TIMELINE: Begins 2000 (won't give an end date, as that's a plot spoiler)

MAIN CHARACTERS FEATURED (alphabetical order, last name): Willem Bradley, Philip Cadwallader, Penelope Clearwater, Fay Dunbar, Hermione Granger, Astoria Greengrass, Viktor Krum, Su Li, Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy, Cormac McLaggen, Theodore Nott, Pansy Parkinson, Harry Potter, Severus Snape, Jeremy Stretton, Lord Voldemort, Charlie Weasley, Blaise Zabini

OTHER CHARACTERS FEATURED/MENTIONED (alphabetical order, last name): Tamsin Applebee, Katie Bell, Susan Bones, Terry Boot, Mandy Brocklehurst, Lavender Brown, Flora Carrow, Hestia Carrow, Cho Chang, Stephen Cornfoot, Vincent Crabbe, Dennis Creevey, Tracey Davis, Dobby, Marietta Edgecombe, Natalie Fairbourne, Seamus Finnegan, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Vicky Frobisher, Gregory Goyle, Daphne Greengrass, Rubeus Hagrid, Terence Higgs, Carl Hopkins, Angelina Johnson, Megan Jones, Bellatrix Lestrange, Luna Lovegood, Nymphadora Tonks-Lupin, Remus Lupin, Morag MacDougall, Laura Madley, Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa Malfoy, Kenny Markham, Minerva McGonagall, Ernie Mcmillan, Walden McNair, Anna Mirfield, Graham Montague, Nagini the snake, Maxine O'Flaherty, Thomas Paley, Julie Parkes, Padma Patil, Parvati Patil, Adam Pickering, Adrian Pucey, Orla Quirke, Anthony Rickett, Demelza Robins, Thorfinn Rowle, Roderick Seaton, Aurora Sinistra, Jason Swann, Dean Thomas, Tom of the Leaky Cauldron, Sybil Trelawney, Romilda Vane, Cris Warrington, Arthur Weasley, Bill Weasley, Fleur Delacoeur-Weasley, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Ginny Weasley, Molly Weasley, Percy Weasley, Ron Weasley, Oliver Wood, Rose Zeller + some original characters

STORY DETAILS: Novel compliant up until The Final Battle of Hogwarts (May 2, 1998). After that, it's an Alternate Universe entirely (Harry lost the war). This will be a multi-part fic. A Draco x Hermione story mainly (with a lot of other pairings in the mix – no spoilers!).

SUMMARY: The Second Wizarding War ended in 1998 when, in an act of desperation, Lord Voldemort cast a spell to merge his final two Horcruxes – Nagini and Harry Potter – with himself. A new Dark Lord arose from this unholy union – one more powerful than Voldemort alone could have hoped to be. Thus began The Third Wizarding War, which was intended by the new Lord, calling himself simply Mort (arrogantly ascribing himself to the position as The Grim Reaper - Death, himself), to be a global domination by the forces of darkness. Two years pass. By the new millennium, a small band of surviving wizards and witches are all that remain to oppose this dark menace to the world in the United Kingdom. Lead by Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, this struggling band of never-say-die, courageous hearts battle the odds to bring an end to Voldemort's reign of terror once and for all.

RATING: M+ (NC-17 – extreme sexual situations – both heterosexual and homosexual, to include everything from consensual sex to non-consensual sex/rape, bondage, oral, anal, sado-masochism, masturbation, prostitution, pregnancy; extreme war violence and behavior often seen during war-times, including theft, murder, suicide, torture, deceit, profanity, alcohol consumption, gambling – basically this is A VERY ADULT AND DARK STORY)

**IMAGES for this fanfic (including what characters look like, and images of the locations mentioned in the story), can be found by going here: http:/ / s905 . photobucket . com / albums / ac260 / RZZMG / To%20Begin%20Again (remove all spaces from that URL to load it properly).



Chapter One: Saying Goodbye

Near Donegal in Ireland

Tuesday, May 2, 2000

The air held a warm breeze, scented with heather. They buried Seamus Finnegan's broken, bloodied body in a small, shallow grave next to a large series of ancient, glacial boulders, in a field of newly budding wildflowers. Nature would do for his marker. They couldn't let the Death Eaters know they had been here.

Hermione knew that she should cry. She wanted to cry. But the tears wouldn't come. She was holding too tightly to that cold, angry fire in her gut, as Malfoy had taught her to do, and reverently maintained the silence. Instead, she glanced around at the nine weary, sad faces of her friends huddled in a tight circle around the make-shift grave, and wondered again how it had come down to this pathetic, diminishing gathering. How it always seemed to come back to this godforsaken moment.

