A/N: Hey guys! Sorry, I meant to update last night, but I was having serious writer's block-still kind of am, to be honest. But I promise I will continue to attempt to keep pushing through!
I'm not sure what to think of this chapter, or how y'all will receive it. We're kind of getting away from the exposition now and into the actual content, so I really hope y'all enjoy!:)
Hermione had only just sent Sirius inside to Mrs. Weasley when Draco, Riddle, and Nott appeared. The blonde boy let out a low, guttural moan, and dropped to the ground, holding his shoulder. She felt her stomach pinch in fear as she bent over him, searching for the site of the wound. When she found it, her hands clapped over her mouth.
The spell, which had collided with his shoulder, seemed to be eating away at his flesh. The layers of skin peeled back as it spread further and further down his arm, and up to the junction of his neck. "Mrs. Weasley!" Hermione choked out, her hands trembling as she waved her wand over him, attempting a few basic healing spells which seemed to do next to nothing.
Someone dropped down beside her, and she recognized Riddle's form as he, too, bent over Malfoy. "It's the Flagrante curse."
Her eyes widened in horror. "But—but that isn't meant to be used on—on people." Her gaze flitted back to Draco's face as Mrs. Weasley came rushing out of the house, followed by Professor Snape. The latter, with Riddle's help, carefully lifted Draco and carried him into the house, lying him down on one of the tables. Mrs. Weasley hastily pulled out a burn salve from one of the cabinets, and Snape hurriedly went to retrieve a potion from his bag.
"Best if you lot clear out of here and wait for the others," Mrs. Weasley suggested, not unkindly. Hermione reluctantly followed Riddle and Theodore out to the front yard, her fingers trembling as she glanced over her shoulder, and caught a glimpse of Draco's deathly pale face, before the door was snapped shut.
"You alright?" Theodore asked softly, his gaze shifting over her trembling form. She nodded numbly, attempting to give him a reassuring smile, but it came off as more of a grimace. She had never spoken to the boy, though she had seen him several times around the Burrow. He was frightfully handsome, with dark eyes, untidy dark brown hair, and a heavy-set brow. He moved closer to her, his hands folded pensively behind his back, as the two of them stared out over the silent yard. "He'll be fine, you know. Draco's always getting into nasty little ruts, but he pulls through."
A sharp scream sounded from the house, and Hermione shut her eyes, the fear clenching at her chest bordering on agonizing. "That spell isn't meant to be used on humans; there's no telling on whether or not Professor Snape and Mrs. Weasley will be able to heal him. Even if they can, he's bound to be terribly disfigured."
His lip quirked upwards and a small amount of amusement glittered in his eyes as he glanced at her. "That's the real tragedy here, isn't it? We're going to have to listen to poor Draco gripe about the loss of his good looks for the rest of our existence." Despite herself, Hermione let out a light laugh.
Several pops signaled the return of the rest of the party. But as Hermione looked around the yard, she realized that there were only four figures, not five. She, Theodore, and Riddle followed them inside, waiting for an explanation. The inside of the burrow was deathly quiet, and Mrs. Weasley and Professor Snape were working with meticulous precision. Draco was now unconscious, and Harry lingered at his side, the muscles in his face tight with agitation.
Arthur approached his wife and put a hand on her shoulder, before turning to address the rest of the room. "Moody's dead."
Hermione's eyes shot to Mr. Weasley's face, looking for any indication that his words had been said in jest. The lines of his face were deep, making him appear years older. Tears were rolling, unbridled, down Tonks's face. She had been his apprentice, in her earlier years of working at the Ministry, and he had been something of a surrogate father to her. Lupin said, "Once the guards got word that we had escaped with one of their high security prisoners, they aimed to kill. And succeeded."
Silence followed his words. Nobody seemed to know what to do, or say. Finally, Hermione could take it no longer, and she quietly got up and slipped out of the door, breathing in the fresh night air. She had not been prepared for this. Of course, she had expected danger, upon joining the rebel forces, but to loose Mad-Eye, and have Draco close to following in suit, in one night?
The door swung out, sending a strip of light flooding across the lawn. Hermione didn't bother to turn, but watched as the person's shadow approached her own, their figure much taller than hers. A boy then, judging by their build.
