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yeah... this story is getting all metaphysical up in here. o_o why is my life like this

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Hermione wondered where screams go during Apparition. Does one leave a trail of sound across the entire distance traveled? Is there some other location one passes through when one Apparates, a sort of tunnel burrowing through space-time, and is that where all the spare sounds (and vomit) of witches and wizards Apparating end up?

In any case, she was quite sure her particular scream would be heard across the British Isles whether or not the science proved it likely. It hurt her own eardrums with its intensity.

They smacked into the ground, and Hermione shoved Malfoy away as hard as possible, groping in her robes for her wand.

Then she realized they were in an alleyway just off the main road of a crowded Muggle marketplace, and she thought better of it. Stowing her wand back in her pocket, she stormed back to Malfoy, grabbed his arm, and pulled him deeper into the alley. Yanking him around was surprisingly easy.

"Ow – let go, you crazy –"

"What do you think you're doing?" she hissed. "Where are we?"

He pulled his arm away and straightened his robes. "Did you really need to do that? My elbow's probably dislocated –"

She stuck out her chin. "Yes. I'd say it was necessary, given the circumstances."

"Circumstances?"

"The circumstances of my abduction, you absolute git!"

"This isn't an abduction. You didn't want to stay at Hogwarts."

"So what, you Apparate to …" She gestured violently at the general vicinity, and her eyes caught a shop sign. "What is that, Arabic? You Apparate to Saudi Arabia, and decide to drag me along?"

"Morocco, actually."

"Oh. That's less far." She considered for a second. "But – still – completely – ridiculous! What were you thinking? What are you thinking?"

He didn't reply.

"Well?" she demanded, but her outrage started to fade despite her desire to stay angry. She'd always wanted to visit Morocco, after all …

But how the hell was she supposed to explain this to Ginny?

The voice in the back of her mind said, Stop being obstinate, Hermione – you can easily owl her and say you've decided to go home for part of the holiday, and you'll meet her at the Burrow, and you just didn't want to weigh yourself down with all your things.

Still.

Malfoy coughed, a hrm-hrm-hrm noise that sounded uncomfortably reminiscent of Umbridge. "Shall we go ahead, then?" he drawled.

"Go ahead? Go ahead where?"

"Would you quiet down? You're being dreadfully embarrassing."

Hermione's jaw drifted open, and her rage returned in full force. "I – you – embarrassing?"

"Well, yes. I wouldn't have brought you if I'd known you were going to be so stupid about it –"

She couldn't even bring herself to repeat the word stupid, it was so absurd. Someone calling her stupid? Someone calling Hermione Jean Granger stupid? Instead of finding words to describe her towering indignation, she stomped, hard, on his foot.

"Ow!"

"There." Hermione let out a couple of long breaths, relishing in the melodramatic agony painted on his face. She rubbed her hands together. "Now. You were saying?"

A scowl twisted up his features. He drew himself up and stalked away into the main street, a distinct air of sulk hanging over him.

Hermione followed, rolling her eyes, making sure to catch up quickly so she wouldn't lose him. She found herself puzzling over Malfoy as they forged through the babbling crowd. One moment he was his sullen sixth-year self, the next he was as juvenile as a second-year, the next he was someone far more adult than Draco Malfoy had any right to be. Though perhaps that only seemed true due to his physique – tall, but not gangly; lean, with a face that had lost all childishness.

She had to stow her robes in her bag – the mild Moroccan weather rendered winter gear unnecessary. Tapping him on the shoulder, she let out a testy throat-clearing sound. "Where. Are. We. Going. If you don't tell me now, I'm going to find a bookstore and look this place up myself."

"Oh, Merlin, not the books," he mumbled.

"At this point, the books are looking far more helpful than you."

He glanced down at her and did a double take. "Where – hold on, where did your robes go? You just had them. Just a minute ago."

She patted her bag.

"How …" He stared for a second and then made a noise of disgust, quickening his pace. She thought she heard something under his breath along the lines of secret Ravenclaw, Merlin's beard.

"Oh, look," she said, pointing to a bright stall lined with books. "That looks distinctly helpful. Why don't we –"

Her eyes met the stall-keeper's, and she cut herself off. His eyes were so dark and so set in wrinkles they could have been walnuts, studded in a leering, drooping face. Hermione took an unintentional step back.

"Let's go," Malfoy said, a clear nervous edge to his voice. They slipped into the crowd.

