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AN: So I've just dicscovered you can put in notes. I know, I know, I'm a little slow. But I wanted to say an enormous, heartfelt thank you to the lovely people who have reviewed and favourited and given the fic a go - thank you Mrs_J_Potter, Darker Side of Happy, Dani, mikalily, CatGryffindor, Michelle, Shelby, the_elder_wand, jadelouise, Xx3picJourn3yxX, lilylvr, jaceni, alleycat, BehindTheMask, cupidstunt, Danceinggirl109, Darkness_Never_Leaves, DRACOS_GAL_1994, dragoness97, Looney_luna_lovegood, mia1991, neski, pearlwriter, Rainy_Monday, Red_Rose_for_love, and last but by no means least, Tetys20 . Thank you so much!

Midnight

We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of a key, each confirms a prison
- The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot


Dawn moved across the sky like a spider, a creeping, stealthy thing. It spun a web of ghostly light over Hogwarts, until the dark bulk of the castle was a monstrous fly dying in its midst.

It was the first time in three years that she had not fled the sunlight, and she could not help but feel naked, bared to the world under its unforgiving glare. Even in the thin half-light, she fought an urge to find some shadowed corner, some patch of concealment in which lay at least the illusion of safety.

Her heart was hammering, fear oozing from her pores to lie damp in her palms and trickle down her back. There was no more hiding. There was no more time to prepare, only this: the slant of his back, proud and straight as he led the way, the thud of his feet on the flagstones an echo of her heart, the long groan of the doors to the Great Hall as he heaved against the rotten wood.

He threw a vexed glance over his straining shoulder. “Granger, despite my rippling muscles, I could use some help here. In case you’ve noticed, these damn doors aren’t opening themselves.”

The words jolted her. She fumbled for her wand, then said, “Stand back,” wondering why he hadn’t done the same.

“I wouldn’t,” he advised. “My father told me all about the charms he put on these doors. Just in case anyone was left, you know.”

Her arm dropped.

He blinked, and the flash of surprise was hidden as quickly as it had appeared. “Or perhaps you didn’t. Don’t tell me you haven’t even been outside in three years.”

“Considering what the castle’s become, I didn’t think wandering about in the grounds was a good idea,” she said, but some part of her felt small, almost ashamed.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Draco said. “I’ve always thought the carnivorous spiders lent the place a certain ambience. An ambience of gruesome death and some disturbingly symbolic sticky stuff, admittedly, but given that you’ve spent the last three years shacked up with people whose conversational skills are restricted to shrieks of agony, it might make a nice change.”

She stared at him. “Was that a joke?”

“Could be,” he said dryly.

“Then it was in incredibly bad taste,” she said frostily.

“So is standing there while I dislocate my shoulder trying to get out of here.” There was an edge of malice to his smile. “I’ll mind my manners if you mind yours.”

She flushed. There was something incredibly irritating about being lectured on her conduct by Draco Malfoy, a man who’d always thought the most significant aspect of common courtesy was the fact it was indeed so dreadfully common.

“Do you think you could mind your mouth as well?” she said shortly, but tucked her wand away and went to lend her weight to the door. Teeth gritted, she stood beside him, pushing until at last with a screech no less human than the cries of midnight, the wood gave way.

It flung open so fast she stumbled and hit the floor in an ungainly heap.

When she got up, he was poised and smug as a cat, his balance as impeccable as his clothes.

“Falling at my feet?” he said brightly. “It’s a little soon for that, Granger. I haven’t saved the world yet.”

She bit back her reply: save yourself first, worry about the world later.

Because there in the burgeoning light, he seemed softer, younger, all blurred edges and pale shades. Only the lurid stain of the Dark Mark on his arm destroyed the image: she saw again the dreaminess in his eyes when he spoke of Voldemort, sharp contrast to his scars and his bitter words.

It seemed to her that she could not afford to pry at his weaknesses. Not yet, not until he could not betray her.

“Then we’d better get on it with it,” she snapped.

~*~

There is no silence in the cells. They lie there, the tortured and the dying and the captured, some still and some in the same endless motion as the sea, tidal in the rhythms of their pain. Even though the darkness is complete and all-consuming, he knows he is not alone because he hears them.

The sound of flesh on stone, scraping. The clink of chains. Footsteps are thunder on the steps, the roaring monster of their human storm. He has heard countless prayers whispered up to the unforgiving air, and he listens to them, a fallen god as they are all fallen here. In his mind, he answers, and so creates dialogue and with it the illusion that he is not alone, that none of them are alone in a terrible, self-made stony hell.

Please let them come for someone else today, they say.

Today or tomorrow or ten years from now, it makes no difference. You are here: they have already come for you.

