Hermione Granger gave a tight smile, read the official Ministry flyer she had just received and looked up as her office door opened. Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy were both looking exasperated as they led a clearly unrepentant Antonin Dolohov into her office. Antonin’s face lit up in a slow smile as he saw her. “Exactly what have you done to infuriate the Aurors this time Dolohov?” she asked as his smile turned into a predatory grin.
She chewed distractedly on her bottom lip as she watched him sit down, feeling strangely disconcerted as she always did in his presence. He was almost 20 years her senior, and a notorious dark wizard to boot, but he was also in her opinion, an extraordinarily sexy man. When he was fired up and infuriated over something like he was now, she found him mesmerizing. “I simply told them that if any harm befell my witch I’d kill the bastard responsible.” He said, staring straight at her without a flicker of regret. “And then I explained exactly how I planned to do that. Apparently that, and the fact that I had my wand pointing directly into Potter’s face was enough to make the whole department come running.” His lips flicked up into another amused smirk as he watched her reaction. Hermione sighed as her eyes flickered to Harry, and then to Draco, Draco rolled his eyes while Harry merely shrugged.
“Yes.” Hermione swallowed, trying to remain unaffected by his sudden outburst of protectiveness, “I can see why that upset them, particularly with the threat coming from you. I also see that they’ve slapped your restraint cuffs back on, which should have settled their hysterics, and, I will point out yet again, that I am not your witch.”
“Yet.” His gaze was heavy and his eyebrow twitch purposeful as he made sure that she broke eye contact first. “If the Ministry wants to use my curse-breaking services then they need to understand who they’re dealing with.” His accented voice was low, feral, and almost growling as he continued to rake his grey eyes protectively over her. “No one threatens my witch and lives to tell the tale.” He had been holding his wrists together as he spoke and when he brought them apart he dropped the pair of Azkaban grade magic dampening cuffs that had supposedly been subduing him onto the desk in front of her. Harry and Draco were both staying uncharacteristically quiet. Hermione knew neither of them had worked her strange relationship with Dolohov out. She couldn't blame them, she hadn't worked it out herself either.
“Indeed.” Her voice was rather wobbly in comparison to his. She eyed the cuffs, a mixture of frustration and amusement on her face. “I take it Head Auror Robards doesn’t know you can take those off?”
Antonin shrugged, still smiling broadly. “I’ve no idea what he knows. But I’d have thought you’d have known better at least, Kotehok. Imagine the Ministry trying to restrain a man such as myself with a warded object. Curse breaker, remember? Don’t presume you can hold me, any of you.” He glared at Harry, and then at Draco who seemed unable to meet his eye, “I’m here through choice and my own volition.”
“We remember,” Hermione said, trying not to break his latest stare down as Harry cleared his throat awkwardly. “Now can you please lower the testosterone, remember I’ve kept stroppy boys in line all my life and I’m not about to be intimidated by you now.” She attempted to hold his eyes threateningly but admitted defeat as he merely smirked back at her and her insides did an untimely flip-flop of lust. Giving up on trying to be intimidating, Hermione turned to Harry and changed the subject. “Tell me exactly what’s happened with this case, right from the start. I remember some of the details of course, but I need to understand this whole thing properly. Especially if you're saying I'm now personally involved.”
She closed her eyes, taking a steadying breath in through her nose and then blowing it out slowly through her mouth. She wished she felt as confident inside as her outward appearance portrayed, but in reality, Dolohov turned her to mush every single time she saw him. Harry and Draco sat on either side of him and Harry kept his wand pointed at him at all times. Draco was a little more relaxed but he kept his wand in his hand nevertheless. Hermione eyed her own, sitting just out of easy reach on her desk, but she refused to give Dolohov the satisfaction of seeing her reach for it. “Myself and Draco are taking over the unsolved case of Ginny’s attack. The case was reopened this morning.” Harry said. “The unidentified suspect has already harmed four people as you know. Prior to each attack, he sends a series of clues as to who his next victim will be. His victims are all from our school year, and consist of one woman from each Hogwarts house with a romantic link to myself.”
Harry broke off, looking rather nauseated. “Victim number one.” Draco said, taking over, “Cho Chang. Ravenclaw, dated Potter in school. Victim number two, Tracy Davis. Slytherin, dated Potter after school while Weasley was away. Victim number three, Hannah Abbott. Hufflepuff. This one was slightly less obviously linked but she was Potter’s personal assistant and they had a brief affair while he was seeing Tracy. I’ve already hexed his bollocks for this since Tracy is a friend of mine. Victim number four. Ginevra Weasley. Currently engaged to Harry. A minor team of Aurors investigated this case as the hexes were considered relatively light until Ginny’s attack. As would be typical of the halfwits investigating, the trail ran dry. They failed to apprehend anyone and since the attacks had ended they decided to close the case. Not my team and not my decision to do so. Today it was reopened because It would appear that the attacks are not over.”
Hermione nodded as Antonin opened his briefcase with a wave of his hand. He pulled out four small statues, three of them bronze and one silver, and lined them up on her desk. This was all old news, Hermione knew the case well and had seen the statues before. “Prior to each attack, Harry received a statue by owl post.” Draco continued. “This was the first one.” Antonin handed her a bronze statue of an Eagle. “It came with a note, quoting the Ravenclaw lines from the sorting hat’s song, and a photograph of a swan.”
“Cho’s Patronus.” Hermione breathed as Harry nodded. She stroked the little statute, shivering at the prickly feeling it caused in her palm. “This feels….”
“Cursed,” Antonin said. “It’s safe now, I broke it.” He said, summoning the eagle wandlessly as Hermione abruptly dropped it. “As if I’d hand you a live cursed object Kotehok,” he tutted, “Anyone would think you didn’t trust me.
“Back up Dolohov,” Harry said crossly but Antonin merely smirked.
“Statue number two.” Antonin took over. “A snake. Slytherin. Another quote from the hat’s song and a photograph of a kitten. Tracy’s Patronus.” Hermione nodded, mesmerized by his body language as she took the snake he passed her. He was quite the storyteller. “Third,” He handed her a statue of a badger and took the snake in return, stroking it almost lovingly before placing it back on the table. “This one came with another quote from the sorting hat and a photograph of a wisp of silver vapor. This confused the braindead Aurors on the case until Hannah was attacked; she was never totally able to master the Patronus charm and could only conjure a noncorporeal version. So we have three bronze statues, three minor hex attacks on three minor girlfriends of Harry’s. Now it gets interesting.”
Hermione held her breath as Draco picked up the silver lion on the table and Harry looked disgusted. “The quote accompanying this was from the Gryffindor part of the song, and the photograph was of a white mare.”
“Ginny.” Hermione breathed, taking the lion statue from him. She knew all about this attack of course, as well as a personal account from her best friend, Ginny being slashed with the Sectumsempra curse had been splashed all over the Daily Prophet for weeks. But, Ginny had recovered and in true Ministry style nobody had been caught and the trail had run dry. “I still don’t understand what’s brought all this up again today. I got your note, Harry, and I authorized Antonin to be involved based on my trust in you. I just don’t have the slightest clue why you wanted or needed him specifically. Why wouldn’t an ordinary curse breaker have done?”
Harry paused for a moment, considering her as Antonin chuckled. “The case reopened today and we needed a dark curse specialist because things have changed significantly. We think the metals the cursed statues are made from, as well as the curses themselves, are more significant than the original investigating team believed.” He leaned forwards and lined the statues up on the desk. Three bronze statues, three minor relationships, three minor attacks. One silver statue, one more important relationship, one more serious attack. And then-” Harry swallowed as he broke off.