Hermione tapped Malfoy's arm. "Did you know that man?"

"Why should I tell you if I –"

"Because if he's here and he's dangerous and I'm thus in danger, you owe it to me to explain." Her words came out rather stronger than intended. She rolled up her sleeves, huffing a little. The humidity made her itch, made her hair swell, and had already made her supremely irritable. Though that could be attributed to the company.

"I think I saw him in a group of suppliers once," said Malfoy. "His suppliers. But a supplier wouldn't be worth the cost of a trial." He glanced around and lowered his voice. "Still – this isn't a good place to wander."

"Aren't people going to recognize you, if we go somewhere Wizarding? You're not exactly low-profile."

"We just have to visit one place."

"You still haven't explained to me where that one place might be."

He unclipped his outer robes and cloak, throwing them over his shoulder, and wiped sweat from where it trickled down the side of his nose. "Granger, this market is older than … most everything. I thought you might find something interesting in the back section. You know, the section that isn't filled with…" He glanced around, grey eyes cool. "Muggle artifacts."

"You brought me here … to go shopping."

Malfoy scowled. "No. I brought you here because you said you wanted to discover something no one had ever heard of."

"Oh. Yes, that was what I said, you're –" She stopped in the middle of the crowded street, eyeing him critically. "You … remembered that."

"Yes."

"Word-for-word."

"I suppose."

Hermione shook her head and started walking again. This was the Malfoy who was more man than boy, the Malfoy who'd learned what being considerate was, the Malfoy who was articulate and careful, though no less proud. "I … all right, then," she said.

They pushed through a cloth drape into a back dirt road lined with Wizarding objects, items that hummed and buzzed and hovered and emitted odd scents. Hermione could practically feel what Malfoy meant by this place being old. Something hung in the air, some dusty memento of bygone days, a reminder of how raw and unrefined power used to be.

Through the throng of milling wizards, someone called Malfoy's name. The lines of his arms went rigid, but he kept walking.

"Should've cast a glamour," he muttered to himself. "Disguised myself."

"Who was that?"

"Don't know, don't care to find out."

Hermione gave a tiny flick of her wand. Malfoy's hair dulled from white-blond to straw-colored, and then to a nondescript brown. His eyes caught one of the wisps floating in front of his face, and he blinked, grabbing at his smooth bangs. "What –"

Hermione cleared her throat.

He looked down at her, expression clearing. "This had better be temporary."

"You're welcome," she said, her eyes flicking from one stall to another. The rough woven roofs of the stalls shaded burnished metals, dull precious stones, engravings on yellowing ivory. She caught sight of something that would have fit well in Dumbledore's office back when his silvery instruments adorned every spindly table. "What is this place?"

"A market."

"Evidently." Her gaze fell on something that looked suspiciously like a Venomous Tentacula seed, something that writhed and curled around its stall's post. But Venomous Tentacula seeds were Class C Non-Tradeable materials … "What type of market?"

This time, a faint sly smile accompanied his reply. "The only interesting kind."

Hermione's grip tightened on her wand, and her lips thinned. "I swear, Malfoy, if you get us arrested –"

"Oh, calm down. This place has been around since the fall of Rome. We won't get caught. The entrance only lets in buyers and sellers, and there are anti-Apparition wards all around –"

"Well, still." A faint ringing noise caught Hermione's ears. She shook her head, trying to clear the sound. "Do you … do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"It's like … like a bell, or something."

"Just you, I think."

She trained her ears in the direction of the sound. It came from a stall up ahead – or maybe it was from the slim gap in the wall between two stalls, the slash of a hole, like a slanted eye. The stalls seemed to be arranged by the languages their keepers spoke; back near the entrance had been Arabic, French on the left, Spanish to the right, and up ahead, by the hole, a stallkeeper yammered to a customer in English, though with an indecipherable Cockney slant.

The black of that gash in the wall, the empty cavity feeling it gave her right through her chest, just to look at it …

"Granger?" said Draco, sounding wary.

Hermione ignored him and approached the hole, eyes fixed on it. Cautious, long-unused gears ground into motion in her mind. Was this dangerous? What sort of charms or spells could she use on the object behind the wall, if it had nefarious intentions? Excitement zipped through her body at the thrill of danger.

She could still remember the rush she'd had in first year, the very first time she, Harry, and Ron had broken the school rules. She remembered her fruitless complaints, the guilty pleasure. She remembered returning time and again to ignore safety and security for the kick of adventure.

