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 11 - Mercy

Chapter Summary:
Lucius abducts Hermione.
Author's Note:
Thank you all to your response to the last chapter. This one is indebted to Narya and Dreamcatchergrl and several others whose reviews of

Additional Disclaimer: One line is borrowed from the CoS movie – I couldn't resist. ;-)

Author's Notes: Thank you all to your response to the last chapter. This one is indebted to Narya and Dreamcatchergrl and several others whose reviews of 'Open Book' a year back indirectly inspired the plot development here; and also of course to my beta-reader Hijja, without whom the process of writing this would be a lot less enjoyable!


~ Invictus ~
by Chthonia

Part 11: Mercy


Under the blankets, I squeeze my eyes shut. I take a breath, and open them again. I can't make him go away by pretending he's not there.

"Where are we?"

It's a new voice, a slightly nervous voice, and for a moment I can't place it. Then I do.

How could he? How could he?

It's not going to be any easier if he has to drag me out of bed. I bury my fingers in Crookshanks' limp fur, and sit up.

"Merry Christmas, Draco," his father says.

I've never seen that smarmy little git look so surprised.

"Granger? But- but Father, you said that the Dark-"

"Miss Granger has already done her duty to the Dark Lord – haven't you, Miss Granger?"

Why's he being so polite all of a sudden?

I nod, slowly, twisting my hand in the sheets. I hope I'm supposed to nod.

"And now," he continues in that horrible drawl, "it's time for her to do her duty to us."

Oh God. What does he mean by that?

I don't want to know. Especially with the way Malfoy Junior is grinning.

"I'm glad to see you like your present," says his father. "Miss Granger was rather less grateful for the one you sent her, I'm sorry to say."

"The one I sent?"

He – 'Lucius Malfoy', I remind myself, but it feels doubly odd to call him that with his son standing next to him – points to the pillow beside me, where Crookshanks' head is just visible. Malfoy – the younger one – laughs.

"The cat? She took it to bed with her?"

So what if I did? It's not as if either of them would understand what it is to care about another living creature. Still, I half wish I hadn't – I feel a little silly now. I try not to let it show.

The elder- Lucius Malfoy shrugs. "How many times have I told you, Draco, that Muggles don't maintain the same standards of hygiene as we do? I will leave you to dispose of the animal while I'm gone."

"Yes, Father."

I put my hand on the little body. Not that I could really stop them taking it.

"I don't know why you care, Granger," Malfoy says. "I reckon I did you a favour. That cat is so stupid I doubt it'd recognise your blood if it was fresh, let alone after-"

"Indeed," says his father.

I stare at him.

Hah! So you killed Crookshanks so he couldn't sense that my blood was in that powder? I wasn't supposed to know that, was I? I was supposed to think you were just being cruel for the sake of it, but this is what you meant when you said my blood might be traceable!

Not that it makes what he did yesterday any less cruel.

He reaches into his pocket and brings out a round silver object. He holds it between thumb and forefinger and peers at it.

A watch. Like Dumbledore's. It's only a watch.

He smiles his lazy smile at me, then at his son.

"Well, I think I'll leave you two to renew your acquaintance. I wouldn't want you to be – inhibited – by my presence. But do play nicely, Draco."

Malfoy grins. "Do I have to?"

"For now, yes. And Miss Granger–"

"Yes?" I keep my tone level. It's not easy.

He raises an eyebrow. "Now, Miss Granger, there's no need to be rude."

I grit my teeth. Does the bastard really have to be like this in front of Malfoy?

"Yes, Mr Malfoy," I say, hating the blush that I can feel spreading across my face.

"Good girl. Now, do you remember our agreement yesterday?"

That'd be the one where I have to choose which of my parents you're going to murder if you decide I'm not on my 'best behaviour'. How could I possibly forget?

"Yes... I think you do," he says. "Let's just say that it starts from when I return, hmm?"

He means...

"Not from now?"

"You heard me. Not until I get back."

"Y- yes, Mr Malfoy."

At least, I hope he means what I think he means.

He holds my gaze for a moment, then he smiles at his son, and Disapparates.

So now it's just me and Malfoy. We stare at each other.

It's odd, seeing him out of school robes. The ones he's wearing now are dark green. Not velvet, like he had at the Yule Ball – strange to think that was only a year ago – but a fine-woven wool with embroidered cuffs that exude wealth and privilege. And he's wearing close-fitting black gloves, just like his father. A proper little lordling of the manor – it's hard to relate this boy to the spoilt brat we've had to put up with through four years of Potions classes.

His attitude, though, hasn't changed a bit.

"So what was all that about?" he says.

I shrug. "Why don't you ask your father?"

"I'm asking you, Granger."

"What, you mean he didn't tell you? I thought he told you everything."

His face turns slightly pink. He pulls out his wand and for a moment I'm sure he's going to hex me. But he just smirks.

"Oh look! I have a wand – and you don't. Do you know what that means?"

