Ms. Hermione Granger
Was all the envelope said. There was no sender, no one responsible for her neatly written name in a dumbledoresque loopy scrawl. However, she knew that this cursive was not that of the aged wizard. Weighing her options, Hermione turned over the letter and surveyed the sealed flap. Should she open it?
It' s a little too late to worry about curses, her mind offered, after all, your hands have already been all over the mysterious correspondence.
Deciding that if it had been full of dark magic, it wouldn't have penetrated the wards around Grimmauld Place, Hermione tore the flap open and pulled a letter out. It had been a while since Hermione had received a letter on anything other than uneven yellow parchment; yet here was cream-colored paper with a faint watermark behind the black scroll of the sender. The inside of the envelope flap was lined with marbled tissue paper with swirls of gold. The letter, too, possessed the black and gold motif with a solid black bar at the top of the paper and a gold bar at the bottom.
Dear Ms. Granger,
First, let me congratulate you on the recent publishing of your book House Elves: Slaves in Modern Times. I can't tell you how exciting it was to hear that someone else had the same opinion as I in regards to house elf treatment. I just finished reading your book and was moved by the poignancy and passion you showed in your writing.
I was born in a privileged house and grew up with house elves; my earliest memories were always of scorning my parents and older siblings for the physical and mental torment they brought upon these unfortunate creatures. It is because of this experience, that I was touched by your message; however, while I concur with all your main points, there are a few technicalities that I disagree with. For example, you advocate that house elves be immediately freed of their servant status. However, I don't agree with you in the suddenness of this action: their whole lives, house elves have only known orders from their masters.
Their existence has always revolved around the home and taking away their old life in one fall swoop would be cruel not to mention highly inadvisable since these creatures, like children who suddenly realized their parent had been lost to the fairground crowds, would enter a panic and in this dangerous haze of desperation, any choice they'd make for themselves would more than likely be ill-advised. Also, unlike you, I do feel that at Hogwarts they are treated fairly: they have clean uniforms and sleeping quarters not to mention that the headmaster makes sure they are respected by the Hogwarts community. Sure, they are still not paid for their work, but that is at their wish. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and thank you for having read mine.
Your most devoted reader.
Hermione felt a thrill come over her, and she couldn't help but smile as she summoned a quill and some parchment. It had been two weeks since she'd published her book, having to go against her friends' mocking and eye rolling, but here was finally the validation she'd been seeking, the proof that she wasn't the only one who was concerned with this issue. Feeling slightly ashamed at her school parchment in comparison to the expensive looking stationary her admirer had sent to her, Hermione began writing her response.
Dear Devoted Reader,
Thank you so much for your lovely words, you have no idea how much derision I faced to publish this book (and even now). You make a very good point by saying that house elves wouldn't be ready for the real world once they were freed and that this would cause undue stress on them; however, I do address this in the book. In chapter 26 titled 'Helping the Transition', I call for Ministry programs to be set up in order to help the house elves transition into everyday life. More detail, of course, can be found in the book. As for your belief that house elves might not know to make the right choices, I believe that as inherently good creatures, they would know to make choices to benefit themselves and their community.
Dear Ms. Granger,
I feel so ashamed at having put words in your mouth. I suppose I didn't read the latter chapters as carefully, out of excitement or weariness, I cannot say anymore. It seems to me that as the war progresses, we at the Ministry are forced to work harder and harder, even if we are not in law enforcement. You say that I have no idea how much derision you faced because of your views on elves, well, I do. Some of my coworkers treat me as if I were an enemy just because I refuse to put our cause on the back burner and focus solely on the war. Sometimes I think I should, but I can't because I can't bear to live knowing there are creatures out there who are just like us in all aspects (save for physical ones) and who have no rights and no light at the end of the tunnel. But enough of my woes, I am sure that you, as a part of the golden trio, must think of my problems as ant hills compared to the ones you face.
Your most devoted reader.
As soon as she finished reading, Hermione set out to write her reply. Her reader needed validation just like her, they faced the derision just like her . . . they needed someone who understood and felt what they felt. . . who supported them just like Hermione always wished she had been supported when it came to her unpopular cause.
