. 'Rastaban Lestrange—at large, Rodolphus Lestrange—at large, Thorfinn Rowle—deceased, Vulcan Mulciber—incarcerated for life, Gaspar Avery—incarcerated for life, Alecto Carrow- at large, Amycus Carrow—at large, Corbin Yaxley—incarcerated for life, Nott, Crabbe, Goyle—all deceased, and—' Hermione's eyes darted to Malfoy—'Lucius Malfoy—at large.'

'Slippery your dear old dad is, isn't he?' Dolohov smirked. 

Malfoy's brow twitched. 'He certainly knows when to disappear.'

'Too bad he left you behind.'

'Indeed.'

Hermione coughed into her hand. 'Was arrested at the Battle of Hogwarts after the fall of He Who Must Not Be Named.'

'Allegedly,' Malfoy offered and Dolohov grinned.

'And charged with life imprisonment for the following crimes.'

Dolohov crossed his arms clearly enjoying this.

'The crime of being a Death Eater. Of breaking into the Department of Mysteries and destroying Ministry property of insurmountable value and attacking underage wizards. Of seriously maiming with the intent to kill, Alastor Moody, Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Fillius Flitwick—I mean the list goes on do you really want me to say them all?'

He lifted a brow and she sighed.

'Neville Longbottom, B-Bill Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks, Marlene McKinnon, Dorcas Meadows, Kingsley Shacklebolt and a host of assumed others where witness accounts are not available. There was also a fight that left James Potter, father of Harry Potter, seriously injured and near death—' 

He slapped the table, eyes sparkling. 'I forgot about that! Bloody Black stopped me from taking his head off.'

'Led the torture of countless muggles—'

'Good times.'

'The murder of the Prewetts—'

'Gideon and Fabian were fun,' he acknowledged, eyes sparkling. 'I almost wish the Dark Lord didn't join in.'

'And the murder of esteemed Order of the Pheonix member Remus L-Lupin as he tried to escape the earthquake caused by He Who Must Not Be Named.'

She didn't have to fake the wobble that entered her voice then.

Dolohov's smile widened. 'Friends with that werewolf scum were you?'

Hermione let her eyes meet his. 'Yes,' she said.

Her fingers curled around the paper in her hand, she was visibly shaking now.

'Ho, ho! The mudbloods mad,' he winked at Malfoy. 'I remember you, witch. I almost got you too. Shame. You snuck up on me.' He clicked his teeth. 'Bad form.'

She recalled briefly the non verbal spell that landed her in the Hospital Wing for an extended stay. If he'd been able to speak the words aloud she'd likely be dead now. As it was—

'I'd say my form was quite spot on actually,' she murmured. 'Think of it, a fifteen year old witch taking down one of Voldemort's most loyal supporters. How embarrassing for you.'

Malfoy glared at her.

She wasn't supposed to be brave. Or insult him. Or use Voldemort's name.

Dolohov's teeth were bared.

Hermione shut her eyes, forcing the fury to abate. This wasn't the time for that.

'Crying mudblood?'

This seemed to cheer him up and she threw in a little sniff for good measure.

'There was also the unexplained instance of Emmeline Vance and her sisters Josipa and Yvain,' Malfoy drawled. 'But we're not much interested in that—'

It was a lie, that was exactly the reason they'd wanted to talk to him. The entire case made no sense. The scene was infamous for the sheer brutality of it. But there were only traces of a lone spell being performed- by one Antonin Dolohov. It'd stumped Auror's for years and they were desperate to learn if there was more to it.

'Why's that Malfoy?' Dolohov snapped.

'Well clearly you had help from the werewolves,' Hermione said. She flipped the folder closed, placing it on top of one pile reaching for another.

She opened this one running her finger down the long list of arbitrary dates.

'Ah here,' she said. 'On August 31st 1984–'

'There were no werewolves' Dolohov cut her off and Hermione internally whooped. 'It wasn't even a full moon.'

Again they knew this. There was no sign of any Dark creatures involvement which is what made the entire scene so mystifying.

Hermione shrugged. 'Giants then. It's quite obvious—'

'Not so obvious then if that's what you think,' he snarled. 'You really want to know how I did it mudblood?'

'What? You?' she furrowed her brow. 'You mutilated them with a spell?'

'No,' his eyes twinkled. 'I didn't do that to them. She did.'

'What? What are you talking about?'

'Is it not obvious?' he mimicked her voice.

'You... you didn't do it—'

'That's what I said.'

'But...' she trailed off. 'Imperius?'

'No.'

Hermione was dumbfounded.

'The incantation?' Malfoy asked quietly.

'Oh it's a good one. Sui Mutilatio. I'd recommend it. Nothing like seeing someone rip their own arms off. Or that of their loved ones.'

Hermione gagged and she felt Malfoy move closer to her.

'The screams,' Dolohov tipped his head back as if lost in the throes of splendour. 'I've never heard anything quite so divine.'

There was something about this that nudged at the back of her mind. Realisation hit her like a speeding freight train and her blood turned cold. Beside her Malfoy was frozen, his hands like stone where they were folded beneath the table.

The photos appeared before her like a mirage, she'd thought there was something about them that felt odd. 'That's what they did to Rosmerta-' Hermione croaked. 'She—she did it to herself!'

Dolohov beamed. 'Smart little mudblood. Guess the Carrow's are closer than we think.'

The Carrows?

Hermione leapt to her feet. Ron—

Malfoy gripped her by the arm tugging her back down. She slowly lowered her heart split in two. But Malfoy was right, they needed more.

'Tell us about it,' Malfoy asked, keeping his voice deathly quiet. It was such a good impression of Bellatrix Hermione felt like she'd been punched in the gut. 'Tell us how you made them bleed.' 

It felt like a thick wet blanket had been lowered over all of them, their words now slipping to and from like snakes in tall grass.

'Never felt anything like it,' he ran a hand through his hair. 'I swear it was like art.'

'I bet,' Malfoy purred. 'I've seen the pictures. Beautiful.'

Hermione no longer had to pretend anything. Her head swivelled back and forth listening to the two Death Eaters as if she were caught in a bizarre tennis match.

'Didn't think you were into that Malfoy.'

'I keep my tastes private. But Salazar...' he huffed out a breath, rubbing his palm over his pants. 'I'm Bella's nephew aren't I?'

'That you are,' Dolohov chuckled.

Hermione had been reduced to stone. Malfoy was—he was doing a good job—wasn't he? This was why she'd brought him in. It didn't make it any less horrifying.

'I could show it to you,' Dolohov whispered. 'If you'd like. I could show you a lot of things—all you have to do is take out the mudblood.' He pointed to the space between them. 'Think I don't see this. Just take her out. Do it Draco, let's have a little fun.'

Hermione let out an inadvertent squeak and their eyes snapped to her. She only focused on Malfoy wondering if he was really this good an actor or if she was perhaps the dumbest witch in dumb town. It didn't much matter, if he came at her she'd drop him without a second thought. But still, it was the principle of the thing.

Malfoy considered her for half a beat too long. Just enough to convince her that he was in fact the enemy—before leaning back with a low laugh.

'If I could do that Dolohov I would have done it the moment that queer left.'

Dolohov stared at him long and hard. 'What a pity.' He lifted his forearm placing it on the table running his finger up and down the snake inked into his flesh.

'So,' Malfoy pressed. 'Go on.'

'You need blood of an innocent to make it really work. Got the idea from the Dark Lord. Hard to find innocents though isn't it. Littluns are my go to, you'll never go wrong with them.'

Hermione's hand went to the wand in her pocket. Sparks billowed as her fingers curled around the wood. Malfoy's hand under the table slid over her thigh, a warning. The touch sent her heart thundering and she was surprised no one could hear it audibly thumping away inside her.

Dolohov continued to swirl his finger over the Dark Mark. Hermione could have sworn it started to glow. She frowned.

'Same blood the Dark Lord used for these marks. Not the only thing he snuck in the ink though was it.'

Malfoy's hand tightened on her leg.

'What are you—‘

Dolohov's eyes snapped to Hermione, the corner of his mouth curling into a smile. She felt Malfoy tense beside her.

'Goodbye little witch. It's been fun.'

'Hermione get ba—'

'Exstinguo,' he whispered.

It all happened so fast.

She watched him lift his hand, slap it down on the now definitely glowing Dark Mark.

Heat.

Burning hot fire.

The shield obliterated as if it were paper. Hermione screamed. Malfoy roared. He grabbed her by the shoulders and suddenly she was on the ground, cold stone pressed against her back, a warm body heavy against her front. Grey eyes stretched wide staring down at her.

'Granger—are you ok?' he rasped.

'I—'

There was a dull ringing in her ears, she blinked rapidly trying to make sense of what happened. Malfoy had thrown them both back against the floor. She could smell the scent of burnt flesh and singed hair. Rock and stone was strewn through the room, an enormous hole carved through the floor. She was cold, so cold. Her brain started humming a million miles a minute, she was likely going into shock.

'Is the Dark Mark self destructive,' she choked.

Malfoy grimaced. His fingers wrapped around her throat and for a moment she was afraid. Then he only turned her chin to the side, clearly inspecting for damage.

'Evidently so,' he murmured.

His fingers continued to stroke against her skin. Hermione's brow furrowed. 

'What—what are you doing?'

'Not sure,' he said quietly. 'No idea.'

He didn't stop.

'You—you just saved my life.'

'You're my ticket out of here Granger. Don't let it go to your head,' he groaned. Then promptly passed out on top of her.

Chapter Text

2000

There was uproar.

Hermione could barely put it together. Suddenly there were people everywhere. She thought she saw Oscar cast a pratonus—a glowing ox- and then several loud cracks sounded as bodies appeared in what was left of the room.

Healers scurried back and forth. They attempted to get her on a stretcher but she demanded a basic Remedial Draught before shooing them away instead making sure the Healers tended to Malfoy.

'Did you know?' Hermione asked Malfoy once he was lifted on a gurney.

One of the Healers had woken him with a flick of their wand. His back was a slick mess of blood and burnt flesh. The back of his scalp was a mix of silver and black. She winced at the sight of it. A pile of rocks littered the floor where they'd been sitting. If he hadn't moved as fast as he had they'd both have both been crushed.

'Of course I didn't bloody know,' he rasped his eyes bright with pain. Then he was carried from the room.

The rest of the day was a blur.

Kvothe, Robards and Kingsley shouting, alerting all the guards to put additional protective spells around the cells of those with the Mark. That way if any of them got any ideas the blast would be contained taking only them out. Oscar and Hermione got a tongue lashing from Kvothe to rival even those given by McGonagall.

Then there was the spell. They all sat back in horror as she went over what Dolohov had told her, about how it was likely the Carrows who'd taken out Rosmerta.

Fitz and Ron were called back immediately for an emergency debriefing and Hermione felt like she could finally breathe again. He wasn't allowed to know where the intel came from, none of them were. There'd be outrage if the public discovered the Death Eaters had this power all along. Any one of them could have set off the Mark during their trials.

Yet they didn't.

This was the point Hermione kept coming back to. As far as she'd deduced there were only two reasons why they wouldn't have. Either they didn't know or were too focused on their own self preservation.

Then came the logistical nightmare that came with working for the Ministry. There was an endless mass of paperwork to be filled out. She had to walk through the interview step by step. What had Dolohov said, what was he doing to make the Mark glow like that. Did she have any sense that Malfoy might similarly try to blow himself up with the Mark. She'd actually snorted then.

On and on and on it went. In the end she was at the Ministry until well after dark. 

But mostly the whole thing just pissed her off—that Dolohov managed to off himself in the end. It should have been one of them. It should have been someone he hurt, someone that deserved to cut him down. It should have been her. Yet he managed to get the final laugh, the last word—and he’d nearly taken her with him. She wasn’t a murderer, she knew that. But she’d have been willing to split her soul for him, just a little. If not to watch the light fade from his eyes and make sure the last thing he ever saw was her face. The face of a mudblood.

~

Hours later she dragged her feet up the stairs, almost falling through the door. Her bones rattled beneath her skin, her heart thumping too slow and too fast.

This was a feeling she hadn't known since the war and was the whole reason she'd wanted to become an investigator. Turns out there was no escaping that life for those such as her. She momentarily felt a pang of remorse for all the times she insinuated Harry went looking for trouble. Perhaps they were likewise linked to a fate swamped in endless strife. It was an unpleasant thought.

'Hermione!' Ron called when she entered.

Their flat was a mess. It was tiny compared to Harry and Ginny's in Notting Hill. One bedroom with a small open plan living room and kitchen. It was an old building in Camden Town where most muggles chose not to live as the heat wasn't particularly reliable but with magic this didn't much matter to them.

The floorboards were scuffed, the walls cracked in a way that Hermione thought was charming. They'd positioned a lumpy old couch and matching armchair by the balcony that overlooked the old pub across the road. Piles of books littered every surface and were stacked high on bookshelves that lined every wall.

They'd filled the rooms with a myriad of plant life in an attempt to bring a bit of greenery to their space but because of their busy schedules it'd gotten a bit out of control. Moving photos had been hammered into the walls and lined the sideboard. A few of them at the Quidditch World Cup, in their dress robes at the Yule Ball, at Bill and Fluer's wedding, the night Ginny and Harry got engaged all of them piled drunkenly in the snow.

Ron's broom was propped against the door along with a heavy umbrella stand that had a huge dent where Tonks had knocked it over.

Hermione pulled off her coat, lifting it to the rack nailed to the wall. She missed the hook and it dropped to the ground where she stared at it blankly.

'Back at Azkaban?' Ron called from the kitchen. He was standing over a pot with his wand out. 'How was it?'

He was listening to the muggle radio bobbing back and forth as he cooked. Whatever it was smelt delicious but the thought of eating anything made her want to gag. Then she recalled the horrifying leftovers that was Dolohov and did, half leaning over to wretch painfully, her stomach convulsing.

...Caressing the marble and stone
Love that was special for one
The waste and the fever and hate
How I wish you were here with me now...

She looked up and Ron was frozen staring at her. She met his gaze and his eyes widened.

'What happened? What's wrong?'

I almost died today.

For some reason she couldn't bring herself to say the words. She just sank back against the wall. Ron was beside her in two seconds. He wrapped his arms around her.

'What is it? Tell me.'

But she couldn't. Couldn't bear to tell him what she'd done. She pressed her forehead against Ron's finding solace in his warmth. So different from the body that'd been flat against her earlier.

'Hermione,' he pressed. 'I need to know—is anybody—'

She saw the fear in his eyes and it sent the words spilling from her lips.

'No. No. I'm sorry I didn't mean—just—bad day.'

'I heard. You were there? They said you were safe so I thought—'

'I'm ok. I'm ok.'

She wasn't quite sure who she was talking to.

'You're so brave.' Ron whispered into her hair.

She sank into him, inhaling the delicate scent of freshly mown grass and broomstick polishing oil.

This was home. This was safe.

Long slender fingers crept up her throat, curling around her neck. Hermione hissed at the memory, it was so clear, as if he were right here.

She wrapped her arms around Ron dragging her fingers up his back.

'What are you—'

'Shh,' she whispered. 'Just—I need you.'

She pressed his lips against his. 'Need to feel you ok? Please?'

She trailed her mouth over his jaw, letting her tongue whisper under his ear. He shuddered into her but attempted to pull away. She held tighter, making a small noise of protest.

'Please,' she whimpered.

'You sure?'

She nodded, lifting his shirt. He didn't need telling twice. He raised his arms and she pulled the shirt free dropping it to the ground. He was pale and peppered with freckles and absolutely perfect in every way.

Too perfect.

The music was playing in the back sending a melancholy fever pumping through her blood.

The body that kills and hides
Matches an awful delight
Warm like a dog 'round your feet
How I wish you were here with me now...

She wrapped her arms over his shoulders and he pulled her into his embrace. His arms tightened around her and she was lifted from the floor. She wrapped her legs around him letting him carry her to the bedroom, her lips hot against his. His mouth met hers and she opened for him their tongues lashing together. Her hands found their way into his hair, her fingers scrunching through the cinnamon scruff.

He dropped her on the bed and she bounced on white sheets. He lowered himself above her and she moaned as he pressed his palm down the length of her body. She opened her legs and he fit himself between them, his hands quickly loosening the pants at her waist. He sat back then grabbing her trousers by the hem and ripping them off her legs. Lowering back down he thumbed at the material of her underwear as she wiggled out of the jumper half tearing it over her head. She unclasped her bra, tossing it away before lying back needing skin to skin.

...The hangman looks 'round as he waits
Gullet stretches tight and it breaks
Someday we will die in your dreams
How I wish we were here with you now...

Ron stayed focusing on her lower body understanding that this was about her. His hand curled around her thighs, widening her legs. Ron was good at this. He always had been, and god his fingers. They slipped beneath the band of her underwear and she moaned as he started rubbing his hand over the material, his eyes capturing hers. Then with one quick deft movement he ripped them from her body and she rasped as his fingers gently teased between her thighs. With a smile he circled higher, higher until his touch met the wet swell of her core. She ground into his hand, his fingers sliding inside her. Swirling, flicking, finding the sensitive apex that sent wild tingling need up her spine.

She half rose off the bed as he dropped down capturing her lips, his tongue lashing with hers. Her own hand slipped down his chest, over his freckled stomach finding the thick bulge indicating his own desire. She unbuckled his pants and he lifted his hips letting her drag his pants down and with a kick they fell landing with a dull thud on the floor. She wrapped her fingers around his length, softly working him as he did the same for her.

'Are you ok?' He asked into her skin.

'Shut up,' she hissed and he chuckled.

'Always so bossy.'

With that he slid back down his lips replacing his fingers and she groaned. His tongue glided through her core and she cried out as he started painting a very pleasurable picture in that most sensitive area. She angled herself into it, her body heating up under his touch. With a huff she ground against his and he added a finger back marrying the two together. It was the one thing they did well. It was when they opened their mouths everything went wrong, like they were always standing on opposite sides of the road, walking in different directions. But in the heat of the bedroom they found each other.

Not today however. Something was wrong. Hermione felt like her skin was on fire but not in a good way. She could feel Ron between her legs, his tongue claiming in a way that usually reduced her to a quivering mess. She swept her hand through his hair pressing his face down, twisting this way and that way. But it was no good.

Everytime she closed her eyes she saw him. As Ron's hand swept up the curve, her stomach folding over her breast she felt it—grey eyes watching her. Burning fire zipped up her spine and she almost came then.

Fuck.

'Ron-'

'What?'

'Need you,' she grabbed him by the hand, dragging him up. She shoved him and he rolled flat on his back and she hooked a leg over him. With one hand she guided him into her and they both moaned as she slid down as far as she could go. He licked his lips, his hands palming her breast. She slapped him away without thinking.

'Sorry—I—'

'S—ok,' he groaned. 'I get it. Whatever you want.'

She nodded, starting to rock into him, thankful that he understood. Perhaps it was cruel but she didn't need Ron. She needed a body.

She dragged her fingernails against his chest hard enough to leave thin lines in his pale skin. His palms mashed over her breasts, pressing and pinching. She ground down against him, her hips gently easing back and forth. He hissed his hand sweeping up her neck, finding the curve of her throat.

It wasn't enough.

'Grab my hair.'

He did, his fingers twirling gently through her thick mane.

'No,' she huffed. 'Harder.'

He tightened his grip but not hard enough. She wanted more.

'Do it Draco, let's have a little fun.'

Why did she kind of wish he had?

Frustrated, she gyrated her hips harder and Ron barked out a guttural sound, his eyes widening. This was nothing like what they'd done before. She started moving faster. So different from the gentle love making she'd become used to. That simply didn't satisfy her anymore, maybe it never had.

Leaning down she licked his throat, her teeth gently nipping at his skin. He yipped half pushing her off but she refused to stop. Her hips kept moving, rolling over the length of him, pushing him inside to the brink of pain. He jerked beneath her, his mouth parted, his red hair a mess over the pillow.

The song had changed now, the music shivering over her skin, the drums matching her beating heart.

...Got a big plan, this mindset maybe its right
At the right place and right time, maybe tonight
And the whisper or handshake sending a sign
Wanna make out and kiss hard, wait never mind...

Her hands swept over the muscles lining his stomach and she moaned the heat of his breath hot on her neck. She swirled her hips feeling his erection slide in and out. She leant down her mouth covering his nipple. She bit down—

'Ow!' Ron shoved her back sitting up.

'Shh,' she crushed her lips against his.

Just shut up, she willed him, her tongue tempting him to keep moving.

'Hermione—' he tried to say but she kept kissing him, body moving against him—faster now.

Her arms tightened around him but it wasn't enough. She lifted one hand, her fingers curling around his throat- she started to squeeze.

'Hermione stop!' Ron grabbed her wrist, shoving it down.

'Yes,' she moaned. 'Tell me what you want. Make me—'

'I don't want to make you do anything,' his eyes were wide. It was like being doused in cold water and she froze.

What the fuck was she doing?

She was immediately off him, crawling back to the corner of the bed.

'Yes,' she dipped her eyes down, refusing to meet his gaze. 'I'm sorry I just—I got carried away.'

She stood readying to hurry from the room.

'Hermione—‘

'No it's ok. Bathroom.'

...It's only just a crush, it'll go away
It's just like all the others it'll go away
Or maybe this is danger and he just don't know
You pray it all away but it continues to grow...

She crossed the room, slamming the door behind her. Inside she could still feel it- that mix of fear and anger bursting together like two waves crashing in the storm.

She needed—

She slipped a hand between her legs finding the still wet heat between her thighs. Her eyes snapped shut as her fingers began to move, finding a steady rhythm—swirling against her most sensitive parts. She ground into her hand her mind drifting away to earlier today.

...I want to hold you close
Skin pressed against me tight
Lie still, and close your eyes girl
So lovely, it feels so right...

A hand ran up her neck, long slender fingers gripping the skin of her jaw. He tipped her head back, grey eyes holding her locked in place. This was new now. He tugged at her hair, she rubbed herself harder. He smirked that knowing smile and she shoved her free fist in her mouth.

...I want to hold you close

He licked his lips and she felt her skin tingle, a pleasant bead of light building in her lower abdomen. He leaned forward, his mouth hovering close to hers.

...Soft breasts, beating heart

The light was becoming all consuming. Her whole body quivering as release rose like a desperate cry in the night.

...As I whisper in your ear

'Granger—'

...I want to fucking tear you apart.

She came.

Perhaps harder than she'd ever come before. Her knees wobbled and she dropped to the ground with a dull thud.

'Hermione,' Ron called from the other room. 'You ok?'

That's when she realised what she'd done.

Her mouth popped open and closed.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

2000

The next few weeks passed in a haze of confusion. Hermione didn’t know quite what to make of her actions. Fortunately for her, Malfoy was still recovering so she didn’t need to see him. There was no doubt she’d drop dead with embarrassment if she did.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Not sure. No idea.’

The words haunted her like a slowly boiling kettle. Silent at first but steadily starting to scream. She’d be sitting waiting for a coffee and they’d whisper over her lifting gooseflesh on her skin like some kind of demented ghost.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Not sure. No idea.’

Stupid Malfoy.

What did that even mean?

It was fortunate too that Ron was incredibly busy at work for she could barely bring herself to look him in the eye. It was a disaster. One that kept raging through her head fighting it’s way up through the packed earth she kept shovelling on top—

You know what, she didn’t care.

Tonight was for Ginny

She was getting married to Harry next week so as Maid of Honour Hermione had organised a wild night of drunken debauchery to celebrate her friends upcoming nuptials. They’d started with a nice dinner at an incredibly fancy muggle restaurant with the extended bridal party, followed by drinks at a prestigious cocktail bar.

Photographers had been following Ginny and Harry non stop since their engagement hoping to get a shot of them doing the most banal of tasks. Walking down the street. Holding hands. Eating a muffin. George had been in hysterics when a full page photo of Ginny shoving her face was splashed across the gossip column of the Prophet. He’d framed it and hung it on the wall of his office.

Hermione spent considerable effort ensuring their night would be unobstructed. It was a complex plan that involved two batches of polyjuice potion and convincing Ron and George to pretend to be their sister for the evening. Both took significant begging and a little threatening to comply.

After the dinner the two fake Ginny’s departed, one to the coast, the other to the Burrow while the girls snuck out the back.

At the next venue Circe made friends with the bartender who then plied them with colourful drinks until they were kicked out for being drunk and disorderly. It was most likely when Ginny got up on the table and started trying to do a handstand that was the tipping point. After that they’d hit up a few clubs dancing until their feet were aching eventually winding up in a karaoke joint. It was now the early hours of dawn and they were all well and truly sloshed.

Tonks and Ginny were currently belting out a rendition of ‘Because The Night’ by Patti Smith which was apparently Tonks’ go to. Ginny didn’t know any of the words so had just started making up her own which were unsurprisingly filthy.

Circe was dressed all in black as per usual the billowing design resembling something Stevie Nicks might wear. Luna opted for a sparkly pink dress that floated around her hips as she swayed. Hermione was in a slinky red number Ginny had somehow managed to convince her to don.

She’d taken great pleasure in parading past Ron and watching his jaw drop on the way out earlier. They’d had another huge fight that left her absolutely seething. It was hard to fully determine what it’d been about, only that she’d been fuming. But then, everything he said pissed her off at the moment.

The bride to be was dressed in what was effectively a sequin outfit that consisted of two shiny triangles and a short skirt. They’d stuck a short veil on her head earlier and Luna had given her sash which kept changing from ‘bride to be’ to ‘let’s get hitched’ whenever the song changed.

Vida wore long black leggings that clung to her hips like butter and a matching leather shirt which contained very little fabric. She’d dusted her skin with glitter and sparkled like a disco ball whenever she moved. Tonks had a denim skirt over fishnets and knee high boots paired with a torn up t-shirt knotted at her waist. She’d made her hair rainbow for the occasion. Earlier Hermione introduced them all to glow sticks and they were all lit up like Christmas trees.

Circe had gone first choosing ‘Sunglasses At Night’ by Cory Hart and somehow ended up with a pair of black Ray Ban’s hanging from her nose.

Vida picked ‘It Wasn’t Me’ by Shaggy because she thought the guy on the cover was attractive. This resulted in a hilarious back and forth between her and Tonks that had them all laughing on the floor.

Ginny went for ‘Can't Fight The Moonlight’ and had actually drunkenly conjured up a tiny moon and moonbeam for her big finish which Hermione quickly vanished.

Hermione went for ‘Rebel Rebel’ when it was her turn which was an old favourite. They all got up and sang that one. Her dad was a big Bowie fan so she’d grown up listening to him.

She was due to visit her parents soon, it’d been ages. After lifting their memories they’d decided to stay in Australia partly because they loved it and partly because Hermione warned them that Britain would likely still be dangerous for a time.

Finding them after the war was bittersweet. The memory spells she’d cast were complex and partially lasting. Not to mention they’d been furious with her.

First her mother cried, then her dad cried, then she cried. They’d all been blubbering messes by the end of their reunion.

According to the numerous Healer’s she’d enlisted they’d never recall her younger years which was a heavy blow. The years apart had also carved a wedge through their relationship as well that Hermione couldn’t help but feel would be lasting. It wasn’t their fault but it still stung. She brushed away the thought before it could drag her mood down.

‘BECAUSE THE NIGHT BELONGS TO LOVERS!’ Tonks and Ginny screamed, finishing out the song.

They fell over each other laughing as Luna flounced up to the stage.

Aaand of course she went for ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush. The girls in the club were immediately up dancing trying to mirror the wild moves of the singer on the television.

Only Luna could quite get it right.

Tonks hurried over to the booth—she tripped on a step and almost went sprawling managing to catch herself—to join Vida and Hermione dropping into a chair. Ginny was languishing at the bar, several men offering to buy her drinks. She waved them all off, signalling the bartender for what looked like another round of shots.

Luna and Circe were dancing spinning wild circles through the fray. Luna arms were splayed like a starfish as she spun too and fro but it was Circe who was attempting to sidle closer to Luna that Hermione’s eyes were drawn.

She tipped her head to the side shooting Tonks a look. ‘Is there something…’

‘Oh definitely,’ Tonks smirked.

‘You’re quite confident on that one.’

Tonks lifted a brow and Hermione laughed.

‘I’m an Auror Hermione, a very good one actually despite what some might say. You really want to question me on this?’ She took a sip of her drink. ‘Also she told me.’

‘Does Luna know?’

‘Hard to tell with that one. I think she’s starting to get it. Circe is pretty determined to make her notice.’

‘What do you think of her?’

‘Oh we go back. Circe’s great.’

‘Oh really?’

‘Yeah.’ Suddenly she was avoiding Hermione’s gaze. ‘I’ll help Ginny with the drinks,’ she said, leaping to her feet.

Vida snorted, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her bag. She offered one to Hermione who took it lighting the end with her wand. They both sucked in a drag and Hermione immediately started coughing, her eyes watering.

Vida clapped her on the back laughing, shoving a glass of water in her direction.

‘Ah this reminds me of my first cigarette. Eet was the first time I had sex you see—such a handsome wizard ‘ee was—‘

Taking another, more successful drag this time Hermione watched a tall man enter the room. His hair shone bright white and she was momentarily distracted.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Not sure. No idea.’

Her hand slipping between her thighs.

‘—and then I coughed my lungs out and almost threw up. Tsk so embarrassing you know—‘

‘Vida, can I ask you a question?’ Hermione cut her off.

Vida tipped her head to the side not at all phased. ‘Of course? What is it?’

‘Have you ever—err—’

Vida lifted a brow.

‘Well, hmm how do I say this—erm—have you ever—ngn—well—’

She whacked Hermione on the shoulder. ‘Oh just spit eet out!’

‘Have you ever err—’ she made a hand gesture.

‘Made yourself cum?’ Vida offered.

‘Yes,’ Hermione croaked. ‘That—to someone you know?‘

The words fell from her lips so fast they basically ran together.

Vida's eyes widened and she froze for a second—then threw her head back. ‘Ha!’

‘Don’t laugh at me!’ Hermione squeaked. She tugged a pint towards her and downed it. She was going to feel like crap tomorrow.

Vida clicked her teeth kindly. ‘Ah I am sorry. Look. I am French. We are not like you Eenglish,’ she flapped her hands. ‘So serious about everything. Never any fun. Masturbation is good Hermione. Lust is good too.’

‘But what if I feel it for someone I shouldn’t?’

Vida’s eyes sparkled. ‘That is the best kind. Care to share?’

‘Absolutely not.’ She threw back her drink again taking a long swing.

Vida raised a brow. ‘My my you’re tightly wound.’

‘But isn’t it… sort of cheating?’

‘If you act on it, yes. If not,’ she shrugged. ‘The mind is our best playground, no? Let yourself run free once and while. Or better yet ask your partner if he’d like to join, though Ron does not seem the type.’

Hermione choked on her drink and they both collapsed into hysterics rolling around their seats. It took them several moments to calm down. Hermione wiped a tear from her eye. The vision of Ron and Malfoy together was almost enough to sober her entirely. She took another long drag letting the nicotine fold through her, calming her senses. She looked up at Vida smiling. The French witch surveyed her, tapping at her cigarette sending a flurry of ash floating to the ground.

Without warning Vida leant forward gripping Hermione’s chin and kissed her full on the lips. Nothing more, and in a way that felt friendly rather than born of sexual intent. As if it were the most normal thing in the world. Maybe it was.

‘Don’t be afraid of your own desires,’ Vida whispered kindly, sitting back. ‘You do what you can, that’s all we can offer. Hide from what you want and you’ll wind up a shrivelled old prune who yells at children.’

Hermione was so shocked she burst out laughing again.

‘What are you laughing about?’ Ginny dropped a plate of drinks on the table.

This made them only laugh harder.

‘Next round is on me,’ Vida slapped the table, getting to her feet.

Ginny beamed leaning into Hermione. She twisted up to meet her eyes, her brow furrowing suddenly as if she only just realised something.

‘Am I imagining things or did Vida just kiss you?’

Hermione snorted.

~

About half an hour later Hermione was desperate for the loo. She’d been dancing again and a thin layer of sweat gleaned over her body. There was a mysterious ugly black stain on the back of her dress that she couldn’t recall having made. Her hair, which she had magicked into something tame earlier, was now a wild mane floating around her skull. Strands of it clung to her forehead as she hurried for the bathroom. Reaching a door covered in stickers and graffiti she barged inside.

The door swung wide and Hermione froze. Circe had Luna up on the sink, her legs wrapped around her waist. They were kissing. And not an ordinary kiss, one that had them crushing their bodies together, their mouths crashing like twin flames. Circe’s hand was threaded through Luna’s moon white hair. She’d pulled the sleeves of her pink dress down and it looked like one hand was now sneaking further up her friend's thigh. Luna was equally lost to the kiss, her face flushed, her eyes shut as she pulled the girl against her body.

Hermione stood one foot still floating in mid air not knowing whether she should try and sneak out or not. But for some reason she couldn’t seem to move. As if she’d been cast in marble, her body refusing to stir. Hermione had been certain many times in her life and as she stood there she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she had never once kissed anyone like that.

With an untapped fervour that spoke of the deepest kind of yearning. An all encompassing and urgent rapture that stole away thought or sense giving way to nothing but craving. As if she needed their touch to live as she needed air to breathe. And suddenly she very much wanted to cry.

Then Luna moaned. A sweet sound full of wanting. That’s when Circe’s eyes snapped open. Hermione could see her in the mirror, staring directly at her. She kept kissing Luna, her hand sliding around her leg lifting it around her waist.

She smiled.

Hermione felt like she’d been clobbered over the head. For a moment it was like staring into the mirror of Sirius Black. Not the one she’d ever known, but the one she’d only ever seen in photos. The ones of James and Sirius and Remus and Lily back at school before the war tore all the joy from their eyes. They’d found a box of them while staying in Grimmauld Place and Hermione had poured over them for hours unsure how to match these faces to the ones she knew.

Cheeky.

Full of fire.

Completely intoxicatingly beautiful.

Circe shut her eyes, falling back into the kiss and it was gone. Hermione backed out of the toilets leaving them to it. Ginny staggered over ready to barge in behind her.

‘Err I wouldn’t go in there right now.’

‘Why?’ Ginny whined. ‘I need to piss.’

‘Someone’s in there,’ Hermione shot her a meaningful look.

‘Ooh,’ Ginny grinned. ‘I want to see.’ She stumbled and half fell into the door. ‘Merlin’s saggy left-’

‘Ginny!’

Hermione grabbed her by the arm dragging her back to the dancefloor. There was something about seeing Circe and Luna that made it very difficult for Hermione to concentrate on the here and now.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Not sure. No idea.’

Hermione ran a hand through her hair. Ginny pulled her against her and started bumping and grinding against her to the music. Snapping her eyes shut she threw herself into the song letting the beat carry her far, far away.

~

‘Bye groomy!’ Hermione cackled.

‘See you at the wedding!’ Harry waved them off before disappearing with a loud crack.

They’d called Harry to come pick Ginny up. He’d arrived a few minutes earlier and carried his fiance bodily from the club as she whispered all the naughty things she was going to do to him. She was passed out by the time they reached a secluded spot to disapparate. Tonks and Vida similarly waved before disappearing too.

That left the three of them to wander back to Hermione’s flat which was only a short distance away. Luna was always supposed to be staying with Hermione but it was very clear Circe would now be joining them. Realising she was likely going to have to take the couch they wandered through the streets singing at the top of their lungs.

…Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to us…

It was the only song they could remember in their inebriated state. Luna was spinning in circles playfully leaping from stone to stone. The last dregs of moonlight shone down upon their heads like a gentle lovers kiss promising sweet memories and another meeting on the morrow. Circe pulled a small pouch from her bag carefully fingering a light dusting of what looked like green herbs onto a small square of paper. With quick hands, and a swipe of the tongue she placed the freshly rolled joint in her mouth lighting it’s end with her wand. A pleasant stench filled the alleyway and she gestured for them to carry on.

‘You do that the muggle way,’ Luna noted, taking it from her when handed it.

Circe shrugged. She was still wearing the sunglasses from earlier. ‘That’s how I learnt tae do it. My magic wasn’t quite so precise back in school. I tried once and almost set the Greenhouse on fire. Detention for a month.’

Somehow she already sounded sober while Hermione lurched over the old cobblestones. Evidently noting her struggle Luna returned the joint hooking an arm through one side and Circe the other. Together the three of them meandered down the street, the soft glow of lamplight lighting the way. Dawn was starting to break a soft blue feathering of colour gleaming over the buildings.

Ahead of them a figure was slowly approaching but Circe was flapping her arms wildly now telling them the story about how she and another Hufflepuff once got caught out by Hagrid’s hut attempting to steal his pumpkins. Hermione immediately felt something was off—a sixth sense after years of being hunted- and she felt Luna’s finger gently pressing against her wrist. Without a word they each of them went for the wands in their handbags continuing their slow march down the alley.

