It got worse.
By the end of spring term, the students remaining at Hogwarts were shell-shocked, suffering beyond flinching in an Orwellian dystopia. Hermione did her best and knew it was inadequate. She hid who she could, depleted her caches of food and medical supplies, and ran what evolved into an extensive black market in potions.
Even her rage became a commodity. Students were failing to cast curses with sufficient verve to please the Carrows. Some of the children were so mentally exhausted by the regime that their wands were ceasing to respond to them. The Head Boy and Head Girl did what they could for morale but frightened youngsters often lost control of their magic in response to trauma. There was nothing Madam Pomfrey could do to help them other than rest and reassurance.
It was something Flora Carrow confided to her that gave Hermione the idea. The Fifth Year said she wasn't even angry any more, a throwaway comment in reference to Alecto's taunts. Testing the hypothesis on herself first, Hermione discovered she could fuel certain spells with the crystallised anger she had been extracting. Dark magic, mostly, or some of the more aggressive combat spells. Quite a few of the standard curses required emotional content.
Flora volunteered as she and her sister were perpetually singled out by their cousins. Crushing the soap bubble was easily done. The potion medium was stable enough that someone could carry a few in a robe pocket then pop one as necessary. Even if they burst prematurely, silk insulated against the effects. Soon Hermione was distributing furoshiki bundles to the spent and despairing of her House.
She tried not to think of the implications or the consequences of prolonged use of someone else's emotions. Her rage kept children out of detention with sadists. They'd square up later with any mental scars. Hell knew there'd be plenty.
"Rosier." Susan Bones beckoned her behind a statue. They'd hastily arranged to meet in a hissed conversation in the greenhouses during Herbology, protected from eavesdroppers by the pungent odour of the Miasmic Lantana. The perennial didn't have an offensive scent so much as a great deal of it, penetrating even Bubble-Head Charms.
"Bones." Hermione acknowledged her urgency and slipped into the niche. "Muffliato."
"One of yours told one of mine you have something to help them cast." The redhead recognised the spell, easing her hand away from her wand. Trust was ephemeral. A Ravenclaw had been informed upon by a Housemate and disappeared. No one in Hufflepuff had broken ranks. She was keeping an eye on Smith though. "Whatever you're giving the Slytherins, we need too."
"It's not a cure-all and it's in short supply." Her stockpile, which had been large enough to cause her concerns about her anger management strategy, was rapidly diminishing. She'd been strict, harping as necessary, about limiting the bubbles to classroom essential use only but she knew at least two students who were depleted enough to need the boost for any spell-casting at all.
"Then tell me how to manufacture it." Susan needed more ways to keep kids out of detention. It wasn't... nice... to cast the curses the Carrows demanded from them but if you could do the magic, you could pull your punches. It only had to look good enough. "Whatever you want, Rosier. Name it."
"Do you have anyone who's any good at Occlumency?" Hermione didn't barter a price. She wanted to help but unless she could train another donor, there was a fixed limit of production. Stumbling around so mellow she looked stoned off her gourd was not a viable solution. "They have to be able to hold a meditation and a charm simultaneously."
"That's advanced." Her aunt had been an accomplished Occlumens to remain impartial in her work, and to sequester unpleasant memories from the same, so Susan knew a bit about the mental art. "Is one of the teachers helping you?"
"I wish." Granger could've appealed to half the faculty but Rosier was not nearly so trusted. "If you can persuade someone to crack open their own head for you, please do. Otherwise, I literally don't have it in me to help you."
"I don't think anyone in my House uses Occlumency. It cuts you off from people." You needed private tuition or at the very least detailed primers to guide you. Not many families had access to that sort of high-end specialist magic, and like Legilimency it didn't have that great a reputation. "Someone might have the basics, if one of their parents is an Auror or a Healer, but, um, not likely."
"You'll have to ask the Ravenclaws. Patil or..." Hermione cut herself off abruptly as the wand in the small of her back vibrated. She had a proximity charm linked from her Map to her spare hawthorn. Quickly casting Concealment Charms on herself and Bones, she checked the enchanted parchment. And swore. Since the Trio's escape from Malfoy Manor, the Snatcher presence at Hogwarts had increased. The focus was more on keeping people in than out but the thugs delighted in hauling students to the Headmaster on the slightest pretence.
