Story Summary:
Lucius abducts Hermione. Slytherin versus Gryffindor - Pureblood versus Muggleborn - the old order versus the new. Two opposites, one room, no way out... no holds barred.

Chapter 10 - Empathy

Chapter Summary:
Lucius abducts Hermione.
Author's Note:
Perhaps I should have called this chapter 'Patience'! I thank you all for yours, and apologise for the time lag between this chapter and the last - I was horrified when I realised it had been over a month. The good news is that it means that the wait for the next chapter will be considerably shorter (fates willing). Please don't let that stop you responding to this one, though!

Author's Notes: Perhaps I should have called this chapter 'Patience'! I thank you all for yours, and apologise for the time lag between this chapter and the last – I was horrified when I realised it had been over a month. The good news is that it means that the wait for the next chapter will be considerably shorter (fates willing). Please don't let that stop you responding to this one, though!

Thank you to everyone who read and/or reviewed – your feedback and encouragement means a lot to me. A few lines in this chapter arose from Sajanus' review of the last one, which prompted me to think a little more clearly about the psychology of the Hagalaz Vector. And Hijja's powers of beta-reading prevented me (I hope) from being even more oblique than I intended.


~ Invictus ~
by Chthonia

Part 10: Empathy

I sit on the floor for the whole night, like when I was little and I'd wake in the dark and lie rigid for hours with my back against the solid, comforting wall of my room.

Only this time I know that my nightmares really are out there, a screaming chaos of pain and horror radiating out from that awful powder he left on the floor.

No. Not 'he'. I can say his name.

Lucius Malfoy.

I shiver. I cradle the warm bowl of soup. It's the only thing in here that feels real, that nurtures life instead of draining it.

I eat slowly, letting the rich broth soak into torn-off hunks of bread and savouring every bite. The apple, when I crunch into it, is as deliciously sweet-sour as it smells. The sharp taste of the juice almost brings tears to my eyes.

There, he gave you fruit. That's one not-hateful thing he's done.

But only because he knew I wouldn't be able to get to it. Only because he wanted to make sure I'd try to cross that horrible line before I knew what it was...

And anyhow, it doesn't work like that. I can't pretend he isn't a bastard when he is. I have to stop him using me again, of course I do, but if I lose sight of what he really is, I don't have a chance.

Right. So how on earth are you supposed to look at that vicious white face and not hate it?

I don't know. But I have to find a way.

Lucius Malfoy. The words echo in my mind, but they don't resonate with meaning – not beyond the shiver of dread that almost seems to relate more to the pain than the one who stares into my eyes as he inflicts it. Names may indeed have power, but only when they mean something more than just a label. I'll never understand him just by repeating the name like a mantra, and the words without the understanding are only a jumble of sound.

I shift onto my knees. I can't get comfortable – my robe provides no cushioning whatsoever. I wish I could stretch out on the mattress, draw the blankets around me, sleep and forget all of this for a few hours... but there might as well be a stone wall between me and the bed for all the good that thought does me.

There's no way I could force myself to cross that line again.

What if he just leaves me trapped here? That's just the sort of game he'd love, trapping me in an even smaller corner of his claustrophobic prison.

Oh, he won't do that. Look at the fuss he made just about keeping the bed tidy. He's hardly going to leave you without a toilet...

My knees are hurting, so I lie down on my side. It's awkward, lowering myself down when the welts on my right hand are so painful. I wish I could get comfortable. I'm so tired...

But I can't sleep. Not when the floor is so hard. Not when I can almost feel the curse waiting to tear into my dreams.

Eventually I stop trying to sleep. I stand up, stretch, and pace back and forth beside the wall in the dark, trying to recall the runic equations in that book. Trying to remember if there was any loophole, any clue to the most effective way of side-stepping his manipulations and turning them back on him.

I'm too tired to think, really. But I go on trying. It's easier than trying to ignore that line.

I'm too tired to stand up for long, either. When he returns, I'm sitting against the wall again.

I can't see him at first, of course – I only hear the soft pop as he Apparates, then the steady in‑breaths and out‑breaths that are barely audible but still loud against the silence that went before.

I sit motionless, arms wrapped around my knees, listening.

Listening to Lucius Malfoy's breathing.

In the dark like this, the only thing I can sense of him is that small sign of humanity. We're all equal in our need to breathe.


In the light, it's different. Everything about him, from the soft drape of his robes to his imperious gaze as he glances round the room, radiates his superiority.

His belief in his superiority, that is. He isn't any better than me. He isn't.

I wait for a sneering comment to cut that thought to shreds, brace myself for his usual verbal bullying, and, and... whatever else that may come with it.

But he ignores me. He just draws out a dark green pouch and crouches down with his back to me.

