Title: Brave New World
Fandom: Harry Potter
Word count: ~4100 (chapter)
Chapter: Prev | Next
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or any related characters. Making no money here, as they all still belong to their prospective owners.
Summary: Partially DH compliant, most AU. Voldemort arrived at Malfoy Manor quicker than expected, and like that, the war was over. Now, Hermione is Snape's "assigned companion," and as determined as ever to stop Voldemort and save her friends. But that's hard to do in Voldemort's new world…
Chapter Three: Fun and Games
A lot can change in a day. So, one could imagine the magnitude of what could change in two weeks. And a lot didn't seem like the right phrase. Perhaps "everything" would be closer, because that was what happened. Everything Hermione knew about the Wizarding World changed in just two weeks.
Voldemort's "Victory Ball," as it was being dubbed, was all anyone could talk about. Granted, the chatter came at varied degrees of anticipation. Most lived in fear and dread of the event, while there was the rare few—Voldemort's followers in the war—that talked as if this was going to be the greatest evening of their life. After overhearing a few Death Eaters, Hermione was not quite sure that her excitement for the Yule Ball, back in Fourth Year, could compare to theirs for this event. Hermione, in her own way, was looking forward to the night as well. She needed answers, and this ball could very well be her only chance. Snape gave her very little.
But what he did share with her saddened and sickened her all at once. Voldemort had moved quickly on his plans for muggle-borns and half-bloods. Now, if you were not of pureblood, you had to register to be "claimed" by pureblood witch or wizard. There was no limit as to how many muggle-borns or half-bloods that a pureblood wizard could claim, but it was recommend to think seriously about control. Those who were not "claimed" were sent to something called "the pool." While it sounded harmless enough, just a pool of names, Hermione was positive that it was just as ghastly as she could imagine, if not worse. After all, muggle-borns and half-bloods were being made to be dependent on purebloods. They weren't allowed to return home, to have a life. They had to be physically be placed somewhere, and that was one of the many, many things that made "the pool" a terrible thought.
Voldemort was making laws left and right, while stripping away basic rights for those not of pureblood. The Ministry remained his, and rumor had it he had named himself Minister of Magic. Hermione had no doubt that this was true, Snape had told her as much; what she doubted was that the title of "Minister" would last very much longer. She was sure King or Emperor would follow.
All of this clouded her thoughts daily, but for the moment, she pushed them aside as she gazed at herself in the full-length mirror. The ball was tonight, and Snape had purchased a set of dress robes for her to wear. As he had not known her size, they were now at Madam Malkin's, getting it tailored.
If this were any other occasion, with any other person, this set of dress robes would have been beautiful. They were a light lavender, with sheer sleeves, a corset top, and a bell skirt. The Madam herself was kneeling near the small stool on which Hermione stood, working on the hem of the skirt to bring it up a few inches. As it was that she was a claimed muggle-born, her "companion," or rather owner as she liked to think of it as, could not be very far from sight. In fact, it was law now, one of the many Voldemort had passed. For Hermione to leave Snape's home at Spinner's End, she must be accompanied by him. So, Severus Snape sat on a cushioned stool, made probably for accompanied customers, idly flipping through a copy of The Prophet.
"Almost finished, dear," Malkin said, standing and stretching her back. "Just need a bit more thread. Back in a tick."
Hermione nodded absently at her as she exited the room. As soon as she was out of sight, she turned to Snape.
"This is ridiculous."
"You don't like the dress?" Snape asked, without looking up from the newspaper.
"You know bloody well what I mean! It's one thing to attend this ball, to get some answers, but it's quite another to have to be fancied up like this! I'm your slave. Why do I have to be dressed up like a buffoon? Like I want to be there?"
Snape lowered the paper, sighing. "We must maintain the façade, Granger. I must appear as your absolute master. To that end, I would never allow someone to accompany me to a ball in common clothing. We must do what we must to remain alive. You know this."
Hermione turned back to the mirror, her reflection frowning at her but wisely remaining silent.