‘And I tell ye I dinnae think I’ve ever seen Hagrid so angry. I quite thought he might feed us tae that Hippogriff—’

The figure was upon them, a man with small beady eyes focused squarely on the witch as she regaled them with her tale. Her black head bobbing away as she sucked on the joint in her hand, completely oblivious.

‘It’s you,’ he said loudly.

‘Eh?’ Circe whipped around.

Quicker than a snake the man went to grab for Circe, Hermione just managing to drag her out of reach in the nik of time. Luna meanwhile had her wand out and hit him with a jynx that sent him staggering back.

He hit the wall bouncing back, his arms lifting in a sign of peace. The gesture didn’t quite meet his eyes however. He glared at the three witches, his attention focusing back on Circe.

‘You need to come with me,’ he said.

‘Erm, I’m not going anywhere wi’ you,’ she said.

He straightened, taking a small step forward. Hermione and Luna raised their wands and he faltered.

‘I know who you are,’ he murmured. ‘Your family wants you back.’

All the colour drained from Circe’s face and she completely froze. The joint was stuck to her bottom lip in a way that might have been comical if not for the decidedly dire straits.

The man's eyes sparkled. ‘It is you! I knew it. I’ve been watching you—’

‘I’m not going anywhere with you! Ye can fuck right off.’

‘That’s ok,’ he said quietly. ‘You will come home eventually. We are waiting. We have been waiting a very long time.’

‘Ye can’t—ye cannae tell them about me,’ Circe spluttered.

The man’s eyes narrowed. ‘It is too late for that. I will not hide that I have finally found you.’ He pulled out his wand readying to apparate.

Circe had her own wand out before any of them even saw her move.

‘Obliviate!’ she shouted.

It hit the assailant square in the chest and he flew backwards slamming into the wall crumpling to the ground. The witch raced over to him and promptly kicked him square in the ribs. She did this two more times for good measure.

‘What the—’

Circe whipped around her wand still raised and Hermione blanched.

‘Hey—’

‘Circe,’ Luna said quietly. She took a small step forward. ‘It’s ok. Whatever it is, you can trust me and Hermione.’ She tipped her head to the side. ‘Really.’

The witch allowed Luna to approach and gently take hold of her wrist. Together they let the wand fall and Circe tipped forward falling into Luna’s embrace.

Hermione didn’t quite know what to do with herself and so merely stood there waiting.

‘I cannae believe he got so close. And I’m supposed tae be an Auror!’ Circe moaned at last, sounding like herself. ‘You know what—no more o’ this shite for me.’ She dropped the spliff—which she’d somehow managed to keep hold of this whole time—and started stamping at it aggressively. Luna gently swept a hand through her black curls and she visibly fizzled the fire leaving her body.

‘Come on,’ Hermione took her hand. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

She raised her wand, spun in place and the three of them popped in and out of existence landing in the middle of her and Ron’s flat. Circe dropped into the lumpy couch curling into a small ball and Hermione hurried to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee.

‘Do you want to tell us about it?’ Luna asked quietly.

Circe was picking at a hole on the couch, the frayed material easily giving way under her fingers as Hermione came back handing them each a hot cup. She gulped on hers hoping it would somehow make sense of what’d transpired. It did not.

‘He asked about your family,’ Luna pressed.

She lowered onto the couch beside Circe and Hermione leaned back against the Kitchen bench tucking a foot up behind her. It was equal parts for comfort and to help keep her upright. She was still considerably drunk.

‘My family,’ Circe huffed. ‘What a loaded question that is.’

Hermione waited.

Circe wrapped her fingers around the coffee cup in her hands evidently finding comfort in the warmth. She tucked in her legs resting her chin on her knee.

‘My Ma was Hecate Campbell,’ she said at last. ‘She grew up with the Scamanders and I guess everyone thought she was pureblood but she weren’t. She was muggle-born ye see. Her parents disowned her when they found out she was a witch and she was adopted.’

She paused her eyes darting between Hermione and Luna, fear present on her face.

‘And my Da… well ye see my Da was Regulus Black.’

Chapter Text

2000

Hermione's mouth was open.

It took her a few seconds to register this before she snapped it shut. Luna’s head had tipped to the side as it often did when she was thinking. The silence opened up as the ramifications of this statement took hold. It was as if they’d just been dunked right back into the war. Mysteries and secrets stacked so high the pile swayed threatening to crush them with the slightest tremble.

Hermione stared skyward feeling strangely small as often happened when she felt uncertain. It's why she always studied as she did, why she hungrily absorbed every book as if her life depended on it. For her it did. That would and always had been her greatest fear.

The Unknown.

A wide pit filled with a million and one things just waiting to creep out of the darkness and take hold.

‘What?’ she managed to splutter. ‘But how is that even possible?’

Circe was staring at her fingernails. ‘They met at school I suppose. I dinnae really know much about them because they kept it all a big secret,’ she said quietly. ‘My Ma got pregnant in her final year and ended up leaving early. No one really noticed though, a lot of students were leaving because of the war around that time. She never told my Gran who the father was.’

She placed her coffee on the table, then sat back bracing herself into a tight ball.

‘You never asked her?’

‘She died right after I was born. My Gran says she got a letter and then just left. She was crying and screaming and then disapparated. Never came back.’

‘I’m so sorry Circe,’ Luna murmured.

‘But I don’t understand,’ Hermione frowned still trying to process. ‘How did you find out?’

Her eyes twitched. ‘After Sirius died two Goblins just showed up on my doorstep.’ A pause. ‘With the will.’

Hermione’s mouth popped open. ’But—but Sirius bequeathed his property to Harry.’

’Aye he left him a small portion of what he could. And trust me—compared tae the rest.’ She whistled. ‘But most of it has tae be passed down by blood. There’s old magic attached tae it. Sirius couldn’y left it tae Harry.’

Hermione slid down the wall. Luna and Circe didn’t even notice.

‘What did you do?’ Luna asked.

She laughed trying to keep it light. ‘Well first I had a panic attack. At least six I’d say. Then I went tae my Gran. That was fun. She knew. Well she haedna known, known but she suspected. That was hard tae come tae terms with. She told me I couldn’y tell anyone. Ever. Said she knew a Black once back in America. Said they were dangerous. That trouble followed them.’ She ran a hand through her hair. ‘So I didn't. I just went back to school and pretended like everything was fine.’

Hermione could hardly imagine it.

‘Fuck I could go a fag. Ye know what—’ Circe pulled out her wand and conjured a pack of cigarettes.

It was so casually done, as if the magic required to do such a thing was a basic afterthought.

‘I’ll quit tomorrow eh,’ she said, lighting one and taking a long drag.

Any other day Hermione might have lectured her about smoking inside. As it was she crawled over to the balcony, sliding the door wide. The cold night air swept through the room folding over her skin and Hermione sucked it in desperately before turning back to face the girls on the couch.

‘I don't even know what happened tae them,’ Circe was saying. ‘Maybe I’ll never find out.’

‘I—I know,’ Hermione rasped.

Luna and Circe both turned to stare at Hermione as if only just remembering she was there.

She cleared her throat. ‘I know what happened. B—but Circe—it's not good.’

Their eyes met and a quiet hush fell between them.

‘Tell me.’

So Hermione did. She told her that Regulus defected. That he discovered a way to defeat Voldemort—she kept the Horcrux to herself instead saying he went after a ‘weapon’ that would help destroy him. Then she came to the part about the Inferi.

She kept this brief, to the point. He went into the cave where the weapon was hidden. He was overpowered and they killed him. No need to go into details.

She said this all very fast while staring at her hands. It might have come off as uncaring but Hermione couldn’t have told it any other way. When she looked up again Circe was crying. Slow tears sliding down her cheeks.

‘He really tried tae kill You Know Who?’ she whispered.

‘He did.’

‘That’s good isn’t it Circe?’ Luna asked.

‘I—I guess.’

Luna was playing with one of her curls, sliding the strand between her fingers as she spoke.

‘I thought he was a Death Eater and You Know Who killed him but—fuck me it’s just so horrible.’ She paused a wobble in her throat. ‘And what happened tae my Ma? She went after him and never come back. Did she die down there too?’ She covered her eyes with her palms. ‘I can’t—it hurts too much tae think about.’

When she dropped her hands there was fire behind her eyes. Hermione knew that look, it was one she’d seen on her own face countless times. Fill the fear up with fury. Let that keep you grounded.

‘I just dinnae ken how he could have found me!’ she shouted angrily. ‘Fooking dickhead I shoulda’ killed him. I shoulda’ bashed his bloody head in. I cannae believe I was this stoopid—fooks sake!’

Her accent appeared to thicken when she angry. She threw her head back staring angrily at the ceiling.

‘What about the inheritance?’ Luna offered. It was her way, focus on the problem at hand. ‘Could they have traced you through it?’

‘Said I didnae want it. Signed it off and made sure my name were never shared.’ A pause. ‘Well I skimmed a bit off the top first,’ she smirked then all the blood drained from her face. ‘ I figured they’d never miss it. I spose that’s probably how. Well fuck me for an idiot.’

‘Is it really bad if they know who you are?’ Hermione worried her lip. ‘I mean the Blacks are all gone now—’

Circe scoffed. ‘Nah they’re not. They’re all through Europe. They might not have the Black name but they got the blood. It’s all that matters to them. Dinnae ye understand? They cannae find me—if they found out what I am. The daughter of a muggle-born and—well they won’t stand for it.’

‘No. We’ll keep it hidden,’ Luna agreed.

There was a look in her eyes Hermione hadn’t seen before. Luna who was always so calm and unbothered- she was scared. But then Luna had grown up in the magical world, Hermione hadn’t. This was the second time she’d heard sentiments along these lines. The first was from Malfoy. Malfoy who was technically Circe’s cousin. Tonks too. And Sirius—

Hermione felt a genuine pang of regret. If Circe had taken the Black name Kreacher would have been gone to her and then Sirius-

She felt a little sick. No a lot sick.

Bile rose in her throat and she leapt to her feet barely making it to the bathroom in time. Her body wretched horribly, her forehead half plastered to the toilet bowl with sweat.

When she finally peeled herself off the floor and padded back into the living room Circe was curled into the crook of Luna’s chin.

‘It gets worse,’ Circe was saying. ‘I guess You Know Who heard a rumour Black had a kid and thought I was with the McKinnons but I weren’t obviously. Mathew McKinnon had a baby around the same time and he figured it was Marlene’s and they were trying tae hide it. He killed them all for it. Just a wee bairn for nought.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Gran told me. They left a mark in blood on the wall. ‘Long live the heir’. Everyone assumed it meant You Know Who—but Gran knew. She packed us up and moved to Inverness the next day.’

‘And the wolves?’ Luna asked.

With a pang Hermione remembered Circe’s family were attacked by werewolves, she’d entirely forgotten in the wake of this revelation.

‘Greyback set his pack on us—retribution for the Werewolf Registry grandpa Newt set up. He didnae mean for it tae be used like it is but it didnae matter to them. Had nothing tae do with Black,’ she laughed darkly.

There was a long pause.

‘I can trust you Luna, can’t I?’

‘Of course you can Circe.’

‘Dumbledore started the rumour I wasn’t there… but I was.’ This was said as a quiet whisper. ‘I was bitten and left for dead like the rest of them. Remus found me after, he was tracking the wolves at the time but was too late. I went and lived with him and Tonks for a bit after, tae get used to the changes. Then Tonks got pregnant so I moved out, got my own place.’

Well this was one too many discoveries for the evening. Hermione’s vision swam as she crept back into the bedroom collapsing on the bed. Hermione could certainly understand her fear now. A muggle born and a werewolf. If Malfoy was terrified of merely being labelled a Blood Traitor it was easy to fathom why she wouldn’t want anyone learning of her existence. Her head was thumping painfully. It didn’t stop her from hearing the whispers through the thin wall as she lay on the bed splayed like a dead starfish.

‘You cannae tell anyone ok?’

‘I won’t Circe. I promise.’

Another pause.

‘I think I kind of love you, ye know.’

‘Oh I know I love you. It’s like with my mum and dad I think. They just knew too. You’re the most special person ever.’

‘Yer not scared of me?’

‘No. I think you’re magnificent.’

~

A week later Harry and Ginny were married.

It was a beautiful wedding full of joy and love and promises of a better tomorrow. In the years to come Hermione would grow to treasure the memory as the last time she saw Harry and Ginny as they were. A picture of them waving goodbye, their heads tipped back with laughter.

Happy.

Innocent.

Free.

~

‘Hermione!’ Fitz was shouting. ‘Ron! Get over here there’s some folks I’d like you to meet.’

Grinning, Hermione grabbed Ron’s hand dragging him through the fray.

It was mayhem.

People everywhere, laughing, pulling on shirts with the Equaliser wheel emblazoned on the front. Hermione had tucked one over her head only moments before.

Ron didn’t want to.

There were a few people enchanting posters to shimmer with enormous letters shouting the Equaliser ethos.

Equality for all!

Out of the shadows and into the light.

Together!

They were in the Hogs Head preparing for the march through Hogsmeade. Partly because it was the only wizarding village in the UK and partly as a show of respect for Madam Rosmerta. A way of showing they wouldn’t be scared of the BloodBorn.

She’d been trying and failing to get her own movements off the ground for years. She started with fighting the indoctrinated thinking that House Elves wanted to be slaves, as if they could ever know any different. They laughed her out of the Department of Magical Affairs. Then she tried to dismantle the Werewolf Registry. She’d been met with doors slammed in her face. After that she tried small things like getting the Daily Prophet to stop referring to magical beings as ‘beasts’. Or trying to stop shops in Diagon Alley from selling ‘Vampire Repellent’ which was basically bottles of water and strings of garlic.

Nothing ever stuck.

This—now this was more than she could have ever hoped for. There was a large crowd cramped inside, the room filled to the brim to the point where there were a number of supporters spilling out into the street. The pub had been bought by an old hag after Aberforth's death and she was currently cackling away as she served beer after beer. The portrait of Ariana still hung from the wall only now it was empty. The subject long since faded away.

A band was playing loudly in one corner, a jazzy number trumpeting away happily as Hermione smooshed through the other patrons making her way over to Fitz. He was sitting on a table, his legs swinging joyfully, his face lit up like Christmas day. He was dressed in a fine muggle suit as was his way, his golden hair carefully coiffed back. There was a stack of papers in his hand and he was using his wand to hand them out to everyone in the pub. Standing behind him was an incredibly beautiful woman with hair that spilled out like a heavy black cloud.

‘Hermione, Ron,’ Fitz greeted them when they finally squeezed in beside him. ‘I’d like you to meet Callisto.’

‘Hi there,’ she smiled, her accent thick.

‘And this is Guiseppe,’ he indicated a rather haughty looking man who offered them a short nod. Fitz leaned forward conspiratorially. ‘He’s a vampire.’

‘But—’ Ron started. ‘What? The sun?’

Fitz shrugged. ‘I gave him a little magical protection for the day.’

‘He is too kind,’ the vampire smirked. ‘Ciao.’

He leant forward to kiss Hermione on both cheeks.

Ron stiffened behind her. ‘Is that legal?’

They all just stared at him blankly as if daring him to do something about it. After a minute he looked away.

‘And this here is Giles,’ Fitz clapped his friend on the back. ‘We’ve been buddies since school.’

‘The only two muggle borns in the class,’ Giles winked. ‘It was either team up or—well you know.’

Hermione didn’t know. She’d evidently been very lucky considering. Ron tightened his arm around her waist and Giles’s eyes darted upwards.

‘And you’re the Auror are you? The one Fitz has been paired with?’

‘He’s been working with Harry for a bit now,’ Ron said.

‘Ey!’ a voice behind them shouted and they spun around.

‘Vida!’ Hermione shouted over the roar. ‘I didn’t expect to see you here!’

‘Of course!’ she blared her face sparkling with excitement. ‘You can not have a protest without the French. We do eet so much better.’

Fitz was checking his watch and immediately leapt off the table almost crushing Hermione.

‘Its time!’

An excited ripple filtered through the crowd. They all started moving, heading through the door and into the street. There was a small stage erected outside waiting for them, a huge flag with the Equaliser emblem fluttering in the wind.

Fitz barged his way through quickly scurrying up the stairs. He headed for the lectern, standing before the microphone positively beaming.

‘Hello!’ he shouted into it. ‘Welcome to the first Equaliser event!’

The people whooped and cheered. Beside her Ron put his two fingers in his mouth and wolf whistled. They’d snuck over to the side standing with Fitz’s friends and Vida who’d joined them.

‘First I would like to thank you all for coming out today. It just goes to show how many of us are hankering for change!’

More cheers.

‘This is just the first of many I promise you that. We’re going to change the world. Progress will not be stopped. You're either leading the charge or dragging by it's coattails. I know where I'd rather be!’

Hermione had heard this many times before now. It was Fitz’s go to. She grinned.

‘And now I would like to introduce our very special guest for today- Callisto LeBlanc!’

The woman beside Hermione beamed and glided elegantly up the stairs as if she were made from vapour. She headed for the microphone offering Fitz a tight squeeze as he stepped to the corner of the stage. She smiled down at the crowd, her fingers curling around the lectern in front of her. There was an enigmatic energy that radiated off her, it was intoxicating.

‘Good people!’ she said in a sharp, clear tone. ‘You have come here today to ignite the spark of change.’

Hermione felt her cheeks stretch wide.

‘You have come to speak for the downtrodden. The forgotten. The hunted. Those who have been made to feel less than just for being what they are.’

The crowd was collectively enthralled, their sun kissed heads all pointed in her direction.

‘If I may, I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself. To share my story with ya’ll.’ She filled her lungs, sweeping a hand through her hair. ‘I am from New Orleans, Louisiana where I was raised by a single mother who fought every damn day for me to have a better life.’ She smiled at the memory. ‘She was a good woman. A kind woman. She used to help the people of the town. She loved to cook and used to make space for anybody who needed help. My mamma was a good woman.’ Callisto tipped her head back. ‘And when she sang- there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. Because you see- she was also a Siren.’

A small group of women behind Hermione cheered and Ron stepped closer to her. She shot him a wry smile which he did not return. His eyes were darting around uncomfortably and that’s when Hermione noticed more and more people were joining the crowd. Some of them were clearly residents of Hogsmeade. The rest wore black robes and were very obviously from the Ministry.

What on earth?

Hermione’s eyes snapped to Fitz who’s mouth had thinned but he made no effort to stop Callisto from speaking.

‘Then one day a wizard came to town,’ she was saying. ‘He saw her for what she was and decided that meant something. That he knew her. So he told the people. He told them terrible things.’

Callisto had her hands up now and was sweeping them through the air as she told her tale. Hermione felt a buzz of energy twist through her stomach.

‘That she was a monster! That she was evil! That she would steal the hearts of the men and eat their babies for desert. That she was going to destroy them all and would enjoy doing it.’

The siren lowered her head. You could hear a pin drop at that moment.

‘How quickly they forgot. How easily he made them fear her. They were so afraid of her they broke into my house.’ Callisto pressed a hand to her heart, snapping her eyes shut. ‘When I was just thirteen years old they took my mamma. They beat her. They screamed at her, telling her she was a monster. Telling her she was evil. That she deserved to die.’

Hermione felt like she might vomit. Callisto lifted her head, her eyes wide open now.

‘They tied her up. They cut out her tongue. They hanged her in the tree in our backyard. And then they cut out her throat for good measure.’

Callisto was silent, letting them process this horrible truth.

‘My mamma was a good woman. And they killed her. Out of fear. Out of hate. For being nothing but what she was.’

The crowd jeered angrily.

‘I lived because I ran. I ran so far and so fast- and I haven’t stopped running since. But now I’m tired. Aren’t you tired?’

The words hit Hermione like a physical thing. She was almost bowled over.

‘She never hurt a single person in her whole life.’

Callisto was staring at the people below, letting her eyes meet each person who was standing in the crowd. She was nodding as she met more and more faces that matched her own.

‘How many more of us have stories like that?’ she asked quietly. ‘How many more of you know exactly how that feels? To be hated. To be feared. To be made into the monster when it’s not us- but them who are the monster!’

The crowd was becoming very loud. They were cheering and whooping and jeering angrily at her simple spoken truth.

‘Too long have we been made to feel like we shouldn’t exist,’ Callisto shook her fist. ‘Too long have we been made to register ourselves like animals. Beasts. Too long have we been made to look like monsters when it is not us but them that lock us up. Cage us!’

Boos.

‘Tag us!

Jeering.

‘Fear us!’

Yelling.

‘Hate us!’

Shouting.

‘Kill us!’

The crowd went wild.

‘Too long have we been left out of the conversation! Treated like second class citizens in our own home. Treated like we shouldn’t exist. Like we should hide away. We have a right to be here. We have a right to exist!’

That’s when Hermione saw them. Luna and Circe had made their way to the very front standing at Callisto’s feet.

Circe was crying. Fat tears rolling down her cheeks as she watched on, an almost beatific smile lighting her face. She was clutching Luna’s hand so tightly the whites of her knuckles were showing.

Hermione felt a swell of joy and sadness. She’d seen how bad it was for Lupin. Circe grew up knowing exactly what the world thought of people like her.

Callisto grabbed the microphone and knelt at the front of the stage. She reached out her hand and Circe raised hers letting their fingers intertwine.

‘My voice matters. Your voice matters!’

She let go of Circe standing again.

‘Change isn’t just coming. It’s already here!’

Hermione felt tears prick her eyes.

The crowd was suddenly twice the size as more protestors apparated in. Some wore the tattoos the marked them as werewolves. Some were obviously Veela based on the way the men’s eyes hazed over. There was a group of what couldn’t be anything that vampires still huddled in the pub staring through the window.

‘Blood is blood whether magical or not. We need to stop fighting each other. We need to start fighting for each other!’

Ron was gripping Hermione’s shoulders, she tried to shrug him off but he was trying to pull her away.

‘Wizards and witches and No-maj! Pure blood and half blood and no blood it’s all the same. Sirens and vampires and selkies and werewolves! Elves and goblins and fairies and every single one of your beautiful creatures. Together!’

Hermione and Ron were in a silent fight as he continued to try and get her to leave with him.

‘Speak out! Speak loud! Do not ask for your freedom. Demand it!’

The Ministry officials were creeping in, making their way towards the stage. They looked angry. Hermione noted Robards amongst them.

‘The time for gentle words has come and gone. We don’t get to turn away from this fight. We don’t get to make believe a better world is coming. We need to make it happen!’

One of the officials had his wand raised now, aiming directly at Callisto.

Still Fitz did nothing.

He merely glared at them, his eyes sparkling.

Beside her Giles and Guiseppe were smiling. That’s when Hermione realised what he was doing, he wanted them to attack. He wanted a demonstration.

‘Them!’ Callisto suddenly pointed.

Everyone turned to where she indicated- the Ministry officials froze.

‘They are the enemy of change! They are the puppets of the machine that would gladly use our blood as fuel. They will never stop. Not unless we make them!’

Ron froze. ‘What did she just say?’

‘Them!’ one of the people in the crowd shouted.

‘Them!’ another one agreed.

Suddenly the Ministry officials were being yanked this way and that.

‘Now this is a protest!’ Vida laughed.

Hermione watched Circe and Luna disappear as the crowd started turning on the Ministry. The shouting was almost deafening now, a dull roar filling her ears. There came a loud bang and the crowd opened up.

A young Selkie was lying on the ground, her thick black hair splayed in the freshly fallen snow. A robed figure stood above them. She couldn’t have been older than eleven.

His eyes were wide. ‘I didn’t—I didn’t mean to.’

Everyone was frozen in shock.

Then Fitz was at the microphone.

‘Do not ask for your freedom,’ he shouted. ‘Demand it!’

And everything went mad.

Hermione felt like her blood was boiling. Pure, white rage flooded her vision and she bared her teeth. It was chaos. Hermione drank it in like a fine wine, lapping up the dregs like sweet syrup. Letting the flavour roll around her tongue. Bitter and beautiful.

She stepped forward raising her wand. Ron grabbed her bodily around the waist and raced back towards the pub.

‘Hermione, where are you going?’ Vida cried.

There were people fighting. Some were screaming. Some were cheering.

‘Ron you put me down right now!’ she banged his back.

More figures were apparating. Some appearing, some disappearing.

‘Eh the Auror is scared,’ she heard Giuseppe laugh. ‘That is good.’

She felt Ron twist and suddenly they were standing in their apartment. She hit her leg on the coffee table and winced.

She rounded on Ron shaking with anger. ‘What the fuck!’

He was running his hand through his hair, his eyes wide.

‘I’m an Auror. You work for the Ministry,’ he said calmly. Too calm.

It made her want to punch something.

‘You don’t get to decide that for me,’ she growled.

‘Don’t be stupid Hermione.’

‘Don’t you call me stupid,’ she hissed.

He glared at her not missing the insinuation. It was cruel and uncalled for but she was just too damn angry to care about his feelings.

‘I did you a favour.’

‘Then do me another one—don’t me any more favours.’

He kept running his hand through his hair, his face white.

‘You have no idea Hermione,’ he huffed. ‘No idea. This BloodBorn stuff has got everyone riled up.’

‘You think I don’t know that?’

‘I know you don’t know,’ he sneered. ‘They’re not about to let some other group start talking about demanding anything—’

‘It’s different and you know it.’

‘Is it?’ he shot her an incredulous look. ‘Didn’t sound different to me.’

‘You can’t seriously think the Equalisers are the same as the BloodBorn. As Death Eaters.’

‘I don’t know what I think,’ he raked a hand through his hair. ‘I just know—I dunno. Look you know I like Fitz but that was fucking weird Hermione. I didn’t expect—’

‘What? It was a protest.’

‘No Hermione,’ he stared at her as if he didn’t recognize her. ‘That—that was a declaration of war. How can I see that and you can’t?’

‘This is ridiculous. Don’t be so melodramatic. The Equalisers are nothing like the Death Eaters. They hunted me!’

‘They hunted me too!’

She crossed her arms. ‘I know. I know they did but Ron—they wanted to kill you because of choices you made. They wanted to kill me because of what I am. Can you really not see the difference?’

They both glared at each, daring the other to speak first. Hermione lost. She always did. She just couldn’t help herself.

‘Did you not even hear what Callisto was saying?’

‘Yeah well maybe I don’t agree—’

She backed away. ‘What are you saying?’

‘Look,’ he sighed (a bit condescendingly). ‘You didn’t grow up with this stuff—‘

‘Oh so I’m just the muggle born dunce now?’

He looked ready to spit fire. ‘The registries are there for a reason.’

‘The registries are barbaric. It paints regular people as dangerous.’

‘But some of them are dangerous!’

‘So are wizards!’ she screamed. ‘I’ve seen just how dangerous they can be. I’ve seen how terrible and horrible and evil—’

Ron was shaking his head pacing angrily in the small room. ‘That’s different.’

‘How is it different!’

He didn’t answer.

‘How Ron? It’s not. You’re making a sweeping generalisation. Just because one is bad doesn’t mean they all are. That’s literally the fucking point you moron—’

‘Don’t talk to me like that—’

‘Well then don’t be an idiot!’

‘What happened to you, Hermione? I don’t know how to talk to you anymore. You’re so angry all the time. You’ve changed—’

‘No!’ she shrieked, losing all control. ‘This is always who I was. You just chose not to see that part of me!’

This pulled him up short and he froze turning to face her.

‘You’re mental Hermione.’

Hermione felt herself wither beneath his gaze. A balloon popped with his easy harsh words.

‘You’ll never get it,’ she said after several seconds. ‘And I’ll never get you. Will I?’

He stared at her long and hard, his lower lip trembling. ‘This is over. Isn’t it.’

‘I—I think so.’

‘I still love you Hermione. I always will. But…’

‘Yeah. But.’

She felt a slow tear sweep over her cheek. He caught it with his finger, his hand cupping her jaw.

‘It’s been over for a while I think. We were just both too stubborn to see it.’

‘I think maybe we held onto this because…’

‘Because it was safe?’

‘Yeah. And… I don’t want to lose you.’

‘You won’t. And I—’

‘You won’t.’

‘Ok.’

‘Ok.’

And that was it.

Ron packed up his things. He left.
Strange how all the years can be packed down into a single second. All that you were, gone. All that could have been, lost. Hermione didn’t leave the house for the rest of the week.

~

On Saturday a patronus burst through her living room scaring her half to death. She rolled off the couch, blinking blearily her heart catching in her throat. The last time she’d seen one was during the war. She knew it as soon as she saw it.

It was happening again.

A Jack Russell terrier trotted through the living room it’s silver hue lighting up the dark. It turned to her and spoke, Ron’s voice cutting her skin like knives.

St Mungos. Come. Now.

It’s Harry.

Chapter Text

2001

BLOODBORN HATE BOOKS?

Believed to be the work of dark witches or wizards unknown, another attack by the so called BloodBorn faction has rocked the community. In the late hours of the morning an explosion carved its way through Diagon Alley and Flourish and Blotts, the target of the attack, was left in rubble. Evidentially the shop was selling books by muggle born authors in an effort to bridge the divide between magical and non magical peoples in support of the Equalisation initiative driven by Lincoln Fitzpatrick and associates. At this time there have been no reported casualties but the owner has been taken to St Mungos in severe shock. ‘It’s just lucky I didn’t open that shop that morning. You see I was feeling poorly and decided on having a lie in- blimey there could have been more than fifty people in there any other day!’ Spokesperson for the Aurors office and Head Auror Robards had this to say, ‘There is nothing to fear. We have our best people on this and the threat will soon be neutralised. We urge the magical population to be vigilant and remain calm. Good day.’ Not especially helpful…

Meanwhile Boy Who Lived, slayer of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and Hero to witches and wizards everywhere, Harry Potter is said to still be recovering from a mysterious illness that has rocked the wizarding community…

~

Malfoy was staring at her, his eyes peering through the darkness.

He did not look well.

A peculiar wave of regret dowsed her in discomfort. It partnered with a twinge of guilt that twisted her gut at not having come to see him sooner. For some reason she assumed they would properly heal him, make sure he was ok. It was quite evident that was not the case. In truth she hadn’t had the headspace for it what with the Equalisers, breaking up with Ron and—

No. She didn’t want to think about that.

‘Open the door,’ she barked.

The hallway groaned, the magic inside the walls temporarily refusing her.

‘Open the door!’

This time the cell made a low creaking noise and the gate gradually opened amongst grating sound. Hermione winced before edging her way into the room. Malfoy watched her enter as a spooked animal might watch a threat. She approached him carefully, her hands lifted. 

‘What did they do to you?’ she whispered, feeling a little sick.

There were bruises lining his chest, his shirt had been torn open, the white of his skin pale against the dark material. He sported a bloody lip and there was a long gash on his forehead.

He tipped his head to the side blankly. ‘They questioned me.’

Hermione stomach fisted tighter. ‘Who?’ she asked, studiously keep her voice level.

‘The other Death Eaters.’

She waited.

‘We’re allowed out once a day,’ he explained dryly. ‘They wanted to know about the Mark. Apparently a few of them saw me carted out of here after Dolohov—whatever that was.’

‘What did they do?’

He spread his arms wide, his eyes sparkling menacingly. ‘What Death Eaters do best.’

Hermione felt her blood chill. ‘Nobody stopped them?’

This made him smile, a slight curling of his lips. He did not dignify this with a response. 

Hermione exhaled. ‘You can’t go out there again.’

‘You going to keep me from seeing the sun, Granger?’

His tone was playful but his eyes revealed genuine fear. She sucked in a calming breath to keep herself from vomiting all over the floor.

‘Lie back.’

He lifted a brow and she rolled her eyes.

‘Do it. Now.’

He did. Grimacing slightly as he slowly eased his long body back onto the cot. Hermione waved her wand and the thin fabric beneath him filled with fresh down and he sighed. She quickly cast a diagnostic charm inspecting the results. Heavily bruised, some internal bleeding, three broken ribs.

‘You should have asked for someone to look at this,’ she glowered.

He merely stared at the ceiling above them.

‘Right. Well get comfy,’ she snarled. ‘We’re going to be here a while.

With that she commenced the soothing and arduous task of healing him. White light circled them, his wane complexion gradually regaining some of its less sallow former glory. Hermione wasn’t especially skilled in the art of Healing but, as in most things, considered herself better than the majority. Malfoy winced as his bones reset and the bruises were systematically lifted from his skin.

It took significantly longer however to identify the cause of his internal bleeding—a punctured lung and badly damaged liver. This close she could make out the delicate line of his ribs. The softness of his skin. The dark inky black of his lashes. The sweeping slide of his throat. The gentle rise of his chest as his heart beat its steady rhythm. The layer of sweat that glimmered over him.

It was difficult to fathom such cruelty might come from this creature, for there was undeniable loveliness there. As if he were made from hard rock and rose petals. A silent whisper of splendour that made her blood churn.

‘You could have died,’ she tutted.

‘What a shame that would be.’ His brow shot up though his eyes remained closed.

‘You’re so ready for that?’

‘I don’t want to die Granger,’ he sneered. ‘But when Voldemort lives under your roof for two years you stop fearing death. Otherwise you’d go mad.’

This made her pause.

She’d never quite considered what that would be like. She’d never really been in the presence of Voldemort for long. Bellatrix was bad enough and she was his aunt.

‘Sunday dinners must have been a joy,’ she mumbled without thinking.

Malfoy said nothing.

‘Here,’ she pulled a vial from her pocket. ‘Drink this.’

He did, without a second thought. It was a sign of how much pain he was truly in that he didn’t question her about it.

‘You really didn’t know?’

He glared at her.

‘The Dark Mark is self destructive,’ she pressed. ‘That doesn’t bother you at all?’

His eyes snapped open. ‘Do I look like the type to off myself?’

A wry smile escaped her before she could stop it. ‘No I suppose not.’

‘You suppose right. You’ve got nothing to fear from me.’

For some reason she believed him.

‘Was the Mark the only reason?’

A vein in his forehead throbbed. ‘They think I’m a rat. I am a rat.’

‘You’re doing the right thing.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ he ground his teeth. ‘A rat is still a rat. And what happens to rats? They get exterminated.’

Hermione snorted. ‘You know Zabini was right. You’re incredibly dramatic.’

His nostrils flared. ‘What’s that saying—keep your friends close but your enemies closer? Voldemort knew what he was doing. Where we are skilled he was an artist. He could hold you with words alone. Make you love him while he tortured you and stole every good thing from your life. You never heard him did you? You never wondered why Bella and that lot couldn’t get enough. Because he knew how to twist them. When to give and what to take. After a while he stopped giving anything at all. The ones here value loyalty above anything else. That’s all that matters to them so forgive me if I’m a little dramatic for your tastes.’

She didn’t bother to respond to that instead choosing to focus on the task at hand. Her wand swept over Malfoy’s still form and she had to focus very hard not to be distracted by the curve of his body. He was incredibly thin, the bones protruding under his skin. He chewed his tongue as she worked, a sign that what she was doing was hurting him but he refused to complain. She found a fluttering of sadistic pleasure at that.

When she was done she stepped back, conjuring a chair to sit on. Malfoy remained where he was staring skyward, as if his eyes could pierce the heavy stone all the way to the stars above. She’d managed not to touch him during the entire healing session but her skin still prickled and fizzed uncomfortably.

She rolled her shoulders, her neck, tossing her thick mane back. ‘Maybe we can have a guard walk with you—’

‘I can take care of myself,’ he cut her off. His gaze followed the sweep of her curls, then back cementing on her face. 

‘I thought you said they respected you?’

He actually laughed at that. A cold, biting sound that slithered over her skin. ‘Oh they do. You should see what they do to the ones they don’t. Oh wait,’ his expression hardened. ‘You have.’

He was quite drunk with pain. It let loose thoughts slip from his lips, those he would have otherwise guarded better. That and a little help from something else.

‘So what,’ Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. ‘You just go out there and they beat you again?’

Malfoy shrugged. ‘You could always give me a wand? Or perhaps a toothbrush, I hear they make excellent shivs.’

Hermione seethed. ‘Violence is a reaction not a solution.’

‘How very true,’ he chuckled mirthlessly. ‘I’ll tell them next time they’re wailing into me shall I?’

‘Don’t be smart.’

‘I’m exceedingly clever and you know it,’ he waved a hand over himself. ‘That's like asking the waves not to crash to the shore. They could try, but it wouldn’t end well.’

‘Humble too,’ she muttered sardonically. 

‘Humility is a wasted artform yet everyone puts so much credence in it. I never understand that.’

‘My you’re chatty today,’ she smirked.

‘That’s true.’ He started, swinging upright. She watched his muscles tense as realisation dawned. ‘Did you drug me?’

Hermione grinned easily. ‘Only a little.’

He didn’t even seem to mind. Instead he cocked his head to the side studying her with a shrewd, piercing gaze. 

He would later.