"What is that?" Susan asked softly, peeking at the scroll with the moving symbols on it. She wasn't stupid. It was obviously a map of the school. What she actually wanted to know was how Rosier had got her hands on it but couldn't think of a tactful way of asking from whom the Slytherin had 'borrowed' it.
"Trouble." She stuffed the Map away. "The Snatcher who grabbed you and some of his friends are coming this way. Two teams of three. They're looking for someone."
"Me, you think?" The redhead straightened, fingers tightening on her wand.
"Let's not stay and find out." Hermione took Susan's hand and led her circumspectly away from the hunters. Some would be able to track by scent so she cast a quick and dirty ward with the Anosmia Jinx before ducking behind a tapestry depicting Levina Monkstanley's Development of the Wand-Lighting Charm.
Up a winding staircase, along an arcade decorated by suspiciously lifelike statues of surprised men in togas then into one of the old alchemy classrooms. Hermione opened the shutters on the third window and stepped out onto a narrow arched walkway to the Turris Medius. They were quite high up. The knee height stone railing did not reassure but Susan followed, closing the shutters behind her.
Once they had wound down the tower and slipped into the Herbology Store, where they both had every right to be, the Hufflepuff let her breath out. It felt like she'd been holding it for hours but really they'd made very good time getting a blamelessly long distance away from where they had been. She got a pot down from the middle shelf and opened one of the earth bins as though she were working. What she was actually doing was thinking very hard.
"Rosier." Susan began then stopped. What could she say? What could she ask that would get a straight answer? Slytherins had minds like corkscrews and tongues like their emblem.
"Bones." Hermione responded. She flicked her wand at a tray of seedlings, her own nettles carefully selected, and mucked about with potting mix to give her hands something to do.
"Can you teach me Occlumency? The refinements you specified, if not the full monty." If there wasn't someone else able to help, then the obvious choice was to volunteer herself. Unafraid of toil and all that. "I know enough to start with. I have to do something."
"There won't be time." The desperation in Susan's voice dragged the admission from her. Hermione had been wrestling with her silence for weeks, gradually losing her hold. There was less than a month until the Final Battle.
"I'll find the time." Bones asserted. Meeting Rosier's eyes, she put her wand down on the work table and held her hands out palms up. "The House of Bones beseeches the House of Rosier for aid." She took a breath, hoping she remembered the words. "My work is your work. My voice is your voice. My body is your body." Her magic buzzed in her veins. "I do homage unto you."
"Oh, for fuck's sake." That was not the ritual response. Hermione rubbed a hand over her face. She was coping. She had a thousand things on her mind and as many plans but she was keeping it together. Almost there, almost done. Still didn't know what had happened at the end or what she was going to do to stop it but, verily, hanging on. She took a breath.
Cathal Rosier stepped up to Susan Bones, placing her hands on the Hufflepuff's wrists in a comrade's clasp. The egalitarian gesture surprised the redhead, whose posture relaxed significantly. Having offered much, she was relieved not all had been claimed. Hermione sealed the plight with a light kiss to her forehead. The bond solidified between them.
"You... wow." Susan breathed through the rush. Rosier was like a slap to the face on a winter's day. Her heart might have truly skipped a beat from the shock. "What do I feel like?"
"Loam and a spring breeze. You make me want to go fly a kite." Hermione hid a smile as she flicked her wand. "Muffliato." She straightened and released her hold on the other witch. "Right. That doesn't actually change my answer but at least this way I can give you an explanation." Well, more like half an explanation. "Something will happen before the end of the school year, here at Hogwarts. We really don't have time."
"Have you Seen it?" Bones didn't think Divination could be taught, and certainly not by Trelawney, but that didn't mean the whole discipline was hokum.
"Enough to be sure." She didn't lie. "It's soon and it's bad." Her acceptance of the bond meant she had to do something to help. "The easiest thing for anyone who isn't in a fit state to work magic may be to medicate them with liquid Cheering Charm. In potion form it can be measured out in a controlled dose. Without the Calming Draught's hellebore, it's not as potentially lethal if you overdo it."