It means, I suddenly realise, that I might have a chance of getting out of here. If I could get Malfoy's wand, if I could hold him hostage... maybe I could get his father to bring me a Portkey that works. I try to keep that thought, that unhoped-for flash of hope, from showing on my face. Lucius Malfoy would have seen it immediately, but Malfoy is too busy gloating.

"It means, Granger, that you have to do as I say."

Funny – your father said pretty much the opposite.

I give him my best disdainful look. "Draco Malfoy, you are nothing but a coward and a bully. I've never been afraid of you and I never will be!"

"And you're nothing but a filthy, stupid Mudblood!"

"Oh, sticks and stones, Malfoy."

"What are you on about?"

A playground taunt – he's dragging me down to his level, I know, but after weeks of dealing with his father's brutal manipulation, it's almost a relief to be this petty. So I half-chant it, as if I were nine again and thumbing my nose at that snooty cow Elisa who thought she was so much better that me just because her dad had bought her a pony.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"

But Malfoy just laughs. "Words will never hurt you? Only a Muggle could be that stupid!" He twirls his wand between his fingers in an uncanny imitation of his father. "So, Granger, why don't you shut that fat mouth of yours and get out of bed?"

Oh, original. Like father, like son.

But not.

"Whatever." I swing my feet to the floor and stand up. I quickly straighten the bedclothes – I do not want his father taunting me about that when he gets back.

"Holy shit, Granger! What in Hades happened to you?"

He's talking about the scar, I suppose, the one on my left cheek – it was facing away from him before. Or maybe the one at my elbow, before my sleeve fell to cover it, or the ones on the back of my legs from the second day. Or the ones seared into my soul, less visible but so much deeper.

"What do you think happened?" I snap. "Trips to the seaside?"

He blinks.

He really doesn't get it. He's learnt all the arrogant posturing from his father well enough, but everything he's said at school was just talk, an attempt to make himself look bigger than he is. It's as if he's never really grasped the cold cruel reality behind it.

It shouldn't surprise me. He couldn't see the Thestrals, after all.

I shake my head. "Don't tell me you didn't know what would happen when you sent me here."

He folds his arms. "Yeah, Granger, I reckon I did. It hardly took a crystal ball to predict that Potty and the Weasel King were going to run round blaming your disappearance on me. Professor Umbridge really isn't happy with them, especially seeing as everyone knows that you just ran away because you couldn't handle the pressures of OWL-year."


"No surprise there, of course," he smirks. "I always knew you couldn't deal with what was expected of a real witch."

"You rotten little-"

"Don't interrupt me, Granger. Don't you want to know what's been happening while you've been away?"

God, yes. And Malfoy has such a big mouth, maybe he'll actually tell me.

"Oh, let me guess," I say, as scornfully as I can manage. "Umbridge is trying to sack Hagrid because she thinks Flobberworms are too dangerous, the Daily Prophet is telling more lies about Harry, and Ron's mum has been seized by some mysterious illness?"

Normally he'd have seized any excuse to correct me. But now he just grins.

"Wouldn't you like to know? Though now you mention it, I didn't see any of the weasels on the train home, and Potter wasn't anywhere to be found, either. I wonder where they all disappeared to?"

My mouth is dry. "Maybe they decided to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas."

"But no one saw them at breakfast, either. Most unlike the weasels to miss a meal – the way they eat, you'd think their mum and dad couldn't afford to feed them at home. Want to know what I think?"

Not particularly.

He lowers his voice. "I think they couldn't handle the pressure either. I think they decided to do a runner – just like you."

Just like me... No.

"You're lying."

"Are you sure about that?"

No. He might be making it all up. But he might not. Anything could be happening out there.

"But maybe you're right," he continues. "Maybe it's just that Weasley's too ashamed to show his face, after his complete failure in the last Quidditch match. I've been watching him practice, you know, and he's even worse since you left. That's quite an achievement, Granger – I really didn't think that was possible."

"Ron's worth ten of you, Malfoy!"

"Ooh, getting touchy, are we? Do you like little Ronniekins?"

"Of course I like him! He's one of my best friends!"

He grins. "Oh, is that what you Gryffindors call it?"

I glare at him. I'm blushing, I don't really know why. I wish I wasn't.

Malfoy's face is flushed. "Oh, do tell, Granger," he breathes. "Is he any better at snogging than Quidditch? Has he put the Quaffle through the hoop?"

"That's gross." I look him in the eye. "And why would you be so interested in Ron's sex life, anyway?"

He scowls. "I'm only interested in how pathetic you and your friends are," he says. "And how you still manage to win the House Championship every single year, just because Dumbledore thinks the sun shines out of Potter's backside."

"That's not true! Professor Dumbledore is completely fair!"

"Oh really? We won the House Championship in first year, and he just took it away from us, in front of the whole school, right in the middle of the feast! How fair was that?"

I've never really thought of it like that. But Malfoy never got caught in the Devil's Snare or had to face those giant chess-pieces, either.

"This year, it's going to be different," he gloats. "We would have wiped Gryffindor off the pitch last month if it hadn't been for Potter's stroke of luck – and now that he's not on the team any more, all the other houses will do the same. We're going to win this year."

