Song Suggestion: Year & Years- "Take Shelter"
Thank you to MyPrivateInsanity for editing!
Say My Name
Hermione avoided Draco for two days, though she suspected he was avoiding her too. They still ate dinner together. She caught his stare over his pumpkin soup, and when he looked away, she attempted to catch glimpses of him in between bites. Besides those few stolen moments, heavy with unsaid things, he left her alone.
In her free time, she explored the manor, wishing to talk to someone. During her investigation, she found a room filled with old busts of the family. One of them—Septimus Malfoy— liked to tell her stories of his youth, so she spent hours listening to him talk about hunting magical creatures and riding dragons.
Besides that, monotony already crept toward her. The grounds were too manicured, the decor too stark. She feared she'd cut her finger on the edge of perfection. Nott manor had a wild quality to it: creaking suits of armour, heavy fabrics, deep colours that felt like a hug. In contrast, Malfoy manor was beautiful, but impersonal. Hermione was nervous to touch anything, lest it break or move out of place.
During the third day, she grew bored and decided to study different runic languages in the library. Halfway through her second book, she looked up to see Draco entering with a scroll under his arm. He sat across from her, without even a hello, engrossed in his own research.
They studied that way for hours, silent but together, until he got up.
"Malfoy," she said, not wanting him to leave.
"Yes?" He stiffened, without turning.
Even though her feelings were still confused, Hermione decided to extend an olive branch.
"Can you show me around the manor? There are several places still locked to me."
His shoulders hunched forward, as if releasing some tension.
He still would not look at her. "What would you like to see first?"
The greenhouse was humid— the perfect temperature for the plants to thrive. Misting charms watered the plants to their specific requirements. The elves helped maintain it a bit, but most of it was self-sufficient.
She touched a yellow Sunrise flower, avoiding the dusting of pollen. It bloomed when her fingers stroked the yellow petal, happy with her attention. If she wished, she could ingest the white dust clinging to it. It caused a false happiness, slightly less effective than a calming draught. If taken in large quantities, it could create a hallucinogenic state. Ancient wizards used to use the pollen in their rituals, thinking it caused them to tap into seer blood.
Malfoy stepped up behind her. The heat of his body ghosted along her back as he reached out and stroked the petals like she did, letting his fingers linger alongside hers. Hermione didn't breathe or move, except to drop her hand to the wood of the table where the plants were arranged, pressing her nails into the rough surface.
"I'm sorry, Granger," he whispered in her ear. Draco's voice always sounded like lust— a dangerous lure that Hermione needed to ignore. At least until she understood it more. She was awkward in his presence now. Something in their dynamic had shifted, and it set her nerves on edge.
"What for, exactly?"
"You're going to make me say it again, aren't you?"
Her lips twitched.
"Possibly three times."
He drummed his fingers right next to her hand, as if agitated—as if he'd never had to apologise before. "I shouldn't have boasted. Those moments were ours. You trusted me with intimacy, and I broke that trust."
Hermione clenched her hands on the board. Any harder and she might get splinters. Why did the apology make her heart speed up? Had she accidentally breathed in the Sunrise pollen? She waited for him to add on to it, a justification for why he did it. But it seemed his apology didn't come with excuses.
"Perhaps… I shouldn't have attempted to kick you."
He huffed out a laugh, causing some of her hair to billow.
"Feel free to give me a swift kick to the shins if I'm ever a wanker like that again. I'm— Merlin, Granger, I'm tired of pretending I don't want to spend time with you."
Her heart beat hard under her ribs. All she would have to do is lean back, and she'd be in his embrace. All she would have to do is slide her hand over and take his into her own. Instead, she gave a nod, knowing he could see it.
"What would you like to do next?" he asked.
She thought of her lonely conversations with the stone bust of Septimus Malfoy.
"Could I see Theo?"
"It's tradition for us to be relatively alone for a month. It's to ensure you're more… settled. Breaking that might result in some consequences, but I'm okay with the risk if that's what you desire."
"Titus is a mediator, and he attended both the Trials and the ritual. He's not included in the rule."
