So, here's the eighth chapter of Survival of the Fittest! This story is officially neck to neck with The Blood Pact as far as chapters go. It's my second most popular story as well. Good to know! Anyway, the next chapter of Be Careful What You Wish For should be up soon. I just want to focus on this story for a while longer. I'm moving out and beginning college, so I'm not sure how good I'll be at updating.
Anyway, on to the story!
Disclaimer: I am not nor will I ever be such a fabulous writer as Ms. Joanne Rowling and Susanne Collins. I am merely a humble fan girl who loves to write fanfiction based on their wonderful stories. Enjoy!
May the odds be ever in your favor,
"Enemies make you stronger; allies make you weaker." ~Frank Herbert
Ch.8: Allies Make You Weaker
Hermione stared up at the sky, watching as the fairies replayed the scene of the feast unfold before her eyes. Draco sat beside her, his gray eyes studying the map they had just received. Hermione knew that only Heads of Houses could send gifts to the players, but she wondered if it had been Snape or McGonagall who had sent the map. She hoped that they would figure out in the future, but for now they needed to come up with a plan of action, and the map would be a useful asset in doing so.
"Where is he?" Hermione asked Draco without looking away from the sky.
"He's in the prairie climate. Why the hell would he want to be there? It's all open space. Someone could easily take him out," muttered Draco in reply.
"His power is invisibility. He could go anywhere and no one would see him," she muttered.
"Well, we can't do that. How are we supposed to track him down without giving away our location?" he asked thoughtfully.
"I don't know… we'll find a way, though," she murmured.
It was quiet for a while as they both tried to figure out a way to escape the detection of Ron and the other players in the prairie climate. Hermione's mind raced as she tried to think up a plan, but she was drawing blanks. She had no idea how they were going to move through an open climate with no places to hide while going un-detected.
"We need a distraction," muttered Draco.
"Yeah, but what are we going to use as a distraction?" she asked.
"I don't know," he admitted. "But we can find a distraction along the way. For now, let's pack up camp and get some rest."
Hermione agreed and they began packing up their meager possessions into their backpacks. As they packed, it was completely silent. Hermione couldn't help but think of if they got separated. What would they do then?
"Draco we need a signal?" she blurted out suddenly.
"What?" he asked, turning to look at her with a confused look on his face.
"In case we get split up, we need a signal," she explained.
"All right, then. What do you suggest?" He said, stopping packing and directing all of his attention at her. She hesitated slightly before letting out a soft whistle, informing him that it was a call that a finch made. He practiced for a few minutes before finally being able to replicate the sound.
Hermione couldn't help but notice that Draco now had a backpack. As far as she could remember, he hadn't had one when they were together at the beginning of the game, which could only mean he got it when they were split up. She wondered if Snape had sent it to him or if he had snagged if off another player. When at last they were done, Hermione took out her water bottle and, learning from past mistakes, drank the rest of the water that was within it before kneeling down beside the creek and filling it to the brim, screwing the cap on. When she straightened up and found Draco staring at her, she spoke.
"When I was searching for you, before the feast, there was hardly any water in Crabbe's water bottle and I almost died from dehydration. I figured I should fill it now so something like that doesn't happen again," she explained.
"That's a smart idea," murmured Draco. With that, he withdrew a water bottle from his pack and began filling it as well.
Hermione spread her jacket across the grass of their camp and lay on it, staring up at the incandescent stars above her. Draco zipped up his backpack before joining her and together they lay in silence, connecting the dots between the stars and forming constellations. Hermione thought of the man lying beside her, the man that had terrorized her in her childhood and the man she now considered a friend. If someone would have told her even last year that she would be chummy with Draco Malfoy, she would have laughed at them and suggested they go to St. Mungo's for a head check. But now, she understood why he had terrorized her all those days. She had accepted his apology and couldn't have been happier about it as she watched their tentative friendship blooming. With this thought in mind, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Hermione woke up to sunlight filtering through the leaves of the trees above her and dappling the ground with patches of light. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, yawning. Judging by the position of the sun, it was early morning. Draco was already up, his backpack on his shoulders as he tore down the leaves that were camouflaging their makeshift camp. Hermione stood to her feet and slipped on her jacket, making her way over to the creek. She kneeled beside it and cupped her hands in the blissfully cold water, letting a handful of water gather before she splashed her face. Now awake, she dried her face on her shirt and wet her hair, combing out the tangles in her bushy mass.
"Morning," he said smugly, smirking at her. She rolled her eyes at him and finished combing out her hair.
"Good morning, Draco."
"I reckon we'd better get moving if we want to get to the prairie climate by sundown," Draco said, changing the atmosphere from playful to serious. Hermione nodded, and with that they began packing up the rest of their camp.
Hermione covered up all traces of their fire with a pile of leaves as Draco tore down the camouflaging he had put up the night before and with one look at their abandoned camp site, they began the long journey to the prairie climate. It was eerily silent as they made their way through the forest. The familiar noises of the forest animals was silent and Hermione was reminded that the only food in the arena was the beef strips in her backpack. She hoped that Draco had food in his, otherwise she didn't see how they were going to get any of the stuff. Hermione didn't recognize any of the plants surrounding them and didn't want to take a chance in eating them in case they were poisonous. The only option was to receive food as a gift from the Heads of Houses, unless there was some food source within the arena that she didn't know about. But McGonagall had made it clear that all food sources had been deleted.
"Draco, do you have any food in your backpack?" she asked him after they had walked a little longer in silence.
