"We need to come up with a plan, Hermione."
"I know that, Ron. You say it every day."
"Yes, but only because we never actually sit down and do it."
"You know we don't have time to do that. We only have time to-"
"Survive, I know. You say that every day."
It was true. A day in the current hell they lived in could only hold so much and it usually only consisted of the bare necessities to live. Bathe (if one could call it bathing) when afforded the opportunity, eat if you can, never get caught, always find somewhere to lay your head at night, and sleep however empty it may be.
There was no room to plan.
"Even if we did plan," Hermione said sadly as she sat cross-legged on a worn child's bed. "We don't have the numbers behind us. You and I can't do this alone."
"I know." Ron replied with a frown of his own, but a smile soon replaced it. "That's why we're going to Edinburgh. To see if we find some of our friends there."
Hermione nodded. Yes. She and Ron were heading into the snake pit that was Edinburgh because they had gotten word that some Order members had set up shop there. And if they knew about it, then Voldemort knew about it. Everything would be waiting there. Deatheaters. Dementors. Snatchers. It was suicide where she and Ron were planning to go, but the odds of reuniting with people on their side was much too promising to ignore. Harry would've agreed.
If he was alive.
Draco hated Edinburgh. He hated most populated areas and longed to be back home where there was nothing but where he lived and open land. Grass that stretched for miles, a tree line that essentially closed it in, and silence. Glorious silence. Perhaps that's why Voldemort still called Malfoy Manor headquarters. As for Draco, he had no true home of his own. He was always out on some sort of assignment or another that required him to travel to a new city or country.
It was amazing (and downright scary) to see how far Voldemort's reign had reached over the course of three years. England was his. Scotland. France. Italy as well. Germany and Russia were both putting up pretty good fights, but Draco gave it another year, year and a half before they both succumbed. He imagined India would be next. The country itself was well-aware of that and while the Ministry of Magic there prepared itself well in advance, evacuations had long been in place.
There was one good consequence of being temporarily stationed in Edinburgh, though. He and the other Deatheaters with him got to stay in Edinburgh Castle. Dark and perilous times kept the castle from being the tourist attraction that it was, and it was proving to be the perfect place to watch over the land. Lofty and immense, Draco could see out for miles. It was what Voldemort wanted. A constant reminder that his eyes were everywhere.
"And yet he still can't keep up with Potter's ghost." Draco mused to himself as he lazily walked along the castle's perimeter. Potter was dead, yes. Many of his supporters were either dead, imprisoned, or enslaved. But the key ones –the ones who were just as much a symbol of hope to many people as Potter was –they were still running amok. That's why he was here in Edinburgh. Voldemort wanted him and the others to weed them out and "obliterate them."
Easier said than done, of course. As far as Draco knew, the band of misfits he was there to round up was headed by the female redhead of the Weasel family. She was the last person that he wanted to run into. He didn't know what fueled her most; whether wanting Voldemort's downfall, the need to avenge those she'd lost, or the gratification she must have gotten at knowing that Potter would have been proud of her. Whatever it was, her inner rage knew no bounds and she could take an enemy out with the simplest of charms. Draco was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a bit of her magic about a year ago. It caused him to limp for almost six months, and even now the bone in his hip hurt when it rained too hard or the weather grew too cold.
Draco sighed as he headed back into the castle and traversed the vast halls. He thought of the resistance as he did and the cruel looks they shot his way whenever he crossed their paths. He only wished that they weren't so fueled by hate for his "profession" to see that he wasn't as ruthless as his counterparts. The Killing Curse never left his lips unless he was being watched. He never went on the offensive, and he always defended with spells that would leave his victim well enough to still fight and able to recover within a short period of time. But nobody saw that. No one saw that. All the resistance knew was that he was Draco Malfoy: Deatheater. End of story. No questions needed.
Sometimes Draco wondered if this was how Snape had felt. Through whispers in the streets (and eventually from Voldemort's own mouth), he knew that Snape had been a spy. He knew that his loyalties had never truly been with the Dark Lord and that he had been Dumbledore's pet for years. It had been a kick to the gut for Voldemort when he finally realized the truth, and he made it a point to every supporter in his ranks that if they betrayed him, death would be a greater pleasure than what he'd put them through.
Draco believed him.
And yet he risked his life every time he did something that he wasn't supposed to. Luckily for him, he was smart about his actions. But then again, so had Snape. At least the bloody snake was dead…
"Ready to go, Draco?"
Draco turned to Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini who seemed to have been walking towards his bedroom suite. To be honest, Draco hadn't even realized that's where his feet had been taking him.
"I'd rather be in bed." Draco grumbled. "But yeah, we can go. Just let me grab my cloak."
No masks. Just the cloak. Voldemort ran everything now. He was the Minister of Magic. He was the law. He was everything, and therefore there was no reason for any Deatheater to hide. Draco pushed open two large oak wood doors which led to its own small hallway. His bedroom suite was more than that really. It was like his own little (a huge understatement) house. The hall led to another hall that stretched horizontally. Down this area was four bedrooms, two studies, a modern kitchen constructed within the last fifty years, two bathrooms, a tea room, a massive library, and a lovely balcony where Draco spent a large portion of his time when he wasn't "on duty." It was this not-so-humble abode that made Draco forget that he was on the dark side of an uneven war. He could forget the terrors that he was forced to watch and to sometimes participate in. It allowed him to think that he was on a resolute island and enjoying a vacation.
