Disclaimer: Don't own a ruddy thing, except my lovely laptop. I named it Ludwig II.
"To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
The world had officially gone mad, off its rocker more like it, there was simply no other viable explanation. If you thought carefully about it, one would be inclined to think that staying alive should be fairly easy in this day and age. A piece of cake, really. If you thought further, one would come to the conclusion that there wasn't much you couldn't do nowadays, but instead a whole lot of things you shouldn't do. Although, in hindsight, and ultimately the point in this matter, surviving had never been more comfortable and safe, than it supposedly was right now.
Therefore it was safe to assume that staying alive was a task easily done.
Normally, that is.
Living was the one thing that was supposed to be hard; now she found herself in the precarious situation of having a hard time with both.
How did it come to that? It hadn't always been like this, she knew.
The depressing line of thoughts brought forth forgotten, well maybe not forgotten as much as hidden and stored, memories of her beloved father, her caring mother, and everything good and innocent from before.
It made her remember a saying, she would rather forget altogether, but recalled nonetheless.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.
It was a phrase her father had often cited, when she had been nothing but a little girl with unmanageable bushy hair and a bucktoothed smile. He had worn out that stupid expression to the point, where those very wise words lost meaning and sorely started to lack in the encouragement department.
Truthfully speaking, it was no wonder she eventually came to despise it.
Back then she had attended a small local muggle school and was the prime target of bullies. Naturally, it was because of her bookish appearance and know-it-all attitude. In her mind there was nothing wrong with having a strong personality, but perhaps, in retrospect, she had come through as a bit too obnoxious and headstrong.
Also, by the general rules of society she had been labelled a freak; her magic had only served to highlight her differences. Odd things happened around her, when she was in desperate need of help. Hiding spaces that had previously been too small for her to use, suddenly appeared larger and ready to use as a temporary safe place. Homework and notes ruined beyond recognition would suddenly mend themselves. Things that by normal standards shouldn't have been possible, and wasn't normal at all.
She remembered how they would call her names as well, and not very nice ones.
Stranger Granger. Freak. Know-it-all. Beaver. Bookworm.
Not the most creative of names, she would admit, but it couldn't possibly come as a big surprise that they lacked in another aspect of life.
Children could be, and more often than not were, cruel to those unfortunate souls they didn't like or found even remotely different from themselves, or the vast majority. They certainly had no qualms acting so, despite who they hurt in the process; a fact she had discovered from an early age.
A fact she had learned the hard way.
To be fair, she had chalked it up to them lacking common sense, as well as manners for that matter, or rather, as the childish part of her mind had suggested - the case of non-existent, functional brain cells. Not unlike the mountain troll she had encountered at Halloween in her first year at Hogwarts, but now that she thought about it, the troll was probably smarter than those horrendous school children.
No books could have prepared her for the pain she felt through her early school years. She had obviously read about such crude and idiotic notions such as bullying, but naturally, she hadn't paid much attention to it. She had thought it so far away, and figured it had nothing to do with her. It could have been fiction for all she cared. Who in their right mind wanted to be cruel to others for selfish and infantile reasons anyway?
She had been ignorant and naïve in her logical approach in the matter, but soon found reality catching up. Bullying wasn't pretty. It was actually horrifying the way it had scarred her, the way it lingered long after, years after. It had left a deep imprint on her mind, she could still feel it every now and then, hear that little voice that repeatedly told her she wasn't good enough and that no one liked her. Even now, even after she had become friends with Harry and Ron, although most of the time it hardly mattered nowadays, but when they fought, or if they spent a little too much time apart and the absurd fear of them drifting away from each other would arrive, the feelings would come back with a vengeance.
She hoped the annoying and rather unreasonable feelings would gradually diminish.
She was a logical and analytical person by nature, she wasn't prone to acting recklessly on emotional meltdowns like Harry, and she definitely didn't have sudden bouts of irrational jealousy and anger like Ron, which was why it most certainly did not sit well with her, when she suddenly found herself feeling like the insecure nine-year-old, who thought she wasn't good enough.
