Same warnings as last chapter—gore & horror. But don't let that stop you leaving a review! :)
There was a thump-thump noise, quick and incessant.
It was obscenely loud and Hermione wished it would go away, until she realised it was the sound of her blood pumping; roaring past her ears. Everything else was muffled as if she had pillows strapped to her head. Her head certainly felt that heavy. She couldn't move, couldn't see, but that was because her eyes were shut.
Well, that was easily remedied. Hermione opened them.
The blast had thrown her an impressive distance away from the scanning room, nearly halfway to the stairwell she'd been stationed at minutes earlier. Portions of the ceiling had caved in over the corridor directly outside the MRI suite. Light panels were blacked out and exposed wires hung down, sparking occasionally. There were voices coming through her headset. She could barely make them out, but that was an improvement to the earlier deafness. One trembling hand rose to touch the wetness at her ears. She didn't need to look at her hand to know that it came away stained with blood.
Mira lay just outside the scanning room. Hermione recognised her blue and red trainers.
"Mira," Hermione wheezed. Her streaming eyes were having trouble focussing now. She squinted, blinking away dust, blood and zombie pulp. Her vision focussed. She choked back a sob as she observed the meter-long shard of metal that nearly bisected Mira's head. The Mediwitch lay on her back. Her right hand twitched.
She was alive! There was hope. Yes. Mira Khan was alive and there was hope and she was barely twenty-two years of age and she wanted to apply for a Potions apprenticeship after Medimagic graduation. Her hand was moving and therefore she would be fine. They would take her home and fix her.
Hermione realised her wand was missing. Panic belatedly descended and other realisations along with it. She looked down at her legs and saw that about ten centimetres of observable steel bolt was embedded in the side of her left thigh. The fabric of her trousers below both knees had been shredded by shrapnel and she was currently lying in an ever increasing, warm pile of her own blood.
Best laid plans, indeed.
She sat up, whimpering in pain, and then began the task of scrambling around for her wand. It could be anywhere between the doorway to the scanning room and where she lay now. Her sweeping, searching hands were soon liberally coated with her own blood, but sweet relief descended when her fingers came into contact with the familiar, slender length of wood. A short moment was spent contemplating whether or not she should remove the bolt in her leg, but Hermione thought against it. Instead, she rolled onto her stomach, openly sobbing now at how much pain she was in, and began crawling towards Mira. Hermione made it about three meters, leaving a wide, bloody smear behind her, before she started to grow dizzy. She put her cheek down against her forearms and focused on breathing. The urge to vomit was strong.
Someone was speaking—a voice more familiar than all the others that currently jostled for her attention. The voice was tense, but so very calm in the face of what had just happened. That was plain wrong, Hermione thought. How dare anyone be so calm?
His clear, business-like voice penetrated the haze caused by shock, likely concussion and blood-loss. Hermione blinked, listening in rapt attention to every single syllable he enunciated as if they were little life buoys in a sea of terror and panic.
"—two maybe three dozen. You have about forty Infected already inside the building. I'm picking off as many as I can from up here. There is another horde congregating at an intersection in the next block. They may have missed the original explosion, but they're definitely taking notice of my gun fire."
"Don't you dare stop shooting!" Richards roared. "Keep at it! Kent, how many you got on your end?"
"Ten, sir! About five before that. Sir, they're pressing in!"
"Hold them off for as long as you can! I'm going to get Mercer and Lam. We'll have to be quick. Once I leave my post, they'll swarm up the east end of the corridor. Granger and—"
"I'm here," Hermione said, weakly. And with that, it felt like all her senses were suddenly switched back on. The world came back into focus. There was blasting, screaming, gun fire, smoke.
"Well, hell! Good to hear your voice, girl. I've only been yelling it out for the last twenty minutes. Report!"
"Mira's…" Hermione looked at Mira. Properly looked, without hope clouding her assessment. "Mira's dead. I can't see Lam or Mercer."
"Are you injured?"
Hermione suspected she was slowly bleeding to death.
"Some. I have my wand."
"Good! Can you get to the boys? Mercer's fine. I've told him to stay put inside the observation room. Lam says he's pretty badly hurt. Either you or Lam get Mercer and that data out of here, you got it?"
"Yes," she said, "got it."
Hermione gritted her teeth as she continued to drag herself to the scanning room. In the distance, she could see the tell-tale red aura of Reducto fired in rapid succession. Kent was having a time of it defending her allocated stairwell. If the horde broke through, they would all be dead in minutes.
She reached the doorway, which now resembled a charred, smoking maw. There was nothing left of their zombie specimen, but there was plenty of splatter. And smoke. Hermione sucked in a lungful of air to shout, but then broke out into a coughing fit. She tried again.
"Jason! Jason, Can you hear me?"
"Hermione!" Lam called out.
"I can get to him!" Alec Mercer said. The neuroscientist was in the adjacent observation room, the glass wall between both rooms now shattered. Hermione could just make out the top of his head over the partition wall.
"Alec, no! Stay where you are! I'll get Jason and then we'll come to you, alright?"