I'm not sure why I find that annoying, but I do. And at the same time I don't dare to draw attention to myself. Perhaps if I stay still and silent enough he might just pick up the powder and go away.

As if.

He's muttering to himself, some kind of Summoning Charm I suppose, by the way it makes the powder start to lift from the floor and flow slowly up into his pouch.

My blood is in that powder. My wand. My fear and hate and pain that he wrung out of me and poured into it. Oh, I do want the stuff gone, but somehow seeing him take it just underscores everything else he's taken from me.

Not that there's anything I can do about it.

He still hasn't even glanced in my direction, he's just moving slowly along the line. It's almost tempting just to get up and walk over to the bathroom through the gap he's cleared, ignoring him as he's ignoring me. But I daren't. The way he's not looking at me is too absolute to be anything other than deliberate. He is watching me – he's just not looking.

He's only trying to provoke me again. Why is he so damned good at that? I should be rejoicing that for once he's not tormenting me.

It's strange, seeing him turn that terrible focused attention on something other than me. He's holding his wand over the powder, a few centimetres in front of the pouch, weaving a fluid pattern with the precision that is now so familiar... His hair is brushed back from his face, so I can see how his eyes are narrowed slightly, how his mouth is curved down in a slight frown – though I'm not sure whether that's because he's concentrating or whether it's just what his face does when he's not smirking.

And even crouching he manages to radiate arrogance. It's inscribed in the slightly-too-high angle of his head, in the possessive curl of his fingers around the pouch, in the ease with which he moves forwards, hardly swaying even in that awkward position. Even the way his long robes pool on the floor seems like a deliberately crafted arrangement... but then, everything he does down here is a deliberately crafted arrangement.

He turns his head towards me.

I fight the urge to draw my knees in closer to my chest.

He arches an eyebrow. "If you're so interested, why don't you come over here and look?"

It's not a suggestion – it's an order.

Why did you have to watch him like that?

Like it would have made any difference if I'd not looked at him? He'd only have got at me for ignoring him...

I stand up, trying not to let my apprehension show. He watches me, unsmiling, as I walk towards him.

But you can't go over there!

It's just the spell in the powder. What I can't do is let him think I'm defying him – my parents' lives depend on that.

But the air around me is crackling with power, and I can feel it waiting like a cobra coiled ready to strike. I can't walk into that.

I stop, a metre away from that line snaking across the stone.

He frowns. "You can do better than that, Mudblood."

But I'm already shaking with the effort of not reacting to the thousand needles pressing against my skin, to the bolts arcing randomly across my hands and feet. I daren't argue with him, but I will him to read my mute plea to please don't make me...

Useless, of course.

"Are you really that pathetic?"

Don't react, don't react...

But I can't help shuddering at the cold knives tracing up my legs, stomach, chest, face, leaving narrow trails of pain that don't quite explode into agony-

"Your waywardness is getting boring," he sighs. "We both know that I can make you do anything I want in the end."

I grit my teeth. Bastard. You evil, heartless bastard. God, I hope one day you get what you deserve...

He smiles.

"Alternatively, Mudblood, if you refuse to come to the powder, perhaps I should bring it to you. It would be most interesting to see your response if I put some in a vial, hung it on a chain and locked it around your throat..."

He can't! Fear stabs through me like a spear of ice. Freezes out the pain.

And for a moment I stop shaking, and am able to meet his eyes. "If you do that," I tell him, "I'll lose my mind."

And you don't want that. You want me to be aware, you said so yesterday...

"Hmm. I'll remember that, should it become necessary."

I stare at the floor.

"But luckily for you, I'm in a good mood today. Go stand by the wall."

He really isn't going to force me closer?

Oh, thank God for that.

I turn before he can change his mind, half expecting him to blast me as I stumble away. Away from the lashing tentacles of the spell. Away from him.

"Stop there," he tells me when I'm almost at the edge of the room. "And now I want to see your nose touch the wall. I won't have you staring at me."

He what?

Oh, of course, he can't just dismiss me as if I have nothing better to do but wait until he deigns to speak to me! No, he has to make me stand in a bloody awkward position so he can have a bloody good laugh at how bloody stupid I look!

Not just awkward. My calf muscles start to ache almost as soon as I lean forward. But still, it's not the pain that really gets me, nor even the humiliation. No, it's the pettiness of it that brings tears of helpless rage to my eyes. Why does he have to treat me like this?

Because he still wants you to hate him.

Oh yes, that. And how can I not hate someone who can watch me shuddering with pain and smile? It's not human! How can I possibly hope to understand it?

You don't have to understand it, you just have to stop hating him. See him as a person. Remember who he is.

I know who he is. What he is.

No, who he is. Names have power, remember.