Robards insisted on it. Apparently they’d questioned him at length but figured that Hermione should give it a try with Veritaserum as an added measure. In another life she drugging a man would likely be a mighty strange thing that gave her pause. Not so in this one.

Malfoy continued his steady assessment with a consuming curiosity. Hermione straightened her spine instinctively, her chin resolutely pointed high. Meanwhile her blood pulsed, the rhythmic drum of her heartbeat fluctuating as he gazed at her unblinking. Never had she been subjected to this kind of razor edge focus before. As if he hoped to peel away the layers of flesh and burrow into the depths of her psyche. Steel grey flicked over her face, lingering on her nose, her mouth. Then down, zeroing in on her neck. 

‘So you’re one of them are you?’ he pointed at the badge still stitched through her collar.

Hermione glanced down, noting the wheel emblazoned on the fabric. She’d forgotten to take it off. ‘Yes. What of it?’

Hermione was point in fact on her way to becoming a key component of the movement. It was invigorating. She’d been to several more rallies since the first and had become quite close with Fitz and his affiliates. An eclectic bunch most certainly but determined and passionate in the extreme. They were at least actually out there, doing something rather than just complaining about it like everybody else.

Malfoy did not miss the defensive tone in her voice. He latched onto it, a snake coiled and ready to spring. ‘Oh yes I’ve heard all about them. Equalisers.’

There was something about the way he said the word that made Hermione’s skin crawl. ‘Got something to say, do you Malfoy?’

‘Well it sounds a bit familiar don’t you think?’

‘What?’

Don’t ask,’ he said scornfully. ‘Demand it.’

Hermione’s hands fisted inadvertently. His gaze followed the action in a hawklike fashion, a smile lighting his lips. This merely made her bristle further. ‘It’s not the same thing.’

‘Not yet,’ he expelled a soft lethal laugh. ‘But power can’t be had like that. Not when there’s only so little to go around.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

He flapped his arms like noodles. He was well and truly out of it now. ‘Only that I’ve seen this dog and pony show before. It starts out grand and noble and then suddenly someone starts getting greedy. We aren’t equal. We never will be. What’s the saying? ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’

He might as well have kicked her in the shin for all she jolted. ‘You’ve read Orwell?’

‘I’ve read a great many books, Granger,’ he sighed waspishly, as if entertaining a rather stupid juvenile. ‘There’s a top and a bottom. Power and control. Control and power. Round and round it goes the endless game with no end. Life is a pendulum. You only don’t like it when it’s not swinging your way.’

Hermione scoffed.

‘Don’t get me wrong the philosophy is sound but the execution will always fail,’ Malfoy gesticulated with a graceful hand flourish. ‘It is not in our nature to be giving. Not when it is so easy to take.’

‘Oh so you’re wise now?’

‘I’ve always been wise.’

She folded her legs leaning back in the chair. ‘What they’re fighting for is valid and you know it. You have no idea what these people have been through.’

‘Oh and you do?’

‘I’ve tasted it,’ she rolled her wand in her hand. ‘But no. I am lucky compared to some of them. Don’t you dare lecture me—you haven’t the right to pass judgement.’ She jabbed a finger in his direction. ‘That tattoo on your arm says it all for you. Mass genocide, that’s what you advocated for.’

Malfoy snickered, not in the least perturbed. ‘I like to wear my vices on my sleeve. Keeps things honest.’

‘You vile wanker—’

‘So full of fire Granger,’ his derisive guffaw rang out. ‘I’m surprised your head doesn’t blow off.’

Hermione met his gaze head on, spine curving as she eased towards him lethally. ‘Where do you think that anger came from?’

‘Oh I think you’ve always had it,’ he waggled his brows. ‘Even in school you just couldn’t help yourself. Always had to find the fight. Always had to stick your nose in it, make your opinions heard. Some of us find anger. Others are born to it.’ He shot her a knowing look.

‘We are not the same.’ 

Malfoy didn't appear the least concerned. In fact, he lounged with all the grace of a King awaiting his annual tithe. Languishing despite the grim surroundings. ‘Maybe,’ he conceded, his tone dripping with mockery. ‘Time will tell. I stand by what I said. If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck—well you get the idea. But perhaps you could keep them in line. If anything it’ll be amusing to watch you try.’

‘Ah yes, more amusement for you. I’m glad I could be of service.’ She skewered him with a look. ‘The system is broken. Voldemort might be gone but nothing has changed. Now they hate in hiding again, just waiting for the chance to step back into the light. The Equalisers are going to stop that from happening. I am going to stop that from happening.’ 

‘You blindly seek the impossible.’ 

‘You forget that I was born into a word where magic did not exist. I’ve already discovered the the impossible. I witness it every day. Why then should this be any different?’ 

‘Indeed,’ his eyes sparkled. ‘They should rename you the patron saint of lost causes. Hermione Granger, the witch who wouldn’t stop.’

‘And what of you? Draco Malfoy?’ her lip curled. ‘The wizard who never stood for anything. Not one day in his whole life. Easier to blow over than a feather.’ 

‘Now, now,’ his pupils dilated, muted bitter rage whispering through the cell. ‘No need for that. And I think we both know nobody would ever call me Saint.’ 

‘Not outside a mental institution,’ she agreed maliciously. ‘Tell me honestly though, now that you can’t refuse. What do you really think? What is your true opinion of me? I find I’m interested to know if you’re as hateful as you profess.’ 

His features hardened. ‘Now—I don’t think—‘ 

‘No need for that, prisoners have no need to think. Come on Malfoy. Don’t fight it,’ she jeered. Taking him down a peg was becoming her new favourite game. ‘You know you can’t. Go on. Tell me all the ways you hate me. Of how you despise me. Prove my point. Show me that pureblood bigotry I know and loathe.’ 

He crushed his hands against his skull as if it might stop himself from talking. But that wasn’t the way of Veritaserum. It pushed everything to the surface, all the things they’d rather hide. It was obvious he’d been trained in the art to resist it. But he was no expert and it’d been a very strong batch. Hermione made it herself.

‘I envy you,’ he spat. Then froze, looking as if he wanted to punch himself in the face.

That she had not expected. She almost laughed out loud. ‘I beg your pardon?’

His teeth bared, his cheeks mottled—but it did not stop him answering. ‘My rebellious spirit was crushed at a young age. Let’s just say Sirius Black taught them a thing or two about keeping us in line.’ He wrapped his arms around himself angrily. ‘You say and do whatever pops into that little brain of yours and yet have no idea how difficult that is. Not everyone is afforded such a luxury.’

‘What does that mean?’ 

‘It means that this cage is not my first,’ he half chewed on the words as they rolled through his lips as if caught in a meat-grinder. ‘Nor will it be my last.’ 

Hermione felt the admission hit her like a solid brick wall. She tapped her foot, eyes narrowing as she squinted in his direction. He bristled under her sharp evaluation, resentment colouring his cheeks. This was a truth he was not prepared to share, a slip of the tongue completely unrehearsed. She’d caught him off guard and relished in the fact—though despite her best intentions the insinuation lingered, flooding her belly with a rush of… pity? An astonishing and unforeseen emotion she been equally blind sighted by. And horrified. 

As one their glares intensified. 

‘But you are doomed to failure despite it surely you must know that?’ he collected himself quickly. ‘The Ministry will never allow it. The purebloods will never allow it. They would rather tear down the whole thing than allow you lot an ounce of the freedoms they so happily enjoy. You entered this world with a built in impediment and you can not expect to beat a system built to keep you down. There is a hierarchy to it Granger. Try and tip the scales if you wish but do not be surprised when you are crushed in the attempt.’ 

Hermione threw her head back in frustration. ‘Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. Freedom can never be gained unless you at least try for the ladder. Do you really expect me to simply do nothing then? Idly languish in a house on fire and act shocked when I’m burned alive? A few throwaway lines from you and, oh well, better give it up then. Words and ideas can change the world Malfoy. I staunchly believe that. I’ll believe it to the grave. You know I had this same stupid fight with Ron—‘

‘You and Weaselbee fighting?’ Malfoy leered. ‘Delightful.’

Hermione seethed. To be fair it was her fault for bringing it up.

But once again he was a dog to a bone. ‘You and that ponce together,’ his nose crinkled. ‘I never understood it. As if that ever made any sense? And on the topic of Saints how is Potter? Still living it up being everyone’s fucking Chosen Prince? What a bloody tosser—’

Hermione was on her feet in seconds, her hand swinging before she was aware she’d moved. With a loud clap her palm collided with his face, the impact hard enough to leave red fingerprints inked into pale skin. A red wine hush in the shape of her hand. Malfoy started, shock forcing his mouth to pop open.

But Hermione didn’t care. She was too angry, positively shaking with it. Because he’d hit the one nerve that was raw to the point of constant aching.

Harry.

The entire ordeal was an open wound that refused to close. A place she couldn’t go. Wouldn’t go.

And yet at the mere mention of his name her mind did exactly that. 

Ginny was dead on her feet, her head quite literally rolling on her neck, tipping back as her eyes fluttered open and shut. She played with the bandage on her arm, pulling at the frayed edges. Even now all the Healers whispered about it—the level of magic required to apparate that far was practically unheard of.

‘Ginny, why don’t you go home with mum,’ Ron pressed a gentle hand against her back. ‘We’ll stay with Harry ok.’

‘I can’t—‘

‘Come on my girl,’ Molly grabbed her under the arm, lifting her bodily from the chair. She didn’t even have the energy to fight back. ‘It wasn’t a question. We’ll be back in the morning, Harry.’

With a sigh, Ginny leant over, pressing a kiss to his forehead fluffing at his pillow, pulling the sheet up around him. There she lingered, inhaling the scent of him, hand snaked through his unruly locks.

‘You go Gin,’ Harry murmured. He smiled but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. ‘I’ll be here in the morning ok?’

Ginny took Harry’s hand and they stared at each other, a million promises of love burning in their eyes. A quiet that positively screamed. Followed by two simple words that carried the weight of all they couldn’t say. 

‘Love you.’

‘Love you.’

When they were gone Hermione climbed in beside Harry, Ron on his other side. She curled her arm up, gently brushing her fingers through his hair. It’d been a few days since his episode but the Healers wanted to keep him in a bit longer. Harry looked pale beneath his shaggy black head. Whiter even than the sheets tangled around him. Ron pulled out a bunch of cards and they quietly started a game of rummy. Exploding snap would have been too much. The blinds were all drawn, a silencing spell cast on the room to keep it hushed.

No one quite knew what to make of this. How to process the sudden illness or deal with a weakened Harry. For so long he’d been their rock, even on the darkest of days he was there, standing strong. At least that’s what’d felt like for everyone else. Hermione and Ron understood better than most what it’d truly been like for Harry when Voldemort was still alive. The constant migraines and visions that left him sweating and screaming. There was nothing they could do then. There was nothing they could do now. If only Dumbledore was still around, if anyone knew how to counteract this it would’ve been him.

There were a great deal of rumours flying already. The last time Harry experienced anything like this was during the war. With the growing BloodBorn threat people were worried. Fear had crept back into their faces and they kept looking at Ron and Hermione as if they were keepers to the keys. As if they could stop this from happening again.

Ron shuffled the cards and Harry flinched. She shot him a look and he pocketed them.

‘Sorry,’ Harry mumbled.

‘No bother mate,’ Ron said kindly.

Harry’s eyes started to flutter shut. ‘Tired,’ he murmured. ‘So tired.’ A long exhale. ‘Didn’t think we’d be back doing this again.’

Ron carded a hand through his hair. ‘Blimey Harry you can’t think like that. I mean if you want a trip down memory lane I could turn the next Healer that starts poking their nose around into a tea cozy?’

Harry huffed but didn’t open his eyes. A smothering silence blanketed them. One where Hermione found herself staring at Harry with an intensity that bordered on savage. She was so wrapt up in him that she jumped a little when Ron spoke, calling her abruptly back to the present. 

‘I reckon you and Gin should come stay at the Burrow with me, mum, dad and Perc,’ he declared. ‘Be like old times won’t it. Maybe we can dig up some gnomes for old times sake.’

Hermione glanced up to find Ron focused not the man between them but on her—a rather queer expression on his face. Hermione felt her cheeks heat but forced herself not to look away. Her fingers tightened in Harry’s hair and Ron blinked. Once. 

‘What?’ Harry frowned. ‘Why are you at the Burrow and not your flat?’

‘Oh you know—I’m not—but I’d come stay there you know. Just for a bit. Her—‘ he looked at her awkwardly. ‘Hermione could come too. Be good for us.’

‘Yes of course,’ Hermione smiled. ‘Anything for you Harry. We love you so much—you know that right?’

‘I’m just glad you’re here,’ he sighed. ‘Something normal.’

Their eyes met over his shaggy black head. A hundred words passed between them in that silent second.

‘Yeah,’ Ron said, his lips tight. ‘Course mate.’

‘You’ll be alright Harry,’ Hermione tried to keep her voice strong but tears pricked her eyes.

That had been weeks ago now. In the end she was saved the uncomfortable conversation that would have come if they had all gone to the Burrow. But Harry and Ginny ended up back at their flat and were planning to move to a little cottage outside the city. Get some fresh air, as Ginny said.

Meanwhile Malfoy was still glaring at her pointedly.

‘Sorry,’ Hermione muttered at last.

Something in her demeanour must have told him not to push it.

‘Don’t apologise,’ he said. ‘It’s a waste of air.’

‘And are we lacking?’

‘With the size of your ego, always.’ Malfoy rotated his neck tartly. ‘Are you meant to slap people after you heal them?’

‘When they’re being horrible, yes.’

He lifted a brow. ‘Your beside manor leaves a lot to be desired.’

‘Would you like me to leave?’

A long silence.

Then—

‘No.’

Yet another unexpected answer. It sent her backwards dropping tiredly into the waiting chair. Her temple thumped exhaustion closing around her skull. 

Malfoy regarded her with that same predatory silence. The sharp contours of his cheeks hollowing out his face and pitching shadows under his eyes. ‘Knowledge is the currency of criminals. Give me some won’t you?’

’And why would I do that?’

‘You got a pretty good slap in there. Consider it recompense.’ 

She kneaded her forehead in an attempt to stave off the oncoming migraine. ‘I owe you nothing.’ 

‘Perhaps not,’ he conceded rationally. ‘But if you’d like me to live until our next encounter, information is the best way to ensure your… investment remains sound.’

She glared at him, irritated at his logical argument. ‘What do you want to know?’

‘The BloodBorn—what are they?’

‘Hard to say,’ she shrugged blandly. ‘A faction of pure bloods hoping to incite war is the best I’ve got.’

‘Are they succeeding?’

Her lip curled. ‘No.’

The word lacked the oomph she would have liked. It gave Malfoy pause, enough of a reaction for her to know he knew she was lying.

‘Interesting,’ he commented without feeling. ‘It seems to me like we are swimming in a boiling pot yet again. I wonder how it will end this time.’

‘Oh are you going to theorise? Do go on.’ She half meant it as a joke but couldn’t help but find perverse interest in his take. As he said, he was clever. Not to mention the closest she’d get to talking so candidly with one of them

He pondered her question for long enough that she started to think he might not answer. But then—

‘There are two types of people,’ he mused. ‘Those who are born without power and spend their whole lives clawing their way up the ladder in order to gain it—the Equalisers. And those born with it who spend their whole lives fighting to keep it—the BloodBorn. What a fascinating dichotomy.’

‘Is it?’ she sneered. ‘And what of those who don’t want power at all?’

Malfoy dipped his head noncommittally. ‘They don’t tip the scales and therefore don’t matter. They merely exist, tools for the other two to use and dispose of.’

‘Your world view is incredibly flawed.’

He lifted a brow. ‘Are you really going to challenge me on this?’

‘You are oversimplifying and you know it,’ Hermione threw out a hand. ‘Divisions are easy to draw when you’re looking for them.’

‘Now who’s trying to be wise.’

Hermione was itching to hit him again. She pinched the bridge of her nose with a heavy sigh. ‘You speak and yet I hear nothing.’

He ran a hand through his silver hair. A cold wave washed over her and she felt his anger prickle along her neck.

‘Salazar you’re irritating,’ he hissed. ‘You asked for my opinion and I gave it. If you did not want to listen perhaps don’t bother wasting my time.’ 

‘Busy are you?’ she quipped cruelly. 

He examined her coldly. ‘I would pay good money to watch a dragon eat you.’

‘Really? I’d kill you for free.’

This managed to elicit another laugh though he seemed averse to do so. 

‘Granger you’ve got about as much charm as a flying brick. I’d work on that if I were you.’

‘Flying bricks are known to shatter glass ceilings Malfoy. Feathers on the other hand don’t achieve much.’ 

‘They look pretty though don’t they,’ he winked. 

Hermione rolled her eyes. But she settled back into the chair lacing her fingers together. ‘Do you ever wonder where did your magic first came from?’

He frowned. ‘What?’

‘Well, you say you're pure all the way up—prove it.’

‘Excuse me—’

‘Can you?’ She fluttered her lashes. ‘Can you definitively say that your line is the very first. The dawn of magic runs in your veins? If that is true, where did it come from? You say you are clever and yet it would seem you have never even considered this. How odd. Perhaps it’s easier to stick your head in the sand and hope a wave does not come and drown you in your own bullshit.’

His nostrils flared. ‘You’re rather beating a dead horse.’

‘Perhaps. But the Equalisers are fighting for something better. The people will have change.’ 

‘It is often not the people that matter,’ his expression shadowed. ‘What of their leader? Can they be trusted?’ 

‘Fitz is a good man.’

‘There is no such thing as a good man,’ Malfoy snorted. He was now delicately picking the dirt from beneath his fingernails. She watched slightly engrossed in his long slender fingers. ‘At least I’ve never met one.’

‘Bully for you,’ Hermione rolled her eyes again. ‘Can I ask you something?’

He didn’t look up continuing his systematic cleaning process. ‘That feels a little unfair seeing as you’ve made it impossible for me to refuse.’ 

‘I suppose. But then you’ll get over it.’ She sat upright, a hand unconsciously curling around her forearm. ‘When I was at your house—‘ Malfoy stiffened—‘sorry your Manor,’ she corrected herself acidly. ‘You pretended you didn’t know us. Why?’

He glared at her then, his jaw working over time to keep the words from spilling past his lips. He failed. ‘I might be many things Granger. But I’m not an idiot. I didn’t want the Dark Lord to prevail.’

‘What? Why?’

He scratched at his chest, his fingers trailing over one of the dragon tattoos. She was right, there was an exact twin carved into the other collarbone.

‘Because he was a sadist and he would have destroyed everything I cared about,’ he said at last. ‘He cared only for himself, his own power.’

‘But if the Dark Lord fell—surely you knew you would just end up here.’

‘There are worse things Granger. I have seen them up close. This—this is better.’

She didn’t know quite how to respond to that. ‘Right.’

‘Is that all? Nothing else to ask me?’

Hermione narrowed her eyes.

His mouth stretch in a vicious grin. ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.’

‘What?’

He lifted his shirt revealing a large scar littering the curve of his ribs. Letters carved into his skin just as horrible and gruesome as hers.

Failure.

‘This is what I got after failing to kill Dumbledore. A reminder not to do it again.’

Hermione stared at it feeling a rising panic circle her throat. She could feel her chest start to flutter, the blood churning under her skin. Images flashed before her eyes. Blood and pain. A cruel face with cruel eyes. Screams echoing through every day since that one. Never stopping. Always so loud in her head—

‘Don’t,’ Malfoy cut through the wild tempest scorching her mind. Her eyes darted up to meet his and she could see her panicked expression reflected in his piercing gaze. He lifted an arm inadvertently and dropped it just as quickly when he realised what he was doing. ‘Fear was always her greatest weapon.’ A long pause. ‘In a way she was worse than the Dark Lord. Maybe because she knew me better. Better to get angry. Vengeance is the best healer after all. And you’ve already had yours, haven’t you?’

She blinked, pulse still thrumming off-kilter. ‘How so?’

‘You and me,’ he said quietly. ‘We’re still here. She’s not. He’s not. They’re gone. They’re dead and we’re still here.’ 

She let her eyes roam his features, searching for an ounce that this was fake. She found nothing.

With a sigh she rolled up her sleeve staring down at the similar scar, they could have been twin scars except for the word they spelled out. Malfoy’s greatest sin was not doing what he was told. Hers was existing at all. The thought made her want to break something.

‘I know what you’re thinking,’ Malfoy murmured. ‘I wouldn’t have stopped it even if I could. You're still my enemy. I’m still me. I won’t pretend I’m a good person if you don’t try and make me into one.’

She cocked her head to the side, lifting a brow. ‘I know that.’ 

For some reason her answer did appease him. If anything it riled him, a lethal presence taking up host behind his eyes. 

‘Make no mistake,’ he whispered menacingly. ‘I am the killer they say I am,’ he went on. ‘I am the heir to a line that would gladly wipe your kind from the face of the planet.’

‘Of course you are.’ 

Again, her tone rankled him. 

‘You’re still not getting it,’ he growled. ‘I have tortured people, just like you. On my living room floor, just like you. I feel no remorse. I couldn’t tell you their names if you asked because I never cared to learn them.’

‘Right.’

‘I would plot to destroy you now if I could—if you hadn’t locked me in this fucking Vow. I said I did not want the Dark Lord to prevail, not that I wanted you to win.’

‘Are you trying to convince me or you?’ she laughed darkly.

'THEN FUCKING LISTEN TO ME!' he shouted.

Suddenly he was on his feet, the bed tossed aside, standing above her, his hands fisted around the arms of her chair. They were nose to nose, his breath warm on her skin. A shiver hummed along her vertebra, an odd thimble of desire twisting in her belly. He became aware of it the exact instant that she did. It reduced him to stone. Hermione’s mouth parted, a high pitched whistle sneaking between her teeth. Malfoy’s eyes widened and he… did he just groan?

Whatever it was it awakened something obscene inside her. Finally she drew back, pressing her spine into the hard wood in an attempt to distance herself from him. She’d never been more horrified. Emotions loosed like a flood filling her with wild windswept confusion. She blinked rapidly seeking out her anger like an old friend and using it to pack all the other feelings beneath a layer of dirt.

‘Get. Away. From. Me,’ she snarled. 

He became aware of her wand when she jabbed it harder into his throat. This did little to perturb him however. Instead he leaned in, a fizzle of sparks shimmering along his skin. 

'Run,’ he hissed. ‘You need to run far away because this, whatever this is—'

‘You assume too much.’ She twisted her wand.

‘Do I?’ his jaw twitched. ‘Do I really?’

He lifted a hand, reaching out with shaking fingers. He took one strand of her hair, gently pressing it between a thumb and index finger. His nostrils flared as he filled himself with the scent of her. His eyes held hers like an empty black hole and she was funnelled deeper and deeper into the endless abyss that spoke of only one thing.

Mutual destruction.

Hermione exhaled, feeling like she might float away, a creature made of smoke and vapour. Malfoy’s eyes fluttered shut. He edged closer, the distance between them reducing to a mere hairs breadth—then as quick as a fox came back to his senses. With a animalistic yelp he whipped around crossing the room in three quick strides, pacing like a caged animal. Rage carved its way through his features, a dancing dragon heating the cell with unbridled fury. 

‘Those people you hurt. Why did you do it Draco?’ she asked calmly.

He stopped pacing. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘Doesn’t it? Are you so sure?’

He was shaking with anger.

A long, unbroken silence opened up between them, an almost palpable lamentation that quickened her heart. The room faded away, the stone melting into star burnt space, the bed and chair vanishing into the vacuous void. They could have been anywhere and nowhere. Star crossed and destined for an inevitable catastrophic end. Their eyes crashed together, meeting in the ephemeral infinity where nothing mattered. Nothing but two hearts beating, burning, binding.

Two roads that were never supposed to meet. The question remained where had this come from? Or did it sneak upon them? A sly dog carrying disease infested longing that would only lead to woe. Or was it always there, festering underneath the surface, a toad ready to spring forth at the most inopportune of times.

She wondered if he could feel it too, or if she was to be alone in this. The slight tilting of his head, the soft slackening of his jaw told her it was the former.

Static electricity blistered, broiling her blood, a cosmic supernova.

Hermione felt it.

Malfoy felt it.

And they both thought the same thing.

No.

Not in this fucking life.

They narrowed their eyes.

‘You won’t change me,’ Malfoy was the first to speak.

‘I’d never be so stupid.’

‘No. That you would not.’

Hermione stood, quite ready to be gone. ‘Well I just came to tell you, you’ll be going home soon. I hear your friends can’t wait.’

He straightened, barely concealed hope shadowing his features. Then—

‘Ah.’ It was the first genuine smile she’d ever seen on his face.

Hermione recoiled. Unsure how to respond to unbridled joy from a man like him. It felt… wrong

‘Next time I see you will be at the Manor,’ she barked angrily. ‘Be ready for me.’

She left, waving her hand behind her. The cell door creaked shut as she hurried, striding purposely down the hall towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

‘Delightful chat as always Granger,’ he called after her. ‘But don’t forget, you can’t change what you are!’

She hastened her steps. It didn’t stop her from hearing what came last. A sentence that would haunt her for many years to come. 

‘Or else I would have done it a long time ago.’

Chapter Text

2001

WEREWOLVES SCRATCH BACK!

Another Equaliser rally has left the Ministry fuming. What started as a small protest outside the Werewolf Registration Office quickly grew into an all out brawl. Sources say the Ministry tried to calmly defuse the situation only to be met with violence, not altogether unsurprising when dealing with Beasts of this nature. Several officials have been treated for cuts and bruises. One was taken to St Mungos to be deflated after a rogue Engorgement Charm caught them off guard. According to sources noted Auror Lincoln Fitzpatrick on loan from MACUSA has been put on suspension without pay for inciting the event. He had this to say: ‘Not to worry folks this train has already left the station. Change is coming! Progress will not be stopped. You're either leading the charge or dragging by its coattails. I know where I'd rather be!’

WHISPERS OF AN HEIR IN THE AIR?

It is rumoured that the last living descendant of the Black/Malfoy line and convicted Death Eater, Draco Malfoy has been released from Azkaban earlier this month. While Ministry Officials refuse to comment, sources close to the family have stated there have been movements in Malfoy and Black business dealings that could only spell one thing. The Heir is back. The Black/Malfoy estate has yet to comment at this time. For those who have been living under a rock, The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black is one of the largest, oldest, and wealthiest pure-blooded wizarding families in Great Britain…

~

‘Eyyyy!’ It's Granger!’ Theo blared.

He raced across the room, tripped on a stray cushion and—oof—promptly went crashing to the ground. Pansy, who had been lounging on the couch inspecting her newly constructed leg, burst out laughing. It was a shiny silver colour reminiscent of the one Peter Pettigrew once sported. As Hermione glared at her she could only hope it would likewise take out its owner. A vision of Pansy being kicked to death by her own leg flooded her vision and she sighed happily.

Pansy had let her hair grow long, the raven tresses sweeping down to her stomach. At some point she’d grown into her nose and now possessed a queenly dominance that rendered her stunning. With dark, slanted eyes, sharp cheekbones and high brows she could flatten you with a single look, a look she often reserved purely for Hermione. Her petite frame was draped in a black silken nightgown and robe that glistened against her alabaster skin as she rotated on the couch. Bones still protruded from her collar and there were purple lines under her eyes that spoke of sleepless nights and copious drinking.

A similar snickering sound could be heard from the ground beneath her feet and glancing down, Hermione found Blaise Zabini laying in a bed of cushions with a bottle of firewhiskey hanging from his lips.

‘Are you planning on moving today, Zabini?’ she scolded. ‘You’re rather in my way.’

‘There are only two reasons to get out of bed,’ he slurred. ‘A good fuck and a good breakfast. The rest is all neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned.’ He flapped an arm lazily through the air. ‘And seeing as I’ve eaten everything the House Elves have to offer and there’s not a fuckable woman in sight—‘

‘Hey!’ Pansy interjected.

‘—I think I’ll stay right where I am.’

Hermione regarded him through narrowed eyes wondering if he’d try to chase her if she stomped on his face. Zabini still sported a shaven scalp though there was a streak of grey fuzzing his head that hadn’t been there before. Boyish features had melted back to hard lines and handsome good looks. Like Malfoy he could gaze right through you, his eyes carved from cruel stone. Long bodied and slim he spent most of his time swirling a glass of whiskey in one hand while nervously picking the fingers of the other. He possessed hollow cheeks, jutting chin and a strong nose that sat well together though his lips were cracked and his ebony skin still a little ashen—though the terrible cough she’d heard in Azkaban was gone.

His eyes caught hers, brow arching as if he could read her mind. 

‘You’re here!’ Theo shot back to his feet completely unfazed.

Theo’s glossy chestnut curls had regained their original lustre and now sat like a soft plume over his forehead. Unlike his friends he was constantly well manicured despite the ill treatment he brought upon himself. Roman nose, cheekbones that rivalled Achilles and golden skin made him almost godlike in beauty. His eyes were constantly sparkling and his teeth flashed white when he smiled mischievously, which was often. He made a show of using his wide eyes to attempt to coax you into whatever took his fancy. Hermione found even she was not always immune to his splendour which was incredibly frustrating.

The two boys were both in plain white t-shirts and long linen pyjama bottoms. Hermione wasn’t sure if she’d ever once seen any of them properly dressed for the day. With nowhere to go they’d apparently determined to never do so ever again. The term ‘lost cause’ came to mind as she let her eyes trail over them.

This was how her visits often began, the Leftovers demonstrating just how drunk they could get before lunch.

Despite the House Elves best efforts, the Manor was a tip. The heavy emerald curtains stank of cigarette smoke. Bottles littered the shining mahogany sideboards and coffee tables. The curved chaise lounge had several tiny burns that resembled bullet holes peppering the silken fabric. The rugs were sticky, one with a large crimson stain that could only be red wine in its centre.

Cushions were strewn haphazardly through the room, a significant amount of feathers spilling from their guts. There were still the remnants of a banner half hanging from the ceiling, the letters reading ‘Welcome Home Draco!’ that nobody had bothered to take down. He’d been home for about a month now and by the state of the living room, he, like his compatriots, was equally discovering how little he could care about anything.

She could just make him out now, sleeping on one of the couches, tucked beneath a heavy black blanket with only a tuft of silver hair sticking out. She strode around the room kicking the side of the couch.

‘Up,’ she said.

Fivemoreminutes,’ he grumbled, sinking further beneath the covers.

‘Oh don’t worry Granger, I'll help you.’ Theo bounded along behind her like a puppy, his eyes hopeful.

‘You’re not allowed Theo,’ she said warily. ‘I’ve told you this a million times.’

‘But I’m just so booored,’ he whined, throwing his head back dramatically. ‘This was all great for a few months but it’s been a long time now Granger. A very very very very long time. Very long.’

‘How long Theo?’ Pansy asked.

‘I think it’s been very long,’ Zabini chortled. ‘But hard to be sure. Tell us again Theo.’

‘Please god don’t’ Hermione kneaded her temples.

It was like wrangling children. Theo was still looking at her expectantly.

‘I hear you. Perhaps you could find something worthwhile to fill the time?’

He lifted a perfect brow. ‘Is that not what I’m trying to do?’

She pinched her nose. ‘Something else.’

He stared at her for several seconds. ‘Any ideas?’

‘Oh for Merlin's sake, I’ll ask the Ministry ok?’

‘Excellent!’

‘Not for me. I’d rather shit in my own hands and clap than lift a finger in your service. You understand?’

Hermione’s mouth stretched into a thin line. ‘Quite. A delight as always, Pansy.’

It was at that point an enormous owl exploded through the open window in a flurry of black feathers causing Theo to leap back with a scream. Pansy shot him a look of withering disdain as the owl dropped a crisp white letter into Zabini’s lap. He regarded it excitedly at first before his face fell. With a shaking hand he scrunched the letter into fist.

He lurched upright, his eyes bloodshot, his dark skin coated in a layer of what looked like glitter. ‘I read that story, Dante's Inferno once,’ he glowered at nobody in particular. ‘It spoke of layers and layers of suffering the likes of which mankind could not even conceive. I think Hell is a lot simpler than that. You don’t need physical pain. Just a fucking woman to rip your heart out.’

‘Bloody hell Zabini who hurt you?’ Theo muttered.

‘Daphne,’ Pansy crooned. ‘Oh Daphne, Daphne how could you!’

‘Parkinson I will kill you. One more word—’

‘You’re welcome to try. I need to test out my new leg—thanks again Draco!’

He didn’t move.

Hermione kicked the couch again.

‘Have a drink Granger,’ Pansy trilled. ‘Maybe it’ll help oil your engine and you can relax for five fucking minutes.’ Then she turned her attention back to Zabini. ‘Come on let’s go for a race through the maze.’

‘You cheat every time. It’s no fun.’

‘I promise I won’t. Pinky swear.’

‘Get that pinky out of my face or I’ll chop it off.’

Hermione didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. ‘What a wonder you all are. Such a fine pedigree.’

‘We’re wasting away in here Granger—’ Pansy sighed sadly. ‘If you’d just let us out.’

‘Not on your life.’

She pouted. ‘You know I don’t know how anybody stands you.’

‘What if you let us have some friends over, just a small gathering,’ Zabini looked suddenly hopeful. ‘Nothing too fancy.’

‘Daphne won’t come, Zabini. When are you going to get the hint?’

He drooped like a wilted flower. ‘She might.’

‘Oh I’m sorry, did I miss something? Has she responded to any of your bloody letters? No?’

‘You’re cruel.’

‘Cry about it.’

Hermione felt her anger rising like a fist. This was not what she signed up for.

‘Malfoy if you don’t get up now I’m going to stun all your friends.’

‘Now, now Granger, don't be like that,’ Theo dared to look hurt. But you couldn’t keep him down. He smiled wide, wagging his brows. ‘Oscar with you today?’

She tipped her face to the heavens in exasperation. ‘Any more of this and my brain will melt.’

‘Oh come on Granger sit for a bit,’ Zabini took another long swig of whiskey. ‘Let him rest. We’ll have us a bit of a chinwag. Been a bit minute since I’ve seen anyone but these blighters and I find I’m desperate to talk to quite literally anyone else.’

Theo ruffled. ‘That’s a bit rude.’

‘Yes but I was always being truthful is a man’s greatest treasure.’

Pansy threw her hands in the air. ‘Here we go.’

Deciding at this stage she could most certainly use a drink she snatched one off the table and took a long swig—after inspecting for anything floating inside of course. She waved her wand cleaning one of the free couches before dropping into it and folding into a tight pretzel.

Misty, one of the Manor Houselves appeared in front of her with a loud crack and Hermione jerked so violently she nearly threw the bottle across the room. 

‘Sorry Miss,’ she squeaked. ‘Can I be getting you anything?’ Her gaze flicked to the pile of blankets that was her Master. ‘I am apologising for the mess. We is very busy you see—‘ 

‘That’s quite alright Misty.’ Hermione glared at the three who ignored the elf as if she weren’t there. ‘It’s not your fault you’re forced to work for heathens.’ 

‘Oh!’ Misty’s cheeks reddened. ‘No. No. I is working for the illustrious Malfoy family. I is a lucky elf—‘

‘Enough,’ Pansy lobbed a wine cork at the elf’s head. ‘She said she didn’t want anything. Leave us.’ 

Misty yelped, ducking before the cork could hit her and promptly disappeared with an even louder crack.

’You didn’t need to do that!’ Hermione bristled ready to throttle the witch with her bare hands. 

‘Yes yes do go on about it,’ Pansy drawled. ‘Now. What should we discuss?’ 

Hermione would have loved nothing better than to lecture them into the floor about their atrocious behaviour but she’d learnt from experience that wouldn’t go anywhere. All she’d do was upset herself and culminate with the lot of them laughing in her face. And she’d seen for herself that they weren’t entirely cruel. Like when Zabini patted an Elf on the back or when Pansy hugged Misty when she thought no one was looking. She’d even seen Theo attempt to assist with the tidy up once or twice—though he usually ended up making a bigger mess quite by accident. 

The others all observed Hermione with mischievous intent and she decided to get this rolling before any of them might suggest a subject. Merlin knew it’d be something decidedly filthy.

She turned to Theo. ‘You said you were framed? Is that so?’

Zabini snorted and Pansy laughed maniacally.

Theo glared at them both. He lowered into an armchair pulling out a cigarette and lighting it with his wand. He offered one to Hermione who took it—might as well she figured.

‘Not framed as such—’

Zabini shot him an incredulous look.

Pansy snickered. ‘We were caught red-handed trying to flee—’

‘And I have no shame in that,’ Theo clutched a hand to his heart.

‘I do a little,’ Zabini conceded. ‘But it is what it is.’

‘Good for you,’ Hermione rolled her eyes.