Hermione glanced over at Malfoy, who had caught up with her, looking affronted at her abandonment.

"Thank you," she said quietly.

His expression melted into confusion. Then one corner of his mouth twitched in an almost-smile. "All right," he said.

"The correct phrase is 'you're welcome,' I believe." Hermione sidestepped a stall with various bolts of cloth, slipped out of the thick band of people, and pointed her wand at the hole in the wall. "Exsecrari revelio," she murmured. Nothing.

She stuck her hand deep into the hole in the wall.

Her fingers tingled and collided with paper.

She pulled out a scroll. The parchment was desiccated and brittle, uncomfortably close to the hue of human skin. And as she looked at it, the ringing in her ears faded with something like a soft voice's sigh. Warmth etched its way across her skin.

"Do you think it belongs to one of these people?" Hermione said, glancing at the stalls to her left and right.

"If they're not hexing you for touching it without asking, I'd assume it's not theirs."

"All right. Well –"

"What do you think it is, anyway?" Malfoy said, inching back.

She arched an eyebrow at him. "Scared, Malfoy?"

He took a second to respond. "No," he said, but the word was strained. He moved back to her side. "Go on, then, open it." A pause. "Though I'd be careful. Some of the things here…"

"What? Some of the things here … what?"

"…are not safe. By any stretch of the definition."

Hermione sighed and put her hands on her hips. "All right. Should I put it back, then?"

"Of course not, you already have the thing."

"Would you like to hold onto it?"

"No!"

"Then I'm going to open it."

His bottom lip stuck out a little in seeming defiance. "Fine. Just don't … I just … fine." Something in his voice could have been mistaken for concern.

She held it out in front of herself, fumbling with the worn bronze clasp on the leather binding. As she pulled it off, Malfoy put a careful hand on her shoulder. She hesitated, took a breath, and unrolled the scroll in one sharp motion.

Everything froze. All the motion was sucked out of the world around them.

Malfoy looked around, his grip tightening. "What's happening? What's that say?"

One large symbol was inscribed in the center of the parchment. A swirl, a pattern, something as sharp and deep as a demon's eye. Hermione couldn't move her eyes from the indigo ink, couldn't blink, couldn't budge.

"Granger," Malfoy said. "Granger, are you all right? Why isn't anyone moving – what's going on –?" Panic swelled in his voice, mirroring the panic budding in her chest. Hermione wanted to say she didn't know, but a word built in her throat, throttling her voice, keeping her from saying anything in reply.

The word on the parchment. The symbol eating up her eyes. It tingled inside her body, fought for release, but she kept her lips shut.

Hermione didn't know why the scroll had called to her. And she didn't know what would happen if she spoke its word.

But it wasn't going to be good.

Everyone else on the street – everyone in her peripheral vision – was immobile, a swarm of wax statues with comically frozen expressions. The only one still moving was Malfoy, his hand on her shoulder painfully tight.

Apparate, she thought. Apparate. Try to break this spell. Please. She didn't know how much longer she could restrain her voice.

Still holding on, Malfoy leaned forward to stare her in the eye. "Granger! Can you hear me?"

The word had poured to the tip of her tongue. It grew by the millisecond, a great shout thirsting to be unleashed. Malfoy passed a hand in front of her eyes, but it didn't matter. She could see the symbol beyond his pale fingers, somehow, its ghostly afterimage burned into her corneas.

Apparate.

As if he'd heard her, Malfoy's hand moved to the crook of her elbow, and he spun on his heel.

Their departure from the ground jolted her mouth open.

And the word spilled out. The world spilled out. All dark and fury and anguish. "VYSCHTHAZ," came the roar of a colossus, pained and ancient and tearing out her throat in no voice she'd ever used – like no voice she'd ever heard – like no spell she'd ever heard, born of the druids and untouched by the false civilization of weak watery Latin speech. The word rent the very air from itself with a tremendous rocketing explosion and the scroll fell from her nerveless fingers and was eaten up by the not-quite-world between the Apparated and the Disapparated –

Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger slammed into the ground.

Yes; they had Disapparated.

But they had not reappeared on earth.

And they looked around, quivering and shaking, every particle of themselves caught in that hesitance between being Splinched and being properly attached to the right place and time.

What chasm had that scroll opened?