Let me be brave, they say.

Wish for something better. Wish to be a coward, wish to be double-faced as a coin, wish to be one of the few they make their own if you break in the right, sweet way. It will be easier.

Let me die, they say. They all say it eventually.

And he says back to them: yes, now hush and dream of tender hands, and slip away like time, like breath, like hope.

Sometimes, amidst the small noises – breath and sobs and fingernails on metal – he hears something far greater. He hears the cessation of sound, a small sacred moment of silence.

He knows then that they have heard him, and escaped the only way they can. He blesses them, and then he forgets them because it is the only gift he can give them: he will not hold even their memory prisoner. In that, at least, he can deny his jailers.

Each day, in his cell, he lies motionless, unchained, endlessly forgetting. In a world of people waiting, for death or pain or mercy if they’re fool enough to believe that, he waits for nothing. He forgets and he dreams and he no longer even knows how to put a name to himself.

He does not know that in the blackness, it is him they pray to: he has forgotten even that.

They cling to his image as a talisman. They deify him, the fallen god, and whisper the name he had once: The Boy Who Lived.

~*~

The castle was surrounded by a thick wall of vegetation. Draco had hacked a tunnel through it to get in, and as she crawled through the cylindrical green space, she tried to ignore the insistent thought that it might close about them, tangle and strangle them before they could leave. At several points, she had to stop, jammed in the narrow passage while in front of her he cursed and hacked away at vines that were trying to reclaim their space.

At last they were free. She gasped as she came out into bright morning sunlight; it struck her eyes like a white knife, and the pain was instant and immense. Tears streamed down her face as she blinked, hoping her vision would adjust soon.

She had seen some light – she knew the tricks and shadows of moonlight, the warning glimmer of dawn, but sunlight was as strange to her as peace. It seemed an enemy then, vast and burning and ruthless, stripping her of all her secrecy. She fought it, and hated.

“Wait...” she said, irrationally afraid he would leave without her.

“Thank god we’re out.” He turned; his face was a blur, but she heard the sneer in his voice, slick as oil. “Don’t tell me you’re crying for that grotty hellhole!”

Rage surged up in her; her reaction came from somewhere deep inside, some fretful, wounded place that laid the golden days of Hogwarts over its creaking ruin like a shroud; that recalled fires and laughter and peaceful days of sunshine beside the lake.

“I-”

“It isn’t worth it.” He cut across her, callous. She paid no attention to the bitterness in his voice. “I’d have burned it to the ground myself if the Dark Lord hadn’t done the job for-”

She kicked out and heard a satisfying thud as her foot connected with his shin.

And then things moved so fast she could barely keep track – a scraping sound, her feet knocked from under her so she fell to her knees, a hand yanking her hair, and suddenly, a prick of pain at her throat.

She gazed up at Draco, her neck at such an awkward angle that she could barely breathe. The sun was directly above him, and it threw a narrow white line about his silhouette. He was reduced to a black form, his fingers digging into her scalp, the hand that held the knife at her throat absolutely steady.

A cold, calm little thought seeped through her panic.

He went for the knife.

Even when he had the choice, he went for the knife instead of his wand. That’s what I’m dealing with. That’s who he is. Murder before magic, weapons before words.

His voice was soft and slow. “You seem to have forgotten a few things, Granger. I’m one of the Dark Lord’s chosen few. You should treat me with a bit of respect.”

“You should earn it,” she hissed back. Ideas unfolded like chess moves; small steps, a sacrifice, large gains. Where his body was, a quick calculation of angles and space. The freedom of her hands, and the occupancy of his. How much he needed her. How much he underestimated her. How skilled he was.

Move after move, until she saw the path she needed.

She jerked her head forward; his reaction was so fast she didn’t even have time to feel relief – the knife was whipped away because he didn’t want her dead (not here, not now, not yet, whispered her mind); her elbow went up and out as her hair tore from her scalp, and landed right in his groin.

She heard a groan, and he folded like a sheet.

Hermione scrambled to her feet, brushing her eyes clear. She turned, ready to kick the knife from his hand, but he was otherwise engaged.

He was shaking; a strange noise came from him, husky and repetitive, and it was a moment before she realised it was laughter.

When he raised his face to her, it was equal parts agony and amusement.

“You bitch,” he gasped. She fancied there was a note of surprise in it. “You Mudblood bitch-”

She drew herself up, ignoring her stinging scalp. She could afford to lose some hair. She could not afford to lose this skirmish. “I guess I’m not the only one who’s forgotten a few things, Malfoy. I’m not as helpless as you think. I survived the war.”

Those grey eyes were narrowed, giving nothing away. “Because I let you. Or had you forgotten that part?”