"I don't like drugging kids." Susan didn't refuse the offer but she didn't leap at it either. Madam Pomfrey was very tightly rationing any potion that affected mood, and anyone caught brewing contraband was punished by the Headmaster. Punished so thoroughly they were unwilling to resume production.
"I don't either but the choice has boiled down to suffering or hiding, and the Carrows are obsessed with finding the students already missing." Hermione couldn't mask her grimace at the memory of her interview with Amycus. The Cruciatus lingered. "If you think you can make a run for the Room of Requirement then give it a go but the Dark Lord knows it exists. Too much attention on the Seventh Floor and even the Carrows might get the nerve to ask his advice."
"You know about the Room? Of course you do." The Hufflepuff made a noise like her House's mascot. "We can't hide any more of us. We've already discussed it. Most who are left are old names or have family highly placed in the Ministry. Ernie suggested I go, I'm the last Bones, but someone has to be here." Susan recollected to whom she was speaking. "If I asked you where the Slytherin half-bloods have gone, would you tell me?"
"No." She answered promptly. "The homage vow keeps you from acting to my disadvantage but it does not extend to anyone else."
"If I need to get someone out, can I bring them to you?" This was trust, and it hurt. She'd spent seven years thinking Cathal was cut from the same dark, dark cloth as the rest of the Rosiers. There was no certainty, this could all be to lure her in, but frankly Susan would take subtle poison over Crucio any day.
"If it's an emergency." Hermione wasn't going to say no. "There's an old pantry, the one with the fretwork door." Bones's nod showed she knew of it. "Behind the barrel of fish, there's a sliding hatch. It leads to a disused meat larder. There are supplies there and the hatch can be locked from the inside."
"What if they need to go to the bathroom?" There were certain practicalities necessary if you couldn't yet cast a Vanishing Spell.
"There's a camping toilet." She had bought several. Never again would she poo in a hole. When Susan giggled, Hermione joined in. Sometimes you had to laugh.
She went home for Easter holidays unwillingly. Cathal Rosier had obligations. Siglinde and the house elves could manage the observances for the equinox but the elder witch insisted her granddaughter perform the rites to Eostre herself. Derica had cherished the Ostara ceremonies as a link to her home and the Rosiers had adapted their rituals to incorporate Germanic traditions.
Hermione had argued with various specious excuses, which had all been overruled. She had stopped short of her authority as materfamilias as Siglinde had raised a very salient point; the land needed her. There was too much magic swirling unfettered across the moors. There'd been a near miss with a civilian aircraft that winter. Its electronics had failed and only the pilot's skill had averted disaster.
Fortunately her excuse to be anti-social was more robust than her case to remain at Hogwarts. The vernal rites were governed by the Maiden. It would not be appropriate for the chatelaine of the estate to be courted while she was consecrated to the spring goddess. Siglinde wrote very formal and slightly snooty notes to their male acquaintances requesting they not allow their masculine energies to interfere with the seasonal magic.
There were no Death Eaters for the entirety of the holidays, for the wizards abided by the ban and the witches had ritual obligations of their own. As she had gone to the crone, Siglinde sequestered herself in her suite with doors and windows wreathed in green ferns and grasses cut with a silver sickle. They ate no meat, which was no penance given the stodgy meals at Hogwarts, though Hermione was well sick of eggs by the end of the week.
Gringotts had done an excellent job with the wards but they were impersonal. Cathal wound herself into the defences of her home, walking the land until she could feel the currents of energy. How it rushed through the valleys and drifted over the peaks. The slow heavy pull of the stone beneath her feet, the quick upswell of the river headwaters, and the calling secrets of the caves.
The strength of the urge to take all the magic into herself, to wash Britain clean with her wrath, shook her. Tales of the great witches and wizards of yore bending the land to their will, weaving ley lines like yarn were more than alluring on the eve of battle. She could drink deep of the power. The lure and the rush were hypnotic.
She didn't, because whoever she was Hermione or Cathal or some amalgam of both, she was the one who thought about consequences. She planned. Mystically overdosing and lashing out put her firmly in the Bellatrix Lestrange box; the one secured very tightly shut as it rattled in her subconscious. It would be too easy to be Pandora.
