Playing with Fire

Chapter 51: Without hesitation

Song: Exit Music (for a film) - Ramon Djawadi

At exactly 8:30pm, Draco knocked lightly on Hermione’s door. She opened it slowly and stepped out to meet him. She felt disgusting. Broken. Sick. This feeling was worsened by Draco’s clean, all-black suit - not a single blonde hair on his head out of place.

Hermione - she was dressed as the boy who died. The main event. Tonight’s entertainment. A cruel and sickening joke. She looked starved and beaten, just as she was meant to.

“Do you trust me”, he asked her, a serious look in his eyes. She hesitated but ultimately said yes - she did.

Hermione followed him through the hallway and down the main stairs of the manor, careful to keep a few steps behind. Her heart was racing at the sound of voices and conversation going on downstairs. When she turned the corner, there were people pouring excitedly into the manor.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, there was an annoyingly familiar squeal which Hermione quickly placed. Pansy practically jumped into Draco’s arms, placing a kiss on his cheek, and ignored Hermione altogether.

Hermione couldn’t help but think of how Draco had now kissed her more than once - had done much more than that actually...

Her cheeks burned red but she stared at the floor, doing her best to ignore everything and everyone there.

Draco and Pansy joined hands and began walking towards the room where the party was starting. Hermione remained a few steps behind, but not so far that she might bump into a Death Eater or other undesirable entity. She kept her eyes to the floor the entire way, just as she had practiced.

She tried to hide the awe she felt when the room came into view. It was beautiful. The massive room housed a long table at the opposite end, some Death Eaters already seated there. A few smaller round tables were scattered throughout the room for what Hermione assumed were non-Death Eater attendees.

The ceiling had been enchanted, showing the night sky full of stars, similar to the Great Hall at Hogwarts, but not nearly as brilliant. Her heart ached at the realization that it no longer existed.

There were five chandeliers that appeared to hang out of thin air, soft yellow light emitting from each of them.

Voices bounced loudly off the walls of the large room, but they quickly quieted when Draco and Pansy entered with Hermione in tow. Despite her standing behind them - hiding really - all eyes were on her. Hurried whispers filled the room and she began to feel nauseous.

She had no choice but to follow when the pair in front of her continued to move across the room in the painful silence. After what felt like an hour of walking in silence, they finally reached the table. Voldemort greeted Draco but ignored Pansy completely. Hermione would have laughed at this if she wasn’t so scared. Her thoughts were too occupied.

“Draco, isn’t it so nice for us all to be together, as it should be?“, Voldemort asked the blonde boy.

“Yes my Lord, I’m honored you would allow me to host it - it’s been too long since this hall has been utilized”, Draco responded confidently, yet his voice lacked enthusiasm.

Voldemort let out a raspy laugh before responding, “Well I suppose that’s all at the fault of your late mother.” The entire hall erupted into laughter. It felt terribly wrong. It was terribly wrong.

Draco showed zero emotion for Voldemort’s statement, but nodded and said, “I suppose it is.” Surely he doesn’t mean that. Hermione couldn’t help but wonder if Lucius was in attendance. She felt terrible for the eldest Malfoy who seemed to take his wife’s death harder than anyone else.

Voldemort slowly stood, silencing the hall with a single wave of his hand, “Now, I believe we have a special guest for the evening.” Draco and Pansy automatically stepped aside so that Hermione was left directly facing Voldemort. She kept her eyes to the floor, but could feel everyone else’s eyes on her. Her entire body felt cold.

“Does anyone recognize our dear Mudblood’s costume? It has quite the backstory”, he stated, and the entire hall laughed once again, but this one hurt her much more. Hermione remained stone still, her eyes on the floor.

“Look at me”, Voldemort suddenly boomed. Hermione slowly raised her head fearfully until they met his revolting, red eyes. He looked as undead as ever. Pale as a ghost, two slits for a nose, and held the Elder Wand protectively in one hand.

Hermione jolted from her thoughts abruptly when the wizard began to laugh hysterically. “How ironic that the best friend of Harry Potter himself, and sole survivor, is here dressed as the boy who died, a Happy Halloween indeed”, he stated.

She let the words wash over her and refused to show any emotion, no matter how hard she fought not to.