"Just a small bag of crackers and a few nuts," he replied. Hermione frowned. She knew that the next obstacle that would need to be overcome would be obtaining food, and she wasn't sure how to do that unless they could steal from the other players. She wasn't sure if the other players even had food, though. She sighed as they walked and tried to distract her mind by taking in the scenery. The lush forest was a blinding color of green and the leaves almost sang a song as they danced in the gentle wind. Moss and Lichen grew all around them in a seemingly infinite supply, making their walk cushioned and their footsteps soft and light. Hermione knew that if either became injured, moss would be a good tool for healing, but she hoped the other herbs hadn't been deleted along with the food.
The sun was high in the sky when they stopped for a lunch break. The trees had begun thinning out, reassuring Hermione that they were traveling in the right direction. Hermione plopped down on the mossy ground and pulled the food from her pack while Draco leaned against a nearby Oak and studied the map. His gray eyes flickered from left to right as he tried to pinpoint their location and finally, when Hermione presumed he had found their dots, they stilled and he looked up at her.
"It's about… Oh, I reckon another four hours to the prairie climate from here," he declared.
"That makes me feel loads better," Hermione muttered. "What about everyone else? Is there any other players in the near vicinity?"
"Leave it to you to use big words when you're worried," he muttered with a smirk before studying the map again. "Loony and Weaslette seem to be nearby. They're about an hour's walk to our right. That Finnegan chap is about sixteen kilometers to our right. Those Patil twins are about nine kilometers to the southeast, and the Chang girl and her friend Marietta are fourteen kilometers to the west," he replied.
"Okay, good, so no one is in danger of finding us too soon," Hermione murmured. "All the same, we should hurry up and eat so we can get out of here just in case."
Draco rolled up the map and stuffed it back into his bag and walked over to sit beside her. They divided the nuts from his pack equally in half and each allowed themselves two crackers and two strips of beef for their meager meal. As they ate, Hermione noticed that clouds were gathering north of them and frowned. She hated the thought that they could be slowed down by the rain, but maybe it would be the distraction they would need to take on Ron. Besides, if they were going to be in the prairie climate with no immediate sources of water, she knew the rainwater would be welcome to them. They gave themselves five short minutes for a lunch break before Draco spoke up quietly.
"We should be moving on."
Again, they shouldered their bags and continued their long journey. As they walked along, Hermione could feel the humidity in the air grow heavier and heavier and she knew the weather coming wasn't going to be just rain. They were walking straight into a storm. She weighed the pros and cons. There weren't any trees in the prairie climate, so there was less of a chance that they were going to get hit by lightning, but the tall, dry grass was practically inviting a lightning-induced fire. She countered that information by telling herself that Draco could just put out the flames with his water abilities, but she wasn't sure if the fire would be magically enhanced or not.
The sun was just kissing the horizon when they arrived at the edge of the deciduous forest, the border that marked the beginning of the prairie climate. They stood behind the cover of trees, watching the landscape warily for any signs of movement. All was quiet except the wind that tore angrily through their hair and made the leaves shake and shudder. It was nothing like the gentle caress that it had been earlier. They settled themselves against some trees and Draco brought out the map, his gray eyes wandering across the parchment as he studied it. Hermione watched him expectantly, looking at her new friend.
"Weasley is coming this way, but he's a long way off. About an hour or so, I reckon. We have time to rest," he murmured, looking up at her. Their eyes met and for a moment they just looked at each other before Draco glanced down at the ground, clearing his throat. Hermione stared down at the crimson and golden leaves that had fallen down to the ground and bit her lip. It was silent for a long while. Hermione had never felt such an uncomfortable silence. She slipped her backpack off her shoulders and unzipped it, pulling out two beef strips and handing one to him. Biting off a chunk of the strip, she began to chew slowly and thoughtfully before speaking.
"Hm?" he answered, swallowing his mouthful of dried beef strips.
"I never thought in a million years I'd be friends with the Bouncing Ferret," she said, smiling slightly. His gaze shifted downwards uncomfortably and at once Hermione wished she hadn't said what she did.
"You call this friends? Tromping around together in a forest, biding our time until we kill one another? Well, I don't," he snapped.
Hermione felt a pang. They weren't friends? After all they had been through? He had been acting civil to her, and she to him. Wasn't that enough? Suddenly anger rose up in her. She shouldered her backpack and rose to her feet, glaring at him.
"Well fine, then. Excuse me for trying to make amends between our past," he hissed.
"Granger…," he trailed off, looking like he wanted to tell her something. His troubled face suddenly turned to anger. "Fine! Go and kill Weasel yourself, then." He rolled the map up, shoved it in his backpack and with hardly a glance back at her he walked away, pushing his way through the brush.
"My name is Hermione! You didn't seem to have a problem calling me that before! And fine, maybe I will kill him on my own! I don't need you!" she shouted to his back. He didn't acknowledge her in any way. She slid down back onto the ground, tears seeping out her eyes. Burying her face in her arms, she began to cry. Hot, sticky tears ran down her cheeks, but she didn't make an effort to wipe them away. She couldn't believe she was crying over the Ferret. She had thought they were friends after all they had been through, even after how he had treated her in their previous years at Hogwarts. All that talk they had about the world not being black and white… where had that gone too?
Suddenly, a throaty growl echoed across the arena. Her tears for Draco forgotten, Hermione jumped to her feet, summoning a fireball immediately, looking around for the source of the noise. She now wished that Draco hadn't taken the map with him so she could see who, what, or where the noise was coming from, but she'd have to make do. She stayed in the shadows of the birch tree she was standing by, her eyes wide as glanced around frantically.