So I stand there, trying to ignore the growing strain on my muscles, listening to the small scraping sounds behind me as Lucius Malfoy lays claim to the remainder of his evil concoction.

The name sends shivers down my spine, but it doesn't mean anything. Here, there is just me and him. What's the point of giving a name to such an implacable, unassailable power?

He is not omnipotent!

No. Of course he can't do absolutely anything – but what he can do is bad enough.

He's still working on the powder, by the sounds of it. I daren't turn around to look.

Though it's not as if he needs an excuse to hurt you, is it?


It's almost pathetic, really. Why does he feel the need to victimise me? If he's that bothered about Muggleborns, wouldn't it be better for him to do something constructive about it?

But that's exactly what he is doing. He's just using you to do it.

No one could call this constructive! It's exactly the opposite – a coward's way out, sneaking around in the dark, destroying hopes and minds and lives.

Well, now you know where his son gets it from.

Oh yes. Right from the start of first year, when he challenged Harry to that duel just to get him into trouble with Filch. Of course Harry should never have been stupid enough to take him up on it, but still, I couldn't believe anyone could be such a sneak.

Pathetic. I should feel sorry for them, the way they think they're so wonderful when really they're so weak!

It makes me feel a little less helpless, thinking about it that way.

The noises behind me stop. I hear his robes rustle as he puts the pouch away – I presume – and then he walks towards me.

What now?

Don't look. Don't provoke him.

He stops just behind me. Oh, he knows just how intimidating it is to have him breathing down my neck when I can't even see him. Bastard. Pathetic.

Pathetic bastard.

What is this, playground insults time?

Yeah, maybe I should turn around and thumb my nose at him.

I almost giggle.

Get a grip, Hermione! You can't let him get to you like this!

His wand on my neck cuts through my thoughts.

"So, Mudblood. Not looking very threatening today, are we?"

I take a deep breath and stare at the wall, trying not to tremble. It's difficult, against the tension in the back of my legs.

"Well?" he snaps.

"That's not what I meant," I say in a small voice.

And it's not what I said, either – I asked why you thought we were a threat. And your only answer was to... you didn't have an answer.

"So, you aren't completely stupid, then. You are not a threat to me, Mudblood – I could kill you in a second. But I still think you miss the point."

And why on earth do you care what I think, anyway?

He paces over to the wall. I daren't move my head, but I can see him from the corner of my eye. He leans lazily back against the stone, a metre away from me.

"You haven't asked me why I'm in a good mood," he says.

Well, it's not as if I thought he meant it. And it's not as if he'd have let me ask, either.

He grins. "Yes. It seems that your dear friend Arthur Weasley has somewhat less... facility with snakes than do you."

Oh God, not Ron's dad!

I stare at him in horror. "What do you mean?"

"Did I say you could look at me?" A Stinging Hex lashes my shoulder.

I clench my fists and turn my face back to the wall. Bastard.

But underneath the anger my stomach has turned to ice. What's happened?

Probably nothing. He's just saying it to get at you.

I wish I could believe that.

He laughs. "Yes, typical of a Weasley to fall asleep on the job. Would you like me to tell you about it?"

You'll tell me what you want to tell me, whether I want to hear it or not. And whether or not it's true.

"Well, I can't," he says. "Nobody knows, you see. Somebody doesn't want the details to be made public. But I have it on good authority that there was rather a lot of blood."

Is he dead? I want to ask. But I don't.

He must have been doing something for the Order. Or maybe it's a lie and Mr Weasley is safe in his bed at The Burrow.


Or maybe this is part of his personal vendetta against the Weasleys.

"W- what did you do to him?"

"Me? No, it wasn't anything to do with me, much to my regret. He was just in the wrong place at the right time. But you know all about that."

What's he on about?

I look at him as carefully as I can without turning my face from the wall.

"Oh, don't play the innocent with me, Mudblood. We both know exactly how long you can keep up that façade."

Oh God. He's going to try to force me to tell him, and there's nothing I can tell him!

"No!" I say. "How could I know, when I've been trapped down here all this time?"

He frowns, but more in thought than in anger. I hope.

"Now, little one. I know that you know more than enough to work it out. Unless you're considerably more stupid than you've proved to be up until now."

Thoughts tumble through my mind, but none of them stick in a way that makes sense.

"Or, unless..." he muses.

Unless what?

"Look at me."

I do as he says, surreptitiously stretching my legs as I move my head and stand straight.

He's looking at me with more curiosity than anything else. Almost a human emotion, almost a person, Lucius-

But he catches my chin in his hand and any thought of a name drowns in the fathomless grey ocean of his gaze, as he searches my eyes... it makes me shiver but I daren't look away. I'm not sure I could look away.

He looks up at the ceiling, as if pondering something, and slowly runs his glove-clad thumb along my jaw.

