Toward End Game
"Harry's always been a little neurotic," said Lucius. "It gets to him, the whole your parents died for you thing. As I suppose it would, for anyone. I still think you placed him badly," he added. "The others can't possibly win."
"You make it sound as if I'd want them to," said Voldemort.
"I'm still not completely convinced you're foolish enough to let yourself die."
"I started this," said Voldemort. "Whatever the outcome, whether I win or lose, my life is forfiet. It's all or nothing, the End Game."
Lucius paused. "That's a bluff, isn't it?" he said.
"Why should I bluff when I'm winning?" Voldemort asked. "Shall I take your son, next?"
"N-no," said Lucius, quietly.
"The girl, then," said Voldemort.
"Mm," said Lucius.
Hermione felt the others vanish one second they were there, squeezing her hands the next gone, torn away; she imagined she saw the red flush of Ron's hair speeding away from her down a dark tunnel. She screamed, her hands over her mouth, trying desperately to hold in the sound. Then she was alone, in a dark place; she couldn't see an inch infront of her.
Were the others dead? Hermione didn't know; she stumbled forwards. Her hands came up against a wall, and she groped along it. It was a flat, smooth wall.. she sniffed the air, and smelt detergent, chemical, medicinal odours. Where was she? A hospital? Back at the Ministry infirmary? She hoped so; she hoped the strange moon and Voldemort had all been a dream.
She found a door in the wall, and was about to open it when she heard the sound of someone coughing. She started, pressing her back to the wall.
More coughing followed, and the sound of someone dry retching. Someone crying, someone spluttering. I need light, Hermione thought there's someone in here dying, and I need..
Her fingers found a light switch. Feeling rather stupid, Hermione turned it on.
She was right she was in the Ministry infirmary. But her private room was now occupied by a multitude of other patients, all of them staggering, spluttering. Some of them were hooked up to Muggle-style IV drips; and all of them wore blue hospital gowns. Hermione conscientously tugged the back of her gown closed over her green buttocks.
"Where are the nurses?" she asked the closest patient, but the girl flinched away from her instinctively. "Let me help you," Hermione persisted. She reached out to hold the girl's arms still, before remembering how the sickness in the ministry had spread since she arrived. Am I doing this, then? Hermione wondered. I can't have made all these people sick but no one knew why I turned green.. She withdrew from the terrified girl, and frowned.
"Look," she said, "I'll go get help there must be a doctor around here somewhere, okay?"
The patients looked at her balefully for a second, their red-rimmed eyes almost accusatory, before falling back into sneezing fits. Confused, but satisfied that the interlude with Voldemort was no more than a sickness-induced nightmare, Hermione pulled open the door.
Behind it was dungeon.
"Er," said Hermione.
It was a rather stylised, medieval dungeon similar to the Malfoy's basement. A few Veela hung from the ceiling by their hair, and most of the chairs and torture equipment were occupied by people people that Hermione recognised. A couple of people from her old job, kids from school Hermione hadn't seen in years, and Viktor was there too, gagged and bound in an ouchie-chair.
I'm still dreaming, Hermione told herself firmly. She pinched her arm, trying to wake up, but nothing happened. If it was a dream, it was a very real one.
Viktor struggled in the bonds of his ouchie-chair. Hermione walked over to him, concerned; whether it was a dream or not, she didn't like seeing Viktor in pain. Unless she had inflicted it.
She reached for his gag.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said a passing Mary Sue.
Hermione blinked. "What?" she asked, turning.
"Libertine can't write Viktor's accent for shite," said the Mary Sue. "Best you just leave him gagged."
"Oh," said Hermione.
"Yeah," said the Mary Sue. "Why do you think he's always gagged or not around in the other stories? The whole Bulgarian thing is bloody impossible. So in the interests of me not chucking a fit.."
"Mm. Okay," said Hermione.
"Thanks," said the Mary Sue.
"No problem," said Hermione.
The Mary Sue vanished in a puff of reality. Hermione patted Viktor's hand, gently. "Sorry, but it seems I've got to leave you tied up, Vikky," she said. "What's happened, here? I don't really "
Viktor jerked his head towards the person in the ouchie-chair beside him. Hermione recognised the boy immediately Neville Longbottom. She hadn't seen Neville since she'd graduated, but he didn't seem to have grown up at all. He looked the same as he did when she'd said goodbye to him on the steps of Hogwarts. Except, instead of wearing his graduation robes ( which he'd accidentally dropped tuna fish down during the after-party, probably at the sight of Draco prancing about the stage in a little black dress ) Neville wore only a skimpy pair of leather briefs.
Like Viktor, Neville was gagged. Hermione reached around the back of his head and undid the knot. Neville spluttered, spitting out bits of cotton.
"What's going on, Neville?" Hermione asked.
"D-don't touch me," Neville faltered, once he could talk. He pushed back, away from her, or as far away as he could get within the confines of the ouchie-chair. "Please.."