A blood-curdling scream pierced the air and another growl followed it. Biting her lip, Hermione edged forward toward the sound, her mind racing as she tried to process the situation. It could very well be a trap, but then again maybe someone was in trouble. Maybe someone needed her help.
With a renewed determination, she darted out of the shadows and sprinted past the border of the trees into the prairie climate. A few kilometers forward and to the left she could see smoke billowing above several trees that were planted on the border. The smoke was thick and putrid, making her guess that some saplings were on fire. She hesitated for a moment, her brown eyes trying to take in the scene. There was no one nearby, at least as far as she could see. To her right, prairie and open grassland stretched on for as far as she could see, and to the left lay the border between the two climates.
Another vicious growl snapped her out of her reverie and she sprinted forward, thinking that perhaps this wasn't the best idea after all. Her feet thudded on the ground as she ran through the switch grass, the stalks striking her face and making her skin sting as they created small cuts. She didn't stop running, though. Her eyes were fixed ahead on her destination, curious to figure out what was going on and knowing that someone most likely needed help.
As she neared the border of trees, the smoke thickened until it was profuse, making Hermione gasp and choke for air as she neared the source of the fire. The smoke wafted around her, surrounding her until it was impossible to see anything on every side. She held out her hand, wondering if she could manipulate smoke as well as fire. At first, nothing happened. Then the smoke began to shift until a small tunnel of clean air formed. Hermione walked forward into the tunnel, inhaling the precious air gratefully. Despite the small haven of clean hair she had created, her eyes stung from the smoke she had walked through, causing them to water and making it hard to see where she was going.
Suddenly, a tree crashed down in front of her and she scrambled back in alarm. As the shock wore off, she edged closer to the obstruction, inspecting it more closely. Several tongues of angry blue and orange flames licked at the charred wood. Cautiously, Hermione snapped her fingers. At once, the flames that had been devouring the wood flickered out, leaving nothing but a charred lump of wood in her path. She stepped over the fallen tree easily, intending on continuing through the tunnel of clean air that she had created, but stopped in horror at what she saw.
All around her flames rose up menacingly, devouring the trees, shrubs, and other plant life in its way. Sweat began to bead on her forehead and upper lip as the temperature around her rose. She knew she would never be able to control an amount of fire this large otherwise it would drain all of her energy and most likely kill her. If a forest fire this large reached the dry prairie grass, no doubt it would spread rapidly and be near impossible to stop. If only Draco were here…
A shriek jarred her out of her thoughts. She looked around wildly for the source of the noise. The shriek had come from in front of her, where a colossal black boulder towered above her. Hermione glanced around nervously, wondering who was screaming, where it was coming from, and what was happening.
"Hello? Who's there? Where are you?" Hermione called out hesitantly, turning in a circle. There was another earth-shaking growl, and then…
"Hermione!" came a very familiar voice from above her. At once, Hermione identified the voice as belonging to Ginny Weasley, her redheaded best friend. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she looked up, and suddenly a realization struck her. The large mass that she had thought was a boulder earlier was not a boulder.
It was a dragon.
The creature was pitch black and massive, with spikes that protruded in a line down its back, on the tips of his wings, and its tail. The tail was shaped like an arrow head and Hermione knew it would be just as sharp and deadly, should it strike her. Its eyes were black as night and, as it detected her presence, its eyes flickered down to her and stared, as if imagining all sorts of ways to kill her.
"Ginny!" Hermione yelled, now seeing the tiny splash of ginger against the pitch black scales. She scrambled back to get a better look, her brown eyes wide with terror.
Ginny Weasley was standing between two of the razor-sharp spikes that lined the dragon's entire back, looking scared for her life. Even from this distance, Hermione could still make out a fresh gash on the redhead's cheek that was bleeding freely. Other larger and more serious wounds dotted the girl's body on her arms and stomach, making it obvious that she needed immediate medical attention. Hermione assessed the situation, trying to form a quick plan. Perhaps her fire would help against this enemy as it had against others. Something in the back of her head told her that it most likely wouldn't as this was an animal of fire itself, but she ignored that, wanting at least to try something.
Bracing herself, she crouched down into a combative stance, summoning a fireball in her right hand, and flinging it at the dragon's face. The dragon recoiled as the fireball struck its face, letting out a startled growl. It appeared to have done no damage, only annoyed and temporarily blinded the beast. In the short time that the dragon was distracted, Ginny was able to jump off its back and break her fall with a roll. Hermione rushed to the redhead's side, kneeling down beside her.
"Ginny! Are you all right?" she asked breathlessly.
"Fine, just a few cuts," Ginny panted.
"We'll need to treat them as soon as possible or they'll get infected," Hermione said.
"What're we going to do about the dragon?" the youngest Weasley asked, glancing at the creature that was behind her.
"I dunno. What's your power?" she asked with a frown.
"Electricity," Ginny replied. "Why?"
"Our best shot is to injure it with our powers so that it will have a hard time chasing us. Target the wings," Hermione instructed before standing to her feet, another fireball already springing to life in her right hand. Ginny staggered to her feet and limped up to join Hermione where she was standing. Together they faced the dragon and Hermione was glad that there was someone to help her fight this thing, because she knew she wouldn't be able to do it on her own.