She thought about it, once again feeling tense, reminded of the things that hurt her. Draco left the decision in her hands. It only took a moment for her to make her choice. In the end, she didn't want a reason to be taken away. She still missed her old home, missed Tabitha and the elves. Malfoy manor was cold, void of anything soft, but the more time that passed, the more she found her footing.
She didn't want to go backward, even though marching forward was proving new and scary.
"No," she said. "I don't want to risk it. I can wait a month."
His breath tickled her neck. She thought his mouth might be close to her skin.
"I think I know a solution. It's still a risk, but less traceable. Do you want to go to Diagon Alley? We can't host any visitors at the manor that you knew while growing up, but we can venture out if you stay close and don't speak to anyone."
Her soul flooded with an odd emotion. Not quite happy. Not quite a relief. She tempered it the best she could, wary of trusting him.
But still, her insides leapt in excitement.
"I'd love some ice cream."
"I plan to give you more than that."
He touched the petal again, dragging his finger along the pollen— a miniscule amount. Then he placed it on his lips, letting his tongue linger against the powder. He gave a low groan that went to her stomach.
"Have you ever tried Sunrise powder, Granger?"
She shook her head. Titus never kept plants like these.
"Do you want to?" He placed his finger—the one he licked— in front of her lips as an invitation.
She didn't ponder long. She's always been curious about what it would feel like.
She flicked her tongue on the remaining yellow pollen, tasting him in the process.
It only took a second before her body loosened the tension she'd been carrying. It was the feeling after a good exercise, endorphins bursting through her.
"Let's enjoy our day," he whispered, voice ragged.
Hermione always liked the menagerie in Diagon Alley. Though it smelled terrible, a mixture of a musky scent and animal excrement, it exploded with life in every corner. Fire crabs and sleek black rats in cages next to adorable puffskeins. Cats of every colour took up one wall, including one that looked like Crookshanks.
Hermione wandered the aisle, attempting to ignore the cats. Per tradition, Titus needed to transfer her belongings to Malfoy manor, but, as of yet, nothing had arrived.
Not even her cat.
She missed Crookshanks the most at night. Malfoy's bed proved comfortable, but empty. She didn't have Hopper to soothe her. Each day without her comfort items built her anger.
Hermione suspected Titus wanted to force some sort of confrontation with her, one on one.
"What about this one?" Draco pointed to a tawny owl that preened its feathers. Like in the greenhouse, his body heat almost pressed to her back.
"No." Next to the tawny owl, a scraggly grey one glared at her. It stood half the size of the others with some of its feathers plucked out. The note on the front stated he liked to nip, and he'd been at the shop for four months. Her heart went out to the ugly creature. "This one."
Draco raised an eyebrow. "I'm trying not to judge your choice… but it's the worst one."
"I have a soft spot for unfortunate looking creatures."
"Bad news for me, then."
Hermione rolled her eyes and stepped away.
"I fear the manor will soon become home to every hideous stray that tugs on your heart," he said.
"It's not like you don't have the room. I could potentially fit a zoo next to the greenhouse."
He gave an exaggerated frown of disgust at her suggestion.
The transaction went fast and before long, Hermione was the proud owner of an owl.
"You can owl Theo when you want now," Draco told her as they exited the shop. "What will you name it?"
Hermione thought back to her muggle books. There was one about ancient mythology that had fascinated her.
"The Greek messenger god?" Draco asked. "Sorry, but I don't think he looks very regal. Maybe something like Gorgon might be better."
Hermione halted and blinked a few times. The cage floating behind her stalled with her stop.
"How do you know about Greek gods?"
Wizarding history had similarities to muggles, but different lore. It wasn't until she'd read both histories that she realised many of the muggle "gods" were just powerful wizards of the time, just with different names. For instance, Persephone kept her original translation of Kore— the daughter of a powerful witch in Ancient Greece who'd mastered elemental magic.
But Draco knew the muggle name.
"I own several muggle books. If you want, I can lend you a few when we return."
"I mean—why would you read it?"
Hermione found it hard to imagine pureblood prince Draco Malfoy reading a book written by someone not a wizard. Titus would never allow something so purely muggle in his home.
