seedee: (free elf)
[personal profile] seedee
Title: Unbreakable
Characters: Hermione/Millicent (McGonagall/Slughorn)
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Why do elves keep dying? What's the secret of the striving elf agency? Where is Pixy? What do you wear to a Halloween party if your host is Millicent Bulstrode? Hermione's profession is to find answers; and she has the cloak to prove it.
Word Count: ~35,000
Content: Disregards the epilogue, BDSM/humiliation, voyeurism
Author's/Artist's notes: Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ridicu_liz, [livejournal.com profile] tree00faery and [livejournal.com profile] thimble_kiss for their help. Written for [livejournal.com profile] samhain_smut.



Chapter Five

The costume was gorgeous. How Lavender had made it in less than five hours was a mystery. Hermione smoothed down the front, tugged at the silky fabric in the back, moved her arms over her head to test its flexibility, and marvelled at the comfortable shoes Lavender had chosen to go with it.

"I didn't bother with heels," Lavender said and winked. "I don't want to be sued if you kick someone in the groin."

"I hope we can do this without kicking."

"I'm crossing my fingers. Be quick and come to the real party when you're finished. You don't want to miss our costumes."

"Not crotchless like George suggested, is it?" Hermione asked.

"Far better," Lavender said.

Hermione and Pixy made their goodbyes and left Lavender. Ron wasn't home yet, which was just as well.

Halloween night had left Diagon Alley almost deserted. Few people were out on the streets, some of them clad in colourful costumes, some carrying last minute party supplies. From the Leaky Cauldron, Hermione and Pixy walked all the way down to the very end of the alley. They passed Gringotts, the shops, the quieter parts where there were some houses of mostly prominent and rich people, and then they turned left into a small street.

Amor Alley was the only street in London's Wizarding quarter that was more infamous than Knockturn Alley. Many people didn't even acknowledge its existence. Amor Alley's busy hours started when business died in other places. The street was packed with shops, restaurants, clubs and houses that were charmed to appear empty during the day, but came to life once the sun set.

It wasn't late enough for the businesses to be open yet, but they showed the first signs of life. Windows were being opened, signs were being dragged outside, scantily clad women and men entered through doors that only appeared when one spoke a password.

"What number is on the card?" Hermione asked.

"Number sixty-three," Pixy said. "It must be at the end of the street."

"And you're sure you don't need a costume?"

"I is sure."

At the very end of the alley, there was a nondescript building with no signs and nothing that would give away its purpose. The windows were blackened, and the door looked as if it hadn't been used in a long time. Before it, though, was a small display, small enough to be overlooked if one didn't pay attention. There were no letters on the display. It was rectangular and completely black.

"I think it's the right place," Hermione said. She looked around but didn't see anyone. There were no noises coming from inside. She knocked.

They didn't have to wait for long.

A man opened the door. His clothes were made from leather, and such a deep, rich black that they seemed to absorb the light. He wore knee-high boots, trousers that clung to his strong legs, a jacket that fell loosely from his shoulders down to his waist, gloves and a simple, thin collar. His forehead disappeared under a black hat; most of his face was hidden behind a black mask. His eyes were dark and striking, his lashes long. What Hermione could see of his face was pale and smooth. He had a rectangular but still soft looking jaw and thin lips. A drop of blood had trickled down from the corner of his mouth to his chin. It was bright red against his white skin and looked as if it was still wet.

A vampire.

If it hadn't been Halloween, it would have been time to run.

The corners of the man's mouth twitched. He said in a very familiar voice, "You're early."

Hermione's jaw dropped. "Bulstrode."

The look she received in return was a thinly veiled compliment to Lavender's work.

Hermione wore a mockery of a Venetian costume. It was white with a black floral pattern, and to call it short would have been like calling Hagrid big. It had a halter neckline, making her decolletage look far more exciting than it actually was. Everything was hemmed and adorned with black lace. A bolero covered her shoulders; it was so small that its mere existence was barely more than a rumour. Lavender had added loose lace sleeves. Their only purpose was to hide the holster of Hermione's wand. Fishnet stockings covered her legs but didn't quite reach the hem of her skirt. A satin, feathered black mask veiled most of her face, and her hair was pulled back and kept in a tight braid. Lavender had charmed it pure white.

Millicent's gaze lingered upon the place where the bodice of the dress was ripped and where a bloodied hole was visible. Clever spells made it look like there was an actual hole in her chest complete with gore and a missing heart.

"The Warlock's bride, I take it?" Millicent said.

Hermione, very pointedly, did not stare at the collar. "Beedle the Bard has always been a big influence in my life," she said, tugging at her dress, somehow not sure if this had been a good idea. It wasn't too short, was it?

