Dear Reader

For War, For Love

Draco still could not understand what it was that he was seeing. The Golden Trio was in his home, in Malfoy Manor, captured by Snatchers and brought here as a prize. His parents had made him attend his seventh year even when he argued he would not pass his classes, that he would be more use at home, and the only salvation during those times were Hermione Granger's letters. Dear Reader had become one of his favorite things to see, sometimes jumping in place if the words were spoken to closely together.

And then just five minutes ago he'd been called from his desperate attempt to do long neglected assignments in the study. Upon arrival he sees the girl he loves more than his own family and he somehow manages to cover for her. It wasn't, isn't, enough because now she's being attacked. Bellatrix had shut off the entire room before he and his parents were able to leave.

His eyes are fixed on her knowing that Bellatrix will kill Hermione if she must. Bloody Hell, he's completely aware that she will kill her if she feels like it. His aunt did not understand restraint in her viciousness. It was one of the reasons Lord Voldemort valued her and despised him. The Malfoy family was a joke amongst the Death Eaters and it was his fault.

And he would not make it any better if he tried to save Hermione. It would do nothing for his chances with her either. She loved Ronald Weasley now, and he could be heard sobbing beneath the floorboards. Hearing her name shrieked from his lips reminded Draco of his place. She told him to remain an enemy because she cared too much to let him sacrifice everyone he loved. Few of them as there were, Draco remains in his place as she requested. His mother's hand slides over the small of his back, tugging him closer into her side. As for his father, he is standing with a raised chin and discontent in his eyes.

Draco was able to keep a straight face as his aunt cast spell after spell after spell trying to force Hermione to speak. The charms started off relatively harmless and became more violent as she depleted her reserves of tolerance. He sees that his courageous, Gryffindor love has a high threshold towards the pain, which makes him immediately thankful. However, the first time she starts to groan in pain he feels himself closing his eyes and looking away.

His mother senses Draco's discomfort because her free hand reaches across her body and lands on his shoulder. As her thumb rubs small circles over his pristine cotton shirt he tries to filter out her evolving howls of pain. A once coughed grumble is now a high-pitched scream of agony. Draco nearly steps forward with the intent of pulling his aunt off of Hermione but he hesitates. It is just a moment too late when he commits to the consequences of helping her because he hears the one spell he was hoping wouldn't cross Bellatrix' lips so soon…

It hits Hermione like broken glass pumping directly from her heart, "Crucio!"

She can feel her heart racing and hear her veins ripping in beat with her fear. When she breathes in it is as though acid is working up her nostrils and down her throat. Simultaneously to all of this her muscles are melting. Skin seems to be hanging loosing around the bones of her body. These are the sensations filling her body when Bellatrix uses the illegal curse in an attempt to steal Hermione's answers. She'd been whispering questions but the after effect of all the spells was preventing her from hearing them clearly.

Almost as soon as she has cast the spell she's ended it. Hermione is able to look around the room and see blotches of yellow and green in her vision. The ringing in her ears drops to nothing but a low murmur of her steadying heart rate. Bellatrix doesn't move but she seems to be temporarily distracted.

Instantly Hermione feels revived and she wonders if it Draco's doing. Bellatrix is cruel, and deviant, and hateful; she is the perfect warrior. However, Hermione does not feel as if the Malfoy relative could manage something so helpful under such a tightly monitored situation. She twists her head away from her aggressor and tries to look over her bloodied forehead. She cannot see Draco clearly but she does see him and hopes he can see the strength he gives her. No matter if he is being forced to watch, she is simply glad to have someone she considers an ally in the room.

"You have been ignoring me, you filthy Mudblood. Now that you've had your break can you tell me now where you got my sword?" Bellatrix tries being nice for a moment but she doesn't contain herself long. Before Hermione can even respond she finds herself howling her pains more violently than ever.

"I DO NOT KNOW!" She screams through gritted teeth and the agony. The spell ends for a moment, only long enough for brief condemnation.