Your words ring true and heartening. I am glad to know that I have found someone who shares this burden with me. If you must know, I have always found myself believing in causes that were unpopular or derided upon. After a while, the opposition I faced only helped strengthen my resolve. After all, if you believe in a cause, that's all that should matter. There is no good or bad when it comes to causes, only two sides fighting for what they believe in. Wouldn't you agree?
Your devoted reader.
"Hey, 'mione, what are you reading?"
"Nothing," Hermione said while folding the letter back into her pocket and looking up as Ron, Fred and George meandered into her room looking all too innocent. "You should knock, you know."
"Why? What do you have to hide, Hermione?" Fred said with a smile and nodded towards the letter, "letters from your one true love?"
Hermione couldn't miss the scowl that came over Ron's face; with a small smile she shook her head. "No, it's just fan mail from readers of my book."
"Wait people actually liked your communist elf manifesto?"
Ron snorted and tried to hide his laugh at George's comment. Hermione gave them a patronizing look and chose to not deem their comment with a response.
"Oh come on, 'Mione . . . we're just joking," Ron said coming towards her, "we're sorry, okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine," Hermione said, looking up and giving them all a fake and reserved smile.
"Mom says dinner's ready, and that you should come down. You've been locked up here for the past two weeks!" Fred said, "are you sure that those letters are just fan mail?"
"Of course they are," Hermione said getting up from her bed and walking with them out of the room, "and I haven't been locked up for the past two weeks, I would come down a lot."
"Only for breakfast, lunch and dinner," George said, "but it's okay, we get it, you're in that age where your body starts changing, and you start noticing boys . . ."
"Even if they're on paper," added Fred with a smile. Hermione laughed and swatted them on the arm.
"Oh you two! Stop it."
I do agree with you that one should stand by their cause, provided it be one that institutes positive changes.
Who gets to decide what constitute positive changes? That is a very subjective thing. After all, freeing the house elves and giving them rights would constitute a positive change for us because it would give them equal rights and freedom, but for old families, it would be a negative change because they would not have servants to care for them and their homes anymore. I reiterate my point in the last letter, in a war or dispute there can be no good or evil, only two groups fighting for what they believe in.
- Devoted Reader
You're not going to tell me that the Death Eaters and their leader are not evil.
I think that in this case you are right and wrong. The Death Eaters and You-Know-Who may be considered evil in the standard sense of causing harm to others, but that criteria also extends to the Ministry: collateral damage, friendly fire... it's all harm under different judicial guises. I can tell you that just as much dirty dealing goes on at the Ministry as among the Death Eaters. Both sides have murdered, tortured and done countless atrocities in the name of their beliefs. So unless you're willing to accept the cynical way of looking at it and say that they are both evil, and we would all be better off dead, the politically correct thing would be to say that they are simply two groups fighting for their beliefs.
- Devoted Reader
Who are you?
A closet philosopher.
Very funny, but seriously. What's your name?
It had been five days since Hermione had mailed her question and her mysterious fan had never responded. Hermione was beginning to feel uncertain about the whole situation, who could it have been? And why didn't they want her to find out who they were? Clearly, it must be someone . . . shady. A Malfoy, maybe? She looked over the stack of letters kept in a tin can her mother had given her once the cookies inside had ran out. The stationary certainly looked expensive enough, but this wasn't their style. No, it was too sophisticated, too byzantine . . . .
Then, that night, another letter came, and Hermione nearly tore it in excitement.
I had to go away on a business trip; it was urgent and unexpected. I am sorry for the wait. Let's meet tonight. The Belvedere at the Delphi Hotel in Elyssian Alley. Dress nicely.
Hermione felt like the day she received her letter from Hogwarts: there were simply too many foreign words for her liking. The Belvedere? Delphi Hotel? Elyssian Alley? She knew she couldn't ask anyone in the house without being asked questions in return, and for some reason, she didn't want anyone to know about her mysterious pen pal.
I've never been to Elyssian Alley before, can I just apparate there or do I have to go to a specific place like Diagon Alley? How do I get to the Delphi Hotel from there? I'm sorry, but I haven't been to highbrow places like that.
