‘Cause when push comes to shove, you taste what you’re made of
You might bend ‘til you break, ‘cause it’s all you can take
On your knees you look up, decide you’ve had enough
You get mad, you get strong, wipe your hands, shake it off
Then you stand
~lyrics from "Stand" by Rascal Flatts
We landed just out of sight in the trees. I could see the entrance to the cave, as well as the Death Eaters guarding it. I felt an overwhelming rush of hatred as I looked at those filthy, evil masks over their faces. These were the people who had killed my baby. These were the people who had destroyed my perfect life.
They were going to pay.
Slowly and calmly, Harry and I walked up to the entrance. As soon as we were out of the trees, four Death Eaters left the group guarding the entrance and rushed inside to inform their leader we had arrived. The rest stood silently waiting for us to reach them.
"Hello, Mudblood," came a familiar voice from behind the rest of the group. Blaise Zabini walked into view, his mask thrown aside. "I haven't seen you in years! What brings you here today?"
All of the vile creatures chuckled. They knew perfectly well the reasons I was there. I felt blood boil in my veins and Harry took my hand in comfort as well as warning. Now was not the time to let my emotions overpower my actions.
Harry and I stopped about twenty meters away from the cave. Zabini came out to meet us, stopping a few meters ahead of us.
"Where are they?" I asked, trying to keep my voice calm.
"Ah, so that's why you've come, is it? I thought it might have something to do with your family," Zabini taunted.
I wanted to grab his throat and not let go until he was completely limp. All of my emotions longed for the satisfaction of slowly taking away the life from someone who had taken away everything in my life from me. Had I not previously prepared myself mentally for the evil I was going to face, I am completely convinced that I would have killed him right there and then. Harry again was a great comfort as the Death Eaters laughed horribly, squeezing my hand and silently telling me to keep my emotions hidden for the moment. Besides, I didn't want to give Zabini the satisfaction of knowing he had gotten to me.
"That's enough, Zabini," Harry said, his jaw tight. "What does your leader want?"
"You're going to have to ask him yourself," Zabini responded, shrugging. "He wants to see you. Don't worry, he'll let you keep your wands; two against sixty isn't really a threat."
Again, the Death Eaters behind him chuckled. I wanted to scream. Every fiber of my being wished to violently murder these murderers, to get my revenge. At the moment, that was not a choice. Not if we wanted Ron and Alia to make it out alive.
We began following Zabini into the cave, surrounded on both sides by the monsters. It struck me just how many of them there were—sixty Zabini had said. When Ron had been following them, he had only counted thirty. They had already doubled in size? It seemed that killing Voldemort wasn't quite enough.
I felt pain as I realized I had been completely absent from this battle for the last three years. It was for a good reason, and I didn't regret loving Nick and wanting to keep him and Lizzie safe, but it became extremely apparent to me as we walked through those halls that I had deserted my friends. I owed them my service, especially Harry and Ron. I was supposed to be a part of this battle, and I had turned my back on it.
Not that it mattered now. I would still be here, no matter the choices I made three years ago. It was just that I had never imagined the threat would become so serious.
I became vaguely aware that the Death Eaters were continuing to taunt me. I ignored what they said. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Harry's face was slowly turning red in rage. He knew how I felt; he knew what I felt like to lose someone. I knew that subconsciously, he had also taken the deaths of Nick and Lizzie as his own fault. He was convinced that the continuing threat of the Death Eaters was partly his fault, and every person who was hurt by them affected him greatly.
I squeezed his hand and we looked at each other, sharing the pain and burden of this evil we were in the midst of. I saw in his eyes that my conjectures were in fact true; he felt responsible for the deaths of my family members, as well as the Rollins.
"It's not your fault," I whispered so only he could hear. I felt a tear fall slowly down my cheek. "You can't stop all evil."
He wiped the tear from my cheek and shook his head. "No matter whose fault this whole mess is, we're going to clean it up."
Zabini had overheard the conversation, and I saw that he was smirking. I was honestly surprised at how high Zabini had risen within the Death Eaters. He had never been an actual threat and he was never completely twisted or evil. Something had obviously happened to completely change his personality and his very nature.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity we saw light ahead and a large, almost empty cavern opened up in front of us. At the end of the cavern against the wall was a large thrown, on which was sitting the last person I would have thought to be Voldemort's replacement.
"Well if it isn't Mr. Potter and Miss Granger," he said, his lips curving into a twisted smile. "Or shall I say Mrs. Rollins? Which would you prefer, Hermione?"
Harry and I stopped and stared in unbelief at the person in front of us. He slowly stood up and walked toward the center of the room, his arms outstretched.
"What, no hello?" he asked comically. "I thought you would be happy to see me! We were such good friends at Hogwarts! Don't you remember all the fun times we had together, Harry? And Hermione, I still haven't forgotten how powerful of an arm you have."
"Malfoy?" I stammered, hardly trusting my eyes.
He smiled. "Thank goodness! I was worried you didn't recognize me! I must admit, Ron had the same reaction."
