September 8, 2016
Author's Note: Yay! Finally moving on to the expanded portion of this story. Updates will be slower because the first six chapters were all written in 2015, but I'll be writing as I go from now on. I continue to be obsessed with The Walking Dead, so hopefully this story will slowly but surely continue. I'm planning for there to be three parts (this chapter is the beginning of part two), but I don't know exactly how many chapters there will be total. Reviews appreciated!
April 11th, 1998
As screams and the whizzing bang of spellfire broke out around them, Hermione slipped in and out of consciousness. Her arm throbbed and her energy flagged, draining out of her onto the floor. Something wet and sticky dripped off her fingers. She didn't want to open her eyes to the chaos.
Instead, she cringed into the set of arms that held her up, her body jostling as her support attacked back with spell after spell.
"Stop them, Draco!"
Bellatrix's strident words forced Hermione's eyes open. Harry, in front of her but off to the side, jabbed his wand, sending a pulse of red light at Draco, who grit his teeth as he put up a shield spell, deflecting Harry's attack. Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa Malfoy, and Bellatrix Lestrange were spread out across the drawing room, pushing Harry back.
"Are you with me, Hermione?" Colin asked into her ear.
She nodded but her legs buckled and her vision went black as she tried to stand on her own.
"Harry! We've got to go!"
The house-elf in question reappeared next to Harry out of thin air as if summoned.
His squeaky voice wobbled out, "Harry Potter, we must leave!"
"You're not going anywhere!" Bellatrix yelled as she reached into her robes and charged around the fallen chandelier.
A knife sliced through the air toward Hermione, but Colin pushed her to the ground, collapsing on top of her. A moment later, Hermione's whole body throbbed as the sensation of being squeezed through a too-small tube overcame her. When the sensation eased, they found themselves on a grassy slope overlooking a beach, a shelled cottage perched at the peak.
Another set of arms lifted her up. Dean held her close as her body began to shake and Luna ran her fingers soothingly through Hermione's tangled hair. She blinked into the darkness as bodies rose from the ground: Harry's first, then Colin's.
"Where's Draco?" she asked.
The boys shared a look with one another. "He attacked us, Hermione. He stayed behind."
It took a moment for the words to sink in, and then she shook her head, her vision going in and out as she drifted toward unconsciousness once again. "No. We lefthim. He didn't stay behind."
"He did," Colin said, his voice grim. "Draco betrayed us."
December 23rd, 1997
The click of a lock unlatching pierced the night as Hermione and her three companions froze, waiting with bated breath for the sound of a security alarm or the shouts of startled occupants. Hermione counted to ten under her breath before pushing the door open wider, anticipating the creak of rusty hinges. They were met with nothing but silence.
"You better be right about this, Creevey," Draco hissed between the chattering of his teeth, his own wand lifted before him, ready at any moment for signs of an attack.
"He is," Harry answered. "We've been watching this place since dawn. No one has been in or out, and the mail slot is overflowing. Whoever lives here has been gone a while."
"The question is when are they going to come back?" Draco continued
"Enough already," Hermione said in exasperation before Colin could jump into the fray. "It's too cold to have this argument for the hundredth time. Let's get inside, and wipe your feet on the mat before you come in!"
All four of them stomped snow off their shoes before they crossed the threshold, and darkness greeted them as they entered a kitchen. They moved slowly through the room, alert, wands aloft, flinching at their own shadows.
"Homenum Revelio!" Hermione whispered, and then in a louder voice, "It's okay. No one's home."
"I'd hope not. Otherwise we wasted an entire day in the snow staring at an occupied house."
Hermione, Harry, and Colin ignored Draco, as they usually did. Though Hermione never wanted to admit, even to herself, that they had replaced Ron in their group, she couldn't help but compare Draco's quick annoyance to Ron's. How Draco had lasted a month roughing it on his own before stumbling across Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Hermione couldn't fathom.