With an angry roar, the dragon lunged toward both of them, its talons kicking up grass and dirt and rocks as it went. Hermione dived out of the way, rolled, and sprung back up on her feet, facing the dragon again. She cast a quick glance toward Ginny and saw that the redhead had dodged the dragon's attack and was now flanking the creature discreetly. However, this unfortunately meant that the creature's full attention was directed towards Hermione.
Impulsively, Hermione waved the hand that held the fireball, making sure she had the dragon's attention. The beady black eyes of the monster followed her intently, looking as every bit of an intelligent creature as a Centaur or a Merperson. Hermione bit her lip, unsure of her next move to distract the dragon, and afraid that at any moment, it was going to turn around and fry Ginny to cinders.
Suddenly a bolt of electricity pulsed to life and struck the creature with a thunderous crackle that seemed to echo across the whole arena. The dragon convulsed as the shock rippled through its body, frantically trying to get away by flapping its wings and lumbering blindly around the clearing. An oak tree snapped and fell to the forest floor with a deafening crash as it was trampled by the monster and at once it caught fire, joining the other fallen trees in the rapidly spreading forest fire. As the last waves of electricity surged through the creature, it let out a strange noise that seemed to be a mixture between an angry growl and a pained wail.
Suddenly a burst of flame jetted out from the dragon's mouth, racing toward Hermione at an impossibly fast speed. She had just enough time to turn her head away and shield it with her arms before she felt the heat of flames licking at her arms and legs. The fire ate away at her clothes and realizing the gravity of the situation, she threw herself down on the ground and rolled to smother the flames that were steadily licking at her skin. After the flames had been put out, she stopped for a moment to inspect the damage.
She knew it was bad when she hardly felt any pain at all. Peeling back the singed cloth that was now the remainder of the lower part of her jeans, she forced herself to look at her wound. Burns covered her entire lower legs, from her ankle up to her knee. She knew they were serious burns because she had heard someone say that if you didn't feel pain from a burn, the fire had eaten through the nerves. She winced as she moved her leg just a tiny bit, wondering how she was ever going to manage to kill a dragon in this condition.
Hermione looked up into the dragon's pitch black eyes in terror. She knew that if the dragon were to attack again, she wouldn't be able to move out of the way in time, if at all. As the creature's black eyes turned crimson, ready to breathe fire and finish her, another jolt of electricity flickered through it. With an angry snarl, it lashed out at Ginny with its tail, knocking her down off the boulder she had been standing on to attack the creature and falling into unconsciousness. With its annoyance out of the way, the dragon once again turned back to her, its eyes lighting up to a crimson color once again as it prepared to spew flames from its mouth. Hermione closed her eyes tightly, waiting for the flames to consume her flesh and kill her. What a pitiful death this was. Death at the hands of a mere creature. At least her death by Ron's hand had been unexpected. She waited for the flames to come, knowing there was no way to escape this time.
They never came.
Tentatively, Hermione opened her eyes, wondering why she was not a pile of ashes on the forest floor. She looked up at the dragon, surprised to find its snout soaking wet, water droplets dripping down onto the grass. The creature gave a small shake, almost like a dog would, scattering water droplets in every way. Hermione winced as the droplets spattered her face. She glanced around frantically, hardly daring to believe that the person who had saved her was the one she was thinking of. Surely not…
But there he was, Draco Malfoy. His platinum blonde hair was singed in places and disheveled, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration as he watched the dragon's every move. The creature turned away from Hermione, now watching the greater threat as it looked for any sign of weakness. Suddenly its eyes glowed crimson and it opened its mouth, taking in a long breath before breathing flames, aiming at Draco. He went into action immediately. Summoning a water ball into his hand, he pelted it at the oncoming flames, extinguishing them.
"Weaslette!" he yelled, giving a quick glance over at the redhead and then looking back to the dragon.
"Is that… Malfoy?" Ginny asked groggily. She had just woken up out of her unconscious state and was sitting up, trying to make sense of the scene before her.
"Yes, it is! No time to explain! I need you to help me!" he replied.
"Uh, yeah, okay," she said, standing to her feet and stumbling slightly, still out of sorts.
"I need you to send a large electric shock through the dragon at my signal," he explained.
"What's the signal?" Ginny asked in confusion.
"Trust me, you'll know it when you see it," he said vaguely.
The dragon watched the two as they conversed, obviously not knowing who to go after first. Finally, its gaze settled on Draco and it took a long breath, its eyes once again turning crimson. Just like last time, as the flames spewed from the dragon's mouth, Draco pelted a water ball at it, extinguishing the flames. As soon as he extinguished the flames, he closed his eyes, concentrating as he raised his hand, pointing it at the dragon. Water rose from the ground and enclosed the dragon, preventing it from breathing fire.
Draco nodded at Ginny, who was standing there and watching, waiting for the signal. She gave him a curt nod in return and waved her hand. At once an enormous shock ripped through the dragon, tongues of electricity spreading throughout the whole creature. It began to convulse violently, making the surface of the water ball turbulent like a body of water disturbed by a swimmer. All at once, the dragon collapsed to the ground, puncturing the ball of water as if a needle had gone through it. The water flew in all directions, extinguishing the forest fire that had been spreading.
As the last ripples of electricity flowed through the dragon, it grew still, its pitch black eyes growing cold as the life faded from them. As soon as it was obvious that the creature was dead, Ginny collapsed to her knees. Hermione knew that the amount of magic she had used was completely draining her energy. She just hoped it wouldn't drain her life as well. Draco ran over to where Hermione lay, kneeling next to her and inspecting her wounds in concern. She could detect fatigue in his face as well, but he was doing a good job of hiding it. He had used a large amount of magic to subdue the creature and most certainly was exhausted.