Dim grey dust all around. They were in a tiny room, flickering microcosms of images embedded under her knees in the flat rough stone. And as Hermione looked up, she saw through a hole in the ceiling shadowy cities and towns rising above her eyes in wisped tangled webs. Twisted together like nerves. Through the window, no sun. No sky. The world was a wild and intricate pattern of phantasmagoria; some dimension here was twisted, some perception wrought of pure misperception.

"Oh, God," Malfoy said. "Where are we." It was not a question. He knew she should have no answer.

But inexplicably, she knew.

"Death," she breathed, the symbol flashing before her eyes.

And Hermione curled up there on the floor – sucked in what could not possibly be air – felt what could not possibly be stone beneath her – but marveled at how much this death felt like life when she was holding onto herself like a child. Forearms locked around shins. Fingers clasping upper arms.

"How do you know?" he said. "How do you know that? Tell me, Granger! Tell me what's bloody going on!"

She could do nothing but shake and think and come to no conclusion.

"Tell me what's going on," he whispered. His voice trembled.

She'd asked for it, hadn't she? She'd had the nerve not to be happy with peace. She'd wanted something new, some new disaster.

Well, here it was. Enough for lifetimes. Enough for eternities.

She'd been so ungrateful.

All she could remember of the last months was how miserable she'd been, and now she tried to be unrepentant for it. After all, one's misery is always far less justifiable in retrospect than in reality, in living out the melancholy state of almost-tears. She knew that. She knew the war had changed her, she knew she couldn't deny it, and she would not do herself the disservice of harsh self-judgment.

Now, though … what if she never saw Ron again, never saw Harry or her parents or her friends? A world of pure hurt slammed into her at the possibility, the possibility of losing them all forever. She shrank further.

And when she cried, it sounded almost like laughter inside her head, because dear God, she felt sick and insane and hysterical with want. How she wanted it all back now. How she would have killed for it. How she would have sacrificed her dignity, her pride, her very knowledge, for returning to the misery and the hesitance and the sensation that she was just waiting for the fall. How she needed it.

Because as bad as anticipation is, in truth, the fall is always so much worse.

Hermione felt Malfoy's hand on her back and didn't bother mustering the energy to shrug him off. "What?" she said into her arms.

"Come on, Granger, get up," he muttered. "Let's go."

After an eternity, she said, "Go where?" Sniffing, Hermione wiped her eyes and sat up slowly, brushing silvery must from her robes. It dissolved into shadow as it fell from her.

"I don't know," Malfoy said. "But maybe we can … maybe we can find a way out."

She blinked a few times, but it didn't change: The pair of them were washed-out, almost colorless. Graying, like ghosts. Like the rest of this world.

"I wonder if we actually are dead," Hermione said, propping herself up.

Draco gave a high, hysterical laugh. "Don't be stupid."

"I am not stupid."

"I know. So don't say things that are."

"So it's completely unfeasible that the scroll could have killed us both?"

Malfoy's lips thinned. "Yes." He pulled her to her feet. "This is not … we're not dead. We just happen to … to have found our way to …"

"But we're here," Hermione murmured, looking around again. The tiny building that was somewhere between grey and brown, decaying. Outside, tracing the network of buildings and constructs up into the distance with wary eyes. "This is it. End of the road."

"This is it…?" Malfoy said. Despair rushed into every line of his face, and his noble, aristocratic air crumpled. "No. It can't be. You're wrong, Granger."

"I'm not –"

"I know you're never wrong, but you're wrong about this!" He stepped back. "We're alive. If we were dead … if we were gone … we would know. We would have had the chance to stay, to become ghosts. We would have – something."

Hermione walked to the window – by all appearances, it was glass – and peered out into the street. It wound, long and rickety, like Knockturn Alley. Twists and bends and labyrinthine branches.

And it was flooded with people.

"Oh my goodness," she whispered. "Draco. Come look at this."

"You called me …"

"What?"

"Nothing." He approached the window, but when he saw the throng outside, he faltered. "Ah, shit, this isn't … this can't be real. This is a dream."

The people below were all dressed in period garb, as if in some bizarre costume show. The women wore immaculate gowns; the men wore breeches, hose, and hats they flourished at each other.

Hermione wondered what time it was in the real world. She wondered if everyone had unfrozen. She wondered if the clock had been wound back, somehow ...

"This is a bloody ridiculous dream, and I want to wake up," Malfoy said.

