Hermione and Ron stepped out of the Burrow and into a different world.
It had taken some research to find an appropriate venue – luckily, Hermione had managed to book a small but high-end inn, one that (obviously) catered to wizarding folk. Though Ron hadn’t the slightest idea, it was in this hotel that Hermione both intended to marry him, and also where they would honeymoon. While at the same time tracking the American Death Eaters.
The parlor looked cozy, with swirly marble floors and boutique-style furniture. A separate, grander fireplace seemed to be the central feature of the room, accented by a merlot-colored rug and crystal-topped coffee table. Ron assumed they used the one fireplace strictly for travel. A man sat in the couch there, sipping coffee and reading the paper.
Ron did a double-take. Warm, morning sunlight flowed in through the windows, where at the Burrow it had been nearing dusk.
“What time is it here, again?” he asked quietly, rubbing his head.
“It should be about… eleven thirty, by my watch,” Hermione answered, glancing quickly at something in her purse. She set off for the front desk, at which Ron followed. “It was about seven thirty at the Burrow. But we should double-check, you never know what magic will do to the time zones.”
They checked in and headed up to their room, which was equally cozy and even more extravagant than the lobby downstairs. The overall décor here was deep blues; the carpet, bedthings and canopy, even the vanity chair by the window were all clothed in a dark blue silk. Everything was textured as well, and grand-looking, from the intricately painted ceiling to the magnificently carved borders on the French doors to their balcony. Ron gulped.
“Looks, ah, nice, ‘Mione…” he said, eyeing every piece of furniture in their suite with sudden apprehension. A large mahogany wardrobe in the corner seemed especially troublesome. “How much was it, again?”
Hermione set her things on the overly-large bed.
“Don’t you mind that, dear,” she answered. “And also, don’t you open that dresser. I know it’s bad luck to see each other on the wedding day, but it’s a little late for that.”
“Oh.” He said.
They each stared intently at the floor, neither particularly uncomfortable, yet both wired with nerves and fending off second-thoughts.
“The dress?” Ron clarified.
Hermione smiled back at him, brushing a stray lock of hair from her face. “Yes. I’m working with what I’ve got.”
He returned a small smile.
So this is it, he thought. Today’s the day, mate. Time to get hitched.
Nele woke suddenly, her nose burning from the sharply cold air. Premature dew had begun to settle into her clothing and skin, making her clammy to the touch. She breathed slowly, eyes trained on the ceiling of her tent.
They’d been running for days now, this being their third in obscure wilderness. And she knew why; try as they might to keep it from her, Nele knew addition and could equate their bounties. Her family was currently going for upwards of 400 galleons altogether, an impressive sum for any Snatcher. And so they ran.
Her parents were asleep in the next room. Nele could see their feet through the flap that separated her quarters from theirs, and she breathed easier in knowing all was normal.
It would take some time to fall back asleep. It always did.
Wondering if she would ever get used to this routine, Nele marveled at her frequent insomnia. She found herself waking violently four or five times a night, and falling asleep more slowly each time after. Eventually the faint glow of morning would arrive, and she could admit defeat and set out for an early breakfast.
Her parents had caught on, though she figured her mild sleep annoyances meant little to them in comparison to the constant threat they faced. They hadn’t mentioned it more than once or twice, and each time had little interest to spare.
But not for lack of love, Nele reminded herself.
No, never. Her parents’ constant preoccupation could be attributed directly to their love for Nele and for each other, of this she was certain. They had come upon difficult times, but they would pull through. And life would go back to normal.
A light rustle just outside the tent halted Nele’s thoughts. Her breath caught in her throat, and her heartbeat quickened as she strained to hear any other noise. Her eyes trained on the view of her parents’ feet, which remained still. No trouble yet.
This happened multiple times a night, whenever she felt too relaxed and a noise served to remind her of their situation. There was always risk. The danger didn’t sleep the way Nele or her parents did.
It happened slowly.
There was no sound to accompany the figure Nele now saw standing above her parents. His form was tall and skeletal, shrouded in a black cloak that revealed only his gaunt and sallow face. Her heart seemed to stop altogether – a massive pain erupted in her core, a shock of fear that paralyzed her. Eyes wide, she could only stare.
He towered over them, dark eyes cast upon their sleeping bodies. A slender wand slipped from his sleeve, placing itself squarely in his palm as though summoned; terror wracked Nele’s mind as she took in agonizing detail, that his hands were stretched and insipid, yellowed fingernails curling around the handle, their sharpened tips scratching the wood near-silently. This man was ancient and worn, though Nele feared physical age and magical prowess could be a tradeoff over time.