This is so puerile. He's talking as if we were back in Hogwarts.

Oh, how I wish we were.

"Malfoy," I say, looking pointedly at the stone walls surrounding us, "do you really think I give a damn about the Quidditch Cup?"

He stares at me for a moment, then chuckles. "Oh, I forgot – you're not going to be around to see it, are you?"

I can feel myself shaking. How- how can he just say something like that? We've always been enemies, but I never really thought he hated me this much.

"You're right, Granger," he sneers, "this isn't just about Quidditch. It's about winning and losing. And you have already lost."

I blink rapidly a couple of times, then I turn and stalk towards the bathroom.

"Don't just walk away, you stupid Mudblood!"

I ignore him.

There's a crack like a rifleshot and something hot whizzes past my ear. I can smell singed hair.

I whirl round.

"I told you-" he begins.

"Attacking a defenceless opponent from behind? A coward and a bully, Malfoy – I think you've just proved my point."

He stands there with his mouth open.

"Oh," I say, "and I really would have thought you'd be able to aim that spell by now. You've had a whole year to practise, after all."

He closes his mouth. I flee to the bathroom and slam the door.

Oh God. That was stupid. Really stupid. What on earth am I antagonising him for?

Because he's such a stupid git!

I grab onto the sink and breathe deeply. I will not cry. I will not cry.

I splash my face with water.

Please God, let him be lying about Ron and Harry.

But what if it's not only me that's missing? What if some of my friends are locked up like this too?

You could go mad thinking like that.

Which is probably what they want.

"You'd better come out of there, Granger!" Malfoy calls. "My father's not going to be very happy if he finds you skulking in the bathroom."

He's right. I wash quickly, trying to think.

L- Lucius Malfoy didn't want me to kow-tow to his son.

So maybe you should have.

No way!

But that's the point, isn't it? How could I not seize the opportunity to let out all the anger and frustration and hopelessness of the last few weeks? He must have known that – but I don't see why he'd want me to do it.

Because he wants to see how much you hate him.

But if he still wants to control the Hagalaz Vector, wouldn't he want me to bottle up that hate, to turn it against myself rather than fighting back?

Unless he's planning to go back on what he said about the 'agreement' not starting yet..

Oh God, please don't let that be it.

So what do I do now? If I'm going to act with integrity, I should be taking the chance to talk to Malfoy. If I can get through to him, if I can even scratch the surface, there might have been some point to all this.

But it's more important to get out of here. To help my friends, if I can. And I don't know how much time I have until he comes back.

I open the door. And stifle a cry.

Malfoy's standing right in front of the door. Smirking.

"Scared, Granger?"


"You really are stupid, aren't you?"

I take a deep breath. I will not let him get to me.

"Come on out then," he says, taking a few steps back. "I was starting to think I'd have to Vanish your cat without you."

Crookshanks. If only I'd been able to protect him! There's a skewer through my gut every time I think of it.



I hold his gaze, pleading. "Let me do it. Please?"

He laughs. "You what?"

"Please. How would you feel if someone did that to your owl?"

"I'd get my father to buy me another one. And why should I do you a favour after what you said to me?"

"Look... you don't know what it's like. I've been stuck down here for three weeks-"

"Slightly more than three weeks, Granger. Forgotten how to count?"

No, you moron, I've no way of knowing what day it is!

I will not let him get to me.

"I didn't mean to have a go at you, Malfoy," I say quietly. "It's just this place..."

"Really? And what was your excuse for being such a stupid cow at school?"

Stay calm, Hermione.

But what's the use? All he wants to do is bait me. He's as bad as his father – and even his father let me have a conversation with him. Sort of.

"So what you're saying, Granger, is that if I let you Vanish your cat yourself, you'll apologise?"

I meet his eyes. "If that's what you want, yes."

He folds his arms. "And you'll apologise for attacking me on the train last summer?"

I nod. Anything to get him to agree.

"And for slapping me in third year?"

He remembers that? That's kind of satisfying.


He grins. "Oh, this I have to hear. Granger, the Great Gryffindor Mudblood, admitting she was wrong?"

"I'm not like that, Malfoy. Really."

"Prove it, then."

I try to look humble. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I had a go at you earlier. I'm sorry about what happened on the train. I'm sorry I hit you."

But you really had it coming...

"And you won't do it again?"


"You really are pathetic, Granger."

I stare at him, stung. But I shouldn't expect anything else from a Slytherin.

"If you say so," I say. "May I Vanish my cat, now?"

He shrugs. "If you insist."

He holds out the wand. I reach for it.

He snatches it back, laughing. "As if, Granger. How thick do you think I am?"

Well, it was worth a try.

I stare numbly as he walks over to the bed and picks Crookshanks up by his hind legs. He swings the body slightly as he carries it to the centre of the room.

"Oh, but do keep begging," he says. "It suits you."

Right, you obnoxious little git. Time for Plan B.

"Do you want me to tell you how it died?" he asks.

