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¬Hermione quivered, cringing at the metallic taste of blood in her mouth. She was against the floor with her arms pressed into her stomach, locked under her body weight. Cassius’ curse had left a sharp pain in both her legs and shoulders. Her left cheek was against the cold ground, grazing the soft carpet.

“You really are quite a witch, Hermione,” Cassius remarked. His voice was smooth and calm, as if he was discussing the weather with her. “I was hoping you wouldn’t figure anything out until after Draco came back for Lestrange. I had a whole dramatic reveal planned.”

Hermione wanted to say something but her jaw was aching, stained with the blood from her cut lip and injured nose. Cassius circled her body and seated himself on the chair at the desk. He leaned back and propped his legs up. His face was the same as Hermione had always seen it but hidden beneath his veneer of charm, betrayed by the moonlight, was a distinct resemblance to his father. His lip was curled upwards into a twisted smile that stretched across his pale face, beneath the dark eyes that were surveying Hermione.

“Why’d...” Hermione cringed at the pain in her jaw. “Why?”

“But you already know,” he replied. He feigned a sympathetic expression as he bent down and placed his fingers against Hermione’s face. She shook it off violently. “Are you in pain? Let me help you.”

He got off the chair and waved his wand. Hermione’s body convulsed under the white light and she felt herself being lifted and thrown into the now vacant chair. The pain in her limbs had subsided greatly and all that remained of her wounds was the taste of blood still fresh in her mouth.

“But you were wrong,” Hermione said. “You killed Adria because you thought Draco loved her. You were wrong. She was in love with him but he didn’t feel the same way about her.”

“It would have been fair,” he shrugged. “His father killed my love and so it would be fitting that I killed his. An eye for an eye.”

Hermione felt her heart racing. She had to keep talking; she had to keep Cassius talking. Her mind was racing through any and all options she had which she, finally, concluded were very limited. She was sitting across the son of Voldemort and whatever she had ever thought about him was wrong.

“You never could read Draco’s mind so you never figured out that he didn’t love her,” Hermione said. “You just read Adria’s.”

“I was in your mind when you discovered that.” His eyes wandered over to the book that Hermione had been reading only a few minutes ago. He smiled. The page that had been ripped when Cassius had attacked her from behind but the words could be easily made out.

“I thought the curse affected Draco the most because he had pain but I was wrong,” Hermione said. She could still remember the words as the book had presented them: Effects of the edacium curse are mediated not by the victims but by the one who casts the curse. Due to the strong effects of the curse that manipulate mental and emotional aspects and manifest themselves physically, the degree of damage depends on the one who casts the curse. “The reason Draco is so affected by the curse is because Adria was in love with him. There was a stronger connection between the two of them and so the curse had a stronger effect on Draco. It’s not his pain that’s eating away at Draco’s life, it’s Adria’s love.”

She had to keep Cassius talking and thinking; she couldn’t afford to have him in her head again, not with the escape possibilities filtering through her mind. “So I figured out the Adria loved Draco,” she muttered.

“And I told you that I can’t read Draco’s mind,” Cassius said. “And then that wretch Skeid gave you that one little fact that ruined my plans.”

Cassius strolled across the room and shut the door that was still ajar. He turned back to Hermione with a slight smile on his face but with the moonlight hitting his pale skin, he looked almost silver. “Ironic, isn’t it?”

“What is?” Hermione asked, keeping her hands from trembling in the chilly wind. She was still in her chair, not bound but unable to move.

“That it’s love that’s killing Draco.” Cassius said; Hermione swore she saw him stifle a little laugh. “Of all the things that could eat away at his life, it’s the one thing that’s supposed to instil life.”

Hermione looked away and tried to find her lost wand. “That’s not true,” she said, her answer caused Cassius to look up and straight into her brown eyes. “Not all love instils life... “

“Do I detect a hint of bitterness in your voice?” The smile became fuller and Cassius took a few steps towards Hermione, his wand twirling casually in his hand as if to remind her that he still had control. “Of course, you’re referring to unrequited love, yes? The kind of love that doesn’t give life? The kind of love that you have with Draco?”