“There was another statue, photograph, and note delivered today, and this one considerably upped the game,” Draco said.
”So they owled me because I’m the best there is.” Antonin leaned back in his chair, crossing one leg nonchalantly over his opposite knee.
“You're certainly the most arrogant,” she muttered with a frown.
“What’s that prekrasnyy?” his smirk was slow and sinful and she was trapped yet again in his gaze.
“Nothing.” She hid her amusement, not many people would take being called arrogant as a compliment, but she should have known that he would, and his ego really didn’t need feeding. “What was the development?”
Antonin’s expression changed. The playful smirk fell and his features took on a look of cold, hard fury. The bottom felt like it had dropped out of Hermione’s stomach and she didn’t know if she was more afraid of what he was going to tell her, or of the man himself. Her fingers itched to hold her wand and she comforted herself with the fact that Harry and Draco were here. “This arrived.” Antonin reached into the briefcase and pulled out another statue. It was identical in shape and size to the silver lion but was made of gold. “There was no quote with this one, only the words “this time she dies.” And, it was accompanied by this. He placed a photograph onto her desk and Hermione gasped, her hands flying to her mouth in horror.
Time seemed to stop as she looked from the little statue to the photograph of an otter. She opened her mouth and closed it again, feeling as if all the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room. “But, thats….”
“Kotehok, you’re safe. Nobody is going to get anywhere near you, believe me.” Each attack took place twenty four hours after its corresponding statue was sent. Every Auror in the Ministry is on this case and until the suspect is caught I will personally not let you out of my sight. Do you seriously expect anyone to attempt to harm you in front of me?”
Hermione was too shocked to respond straight away. She stared at the gold lion as if she still expected it to spring to life and to attack her. “What curses were on the statues? Why is the metal significant? And why didn’t the original team realize this?”
“Total ineptitude-” Harry had clearly had enough. He hit Dolohov with a silencing spell and Antonin grinned.
“We think gold is a reference to your nickname.” Draco usually never missed an opportunity to tease her about this, but today his eyes were somber. “You're known as the golden girl. Potter’s golden girl to be precise.”
“I thought it was Potter’s Mudblood?” Antonin raised a dark eyebrow as Draco glared at him and Harry raised his wand again threateningly, “Easy Potter, I only asked a question, no need to overreact. We all know what can happen when I’m silenced and I don’t want my soul tethered to anyone else's. I’m a one witch man.” Antonin looked thoroughly amused at the reaction his words had caused. “Each statue arrived by owl, addressed to Potter. When Harry unwrapped the first statue he was hit by an overwhelming urge to visit Cho Chang. Happily for her, she was out of her office at the time. Her colleague suspected something was wrong due to Potter’s mania with finding her and took him to the Ministry curse breakers who thought he’d been dosed with amortentia. When the antidotes failed to work and the inept curse breakers failed to do anything productive, the statues were warded and stored securely. Malfoy contacted me this morning. I broke the multiple curses each one was carrying.”
“And what did they turn out to be?” Hermione stared at the statue as if it would bite her.
“A charm which compelled Harry to visit the intended victim and give them the statue, which would then kill them. The statues carried the same curse as did an opaline necklace that little Malfoy here is rather familiar with.”
Draco closed his eyes and sighed. “The necklace I tried to get Katie Bell to give to Dumbledore carried the same curse. This version is a little more refined though, it only works on its intended target, and Harry alone felt the compulsion to pass it on. The original Auror team thought they were dealing with minor curses and attacks, when in fact, they weren’t.”
“And did you receive this statue this morning?” Hermione asked, still staring at it in disbelief.
“Yes,” Antonin said as he scooped the statues back into his briefcase. “This is one of the many curiosities of the case. The first statue alerted everyone to the fact that it was cursed. It failed in its task and yet the sender continued to send four more, knowing that each further statue would fail in its mission. He has also identified each intended victim in advance and thus it is only due to the total incompetence of the original Aurors that the attacks succeeded. Also, we don't yet understand why the statues carried a curse capable of murder yet the corresponding attacks were so light.” He set the briefcase back down on the floor. “As I said, Kotehok, you are safe, but you are not to leave my sight.”
“But I can’t do that! I mean, Harry, what the hell?!” She stared at Harry and Draco wondering if they’d both lost their minds. Antonin Dolohov existed on the murky grey edge of the law, one of seven non apprehended Death Eaters still at liberty. Two were free simply because they hadn’t been caught yet, one was apparently dead, and the remaining four, Antonin Dolohov, Thorfinn Rowle, Lucius Malfoy, and Rabastan Lestrange, traded Ministry favors for their heavily guarded, relative freedom as part of a program that Hermione herself had designed. Although she was happy to deal with the increasing amount of dark wizards being signed over to start her rehabilitation scheme, it did not mean that she trusted any of them enough to consider this.
“Hermione,” Harry sighed. “This has Death Eater activity written all over it. It’s evil, it’s twisted and you are, we believe, in grave danger. Draco and I are both on this case and will be working obscenely long hours now, there is no one else I would trust to protect you-”
“I can protect myself-” she bit out furiously but Antonin just laughed.
“Oh please Milaya, you can’t.”
“How the hell would you know?!” she stood up, her fingers twitching to hold her wand and hex him.
“Hermione, I watch you all the time and you leave yourself open to everything. If someone wanted you dead it would be as easy as this.” He clicked his fingers and conjured a little ball of eerie green light in his hand, bounced it onto her desk then waved his hand and dispersed it as Hermione squealed and Harry jumped in front of him with his wand raised. Draco just closed his eyes and let out a long exhale as Antonin grinned, he’d obviously seen the trick before. “Jumpy little Auror aren’t you Potter?”
Hermione had had enough. “Out!” she leaned forwards, slamming her hands on the desk. “You!” she pointed at Antonin, “come here.” Still smiling lazily Antonin stood up and approached her desk. She picked up the useless magic dampening cuffs and he held his hands out with a half-grin. She yanked the cuffs tighter than she should have done, knowing that they were pointless but wanting to assert herself anyway. “I will contact you, Dolohov, when I’ve made my decision. You too Draco. Harry, stay.”
Ignoring the amused looks Antonin and Draco both threw her she opened the door with her wand and unceremoniously threw them both out into the corridor before slamming the door shut and locking it once more. She turned to Harry and sighed. “Of all the people you could have contacted, Harry, why in the name of Circe did it have to be him?
She had almost calmed down by the end of the day. She understood why Harry had contacted Dolohov, and in his position, she would have done the same. Despite the edgy snark he constantly displayed, Antonin had proved himself trustworthy numerous times. He had spent four years linked to the ministry, dismantling the very worst dark curses that no one else had the skills or the confidence to attempt. He and Rowle worked well together and they were glowing, if improbable, examples of what Hermione had hoped to achieve with her Death Eater rehabilitation program.
Hermione had watched the trials of the Death Eaters closely and had designed a program to harness their skills in a safe and effective way, allowing a selected few to repay some of their debt to society. The highest ranking Death Eaters were all highly intelligent and powerful wizards, and most of them had skills which were badly needed in the post-war world.