‘We never wanted to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts,’ Theo went on. ‘We tried to leave, sneak through the grounds, steal a couple of broomsticks and fly on out of there—but then got caught up on the Dark Lord's side. It wasn’t like we could just say ‘oh terribly sorry Voldy, bit of a mistake you see but we’re actually running away. Now if you don’t mind we’ll just mosey on through. Tiddle pip!’

‘I think the saying is Toodle-oo,’ Pansy offered, still running her hands happily over her new leg.

‘Whatever. So we sort of just… blended in. Malfoy vouched for us—he’d come with his family you see—and they let us stay. Made us stay really. We had a little pow-wow at that point and figured we’d wait for an out. Then the Dark Lord wanted Pansy to apparate through the Fog and she refused—which I don’t think I ever told you how brave that was—’

‘Thank you, Theo.’

‘You’re welcome—so anyway he set his snake on her and it all went a bit shit from there as you can probably imagine.’

‘How so?’

‘Well Malfoy lost it and started yelling as he does, whilst me and Zabini tried to sneak off with Pansy—but then old Aunt Bella wasn’t very happy so we all got a good Crucio. The Dark Lord locked us up after that, promising to kill us—yadda yadda same old same old really—once the war was won or use us as fodder whichever came first.’ He shrugged. ‘Fortunately for us, he died. Once Potter laid him low we thought to scamper but the Order was too quick like and bam—Azkaban. Malfoy got a trial at least but not so for the rest of us. Safe to say it all went a bit pear-shaped. So framed is perhaps not the right word—’

‘Clusterfuck of unfortunate events would be a more apt description I’d say,’ Pansy smirked.

‘All to pot,’ Zabini remarked.

‘An undeniable cock up,’ Pansy cut back.

‘A not too successful endeavour,’ Theo finished with a bow.

Hermione beheld them one by one. ‘Merlin, you're all just a bunch of cowards—’

‘Now now harsh words never caught any flies, Granger,’ Theo straightened. ‘We didn’t have a choice—’

She refused to listen to their excuses. ‘There’s always a choice.’

Pansy threw her head back and cackled loudly. ‘Sure, sure,’ she said. ‘Did it not ever occur to you that we don’t much care about world domination? All we wanted was to graduate and maybe—just maybe go on a holiday in France. Perhaps do a trip through Asia. Something light. Not fight to the death in a war. I mean we were seventeen for Merlin's sake! I’d only just got my bloody period—‘

‘Ergh Pansy—’ Zabini frowned.

‘—judge us if you fucking want we didn’t have a choice,’ she’d sat up now, glaring at Hermione. ‘Our fathers all were part of the Dark Lord’s inner circle like it was absolute gold to be there. Like it was the funnest thing ever to live in fear and be tortured every other week. To never trust anyone and feel like you might die at any given moment—’ She cut off realising she might have said a bit much.

Hermione took another swig of the whiskey following it with a long drag of her cigarette. They all waited to see what she’d say and she felt a fizzle of excitement at that.

‘Don’t pretend you don’t believe what Voldemort was spouting,’ she said at last. ‘Magic is Might and all that garbage.’

‘I’ll never pretend anything with you,’ Pansy purred. ‘Of course, mudbloods are scum. But I can hate you without killing you. There’s a big difference.’

‘Oh come on, for a mudblood Hermione’s not bad,’ Theo cocked his head to the side. ‘A little tightly wound but—’

Hermione flinched. Somehow hearing the word spill from Theo’s lips cut so much deeper. As if she’d succumbed to his puppy dog eyes and forgotten a beast hid behind them.

‘Did you learn nothing from your incarceration?’ she cut him off.

He pondered this. ‘Jail sucks? Don’t do anything to go back. I think that’s the literal point so good job us.’

‘Yes very well done,’ Zabini agreed.

‘Splendid,’ Pansy sang.

‘Absolutely spiffing!’ Theo leapt to his feet.

‘Truly sensational,’ Pansy swung her arms wide.

‘Smashing!’ Zabini fell back on the floor laughing.

Theo jumped on the coffee table spinning in a circle. ‘100 points to Slytherin, we win the House Cup!’

They all cheered.

A brief pause.

Theo tapped out a jaunty tune on the table. ‘Do you know what I think this celebration calls for?’

‘A drink?’ Pansy’s cheeks stretched wide.

‘What an excellent idea,’ Zabini threw his bottle back downing it in one. He half choked and it went exploding all over his face.

Hermione stood quite done with this now. Dropping the cigarette she stamped it out on the gorgeous parquet floor. She flicked her wand and the couch where Malfoy slept flew across the floor slamming into the wall. The momentum sent him rolling out of it and he fell to the ground with a dull thud. The Leftovers all whooped uproariously.

It took Malfoy five seconds to untangle himself from the blanket and when he appeared he was shaking with fury his silver hair gloriously mussed over his scalp.

She offered him an innocent smile. ‘Be upstairs. If you’re not there in five minutes I’m setting the attic on fire and leaving you all to burn.’

She flounced out of the room and hurried up the stairs feeling exhilarated. The last thing she heard was Theo chuckling madly.

‘You know that girl could be our undoing.’

~

Malfoy managed to drag himself into the attic just as she was standing in front of the curtains her wand raised. He was dressed in simple black trousers and a white button-up shirt with rolled-up sleeves and only a few buttons done up revealing his ample chest. He’d put on weight in the month home and was looking significantly healthier albeit still slim. His hair was perfectly slicked back now with only a singular strand sweeping across his forehead as he stormed into the room.

‘Oh good,’ she said. In truth, she was a little disappointed. It would have been nice to watch something burn. ‘Up all night partying with that lot were you?’

He glared at her. ‘Do you have any idea what is required to run my estates? My properties? The Black and Malfoy businesses? In case you forgot I’ve been away for three years. There’s a lot to catch up on.’

‘Yes, yes poor baby. Your pile is over there.’ She indicated a large stack of grimoires from the early 13th century.

He did not move.

She sighed, snapping a hand to her hip. ‘What?’

‘You see this whiskey?’ He indicated the bottle in his hand. ‘My family makes it. You see those factories?’ He pointed to several portraits depicting enormous mills on the walls. ‘My family owns them. You see this watch?’ He pulled out a beautiful gold pocket watch. ‘My family manufactures them. You see those books?’ He pointed to the shelves lining the wall. ‘We publish them. Print them. I could point to a hundred other things in this room alone that come from me and mine. So you’ll excuse me if I’m a little fucking busy!’

She lifted a brow. ‘Are you done?’

Evidently, he was not.

‘You see unlike you—and them, fucking useless twats—I have responsibilities required of me,’ he went on. ‘Duties that must be dealt with. This is business, Granger. In case you haven’t noticed my family is mostly dead. A result of their own stupidity I’ll admit but that still leaves a sizable gap in my affairs. My shoulders pull the reins alone now and I am not a patient man. Working with you is just a tiny part of what I do. Get it?’

‘I think at this point we can both agree that I don’t,’ she said, pocketing her wand.

He was in a foul mood. Not a morning person then, she thought merrily. She made a mental note to arrive even earlier tomorrow. He was almost snarling as he crossed the room, halting abruptly before her. He was most certainly invading her personal space but to step back felt like losing somehow. A relinquishing of power. Instead, she pasted a serene smile on her face and tipped her head back to meet his gaze. This required her to crane her neck back quite far.

Stupid tall Malfoy.

He was still ranting. ‘In case you haven’t noticed there’s a war beating down the door. I’d like to have my affairs in order before they come for me.’

‘What on earth are you talking about?’

‘Equalisers,’ he mumbled. ‘BloodBorn—it’s all the fucking same.’

This pulled her up short. ‘Why would they come for you?’

He leered over her, eyes bloodshot, legs wobbling. ‘Don’t be so naive, it isn't becoming.’

‘Why would they come?’ she repeated slowly. ‘Their fight has nothing to do with you—’

‘It is not what I do or who I am but what I represent,’ he slapped his chest. ‘I am the old. They are the new. Why would you ever think they wouldn’t want to cut my throat first?’

‘For heavens sake, you’re absolutely wasted aren’t you?’

He threw his hands in the air sending whiskey flying everywhere. ‘Obviously.’

‘Perhaps it's worth considering if so many people want you dead you might deserve it?’

He went to lunge for her but he was pathetically slow. She sidestepped and he stumbled almost crashing into a pile of books. She waved her wand conjuring a Sobering Potion and held it out to him.

‘Here drink this.’

He eyed her warily.

‘There’s no Veritaserum. Your next session isn’t until the end of the week.’

‘Forgive me if I don’t take much stock in your word,’ he sneered.

He took the bottle, however, draining it dry. The effects were immediate, his shoulders stiffened and his eyes focused.

‘Good boy,’ she smirked.

They’d been working tirelessly for the last month sorting through the never-ending assortment of Dark Magic and Artefacts strewn throughout the Malfoy property. Everything they catalogued was then packed up and taken to Edinburgh. The city was the prime location for holding Dark Artefacts that couldn’t be destroyed. Known as The Underground City of the Dead, there were Vaults that tangled through the earth underneath the city, a prime location to store that which might maim, curse or kill.

The Attic itself was a hodgepodge of ancient instruments, oddities and trinkets that would likely take them years to sort through. An enormous room it stretched almost the entire length of the Manor. With a high pointed ceiling and large windows revealing the endless expanse of greenery outside it might have been beautiful if not for the plethora of foul treasures hoarded inside. Like some kind of demented dragon it was jealously guarded with wards that they had to carefully navigate lest they be struck dead. Bookshelves were hammered into almost every wall. Rows of tables lined the floor each one piled with an assortment of evil looking objects. Some sported short descriptions detailing the terrible curses they might inflict. The only thing she could liken it to was the Department of Mysteries and she couldn’t help but find this a tad worrisome—going there had ended so well after all.

And this was just one collection, no doubt there were countless more in other estates.

‘Don’t have time for any of this shit,’ he grumbled under his breath, shuffling over to the pile she’d pointed out.

‘Well if you didn’t surround yourself with mindless idiots—’

‘Be careful what you say next Granger,’ he growled menacingly. ‘Those bastards downstairs are my family.’

‘But you just said—’

‘I can say whatever I want. I love them. You can’t.’

Fighting the urge to hex him she determined to focus on her work instead. She stood before a large cabinet teeming with what could only be cursed objects.

‘I really can’t keep up with you,’ she sighed.

‘That’s because you’re not one of us. You never will be.’

‘A fact that pains me every day,’ she muttered dryly.

He ignored her rummaging through the stack, throwing priceless family heirlooms this way and that as one might toss tomatoes during a festival. She bit back a thousand retorts forking her tongue, it would be like reprimanding a brick wall.

They worked in companionable silence for the better part of the afternoon. Hermione managed to make her way through an emerald necklace that would strangle anyone who didn’t have Malfoy blood, a skull that screamed any time she got too close, a painting where the eyes of the subject followed her in a way that was wholly creepy and a knife that according to the small rolled-up scroll would suck the life out of the wielder if stuck in the belly of an enemy. There was no cure for any of them as far as she could tell waving her wand through a series of diagnostics. Levitating them all carefully in a box she engraved ‘Edinburgh’ on its side. Another wave and the box vanished. She wrote a note to check with her colleague in the Vaults to confirm its arrival when she arrived back at the office.

Standing up she stretched letting her eyes flutter shut. She rolled her shoulders and gently massaged the side of her throat. Her hair was a wild mess, fanning out in all directions thanks to the humidity. The attic was a thousand degrees and yet freezing cold at the same, however that worked. Like pockets of air got stuck and whenever she stepped she’d be greeted by a completely different weather pattern. She was wearing plain black overalls over a matching black shirt with long magic repelling gloves sweeping up her arms. In the heat, she’d shucked her shoes and was now padding about barefoot over the old carpet. Taking a step forward she was washed with icy air and sighed happily. When she opened her eyes she found Malfoy watching her from across the room.

‘What?’ she raised her chin defiantly.

He was staring at her with an odd expression.

She jutted out her chin even further.

Silence.

He looked down. Back up, his face schooled into a firm sneer.

‘Are you leaving?’ he asked hopefully.

‘In a moment.’

At the grin that lit up her face, she decided to hit him with a few barbs.

‘I’ll be going to an Equaliser rally. There’s going to be music and people and I’ll tell them all about your little fear. About how you’re so worried they’re going to come for you—’

‘Good for you Granger.’

‘It is, it really is. And you’ll be here. You’ll always be here. Waiting. Until I can say you can leave. Isn’t that wonderful?’

If eyes could kill she would be dead on the floor in that second. Instead, she was filled with erratic energy, a cruel swing of vicious joy.

‘One day I will be free,’ he gave a mirthless laugh. ‘We’ll see how brave you are then.’

‘I’m a better witch than you,’ she crossed her arms. ‘You’re welcome to try.’

Rather than seem concerned he merely smiled. ‘And yet you’re hiding in here with me. Tell me then—why is that so? If you’re so powerful?’

She didn’t have an answer for that. Her hand inched towards her wand.

‘Hex me if you want it won’t change the fact that you’re scared. You’re so fucking scared it’s about to explode through your eyeballs.’

‘Shut up Malfoy. All this talk of power all the time. It’s so boring. What exactly is your measure if you don’t mind me asking?’ she spat.

He actually had the audacity to ponder her words.

‘Kick a man in the teeth and see if he comes back,’ he said after several seconds. ‘That is the first test. Then watch how fast he turns when a bigger dog comes barking. If he stays—well then you know. What you are matters more. That's power.’

’That’s barbaric.’

’That’s loyalty.

‘Oh and that’s what your friends are to you? Loyal subjugates?’

‘In my world that’s the best you can ask for.’

‘How very grim.’

‘It’s the way of it, Granger,’ he shrugged, not looking at her. ‘No point complaining.’

‘Mmm and what comes next? Torture them senselessly and they’ll become completely indoctrinated zombies, loyal to a fault?’

Malfoy snorted. ‘The Death Eaters weren’t loyal to the Dark Lord, they were dependent on him.’

He dangled the bait there waiting for her to reach for it. Sometimes it was incredibly frustrating to be her.

‘Explain?’ she eventually asked, unable to help herself.

‘Dark magic leaves traces,’ he started slowly as if talking to an especially stupid child. ‘Performing an Unforgivable is like a drug. That’s why they’re so dangerous. Do it once you might be inclined to do it again. Do it twice you might need to do it again. Do it three times and you’ll be hooked. The power is intoxicating. It’ll leave you only wanting more. Death Eaters are addicts nothing more. Pain is their pleasure. The Dark Lord offered them an endless fix.’

Hermione goggled at him completely slack jawed.

’Whatever the Death Eaters felt for the Dark Lord was too mixed up in their need. Towards the end their addiction ran deep. But in the beginning, well why do you think he required a family like mine? It was his way in.’ 

‘Ok you’ve lost me.’ 

‘Pure-blood wizards have and always will be loyal to House Black. He used my mothers family, seduced them into vouching for him. Presented himself as an ally, gained their trust and told them exactly what they wanted to hear. So they took him under their wing, shared his ethos with their friends. Helped to establish his foothold and made him legitimate. After that, well he didn’t need us anymore. In fact we were a direct threat. Why do you think the Dark Lord went to such great efforts to try and destroy us?’ He raised a hand and started listing people off with his fingers. ‘As the true heir he made sure Regulus was out of the picture first. Sirius and Andromeda chose the other side so he didn’t much have to worry about them but as I’m sure you know the sunset they rode off into wasn’t especially happy. I’m certain he murdered Orion, I mean he didn’t just drop dead at 50 from nothing. Wulberga took care of it for him when she locked herself up and went loony. He threatened my mother for years—mostly using me to do so and he drove Bellatrix stark raving mad. According to mother she wasn’t always like that, he tortured her for months until she snapped. She always hated your kind but she wasn’t completely unhinged. You think he did all that for no reason? It was because he knew that if we shunned him so would the others.’

Hermione’s stomach somersaulted uncomfortably as his grey eyes met hers. There was a great deal to process in this statement and her mind was whirling. But only one thing stood out. Voldemort forced Malfoy to perform Unforgivables which meant—

‘So do you crave it then? Even now?’

He stood up straight, staring her dead in the eye. ‘Every fucking second.’

It was incredibly disconcerting. He would have been… just sixteen years old. She stepped back accidentally knocking into the old display cabinet. An ancient music box rolled off the shelf and skittered across the floor. Hermione went to grab for it but Malfoy shouted—

‘No!’

They watched it in slow motion, the music box tipping on its side, wobbling back and forth, the lid spilling open. Then a delicate song filtered through the air.

Chapter Text

2001

A haunting melody ballooned filling the attic with an invasion of sad, slow lancing sound. Hermione felt worried, then woozy, then nothing much at all.

It was as if everything else melted away, there was only the song, the lilting tune that sank deep into her skin, folding through her belly. The music swelled with an odd ethereal haze. It swept over Hermione like gentle spring rain, the droplets lifting the hairs on her arms. She tilted her head and smiled, her eyes not quite focusing as if everything was bubbling under an invisible smoke. Malfoy was likewise frozen though his eyes were shut. She hadn’t ever seen him smile like that as if he were a free bird swooping through the boundless sky.

When they snapped open they captured Hermione’s with dark intensity. Burning claws that struck latching onto her, making it impossible to move.

‘Malfoy,’ Hermione mused. Her voice sounded very far away, an echo softly billowing over the floor like a gossamer cloud. ‘I think… something… might… be… w…r…o…n…g.’

The words lengthened, slurring into gnarled syllables as they fell from her lips. Her tongue felt lethargic and heavy in her mouth, a fat witchetty grub wriggling aimlessly. There was something funny about that and she chuckled, slapping a hand drunkenly over her mouth.

Phantom ice fell coating the room in a freezing mist.

Because it was too late.

The room dissipated before their eyes like snow after a rainstorm. Streams of water bleeding through the black replacing it with vibrant colour. Curling vines crawled from beneath the floorboards, burrowing their way up, up, up to the surface. A light dusting of grass feathered over the ground, flowers bursting from the lush green carpet. It twisted through Hermione’s toes and she let her fingers brush over the fragile petals. Like turning a page in a fairy story the attic faded revealing a truly magnificent sight.

The Garden of Eden.

She tipped back her head and laughed a deep guttural sound from the back of her throat. But it was not wholly her own. There was another voice twinned with hers. A deep chuckle that vibrated her bones. Lowering her head she scanned the newly formed glade, trying to find its source.

That’s when she saw him.

Half hidden behind an old ash tree that had magically sprouted from the ground he stood, majesty made flesh. How had she missed how exquisite he was before? Certainly, she’d known he was handsome but the creature standing before her was more akin to a fairy prince crafted from glittering jewels and candied melancholia.

A mask had fallen to reveal his true face—and what an alluring face it was. Full of mystery and mischievous intent. Carved from Michelangelo’s marble, skin of shimmering silver and hair spun from starlight. Lips like bruised cherries and eyes crushed from moonstone. Shadows curled around his limbs, billowing to the beat of her heart. Upon his back, the wings of a dragon, gently rising and falling with the movement of his chest. And on his brow, he wore a crown made of stars. An entire constellation glimmering, the light reflecting in his eyes, conjuring up dark pools of infinite resplendence. She could dive into those eyes and swim through the inky black for the rest of her days.

Oberon, King of all Fairies, would envy a face such as this. For where he was the King of Light, here stood the Ruler of Darkness. Son of Hades. Thief of hearts and innocence.

They stared at each other, lost to the mechanical rolling pins plucking at tuned teeth. Two time weary souls bursting at the gates. Trapped in the golden hour between sleeping and waking. A delicate slumber where dreams might hold and bruised hearts run free.

That place where thorns wither to dust and joy is reborn from sweet delight. Where dawn is forever breaking and the day's dark kiss is left for cruel waking. Wrath and anger walk hand in hand, old friends meeting in the veil of soft deceitful lies. No truth may enter, only false kisses that promise splendour.

Nirvana.

The Fairy Prince watched her, his eyes hawklike in their intensity.

‘Pretty,’ Hermione whispered.

She ran her fingers through her hair and could have sworn an electrical current shimmered through the air. But she was still wearing the gloves. Lifting a hand she gently started to roll one back, the material curling down the length of her arm. The Fairy Prince sucked in a breath and she smiled, taking her time. The first glove fell to the ground with a soft ripple and she noticed the scar on her arm had dissipated, fading back into untouched flesh. With happy heart she mirrored her efforts with the other, making sure to keep her gaze locked on her Prince the entire time. His eyes followed the gloves' slow descent until at last she was released from the material.

She dragged her fingers over her jaw, up pulling at her hair. Another feral laugh exploded from between her lips, the sound now quite far away. One hand still sliding through her mane, the other dropped, two fingers pressing against her lips. The Prince’s eyes followed the movement, his mouth parting as her finger trailed a line back and forth over the dip of her mouth. She let her hand fall, her palm slowly making its way down her throat, over her chest. Down her overalls—why was she wearing so much clothing?

With wild hands she started tugging at them, needing to be free, to be released from the material. The claps popped and she shoved them to her ankles, kicking them away. It felt like her skin was on fire. She was burning up. She stood there in only her shirt and underwear, her fingers like brands as she kneaded them desperately over her body.

This time she could touch skin to skin and it was a cruel delight because it wasn’t him. Her hands kneaded up and down her thighs, over her hips slightly lifting her shirt, feathering over her stomach. Tiny electrical sparks flickered through the air, fizzing and cracking over her skin with each sweep of her hand. An acrid metallic scent filled surrounded her. Hermione’s blood was boiling, a scorching liquid flowing its way sluggishly through her veins burning from within.

The Fairy Prince took a step forward slowly crossing the room as if swimming through water and her breath quickened. His wings caught on the hanging vines, pulling them along with him as he walked. The shadows bleeding over his skin fell, coating the grass in an empyreal fog, slowly crawling towards her feet.

‘You know you are quite beautiful,’ he said. His voice reverberated through space and time, the words almost corporeal as they touched her skin. ‘Probably the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.’

Hermione’s head rolled on her neck. She laughed, lifting her arms to crush her fingers through her hair. ‘And you. So incredibly handsome.’

A growing torment was broiling her blood, a fiery pit of longing churning fixing her with untapped desire.

She needed—

‘Draco,’ she whimpered.

That was his name, she remembered it now. It fell from her lips like a siren call. He was beside her in seconds, the shadows clinging to him all the while. She raised a hand and he mirrored her, their fingers hovering with mere centimetres between them—that’s when she realised she was covered in shining bright light. It twinkled like glistering gold, an effervescent luminescence that when merged with his shadows burned brighter still. She inhaled the scent of a thousand wildflowers, freshly pressed parchment and whiskey.

‘I’ve been waiting so long,’ she whispered.

His gaze left her hand flicking up to meet her eyes.

He smiled. ‘As have I. But now we are here. How marvellous.’

Hermione’s hand was swirling a pattern over her leg, journeying higher with each rotation.

‘Would you like to—to touch me? I want you to touch me. I think I need you to touch me.’

His eyes widened, darkening to deep pools of desire. Lifting a hand, he oh so carefully reached for her, as if afraid she might disappear if he moved too fast. Then long slender fingers feathered over her skin as he gently cupped her cheek. He waited, the touch a gentle whisper promising more.

Hermione leaned into his hand and it felt like-

There were no words to describe it.

Like being doused in molten hot lead. Like being plucked from the ground and flown soaring over the rolling hills. Like leaping into a frozen lake smashing through the ice, the freezing water folding over your skin, finding its way down your throat.

Hermione released her breath at the same moment Draco did. They were staring at each other as if locked in a dual dance, a twin flame that circled them growing hotter, hotter.

Draco slipped his hand higher, scrunching it through her hair. He tipped her head back, baring her throat.

‘Just a taste,’ he murmured to himself.

And then his lips were on her. Hungrily devouring her throat and she moaned falling back into the weight of his hold. She skimmed her fingers through his hair, moon white strands slipping over her skin. His lips trailed upwards, over her jaw and he groaned, flicking his tongue, tasting her skin as if it were the gods own nectar. Then he retreated, lifting a finger to slide over her lips as if he envied how she’d done it only moments before. He traced the line, dragging her bottom lip down and she opened for him, letting him pull her jaw wide. Allowing his thumb explore her teeth.

The music crescendoed, the sound of rustling vines, twisting through the leaves like soft whispers.

Take him, they said.

Take. Take. Take.

He is yours.

The words prickled over her skin making her burn hotter still. She could tell he was likewise affected. He licked his lips releasing her, letting those long slender fingers fall, curling around her nape. It looked like he was fighting something, battling the resounding cry. But then she released a breath, and he opened his mouth inhaling what she expelled.

‘Can’t—can’t fight you,’ he rasped.

‘Then don’t.’

His eyes glowed with ravenous need and with his other hand he twinned his fingers through hers. The strands of their vow burnt bright white, just as he leant forward, his lips crushing against hers.

And Hermione lost all sense of time at all.

No here.

No now.

No nothing.

Her eyes snapped shut and she was floating through the abyss of endless space, the stars blinding with a majesty that could not be described only felt. Draco’s tongue swept into her mouth, gently tempting hers to respond, slow at first as if he were relishing in each discovery. The shape of her tongue. The swell of her lips. The hard line of her teeth.

She met him just as apprehensively, her mouth curving over his to find an even rhythm. This kiss—this kiss was like nothing she’d ever known before.

It was unhurried, considered, full of wanting.

But it was pure.

Eternal.

Claiming.
A heavenly wildflower breaking through the barren wasteland.

She melted into it. Finding space between the cracks. Hands in hair. Skin on skin. Blistering cold and burning hot. His lips slanted with hers in perfect synchronicity, a dance learnt over a thousand lifetimes. His tongue flicked eagerly, delving, exploring, coaxing her to answer him. She reached out letting her touch slide down the length of one of the black wings. He shuddered into her, his kiss turning feral. She loosed a breath and he caught it groaning.

His arms wrapped around her waist and she was half lifted to the tips of her toes. He was rasping, his mouth dancing with hers, his tongue refusing to be ignored. She met him just as eagerly, throwing arms around his neck then dragging nails down his shoulders. She pushed herself against him, feeding the friction. Moulding their bodies like wax to the flame.

With another glide of his tongue, she moaned. A deep, syrupy sound full of tender yearning. A kindling flame glowing in the distance calling her closer, closer. A banshees scream building in the base of her being. She kissed him. She kissed him like it was her first and last and only time. She was lost in the sweep of his tongue, the burn of his breath, the scrape of his teeth. His hands were holding her like she was breakable and like he wanted to break her all at once.

Crushing and gentle.

Hard and soft.

She was lost to the blood rush haze that he roused with his careful kisses. He poured himself into her, the cup never overflowing. Their sighs gave way to panting, their chests heaving. His touch blistered over her skin like the suns first rays whispering quiet pleasure into her nerve endings. A reckless truth that could not be denied. Where two pieces fit together.

He deepened the kiss and she tipped her head back further. His mouth left hers and trailed a line down her jaw, her throat, nipping at her skin. She could feel his hands flow down her spine and curve around her ribs. Then lower, seizing her hips and crushing them against his. A dull ache spread through her. His touch wasn't enough. His kiss wasn't enough. She was burning up, her body on fire.

He tucked two thumbs beneath the line of her underwear gently stroking, teasing, waking that need that fluttered listlessly through her core. His lips were made of golden splendour sending ripples further down, down, down, stoking the furnace of her desire. She gasped, needing more. So much more. A moan ripped from her throat and like that the man was gone, replaced by something… else. A beast, a creature who wanted only pleasure.

Take, take, take.

He all but attacked her. His arms locked around her waist so tight she could barely breathe. Her lips were bruised with his kisses, his tongue almost fucking her mouth. He lifted her from the floor and she wrapped her legs around him. He dropped her carelessly on one of the tables that sprung from the earth like an old gravestone and more priceless artefacts were strewn over the floor.

They barely even noticed.

She tore at his shirt, the few buttons flying free. He stepped back and she whimpered at the loss of him but he only ripped the shirt from his shoulders throwing it away. Where it fell they would never know for they were back, attacking each other with wild frenzy. The longer they went the more their need seemed to grow. There was something about this that should concern her but she couldn’t think. Wouldn't think.

This was better, this was pure indulgence, a rejoicing of rapture that held her aloft on wings of wanting. His hand swept under her thigh and with a tight grip he jerked it up, rolling his hips into her. She moaned as their bodies connected, as she felt the drag of his cock over the sliver of fabric between them. Her hand drifted forward, slipping beneath her underwear. Quick a snake, he grabbed her wrist, stopping her, locking her in place. He lifted her hand instead, dragging it up the line of his body. Over his stomach, up his sternum between the dragon tattoos to linger over his neck. Then further, to cup at his jaw. His nostrils flared and she could have sworn smoke billowed from them.

He shook his head with a gleeful smile.
‘My job,’ that look said.

‘Then do it,’ she ordered, her voice husky.

He smiled, white teeth shining with savage intent. She was lifted again and they stumbled back, tripping and falling to the ground. He threw out a hand to protect her but she still felt him fall into her. She cried out and he caught it with his mouth refusing her anything but him. The grass beneath them felt oddly hard, a myriad of sharp stings peppering her arms and legs. But there wasn’t time for that. The music was roaring now, filling her up with fire.

Take, take, take.

His wings folded over them, locking them in a black tomb. Her body lit up with iridescent gold filling the space with sparkling beauty. He stared at her in wonder, her brilliant light reflecting in his eyes. She ran her nails down his chest, carving her way through the twin dragon tattoos. Red lines sprouted where she touched and she grinned ferociously. She wanted to mark him, to make it known she was his. He was pressed against her and she arched into him, the bulge in his pants hitting her just right. Snapping her eyes shut she released herself to pleasure.

Draco’s hand slid down her arm, fingers curling around her wrist. He lifted it, looping her arm up, pressing it back down above her head and she was half pinned to the ground. His other hand dragged up the back of her neck, scrunching through her hair. He jerked her head back forcing her eyes open. She was met with cold ice, endless silver smoke pinning her in place. She lifted a hand, cupping his jaw and he leant into it his eyes fluttering like the wings of a butterfly. With his gaze, he drank her in as if he were dying of thirst and she was last drop of water in the desert. Without a word, he asked a silent plea to offer all that she was.

Take, take, take.

She nodded.

His grip tightened, and he dipped back down finding her lips. His kiss was conquering and she was nothing but liquid butter. He tore his mouth away to trail a line down the length of her body. He lifted her shirt balling it in a fist above her chest, finding the delicate lace of her bra. He palmed her breasts rolling his thumb over the nipple, hardening it to a point.

Then he was back, his lips on hers, drinking her in as if he’d never be able to get enough. She moaned, arching into his touch, rolling her hips finding the swell of his cock lining up her clit, just right. She cried out, a sharp hoarse sound. He growled, pushing himself down, starting to steadily move against her. At this point she was soaked with desire, her body answering him with vicious need.

His kiss hardened and she could feel every inch of him as he pressed against her, his body undulating like a rolling wave. She met him just as desperately, her arms tightening around his back.

Take, take, take.

He wasn’t gentle. One hand fastened around her throat, hard enough to bruise. He still wore his pants, her her underwear, the clothing long since forgotten and she would have attempted to remove them but she was locked in place. He gyrated roughly, the material still between their bodies providing abrasive friction that tore another cry from her throat. He released her wrist, slapping a hand over her mouth and nose. He opened his eyes to watch her, to see the ecstasy in her eyes as he moved over her. She was trapped beneath him with no way to move. He was above her rutting madly and she could barely breathe. The song had shifted now, full of menacing destruction.

Kill, kill, kill.

A reeking rot filled the space, voices echoing the taunting melody sewn from malevolence. An orchestral undertone joined the song, the instruments like crunching bones and shrieking wide-split jaws. It clawed at her ears weaving fear through her blood. It did nothing however to stem the fuel igniting their passion. If anything it exacerbated it, a cacophony of emotion exhausting her impulse. Draco kept one hand latched around her throat, the other covering her mouth. She definitely couldn’t breathe now.

He kept moving, his body riding hers. His groans filled the space between them, his cock pressing deep against her core. She could feel release rising through the dark, his body tempting her eagerly back to life. Black splotches lined her vision. She felt her lashes flutter weakly.

Kill, kill, kill.

The light flickered, vibrant gold fading to a dull grey. Spots of red flashed like a sputtering flare, the colour burning her eyes. She twitched, her body fighting the lack of air.

She was dying.

The thought popped into her brain, a soft sprinkle of concern. But she was too lost to fight back. Her arms fell from where they had been latched around him, thudding against the floor. Her legs wobbled and slid down his back, falling limply to the ground. He was still watching her, his eyes empty black pools.

There was nothing familiar there, nothing good, or kind, or admiring. Gone was the creature who only moments ago had looked at her like she was made from magic. There was nothing but craven wanting. She watched a spark of worry line his brow but he didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop.

He was just as lost as her.

Fight.

A silent whisper rattled through her brain. Different from the terrible hissing from before.

Fight me.

But why would she want to do that?
She was floating in the throes of darkness, her heaving chest slowing. The breath inside her body spent, nothing but vapour left. The endless black flickered before her vision. She surrendered to it. Welcoming the long-awaited peace that would come.

FIGHT ME!

With the last remnants of energy Hermione kicked out. She felt something solid against her foot, her skin tearing as it collided with a sharp object. Then followed two seconds of remaining bliss.

Abruptly the music stopped.

Malfoy’s grip loosened and she felt a rush of air fill her lungs. But he wasn't done,

‘Hermione,’ he moaned.

It was like being doused in cold water. She was immediately aware- too aware. Her eyes opened, finding a familiar face. No longer the Fairy Prince, Malfoy was palming at her breasts, his hand slipping under the line of her shirt finding the warmth of her skin underneath.

‘Draco stop,’ she rasped, attempting to push him off.

He kept kissing her, his lips hot on her throat.

‘Stop,’ she said again. Louder the time.

But it was no good.

He wouldn’t stop.

Couldn’t stop.

So she did what she did best.

She slapped him.

Hard.

That snapped him out of it.

Perhaps there might have been a more delicate way to wake him but she was struggling just as much to fight the lingering desire. Also, her throat hurt. With that thought, more pain registered, slicing its way through her nervous system. It was then she realised she was lying in a bed of shattered glass, blood streaking her arms and legs. Malfoy’s head lifted slowly as if waking from a dream.

He blinked. Once. Two times.

‘Granger what—’

He took in the state of her lips, bruised and swollen. Noted the wild flush of her cheeks. His hand still half curled around her throat, the fingerprint-like bruises that would inevitably be there. His lips were purple, his face scratched with long lines where her nails had cut into his skin. There was a crimson drizzle leaking from his ears and she could only assume she’d sport similar injury. He lifted a hand and there was blood gently weeping down his wrist where he’d been likewise cut by glass. Their scars were back, five times worse in returning. The letters ugly stains carved through youthful memory. Reality smacked him in the face and she watched it carve through his features like a physical thing. He leapt off of her, his eyes wide with horror.

‘Fuck,’ he said.

She went to sit but her body didn’t make it far. She dropped back against the wooden floor, her skull thudding with a dull crack.

‘Granger, are you ok?’ Malfoy’s eyes were wide with worry.

She didn’t answer, she lifted a wobbly hand.

‘Fuck!’

He lifted his arms. Lowered them. Lifted them again.

‘Granger, where's your wand?’

She glared at him.

‘Where is your fucking wand!’

She lifted a shaking hand pointing to where her discarded overalls probably lay. He was there and back in seconds, his hand searching the pockets for her wand. As he pulled it free she watched as the magic flickered through him. He’d so far been denied a wand as part of his House Arrest. They couldn’t have him using magic to escape.

His nostrils flared but he dropped to her side, wand raised quickly muttering under his breath. His hands gently prodded at her skin, checking he was healing the cuts lining her arms and legs first. Then he gently lifted her foot, the largest of the gashes. Once the bleeding had been stemmed, the wounds now resembling week old cuts, he moved to her throat. She watched his eyes tighten, his breathing quicken as he ran the wand over the bruises, quietly whispering. As he worked she felt her muscles strengthen, a cool relief washing over her.

‘Can you move?’ he asked quietly once he was done.

‘I think so,’ she croaked.

It felt like she’d been thrown into a meat grinder and then mashed back together on the other side. Malfoy swept a hand through his hair while Hermione sat up, righting her shirt. She turned away from him suddenly embarrassed.

‘I think—I think the music box,’ she pointed to where it lay on the ground.

Malfoy pounced on it.

Looking around he found an old crate. With a wave of his wand, it transmuted into metal.

‘Incendio,’ he barked.

Fire burst from within. Snatching the small box he threw it in, the song softly shrieking as the flames took hold. He watched it burn, his eyes tortured and raw.

‘Fuck!’ he said again.

Hermione watched him unsure what to do. She curled her legs up and his eyes darted back to her.

‘FUCK!’ he screamed.

He started picking things up and throwing them through the room. Glass shattered and wood splintered. He was so angry he was coming completely undone.