She was above that. Above such mediocre thoughts and feelings. It was simply illogical and downright absurd, yet she still found herself feeling vulnerable, when her shield of cold hard logic would falter, and she would stumble through the unwanted emotions she had felt all through her childhood - and later repressed.
Muggle school had left a scar.
Later on she found, that there were other things in life that hurt a great deal more, learned that school bullies and afternoons spent crying in her mother's comforting warm embrace were the least of her worries.
She momentarily felt a pang of hurt, when she thought of her father's soothing words and her mother's tender hold. She missed them terribly, and the thought of them not knowing who she was, or the fact that they had a daughter at all, it tore violently at her heartstrings, viciously ripped and clawed at them.
It all seemed so far away, the days spent worrying over nothing, where loving parents and a good book could cure everything, maybe even a cup of hot chocolate if she was lucky. Now it was merely a memory from another time, and another life altogether.
It was such a damnable long time ago.
And again that stupid phrase came to mind.
Back then, in her muggle school, she had not understood how those silly little words were supposed to be any kind of consolation, and to be honest, she still didn't.
Although, she would admit that in a sense those obnoxious little words held more truth to them than anyone could possibly know, but people simply didn't get tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange, nor did people have Fenrir Greyback chasing them through a bloody forest at midnight, with the additional promise of a night of horrors, beyond the imagination of simple people.
If captured, her mind reminded her.
To Hermione Granger those words were undeniably bollocks. They had been bollocks when she was nine and came home crying, because the twins Anna and Mia Pearson had made fun of the bird's nest atop of her head, and her much too large front teeth during recess, and they were certainly bollocks now.
Everything she had experienced the last seven years of her life had been, for lack of better words, a trial. Every single year something bad happened, be it death, pain, betrayal or even cold hard prejudice against something so crude and nonsensical as blood purity, or rather lack thereof in her case. A wee bit of bullying had long since faded in comparison.
She had seen enough. By Merlin, she had felt enough. She had nightmares that would make Freddy Krueger cower in fear, of that she was sure, and enough nightmare material to last her a lifetime. Not that she would get to experience that lifetime worth of nightmares, of course. By now she had unmistakably run out of luck, and the absolute worst part of it all, was that she had actually expected it.
Had they ever truly stood a chance against Voldemort? She wondered, and had done so for a very long time.
For Merlin's sake, that monster was almost impossible to kill.
Why couldn't he just die like a normal person, after being killed once before? Once should, by all accounts, be enough.
But no. He just had to go and split his soul into seven pieces like the insufferable bastard that he was. Lord-Bloody-Voldemort.
He was a bloody cockroach that's what he was; hard to kill, but not impossibly so.
And therein lay the problem, they, the golden trio, were way in over their heads this time. Basilisks, traitorous rats, polyjuiced Death Eaters posing as teachers and moronic ministry officials seemed like child's play in comparison to outright war. Because this was war. There was no sugar coating it anymore, no more Order members desperately trying to keep them out of meetings held at a rundown headquarter, no more being kept in the dark, and by default kept unaware of all the horrors awaiting them.
Hermione Granger, The Brightest Witch of Her Age, Mudblood Extraordinaire, lacking complete and utter faith in her own cause. Lacking faith in herself.
What a joke.
Over the last three months her ideals had slowly crumbled, her purpose in life seemed to have vanished for the most part, and most importantly; she hadn't a shred of hope left in her body. Not even when Draco fucking Malfoy had decided to join their pathetic little group of three, had she felt a spark of hope, but she supposed it was because her mind and body still hadn't fully recovered from Bellatrix's torture at the time. Her thoughts had been muddled and incoherent at best. Later on she had come to appreciate Draco's actions, as he had been the one to get them out of that awful place he once called home.
She had been grateful of course, especially when it came to her attention that Fenrir Greyback had developed a rather unhealthy obsession for her, and worse was, she had been about to be handed over to him, had Draco not intervened. Not that she remembered much of the ordeal at all; she had been near unconscious, when the boys had grabbed her and fled from their captors.
But in reality, Draco's contribution to their cause had only served to give them a week longer. A week of starvation, unbearable fear and tiring arguments.
Planning didn't go overtly well, when a Malfoy and a Weasley were thrown into the mix, apparently. But she supposed the outcome was to be expected. Pigs would grow wings and fly before those two buried the hatchet.