Hermione decided to get ready until his reply came; she went into her closet and pulled out the one nice dress she had brought from home: a red silk babydoll which she slipped on and tied the back into a bow before sliding her feet into a pair of black heels. She tried a few charms on her hair and was halfway done doing her make up when an owl swooped in through her window. Hermione rushed towards it and took the letter.
Just apparate to the Delphi Hotel foyer. On your right will be the Belvedere, go up to the blonde hostess, and tell her you are here for table nine. I am already here.
Hermione let out an inward gasp when she read the last sentence. He was already there? She didn't want to keep him waiting! It was not a polite thing to do. Hermione tried to finish her make up as fast as she could before grabbing a silk burgundy wrap and placing it around herself. Then, her face fell: how was she supposed to go down without people noticing? Cursing her secret fan for being so abrupt, she took off her heels and made her way out of her room and down the stairs barefoot.
She could hear a few people in the Order meeting room. Silently, she whispered a spell at her feet that made them became so lightweight, that the old floorboards remained undisturbed. As soon as she came to the first floor, a thrill went through her stomach, she could see the door, it was right in front of her, but she still had to cross the small entrance towards which the kitchen and the meeting room. They could see her at any moment, and if they didn't see her, then they would definitely hear her opening the door. At that point, recklessness took over.
He was waiting for her! Hermione didn't exactly know when she started calling her reader a 'he'. Some might see it as sexist, but she didn't really care, for she was sure that it was a man, a man who she wanted to meet. Slowly, heart beating madly, Hermione turned the locks while whispering a muffling charm, opening the door slightly and squeezing herself out. Upon that first encounter with the crisp night air, Hermione's composure broke, and she shut the door a little more loudly that she would've liked. Then, she ran.
"Did you hear that?" Remus said suddenly while looking up from the poker game he was engaged in with Albus, Arthur and Tonks.
"The door," Tonks said, "someone just closed it."
Drawing their wands, they all went to the entrance, only to find that it was empty.
"What if they went upstairs?" Arthur said, a note of fear in his voice, his children were sleeping upstairs.
"We would've heard them, and they couldn't have gone up that fast," Albus said, "it also couldn't have been any unauthorized person coming in because of the wards, don't forget."
"So, maybe it was someone leaving," Remus told the headmaster.
"That's more likely."
"But who? And why wouldn't they say anything?" Tonks wondered.
"I'll check on the kids," Arthur said quietly, and he started making his way up the stairs.
Hermione's had apparated into a grand marble-floored lobby, she looked around briefly for the aforementioned blonde and found her behind a polished mahogany podium that stood in front of a lacquered double door flanked by two male attendants. With determined steps, Hermione crossed through the space until she was in front of the meticulously made up attendant.
"Hi, I am here for table nine."
The blonde smiled. "Follow me please."
The two waiters dressed in tuxedos who had been standing next to the grand door talking to the hostess, straightened up and turned the bronze handles at the exact time.
The space was beautiful and dark. The floors were carpeted and the walls had peach-colored paper on them with gold candelabra sconces hanging over each table. There were a few people eating and talking quietly, their whispered dealings made candid and innocuous by the harpist's seraphic playing in a corner podium.
Hermione followed the waitress away from the circular tables around the musician to the far corner where she could see a cluster of curtained booths. Some had their gold brocade curtains completely closed, and she wondered what could be going on behind each. As if to answer her question, the next curtain booth she passed, erupted in laughter and the voice of a group of women could be heard. Hermione could see another booth coming up. It was in the corner, separate from all the other booths, but just like them, the curtains were drawn tightly.
"Why do the booths all have the curtains drawn?" she asked the hostess.
"Well, most of our business clients are the ones who request these booths, and they like to talk without being disturbed." She gave her a friendly smile and stopped a few feet from the corner booth Hermione had been eyeing. The hostess went on the right of it and pulled that side of the curtains back to reveal a quilted, silk upholstered booth seat and half a candelabra sconce on the downy wall. "The menus are inside, your server will be right with you."
Hermione gave her one last smile, butterflies in her stomach as she came towards the open curtain. This was it, the man she had been writing to for the past month. She ducked her head slightly as she went through the curtains and felt them being dropped and the waitress leaving. Then, out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw him and words failed her.