Hermione’s expression hardened and she felt herself stiffen. It hadn’t really occurred to her that Cassius had access to those thoughts as well but now that she realized it, she felt anger boiling in her veins. Cassius registered her sudden rise of emotions and he sat down on the bed, still twirling his wand.

“Unfortunately, I only began to realize this when you started to as well,” Cassius explained. “That day in the hospital? You sent me that letter to meet you in the cafeteria and I could feel the affection for Draco growing in your heart. And you’ve never really known how to deal with it since.”

Hermione glared at Cassius, feeling both helpless and foolish as he read into some of her most private thoughts. She knew that he had seen all her thoughts associated with Draco, all those nights when she had done nothing but think about how much she loved him and about how she wished she was the real Lady Malfoy.

Cassius stood up and sat in front of Hermione, his wand positioned between his fingers. “You’re wrong, by the way,” he said. “I haven’t imprisoned you because you know that I killed Adria.”

His left hand gently caressed her curly brown hair and Hermione felt a knot in her stomach. Words couldn’t escape her mouth, her tongue was paralyzed and all she could do was feel the cold chills pass through her bones. “Draco didn’t love Adria but, Hermione, he does love you.”

Hermione’s eyes widened at the horror of the information. “An eye for an eye,” Cassius whispered.
---

Draco had woken up at five thirty that morning. Hoisting himself out of the bed, he had quietly started to walk in large circles around the room. His ears were filled with the shuffles of his heavy feet, the faint chirps of birds celebrating the crack of dawn and the warm summer wind as it hit his window. For the next hour and a half, the walking was all he did. And so, by the time he heard Ron, Harry and Pansy convene in the kitchen, he descended the stairs with a lot less pain and lot more fluidity than he could have hoped for.

Pansy smiled as she saw him make his way over to the dining table and Harry and Ron nodded. Eli was making breakfast, looking visibly more fatigued than he had done in years. His twinkling eyes had lost their mirth, surrounded by deep dark circles. His face was paler, blending into his white lips. The moustache that dominated his upper lip was now wearing thin, withering away and revealing little follicles of ingrown hairs under.

“Eggs, Master Malfoy?” Eli asked, ushering to the large omelette cooking on the fire in front of him.

Draco pursed his lips and took his seat. “Eli, are you alright?”

The old man nodded dismissively and Draco felt a pang of guilt hit him. He hadn’t realized what this whole ordeal had been doing to Eli. He had served the Malfoys for longer than Draco could ever imagine and no matter how much wisdom and loyalty a man may carry, his body and age will only permit him to go so far.

Eli emptied the omelette onto Draco’s plate and turned back to the stove. “I will have the toast ready in a few minutes. Would anyone like some tea?”

Pansy and Harry looked at Draco with a concerned expression, followed by Ron turning to Harry and then back to Draco. They all seemed to be silently electing him to be the one to tell Eli to stop overworking himself. He nodded quietly and put his fork down, turning to Eli.

“Eli, you’ve done enough. Thank you.”

“But Master Malfoy, there’s barely enough food for-”

“There’s enough food here to keep Weasley stocked up for two days,” Draco assured him, smiling as Harry and Pansy laughed.

“And that’s really saying something,” Harry chimed in. Ron patted his stomach and smiled as well. “You should rest.”

“I’m quite alright, Master Malfoy,” Eli said wearily. “I can help you prep-”

“I’m ordering you to go and sleep, Eli,” Draco said. “I will wake you if we need your assistance.”

The old butler didn’t refuse this time, nodding politely and thanking the four of them as he gave them a smile and left the room. Draco turned back to his eggs, digging into them. Ron had reached over to grab another piece of toast and Harry brought the tea pot over, setting it on the table.

“He’s not coming, is he?” Pansy asked. “This must be so taxing on him.”

“I’m not sure yet,” Draco said. “It depends on what we decide today.”

As he sipped some tea, Harry reached into his pocket and produced a thin, unsealed envelope. He put it on the table and pushed it towards Draco. “I made it official last night,” Harry said. “And I received this from the Italian Ministry this morning.”

“So do we have jurisdiction?” Ron asked.