She could not forget. Three years ago, he had shown one swift flash of mercy. It had brought them here, now. It was a fragile thread from which to spin this mad enterprise, but it was there.

“No,” she answered softly. “I hadn’t forgotten.”

“Oh. Good. Because I don't think I'll ever forget the screaming agony I'm in.”

She eyed him as he cautiously got up, looking a little green around the edges. Shame curled in her stomach. How had she expected him to react? She’d seen already how he had changed – Voldemort had honed his violence, until Draco himself seemed a weapon. It hadn’t been her smartest moment.

“Sorry,” she offered.

“Tell it to the children I’m never going to have,” he muttered. “I’m not the enemy here, Granger.”

“Try to behave less like it then,” she said, but with little anger.

He looked like he wanted to say something in response, but she wasn’t the only one trying to regain some control because he only offered her a cool stare, then produced his wand and said, “Accio Firebolt!”

It came zipping through the air; a chill went through her at the sight of it. “Is that...”

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said curtly, settling onto it. “It’s not as if Potter’s going to be playing Quidditch any time soon. If it helps, he’d probably get a warm glow from knowing I’m using it to thwart the Dark Lord.”

“Is that your trophy?” she said coldly. Hermione suspected that if Harry had known Draco had annexed his broom, he’d get a red mist rather than a warm glow.

Draco gave her a long, hard look before he said in an empty voice, “It was the Dark Lord’s gift. A reminder, if you want, that I’ve failed him too.”

The colour leached from her face. She had forgotten that Voldemort had tasked Draco with killing Dumbledore.

“There must be another way,” she said, a touch desperately. “Thestrals?”

Draco’s look was contemptuous. “Granger, there’s hardly a wizard left in the country who can’t see those revolting beasts. Look, just get on the broom. It’s this or you can make your own way through the Forbidden Forest with whatever fluffy, demented mutations that imbecile Hagrid left there.”

It was no choice at all. Reluctant, she sat behind him and gingerly put her arms around his waist.

“This is not how I thought saving the world would start,” she muttered at his back.

“This is almost exactly how I thought the world would end,” Draco replied as the broom rose into the air. “Don’t get any ideas, Granger. Your hands had better not move.”

She nearly choked, but then the broom shot forward and the wind ripped away any answer she might have had.

~*~

It was a long, cold flight. The bright light burned her eyes, and so after a while, she kept her head bowed against his back, shielding her vision as best she could. The rags and tags of her clothes were little protection against the icy wind; the warmth charms she whispered took the worst of it away.

Hogwarts shrank into the distance; she did not look back.

Below them, the world seemed markedly unchanged. The fields were a patchwork quilt of green and gold, stitched together by fences and roads. Clouds skimmed by; flocks of birds wheeled in vast, amorphous shapes.

Then she began to see changes.

A bridge broken in two as if a giant’s fist had smashed down onto the middle of it. An entire street of a village reduced to rubble. As the roads became more prominent, the settlements more thickly clustered, she realised where they were heading. It was inevitable, she supposed.

London loomed before them, immense, complex. Gothic buildings squatted next to high-rise glass confectionary, an architect’s tale of Cinderella and her Ugly Sisters. Lights speckled the city; the river was a blue ribbon winding through it.

She felt the vibrations in his body as Draco muttered a series of spells. Some she recognised – defences sank over them, shields: he fumbled for something in his clothes, raised it to his lips and then passed it back to her.

The gleam of Felix Felicis was unmistakable. She had to hand it to him, he had come prepared. Hermione gulped down the last of the potion, and handed back the empty vial.

Almost at once, they began to descend, swooping down into the very centre of the city. Even knowing how much magic protected them, she felt vulnerable. But no one so much as looked up as they circled over the busy streets. She recognised Canary Wharf, glittering in the distance; the scent of the Thames reached her.

They landed in a dingy alley, unseen. Draco tucked the broom under his arm, and said, “We can Apparate from here.”

“Where are we going?” she asked, quiet.

He gave her a brilliant smile; his eyes were distant as the moon and just as barren. “Home.”

He had caught her before she could register what that meant; he turned, and pressure bore down on her like stone, as if she were being buried alive, air squeezed from her-

They reappeared on a familiar doorstep, and she only had a second to gasp in air before she heard a familiar voice, sleek and cold and purring, whispering, “What a pretty present you’ve brought me, darling.”

She raised her eyes to the tall, terrible figure before her, the knowledge of betrayal almost painful. Those dark lips were parted, her tongue flicking over them with sensuous promise. Her eyes were vicious as knives.

Bellatrix Lestrange.

~*~

Thank you so much for reading! I would love to hear what you thought.

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