Colin immediately sought out the hearth and lit a fire with his wand. Bluebell flames, Hermione's specialty, crackled from the fireplace, emitting heat and light without smoke that could alert neighbors to their illegal presence. Harry crouched down in front of the fire, trying to return some warmth to his limbs, but Hermione went to the Christmas tree sparkling in the corner. Pine needles littered the fleece that surrounded the trunk, leaving a fresh, clean scent in the air, which the emerging heat only intensified.
Draco remained in the kitchen, the whine of aged hinges indicating he was raiding the cabinets. A moment later he moaned.
"What? What is it?" Harry asked, on his feet and wand at the ready once more.
Draco came into the entryway that separated the living and dining rooms, an enormous can tucked under each arm. "We've got a choice between three kilos of dog food and three kilos of chocolate pudding from a can. I don't know which one sounds more horrifying."
"We've been eating squirrel for three months. I think dog food is a step up," Hermione said, but she was disappointed by Draco's findings as well. As much as she hated to take advantage of this family's absence, she had been looking forward to eating real food.
It had been three months since they'd escaped Fenrir Greyback and his Snatchers' clutches. Three months since they'd found Ron, his body dead but reanimated as a soldier in You-Know-Who's Inferi army. Three months since they'd lost Dennis Creevey, their tent, and the Felix Felicis Draco had gifted Harry as a sign of good faith. They'd been on the run ever since, seeking shelter wherever it could be found, whether that was a dry pile of leaves in a sparse wood or an old barn or someone's currently unoccupied home. They ate squirrels Draco caught with his crossbow, bought food with the limited Muggle money Colin had provided, and stole from markets when their bellies growled too viciously to allow them any sleep, but their stomachs hadn't felt full in months.
Draco brought a handful of spoons and both the dog food and the pudding into the living room, and the four of them gathered in a circle around their feast. Hermione used her wand to open the pudding, leaving the dog food for another more desperate meal, and she, Draco, and Colin dug in with relish.
Harry laid his wand next to him and reached under the neck of his shirt for the mokeskin pouch that hung there. Every night, he completed the same ritual, emptying out the pouch to make sure everything of importance was still there: the shard of glass from the two-way mirror Sirius had given him two years ago before his death; the Marauder's Map, which Hermione knew Harry stared at obsessively before sleeping to assure himself of Ginny's safety; a Golden Snitch bequeathed to him in Dumbledore's will; the first page of a letter from Harry's mother to Sirius; and, finally, the locket Horcrux they had stolen from Dolores Umbridge while infiltrating the Ministry a few months ago, which they were still no closer to destroying.
He lined up these possessions in front of him, and then, one by one, he stored them back inside the pouch, tucking it under his shirt again before he picked up his own spoon and helped himself to pudding.
After Hermione had had her fill (as a former child of dentists, Hermione did not have much of a sweet tooth and could not eat as much of the chocolate pudding as the boys could), she pulled her beaded handbag out of her coat pocket and opened it. Like Harry's mokeskin pouch, the inside was magically expanded to carry and conceal objects that normally would not have fit, but instead of emptying the bag to catalog its contents, she reached in for a specific object. She brushed a toppled stack of books, a dirty pile of laundry, various healing potions and Muggle antiseptics, and Harry's Invisibility Cloak before her fingers landed on her own map, which she pulled out of the bag and stretched out on the floor.
A map of the United Kingdom looked up at her, some town names circled in red, some crossed out with an X. Some circled and crossed out with an X. The map showed every location in which they had spent a night as well as every possible location of a Horcrux. Harry had shared—reshared in Hermione's case—the memories of Tom Riddle's life that Dumbledore had divulged to him with Colin and Draco, and Hermione had circled potential Horcrux hiding spots on the map. After they'd searched these locations, she'd drawn an X through them. They'd gone over the map time and time again, but there were only three possible locations left, and Hermione had to admit they were out of options.
"Well?" Harry asked, though he knew the lay of the map as well as Hermione did, and he knew, like she did, that he was about to get his way.