Harry nodded with satisfaction. “Lestrange is officially confirmed to be in London and so now we are in full authority to arrest and detain him. Without the Italians demanding extradition, if you do kill him, we can bypass a lot of international protocols.”

“Thanks,” Draco said, feeling better as these small hurdles were overcome one by one. Now that they had full jurisdiction over Lestrange’s arrest, no evidence from his death and confessions, including evidence that Narcissa Malfoy was innocent, would have to go through the Italian Ministry. The sooner his mother got out, the better.

“What’s left to do?” Harry asked.

“Are there aurors on standby?” Draco asked and breathed a sigh of satisfaction as both Harry and Ron nodded.

“My team’s ready,” Ron said. “They’ll be stationed at the end of the forest.”

“We’ll get to the Manor before ten tomorrow night. Weasley, you take the North Tower entrance and head down east towards the dining hall, it’s four doors down from the room that you were staying in. Potter, you take the South Tower entrance from the bottom and follow the stone path until you hit wood flooring.”

“We’re aiming in the dark here, mate,” Ron intervened. “The Manor’s huge and we’re searching for three men and a woman. They could be anywhere.”

“The Manor’s charmed,” Draco said, pouring himself another cup of tea. “My wand can trace anyone in it who doesn’t have Malfoy blood.”

Pansy turned to Draco with a confused expression when it suddenly dawned on her. “That’s how you found Hermione, isn’t it? When they were killing that man and she was in the closet?”

Harry and Ron maintained their confusion while Draco nodded. “We need to cover the three exits that Lestrange knows about: the south tower, north tower and the main entrance, which I will take. Potter, if you and Weasley follow the paths I gave you from your entrances, you’ll both hit stone staircases that lead down to the dungeons. That’s where Adria is most of the time.”

“Why do we need Adria there?” Pansy asked. “We’re already way in over our heads.”

“With Lestrange’s death, any and all magic of his should break,” Draco explained. He couldn’t block the image of Hermione as she had explained the very same thing to him only a few days ago. “It was the dark magic from his wand that, two years ago, killed Adria and bound her to the banshee.”

“Ah,” Harry said, understanding.

“Destroy the magic and you destroy the bond that binds Adria to the banshee,” Ron said, amazed by the simple logic the plan followed. “Brilliant.”

“It’s a theory,” Draco offered. “But it’s worth a try.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Ron said, slipping a piece of toast into his mouth. “Hermione’s theories are almost always on the mark.”

A perpetual silence followed. Hermione was like the elephant in the room, but even more than that, she was so intimately linked with all four of the people seated at the table that mentioning her reopened healing wounds. There was the thing with Draco, a relationship so tangled with threads of the past that it had driven both of them away from each other. What was worse was that everyone knew that Draco loved Hermione and Draco knew that everyone knew but no one could mention it. Ron was caught in the middle as Hermione’s ex-boyfriend and one of her best friends, Harry was thrown in as Hermione and Ron’s best friend and Pansy was also awkwardly fitted in as Draco’s ex-pseudo-lover. All of this revolved around, of course, the one lingering question in the air: did Hermione feel the same way about Draco?

“Don’t enter the dungeons until I give you the signal,” Draco said, awkwardly ending the silence. “They are the size of a village and you only go in there if you don’t want to come back out. Cover the exits until I find Lestrange and his men. Pansy and I will lead them to the dungeons.”

“Why Pansy?” Ron asked, annoyed that he was stuck of defence.

Pansy clicked her tongue and raised her eyebrow. “Because I can do something you can’t, Weasley.”

There was a small pop in the room and Pansy suddenly disappeared, her black hair vanishing into nothingness. Ron scoffed, letting out a laugh. “You can apparate? That’s great, so can half the kids at Hogwarts. Let’s bring them along too.”

“Look closer, Ron,” Harry interjected.

Ron opened his mouth to argue but the small chirps of a distant bird caught his attention. He looked up at the ceiling and saw a little sparrow, wings spread, floating through the morning air. She circled the table twice and then folded in her wings to aid her smooth descent onto the center of the table. She chirped twice at Draco who affectionately ran his finger along her feathers. She then turned her head towards Ron and bit at his finger.