**

Millicent showed Hermione and Pixy the house and its many different rooms. She explained where exits were, how many of the windows could be opened, and how to get on the two spacious balconies that opened to the rear of the house. Still no guests had arrived when they were through. They went to the main room and sat down at the bar.

Most of the ground floor was one big room. It looked like a nightclub. There were a few sofas in the corners, tables with high stools, a bar counter that covered one side. The surfaces were polished black wood; heavy purple curtains adorned the walls. The music had started. It was slow with a heavy bass that made Hermione's insides vibrate.

"Pix, keep an eye on the elves. Let me know if there's anything strange going on, and come find me if Timi or one of his friends show up."

"Yes, I'll watch the elves."

Millicent checked the clock above the bar and then took something out of her pocket. She opened her gloved hand. Two small blue pills lay innocently side by side. "Take one," Millicent said. "Your costume is good," she said as if she didn't mean its powers of disguise. "Those will make your voice unrecognisable - just make sure you don't talk about history books."

Hermione swallowed one. She recognised the familiar taste. "That's a Weasley product," she said.

Millicent grinned. It looked terrifying in the context of the costume. "It works. We give them to all our guests. They like anonymity."

"The elves, too?" Hermione asked.

"Not the elves," Millicent said. She looked sideways at Hermione. "Elves are not allowed upstairs in the separate rooms. They'll be down here the whole time, and there's a room in the back where they can talk among themselves. No wizards and witches allowed."

Hermione could add one and one. Dark purple colours, separate rooms, slow sensual music, Amor Alley, anonymity, secret invitations. She knew why the witches and wizards were there. But why the elves? What did she miss? What was the point of this other than getting some people laid?

"Guests," Millicent said. "Excuse me for a moment."

Hermione watched the woman positively saunter over to the door, her steps fluid and firm, a mixture of control and seduction. Hermione swallowed.

A couple of minutes later, two people entered through the curtain that separated the main room from the foyer. Their costumes made it impossible to see who they were. She was tall and lean, wearing a leather outfit that was rather revealing. He was tall as well, had broad shoulders and enough bulk to make his roman soldier costume look only a little silly. They sat down on one of the couches, ordering drinks and making themselves comfortable. Their elf went over to talk to Pixy, and together the two disappeared in the back.

"How are we going to recognise our targets?" Hermione asked when Millicent was back.

"I'm going to personally greet every guest tonight. I'll know who they are, but they won't know it's me."

Hermione took a sip from her butterbeer. "Have you talked to your decoy?"

Millicent nodded. "She's going to do it. She'll be here a bit later." She checked the clock again. "In an hour. He should arrive around the same time."

"Why's she helping us?"

Millicent smiled, her eyes looking past Hermione. "She's got a stake in the matter. She's very interested in the truth."

"You're sure you don't want to tell me who she is?"

"My guests trust me to keep their identity secret."

**

The room filled with people. They arrived in a steady trickle, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, and they always had at least one elf with them. Some of the elves wore tea-towels, some wore clothes, some even came alone. They stayed amongst themselves, and most of them retreated to the room in the back as soon as they arrived.

The wizards and witches all wore costumes. There was a lot of leather, lace, satin, velvet, and mostly dark, rich colours. Some were more modest than others, but all of them were dressed to impress.

Their body language was telling. Hermione watched flirting and laughter, a lot of heated looks, and talks that looked almost like negotiations. Some went upstairs in groups of two or more, some went up alone. Some sat down on the sofas with a drink, seemingly content to be in the main room, mingling.

The atmosphere was relaxed with a slow sensual undertone that wasn't blatant, even though the venue was anything but subtle.

Hermione talked about Spanish cuisine with a torero, about Italian avant-garde art with a priest, and exchanged innuendo laden banter with a gorgeous fairy. No one knew who she was, and Hermione had to remind herself more than once that she was there to work. Being masked was liberating in a way. Maybe it was the lack of expectations.

Around sixty people were at the party, Hermione estimated, when she saw Millicent in her vampire costume come toward her. Millicent hardly slowed down as she passed Hermione. She only bent her head to whisper, "Follow me. We're ready."

Hermione waited until Millicent was almost out of sight. Then she pushed herself away from the bar and went after her. It was supposed to look like casual sauntering while being as fast as possible. At least she had sensible shoes. She might have broken a leg or two otherwise.

The vampire went up the stairs; Hermione followed. Someone touched her bum as she passed. She grabbed the hand and twisted it without ever slowing down. Hard to sue her for a broken finger if her identity wasn't known.

The hallway on the first floor was deserted; purple flickering torches lit the way. Two of the doors had a black cross where the handle would have been. Those rooms were already occupied. While the heavy beat of the music was clearly audible - and palpable - from downstairs, there was not a single noise coming out from behind those doors.

Hermione shivered.