The program had started by successfully recruiting Lucius Malfoy and Rabastan Lestrange, before adding in Thorfinn Rowle. Rowle had then brought in the elusive and mercurial Dolohov and he had proved to be the best curse breaker the Ministry had ever seen. He remained in the program due to his sheer brilliance and usefulness. Although his steadfast refusal to comply with the program’s mandatory therapy and interventions was causing Hermione a big problem. So far she was managing to look past most of that with the head of the DMLE but she didn’t know how long she could get away with it for.
Dolohov also happened to be soul tethered to Hermione.
It had happened when she was sixteen, during the Battle at the Hall of Prophecy. She had silenced him at the exact second a curse aimed at her had left his lips. Instead of killing her outright, the curse had mutated and somehow tied their souls together for life. This, he had previously admitted, had been the reason that he hadn’t harmed her when he and Rowle had been sent after her, Harry, and Ron in Tottenham Court Road. And it had been the reason she had saved his life by healing him in the Forbidden Forest after the Battle of Hogwarts. It was, he claimed, why he was so outlandishly protective of her, and she suspected it was the reason her insides felt like a scorching inferno the moment he came near. She was beyond attracted to the man and he knew it. He also knew that she refused to act on that attraction. He had been a big part of the movement that had killed many of her friends and caused her to obliviate her parents, and he had been involved in more dark magic than she cared to know about. He was just not a sensible man to pursue, or to have as her bodyguard.
She should have known he would be waiting for her outside the Ministry as she made her way home. She gasped when he dropped his disillusionment spell and materialized beside her. “Nice night for a stroll, Milaya.”
“Indeed it is.” Hermione gritted her teeth, ignoring the Russian terms of endearment he so frequently used when referring to her, and tried not to let his proximity bother her. She glanced down, his cuffs were still in place, although given how easily he could remove them that was hardly a comfort. “I’m meeting Harry in a-”
“No, you're not.” He smirked, “You’re coming home with me.”
“No, I’m bloody not!”
He ran a hand down her arm, and taking advantage of her surprise, laced his fingers through hers. She gasped and stilled as he spun her to face him. Dark hair, pale skin, grey eyes, his was a face that had haunted both her nightmares and more recently her dreams, she never knew which it would be. Sometimes she woke terrified, shaking with fear and cowering away from the memory of him, at other times she woke hot, wet, and needy, pulling his face to the front of her mind as she plunged her fingers where she needed them and used the thought of him to push herself over the edge and into sweet oblivion.
“Kotehok, you are in danger. You have had a death threat made against you by a suspect who has followed through on every single one of his previous threats. You would be a fool to ignore it and you are no fool. If you are truly uncomfortable with me protecting you I’ll leave you to Potter and Malfoy. But I think there’s something you're hiding. Something other than my past which is scaring you off.”
She stared into his eyes, watching the grey shrink as it was swallowed by the molten darkness of his pupils as he regarded her with unbridled desire. “What is it, Hermione? Do I truly frighten you so much? I’ve never given you a reason to doubt me, not since we started working together.” She swallowed. He was right of course, there was very definitely a reason she didn't want to be alone with him, and she was fairly sure he knew what it was. “Harry and Draco expect me to be an arsehole so that's how I behave in front of them, you don’t. I can be a gentleman too you know.”
He let go of her hand. “You trust me enough to let me do this.” He placed his cuffs once again into her open palm and closed her fingers around them, “I’m going to walk away now, and unless you call me back I’ll keep walking and all you and I will ever have is a distant working relationship.” He let go of her fingers and her lips parted ever so slightly to let her pull in an uncertain breath. His eyes lingered on her bottom lip, he sucked in a breath that mirrored hers, tense and full of unrequited desire, before he turned on his heel and started to walk away.
Her heart was hammering as she watched him saunter away in broad daylight on a muggle street while she held the magical restraints that were meant to keep him in check. Crafty, that was one way to describe him. Or was he simply more trusting than she thought? Did he really trust her not to turn on him and have him arrested and thrown into Azkaban for life? She waited a beat longer. Two beats, until seeing him leave became unbearable. “Antonin!” she called, and he paused. “Wait!”
Hermione had known that Thorfinn Rowle was dating Pansy Parkinson, but it was still a shock to see them together. She hadn’t been prepared for the way Antonin had apparated them home to the flat he and Thorfinn shared either. He had wrapped his arms around her and they had drifted sideways into a cloud of odorless black smoke while a soft fizzing rather than an apparition crack filled her ears.
“Easy little Kotehok,” he’d whispered during the strangely drawn out apparition process, and the feel of his hot breath on her ear had caused her to shiver as they landed. “Have you not apparated with a Death Eater before?”
She huffed out a frustrated sigh and turned to glare at him. “You know I haven’t! You couldn’t have done that the conventional way, no?”
He grinned. “I could have, but this way was more fun.”
“You’re an arse Dolohov.”
“And yet,” said a deep male voice from behind her, “You’re still letting him hold you in his arms.” Hermione spun around and glared at Thorfinn Rowle as he stepped into the lounge with a rather disheveled looking Pansy following behind. “Alright Ant, we weren’t expecting you home yet.”
“So I see.” Antonin made no move to release Hermione, so she stepped to the side and released herself as he smirked.
Pansy turned to Hermione and smiled, “Nice to see you took the sensible option eventually Granger. I think these two can probably manage to keep you safe.”
“How do you know what-?” Hermione blinked in confusion.
“Owls Hermione. This is modern day Britain after all. We use owls to communicate.” Thorfinn grinned as he fixed Antonin with a sidelong glance, “As I said, we’re going away for the weekend, the sleigh ride leaves at six. Since there has been a change of plan regarding Hermione, you two are coming with us.”
If Hermione had thought that the day couldn’t get any stranger, she would have been mistaken. Six o’clock came and she found herself sitting in a beautifully ornate sleigh, pulled by two beautiful horses, with Antonin Dolohov beside her and Thorfinn Rowle and Pansy Parkinson sitting opposite. It was snowing gently and she caught a few flakes on her black gloves, watching as they settled and gradually melted. Thorfinn used his foot to nudge her gently. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, feeling thoroughly overwhelmed by the day's events. The sleigh ride was muggle, so at least there was no need to worry about Antonin and Thorfinn’s identities. Neither of them had deigned to wear their cuffs, Thorfinn had simply laughed at the idea, asking why he should be magically restricted when he lived with a curse breaker before fixing her with his startling blue eyes and asking her to call him Finn. There had seemed to be no sensible answer to his question and Hermione had instead nodded and accepted his reasoning. Clearly, neither of them bothered to wear the damn things at all unless they were presenting themselves to the Ministry, and since the Ministry appeared to be unaware of their transgressions, she supposed it probably didn’t matter if they wore them or not right now.
The sleigh was taking them to a cabin in the Scottish mountains where they would spend the night, and then travel home by return sleigh tomorrow afternoon. “Did nobody tell these muggles that sleighs are supposed to be pulled by reindeer?” Antonin teased, earning himself a swift kick from Pansy. He raised an eyebrow at her and Hermione watched their interactions as she had been watching them all evening. They were all very easy around each other, and it seemed that Pansy had mellowed significantly since their Hogwarts days too. Hermione found that she could almost forget their reputations, for now, if she really tried hard enough.
She shifted closer to Antonin as her teeth started to chatter, and he cast a warming charm over her. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure, Milaya,” he said huskily as the horses started to move through the beautiful snow-covered hills. “Am I allowed to call this our first date?” His accent was strong as he leaned closer to her and she shivered again, this time not from the cold.
“No!” Hermione said, although she was starting to wonder why she was fighting her feelings quite so hard, “no you may not! I’m not dating you Antonin, no way!”