“Bugger!” he clamoured, withdrawing his hand and both Draco and Harry laughed as the sparrow flew overtop, allowed Harry to graze her feathers and then reappeared in her human form.

Pansy’s black hair, fair skin and dark eyes materialized in front of the three men, bearing a satisfied expression on her face. She raised her eyebrow again and waited for Ron’s counter argument but he didn’t make one, instead choosing to grunt and ask Draco to continue.
---

The warm air that had been a comforting farewell to the cold winter was now as chilly as winter itself. It circled Hermione’s shivering body and danced through the drapes, providing the only break in the silence that lingered over what she had just realized.

Cassius was going to kill her.

He hadn’t attacked her because she knew the truth. He had attacked her because he wanted to torture her and then kill her, just like he had done with Adria two years ago.

Hermione took a sharp breath and observed Cassius as he wrote something on a sheet of parchment at her desk. His tall figure was bent over, seemingly absorbed in the words in front of him but Hermione knew better than that. Any escape attempt she made would surely be blocked and then followed by a painful punishment. She couldn’t risk making any brash attempts at freedom; if she was going to survive, she would have to plan it with careful calculations.

“You ruined Draco’s life,” Hermione said, breathing slowly. “He had nothing to do with Natalie’s death. Lucius was the one-”

“And Lucius did pay, Hermione,” Cassius agreed, still not looking up from his parchment. “I made sure of it.”

And then Hermione understood. It was something Draco had said a long time ago, mentioned in passing but today it held an enormous amount of weight. “Lucius didn’t die escaping, did he?” she asked, fearful of the answer.

“Poor Narcissa was too weak to even recognize me, so I let her be. But Lucius, he had blood on his hands.” Cassius looked up at her this time and the charm from his face had faded. For the first time, Hermione began to see Voldemort, as he had been in his last years. “I’m quite good at the imperius curse. When the guards found Lucius at the doors, they didn’t even suspect that he was under my spell. They didn’t even try to stop the dementors.”

Hermione tried to block out the horrifying image of the dementors descending down on Lucius Malfoy’s body, sucking the life out of him. Keep talking, she urged herself. “An eye for an eye,” Hermione whispered. “You killed Lucius, it’s even.”

“Hermione, do you remember what I told you at the graveyard tonight?” Cassius asked, his voice smooth. “I told you that there was a lot more at stake than you could ever have imagined.”

His thin smile returned and he held up the piece of parchment to Hermione, who was still bound to the chair. The wooden posts of the bed were pressing in her sides but the pain had become a dull sensation in the back of her mind. The fear in her veins was now governed by the fact that her limbs were completely immobile.

“I thought you didn’t kill,” Hermione said.

Cassius clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Incorrect. I said I don’t kill unless I have to. I prefer not to kill but these are special circumstances. Now, I am going to go and send Lestrange this owl and you will sit very still over here.”

Hermione sucked in a sharp breath as the pain in her limbs increased. Cassius’ fingers hovered over her face with a gentle precision and when he withdrew them, the pain disappeared, leaving Hermione breathless and with tears in her eyes as the first signs of dawn hit the horizon.
---

Ron trotted through the hallway at Number 12 Grimmauld Place without really focusing on his steps. His mind was concentrating on the unusual circumstances surrounding Draco and Natalie and Cassius. It was odd for Ron to be the one trying to find the missing pieces of the puzzle; usually, he had his wand in his hand and was ready for any sort of confrontation. However, with Hermione gone, the responsibilities of discovering the hidden story had fallen on him and Harry equally.

He had resolved that a warm shower was what he needed right now to clear his head. Wasn’t that what everyone always did? He felt odd being the thinker but it was also a little exciting to face a new challenge. He turned around at the top of the staircase and then headed for the bathroom, hoping that he would have an epiphany moment just like Hermione always did and the entire story would fall right into place.

As he approached the door, his thoughts wandered farther and farther away from the present, trying to recollect the facts in his head before the cleansing ritual. He opened the door absentmindedly and entered the bathroom, only to be met with a high pitched scream.

“RON!”