There was the sound of thudding footsteps and the Leftovers came skidding into the room their eyes wide. They took in Malfoy’s stance, Hermione still half naked on the floor.

Silence.

Then—

‘What the fuck did you do!’ Theo shouted.

She’d never seen him angry before. At this point, she wasn’t even aware he could get angry. Seeing the devastation that shadowed Malfoy’s face, Hermione cut in.

‘The music box,’ she pointed to the still flickering metal crate. ‘It made us—it made him-‘

She cut off not knowing how to finish that sentence. Not wanting to put words to what had happened.

Malfoy was frozen, his arms shaking at his sides.

‘Draco this is bad,’ Zabini was staring at him wide-eyed. ‘They’ll fucking kill her—‘

‘What?’ Hermione started. ‘Who’s going to kill me?’

‘Shut up Hermione,’ Pansy whispered. ‘Just shut up.’

Zabini was still looking at Malfoy. ‘If she dies, you die—the vow.’

This made Hermione spring to her feet. ‘Wait what?’

They all stared at her blankly.

It was Pansy to break first. She loosed a horrible laugh that did not meet her eyes.

‘What, you made an Unbreakable Vow without reading the fine print?’ she sneered. ‘And I thought you were clever.’

‘You are linked until the vow is complete, the deed is done. It’s part of the magic,’ Zabini rattled off, not looking at her. ‘Otherwise, you could just kill the other if you decided you want out.’

‘But I didn’t—’ she whipped around to gape at Malfoy. ‘Did you know?’

His brow furrowed. ‘Course I did. I thought you did too—how could you not? Did they not tell you?’

There was a cruel glint in his eyes that made her want to barf.

Hermione’s mouth popped open and closed. ‘No. They didn’t.’

He approached her slowly, towering over her and she felt incredibly small in that moment.

Weak.

Vulnerable.

He still held her wand. He could have done anything he wanted at that moment. Stunning her and running came to mind.

But he didn’t. He merely released the wand letting it fall in her lap.

Malfoy turns back to his friends at the door, his gaze capturing them one by one. ‘This never leaves this room.’

They all nodded without a word. She’d never seen them look serious before, it was weird.

Then he turned back to her. He dropped a hand and she took it letting him pull her to her feet.

‘This never happened,’ he said, his tone flat. ‘I can’t—it will not be safe for you. Do you understand?’

That didn’t make any sense—he was the one who’d nearly killed her. She opened her mouth to tell him such but he beat her to it.

‘It doesn’t matter. You are what you are. If they find out I touched you, that I nearly—they’ll blame you. They’ll beat me, punish me. But they’ll kill you.’ He waited. ‘Do you understand?’

They were all being unnecessarily dramatic in her opinion but she nodded either way.

‘Sure.’

With one final look, he charged from the room, the others following in his wake and leaving Hermione alone to process what had just happened.

~

After storming out the front door, ignoring them all as she went, she immediately apparated to the Ministry and rushed to see Kvothe to chew him out. As the Bonding Agent, he was the only one who could stop this. The only one with the power to lift the vow. To mark it as fulfilled. They argued for almost thirty minutes straight before he lost it slamming his hand on his desk.

‘You foolish child will you not stop! This is bigger than you—’

‘Don’t you dare call me a child! You lied to me! Release me,’ she demanded for maybe the hundredth time. ‘Release us from the vow!’

‘I’m sorry Hermione,’ he shook his head. ‘We need him—now more than ever.’

‘Then find another way! I can’t- my life can not be tethered to his.’

His head cocked to the side. ‘It is called an Unbreakable Vow for a reason. Do you not remember what we made him swear? You know I can’t do that.’

She stared at him blankly, then gasped out loud. ‘That he would never join any group trying to resurrect Voldemort.’ She felt sick. ‘You think that’s what the BloodBorn is trying to do?’

‘It would be foolish not to assume as much.’

‘So what, you're just going to use me?’

He shot her a look full of disdain. ‘We’re all being used for something, Hermione. I asked you and you said you were sure.’

‘But I didn’t know—’

He lifted a hand cutting her off. ‘I’m sorry. This conversation is done now. If you don’t leave I’ll have you dragged out of here.’

She was so angry tears sprung from her eyes. ‘You can’t do this.’

‘It’s already done,’ he said with haunted eyes. ‘If he joins them it will mean another war and we both know he is too weak to refuse. There are too many lives at stake. You’re freer than most, I’d count yourself lucky.’

Chapter Text

2001

BLOODBORN CALL IT - CHECKMATE

The Wizard’s Chess World Championship had to be cancelled this week due to growing concerns about another BloodBorn attack. Worry arose when famed chess player Aurelia Evergreen received a cursed howler covered in what is rumoured to be pigs blood. Perhaps the Ministry would have liked to hide the event but unfortunately for them, the letter arrived in full view of the public during a press conference before the games. According to witnesses, the Howler quickly began screaming about the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named while Miss Evergreen attempted to set herself on fire. The situation was quickly resolved by Aurors Vida Babette and Circe Scamander who ferried the addled witch from the scene without injury. The Auror’s Office has refused to comment at this time. The notorious faction has been silent for the last few months leaving the Wizarding community wondering- where will they hit next?

On top of that, it seems several families have openly pledged to exist according to the Accionite lifestyle. For those of you who might not know, the Accionites were a group of anti-muggle extremists who refused to do anything without the use of magic. This has sparked renewed outrage between Wizards and Goblins as numerous parties of the former are attempting to Summon their gold directly from Gringotts Wizarding Bank.
Melvina Rosier, wife of deceased Death Eater Evan Rosier, had this to say. ‘We shouldn’t have to cow-tow to those beasts. They work for us! If I want to summon my gold without intermingling with low creatures then I should have every right!’ Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Gringotts, Guglirg, responded with the following. ‘We welcome them to try.’ Whatever that means, a little ominous if this reporter does say so…

~

The next few weeks were decidedly awkward.

Hermione felt stupid.

Used.

Abused.

As a result, she was prone to breaking things, finding vicious relief as Malfoy’s stupid belongings shattered beneath her hands.

‘Whoops,’ she sneered, as an antique glass ashtray slipped from her fingers. It hit the floorboards with a loud thud but did not smash.

Well, that was disappointing.

‘Hermione, can I talk to you for a second?’ Theo asked quietly.

He’d moved with wraithlike footsteps sneaking up behind her and she jumped, screeching shamefully. Whipped around, she pressed a hand to her thundering heart ready to kill him.

‘What the hell Theo!’

‘Bit jumpy are we?’ he snickered.

‘What do you want,’ she barked. ‘You useless moron.’

It was perhaps a little too harsh. At his hurt expression, she softened. ‘I’m sorry I’m just—’

Theo loosened, his shoulders relaxing. ‘It’s ok,’ he chuckled mirthlessly. ‘I get it. Trust me, do I understand.’

She inhaled a steadying breath, running a hand through her hair flinching at her own touch. It felt off to do so since that day. The memory of it, always close to the surface, rose like a particularly irritating mosquito zipping around her ear. Hermione blinked rapidly trying to mentally swat it away. 

‘Did you want something?’ she inquired briskly.

She wanted to get out of here as quickly as possible. Every second under this roof felt crushing and she had more interviews to prep for. With the BloodBorn growing more momentum Robards wanted her to schedule interviews with the remaining Death Eaters and their known associates both in and out of Azkaban.

The list was a long one.

Theo drew a cigarette from behind his ear, quickly lighting it. He was dressed casually in long black pants and a button shirt. His hair had grown, now curling around his ears and he’d swept it back, the walnut tresses silky smooth. Hermione meanwhile looked like she’d been cave diving. She was wearing blue jeans and an old burgundy woolly jumper peppered with holes. A silent rebellion against the green and black decadence of Malfoy Manor. She was layered in dust, her hair wild and a thin layer of sweat gleaning her skin.

Theo offered her a cigarette but she shook her head.

‘Well I can’t help but notice you’re a touch cranky,’ he mused.

‘Oh really? How perceptive of you.’

‘And I thought maybe you could use—’

‘If you say a drink I will clobber you.’

‘I was going to say chat,’ he pouted. ‘I’ve been told I’m good for it.’

She tossed her hair back. ‘I’m not sharing feelings with you, Theo.’

‘And I don’t expect you to, but perhaps I could provide a little… clarity.’

‘In what way?’

‘Well,’ he sucked in a drag, spilling smoke through his nostrils. ‘On our little band of outcasts as it were.’

Hermione bristled. Her fuse was currently far too short for that conversation. ‘You’re friends are horrible people. What more clarity could I require?’

‘Look you’re not entirely wrong there,’ he acknowledged with a dip of his head. ‘We could make a career out of insulting people and my isn’t it fun—’

‘Are you going somewhere with this?’

He straightened, his expression flattening. ‘Pansy’s hard because she’s had to be. She doesn’t mean what she says, she merely chooses to cut before she can be cut. Zabini’s a bit of a wanker but he wears his heart on his sleeve. His tongue is sharp but he’s really a big ball of love. And Malfoy, he’s the best friend you’ll ever have. He talks a lot of clap but when you need him, he’s there, no questions asked. Bit of an angry drama queen but we all have our vices.’

‘And what of you Theo?’ she asked bitterly. ‘Where do you fit?’

‘I’m the keeper of all our secrets,’ he waggled his brows. ‘You’ll never crack me.’

She snorted. ‘You’d crack like an egg and you know it.’

He huffed out a laugh. ‘You’re probably right. I don’t offer much do I?’

It wasn’t particularly fair to be cruel to him but she was very close to snapping.

‘You’re Death Eaters,’ she stated plainly. ‘All of you. Don’t do that, don’t try to make me empathise with you.’

He shrugged rolling up his sleeve to reveal the Mark stamped into his pale skin. With one finger he started running it up and down the curling snake and with a start Hermione reached out, snatching his hand away. He shot her a confused look and then his eyes widened.

‘So that’s how?’

He stared at his arm a bit too long and Hermione could help but ask.

‘You wouldn’t?’

He smiled. ‘Nah. I want to see how all this turns out, don't I.’

He kept staring at the Mark, his eyes darkening. ‘When the choice is to become a Death Eater or die tell me, what would you choose?’

‘I’ll never know,’ Hermione sniffed. ‘My choice was only ever death.’

His head cocked to the side, tiger eyes flicking over her face. ‘I think you’d probably say no if you did. You’re braver than all of us. You and your Prized Princes could never do any wrong. The Golden Gits. The Twatted Trio. The Witless Wankers. The Gormless Gryffinturds. Dumbledore's Dickheads—’

‘Ok, that’s enough.’

‘I’ve got more,’ he grinned, white teeth shining. ‘I’m a fan of alliteration you see.’

‘I can tell.’

He rubbed on the tattoo and she noted it bore similar scars she’d seen on Malfoy’s. Scratch marks.

‘Do you crave it? Even now?’

‘Every fucking second.’

‘Did Voldemort make you do it too?’ Hermione blurted before she could stop herself. ‘Perform Unforgivables?’

His mouth stretched into a thin line. ‘The Dark Lord required all his Death Eaters to prove their loyalty.’

They were standing in the Attic, beside one of the large windows. Theo stared through it now, his eyes haunted.

‘We didn’t want to take the Mark but it was that or end up in No Man's Land. We wouldn’t have lasted long, I can tell you that.’ His eyes tightened. ‘Do you know how they do it?’

‘I—no,’ she whispered.

It was a secret Death Eaters kept closely guarded. Most couldn’t even speak the words, as if their tongue was caught in a vice.

‘There’s this whole ritual,’ he explained sagely. ‘You have to kneel and then the Dark Lord stands before you. They take blood—I don’t know where it’s from and I didn’t ask—and rub it on your arm. But I think, I think it might have been his.’

They both shuddered.

‘There’s this incantation, it feels like it goes on and on and your body feels like you’re on fire. You get hit by a black shadow and then it feels like something is invading you. Whispers through your blood. After that, the Mark crawls out of your skin, like it’s inside you not on you. They give you this mask like you’re not even allowed your own face anymore.’ He scratched at his chin. ‘Then you have to prove your loyalty.’

‘The Unforgivables.’

He nodded.

It made sense in a sadistic kind of way, Mark them and then hook them. Make them slaves to their need.

‘I—he made me Crucio Katie and Angelina.’ His fingers tightened over the Mark. ‘Then he gave the girls to them, the other Death Eaters. I—I can still hear them sometimes.’ He whispered this last part. His gaze met hers. ‘I heard Johnson jumped off the Astronomy Tower. That true?’

‘Yes,’ Hermione said through gritted teeth. ‘Do you know—‘

She cut off, not sure if she wanted to know.

‘The Dark Lord gave Katie to Fenrir.’

A coarse silence opened up between them full of unspoken remorse. It mirrored that of a dripping faucet, relentlessly eroding and rusting the soul. That hollow echo cutting through the din of a vast cavern, growing ever louder.

Theo ran a hand through his hair, then down over his face. When he pulled it away he was smiling again. But she saw it there now, the sadness behind his eyes. Suddenly their penchant for excessive drinking made a lot more sense. They were trying to combat the fix they couldn’t satiate.

‘I just can’t help but think—I mean we were with the Dark Lord for a few months and it was… horrendous. Draco lived with him for years.’

The thought slackened his features, the corners of his mouth drooping. Then he shrugged. ’I mean Blaise lived with him for the last year of school of course—‘

’Wait Zabini lived here?’

He nodded still staring off into space. ‘But the Dark Lord was weirdly fixated on Draco. It was… I dunno.’

Hermione watched his eyes tighten as he took another long drag of his cigarette.

‘What did he want with him?’

‘Hard to say with any kind of certainty,’ he rubbed his arm. ‘Draco’s a powerful wizard so perhaps he thought he’d make an especially vicious henchmen like Bellatrix. He knew that we all followed him too so maybe he hoped to entice the next generation into the fold, though our parents did that well enough.’ He glowered, a cruel edge creeping into his features. ‘Or maybe it had to do with his heritage. He liked to keep the sacred 28 close.’

‘He was a collector,’ Hermione agreed quietly. ‘He wanted the complete set.’ 

‘Or who knows, maybe there was some other reason,’ he exhaled, more smoke billowing around them. ‘Doesn’t matter much now does it.’ 

His gaze inched back to the window, a hollow, tormented emptiness flattening his face. He visibly faded, his golden skin receding to waxen ash. As much as Hermione didn’t want to, she felt a desire to ease his pain, if even a little.

‘I’d say you’ve got a lot to offer Theo,’ Hermione folded her arms. ‘I think you’re their joy, Theo. You don’t have to be the bravest, or the strongest, or even the smartest. You just have to be you. That’ll always be enough.’ And because it felt far too nice she threw in, ‘when you’re not being a cocky, arrogant bastard that is.’

He brightened instantly, lips curling with bemusement. ‘What a backhanded compliment that was.’

Her eyes glittered. ‘Can’t have people mistaking us for friendly.’

‘Fair. But—Thank you. Weirdly enough it means a lot coming from you.’

They shared an awkward, albeit encouraging smile. An odd return to their former relationship—that when they were at school. They’d never been friends of course but there’d always existed a certain… respect between them. The kind that is often cultivated by similarly exceptional individuals. Theodore Nott and Hermione Granger’s silent rivalry was an unspoken thing. Their cleverness, however, was known far and wide. It connected them whether they chose it or not, a subversion of the worlds that reared them. It implicitly bridged the divide between them because if there is one simple truth in this world it is this—intelligence respects intelligence. Against all odds. 

Hermione felt her cheeks heat and turned away, starting to pack up her things, a not too subtle hint for him to leave. Theo however did not. He remained hovering behind her and with a sigh, she straightened whirling around to face him again.

‘What?’

‘Just—Draco puts on a good face but he’s got a lot to deal with.’

The mention of his name slithered up her spine. Her shoulders stiffened on instinct all camaraderie tossed out the window. She rounded on him slowly. 

‘He’s changed a lot since you knew him.’ 

‘As have we all,’ she stated coldly. 

‘Whatever happened the other day—he’s not been himself since.’ 

Her teeth ground together. ‘Not interested Theo.’ 

Theo’s eyes widened a little. ‘Look I know you don’t want to talk about him,’ he hurried out. ‘Only I can’t imagine it's easy—’

‘Theo I’ll thank you not to speak on my behalf.’

They both whipped around to find Malfoy lingering in the doorjamb. The boys shared a long look that spoke volumes. Then Malfoy shifted his focus back to Hermione.

‘A word Granger?’

She schooled her expression into something hateful. ‘I’m leaving in a minute. Oscar’s downstairs waiting for me—‘

‘Oscar’s here!’ Theo cut in. ‘Why didn’t you tell me—‘

Like that he was off, bounding through the room and down the hall. An uncomfortable silence followed.

‘Granger, walk with me.’

The order poked her rage, her eyes narrowing dangerously. 

‘Fucking—please?’ his eyes flashed. ‘Please, will you walk with me?’

‘Of course Lord Malfoy I live to serve.’ She dipped into a half bow.

He rolled his eyes but swept out of the room, hurrying down the stairs. His legs, much longer than hers, carried him quickly to the grounds. She might have run to keep up but wasn’t about to stoop to doing something so degrading. Instead, she took her time, easing herself step by step. As a result by the time she exited through the large double doors, he was waiting on the grass appearing quite put out. Once she reached his side he set off, wandering between a row of manicured trees and she followed ensuring she maintained a healthy distance. An autumnal chill sat briskly in the air and Hermione folded her arms. She could smell the delicious scent of fire as the Manor’s fireplaces were lit to stave off the coming cold that evening would bring.

‘I would like to propose a truce,’ Malfoy said after several moments.

‘Oh really.’

‘Yes. We’re not children anymore. This constant bickering has to stop.’

‘Fairly certain I’m not the main offender but sure,’ she glared at him. ‘If you’d like.’

‘I would. This is business like any other,’ he managed to keep his tone brisk. As if she were no more than a passing acquaintance. ‘We brokered a deal and now we’re fulfilling our requisites. That is all. Surely we can find a way to be civil?’

Hermione tightened her arms around her waist, scratching a finger over her sleeve. ‘So what you’re saying is I can’t tell you to shut up anymore?’

‘Yes,’ he responded with forced calm. ‘And I will refrain from calling you mudblood.’

Her pulse thrummed, a whisper of violence feathering the turf beneath her feet.’ ‘How big of you.’

‘Reluctant partners,’ he stated in an attempt to assuage her. ‘Not friendship.’

‘Oh, never that.’

He actually chuckled.

Bastard.

‘Fine,’ she agreed after a tense silence. Little was to be gained by rejecting the offer. ‘Truce. We’ll see how long it lasts anyway.’

He kept walking, taking them further into the grounds. Out here there were rows and rows of white roses expelling the most delicious and pungent aroma. The gardens were stunning, despite the colour draining away as the seasons welcomed the cold. The infamous peacocks wandered about exuding regal elegance. Hermione shot Malfoy a sideways glance to find he was watching her again. Always observant that Malfoy. Like an old clock keeping careful watch over the days, an incessant ticking marking the seconds that bled by. At first, it’d been mildly disconcerting but now she was just used to it. An odd quirk of his it would seem. Possibly a result of spending so long in the dark with no one to look at.

‘So Kvothe refused you?’ Malfoy asked.

‘How did you—yes,’ she growled. ‘My life is tethered to yours. What a joke that is.’

His mouth stretched into a thin line. ‘Well seeing as you’re the one who always puts yourself in reckless situations I’d say I have more to fear than you.’

He wasn’t altogether wrong, though she preferred to blame Harry and Ron for her so often being the centre of mischief and woe.

‘Perhaps,’ she conceded.

‘His reasons?’

‘He fears you will join the BloodBorn otherwise.’

‘I thought as much.’

He turned away, now far more interested in inspecting the horizon.

‘Would you?’ she asked, immediately wanting to punch herself in the face.

He did not answer.

It was a stupid question. Of course he would. This infuriated her to no end.

‘After everything you’ve been through,’ she scoffed, her knuckles biting into fists. ‘How could you seriously even consider it?’

‘Ha!’ he barked out a laugh. ‘Everything in your world must be so black and white. How nice for you.’

‘Don’t belittle me I’m not one of your cronies you can shit on for fun.’

He stopped abruptly and she nearly smacked into his large back. ‘Believe it or not, the vow protects me too.’

This made her reel. ‘What?’

‘It gives me an out,’ he explained without emotion. ‘An easy answer.’

Her mouth popped open. ‘They’ve already contacted you?’

His brow arched. ‘Of course they have.’

‘Do you know where they are? You could—’

‘Granger they’re not stupid,’ his said slowly, his words dripping with derision. ‘I’m subject to Legilimency and Veritaserum, they’re not going to confide anything in me.’

And if they did you wouldn’t say anything anyway, she thought acidly. 

His brow quirked as if he’d heard her speak aloud. 

‘Who?’ she demanded, her tone clipped. 

‘Rabastan.’

‘Oh dear old Uncle Rab,’ she sneered. ‘What did he say?’

‘He told me it was time to take my rightful place. That my family was waiting.’

She felt sick.

‘You’ll always be one of them. Always.’

A brief pause.

‘Yes.’

Hermione kicked the ground angrily, stirring up the grass and earth. ‘I’m surprised you told me.’

She wasn’t privy to his Legillimency sessions. That had been his one stipulation when agreeing to them. ‘Not Hermione.’

‘Better to tell you straight than have you nosing about in my mind,’ he drawled.

‘Well, I’d hate to be nosey—‘

‘Your track record says differently,’ he released a mirthless laugh. ‘You seem to spend a lot of time in other people's business.

‘What happened to not squabbling like children?’ she enquired scathingly. ‘We made it all of two minutes.’

He tucked his hands in his pockets. ‘I’ll never lie to you, Granger.’

She snorted in a most unladylike fashion. ‘No, you’ll only join a cult that wants to kill me. That's so much better.’ Hermione was shaking with fury and before she knew it she was storming towards him, closing the short distance. He baulked but did not move and she jabbed him in the chest angrily. ‘You cut yourself to pieces to fit inside the box they designed. Don’t you want something that’s yours? Something real?’

He stood frozen for several seconds too long and Hermione felt her rage dissipate, the closeness leeching her of wild anger and replacing it with something… else. She went to retreat but he reached out, snatching her wrist.

‘Then give me something real.’

His gaze caught hers, molten silver scorching hot. A blistering inferno without end, the long plunge that promised darkness. His visage shadowed, creeping twilight obscuring all but the gleaming light that glistened behind his eyes. A peculiar stillness settling around them like swollen stone. A twisting of thorny roots tangling around her ankles anchoring her in time and place. Hermione suddenly wanted to be anywhere else. Static electricity blistered between them and it felt like her stomach was doing the mashed potato.

‘Like—like what.’

Grey eyes lingered on hers, then her cheeks, her nose. As if he were memorising the shape of her features.

‘Anything,’ he said.

She tugged at her arm but he didn’t release her.

‘Fine,’ she stuttered, ashamed of the shaky quality of her voice. ‘You want real? I think there’s still good in you. I don’t think you’d be so tortured if there wasn’t. I think you were a child when you were made into what you are.’ She inhaled deeply. ‘But you’re not a child anymore. So it’s time to decide what kind of man you want to be. Will you rebel like Sirius? Betray like Regulus? Run like Andromeda? Submit like your mother? Let yourself be driven insane like Bellatrix? Choose to pave your own path perhaps? Or are you what everyone thinks? Weak.’ A pause. ‘Real enough for you?’

His grip loosened and she backed away rubbing her wrist. His grasp hadn't been tight but his touch left a lingering heat on skin that she wanted gone.

‘As always you cut right to the bone,’ he said darkly.

‘You asked for it.’

‘That I did,’ he cocked his head. ‘Bit masochistic of me.’ Another pause. ‘About the other day—’

Her face flushed. ‘Oh please don’t—’

‘For my part in it,’ he kept going stiffly. ‘I am sorry.’

‘Oh, I bet.’

‘I mean it,’ he pressed, his eyes fixing on her. ‘I would never—I would never do something like that.’

‘I know you wouldn’t. You might be a lot of things Malfoy but I never had rapist on the list.’

He flinched. ‘Ergh—please don’t say that word.’

She threw a hand on her hip. ‘Women are raped every day Malfoy. It’s a word we’ve had to become used to. Men should too.’

‘Fine,’ he lifted his hands in surrender. ‘As I said. I am sorry.’

She lifted a brow. ‘Never thought I’d hear those words from you.’

‘Stranger things have happened.’

‘Mmm,’ she admitted noncommittally.

When he said nothing more she peeked in his direction discovering a marble reduction. He stared out over the grounds again, a mighty beast surveying his pride lands. An iridescent bead of light captured his features in startling beauty, setting his skin aglow. It left her entirely mesmerised, lost in the intricate nuances of his micro expressions. A tenuous cacophony of thoughts disguised beneath layers of pretence. After what felt like an age he rotated to face her, moving at a glacial pace.

‘I can’t stop thinking about it, before—’

Her skin prickled, her heart pumping an unsteady rhythm. ‘I know,’ she replied quietly. ‘Neither can I.’

They shared a long look.

Then she walked away.

~

When she got home there was a small piece of parchment waiting on the kitchen table.

You’re cordially invited to a night to remember. Be there at 6, where it all began.

Messrs RW + HP

~

Her feet carried her up the stairs and along the myriad of winding hallways. As she went her fingers dragged along the bannister, the grooves in the old stone like the fingerprints of a lost love. A hand she’d once held so tightly now long since released to time. She let the smell of dust and parchment and shoe polish fill her nose while the portraits watched her ascend, their eyes sparkling in the low light. Flames flickered from the sconces lining the walls lighting her way.

To Gryffindor Tower.

The entrance was wide open, the portrait of the fat lady long since moved to guard the next generation of the Gryffindor’s on the lower levels.

Then there it was.

The place where it all began.

The first place she’d ever felt home. The first place where she was allowed to be who she truly was and was loved for it.

Only it was much changed.

For one thing, a gaping hole still carved its way through the roof, the girl's dormitories all but gone. The moon outside hung like a silver shard slicing through the velvet sky. Beyond the Forbidden Forest stretched further than the eye could see, a lush green blanket smothering yearning voices. Echoes of those lost too soon.

Inside candles flickered away merrily, their warm glow peeling ripples of light out of the gloom. Well worn furniture was scattered throughout the room, a particularly large sofa still placed directly before the fire. Upon it sat Harry and Ron, whispering quietly their black and red heads leaned together conspiratorially. The image was so reminiscent of days past Hermione couldn’t help but gasp. They started, whipping around and relief washed over her.

‘Hermione!’ they both cried out when they saw her.

Ron leapt to his feet hurrying to her side. He carefully helped her through the portrait hole guiding her to where they’d set up a little picnic by the fire. Upon the table, he’d lined three glasses each brimming with amber liquid and his old chess set.

She dropped onto one of the cushions in front of the couch smiling up at Harry who appeared frail, but ecstatic to be there. He sported his familiar crooked smile and his hair was wild and unkempt as it’d always been. But his cheeks were hollow, the lines of his bones visible beneath his jumper. Ron had tucked a blanket over his legs and popped a cushion on either side to help keep him upright. It was both incredibly sweet and horribly devastating.

Ron lowered into the armchair, pressing his hands together excitedly. ‘Welcome,’ he murmured with quiet fervour. ‘To the Wizard’s Chess Championship of 2001!’

Hermione stared at him. ‘What are you talking about Ron?’

He waggled his brows. ‘Well seeing as we couldn’t have one this year because of those gits I thought we’d have a little tournament of our own.’

Harry was grinning madly, evidently incredibly chuffed to be out of the house. Hermione's lips curled into a bemused expression.

‘In one corner,’ Ron deepened his voice. ‘We have Mr Harry James Potterrrrr. Former Seeker of the Gryffindor Quidditch team and all-around Trouble Maker.’

He cupped his hands over his mouth making the sounds of a large crowd cheering.

Harry dipped his head pretending to bow, his face becoming very serious.

‘And in the other corner we have… Miss Hermione Jean Grangerrrrr. Former Head Girl and all around Know-it-all!’

‘Hey!’ She threw a cushion at him which he dodged skillfully.

Harry wolf-whistled on her behalf.

‘And last we have… me! Mr Ronald Bilius Weasley, undisputed Chess Champion of Gryffindor Tower!’

Harry clapped and whooped while Hermione muttered under her breath. ‘Undisputed my Aunt Fanny.’

Ron pressed a hand to his chest. ‘Yes, yes thank you, thank you, it's an honour to be here.’

‘So that's what this is all about?’ Hermione laughed.

‘Look,’ Ron said. ‘The last year’s been a bit of a doozy for all of us. Thought we could use a bit of a break.’

‘Hear, hear!’ Harry barked.

‘I can’t argue with that,’ Hermione agreed.

Harry leant forward grabbing one of the glasses off the table and Ron mirrored his motion. Hermione lifted a brow but refrained from lecturing Harry on the foolishness of drinking in his condition. It was clear he needed this.

Snatching the last glass she raised it high and Ron cleared his throat loudly.

‘To us!’ He barked. ‘The Saviours of the Wizarding World. May we forever let that go to our heads!’

They all laughed but clinked their drinks joyfully.

‘I wonder why they haven’t fixed this up?’ Ron eyed the room after downing half his drink.

‘They moved all the common rooms downstairs. McGonagall wanted to promote House Unity, remember?’

‘Yeah I know,’ he rolled his eyes. ‘But still—bloody hell this place meant a lot to a lot of people.’

‘I’m sure McGonagall has something planned, maybe we should ask her,’ Harry mused.

‘Which speaking of,’ Hermione started. ‘How’d you get her to agree to this?’

‘Oh I didn’t,’ Ron sipped his drink, eyes sparkling.

‘What!’

He shrugged ‘I’m sure she knows we’re here.’

‘Ron you can’t just—’

‘What did I just say? I mean we saved the world, Hermione. Pretty sure we can.’

‘You’re insufferable.’

‘You love me.’

His smile faded as if realising what he said. She reached out, taking his hand.

‘Course I do.’

His eyes crinkled and he nodded.

‘Yeah. Good.’

‘Weird that the snow doesn’t come in,’ Harry remarked, staring skyward.

‘The entire castle has a weather-repelling charm,’ Hermione waved her hand through the air. ‘You would know that if you’d ever bothered to read Hogwarts, A History. I mean honestly.’

The words were like magic. Just like that, they were shepherded back through the pages of their history. Before life had gotten so dark and complex and terrifying. To a time when the only thing that mattered was exams and whether or not you’d woken up with a spot. To running through the hallways and telling Harry and Ron off for dropping dung bombs. To donning the invisibility cloak and taking the secret corridor into Hogsmeade and filling up on chocolates until they thought they were going to be sick. To getting up early and rugging up in six layers so she could go watch Harry play Quidditch, Ron as well in their later years. To beating Slytherin for the House Cup on a technicality again and again. To be young and full of endless energy.

Then Harry coughed and the vision faded.

Hermione was on her feet in seconds and hurrying to his side.

‘Don’t Hermione,’ Harry held out a hand. He looked up at her, his green eyes desperate. ‘Please. Just tonight let’s pretend ok? Pretend everything’s fine.’

She chewed her lip, sharing a sideways glance with Ron. He shrugged.

Turning back to Harry she forced a smile. ‘Ok Harry, if that’s what you want.’

Harry loosed a sigh of relief. ‘It is. It really is.’ He swept his hand through his scruff. ‘I love Ginny so much but that's all we talk about now. Most days I can’t sleep. Sometimes I worry that I’m losing myself.’ He was staring at his hands now, picking at the blanket over his legs.

Hermione squeezed his arm. ‘We’ll never let that happen, Harry.’

His eyes caught hers. ‘You swear?’

Hermione wanted to throw her arms around him and use her body like a metal shield. Her vision blurred as tears formed in her eyes.

Ron snorted, snapping them both out of it. ‘Fine. If you turn into a psycho I’ll off you ok? Don’t be daft Harry. It’s never gonna happen.’

‘Yes,’ Hermione sniffed. ‘You’re being silly. We love you, Harry. You’ve got nothing to fear ok? We’ll always take care of each other. That’s been our promise since the troll in the girl's toilets.’

Harry smiled at the memory.

‘Oh forget all that,’ Ron slapped his hands on his knees. ‘Tonight is for no thinking. Tonight is for no war and no sickness and no nothing. We just play some chess, maybe a game of exploding snap and just—be. Up here we’re safe and nothing can touch us. Ok?’

Hermione cocked her head to the side. ‘I didn’t know you could be so sentimental Ron.’ She waggled her brows at Harry and he snickered.

‘Ok?’ Ron pressed.

‘Ok,’ they both agreed.

‘Here,’ Ron pulled an old record player from beneath his feet. It was well used, the lid cracked and several dents on the side.

‘Where’d you find that?’ Hermione shucked her shoes and padded over to take a closer look.

‘It was tucked away in that cupboard. Look here—’

He pointed to a tiny R.L scratched into the side. Someone had carved little stars all around the letters.

‘You reckon it was Lupins?’

‘Maybe. Weird.’

‘Right! And look at all these records.’

He slid a small stack towards her and Hermione started flicking through them.

‘I’m surprised you even know what this is,’ Hermione noted absently.

‘George had one in his flat. Apparently, the muggle girls go wild for them. Check this one—The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Blimey, bit of a mouthful.’ He shook his head. ‘Muggles are weird.’

Hermione snickered. ‘That’s one of my dad's favourites. But here let’s go for this one.’

She slid Neil Young’s, Harvest from the pile.

Ron leaned in to quietly whisper. ‘You reckon Harry can handle it?’

‘I can handle it, Ron,’ Harry muttered dryly.

‘Oh sorry Harry.’

‘I’m sick, not deaf you twat.’

‘Don’t worry, it’s nice and mellow,’ Hermione cut in. ‘Look someone’s even written ‘boring’ on the front.’

‘Oh perfect,’ Harry smirked. ‘Love a boring evening with friends.

‘Don’t sass me Harry Potter,’ Hermione shot him a stern look and he burst out laughing.

She slid the player over and lowered the pin over the record. Music filled the room lending a calming note to the atmosphere.

… Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.
Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.

Old man look at my life,
Twenty four and there's so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.

Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don't get lost.
Like a coin that won't get tossed
Rolling home to you…

‘Ah perfect,’ Ron grinned.

‘What why?’

‘Well, I went and raided the Hufflepuff greenhouse didn’t I?’ He pulled a joint from his pocket, lighting it with the end of his wand.

Hermione gaped at him, not quite sure what to make of this. But she didn’t scold him when he handed it to Harry or refuse when he passed it to her. The rest of the evening developed a fuzzy haze from that point on.

They played game after game talking about all the stories from school—all the good ones that is. Nothing Voldemort related. No death.

Like when Fred and George set off fireworks blazing through the corridor and nearly took out Umbridge.

‘I swear I saw that old bat's hair catch fire.’

‘You did not!’

‘Did too!’

When they won the Quidditch Cup against Slytherin. This led to the time when Harry caught the snitch in his mouth.

‘Thought you were going to barf mate.’

‘So did I!’

Which also meant laughing about when Lockhart accidentally removed all the bones in his arm.

‘That slimey git.’

When they snuck out to Hagrids to ferry the dragon to Ron’s brother Charlie.

‘That thing nearly burned my fingers off.’

When they saved Buckbeak and Sirius using the time turner.

‘I still reckon you could have told us about that Hermione.’

‘Yeah think of all the things we could have done!’

‘That was precisely why I didn’t tell you.’

When Hermione lost it at Ron for kissing Lavender and sent a bunch of birds flying at his head.

‘Har, har very funny.’

‘You know you deserved it.’

There were a million and one tales to tell, a plethora of happy times Hermione had somehow forgotten as she slugged through recent days.

… I've been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I'm all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that's true.

Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.

They talked until the candles dipped low, the lingering flame almost drowning in wax. A final flicker refusing to be put out and end the evening of bliss. When it was finally done Hermione readied herself to return to the real world. And for some reason, it didn’t feel quite so hard as before.

Chapter Text

2002

DRAGON RACER BURNED BY HIS OWN LIES!

Famed dragon racer, Thomas Goldstein has been stripped of his medals after it was revealed he is the son of a shapeshifter. The Wizarding Community was left reeling after an anonymous tip was sent into the Prophet early this month. The tip was quickly proven true and Goldstein exposed. When approached on the matter he had this to say, ‘What does dragon racing have to do with shifting? Unless I was to change into a dragon and fly myself it doesn’t make any sense!’ An avid and loyal fan responded, ‘It’s not right. Dragon racing is for witches and wizards. That’s how it’s always been and always should be! It’s an absolute disgrace.’