No. But I'm not going to give him the satisfaction of telling him so. And I need to distract him.

"Pity you couldn't have seen it," he says. "It really was... impressive. At one point I even thought it was going to cough its guts up."

I don't want to know. Why can't he just get on with it?

"Serves it right for confusing Temporarily Transfigured Penetrating Potion for cream. Honestly Granger, if I was going to sleep with an animal, at least I'd choose something intelligent."

"Well, that rules Pansy Parkinson out then, doesn't it?"

His face goes a mottled shade of scarlet. "You wait, Granger," he snarls. "I thought my father had taught you some respect."

"Your father-"

I stop. I don't want to discuss that with him. Not with anyone.

"Cat got your tongue, has it? Oh, but it can't have. It's dead."

"Really? How many times do you have to crow about that before you finish the job? Or can't you do a Vanishing Spell?"

He rounds on me. "You," he says coldly, "are pushing it. Do you really want me to show you what spells I can do? Because we still have some time before my father gets back."

There's nothing I can think of to say to that.

I watch him as he positions himself, wipes his wand on his sleeve, swallows, flicks the wand experimentally, swallows again, raises the wand, prepares to speak...


I spring at him. He jumps away.


His spell throws me to the floor.

"Nice try, Granger, but not quite quick enough," he sneers. "Petrificus totalus!"

I fight back the wave of panic as my limbs go rigid. I know what this spell feels like. I know I'll still be able to breathe even though I've lost control of all my muscles. I stare at the crazy-paving patterns on the ceiling. It helps me to not think about how I'm not able to move.

"Evanesco," he says. "Evanesco!"

Oh come on, Malfoy, it's not that hard. It's not even a moving target.

It takes him five more attempts to complete the spell.

Goodbye, beautiful gorgeous marmalade cat.

At least, I assume he manages to complete the spell before he comes over to gloat at me again. His approaching footsteps thud slightly, unlike his father's resonant clicking. He's brought the chair over from the desk and he sits on it, gazing down at me.

"Do you want to know what I'm going to do to you?" he says quietly. "Or shall I just let you think about it?"

I am not afraid of Malfoy. Especially if he can't even manage a simple Vanishing Spell.

He just looks me slowly up and down. It would make me shiver, if I could. Hate, twisted with... I don't know. Too much like the way his father looks at me sometimes.

"It's a pity you're so ugly," he says. "Stupid frizzy hair, stupid rabbit teeth, stupid filthy Mudblood body..."

I really don't want to listen to this.

"Of course," he continues, "if you'd be willing to try some Polyjuice Potion, things could get a lot more interesting. And you would be willing, wouldn't you? Because from now on, you have to do everything I tell you."

I stare past him. I do not want to look at the way his eyes are gleaming. He's... he's not being like Malfoy, not like the way Malfoy was at school.

But then, I always had a wand at school, didn't I? And I've never been alone with him before.

"Finite Incantatem."

I guess the little git prefers taunting me when I can show a reaction. I sit up and stretch, avoiding his gaze. I shift myself backwards, away.

"Stay where you are, Granger."

He has his wand pointed at me. I move back another few centimetres, just to make a point.

"Is that it, Granger? I've just told you I can do anything I like to you, and you're just sitting there?"

"You can't," I say.

"Oh yes I can."

"You can't. Your father said you couldn't."

He laughs. "My father said I couldn't yet. Weren't you listening?"

"And you won't."


"I'm a Mudblood, remember? You know: inferior, filthy, untouchable?"

He gets up and walks slowly around me to stand just behind my back. He's obviously trained in his father's school of intimidation.

"That's what my father would say. And he's right, Granger. You are nothing but a useless, filthy Mudblood. But with Polyjuice..." I can hear the smirk in his voice. "I could be more... open-minded. It may come as a surprise to you, but I don't just parrot everything my father tells me. I'd have thought you would approve of that."

He walks back towards the chair.

I lunge forward and wrap my arms round his legs, squeezing them together so he loses balance and topples forward with an indignant yell. I roll away and clutch at his wand-hand, pinning it to the floor while I reach for the wand with my other hand.

"No way, Granger!"

He grabs at my waist and pulls me backwards, so I can't maintain the pressure on his wrist as I fall onto my side. I try to twist round to grasp for his wand again but he forces my shoulder onto the floor and I hear a rattle as he throws the wand away out of reach. Then he's leaning over me, his hands pressing down on my arms and the rest of him well out of kicking range.

It seems that ferret-boy is stronger than he looks.

"You don't give up, do you? What did you think you were going to do with that wand?"

"Use your imagination, Malfoy. If you have one, that is."

I shouldn't goad him. I don't fancy my chances of getting to that wand before he does. But nothing I say is going to make him worse. And I have to get that wand. I have to get out of here.

He's smirking. "I didn't think you wanted to know about my imagination."

"You're sick. Did anyone ever tell you that?"

"I hardly think you're in a position to pass judgement, Granger."

I wait for him to move, and tense slightly to race him to the wand. But he doesn't.