"I'm not sure this is a world I want to live in," she murmured.
"I didn't figure you for the suicidal type, Miss Granger."
That comment was meant to rile her, to make her see that her lamenting was pointless. Hermione ignored him, staring determinedly at her reflection. She heard Snape lift his paper and begin leafing through it again was Malkin re-entered the room. She went right back to work and in a moment, announced the dress's completion.
"If you'd like to change, dear, I'll meet the both of you at the front of the shop to box it up for you," she said.
It might have been Hermione's imagination, but she thought she saw Malkin flash her a sad, sympathetic little smile. Like she knew the situation Hermione was in now, and felt horribly for her. Hermione knew she didn't imagine it when she shot Snape, who barely acknowledge the seamstress, a withering glare. She left the room, and Hermione stepped off the stool with a sad smile of her own in place. She stepped behind the dressing screen before she took up her conversation with Snape.
"I just think there has to be something we can do, to stop him. To end this."
"Two people saving the world? What a grand vision you have," she heard him sneer.
She was out of the dress robes and back in a set of plain, black robes in moments. She slung the dress over her arm and huffed as she rounded the screen.
"It was going to be three people," she answered.
"And what a bang up job the Golden Trio did there."
Hermione pursed her lips, determined not to egg it on. They met Malkin at the front of the shop, as instructed, and then Snape, grabbing Hermione's arm, apparated back to Spinner's End. Apparation was only to be used in cases of extreme need if you were not pureblooded and was to be closely monitored. They arrived at the edge of the property line, having to come around the side to reach the front door. Once they were safely inside, Hermione stomped a few steps ahead.
"Are you really so happy to be a part of this? A part of this horrible place of his making?"
She hadn't thought to ask whether Voldemort's name was still Taboo. She would later. Now, her righteous anger was more important.
"Of course not!" Snape snapped through gritted teeth. "But what is there to be done at the moment? Are you hiding an army in those robes? Because he has the Ministry, he has Potter, he has it all! We must play the part until an opportunity affords itself, and, as it may sadden you to hear, that may not be for some time. Patience! You and the dream team were never good at it, but it's high time that you've learned!"
Hermione drew in a breath, her arms shaking with rage. But in the end, she simply gripped the dress box a little tighter. Snape, for the moment, was right. She had nothing to work with, and no knowledge of her friends' current states of being. She was assured that they were all still alive, but alive and well was a different story. So, she simply looked away from Snape, her supposedly unwilling captor. After all, she was still not quite sure she believed everything he had said about the circumstances of Dumbledore's murder.
"I should go get ready," she muttered to the floor.
"Yes. You should. We have some things to discuss before we leave, if we're not to arouse suspicion."
More rules for her muggle-born status. Her stomach tightened, but she only nodded, ascending the stairs toward the guest room of the home that Snape had made Hermione's room.
Dressed, Snape in black and Hermione in her lavender dress robes, they arrived at the edge of the drive leading to Malfoy Manor. Snape let her arm drop, but they both still walked side by side.
"Remember," he hissed at her.
She nodded. "I know."
The rules he had placed on this evening had made sense, in truth, but that did nothing to brighten her feelings toward them. She was not to speak unless spoken to with the only exception being in cases of the utmost importance. And she was to stay at his side at all times. Hermione had protested this one, wanting for a chance to explore and learn something—anything—she could use against the Dark Lord. But Snape had been adamant. He said that neither one could afford to have her caught snooping. Of course, she wasn't even sure how much real snooping she could accomplish without her wand, anyway. There had been a time, in her early childhood, she had fancied herself a spy and had learned to pick a lock with various different materials. But, after getting her letter to Hogwarts, she had always wondered if her skill with those items had been more magical than not.
"One step behind me," Snape ordered her, not caring to lower his voice now.
They were catching up with the other arriving guests to this ball. He had to appear the master, of course. Hermione was, again, uncertain on how much of this was acting and how much was not. But she knew she was hopelessly outnumbered, so she nodded and did as she was told.