I wish he wouldn't do that.

And he laughs, a sharp bark of a laugh that sounds oddly like Sirius.

"You know, I actually think I believe you. So Potter really didn't tell you what they were guarding?"

He's returned his gaze to mine now, and I stare at him in confusion. What's Harry got to do with it? He didn't know any more than I did about what the Order was doing. We went over and over it often enough.

"But I should have known that, of course," he continues, relaxing his grip on me and dropping his hand to his side. "You would have told me already if he had, when we had our little chat over that bottle of Veritaserum. Well, if your – friends – thought you were too unreliable to be trusted with that information, perhaps I should trust their judgement, hmm?"

But Harry wasn't hiding anything from me. He couldn't have been – he's not a good enough actor, for starters.

Although... he has been acting rather strangely this term. What if he knew more than he told Ron and me? Or what if he told Ron, and not me?

He wouldn't have done that.

Would he?

"Don't look so upset, Mudblood – he probably thought he was doing you a favour. Knowing too much can be dangerous for peons like you. Why, you might have ended up like Weasley."

At least it sounds as if what happened to Mr Weasley wasn't because of something he made me say. At least that isn't my fault.

Maybe Harry was right not to tell me, given that he would have just prised it out of me. But it still hurts.

"And you really shouldn't be upset about that, either," he says. "The wizarding world is considerably better off without the likes of Arthur Weasley – ignorant enough to be dangerous, and far too stupid to realise it."

Anger flashes through me, as unstoppable as his bastard spell.

"That's my best friend's dad you're talking about! And he's not stupid! At least he was never taken in by you!"

He sucks in his breath, nostrils flaring. "And how could you know anything about it? You are just as ignorant as he. Though you, at least, have some excuse."

How dare he call me ignorant!

But I bite back my retort because he's sneering at me, so sure he knows what buttons to press to manipulate me, and I won't let him.

He sees it, and it infuriates him.

"Yes, you stupid little bitch, ignorant! You just can't accept it, can you? You Mudbloods are pitiful, coming to scrounge little scraps of knowledge so you can look back at the weak and stupid Muggles you came from and reassure yourselves that at least you're better than they are! But you know nothing! You are nothing!"

And there is power in not reacting, in being the one to keep control. In letting righteous determined anger wash away the twisted weakness of hate. So I can stand and look calmly at the eye of the storm, as if his loss of control is feeding my keeping of it.

He's breathing heavily, glaring at me as if he's about to strike out. I almost take a step back but suddenly I think of Mr Weasley and Professor McGonagall and Sirius and all the rest – they would face him if they had to. If Mr Weasley really has died, it's because we're fighting a war.

Harry understood what that meant, but I didn't, not really. Just three months ago I was complaining because they wouldn't let us help them more actively – well, now I don't have a choice. Now I'm facing the enemy, and, and, I'm probably going to die, but if there's any little thing I can do, if there's any crack in his armour I can exploit somehow, I owe it to Mr Weasley to do it.

It terrifies me, but I'm still angry. And you're supposed to know your enemy, aren't you?

So, let's see what he'll tell us.

"If my 'ignorance' is so offensive to you," I say, trying to soften the ice in my voice, "why don't you enlighten me?"

His right hand jerks towards his wand – but then his face relaxes into a condescending smile.

"Ah, little one," he murmurs. "I knew you would prove to be entertaining."

Hatred stabs through my heart. Less clean than the anger.

His smile broadens.

Damn him!

"So, as you're being so co-operative, where do you think we should start?" He raises an eyebrow.

Does he want me to answer?

"That was actually a question, Mudblood. I want to hear what you have to say – that way we can demonstrate just how untenable your arguments are."

Oh, do you really think so?

"Tell me why you hate Muggles so much," I say.

"Oh, I don't hate Muggles, not when they stay in their place. That would be as pointless as hating Flobberworms. Uppity creatures like you are another matter entirely."

I won't look away. I won't.

"Muggleborns then. How can anyone justify torturing young witches and wizards just because they go shopping in Diagon Alley?"

He snorts. "They are not witches and wizards. They are Muggle freaks who for some unknown reason happen to have been cursed with the ability to do just enough magic to make them dangerous."

"But if they can do magic, they are witches and wizards!"

"And that," he sneers, "is the crux of the matter, Mudblood. It takes more than learning a few simple spells to make you a witch!"

More than 'a few simple spells', you bastard. You were impressed with what I could do – you just about said as much!

"Ah, but you disagree, of course. You're so ignorant about real wizarding culture, you don't even know what you don't know."

"So tell me."

Or would that spoil all the fun you have getting at me for my 'ignorance'?

"You really think I'm going to hand knowledge like that to a Mudblood?" He laughs scornfully. "You couldn't possibly understand!"