The first time they had begun planning breaking into Gringotts, it had turned into a bloody mess, although it wasn't completely unjustified on Draco's behalf. He was right. It was foolish and downright suicidal. Luckily she had, at the time, been able to control the situation at hand, or rather what had gotten out of hand.
"Would you just shut the fuck up for one minute, Weasel? We all know you're delusional, but this, this is downright insane!" Draco snapped at the irritable redhead, whose ire seemed to be increasing by the minute.
"Fuck off, Malfoy! This is none of your damn business! If you're too scared to do this, then I suggest you run back home to your mum with your fluffy little ferret tail between your legs!" Ron spat, sparkling blue eyes ablaze and wand in hand.
"Sod off, Weasel! It's a fucking death trap, and you know it! Or you would, if you used that pea-sized brain of yours. Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot, you seem to have misplaced it for the time being, if you had one in the first place! Fucking Weasley." Draco retaliated, while grabbing for his own wand, his anger rising to meet that of the infamous Weasley temper.
"Shut up, both of you!" Hermione growled, clearly unimpressed by their lack of communication skills and immature retorts. She was hungry, irritable and their planning had gone south the minute Ron had opened his big mouth. She was most definitely in a bad mood.
Harry, as per usual as of late, looked pensive and was entirely uninterested in the fight; instead he concentrated on the problem at hand, while hiding away in his own little world of peace and wonder. It was going to take a lot of planning to pull off a stunt like this. He knew that. Only Voldemort himself had succeeded in breaking into Gringotts, honestly, he wondered how in Merlin's soggy pants they were ever going to pull this off. Even with polyjuice, there was no guarantee they would come out of it alive, let alone find the horcrux that supposedly resided in the Lestrange vault.
Ron and Draco looked warily at each other, uncertain of how to proceed. Whenever Hermione chose to involve herself in their little spats, it never boded well for either.
Draco had come to realize that an angry Granger was a dangerous Granger. At one point Draco had even contemplated letting Hermione, in one of her surges of violent anger and pure murderous rage, have a go at the Dark Lord. He wondered if Voldemort would get out of that particular encounter completely unscathed, as Granger tended to get extremely creative when angered, or if he would simply kill her for her impudence. At that last thought he stopped thinking of such moronic ideas. He knew she wouldn't stand a chance against the Dark Lord. But it was certainly entertaining to think of the things she could do to piss him off, which were, without a doubt, many.
Ron mostly scoffed at her anger, but made no move to anger her any further. He was prone to idiocy, but he certainly wasn't suicidal.
She sighed deeply, before launching into a longer speech. "Draco, I know this seems crazy to you, but we have no other choice. We need whatever is in that vault. If we want to kill him, it needs to be done. So for once, could both of you just stop arguing? It's hard enough as it is. And the next time you two morons decide to have a go at each other, I won't hesitate to interfere, and believe me when I say, I have had plenty of time for myself lately. One tends to get ideas, when alone." Both of them visibly flinched at the combination of her dangerous tone, narrowed eyes and final words. Even Harry, who had no part in this, winced at the implication of her words. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of Hermione Granger's wand and wrath, or in Draco's case; fist.
A small part of her, the part of her exhausted mind and body, which longed for nothing more than peace, welcomed her impending death. But that part was heavily buried within the deepest darkest pit of her mind, as the horrors of suffering her end at the hands of Fenrir Greyback was much too horrifying and gruesome to even consider. Death could, in some ways, be seen as the easy way out, but in this particular case she knew it would be anything but. She had heard the stories about Greyback's victims, and she would be damned if she let herself become one of them.
It was amazing how quick everything could go from being all nice and cosy to being utter shite. She marvelled at the absurdity of it all. The beauty of being lulled into a deep state of false security.
Ah, but the sweet allure that was fear, which strangely enough was their only motivation these days. Cold, hard fear of what the world would become, should they fail their quest for justice.
It certainly wasn't because they wanted to be the ones to do this.