He only shrugged. She tried to look in his eyes, but he shifted them everywhere but on her. "Their books and most of their technology are illegal, but for the right price, anything can be bought on the black market. I have other muggle things as well. Do you want to see them?"
Hermione hesitated. They hadn't spent much time together. She felt wary around him, but he didn't intrude on her, as if knowing she needed some space to get used to her new environment. It felt like another extended olive branch.
"Yes," she said.
He held out his hand, and she stared at it.
"It won't bite, Granger."
She nodded and allowed the contact. His hand tightened on hers as he led her away to the formal apparition point.
In the middle of the manor, Draco opened a door to reveal a room filled with giant overstuffed chairs. An odd blank canvas took up the opposite wall.
"What is it?" She didn't want to disappoint him, but the room underwhelmed her.
"Take a seat."
Hermione hesitated, but she did as he asked and sank into the leather chair.
He went behind her, messing with some device he said was muggle.
She heard it click and a light projected onto the canvas.
"Does your father know this is here?"
It didn't seem like something Lucius would approve of.
"He knows I've built it, but he doesn't ever tell me no. Though he thinks I'm a deviant and is secretly worried about my behaviour, afraid someone will find out in larger circles." He gave a smirk, as if the thought amused him
"Are you sure there's no magic?"
"I'm sure," he said. "The things I've discovered that muggles can do almost rival our own inventions. They used to have things called planes. The muggles sat inside them as they flew like birds. No magic at all. I'm told they still use them in other areas of the world."
She'd heard of aeroplanes in the physics books she'd read, though she'd never seen one. They required a scientific formula to take flight, though she didn't understand it.
"This looks like a television."
"It is." He sat in the chair next to her. "A large one. Before the curse, muggles used to go to something called the theatre where they'd eat snacks and watch their movies. Wizards have stolen their technology, but they don't understand its potential. The muggles created all kinds of interesting stories."
He flicked off the light with his wand, just as an image projected on the screen. She gasped, looking at an image of outer space, decorated with stars. Yellow words scrolled along that she struggled to understand.
"Is that the universe? How did they get the photos?"
"Not ours. None of this is real. It's a pretend world that even has its own magic system. It might be my favourite muggle movie so far."
Hermione watched with her mouth open. Mipsy brought popcorn and butterbeer during the middle, but Hermione barely ate it, so in awe at what she was seeing. It reminded her of a book, a painting, and a play all mixed together, but so much better.
And in the back of her mind, she thought it felt familiar. A distant dream from her past.
Draco didn't pay attention to the movie. Most of the time, she felt his eyes on her, watching every little reaction.
When the final fight began, Hermione reached out and grabbed Draco's upper arm, squeezing the tight muscles until the resistance managed to win. The elation that filled her at the end made her whole body feel alive with excitement.
She turned to Draco when the show ended, the picture changing into a list of names.
"That was amazing," she said, hands still on his shoulder. "I think I might watch it every day for the rest of my life."
He looked at her hand on him, and it reminded her to release him.
"But you haven't even seen the sequel."
"A sequel! There's more?"
He gave a little laugh.
"It's a trilogy," he said. "But I have hundreds of movies, Granger. We could watch a new one every day."
Hundreds. It was like he opened another library.
She nearly jumped out of her seat.
"Right now," she demanded. "I have to know what happens next."
Draco's eyes flicked over her. Something behind his expression softened, as if falling. His hand reached up and slid along her jaw, eyes on her lips. He tugged her forward, but right before they could kiss, she jerked back. A flash of something crossed his face, maybe frustration or resignation. She found it impossible to decode what he really thought.
Frustration filled her too. She wanted to kiss him with the same abandon she used to— an experiment, for fun. Even now, her lips tingled with the unfulfilled promise. It left her aching and breathless. Her body desired it, but her mind resisted. It felt injured, like it remembered touching a hot stove.
"I'm sorry," she said.
This time she clearly saw the anger. He grit his teeth and grabbed her face again, much rougher than before, once again tugging her close.
"Don't apologise to me ever again. Not for that. I'd rather you pull away from my affections than give in to me as a lie. Do you understand?"
She gave a hard nod.