This comes just weeks after famed actress and model for Witch Weekly Gabrielle Delacour was outed as a quarter Veela. ‘I have no shame in what I am. It wasn’t a problem before why is it a problem now?’ Meanwhile known rival Hildegard Humperdinck had this to say, ‘It’s not fair for the rest of us! She’s taking jobs from hardworking witches. We should be flushing them all out.’ It is clear the people are screaming for tighter restrictions on magical beasts of this nature. The Ministry, as always, has yet to respond. This reporter would like to remind its readers not to approach such magical hybrids who are known to be disturbed and dangerous…

~

There are days where no matter how high you tip your chin, the sun does not reach your face. You are bathed in constant shadow and left wondering why. It is questions such as this that forever plague us, making space where doubt might grow.

But fear is the mind-killer, or at least that’s what Frank Herbert taught Hermione. She tried to remind herself of this as she pressed her forehead against the glass watching the world outside. The train swayed as the wheels slowly chugged forward, the sound matching the beat of her heart.

Too slow.

Too fast.

Heavy snow had fallen the night before blanketing the city in white fluff so bright it almost hurt to look at. It’d quickly melted down to brown slush, a hazard that sent London’s inhabitants angrily slipping and sliding through their day. The marble grey sky sat heavy overhead, almost smothering in sterile weight.

Hermione lifted a finger, drawing a long line down the window. It often felt as if a layer of glass had hardened between herself and the world. She felt like Alice, an average girl who stepped into a magical world of madness and mayhem, a world she may never understand.

All around her the other passengers chatted casually, a group of young teens shrieking and flirting down the other end. With a surreptitious wave of her wand under the table she cast Muffliato which helped some but not enough. She pulled a pair of headphones from her bag, slapping them over her ears. The music filled her with a steady calm, but then so did the wine.

…With one light on in one room
I know you're up when I get home
With one small step upon the stair
I know your look when I get there

If you were a king up there on your throne
Would you be wise enough to let me go
For this queen you think you own
Wants to be a hunter again…

Hermione didn’t need to get the train, but it helped her think. Like the forward momentum shook her screws loose letting her see the bigger picture.

This past month had been… a lot.

First came Christmas day at the Burrow. She’d thought the hardest part would be meeting Ron’s new girlfriend. The witch was nice enough, not especially bright though—no.

She wasn’t going to do that.

She was happy for Ron.

So, so happy.

But it’d been when Harry proposed a toast that everything changed. He stood, slowly, Ginny helping him up.

‘So,’ he smiled downwards, suddenly shy.

Hermione narrowed her eyes over her glass of wine and Ron chuckled. She kicked him under the table and he winced.

‘Ginny and I just wanted to say thank you to everyone here, for helping us through the past year. It’s been tough and you’ve all been so wonderful. We couldn’t have done it without you.’

Beside her, George banged on the table and Neville grinned. Molly shot him a withering look and he stopped, smirking. They were all seated at the long dining room table that only moments before had been piled with scrumptious meats and vegetables, the plates now picked dry.

‘Yes thank you, George,’ Harry snickered. ‘Well,’ he squeezed Ginny. ‘We have some news.’

From where she sat it appeared Molly had stopped breathing. Hermione watched her snatch Arthur’s hand under the table.

‘And we thought today would be a good day to share it with you all. So…’ he turned to Ginny.

‘We’re going to have a baby!’ she half shrieked.

We’re going to have a baby.

Just like that. As if those words hadn’t shifted the makeup of their world.
Hermione almost spat her wine over the remnants of the turkey. Instead, she sucked it in and immediately started hacking. George slapped her happily on the back while she tried to come to terms with this information. Harry beamed at Ginny, pure radiant joy. So bright it lit half the table bathing those closest in a warm loving glow.

Hermione felt nothing but fury.

And fear.

There was a brief pause, then Molly screamed. She was on her feet in seconds almost attacking Harry and Ginny in her attempt to hug them. They all laughed and then there were more cheers. Arthur’s mouth popped open and closed, his eyes dazed.

Tonks wolf-whistled.

‘Oh that’s nice,’ Luna murmured.

‘What was that?’ Xenophilius tore his eyes from the window staring at everyone blankly.

‘Bloody hell! I’m going to be an uncle,’ George cried out.

‘My goodness,’ McGonagall pressed a hand to her chest.

‘I can’t believe it!’ Neville shouted, leaping to his feet.

‘If they have a baby does that mean I’m not the youngest anymore?’ Teddy whined.

On and on it went as more guests jumped up to congratulate the couple. Even Ron’s new girlfriend hugged them (as she knew them at all). Meanwhile, a terrible feeling settled in the base of Hermione’s stomach that refused to relinquish. A horrible nagging that had her picking her nails, teeth kneading her lip. It felt like deja vu.

It was only when she met Ron’s eyes that she found something close to normal.

He was worried.

Hermione could tell straight away and felt a flicker of satisfaction that at least she wasn’t alone in this. But like everybody else they stood, they congratulated them, hugging and patting them on the back.

That night she dreamt of death.

Screams filled her head paired with abhorrent visions of the past. Lily and James running from Voldemort, a tiny bundle clutched in their arms. They were running and running and running, never gaining an inch. Their faces melted away and suddenly it was Ginny and Harry running in their place. There came a flash of green light, strips of lightning cutting through the dark. Blood flowed like spilled wine bleeding over the ground. Cruel laughter echoed, her ears ringing with the sound of it. The stench of foetid earth filled her nose, a graveyard peppered with stones. All of the names she knew. Harry fell first, his body crumpling beneath his now weightless form. Ginny kept running, her face breaking with agony. Then her limbs locked, slowing as if she were fighting through a solid substance. The figure in her hands faded away to nothing. She screamed.

Hermione woke covered in sweat, Voldemort's cackle still rippling through her brain.

Lily and James at the young age of 21 getting pregnant and having a baby as war descended upon them. Ginny and Harry now in the same position. It didn’t exactly bode well in Hermione’s opinion.

It felt like history repeating itself and it made her want to grab her friends and lock them in a padded room where no one could touch them. But maybe this time it would turn out better.

It had to.

The whole thing was so irresponsible it made her want to kick something.

‘I know what you’re thinking,’ Ginny had whispered before they separated for bed.

Hermione perhaps drank a little too much after the announcement so Molly put her up for the night. In Charlie's old room. She would’ve been happier passed out in the snow.

‘What—no I’m happy—’

‘No. You wear your heart on your face, Hermione,’ she chuckled. ‘We know it’s mad. But,’ she stared at her nails. ‘Harry’s not getting any better. This baby might be all I get to keep of him’

It was like being punched in the gut.

It should have been a joyous affair but Hermione didn’t feel an ounce of happiness. Throwing the blankets off, she dressed and hurried down the stairs.

‘You’re off?’ Molly asked as she tried to sneak out the front door.

‘Oh erm yes,’ Hermione straightened.

She looked around guiltily, not quite sure how to make her exit now.

Molly smiled knowingly. ‘It was good to see you. I hope you know you’ll always have a home here? Even after everything…’ She trailed off smiling warmly.

Hermione softened. ‘Thanks Molly.’

She embraced the small woman whose hugs would always be the warmest before striding out the front door. She would always remember that hug. Perhaps because it was the one she needed most. Perhaps because it was their last.

She’d spent the rest of the month listlessly moving from task to task. Hermione could not recall the last time she’d felt the warm rays of hope sink into her bones. A chill had set in, allowing cruel thoughts to creep.

It felt like she was stuck, caught on a wheel that kept turning, turning, turning in place. Digging deeper into the dirt. Every day was the same. The monotonous turning of the sun brought nothing new. She longed to find the fight again. To discover the part of her that refused to be flattened and sorted into useless boxes labelled ‘spent.’ There was so much more she had to offer, so much left to do.

For one thing, there was Harry.

Her best friend.

He was dying.

Even if no one else could see it she could, it was always her greatest skill. To see through the emotional undertow and find the truth where others refused to look. They couldn’t lose Harry. None of them would survive that.

Hence the train.

Only hours ago she’d stood there, the bustle of St Pancras circling her like fish to a rock in a stream. Head tipped back, she watched the arrivals and departures for perhaps thirty minutes. But the thought of going back to her flat that would be cold and empty made her want to heave. The thought of going back to the Ministry made her hands break out in a cold sweat. The thought of going back to Malfoy Manor made her physically flinch.

So she decided, fuck it.

She caught the chunnel to Paris instead.

It felt weirdly safe. Her mum and dad used to take on train rides into the city when she was young. She’d sit on her dad's lap and he’d point out all the different villages they passed. Her mum would read the paper and then together they’d fill out the crossword. It was one of the few things she liked about being what she was, how easily she could melt back into the muggle world, if only for a few hours.

There was no Voldemort there, no magic, no Ministry. An entire universe where she was free of all the burdens, a place that was wholly hers.

From a corner store, she’d bought a bottle of cheap wine and was now sipping happily from a glass glamoured to look like a water bottle. She cast a simple Avoidance charm which made all the muggle’s eyes sweep over the seats around her and keep walking which meant she had an entire four-seater and table to herself. It was likely a cardinal sin to bogart empty seats in such a way but she was beyond caring.

The Daily Prophet was splayed over the table in front of her though she’d barely bothered to read it. They weren’t even trying to hide their prejudices anymore and it was doing her head in. The Equalisers were restless and becoming more and more agitated. Only earlier today they’d had to talk Guiseppe off a ledge after he was denied access to a popular Wizarding nightclub where he’d been more than welcome in the past.

He was livid, throwing vicious promises of vengeance to the point where Giles snickered quietly in the corner.

‘Come come,’ Fitz frowned reasonably. ‘It often gets worse before it’s better.’

‘We need something big,’ Callisto said plainly.

‘They’re not going to take us seriously if we keep doing these little rallies.’

Hermione agreed.

They were all seated in Fitz’s enormous living room. Callisto draped over one of the sofas. Giles standing by the large window. Giuseppe pouring himself a drink by the bar. Fitz pacing back and forth. Circe sat cross-legged on the floor between Luna’s legs. Vida leaning against the bookshelf. Tonks hovering by the fireplace not wanting to venture any further and risk breaking something.
They were an odd bunch but together they’d become the biggest advocates for the Equalisation movement. They met weekly at Fitz’s and monthly with the wider members.

Fitz wanted more hybrids in their circle but had so far been unable to find anyone willing to stick their neck out. To do so would paint a target on their back. Most were happier supporting from the sidelines, at least for now. He’d have been ecstatic to know they had a werewolf in the mix but Circe had so far kept that particular truth to herself.

‘I think we should protest the school,’ Luna ventured.

‘Why?’ Fitz asked.

‘Well—it doesn’t seem fair,’ she went on. ‘Only witches and wizards are allowed to go to Hogwarts—‘

‘We are not permitted wands, little girl,’ Guiseppe drawled.

‘I know that and I’ll thank you not to call me little girl,’ she glared at him before turning back to the others.

Circe grinned wickedly. Nothing made her happier than when Luna sassed someone.

‘But asking for wands is too big to start with,’ Luna continued softly. ‘If we could get one student through the door—well then the next conversation is interspecies wand use. I know McGonagall. She’s a good witch, she’ll listen to us. Remus Lupin went to Hogwarts and it was fine. But he had to hide what he was his entire schooling career. I can only imagine how stressful that must have been.’

Hermione watched her squeeze Circe’s shoulder.

‘He never endangered a single person, not once. Perhaps if another werewolf child were accepted—’

‘Excellent idea Luna!’ Fitz jumped up excitedly. ‘You are a wonder indeed.’

‘Perhaps we should advocate for someone who might be considered less… dangerous?’ Callisto mused.

Beside her, Circe looked down.

‘Werewolves aren’t dangerous,’ Luna ruffled.

‘I know that,’ she rolled her eyes. ‘But perhaps that little Selkie girl the Ministry official attacked might be a safer bet.’

‘She's already got the eyes of the public after what happened to her,’ Giles drawled. That was about as excited as he got.

‘I like it,’ Fitz agreed. ‘But I’m not sure it's big enough.’

‘Perhaps we storm the Ministry?’ Giuseppe suggested.

Tonks lifted a brow. ‘That’s a bit extreme.’

‘Are we not suggesting big?’

Hermione picked her nails in her lap. She had an idea, but it was a drastic one. ‘I think we need to force them to acknowledge us.’

Fitz turned in her direction. ‘And how would you suggest doing that?’

‘By doing magic. A display… in front of muggles.’

‘What!’ Tonks spluttered. She moved too quickly and kicked the fire poker halfway across the room.

‘They think we’re a joke. They’re laughing at us. But if we threaten the Statute of Secrecy, they’ll have to listen.’

A brief silence followed this announcement.

‘Hermione, what you’re suggesting could put us all in Azkaban,’ Tonks murmured.

She shrugged. ‘If we don’t take risks then what is the point of any of this? The BloodBorn and Ministry are targeting us, it’s obvious. They’re slowly closing the door. We need to break it down.’

Giuseppe surveyed her through heavy-lidded eyes. ‘So the Golden Girl has teeth after all. How exciting.’

He was baiting her, it was something he often did. She jutted out her chin. It was a good plan and she knew it, she just had to convince them. ‘They are fighting to take us back to before, we need to force them forward.’

Callisto swept a hand through her thick plume. ‘They will demand retribution.’

‘Then we should be prepared,’ Hermione stiffened her shoulders.

Giles slowly lit a cigarette. ‘I must admit I did not expect this from you.’

‘I have seen enough of the Wizarding World to know it was broken long before Voldemort. If we don’t fight with everything we have we will lose. Their roots go too deep. We need to rip them out.’

Fitz was staring at her, his eyes gleaming.

‘There is a lot at stake,’ Giles exhaled, his face disappearing behind the smoke.

‘To lose implies that you had something worth losing in the first place,’ Callisto laughed. ‘I do not.’

Giles lifted a hand counting off his fingers, ‘Our standing, our careers, our freedom...’

Vida frowned. ‘But I suppose there are more important things, no?’

Tonks was staring at her feet. ‘Teddy will go his whole life with people judging him for what his father was. Not who he was. I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect him from that.’

‘Ah I like it,’ Giuseppe rubbed his palms together. ‘What shall we do then? Crack open Tower Bridge? Watch their little cars sink in the Thames?’

‘What?’ Hermione baulked. ‘No. Are you crazy? It needs to be peaceful, we’re not murderers.’

Giuseppe frowned. ‘You asked for big? Is that not what I offered?’

‘Perhaps a little too dark?’ Vida chuckled.

‘Nobody gets hurt. We’re not the BloodBorn, we don’t do that.’

He shrugged. ‘Not yet.’

Hermione glared at him.

‘Ah come he is joking,’ Vida smacked him on the shoulder.

‘I wouldn’t be so sure,’ snickered Giles.

‘I like it,’ Luna mused. ‘I think we should make it fun. We don’t want to scare anybody, do we?’

Afterwards, Hermione worried she’d been too outspoken, too angry. That was until she heard Giuseppe and Fitz talking quietly as she went to grab her coat. They were standing in the larder, their voices hushed. Hermione cast a quick eavesdropping charm—they really should have known better, it was their fault. With the flick of her wand, she could hear them clear as day.

‘You think we can trust in her?’ Giuseppe was saying.

She only had two seconds to wonder who her was.

‘We need influence and Hermione has it, even if she does not realise it. Our campaign needs a face, she could be it.’ He must have made a face for Fitz cut back. ‘Come Giuseppe lighten up. The girls got gumption if I ever saw it.’

‘Maybe so.’

‘What concerns you?’

‘She spends too much time with Death Eaters. She feels sympathy for them. That she believes they are capable of change. The time for difficult choices is coming.’

‘You think she does not have the stomach for it?’

‘We must be ready to cause conflict,’ Guiseppe muttered. ‘It is the only way to change things. People will get hurt. Change like this can not happen without that. I am hesitant to put my faith in someone who is not willing to throw their fists in the ring.’

‘Not yet,’ Fitz murmured. ‘But she will. We need only wait until she is ready.’

She pushed the memory away, all it did was fuel her inner fires and they already burned too hot as it was. So she sat, and she drank, and she watched the world fly by.

Hermione didn’t much want to be the face of anything but to question her resolve was an insult she found difficult to shake. But Giuseppe could think what he liked. It didn’t matter what anybody else said. It didn’t matter if they laughed at her or tried to make her feel small. She wasn’t ever going to sit down and shut up. It just wasn’t in her nature. Maybe once that made her annoying, but people-pleasers rarely exacted radical change. She was filled with blood lust, a desire to rip everything down. At some point, something inside her shifted.

Perhaps it was Harry’s illness, the fact that after all he’d done he still was forced to suffer. There was no reward for goodness. There was no promise of a happy ending. It filled her with a burning rage that she was finding more challenging to silence. After all this time, after all they’d been through, they deserved some fucking justice.

~

As she stepped off the train at Gare Du Nord and journeyed out into the brisk Parisian air she felt a flurry of excitement. There was a small market set up by the entrance and her eyes were drawn to a stall edging the street. Wandering over she let her fingers sweep over a long black leather jacket. It practically screamed Sirius Black.

‘Like it?’ The vendor smiled.

He was a thin wiry sort wearing a glittering floor-length gown and a fur coat that felt quite out of place but glamorous all the same. He spoke with heavily accented French and Hermione smiled easily, switching to his tongue.

‘It’s amazing.’

‘I think it is yours,’ he winked. ‘Here, try it on.’

He pulled it from the hanger and Hermione exchanged it for hers. Before she could slide her arm through the sleeve however his eyes caught on the scar on her arm and she quickly covered it. He clicked his teeth, slipping the fur from his shoulders and throwing it aside.

‘I have one too,’ he murmured.

Hermione stared at the scar on his skin, the dark cigarette burns spun to form a single word.

Faggot.’

Only he’d tattooed beautiful flowers weaving them delicately around the letters. Hermione’s eyes lifted to meet his. He smiled, angling her towards a long mirror leaning against a table.

‘We wear it like armour no?’

She nodded, not quite sure what to say. Together they stared at the woman drenched in black leather. Her face was hard, her eyes sunken. The jacket fit this woman better.

He, or more likely she Hermione realised, lifted a brow. ‘Trade? Yours for mine?’

She surveyed her reflection a few moments more, then nodded.

‘I think it would go well with these too.’

Hermione grinned at the clothes she indicated. Hermione thought so too.

Not ten minutes later she strode down the street feeling like a woman remade. Her feet were clad in well-worn combat boots. She’d donned a long beaded burgundy dress and sported the leather jacket over top. He’d even given her a pair of black sunglasses she now wore tipped to the edge of her nose. Catching her reflection in a shop window she tipped her head to the side.

She still looked too much like herself, a child playing dress-up. She notes the curve of cheeks, the smattering of freckles peppering her nose. But it was her wild hair that caught her eye, a blanket of protection she’d hidden behind her whole life. She could still feel Malfoy’s fingers scraping through it, his phantom hands holding her down. A shadow of his touch constantly slithering through her mind. Making her want more.

Not giving herself time to overthink it, she lifted her wand and directed it at her thick mane. With one whispered word it separated just above the shoulder. The severed strands dropped, the ends now feathering her neck, the thick plume lifting without the added weight.

She rolled up her sleeve and tapped it against her skin. From the scar, tiny flowers bloomed slowly tangling their way up her arm. In seconds the word was half obscured beneath a tangle of daisies, poppies and a few lilies for good measure, a sister to the one she’d seen mere moments before. She pulled her equaliser pin from her pocket securing it to her jacket analysing herself in the window.

Gone was Hermione Granger the perfect Golden Girl. She was a bit scared of this woman, of what it meant to be her. But everyone else was moving on. It was time she did too. With a smile, she spun, apparating the rest of the way.

~

Her feet echoed on the ancient stone as she strode through the gargantuan hall. High overhead the domed glass ceilings loomed like owl eyes ever watchful and full of boundless wisdom. First built in 1461 The Bibliothèque Nationale De France became the first free public library after the French Revolution in 1793. Considered the property of the people, the library held extensive historical collections—both of the non-magical and magical kind.

It had been calling her for many moons now, the promise of unparalleled knowledge silently drawing her in. Harry’s illness remained a mystery and Hermione didn’t like mysteries. She liked answers, cold hard facts. Rational deductions made from thorough and well-referenced research. Logical evolutions that spoke of truth and coherent conclusions.

She wasn’t about to leave her friend to shoddy guesswork and maybes. Harry deserved better than that. Harry deserved the world but this was all she could give him, all she had to offer. She could only hope it was enough.

Long tables peppered with green lamps and people studying lined the way as she strode towards the far end. Reaching a tall bookshelf she tapped her wand three times on the spine of a book with no title. The shelf creaked open allowing her to enter while behind her muggles remained focused on their work, completely oblivious. Maybe one day they might have access to these texts just like her.

It felt only fair, she’d have hated not having the chance to study even if she didn’t possess the magical capability. It was to divide the human world in two, a straight line down the middle leaving both sides worse off in her opinion.

Making her way to the front desk Hermione's eyes swept over the gargantuan spherical astrolabe that took pride of place in the centre of the room. The groaning metal twisted endlessly casting reflections that blurred underfoot, ghostly apparitions tangling with infinite stars. A golden automaton clanked and whirred its way past her, a stack of books clutched in its spindly arms, puffs of smoke erupting from its back. The desk was manned by an elderly wizard, his eyes cast to the long scroll that unfurled over the side and along the floor. With a beautiful quill, he scribbled here and there, completely absorbed in his work. Hermione sidestepped it carefully, coughing when he still did not acknowledge her.

‘Oui?’ he asked, his voice rasping like a crow.

‘I would like access to La Prise Sombre,’ Hermione requested loudly. The Dark Hold.

He looked up, narrowing his eyes over the half-moon spectacles hanging from his nose. With poorly hidden disdain his gaze raked over her.

‘I don’t think you belong here,’ was his answer.

He went back to his work ignoring her.
Hermione tipped her head to the side. She glared at him, slowly lifting a brow. She pulled a card from her pocket, sliding it across the desk, leaving it directly in his line of sight.

Time to test what Fitz said.

He stared at it a few seconds, surveying the identification she’d provided. Then to her satisfaction, his teeth clicked and he nodded.

‘You are Hermione Granger,’ the corners of his mouth upended. ‘I did not expect you to be…’ He waved his hand in the air. ‘So modern. I apologise I did not know you.’ He peered over his glasses. ‘There was a boy who came here once asking for the Dark Hold too. Can you guess his name?’

Hermione’s brow furrowed and then she gasped. ‘Tom Riddle.’

Of course he would come here.

The clerk nodded. ‘I refused him entry. He did not like that.’ He stared skyward, his gaze far away.

‘The next week my wife was found dead in our home.’ His piercing eyes found hers again. ‘I was very glad when I heard of his end. Very glad indeed.’

‘Oh… good.’

He was very intense and not a little off-putting what with his skin like crumpled tissue paper and brows sprouting wild grey hairs.

‘I heard Mr Potter is ill, I can assume that’s why you are here?’

‘It is.’

‘Then I welcome you.’

With one hand he collected an enormous key, the old metal requiring two hands to pull from the desk. Hermione spun around her boots clacking on the floor. The encounter left her feeling elated. Perhaps Fitz was right after all, maybe she did have more power than she realised.

Her feet dragged against her volition across the stone towards a promise of answers she was unlikely ready to find. Several patrons looked up to watch her progress but she ignored them all heading straight for the large wrought iron doors that loomed under the astrolabe.

Sliding the key through the lock she turned it with both hands and the metal swung wide revealing, spiralling stairs leading down into darkness. Beyond would be some of the Wizarding World's most preciously guarded archives. The thought did not stop the chill from twisting up her spine as beheld the curved stone, eroded from centuries of use. Very few were allowed to enter, the grounds almost hallowed for the secrets they held.

Squaring her shoulders Hermione took the intricately carved bannister in hand and began her descent. She was quickly engulfed by shadows, her heartbeat echoing loudly in her ears. Inside she was greeted by whispers that spoke of histories told and untold. It was like a unique pulse that quickened under the earth's crust.

‘Happy thoughts, happy thoughts,’ she muttered to herself, a quiet chant she’d often relied on through the years. She refused to be scared away now. Besides, Tom Riddle would have been green with envy to see a muggle-born like her granted access where he was not. She snickered at the thought.

Moments later she emerged into flickering light, the scent of freshly pressed parchment and ancient dust-covered scrolls quickly filling her nose. She inhaled slowly letting the pungent aroma soothe her. She took a pair of white gloves from the shelf, slipping them onto her hands. Some of the books here dated back to the earliest histories.

It was rumoured some tomes detailed the real life of Jesus, who was a wizard. Apparently, he’d tried to share his magic an aeon ago and the non-magical people of the time crucified him for it, leaving him to rot for all his friends to see what might happen if they revealed what they were. According to lore, his friend managed to revive him briefly but it hadn’t been lasting.

She recalled her shock when Professor Binns had rattled off this little tidbit as if it were obsolete information. The lesson had been clear however, the people weren’t ready then. Perhaps they were now.

Sauntering her way through the aisles she let her fingers softly drag along the wooden shelves. The stacks loomed high overhead, leaning with age, long rolling ladders like creeping vines. She passed large ominous looking room, the walls inscribed with runes. Dark shadows billowed where the light did not touch, whispers quietly seeking fresh meat to feed their endless hunger. The stench of metal and parchment mixed with a touch of sulphur. It spoke of the old magic. That which came before Hogwarts, or time, harkening back to the ancients and beyond. It was the Restricted Section on crack. She could get lost in a place like this. Happily so.

Woven threads, knowledge spiralling through all the days. Dark Magic considered too dangerous for public consumption. In other words, the one place that was likely to have the answers she was looking for.

She wandered down the aisle letting her fingers trail along the books, the sturdy leather buzzing with knowledge to be found. A smile curled her cheeks, her eyes gleaming hungrily.

This was the Dark Hold.

A trove that spoke of horrors no sane mind could conjure. It was said that the Parisian archives were rivalled by only those in Russia, not much of a surprise. Though only citizens were allowed access to the latter.

For Hermione, this would always be home. Between the text, under the covers. Flying free with the greats, their words opening avenues and carving out new roads where she might run, run, run. Nothing could touch her here.

Finding a text that sounded interesting she slipped it from the shelf and carried it to one of the long tables. Placing it gently down she threw the book wide and sneezed heavily. If answers were to be found, they would be here. With a soft chuckle, she lowered into the chair and got to work.

Chapter Text

2002

‘You don’t trust me to tell you what I remember?’

‘I don’t trust you to remember it as it was. This isn’t something I can take your word on.’

Malfoy glared at her. ‘What’s so important about the snake?’

‘None of your business.’

‘Well then no, you can not have access to my memories.’

It took all Hermione’s resolve not to stomp her foot like a petulant child. This conversation wasn’t going anywhere fast and she was about ready to throttle Malfoy.

After months of research, Hermione had come to a conclusion. It was not a good one.

The Dark Hold was filled with archives that made her mind dance and skin crawl. There was magic that would allow you to summon the Kraken, the illustrations in that text had been unnecessarily detailed. There was a spell to open a doorway between realities making a witch or wizard capable of travelling through dimensions. Fortunately, the incantations themselves had long since faded back into the pages.

There were rituals that might bring the dead back to life—but only if their soul was first trapped in the void realm—whatever that was. Magic that would allow you to see into the heart of men and kill him with thoughts alone. Something about transferring magical energy from one being to another. An especially concerning spell that would allow the wielder to put their victims in a deep trance. There were details of a spell that went so badly wrong it shifted gravity and created polar distortion all through the Bermuda Triangle.

There was an entire grimoire detailing what the author termed a ‘world creation spell.’ The only thing it required- one million souls. She’d put that one down and hadn’t slept for a week. There was a whole section on necromancy but that wouldn’t help much in their case. A spell that could split you into base particles but keep your sentience, a fate worse than death in Hermione’s opinion.

She’d found a Sumerian clay cylinder that spoke of ancient binding magic rituals this would allow bonds that lasted more than one Lifetime and spanned across space and time. A dyad-bond it was called. It was here that she’d discovered the true origins of the Killing Curse. A woman named Ereshkigal was the inventor. She’d been a Serf tethered to a terrible warlord who was known to use his magic to enslave, beat and rape witches and wizards of the time. To free herself and the man she loved she created what she dubbed ‘the perfect ender.’

There was no cure. No shield. Nothing could stop the curse from its purpose. She was also the one who created the Lifetime Bond and must have been an enormously powerful witch. After they were freed however a war broke out where the Killing Curse was used to such an extent it decimated half the population, both magical and non-magical, and was made taboo. The final tablet was a letter written to her lover, Kur, who was murdered in retribution for her actions.

Her last words, ‘I am the creator of my destruction. I have cursed us most assuredly. I seek retribution in this life and hope only to see you in the next.’ Then followed the same lines repeated in stone, ‘what have I done.’

The spell was then lost until the Middle Ages. There’d been numerous texts on the Killing Curses from that point onwards but no evidence of anyone who had ever survived it. There were some notes about those hit with a half cast incantation, essentially struck by those who didn’t mean it enough. Often they would make a full recovery though some were known to drop dead sporadically. Nothing like Harry’s gradual decline.

There were no known counter spells documented though Hermione knew Dumbledore explored Sacrificial Protection. She tried to find more on this type of magic but it was so contextually unique it was hard to find empirical evidence that would be useful to her. As the days wore on a needling suspicion had started to grow in the back of her brain.

Harry swore he saw it destroyed, but then, he’d been fighting Voldemort. She’d been stewing on it for weeks. A remaining Horcrux was the best logical solution. The diary was gone, they knew this. Dumbledore destroyed the ring and Hermione had absolute faith he would not have failed. Harry and Ron were responsible for the locket though she’d seen the remnants with her own eyes. Then came the cup which she’d destroyed herself and the diadem which she’d watched Harry stab with the basilisk fang only moments later. Dumbledore posited that Voldemort wanted to make a seventh but he’d never had the chance.

That left the snake.

Harry swore it was gone but… he wasn’t the most trustworthy when it came down to the details. She needed to be sure and to be sure she needed someone who was there. For that she needed Malfoy.

Asking him for help outright however was at the top of her list of ‘things to never do ever.’ As a result, there was always an excuse. She needed to do more research, the answer was out there. She needed to focus on her work with the Equalisers, there was so much to do. She was busy with her interviews with Death Eaters. She needed to catalogue the Dark Artefacts and Spells in the Ministry, there were just so many. Her plate was full to the brim, there simply wasn’t time.

It was not until the heat of summer that she found her backbone—when Harry committed himself to St Mungo's. Nobody would tell Hermione what happened but she knew it was bad. From the way Arthur refused to meet her eye or Molly looked like she might cry. The way George’s hands balled into fists or how Ron blanched, his mouth tightening. But worst of all was the way Ginny’s fingers feathered her neck. Or how she flinched if Hermione moved too fast. When she’d gone to see Harry in hospital he’d refused her entry. According to Ron, he wasn’t seeing anyone.

‘He’s locking himself away, it’s not good for him but the Healers won’t let me in.’

‘We have to trust Harry. If this is what he wants-’

‘I don’t know if it is,’ Ron sighed. ‘He hates himself right now. And look I don’t blame him, but Ginny’s out of her mind with worry.’

They were desperate. So she did what she did best. She went looking for answers.

Hermione arrived at the Manor, belligerent and ready for war. Malfoy would not just help her out of the kindness of his heart. According to Theo, he’d been standing close to Bellatrix when the fight broke out. At that point he, Pansy and Zabini all ran, knowing this was likely their one chance to get away which unfortunately meant she couldn’t bully one of them into it.

It was the first visit since Paris and she’d almost forgotten her new look until the door swung open and four sets of eyes widened in her direction. Pansy choked on whatever foul cocktail she was sipping on. Zabini looked like someone had clobbered him over the head.

Theo’s face stretched into a wide smile. ‘Oh no, she’s having a crisis-’

She shot a Silencing Charm his way and his mouth opened and closed comically.

‘Malfoy, I need to talk to you.’

Not waiting for his answer she strode down the hallway and into his office. He arrived moments later a glass of whiskey in hand, his features schooled into a hard sneer.

‘You know you’ll have to remove that once you go,’ he smirked. ‘Though I have to say it is delightfully quiet now.’

Hermione rounded on him, her heart beating annoyingly fast. It was becoming more challenging to be in his presence. As if she were attached to a string that was slowly winding to a taught end. Soon it would snap.

Hermione placed great pride on her mind, particularly the control she exhibited over it. In her ability to sort through facts at warp speed. She could retain and analyse information better than anyone she’d ever met. It had always been that way. She developed early. Speaking at six months, reading whole books by the age of three.
‘She’s a wonder!’ That’s what they used to say.

But with a mind like hers came the ability to imagine. To experience visceral reactions and premeditate all possible outcomes. To weed out and discover all the possible evils and troubles ahead. She was a nervous wreck by the tender age of five. Constantly worrying about things she could not control. About all the things she did not know. It was then she discovered Stoicism and the dichotomy of control. It was the simple division of things, those we can control and those we can not.

For most this was intuitive but for Hermione, it had to be learned. It often meant she lacked empathy. She was prone to hurting feelings where she didn’t mean to. She was known for speaking out when she should probably shut up. She was a confessed perfectionist who often pushed similarly unattainable goals on her friends. She didn’t do it to be cruel, she did it because it made sense.
It took great energy to sort her mind into reasonable files that made every day achievable.

To know every thought, to understand where it came from and where it needed to go.
It was, for this reason, her reprehensible urge to gravitate towards Malfoy confused her. It should be something she could control. It should be something she could squash.

Yet he returned, night after night. The whisper of his breath on her skin. The twist of his fingers through her hair. The sensation of his hand sliding down her stomach, over her hip bones. She longed for the touch, so much that sleeping became the best part of her day. It was as Vida said, sleep is the best playground no?

Each morning however she would wake and be filled with disgust for herself. This was her enemy. This was a man who watched as she was tortured and did nothing. This was a man who stood for everything she despised. She longed to throw him to the wind and think of him no more. Her mind was betraying her and there was no greater insult.

The best thing would be to avoid him entirely. To cut him out like a cancer and let him fade into obscurity. But their roads would not stop intertwining and it was beginning to irritate her to no end.

Focus on the task at hand, that was all she could do. So she posed the question, he’d immediately rebuffed and they’d been going back and forth for the better part of an hour. Malfoy had taken a seat in the large chair. Hermione chose to remain standing. She glared down at him as he swirled his drink taking small sips on occasion. He was a miser revelling at the switch in power dynamics between them. She’d expected it. Didn’t make her want to slap him any less.

‘What will you offer in return?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Nothing in this world comes for free Granger. Forget so soon?’

She lifted the leather coat off her back. It was stifling in this room. Malfoy’s eyes slipped over her bare shoulder, running down the length of her dress, taking in her boots and then back up to lock on her face. Hermione momentarily forgot what she was going to say and just stood there, hands half-raised. He tipped his head to the side, waiting.

‘What do you want?’ She managed to find her voice.

Malfoy smiled wide, eyes gleaming. ‘I think we can both agree this House Arrest has gone on long enough.’

She narrowed her eyes.

‘You have the vow to control me,’ he went on innocently. ‘What more do you need? Let us free and I’ll give you what you want. It is an even trade.’

‘It’s nowhere near even and you know it.’

‘Come now Granger, this is business. Offer me a trade or get out.’

A long pause. She stepped forward, lighting the tips of her fingers on the desk, leaning over until she was looming over him.

‘Fine. One day a week you may leave.’

His brow lifted. ‘24 hours.’

‘I will need to pass it with Robards, but yes. 24 hours. That’s the best I can offer.’

He cocked his head to the side. ‘And we will not be followed?’

‘Got something to hide?’

‘I prefer my privacy as I’m sure you do too.’

Standing this close to him was a bad idea. She was quickly overwhelmed by the scent of him. A mix of whiskey and delicate cedar.

‘Mhm,’ she stepped back and he grinned.

He was winning this and he knew it. In truth she didn’t care much, she’d hand over everything she owned to help Harry- she’d burn down the entire Ministry to save him. Better to let Malfoy think he was getting one over her though.

‘We will also be needing wands of course.’

She barked out a laugh. ‘Of course. Would you like me to throw in a magical talking pudding as well?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

She waved a hand. ‘Nevermind.’

He glared at her. ‘Your sarcasm is not amusing. That is my price, take it or leave it. Is it a deal?’

He raised a hand. Wondering if this was perhaps a terrible idea she took it.

‘Deal.’

~

‘Thanks again for letting us use the Pensieve Professor.’

‘Of course Hermione. You’re sure you want to do this?’

‘I need to know what happened, there are things…’ she trailed off not knowing how to finish that sentence. Her eyes darted to Malfoy.

They were standing in what had once been Dumbledore's office. Now McGonagall’s it was mostly the same, the portraits lining the walls, the whirring instruments sparkling in the midday glow that shot through the window. Hermione studiously avoided making eye contact with the painted Albus. The large desk still took pride of place in the centre of the room. She’d added a bookcase and several potted plants, their tangling vines drooping over the floor. A few transfiguration models were now positioned here and there.