That is, of course, until it was time to patrol. And it was this part of the "job," somehow more than anything else, that Draco loathed Voldemort the most for. The Deatheaters that he most often put on resistance-capture detail were the new recruits. Now Draco and his friends were hardly new, but they were new by comparison to the Deatheaters who had been Voldemort's followers during the first war. Voldemort claimed that they were the ones most apt to hunt down the resistance because its members were all people their own age. They went to school with them. They knew them much better than the more seasoned Deatheaters did. It only made sense that it would be them.
Draco, however, wasn't stupid. Voldemort wanted to get rid of the weak. The resistance was nothing but a bunch of kids –young adults like himself –who had to grow up too fast, but that didn't mean they were immature fighters. They had skill. His thoughts went back to Ginny Weasley again and he scowled viciously. Yes, people like her had the potential to take them all down. And that's what Voldemort wanted. He couldn't afford pathetic soldiers, and this was the best way to determine who truly deserved to have the Dark Mark on their forearms.
As Draco took in his bedroom, subsequently the rest of the suite –no his wing, he reflected on how Voldemort had informed him that the previously sealed off area had been unsealed specifically for his use. Everyone else slept in what was previously servants' quarters.
Draco huffed at the thought of it. He must've been pretty damn deserving.
Remaining unseen was of utmost importance. Travel was often done by night as it made it much easier to obscure the rest of Hermione's face that wasn't already covered by the oversized hood of her cloak. With Ron by her side they maneuvered dark streets and alleyways. They hid in the shadows away from any Snatchers and Dementors. They slept in abandoned buildings when they could and ditches when they couldn't. They had been traveling like this for two days now so that they could make it to Edinburgh before nightfall. They'd find an abandoned place to rest for a few hours and then the real danger would begin.
Just like every town that Voldemort occupied, Deatheaters patrolled it at night. In the wee hours of the night Dementors came out to play. They knew, just as Hermione, that all of the "good stuff" happened at night. Drunks came out and talked too much. Gamblers came out and dished what they knew for a shiny coin. Order members came out and plotted. Although Hermione and Ron weren't sure as to whether they'd get lucky enough to see someone from the Order their first night there, it was certainly a hope.
"This one looks pretty abandoned." Hermione said as she stood on the stairs of a paint-peeling apartment building. She took another look around her to make sure no one saw her going in and awkwardly held her wand in the middle so that it stayed hidden in her sleeve. "Alohomora,"
The door opened and she quickly slipped herself inside. "Homenem Revelio,"she whispered. Her heart always raced when she used that spell. What if the person who was there (if the spell revealed him or her) was in a room right next door? What if he or she suddenly descended the stairs, spotted her, and then a fight ensued? And what if that fight attracted the ears of a Snatcher or Deatheater? What would happen then? Well, she'd fight of course, but how would it end?
"Your thoughts are racing." Ron's voice hit her ears. Hermione took a deep breath and headed up the stairs. If they were going to choose an apartment to hide away in for a bit, it was better not to be right by the front door.
"My thoughts are always on the run. What makes now any different?"
"Because the thoughts you're having now are making you paranoid."
"Thanks for the diagnosis, Dr. Weasley."
Ron laughed, albeit a soft one. Hermione cracked a smile of her own as they made it to the third floor. She unlocked the door and headed inside, letting her smile linger as she took in the small apartment. It wasn't often that she got to stay in such a nice place. Sure, there were cobwebs. Sure, there were cracks in the walls. Sure, there was blood. Sure, the air smelled of death like the fight that had happened here took place just hours ago. But under all that there was a living room. There was a sofa that must've felt heavenly. There was a kitchen which, upon further inspection, had glasses, plates, and utensils in the cupboards. Beyond that and down the hallway was a bedroom with a lovely-looking mattress sans bedsheets or pillows. Next to that there was a bathroom –not to mention a shower that worked!
Hermione could've cried. In fact she did. She let her wand fall out of her sleeve as she dropped to her knees in the middle of the hallway and just sobbed her heart out. Were every threat to her life not swarming around this once-beautiful city, she could've lived here. Blood and all. It was the closest thing she'd felt to having a home in years, and it almost made her wish she didn't find any Order members any time soon.
With a shiver and a sigh Hermione rose to her feet and casted locking charms on the door. For extra safety she added an alarm to let her know if someone came in. The windows were next, charmed in a way to allow her to look out of them but so no one could peer in. A couple more flicks of her wand cleared away all the blood staining the walls and the floor as well as the smell that suddenly made her want to gag. Once that was finished she headed straight for the bathroom. Ron had disappeared on her, but that was normal. He'd reappear soon with words of encouragement or new tactics, but for now, Hermione was on her own.