Millicent stopped at a patch of wall where there was no door. She touched the tapestry with the tip of her wand and murmured a spell. With what sounded like a soft sigh, the tapestry folded in on itself and peeled away, revealing a dark chamber, not much bigger than a broom closet.

They went inside before anyone had the chance to see them. The tapestry closed behind them.

"They won't be able to hear us," Millicent said. "They won't be able to see us either." She tapped the wall, and a section the size of a small window shimmered and then turned into a translucent surface that was almost as transparent as glass.

Hermione touched it. The wall was softer than it ought to be, as if it was saturated with a watery gel. "Nice," she said. "You'll have to show me how to do that some time."

"Some time, maybe."

Hermione shivered again. This time, it wasn't the spooky atmosphere or the strange purple light. It was Millicent's breath that sent her words ghosting over Hermione's ear.

"Will Pix find us here if she needs us?"

"Yes."

A man walked into the room. He wore a black tuxedo and a crisp white shirt. A hat covered his hair and a mask hid his face. Hermione knew who he was.

While the costume hid his features, it couldn't hide his build. He was short with a large belly, and a moustache that was visible even under his mask. He wore large gold buttons and a purple band around his middle. His shining black shoes had considerable heels to make him look taller than he was.

It was Horace Slughorn; there was no doubt. But would Hermione's old potions professor do something as cruel as binding elves to their masters with an Unbreakable Vow? He'd stood with them during the last battle. He'd even duelled Voldemort.

He was an opportunist. He exploited whatever - and whoever - came his way. But simple cruelty? A crime that took life?

Slughorn sat down on the bed and waited.

Then the door opened again. A dark figure came into the room, standing in the shadows by the door, not moving. He needed a few moments to realise what was expected of him. Then he got up from the bed and knelt down on the floor, his knees creaking in protest as they took his whole weight with nothing but the hard wooden floor to cushion its pressure.

The figured moved as soon as Slughorn had settled down. It was a woman, tall and slender. She held herself with a firm grace that spoke of wisdom and confidence. A corset bound her middle, held at the back with silver buckles. It was a deep crimson red, the colour of fresh blood, adorned with gold ornaments. She wore trousers of supple black leather. It looked expensive and sleek, like dragonhide, and it matched the gloves that went up over her elbows. She wore a broad red lace collar, and a mask that covered her whole face and was made from the same material. Tiny feathers were attached above the eyes and were the only playful detail of the otherwise hard-looking costume.

Hermione was disappointed that she couldn't see her bare skin. She found herself holding her breath as the woman walked in a slow circle around Slughorn. She corrected his posture, tapping the tips of her red heels against the parts of his body that didn't meet her approval. He widened his stance, clasped his hands behind his back and bowed his head.

She stood so close before him that her legs were almost touching him, one foot planted between his spread knees.

When she spoke, it was with a deep voice and a faint French accent. "Take off your hat, your jacket, and unbutton your shirt." Her tone was imperious; she'd accept no contradiction.

Slughorn was breathing heavily; Hermione heard him pant as he took off his hat and revealed his bald head with only a few tufts of grey hair. The woman stood there, hands folded at the small of her back, her leg still close enough for him to smell the leather. She waited.

He leaned back a little as he shrugged out of his jacket and let it fall to the floor. Then he loosened his bow-tie and unbuttoned his shirt, pulling it out of his trousers as he did so.

"This is so wrong," Hermione muttered.

"What is?" Millicent said, speaking again into her ear. "Is it wrong they're having fun? Is it wrong that she's going to find out if it was him? Is it wrong that we're looking?" There was a hand on Hermione's waist.

"It's just wrong," Hermione said.

"Wrong like breaking into someone else's business to find information?"

"You wanted me to."

Millicent hummed her agreement. "Look at him. He wants it."

Slughorn was still kneeling. A trickle of sweat had made its way down from his scalp to his neck and then disappeared in the collar of his open shirt. He panted, his parted lips a hairs breadth away from the woman's leg.

The woman lifted her gloved hand and snapped her fingers. She hadn't spoken, and she hadn't used her wand. But an instant later, she held a slender riding crop. It cut through the air as the woman moved her hand sharply, and it stopped only an inch before it hit Slughorn's thigh.

He flinched. Enough reason for her to do it again. This time, she didn't stop. She hit his thigh with a firm smack. He bit his lip, trying to keep himself from gasping.

"Very well," the woman said. She let the flat end of the crop travel up Slughorn's thigh. It stopped at the juncture of his legs. The handle bowed as the woman applied pressure. Slughorn's nostrils flared, and a second bead of sweat ran down his head.

Millicent's hand moved as well. It came around to the front and settled atop Hermione's hipbone. Hermione had broken the person's fingers downstairs for less. Now, she didn't move. She wasn't afraid of Millicent and believed without a doubt that she could free herself if she wanted to.