In a perfect world, Nele would be brave. She would shout, cause a diversion, anything to save her parents from that horror… but she was not brave. Nele was paralyzed, unable to breathe, adrenaline pulsing through her body as though she’d run a marathon. And she could only stare at this thing, which she refused to believe as man, his closest semblance being that of cinema’s age-old Nosferatu.
He stared down at them, eyes sunken and rimmed in black. And then his gaze slid upward, to Nele.
She gasped. That simple movement seemed to return life to her limbs, and she scrambled backward in her room, all the while being observed by those haunting, malevolent eyes.
The man didn’t burst into her quarters, as she’d expected. In fact, this attack wasn’t what she’d expected at all. Snatchers were meant to be savage, wild men whose eyes spoke of greed and nothing more. Dangerous, yes, because a Snatcher could feasibly do as he liked, but Nele would never have imagined their capture to be so slow… so silent.
Her parents hadn’t stirred, and all was still.
Nele’s back pressed into the side of their magicked tent, and she knew there was no escape there. These walls had been made to keep others out, and keep her family safe. While the material felt flimsy under her fingertips, she knew any attempts to claw through would fail miserably.
“Come out, come out, wherever yeh aaaare…” sang a hushed voice, from just beyond the flap in her tent. The gaunt man was no longer visible. But that voice couldn’t belong to him, Nele wouldn’t believe it.
Franticly, Nele glanced about for her wand. She’d sworn it had been under her pillow, as it was every night, except it wasn’t. In her scramble the pillow had overturned, revealing that place to be empty.
Where is it? Her head screamed. WHERE IS IT?
The tent flap pulled open, this time revealing a scraggly, shorter man. He grinned excitedly, revealing browning teeth to match his impish scrutiny. He stepped in, allowing the flap to shut behind him, pulling anxiously at the ends of his tattered red flannel and running a hand through his greasy dark hair, which had begun to bald long ago.
“’Allo, dearie,” he whispered delightedly. Nele’s pulse sped up as he took small steps toward her, his posture poor and curled protectively inward, yet his eyes fixed directly on the girl.
As he neared, Nele’s instincts began to kick in. The man reached a hand tentatively to her face, but before his soiled fingertips could make contact, Nele ducked and slid right, to her pillow and – hopefully – her wand.
The quarters were tight, though, and he was upon her before her hands could grasp the blankets. He squealed as she nearly slipped by, that sound turning swiftly into a cackle as he grasped the girl’s long hair and jerked her back.
“Mom!” Nele shrieked. The man’s weight crashed into her, his knee landing in the dead-center of her back. Her breath fled.
“Hush now, little girl!” he sang, twisting at Nele’s hair so she could see him. The position made it more difficult to retrieve her breath, and she coughed violently. He lightly grasped her neck, then dug his sharp nails in slightly. “Be a good little mudblood, and the torture might not be so… slow…”
This he whispered, grinding those nails in slowly, droplets of blood blooming at the tip of each. Nele’s eyes burned, and terror-stricken tears spilled onto her cheeks.
Questions whirred by in her head, all too quickly to focus on any in particular: what would he do? Where was the other? How many were there? How could she stop him? Why weren’t her parents awake?
“Shhh…” he hummed into her ear. Nele cringed away as his hot breath warmed her neck; he twisted her hair sharply, which elicited a small cry from the depths of her throat. “It’ll be over soon, my love. ‘Ey’ll hurt you, they will… but play nice, an’ you could stay with me… It don’ have to hurt, not one bit…”
With a yelp, the man leapt off Nele’s back and into the far wall of the tent. A new face now stood where the Nosferatu-lookalike had, this man also in a black cloak. His dark features made him devilishly handsome, and Nele guessed as more than ten years her senior. He didn’t spare a glance her way.
“Y-yes, mister Bloodgood?” the squirrely Porter replied, staring intently at his feet.
“That is not yours to keep. Bring her outside, for the rest of us.”
‘Rest of us?’ Nele’s brain repeated. No, no, there can’t be more. No more of them…
Yet Porter’s hand was once again in her hair, this time yanking ruthlessly into the next room. Nele cried out in pain, feet scrambling to push herself with him as her hands grabbed at his. He dragged her slowly through, where her parents were no longer sleeping in their joint sleeping bag. He dragged her past this, and through the threshold that was supposed to protect them all. Her bare feet scraped against the dirty forest floor as he pulled her out, and then swiftly dropped her.