She bit her thumb, roaming through the points of towns and villages in a futile hope that a new idea, a new theory would come to her, that the map would sense her desperation and reveal a hitherto unseen path. Finally, she sighed, accepting the inevitable.
"Hogwarts, Godric's Hollow, or Malfoy Manor."
"Hogwarts," Colin said.
"Godric's Hollow," Harry insisted.
"Malfoy Manor?" Draco hoped.
Leaving Hermione as the deciding vote.
"I'm sorry," she said. "We just can't go to Malfoy Manor or Hogwarts right now." Harry beamed and then tried (and failed) to compose himself. "We know what threats await us in those places, and we know how difficult it would be to get in and out."
Colin stayed quiet, accepting Hermione's decision, but Draco said, "If we know what's waiting for us, we can prepare for those threats. I know Malfoy Manor like the back of my eyelids. I know how it's protected."
Hermione could tell by the informative tone of his voice that he wasn't committed to his argument. He knew the futility, the danger, of his family home, but he felt the need to state his case, to play devil's advocate, to make sure everyone was aware of the pros and cons of their choice.
Harry's expression sobered. "And if we ever have need to go there, we would be glad for your help. But V—" Colin, Draco, and Hermione hissed, wary of the Taboo that would summon Inferi to their location when Lord Voldemort's name was spoken, "—I mean, You-Know-Who doesn't have strong ties to your family's home. Godric's Hollow is where his body was first destroyed. There has to be a Horcrux there, and if there isn't, maybe that's where Gryffindor's sword is hidden."
His determination and optimism settled the matter, and even though Hermione was uneasy, she couldn't see any other way. They couldn't continue wandering the country as fugitives. They had to take action, even if all of their choices were too dangerous to contemplate.
"Okay then," she said, meeting the boys' eyes. "Tomorrow we'll go to Godric's Hollow."
Colin and Harry's snores mixed with Hermione's pervasive worries, making her restless. They'd taken turns showering in the guest bathroom on the ground floor while Hermione and Colin washed all their clothes in an honest to goodness washing machine. Then they'd found extra blankets in a hall closet. Despite having clean skin, hair, and clothes for the first time in months, and despite the cozy nest they had constructed in the light of the Christmas tree, Hermione couldn't sleep. She missed sleeping outside. There was something about the danger that forced her body to rest because she never knew if a wandering pack of Inferi or Snatchers would stumble upon their camp. Her body knew it had to rest as deeply as it could when time allowed.
The safety of the farmhouse made her anxious. The lights of the Christmas tree pierced her eyelids. She was used to sleeping under a canopy of tree branches or stars, the sound of small creatures dashing through the foliage her lullaby.
She sat up and saw that she wasn't the only one having trouble sleeping.
Draco sat in a chair in front of the window, a blanket pulled up over his shoulders and his crossbow in his lap. He stared intently into the yard and the fields beyond, his eyes scanning the horizon.
Hermione joined him at the window, her own quilted blanket draped over her shoulders like a king's robe.
"There are at least two out there," he said, his gaze never wavering. "They're following us."
"They're not capable of following us. They don't have the ability to conceptualize people hiding. They only attack what they can see."
Draco's lips thinned, but he said nothing, holding onto his belief despite Hermione's claims.
Since they'd escaped Greyback's clutches, Draco had become a more serious figure. He had taken on the responsibility of keeping the group safe without being asked, and Hermione often found him awake when everyone else was sleeping, peering into the woods or out into a field, wherever they had managed to lay their heads, in silence.
Now he buzzed with energy, his body vibrating from jittery feet and twitchy fingers.
Hermione knew exactly what bothered him, and she said, "I'm sorry about Malfoy Manor."
He shook his head as if shaking off an irritating fly. "Don't be. I knew we couldn't go there."
He was right, so Hermione didn't embarrass him with fruitless hopes that they might be able to search Malfoy Manor later. While You-Know-Who claimed the ancestral Malfoy home as his headquarters, Harry would never set foot there.
Which meant Draco would never know the fate of his parents. That is, not until the war was over—win or lose.