Hermione felt the tips of her breasts harden, felt them rub against the inside of her dress, and only then did she notice that her body was shifting in tiny motions, trying to feel the woman standing behind her.

What did she know about Millicent Bulstrode? Millicent was cunning, smart in a non-bookish and very practical way, manipulative, strangely caring. And she was obviously interested. She pushed about a million of Hermione's buttons, and her body was doing things to her. It all amounted to a simple decision:

Hell, yes.

With everything Hermione had experienced and lived through, she'd learnt that there were some opportunities you grab if you get the chance.

She kept her eyes on the scene in front of her but leaned her head back against Millicent's shoulder, giving silent permission.

The crop travelled up over Slughorn's protruding belly, dipped into his navel, followed his sternum and then turned to the side to rest over one nipple. Millicent's hand mimicked the movement. She touched Hermione's belly and went higher, cupping her breast through the bodice of her dress.

When the crop came down sharply on Slughorn's nipple, Millicent tweaked Hermione, the thin fabric hardly softening the stinging sensation.

Slughorn rocked back on his heels, his large belly moving. He didn't have the time to regain his balance; the crop came down on him again, hitting exactly the same spot, making him hiss in pain.

Millicent did the opposite. Instead of inflicting pain, she skimmed her gloved fingers along the neckline of Hermione's dress, and then slipped them inside to cup her naked breast. Hermione made a low sound of pleasure and shifted, aligning her body with Millicent's.

The woman took a small step forward, pressing her foot against Slughorn's crotch, and then she played the tip of the crop around his reddened nipple. He moaned and swayed, and when there was another smack, louder this time, he lost his balance and fell back against the bed.

Hermione had to fight to keep her eyes open as Millicent ran her thumb in circles around her nipple, tugged lightly while she reached down with her other hand and lifted Hermione's skirt. The leather felt cool against the soft skin of her thigh.

Lips touched the shell of her ear. "Watch them," Millicent whispered, her breath as sensual as the touch of her hands. "He'd do anything for her right now." She bit Hermione's ear and moved her hand farther up Hermione's thigh, her fingers touching the hem of lacy knickers. "And he doesn't even know who she is."

The woman had taken another step, her shoe pressing hard against the prominent bulge in Slughorn's trousers. She tutted, looking down at Slughorn who was panting heavily. His position looked uncomfortable as his legs were bent under him, and his upper body leaned far back with his head on the edge of the bed. She folded back his shirt with the crop, trailing it along the outlines of his torso. It came to a halt under his chin and then pushed, forcing his head back, exposing his throat.

Millicent's fingers were touching Hermione's naked breasts, a gloved hand was cupping her mound through lace and leather as she watched Slughorn undress and then crawl over the floor to lick his mistress' shoes.

It was surreal to see the riding crop come down hard on his bare arse, leaving a flaming patch of skin and then disappear between his lower cheeks when the sensation Hermione experienced was almost too tender. She ground herself down on Millicent's hand, sweat gathering at the nape of her neck.

Slughorn was on all fours, naked except for the mask. He rocked back and forth, submissive and taking the smacks of the crop and its caresses with eagerness. His cock was red, hard and leaking; his stomach almost touched the floor; his thighs were quivering; his head was bowed. Hermione heard panting noises from him and that purring, throaty voice from the woman who told him what to do. She played with him like he was a toy.

The world started to spin as Millicent's thumb circled Hermione's clit in the same maddening slowness as the woman circled Slughorn. Lips touched her neck, and Millicent sucked lightly. Not enough to leave a mark, but enough to intensify the touch of her hands and her body, rock solid against Hermione's back.

In a staccato rhythm, the crop patted the back of Slughorn's balls through his open legs, hard enough to make him keen or moan - Hermione couldn't tell the difference.

And then it was too much. Millicent rolled her nipples, pressed her thumb against Hermione's clit, dipped a leather-gloved finger into her and ran her tongue along Hermione's neck.

Hermione shuddered and came, held by someone who could have been a vampire, a succubus, a girl she once knew and hated, or just a woman she wanted to know better - all past be damned.

Hermione turned around, weakened but far from weak, grabbed Millicent's shoulders, then turned again, pressing her against the wall never quite obscuring the window. "Don't think you can play me," she whispered, returning the heated look of Millicent's half-closed, heavy-lidded eyes.

Hermione stuck out her tongue and lapped up that single drop of blood on the corner of Millicent's mouth, almost breaking out in laughter when she tasted strawberry. But the laughter died in her throat when their lips met in a frantic kiss, teeth clicking, tongues touching, breaths mingling.

It was too intimate. They both broke the kiss, stared at each other. Then Hermione's gaze fell back on the scene in the other room while she opened Millicent's trousers with shaking hands. Millicent's head fell back against the wall just as Slughorn arms gave way and his upper body hit the floor, his arse obscenely up in the air.

