Chapter 4: New Worlds
"Say it back to me," Draco instructed again as he hurriedly shifted through his closet, and the Hermione who was not Hermione (but who was definitely Hermione now) gave a great and terrible sigh. "We really need you to get this right," he reminded her, pulling out a pair of trousers and tossing it into a magically expandable bag as she stubbornly rolled her eyes, but relented.
"My best friends are Harry Potter and Ron Weasley," she recited dully, following after him as he picked up the bag and headed into the corridor, gesturing for her to follow. "I have very little patience for Luna Lovegood, but I tolerate her. I'm friends with Ginny Weasley when it's convenient, but we frequently disagree." She paused, frowning. "How do you know all this about them? I thought they weren't your friends."
"They aren't," Draco said firmly, holding a finger to his lips. Quiet, he mouthed. "Do you have your w-"
He broke off, groaning. "Your wand," he whispered to her. "You don't have one, do you? I'd give you mine, but—"
"Don't be ridiculous," Hermione told him. "I haven't the slightest idea what to do with it yet. Besides, you should hide the Elder Wand," she advised, gesturing to where he'd tucked it away. "Particularly if you're not sure you should trust them with it."
He was most certainly unsure. He knew one unassailable thing, really, and it was that only Hermione Granger could conceivably trust Ron Weasley and Harry Potter, and more importantly, vice versa. Luckily Draco had Hermione Grangers to spare, if nothing else.
"I suppose she—you—might not have gotten your wand back," Draco grumbled under his breath, beckoning again for her to follow. "Still, eventually you're going to have to do magic, so—"
"You'll teach me," she said, catching his arm. "Won't you?"
He cut himself off, catching the sound of a low moan from the other side of the wall as he paused before passing the open door frame to the ballroom.
"They're waking up," he whispered to her, and quickly disillusioned them both, beckoning for her to run. "Fuck, I really didn't think this through," he determined with barely-stifled hysteria, hurriedly making his way through the house. "The Dark Lord will blame me, he'll try to punish me—my parents will be furious," he added with a low groan, "and now, with Potter and Weasley, you'll have to convince them you're her, when in fact you're you, and you're—"
"I'm what?" she prompted indignantly, and he paused to glance at her.
"You're just you," he determined after a moment, and she rolled her eyes. "But more to the point, the real Granger hates me, remember? She'd never agree to work with me, not in a million years, so you can't appear to like me. Got it?"
"She did work with you, though," Hermione reminded him. "You two had some sort of ill-conceived plot together, didn't you?"
"That—" Draco grimaced. "That was by necessity. Under normal circumstances—if this had never happened," he clarified, "which by all accounts it didn't, as it's impossible to prove—there's no way she'd trust me, and Potter certainly won't."
Hermione leveled her impatient gaze at him. "Interesting."
"What's interesting?" Draco demanded.
"You like her," Hermione judged; a simple calculation. Like two and two were four, that sort of thing, only in this case, two and two were… orange.
"Who?" he scoffed.
"Me," she said. "You know. Hermione."
"No," Draco tutted, shaking his head. "Remember? We've been over this. I hate her. Or hated, anyway," he amended, no longer very certain about where he stood.
"It's cute that you think so," she remarked, smirking.
He stifled a groan. "As a hopefully unnecessary reminder, it's you that I—" He broke off, feeling himself flush. "You know."
"You don't have to be embarrassed about it," Hermione informed him, folding her arms over her chest in apparent impassivity. "I'm just saying, you were obviously attracted to her. Or weirdly fixated on her. Or at least on Harry Potter, for that matter." She arched a brow. "You seem to know a lot about him, you know, for someone who claims to loathe him so thoroughly."
"You'd understand if you'd met him," Draco said.
"I have met him," she reminded him. "I told you this."
"Whatever," Draco sighed, rubbing his temple.