Right. So basically the patronising bastard doesn't have any logical justification for believing whatever he believes – not that I didn't know that anyway. And he can't even admit to it.


He returns my glare.

"It's a question of attitude, you see. And not only are you a Muggle, you are a particularly self-righteous one."

I am a witch, but I let that pass – perhaps there's a chance here to make him understand.

"But Muggle attitudes aren't really that different," I tell him seriously. "Not compared to the wizards I've met."

"Precisely," he snaps. "The sort of wizards who would talk to you are practically Muggles themselves!"

It's useless. How can I get through to him if he won't even explain himself? Muggleborns aren't wizards because we don't have the right attitude, my friends aren't proper wizards because... well, because they're friends with me, while no one he considers to be a proper wizard would stoop to speak to me – but it's still my fault that I don't understand his definition of a 'proper wizard'!

He just doesn't like me because I won't bow down to everything he says. And the more witches and wizards think for themselves instead of blindly accepting the pronouncements of the old wizarding families, the less influence the old wizarding families have. He's so convinced of his own superiority, he won't even admit it's all about power.

And he thinks he's so different from his Muggle counterparts?

He speaks again, a little more calmly this time. "Attitude, Mudblood, is something about which you clearly have a lot to learn. Let me give you an illustrative example."

I look at him warily. But for once he doesn't seem about to hex me.

"You do know about wizard's duels, don't you?" he asks.

Of course I do! Where's he going with this?

I nod, still wary.

He smiles patronisingly. I grit my teeth.

"The point, you see, is that the challenger must face the same risks as the wizard he challenges. Muggles, on the other hand, just destroy anything that could be a threat to them in the most cowardly way possible. They have no concept of honour whatsoever."

What? As if he isn't doing exactly that? I knew that logic wasn't a pureblood strong point, but even so, this is... Every time I come up with a reasonable argument, he just slithers away into the undergrowth of doublethink. How can I possibly argue against him?

But how can I not?

"Could you explain something to me, then?" I ask in as neutral a tone as I can manage.

"Probably not, given your inferior mind," he sneers. "But ask if you must."

"Well, I don't quite understand how using that powder to attack defenceless children fits into your 'concept of honour'."

He stares at me for a moment, thin-lipped. His hands clench tightly, then he relaxes, stretching his fingers out as if he's about to close them around my throat.

"That," he says icily, "is completely different. We have to protect our boundaries."

Every instinct screams at me to keep quiet, to not risk saying anything that could send him off the deep end like I did yesterday. But if this is a war, then words are the only weapons he's left me.


He frowns. My voice trails off.

He raises an eyebrow. "You were saying?"

I breathe in, and out. My chest is so tight, it's hard to force the words out.

"But isn't it safer to make sure they know how to use the power properly? So that-" so that they don't blow themselves up or hurt everyone around them- "so that they don't end up doing something that will accidentally reveal the existence of magic to Muggles?"

"There are more efficient ways of achieving that goal, Mudblood. And power should be reserved for those fit to wield it – if that wasn't the case, we'd be teaching even goblins how to use wands."

As if he is fit to wield anything more dangerous than a lukewarm cup of tea? I give up.

I can't give up.

He reaches into the folds of his robe, and brings out his wand. He runs his finger slowly down its length, and then holds it up in front of me.

"This," he says softly, "is the difference between us. Magic is my birthright, Mudblood – passed down to me through generations of undiluted wizard blood, just as its traditions and proper usage have been passed on by my father, my grandfather and his grandfather before him. But to you Mudbloods, magic is just a tool – or worse, a game. I will not see it wielded with such disrespect."

That wand... My eyes tell me it's just a piece of inanimate black wood, such a small object to be the source of so much destruction. But my scars and my memories and my soul tell me the truth – that it's not just the symbol, but the instrument of the power he has over me.

I shiver.

I have a strange urge to reach out and touch it. Not to take it – I wouldn't dare to do that – but almost to reassure myself that it's, well, real.

But he'd go mad if I put my hand anywhere near it. I spread my fingers against my legs and look past it. At him.

He's watching me steadily, no trace of frown or sneer or smile. As if what he just said was... honest, or as close to honesty as he gets. He wasn't saying that to make me hate him or even to belittle me. He meant it.

I look away.

He lowers his wand.

"Finally, a glimmer of understanding," he says quietly. "You may act with a complete lack of respect, but that's only because deep down you know how unworthy you really are, isn't it?"

No! I will never accept that.

He frowns. "No? Well, we have time, little one. But you don't fool me – I saw the look on your face a moment ago. This sort of power frightens you."

"Only because you have a wand and I don't."

