January 14th

Hermione didn't wait around to discover whether or not Draco Malfoy could actually be trusted. Only moments after reading the message left tied to the bluebell, she gathered her meager belongings and abandoned her sanctuary. She spent the rest of the night and most of the next day walking as far from the village as she could on her own steam.

It was most likely a trap. She had to convince herself over and over again to not read more into the two words written on the parchment. Malfoy was getting creative in his efforts to drag her back where she didn't want to go. Overt violence wouldn't get him anywhere. She had been trained in cruelty under an unforgiving master. If she didn't want to do something, no amount of violence on his part was going to change her mind. Truthfully, if she was being perfectly honest with herself, only the fear of being traced by her magic kept her from using her wand on Malfoy. He might have been a good fighter, but she was better.

Even as she struggled to convince herself that Malfoy was just using gentler methods to bring her to heel, she couldn't ignore the 'message'. Nobody would've understood the significance of the bluebell. It was a private joke, a reminder of a time in her life she would never forget. As with anything pleasant and lovely in her existence, it hadn't lasted long enough. Over almost as soon as it began really. Forced to return to a crushing reality that was swiftly turning her into a cold, hard woman she didn't even recognize.

Maybe it was better that it didn't last. Too much freedom, too much hope could be detrimental to a person's survival. She had to remain focused on not only staying alive, but making certain those she'd marked for punishment received what they deserved. There were people she hadn't been finished with yet. All those three weeks did was give her a false sense of security and a dream of what life could be like that would never be real.

Duplicating another's handwriting was simple enough with the right spell. She tried to convince herself that there was no possible way the request that she trust Malfoy was genuine. Besides the simple fact that the person purported to have written the message hadn't even been in the country for the past few years that she was aware of, what could there possibly be to gain from trusting Malfoy when he said he wasn't there to drag her back to the feet of their master?

She kept to the quiet paths and lonely roads as much as she could. A woman walking alone in the middle of the country was often harassed or at least showered with concerned questions about her safety. Muggles didn't frighten Hermione. Not even the biggest, meanest ones with weapons intent on doing her harm. She'd made it that far in her life without being sexually assaulted and there were certainly plenty of opportunities for that to happen right after the war ended. Thanks to her protector outside her cupboard door and the terrifying reputation of her teacher once she moved to the village, no one bothered her beyond words and innocuous hexes. No Muggle was going to get the better of her even if she had to use her wand to Avada the bastard.

Several hours of walking hadn't gotten her very far from the place she was escaping. Malfoy likely was made aware of her entering the Welsh village from someone who'd seen her get on a bus in Edinburgh. It wouldn't take much effort at that point to track down her final destination. As much as she might try, she wasn't always the most inconspicuous of travelers. If he knew she entered the village on a bus, he would probably assume that she would leave that way too. Avoiding all Muggle transportation for awhile would be a safe bet.

She walked until her feet hurt and her back ached. January was not the best month to take a hike through the countryside. Staying warm even with multiple layers of clothing on was difficult. Each time a car would approach the area she was in, she hid behind bushes or trees until they passed. Any hint of civilization was avoided. Nosy Muggles who liked to gossip were dangerous. They could bring suspicion down on her with a simple unguarded comment. Spies were everywhere in Lord Voldemort's new country.

When the winter sun was down and she was worried that she physically couldn't carry on any longer without collapsing, Hermione found a small farm at the end of a quiet lane. Careful not to go near the main house, she snuck into the tiny barn in the back. It wasn't the most comfortable of locations, but one really couldn't be picky in the winter. Although freezing to death out in the elements might have put an end to all of her problems. Wasn't it supposed to be just like falling asleep and never waking? There were certainly worse ways to die. And, if she was dragged back to the Dark Lord, she would probably get to experience one first-hand. Antonin would probably still be angry enough to commit her murder himself. He was a man of many talents who knew many, many ways to make a person scream.

Or, worse, she might even be given back to Antonin for more 'training'. She wasn't sure she could endure more of that. Her mind wasn't what it used to be. Even if she tried to ignore the signs, she was no fool. Much more time amongst the Death Eaters and she was at risk of being completely insane. Unlike most of the poor souls who found themselves in a similar position to hers after the crushing defeat of the Light side, of the 'good' side, she understood enough about psychology to know what brainwashing looked like.

But, knowing about something and being able to prevent it from happening to the ones she loved, were completely different. She could easily see the change that intense training in the Dark Arts brought on the personality and psyche of Ron. His private teacher was able to drag the worst parts of him out, twist and exploit them, and engineer the perfect little soldier for the Dark Lord. She witnessed him be broken to nothing and rebuilt from the leftover parts. Very little of the boy she remembered from Hogwarts remained. He was almost a machine of destruction with very little thought for anything else. Hermione would've wept for the loss if she had anything left in her to care.

Feelings were weaknesses. That had been one of her first lessons. She was just as brainwashed as the rest of them even if she knew it. That's why she had to run. Living in that environment any longer would've ripped out the last shred of humanity that made her Hermione. She'd already had to commit crimes and atrocities that were disgusting to her palate. And not all of them were even illegal or immoral. Running gave her a hope, even if it was just a sliver, that maybe she could find herself again. Be normal again.

She fell asleep in the darkest corner of the barn clutching the bluebell tightly in her hand. It was a reminder to keep going, to not trust the pretty words of someone she might have once believed she loved. Trusting Malfoy would make her a fool. She was exhausted of being a fool.