Ron looked up suddenly, catching a glimpse of a very red Pansy in the bathroom as she grabbed a towel from the counter and covered up her bare body. Ron didn’t even realize that Pansy had been undressed until after she had completely drawn the towel over her torso, looking both confused and livid. He immediately covered his eyes with his hands, extremely embarrassed.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry!” he muttered.

“DON’T YOU KNOCK?” she yelled. She turned her back towards him to readjust the towel at her front, ensuring that it was tucked in securely and wouldn’t betray her. “Are you really that thick?”

“I wanted to take a shower. I didn’t hear you inside!” he defended.

Pansy made a disgruntled noise as Ron removed his hands from his eyes. She was fully covered in her towel now, revealing only her fair calves above her feet and her bare shoulders, drenched with beads of water. Her hair was wet and messily tucked behind her ears, forming little cascading waves as the breeze from the hallway came into the bathroom.
“Do you plan on leaving any time soon?” she asked sarcastically.

“Okay, don’t need to make a huge deal out –” He suddenly stopped midway through his sentence and looked at Pansy.

“What are you staring at?” she asked, but her voice had lost some of its anger. Ron wasn’t looking at her face or her towel but in fact, her right shoulder. His gaze wandered over the small piece of skin at the top of her shoulder blade that wasn’t quite as smooth as the rest. There was something very penetrating about the way Ron was looking at her shoulder and Pansy knew what he saw but she couldn’t understand how he had noticed it so quickly. At first she was worried that he would ask questions but his gaze seemed to harbour more than just curiosity.

“Wh-” he began.

“Ron, what was that scream?” Harry asked, appearing in the doorway from behind. He suddenly stopped abruptly at seeing Pansy wrapped in the towel and dropped his gaze, turning away from her. Pansy held the towel tightly in her hands and raised it, as if she felt exposed.

She lifted her dark eyes to match Ron but his gaze had dropped to the floor as well and he turned away. “Sorry,” he muttered, distractedly and ushered Harry back downstairs.
---

Harry watched with confusion as Ron left him at the top of the stairs and went to his room silently. As Harry descended the creaky wooden stairs, he thought about the way Ron and Pansy were looking at each other and knew he had intruded on something. But the way Pansy was looking at Ron wasn’t anything like he’d seen before; she looked almost afraid, more so than one would be after being walked in on in the shower. But since Ron had abruptly left his side as well, Harry didn’t have much of a chance to ask him what had happened and with all that was going on tomorrow, there was already so much to deal with.

“Potter.”

Draco’s voice was very quiet and Harry found him leaning against the kitchen door, ushering him over. The sun had now risen completely, illuminating the scratched floors and worn down walls. “What’s going on?” Harry asked.

“There is something I need you to do,” Draco explained, looking visibly fatigued. Harry wondered if Draco would make it to tomorrow night but he kept that thought to himself. Draco reached into his pocket and produced a neatly folded parchment, pressing it into Harry’s palm.

“What’s this?”

“It’s something that I want you to read in case I don’t make it out in one piece.” Harry opened his mouth to respond but Draco cut him off. “We both know that my chances are slim. The charade is mainly for Pansy. I can barely stand on my own.”

Harry nodded slowly and turned the parchment around in his hands. “Don’t you think that you should talk to Hermione face to face instead of a letter?”

“It’s not for Hermione,” Draco said. “Pansy won’t be able to stop herself from opening this right away and she won’t like what’s inside. Weasley and I have our own issues to deal with so you’re the only one I can trust to keep this safe and sealed until necessary.”

“Alright,” Harry agreed, suddenly feeling the burden he was bearing. He slipped the letter into pocket and nodded to Draco who thanked him.

Harry paused for a second and watched as Draco walked over to the kitchen table and sat himself down. The blonde man looked at Harry with a curious expression and as the light filtered in through the drawn blinds and the shadows looked like prison bars on his face, he spoke. “What do you want to ask me?”

Harry didn’t realize he was being very obvious but now that Malfoy had brought it up, he thought he might as well give it a shot. “I know you’re not telling me something,” he said.

He walked over and sat down on the chair adjacent to Draco, letting his pale skin bathe in the golden sun. “You’re hiding something.”