No one bowed their heads. No one wanted to peek out from behind his or her own shield. Besides, this hadn't been unexpected. They'd all known it was only a matter of time for Sea.

He had been a loyal friend since their Hogwarts days, and he'd grown into a strong wizard in this war. He was the scrapper type, determined never to be broken – not even under the claws of the Cruciatus curse. But being magically powerful wasn't the same as being emotionally strong, as Hermione had discovered. When Lavender Brown had been tortured, raped and murdered at the hands of an unknown sadistic servant of the Dark Lord, Sea had lost all sanity. He'd raged and he'd become unduly reckless, always volunteering for the suicide missions. His miserable, little funeral had been months overdue. At least he had served up some justice in death. Bullocks for Sea! A couple of those bastards for one of the good guys seemed more than a fair trade.

Still, it hurt. Their numbers had dangerously dwindled over the past year, and not for the first time, she wondered what the hell they were still doing here in the former U.K. Yes, her group had volunteered to stay behind to keep tabs on the enemy for the Movement, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain contact with the other factions across the world. Hell, she and her group had spent the better part of two days Apparating from place to place, just so they could make it to Sea's family's homeland to bury their friend with some dignity.

She didn't see him, but she could feel Malfoy's presence nearby. At some point she'd become attuned to his aura; he was off to the left of the gathering, and behind the circle, always on the outside. He may have been their de facto leader, and the one they all looked to for guidance, but because of this, he could never truly feel close to any of them. He endured the loneliness that came with the responsibility of assigning people to their deaths.

Instinctively, she knew Malfoy was feeling a tremendous guilt for allowing Seamus to go on that last patrol. He'd never show such weakness, never give it a voice, of course, but later, he'd go off alone to cut himself up, and then to strategize – to make sure he never made such a mistake again in his planning. He'd accept no comfort or help during such times, either. She secretly suspected this was a self-inflicted punishment for the sins of his past; for all that he had been accomplice to in their Sixth and Seventh Years at school.

Hermione hurt for him more than herself.

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Neville stepped forward, cradling his maimed left hand to his stomach, as usual. With a flick of his good wrist, he magicked the Irish black soil to cover his best friend with a whispered, "Bye, mate."

Hermione felt her breath hitch. Would they do this for her when it was her time? Would he?

She turned to look back over her shoulder at Malfoy. Her eyes again followed the path of the slashing scar that crossed his pale forehead from right to left. It slanted down over the bridge of his nose and fell off abruptly. Fucking McLaggen, she snarled to herself in raging hate. Even after two years, Malfoy's left eye had never fully healed; his peripheral vision would never be the same. At least the scar was starting to fade, however - it was now a pinkish welt instead of a red one. The early morning sun's rays glinted in the strands of white-blond hair, turning them golden, and Hermione could not help herself: he was still so very beautiful. And aloof. Just looking at him made her heart ache. She wished once more that things could be different between them.

He passively turned his gaze to meet hers. Steel grey eyes stared back at her coldly, determinedly.

Yes, he would go to the ends of the earth to bury her properly. He would never fail her in death, no matter what evils life may hold for them. This she knew to be true in her very soul.

She sighed and turned back to the others. They were waiting on her now. As Malfoy's second, she was the one they looked to for guidance. It was his brilliant, clever instruction that kept them ahead of the Dark Lord's minions - that kept them alert and animated. But it was her mouth that conveyed the will, her exertion that assured their action, her hands that soothed their injuries. She kept them alive. In a strange way, she and Malfoy were Mother and Father to their grim little band of insurrectionists.

"Two days reprieve," she briefed the group. "We Apparate back to our previous safe house the day after tomorrow." She turned to Blaise and Astoria. "You two - set-up detail. I want the tents up in one hour. Rain's coming this afternoon. Cave Inimicum, Muffliato, Protego Totalum, the works." The duo nodded simultaneously. She turned to Bradley and Dunbar next. "You two - first watch. Then, Malfoy and I, Cadwallader and Stretton, Longbottom and Clearwater, Zabini and Greengrass. Two hour rotations. Short naps in between. Everyone eats, even if you don't feel like it." She turned to the final member of the group, whom she hadn't yet assigned a task to. Adrian seemed miffed he wasn't chosen for patrol, knowing what chore remained. "Pucey, you've got meals," she informed him firmly, stamping out any chance for guff. He hated cooking detail, but he could whip up fantastic eats on the fly, and that was more important than his pride.