There, sitting comfortably across from where she was supposed to sit, was Lord Voldemort.
Oh shit was all that went through Hermione's mind, and at that moment, having lost the ability to reason, what went into her head came out of her mouth, so she said it.
A tug of the lips and a soft snort was all she got from him.
Hermione tried to go out of the booth, but found she couldn't. It was as if the seemingly innocent curtains had become a concrete wall.
Between the wall and the sword, Hermione, she found herself thinking as she eyed him, the wall and the sword.
"Next, you'll try screaming for help," he said all of a sudden, clearly amused at what was going on.
"You've cast a muffling charm," she responded.
A reptilian smile was her answer.
"You might want to sit down or straighten up because that position is not good for your neck or your back," he went on while motioning to her hunched over self, Hermione had been in such shock, that she had forgotten to straighten up after ducking into the peach-colored trap.
So Hermione went for his first suggestion and sat down gingerly, her hands grabbing onto the seat of the booth.
"Hands on the table, Hermione, don't you have any manners?" he went on with a smirk.
Giving him a glare, she brought her cold hands over the edge of the table so that her wrists rested on the edge.
"So," he said reaching for the serving card in front of him with a hand as pale as the yew wand, which Hermione noticed, had been carefully placed on the table between the wall and himself so that it had nowhere to go, very much like Hermione. "Do you know what you're going to get?"
Hermione blinked and looked down at the menu in front of her, names of plates glinting at her in cursive gold lettering. Right now, food was the last thing on her mind. "What?" she managed to say.
"You heard me," he went on, red eyes meeting her startled brown ones.
"I'm not hungry," she breathed while shaking her head and swallowing. "I'm anything but hungry . . . ."
His stern face gave away to a closed lip smile. "Come now, Hermione, did this really come that much as a shock? I dropped a lot of hints, you know."
Hermione didn't know what to respond; she didn't even know what to think or even how to think at the moment. All she could do was try and wrap her mind around the fact that she was having dinner at some posh hotel with the Dark Lord himself. It was so surreal, she wanted to laugh.
"Why did you do that?" she finally asked.
"I did read your book, you know," he said conversationally.
"Why did you do that?" she repeated.
"Why can't I do that?" he answered unfazed.
"Stop it," Hermione whispered, "don't do that, the cat and mouse thing."
"That's not how I function, Hermione, if you want to get to the bottom of this you're going to have to play my game."
"Funny, for a moment there it seemed like you had stopped," she cut in as soon as he'd finished talking.
An uncomfortable blanket of silence fell over them, Hermione didn't dare say anything, she wanted him to break the silence and answer her question once and for all.
"You're a smart girl," he said finally, "I'd always known that from what little I knew of you." He lowered his gaze and reached over for the drinks menu. "Then I heard about the book you published. It was a big hit among the Death Eaters, by the way," he added looking up at her, a mildly amused look on his face, "quotes from your book spawned a prolific amount of inside jokes amongst them. Not to mention that this actually prompted Crabbe and Goyle to pick up a book and read, even if it was only the first page or two, but that's still quite something. I think I was the only one who read your book from cover to cover, and while I do agree with my followers when it comes to the ludicrousness of the premise of the book, I also looked beyond that," he set the drinks menu down, "and you know what I saw? I saw an intelligent girl who was misdirecting her efforts. I saw someone who had the critical and analytical capabilities necessary for a much greater endeavor, a real cause."
He stopped as soon as he heard the rustling from the curtains being pulled back, Hermione jumped in her seat, afraid that it would be someone from the Order, but it turned out to be the waiter.
"Good evening, my lord," he said lowly, "I am sorry to disturb, have you decided on something?"
"Glass of Grands Echezeaux," the Dark Lord said not making eye contact with the waiter; instead his scarlet eyes were on the witch in front of him. "Hermione?"
"Water," she let out, the waiter gave a curt nod and was about to walk away when the Dark Lord's 'No' froze him in place.
"I don't want anything," Hermione said silently.