And who in their right mind had left three teenagers to be the wizarding world's saviours? Just who the fuck had decided Harry should shoulder this humongous burden by himself, Hermione and Ron not included, they were, after all, self-explanatory where Harry was concerned. Honestly there were limits to Harry's power, Ron's willingness, and her intelligence.
And now they were completely fucked.
They had been doing some last minute planning in regards to their upcoming break-in at Gringotts, but Ron, as always, decided to show his inner royal prat, they all knew was in there. He didn't trust Draco, and perhaps it would be prudent to say "with good reason", but this was war and they had very few allies left, still he refused to forgive and forget. There was simply too much bad blood between them. Literally. Of course, it didn't help that Draco taunted him at every given chance, and that Harry refused to take sides, something that made Ron even more furious and irrational.
It had started out as one of their regular spats and disagreements, but the planning itself had gone awry the minute Ron had mentioned Draco's former allegiance, suggested that he hadn't truly changed sides. The comment had been bad enough to make Hermione fly off the handle, before Draco himself had time to retaliate properly. Harry had, as per usual, refused to take sides, tired of the endless fights and eager to get the planning done. But Ron would have none of it.
Needless to say, the evening had turned into a bloody mess the minute Ron had opened his big mouth. Oddly enough she didn't blame Draco, because she knew it was just the way he was. She expected it of him. To be fair, he was out of his element, had single-mindedly chosen to abandon his family and their ideals, perhaps to right a wrong and ease his guilty mind. Who knew what went on in the mind of a Malfoy?
Contrary to popular belief, Draco Malfoy wasn't evil. He was most certainly a stupid, selfish prat, but evil? No, definitely not. He might prance around like he owned the world, but deep down he was just an untrusting misguided child, who unfortunately worshipped the ground his father walked on. Although, she had a feeling, he didn't feel particularly inclined to worship anything about his father lately, and with good reason.
So when she looked back on this night, it didn't come as much of a surprise to her. In hindsight, she should, perhaps, have predicted the outcome from the start.
The second Hermione had heard the angry shout slip past Ron's lips, that one bloody word that was supposed to be off limits, she knew they were screwed. She had seen Harry's head snap towards Ron and Draco, eyes wide and filled with raw fear. Somehow she had managed to grab hold of her beaded little bag in all the confusion that ensued only minutes after Ron's slip-up.
"I have told you before, Weasley, I want no part in this idiotic mission of yours. Compared to you lot, I actually value my life." Draco scoffed uninterestedly.
"Shut it, ferret! You're a bloody coward!" Ron shouted, frustrated with the young Malfoy before him.
"Call me that again, Weasley, and I will make sure you go right back to that cell I so conveniently saved your sorry arse from." Draco grit out, more than offended by the redhead's stab at his bravery.
"You see, Harry? You heard what the traitorous little ferret said! He obviously can't be trusted!" Ron hollered, unperturbed by his rash choice of wording.
"Just let it go, Ron, it's Malfoy, what did you expect him to say? Oh yes, I'll be right behind you, when we dress Granger up as my mad aunt and break into the most secured bank in the wizarding world. Honestly Ron?" Harry shook his head at the redhead, not in the mood for another verbal lashing that would no doubt evolve into a physical one. Ron on the other hand looked just about ready to murder Draco for being, well, being Draco, and then smothering Harry in his sleep for not backing him up. These days he was as bad as when he was wearing Slytherin's locket. Draco really brought out the worst in him.
"I can't believe you would side with the ferret, that's a new low Harry." Ron was seething, and any minute now the bubble of pent up anger and frustration, the temperamental redhead had build up over the past week, would burst.
"Ron, be reasonable. We are all in this together, and if we can't even have a simple conversation, how in the world are we going to break into Gringotts? Let alone get out safely? And just remember, if it wasn't for Draco, we would probably be dead by now, or worse." Hermione interjected wisely, she had been listening to the boys argue over nothing, a familiar scene these days, seated beside Harry and somewhat captivated by the tale of the three brothers, a story she had read one too many times, yet she still hoped to find something new and useful to their cause.