"Liar!" Another shrill erupts from her throat, which awakens the truest dread in Hermione's chest. As soon as she gets the one syllable word past her lips, which appear bloodstained, the spell is repeated, "Crucio!"

It feels different this time, almost as it morphs to the fears of the victim. Hermione did not study the forbidden spells closely, although she wished to very often. Now she regrets it but that seems to be the effect of the spell. Every decision pours through her mind and play out in front of her foggy vision. The times that she could have helped Harry sooner if she had not been a goody-two-shoes always abiding by the rules; the opportunities she could have acted more quickly; the tests she missed points on, and so much more.

The memories of Draco, in which she invested much of her free time in the fifth year, causes struggle for her. There has been fewer things more difficult than suppressing her desire to cry out apologies to Draco at that exact moment. Or worse, she fears screaming out her regrets for letting him go. She hated herself for turning him away and knowing he was in the room right now watching her – and that it is her fault he cannot save her. Up until that point tears had not been shed but this broke her down and forced her to cry. It burnt her skin as tears fell past her dirty cheeks and rolled over her ears into her hair.

It stops again and Hermione is left gasping for air as she can cry on her own accord now. Shaking her head is all she manages in a pathetic attempt to forget the doubt she felt in herself. It was always there, haunting her in the form of nightmares and bouts of excessive anxiety. The spell brought out the worst of her fears and insecurities, which caused a unique pain, an emotional pain that will never be healed. Hermione thinks that this must be how Bellatrix debilitated Neville's parents.

"Tell me where you found it! Tell me who betrayed the secrets of my vault!" Bellatrix is beyond the stage of interrogation. Wherever she was storing the sword must have been top secret and well guarded. Hermione feels the witch shift her weight on her hipbones, which are obviously bruising simply from the drop against them when Bellatrix sat originally. She was malnourished and unhealthy due to the trio's stealthy travel. Maintaining a low profile with the most sought after wizard alive had its drawbacks, and unfortunately the comforts of regular dining and nourishing foods were compromised.

"It is a fake. I swear to you, the sword we have is a fake. We haven't gone to any vaults. I am not lying to you." Hermione keeps her voice as low and as level as possible through her tight throat and clogged nose. Between the mucous and the blood she was surprised she wasn't dizzy from a lack of oxygen, surely her supply was depleting quickly.

"Fine, Mudblood, if you won't break under the use of magic then maybe I need to think like your kind. Plus, I don't mind drawing blood the old fashion way." Bellatrix uses a bit of a seductive tone which Hermione hopes wasn't intentional. This should normally scare her, it should scare anyone in her position, but somehow she cannot conjure the fear of manual pain. At first Hermione doesn't even feel the skin on her arm being cut open, small strokes one right after the other in a sluggish succession.

After Bellatrix gets further down Hermione's arm she starts grinding her teeth and humming through the pain. She assures herself that if she can lie for a few more minutes that Bellatrix Lestrange will accept the defeat. That opens a new can of worms, as it were; because Hermione knows that defeat will result in one of two ways, neither of which she is excited to face. She might die or someone else will drug to the surface to die in her place. Either way she knows the end result is painful to someone.

"Mudblood." Bellatrix pulls up Hermione's arm and shoves the wound over her face. Blood is smearing over tears and crusted blood from earlier. The edges of her skin is pushing back and ripped as the dreadful woman continues rubbing it back and forth and in circles over her face. Hermione can only guess that this act is an attempt to make her taste the dirtied blood flowing through her body. Her lips remain tight, however, as she continually refuses to submit to the evil servant of Voldemort.

"It is a fake. It has to be. How else could three kids have found it? Stop this interrogation." Draco's mother seems to have had enough because her heels are clicking loudly against the floor. Other shuffling is taking place but Hermione has to strain just to keep focus on the conversation between the sisters.

"Can't you see this child is lying, Narcissa? Or has Draco learned his frailty from his mother?" Hermione manages to open her eyes and see that Bellatrix moved to carry on her conversation. She pulls herself upright into a sitting position and looks over her shoulder at Malfoy. Seconds later some of her wounds heal, the smaller and manageable ones at least. She knows that it is her sly and cunning Slytherin reader that is doing it with his well-developed charm work.