"I'm sorry I left, Hermione. I was… I was being a prat. I had time to think, though, and I would be glad to be your friend. I guess I just scared to be your friend because—"
"Draco, we all need to find somewhere safe to rest," she said, interrupting his ramblings. "In case you hadn't noticed, I have severe burns and you and Ginny are exhausted."
"No buts, Draco. We need to leave now. This place isn't out of sight. We'll be found soon," she interrupted him again, a stern look on her face.
"Fine," he said, some sort of expression flashing over his face. "Can you walk?"
"I think so," Hermione mumbled. He held out his hand to her and she hesitated before accepting it. Pain shot through her leg as she stood and she let out a muffled whimper.
"No, you obviously can't," he muttered. He thought for a moment before looking at her again. "Let me carry you."
"I… what?" Hermione sputtered, sure she had heard him wrong.
"You're in no condition to walk. Let me carry you," he said, repeating himself.
"No buts," she said, smirking as he repeated her words from earlier. Hermione sighed in resignation.
"Fine," she said in defeat.
He gave her another smirk and scooped her up into his arms, one resting under her arms and the other in the crook of her legs. He made his way over to Ginny, who stumbled to her feet, the fatigue on her face obvious. She glanced at Draco and Hermione and raised an eyebrow, to which Draco ignored.
"Coming, Weaslette?" he asked the redhead. She nodded, too exhausted to speak.
With that, Draco turned and begin walking deeper into the forest, his gray eyes searching for a suitable spot to make camp.
"How did you find us?" Hermione spoke up suddenly, breaking the silence.
"The map," Draco said simply. "I had just made it to the edge of the border between the prairie and the forest when I decided to stop and look at the map. I opened it and saw a dragon near you and Weaslette's names. Figured you both needed help."
"Whoa, wait, a map?" Ginny asked in confusion.
"We were sent a map as a gift from one of the Heads of Houses. It's like the Marauder's Map, but with the virtual arena," Hermione explained.
"Ah," Ginny murmured.
"Ron, he's still in the prairie climate?" Hermione asked. Draco nodded.
"Last time I checked."
"Hold up... what?" Ginny asked, once again confused.
"Since your git of a brother killed both Hermione and I, we figured we would get some revenge on him. We planned to confront him in the prairie climate," Draco explained.
"He deserves it. I can't believe he would kill Hermione," Ginny replied.
"By the way, Ginny, I forgot to ask, how did you end up in that clearing with the dragon?" Hermione asked. Ginny paused, looking slightly guilty.
"Luna and I were walking in the forest. We had just escaped a group of Slytherins when she had a vision. She told me that something really dangerous was ahead of us and that we should go a different way. I… I didn't believe her because the forest seemed so still and calm, so we split up, went our separate ways. She was right, though. Just a little bit more down the path I was walking on and the dragon appeared," Ginny explained.
"Don't feel bad about it, Gin. Any other person would've thought the same too," Hermione assured her. Ginny's expression brightened and she looked up.
"You think so?"
"I know so," said Hermione, smiling at her best friend.
Everyone fell silent once more as they traveled through the forest. A few more minutes passed by before Draco found a giant hollow oak tree that was big enough to just fit three people in it.
"This should be good shelter until we've had at least a little bit of rest," Draco muttered as he set Hermione down gently.
Being the one who was injured the worst, Hermione limped toward the tree and crawled in, every step sending excruciating pain through her whole body. At last she collapsed on the ground and leaned against the trunk of the tree, closing her eyes as Draco and Ginny climbed in.
"Herbs aren't going to help with those burns, are they?" Ginny asked, glancing down at the burns on Hermione's arms and legs in worry. Hermione shook her head.
"A potion would be the only thing that could heal these burns," she replied. "If it heals on its own, there's a chance of infection, and if the infection gets too far, there could be a risk of blood poisoning."
"What are we going to do?" The redhead asked, frowning.
"Pray for a miracle, I guess."
From the hole in the tree trunk, Hermione could see that it was now raining heavily. The drops of rainwater created a synchronous sound as they pelted against the oak that the three were hiding in. Suddenly lightning flashed, lighting up the hole, and a boom of thunder followed. The storm was here.
"Hermione, do you have any food in your bag?" Draco asked suddenly.
"Just the last of the beef strips," Hermione replied.
Draco pulled her pack closer to him and unzipped it, beginning to rifle through it. Finally, he extracted the pack of beef strips, pulling the last three out. He handed one to Ginny, one to Hermione, and kept the last one for himself.
"We might as well eat what's left. We need our strength if we're still planning on confronting Weasley," he muttered.
Hermione took a bite of the beef strip and chewed slowly, beginning to go into thought. What had made Draco change his mind? She wasn't sure, but either way she was glad he was here. Her mind drifted to more pressing matters. How was she going to confront Ron in her state? She could hardly take a few steps. Unless they found a burn-healing potion soon, which was unlikely, Draco and Ginny would have to leave her behind if they still wanted to confront Ron. So this how she was going to die her second death, her burns developed into blood poisoning, killing her off slowly yet painfully. It was pitiful. She had never felt so helpless.
Suddenly, Hermione's ears picked up a faint noise through the sounds of the storm that sounded like a ding. Hermione sat up a little too fast, pain shooting through her legs, but she didn't care. She turned to the other two, who were as alert as she was.
"Did you guys hear that?" she asked quietly. They nodded.