"You should have listened to me when I told you to keep your stupid mouth shut, back in first year," he sneers. "But you couldn't, could you? You were just having too much fun showing the rest of us up, bragging about your wonderful marks. You thought you were so clever, didn't you? And look where it got you."

I sigh. "Is that what this is about? That I know more spells than you?"

"Don't bet on that. I know spells that have never been taught at Hogwarts – not that a Mudblood would know anything about that sort of thing."

"Oh, come on. If we both had wands I could beat you easily, and you know it."

"Considering that you've never fought me without your friends to back you up, that's quite a claim to make." He grins. "Especially when we're down here, where I can use any of the spells I know without being detected."

"Does that make you feel big, Malfoy? What are you going to do? Cast Unforgivable Curses at me?"

"I could. Maybe I will."

"Well, I can't say I'm that worried, if your Vanishing Spell is anything to go by."

"And I suppose you're going to tell me you can cast Unforgivables, are you?"

I look him straight in the eye. "Why don't you ask your father about that?"

He gapes at me for a moment. "He made you cast one?"

"Goaded me, more like. I doubt he thought it was such a good idea when he was rolling about the floor screaming."

Malfoy stares at me. He lets out a harsh laugh. "Do you really expect me to believe that?"

"Ask him."

"Don't be stupid. And let him think I believed you? I haven't got a death-wish."

"What, too scared to ask your wonderful father for the truth?"

He scowls. "You don't know anything."

"When it comes to your father," I say quietly, "I know more than I ever wanted to know."

"You couldn't touch him."

Yeah, it's not as if Lucius Malfoy would go for someone if they actually stood a chance of beating him...

"So he's a coward."

He'll hit me for that, he's bound to hit me... And if he gets off me I have a chance of getting the wand.

But he just grips my arms, so hard it makes me gasp.

"How dare you say such a thing, you filthy Mudblood scum!"

"Because it's true. He's as big a coward as you are – he's just better at hiding it. Look at who he chooses to pick on! Me. Ginny Weasley. Those Muggles at the World Cup. And now, eleven-year-old children on their first trip to Diagon Alley."

"Shut up, Granger."

"Why? Can't handle the truth? Why are you all so bothered about Muggleborns? Because you're scared of us!"

"Really, Draco," his father drawls. "You aren't going to let her get away with that kind of slander, are you?"

Oh no.

I close my eyes.

Malfoy lets go of me. I open my eyes and sit up.

Lucius Malfoy is leaning against the desk, a slight smile on his lips as if he finds us mildly amusing. But there's nothing amusing about that look in his eyes.

Oh God.

"What a touching little tableau," he says. "But I think you can both get up now."

How much did he hear?

Enough. More than enough.

And more to the point, is he going to treat that 'agreement' as starting from the time he came back, or the time I realised he was there?

I feel very cold. I just about manage to scramble to my feet.

Was he intending this to happen?

Malfoy must be having a right laugh at me now, just like he did when they cornered me in the bookshop last summer...

But he's not smirking when I glance at him. He's tense and his earlier flush is completely gone. Standing this close, I can see he's biting his lip slightly. I can also see that his wand is still on the floor.

It's only a metre away. And behind us. If I could get it I could use Malfoy as a shield.

But if I couldn't, his father would go for one of my parents for sure.

"Don't even think about it, Miss Granger. Come here."

So I do. I'm not sure when I stopped debating with myself over every order he gave me. It must have been a while ago. Now, I couldn't imagine not doing as he says when he speaks to me like that.

He smiles at me, a smile that might have seemed pleasant if it was on someone else's face, and if he wasn't looking at me like that. I can feel my heart thumping.

"Well, Miss Granger," he says softly. "Fascinating as it is to hear you being so forthright about what you really think of me, I think we've heard quite enough from you for now." He raises his voice. "Draco. I believe you have been studying Silencing Charms. Would you care to demonstrate?"

"On her?"

"You didn't think I meant me, did you?"

Malfoy hurriedly bends down to retrieve his wand.

"Turn around, Miss Granger."

Turning my back on Lucius Malfoy is the last thing I want to do. But I do it. I have no choice.

Malfoy stands up, grinning now. It's almost as unpleasant as his father's smile.

"You know, Granger," he drawls, "I've been wanting to do this for years."

"Hmm. I can understand why," his father says.

Bastards, both of them. They're as bad as each other.

That's not true. Never fool yourself into thinking that.

In front of me, Malfoy lifts his wand, swallowing. He's being more careful to hide his uncertainty in front of his father. I stare at him, sneering slightly, willing the stupid git to mess it up.


There's a tingling sensation in my nose, mouth, throat. It fades slowly.


I scream – but I can't. Lucius Malfoy's spell, Lucius Malfoy's slashing pain across the back of my calf, running down my leg in a warm trickle of my blood. I stagger against the desk.

"Oh, do keep still, Miss Granger. It's only a little pain."

Compared to the Cruciatus, that's true. But then I'd be writhing on the floor not even aware of my surroundings and this still hurts hurts HURTS.