"Where is he?" asked Harry, trying to overcome the shock. Malfoy was their leader? It just didn't fit with his personality! He had always been a coward, not one to be truly evil.
"He'll join us by and by," he said, waving off the question with his hand.
"What about Alia?" I asked.
Malfoy laughed, sending shivers down my spine. "I'm surprised you didn't recognize her! She's right behind you!"
I spun around to see Alia looking straight at me, an expression of pain in her face. She wasn't being restrained in any way; in fact, she was wearing a Death Eater robe.
"I'm sorry, Hermione," she said softly, averting her eyes.
I felt rage flow through my entire body. She had betrayed us. She had betrayed Ron.
"I thought you loved him!" I screamed, taking one step closer.
She took a step back. "He didn't love me. Not anymore."
My eyes blazed. "So you betrayed him."
I saw tears roll down her cheeks, and I didn't care. She had sold us out to the Death Eaters; she had joined them simply because of jealousy over a relationship that never existed.
Harry placed a hand on my shoulder and slowly guided me away from her. I turned to face Malfoy once more, and he was grinning ear to ear.
"What is it that you want?" asked Harry, his voice slightly strained.
Malfoy shrugged. "It's really very simple, actually. I want the same thing the Dark Lord before me wanted. Power."
"What did you ask Katie Rollins to get for you?" I asked.
He raised his eyebrows. "You know about that, do you? Ah, yes, she was the sister of your late husband. Such a very attractive family, you know. I sometimes wish we had kept a few of them alive."
"What did you want her to get for you?" I asked again, my volume increasing.
"Do you know how heroic your husband was?" he said, completely ignoring my question. "I wish he hadn't been a muggle, you know. He would have been a very formidable opponent had he been a wizard. He was determined that we were not going to get into that room, Hermione. He held off a few of us, actually, but unfortunately for him, and your daughter, we are much more powerful than mere muggles."
"Shut up," Harry screamed, putting his arm around my waist as I shook. "We didn't come here to listen to you gloat. We came to make a deal."
He laughed menacingly. "A deal? Very well, Potter, we'll make a deal."
Suddenly, someone seized Harry and pulled him away from the center of the room. I scrambled for my wand to find that it had been taken from my pocket while I wasn't paying attention. I cursed myself for carelessness and wildly turned to face Malfoy, his wand pointing at my heart. I heard someone scream my name and looked around until my eyes landed on Ron, who was standing on the opposite side of the cavern. He had been tortured badly enough that I could see the bruises from where I was standing. Our eyes met and I felt an overwhelming fear encompass me. My heart was drawn out to him; I wanted nothing more than to run to his side, to feel him and know for certain that he was still alive.
Ron's eyes moved to Harry in shock, then back to mine, questioning why we didn't bring any back up. I knew he felt he wasn't worth the attempt at rescue, but I also knew he was wrong.
I felt someone seize my arm and turned my head to see Malfoy's face just inches away from mine. His eyes were dark and cold, completely unfeeling. He had changed, and I couldn't understand how or why.
He pressed the tip of his wand against my throat and I held my breath in anticipation. I knew he was going to kill me, and afterwards he would kill Harry and Ron. We had no defense. There was nothing to be done about it all.
"Listen to me carefully," he whispered slyly. "You have five hours to acquire three objects for me. I have no doubt you know where these objects are, or that you at least can find out."
I knew exactly what he was talking about and felt my heartbeat increase in panic. I couldn't just give them to him; I would be handing over almost immeasurable power to the Death Eaters.
"If you're not back in five hours, they both die," he threatened, his wand pressing deeper into my throat. "If you are, and you give me these items, I'll let the two of them go."
I could hardly breathe. "And what about me?"
He smiled wickedly. "I figured you'd want to join your dear husband and daughter, wouldn't you? Although, it does seem a pity, wasting the beauty you have grown into."
"If I do as you ask," I said, my heart racing uncontrollably at this point. "You'll have to let them go before I give you these items. In fact, I won't even bring them all here, and until I am confident that Harry and Ron are safe, I won't lead you to them."
"You've always been extremely intelligent, Hermione, I'll give you that," he said, chuckling. He then raised his voice so Harry and Ron could hear. "Very well, Mrs. Rollins. I accept your terms. You have five hours starting now."
He thrust my wand into my hand and backed away from me quickly. "Don't waste any time, now!" he said, smiling evilly.
I took a moment to meet Ron's eyes, and then Harry's. Both were extremely confused, and I didn't have time to explain things to either of them.
Feeling adrenaline pound through my body, I turned my back on my friends and ran out of the room at breakneck speed. All of the Death Eaters just stood there, laughing and mocking me. Memories of my daughter flooded my brain, followed my images of her father, grandparents, and even her aunts. I had let all of them down, but I was not going to let Harry and Ron down.
No matter what happened to me, they would be safe.
A/N: Hope you liked it! REVIEW if you're reading this to tell me what you thought!!!