"Now," he continued, voice softening. "Let's watch the second in the series. It has a twist you won't believe."
Draco stood up and put the second movie in, and when he went back to the seat, turning the lights back off and sinking into the depths of his chair, he placed his hand on the armrest palm up.
He waited for her response. She could deny him this if she wanted.
But she needed touch—touch separated from anything sexual. She desired nothing more than to be assured the world was still gentle. Maybe he understood that. Maybe he needed touch too. Maybe what he wanted from her was deeper than nights and pleasure. She thought it might be just the simple touch of hand to hand.
She could do that.
Hermione reached out and gently rested her hand in his. His lip tilted up as the familiar yellow words scrolled past the stars. He didn't look at her this time, but his hand tightened.
The cauldron bubbled in front of her, looking close to the final stage of brewing. Ten other cauldrons bubbled beside it, all at different levels of completion.
A long table rested in the center, and along several wide shelves a wide variety of potion ingredients were displayed, some of them quite rare. The room itself looked meticulously clean, yet plants dangled in the corners and notes were pinned everywhere.
It impressed Hermione. She placed her hand on the edge of the rough hewn table.
"Like it?" Draco asked, seeming at home in the environment in a way she hadn't seen elsewhere. This was his true office. Instead of a desk, he had a potions table, and instead of quills, he had various knives.
"Why potions?" she asked.
After Hogwarts, he'd entered an internship under the tutelage of the top potions master in England, creating potions for apothecaries across the country. At the moment, he still was in the midst of it, though he'd been given creative freedom.
"I like precision. A little more or less of an ingredient turns the potion into something else. The best part is the creation of something new. My godfather excelled at this. After knowing I wanted to enter into potions, he helped tutor me on the weekends at Hogwarts. He taught me all he knew and more."
Snape— his godfather. She didn't have the same warm feelings toward him as Draco did, so she held her tongue.
He walked over to an empty cauldron.
"This is yours," he said. "I can buy whatever size you need, and you can use whatever tools or ingredients you wish."
Hermione nodded. It still felt odd to not have any rules, to be allowed to do whatever she wanted. She thought at any moment he'd tug it all back with a cruel laugh. It felt like she was doing something wrong, breaking some rule, even with permission.
She stared at Draco, perhaps too long. There was a subtle shift of his feet that made her think he might be nervous. Maybe anxious for her approval. She didn't know how to respond to it, not knowing if this was some long, elaborate trick that would wound her later.
"Thank you," she said.
He sneered lightly.
"Granger, I don't need your—"
He stopped abruptly. And his sneer grew into something so severe not even occlumency would help hide it.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned.
"My father is here."
The formal Malfoy dining room was darker than other areas of the home. A long ebony table stretched from one end to the other, built in the old style. A relic from hundreds of years ago. Hermione wondered who had eaten at it over the ages. Dignitaries and royalty? Famed wizards and other important figures? She'd heard a rumour that one of the Malfoy ancestors courted a famous muggle queen named Elizabeth.
Unlike the rest of the manor, nothing modern rested in the room.
Hermione sliced into the lamb shanks with delicate strokes of her knife as the meal progressed in silence.
Lucius kept his hard eyes on her movements as if looking for faults. Despite all her courage, the sight of Lucius always gave her a low sense of dread, the source of her nightmares. Every nerve stood on end, instincts screaming. Despite scheming to get her for Draco, Hermione had a sixth sense that the Malfoy patriarch hated her.
The silence proved long-lasting and painful. Draco and his father played some quiet game that didn't involve her, communicating in a way she didn't understand. A small grimace. A narrowing of the eyes. A scrape of a fork against porcelain. A clearing of the throat.
Finally, Lucius set his fork down. He took a small sip of wine, glaring at her over the goblet, as if somehow she manifested as the source of whatever conflict had arisen between father and son.
"I trust you are settling in well?" he asked her.
"Draco, I am merely expressing my concern for your breeder's well being." He glanced at her plate, which she'd barely touched. "You need to eat more meat. The baby will need the iron."
"I'm not hungry," she answered, hand tightening on her knife.
"Father—" he stated again, this time in a lower voice.