"What do you mean?" Hermione was slightly annoyed. "It's not as if I'm contagious, or.."
Neville looked at her.
"I'm not doing this to people," said Hermione, crossly. "I can't possibly have made this many people sick. And this isn't my dungeon, either. I'm not going to hurt you, Neville I wouldn't hurt anyone, unless they were a paying customer."
"Hermione " Neville began, and then looked away. "It's a sickness," he mumbled. "Not just in the body. But the in the head, too. At least, that's what they told me." He shifted, uncomfortably.
"What? Who told you?"
Neville nodded his head towards the door. The sick people from the infirmary were staggering out, still coughing, dragging their I.V.s behind them. "They did," he muttered. "It's a perversion. A sickness in the head.."
"I'm a fully qualified dominatrix," Hermione snapped. "I'm not a pervert, either. I simply get a lot more job satisfaction than most people.." she trailed off.
Viktor was struggling in his chair, in the throes of some kind of spasmic fit. He spat out a wad of phlegm onto his lap, and then shuddered. The hand Hermione had patted before had begun to turn green, and the colour was spreading along the veins she could actually see it moving beneath his skin, like a developing stain.
Hermione gasped and reached out to stop him from knocking himself out against the back of the chair. But as soon as she touched him another stream of green fled from her fingers over him, and she recoiled. His entire body was now tinged in green, and he was coughing blood.
Behind her Neville had begun to show the same symptoms. He babbled, incoherently: "..please.. no more.."
"But I'm not doing anything!" Hermione yelled, losing her temper. "I didn't mean to do that. I didn't mean to do any of this! I'm only trying to help!"
The sound of coughing and spluttering filled the room, growing to a near deafening cresendo. Hermione clamped her hands over her ears, gritting her teeth.
"Stop it. All of you stop it now!" she ordered, her voice raising in pitch.
The walls of the dungeon folded outwards, like an opening flower. And outside its bounds were more sick people, some barely alive. She recognised faces in their midsts: Cornelius Fudge, Professor McGonagall, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy leaning against each other, their pale faces bloated with disease, and countless other ex-employees, satisfied customers..
"No!" Hermione screamed. "I won't have it. I won't go away!"
"She wasn't even a particulary good dominatrix," said Lucius. "She folded under Narcissa's pressure like a like a folding dominatrix. Then again most everyone folds beneath Narcissa. And I certainly don't think it's a disease. More of a hobby."
"I didn't ask for your opinion, Luc," said Voldemort.
"And yet you remain here, showing me, talking to me," said Lucius. "Why?"
Voldemort said nothing.
"What are you trying to prove? That you're still the greatest, the most evil wizard to ever walk the earth?" Lucius smirked. "If you were, you'd be standing on this side of the circle."
The halo of shadow which surrounded Voldemort's head wavered, threateningly.
"I was wrong to fear you," Lucius said. "I was wrong to follow you, too. If you had any wits about you you'd stop this. As you said, whatever happens, the result will be the same for you. What does it matter, then, whether you win or lose?"
Voldemort snarled. "This is End Game," he hissed. "This is my End Game. Everything matters."
"You're mad," said Lucius, simply. He inspected his nails. "They'll beat you, anyway. Good may be ignorant, but they do have an annoying habit of having luck on their side every time it comes to a life-or-death situation."
"They're losing," said Voldemort. "Potter's already dead."
"If he was dead," said Lucius, calmly, "you wouldn't still be at war with me, with the world. I know how End Game works, Tom. I know what they are. If you'd really killed Potter, you'd have been forced to stop. Without War, you have nothing no reason to fight."
"You know nothing of End Game. Once it begins, even I can't stop it."
"Do you want to stop it?" Lucius asked.
"All or nothing. I have no regrets."
"You have me," said Lucius.
Hermione fell to kneel at Viktor's feet. He was lolling in his chair, his mouth slightly open a thread of saliva dripped from his lower lip. She felt absolutely powerless: frantic to help, but she knew her touch alone could kill him. As the sick closed in about her, she pressed her face into her hands.
"Viktor don't. Fight it," she whispered. "Please. Fight me. Just this once."
He made no sound; his body was limp, his breathing ragged.
"Viktor please "
Then something tight wrapped itself around her forehead, and Hermione screamed. It was a band, silvery-green, and it fused itself to her flesh. She tore at it with her fingernails, desperately trying to tear it off. The top of it was jagged a crown. She screamed again, and twisted at it; she was cutting her own skin, now.
In the other ouchie-chair Neville slumped forwards, defeated; she heard Viktor breathe out one last, shuddering sigh.
The band siezed into her forehead, and Hermione saw bright pin points of light infront of her eyes. The pain was intense, blinding.
Before she lost consciousness, she felt hands on her; and the sick were all around.
They lifted prone form onto their shoulders, and carried her away.
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