"Such a good boy," the woman purred.

Beneath Millicent's trousers, there was only bare skin. Hermione pulled her into another rough kiss. The tips of Hermione's fingers parted her wet folds and made her tremble. Her eyes were tightly closed, and her hands came up to cup the back of Hermione's head.

She smelled clean and fresh with only a hint of a heady scent.

When she came, her face relaxed. The lids of her eyes fluttered; her mouth parted in a soundless 'oh'; her shoulders slumped.

Slughorn wasn't there yet. He'd spread his knees even more, shamelessly begging for attention.

Whenever he seemed to get close to the edge, the woman countered the arousal with another smack, bringing him down again and again only to then continue caressing his heavy bits, his perineum and his arse. She made him lick the crop clean when a drop of precome stained the flat tip, and then rewarded him by pushing the wet crop inside him, making him nearly incoherent.

Hermione still held Millicent against the wall in something that was only half an embrace and started to feel awkward. "Let's talk about this later," Hermione said and stepped back as far as possible - which wasn't very far in the confined space of the chamber.

Millicent closed her trousers, and then she did something Hermione hadn't expected. She took her hand and squeezed once, giving her a small smile.

Hermione returned both gestures.

"Now don't go all mushy on me," Millicent said, breaking the awkwardness.

Hermione snickered.

The woman moved the crop in tiny rocking motions, the tip still inside Slughorn. "Such a good servant," she said. "You're not going to ask for your clothes, are you?" Her words combined with the French accent and the dark timbre of her voice had a slithering quality. "You're not going to betray me? You're not going to want your freedom after all that I've done for you?"

"Do they know each other?" Hermione asked.

"Yes, and no," Millicent said. She gestured in the direction of Slughorn. "His disguise is never very good. Everyone who looks closely knows who he is. I think he does it on purpose. He wants to be seen and associated with those who come here."

"And she?" Hermione said.

"No one but me knows who she is. Her costumes and masks are always flawless." She nodded at them. "It's not the first time they've done this. They have some kind of ongoing affair. Shared tastes and all that."

"Which means that to a degree, he thinks he knows her and thinks he can trust her."

"Exactly," Millicent said. Then she frowned. "Will we be able to use any of this against him? I mean if it comes to a trial."

Hermione snorted. It was amusing to imagine the whole Wizengamot watching those memories. "'Course not. This isn't for the Ministry. This is for us so we'll know if he's really the binder. Then we can apply some pressure."

Slughorn had lifted his head slightly, still grinding down on the crop. He said, breathless, "I can be your elf."

The woman pulled out the crop and smacked him hard. "You stay right here, in your place." Her voice was low and threatening. "I have an elf." She smacked him again, earning a gasp in response. "And if she chooses to go, there's nothing I can do." And again the crop came down again, punishing Slughorn for something else altogether - at least that was what it looked like.

"Maybe I can help you," he ground out, and then said, "Please." When there was no further touch and no further caress, he begged again. "Please, I'd do anything."

The tip of the crop tickled his testicles, hardly even touching them. "What would you do?" she asked.

Slughorn keened. "I can talk to her."

The woman hit him again, mercilessly aiming for the base of his cock. Slughorn wriggled, though it wasn't clear if he was trying to get away from the instrument or closer to it. "I've done it before," he said. "Convinced them to stay. Did she ask the question yet?"

The touch grew softer again. "Not yet," the woman said. "But it will not take long, I think."

He took a series of quick, gulping breathes before he spoke. "Then it's not too late. Send her to me. Tell her to listen to what I have to say and," he broke off when the crop kissed his arse again. "Tell her to obey my orders in your place."

The woman stood stock-still, her voice low, having lost all its playfulness. "What will happen then?"

"She will change her mind," Slughorn said.

The woman let go of the crop, and it landed next to Slughorn's thighs. She looked as if she wanted to spit on him.

Slughorn noticed the change of her mood and turned his red sweaty face up, confused. "What?" he asked.

"You disgust me, Horace," she said with her faint French accent. Then she left the room.

Hermione was stunned at the performance and at what she'd heard. "Whoever that is, I like her," she said.

Millicent let out a genuine bark of laughter. "Yeah, you do."

**

Millicent had asked Hermione not to cause a big scene at the party itself. Aurors stomping all over the place and interrogating the guests would keep them all from coming back. Which, Hermione was assured, was a bad thing for the elves.

"He usually takes a drink downstairs and then leaves. He never stays for long," Millicent said.

She was right. Slughorn dressed - still looking slightly dazed and confused, still without having found his relief - and then went downstairs. He downed two glasses of smoking amber liquid in quick succession. He looked around the room as if he was searching for someone. Less than ten minutes later, he gave up.