“That’s not a question.”

“Fine,” Harry said. “Is there something you’re not telling us?”

“Yes,” Draco admitted, his answer appearing a lot quicker than Harry had anticipated. “But it’s not relevant to the circumstances at hand and so, you don’t need to know.”

“Fine,” Harry replied, not bothering to prod any further.

Draco nodded appreciatively and tilted his head towards the ceiling observing the irregular pattern of waves and circles that had been engraved into the ancient house.
---

Cassius watched intently as Hermione finished the last of her toast. She was still strapped to her chair but as it was breakfast time, he had loosened her hands and allowed her to eat anything from the extravagant breakfast spread that the elves had prepared.

“Did you warn Lestrange?” Hermione asked, her fear having been put on the back burner. She knew that Draco would invade the manor in the next few days and with him, Pansy and Eli. She hoped that Harry and Ron would have returned back to Ginny. After all, Harry had only come to save Ron and now that Ron was okay and recovered, they would both have to return. That made things so much easier for her; she now only had to bear the piercing fear and endless hollow feeling in her stomach that Draco, Pansy and Eli were in danger.

“Why would I do that?” Cassius asked, slipping a slice of apple into his mouth.

“Draco’s going to try and kill him... because he thinks killing Lestrange will break Adria’s curse.”

“Exactly,” Cassius said, a smile forming between his twisted lips. “And that can end in one of two ways. Either Draco succeeds in killing Lestrange, in which case I will be more than happy to be rid of that leech. I estimate that there will be a fair bit of chaos during which you, my dear, will accidentally get in the cross fire. I’m thinking either a simple killing curse or perhaps, you will have been hit with a paralyzing curse and then consumed by the fiendfyre.”

Hermione swallowed roughly, feeling the lump of crisp bread as it sluggishly made its way down to the hollow pit in her stomach. “And what’s the other way that it can end?”

“My father survives and kills Draco. In that case, Hermione, killing you would be to no avail. You are, after all, an extraordinary witch. If Draco dies, you survive.” He paused, analyzing the horrified look on Hermione’s face. “It will then be completely up to you whether you want to live or perhaps to join your beloved. If it is the second option, I would be more than happy to oblige.”

A clear mist began to form on Hermione’s dark eyes and the tears flowed out slowly, sliding over her pursed lips that contained the scream from her pierced heart. She flexed her fingers and rotated her ankles, feeling the ropes tighten around her body even though they hadn’t changed. The rough fibres that had been pushing on her skin a few seconds ago now felt as though they were cutting right through her bone.

“Natalie would hate you for the monster you’ve turned in to,” she spat.

Cassius’ movement was swift and before Hermione could blink, she felt his wand pressing in to the bottom of her chin. “Don’t test my patience, Hermione.”

“What would any of this accomplish?” she said, the rapid movement of her lips allowing the salty tears to drip in. “What is the purpose?”

The wand didn’t budge but the pressure Cassius was applying to it decreased ever so slightly. He matched her gaze. “Balance, Hermione. Our world revolves around balance and for every life that was taken away from me, it is only fair that Draco loses the same.”

“Then how can you justify killing me if you’ve already taken away one life?” she asked, her breaths heavy.

Cassius looked at Hermione with an odd stare, one that didn’t parallel the madness in his eyes. His dark eyes examined her face and then he withdrew his wand, placing it into his back pocket. And in that one flash, Hermione knew.

Her memory took her back to the photo album in Draco’s room and she understood what she had not quite comprehended back then. She understood why seeing Natalie alone in those pictures had been so odd to her...

“She was pregnant, wasn’t she?”

Natalie’s glowing face was like a burned image in her memory. The fullness in her cheeks, the puffiness at the edge of her eyes and the endless happiness in her smile. She had been expecting a child. She was carrying another human life when her life had ended... when Lucius Malfoy had decided to save his son.

“She was... wasn’t she?” Hermione asked, louder.

“I didn’t lose just Natalie,” Cassius said, his face now sullen and hollow. “Lucius Malfoy took my whole family from me and so now, Draco has to lose his.”
---

Reviews are much appreciated!

Love, Erin

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