She turned back to Neville. "Walk with me."

Everyone dispersed, those with immediate chores heading off to do them, while everyone else found an inconspicuous spot to hover around, watching the horizon for trouble. Malfoy walked off behind the boulders to be alone with his thoughts. Neville fell into step beside her.

For a few dozen paces they said nothing. "Do you need to be taken off the rotation for a day?" she asked him softly.

Neville stopped walking so suddenly that she had taken two more steps before she realized he was no longer beside her. She turned back to watch him carefully. The fist of his good hand clenched around his wand, the other hanging uselessly at his side. He had tears in his eyes. Finally, she thought. Longbottom hadn't cried when they'd collected his best mate's body, and there hadn't been time to feel anything in the ensuing flight from the Death Eaters afterwards; those bastards had used Sea's body as bait, knowing the group would never leave one of their own behind. It had taken hours and dozens of jumps to shake the harassment and get away clear.

"I'll be fine," he choked on his words.

She scrutinized him. Neville had gone through a lot in the last few years. His gran and his girlfriend, Luna Lovegood, had been killed in the first weeks of the fighting, he'd had his hand pretty much destroyed a year later, and he'd lost some of his neurological coordination from a rather vicious blow to the head given by Thorfinn Rowle a few months ago. In the interceding time, like the rest of them, he'd buried dozens of classmates, friends and former teachers. Despite all this pain, though, Neville hadn't thrown away his life. He'd fought on, adapted. It was no wonder he'd been sorted into Gryffindor.

Hermione knew that if he could cry now, he would survive this loss as well.

She nodded, slipping back into the hard-lined authority. "You've got six hours until your shift, then. Rest up and eat."

He nodded, and she walked back to the encampment, leaving him to his grief. She glanced about the camp to assure the others were equally adjusting to their newest loss. They were shaken up; Seamus had been a core member, always strong, always fighting. But, they seemed as if they, too, would reconcile with their bereavement, given time. She gave them each solid eye contact and a nod or pat of encouragement as she passed them by. Then, she made her way outside the camp, looking for him again.

Malfoy was sitting on the ground, one knee up and a hand resting across it. Between his fingers, he twirled some clover. She joined him. For several long minutes, neither spoke.

"I liked you better with long hair," he murmured absently, staring out over the horizon.

Hermione fingered through her short, close-cropped hair. She'd cut it this last week, with Astoria's help. After what McLaggen had done to her last year, she'd vowed never to give a man a chance to grab her by her hair and hold her down again. "It's not ugly, and it's easier to maintain this way," she made the excuse, even though they both knew the reason for the dramatic change.

He did not immediately reply, continuing to spin the clover with his long, pale fingers. She didn't mind; she'd grown comfortable with him and the silence after the last few years. Finally, he flicked the trifolium away and sighed.

"No, it's not ugly," he conceded. "Just different."

This was the strangest conversation she'd ever had with Malfoy. Normally, they talked about tactics, supplies and morale. They didn't discuss personal things. "Why does it matter?" she hedged, curious.

His eyes narrowed in thought, and then he ran his hand through his sunlit hair and leaned his eyes against his palm, covering his face with his long fingers. She knew he wasn't crying; Draco Malfoy didn't cry. He just seemed so defeated suddenly. It made her gut clench in fear. Never in all their long months together had he ever given her reason to doubt his emotional resourcefulness. But at that moment… She'd never seen him this weak. Had Seamus' death really affected him so?

She put her hand on his shoulder, her fingertips daring to stroke the hairs at his collar. It was more intimate a touch than they had ever shared. But then, he was showing a more intimate side of his personality than ever before, too. "Malfoy, what's really going on?" she asked softly, genuinely worried.

He grabbed her hand so swiftly that she fell back, completely disarmed by the move, shocked into insensibility. She'd forgotten about his Seeker reflexes. Malfoy was wicked fast when he needed to be. They stared in silence across the half meter separating them, each measuring the other. Finally, he let her go and rolled quickly up onto his feet. "I'm not one of the kids, Granger," he growled, referring to the others in their group with a jerk of his chin. "I don't need your comfort."

She stood, feeling the first touch of anger against him in weeks. He'd rejected her first and only attempt to reach out to him, and now he was accusing her of coddling. "What the hell is your problem?" she spit back, clenching her fists at her side, feeling queasy in her stomach from the unexpected confrontation. "Is it Seamus? Then, talk to me about it. Don't play these kinds of games."