He left. Hermione and Millicent were close behind him.

"Good evening, Horace," Hermione called when they were outside, satisfied when Slughorn turned around. Hermione pushed up her mask. She smiled as she saw Slughorn's eyes widen.

"Good evening, Hermione," he said.

Hermione pointed her wand at him. "Don't try anything funny. I have a quick wand, a vampire, and I know where you live." God, she'd wanted to say that for years.

"Why would I-" he started.

"Because you're a coward who uses magic to take away free will," Hermione said.

He gasped and almost looked sincere in his pretended state of shock. "I do not know what-"

Hermione interrupted him again. "What went wrong, Horace?" They were standing close to him now, face to face as he'd taken off his mask as well. "The elves, Horace. What went wrong?"

"I didn't do anything," Slughorn said.

"Nine dead elves would like to disagree," Millicent said. Her voice was cold.

Something that almost looked like pain flashed across his face. He recovered quickly.

"You can't prove a thing."

Hermione laughed. "That's the beauty of it," she said. "I don't have to. I've found enough traces and evidence that points at you and makes you a suspect. I'll call the Aurors, show it all to them, and they'll do the rest. They'll dig until they find something, and they'll ask all the uncomfortable questions. Did you know, for example, that now that Curry is dead, they'll be able to talk to all the elves who took the vow? I'll just have to sit back and watch."

"I don't think you will," a deep voice said, coming from far too close behind her. The tip of a wand pressed against her throat, and she heard a gasp from Millicent. "Don't you move or it'll be the last thing you do."

Hermione recognised the man from the voice alone. It was the leader of the attack outside of her flat. "It's so not good to see you again," she muttered.

"Don't worry. The pleasure is all mine."

He grabbed her hair and pulled her head back hard. Then he took her wand. Another man stood close by, and from the corner of her eye she saw that two more were holding Millicent.

"Oh Horace," Hermione said. Her voice was strained as she tried to keep at least some control. "Did no one ever tell you that cheap thugs will get you into Azkaban and nowhere else?"

Her attacker yanked at her hair, and she nearly lost her balance. "Shut up, little girl," he said.

Hermione had no wand; she had no leverage; there was a wand at her throat; they were unarmed in no position to move and outnumbered five to two. It might very well count as a desperate situation.

"What now, Horace?" she asked, cursing the strangled quality of her voice.

"If you could have just let it go, Hermione," Slughorn said. "I've never wanted to hurt anyone. You're forcing me to do this."

He came closer.

"I'll be gentle. I'll only erase what is necessary so you won't remember this investigation."

"It won't help," Hermione said, mainly to gain time. "There are others involved. There are others who know what's going on."

"I'll have to take that risk," Slughorn said. "Now hold still. The more you move, the higher is the risk of you completely losing your mind."

**

Hermione closed her eyes. She had done this before. She'd been doing this since she was eleven years old, for crying out loud.

If you wanted to survive, there were some rules you had to follow:

Do not underestimate your opponent even if he's a spineless coward, an inexperienced criminal and an idiot who hires thugs.

Do not ever leave your back unprotected.

Do not lose your wand.

You can break those rule as long as you keep one thing in mind: Never go into battle without back-up.

She smiled a little despite the pain caused by the vicious hair-tugging.

She concentrated.

Beneath the patch of dress that looked like it was a mere hole where her heart had been ripped out, there was a little pouch, big enough to hold one single Galleon. It was old and worn. In its early days, the Galleon had been connected to a whole group of people. Now, it was connected only to two others.

Three was a magical number. It had been the greatest influence in Hermione's life. She had faith in the number and for what it stood.

Hermione sent her faith to the Galleon and used it as a channel to reach the other two.

"What is she doing?" One of the men asked.

The rest of them didn't have time to answer.

With a loud crack, two people appeared behind them, shouting spells even before Slughorn's thugs had time to comprehend that two Aurors dressed in gnome costumes had arrived.

Hermione twisted, escaping the already loosened grip of the man who held her hair and punched him in the face. His nose broke with a satisfying crunch. He staggered back, but she followed, lifted her boot and kicked him - heel first - in the groin. It was the only time that night when she regretted wearing flat shoes. The man crumbled to the floor, all colour drained from his face.

"I believe that's my wand," she said and took it from him.

She looked up to see Millicent beating up one of the other men and Ron and Harry restraining two more.

Where was Slughorn? Then she remembered that Harry and Ron didn't know what Slughorn had done and probably hadn't even thought of him as a danger.

That was when she heard a cry from farther down the street, and she started to run only to arrive seconds later at a scene that couldn't possibly be more bizarre.

Slughorn was lying on the ground in a puddle of water, bleeding from where he'd hit his head on the cobblestones. An elf - Hermione recognised her as one of Millicent's employees - had both of his legs disabled in a tight hug. Pixy held onto his right arm, her shirt torn and her left arm sticking out at an unnatural angle.