"Becoming anaemic will benefit no one." His upper lip curled. "From what I've heard, this particular muggleborn can be… obstinate. I just wanted her to know that the Malfoy household will not allow willful behaviour. Her days of being coddled and spoiled by Nott are over."
"Her name is Hermione. You will not address her as anything else."
Lucius looked over Draco with a small sneer.
"I see my lessons have not taken root as I'd intended," His eyes hardened and then smoothed out. "I guess it matters not as long as the result is the same."
He patted his lips with a napkin and then stood abruptly. Draco followed his movements with his own glare.
"You promised not to interfere," Draco said.
"I'm merely visiting my only son. Is that not allowed?"
"You'll be lucky to have a decent conversation with me ever again."
Lucius allowed the silence to hurt until he spoke.
"What do you think would have happened had you attempted to pull one of your schemes unsuccessfully?"
"Not only would your muggleborn have been taken from you, but you would have been in chains. So I think this behaviour toward me is rather… ungrateful. Haven't I made sure to give you everything you've needed?"
Draco threw his napkin on the table.
"I've lost my appetite."
"Titus visited me," Lucius said, causing Draco to stop. His whole chest rose with a deep breath, as if to regain control. "He offered me the same thing he offered you."
"And I feel it imperative to warn you that he's dangerous."
"I'm not an idiot."
"I'm beginning to doubt that."
"Your confidence in your only son's intelligence is heartwarming." Draco straightened his robes. "Titus isn't that hard to figure out. Now, if that's all, I'd like for you to leave us be."
Lucius worked his jaw. He grabbed his cane, and let it smack against the tile below.
"Titus is not to be underestimated. He may not break rules in the normal way, but he will when he can, and he'll create the loopholes to do so. He's waiting for an opening to strike, so it leaves us no time to accomplish our objective."
"Stop with the convoluted riddles, father. Just say what you've come to say."
Lucius's eyes flicked to her. Despite working to get her, she had a sense that under it all she didn't measure up in his eyes.
"You may have a year by ministry standards to get her pregnant, but my time limit is much shorter." He clicked his cane again. "I'll give you six months, Draco, and then I expect her to be gestating, preferably with a male."
"And if it's a girl?" Draco asked, dripping with sarcasm.
"Then we cut our losses."
"I'm not following."
Lucius adjusted his stance, taking a moment to answer.
"I will not have my family destroyed for a single muggleborn. There are other women, Draco. If your breeder gives you a son, then I'll allow you to marry, if you wish. Or perhaps have a live-in mistress. But Hermione's not your bride, and she never will be. Treating her as such will be a misstep. No son of mine will behave like the Rowle heir, pretending his breeder is his little wife. It's shameful behaviour."
Her heart stuttered with an odd pain, as if she'd been slapped. She'd never seen Draco stiffen the way he did, every muscle locking up.
"Get out," he seethed.
"Listen to reason, son," he said. "Nott is bonded to the girl, and her absence has made him— unstable. He's grown too powerful to easily bribe or threaten. There's no telling what he'll do. I do not warn of this lightly. There are very few people I'd concede a loss to, but it's imperative we smooth tensions, especially as the Order is gaining strength. Two great houses warring would do nothing but weaken wizarding society. A promise to give back the girl after we gain an heir might soothe him enough that he doesn't retaliate."
Draco drew his wand and pointed it at his father.
"She's mine. And if anyone dares attempt to take her from me, I'd make the Butcher look sane. I'm finished with this discussion. I believe it's time for you to leave."
"Son… she isn't Deanna."
Deanna? Hermione wondered who they talked about. Whoever it was, it struck a nerve with Draco.
Lucius eyed the wand. If he felt surprised, he didn't show it. Somehow, he even managed to look bored, though Hermione knew Lucius was just as good at occluding as his son.
"We'll have this discussion another time."
"We will not."
"Since your birth, everything I've ever done has been for your future, and this is what I get? A wand pointed at me. Going to curse your sire?" He paused. "Tell me, have you ever seen Titus torture someone?" He waited, but he got no answer. "He's a master— an artist. Skinning people alive. Ripping off limbs. It's a slow and agonising process, done with precision. With blood replenishing potions and stasis spells, he keeps them alive in horrific states until they tell him everything he wants to know. Now… imagine what he'd do to someone he considers an enemy."