They entered the manor home with no trouble at all, merely pointed to the ballroom. A few of the other Death Eaters—those Hermione could not put a name to—were nodding and greeting Snape with broad smiles, congratulating him on his "promotion." She desperately wanted to ask what this meant, but she remembered the rules. She was sure she would get an opportunity later to do so.
They arrived at the vast, ornate ballroom moments later. Candles, like those at Hogwarts—a thought that made Hermione's heart ache—floated high above them, providing plenty of illumination for the room. The floors were black and white checkered in a material that Hermione supposed to be marble. Tables, circular and covered in white-linen tablecloths, were scattered about the space. Near the forefront of the room was a small, raised platform with a strange, covered object seated on it. It almost looked like a giant birdcage, suspended from the ceiling. Hermione couldn't tell if any noise came from the covered cage, since there was plenty of music being played by a classical band set off to the right of the stage. A space between where the table placement ended and the stage began had been set aside for dancing, and Hermione was disgusted by how many happy, gleeful people were twirling around on the space now.
So many smiling, joyful faces. Some she recognized, some she didn't—apparently, Voldemort had gained some new followers. She gritted her teeth, keeping in step behind Snape as they moved farther into the ballroom. They were fewer than ten paces in when a familiar, drawling voice called out, "Severus!"
Lucius Malfoy, dressed in his best emerald green robes with his long, white-blond hair tied back, practically glided over to Snape, taking his hand warmly in his own.
"Ah, Severus, a glorious evening, isn't it?" Lucius said through a genuine smile.
Hermione couldn't remember a time, if any, that she had ever seen a truly happy smile on Lucius's face. They were usually filled with malice, but not this one. He looked just plain happy. Snape seemed to note this as well, commenting on it.
"I see the Dark Lord has forgiven your family?"
Lucius nodded. "Indeed. I could ask for no greater news on this, the night we celebrate the Dark Lord's victory over Potter."
Hermione couldn't help it. She was trying to keep her eyes away from the two men, looking at anything other than them as they conversed. But at the mention of Harry's name, she fixed a hard glare on Lucius. And it didn't go unnoticed. The elder Malfoy huffed out a laugh.
"Ah, so it is true. The Dark Lord mentioned that you were the first to claim a mudblood as your own, and Potter's little friend, no less. Tell me, girl, how does it feel, to have everything you've fought for taken away? To be a slave?"
"Assigned companion," Snape gently reminded. "The Dark Lord does not wish the negative connotation that that word has on it."
"Not yet. Ah, but Granger, you haven't answered me. How does it feel?"
She could feel Snape's eyes on her, almost as if they were boring into her. She hid her hands in the folds of her skirts, clenching them as tightly as she could manage.
"Horrible beyond words," she said through gritted teeth.
Snape didn't seem pleased with this response, but Hermione figured that, since he was so adamant on keeping up a façade, she shouldn't lie. She wasn't a Voldemort-lover overnight. Lucius threw back his head a laughed.
"Well, it's more than you and your little friends deserve, putting me in Azkaban. If I had my way, the lot of you would be blotted from existence. But, alas, I'm sure the Dark Lord has his plans."
"And who are we to doubt them?" Snape jeered.
Hermione hid a smile. Not what she would have wanted to say, but at least the sting of the words did not go unnoticed. The smile vanished from Lucius's lips as he stared down his nose at Snape.
"Yes, quite right. Well, my pardons… I must fetch Narcissa," he said, gliding away just as quickly as he'd come.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Snape bent just close enough to Hermione so that his whisper could be clearly heard.
"Careful, Granger. It would be wise not to anger a roomful of your enemies," he cautioned.
"Would you rather I'd told an obvious lie? How legitimate would we look then?" she shot back.
Snape seemed to ruminate on this as they continued weaving through the Death Eaters toward an empty table. They were mere feet away from a table when a little laugh and a solid body appeared in their pathway. Bellatrix Lestrange, just as smiling as Lucius, but dancing in place blocked their pathway.