A third elf had his other arm, a fourth was sitting on him. And then there was Timi, standing close but out of reach, pointing Slughorn's own wand at his head.

"You killed them," Timi said over and over. "You killed them."

Slughorn was staring at Timi in shock. "After all the things I've done for you and your kind," he said.

Timi's hand shook even more.

Hermione walked toward them and came to a halt next to Timi.

"Help me," Slughorn said. His tongue flicked out to lick his lips, and he panted heavily, reminding Hermione of the scene she'd witnessed in the room upstairs.

"Come on, Timi," Hermione said. "Give me his wand. The Aurors are already here, and they'll take him with them. I'll make sure they'll find enough evidence to lock him up for a very long time."

"It is not enough," Timi said.

Hermione nodded. "I know. But it's something."

Timi lowered the wand. He looked lost and small. "What am I supposed to do now?"

Hermione gently took the wand from him. "Can you help Pix and take her to St. Mungo's? Can you make sure all other elves are alright?"

Timi looked at her with big, empty eyes. "I can do that," he said.

The elves were gone within seconds. She was alone with Slughorn.

"Why did you do it?" Hermione asked. Now it was her wand pointing at him.

Slughorn looked at her, motionless lying on his back in the dirt. He looked pathetic. "I didn't want to cause any harm," he said. "They were happier when things were the same as they've always been. You young people don't understand. It's too confusing for them. They are miserable. They don't want to make choices, and they don't want to be free. They like their life. They were grateful that I gave them back the security and protection of their masters."

Hermione wanted to break his nose. "Why did they die if they were happy? Why did they want to be free?"

"Don't you understand?" Slughorn asked. "There is pressure from all sides. Freed elves who are miserable themselves don't want to be alone. Places like Hogwarts only accept free elves these days. Some owners practically force their elves to take clothes so they will look good in the current society climate."

"Why did they die if they were so happy?" Hermione asked again. "Herman and Mitty asked for clothes even though they knew they were risking their lives. Fright probably died for the same reason. Curry killed herself because she couldn't live with the guilt. Libby died because she wanted to tell the truth. Is that your definition of happiness?"

"I helped," Slughorn said. His voice sounded whiny. "I did what I could when I was asked for assistance. It's what I do. I don't judge people for their beliefs or for the way they choose to live their lives. The elves took the vow because they wanted it."

"You manipulative bastard." Hermione spat on the ground. "The elves had no other choice; they weren't the ones who asked you for help. The masters asked you. Those who were afraid to lose their loyal, cheap servants, those who feared for some family secrets."

"People needed help. That was all." He looked as if he believed the dragon dung he was sprouting.

"And what did you get in return? Favours? Money? Contacts? Trophies for your Slug Club?"

Slughorn was silent.

**

The aftermath of the Halloween disaster was mind-boggling.

Hermione explained what happened to Harry and Ron who informed the head of the Aurors, who in turn ordered a full Auror investigation with Harry in charge. Isabel MacFarlan was still nowhere to be found. They took Slughorn with them, they took the four thugs with them, and they questioned everyone who had witnessed what happened, asking them to come to the Ministry within the next days for a thorough interrogation.

Back in the house, the party changed.

Lavender and Ginny arrived on scene - Lavender's gorgeous hair almost distracted from her red-painted nose and strapped on gnome-belly. Hermione wasn't clear on the details, but word spread, and more and more of Ron's and Lavender's guests moved to the new location.

Most of Millicent's guests had fled at the ruckus outside. Those who were still there didn't seem to be overly concerned about their anonymity. Many of them had taken off their masks, and Hermione recognised most of them.

The main room of the dark club was now filled with an odd mix of people.

Luna Lovegood, dressed as a bottle of pepper-up potion, sat next to a toga-clad Blaise Zabini on a couch, gesturing enthusiastically, holding a glass full of green, burning liquid. Blaise looked like he didn't know if he was supposed to be amused or terrified.

A circle of chattering elves taught a Halloween version of Peeves - who looked a lot like Seamus Finnegan - how to mix a melting margarita.

Dean Thomas and Adrian Pucey were both dressed as Unspeakables in identical costumes. They discussed something with big gestures, each of them with a frown on their face. They looked utterly serious. And they both were so drunk that they had lost their ability to stand a while ago, swaying on their bar stools like buoys in the ocean.

The gorgeous fairy Hermione had talked to earlier turned out to be Daphne Greengrass, who seemed to get along well with yet another gnome lady. George had the legs to pull off the costume.

Bill Weasley greeted his little brother who was dressed in black trousers and black wings and not much else. "Didn't you say you have to work tonight?" he asked.

"Yeah," Charlie said, unconcerned. "I lied."