"I'm leaving," he announced suddenly, not looking her in the eye, but off into the distance.

She stepped back, swallowing painfully. "What?" she gasped, praying she'd misheard.

Malfoy sighed again. "I'm going, Granger. We needhelp. Snape's in Romania with the Weasley who tames dragons. The last message Dobby managed to sneak through said they'd been sheltering a little coven of wizard refugees near Tulcea. I'm going to find them and bring them back here. I want you to hold down things here until my return."

Hermione felt ice stab through her heart as panic set in. "You can't leave now!" she practically shouted. "We need you here, Malfoy. You're our leader."

He turned to her, a bitter smile on his handsome features. "They look to you, not to me. You've got it all under control, Granger. And we both know that you don't need me."

She stopped herself just barely from screaming the truth in his face. If he would only read her mind with his Legilimency proficiency. If only she had the courage to confess her feelings.

But she knew that there were some lines she could not cross with Malfoy, because his own stubbornness would intercede on her behalf. After all, he'd been the one to find her after McLaggen had finished with her. He'd been the one to nurse her back to health, not with kindness and compassion, but with forced antagonism, because if there was one thing Hermione Granger answered to, it was her anger. He hadn't let her feel the shame, or the weakness that should have accompanied such helplessness in the aftermath of the rape. Instead, he'd fought with her at every turn, pushed her to take care of her responsibilities to the group instead of thinking only of herself, kept her from wallowing in self-pity by forcing her preoccupation with the cause. He'd given her back her courage and resolve. If she threw herself at him now, and he didn't turn her away… If he fell in love with her back, he'd try to keep her out of the fight to protect her. He'd ship her off to America to be with Arthur and Molly's cell, or South Africa to live in one of the hidden cells there with Carl Hopkins or Thomas Paley. Or worse, he really would leave, just go away one day, all in an effort to draw the attention of the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters away from her, just to keep her safe.

She knew all of this, because she knew him. She had fought at his side for two long years. And over those chaotic, mad days, she'd seen his real heart – the part that a man can't hide when he's facing imminent death. For all his outward detachment, Draco Malfoy had proved to be fearless and fierce, loyal and committed. She trusted him with her life.

But to be shunted off to hide, or to be left behind, all for safety's sake, would destroy her. She would not be discounted! She was his second, the one who watched his back, protected him as he protected the others. But she couldn't let him go out alone, knowing he might never come back either. She had to try to reach him. "We could send a message," she offered evenly.

He scoffed. "How? There are no owls, fairies, or house elves left to carry letters. None of us has a broom to fly. A Patronus won't reach as far as Romania. The Muggle government and its bloody postal system are long gone in Europe, and Muggle machinery doesn't work in this part of the world anymore either; too much electrical and magnetic discharge from all of the magical energies. You told me that, remember? And we can't very well Apparate to Eastern Europe; most of us have never been that far off this fucking island! You know as well as I do that you had to have actually been to a place to Apparate to it on your own."

She thought furiously. Try as she might, though, she knew he was right. The Death Eater attacks were becoming more frequent and more deadly with every passing month. They'd been doing too much running lately, sometimes hardly able to catch their breaths before jumping off to a new location. They'd also lost four good people this last year – Justin Finch-Fletchley, Ernie Macmillan, Lavender Brown, and Tom the former proprietor of The Leaky Cauldron. And let's not forget last week's murder of the house elf, Dobby - the only one of his kind to give it a good fight after the defeat of Voldemort by the new Dark Lord. There were only eleven of them left now, and they were all exhausted, physically and emotionally. To make matters worse, their resources were spread too thin to continue the radical insurgent attacks on The Fortress.

Hogwarts, she thought forlornly of her beloved school. It had been taken by force and perverted into a place of death, terror and torture two years previously. The first big real estate casualty of the war. Now it was just called The Fortress, and it was the bastion of Lord Mort.

Harry, she mentally cringed in a combination of sorrow and anger.

Technically, the thing that was the new Dark Lord was a fusion of Voldemort and his final two Horcruxes, her former best friend and the snake Nagini. What had emerged from that unholy, unnatural union was something monstrously evil and twisted: the body of a human, but the features and skin of a snake; the lust of a mammal, but the cold-bloodedness of a reptile. She shuddered at the memories of his serpentine-slitted blue eyes leering at her across a scorched field, at the pointed fanged mouth madly grinning in feverish pleasure upon seeing her still alive, of the writhing things that crawled underneath his mottled, grayish-brown skin, seeking escape.