He nodded and whispered a muffliato charm over the sleigh driver. “Four hours ago you weren’t coming home with me either.” He smiled and her stomach did a belly flop. “You’ll change your mind, prekrasnyy.” She said nothing, looking across the carriage to see Finn and Pansy lost in a kiss.
Antonin chuckled and she glared at him again, “I came home with you so you could protect me, and oh! Dammit Dolohov, I don’t need your bloody protection! I can protect myself.” She stood up as his grin and eyebrow twitch caused the mixed feelings that she had been holding in all day to burst. Pansy broke Finn’s kiss and stared at her in amazement. “I don’t need Voldemort’s top Death Eater to keep me safe.”
Antonin just laughed as he stared at her, and she huffed in fury, sitting down as far away from him as possible and glaring at him malevolently. He hadn’t even flinched at Voldemort’s name and she’s used it purposefully to get a reaction from him. Weren’t all Death Eaters supposed to be terrified of it?”
“You’ve promoted me, Kotehok, I never claimed to be the top. But if that’s how you see me then I’m flattered.” That was the final straw. She actually squealed in fury and grabbed her wand out of her pocket as the horses turned their heads to regard her curiously. “Where are you going?” she froze as she felt a shield fall over the sleigh and she realized with a thrill of horror that she was trapped.
“Away. Let me go.”
“No,” he said simply. “I’ll not let you go, Hermione, because you may think you are capable of defending yourself, but you’re not. There are horrors out there that you can’t even imagine. I know because I've seen them with my own eyes and committed many of them with my own wand. You are staying with me and if I have to ward you in to keep you safe then I will.” To her horror, Hermione could feel her eyes prick with tears and she bit her bottom lip to stop it from trembling. “If you want me to back off with the dating I will. But Hermione, you need to know this, you are the only person who sees me for who I truly am. You are the only person who fights for my rights, and who has given me a second chance. You are the person my soul is tethered to, and if you think I’d harm you, then you’re bloody wrong, witch, because I’d be harming myself just as much.” She was breathing hard as she stared at him, searching his eyes for lies and deception and finding none. He was breathing equally hard as she turned away. “There are only three people in the entire world that I trust and they are all sitting in this sleigh right now. Why must you fight your feelings so much? If you didn’t trust me at least partially in return, Milaya, you wouldn’t be here.”
“Because,” she began, but found she couldn’t finish the sentence. Antonin handed her a tissue and she scooted back towards him, knowing that he was right. He dropped the shield that was keeping her captive and cast another warming charm over her. The sleigh was passing through ever taller, snow-covered mountains and the higher they climbed, the more the temperature fell and the biting wind picked up. When they finally arrived at their destination she saw a beautiful old-fashioned wooden cabin. Smoke curled up out of the chimney and the windows glowed with inviting lamplight.
The driver bade them farewell and turned the sleigh around, leaving them alone in the wilderness. Hermione smiled as Finn unlocked the front door and stared at the key in amusement. “Chuck some wards up will you Ant? It’s incredible, the way muggles think these things keep them safe.” Antonin looked at the key and scoffed as Pansy put it on the kitchen worktop. Hermione followed her in, leaving the two men warding the tiny cabin, and looked around. It was beautifully rustic inside, smelling of fresh pine from the elaborately decorated Christmas tree in the corner of the room, and the fresh holly wreaths that adorned the doors.
“You okay?” Pansy asked, opening the door to the warming oven and glancing appreciatively at the feast that had been left inside. Hermione nodded slowly.
“I think so, maybe a little disconcerted. It’s been a lot to take in today.”
“I’d be fucking terrified if someone was sending me death threats!” Pansy said opening one of the bottles of wine that had been left on the counter. “Tell me, do you feel better or worse given who your bodyguard is right now?”
Hermione sighed. “I honestly don’t know,” she admitted and Pansy grinned.
“He’d never harm you.” Pansy asserted, “he’s been besotted with you for years-” she broke off as Finn entered the kitchen and she passed him a freshly poured glass of wine.
“Thanks. We’re probably better warded than Azkaban is right now.” He said smiling at Hermione’s startled look. “But I’ll leave you two to talk for a minute more,” he said, ducking through the door and leaving them alone again.”
“Shall we have a look around?” Pansy asked and Hermione nodded, following her out into the hallway. It was a picture perfect little cabin, but the fact that it only had two bedrooms was rather concerning. Each bedroom was, admittedly beautiful, Scandinavian in style with lots of fresh Christmas decorations in each. But what bothered Hermione was that each room contained only one, outlandishly large double bed. “If you don’t want to sleep with him we can transfigure that into two singles. Don’t panic,” Pansy said...
“I’ll see how things go,” Hermione replied, touched by Pansy’s newfound kindness. There was a part of her that was still dancing up and down at the thought of being that close to Antonin all night, and she wasn’t going to completely disregard the idea just yet.
Pansy grinned wickedly and squealed. “Oh my goodness you and he are so going to fuck tonight!”
“Shhhhh!” Hermione giggled girlishly, but Pansy just wiggled her eyebrows up and down and grinned.
“You so are!” she said again and scampered back into the lounge with a delighted skip.
Dinner, as predicted, was amazing. Whoever had done the catering had mastered the art of keeping food hot, yet fresh and as they were muggles they had clearly done this without using a stasis charm. Hermione sat next to Antonin and helped herself to roast turkey with all the trimmings. The food was washed down with copious amounts of wine and it occurred to her as Pansy opened the third bottle, that she should stop drinking if she wanted to keep her wits about her and not end up in his bed at the merest suggestion from that heavily accented, deep voice.
They used magic to clear away and wash up, despite the note telling them that it was okay not to. Hermione was surprised at how gallant Finn was turning out to be. He set everything neatly on the side and when they were done, he caught Pansy in his arms, dwarfing her with his enormous size and she whimpered as he kissed her deeply, causing Hermione to scoot out of the kitchen to give them some privacy.
Unfortunately scooting away from the pair of them had caused her to be alone with Antonin. He patted the sofa beside him and she sat, rather primly, and wondered what to do with the drink he passed her. “Are you alright, Milaya?” he asked and she nodded, grateful when Finn and Pansy joined them.
“Time for a little game I think,” Finn said with a grin. “I can see you two are still on edge, and I suggest we take it in turns to ask each other questions. One question, one person, and they have to answer truthfully.”
Pansy nodded enthusiastically which made Hermione realize they had been plotting this for a while. She pulled her knees up underneath her and nodded warily. “I’ll start,” Pansy said. “My question is to Ant, was the roast dinner we just ate better than one of mine?”
Antonin threw his head back and laughed. “Never Solnechnyy svet, yours are vkusnyye. Delicious.” Pansy grinned and gestured to Finn to ask his question.
He directed it to his girlfriend with a wicked grin on his face, “Are you wearing anything under that skirt?”
Pansy grinned as she shook her head. “Not a thing. Ant, your go.”
“My question goes to Hermione.” His eyes were soft as he took her in. “Are you still afraid of me?”
She gulped, he obviously didn’t plan to start gently, did he? She considered the matter. Logically she should have been, instinct told her that she shouldn’t be anywhere near the man, but her heart knew the truth. “No,” she said and he smiled softly, gesturing to her to return the question.
She did. “ Should I be afraid of you?”