"Oh, Sev, isn't it grand! Oh, you should see him, see how joyful he is!" she exclaimed.
Snape raised a brow. "The Dark Lord, I presume?"
"Who else? Ah, and what do we have here? Feeling better, mudblood? Or shall we have another go round? I'm sure this place wouldn't mind some more entertainment," Bellatrix said, setting her hungry, crazed eyes on Hermione.
Hermione was moments away from responding when Snape cut her off.
"She's mine, Bella. The sooner you learn that, the better."
The force of his words caused both women to gaze at him for just a moment. Finally, Bellatrix shrugged.
"It doesn't matter. Maybe I'll get me a mudblood to play with… would make for a lovely way to pass an evening. And it would be nice to see how many times I could repeat the results I had with the Longbottoms."
Bellatrix flitted away, and Snape put a tight grip on Hermione's shoulder. The look in his eyes said more than any words. He released her after a moment, striding ahead. They both reached the table, and Hermione waited for him to be seated before following suit, taking a chair at his right.
They didn't speak. After all, they didn't want to seem cordial. She was his slave, no matter what vernacular was being used. And slaves, especially those with so-called dirty blood, were not friends. But, in their silence, with the noise of others talking and the music playing, Hermione found herself replaying Bellatrix's words. Her gut clenched at the thought of whatever poor soul would be taken from the pool and assigned to her. She shook it off for the moment, looking about the room. There had to be somebody, anybody here that she could recognize, that could answer the questions of her friends' statuses burning in her mind.
As if in answer, the Weasleys, the only group of redheads, entered. They all looked extremely uncomfortable, to make an understatement. Hermione wondered what Voldemort was playing at, letting them attend… or was it forcing them to? Her eyes washed over all of them in turn, naming each one as she saw them. There was Arthur, arm and arm with Molly, then Charlie, Bill with Fleur, Fred and George, Percy, and, finally, Ron. Ron. He was alive, just as Snape had said. Hermione's heart swelled with relief. She started to rise from her chair, to go to her friend, and to find out what the hell had happened since their capture at this very manor. But then, barely raised to stand, she heard Snape clear his throat. She turned to stare at him.
"That wouldn't be wise, Granger. Possibly, it would be the worst idea," he said.
Hermione felt her lips tremble. She glanced back at the Weasleys, seeing suddenly a dark haired, familiar face sweep in and pull Ron away from his family with a sadistic grin in place. There was no joy in that smile, save for the joy of separating Ron from his family.
"What is Pansy doing?" Hermione asked, keeping her voice low, despite the loud music.
"Pureblood families who opposed the Dark Lord, if they wish to live, must pay tribute to him. They must offer a member of their family to join the Death Eaters, and they must marry purebloods only," Snape replied.
"What?" Hermione asked, incredulous.
"Percy was offered to the Death Eaters. And Ron is currently engaged to Miss Parkinson."
Hermione felt like she was going to be sick. She turned away from her former teacher to gaze back at the Weasleys, still grouped together as they were. She counted over them again, then a dark cloud gathered in her mind as she realized one was missing from the group.
"Where's Ginny? Why isn't she with her family?"
Snape lifted a lazy hand, pointing a finger across the room. "She's sitting over there."
Hermione followed his finger, finding Ginny was indeed sitting at a table across the room from their own. She was dressed in green, a lighter shade of the color than what Lucius's robes had been, and she was completely alone at her table, gazing off into space.
Hermione turned back, about to comment on this to Snape, when another Death Eater—one of those that she did not know—approached the table. He was laughing before he spoke, and he began to engage Snape in conversation. She turned away, staring back at Ginny.
Why was she alone? Why hadn't she gone to her family, and why in the world would she have arrived at this Victory Ball before them? Hermione was practically itching to go speak with her. She whirled back toward her keeper, waiting for a lull in conversation. The new arrival to their table stopped to take a breath, and Hermione inched in an "excuse me" in the smallest voice she could manage.