"Reasonable? Reasonable! I'll give you bloody reasonable! He's a spy Hermione, that's what he is, why the fuck would he else be here? Huh? Do you seriously think the bastard just had a sudden change of heart? After seven years of tormenting us?" Ron spat angrily, there was no calming him down now, he was too furious and it was bound to end in disaster. In a way it was quite an amazing feat, how he could be so far gone, that all reason and logic had no way of reaching him, not even if it tap danced right in front of his eyes and then hit him square in the face.
"Now listen here Weas-" Draco started, equally angry at the assault on his credibility and intentions, but was interrupted before he could say anything he would later regret.
"Spy?" Hermione's voice was positively toxic and her eyes narrowed into tiny slits. Ron had efficiently succeeded in awakening Hermione's slumbering anger, anger that usually, for all purposes and intents, laid dormant.
"Spy?" She repeated, her voice rose to a higher, more deadly sound, and her normally bright and warm, chocolate brown eyes, turned a deep shade of dark brown. Harry cringed and looked frantically between his two best friends, no doubt worried about the outcome, then shifted his troubled gaze to Draco. He too, was looking a bit anxious, if not a bit paler than his usual alabaster complexion. Both boys knew it was going to get ugly.
"Ronald Weasley, do you have any idea what you are saying, you ungrateful prat? You think they would try to kill their own spy? They bloody well nearly took off his head, on our way out of the bloody manor! Did you actually get a good look at Bellatrix? Because I assure you, I did. She was murderous! And why the ruddy hell would they let all of us go at once? Think about it, you bloody moron! They had Harry Potter, Undesirable no. 1, in their possession, his Mudblood best friend, and you, a known blood traitor. You think they would willingly let him go? Let us go?" She ranted, furious beyond compare, she had enough of Ron's outbursts already. He was still treading on thin ice, after leaving Harry and her to fend for themselves, and now he was frankly pushing his luck to the extreme.
His face had gone a horrible shade of red, the flush clashing terribly with the fiery red colour of his hair, and he looked ready to blow up any minute now. Unhinged and completely unabashed, the explosion of his temper engulfed them all in an inferno of cuss words and pent up anger.
"Are you fucking stupid, Hermione? The fucking ferret is a treacherous bastard! Have you forgotten how he's called you a Mudblood every chance he got? Because I sure as hell haven't! But if you really like him so bloody much, why don't you join him and run back to Voldemort?" Ron hollered, screaming until his throat felt sore and his body sighed from release of week-old pent-up anger, but as soon as the last word was spoken his body stilled, frozen by shock and instant regret.
They. Were. Screwed.
There was a frightening silence for no more than a second, before hell broke loose.
"Weasley you idiot! You have condemned us all." Draco said, fearful and wide-eyed, and there was no hint of his usual sneer to be detected.
"What have you done?" Hermione whispered, stunned into silence and her fear growing by the minute, but even in her shocked state of mind, she had enough mind to reach out to her beaded bag on the table. Roughly, with no concern for the welfare of the old book, she shoved The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which she had previously been reading in silence, and everything else of value on the table, into the never-ending space in her tiny bag. Harry still stood frozen; seemingly unbelieving of the situation they suddenly found themselves in.
Everything happened so fast; it was all a blur in her mind, her memories were distorted and confusing. They had each run off in their own direction, there wasn't enough time to coordinate, and the second she laid eyes on Fenrir Greyback, she left all rational thought to wither and die at their abandoned campsite. She knew what he was. He was her worst nightmare come to life, and in pursuit of her at this very moment.
Before they had run off in different directions, she heard Harry shout a simple order, simple but necessary as they had all stood rooted to the ground, except for Hermione who had been busy grabbing whatever she could. It was like devil's snare had infested the forest and instantly grabbed hold of the boys. Her fingers were tightly grasping her bag like her life depended on it. To be honest, it did.
Never underestimate the value of a woman's purse.
"Fuck it! RUN!" His voice was filled with so much fear, and she was glad he was a Gryffindor. A lesser man would have broken a long time ago. Harry was strong, but she had feared for a long time, that he would break soon enough. Something was bound to give at some point, his sanity she feared, and she had a feeling it would happen sooner rather than later.