All of this was already much more stressful than he'd bargained for. If the Dark Lord had begun to wake by now, how long until the others regained consciousness? Draco didn't want to wait to find out—but if he didn't at least stay long enough to find Potter and Weasley before they escaped, he was pretty sure he'd never find him. The Dark Lord hadn't, and he'd been looking all year. To make things worse, even if Draco did manage to find the idiotic wonder twins, there were still matters of difficulty to contend with.
"I don't know if you're going to be able to do this," Draco muttered, making his way to the cellar. A sound from the other room indicated someone else had already woken; he quickened his steps, pulling Hermione after him.
"Do what?" Hermione asked. "Be myself? Seems pretty straightforward."
"No, be her," Draco growled. "She's—you're not—you're just really not that similar."
Sure, they looked identical, but the girl amiably half-jogging beside him was as unfamiliar as anything, and she certainly wasn't the person she would now have to pretend to be. Fixation or not, the Hermione Granger that Draco had known since he was eleven years old was very firmly one thing, and this girl was… very much not.
"Can't we just tell them who I really am, if you're so worried?" Hermione asked, exasperated. "I mean, surely you can offer them something, regardless of who I am."
"I just—" Draco grimaced. "They're not going to be sympathetic to my cause. If you're not… you," he emphasized, "then I guarantee they won't want to help me."
"Why not?" she pressed. She had a distinctly frustrating ability to force him to confront things he very much didn't wish to, like the truth. He imagined it was her muggle breeding, combined with a natural aptitude for stubbornness. If she'd had his upbringing, he guessed they would have politely exchanged half-truths and parted ways by now, never to speak of it again.
"Because—" He hesitated, then redoubled his efforts at moving forward. "I told you. Because we're not friends."
"Don't you have other friends, then?" she asked. "Why does it have to be Harry Potter?"
An excellent question, though he didn't particularly want to tell her so.
"My friends aren't very helpful in this regard," he replied gruffly. "They're either completely spiteful," (Pansy) "violently narcissistic," (Blaise) "or chronically stupid," (Crabbe and Goyle) "and quite frankly, none of them would handle the truth particularly well, either." He paused. "I had one friend who would definitely help," he admitted, grimacing, "particularly in the matter of discreetly procuring you a wand, but I'm not going to him. Don't even ask," he added in warning, and thankfully, she didn't.
Nothing—nothing—was going to make him seek out Theo Nott.
"Seems relatively problematic," Hermione said, "but okay. Harry Potter it is, if you say so. Are you sure he's going to be able to help?"
"Honestly? I don't think he's going to be able to prevent himself from helping," Draco grumbled. "Chronic heroism is one of his many heinous charms. But you're going to have to be the Hermione Granger they know," he warned, "as there's no way they'll believe the whole paradox thing. They'll just assume I've done something horrible to you, which I imagine would be somewhat unhelpful to my cause."
He paused before the door to the cellar, reaching for his wand, and Hermione shifted, her fingers curling around the handle of her knife where she kept it tucked into her waistband.
"Hermione Granger doesn't carry a knife," he hissed to her.
She scowled. "You want me to wander around defenseless? There's a reason I started carrying it, you know."
"Yes, and I'm sure it's a charming bedtime story," he assured her, "but for now, you have to be her. I've got you," he reminded her, gesturing to the wand in his hand. "I won't let anything happen to you."
She seemed to disagree. "You were basically captive in your own house less than twelve hours ago," she reminded him drily, "so forgive me if I'm not convinced."
She was infuriating. That, too, was consistent. She was also infuriatingly lovely, and much to Draco's dismay, she had an infuriatingly accurate point.
"Let go of the knife," he said, half-pleading. "I swear, as soon as I can, I'll get you a wand and teach you what to do with it."
She grimaced, but gradually raised her hands in the air, letting him see she'd released it.
He exhaled swiftly, beckoning her forward. "Good. Now all we have to do is—"
He broke off as he took a hard elbow to the face, promptly getting himself knocked to the ground. He scrambled for his wand, nearly losing it, and looked up into a narrowed set of bespectacled green eyes.
"Malfoy," said Harry Potter, from where he'd set an apparent ambush. He bent over Draco, eyeing him closely, and for a moment, neither of them moved. "You didn't think we were going to leave without her, did you?"