Hermione recognized the sound, but couldn't believe it. She gestured toward the hole in the tree frantically.
"Check outside," she hissed to Draco. He did as he was told, crawling over to the entrance of their makeshift camp and sticking his head out of the hole. It was a few minutes before he pulled back into the hole, holding out a tiny wooden box, his blonde hair damp in places with drops of rainwater.
"It was just outside the tree," he whispered, looking up at her.
"Open it," she said in a hushed voice, hoping that it contained what they need.
Draco's fingers fumbled with the tiny box as he tried to pry open the lid. The box's size and the fact that it was soaked in rainwater made it difficult to open, but when Draco finally succeeded and pulled out the contents of the box, Hermione's heart lifted.
It was a small jar of an orange-colored paste. She recognized it at once as something that Madame Pomfrey had used on Harry's burns after the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament. She took the jar from Draco and unscrewed the lid, wrinkling her nose when a putrid smell met her nostrils.
"Burn-healing paste," she muttered, looking up at Draco and Ginny's confused faces.
Hermione scooped a generous amount out of the jar and spread it across the burns on her legs and arms, wincing when her wounds stung. She knew the sting meant that the magical paste was working, but it was still painful. She bit her lip and forced herself to continue applying it until the jar was empty and both her legs and arms were swathed in the paste. As she set the jar back down onto the ground and opened her streaming eyes, she could taste blood in her mouth. Bringing her fingers to her lips and then pulling them back, she realized that she had bitten her lower lip so hard that it was now bleeding. She knew it'd heal in a matter of minutes, though, so she let it be, wiping the blood on her already dirtied and stained pants.
"Wait a minute," Ginny said suddenly, looking up at the two. She had been examining the box that the jar had arrived in while Hermione had applied the paste and Draco rested. Draco's eyes snapped open, his attention now focused on the youngest Weasley.
"The lid of the box," Ginny began, gesturing to the tiny wooden lid that was in her hands.
"Yeah, what of it?" Draco asked, not even bothering to hide his scoff. Both girls shot him a glare.
"There's something stuck on the bottom of the lid," Ginny declared, turning the lid upside down with her nimble fingers and gesturing to a piece of folded parchment that was attached to the wood.
"Well, go on, then. Read it," Draco said, ordering more than suggesting.
"No, actually I was just thinking about leaving it there and staring at it all day," Ginny said sarcastically, rolling her eyes. With some effort, the redhead detached the parchment from the lid, taking care not to rip it. She hesitated before unfolding and beginning to read it to herself.
"What? What is it?" Hermione asked, her curiosity now getting the better of her.
"Here, read it for yourself," Ginny murmured, handing it to her. She took the parchment and looked over at Draco, who raised an eyebrow at her as if asking her to read it aloud. She gave him a slight nod and turned her attention back down to the parchment.
"'Enemies make you stronger; allies make you weaker. ~S.S.'," Hermione looked up at Draco, who's face was troubled with an emotion she couldn't place… guilt, maybe?
"It has to be Snape," Draco muttered.
"It sounds like a quote," Ginny added in quietly. Hermione nodded.
"It is. But why would he quote Frank Herbert?" she murmured. Both Ginny and Draco looked at her blankly.
"Honestly you two," Hermione muttered, rolling her eyes in her usual know-it-all manner. "Frank Herbert was an American Science-Fiction author."
"How do you know this?" Draco asked, an eyebrow raised. "It's like you're just an encyclopedia of weird and random facts." Ginny sniggered, quickly covering it up with a very fake cough, and Hermione rolled her eyes once more.
"His novels are brilliant. I read them all in the summer before third year," she answered simply.
"So why would he be quoting some American bloke who is dead?" Ginny asked, repeating Hermione's question.
"Dunno," answered Draco. "Maybe he doesn't like the fact that I'm allied with you lot."
"Still doesn't explain why he would quote Frank Herbert…," Hermione muttered thoughtfully. Draco shrugged.
"Who knows why Snape does anything?" he answered with a snort.
They were all silent as they sat inside the hollow tree, watching the storm rage outside of their little haven. But between flashes of lightning, Hermione could see that Draco had crumpled up the piece of parchment in his hand, his jaw clenched as he glared at the hole in the tree. She knew he was hiding something from her, that the message from Snape meant something to him, but their friendship was tentative and she didn't want to ruin it again like she had earlier, and she knew it was personal, so she left it be.
She glanced down at her legs and arms, calculating the remaining damage. Her jeans, which were rolled up to her knees, were singed and blackened and in desperate need of a Reparo spell. The sleeves of her shirt from the elbow down were in pretty much the same condition, most of the material being burned and several scraps of fabric missing. As her eyes rested upon the bare skin of her lower legs and arms, she was surprised to see that the burns had mostly healed. As she watched, burns scars formed on the wounds and closed them up, slowly disappearing. When the magic was finished, all that was left were patches of raw, red skin, which Hermione knew would heal to her natural skin color in about an hour or so.
She rested her head back on the bark of the tree-hollow and watched through the hole as the fairies slowly congregated and began to playback the deaths of the day. She couldn't hear the sound through the storm, but it was relatively easy to figure out what happened if she just paid attention closely. As the first scene formed, Hermione could make out the black hair of Cho Chang and her friend, Marietta Edgecomb. A slight smirk graced her lips as she saw the layer of makeup on the Edgecomb girl's face that unsuccessfully tried to hide the word that her pimples formed: "Sneak". That was one of the hexes that she was truly proud of.