She could only see Lam if she got to her knees and that was not a posture she could maintain for longer than a moment. He was pinned beneath part of the scanning table. The trouble was that there was a few tons of MRI machine between her and him, and neither of them were in a state to be climbing over obstacles. She would have to try and move it by magic.
Hermione cast Leviosa and wasn't terribly surprised when the spell failed. She could feel the force well up inside of her, but releasing and directing the magic proved impossible. If Hermione was not mistaken, she was now bleeding even more heavily. The equipment was too heavy and she did not have the strength to fortify the spell. Apparation, perhaps? Hermione hesitated. It was much more costly magic than levitation. The odds of splinching were very high. Perhaps with Lam's assistance…
Lam must have guessed she was considering this. "I tried Disapparating already. I can't… Hermione, please help me. Dear Lord, I can see my insides…"
"It's OK, Jason! You're going to be fine," she said, trying to sound reassuring. "I'm coming to you, OK? Look, I'm going to try and Apparate over there."
"Granger!" Elizabeth Kent's voice was piercing over Hermione's headset. "They've breached! There are about ten or so, more coming your way. I'm handling what I can, but be ready! They're almost there! Richards, do you copy? Richards!"
The small horde had in fact arrived by the time Kent concluded her warning.
She heard Mercer swear, and then she heard him fire a gun. Richards had obviously provided the neuroscientist with something less cumbersome than a shotgun. And thank goodness for it too, because zombies were currently swarming the observation room.
"Hermione, look out!" Lam yelled, pointing to the doorway. He began firing off spells, some of them whizzing dangerously close over Hermione's head.
There were three zombies, and more still in the corridor. Some of Lam's spells contacted and several heads exploded. Hermione dragged herself behind an overturned table and joined the spell-casting. There was a short reprieve as some of the creatures were attracted by Mercer's much noisier weapon and descended upon the adjacent room. Alarmingly, Mercer picked that moment to stop shooting. Through her headset, she heard him muttering.
"Oh dear," said Hermione. From her vantage point, she could only make out the taller zombies over the partition wall. Hermione raised her shaking arm, took aim and began firing to assist Mercer. She was soon joined by Mercer, who had re-entered the fray after presumably stopping to re-load his gun.
Lam let out a bloodcurdling scream.
Because she couldn't actually see him, Hermione had to abandon her hiding spot behind the table to inch around the collapsed MRI machine. She saw a small child—one of the Infected—tearing into the medical student's injured torso. Lam's right arm and chest were pinned beneath machinery. His legs kicked and thrashed in an ineffectual attempt to throw the small zombie off. It dug into him like a rabbit digging a burrow, pulling out viscera and shoving its blood soaked face deeper into the gaping wound to feed.
"Your wand, Jason! Use it!" Hermione screamed. She fired several times around the MRI machine with a wildly shaking hand, and missed. The small creature spun around and hissed before scrambling across the floor towards her. Hermione quickly cast Harry's chainsaw hex and shut her eyes as the small zombie was sliced in half, diagonally, falling into two pieces on either side of her, pigtails and all.
Lam was now making small, mewling noises. It looked like he was trying to put some of his intestines back together again. He saw his wand lying amidst his spilled entrails and picked it up. More zombies came through the door, some a few months old—slow and sluggish. Others were newly dead and much quicker.
"Granger, I'm nearly there," Richards spoke into her ear. "You keep Mercer alive, you hear me!"
Hermione propped herself up against the MRI machine and with both hands holding her wand, blasted everything than came through the threshold. She used every suitable spell she knew and a few novel combinations. Some worked better than others. "Alec…" she hissed, hoping Mercer could hear her. She hadn't the strength to shout.
He heard her. "You get the kid out first, you hear me?" Mercer replied.
"You will do no such thing!" Richards interjected. "Is Lam…viable?"
Hermione didn't need to look. She could hear terrible noises the young man was making. "No."
"Then get to the Doc," Richards ordered.
She glanced at Lam and saw that he now had a firm grip on his wand and had closed his eyes. At that point, a small group of zombies rushed the doorway, causing a minor bottleneck before two slipped through and hurled themselves onto the nearest target—Lam. He tried to blast them off, but he missed at close range.
Hermione began firing at the remaining creatures. One managed to grab her feet and drag her, but she kicked it off with her uninjured leg. "Richards! I think Jason's going to try to Disapparate!"
"No! Lam, if you do that, you'll be taking these sons of bitches back home with you. Don't do it, son."
"F-f-ffuck you," Lam's said, in a shuddering voice. The zombies attacking him were wholly focused on consuming what was spilling out of him. Hermione now had less faith in the accuracy of her more complex spell, due to her depleting strength. She hit one of them with Petrificus just as the air around Lam began to faintly shimmer—the beginnings of imprecise Disapparation.
"He's trying," Hermione said. Tears cut through the blood and grime on her face. "Oh, Jason…"
"Granger, you take him out!" Richards roared. "You take him out now!" There was no mistaking his meaning.
"Don't you dare!" Mercer yelled, in between gun shots.
"Granger, God damn it. DO IT NOW!"