"We," Draco echoed distastefully, as Ron Weasley stepped forward, dropping his wand to throw his arms around Hermione.
"Stay the bloody hell away from her, Malfoy—what have they done to you?" Ron asked Hermione, immediately checking her for injury as she made a face, stifling an expression of discomfort in his arms. "Are you okay? Hermione," he exhaled in relief, holding her. "Oh, thank god, I was so worried—"
"What were you doing with her?" Harry asked Draco suspiciously, glancing up at the doorway above as if he half-expected someone to spelunk down into the room. "And why's it so quiet?"
Draco supposed he should have been relieved; at least Harry had the requisite intellect to note that silence (under these circumstances) was usually somewhat deadly. Before he answered, though, Draco's attention snagged briefly on Luna Lovegood and the wandmaker, Ollivander. They were sitting quietly in the corner, the small blonde witch holding tightly to the elderly wizard and watching Draco with her unnerving stare.
"They're unconscious," Draco offered to Harry in explanation, and glanced uneasily at Hermione, who thankfully said nothing. "Stunned."
"So were we," Ron growled, glaring at Draco over Hermione's shoulder. She, Draco noted, seemed to have adjusted her stance to permit the embrace, but her shoulders were stiff with noticeable discomfort—or what he hoped was discomfort, anyway, considering he truly didn't care for seeing them together.
"Well, would you rather you were dead?" Draco asked him drily.
It seemed an effective point. At their silent détente, Draco sat up, leveling a threatening glare at Harry until he grudgingly rose to his feet, permitting Draco room to stand.
"You do realize they'll all wake soon, don't you?" Draco grunted, dusting himself off. "We have to get out, right now—"
"We?" Harry cut in, doubtful.
Draco bristled, but said nothing.
"How did you get out?" Ron asked Hermione, turning his attention back to her. "I'm so sorry, I tried so hard to reach you—"
"Malfoy saved me," she offered succinctly, easing herself free from his arm. Draco supposed it was true enough, though he felt the word 'saved' was rather heavy-handed. Apparently Ron felt the same way, opting to gape at her rather than speak. "I realize that's hard to believe," she added, her gaze sliding pointedly to Draco, "but it's true."
"Well, Malfoy's right about one thing," Harry said, glancing upstairs again. "We have to go, now. Fast. He has something," he added to them in an undertone, and in a voice that could have only been referring to the Dark Lord. "Something bad."
Draco shifted, careful not to reach subconsciously for the Elder Wand in his back pocket.
Ron, meanwhile, glanced at Harry, disbelieving. "But what about the—"
"We'll find another way," Harry cut in firmly, turning to Draco. "What's the best way out of here?"
"Disapparation," Draco said. The obvious answer, though with less obvious implications. "But you won't be able to do it. Wards," he explained, gesturing vaguely overhead, "not to mention you've only got one wand between the four of you."
The subtext: I have to be the one to do it.
For a moment, they were all silent. Luna murmured something comforting to Ollivander, but Draco didn't hear what she'd said. Instead, his ears were ringing with frustration, with apprehension, with fear, and with the sickening knowledge that everything hinged on whatever Harry Potter, Boy Who fucking Lived, said next.
"Well," Harry said stubbornly, clearing his throat, "then I suppose we're getting out the muggle way."
Draco's mouth tightened, furious. "You can't be serious."
"This house has doors, doesn't it?" Harry countered, which Draco hoped was a seriously unfunny joke.
"We'll figure it out," Ron muttered in agreement, and before Draco could argue, he'd taken Hermione's hand, pulling her after him.
She, though, remained firmly rooted in place.
"I'm not leaving him," Hermione said flatly, glancing at Draco.
"What?" Ron asked, astounded. "But—but Hermione, it's Malfoy—"
The real Hermione would have left him. Or at the very least, she wouldn't have said it quite so confidently, or in those precise words. It seemed this was to be their first major obstacle.
