September 24, 2015
Author's Note: Written for Dramione Remix 2015. I remixed the couple Daryl/Carol from The Walking Dead. Thanks to my beta, HobbitPenguin, for the speedy work!
September 25th, 1997
Draco's trigger finger twitched, and for a moment, he thought about raising the crossbow to eye level and taking aim. Maybe he would have hit one of the lumbering targets that plodded through the sand below, but most likely the gust of wind surging off the sea would snatch the arrow right out of the air, sending it off course.
The Inferi were too far away to be an immediate threat to their camp anyway, so Draco let them be. Logically, shooting everything in sight wasted time, energy, and ammunition. He knew this, and yet he still felt a burn deep inside, a need to do something, something to prove himself to Potter's friends, to convince them once and for all of his usefulness, and cement his position in their group. Their world was falling apart—maybe the whole world was—and there was nothing he could do about it, no amount of magic, no number of arrows that could fix what was broken.
The sound of twigs snapping behind him provoked no reaction from him, but he pictured his finger tightening on the trigger as his arm rose instinctively, ready to shoot whatever attacked.
Granger stopped a few feet away, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. Perhaps he should have felt lucky she hadn't drawn her wand.
If he was going to make it home alive, Draco needed her to be on his side. At this point, he didn't think she would ever trust him. Not that she had any good reason to except "I haven't tried to ruin your life in the last seventy-two hours," which was an improvement from their days at Hogwarts at least, right?
"Harry is ready to move out," Granger said. Her eyes were puffy from all the crying she'd done since yesterday, but there was a resolve in them, a determination that Draco wasn't sure he could trust.
He turned his gaze back down to the beach and quickly cataloged the slow-roaming figures below, counting them, analyzing the speed of their migration in order to assess the urgency of their presence. The Inferi hadn't sensed them yet, so they still had time. There was no reason for them to leave so soon, not while the majority of their group was still grieving.
"Are you?" he asked.
"I will be soon. We have one more matter to discuss," she replied.
Her words were ominous enough to earn his attention again, but she surprised him with a blank expression. Save for that one determined wrinkle in her brow, he couldn't read her. Whatever her plans, they didn't bode well for Draco.
He followed her back to the tent to learn his fate.
September 22nd, 1997
"How many days has it been?" Ron huffed as he tripped over a tree root.
The terrain had become more difficult and unruly the deeper they'd traveled into the forest, and their speed certainly hadn't deterred the number of accidents. There were enough skinned knees and scratched arms and faces to go around.
"I don't know," Harry answered, his pace slowing as they slogged up a hill. The trees in this part of the forest grew so closely together, it was impossible to tell where the moon was. They must have been walking for hours, and with no specific destination in mind, their energy had faded fast.
Hermione grabbed a tree branch to keep from falling and turned around, her breath coming out in heavy pants. "Fifty-two days since the wedding. Twenty days since the Ministry." She turned back around, but there was nothing to see but trees and shrubbery.
Fifty-two days since Kingsley Shacklebolt's Patronus crashed Bill and Fleur's wedding. Fifty-two days since the Ministry of Magic fell and Harry, Ron, and Hermione went on the run.
Twenty days since they infiltrated the Ministry of Magic and stole Voldemort's locket Horcrux from Dolores Umbridge, which Hermione now wore around her neck. Twenty days since Death Eaters claimed Grimmauld Place, and, at a loss for anywhere else to go, Hermione Apparated them to the first location that came to mind. They'd been hiding in the countryside for twenty days and they hardly knew what they were running from or where they were going.
"Twenty days," Ron repeated between puffs. "Think we can stop soon?"
"Let's make it to the top of this hill, and then we can set up camp," Harry said.
They climbed without speaking, mostly because the effort took all their breath, but also because there wasn't anything to say. Once they reached the peak, they automatically took up the roles they'd adopted over the last twenty days. Hermione passed her magically-extended beaded bag to Harry so he could set up the tent while she warded the perimeter and Ron gathered dry wood as well as anything edible that he could find.
Half an hour later, they sat around a crackling fire, their stomachs gurgling in unison as acorns hit their empty bellies.
"Do you want me to heal that?" Hermione asked with a gesture towards Harry's knee. About a mile back, he'd ripped and bloodied his jeans on a rock during a bad fall.
He waved her away. "Save the supplies for something important."
A beat or two passed before Ron sighed. "We can't go on like this. What are we doing? Where are we going?"