Once in the bathroom she shut and locked the door and stood in the middle of the room. It was a small bathroom. Standing where she was and her arms outstretched she could touch everything there –the moldy shower curtain, the grimy sink, the disgusting toilet. Hermione's wand was going again to get rid of everything that made the room vomit-worthy and set it on the toilet lid once she was finished.
With the water running Hermione slipped off all of her clothes slowly, letting her eyes drift over every inch of her as she did so. Her body could be a book on war. Every part of her had a story. There was a scar on her stomach from when a Snatcher slashed her with a knife. There was another one on her neck –a close call –when a Deatheater's spell missed an artery and continued jetting right past her. Her arms and legs were covered in healed cuts and bruises from exploding debris, splintered wood, rocks, and other jagged edges piercing her skin from various fights and running for her life. Every encounter she'd been in over the years always ended up in death, but obviously not her own. It tore her up inside having to take a life, Deatheater or not. It wasn't all that hoo-ha about a life being a life no matter whose it was. Rather it was more her feeling that whenever she killed someone, it made her a murderer just like them –with death on her hands.
No matter her feelings, it had to be done. Everyone thought that she was dead, and until she could reunite herself with the Order, she intended for everyone to keep thinking that way.
"What do you think about that inn over there?" Ron asked her. Hermione spied the one he was talking about and grimaced. Like most of the inns they came across, this one held a pub down below and several rooms up above. It was dark and dank, and it appeared that the seediest looking people imaginable frequented it. Good for her and Ron's purposes, yes, but it still made Hermione's skin crawl.
"It's perfect. Should we wait until it gets darker?"
"No, we should go now. This isn't London. We don't know what to expect the later it gets."
Hermione kept in her sigh. She really wanted to spend more time in this gemstone of an apartment. Instead she nodded and headed into the bedroom. There was a full-length mirror in there that had somehow survived the catastrophe that had occurred here without a single crack. Most times, she only ever got to see her reflection from her shoulders up. To see all of her now… Well, it didn't paint much of a pretty picture. She looked worn. She looked tired. She looked defeated. Luckily her fighter's spirit wasn't as decrepit as her outward appearance.
With her wand in hand Hermione set to work. She changed her brown hair to blonde. Her eyes she kept the same, but altered her cheeks some to make them more full. Plumper lips (more for personal satisfaction rather than to add to her disguise). Freckles. Dimples. Tanned skin. When she was finished Ron appeared in the doorway and analyzed her face.
Hermione smiled. "Thanks."
"It's a problem."
Now she frowned. "Why?"
"We're heading into a place with the sickest people." Ron explained. "We don't need the attention."
Hermione was staring into the mirror at her reflection. The last time she felt beautiful –truly beautiful –was that night at the Yule Ball. That was six years ago. How pathetic was that?
She sighed and used her wand to clean up her cloak a bit before tucking her wand up the sleeve. "I know, but we also need information. At least half the people in that pub are bound to be a drunken mess. Seduction will work wonders."
"I hope you know what you're doing…"
Hermione gulped. Ron's fear was palpable. It was also reasonable. Regardless of the matter she was undoing the charms she had placed on the door and walking through it. As she put them back up, an overwhelming sense of dread overtook her. She no longer felt safe. The apartment door had separated her from the dangers outside. Not really, of course, but mentally. For a brief moment Hermione was able to forget what was waiting for her out there. She had had a shower for Merlin's sake. There'd been soap too, and the feel of the slippery bar across her skin had been the greatest gift the universe could have ever given her.
Outside the apartment building Hermione felt exposed. She had her hood down and the passersby took notice. Some nodded to her. Others smiled grimly. Few actually waved. The latter made her stomach churn, and it was those same individuals who were heading to the inn.
Hermione braced herself and went inside. She quickly scanned the room and weighed her options. Despite there still being at least one hour before the sun set, the pub was at seventy-five percent capacity. That limited her seating options severely and so she had to pick wisely. Sitting directly at the bar would make her much less conspicuous, but the odds of hearing something worth wild would be close to nil. Not to mention she wouldn't be able to watch anyone. Sometimes it was more worthwhile and more telling to observe people's actions than to hear what they actually said. There were a few open tables in the center of the room, but that would make her feel very much like bait. Her best option would be a booth, and as luck would have it, there was one that was open towards the back end of the pub.
She darted for it and sat down with a complacent sigh. Ron, yet again, was nowhere in sight. This was how it always went. He'd hide in the shadows and watch out for her, giving her advice from a distance. It was an excellent strategy. All Hermione had to do now was sit, drink, and wait for something to happen.
Author's note: Hello again! So, I've never written anything war-related, but I'm excited to venture into something new :). Chapters are probably going to be a decently long length (definitely nothing less than 3,000 per chap). Also, I'm still currently writing this although the first fourteen chapters are already done (yey!). There's still going to be a decent gap between each chapter though (two weeks probably rather than my standard once, sometimes twice a week) just so I can have time to write.
Also, I rated this "M" just to be on the safe side. Anyway, I hope that you liked the first chapter! Please feel free to drop a review, and thanks for reading! Hope you continue :)