Snape glared at her, instantly enraged that she had broken one of his most important rules for the night.
"What?" he snipped.
"Could I, if you don't mind, go speak with Ginny? Please?"
Hermione was very good at pretending to be weak. It had come in handy when dealing with Umbridge, and though she despised the skill, she recognized it as valuable in a world where she was seen as less than nothing.
"You are to remain at my side."
"Ah, Sev! Let the little pet go have some fun! We're in a room full of Death Eaters, she's not gonna cause any trouble!" the other Death Eater piped in.
He was already tipsy, and his nose was even a little shade of red. Snape pursed his lips.
"Go. But return here immediately after speaking with her. Understood?"
Hermione nodded. She stood, preparing to set off across the room, when a hand caught her at the elbow. She turned to see that the unknown Death Eater had gripped her, holding her in place. He squeezed her arm, hard, just once.
"Aren't we forgetting something? Don't you owe your master thanks for his generosity?"
A beat of time passed, Hermione's blood pounding in her ears. She locked eyes with Snape, nodding once.
"Forgive me," she forced out. "Thank you, sir."
"There!" the Death Eater proclaimed jovially. "That's much better. Now, off you trot."
She heard the scrape of the chair as the Death Eater took her seat, and Hermione moved as quickly as she could toward Ginny. The youngest Weasley saw her approaching just before her arrival. She all but threw herself to her feet.
Hermione opened her arms, ready to embrace her friend, when Ginny stopped her. She stuck out her right hand, and Hermione nodded. They shook hands, and Hermione felt a square of parchment being pressed into her palm. It was a shock, but Hermione knew better than acknowledge it. She slipped it, discreetly, into her dress. When she smiled back at Ginny, she saw that the younger woman looked on the verge of tears.
"Ssh, not here. Not for them," Hermione cautioned.
"I'm just… I'm just so happy to see that you're okay! Is it true? Are you Snape's… assigned companion, ugh?"
Hermione nodded. "Yes… I am."
"He hasn't… he hasn't tried to… you know, hurt you in any way?"
Hermione was sure she knew what the implication was here. She shook her head.
"No. Not at all. What about you? What have I missed? I'm practically locked inside Snape's home. I've… I've learned a bit, but not all of it."
She wasn't sure if she should reveal Snape as her source, now or ever. But while she was here, she might as well fact check against someone whose word she could trust.
"Well, Percy was forced to join the Death Eaters, in according to the Tribute Law. And Ron… oh, Hermione, Ron's being forced to marry Pansy Parkinson, that horrible, pug-faced…"
Hermione held up a hand to stop her, twirling a single finger to silently remind her where she was. Ginny nodded.
"Right. Of course. It's wonderful."
Hermione allowed herself a brief smile. It vanished, however, when she posed her next question.
"And Harry? I've heard nothing of Harry, except that he's, apparently, still alive. Where is he?"
Ginny's lips parted, but she stopped. There was hurt, anger, and a deep sadness in her eyes, and it was all wrapped up in her hesitation. Hermione stared at her.
"What is it?"
She opened her mouth again, ready to explain, when she was cut off. All the music stopped suddenly, and all eyes turned to stage, where Voldemort himself had ascended.
"My friends," he said, his lipless mouth curling into a grotesque smile. "I welcome you all here tonight. A glorious night, isn't it?"
A great cheer rose up that was almost deafening. Hermione and Ginny remained defiantly silent. The Dark Lord continued.
"I will keep this short, as I want us all to enjoy ourselves in this revelry tonight. In fact, all I wished was to introduce you all to my new pet."
With that, he waved his wand, and the cloth flew off the cage-shaped object behind him. Hermione gasped, pressing a hand to her mouth as a round of cheering and laughter shook the room.
It was in fact a cage that had been hidden. Giant and gold, but its contents were nothing of the feathered variety. Instead, seated in the very center, looking as though he had endured a few rounds of Cruciatus himself, was Harry Potter.