"Get a drink," his tone was getting impatient, and Hermione, fearing what this impatience might degenerate to, blurted out the first thing on her mind, "same as what he's having". The waiter then turned to the Dark Lord as if seeking approval only to be waved off by the latter. Hermione frowned, this waiter was making her feel like a child by asking her 'parent' if it was okay to bring her what she ordered.
"I'm not going to join you," Hermione said, knowing where his angle was now.
"I'm not saying you give your allegiance to me tonight," he said lowly, "or tomorrow, or in a month, even 5 years from now. All I am interested in right now is your intellect. As I am sure you know, I have created enough spells – both dark and not – to create another seven year curriculum at Hogwarts, and now I am perfecting those as well as creating more and researching magic and its phenomena. I know you are interested in that. Furthermore, the way you wrote your book, made your claims and diligently sought evidence for them let me know that you were someone capable enough to share my studies with. Hogwarts is not enough, Hermione, and you agree with me." He said this with so much certainty, that Hermione wondered if he was reading her mind. "Why else read all those books from the Forbidden Section after hours? Why else use the war as an excuse to brew forbidden potions when you were a 12-year-old child and to actually have succeeded! A 12-year-old muggleborn witch successfully brewing Polyjuice Potion, I would have dismissed this as a tall tale if I hadn't seen Severus' memories." Hermione was sure she heard amazement in his tone, and she couldn't help but feel a little pride stirring inside of her, she had never thought of it that way. She had always deemed her brewing such a complex potion as something doable and normal, after all Harry and Ron had acted that way.
She had never been praised like this, and especially coming from a wizard like him, dark or not, well . . . she wouldn't lie, it felt pretty darn nice.
"They don't truly appreciate you, Hermione," he said reaching for the glass of wine the server had brought in a few seconds before. "They take you for granted, their insecure little bookworm who does their homework and any other feat that requires intelligence superior to theirs, and what do they give you as a reward? A pat on the head and a 'good girl'?" He finished by taking a sip of the wine he was previously been swirling around the wide-bottomed glass.
"They're my friends, they do favors for me, and I do things for them. We help each other out because we care for each other," Hermione said watching her own half-filled glass of wine, it was morbidly red. Unforgiving.
"Care for you as in give you their homework to do, and then ask you to the Yule ball as a last resort?"
Hermione felt her face fall and her teeth clench.
"How do you know that? And that was . . . long ago and had nothing to do with them not caring about me," she was stumbling in, out, about and around her words, "they were just being stupid like boys that age are."
"I have a lot of spies, Ms. Granger," he said silkily while leaning forward, "and as of late, I admit that I became more fascinated by you, than by the magical ventures I'd been working on for years. Your relationship with Ron and Harry was especially what interested me; it actually reminded me of the one I had with my school friends in the sense that I would do their homework for them. However, I was never taken advantage of because I knew how to claim my due when the time came. You, on the other hand, being the naïve and good-hearted person that you are, let yourself be used. You're always giving, but never taking or asking, people always know to come to you to get what they want, but never leave as much as a sickle behind. I, too, am here to ask something of you; however, I will give you something in return."
"What is it?" Hermione asked silently, her hand wrapping around the stem of the wine glass and beginning to swirl the liquid inside as she had seen him do. He smirked at seeing her copy his mannerisms; however, he didn't say anything. After a few seconds, the sloshing of the rich wine around the glass was the only noise in their booth.
"You can drink it now," he said suddenly.
Hermione did, it was rich and strong and definitely like nothing she had tasted before. She put her glass down attempting to look nonchalant.
"And?" he said.
"It was good," she said dismissively; ready to pose her question to him again.
He sniffed and leaned back. "My dear, for a ten galleon glass of wine I would think you would have more to say."
Hermione froze as she converted that into muggle pounds. Now she understood why the waiter had turned to Voldemort for his approval when she made the order!
"Oh, I –"
He waived her apology off. "There's no need, if I hadn't wanted you to get that I would've told Alvin."
Hermione was still flustered; she pushed the glass of wine back involuntarily. She didn't want to owe him anything, literally and metaphorically.
"You're going to finish that, Hermione," he said taking a sip of his own glass.
"In a minute," Hermione muttered while waiting for the shock to wear off.