“Let the feast commence!“, Voldemort announced, taking his seat as everyone made their way to their seats as well. Food magically appeared on the table along with glasses of champagne and wine. Hermione hated how much it all seemed to remind her of school - if Hogwarts had been run by a masochist.

Hermione followed Draco and Pansy again until he took his assigned seat to the right Voldemort. Unsure of what to do and still reeling from Voldemort humiliating her, she stood a few feet behind Draco’s chair, hoping to be forgotten about all together.

She took advantage of this moment, as everyone was distracted and shoveling food into their mouths. Hermione looked around at the Death Eaters sitting at the table. Pansy was to the right of Draco, Daphne Greengrass sat across from her, with her date Blaise Zabini seated across from Draco. They all chatted while Voldemort sat observing the room but not touching the food. He simply drank from a goblet and seemed to analyze everyone.

Hermione continued to discreetly study the table, recognizing Gregory Goyle, his father, Vincent Crabbe’s father, and finally, Lucius. Her heart sank. He sat across from the eldest Crabbe silently, sipping his wine, and seeming to forgo his dinner altogether. He looked simply uninterested.

Her attention was redirected when she heard Voldemort speak to Draco, the familiar hiss in his words. “Have you enjoyed having the Mudblood serve you?”

She listened closely to Draco’s response, “Yes my Lord, it’s been very helpful as I’ve been quite busy between my Minister duties and the executions.” She gulped at how calmly he said this. It made her sick.

“Excellent, any special talents?“, Voldemort queried. Special talents? What is that supposed to mean?

“She’s good with her hands”, Draco responded with a chuckle. Hermione’s stomach practically fell to her feet. What?

Voldemort grinned evilly, “Is that so? Shall we put it to the test?”

The room began to quiet down gradually as others began to eavesdrop on the conversation between Voldemort and Draco. “As you wish my Lord”, Draco responded. “Mudblood”, he called, barely glancing over his shoulder at Hermione. She shuddered in fear, having no clue what was about to be asked of her, and in front of all these people as well. She slowly stepped closer to the back of his chair, hearing her own heavy breathing in her ears.

“I believe Draco could use some help with his dinner, make yourself of use and feed him”, Voldemort commanded. This is humiliating, but we expected this. He’s pretending, right? I have to do it, but I’ll be fine. I won’t get hurt.

She stepped to the right side of Draco’s chair, between him and Pansy. With shaking hands, she leaned down to pick up the fork. Hermione couldn’t help but notice Pansy eyeing her with an unreadable expression. She almost dropped the fork when she heard Draco’s voice. It was barely audible and she was certain no one else could hear it. “Stop shaking”, he said, and she did. Her heart rate seemed to slow slightly. Trust him, she repeated over and over in her mind. With a steady hand, she reached up, bringing the fork to his lips as he took the food into his mouth.

“Good hands indeed, now the steak”, Voldemort said. She hesitated for a moment, disappointed that she wasn’t going to be left alone just yet. It was long enough that Voldemort noticed, and she saw it in his face.

“How often do you punish the Mudblood?“, Voldemort asked Draco. Hermione’s breath caught in her throat.

“As often as needed”, Draco responded as if it were perfectly true.

“I believe it may be needed considering her blatant hesitation”, Voldemort stated.

“Crucio her!“, someone from across the room shouted suddenly, the room becoming excited to see Hermione be punished.

“A broken bone or two will teach her”, another voice yelled.

“Stab her!” One of the Death Eaters shouted from down the table.

“In the hand”, another Death Eater snickered.

“Make her do it to herself!“, another added with a loud laugh.

“Now I like that one”, Voldemort stated. The room was suddenly silent, an odd contrast with the laughter that had filled it.

“You heard the Dark Lord”, Draco said, not even looking at her. Are you serious?

She stared at him in shock, fear openly displayed on her face for the entire room to see, her blood running cold. Surely he doesn’t expect me to - how could I possibly?

“Do it”, Draco commanded in a stern voice.

Without hesitation, Hermione picked up the fork with her right hand, and drove it into the palm of her left hand as hard as she could, pinning it to the table. She cried out in pain, shocked and confused at her own actions, and the room filled with cheer, laughter, and clapping.

The room began to spin and blood was pooling from her hand. Why did I - Oh God I’m - I’m going to pass out I-

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