The two girls were running through the forest, frantic looks on their faces, obviously trying to escape someone or something. The scene cut to a shot of Neville, who was hiding in the undergrowth in front of the girls. He watched nervously as the girls approached his hiding spot in the plants, his eyebrows furrowed as if in thought. From his facial expression, Hermione could tell that he was contemplating whether or not he should attack them and if they were a threat to him or not. Just as the two Ravenclaws approached where he was hiding, he stood up from the underbrush and raised his hand in front of him, his eyebrows furrowing again as he concentrated. Suddenly thick, strong jungle vines began to grow on the forest floor and snake up the girls' feet, rooting them in their spot. Marietta screamed and began struggling, trying to pull her feet away from the vine, which only caused it to grow faster, snaking its way up her legs.
"It's like Devil's Snare, Marietta," Cho said, seemingly calm for the situation, though Hermione could see her chest rising and falling rapidly, indicating her nervousness. "Don't struggle or it'll move faster."
Marietta did as she was told, growing absolutely still as the plant continued to wind its way around the two of them, her eyes wide in fear and her breathing uneven. Hermione almost pitied both Ravenclaws, if she hadn't loathed them so much. She still held a grudge against the Edgecomb girl for selling out the D.A. to Umbridge during fifth year, and, well, she just plain hated Cho for trying to support her.
"What do you want?" Cho said through gritted teeth while her friend made whimpering noises, trying her best not to struggle.
"You two are Ravenclaws. Do you know the whereabouts of Luna Lovegood?" Neville asked, a concerned look on his face.
Ginny's eyes snapped open and she sat up, alert, at the mention of Luna, a guilty look on her face.
"I—"began Cho, but then stopped, looking at him. "You're looking for the Lovegood girl? Why?"
"That's my business," snapped Neville. Hermione had to give him credit for the amount of bravery he was showing. There was a reason he had been sorted into Gryffindor.
The vines were now twisting up the girls' chests and quickly heading for their throats. Cho seemed to notice this because she glanced down and gulped.
"I don't know where she is now. We ran into her a little while back. She said she was running from something, that's he had some sort of premonition. Anyway, we were running from a manticore, and so we didn't really have time to stop and chat, we all just continued in our separate directions. That was the last we saw of her, I swear," Cho said, her eyes now begging to let them go.
"In what direction was she running?" Neville demanded of the Ravenclaw.
"Towards… the prairie climate," Cho said, choking slightly as the vines tightened across her throat. Beside her, Marietta was whimpering, her head thrashing from side to side, the vine already choking her. She had apparently forgotten what Cho had said about being still. Her skin was rapidly turning purple as the vines grew tighter and tighter and her eyes were wide with fear. Finally, she grew still, her head hanging limp as she sagged over. At once, the vines enclosed her dead body and pulled it down beneath the sea of magical vines that were swarming across the forest floor now. As soon as Marietta's head disappeared under, a loud bang echoed across the eerily still arena and a shower of black sparks rained down on both Neville and Cho. The remaining Ravenclaw looked up at Neville, anger in her eyes.
"You just killed my best friend. I thought you only wanted information!" she screamed. Neville's look of brave determination was replaced with his nervous look once again. Hermione noticed a bead of sweat forming on his upper lip as he watched Cho.
"I—I wasn't intending to kill her. I'm still trying to get control of my power," he stammered.
"You bastard!" she screamed.
"I—I—I'm sorry, Cho," he stuttered nervously. With that, he raised his hand and the vine enclosed Cho as well, pulling her under the sea of plants as they had with Marietta. It was a few moments, but another bang reverberated around the forest and black sparks showered Neville, who was standing there staring blankly at the ground. Hermione guessed that this was his first kill, and she could relate to him. Marietta had been an accident, just as her killing of Millicent had, but Cho's death… that had been self-defense. She felt sorry for her fellow Gryffindor as she watched him give a long, sad glance at the place where the two girls had disappeared, before raising his hand, making the vines disappear, and begin to sprint toward the prairie climate, obviously with the intention of finding Luna.
Several other deaths were shown, but none that were of any interest to the trio. The Greengrass sisters, Astoria and Daphne, met an unfortunate end with the betrayal of their ally, Theodore Nott. Cormac McLaggen was bested by Romilda Vane, whose power was obviously seduction, and which she used well, and Seamus Finnegan, along with all the animals he conjured to help him fight, was petrified by Goyle.
Hermione, Draco, and Ginny all sat in silence as they processed what they had just saw. Luna was, if Cho hadn't been lying, at the prairie climate if not there already, Neville was currently traveling to the prairie climate, unless he, too, was already there. Hermione wasn't sure when the confrontation between the two Ravenclaws and Neville had taken place, and to top matters off, Ron was roaming around the prairie climate, invisible, angry because Hermione had chosen to put aside the past with Draco. Yes, things were going swell.
"I think the storm has died down. Are you both able to get going?" Draco asked the two girls. Hermione glanced down at her arms and legs, which were now her regular skin color, and then nodded.
"Yes, the burns have fully healed," she replied.
"Weaslette?" Draco asked, turning to the ginger. Ginny nodded.
"Yeah, I'm ready to kick ass," she said, giving a tired smile.
"Right, then, I think we should continue our journey," he said, gesturing toward the hole in the tree.