"So, to answer your question," he said lively, "I want you to come work with me on my experiments and research, and I don't think I need to tell you what you would get in return since entering into an academic partnership with someone of my caliber would be something of your wildest dreams, I am sure."
"I won't betray my friends," Hermione said quietly as she drank the wine absentmindedly only to shrink back from it as soon as she'd swallowed a significant amount of the liquid. Voldemort smiled.
"Think about it, my little house elf," he said, "your masters aren't here to tell you what to do. What choice will you make now that you are free and in the real world?"
He smirked while raising his glass of wine towards her. "It's not about sides, it's only about magic and unlocking its secrets, Hermione."
Hermione was rooted to her seat, there were too many things going through her mind. She didn't register raising her glass of wine at his insistence and only came back from her turbulent thoughts when the liquid dribbled past her richly painted red lips.
"You have all night to make your decision," he said softly while setting his nearly empty glass down.
Then, as if on cue, the curtain was pulled roughly back. Hermione let out a silent gasp and turned only to find herself face to face with a group of Aurors, wands all drawn. Among the faces, she recognized Tonks and Kingsley. The latter's expression was reserved as usual, but Nymphadora was an open book, and what Hermione saw there made her feel like she was the worst vermin in the world.
"You have all night," he said once more.
"He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named," called out the leader of the troop of Aurors, "we've put the strongest wards around the perimeter, you will not be able to disapparate!" As he finished saying this, a curse was fired at said Dark Lord who swatted it away while grabbing his wand and proving the troop leader wrong with embarrassing insouciance. For a moment, Hermione wanted to cry out, she did not want to be left alone with these Aurors. Where was the Order, where were her friends? Who had tipped them off?
"Hermione Granger, you are under arrest for fraternizing with the dark side," the wizard who had spoken to Voldemort said while grabbing her by the arm and pulling her out of the booth. Hermione felt hot flashes going through her; she could hear her heartbeat in her head. What was going on? How could she explain that she had been played? Who would believe her?
That brought the brunette out of her stupor as she was walked out of the restaurant only to find herself face to face with Ron and Harry who ran up to her from the check-in counter Dumbledore was currently at talking to the receptionist.
"Hermione, what the fuck?" Ron said faintly.
"Harry, Ron, I was set up! He was the one sending the letters, and I had no idea, I came here to meet him, but when I realized it was Him and tried to leave, I couldn't because the curtains had some spell on them that wouldn't let me leave!"
"The curtains had no spell on them," one of the Aurors holding her said, "if they had we wouldn't have been able to get through."
"Well, it must've worn off after time, because when I first came in and tried to leave it –"
"And you didn't check from time to time to see if it had worn off? If I was being held captive I know that's what I'd be looking for," Harry said somewhat bitterly.
"I –" Hermione didn't know what to say, that yes, escape had left her mind once she started hearing Voldemort talk about all his magical experiments, and how she could help him with them. "I was set up, Harry, I swear," Hermione said meekly, tears in her eyes.
"You fucking whore!" Ron yelled all of a sudden, "I can't believe I ever liked you, Merlin knows how long you'd been screwing Him."
"What?" Now it was Hermione's turn to raise her voice.
"I didn't believe it when the receptionist told us he'd booked the penthouse for tonight and ordered the biggest bouquet of roses be brought in, I didn't even believe it when the waiter told us you ordered the most expensive wine on the menu, and that he let you, but now seeing you," he said looking her up and down, "all dressed up for your date!" he spat.
"Ron, he planned it all! He set us up!" she screeched. The headmaster had come towards the boys now and was looking at Hermione with a somber look.
"Where are you going to take her?" he asked the Aurors, not giving Hermione a glance.
"Azkaban, of course, maximum security," the leader of the Aurors answered.
"Professor, I didn't do anything. I was set up!"
Dumbledore raised a hand silencing her, but failed to look at her once more. "I would like to come with you so I can have a word with Ms. Granger."
"You can't vouch for her, Dumbledore," the man holding her snapped, "we have too much evidence stacked against her, as we speak my men are pouring over letters they found in her room from her correspondence with him. She'd kept every single one of his letters in a pretty tin can underneath her bed, we even found one of his letters underneath her pillow," he said sounding disgusted and grabbing her more strongly around her arm. "All with his name on them."