He turned sideways and considered her the way she had considered him. “Yes.” He said and she tensed. “You should be, because of what you think I am. You would be foolish to not feel some trepidation sitting here beside me and as we have already established, you are not a foolish witch. If I twist your question to ask if you need to be afraid of me, the answer is no. Nikogda. Never.” Hermione nodded, feeling slightly reassured. “Pansy, back at you.”
“What is your biggest regret?” she asked, looking at Finn and he chuckled.
“I know you want me to get deep and meaningful, and I probably should, to put Hermione at ease, but it’s a tricky one. I know what you want me to say, but I’m not going to. I don’t regret joining because it made me who I am. It led to me meeting my best friends, and you, Pans, it shaped my life. If I hadn’t joined up I’d have got into trouble some other way, it’s just the way I am. At least Death Eaters had a code of conduct and we behaved in a disciplined manner, most of us that is. I’m going to say I regret that I bought into the pureblood superiority shit for a while and viewed muggleborns as lesser beings. That was bollocks and I regret that.”
Hermione stared at him, shocked by his honesty. She barely had time to process what he had said before he turned to Pansy. “Same question to you my love.”
“I regret trying to hand Potter over,” she said, looking down and fiddling with the hem on her skirt. “I was just scared and he was right there. I thought that if You Know Who got him it would all be over. I regret that.”
All eyes flickered to Hermione and she gulped. “Can I ask you the same question?” she asked Antonin, and he nodded.
“I have two. I regret that I was responsible for Nymphadora Tonks’s death.” He looked down and sighed, “especially now I know what she meant to you, detka, but at that time it was kill or be killed, and you know where my allegiances were then.”
“How was it kill or be killed with Tonks? She was hardly the type to use unforgivables.”
“Wasn't she?” Antonin fixed her with a skeptical look. “Don't forget how she felt about Death Eaters. There was a long-running rift in her family due to dark magic and the blood superiority cause. She’d seen a lot of her friends die at the hands of various members of the Dark Lord’s army and then there were her husband’s views as well. Voldemort himself killed two of his best friends, albeit a long time ago, and Fen had bitten him as a small child which cursed his entire life. They both had good reason to hate us all and want us dead.”
“So you're telling me she, what, she snapped in the middle of the battle and started throwing the killing curse around?” she couldn’t believe it. Tonks wouldn’t do that, would she?
“I wouldn’t presume to know what happened in her head. All I do know is that she was throwing Avadas at me and I retaliated. The reason she's dead and I'm not is simply because I was quicker with my wand and better with my aim, even her being an Auror couldn’t help with that. It could just have easily gone the other way.”
“I doubt it.” Hermione said sadly, “Tonks didn’t make a habit of killing people. You definitely would have had the upper hand in that area.”
“I have the upper hand in most areas when it comes to dueling. I’ve killed many people but I will tell you this Kotehok, I have never crossed anyone who didn’t come at me first. I have never raped anyone and I have only once harmed a child and that was by accident. Those depraved acts have never intentionally been committed by myself or Finn.”
She nodded. “Some did though.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Some did,” Antonin confirmed.
“You want me to name names? I’m not a stukach, a snitch. I will tell you that myself, Finn, Lucius Malfoy, and Severus Snape as well as many others all upheld that same code.
Hermione was quiet as she watched the snow building up on the window ledge outside. “The child you unwittingly hurt. What happened?”
He sighed. “She was fighting way out of her league. She had the heart of a lev, a lion and she should not have been where she was.” his eyes were boring into hers. “She should never have attempted to do what she did, she was courageous and foolhardy and the curses she threw were laughed at by heartless bastards who were willing to use unforgivables on a mere child. I threw a curse at her, a curse that was designed to knock her out, to keep her out of harm’s way, to make the others think she was out cold or even dead. Unfortunately, the little witch was feistier than I’d thought, and she didn’t duck from my raised wand. She silenced me and the curse mutated. It had a far more devastating effect than I’d intended, and it acted as a soul tether. That is my other big regret, Milaya.”
Hermione blinked as the tear that had been threatening all night finally slipped out of her lashes and rolled down her cheek. Pansy caught her attention as she stood up with Finn following. “We’re going to bed Hermione, knock if you need me. Okay?” Hermione nodded as they left the room. Antonin lifted an arm in invitation and she moved closer to him, accepting his embrace.
“I’m sorry malen’kiy.” he whispered into her hair and she succumbed to her tears as he stroked her hair softly, “I never meant to harm you.”
“Thank you.” She said at length and he nodded.
“Have you seen the time? It’s almost midnight.” She supposed it was. “Would you like me to take the couch?”
Wiping her eyes she pulled back and looked at him. “You would do that wouldn’t you?” he nodded and she leaned into him again. “No,” she said softly. “Come to bed with me.”
She felt his smile against her hair and she sighed. He’d said that she would be the one to ask him and he'd been right. She had heard all she needed to hear this evening and her opinion of him was completely changing. Her desire for him was growing stronger. She had never felt a pull to someone as she felt this pull to him, and now that her contempt for some of his past actions was lessening, her desire was growing ever stronger.
“Come then, Milaya devushka. If you change your mind I will always respect you.”
He turned out to be true to his word. Hermione slipped nervously under the covers next to him and shivered as her skin touched the cold sheets. He turned onto his side to watch her and smiled. “You’re prekrasnyy. Beautiful.”
She said nothing as her cheeks heated in a blush. Laying beside him she could feel a deep pull towards him. She had been with a few men before and felt desire, but this was different. It wasn’t just sexual, it was something more, and it was coming directly from her curse scar. She wanted to move closer to him but she couldn’t quite bring herself to do so. He was still watching her, the usual hint of predatory hunger was in his eye and she suspected he was doing it deliberately to remind her of who he was. Talking to him over the evening had caused her to lower her guard and she was in danger of overlooking some rather huge issues that she had with his past.
His disgust at the idea of rape and causing undeserved harm was at odds with the things she had thought she knew about him, but she was starting to see that a lot of his difficult behavior was an act. He gave people what they expected to see, nothing more and nothing less. He had also said that at some point she would come running to him, and she had scoffed at the idea. Now she was in danger of doing just that. He wanted her, he’d made that much very clear and he probably knew that she wanted him too. She lay down and closed her eyes trying to decide what to do, and she flinched as she felt the merest brush of his fingers against her side. “If you want me, velikolepnyy, you have to ask.”
She knew that, she just didn’t know if she could do it. It felt like there was a gulf between them in the bed, he was on one side of an impenetrable divide and she the other. “I can’t,” she breathed and he nodded.
“No problem. Sleep well then.”
Mentally cursing herself Hermione huffed and edged a fraction closer. He opened one eye and squinted across at her. “That’s not enough. I may be many things, but as I said, I’m no rapist.”
“I know.” She said truthfully. “Kiss me, Antonin.” His smirk was slow and sexy as he leaned towards her and kissed her lightly. It felt as if an explosion detonated inside her as their lips met. She gasped at the same time he did and suddenly he was on top of her, kissing her fiercely as she pulled him closer, suddenly desperate for him in a way that she had never experienced before.
“Fuck!” he exclaimed as he pulled back gasping for air, before leaning down to devour her once more. “You feel that?” She gasped and nodded and he let out a hissed torrent of what sounded like Russian curses. He pulled back and rubbed a hand over his face. “You need to tell me if you want to stop. Understand?” his face held an urgency she had never seen before. She nodded again, desperate to feel his lips back on hers. She bucked her hips underneath him and he groaned. “Blya ad ya khochu tebya.”
“What?” she gasped as his bare chest pressed against the thin cotton of her nightclothes.