Her nose crinkled at the familiar scent of parchment, leather and quill feathers that twisted through the air. She sucked in a breath, filling her lungs with the fragrant tang of magic, a mix of burning tin and cinnamon stoked in brimstone. The school was positively vibrating with it. Dust flurries glistened as they shuffled towards the large disk gleaming with ethereal light positioned on the table.

Hermione felt a knot of excitement and apprehension tingle down her spine. It’s taken months to set this up, the Ministry moved at glacial speed. Meanwhile Harry rotted in hospital and Hermione couldn’t bring herself to go and see Ginny, to look her in the eye and have nothing to show for it. She’d have her answers soon though- the thought was intoxicating leaving little room for her to notice the cold chill that descended upon them.

McGonagall peered at her over the lenses of her glasses. ‘I understand.’ She reached out offering Hermione a tight squeeze. Then she turned and all the affection left her face replaced by what could only be described as pure loathing. Even Hermione flinched.

‘I am surprised to see you again Mr Malfoy,’ she said quietly. ‘I did not expect you to ever step foot on these grounds ever again.’

He said nothing but his constant smirk faded into a thin line.

McGonagall continued to glare at him. ‘You have nothing to say for your actions?’

Hermione felt an intense desire to leap from the window as the crushing silence built between the once student and teacher. It was McGonagall who broke first.

She sighed deeply. ‘I hoped more for you Draco I did. I have been forced to watch Black after Black make all the wrong choices. Perhaps the next generation will be stronger than you. Or you will be strong enough to end it yourself.’

‘Professor!’ Hermione was shocked. She’d never heard McGonagall speak with such venom. But her gaze remained locked on Malfoy.

‘Albus would likely advise me to forgive you. But then you helped kill my friend and I am not a forgiving woman. Miss Granger, I will leave you.’

Visibly shaking the old witch swept from the room.

An awkward beat followed her abrupt departure.
Hermione scratched her shoulder. ‘Err… are you-’

‘Let's just do this and get out of here,’ Malfoy cut her off.

He crossed the room in two strides, almost slamming into the wide desk where the Pensieve sat waiting for them. Hermione followed him, pulling her wand from her pocket. Malfoy extended a hand and she reached out her wand, letting it hover just above his palm.

‘Oh for Salazar’s sake,’ he snatched it away from her.

His touch brushed against hers and she darted back rubbing her hand over her skirt. He barely noticed, instead lifting the wand to his forehead. A slippery silver substance responded to his call, quickly spirally outwards and down as he guided into the large bowl. Together they stepped forward.

He raised his hand over the shimmering surface and he turned to her, grey eyes waiting. Hermione mirrored him, her gaze locked on his. They moved as one, their fingers dragging them through the past. They fell, a dark mass of swirling confusion sucking them in. Cold circled her skin forcing its way up her nose and down her throat. It was to be caught in a violent hurricane driving them down, down, down.

They landed heavily and Hermione staggered forward several steps. Malfoy lighted upon the ground as if he’d merely stepped from one room to another. He gripped Hermione’s shoulder, quickly righting her before she could faceplant.

The Fog clung to this part of the Forest though they were well clear of No Man’s Land. It hung in the air, softly whispering over the ground, long tendrils sweeping up through the trees. A chill crept down Hermione’s spine despite her intangible form.

Though she could not actually smell it, her mind quickly conjured remnants from memory. The essence of pine and dirt and blood. A fetid rot that rose through the weeds, releasing noxious fumes that clogged her throat. Of putrefied flesh and sour decay. Of seeping wounds and fear stained sweat. It was a subconscious assault on the olfactory that almost made her retch.

She immediately regretted coming here. It was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Terror folded over her like a physical thing, obstructing her airways and burning her eyes. She felt her chest begin to heave, her vision start to blur.

They were all there, all the faces that haunted her worst nightmares. First, she saw Malfoy, so much younger, yet gaunt, hollow. His arm was in a sling. He was pale, purple veins slithering beneath his skin. His eyes were empty, a dull grey mirroring that of the foggy remnants that curled around the desolate camp. Lucius stood behind him muttering quietly under his breath to nobody in particular while Narcissa swept her gentle fingers through his hair.

Dolohov hovered by the outskirts, his eyes like spiders watching for what came next. Mulciber was picking at his filthy nails. She could see Yaxley combing through his slick hair, Rosier gnawing on a chicken bone and the Lestrange brothers whispering to each other. Towards the corpse of trees stood the Carrows snickering quietly beside a large hulking form. It took Hermione a moment to realise it was Hagrid. He was beaten to bloody pulp, his body drooping sadly over the grass. She wanted to go to him, wrap her arms around him and promise him everything was going to be ok. But it wasn’t. He would never leave this horrible place.

There were more Death Eaters by what appeared to be a haphazardly organised encampment. Greyback stood a little further back, a small group of what must be his pack crowding him. She could make out Theo and Zabini standing furthest away by an old tent. Soft moans were filtering through the flaps and they both turned, focusing on their friend she knew would be inside.

In a small circle were Avery, Scabior and Parkinson Sr. standing with their heads drawn together conspiratorially. There were a host of others, some she knew, some she didn’t. A slew of Slytherins who’d managed to make their way to this side before the Fog. Flint, Bletchley, Bole and Montague. She could see the scared faces of the Greengrass girls Bulstrode and a few more hanging off them.

Her breathing kicked it up a notch and she felt her legs wobble despite her promise to keep her shit together. Suddenly another face blocked her vision, this one dappled in blue. Malfoy. The Malfoy from her time. He was saying something but she couldn’t quite make out the words. He shook her roughly and his voice blared like a speaker turned to full volume.

‘Are you ok?’ he was saying. ‘Granger we don’t have time for this-’

‘I know, I know,’ she whispered.

She took his hand in hers, grounding herself to something real. He stared at it, taken aback but did not pull away. His touch acted as a faint reminder that none of this was happening. It was over. All of these people were either dead, in prison or on the run. They couldn’t hurt them anymore.

Because there he was. Voldemort prowling back and forth, his lithe frame moving with inhuman intent in sweeping black, a nightmare made flesh. Even in memory, he was terrifying to behold. A man who made himself a monster by choice. A creature who caused so much death, so much pain. The snake lay at his feet, Nagini’s thick body coiled like woven chains of glittering emerald dipped in molten lead.

Hermione’s eyes snapped to Malfoy who watched him through narrowed slits. She felt his hand quake in hers, the only sign he was as shaken as her. It sent a rush of bravery up her spine, if he could face it so could she.

But her focus was drawn away to the cruel vixen hopping from stone to stone behind. She wore a familiar grin, the kind that demons might choose. Full of malice and mischievous violence.

Bellatrix.

She sported a bloody cut on her forehead and her hair was wilder than usual. A numb sensation coated her veins, solidifying her blood. The ghost of a sting sharpened on her arm, razor blades cutting through flesh. She could feel the screams tearing her throat, the pain flooding her memory.
Parquet floor underneath. Looming chandelier above. A wisp of luxurious green curtains shrouding the room in darkness. Flickering light. And pain.

Cutting, burning, breaking agony. It clutched at her throat a million hungry wolves ripping at her skin. Faces watching her all the while. Grinning ghouls salivating over her small form.

Then him. A flicker of gleaming silver. Grey eyes refusing to look away. The only thing he could offer her. To stand in silent watch while the others gloated over their victim.

‘I would not have stopped it if I could.’

Those were his words.

But his eyes told a different story entirely. She’d quite forgotten until this moment. The sheer and utter torment. Too lost to her agony she’d missed it altogether. The bruises on his skin. The waxy polish marked an unhealthy glow. He was almost translucent. Bones jutting from his cheeks, hair lank and lacking in its usual shine. Hands knotted into shaking fists plunged deep into pockets.
How many times did he lie on this floor? Perhaps it was normal for him. To be splayed out and punished by those who should protect.

‘I just can’t help but think- I mean we were with the Dark Lord for a few months and it was… horrendous. Draco lived with him for years.’

Theo’s words, a solemn eulogy for his friend's innocence, for surely such a thing could not survive in a home like that. Did he find sick vindication in it, to see someone else suffer as he did? To watch them taste a morsel of the meal he was forced to consume daily?

Malfoy squeezed her hand and she realised she’d tightened her grip to the point of aching. He lifted and brow and she loosened refusing to apologise. He would never accept one from her anyway.

‘I expected him to come,’ Voldemort was sneering at Bellatrix. ‘It would seem I was mistaken.’

Then another voice, one she would know anywhere. ‘You weren’t.’

All the Death Eaters swung around, the past Malfoy included. A brief silence followed, then chaos. The giants roared, the Death Eaters hissed, then Hagrid chained to the ground screaming.

‘Harry no!’ He struggled against his bonds but they were too tight, Hermione could see the ropes cutting into his throat. ‘No! No! Harry, what’re yeh-‘

‘Quiet,’ shouted Rowle.

He flicked his wand and Hagrid was silenced.
Voldemort however had eyes only for Harry. He peered at him through slits carved from cruelty, his smile curling into one of vicious victory.

‘So you came? I was beginning to think you would not.’

Harry lifted his chin. ‘The locked me up.’

‘Ah, of course,’ Voldemort nodded. This pleased him, to think he was not wrong after all. ‘So noble, I should have suspected.’

From others, this might have been a high honour, with Voldemort it was meant to cut.

‘You don’t deserve to live Tom,’ Harry growled. ‘Your days are over.’

‘Oh no my boy, my days have only just begun.’

‘Kill him, kill him, My Lord,’ Bellatrix grinned, hungry for violence.

Harry held his wand raised, his eyes full of blazing fire. She felt her heart go out to him, he stood there just one boy against hundreds. Ready to die for those he loved.

‘Harry Potter,’ Voldemort whispered. ‘The Boy Who Lived.’

Nobody moved. It felt like nobody was even breathing. Then-

‘Expelliarmus!’ Harry bellowed.

With a flick of his wrist, Voldemort deflected. As if it were no more than a passing breeze. An errant fly easily swatted.

‘I’m going to kill them all,’ Voldemort hissed. ‘I’m going to cut out their hearts and nail them to the wall.’

‘No!’

‘When you are gone they will suffer!’

Another flash of light, two streams blurring past each other.

‘After you are dead I will tear them apart! I will make them all wish for death, they will scream for it, death will be a mercy then.’

The Death Eaters we’re laughing now, Voldemort liked to play with his food before he ate it after all. Harry was crying, fat tears oozing through the dirt on his skin.

‘You will not hurt them!’

More flashes of light. Hagrid was yelling his mouth wide without sound. Bellatrix was shrieking, ‘Kill him, kill him, kill him!’

Voldemort aimed his wand, ready to make the final blow. But something was wrong. Hermione saw it then, the Elder Wand held in Voldemort's hand- it twitched angrily, rolling as if caught by a phantom touch. She watched Voldemorts eyes drop, a frown creasing his brow. It was enough.

‘Avada Kedavra!’ Harry bellowed.

Hermione’s mouth popped open. He never told her. He never told anyone.

‘Tom’s spell rebounded, that’s what killed Hagrid.’

That’d been the story, that had always been the story. But memories don’t lie. Harry did.

The light reflected careening forwards. It was badly aimed and Voldemort easily leapt aside. It hit the giant square in the chest. Hagrid's eyes shot wide, then he toppled forward.

‘No!’ Harry screamed. He turned back to Voldemort, eyes blazing.

Harry threw another Killing Curse, this one a wave of emerald rushing towards the figure in black. Voldemort went to lift his wand but it was stuck as if his wrist were locked under phantom hands. His eyes shot wide.

She watched the light curl twisting and tangling through the air. She watched Nagini uncoil, her long body stretched to breaking point. The spell cut through it, pure hatred spurring it on. She watched the snake slice in two, a feral hiss marking its last moments. From within its dying body, something was emerging. The fighting was everywhere now. Explosions rocketing through the glade. Hermione raced forward dragging Malfoy with her. She could see it, a puff of vapour, barely visible.

‘What are you-’

‘Die,’ she begged.

‘What!’

She could feel Malfoys watch on her as they ran but she ignored him. They raced through the flashing lights, the screaming running bodies moving this way and that. The ground rumbled beneath their feet, then an enormous explosion. It sent rocks and debris shooting through their intangible forms. Hermione didn’t stop even as the earth collapsed beneath them.

More spells zipping past, a distinct red now. The Order was apparating in, they’d abandoned the castle to save Harry. She saw herself and Ron appear out of thin air, their faces set, their wands already slicing through the air. But her gaze was solely focused on the ghostly apparition that swung down, down, down.

‘It was destroyed,’ she cried. ‘So die!’

But it kept going, flying through the line of trees. She followed it, the thickly growing brush so dark against the sharp white light.

‘What is that!’ Malfoy shouted.

Hermione felt like she’d been dropped in an ice bath. ‘It was destroyed! So DIE!’

But it didn’t stop, a languid echo of life fluttering through the black.

‘No.’

It did not fade.

‘No!’

It started to crawl away, long tentacles pulling it over the ground.

‘NO!’

Hermione tried to follow it but they were going too far. Malfoy’s memory couldn’t follow.
She watched it disappear into shadow, the remnants of that hollow spirit still very much alive. But the vision wasn’t over. Malfoy and Hermione were dragged back, their feet sliding over the grass.

‘We should leave now,’ Malfoy muttered. ‘You won’t want to see what comes next.’

Hermione didn’t need telling twice.

~

‘Hermione stop!’

She was sprinting through the grounds. Her feet slammed against the grass, heels digging into the dirt. A wild frenzy was dragging her towards the Forest, the need to know holding her in a chokehold she couldn’t escape. She’d been off as soon as their forms solidified in the Headmasters office. Down the spiralling stairs, flying through the halls sped on by wings of desperation.

Hours had passed since they’d entered the castle and now a heavy blood-red haze crept over the trees as the sun lowered beyond the horizon. A crimson blanket thickened over the humid feathering of green, flooding the heart with grief before the fall. Certainty and hope slid with it, off the edge of the earth into the place where weary souls hid. A promise of all the suffering to come.
Malfoy was close behind her, his long legs carrying him faster than her. He caught Hermione easily. His fingers latched around her arm and she was pulled to a jarring halt.

‘Let me go!’ she shrieked trying to shake him off.

He did not, instead spinning her around to face him. Two hands gripping her shoulders hard enough to bruise.

‘What is wrong with you-’

‘Let me go!’

‘Granger, where are you going!’

‘We need to find it!’

‘Find what?’

‘None of your- let me go!’

He didn’t budge, stepping closer so she was dwarfed by height. ‘I’m not letting you go so you better tell me.’

Lifting her fists she punched them against his chest. ‘I’ll never tell you. Not ever!’

‘What the fuck-’

She was crying now. Tears coated her cheeks.
‘Let me go!’

‘No!’

She tore her wand from her robes. There was a flash of light and he was flat on his back. He shouted something after her but she was off again, the line of trees coming closer, closer. It was so close.

‘Hermione the Fog!’

And then she was tackled to the ground.
He held her down with his full weight, his fingers latching about her wrists. He banged her wand hand against the ground until she released it, rolling across the grass.

‘Get off me!’ she blared wriggling under him.

‘You don’t have to tell me ok!’ he shouted, his face alarmingly close to hers. ‘But you can’t go in the Forest.’

His eyes were wide, imploring her to see reason. Hermione kept thrashing, refusing to be kept from her goal. He let slip one of her hands and she drew it back, forming a fist and loosing it at his nose. His head kicked back from the force of it but he flattened himself against her to stop her escape. She could feel his hot breath in her neck as they struggled.

His body cut into hers, heavy bones grinding against hips and knees. She wanted to kick and scratch and claw his stupid face off. How dare he get in her way? She was lost to a swirling mass of heavy breathing and shouted words. Fury mingled with failure leaching her spirit and sapping her resolve. This fight would never end. This fight would go on and on and on.

And worse yet, Harry lied.

He threw the Killing Curse that took Hagrid’s life. It wasn’t a rebound but deliberate magic that went astray. Perhaps that’s why he refused to forgive himself, he knew it was his choice that had such terrible consequences. Hermione wouldn’t have blamed him, she wanted Voldemort dead just as badly. He didn’t need to lie, not to her, not after what she’d done. She wanted to hug him and hit him at the same time.

It all happened so quickly that night after she climbed through the window shocking him half to death. In seconds guards were stunned on the ground, a memory spell to hide the evidence.

‘You’re letting me go?’ Harry asked.

His skin was scratched and bleeding where he’d torn at himself in frustration. He stank of unwashed male and tears. No doubt he’d been banging at the walls trying to get free. No friend would let him go into battle like that. And yet, Hermione did.

‘I’m sorry Harry,’ she whispered. ‘But this has to end. It has to be you. Right?’

It was a cruel question, placed to swing the blame. If she asked him and he said yes it couldn’t be her fault. Harry’s brow creased. He was not so easily fooled.

‘Right,’ he agreed. ‘It has to be me.’

They threw on the invisibility cloak speeding through the castle careful not to make a sound. She left him at Hagrid's shack, as far as he’d allowed her to come.

’I’ll go with you,’ she begged. ‘Let me come with you.’

He shook his head. ‘It’s got to be me.’ He turned back for one final look—at her, at the castle that was his home. ‘They’ll need you. You will tell them-’

She stifled a sob. ‘I will.’

‘When it is over, if it goes wrong-’

‘You can’t think like that-’

‘Bury me with my parents,’ he squared his shoulders. So small for the burdens they were forced to carry. ‘Let me rest with my family. Will you do that?’

She hugged him, her tears staining his collar. ‘I’ll do anything for you Harry.’

‘I know Hermione.’

Anything but choose me over them.

The words were unspoken but clear as day. A silent fissure cracked between them that would never heal. Their friendship once forged in stone filtered back, a footprint in sand slowly fading with each passing wave.

‘You will come back. I know it.’

‘Maybe,’ he shot her that crooked smile.

It cracked her heart wide open.

‘What a ride that would be. See ya soon Hermione.’

The Fog opened up for him, as if it was waiting for him all this time—and then he was gone.

She’d left him for dead once. She wasn’t going to do it again.

‘Let me up you fucking bastard.’

She lifted a knee ready to unleash it in his groin but he was too quick. Instead shoving a leg between hers. Her dress had hiked up in the struggle. She could feel every inch of him, his heat blending with hers. It was then she noticed his ragged breathing. Her eyes shot wide as he turned to face her, his lips hovering far too close. She could almost taste him.

It was this that tipped her over the edge.

Hermione threw her head back and screamed. She screamed and screamed, her fists banging against the dull dull earth. Malfoy watched her, grey eyes lost and scared. He had no way to respond. She had no way to explain.

Because the fight had not ended. It would carry on and on and on. A great beast chewing at their raw flesh savouring in the meaty flavour that falls into its belly.

The dust would never settle.

She would be swept up again into the storm that stole her youth. She would fly through violent torment and numbing loss. She would be sucked up into a tearing tornado seeking to scatter her body to the wind. Her screams fading leaving only silence behind. Their gaze locked and he flinched. Malfoy finally saw. He saw it there in her face and it emptied him. He rolled off her, falling to the side. He kept a hand wrapped around her wrist lest she try to make off again.

‘You know this,’ he murmured, cold fury radiating off his skin. ‘The Fog Hermione. You can’t just go running into the Forest.’

Fuck.

He was right.

There were remnants of the Fog still lingering throughout the Forbidden Forest that made it incredibly dangerous. To enter required extreme care, consistent wand diagnostics to ensure you didn’t just walk into a pocket of death. The thought plunged her into a wash of despair. It would take months to explore, years perhaps. Immediately she was crying again.

‘Oh for fucks sake Granger.’

‘I’m not leaving,’ Hermione blubbered into her shoulder. ‘You go back to the Manor.’

‘Ok first of all I don’t have a wand I can’t apparate on my own. Secondly, I’m not leaving you like this.’

‘You can’t apparate on the grounds,’ Hermione echoed dully. ‘And don’t pretend you care.’

‘Oh I don’t,’ he assured her. ‘But if you die they’ll all blame me and I quite like my freedom, thank you very much.’

She sniffed heavily. ‘Shut up Malfoy.’

A smirk lit his cheek. ‘You’re not allowed to say that to me anymore.’

She glared at him, though it was somewhat pathetic with her flushed skin and wet face.

He rolled his eyes. ‘Come on. It’s late.’

‘I told you I’m not leaving.’

‘Fine,’ he threw a hand in the air. ‘There’s rooms in Hogsmeade. We’ll stay there tonight and then come back in the morning.’

Hermione calmed herself, sucking in deep breath after deep breath.

‘There is no need,’ she pulled a small bag from her pocket, one she hadn’t needed in years. ‘I have a tent.’

Malfoy did not move.

‘I’m sorry you have a what?’

Chapter Text

2002

‘Granger, are you crying?’

‘Shut up Malfoy.’

‘Once again, if I recall correctly you aren’t allowed to tell me to shut up anymore.’

She didn’t answer.

‘Stop crying.’

‘No.’

Hermione was curled in the bottom of one of the bunks, blankets secured tight. It didn’t help stem the cold that had seeped into her gut.

It’d been late by the time everything was set up, the moon edging its way into the sky. She put the tent up the muggle way, without magic. Malfoy prowled behind her the entire time like some kind of demented shadow muttering angrily under his breath.

‘Just use magic? Why won’t you use magic? For the sake of all that is good and holy give me your wand and I’ll do it!’

Hermione ignored him. It wasn’t about getting it done fast, it was about giving her hands something to do while she thought. About finding a way to anchor her wayward mind to one singular task so she wouldn’t be lost to the wild abyss that threatened to swallow her whole.

Then it was done.
Too fast after all.

Standing back to survey her work she stared at the worn brown canvas silently hating the shape of it. It was the same one she, Harry and Ron had used during the war. Stepping back inside felt like coming full circle. It looked the same, it smelled the same, only this time she was followed by a very different hulking figure.

She’d even drawn the same wards around the tent to keep them hidden through the night. The Forest was still rife with dangerous creatures mutated thanks to the Fogs lasting effects.
She was also keen not to be disturbed, it wouldn’t do to be discovered in a tent with a guest such as him.

Hermione offered to walk Malfoy back to the castle so he could Floo to the Manor but he refused. She wasn’t quite sure why. His reasoning was flawed and they both knew it. She did not ask again.
Hermione stood awkwardly in the living area for several seconds, then rushed into the bunkroom where she promptly dove into the bed and under the covers. She heard Malfoy’s footsteps and her heart momentarily stopped until there came a loud screeching noise. Peeking through a hole in the blanket she watched Malfoy drag one of the bunks into the living room without a single word uttered.

Apparently sharing the same air overnight with a mudblood was beyond his capability. She’d rolled over to face the wall feeling desperately small and stupid. It only took an hour for the tears to fall, her quiet blubbering filling the tent. It probably didn’t help that she’d been sucking on a bottle of wine she’d discovered in the bag either.

‘If you’re going to cry, at least cast a Silencing Charm,’ he growled.

‘You cast one,’ she cut back her words blending.

‘For the last time, I don’t have a wand!’
His voice cracked at wand.

Ooh, he was mad.
Good.
Stupid Malfoy.

‘Well, that’s not my fault.’

‘Err—yes it is.’

‘Stupid Death Eater,’ she slurred. ‘Blaming everyone for stupid problems.’

Perhaps the wine had not been a good idea. A frigid chill had leached its way through her bones. It left her trembling and shaking, unable to get warm no matter how tightly she pulled the sheets. Her tongue lolled in her mouth, the words slipping through like melted butter.

‘Why are you shivering?’Malfoy said from beside her. ‘It’s not cold.’

Hermione shrieked. When did he even move? Rolling to face him, her eyes snapped wide, her body continuing to tremble violently. Malfoy stood above her bed, his tall frame silhouetted in lantern light bleeding through from the other room. Their eyes met and his head tipped to the side, waiting.

‘Yes, it is,’ she bit back.

‘No,’ he scratched his chin. ‘It’s really not.’ He leant forward his eyes scanning her face. ‘Your lips are blue, did you know that?’

‘Yes, Malfoy I possess the ability to see my own lips. I’m just that good.’

He ignored her instead leaning over her to place the back of his palm against her forehead. It was then she noticed he wasn’t wearing a shirt, only long black pants that hugged his hip bones. She stared unashamedly at his wide chest, the muscles carved from ivory marred by the ugly words scarring his skin. There were only a few seconds to do so however because in the next instant he was crawling into the bed shoving her over.

‘What are you doing!’ she spluttered.

‘You’re in shock,’ he muttered, pressing his body against hers.

‘What—no I’m not-‘

‘Yes you are,’ he barked. ‘Whatever you saw today-’

‘Ok fine but that doesn’t explain- get out!’ She shoved at him, battling to keep the blanket.

‘Shut up Granger.’

‘You’re not allowed to say that to me,’ she mimicked him.

‘You need body warmth. Wait—are you drinking in here?’

He tore the sheets from her clawed fists, slithering beneath them to curve around her small form snatching the bottle from her. He tipped it back taking several deep gulps before throwing it across the room. Without speaking he ripped one of the pillows from under her head, shoving it under her feet so they were elevated.

‘Your bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired,’ she stuttered through shaking teeth.

‘I think you of all people could appreciate the irony in that statement,’ he muttered.

Malfoy rubbed a large hand up and down her arm a few times, it felt wonderful.

No.
No, it didn’t.

Then she felt an arm curl around her waist, the other sliding under her ribs. She was ramrod straight, her body hard against him.

‘Oh for Merlin's sake Granger, will you loosen up.’

He tightened his grip and she was dragged across the remaining space until they were locked, his body warm against her back, his breath hot on her neck. It was then she smelled the whiskey on him.

She snorted. ‘Looks like I’m not the only one partaking.’

She elbowed him in the stomach and he made a loud angry sound.

‘I swear to Salazar,’ he bolted her arms in place. ‘You’re the most irritating witch I’ve ever met.’

He lifted a finger pressing it to her neck, she almost shrieked again but then realised he was only checking her pulse. Hermione momentarily forgot how to breathe. Her mind was a raging dumpster fire of emotion. Alarm bells ringing all stations. Meanwhile, her traitorous body sank into the warmth of him, her shaking form slowing, her aching bones and muscles easily flopping into the curl of his arms.

‘This means nothing,’ she said through gritted teeth.

‘Of course,’ he sneered.

She knew that. She didn’t need Malfoy, she needed a body. That’s all this was.

Silence—although Hermione's heart was beating so loud she wouldn’t have been surprised if he could hear it.

They lay there stone-cold stillness breaking against them like icey waves to a rocky cliffside. She could feel the fall and rise of his breath, the weight of his arm circled her. She wanted to pull away, to kick him from the mattress. But she also wanted to pull him closer, press their bodies so tight nothing came between them. The thought made her hate herself even more and she whimpered.

‘Oh for—what? What is it?’ he demanded.

‘Leave me alone.’

‘Clearly I can’t. If you go into shock your heart could slow and you could fucking die.

She said nothing.

His finger was at her pulse again.

‘If your heart rate drops any lower I’m going to need your wand.’

She snorted.

‘How about a distraction then?’ he said with mock interest. ‘Get your mind off things.’

She actually laughed at him then.

Stupid Malfoy.

‘Why did you cut your hair?’

Her entire body jerked at the sound of his voice in her ear. He’d curled himself around her more, his face pressed against the back of her skull. She heard him scoff, but he did not move.

‘Granger,’ he growled. ‘Answer the fucking question.’

‘I don’t know,’ she said after a long pause. ‘I just needed… different.’

‘Hmm,’ he agreed.

‘You don’t like it?’

Stupid question. She didn’t care.

‘You look different.’

That wasn’t quite an answer. She wanted to throw him off and stab him in the face.

‘I feel different.’

He was quiet for so long she thought he might be asleep.

‘Different is good.’

Did she want to throw him off?
No.
He was helping her after all.

‘What exactly were you hoping to achieve by coming here?’ he asked.

‘I needed answers.’

‘And did you find them?’

‘Obviously yes.’

‘But not what you hoped.’

It wasn’t a question but she answered anyway.

‘No.’

Another silence.

‘Is… is the Dark Lord coming back?’

Hermione sniffed. ‘I think he might be.’

‘Fucking—great. Just great.’

She desperately wanted to roll over and see his face but was terrified to move a muscle.

‘You don’t seem surprised,’ she said.

‘You heard Dolohov. The Dark always returns. I had hoped maybe this time it would be different.’

‘I would have thought you’d be happy.’

He chuckled darkly, his chest rumbling against her back. ‘Then you clearly haven’t been paying attention.’

She elbowed him again and he grabbed her wrists in an iron grip.

‘Stop doing that! You’re such a child.’

‘Me! I’m not the one who-‘

‘Granger, can I ask you a question?’ he cut her off

She rolled her eyes though she knew he couldn’t see. ‘I don’t know can you?’

He released a bitter laugh, then she felt his arms stiffen slightly. He released her wrists and cold air swept over her skin.

‘Do you really think there’s good in me?’

It was barely audible, a quiet snake whispering through tall grass. The question shocked her almost as much as the previous day’s revelations had.

‘You want real?’ Hermione asked, her voice equally low.

‘Yes.’

She pushed a strand of loose hair behind her ear as she considered. It would have been so easy to say no, to refuse him this. He was a bad person after all, a bad person who’d done bad things. And yet-

‘I think we are what we want to be. If you want to be good, if you want to change, then that’s who you are.’ She was talking to the side of the tent, somehow it made it easier, not to look him in the face.

‘Even if everyone thinks you’re just another Black?’

‘You’re thinking about what McGonagall said.’

It wasn’t a question. He didn’t dignify it with a response. A long silence followed.

Hermione picked at her nail. Her eyes were laser-focused on where Malfoy’s hand was hanging at her hip. She watched it clench, his thumb disappearing behind those long slender fingers.

‘For years everyone thought Regulus was just another Death Eater,’ Hermione said at last. ‘That Voldemort didn’t even bother to kill him himself. Nobody questioned it when he disappeared. But he died to help bring Voldemort down. When Harry, Ron and I tried to tell people nobody wanted to listen. Nobody cared.’ She huffed out a breath. ‘When Lily and James died everyone thought it was Sirius that betrayed them without a second thought even though they were best friends for years and he was in the Order too. They blamed him and locked him away. He was in Azkaban for 12 years and even after his death,many still think he was a spy for Voldemort. No one went to see him, no one even bothered to ask if he’d done it.’

Malfoy’s hand loosened, flattening over her stomach. The world tipped sideways and she was left desperately clinging to earth's gravitational pull.

‘Where are you going with this?’ he asked as if what he’d done had been no more than a passing handshake.

Hermione coughed so she wouldn’t squeak her next words. ‘I think you need to be prepared for people to always question you. You’re never going to be enough for any of them. Not the purebloods or the rest. They’ve put you on a pedestal so high you were always destined to fall.’

He snorted. ‘Well, that’s bleak.’

‘All I mean is- don’t do it for them. Do it for you. Choose what you want. Be who you want to be. Who cares what they think? In the end, it doesn’t matter. They don’t write your fate, you do. You do what you can. That’s all we can offer.’

It was yet another thing Vida taught her. She missed her friend who was so lacking in judgemental temperament. She’d gone undercover a couple of months ago and hadn’t been in touch for weeks. Before she left she’d told Hermione to keep safe, that the BloodBorn were after a member from the Order- they were getting antsy and wanted to make a statement. She’d brushed it off, they wouldn’t come for her and she’d relish if they tried. Let them see what she was made of. But she worried about her friends.

It was hard not having someone separate from all this to confide in. It was always safe to talk to Vida about anything, she could probably tell her about Malfoy, about this, and she’d laugh. The others wouldn’t find it funny. She didn’t know what they’d do. Ron might kill her. Harry would never talk to her again. It was for this reason she still hadn’t told them she was working at the Manor- they would never understand. Interviewing Death Eaters didn’t bother them, but she knew Malfoy was special. Their hatred ran deep.

She could feel Malfoy’s heart beating with hers, a quiet hum that somehow felt right even when she knew it was wrong. She could almost hear him thinking, the words sliding through his psyche finding home between the cruel upbringing he’d been forced to endure. She shouldn’t feel sorry for him, and yet she did.

‘You know a great many of my vices,’ he said after a while. ‘Tell me one of yours.’

Hermione tightened her hands into fists. She could feel Malfoy’s arms around her waist like two burning flames. There was a quote that easily sprung to mind as if it were always waiting for this moment. Sylvia Plath did have a way with melancholia. She never understood quite what it meant until this moment when she was finally calm in the arms of her enemy.

Hermione sighed deeply. ‘I desire the things which will destroy me in the end.’

~

A wrinkle of a breeze filtered through the tent softly rustling the flaps, the sound gently coaxing her from sleep. Golden colour coated the canvas gilding the room in a honey glow. She was impressed she’d managed to fall asleep at all. Blinking slowly, Hermione became aware of another body tangled with hers. Dreamily she nuzzled into it, finding comfort in the warmth.

Harry.

It was something they never told anyone. A secret between them and that bottle of whiskey, at least to start with. It’d been a bad day. Ron was gone, leaving the two of them to continue the fight without them. They’d robbed a small cottage on the outskirts of a nameless village and had a feast. It’d been Harry’s idea, a way to let off steam.

Perhaps a little too much in the end. Both new to drinking it hadn’t taken a lot. First, they were laughing, then they were dancing, the next minute she was in his lap and then they were in bed. It’d been the first time for both of them. Awkward touches and drunken kisses in the dark. It’d hurt but not in the way she’d imagined, Harry was gentle, achingly sweet.

After that he crawled into bed with her night after night. Together they learnt the ways of another body lacing with theirs. How to make them moan or twitch, how to make them gasp or shudder. How to find release and give it in return. An act to wash away the day and find solace in their shared heat. Nobody was allowed to know though, especially Ron and Ginny.

It started up again briefly while they were at Hogwarts. Neither of them could sleep anyway, it was easier to spend their nights skin to skin. A coupling born out of desperation yet steeped in guilt. It rose through the fallen mist of memory, the echo of his touch forever rooted in the tangled mess of her past. It would invariably linger, like a handprint in marble or a face whittled from rotten bark, the hollow eyes eternally watchful.

Harry’s hands sliding up her thigh, burying his fingers between her legs. Harry’s lips crushing against hers, pulling moans instead of the screams her nightmares undoubtedly would. Harry moving inside her, her hips knowing just the right angle to make them both cry out.

Neville spent most nights down by the fire so they didn’t have to worry about being disturbed. He didn’t like the dark anymore. Harry could barely look Ginny in the eye in the mornings. Somehow it was easier for him to use Hermione. Probably because he didn’t love her the same way. Probably because she owed him anyway. Hermione didn’t care, let this be her absolution. She needed was distraction and a warm body. That should probably bother her, that she was only ever seeking skin not soul.

She’d have to get up soon, put the kettle on. They’d likely need to move again, it wasn’t safe to stay too long. There was still one Horcrux left to go.

But… wait…

Hermione reached out, her fingers almost touching the ones draped around her waist. These weren’t Harry’s hands…

Those were…

Shit.
Shit, shit, shit!
Draco Malfoy.
How? Why? What?

It all came flooding back. Every horrid detail. The snake, the Horcrux, then Malfoy. At some point she must have fallen asleep, a feat she would have believed impossible had she not just done it.

Warm light bathed the tent in a bright hue, slivers of dust floating through the air. Checking her watch she realised it wasn’t morning but mid afternoon- they’d slept the whole day.

Hermione choked. She went to slide down the bed but his arms tightened around her, half locking her in place. Then she felt him wake. A brief pause while his eyes fluttered open and his muscles stretched against her. She felt him lean in, his chest expanding as he filled himself with the scent of her. A small noise of contentment.

Then realisation.

He was out of the bed in two seconds flat standing frozen in shock. He swayed like a reed in the breeze running a hand through his hair. She merely watched him, slowly rolling around to face him fully. Their eyes were locked in a fierce duel daring the other to speak first, to make a joke or a cruel jibe that would lessen the tension that folded over them thick like a wet sponge.

But neither of them did, they just continued to stare, both lost and confused. Hermione couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so soundly, not since before the war and in the arms of her enemy no less. It almost made her burst out laughing, but there was nothing funny going on here.

Malfoy opened his mouth, hesitated, then closed it again. Hermione did the same a second later. This was ridiculous. They couldn’t stand here uncomfortably all day. Instead she let her eyes fall, taking in the rest of his form in the day.

In this light, she could see the scars lining his collarbones, where Harry had cut him in his sixth year. Autumn was late this year, a lingering heat of Summer lasting long into September. As a result, Malfoy was covered in a thin film of sweat, his skin misted from the humid air.