Since Hermione was the nearest to the hole, she crawled out first. When she had finally emerged from the tree and stood to her full height, she found that Draco was right about the storm dying down. The lightning and thunder and stopped, and now it was only raining lightly. She waited until the other two had crawled out before shouldering her pack and beginning to walk. The grass squished beneath her feet as they made their way through the forest and in a matter of only five minutes, her boots and socks were soaked through and her feet were chilled. However, she kept going. Along with the return of her health, the desire for revenge on her former best friend had also returned.
It took nearly fifteen minutes before the three reached the boundary. Hesitantly, Hermione stepped over the invisible line that separated the two climates. When nothing happened, she began making her way straight forward, the other two following her.
"Where is Ron, anyway?" Hermione asked. Draco dug the map out of his rear pants pocket and unfolded it, studying it for a moment before declaring,
"He's northwest from us just a little bit further, but he's stationary, not moving at all."
"He must be making camp for the night," Hermione guessed. The others agreed and they continued on their way.
They walked about a mile before Draco suddenly stopped and put a finger to his lips, indicating that Ron was near. All three stopped and stood still, listening for any indications that he was near. All Hermione could hear was switch-grass rustling in the wind and the crickets chirping. Suddenly there was a rustle to their left that was most definitely not a night sound. Hermione whirled around, facing the direction that the noise had come from, a fireball leaping to life in her hand as her eyes looked for any sign of a player, but no one was there. She relaxed, thinking it must've been just an animal, before a voice sounded, a voice that Hermione currently hated.
"Still haven't learned your lesson then?" Ron asked, materializing to their left.
Hermione faced him, her eyes darkening with anger. The fireball that she had already conjured in her hand crackled, the flames rising higher as her anger grew. Before she could do anything, however, Ginny beat her to it. She marched right up to her brother and slapped him smartly across the face. Ron swore, his hand automatically going to cup his cherry-red cheek.
"The hell was that for, Gin?" he demanded angrily.
"You know exactly what that was for, Ronald!" she said hotly. "But just in case the details are a bit fuzzy, let me recap. I just happened to hear that you didn't approve of Hermione's choice in friends, not that I do either, but that does not mean that I would kill my best friend just because I don't agree with her actions!" she raged.
"Yeah, you wouldn't!" Ron yelled back pointedly.
"Any person in their right mind wouldn't!" Ginny screamed at her brother.
"Ladies, ladies, I hate to interrupt this show of sibling affection," Draco drawled sarcastically, stepping in between the two Weasleys, "but can we return to the situation at hand? Hermione, would you like to do the honors?"
"Oh, so now it's Hermione, is—" Ron began, but Hermione interrupted him, her eyes dark with anger.
"Ronald Bilius Weasley, I am seconds away from reducing you to a pile of stinking cinders, so you had better listen to me and you had better listen to me well."
"Yes Ma'am," Ron murmured, taken aback by how she addressed him.
"I don't care if you like my choice in friends or not. It is my life and I get to choose my friends, not you. Stop making problems when there is none, stop sticking your nose into my business, and stop being an immature, whiny child. You are eighteen and you should act like it. I'm being the mature one and setting aside my past with Draco because I know that people's pasts don't determine who they are in the present. Maybe you should do the same." Finally finished, she took a breath of air and then let it out angrily.
"Damn, she knows how to play Mummy," Draco muttered.
"I—um… er… that is—" Ron stammered, taken aback once again by her speech, but stopped when there was a rustling noise behind the group.
"What the hell was that?" Ginny asked, whirling around, the confrontation with Ron forgotten.
"Dunno," Hermione muttered, turning with her and willing the fireball in her hand to glow brighter so they could see. Through the darkness, Hermione could make out a faint shape, but one she could easily recognize. She gave a gasp of surprise, followed by one from Ginny.
"What the hell is he doing here?" she demanded, not even bothering to hide her tone of disgust.
Blaise Zambini stepped into the light of Hermione's fireball, a smirk twisting his features.
"What, Draco, you didn't tell them?" he asked the blonde. Draco's expression darkened and he gritted his teeth.
"Shut up, Blaise, or I'll—"
"You'll what, mate? You'll kill me?" he let out a bark of laughter. "Remember our deal, Draco. I've kept my end of the bargain, now you keep yours."
Draco's arm snaked around Hermione's waist, pulling her close to him roughly, but it wasn't until the cold blade of his knife pressed against her throat did she understand.
"I'm sorry, Hermione," he whispered quietly into her ear, genuinely sounding sorry.
"That's right, Mudblood. You actually thought he was your friend?" Blaise scoffed. "What a charming notion. You see, after Draco had left you, he and I, how should I put it… sort of ran into each other. I offered him quite a tempting deal: I wouldn't kill him if he'd re-unite with you and kill you. However, with your little friends around, he couldn't have done it or he'd have been outnumbered, so I decided to step in."
A sudden realization occurred to Hermione. The note that had been attached to the lid of the burn-healing paste jar hadn't been for Draco, it had been for her. Snape had been trying to warn her of Draco's association with Blaise indiscreetly. Now, when it was too late, she finally understood.
Allies make you weaker.
Hey guys! I'm so, so, so sorry that this chapter is really late! Since I've started this chapter, I've moved into my new apartment and started college. I've written whenever I've been able to find time between classes or at home when I didn't have homework or other things going on. I'm not sure how often I'll update in the next few months, being that I'm at college, but I will be updating, I can promise you that!
Also, if you're wondering why there are characters in here that died in Deathly Hallows (such as Colin Creevey, Snape, etc.) it's because this is a fanfiction and some elements of the story wouldn't have worked unless I had those characters.
As always, thank you for reading and I encourage you to review.