She wasn't going to survive. Hermione knew this. Richards would have to be the one to get to Mercer and take him home, but Hermione would do what she could to make sure the scientist stayed alive, along with everyone else back at Grimmauld Place. She stopped defending the doorway and turned her wand on Jason Lam.
He looked at her as he was being eaten alive, in agony, terrified. Hermione was sobbing. She could not save him, but she could help him.
"Av…avada Kedavra," she said. And then she repeated the same Unforgiveable three more times. It didn't work.
With a cry of defeat, her wildly shaking arm fell. There was a blur of movement at the doorway and she half-heartedly raised her wand again. But it was no zombie. Draco Malfoy crouched down beside her, grey eyes so very intent and fierce in his pale face.
She was so astounded to see him there that she doubted he was real. Her hand came up, clumsily. Her wand still loosely clutched within it. She brushed her bloody knuckles against his face to check that he wasn't just a figment of her imagination.
Malfoy grasped her wrist, wand and all, and pointed it at Lam.
"Once more, Granger. With feeling."
"Avada Kedavra," she whispered and it was like turning on a water faucet to full blast. She could feel the borrowed force of Malfoy's magic flowing through her arm, like an injection of electricity. The magic was all his, her arm and her wand merely the conduit. The sensation was remarkable, culminating in a sharp tingling through the tips of her fingers. She stared at him, blinking in wonder.
The spell hit Jason Lam square in the chest. He died instantly.
Hermione slumped over. She watched what ensued through half-lidded eyes. She saw Malfoy stand, saw his booted feet walk a short distance from her before the thunderous noise of the shotgun began. Four, five…six shots in succession. He reloaded, emptied and reloaded again before crouching down beside her once more. He had taken his gloves off. She felt his warm fingers press against the pulse point at her neck. It was then that Hermione realised everything had gone quite dark.
Malfoy put his arm around her and propped her up. "Mercer, can you hear me? I've shot out all the lights. They seem to move slower in the shadows. I figure in the dark they won't be able to find us if they can't see us."
"I hear you, Luthor. Good move."
"We're coming to you. Be still. No more shooting. At last count, I think there are at least eight of them in that room with you."
Malfoy turned his attention back to Hermione. "I know it hurts, but I need you to be very quiet. Can you do that for me?"
She nodded against his shoulder.
"Good girl. Up we go."
Oh God, it hurt like localised Cruciatus. Hermione bit on her fist to keep from crying out as he lifted her.
Malfoy carried her easily, resting his slung shotgun against his hip. He walked with great care towards the observation room. It was impossible to avoid all the broken glass on the floor, but thankfully the ventilation system in the hospital provided a not-insubstantial droning hum. Hermione's eyes had by now adjusted to the darkness and it was possible to see the silhouettes of the creatures. As Malfoy had said, they fared less well in the dark, stumbling over each other and moving with less purpose.
There were indeed eight zombies in the observation room, mere meters from where a stricken Mercer was standing. The trouble was that they were standing in between Mercer, and Malfoy and Hermione.
"The data disc," whispered the neuroscientist, pointing, "is in the computer on your right."
Malfoy gingerly walked over to the computer and ejected the disc. The ejecting tray made a minute 'swoosh' sound, which caused every zombie in the room to clamber towards the bank of computers. The creatures' movements provided enough noise to mask Malfoy's footsteps as he quickly backed away to a corner of the room.
However, there was still no clear route to Mercer.
"Granger," Malfoy whispered, "look up. Can you see Mercer?"
"Good. This is going to be two-point Dissapparation. We're going to get over there, grab him and then leave. Do you think you can do that?"
Hermione was fading and she knew it. She could no longer keep her eyes open. The bottom half of Malfoy's clothing was soaked with her blood. So she placed her wand against his chest. "No. I'll splinch us. You'll have to do it."
There really was no point worrying about him harming the team now. It was either trust him and possibly die, or don't trust him and probably die. And she also held Mercer's life in the balance. Curiously, just as he had been so tentative in leaving his Azkaban cell, Malfoy didn't immediately do anything besides merely hold her wand.
She tried to goad him into action. "Whatever you do, please don't leave Mercer here. He's too valuable."
"I don't know about that," he drawled. "He's a terrible shot."
Hermione smiled. It didn't matter because it was a dark, he couldn't see her face and she was delirious, besides. She remembered what Scrimgeour had said about her being irreplaceable. She didn't agree with him.
"We can't replace him."
"And we can replace you?" Malfoy asked.
She sighed. Her hands and feet now felt like they were made of ice. There was no feeling there. Hermione nodded, bumping his chin. "Many more like me. Soldiers."
"No. None quite like you, Mudblood," Malfoy murmured into her hairline.
"I trust you," she slurred, patting his chest. "Don't make me regret it."
He was warm, so wonderfully warm. She would very much like to go to sleep now and not have to endure the insanity of having just euthanized a colleague, and then playing murder in the dark with eight zombies, a former terrorist and a neuroscientist with a gun.
Hermione's last coherent thought was that if Malfoy got them home in one piece, the least they could do for him was give him a razor so that he could have a decent shave.
His beard was scratchy.