With that final note, Lucius gave one more sneer, turned and walked out of the dining room to the floo, cane clicking against the floor. When the sound faded, Draco sat back down, pocketing his wand.
"I'm sorry you had to hear that," Draco said. There was nothing else to add on. They both knew the threat was real. To say not to worry would be disingenuous. "I'm not making you get pregnant in six months unless you want to. My father can fuck off. In the end, he doesn't have the power to give you back. Only I do, and I refuse. If Titus attempts to take you, I'll consider it an act of war."
After getting ready for bed, Mipsy popped into her room with something bundled in her hand.
"Mipsy has something for Mistress Hermione." She handed it to her.
Hermione took it and unravelled the white cloth to find the universe necklace nestled inside.
"Thank you, Mipsy."
The little elf nodded and popped away, leaving Hermione to stare at the object that once meant so much to her. If she concentrated, she could still feel it wrapped along her throat. She'd never been without it since Titus had given it to her. There was a time she thought she'd like to wear it forever, a reminder of his love.
Instead of placing it back on her neck, Hermione wrapped it back up in the white cloth and walked to her dresser, setting it inside an empty drawer.
Though she was still confused about Draco, the thought of going back to Nott manor had never felt so dark. For the first time in her life, she experienced what it felt like to exist with the potential for more.
Taking a deep breath, she shut the drawer.
Titus had promised her the universe, but the universe was larger than Nott manor. Larger than Titus himself. He couldn't give her the stars, no matter how much he wished to.
Because they couldn't be contained.
They couldn't be owned or gifted.
The stars were indomitable.
Two nights later, she'd been at a new vanity in his bedroom, braiding her hair before bed, when Draco waltzed in without announcement. She stopped and set down her comb.
He walked to a table near the fireplace with a familiar box under his arm and unfurled the contents, setting up a chess game. Throughout the entire thing, he didn't say a single word.
"I'm not sure I remember agreeing to a game of chess," she said.
He paused his set up, holding a queen in his hand.
"Didn't I tell you years ago that I'd win you, just so I could play a good game of chess? In this one thing, you have no choice."
Hermione rolled her eyes, remembering his selfish childhood demand for a friend.
She got up and walked over, sitting across from him.
"Are you ready to weep with your loss?" Draco asked.
"I don't cry."
Malfoy made the first move, sliding a piece across the board. Hermione had always liked the sound.
"I haven't since I was a child." She made her decision, sliding her own piece. He studied her move as if wondering what strategy she played at. "It's odd, because I sometimes want to, but instead everything inside me freezes and empties. Perhaps something's broken in me."
"You're not broken. You're surviving."
Hermione swallowed hard, liking the way the words made her feel. She'd always been treated like glass, close to shattering if pressed too hard. But despite Draco's hard edges, he never treated her like she was too fragile to knock against them. He told her the truth, no matter how unpleasant. The inherent choice he'd given her with wine showed he thought her strong enough to make it.
"So—" Hermione attempted to find another conversation topic. "Who is Deanna?"
Draco didn't have his occlumency shields up, so his sudden flinch wasn't hidden. He'd had his finger on top of a pawn, but he lifted it and sat back.
"It's not a happy story."
Hermione considered the warning, knowing that shared trauma could sometimes be a weight. But she wanted to understand Draco better.
"I'd like to know, but you don't have to tell me."
He stared off into the fire. "A few months before Theo's party, father won a breeder."
Hermione gasped in shock. She'd been slouching in her chair, but at the revelation she straightened.
"What happened to her?"
Lucius didn't have a breeder any more, and Draco didn't have siblings.
Draco grimaced, as if maybe regretting telling her. He drummed his fingers on the table a few times.
"She was an American muggleborn attending uni here when the curse happened, so she wasn't caught right away. She spent years posing as a muggle, only using magic when necessary. But… she made a mistake, and the aurors found her." Again, he grimaced. "She should have hated me. I probably would have in her position, especially since I was an absolute little shit to her at first."
"But she didn't hate you?"