Please, Draco thought silently, please don't fuck this up—
"It would be wrong," Hermione insisted, freeing herself from Ron's grasp with a look that Draco was relieved to find was, in fact, perfectly accurate. "He helped me, Ron. He may be a prat," she added, giving him a prim look of smugness, "but we can't just leave him behind. They'll kill him, won't they?"
Ron's brow furrowed. "But Hermione—"
Told you they wouldn't care, Draco wanted to tell her, but was almost immediately interrupted.
"Fine," Harry said neutrally, startling both of them. "If the easiest way to get out of here is to take him with us, then fine." He set his jaw. "But that doesn't mean I trust him."
"We don't have to trust him," Hermione said. "He's spent the last year with that Lord thing, hasn't he? So—"
"What?" Ron asked, and Draco winced.
"I meant—" She glanced at Draco, who rapidly mouthed You Know Who, hoping neither Harry nor Ron would notice. "You know who," she echoed weakly. "Anyway, Malfoy knows things, doesn't he? He can help us with the—the, uh—"
"That's true," Harry noted, exchanging a glance with Ron as Hermione hurried to stifle what Draco could see was a sigh of relief. She'd obviously been guessing, but this Hermione seemed about as quick as the other one, and the gamble had paid off. "He might be able to help with the—you-know-whats," he said, with his customary lack of subtlety. "And we wouldn't necessarily have to tell him anything."
Hermione glanced at Draco, bemused, and he grimaced. The downside to her roll of the dice was that he had no idea what they were talking about, but the real Hermione Granger almost certainly did know. She was probably an expert on it, whatever it was, and this version of her…
He tried not to sigh. He hoped that this one was an extremely good actor.
Luckily, she did have a keen sense not to waste time while she was ahead. "We should go," Hermione told them quickly. "We can't stay here. You heard Malfoy, they'll all be waking up soon."
"We can go to Bill's," Ron said quickly, his hand tightening around his wand. "We can figure out where to go next from there—"
"But we need somewhere we can get wands," Hermione cut in quickly, and Draco glanced at her, surprised. "Malfoy has a friend who can help," she added slyly, and at that, the tiny spark of hope he'd felt was positively diminished to the crushing inevitability of failure. "He was just telling me that—right?" she prompted, giving him a pointed look.
He gritted his teeth, wishing he'd never brought it up.
"Right," he confirmed, and scowled at her, though she spared him little more than a furtive smile.
"Wait a minute," Ron demanded from Hermione, taking a moment to shoot a pinched-sort of glare at Draco. "We can't let him disapparate us. What if he just turns us over to You Know Who?"
"He won't," Hermione said.
"You don't know that," Ron countered.
And she didn't. The real Hermione wouldn't have, anyway. But it was Harry who surprised all three of them.
"Can we trust you, Malfoy?" he posed, expression unchanging.
It wasn't a threat, or even anything loaded with implications, really. It was a simple question, and was perhaps more formidable as a result. Harry Potter was always uncomfortably earnest, and Draco was beginning to understand that such a quality could sometimes be used as a weapon, when aimed correctly.
"You can," Draco said, filling the words with as much weight as they could carry and trying desperately not to think about the Elder Wand he was knowingly concealing in his pocket. "I swear," he promised. "I want to escape as badly as you do, and you can trust me to get us out."
Above them, noise was beginning to erupt. The pressure of circumstance was on his side, if nothing else.
Harry considered him a moment, glancing briefly at Hermione for certainty, and then nodded. "Come on, then," he said simply, heading over to Luna and Ollivander and giving Draco a pointed indication to follow.
Ron hurried after him—to argue with him, Draco guessed—but Hermione slid beside Draco for a moment's pause, murmuring something before moving to join the others.
"Where's the other one?" she asked under her breath, and he frowned.
"What other one?" he asked.
"This way," said what was possibly the worst version of Draco Malfoy, though by this point, Hermione was no longer sure how to quantify such an impossible calculation. He held a hand out for hers, waiting, as she stepped through the Floo into yet another elaborate manor house, glancing uneasily around the room.