I grip the desk and bite my lip and blink back tears.


Warmth. No pain. I take a deep, shuddering breath. I'm still holding onto the desk.

"I'd say that test is conclusive. Well cast, Draco."

God, I, I... can't let myself hate him, no matter how much of a complete and utter sadistic bastard he is.

"Now, Miss Granger...," he says.

I turn around, swallowing. It's odd how much more defenceless I feel without my voice, as if mere words could have saved me from whatever he's planning.

Malfoy Junior isn't smiling any more.

"I'm afraid," his father continues, all falsely honey-sweet, "that I just can't allow your lies of a few minutes ago to go unpunished. I'm sure you'll agree."

I look at the floor. Everything I said was true. Maybe it's a good thing they cast this spell on me – at least this way I can't say anything I'll regret.

Except that...

I turn to stare up at him, willing him to understand.

Me, not my mum and dad! I didn't know you were there!

"Ah, I expect you're worried about our agreement, aren't you? Hmm..."

Please. Please.

"Well, litt- Miss Granger... Entertaining as it would be to enforce those terms to the letter, I find myself inclined to be lenient this once, providing we can agree on an appropriate punishment. Would you like that?"

I nod. His smile broadens.

"Excellent. Now, let's suppose for a moment that your ridiculous assertion were true. That would mean that you'd stolen my wand, wouldn't it?"

Not necessarily – he could theoretically have given it to me. But that's splitting hairs. And is also irrelevant. It's where he's going with it that's important.

"And whether or not that is the case, I believe you have attempted to steal Draco's wand this afternoon." He looks over my shoulder at Malfoy, and raises an eyebrow. "Am I right?"


"Yes or no, Draco?"

"Yes, Father."

"Yes. I thought as much. We will discuss that later." He returns his gaze to me. "Are you aware, Miss Granger, that in some countries the penalty for stealing a wand is the loss of the thief's wand-hand?"

He can't mean... He can't.

He can.

Oh God.

I feel sick. Numb.

He's smiling even more now, drinking in the dawning of my horrified comprehension.

"Don't you think that would be a suitable penalty, Miss Granger?"

He can't expect me to answer that.

"You do have a choice in the matter. We could, if you prefer, revert to our original agreement."

And he'd probably do this, and worse, to Mum or Dad. And then do the same to me anyway. The pain can't be worse than Cruciatus. It can't. By definition it can't be worse.

That's not saying much.

And... it's my hand. Is this what he's going to do, chop me to pieces bit by bit?

Isn't that what he said he'd do, a couple of days ago? 'There are things I could take from you much more painfully than blood...'

It's... there's no word for it.

But these things do happen to people. You read it in the papers all the time.

I never thought it could happen to me. But I suppose that's what all the others thought, those people who were students and mothers and daughters and friends, leading nice normal lives before some bastard branded them 'victim'.

Ron and Harry will remember me as me, not like... this. Assuming they're still alive themselves.

"Come here, Draco."

He steps forward to stand beside his father. I turn my head away.

"That was not a cue for you to hide your face, Miss Granger."

I swallow, and look at him. At them.

Lucius Malfoy is still wearing that terrible smile. His son's face is completely white, and he's not smiling at all. Both of them are watching me as if I'm a caged rabbit in a lab. All I want to do is turn and run. I wish I were anywhere but here.

"Now, observe," he says. "See how pale she is? How her lower lip is trembling slightly?"

"Yes, Father."

"What else do you see?"

"Erm..." He's searching my face, peering at me as if he's trying to translate some sort of runescript. I try to catch his eye. How many times have we sat in the same classroom? Even a sign of hate would be welcome, some acknowledgement that I'm human.

"Her eyes," he says at last.

"What about her eyes?"

"Her pupils are dilated, and she's blinking a lot."

"Good. What else?"

"Um, she's breathing quickly?"

"Indeed. And not particularly steadily. What does all that tell you?"

"That she's scared?"

"Hmm. A little more than that, I think. I would say that our Miss Granger is almost hysterical, and probably would be completely hysterical if she didn't have a very good idea of how much worse that would make things for her." He holds my gaze. "Would you say that assessment is correct, Miss Granger?"

I nod, trying to blink back tears that come from humiliation as much as fear. It was bad enough when he was playing to Macnair, but this... I couldn't feel more exposed if he stripped me naked.

"Yes," he murmurs. For a moment I think he's about to reach out and run his thumb along my jaw. But he doesn't. I find myself shuddering as if he had.

"Yes, Draco," he says again. "Learning to distinguish the nuances of fear is like learning to appreciate a fine wine. You will learn to master both, in time."

I try to catch Malfoy's eye, but he's avoiding my gaze.

"Yes, Father," he says tonelessly.

What was that about not parroting your father? Can't you see it? He is a coward! He just needs everyone around him to be more afraid than he is!

"But I fear that Miss Granger disagrees. I think that she would rather we just get on with it... yes?"



He smiles. "So, Miss Granger. Are you going to give us your answer? If you're willing to accept this... concession, nod your head. Shake your head, and we'll go back to our original agreement."