Nele scrambled to turn and face her captors, utterly shocked what she saw.
Cynric woke the next morning feeling disheveled and lazy; he could see sunlight through the window, and that meant he’d slept in.
Luckily for him, the whore had gone. He hated those morning-after’s when his eyes opened to see whatever unsightly mess he’d slept with the night before. That one had been too enthusiastic, if there was such a thing, and so it had taken him much longer to finish than usual. Not that she seemed to mind.
Of course not, he thought, rubbing his face and pushing away the blankets. All of them. Put on a show that they’re so innocent or demure, when all they really want is a good rough fuck. Hell, they should be paying us to fuck them.
His interior rants continued on throughout his morning routine of breakfast, shower, and grooming. A note on the table read “Thanks for the good time, sexy” above a pink kiss-mark, left just where Cynric’s money had been. He vanished the scrap without a second thought.
He paused in front of his vast closet, before taking a deep breath and pulling out his sharpest suit.
Back to work.
Cynric could no longer avoid it. And why should he? Work at Alcatraz wouldn’t complete itself. And he wasn’t afraid of this Hermione Granger, no matter how many times he heard tales of her part in Riddle’s War. A naive, nineteen-year-old witch – even a lucky one - stood no chance against the powerful, cunning man Cynric had become. Never.
Of course not.
He would need an excuse for arriving later than usual, that was certain. Not that he expected anyone to care, or to mention it at all… but on the off chance.
I had other business to attend to.
A grimace flashed across his usually-collected face. Beautifully simple, yet such a bourgeois sound. It left a bad taste in his mouth.
Taking the floo directly to Alcatraz, Cynric paid little attention to the various workers he passed by in his own little Grand Central Station. The more professionally dressed, like Cynric himself, were the next-highest on the food chain, and all received curt nods as they headed on their way. The shady crowd, or the skilled snatchers, received eye contact. And the ruffians, those occasionally-useful sacks of flesh who carried out orders, maintained prisoners, and dragged in easy targets, they received nothing.
The wide halls beneath Alcatraz Island were just crawling with the trenchcoats and ruffians, at least on the highest basement level. One would never think Cynric’s establishment was underground, since magicked windows lined each office and spilled “natural” light into the plaza. But it was, and beneath this level was a private foyer and the managing offices, of which he enlisted only six. The men on his business team rarely used these studies anyway, choosing typically to spectate on the tasteless Hell Level parties.
Cynric groaned just thinking of it. Never daring to venture into that third unmentionable lower-level, he instead picked up on its activities through the grape-vine: public tortures, private tortures, rapes, humiliations, executions… He trusted his managers to handle the Hell Level, where the mudbloods and other criminals were held, though he could never understand the appeal of it. Cynric enjoyed a good punishment, but an active audience just wasn’t his thing. It repulsed him, to be entirely honest.
He had fifty cells down there, and nearly all were full at any given time. New prisoners? Kill off the last batch they brought in. They made room as necessary, and held trials by the hour. All trials held the same result, in the end. Execution. Death at the hands of the dozen-or-so scoundrels that prowled around down there, no doubt after being passed around a few times between them.
Rounding a corner, he skipped down the stairs and ducked into the press office.
“Mr. Ellwood,” greeted Elsa, one of the few women he’d employed. She gave him a quick nod, hardly sparing him a glance amidst her paperwork. At twenty-four, only three years younger than Cynric himself, the woman knew how to dress her rail-thin figure. She granted herself a sense of authority through pencil skirts and sky-high heels. Her light brown hair was secured into a bun, a pen tucked in for effect.
“Elsa, hello,” Cynric replied, pausing to open his briefcase. “How are the numbers?”
She pursed her lips. “According to Mr. Bloodgood, we only brought in fourteen yesterday, and none on the top twenty. But that was last night, I haven’t seen him since eight.”
“You’re kidding,” Cynric sighed. Leave this place for two minutes and productivity cuts in half. “Where did he go? Hasn’t anyone else checked in?”
Shuffling through the contents of his briefcase, he pulled out a freshly-typed manuscript. It had taken two hours the day before, but would be worth it.
“No,” Elsa said, looking squarely into his eyes, as though challenging him. That was the quality that landed Elsa this job, after all – that vigor allowed her to survive in an all-male atmosphere. “I’m afraid you might need to ask them ‘why’ for yourself, Mr. Ellwood.”