“Nothing.” She reached for him and pulled him closer, tearing another moan from his lips. Everything was hurried and frantic, his fingers tangled into her hair as he pulled her top up and plunged his mouth down over her nipple, sucking it onto his mouth and making her whimper. It was electric, tingles spread from his hot tongue as he sucked and nibbled hard enough to make her gasp. As he pulled back she helped him tug her nightshirt up over her head and he gasped as he saw her naked for the first time. The purple curse scar on her chest drew his eye like a beacon and he slid down the bed to brush his lips gently over it. The most curious feeling flowed through her as his tongue gently traced the biggest starburst of the group, it felt warm and tingly, and the most delicious sensation of warmth flowed through her entire body. “I am sorry for this dorogaya.”
“I know.” She reached for him, running her hands over his toned chest and making him groan in return. His skin was pale and his smattering of hair dark. There were tattoos on his chest and torso and she wriggled down to explore them with her mouth. When she met his mouth again it held a new heat and fervor, he pushed her panties down and gasped as he felt her naked underneath,
“Yes or no?” he looked like he was clinging to his restraint by a thread. She realized with a start that she wanted to see that restraint snap.
“Yes!” she gasped and he swept what was an obviously practiced finger through her molten heat. She tipped her head back and mewled as he slipped his long finger inside and used his thumb to flick her clit. She was getting close, he was bringing her higher, further stoking the flames that were already burning white hot inside her. He pushed her higher and higher, adding another finger and massaging to stretch her in the most exquisite way, and as he pressed his thumb hard against her clit the dam inside her broke.
She cried out as she crested the wave of pleasure and bucked shamelessly against his hand as she flew higher than ever before. When she finally calmed she opened her eyes to find him naked and watching her with a pensive smile. “Next time you come I want you to keep your eyes open,” he said and she nodded as he took himself in his hand and brushed against her. “Do you want this?” she shuddered as the aftershocks of pleasure responded to this new feeling, her heart speeding up again in anticipation. She nodded and he started to press very gently up inside her slick.
He was almost too gentle, looking at her reverently and she wriggled impatiently, wanting more. As she moved the hint of a smile showed and instead of speeding up he stopped moving entirely. She wriggled again and he grinned. “Something you want?”
“Yes.” She said, “Alright you. You’ve made your point. I trust you completely. Now I want you to stop holding back. Please?”
“Please what, Kotehok?”
“Dammit! Please! I need you. I want you. I want to see your control snap the way mine just did.” As she spoke his eyes darkened until his pupils were completely shot. “Fuck me, Antonin-” he cut her off with a moan as he crashed his lips over hers and slid himself to the hilt inside her. He stilled for a moment to let her adjust to his invasion and then started to move. Each stroke felt like heaven and he was just as good as he was in her dreams. She cried out each time he sheathed himself hard inside her and she wrapped her legs around him, pulling him in just that little bit deeper.
“Look at me, Hermione... Eyes… On.... Me….She opened her eyes and gasped. The beginning of her next climax was mirrored in his eyes and he propped himself up on his arms as he thrust hard into her. “Come for me beautiful. Come now,” he said, and his words tipped her over the edge once more. She kept her eyes locked onto his and she could see his true feelings as he left himself vulnerable as he found his own release. There was nowhere for either of them to hide and as she watched he seemed to bare his entire soul, letting her see that what he said was true.
As they calmed down she knew. He’d just opened his heart to her and she had seen herself inside.
The sleigh arrived at 4 pm the next day. Hermione had been having such an unexpectedly lovely time at the cabin that she was sorry to have to leave. She and Antonin had spent the morning in bed, and he had made good on just about every whispered promise he’d ever made. They had finally gotten up when a late lunch was delivered, and they had all eaten the delicious spread in their pajamas with Christmas music playing on the traditional record player in the lounge, while the fire crackled merrily in the hearth. After lunch, and feeling rather sleepy from it’s accompanying mimosa’s, Hermione had curled up on the sofa with one of the many books that the cabin held, and had soon fallen asleep nestled against Antonin’s shoulder while he read quietly beside her.
She glanced around the little cabin for the last time and followed the others outside into the fresh, crisp snow. Pansy locked the door behind them and handed the driver the key. The horses were the same ones as yesterday, all dressed up in their Christmas finery, and the driver was dressed in the same old fashioned carriage drivers uniform. Hermione was just about to climb into the sleigh when one of the horses snorted and caught her attention. She smiled as she pulled off a glove and reached up to stroke its soft nose, letting the others climb in before her.
Finally, when she couldn’t delay any longer she stepped up onto the sleigh herself, accepting Antonin’s hand to help her up. She sat beside him and reached down to pick up the glove she had just dropped, steadying herself with a hand on the seat. As her bare skin came into contact with the sleigh though, she knew something was very wrong. The abrupt tug below her navel made her cry out in surprise, and the sleigh suddenly catapulted into the air, spinning violently round and round, making her instantly dizzy and nauseous. She reached out desperately in every direction as the sleigh continued to spin and lurch, and when it finally slammed into the ground and she slid to the floor she saw that in her haste to hold onto something she had grabbed hold of Finn.
Gasping in relief that someone she knew was in this predicament with her, she hastily looked around. Antonin was doubled over in his seat holding on to Pansy who had been flung out of the side of the sleigh. The driver was nowhere to be seen and neither were the horses. The sleigh was now skidding to a halt all alone in a forest clearing. She had no idea where they were but they were not in the Scottish highlands anymore. Hermione dragged in a shaky breath and it came out as a terrified moan as the truth slammed into her brain. The sleigh had been a portkey.
The shield came down over the sleigh before they had even stopped moving and Finn righted her with one strong hand as he drew his wand with the other. “Oh hell, tell me you did not just do that,” he muttered, glaring around at the innocent-looking forest, “whoever you are, you just messed with the wrong people.”
“Portkey.” Antonin said unnecessarily as he set Pansy back on her feet and joined Finn in staring warily around, “what the hell happened? They normally glow before they activate.”
Hermione sighed. “It activated when I touched it with my bare skin.” she could feel the bottom dropping out of her stomach and the blood draining from her face as the reality of what that meant hit her full force. “The statues were selective to Harry and their intended victim weren’t they?” She stared wildly around the eerily foreboding pine forest. There was no snow here, just a damp, bone-chilling cold and a flatness to the land that made her think that they were back in England. “What do we do now?”
“Sit tight and wait,” Antonin said grimly as he prodded Finn’s shield and added his own wards to the shimmering barrier. “Nothings going to get through this. They’ll have to come to us, and we can sit here and pick them off. Whoever they are, they didn’t think this through very well did they?”
“Amateurs.” Finn laughed as he sat back down and pulled a frightened looking Pansy back to him. “Ah well, It’s been a long time since I had a good fight, I’m almost looking forward to a bit of action.”
“I told you to join those dueling clubs didn’t I?” Pansy said, pushing his shaggy hair out of his eyes, “You need to let off some steam, you worry me when you say things like that-”
“And I’ve told you, they won’t let me join love-”
“Polyjuice, Thorfinn my friend,” Antonin grinned, “I’ve told you many a time. Anyway, now’s probably not the time for this discussion, is it?”
“Perhaps not.” A rich female voice spoke as if over a loudspeaker. Hermione gasped, she recognized that voice, but she couldn’t quite place it. It was a strong voice, quite deep for a female and something was prickling in the back of her memory but it was like a dream, the harder she tried to reach it the more elusive it became. “You were quite difficult to catch Hermione,” the voice continued and Hermione frowned in frustration, “not like little Weasley here. He was much easier. Tell them, Ron.”