"Will you be qui -"

"Merlin, please let me wake up, please, please –"

Hermione turned and whacked the side of his head. He lurched back, eyes popping wide in the picture of indignation, mouth drooping open. "What on earth –!"

"We're never going to get anywhere if you're going to act like a child," Hermione said. She got the impression no one had ever said the words to him before, because they seemed to cut deep.

Malfoy straightened up. "I'm not a child," he said fiercely.

"I know that. So don't act like you are."

"I'm not a child, Granger." The words were quieter this time. The expression he'd half inherited from his mother – the look like he'd just smelled something bad – faded from his face, much to Hermione's relief. Without it, he was the boy from the Potions classroom, the boy who listened and had learned. He was someone she could work with.

"All right." She took a deep breath and drew her wand. "Let's get a move on, then, shall –"

Then an indignant voice came from behind them. "Faith!"

Hermione and Malfoy whirled around. The source of the voice was a short young man with curly black hair, muscular and expectant-looking.

"Hast thou appeared here by some deception of mine eye?" he said, wonder etched in every line of his face, tempered by slight suspicion. "Lady fair, thou look'st akin to an apparition wrought by a Crystal of the Sight. What wearest thou?"

"Oh hell," Draco said. "Please tell me you're bloody joking."

"Shh," Hermione hissed.

"He's talking in bloody Old English –"

"Firstly, it's Early Modern English; I doubt you'd understand a word if it were proper Old English. Secondly, he can hear every word we're saying – who are you? I'm sorry my friend is being so rude."

"My name beeth Almerick Sawbridge," said the man. "Whence and wherefore have ye come to mine abode, and what are your names?"

"Hermione Granger."

"Draco Malfoy."

Almerick Sawbridge's eyebrows rose. "Malfoy? What bring'st thou here, sir?"

"Er. This scroll we found in Morocco," Hermione said. "Did you say Almerick Sawbridge?"

"Yea."

"I've read about you! You defeated the troll who was terrorizing the Wye River in the famous Duel of 1649." In the textbook, you were much taller.

The little man puffed himself up. "By heavens, curious wench! I know not how you came by a catalogue of my life's deeds, but thy recognition straitly satisfieth and pleaseth me well; I am he that hath slain the Terror of the Wye."

"Oh, this is bloody ridiculous," Malfoy moaned. "No, no, no, please, God, no."

"And um," Hermione said loudly, "it's lovely to meet you." She stuck out a hand to Almerick. "Draco and I landed here quite by mistake, and we're trying to get … out."

Almerick's handshake was firm. "Out? To where, I prithee?"

"Out of. Er. This place. Back to … you know, earth."

The look on the man's face drooped into grimness. "God's wounds," he murmured. "Thou hast fallen in on death, and thou desirest away."

"That's right."

"It'd also be damn convenient to find someone who speaks like a normal person," Malfoy muttered.

Hermione elbowed him, but then a shock pulsed through her veins.

Death.

People who spoke normally …

Fred, Lupin, Sirius, Tonks, Dobby, Harry's parents, Dumbledore. They were all here.

"Excuse me," she said, "do you know how to find people who died more recently?"

"Wast thou too slain shortly?"

"I … what?"

Almerick sighed. "If mine assumptions be correct, the readiest way to arrive hence is to make thyself an upward traveler of the roads; and if the which wilt thou, shalt thou find thy way to those that may greet you with familiarity."

"All right. Thank you." Hermione shot a glance at Malfoy. He shrugged. "So, we'll just, ah, be leaving, then."

They walked out the door Almerick had come through. His cheery, "Farewell!" echoed after them as the pair clattered down rickety steps.

In the narrow entry hall of Almerick's apparent dwelling, Malfoy tapped Hermione on the shoulder.

"Yes?" She turned. "What?"

"Do you know which way we're going, then? No idea what that man just said."

"Up."

"Up?"

"Up."

He sighed. "All right. This had better work."

"Well, don't go in expecting anything. Then you can't be disappointed." She turned on her heel, yanked open the wooden door, and emerged into the crowded street.


Used this for reference regarding Early Modern English grammar (it's a really fun article if you're a nerd like me. check it out): tvtropes dot org slash pmwiki slash pmwiki dot php slash Main slash YeOldeButcheredeEnglishe

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Not going to update on Christmas, since it's ... Christmas, but soon thereafter might ye anticipate an update.

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