"But we've already been through that, haven't we? I even allowed you a chance to duel me, the same chance that the Noble and Ancient Codes of Honour require me to give to a real witch – and you proved your inferiority most effectively. I see no reason to repeat the lesson."

Bastard. Does he really expect me to believe that he let me try to Stupefy him out of honour, of all things?

He sighs. "There's clearly little point in trying to explain such things to you – and I really think I've had enough of trying for one day." He gives me a sharp look.

Okay, I get the message. You can't come up with a convincing argument, so now I'm not allowed to speak.

He twirls his wand lazily, eyes narrowed. I look at the floor.

"Good. And now I think it's time for you to answer a question for me."

Uh-oh. What does he want now?

I raise my head. He smiles.

"Oh, there's no need to look so worried. A matter of mere curiosity."

You're not convincing me of the 'no need to worry' bit.

He puts his wand away, and idly checks the buttons on his gloves.

"Yesterday, you claimed you could reverse a Hagalaz Vector. Not doing too well so far, are you?"

Meaning that I still hate him. I can't contradict that – right at this moment I can't imagine not hating him.

"No, your ignorance is matched only by your arrogance. I don't suppose you have any idea of the... wider implications, do you?"

And who is he, to talk about arrogance?

I look at him carefully, trying to work out what he's getting at.

"No, I can see that you don't," he says. "So typical of a Muggle to act without considering the consequences. Once these things have been set in motion..." He shrugs.

He's watching me carefully, though. I keep my expression as blank as I can. I will not show hatred, or fear, or... I'll show him not to dismiss what I can do!

He smiles. "I do want you to remember one thing: I hate you, Mudblood. Nothing's going to change that."


His nostrils flare. "Did I not make it clear that I am asking the questions?"

I look down.

Yeah, until you change your mind again.

He reaches towards me – I flinch as his fingers brush my throat. He draws his hand up under my chin, raising my head so that I can't avoid looking at him.

So I do.

And he looks back with that slightly twisted, disdainful smile.

"Well," he says. "I look forward to watching you attempt it, little one."

He releases me and stands back.

"In the meantime, I have another little task for you.... so I want you to make sure that you are well rested, over the next few days. You will do that for me, won't you?"

I nod. It's what he wants to see.

He Disapparates.

The room plunges back into darkness. I'm almost used to that now.

I rub my eyes, and head for the bathroom. I'm not sure whether the sharp twinge I feel halfway towards the door is due to some lingering grains of powder the bastard has left as a reminder, or just the residue of memory... Perhaps that wasn't even where the line was.

Well, at least I don't need to go back to that side of the room. All I want to do now is wash and then crawl into bed.

He wants you to rest.

Oh great – at last, something we agree on. Though if he really wanted me to sleep he wouldn't have told me about his 'other little task'. I dread to think what he's planning this time.

Which is exactly the reaction he wanted. Don't think about it – you'll find out soon enough.

But... if he's going to... to do what he did before, in that other room...

And the bastard was right. I still hate him. Which means he can still use me.

Perhaps he was also right about it being impossible to stop him.

No. That's just what he wants me to think.

Or perhaps only what he wants to think himself?

But how can I hope to control my reactions if every time he looks at me I can't even think his name?

I can feel my body tense at the thought. It's ridiculous! If I can say Voldemort, why can't I say...

But I've never had to face Voldemort. I've never had Voldemort stroking my cheek and whispering in my ear about how much he wants to hear me scream...

I shudder, and concentrate on finding my way round the bathroom and back to the bed.

I lie on my back, staring into the dark.

How can I approach this? Approach him?

I have to make sure he can't manipulate me like that again. And that means I have to reverse the Hagalaz Vector. But... every time I think about not hating him, it feels like there's a snake writhing in my gut, twisting round to slash at me with poison fangs.

I do hate him, I've got far too many sodding reasons to hate him. I can't just pretend I don't.

So... It's not a question of just turning it back on itself. I can't think 'reverse the vector', trip some kind of mental switch and, hey presto, I won't hate him anymore. If it were that easy he wouldn't have been so surprised when I suggested it yesterday.

No, if there's a way to do it, it's something that wouldn't be in any of his Dark Arts textbooks. He thinks you have to fight darkness with darkness, but that only works if you want to end up in the dark. To fight the darkness itself you need a light...

Okay. The state of the Hagalaz Vector depends on my emotions, not the other way round. So that means I have to work with emotion, not magic. And there, at least, I must have an advantage over that heartless bastard.

He chose the battleground. Now I have to outmanoeuvre him.

Thinking of him as an enemy makes the problem seem more abstract, a puzzle to crack rather than a tormentor to react to. Or try not to react to.

So what do I know about him?

That he's an evil Dark wizard who takes a sadistic delight in making me suffer?

That's not helpful.