She put her hand over his, and his fingers stopped tapping the metal frame of the crossbow as he glanced at her momentarily before resuming.
"You really should get some sleep. We need you well-rested."
He grunted, his gaze glued to a spot on the window or outside it. She could tell he wasn't looking at anything in particular because for the first time since she'd joined him, his eyes were still, pointedly focusing on something so he wouldn't be tempted to look at her.
It became obvious that he wasn't going to say anything else, so Hermione returned to her nest on the floor. Colin snored lightly when she accidentally rubbed against his leg, but he curled up on his side without waking.
Hermione stared at Draco's profile, the way the lights on the Christmas tree glinted in his hair, the sharp point of his chin and his nose, the gaunt angle of his cheekbones, the troubled frown adorning his lips. No matter how many sheep she counted, no matter how long she attempted relaxing techniques she'd learned to cope with the stress of revising for exams, she could not fall asleep, so she watched him, his wakeful presence and silent alertness a solid comfort in these troubled times.
December 24th, 1997
Hermione had finally managed to fall asleep just before dawn, but her slumber had been interrupted by restless legs and an anxiety that had leaked into her fitful dreams. After three hours of fighting for sleep, she'd finally given up and risen, stuffing herself with as much pudding as she could manage for breakfast. Her intolerance for sweets had not allowed her to eat much, so her morning had been dissatisfying, to say the least.
Draco, still sitting at the window with his crossbow, had ignored her as she'd pattered around the house. She washed the spoons the four of them had used to eat the pudding the night before, gathered up her blankets and put them away in the hall closet, and had begun folding their clean laundry when Harry and Colin finally opened their eyes.
"How'd you sleep?" Harry asked as he slid his glasses on his face, his voice rough.
"Abysmally," Hermione said at the same time Colin replied with, "Great!"
She glared in Colin's direction as he stretched his arms in the air, a delighted smile on his face, but she couldn't fault him for his good mood. It had been so long since they'd had a reason to smile, and clean bodies and a warm shelter were certainly reasons to smile.
She turned to Harry as he twisted his torso in an attempt to crack his back. "How about you?"
"I slept, but my dreams were hardly restful."
Hermione lowered the briefs she'd just picked up and felt a stab of anxiety through her ribcage. "Did you—"
"No. It wasn't that kind of dream. I didn't see him."
"What was it, then?"
"Nothing. I don't want to talk about it." He stood up, avoiding both Colin's and Hermione's eyes as he went to the window to see what Draco was looking at. He used his sleeve to wipe some of the fog off the glass and jumped back with a startled yelp that made Draco fall out of his chair.
Two Inferi stood outside, crowded together in front of the window and staring in hunger as if waiting for one of the occupants to come out. They clicked their rotted jaws together, like piranhas in front of live bait, their cloudy eyes uncannily aware of the people inside.
Draco picked himself up off the floor, and the way his eyelids drooped, Hermione figured he had only been asleep for a few minutes. "Told you they were following us."
Hermione began to shiver so violently, she couldn't hold onto the pair of briefs anymore and dropped them back on top of the laundry pile. Only when Colin pulled the curtains around the windows closed did she manage to think properly again, but she gave up the laundry as a bad job.
"Colin, can you finish this for me?"
While he continued folding laundry, Hermione followed Draco and Harry into the kitchen.
"Great. Pudding for breakfast," Draco said, his voice dull.
"I found a stale box of biscuits in the cupboard next to the refrigerator, if you're looking for variety."
He did not seem to appreciate Hermione's contribution to the morning meal. As he forlornly spooned pudding into his mouth, she cornered Harry against the refrigerator.
"Tell me about your dream," she said, arms crossed in an unforgiving posture.
"We don't have time for this. We need to shape up a plan for Godric's Hollow. We are still going tonight, aren't we?"
"Not unless you tell me about your dream."
Harry gave a long suffering sigh, his brow wrinkled in irritation. When he spoke, he looked at the childish drawings stuck to the refrigerator door with magnets, avoiding both Draco and Hermione's gazes.