Hermione finished the rites, surreptitiously checking her notes whenever she got to an abstruse bit. Magical folk liked being deliberately obscure. The wards, land, and elves seemed to relax once she was done. It was still wild country but in some ephemeral way it was hers. Not domesticated so much as willing to suffer her touch.
"Miss is a proper witch." Bonica commented, letting herself into the bathroom with an armload of undyed linen. You didn't just unsanctify yourself with a quick rinse and a bacon sarnie. Hermione was immersing herself in a stone tub filled with rainwater, steeping as she plotted.
"I've been telling people that for years." The not-Muggle-born muttered, accepting the cloth to dry herself with. It itched. "Is that us done?"
"For the season, yes." The elderly elf had adapted to the new Lady's brisk ways easily. Much better than old Lord's shouting and throwing. "The house needs more of Miss at the turn of the wheel." None of the rites had been done by the Ministry pokers and sticky-beaks. "It is good for Miss to be home."
"I may not be." Hermione swathed herself in the linen, sitting down on the edge of the tub so she and Bonica could converse on a more equal footing. "We're at war. I might not come home."
The house elf was silent for an uncomfortably long time. Hermione did her the respect of waiting for her to reply. Having dealt with Piers Rosier and his literally apoplectic temper, tactful caution was unsurprising. The witch hoped she'd given a reasonable impression. If she was going to own slaves, and she still winced at that, then the least she could do was be a good master.
"Miss will oblige us by not leaving like Master Evan." When the answer came, it was very tidy. "Master Piers and Mistress Derica hid you from us. A bad thing, that was."
"Do you know why?" Her curiosity had ebbed and risen over the years, remaining slightly unreal. Her grandfather's death could well have been an accident, her mother's slightly less so. Their motives in locking Cathal away might be simple post-traumatic paranoia. No one had come out of the First Wizarding War wholly stable.
"After the Potter and Longbottom heirs, Master Piers worried. It is an old, wrong thing to kill the last of a House. The ancestors scream." Bonica made a gesture as though warding off evil. Hermione for no rational reason she could explain, drew her wand and cast the Patronus. Her stoat, busy and sharp-eyed, circled the elf before leaping into its own silvery shadow. "Master thought the dead would come looking."
"Someone told the Ministry about the cottage on the Isle of Man." Perhaps she should have cooperated with Auror Williamson. Regardless of saving his life, she still though he was a prick.
"Master Piers cast a forget spell about Miss. He turned Mistress Druella all upside-down in her head. They was twins. He made himself to be not forgetting but not her. Miss Derica was safe, her blood was in the cauldron."
"The Azkaban wards must've protected Siglinde." Hermione frowned. "Snape too. He remembered me. I don't see him tattling on his friend's wife and child." There was also Barty Crouch Jnr. Would his rage at Piers have been greater than his presumed respect for Evan's sacrifice? Who knew?
The Ministry did, and one of her swains was head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. She'd bet Granger's beaded bag full of Galleons there was a record of every tip, smear, and vengeful denouncement the Ministry had ever received. All she had to do was embrace the corruption and ask Yaxley for a favour.
Hermione didn't feel all that bad about hiding behind her grandmother's skirts rather than brazenly approaching her suitor directly. She didn't want to encourage the Death Eater. He wasn't the worst but that was praise so faint it hardly mattered. His pass to Hell was assured. Siglinde dispatched the request couched as permission to visit now the rites were done.
Yaxley sent an owl with the information less than an hour later. Madam Rosier reciprocated as was expected with a dinner invitation. By the time the three of them sat down to the meal, Hermione had recovered from her surprise and had apologised, twice, to her grandmother for the language she had used.
Yaxley did not mention her query or cadge for any quid pro quo. He talked about Babajide Akingbade's recent veto of a censure motion against the British Ministry. The Supreme Mugwump was trying to play down the turmoil in the United Kingdom and Ireland, while simultaneously allaying the concerns of nations with their own blood purist movements. Hermione was very interested in the international politics and the evening passed pleasantly.
She'd penned, and burned, three letters in increasingly bad German to inquire of Gustav Max why he had written specifically to an Auror whose brother had been killed in the war. It wasn't definitive that Evan Rosier had murdered David Williamson, there'd been no trial, but after Malcolm Preece, Hermione had looked up the charges against Cathal's father and Williamson was listed as 'unconfirmed'.