I try to picture him without the sneer, try to imagine how those pale grey eyes could hold something other than hate.

But then again, I have seen him without the sneer. Every time he looks into my eyes as if probing a bottomless abyss that no one else can see ... and, and before. After I...

Don't hide from it, Hermione! You can't afford to be dishonest with yourself!

After I cursed him, then. After I cast... cast Cruciatus.

Like a statue, I thought then. A relic of an ancient world, carved in stone.

Or ice.

I could just imagine him being happy to be compared to a statue. Standing on a plinth, his name carved underneath.


There's a prickle down my spine, but it makes it a little easier, thinking of him as a a lifeless sculpture. Detached, his regal mask firmly in place. Not snarling at me with his wand poised to strike-

Lucius Malfoy.

And not staring calmly into my eyes as if he could read my soul.

I push that image firmly from my mind, roll onto my side, and close my eyes.


I'm in the bathroom when he comes back. There's a heavy blow to the door that doesn't sound like a person knocking. Trust him – trust... him to be so fastidious he can't even knock on a bloody door without magic.

When I emerge, he sneers and throws down something white down at my feet.

"Merry Christmas, Mudblood."

I freeze. Christmas, does that mean I've been here for what, three weeks – only three weeks but it feels like forever... but it doesn't matter.

I look down at the object in front of me. That, I have a horrible feeling, does.

It's a white sheet, wrapped around...

I don't want to know what it's wrapped around. It's a bit shorter than my arm, though I can't guess anything from the shape. And it's not moving, which can only be a good thing.

"Aren't you going to open it?"

I'm not exactly in a position to say no, am I?

I crouch down. I feel as if there's a thick plate of glass between me and, well, everything, really.

It doesn't smell of anything. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I stop myself from looking up at him. It would only let him see however much of my creeping dread is showing on my face – he's never going to let me off finding out what this is.

Or he might just take it away and I'd never know. That would be worse.

I hope it would be worse.

I have to know. I focus on that as I pull the first fold of the sheet aside. Either he's just playing a sick joke and there's nothing in here at all – or else all I'm unwrapping is the evidence of how evil he is.

I pull at another part of the sheet. And I already know how evil he is. Nothing should surprise me, right?

I don't want to know.

I tug at another corner of the sheet, and jerk my hand away at the sight of a ginger hair.

Oh God, please say this is nothing to do with Ron's dad.

Or Ron.

Or Fred or George or, oh please not Ginny. Not after what he put her through in second year – that would be too horrible.

I swallow, and reach out to pull away the last fold. I have to know.

It's... not. No.

My vision is suddenly blurred. I blink back the tears and reach out my hand...

I close my eyes. I don't want to see. Or maybe I just want to believe that if I don't look then the fur will be soft and warm, not matted and... cold.


I squeeze my eyes shut. A tear trickles down my cheek. I brush it away.

His footsteps ring on the stone. His robe rustles. I can hear him breathing.

I can't look at him.

"Don't you like your present, Mudblood?"

Shut up, shut up, how can you be so cruel?

I breathe in, and open my eyes. He's crouching down on the other side of that little body, one eyebrow raised... I can't look at him.

I should be feeling something. But I don't.

"Why?" My voice sounds flat and distant.

He shrugs. "Why not?"

"You- you killed my cat."

"Oh, that wasn't me. But I will take credit for the idea."

Credit? You sick, evil-

But I don't want to think about him.

I run my hand along Crookshanks' stiff back, half hoping that he'll start to purr and arch into my hand.

But this isn't Crookshanks. Crookshanks is gone.

Oh God.

His familiar feline face is horribly twisted. Around the mouth an ugly yellow substance has dried on his fur.

I... I don't think it was the Killing Curse that did this.

I almost wish that, that evil... I wish he had done it. At least he would have done it... quickly.

And I thought I was being kind when I rescued my gorgeous cat from that shop.

I wish I'd left him there, I wish some other witch had come along and taken him to a home where he would have been safe.

I'm so sorry...

He stands up and reaches for his wand. "Well, if you don't like it, I suppose I'd better get rid of it for you."


I kneel down and pull the body onto my lap. It's so heavy and stiff that I can't quite believe it has any connection with my lively, clever, beautiful cat but I can't let go...

"No? And just what do you think you're going to do with it?"

"Please... just for one night." I stare up at him, pleading. "Please."

I know I sound stupid and childish but that only means grief and guilt and love are stupid and childish and that means I'd rather be stupid and childish than like him.

He looks down at me, frowning. The corner of his mouth twitches slightly.


"If you must," he says at last. "But I really don't see why you're so upset. I'd really have expected you to be glad it wasn't your mother."

He's not human. Maybe that's what he means by 'real wizards'.