Hermione squealed as her other best friend was propelled out of the trees and fell face-first into the mud. She made to jump out of the sleigh and run to help him but Finn grabbed her again, and there was no chance of her getting free of his strength. “Let me go! Ron! Finn get off!!”
“Wait.” Antonin’s voice held such an edge that all three of them stopped and stared at him. “Weasley, come here, we’ll let you in through the wards then you'll be safe.” But either Ron couldn’t, or wouldn’t move. He continued to lay, sprawled out in the mud and Hermione fought even harder to get to him. Antonin stood up. “Easy Kotehok, stay there. Ron, can you hear me? Stand up!” he sighed and shook his head as Ron tried to move but every time he staggered forwards what looked like a spell held him back. “Radi yebli,” Antonin muttered, “Imperio.” Hermione gasped as the spell hit Ron and he visibly sagged, swaying on all fours in the mud. “Come here.” This time the command worked. Ron stood up and staggered unsteadily towards the sleigh. “Pass through the shield.”
Hermione used her wand to levitate Ron up and into the sleigh. He was obviously injured, he collapsed onto the floor, shivering and shaking violently. Pansy dropped to her knees beside him and started checking him over, one of the more surprising things that Hermione had learned over the weekend was that Pansy Parkinson was now a fully qualified St Mungo’s healer. “Multiple stunning spells, and by the look of it a tongue tie curse. Ant, can you command him to tell us who that voice belongs to? Your spell might overpower the other.”
“He won’t tell you.” The female voice said again. ”No matter how many unforgivables you use.”
“Won’t he now?” Finn’s voice dripped with contempt as he raised an eyebrow. “And where the hell are you taking us?” the sleigh had begun to move. Slowly and silently it was now inching towards the trees.
“It’s Christmas.” said the voice, “and you're all in love. What’s more romantic than a Christmas sleigh ride? Love is what we do things for isn’t it? I’m doing all of this for love anyway.”
“What?” Hermione squeaked as Pansy ran some healing spells over Ron and he sat up rather groggily and blinked at her in confusion. “Love?! This isn’t love, this is insanity!” Hermione squealed indignantly.
“They say the two are closely linked. All I need is to get rid of you two and then he’s mine.”
“Which two? And who becomes yours?” Antonin was looking annoyed now as the sleigh traveled closer to the trees, “you’ll not harm anyone here.”
“Did you break the third curse on the statues Antonin?”
“Please witch, I broke all the curses on the statues.”
“Even the undetectable one?”
Antonin rolled his eyes, “I broke the one that compelled Harry to give the statue to its intended victim, the curse that would kill said victim, and also the curse that would erase Harry’s memories of finding the victim attractive. I thought that one was quite clever, kind of like reverse Amortentia. How is Rodolphus by the way?”
There was a pause and a shriek of fury from the voice in the woods. The sleigh jolted as it sped up. “What are you talking about?” Hermione yelped, “And you never mentioned that curse!”
“Didn’t I?” Antonin said easily. “It must have slipped my mind.”
“Nothing slips your mind,” Hermione said darkly. She was struggling to process what he was saying. “But, Ginny?!” she asked, suddenly terrified for her friend’s well being. “What the hell is going on Antonin, what do you know that you're not telling me, you said I could trust you, but I should have known you’d- do you mean Harry has no memory of… of what?… of loving her?”
“It’s fine, Kotehok, but yes, that was the intention, and I suppose a little explanation here would be in order. It was all rather clever you see. Each statue carried three curses. One that compelled Harry to visit it’s intended victim and give them the statue, one that killed the victim, and one that made Harry regret being romantically involved with them in the first place. It was designed to get each love interest of Harry’s cleanly out of the way and to ensure that he didn’t miss them when they were gone. I broke all of the curses on the statues and also the one Harry had picked up from touching the first statue. Don’t worry, he only ever touched that one before realizing they were cursed, so the only person he felt that way about was Cho Chang. I didn’t tell you because it seemed rather unnecessary and because it told me exactly who put the curses on the statues. There’s only one man that I know of who is capable of setting such complex curses, so I’ll ask again how is Rodolphus Lestrange? it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of his company.”
“It sounds like you had a busy morning yesterday,” Hermione said, trying not to sound too disgruntled. “You know who’s behind all of this don’t you?”
“I said I know who cursed the statues, Milaya, not who this is out here,” he gestured into the woods with his hand
“Why?” Finn asked as they passed the very edge of the woods and slipped into the shadow of the first tree. It was growing properly dark now, and colder by the moment. “Why have you done all this? What kind of messed up, fucked up mind do you have?”
“That’s rather rude.” said the disembodied voice, “but I suppose I can tell you, you’ll all die in a moment anyway. I’ve always wanted Harry. Always, even when we were at Hogwarts, but he never noticed me. So I decided to make him notice me now. We’ve gotten quite friendly lately, of course, he has no idea that I’m behind all of the attacks, but when he needed a friendly shoulder to cry on, well, there I was.”
“He never liked you because you’re a fucking psycho and you always have been!” Ron said suddenly, sitting up and blinking as he shook his head. “Right back to when you poisoned me with lov-!” Ron suddenly broke off and gripped his throat making a choking noise and staring around in horror.
“Relax, breathe, and don’t say anymore.” Antonin said and Ron was forced to do as he bade, although it did nothing to ease his look of annoyance at being under Antonin’s control.”
“I know who she is.” Hermione breathed as she dropped what was hopefully a comforting hand on Ron’s shoulder.
“Who?!” Pansy shrieked as the sleigh slid deeper into the woods and the accompanying darkness.
“You always were a clever little thing, Hermione,” Romilda Vane said, stepping in front of the sleigh and commanding it to stop moving. Her wand light illuminated her in a yellowish bubble so that she seemed to glow in an ethereal haze. Her shiny black curls glinted as she laughed maniacally, forcefully reminding Hermione of Bellatrix Lestrange.
Romilda stood, twirling her wand in little circles and staring at the sleigh. “I suppose I should let some of you go, It was only supposed to be you that caught my portkey, Hermione. And Ron on the other one of course. My plan was to get rid of all of Harry’s past girlfriends and to erase his feelings for them, and then get rid of you two as well. When Harry has no one else to turn to he’ll come to me. Unfortunately, you all have to die now, but I never cared for Death Eaters, although they do have their uses, I suppose.” Romilda laughed, looking utterly mad. “Funny isn’t it, Hermione? The Death Eaters were the ones you were wary of, and all the time it should have been me! It’s amazing what a little ingenuity can do, isn’t it? Although, it’s cleaner if I kill you all, They’ll be no witnesses left to mess things up.”
“Hmmm.” Antonin smiled at her as if they were having a pleasant conversation about the weather. “You could do that, yes.” Finn flicked his wand and a shield spell shot out of it, knocking Romilda back a step and causing whatever spell had just left her wand to shoot harmlessly into the sky. Antonin was frowning incredulously at her as if studying her would ease his obvious confusion. “Why don’t you give it a better try than that, sweetheart?”
Romilda screamed in fury, “I’m not your sweetheart-”
“No. You're not. But you're no murderer either. Don’t try and pretend that you are, it's insulting to those of us who could really harm you-.”
“Don’t tell me what I am! How dare you? You don’t know me!” she shrieked, causing little red sparks to fly out the end of her wand.