"This torture cannot continue in my house, Bella. Not while my son is home!" The sisters are in one another's faces as each defies the wishes of the other. With the pair of them at odds, Hermione puts herself on her feet and tries to hobble away from the torture scene. No sooner has she moved a few inches away are the words of a powerful spell being shouted from Draco's lips, "Stupefy!"

The only way he knows to save her and himself, Hermione thinks before everything gets the chance to fade.

Draco is jealous of Ronald Weasley even though he should be trying to help the only girl, the only woman; he loves and will ever love. His aunt is torturing her ruthlessly in front of him and yet he simply stands there with his chin held tight against his chest and his eyes peering up cautiously as her tattered body. Whenever Bellatrix stops for a moment to gain composure and ask her stupid question again, Draco manages to help in the only way possible – by healing some of her more minor afflictions. Fortunately he has watched Hermione so closely for so long he can tell that it is actually beneficial for her. He even sees a tiny smile in her eyes when she glances up to him.

But, unfortunately, he cannot enjoy it because blood is spilt across her porcelain cheeks. Ronald Weasley can be heard rioting in the lower chambers where Harry Potter is attempting to lull him, swearing that Hermione is a strong girl and will not suffer without pride and dignity. Draco wishes he could go comfort his enemy, his competition, if only to bring joy to her. If she was choosing Ronald Weasley then he wants to do whatever he can to help her.

Once she gets on her feet Draco cannot bear to see the struggle in her limbs. She is in too much pain so he decides that if he is to bring relief to her without raising any suspicion then all he can do is the knock her unconscious. This will allow her body to retreat into a natural state of healing. Once her body drops to the ground he begins walking over to her.

"I'll take her downstairs, Aunt Bella." Draco murmurs as he walks past her, looking down his nose angrily at her. Bellatrix and his mother cross their arms, aware that things have gotten away from them; this is why they need a leader to tell them how to deal with tasks set out for them. Draco picks up Hermione's ransacked body, which hangs limply in his arms. She is not nearly as heavy as he expects and it causes him to breathe harshly through his mouth, cold air-drying out his throat instantly. Hermione is obviously malnourished which will make an already damaging experience with his aunt even worse on her fragile body.

Once downstairs Draco pokes an arm out from underneath her to open the cell where Weasley and Potter are located. There's no hesitation when he breaks the barrier, Potter comes up and takes her away. Concern must be on his face because neither of her friends addresses him cruelly. Weasley even seems to stare are Draco a little longer than he should have, probably recognizing that Draco wishes he could express himself on this matter honestly and openly.

"Much of the harm done is repairable if you are quick. I hear Lovegood knows a thing or two?" Draco doesn't even know what compels him to lean into Potter with this suggestion. None of them have wands but advice is advice and it should not be taken lightly in these times. Very few people can use their magic without wands. Draco had to train himself relentlessly in order to accomplish even just a few spells. His family swooned over his ability to do so much now without speaking, even without his wand present.

Just before he leaves the cell he slides an extra wand from his sleeve, the only way he can guarantee Hermione's safety. He was given the Elder Wand to carry by Lord Voldemort, much to his surprise then and now, but he could not use that wand while at school. So he had his actual wand on hand at all times as well. As hard as it would be to part with such a well-made and well-trained piece of essential equipment he knows that Luna will only be successful enough to save Hermione from permanent damage with a wand. She is younger than all of them, although no less talented, and requires the equipment to channel her magical abilities.

"Keep it safe." Draco states politely before he returns to his family upstairs. Bellatrix and his parents are discussing the possibilities on how the Golden Trio must have retrieved the Sword of Gryffindor. It would have been next to impossible if the relic were in her vault. Draco doesn't care much for the conversation but he listens to them anyway.