“Right, right…” he muttered, slapping the papers onto her desk. She jumped. “Anyway. Run a story on this. I did the hard-research for you, just put it together.”
She gave him a look of caution before leafing through.
“On the bottom,” he answered. He needed to be on his way.
“Cyn – ah, Mr, Ellwood,” Elsa stammered, eyes widening at the content he’d gifted her way. “This is heavy. Are you sure..?”
“Yes,” he said. Cynric adjusted his tie thoughtfully, reassuring himself it was the right move. It was. “You and I, Elsa. We’re going to start a war.”
Nele knelt, frozen, at the feet of four men. Porter stood away from the other three, surveying their reactions with a twitchy reluctance and constantly looking back to his personal captive. Of the other three, only the devilishly-handsome one called Bloodgood held any familiarity. The two bearded faces beside him meant nothing to her.
Where is the other? Her mind cried.
But this thought was halted. Behind these cloaked men, hanging delicately by their wrists from the towering fir trees above, were Nele’s unconscious parents; even in the near-dark she could make out blood on the hems of her father’s shirt, her mother’s having been torn off completely.
“Mom?” Nele whispered. “Mom? Dad?”
“You should have known better, Nele,” taunted one of the nameless Snatchers.
“Mom!” Nele cried, getting to her feet. She glared wildly at the trio. “You let them go!”
“Nele,” they repeated, in unison.
And she was running to her parents’ floating bodies, pushing effortlessly past the Snatchers.
She cried out, her throat hoarse and face wet with anguished tears. She wasn’t running, and wasn’t pushing through easily. Strong arms held her fast.
The dream slipped away, replacing a ruthless forest with the cozy interior of Zeke’s cottage, where the two sat sprawled before his modest fireplace. Nele’s blanket had tangled in her feet, kicked about during her devastating trip through memory lane. The arms around her torso were of a different Snatcher, a warmer one, and he clutched the shaky, sweaty girl in a daze.
Emotions erupted in Nele’s brain as glimpses of that night flashed by, and when she squeezed her eyes shut they seemed to envelop even more of her senses. A husky voice calling “Crucio!” in the night; calloused hands clawing at her skin; visions of her parents dangling, more and more red staining them as that night wore on.
She couldn’t keep the feelings at bay any longer, couldn’t shut them out. Nele sobbed, coughing and trembling and crying aloud. Zeke’s arms squeezed tighter until she didn’t know or care who was holding her anymore, and she curled into him. She cried until no images or sounds or sensations attacked her, and all that remained was the feeling of desolation.
Adrenaline coursed through Zeke’s body, unsure of how to react. He’d seen it all. The girl fell asleep swiftly before the fire, and he’d only paused long enough in his cooking to toss a blanket over her. By the time his stew had finished, and he sat down to enjoy a bowl by his snoozing bounty, he’d felt something. Something was amiss. A negative energy had engulfed the room.
But as he ate, that sensation only heightened. The flames dimmed, the temperature dropped, and he could have sworn he was seeing things. But he wasn’t. The feeling was indescribable.
He saw the ancient, pale man through the tent’s flap. He’d watched with terror as that scraggly Porter had neared, something he knew he could handle with one swift kick and yet now, here, he could not. Zeke felt his hair tearing out as Porter dragged him into the open, and was filled with anguish at the sight of his parents hung under the tree.
And despite those visions, Zeke felt the real-world tremors as Nele’s body convulsed only two feet away. Snapping out of the hallucinations, he sprang off the sofa and shook the poor girl awake, and she was screaming for her mother and father before the screams faded into sobs and now what was he supposed to do?
He clutched her, the delicate young woman he’d sentenced to death, and marveled at the extent of her uncontained magic. Aftershocks sent little tremors through his arms now and then, gradually dying out.
What the fuck just happened? Zeke thought. He glanced over to his soup, noting in amazement that steam still rose from the untouched bowl. The ordeal probably hadn’t even lasted more than five minutes.
He remained there an hour more, until Nele stopped shaking and fell still at last. He knew she wasn’t sleeping, and doubted either of them would that night.
What the fuck to we do now?
Author's Note: Hello readers! I'm terribly sorry it took so long to post, this chapter was a hassle to get together. Luckily for us all though, part of the delay was due to me mapping out the entire plot and trying to keep all loose ends tied for you.
I would love some feedback, I know this chapter may have been a little rough. I'm already at work on the next one though, and it's going to get good.