For a moment I have a wild fantasy of keeping my head motionless so that we'll be caught in this limbo for ever, or until someone comes to rescue me. Because this can't happen.

And then I nod my head.

He nods slightly in response, his gaze holding mine.

"Are you really going to cut off her hand?" asks Malfoy. His voice is slightly higher than usual.

"No, Draco. You're going to do that."

Malfoy swallows audibly. I hadn't thought he could get any paler than he was before.

"Do you think you can manage that?" Lucius Malfoy's voice is quiet, but there's no mistaking the steel underneath. Malfoy recognises it too, clearly.

"Y-yes, Father."

What did I expect? That he was going to refuse? That it would have made any difference if he had? Why would Malfoy care what happens to me? The selfish little git can always feed me Polyjuice if he doesn't like the look of me without a hand.

Without a hand.

Don't think about it.

I'm surprised I can still stand up, my legs feel so shaky.

"Miss Granger. If you would just go round to the other side of the desk."

I do. He follows close behind.

"Bend over."

I lean across the desk and he pushes me down so that my left cheek is resting on the wooden desktop. He keeps his hand at the small of my back. It's as if his hatred is searing into my flesh where he's touching me, as if I'll be branded by his malice forever.

As I will.

"Now, listen closely, Draco," he says.

I close my eyes in despair – why can't he get on with it?

"What you see here," he goes on, "is a classic demonstration of the difference between fear and respect. I think it is safe to say that Miss Granger loathes me, much as she's trying to deny it. Yes, even though she knows how hating me only makes things worse, I suspect at the moment she'd be very happy to see me die a very slow and painful death."

He brushes my hair away from my cheek. I jump at the feather-light touch, opening my eyes.

"Don't worry," he says, smiling down at me, "I won't make you answer that."

He continues his lecture. "And yet, you will observe that she obeys all my commands, immediately and unquestioningly. That, Draco, is entirely due to fear – some of it recent, which is uppermost in her thoughts, I think, and some that has been slowly seeping into her subconscious mind since the day we brought her here. Never confuse that ingrained fear with respect – you heard for yourself how little of that she has learned."

And he smiles at me again. "But you will learn, by the time I've finished with you," he says quietly. "I can promise you that."

If it's respect you want, you've got a bloody strange way of going about it...

"But first..." he says, "your hand, if you would?"

My hands – both hands, two hands – are still on the desk, one on each side of my head. I- I can't seem to move either of them.

"Your wand hand, Miss Granger. There isn't any point otherwise, is there?"

My right hand twitches, but I can't.

His gloved fingers curl around my wrist, just like they did when he prised his wand out of my hand before I stabbed him... and he stretches my arm out to the right.

Oh God...

I'm shaking. I hate myself for it. I hate being so weak in front of him. Them.

"There, that's not so difficult, is it?" he says softly. "It's not as if you're going to need it, after all: you were never going to touch a wand again, hand or no hand. This is just a little reinforcement of the lesson you learned before, to help you resist the temptation to touch that to which you have no right."

But this has nothing to do with taking his wand, and everything to do with what I said to Malfoy about him. I know that, as clearly as I can see that he doesn't want to spell it out in front of his son. He doesn't have to spell it out. It's written in his hard, triumphant eyes.

He touches his wand to my wrist and trails it lightly up to my shoulder. I don't need to try to move my arm to know that I can't.

He's still looking down at me. Our eyes meet. The corner of his lip twitches.

"Would you like to watch?" he asks.

I shudder. I'm glad I can't answer.

Maybe I'll just pass out from the shock. Or die. There'd be no more pain then.

"Well, as you're facing in the right direction, I suppose you might as well. But I must warn you not to try to distract Draco. We wouldn't want him to miss his aim, would we? I'm sure you would regret it far more than we would, if it took more than one blow to sever the joint properly..."

I close my eyes, deliberately, shutting out the mocking smirk as I can't shut out the mocking words. In one corner of my mind there's a desperate voice saying please God don't let him do it please please no... but it feels like it's on the other side of a thick glass wall. What's the point of praying? The only thing that's going to stop him is if Professor Dumbledore appears with his wand ablaze with light like when he came to rescue Harry from Barty Crouch Junior last summer... but then Harry's the one that gets rescued. Back in second year he got Godric Gryffindor's sword and a Phoenix and I all got was a mirrorful of Basilisk-eye, and the only reason I didn't die that time was because I'd worked out what Slytherin's monster was on my own, before any of them. That's what I'm supposed to do, isn't it, that's what I've done every year since I came into this world: help Harry get through the obstacles so he can go have the final confrontation on his own. I'm not supposed to need rescuing. It's my own fault I got in too deep this time.

Though in the end it's Voldemort that Harry's supposed to be facing, not Lucius Malfoy. So perhaps this is the same pattern, perhaps my being here is helping Harry, somehow, as if for some reason he can only get to Voldemort if I'm sacrificed to the Malfoys. At least that way there'd be some point to this.