"I… er, I had a dream that I was a baby. I was with my parents at… at our house in Godric's Hollow. It was my birthday. Dumbledore was there. So was Bathilda Bagshot—"
Harry looked at Hermione now. "Yeah. The author of—"
Hermione waved her hand impatiently. "Hogwarts, A History, I know, I know! What was she doing there?"
Harry shrugged. "At Bill and Fleur's wedding, Ro—er, I mean, Ginny's Aunt Muriel said that Bathilda Bagshot and the Dumbledores lived at Godric's Hollow. And in the letter I found at Grimmauld Place, my mum said Bathilda had stopped by for my birthday tea."
Hermione bit her lip, considering what Harry had said.
"I mean, I don't know what Bathilda Bagshot looks like, but it was one of those dream moments, you know? Where you've never seen the person before in your life but you just know who they're supposed to be? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"What if it was a memory, Harry?"
"Could it have been? I mean, maybe. I did dream about a flying motorcycle once, before Hagrid delivered my Hogwarts letter. Before I found out he carried me on a flying motorcycle to my aunt and uncle's house as a baby. But my mum;s letter never said anything about Dumbledore stopping in for my birthday."
"It's a cute dream and everything, but what does it even matter if it's a memory or not?" Draco interjected through a mouthful of pudding. "Everyone in the dream is dead now except Potter."
"Not Bathilda Bagshot," Hermione said, her heart racing in triumph. "She was last seen by Rita Skeeter when she wrote that awful book about Dumbledore last year. It's very possible she's still alive and still living at Godric's Hollow!" She turned to Harry, whose expression suggested he didn't follow Hermione's train of thought. "If Ms. Bagshot knew your parents, especially intimately enough to attend your birthday party, then maybe Dumbledore trusted her enough to leave Gryffindor's sword with her! Maybe she's still waiting for you there!"
"Do you think it's possible?"
The hesitant hope in Harry's voice would have broken Hermione's heart if she hadn't felt so certain. This was the first real lead they had had in ages. Their hope had dried up after visiting the location of the orphanage Tom Riddle had lived in as a child, but this news about Bathilda Bagshot was enough to revive new hope in Hermione.
"Yes, I think it's absolutely possible, but we won't know for sure until we get to Godric's Hollow."
Draco pushed the can of pudding away and tossed his spoon in the sink. "So what's the plan?"
"Colin? Can you come here for a second?" Hermione called into the living room.
Colin joined them a moment later, and Draco passed the pudding and a fresh spoon over.
"I have some Polyjuice Potion left. Maybe just enough for all of us."
Harry scowled. "I don't want to hide in the place where my parents died."
"What if someone recognizes you?" Draco asked. "You'd risk our safety for your comfort?"
"It's not about comfort. I can't explain it. I just want to be myself. I want to see my home with my own eyes."
"It's not practical, Harry. It's not safe."
Colin gestured at Hermione and Draco with his spoon. "You two Disillusion yourselves. I'll stay undisguised with Harry, and he can carry the cloak with him in case something happens."
"Why us?" Draco asked with a sneer.
"Because Hermione is known to be associated with Harry, and you are a known Death Eater. You bring the most attention to us."
Draco flinched at the words 'Death Eater,' his hand automatically clapping over his forearm, though the Dark Mark was hidden under his long-sleeved shirt. Hermione had never seen his Mark, and she shuddered now as she was reminded of its presence. Having a direct link to You-Know-Who following them around was a terrifying thought, but she usually drowned out the paranoia and fear with reminders of Draco's trustworthiness. He knew the entirety of the mission Dumbledore had left for Harry, and he'd been traveling with them for months, saving their lives time and time again. He'd won their trust, and doubting the decision to include him in the group would only lead to disaster.
Colin was still speaking. "And it might help if half our group is hidden. If someone does approach us, they'll never expect you two. A Disillusionment Charm blends in better at night, as well."