They had yanked the tent open and she ran as fast as her legs allowed her, charging forward in a fast pace beyond her normal limitations, adrenalin pumping through her veins like galloping wild horses. Her feet barely hit the ground as she bolted through the cold forest in an attempt to escape the abominable wolf-man, who had spotted her the minute she took off. She didn't think, her brain had moved on to autopilot. Hermione Granger was living on survival instinct and running for her life. Her little beaded bag was dangling in her tight grip, swinging back and forth as she charged forward, her wand ready to defend herself, if need be, in the other.
"HERMIONE!" She could hear Ron call out from some direction, but the words hardly registered, and she ran with all her might. She had only one thought and that was to run and get the hell away from Greyback. And she couldn't stress enough the importance of it happening now. Branches graced her flushed cheeks, they were inches from hitting her eyes, she hardly noticed. Thorns from bushes near the ground tore into the denim fabric of her trousers and she vaguely registered that warm blood was seeping through her trousers, but her body refused to slow down. She felt no pain, the adrenaline made sure of that. Her jacket hung open and loose on her upper body, the zipper bounced back and forth like a small pendulum in rapid little movements, and her wand hand graced it once in a while, when her hand came in contact with the small silvery zipper during her frantic movements.
Later she would be thankful for small favours, such as adrenalin, granted there would be a later.
She heard Harry in the distance too, but Ron's voice had faded into a silent whisper, or was he even shouting anymore? Had they by chance caught him, before he could get past the disapparition wards? Draco too, was yelling something. Curses and hexes most likely.
No words got through her mantra.
Run. Run. Dodge. Run. Run. Jump. Run.
She could vaguely make out Greyback's harsh and revolting panting somewhere behind her, perhaps he had not expected her stamina to hold up this long, and was therefore taken by temporary surprise. She too, was astounded by her prolonged physical endurance, but the fear of Greyback by far ruled out any stupid notion of taking anything short of a break. Minutes later she could feel her legs start to ache, and her lungs start to burn almost feverishly, the pain finally choosing to establish itself. If only she had the opportunity to apparate, then she could at least slow down a bit, but she was too unfocused to make an attempt, and had no idea if they had set up anti-disapparition wards upon their arrival. She would without a doubt end up splinching herself beyond recognition. The three D's were so far from her mind at that moment.
Run. Jump. Dodge. Run.
Harry's voice was nowhere to be heard anymore. Only Draco's hoarse voice remained, but in a matter of minutes he too faded from her radar. Was it all over? Or had they by some miracle escaped? She could still hear the nauseating sounds coming from Greyback, and they were closer than before. Much closer. In a thoughtless moment she chose to turn around, trying to assess the situation.
Her eyes widened, Greyback had undoubtedly caught up with her, and it was glaringly obvious that he enjoyed the thrill of the chase. She could see his tongue dart out to lick his cracked, dry lips, and the action made her shudder in revulsion. Whatever he had in store for her, she wanted no part in it.
In all her desperation she failed to look ahead of her, failed to notice the much too obvious hillside. And all too late she tried to stop to prevent the inevitable fall, but her body was going at an incredible pace, that in reality was much too fast for her small body. She stumbled downwards, and her eyes went wide the moment she felt the ground beneath her feet disappear.
She hadn't expected the sudden change of landscape.
She hadn't expected the sudden flash of light either.
She tumbled down the slippery slope, fast and hard she fell; somehow she had managed to turn around, desperately on the lookout for any signs of Greyback. But she saw none.
She was sure he would have caught up by now; he had only been seconds away from her, seconds away from putting his beastly hands on her.
How she had the ability to sustain clear thoughts in that moment, she had no idea, but her mind, she found, had a newfound clarity she had sorely missed in recent days. Too bad the lucidness was about to be obscured by the consequences of her fall.
She tried to grab hold of something, anything, but to no avail. Her hands got bruised and scratched, in her desperate attempt to stop the fall, while awkwardly trying to hold onto her bag and prevent damage to her wand.
She feared it was over, when she felt her head connect with a massive stone on her way down the hill, and her leg smash into a solid tree, bones undoubtedly broken in the process. The pain was unbearable, but by no means the worst blow to come. The last thing she felt was an excruciating blow to her abdomen, abruptly passing out cold.
Now she was screwed.
A/N: First chapter done, or rather the prologue. Hope you enjoyed it!