Reality hadn't quite set in yet. That she would not find Ron or Harry, that they remained trapped and helpless without her, or that perhaps—worst of all—the real Draco Malfoy had destroyed the portkey between universes and would not be coming after her had not settled into her brain. She felt fuzzy with uncertainty, unsure where she was or where she was going.
Worse, this Draco's hand holding hers was deeply unhelpful to the stability of her rather fragile mental state. She released him the moment she'd steadied herself, pointedly opting to dust some invisible ash from her jeans rather than look at him.
"He'll probably be in the study," Draco remarked, apparently unconcerned with her poorly-feigned avoidance.
"In the… study?" she echoed, finding the concept of such a thing totally unbelievable, and the new Draco Malfoy shrugged, the sound of his long stride ricocheting off the high ceilings as they passed what seemed like countless portraits of surly-looking dark-haired men.
This Draco (not unlike the other one, had a gift, Hermione thought, for never shrinking. In a house like this, he should have been positively dwarfed, but it was as if he had stretched out to fill the space instead, faultlessly projecting vastness. His pale head shone like a steady flame through the corridors, effortlessly at ease.
"Yes," he confirmed, and paused beside a door, listening for a second and then knocking twice. "It's me," he said.
"Not now," came a familiar voice, followed by a muffled gasp.
"Yes, now," Draco said impatiently. "You know I hate to be kept waiting."
"As do I," drawled another voice, "so you see our predicament."
Draco glanced at Hermione, silently expressing his agitation, and then shook his head.
"I'm coming in," he announced, and opened the door, pausing in the doorway to roll his eyes as Hermione crept in after him, almost choking with surprise.
There—just there, as if this were a real thing and not a terrible, inexplicable nightmare—Harry Potter was leaned casually against an ornate wooden desk, trousers unzipped. To make matters indescribably more confusing, Theodore Nott—of all people—was rising up from his knees, not even bothering to conceal the motion of his hand sliding down to unambiguously cup Harry's—
Hermione swallowed in disbelief, promptly looking away.
"You animals," Draco remarked, as if he were neither particularly surprised nor especially bothered.
"Draco. Might have called first," Harry acknowledged lazily in return, and once Hermione had heard the sound of trousers being re-fastened, she hazarded a moment of looking up, giving him a long, curious glance.
Her first impression (once she'd recovered from what she'd walked in on) was that this version of Harry was extraordinarily… neat. Both he and Nott, like Draco, wore what appeared to be a uniform, made up of black trousers and similar jackets emblazoned with the symbol for the Deathly Hallows. This Harry wore glasses, too, but unlike her Harry, this one wore a pair that were thin, black-framed steel, with a rectangular shape that might have passed for fashionable. His hair was slightly longer, parted to one side, and unlike Nott's hair, which was slicked back, Harry's had something of a wave to it. He looked, in short, like he'd fallen out of an artsy poster for handsome post-war gentlemen.
He also didn't look particularly pleased to see her.
"What's she doing here?" he asked Draco.
"It's not her," Draco told him. "It's her."
"Oh," Harry said, and beside him, Nott tilted his head curiously, eyeing her. "So you know us, then. Or versions of us."
It took a moment for Hermione to find her voice. "Yes, I know you," she said, a bit too softly for her liking, and then lifted her chin, turning her attention to Nott. "And I know of you," she informed him, not particularly politely. "We aren't friends where I come from."
Nott's gaze fixed on hers. He had the same unsettling quality that was so distinct to the Draco Malfoy who stood beside her. As if he were reading her, weighing her for value, and then making a deliberate determination of her worth.
"Theo," he said simply. She had the feeling that if she wanted more words from him, she would have to earn them. Beside him, Harry seemed to have finished his own surveillance of her, opting to take a step in her direction.
"I suppose you must be wondering where you are," he remarked. He didn't offer an explanation; she guessed that he was daring her to ask.
"I assumed it was one of your houses," she said. "Yours?" she asked Theo.
"No," Theo replied. He had a gift for expressing nothing, she thought, which must have been a benefit borne from immense wealth, or at least endowed through some sort of aristocracy starter pack. "My house has a very distinct aroma of cynicism and decay."