"Hermione Granger is not to be underestimated. She is one of the most monitored witches of her age. She is brilliant and powerful. It is sickening to think that she is considered comparable to those with pure blood who are truly talented without even trying." His father is looking directly at him, using Draco's own words to describe Hermione Granger. Once, last year, when his family was questioned about the threat that Potter posed, as well as his friends. Draco had wanted to establish a fear in Death Eaters if they were to approaching her. He said those words with disgust in his voice, difficult to have conjured in the first place, but he sees in his father's face now that he suspects they were not disdainful words. They are compliments but he doesn't allow the knowledge to show when he calmly turns his head to Bellatrix, "The resistance she was able to display during your questioning was remarkable. Disturbingly remarkable…"

Bellatrix is upset by this and starts casting spells to break anything and everything around them. Mother is starting to weep even though she is more or less frustrated over her sister's childish behavior. If there were anyone close to hating this side of the war as Draco, he would wager that it had to be his mother. He never questions his mother or her motivations. She doesn't play on the side of Lord Voldemort, she does it all for the people she loves. Draco gets that from her and it is obvious in their pained expressions whenever there is a shift in the war. As there were today within the very room they currently resided…

Then there is sudden commotion downstairs. The Snatchers are the first to catch on and head directly towards the door.

Unconsciously, Draco casts a spell to lock the door before he races to join them. It is only a small deterrence but the gaggle of morons standing in front of the door prevents the other three adults with wands on hand from getting through immediately. It is Draco's hope that whatever is happening below is an escape attempt that is going successfully. He would ask for nothing more in his life if Hermione Granger could escape alive and in one piece. Her friends would heal her and breathe new life into her. She would find fresh motivations to win the war and ultimately free him of his obligations to a wicked man and his devilish army.

It is all happening too quickly for Draco to see exactly every little thing that happens. There is a small fire across the floors that is soon licking the lowest stairs. Snatchers howl and race back upstairs where Draco has remained practically still with his parents. His father is mumbling about Harry Potter having too many unpredictable allies and having too few of agents and Death Eaters penetrating the opposing side. Draco wishes to state that it is too late for infiltration attempts because the best man they had has already been found out and is running Hogwarts. Draco doesn't believe that playing both sides of the war was Snape's only trick and he wonders sometimes what the end game truly is for him. Everyone looks different, behaves different, and even speak with different tones. Nothing is consistent on the side of the Dark Lord and this is hopefully what brings the bad guys down. Draco pleads for it.

After several minutes of struggle in the stairwell Bellatrix races back upstairs with fury in her eyes. Draco knows instantly that Hermione and her friends have escaped. Relief pumps in his veins more quickly than blood does. He enjoys the brief moment of light in his life because it allows him to hope. He hopes as he once did when he revealed himself to Hermione Granger as her reader so very long ago. He already committed himself to Hermione long ago, but now he promised himself to do whatever it takes to ensure that her side wins – the good guys achieve victory.

Everyone begins filtering from the room, except Draco who meanders to the door leading downstairs to their dungeon, to the cells, to the gallows, whatever they should properly be called. It shames him to have the room in Malfoy Manor to begin with so he never really calls it by the proper name if it even really has one. He's pulled from his thoughts when his mother places a hand on his shoulder.

"My love, I can see the secret behind your eyes." His mother's voice is but a soft lull in his ears as he starts softly casting spells to repair the steps below and smother whatever fire still smolders. He doesn't acknowledge her straight away but he smiles to himself, very briefly.

"Then help me do what is right. When it is in your hands to turn the tides do not hesitate." His mother tightens her grip and pulls him closer. For several minutes it is silent and the temperature seems to drop in the house. Without a doubt Draco can identify what is happening. Bellatrix has called for reinforcements. They will need to check her vault and if Potter is there with his friends then Bellatrix will ensure that they die – regardless of Lord Voldemort's orders. She is rogue when she is offended and nothing could be worse in her eyes than a Mudblood stealing from her. Possibly twice, even.

Footsteps can be heard approaching and this is when his mother finally responds, "Your happiness is all I want. If that is what it takes, then as a mother it is my duty to ensure I do what I must."

Draco swears to himself he will hold her to these terms because he feels as though her time is fast approaching.

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