He and Hermione looked to Harry, but he didn't meet their eyes. "I've been thinking, and you're not going to like what I have to say."
"Anything's got to be better than mindlessly running around the forests of England," Ron said.
Hermione could tell he only partially meant it as a joke, but she couldn't miss Harry's flinch at the words. She frowned, not for the first time wondering if Harry really knew what he was doing.
Ignoring Ron's comment, he said, "We've got one Horcrux, but no idea how to destroy it. What if Dumbledore left me Gryffindor's sword because he knew it could destroy a Horcrux!"
Hermione glanced at Ron. "It's not a bad theory… but the Ministry confiscated it! Remember, Scrimgeour said as much when he came to the Burrow to give us what Dumbledore left us," Hermione said.
"That was months ago, though," Harry replied, becoming more energetic as they got closer to his point. "You said the Ministry couldn't hold that stuff for longer than thirty-one days. That's why Scrimgeour waited so long to give it to us."
"So if the Ministry doesn't have it anymore, where is it?" Ron asked.
"Well, think," Harry said, with a wide-eyed look at both of them. "Where does it belong?"
A beat passed before Ron's eyebrows rose into his hairline and he shook his head. "You can't be serious."
"Makes sense, doesn't it?" Harry said, but Hermione was lost. She looked between her two friends for clarity, but they were clearly on the same page. "The sword of Godric Gryffindor could be in one of two places... Godric's Hollow or Hogwarts."
Suddenly Hermione understood, but she wished she didn't. "Harry… you're not suggesting we break into Hogwarts to look for the sword and steal it, are you?"
"Well, I was thinking we could try Godric's Hollow first. It makes sense—no, listen!" Hermione and Ron had just shared another apprehensive look, and Harry became desperately fervent as a result. "Listen. Tom's got a connection to Godric's Hollow just as much as I do. He could have hidden a Horcrux there. While we're looking for that, we could look for the sword, too. Maybe both of them are there!"
"Harry…" Hermione began, trying to be as understanding as possible. "We've gone over this before. That's exactly where Voldemort would expect you to go. You would be playing right into his hands. I know you want to see where your parents lived—"
"It's not just that! It makes sense. It does! And besides breaking into Hogwarts, I don't have any other ideas. Do you?"
She didn't, but the knot that had appeared in her stomach twenty days ago grew bigger, and her heart beat against her sternum as if demanding to be released from its cage. Hermione felt caged. By the trees of the forest they'd been wandering through for days. By the wards that surrounded their camp. By the enormity of the task before them. She hadn't hesitated when she'd put her lot in with Harry's at Dumbledore's funeral. Not then, and not when she'd erased her parents' memories and sent them to Australia a few short weeks later. She would just have to learn to live with the dread.
Ron put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Listen, mate, Hermione's got a point." His head suddenly snapped up, his brow bunched as he peered through the dense cover of trees. "Hey, do you hear that?"
Harry clenched his fists and ignored Ron's question, turning instead to Hermione with an imploring expression. "Where else can we go? You were wrong about the orphanage where Tom grew up. I knew that was going to be a waste of time, but we went anyway. This is the best idea I've got!"
Ron stood up and turned his back to the fire, his eyes intent on the trees around them. "I'm serious, guys, what is that?"
"No, it's the worst idea you've got! You need to think! Dumbledore must have told you something—"
"But he didn't—"
Harry and Hermione, now standing over the fire, turned at the same moment. "What is it?"
Ron's mouth hung open and his eyes were wide in fear. His shaking hand withdrew his wand as a body stumbled out from between the trees. At first, Hermione was shocked that someone had found them in the middle of the forest. These woods were too dense for casual camping, so there shouldn't have been another person around for miles.
Then as the campfire illuminated the intruder, Hermione fought to stifle a scream. Patches of flesh hung off her face, revealing rotted muscle and in some places bone where there should have been skin. She stank of old meat and her body seemed to be home to ants and maggots, which, even on the other side of the fire, Hermione could see burrowing into the crusty surface of her skin. Eyeless sockets peered at the three of them before she lunged at the closest person: Ron.
Then, Hermione did scream. More and more bodies filtered through the trees, heedless of the wards around the campsite, which were supposed to make camp invisible to outsiders and inspire interlopers to go in a different direction. Putrid, rancid bodies streamed around them from every direction. Hermione couldn't count them, couldn't tell them apart or identify them. All she could do was scream as the first woman sank browned teeth into Ron's shoulder. It only occurred to Hermione one horrified moment later, that the woman's teeth were brown from oxidized blood.