I ought to be able to accept it, for Harry's sake, for the sake of the wizarding world, and in theory I could, I suppose, but still there's that voice in the back of my head desperately praying for a miracle and saying I'd do anything to avoid this...

Not 'anything'. I did have a choice.

Those voices behind me, one quietly instructive remember not to look at the blade, look at where you want it to fall and the other with yes father and no father and three bags full father, just that little too loud to be at ease.

You're not the only one who can read the sodding nuances of fear, Malfoy.

But I don't want to listen to them, not in these last minutes – seconds? – when I can still wriggle my fingers (fingers that learned umpteen permutations of a perfect wand-flick, fingers that used to run through the soft orange fur of a now-murdered cat, fingers that trailed in the water when Grandpa Granger took me rowing on the lake...) As soon as they finish their cosy little father-to-son chat... I know what they're going to do, but I can't grasp it. You can't accept the unacceptable.

Maybe, in the end, that's all I can accept. I don't have to pretend that I can predict what he's going to do afterwards, that I can deal with his sadistic games. I just need to know that I can't, that whatever I do he'll always be able to come up with some new atrocity that will throw me far beyond any limit I could hope to hold on to. There's no point in trying to get my head round it. And there's no point in hating it, either. It just is.

It's very quiet, I realise. I listen.

Not a sound.

Or maybe... breathing?

Or is it just my breathing?

One... Two... Three... Four... Five breaths...

I open my eyes.

And the reality that I can't escape or accept is standing before me, waiting, two pale figures with blond hair and empty eyes and black gloves and in one of those gloves is the instrument of my fate, gleaming bright like one of their fanged cloak-clasps.

It's an axe, a small silver axe that Malfoy is gripping as if it would twist round to bite him if he didn't. As if he had anything to fear from that wide, hungrily sharp blade.

But sharp is good, isn't it?

The end result is the same.

Why? Why? What have I ever done to deserve this?

Nothing. Existing. That's not the point anyway.

I can't take my eyes off that fine-honed edge. I'm going to be sick.

"It's beautiful – is it not, Miss Granger?"

It'd be beautiful if it was buried in your horrid bastard neck.

He moves around the desk, standing beside me now, leaving Malfoy alone with his face rigid and slightly green.

"Yes," he murmurs, "It is always best to use the proper tools, no matter how inferior the material we have to work with."


Malfoy is scowling. God knows why.

I can feel his hand between my shoulders again. I don't know why he's bothering – it's not as if I can move my arm anyhow. But that slight warmth... I ought to hate it, but something in me clings, craves the reassurance of what would be a human contact if it wasn't him that was doing this to me.

Malfoy looks at me then, only for a fraction of a second before looking up at his father, at this black and silent creature who's standing behind me with his hand warm on my back.

Whatever he sees makes him straighten his back, blank his expression, take a step to the side as he eyes my wrist waiting for him on the table.

He raises the axe.

He's going to do it. He's really going to do it.

oh God no please no please stop him don't make me have to-

The axe drops.

And I scream soundlessly through the jagged edges of my scrambled thoughts and someone shouts "Expelliarmus!" and there's a yell and a thud and the clang of metal against stone.


My hand. My hand. I can still feel my fingers. I can feel myself shaking.

His hand is still on my back.

"What did you do that for?" Malfoy is scrambling to his feet. He shakes out his robe and stares sullenly at us.

His father glances down at me, at my hand, at his wand. There's the faintest frown on his face. Malfoy can't see it from where he's standing, but I can.

"Well done, Draco," he says at last.


"Well. You see. It wasn't necessary for you to actually complete the task. I just wanted to make sure that you would be willing to do so."

Does that mean...

He's changed his mind. He's not going to do it.

I take a deep, shuddering breath.

I'm safe.

Yeah, right.

Malfoy runs a hand through his hair. His mouth twists downwards a fraction but he turns away, and I can't see his expression. He bends stiffly to retrieve the axe and place it on the desk. It's so close to my hand I could almost touch it.

"Thank you, Draco, but for the moment I believe Miss Granger's hand is considerably more useful attached to the rest of her body. You can put the axe away."

He picks it up and stalks out of my field of vision. I can hear him fumbling with – oh, I don't know, whatever box they keep the thing in, I suppose. I can't see anything, I'm shaking and my eyes are blurred with tears that I can't keep back even though I know I shouldn't cry-

And then there's the light touch of Lucius Malfoy's wand running down my arm, followed by the lighter touch of the spell that melts the charm holding me to the table. I cradle my right wrist against my chest.

"No, Miss Granger." He's speaking very quietly, still standing over me. "You will leave that hand where I can see it. And you will stop snivelling this instant, unless you want me to reconsider the matter."

I wish he'd move away from me.

I wipe my eyes with my robe-sleeve. He tuts disapprovingly. I rest my hand on the desk, beside my head, where I can see it.

His hand is still on my back. I can still feel myself shaking.

Now what?

I don't know. I don't want to know.

I can't make him go away by pretending he's not there.


I close my eyes.