"No, I had no idea it was him!" Hermione snapped, "they were all signed 'devoted reader'."
"The first ones, but the rest all had his name on them. We even found the letter where he makes himself known to her, yet she still wrote him letters."
"No," Hermione said shaking her head, "I never knew, He must've arranged for my letters to be switched out just like he arranged for this thing!" she said motioning around at the hotel.
"Save your babbling for the trial," the Auror snapped at her while pulling her roughly by the arm as they started walking out the grand doors to the cool air.
Dumbledore never came. Hermione waited for him to come talk to her that night as he'd told the Aurors he'd wanted to do, but he never came. Now it was nearing dawn, she could tell by the purple tinge the sky had taken through the tiny opening out into the free world.
"Did you have a good night?"
Hermione, who had been sitting on the ground scratching at the stone wall facing her turned to her left and looked up at him. He was standing in front of her, tall and thin in spite of the formal, flowing black robes he had been in the night before. Hermione looked away from him, her neck was starting to feel stiff from bending it to look up at the Dark Lord. Just as she went back to scratching her name on the wall, she heard his robes rustle as he squatted down until he was eye level with her.
She looked up. "What? What do you want me to say? Congratulations on pulling off yet another byzantine plan of yours with utter finesse and flawlessness?"
"Well, that's not what I was looking for, but I thank you all the same. It's not every day that I hear praise from a mind equal in capacity to my own."
Hermione just stared at him. "Do you ever stop?" she whispered.
Hermione looked down at his robes, they were spread out around his crouching form like a halo, a dark angel's halo. She had spent all night putting two and two together, and by the end, when she had put together all the pieces, she'd found herself fascinated rather than angered at his play. True to her nerdy sensibilities, the intellectual merit of it had whitewashed her role so that she was no longer the hapless victim, but the protagonist and star of it.
"I can't believe you got them thinking that we were lovers," she commented as she remembered Ron's fury and his hurtful words.
"I had to get you away from them," he replied calmly.
"No wonder you didn't want me to have water . . ." Hermione went on calmly, she didn't know if it was from lack of sleep or maybe she truly was a traitor, but in His Presence she felt calm and comfortable, "and that you made me dress up . . . the letters, did you put a spell on them so that your name would appear on them?"
"Who made the call to the Aurors?"
"A loyal servant."
Hermione remained silent.
"Hermione, I don't think I need to tell your options are extremely limited right now. You can either stay here and get the Dementor's kiss or you can come with me and do everything we talked about."
She looked at him, cold anger on her visage for the first time that night.
"You ruined my life, how can you expect me to come after you like the Mudblood trophy you want to make me into."
"I don't want you as a trophy, I want you for your intellect," he replied smoothly, "I am not asking you to pledge yourself to me, this is academic, Hermione, nothing more."
"Only because you know with time and more of your charm, I will swear my allegiance to you," she replied looking into his red irises.
"Prove me wrong then, Hermione," he said quietly, his gaze holding hers. A pale hand stretched out towards her, Hermione stared at it, his palm was out and his fingers curled towards her invitingly.
She'd made her choice.
A few hours later, an elderly caretaker pushing a cart stopped in front of cell number nine. He gave a knock to alert the girl inside that breakfast was here; grabbing a tray, he placed it on the floor next to the small doggy door and waited for her to open it, but she never did. He called for her, but there was no answer. Grumbling about oversleepers, he got one of the Aurors to open the door.
As the distributor of food, he wasn't allowed to go into the cells; so he waited outside all the while wishing he could go in there just like the Aurors did. From inside, he heard the guard cursing, only to then have him push past him and run down the hall leaving the door wide open. Figuring what had happened, the caretaker felt a thrill at seeing the open door, here was the chance he'd been waiting for for over 30 years. Confidently, he strode into the cell imagining he were an Auror. The cell was vacant as he had surmised, but up on the wall was a very interesting graffiti, the caretaker's many folds contorted as a smile took over his wrinkly face.
"FREEDOM FOR THE ELF".