He seemed to be clenching his teeth.
"Despite everything, she somehow managed to care—" He didn't finish his thought, twisting the pawn in his fingers, unwilling to look at her.
Hermione let the silence linger. Nothing felt right to say.
"What happened to her?"
"She died giving birth to my little sister. Neither of them made it."
He made a motion of his hand to stop, and she closed her mouth.
Her heart thumped oddly. It seemed Draco had lost two mothers. One pureblood and one muggleborn.
"She'd never been very healthy and miscarried several times," he explained. "It took years and several Ministry investigations. My father brushed off her concerns when she said she didn't think she'd survive a full-term pregnancy. I'm convinced she had a drop of seer blood."
"Did he love her?"
"He'd never been warm with her, but I think he'd grown to appreciate her. He was searching for—I'm not sure, but he never found it. And after her death, he never attempted to get another."
She wondered how much of himself he saw in his father. Or was he more like his mother? Or maybe he was a bit like Deanna. Whoever he compared himself to, she could see he still grieved her.
"Well, I think—"
Mipsy popped into existence. Hermione withheld her flinch of surprise. The little elf was much more abrupt than Bitty.
"Master must hurry," the elf said. "There's a hunt. You're being called to service."
His whole body stiffened.
She'd never seen this expression. A little like rage, a little like dread.
"Hunt?" Hermone asked, a chill crawling up her spine.
His eyes glanced up as if he'd forgotten that she was there.
"Bloody hell," he groaned and stood up. He went to his closet without answering, exiting five minutes later in a Death Eater outfit. A heavy silver mask glinted in his hand.
"Where are you going?"
"I'll be back later, Granger. If it's too late, don't stay up. I might be a while."
As she watched, he placed the silver mask on his face. It had intricate lines etched on the surface. Beautiful in an odd, severe way.
"No, wait," she stood up, walking toward him. "What's going on?"
He glanced down at her, eyes icy cold behind the mask.
"I'll tell you later."
Without any other explanation, he swept out of the room, cloak billowing behind him.
Hermione paced in the front sitting room. Back and forth, disturbed by her thoughts. She wished he'd have just told her what was going on, because she was certain her brain conjured things much worse.
Near midnight, the pop of apparition filled the room, and Draco stood in front of her.
She trailed off.
Something was wrong.
He still wore his Death Eater uniform, his mask pushed aside only enough to show strands of messy platinum hair and pale skin. Blood covered him from head to toe, dripping from his silver skull mask, dripping from the hems of his robes, splattering along the pristine floor. So abundant, it wet the fabric.
"Merlin," Hermione whispered. For the first time, she was truly frightened of him.
Mipsy arrived with a tray of snacks for Hermione. But when she entered, she dropped her tray and food went everywhere.
"Leave," he commanded, flat, toneless. Mipsy gathered the spilled food with her elf magic and obeyed with a vanishing crack. Hermione got up to leave, thinking he meant her as well.
Malfoy walked forward, and she backed away, legs almost collapsing against the couch behind her. He resembled a demonic monster, the sentient beasts of old that roamed the forests.
But then he raised his mask and she saw his red-rimmed eyes, his cheeks blotchy, his hair in disarray. It could have been from exhaustion, but she held a great suspicion it was from despair. It was so different from his normal emotionless expression, so vulnerable, that instantly she was on her feet, checking his robes, pulling the sleeves up to his shoulder, feeling the toned muscles as she went. No cuts, no bleeding. She moved to slip the robe from his shoulders to check his chest, but he stopped her, cradling her wrists in his hands.
"It's not mine."
Hermione backed away again and sat down on the couch, unsure how she felt, unsure how to react. Of course, the blood wasn't his.
Draco collapsed next to her on the couch. She stiffened when he bent over, thinking he was about to embrace her, but instead, he sat so close she felt his shuddering breath through the shoulder that touched her own. He threw the soiled mask to the ground with a low growl, and the silver skull flashed in the flickering firelight.
He shivered, closing his eyes, resting his elbows on his knees, head in hand.
"Say my name," he rasped.
"I need to hear it."
"Not that one. Not my father's."
He pressed his eyes shut so tight it wrinkled the skin near it.