"And sage," Draco said.
"Cedar," Harry contributed.
"That's the cynicism," Theo told them. "You're both misremembering."
It was obvious the friendship here was effortless, possibly even thoroughly tested. The three of them seemed to have formed a protective triangle, shifting almost imperceptibly from their initial places in the room until they'd managed it. Hermione, meanwhile, was left to look on from the outside in, with the impression they typically stood that way, equidistant. She doubted many others had broken through their ranks.
Harry caught her glancing between them, noting her silent observation.
"This is my godfather's house," he offered, and she blinked.
"Sirius lives here?" she asked, surprised, and Theo and Harry exchanged glances.
"You're familiar with Sirius Black?" Draco asked her.
"Well—yes, of course," she said. "He's Harry's godfather."
They exchanged another set of looks again, with all the familiarity of people who could very well read each other's thoughts; not unlike what she'd had with (her version of) Harry and Ron. Clearly, Hermione thought, in addition to physically keeping her at arm's length, they also had secrets they didn't care to share.
"You can trust her," Draco said eventually, confirming her suspicions. "It's not like she's going to tell anyone."
Theo's brow shot up. "What does that mean?"
"That she's staying," Draco replied coolly. "With me."
"Mostly because I don't have a choice," Hermione reminded him.
She caught the motion of him smiling. "Everyone always has a choice, sweetheart," he murmured, his gaze flicking pointedly to the places his lips had touched the night before.
She swallowed, shifting in what was both dismay and discomfiting interest. "Arguable," she muttered under her breath, and then looked at Harry again, who was still watching her closely. "What is it you want to tell me?"
"Well, there's the truth, and then there's the truth," Harry told her, which was absurd, and absurdly frustrating. "Which do you want to know?"
Maybe she snapped. In all honesty, the whole thing was beginning to grate on her a bit, so maybe she lost her mind for a moment. Or maybe the three sharp-eyed rich boys staring down at her from their positions of privilege and isolation cost her a bit of her patience.
"Just tell me who the bloody fuck you are," Hermione said, "or we're all done here."
Then Theo's mouth twitched up, a smile catching at the corners.
"This is Orion Henry Black," Theo told her wryly, gesturing to Harry. "Called Harry by his friends and admirers—which are, of course, innumerable."
Harry rolled his eyes, but said nothing.
"He's the son of Sirius Black," Theo continued, "and, like Draco and myself, a Sacred Twenty-Eight heir." At the mention of his own name, Draco turned to look at her, checking (rather inanely, in her opinion) to see if she was following along. "He's also the godson of James Potter."
She frowned. "But—"
"Of course, all of that is what the rest of the world is permitted to believe," Draco assured her, his hand slipping to brush against her inner arm, soothingly. "But the people in this room know differently."
"Perhaps you know about my mother?" Harry asked her, and by the way they'd all leaned towards her, she could see this was the most intimate piece of information she'd been permitted so far. "Considering what you both have in common, that is."
"She's—" Hermione paused, blinking, as she considered the implications. "She wouldn't have been a witch in this universe," she realized, and Harry nodded, "so it couldn't have been legal, could it? And so you were raised by someone else—"
She pieced it together, stunned, and glanced up at him.
"But the other version of me," she said, abruptly remembering. "She called you Harry Potter, didn't she?"
Harry, who was hardly Harry at all, shrugged.
"Makes for a more manageable alias," he said. "She didn't need to know I was a Black. The name carries a certain weight, particularly considering my father—Sirius," he clarified, "and myself, of course, are the only ones remaining."
"But—wait. James Potter is alive here?" Hermione asked, and then blinked. "And this is his house?" she squeaked, and Harry smiled, looking pleased.
"Well, you're at least as clever as Draco assured us you'd be, Hermione Granger," he told her. "So let's see how useful you are, shall we?"
a/n: Dedicated to aurorarsinistra, who had to answer the question, "Wait, is this completely insane?" at least thirty times this week.