Hermione knew her hair would be a wild mess, sticking up at odd angles and completely embarrassing. But then her eyes slid further down, finding the telltale bulge tenting his pants. Her mouth went dry. She parted her lips, lifting a hand to tease it through her mane. Malfoy’s eyes followed the movement hungrily, savouring in the lines of her body. He released a small sound. It was almost…

Did he just groan?

She froze. He turned to stone.

Something in the air shifted. Hot and thick and wet. Blistering phantom hands softly reeling him in. Malfoy took a step towards her. She didn’t know what to do, she should say no, she should say something for Merlin's sake but she remained as she was- a figure reduced to stillness.

He was going to get in the bed with her again. She knew exactly what would happen should he do so. That was perhaps the worst idea either of them would ever have. But she didn't move to stop him. Didn’t move a muscle.

She very much wanted him to get in the bed with her.

What!
No!

Absolutely not-

That was bad.

Very bad.

Bad idea.

Very bad idea-

‘Hermione,’ Malfoy whispered, his knee half sliding onto the bed.

She melted into a puddle at the sound of her name on his lips.

Terrible idea.

He eased his weight back down onto the bed, she felt the mattress dip and she rolled slightly towards him.

Worst idea ever.

Then he was leaning over her, a hand slowly moving to cup her cheek.

Ok maybe a good idea.

He lifted a finger, sweeping his thumb over the line of her jaw.

Great idea.

He moved closer, his lips hovering close to hers. He exhaled a breath and she inhaled it, fighting the urge to attack him as she had that day in the Attic. Only this time it would be real. Her hands would be her own. And his-

Best idea.

They were so close now. All she had to do was lean forward, to close the distance between them. He wouldn’t do it, he’d already come this far. It had to be her to seal the kiss.

But she couldn’t… could she?

She shouldn’t. But-

She did.

Their lips met and it was a thousand splendid suns burning her skin all at once. A dying star drawing them in. Malfoy groaned again and Hermione drank in the scent of him. She felt his lips part-

‘Hermione!’

Fuck!

Malfoy leapt back, stumbling to the ground, his butt skidding over the floor. It would have been hilarious if not for the fact that it wasn’t in the slightest. Hermione was on her feet in seconds.

‘Miss Granger, are you out here! I detected wards! If you’re out here I need you at once, something has happened!’

~

Hermione ran outside disappearing behind the tent flaps leaving Malfoy alone to question his confusing reality.

All the light leaves with her.

It was quiet. Malfoy didn’t like quiet, not since Azkaban. He’d joke about wanting peace but he thanked Salazar every day for his friends' presence. They all still slept in the living room together because it felt… It reminded them they were free.

He didn’t know how to process anything that’d happened in the last 24 hours. He especially couldn’t fathom sleeping in a bed with Granger and enjoying it.

He was struggling with the beast again, the feral creature that howled bloody murder whenever she was absent. The beast that purred when she was near. The beast that almost leapt into bed and took her not two seconds ago. The beast that begged him to claim, to take, to make mine, mine, mine.

He could still smell her sweet scent lingering on his clothes. And those lips- He tipped his head back, groaning loudly and running his hands down his face. This was bad. Very bad. He rubbed at his pants willing his dick to settle the fuck down. He could still feel the whisper of her hair against his skin- he was furious at her for cutting it off.

He nearly lost it when she stormed through his door after months of absence. Long black coat, dress and boots, hair chopped clean to the shoulder. He needed several seconds to collect himself before following her into the office.

She was most certainly different.

Gloriously so.

Gone was the girl, here was the woman- and what a fine woman she was. He’d noticed the tattoo that lingered over her arm when she shucked her coat, the curling wildflowers twirling the scar Bellatrix had given her not one room away.

It was beautiful.

But then she made everything beautiful.

So different from the Dark Mark or heavy dragon tattoos he’d been forced to ink into his skin.

Malfoy often found himself lost in her of late. He liked to look at the sweep of her hips, the curve of her neck, the smattering of freckles that glistened over her button nose. He liked to count them one by one when she wasn’t paying attention.

He liked the dip of her head and the often far away look in her eyes when she was thinking. He especially liked the slip of her thigh that peaked through the sides of her dress. Like honeydew or golden sand. He would imagine running his fingers over her skin again and again and again. He imagined replacing his hand with his tongue. To touch, to taste- it was all he could think about locked up in that house.

He could still feel it, the delicate sensation of her heart beating in tandem with his. He wanted it again. He wanted it always.
He liked her pink lips, the exact colour of the freshly blooming roses in his garden-

No.

Fuck no.

He wanted to punch himself in the face and claw her from his mind, that's what he wanted. This was Granger. Potters Golden Bitch. Britain’s perfect princess. She was a fucking mudblood on top of that. He was better than this, he knew better than this. His mother would clobber him for such thoughts. His father would kill him.

The entire thing was a grotesque joke. The moment he touched her, the moment he made her his he’d sign her death warrant anyway. They’d find out, they always did. It’s what happened to Andromeda’s first boyfriend after all. They hung him from the tree outside her window. A message for a Black heiress.

Don’t touch dirty things.

She was dragged from her bed and locked in a dark room for three days to think about what she’d done. They’d even threatened to rip out her womb if she did it again. Or worse, force a pureblood heir out of her. They’d done it before, they’d do it again.
The moment she was free she ran. Ended up marrying the brother. She’d been running ever since. It’d been that way since Sirius left. They weren’t taking any chances, the tattoos marking his chest were proof of that.

But this fixation with Granger, was utter madness. It wasn’t like this in school, at least not that he recalled. He'd noticed her sure, everyone did- she rarely shut her mouth it was almost impossible not to. But he couldn’t explain the base urge that sprung seemingly from the ether when he witnessed her being dragged into his home, Potter and Weasel in tow.

‘I don’t know.’

Those words were to save her and her only. As if everything had shifted and now she was the only thing he was supposed to protect. It didn’t save her, of course Bella picked her. She hated anything innocent and pure. She wanted to punish like she’d been punished.

It was all Potter's fault anyway. He and Weasel and bloody Granger too. The lot of them were a curse on his family. He should be able to tear her from his thoughts like ripping a page from a book. Yet he couldn’t. No matter how hard he tried.

It was impossible to explain, this pull towards the Light. It went against everything he knew, everything he believed. Perhaps because it was where he knew she would be. It was a fools endeavour, she would never accept him. Not when she discovered all the things he’d done, when she learnt of exactly what he was capable of. The Dark side was where he belonged, it was what he was made for. He would only ruin her anyway.

Whatever this was, it was going to tear him apart.

It would be worth it.

To feel her writhing beneath him. To coax gentle mews from that succulent mouth. To bury himself deep and pump her until she-

No!

Fucking fuck!

He threw a kick at the table and immediately regretted it when his toe caught fire. Hopping up and down he wished furiously for his wand, he’d light this whole place up, burn it to the ground. All of this was bringing back the childish rage he’d spent years learning to control. What was the point of becoming an expert Legilimens if he couldn’t control basic emotions?

It was all because of her. The deal had been easy- a trip down memory lane for an afternoon to win a taste of freedom. But journeying back into his past was more difficult than expected. How easily that boys fears crept back in. It was like leaping into a frozen lake, the cracked surface sealing behind him. He might bang his fists against the ice but no one ever heard him. No one ever came. People like him didn’t get rescued. They got pulled further under. At some point he’d succumbed, turned into the black and just kept swimming. The cold was far more welcoming when embraced.

No, people like him didn’t get rescued. People like him became the thing that people needed rescuing from.

He wondered briefly if Granger would try. Probably- she didn’t have the best track record when it came to knowing when to abandon ship. None of that lot did. His family had counted on it numerous times. The Dark Lord used to gorge on their hope like a fine wine. He liked his followers suffering almost as much.

But then he was a twisted bastard.

And now he was coming back.

This intolerable obsession came at the worst possible time. The war wasn’t over, Granger had all but confirmed it. Somehow he’d known, a sense of dread had clung to his skin like in the old days. Now it sank deep, finding home in his bones.

He’d known it since the third letter he received from the BloodBorn. This one was different from the others. They spoke of duty and responsibility. This one was a command.

‘Come Draco, we are waiting. We will not wait much longer.’

The letter didn’t explicitly say but he knew it was him by the signature. The singular M carved into the corner. His father was back. He should have known. It was never that easy to shake your own shadow.

Though he was a little surprised, the last time he’d seen his father the man was catatonic. His father blamed Draco for his humiliation, even though he’d proven himself tenfold afterwards. But nothing would ever absolve him of the shame of refusing to kill Dumbledore. His father's grip on reality, slippery since Azkaban, slipped altogether after that. He didn’t much fancy putting himself back under the control of another madman. He’d have to do something about this and soon. He wasn’t that boy that could be bullied anymore. No, these days his kills were his own-

The tent flaps exploded in a flurry of motion. Granger was back. He felt his lungs fill but- Her chocolate eyes were wide, her face stricken, the silken cheeks wet.

Why was she always crying?

‘I have to go,’ she rasped. ‘It’s Ginny.’

He went to go to her, a repulsive reaction, but she grabbed the coat nearest the door before racing out again. It was once she’d gone that he realised she’d taken his coat not her own.

The beast howled.

Chapter Text

2002

Hermione raced through the corridor of St Mungo’s, her heart in her throat.

Ginny.
Please not Ginny.

Her nose filled with the sickly scent of antiseptic and essence of murtlap. The halls seemed to go on forever, rows and rows of yellow-tinted tiles peppered with ice white doors snapped shut. Each sported a tiny number in their centre, blurring into metal blobs as Hermione desperately sought the one she was looking for. But no, there-

She sped up her boots echoing loudly earning several angry looks as she passed. In her haste, she hit a wandering Healer whose files went flying in a wild flurry of paper. Hermione barely noticed.
She zeroed in on the door, arm raised, ready to swing it open when two bodies stepped out of it. Hermione slammed into the first, the breath exploding from her lungs. She looked up, finding green eyes staring down at her. Swirling emerald, sharp as tacks focused completely on her.

Harry.

He did not look happy to see her.

But that wasn’t the only thing different. His hair was longer, grown out and shaggier than usual. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, which was odd. Hermione could count on one hand the number of times she’d seen him without his telltale spectacles. It left his face open, somehow older, and decidedly more fierce. As if he’d aged years while he’d been in hospital rather than the months that had passed. His eyes were clear where once they’d been fogged with pain. He was dressed all in black, the colour stark against his pale skin.

How long had it been?

Only a few months and yet he’d gone through a complete metamorphosis since the last time they’d crossed paths. Gone was the sickly, stooped physique that broke her heart. He stood tall, his large hand catching Hermione around the shoulders to steady her. His gaze however was lacking in any warmth and she felt cold seep into her bones.

‘Where have you been?’

It was a question steeped in accusation.

‘I was…,’ Hermione trailed off. Her eyes darted around and Harry straightened understanding.
Cryptic messages slide easily between old friends, a lift of the brow, a tap of the finger is all that is needed. Harry’s head tipped to the side, too many people?

She nodded. ‘I was out of range. Ginny- is Ginny ok.’

Lifting onto her tiptoes she tried to peek behind him but he blocked her way. Her eyes locked on the other figure, Lincoln Fitz- what the hell was he doing here?

‘Let’s talk in here.’

Before she could stop him Harry was guiding them into the empty room adjacent to Ginny's.

The room was sparsely set up. A single bed with single pillow and single bedside table. On top sat a single flower curling from within a single vase. Next to it, a single chair for the single guest that might sit upon it. All things meant to make a person feel at home in a place they never would. It held the lingering scent of tea and death like an ugly stain upon the senses. Two things that always would go hand in hand. But then tea was paired with all walks of life, a constant gardener waiting for your last. Hermione shook off the thought, forcing her fleeting mind to concentrate.

‘What happened,’ she asked again once the door clicked shut behind them.

Harry didn’t answer, he merely treaded purposely into the room. She noticed his fists were shaking as he turned to stare angrily out the window.
It was Fitz who spoke first. Ginny was attacked, tortured. For days. Eight long days.

Hermione felt sick.

‘How is that possible? How did nobody know!’

‘They did,’ Fitz said quietly. ‘Ron found out in the office and was put under House Arrest with his parents. Oscar told him. He too was put under House Arrest and relieved of his duty. She’d already been with them for 3 days at that point.’
A large hammer rammed into her gut. ‘What! Who? On whose order?’

‘The Minister himself.’

‘Kingsley wouldn’t do that!’

‘Oh really Hermione?’ Harry murmured, continuing his cold surveillance of the horizon. ‘I think we both know that’s his go-to when it comes to me.’

‘George was locked in his apartment in London but managed to escape after a few days,’ Fitz explained. ‘He then attempted to contact Harry but wasn’t able to get through. The BloodBorn wanted him, you see. A trade. At least that’s what the Ministry believed.’

The hammer kept swinging, a pendulum designed to crack her wide open.

‘Why didn’t George reach out to me?’

‘He wanted to,’ Harry cut in. ‘But you were all being watched, you in particular. They kept you at the Ministry, under their watch did they not?’

Bile rose in her throat.

They had. She’d been in the Ministry for days leading up to Hogwarts negotiating Malfoy’s House Arrest. Kvothe and Robards kept reneging on their agreement forcing her to fill out ample reels of paperwork. She thought she’d been helping.

‘He wanted to wait for the right moment, once he had Harry,’ Fitz sighed. ‘Which he managed to do yesterday at midday.’

When Hermione entered Malfoy’s memory, most certainly out of range. On top of that, she’d warded the tent later that evening making them virtually unplottable, no communication could have reached her then. It was a perfect storm of missed opportunities.

‘We tried to contact you but you didn’t answer,’ Harry growled. He was holding the old coin in his hand, the one she’d given him years ago.

Hermione had thrown hers in the Thames after she’d quit Auror training. She wasn’t part of Dumbledore’s Army anymore, she didn’t deserve to carry it. It occurred to her now she really should have told someone. Hermione silently begged him to turn, to acknowledge her presence.

‘We needed you,’ he said without inflection.

‘I’m so sorry. Oh god Harry-‘

‘I’m not interested in anything you have to say.’

‘Harry!’

His eyes remained locked on the window.

‘My son is dead, Hermione.’

‘No.’ She felt her knees buckle and she collapsed on the bed behind. ‘No. Please no.’

Fitz crossed the space to lay a soothing hand on her shoulder. She fought off the urge to throw him off, he was only trying to help. It was her fault she hadn’t been there.

‘Tell me everything,’ she whispered.

There came a long silence.

‘We were able to find the location they were keeping her late last night,’ Fitz murmured when Harry did not answer. ‘She was in… her condition wasn’t good. It’s still touch and go.’

Hermione blanched. ‘What did they do to her?’

‘Torture. The Cruciatus Curse primarily,’ Fitz's eyes darted to Harry. ‘And other things.’

Hermione didn’t ask what other things, she didn’t want to know.

‘Is she going to be ok?’

Hermione was still staring at Harry. Imploring him to look at her.

He did not.

‘Ginny is strong,’ Harry whispered. ‘She will survive this. What they did to her.’

He raised a shaking hand to the windowsill to steady himself.

Hermione was struggling to understand any of this. ‘How did they even find her?’

They were all so careful. All their homes were warded, they apparated or Floo’d rather than travelled any other way.

Fitz’s hand tightened on her shoulder. ‘Ginny was abducted on her way to visit Harry.’

Hermione watched Harry’s face crumple. A blossoming flower curling inwards the petals bleeding to brown. She desperately wanted to go to him, but he kept his back directed at her.

‘She was followed for several days. An agent was posted outside the hospital and learned her routine.’

Hermione shook her head. ‘Ginny would do that, she wouldn’t-’

Fitz exhaled a breath. ‘She did Hermione. Do not blame her-’

Hermione did rip her arm free then. ‘I’m not! I would never!’ She ran a hand through her hair feeling sick. ‘How did they know you were even here?’

It was a fiercely kept secret, no one could know Harry was in the hospital.

‘Vida.’

‘Vida?’

‘Her cover was blown. She was with them for a month. They dumped her outside St Mungo’s a few days ago. A message.’

‘Oh my god,’ Hermione was on her feet again. ‘Is she ok?’

Fitz stepped forward taking Hermione’s hand. She met his golden eyes and felt the ground collapse under her.

‘No Hermione,’ he said sadly. ‘The Healers thought she was recovering but… Vida passed away very early this morning, her wounds were too substantial.

Harry flinched.

Hermione’s focus shifted back to her friend, something was off. Harry knew something he wasn’t saying.

It didn’t matter, she was too late.

Anger carved its way through her grief. ‘Who? Who was it?’

So many Death Eaters were still at large. Her work helped catch several of them, but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough.

‘Rabastan Lestrange.’

She dropped her head in her hands. ‘Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.’

Three words again and again. A nightmare made real. Tears spilt free dribbling down her face.

‘Oh dear old Uncle Rab. What did he say?’

‘He told me it was time to take my rightful place. That my family was waiting.’

Had Malfoy known? Did he know last night while she slept-

Her chest was heaving, her heart pierced by aching.

‘You have no need to fear.’ The coldness in Harry’s tone was unsettling. ‘He is gone now. They all are.’
Hermione peaked between her hands. ‘Gone?’

‘Dealt with.’

‘Dealt with… did you kill them?’

He nodded. ‘Everyone in the base.’

Hermione choked. She’d seen photos of the factions, whole families that went underground to live according to what they referred to as ‘the natural way.’ Purebloods who subscribed to the ‘Magic is Might’ philosophy. They refused to do anything without using magic or interact with the muggle world in any way. There were leaders of course, but some of their locations-

‘But… don’t they keep families there-’

Harry mashed his palms against his eyes, the muscles in his neck writhing beneath his skin.

‘Why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t I save her, why can I never save any of them?’

‘Harry!’ Hermione went to him then- his fury be dammed- hugging Harry from behind. He leaned into her and she staggered under his weight, managing to keep upright. ‘It’s not your fault. Please don’t blame yourself-‘

‘I don’t. I blame them. It’s always them,’ he hissed.
Hermione couldn’t speak. Fitz was staring at his hands.

‘I killed them. I killed them all. They’re dead. Every single one of them. And not just the men. But the women, and the children too. They’re like animals and I slaughtered them like animals. I hate them. I hate them!’

He dropped to the ground dragging Hermione with him. They fell in a pool of limbs and black fabric. Harry spun around his eyes capturing hers. A melee of torment and anguish greeted her. Years of suffering and loss. His fingers were like claws as he latched onto her wrists.

‘Those children would have grown up to be just like them! They would grow up and hurt and kill and hurt and kill. I will not let it happen again. Not to anyone I love. I will keep them safe. I will become so powerful nobody can ever touch me. The Ministry has been holding me back, using me! I’m going to destroy them. I’m going to destroy them all.’

It was a solemn vow, spoken through teeth that meant it. Hermione met his eyes again, she found only madness.

‘Harry don’t talk like that-’

‘Don’t stifle him, Hermione,’ Fitz cut her off. He was leaning towards Harry. ‘Do not be afraid of your emotions. Let your anger guide you. That is where your passion lies!’

‘That’s- no- you can’t.’

‘Hermione, they attacked his wife! Murdered his child! Surely you can not believe he was wrong?’

‘That is not what I’m saying and you know it! You twist my words.’

‘Then what are you saying Hermione?’ Harry cut in. ‘Because it sounds like you think I should have let them go? That they didn’t deserve what they got.’

‘Harry this isn’t you! This kind of thinking is dangerous. It’s never that simple and you know it. Did you use the Killing Curse to do it? Unforgivables carry a price! You don’t know what using them will do to you!’

He glared at her. ‘Why should I show mercy when I have been given none?’

‘Your actions are going to start another war!’

‘The war never ended!’ Fitz spat. ‘Don’t you see that? The BloodBorn only prove that. Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion, we gain strength. Through strength, we gain power. Through power, we gain victory. Through victory, our chains are broken. Only then shall we be free!’
Hermione dragged her attention from Harry to face Fitz where he stood above them. ‘This is- you can’t be serious.’

‘Our enemies are the same,’ he barked. ‘They always have been. Don’t you see that? The Ministry, the BloodBorn, the purebloods, Death Eaters, Voldemort- they’re all the same thing. The latter are merely more transparent about their hate. The rest hide behind gilded words but it is fools gold. We do not have the luxury to wait any longer.’

Hermione almost hit him. ‘Fitz this is not the time for your Equaliser rhetoric.’

‘It is exactly the time! This fight will never end without it. They will keep taking and taking and taking until we have nothing left.’

Harry nodded vehemently and Hermione swung around gripping him by the cuff.

‘Harry stop! You’ve traded one sickness for another! This is wrong!’

‘They tortured Ginny! They killed my baby Hermione! I can’t believe we’re having this conversation?’

‘You think I care that they’re dead? They deserved it. They all did. I’m glad they died. Maybe not the children- but Harry you know this- an Unforgivable comes at a cost! Dark Magic comes at a cost!’

‘Then I’ll pay it.’

‘You don’t know what you’re saying. You can’t possibly understand. It will poison you from the inside!’

‘I’m already sick, aren’t I? How much worse could it get?’

Hermione cupped his jaw forcing him to face her. ‘This isn’t you. Where is the boy who refused to allow Sirius and Remus to kill Peter because his dad would not want his friends to become murderers? Where is that boy?’

He stood abruptly, grabbing Hermione under the arm dragging her with him.

‘That boy was a fool,’ he growled. ‘That boy lost everything.’ He stepped back, a cold chasm slipping between them. ‘This is me. This is who I always was born to be. This was the road that paved for me the day my parents died. We were all just too blinded by our endless fucking hope to see it.’

‘I loved that boy,’ Hermione whispered. ‘I love him still.’

Harry flinched again, his eyes shadowing. ‘I’m sorry Hermione. But he is dead.’

There are moments in life that stick to us, a flood of cement cocooning a memory. Fixing it in stone. For Hermione, this would always be such a moment, when she watched her friend die, yet continue living. And at that moment her heart broke.

Harry watched her through narrowed eyes. He could see it happen, her thoughts always did read in her face. The old Harry would have gone to her, would have held her and promised everything would be ok. This Harry stepped further back, towards the future and away from her.

‘What comes next will be hard,’ Fitz was saying. ‘I thought it would be Hermione to lead us but I think it is you, Harry. If you are ready?’

He nodded.

‘They will all follow you into the fire if that is your wish,’ Hermione whispered. ‘I can only hope it is not.’

Harry glared at her. ‘Fitz leave us, I need to talk to Hermione privately.’

He nodded. ‘Of course.’ He gripped Harry by the shoulder before he exited. ‘I will start readying them. We must be prepared to meet fire with fire.’
The door clicked behind him.

The silence that followed was grating.

Harry eased himself in front of it, blocking the way out. He really did look different. It was hard to find her friend in the lines of his new face. Was Harry’s transformation forged in the crucible of Ginny’s attack or was there more to it? Nobody could deny the peculiarity of the thing.

‘Harry, there’s so much I don’t understand. For one thing- how are you better?’

‘Are you not happy to see me well?’

‘Of course I am! But-‘

‘You do not show it.’

He was purposely baiting her now. A game Harry liked to play, most didn’t realise until it was too late. Hermione knew him better.
She tried another one.

‘What is Fitz doing here?’

‘He has been helping me through this.’

‘How?’

‘Giving me something to fight for. That is where I thrive.’

He wasn’t wrong but the words were most certainly not his. It was like standing in front of a marionette, the puppeteer hidden in the subconscious.

‘Ok. That’s good. But how?’

He waved a hand. ‘My treatments worked I suppose. Or the illness ran its course. Either way, I am back. And they will all know it soon.’ He clicked his tongue. ‘So many questions. And yet you have not answered mine.’

It was then Hermione saw the pile of clothing in the corner.

‘This room, Vida was in this room wasn’t she.’
Harry said nothing.

‘Harry, what happened to Vida?’

Still nothing.

But she could see it there, in his eyes. A friendship like theirs cut through the quiet whether he wanted to hide or not.

Hermione waved her wand. He didn’t try to stop her. Shadowy figures materialised out of thin air, one lying on the bed. The other, slowly approaching, a face materialising out of the mist.

One she would know anywhere.

‘Hermione don’t,’ the true Harry whispered.

The shadow Harry leaned over the prone Vida. Even in cruel leeched colour, her wounds stood out bright as day.

‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered, her voice echoing. ‘I tried.’

‘I know,’ the shadow Harry said.

It didn’t stop what came next.

‘Did they hurt her?’

‘Yes. They did.’

A small sob escaped her, a ghostly tear sliding down her bruised cheek. Harry’s hands slipped the pillow from beneath her head. Harry’s hand pushed that same pillow down, over her face. Vida lay still, too spent to fight back. Then she started to jerk, her exhausted body twitching from the lack of air.

‘Harry,’ Hermione felt the tears stream down her face. She waved her wand. She didn’t want to see anymore. ‘What have you done?’

Harry curled his hands into fists. ‘She betrayed us.’

‘They tortured her Harry. She didn’t have a choice.’

‘Oh don’t be so naive Hermione. You’re the smartest person I know. There’s always a choice.’

‘No,’ Hermione murmured. ‘I don’t think that’s true. Not anymore.’

‘If you’re not with me, you’re against me.’

‘I’ll always be with you Harry. But this- this isn’t you.’

The silence had never been so loud. Then Harry picked up a chair and threw it across the room. Hermione yelped, leaping back.

‘Where were you!’ he screamed. ‘I needed you! We needed you!’

Her heart skipped. Hermione didn’t know what to do, she raised her palms in case he tried to throw something else. ‘I’m sorry! I was looking for-’

‘What? Looking for what?’

She wanted to tell him- knew she should tell him. But there was a whisper in the back of her mind saying no.

Don’t do it.

She realised what that feeling was.
She was scared of him.
Of Harry.

That didn’t make any sense.

Danger prickled her skin, withering her once unwavering grit. But this was mindless speculation. Hermione dealt with facts and logic. This was Harry. The boy who saved them all. He was lost, hurt- that was all.

Vida… Vida was an accident. Well not an accident as such- she struggled to rationalise it. But there are some things you can’t rationalise. Her best friend committing murder was one of them. She should tell someone- but the vision of Harry locked up in Azkaban at her hand made her physically see stars. She couldn’t do that. Wouldn’t do that.

He’d been out of his mind- there, that was it. Dark Magic still coursing through his blood after rescuing Ginny. He didn’t mean to hurt her. It was just the Horcrux still out there trying to leech off his spirit. There was Dark Magic at work, perhaps someone had it even now and was attempting to revive it, she wouldn’t be surprised. She recalled briefly private conversations with Dumbledore. He’d sought her out long before his death.

‘Watch Harry,’ he’d said. ‘The mind is a fragile thing. If Voldemort should gain access, we might not know it.’

Well she knew it now. These changes, these actions, it wasn’t her friend. Her friend would never do anything like this. So she could either lock him up or find the answers that would save him. The latter was significantly more preferable. It meant she needed to act fast, find the Horcrux and destroy it. Harry couldn’t handle any of this right now, she decided. She would carry this burden for both of them.

She ran back to his side, grabbing his arm so he couldn’t toss anything else. ‘It doesn’t matter. I should have been here.’

Harry collapsed into her again, his head finding home in the curve of her shoulder. There he shook as pain and anguish bled way out of him.
Hermione attempted to quash the whiplash that reeled through her. The way he slipped between wild rage and bottomless grief was jarring. Hermione knew it well, she’d worn it like a glove fashioned from her skin. But this was even more extreme. A whisper of light, a flicker of dark twisted together both summoning different parts of him, a war raging within. A clash of consciousness posing the question- which version would win out?

She could not say how long they stood like, Harry huddled in the crook of her neck, soaking her collar. After what felt like an hour he rose, sniffing, the ghost of a smile curving his lips.
Hermione had all of two seconds to feel hope, that maybe her friend wasn’t gone after all.
That was before Harry blanched. His brow creased, his eyes narrowing. She could feel his body tense, his arms stiffening where they lay on her shoulders.

‘Hermione,’ he said very slowly. ‘Who the fucks coat is this?’

‘What-’

She looked down and felt all the air leave her lungs. She was wearing Malfoy’s coat. The one with the telltale Malfoy crest stitched into the collar. She hadn’t even noticed in her hurry to get here. Her eyes snapped up to meet Harry’s. In a flash he was on her, his hands gripping the scruff, slamming her against the wall.

‘Is that- what is that?’

‘Erm. Nothing. It’s nothing.’

‘Is that the Malfoy crest?’

‘No. I mean yes. I mean-’

‘Why do you have that?’

‘Harry- I- please- let me explain-’

‘What the fuck Hermione!’ he roared.

He shook her roughly. Hermione whimpered.

‘Harry let me go!’

‘You tell me right now Hermione Granger or I swear-’

‘Look I should have told you a long time ago but you were engaged and there was the wedding and then you got sick-’

She was rambling now. Hermione lay herself bare in an attempt to assuage his scepticism. Meanwhile, Harry continued to stare daggers, nostrils flaring.

‘If you don’t spit it out Hermione-’

Hermione sucked in a calming breath.

It did not help.

‘Malfoy has been helping me. With my work for the Ministry.’

Harry’s frown deepened. ‘You- what?’

‘We made a deal. He’d help me interview the Death Eaters. We’ve honestly got so much out of them because of his support. I’ve been going to the Manor and sorting through all their Dark Artefacts.’

‘I repeat- you fucking what?’

‘We’ve been working together to catalogue as much as we can from the old family estates-’

‘You’re working with him! What! How long?’

‘Harry no- I mean yes- but- just listen-’

‘Are you fucking kidding me? He’s one of them! He’s dangerous!’

‘He’s not,’ Hermione fought to push Harry off but he didn’t budge. ‘I mean he is but- He’s been working with the Ministry and me-’

‘Oh, the same Ministry that tried to hide the fact that my wife was being tortured? That Ministry. And you? I don’t even know you. How long have you been lying to me? Does Ron know?’

‘No,’ she shook her head, hair flying. ‘He never knew. He still doesn’t-’

‘I can’t believe this. I can’t believe any of you. I can’t trust any of you!’

‘Harry please- We needed to know what they could do.’

‘What good did it do then?’ he shouted drops of spit hitting her face. ‘Did it save Ginny?’

‘Harry that’s not fair!’

‘Don’t you talk to me about fair! This is years of deceit. And it doesn’t explain why you're wearing- Oh my god are you fucking him?’

‘What! No!’

But she hesitated.
One second.

It was enough.
Harry’s eyes widened, his mouth popped wide.
White rage blinded him. He shook her, unable to find words. His mouth popped open and closed. Still nothing. He shook her again. His barely tapped fury raged through him finding release.

‘You fucking bitch, you fucking-’

‘No Harry I didn’t- I wouldn’t-’

But he saw the lie in her eyes. He stepped back, throwing her against the wall. Her knees crumpled and she slid down, but he grabbed her, pulling her back up only to do it again.

‘Harry stop!’ she cried.

She’d never felt small compared to him, only now she realised how large he’d become by comparison. Sparks radiated through the room, magical energy amplifying their duelling anger. Above them the fluorescent lights flickered, the furniture vibrating and rattling where it lay. Both were extraordinary in their own right and a fight, if it came to it, might decimate an entire city block.

Harry shoved her back flat against the tiled surface, his arm across her throat, looming over her.

‘Did you let him fuck the mudblood then?’ he snarled and it was nothing like the Harry she knew. ‘Did you suck him and take him? Did you do him raw or make him wear a condom? I doubt it.’

‘Harry!’

‘Did you like it?’ He whispered with cruel venom. ‘Did you let him all the places you let me?’

‘No,’ she was sobbing now. ‘No, I didn’t. Please-’

She rasped as her airway was cut off.

‘Fucking- you traitor! Traitor!’

He was pressing too hard. Her chest couldn’t expand and she was choking. She banged his chest but her fists were too weak from this angle. Harry continued to push into her, teeth bared, saying every horrible thing she could never imagine.

Then came a voice. The last voice she wanted to hear right now. The voice she desperately wanted to save her.

‘I’ll thank you to take your hands off her Potter.’

Chapter Text

2002

Harry turned as if in slow motion. Peering past his black shag, Hermione's heart clogged her throat. Malfoy stood silhouetted in the door, his large figure blocking the empty hall. Without another word he stepped inside, leaving the door open behind him. He was shaking with barely concealed rage.

‘Was I not clear?’ he raised his wand. ‘Release her. Now.’

With a feral snarl, Harry dropped Hermione like a hot potato. She fell to the ground gasping, the air finally making its way into her lungs.
The two men glared at each other. She watched Harry’s hand twitch towards his wand.

‘No!’ Hermione croaked.

Harry spun around. ‘You would protect him?’

Hermione shook her head. ‘You. I protect you, always. Harry, you can not attack him in a hospital.’

Harry’s lip curled, but he let his hand fall. Malfoy lowered his wand in response, stepping further into the room. It was suddenly much too small. Blistering heat curled around them, two snarling beasts prowling, waiting for the other to look away so they might pounce.

Harry made to leave. ‘Count your days Malfoy,’ he hissed.

‘Always have,’ Malfoy sneered in response.

Harry barged past him and out the door. Once gone Malfoy hurried to Hermione's side, hand outstretched. Hermione grabbed his arm letting him tug her up. But she merely shoved past him racing after Harry- only to run smack into the entire Weasley brood who were approaching tiredly in the hall. Arthur, Molly, George and Ron- even Percy for Merlin’s sake.

They all smiled wearily, readying to greet her. That was until Malfoy swept out after her. Four wands were out before she could say a word.

‘Wait!’ Hermione shrieked, snapping her palms up.

‘Oh yes, defend your Death Eater,’ Harry sneered.

Ron looked like he’d been punched in the face. ‘I’m sorry, your what?’

The other Weasley’s mouths all popped open.

‘Don’t be stupid,’ George’s brow furrowed.
‘You heard me,’ Harry snapped. ‘Apparently, Malfoy and Hermione are- I don’t even- fucking disgusting.’

‘What!’ Ron croaked.

‘No!’ Hermione cried. ‘No, I don’t even know what he’s doing here!’

‘Get her out of here before I fucking kill her,’ Harry snarled. With that, he stormed into Ginny’s room slamming the door behind him.

Molly stared at Hermione, grief-stricken and confused. Her eyes darted to Malfoy, then back to Hermione, the question evident on her face.
Hermione shook her head.

Molly’s eyes softened, and she nodded once. She ran her fingers through her hair. ‘I don’t have the energy for this.’ She turned to Ron whose mouth stretched into a thin line. He squeezed her shoulder.

Taking Arthur’s hand Molly followed Harry without another word leaving the five of them in the hall.

‘I’ll be needing an explanation later,’ George folded his arms.

‘And you shall have it,’ Hermione answered feeling somewhat relieved.

He went to leave but Percy hesitated, his eyes bugging out- with a sigh George grabbed him pulling along with him.

‘Get him out of here,’ he spat to Ron before he disappeared. He did not wait for a response.

Hermione felt like a rag doll thrown into a violent tornado, her limbs torn and shredded.

Ron snatched her by the arm, steering her away completely ignoring Malfoy. Stuttered ramblings fell from her lips as she attempted to explain.

‘Not now Hermione ok,’ Ron ducked down so he met her eye to eye. ‘Whatever this is I really don’t care ok. He can’t be here.’

‘It’s nothing, Ron. I would never-’

‘Ok. It’s ok Hermione I believe you,’ he patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. ‘I’ll talk to Harry ok.’
His eyes darted to the side. ‘Things are really tense right now, Harry’s… I don’t know. Harry’s different.’

Hermione placed a hand on his chin turning him back to face her.

‘Ron I’m not with Malfoy. He- I- he was helping with something. At Hogwarts.’

‘Hermione I don’t care right now-’

‘Ron I know. I know but I need you to listen ok. The Horcrux in the snake survived.’

All the colour leached from his face. He swayed on his feet. ‘What? Are you- no. That’s not possible.’

‘It’s why I needed Malfoy, his memory.’

Understanding washed over his features, she felt his fingers tighten, hard enough to bruise.

Somewhat possessive.

‘I knew you never would-’ He breathed a sigh of relief. Then his brow furrowed. ‘You’re sure?’

She nodded. ‘I need you to keep an eye on Harry ok. I know Ginny is your priority right now but-’

‘No. I got it. It’s going to be ok Hermione. It’s going to be fine.’

She wasn’t sure if he was talking to her anymore.

‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.’

‘I know. I wasn’t there either,’ his face darkened. ‘I know you would do anything for her, we all do. Just- not right now. Come back tomorrow ok? Ginny will be awake then, she’ll want to see you.’

Hermione sniffed, nodding. When did he become so good at this? Ron was never the voice of reason.

With a final sad smile Ron straightened, storming over the brooding blonde behind them.

Why was he still there?

Ron lifted a finger jabbing it into his chest. ‘Malfoy you stay away from her or I’ll fucking kill you.’
To his credit Malfoy said nothing, perhaps he’d learnt tact after all these years. He was a lot of things but