Percy was talking to Andromeda Tonks - Hermione didn't try to figure out which party Andromeda had originally attended.

She drank from her butterbeer. When she looked back up, a slender woman in a red and gold corset came toward her. She wore leather trousers and leather gloves, and she still hid behind the mask that covered her face.

"Fifty points to Gryffindor, Miss Granger," the woman said as she passed Hermione. There was no French accent in her voice. While the voice itself was still unfamiliar, the inflections and undisguised Scottish accent weren't.

Hermione blinked, and her brain needed a moment to catch up. Then she choked on the large gulp of butterbeer she'd just taken and spat it out in one disgusting mess.

Once she was able to breathe again, the woman had already disappeared behind three chattering daisies that stood between Hermione and the exit. One of the daisies nudged a second one and pointed at Hermione. It was Parvati Patil.

Before the daisies could make their way through the crowd, Hermione left the room, went up to the second floor and walked out onto the balcony. The air was clean and crisp. She didn't begrudge them celebrating and having a good time - it was Halloween, after all - but she wasn't up to it. Not with at least nine dead elves. One of them was dead because of her actions.

Millicent joined her minutes later at the hip-high wall that was there to prevent people from falling down on the trimmed lawn that grew even though November had begun. Magic: keeping plants alive while letting people die.

They stood side by side. Hermione said, "Why are you doing it?"

"Doing what?" Millicent asked.

Hermione shrugged. "Everything. The elves. The parties."

"Do you expect some great speech about equality and basic rights?" Millicent flicked the cap of her beer down onto the lawn. "I'm doing it because someone has to."

"That's why you organise this?" Hermione gestured behind herself. "For every witch a willing wizard and the other way 'round?"

Millicent chuckled. "You still don't get it, do you? You were here the whole evening and haven't seen a thing."

"What was I supposed to see?"

"This isn't about wizards and witches. Honestly? Fuck them." Millicent took a swig from her ale. "They bring me good money, but do you know what they also bring?"

Hermione shook her head.

"They bring elves. You ask yourself why more and more elves ask me to help them be free when no one else achieved it."

"Yeah," Hermione said. "How do you do it?"

"I'm not doing a thing. That's the problem of all those Ministry idiots. They get witches and wizards around a big table and decide what's good for elves. Does that seem clever to you?"

"I don't know," Hermione said.

"Sure you do. Elves aren't little kids. They know what's good for them. But you know what they don't know? How to organise themselves. Elves don't have a community. With the exception of Hogwarts and the Ministry, they live alone or in very small groups and families. They can't talk to each other; they can't exchange ideas and experiences."

Hermione blinked. "That's all? You give them a room where they can talk?"

"That's all," Millicent said. "A room where they can talk."

Hermione thought about it. She'd seen all kinds of elves that night. From Hogwarts, from the Ministry, from Pure-blood families. There'd been free elves and house-elves, old and young. "That's..." Hermione was at a loss for words.

"I'm a genius, I know."

They were silent for quite a while. Then Millicent asked, "What about the masters like Nott and Beauparlants? What happens to them?"

"Nott must have known what she was doing," Hermione said. "She sent Herman first, and later, when he was already dead, she sent Libby. She must have been afraid that Libby would tell someone. The others? I don't know how much Slughorn told them. That's what the official investigation is for."

There were many questions left for Harry and his Aurors: How much did the Notts know? Where were the Beauparlants? Why had MacFarlan never made an effort to solve the crime? When had Slughorn started this insanity? How many elves had died? How many had taken the vow?

One question remained for Hermione: Who was the elf who'd been forced to receive Libby's vow after Curry had died?

Hermione thought she knew the answer. She just didn't know where the elf in question was.

Millicent looked sideways at Hermione. "Now what?"

Hermione shrugged. "Now I'm going to look for a friend of mine."

"A friend?" Millicent asked.

"A friend," Hermione said. "Her name is Mel."

Millicent stared into the black night. Her face was unreadable.

Hermione nudged her. "You could help me, what with your talents."

"I suppose I could," Millicent said.

**

The End

Thank you for reading.


Part One Part Two Part Three Part FourvBulletin statistic

on 2010-11-08 10:29 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vaysh11.livejournal.com
VanCD - this fic has been in a tab on my menu bar for the last weeks or so. I swear, I will get to read!
In the meantime, I stumbled into this comm: [livejournal.com profile] _slugclub_. It seems like the perfect place to post it. :)

on 2010-11-08 10:32 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vaysh11.livejournal.com
Or perhaps not ... Is there enough McGonagall/Slughorn in it? ;)

on 2010-11-08 11:12 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
Don't you worry, the story won't run away. It can't. It's stuck. Thank you for the comm rec. I'm not sure, though, if I'm brave enough to post this story to a community full of Slughorn lovers.

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