She let him sit there for a moment.
"Whose blood was that?"
"Do you really want the truth?"
By his tone, she knew she'd hate what she was about to hear, but she still needed to hear it.
She gave a nod, and he sighed.
"Some muggleborns had been found. Twins, a boy and girl, probably six years old. They knew the girl had magic and sources suspected the boy did too."
"What were you doing there? Isn't that an auror job?"
He sat up a little.
"The act of obtaining the information is auror work. But the subsequent hunts are compulsory for all viable wizards, especially purebloods. My father brought me to a few. However—most men only go once or twice in their lifetimes. It's rare to be called to service more than that. I'll let you guess who put in a recommendation?"
A chill crept up her spine. She didn't want to say the name out loud.
"Titus?" She finally asked.
He gave a nod.
"Nott led the mission. The whole street was annihilated."
She gasped. "Everyone?"
"Besides the children. Nott's ruthless, but— at least he leaves the little ones alone." Draco rubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hand. "Once we got to the house, the father refused to say where he hid his family. I had to— Titus tasked me with recovering information."
She understood what he really meant. Titus tasked him with torture.
Draco clenched his fist hard in his lap. Hermione slid her hand slowly and gently into his, peeling his gloved fingers back with care, until she could connect them. She ignored the blood that transferred to her skin, trying not to think of the source.
He closed his eyes.
"The father didn't give away anything… no matter what I tried. But one of the little ones started crying. There ended up being four of them, hidden under the floorboards. The mother, the twins, and a toddler. Someone had done a decent concealment charm, but the silencio must have failed."
"Did you kill the father?"
"I probably should have. But no, he was arrested."
"And the mother—"
"She will be kept alive— as long as she cooperates."
Draco gave her a strange look. His eyes looked haunted, as if he'd lived a million years and all of them had been horrific.
"She'll be transferred to a birthing house, and her husband will be sent to her once a month under threat of death until she gets pregnant again."
Years ago, she'd have been confused, but now she understood they wanted her to create more magical babies. If she produced them once, she might do it again.
"What about their toddler?"
"The baby stays with its mother, but the authorities are… waiting. If she shows magic like they hope, then she'll be taken just like her siblings. And if the subsequent babies have magic, then the mum's life will become nothing but pregnancy, birth, and loss until she's too old."
Hermione tried to be calm, tried to show Draco that she was strong enough for the information. But she knew he felt the tremble in her hand. Would that have been the ultimate fate of her own mother? Was that why she killed herself?
"What happens to her after she can't anymore?"
"Depending on how many children she gave, she'll be provided extra rations and a stipend for her service."
A stipend. Rations. The words made Hermione ill.
"How could they do this?"
Her real question centered on Titus. Despite knowing him as the Butcher, despite the betrayal, and despite seeing him behead Viktor, it was hard to imagine him as anything other than who he'd been to her. She'd always known he'd killed Order members, and she'd known he'd obtained muggleborns. But she'd imagined it differently from what Draco described.
Draco paused, as if decoding what she really meant.
"Desperation gave them a reason, but it's easier for them to do this to people who they already believed were like animals. Before the curse, purebloods—especially my father—hated muggles and muggleborns. Not just hate, they—they didn't even believe you should have been allowed to exist."
She bit her lip until it hurt. "Does Titus—think like that?"
Draco was silent for a long time.
"I don't think Titus is capable of seeing muggles as anything other than your father or the order, even the muggleborns. He hates them all."
"But I'm muggleborn, and he doesn't hate me."
Draco shook his head.
"Somehow he's been able to separate you in his mind. A new category."
"If you're so different from the rest of them, what do you see when you look at a muggle?" Her voice came out clipped.
He glared at her for a moment at the accusation, but then his eyes softened.
"I see a little girl staring at her dead father. Other times, I see a grave with fresh flowers."
Hermione blinked, feeling her eyes burn. Draco hung his head, running his bloody gloved hand over his face, leaving it streaked with crimson.
"I gave the twins their stuffed animals before being taken away," he whispered. "They'll have that, at least."
They were quiet for a very long time, just staring into the fire.
"Say my name," he asked again.