“Sweetheart, if you wanted to kill us, you’d have done it by now. But look at you. You’re shaking. You can’t do it, can you? Your statues failed and you had a go at each victim yourself but really, they were pathetic half-hearted attempts. Even Ginny’s, although I’ll grant you, you did slightly better there. You couldn’t throw a killing curse if you tried, let alone a curse that will kill five people in a heavily warded sleigh. It’s over sweetheart, come on let us help you.”
“Nooooo!” Romilda screamed, but her wand was shaking violently and even Hermione was starting to doubt that she was capable of what she claimed she wanted to do.
“You want some pointers?” Finn asked, regarding her with barely concealed amusement. “Some appropriate spell suggestions? You could use Avada Kedavra, but it’s five on one, the chances of that working are slim. Then there’s Incendio, maybe Confringo, either of those might work, but there’s still the chance of us all running in different directions and escaping. I’d say your best bet here would be Fiendfyre, but that could go hideously wrong of course,” he was signaling subtly to Antonin as he spoke, and Antonin gave a barely perceptible nod.
Hermione gasped, Antonin and Finn worked as a flawless team, their wand movements were so quick that she barely saw them. A second later Romilda Vane was in a full-body bind, restrained by ropes, her wand was flying through the air and she was being levitated into the now very crowded sleigh. Finn caught Romilda’s wand and put it on the seat beside him, then stared down into Romilda’s terrified face as she lay on the floor. Ron scrambled onto the seat next to Hermione still looking dazed but clearly keen to get out of Romilda’s way. “Or, you could just stand there and make the same mistake as Voldemort did, time after time, and just keep on talking instead of acting. I told you, you’re no murderer.” Antonin stroked his wand across her prone body and she cowered away from him as much as the body bind curse would allow. “It’s alright, we can’t all be good at everything though. Now tell me. Where is Rodolphus Lestrange and is he working for you, or are you working for him?”
Romilda said nothing, even after Finn released her body bind and she furiously scrambled into a sitting position. She shook her head, glaring at them all, and struggling against her binds. “It’s a good idea to answer me when I ask you a question,” Antonin said, his voice though mild held an edge that caused the hairs on the back of Hermione’s neck to stand up.
Finn nodded his head cheerfully, “I’d recommend telling him what he wants to know, he’s an arse if he doesn’t get his way.”
“Hey!” Antonin flicked his wand at Finn making him wince as a stinging hex hit him. “One more chance then,” he said, turning back to Romilda, “before things get really unpleasant. Where is Rodolphus and who is working for whom?” Romilda looked as if she was holding out defiantly. Despite her distaste for the whole situation, Hermione couldn’t help feeling strangely impressed by Romilda’s bravado. She wouldn’t have fancied facing Antonin’s very short temper. “Crucio.” He only held it for a few seconds but Romilda screamed and thrashed around for much longer as the curse took its time to leave her body. Antonin smirked down at her. “Little taste for you, love. I asked you where he was. I’d quite like an answer now.”
“I don’t know!” Romilda gasped, “I really don’t know. I thought he’d back me up, he promised, he knew I couldn’t, he agreed he’d be here…. I don’t know where he is!”
The explosion hit without warning. The sleigh was blasted into the air and it split in two causing the wards to break and everyone inside to tip out. Rodolphus Lestrange stood in the woods hurling ferocious spells at anyone and anything. Hermione checked to see that Romilda was still restrained and that Ron was safe before she joined Pansy, Antonin, and Finn, who were already facing Rodolphus.
Rodolphus meant business. His spells were direct, well-aimed, and unblockable. “Take him alive if you can,” Antonin said, jumping out of the way of a jet of green light. “Hey. Rod, we used to be friends, that’s a little rude don’t you think? Finn, remember my little, umm…. problem.”
“Gotcha,” Finn said, his eyes dancing with the thrill of the fight. Pansy seemed to be a much better duellist than Hermione remembered as well. Spells were coming thick and fast. Hermione shot stunning spells, blasting spells, incarcerous jinxes, body binds and any other non-lethal hexes that she could think of at Rodolphus, and somehow he managed to block the lot. It was clear he was fighting for his life and that he intended to go down in battle rather than risk life in Azkaban.
Fighting four opponents was a losing battle though and it was Antonin’s crucio that took him down relatively quickly. Hermione bound him with ropes and Pansy took his wand as Finn stared down into his almost black eyes. “I should kill you,” he said mildly, palming his wand as he pondered the matter.
“Do it.” Rodolphus’s voice cracked as he pleaded. “Please Finn, show some mercy, you know what awaits me.”
Antonin cocked a brow as Finn laughed. “Mercy? Like you showed us a moment ago? If one of your spells had hit us we’d be on the floor dead. You didn’t show us much mercy. But I’ve changed Roddy, I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to hand you over to the Aurors and let them decide your fate. And if that’s not being merciful, I don’t know what is. Do you agree Ant?”
“No.” Antonin’s eyes were hard lines as he watched his former friend laying restrained on the floor. “I don’t. You put my witch in danger. You don’t come back from that in my eyes.” Rodolphus’s pupils contracted in fear. “Finn’s changed, so have I, to a point, but not that much.” He turned to Hermione who was tugging insistently on his hand. “What Milaya?”
“I don’t want you to kill him. Nothing is worth that. You told me you’d changed and I need to see evidence of that to go forwards with you from here.”
Antonin let out a long breath. At length, he nodded. “I can’t kill him as it happens, and since you and Finn have also made your decision, it looks like it comes down to Pansy. One free shot Pans, no judgment either way.” Antonin gestured to her and she shook her head.
“I’m a healer Ant, I took an oath to do no harm, except in self-defense. I can’t touch him now.”
“Aurors it is then. Let’s gather everyone together and apparate to the Ministry. It looks like they’ve got a bit of a mess to sort out.” Antonin spun his wand up in the air and caught it again in a rather showy way as he turned away
“Wait,” Hermione tugged Antonin around to face her again. “What do you mean you can’t kill him? Why not?”
“Because Kotehok,” Antonin stepped closer to her and took her face in his hands. He bent his head and brushed his lips over hers as Ron made a choking sound of protest somewhere behind them, “we are soul tethered. That means our souls are joined together. A bit of your soul is joined to mine and vice versa. Murder maims the soul. I’ll not let that happen to your soul on my account.”
Her mouth had dropped open. She stood in the woods surrounded by a bound and tied Rodolphus and Romilda, an injured and horrified Ron, and Finn and Pansy who were both grinning broadly, and all she could see was Antonin’s soft grey eyes. “You’d do that? You mean? You really have changed haven’t you?”
He shrugged, but he looked pleased nonetheless. “A little. And it’s hardly a big deal, is it? I love you so I won’t commit any more murders for you-”
“You…. you, you just said-”
“Of course I love you Milaya,” he smiled, “I’ve loved you for years.” As their lips met there was a wolf whistle and a burst of clapping from Pansy and Finn, and an anguished yell from Ron, which Pansy quickly silenced.
Suddenly Hermione was overjoyed. Everything was in order now, there would be no more attacks, and Romilda and Rodolphus would get the treatment they needed and the trials they deserved.
Antonin kissed her as if he was drowning, his mouth was hot and desperate and she returned his affection with just as much passion as the heavens opened above them and rain started to bucket down adding an extra level of cold to the already freezing night.
“Enough!” Pansy called. “Let’s get back and sorted out, then I don’t know about you but I think we've all earned our Christmas break!”