She recalled this last round of attacks, and Seamus' sacrifice. Malfoy was right. They were in trouble. Lord Mort was beginning to become impatient with the back-and-forth game they played. She knew he would eventually tire of it and fulfill his promise to find her soon.

Someone had to go behind enemy lines and find Snape and the others, bring them back. With their help, they might have a chance to turn this war around. And if things turned from bad to worse, at least they could make a decent last stand. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that as things stood, they were running out of options – and lives. Sending someone off to Romania was a desperate gamble they needed to take.

"I'll go," she volunteered. "You stay with the others and hold them off until my return. You're a master tactician, after all."

"As are you," he countered, smirking. "I sometimes think you're more a Slytherin now than I have ever been."

She blushed and looked down at her feet, knowing his words for the compliment he'd intended.

"I have to be the one to go," he explained. "Of us all, I'm the one who's gone the farthest onto the continent. I can Apparate with a good head start."

"You mean to go to Paris," Hermione stated, remembering that he'd been taken to France after their Sixth Year by his mother, Narcissa, who'd desperately tried to help her son escape Voldemort's continued influence. She hadn't gotten too far, unfortunately. Her own husband, Lucius, had been released from Azkaban by his master for the sole purpose of tracking his family down and killing them. But, although a loyal Death Eater, Lucius hadn't been able to kill his wife and only son. In the end, Draco had been forced to Avada his own father. Imagine that: his very first kill – his maestro sire. The death of her husband at her boy's own hand had driven Narcissa mad with grief. She'd turned her own wand on herself. Draco had been unable to stop her in time. In one afternoon, he'd lost his cherished family in the same city where they'd once all laughed and danced at high society parties, carefree and naïve. He'd punished himself since by tirelessly working to destroy first Voldemort, now his successor.

Malfoy nodded. "It's the best chance we've got. I can make it over land from there to Romania if I transfigure myself."

Hermione wanted to argue, but she recognized his flawless logic. "It'll be very difficult to Apparate that far. Can you do it?"

He smirked, a little of the old cock-sure Malfoy peeking through. "Of course."

"What form would you take?" she pushed. "Human?"

He shook his head. "No. There are too many check points a human has to pass to get anywhere on the roads, and crossing the back country on human feet is too dangerous, not to mention limiting. I considered a flying creature, but there aren't any birds that are naturally the size of a human. All it would take is one Death Eater to look up and we'd be dead. It has to be a mammal. Something roughly the same size as a human, with stamina, speed, and strength."

"A wolf," Hermione correctly deduced.

He nodded.

"Be careful, though," she cautioned. "Don't stay too long in that state. You'll start taking on the personality of the animal the longer you hold yourself in its shape."

He nodded again. "I know. By the way, I'm taking Greengrass with me."

Hermione felt an instant stirring of hot jealousy in her guts. "May I ask why?" she asked as placidly as possible.

"She's the fastest on her feet," he stated the obvious. "If we get caught, her speed will get her through. Someone needs to get to Snape. With two going, at least one should make it."

Hermione tried to quell the green-eyed monster within, focusing on the mission parameters instead. "Can Astoria transfigure that well? She'll need to hold the shape of the wolf for at least half a day, every day."

"Will you help her?" he asked, looking over at Hermione enigmatically.

She nodded without hesitation. "Of course." He had asked it of her, so she would do it.

"I'll need you to make a Portkey for me also, so I can take it with," he instructed. "Once Astoria and I get to Romania, we can use it to transport everyone back here immediately."

Hermione organized mind puzzled over the logistics of the plan. "You're going to need some way to transport everything you'll need." She had a moment's inspiration. "I'll put together an Undetectable Extension Charm on a small bag. You can put your clothes, supplies, and the Portkey in it, and wear it around your neck as you run."

Malfoy nodded in approval.

She was afraid to ask her next question, but it was necessary. "When do you leave?"

He considered his answer. "When everyone leaves here - the day after tomorrow. It'll be a smoother transition that way."

She agreed.

Malfoy turned to look at her fully. "Granger…"

She felt her heart thud in her chest as she looked up at him. Merlin, he was handsome!

"I want you to stay low while I'm gone," he bid her adamantly. "No unnecessary engagements with the enemy. Keep your heads down, stay out of sight, and wait for me to return."

She looked him in the eye. "I'll take care of them."

"I know you will." He gave her an uncharacteristic smile then, and suddenly, Hermione was reminded of the boy she had known back in school, back when they were both unconstrained and innocent. She tentatively returned the smile on the outside, but inside, she secretly wept.