Hermione considered Colin's suggestion for a moment and then nodded. It was the best plan they had in light of Harry's stubbornness. "That sounds reasonable." She turned to Harry, who nodded, and then Draco, but he saw the sense of Colin's plan as well, though his lips were thin in disapproval.
"Fine. As always, Potter will get special treatment as he endangers the lives of everyone around him."
"Yes," Hermione said with a sigh. "No use arguing. This is how we do things. Finally catching on, are you?"
For a moment, Draco's lips twisted, as if he wasn't sure whether he was meant to laugh or not—or if he wanted to.
"We might need the Polyjuice later, so let's conserve it if we can," Harry said. "Thank you for understanding."
Draco stepped forward and poked Harry in the chest. "It's not about us understanding. You need to understand you're being a wanker about this, and if either Granger or I die because you refuse to disguise yourself on this mission, rest assured that I will haunt you from the afterlife."
Hermione's eyes widened. "M-me?"
Draco turned his cold, grey eyes on her, the bags under his eyelids simultaneously making him look vulnerably exhausted and dangerous. In certain lights, he had the appearance of a corpse, with gaunt cheeks and hollowed eye sockets. Sometimes it hurt to look at him because he resembled an Inferius too closely, and the comparison reminded her how thin a line they walked between living and dying. She was afraid that one day Draco would pass from alive to dead without anyone noticing, until the moment his body became reanimated under You-Know-Who's curse and attacked them in their sleep, recruiting all of them into the Inferi army that wandered the woods and the countryside.
"Yes, you. Don't think I haven't noticed how you've kept us alive and sheltered these past few months. If anything happened to you, we'd be as good as dead. Personally, I like staying alive."
Hermione's cheeks warmed at the unorthodox compliment, depressing as it was.
"What about me?" Colin asked.
Draco's gaze skimmed him from head to toe, but he looked away, dismissing what he saw. "To be honest, I don't know what you do for this group, Creevey. Your death wouldn't be a loss for us."
Outrage filled Hermione where pleasure had overwhelmed her just a moment ago. She shoved Draco into the kitchen counter, the move so sudden neither Harry nor Colin could stop her.
"You don't mean that! You don't! If you didn't value every person in this group, you wouldn't kill yourself night after night to keep watch and protect us! If Colin hadn't been important, you wouldn't have grabbed him before Apparating us away from those woods where Dennis and Ron—" She choked on a sob, tears leaking down her cheeks. "Pretend all you want, but we matter to you! All of us do!"
The house was fairly large, with a second floor that they had left unexplored, but there was still so much work to do before they departed for Godric's Hollow later that evening, so Hermione stomped into the living room and threw herself back into folding the laundry. The sound of running water from the kitchen sink could be heard as Harry and Colin returned to the living room and picked up their blankets.
Draco joined them a few minutes later, probably after he had washed the spoons several times in an attempt to stall. Then he went to Colin, seated in the chair by the window where he was keeping an eye on the Inferi. He shot a quick glance at Hermione, who pretended not to notice what was going on by the window, feigning intense concentration as she folded a cloak.
"Your death would be a devastating loss. To us. And to me, I guess."
"Sure," Colin said, his lips trembling as he tried to hide a smile. "Thanks, mate."
"Without you, the world would be in peril, and I would… mourn in some fashion that is socially acceptable for the task."
"Thanks, Malfoy, but you rea—"
"I might shed a tear. Possibly two tears if your death was gruesome enough. A font of tears would rain from my eyes, pooling at my feet in a… puddle of tears."
Colin's laughter floated free, uncontainable. "All right already, I've heard enough! Go do something useful, you idiot."
Draco jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and Colin relinquished the chair to him to join Hermione and help put the laundry away in her beaded bag.
"Don't be too hard on him, Hermione," Colin whispered. "He doesn't know any better."
Maybe not, she thought with a glance at Draco. His crossbow sat in his lap and he was glaring at the Inferi as if trying to will them away from the window or the farmhouse altogether. But maybe he can learn.