Across the fire from her, Harry shot spells in every direction and yelled Ron's name. Hermione stood frozen in panic, her heart beating like a drum in her throat. All she could do was watch as Harry shoved the walking corpses to the ground while using defensive spells to keep them away. He worked his way towards Ron, but he and the woman who had first entered their camp were being converged on by the others, and Ron was quickly being dragged into the trees, his screams barely heard over a mutinous, snarling groan.
She fell to the ground heaving, the lack of anything of substance in her stomach causing her to vomit pure bile. Harry's voice floated around her, disjointed and incomprehensible as her world began to spin.
Her head snapped up as feet stopped beside her, a man—or what was once a man—staring down at her through maggoty eyeballs. The smell of something burning distracted her, bringing her to her senses, and she pulled out her wand and coughed out, "Incendio!
At once, the figure made gasping sort of noises and retreated as the bits of clothes still hanging on its frame caught alight and began to burn.
"THAT'S IT, HERMIONE!" Harry yelled, and she turned her head to see Harry conjuring flames and shooting them at their attackers. He raced after them as they fled back into the woods, the gurgling noises they emitted receding until Hermione was alone with the sound of the flickering flames of the person she'd set on fire rapidly burning on the ground. Every now and then, she heard the echo of Ron's name as Harry searched for their friend.
Hermione's heartbeat moved from her throat to her temples as she lifted herself onto her knees and looked around at the chaos of their camp. The tent had caught fire with one of Harry's wayward spells, and the dirt where Ron had been standing only minutes before was soaked in blood. A choked sob escaped her throat at the sight of the mud, which was tar-colored in the darkness. She doused the flames on the tent and the body and quickly repaired any holes before she raced off into the woods after Harry.
She was too breathless to scream Ron's name, but she kept her wand tip illuminated and stayed alert in case she needed to defend herself.
How had they managed to get through the wards? Where had they come from? The stench alone from all the rotting bodies should have alerted Harry, Ron, and Hermione to their presence, and yet it was as though they had come out of nowhere. Simply materialized in the trees around the camp and then attacked them. As if they'd known exactly where their camp was located.
She crashed through the woods without answers, down the hill they'd climbed earlier, darting between trees, jumping over shrubs and exposed roots. She tried to listen intently for any sound: Harry's voice, the groaning of the corpse-people who had taken Ron, but all she heard was her own clumsy fumbling as she ran.
She stopped herself on the trunk of a tree and spun around. "Harry!" she cried, tears stinging her eyes. "Did you find him? Did you find Ron?"
When he reached her, she threw her arms around his neck, drawing him close, and she realized that both of them were trembling.
"No—no—I tried to follow them, but they got away, they moved too fast. I don't—I don't know where he is—" His voice cut off as if his throat had suddenly closed up, and by the warm wetness on Hermione's neck, she knew exactly what he couldn't say.
Hermione tightened her grip around Harry's neck, burrowing her face into his chest as he latched his arms around her like a vice, their combined body heat doing nothing for the chill that had crept into her bones or their shivering.
"What were those things?" she asked after a moment, her voice hoarse with suppressed sobs.
There was a pause before Harry answered that made Hermione step back and look at him. All of the blood had drained out of his face, and a cold sweat had popped up on his brow. "Inferi. I couldn't tell at first, but when you used the fire-making spell, it clicked. The Inferi I saw in the cave with Dumbledore were a little more—er—waterlogged."
"Oh, please, don't!" Hermione said, covering her ears with her hands. "I don't want to hear about them. It's one thing to read about them in a textbook or a newspaper, but seeing them in person—" She shuddered, and then she couldn't stop.
Harry awkwardly patted her back. "Do you know how to get back to camp? Maybe Ron will meet us there."
It was the only hope they had, and Hermione was desperate to cling onto it.
When they arrived back at the campsite, breathless from the return trek up the hill, a male figure was there sitting on a tree root outside the perimeter of the wards.
Hermione gasped and sprinted forward, Ron's name tearing out from between her lips as Harry beckoned her to be careful.
The man turned around, but it wasn't Ron. Unkempt platinum blond hair glistened in the light of a campfire the intruder couldn't see, and slung across his back hung a crossbow. Harry and Hermione both drew their wands as one of them issued a string of curse words.
"Do you idiots know what you've done?" said the last person they'd expected or wanted to cross while they were on the run.
Draco Malfoy had found them.