And... oh God this sounds awful, but... it almost feels more horrible that it wasn't. It isn't, I know, but I was responsible for Crookshanks. I was supposed to take care of him, and now...

I'm so sorry.

And not in the way I felt 'sorry' for him yesterday. There was far too much hate in that, I realise now. But if I can't use hate and I can't use pity, then how can I possibly stop him from using me like he did before? Especially when he... when he could do that? I'm stuck.

You can't afford to be stuck.

"You know, I'd rather like to meet your mother," he says. "I think we could have a most interesting time discussing why she raised you to be so disrespectful."

He can't. He can't.

"If you hate me so much," I say quietly, "why don't you just kill me and have done with it?"

"Ah, but that is my decision to make. And I don't want to kill you, do I? Not yet, at least."

Oh God, what did I do to deserve this? Why did he get the power to decide whether I live or die?

"Your concern for your relatives is most touching, Mudblood," he says with a sarcastic smile. "But if it's genuine, you should remember that your mangy animal had rather more protection at Hogwarts than is provided in your ugly Muggle towns."

And you still managed to... Yeah, I get the message, you evil bastard.

"Bear that in mind tomorrow," he says.


"Yes, Mudblood. You will be on your best behaviour. And if you forget, I'll be asking you to choose which of your parents will pay the price. Or would it help you to focus your mind tomorrow if you told me now?"


"Or perhaps you don't really care about them as much as you pretend? They obviously didn't care much about you, after all. What sort of parents would send their only child alone into a completely unknown society?"

How can he say that? Of course Mum and Dad care about me! They'd even planned to take me skiing because they thought I'd need a break before my OWLs – we should have been in France now, so someone will have told them I'm missing, surely? They must be frantic...

"That's not true," I say coldly. "They don't feel the need to control me, that's all. They trusted me to make up my own mind."

"And look where that sentiment got you. Such irresponsible parenting – I would never have done such a thing."

“But Mal- I mean, your son..."


"He said you wanted to send him to Durmstrang."

He chuckles nastily. "Do you really think Durmstrang is unfamiliar to me?"

No, actually, it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't – from what Viktor told me about the place, there are certain similarities between his 'teaching methods' and Karkaroff's. Unless that's just a Death Eater thing.

"No," he says, "Durmstrang has far more in common with Hogwarts – or at least, what Hogwarts would be, under a decent Headmaster – than you could ever hope to have in common with either. And Durmstrang, at least, recognises that fact enough to exclude the likes of you, so that it can offer a proper wizarding curriculum."

He smiles. I hold Crookshanks' body in front of me like a shield.

"But perhaps, Mudblood, you don't believe me. Would you perhaps like a demonstration of what is taught at Durmstrang?"

I keep myself perfectly still, trying to hide my fear behind a neutral mask.

"So," he says lazily. "Which of your dear parents would you like me to demonstrate on?"

He doesn't want me to answer that. He can't.

So why does he look as if he's waiting for an answer?

"Don't, please..." I stare at him in desperation. "What do you want from me?"

He smiles. "Perhaps I want to see your reaction as you watch, little one. Or perhaps I want to see how well you'd perform under Imperius – and then watch your reaction when you see what you've done. So tell me, would it be your mother, or your father?"

I- I... I can't seem to think. There should be words at the front of my mind, something I could say to get me out of this, but there isn't.

Logic, Hermione.

But how can I possibly apply logic to this? Which of them would miss the other more? Which of them I would miss more? Even thinking about it is obscene. How could I live with myself if I condemned Mum or Dad to... God, I know what he can do, and that's when he wanted to keep me alive.

No one could make such a choice.

But if I don't... if I let him choose, that is itself a choice.

Precisely – you're damned either way. That's the point, isn't it?

Although at least then the choice would be on his conscience.

He doesn't have a conscience!

He stands up. "You are beginning to try my patience, Mudblood. Or is it perhaps that you wouldn't want to separate them? That you would rather see them watch each other die?"

Oh God, he can't.

He can. But he won't – he'd lose his leverage over me if he did. He'd never do that.

He shrugs. "Well, perhaps we'll just have to decide when the time comes, hmm? You clearly need more time to think about it." His voice hardens. "And now, Mudblood, look me in the eye and tell me that you don't hate me."

And I look up into those proud grey eyes, and oh God I hate him – for what he's done and for what he's threatening to do, and worse, for his incredible belief that he's right to do what he does... And I know I shouldn't give in to the hate, I know he wants me to react this way, but right at the moment all that matters less than the fact that one day I'll make him pay.

He smiles. "Sleep well, little one. We have work to do tomorrow."

But after he leaves I lie awake in the darkness, cradling Crookshanks' body in my arms and crying all the tears for my dead cat that I've not been able to cry for myself.