Her chummy reunion with Bastian had coloured her perspective on Cathal's maternal relatives. She'd been cynical about the custody attempt because of the money. It had never occurred to her that her uncle's motives might be more sinister. Unfortunately for her peace of mind, she wasn't in a great place to make an impartial assessment of the situation.
Maybe Gustav had wanted help from someone who'd be willing to go against a powerful family. Maybe he'd disliked the Rosiers too. She'd got the impression Derica's consent to her marriage had been an afterthought. Maybe her mother's little brother had been trying to free both of them from Piers's heavy-handed protection. Maybe he had wanted them dead.
Whatever his reasons, Hermione was thankful now she hadn't risked sending anyone to Germany to shelter with the Maxs. Getting people out of the country had been on her mind. She'd almost recommended it to Davis except half-bloods needed sponsorship if they wanted to attend Durmstrang. She had thought too that she might appeal to her cousins for reinforcements for the first of May.
Which was soon. Very very soon.
Hermione was back at Hogwarts with slightly more than a fortnight in hand. It felt like no time at all. She did, however, have a countdown list and had been ticking off her 'to do' boxes with accelerating frequency. The sensation of critical rush was psychological, the witch told herself as she stocked first aid kits and closed down her laboratory.
Cathal or Hermione, she knew herself well enough to realise she wound herself into knots to avoid mistakes when faced with a deadline. She did good work under pressure but mentally, it cost. So she had given herself a brewing moratorium. Everything finished in April. Her lab notes went into storage with samples of any experiment not completed. Her remaining materials went to Rose Cottage, now a Escher brick box because Moppet liked it that way.
She had body armour moulded off motocross protective gear for the both of them. They looked like B-grade Hollywood legionaries but the hard-set potion medium deflected most curses. Although not as good as a Shield Charm, which was why magical folk largely ignored defensive materials beyond creature hides, it required no magic. Hermione expected to be running on empty for most of the Battle.
A significant proportion of her last minute preparations were hampered by her disjointed memories of that day. She'd made notes while her recollections were fresh the first summer as Cathal. Reviewing them now, Hermione realised how exhausted her past self had been. So much had happened so quickly. The Gringotts break-in bled into running from Snatchers into the meeting with Aberforth into reuniting with their schoolmates into the fighting and the fear, endless, endless fear.
It had been seven years. The details had been pared down to snapshots and impressions. Hermione made the decision to let Granger do what she had done. It had worked, after all. Probably. Well, in all that running around she hadn't seen anything inexplicable. She had a time, at least. D-day and H-hour. She put her notes away, reluctantly committing herself to winging it.
On a fortuitous Wednesday, Snape was off the grounds for three hours, just long enough for her to consult with the Voice and the Hogwarts elves. Until McGonagall took the helm, there was nothing the Castle could do to counter the Death Eaters. Hermione brought everyone up to speed on her suspicions about Rookwood and her working theory of the 'event' being something to do with the death of the Headmaster.
She gave the elves her supply of Draught of Living Death grenades as the modified potions were non-lethal, thus not violating the house elves' oaths of service, and she trusted them to be more responsible than any of the students. Madam Hooch would've been a good choice, with all that Quidditch she certainly had an arm for throwing, but Hermione couldn't rely on the flying instructor not to dob her in afterwards. If the grenades weren't illegal at the moment, they certainly would be in short order.
Ouphe wouldn't fight for her. He couldn't bring himself to do harm to others under the aegis of a dark witch. He said his sorries and without a bond between them, Cathal couldn't order him to help her. She could ask though, and the young elf found no moral qualm with shining every mirror larger than half a metre square that he could find. He placed them all over the castle so the witch would be able to use the Mirror Road Charm.
Hermione would have liked so very much to have a command centre where she could expand her Map and have someone act as coordinator. A surveillance suite would've been nice too. A nexus of Vanishing Cabinets for rapid evacuation. Massive reserves of medicinal potions. An army of actual allies she could trust, who knew what was going on. If she had to fight this war again, she'd dig in somewhere like one of those survivalist militias in the States. Canned food and shotguns.