"Mrs. Weasley wished for me to tell you that the Malfoy boy will survive. He's in rough condition, but it's no longer fatal."
Hermione felt a swell of pressure lift from her chest. As he turned to go, she spoke without really thinking, "Did you know Moody well?"
He paused, seeming to choose his words carefully. "Yes. He has been in charge of the rebel forces for as long as I can remember."
Hermione was suddenly curious; she wanted to know more about this strange, surly, brooding creature, so alike Professor Snape in his temperament, that she accidentally blurted, "Are you a Pureblood?"
Riddle arched a dark brow at her, looking unimpressed by her outburst. Her face flushed, but she refused to avert her gaze. "Forgive me, I was just….curious. It's interesting to meet Half-Bloods or Muggleborns who support the cause—they each seem to have an impassioned reason for doing so."
He turned to face her fully, his expression unfathomable. "And Purebloods don't have an impassioned reason?"
She shifted uncomfortably. Was he making fun of her? "Well—well of course they do, but it's different. When you're fighting for your own liberation, you don't really need to have some noble rationale—it's simply in the human nature to want to be free. But the Muggleborns and Half-Bloods aren't being oppressed; each one that I've met that supports the cause has been propelled into action due to some life-altering experience."
He smirked down at her, and now Hermione was sure that he was making fun of her. He squared his shoulders away from her again, facing the empty yard, "I'm not a Mudblood, if that's what you're asking."
She attempted not to flinch, but failed.
"I'm a Half-Blood. And I support the cause because I want Albus Dumbledore dead, and I want to be the one to do it."
Hermione's lips parted in surprise. He didn't give her a chance to reply as he disappeared back into the house, throwing her a caustic grin over his shoulder. It wasn't what he had said that had her so surprised; plenty of people want Dumbledore dead. No, it was the burning hatred with which he had uttered the words, his voice so infused with anger and loathing that she was nearly certain that if she had dared to disagree with him, she would have promptly burst into flame.
The next evening, the members of the rebellion sat around the table, the fireplace casting a warm glow on the room. Sirius sat at the head, looking drastically healthier than the man they had retrieved the prior evening. Mrs. Weasley, upon his arrival, had stuffed him with more food that Hermione thought possible for a human to consume, and his skin, though still ghastly pale, had lost some of its waxiness, and his hair, which had been cut to his shoulders, looked well-groomed and remarkably cleaner.
Draco, on the other hand, looked a little worse for wear. He was still smiling and laughing just as much as ever, but his handsome face had been marred by deep burns. The right side of his face was a deep pink color, the skin flaky and peeling, and the marks ran from his forehead down to his hand. The hair at the front of his head looked brittle, as though it had been singed.
Hermione's eyes danced over the members of the party, and realized that Riddle and Nott were missing. Before she could mention this to either of her companions, Sirius spoke: "Alright, quiet down, you lot. While I really, really appreciated your jail-break escapade last night, there are a few unexpected downsides due to our success."
"The old codger is furious; this is now two things that we've stolen from him in the past two days, and he's taken liberties to increase security on every possible landmark that contains something which we might like to have—the Ministry, Azkaban, Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, St. Mungo's, the Underground, et cetera. This means that the next few portions of our plans may be a little difficult to fulfill."
"But not impossible," Tonks pointed out cheerfully. Hermione noticed a thin cut running along the side of her face.
"But not impossible," Sirius acquiesced. "The most helpful component would be to have some reliable eyes and ears in Hogwarts itself." At this, he shot Harry a very pointed glance. The bespectacled boy, whose figure had been slouched in his chair, seemingly disinterested, shot up, his eyes narrowed in a defiant glare.
"Don't start that again, Sirius," he snapped. "You know perfectly well why I couldn't spend another instant locked up in that sad excuse for a school. Do you have any idea what it's like, having Dumbledore, and the rest of those ruddy professors shoving ideas in my head about Purebloods? Besides, you'll still have Creevey, and Corner. And Snape, of course."
At the mention of his name, the sallow-faced man arched a single dark eyebrow, the disdain that was discernible in Harry's voice clearly mutual.
"Oh, boys, boys, don't," Tonks jumped in quickly, in something of a mother-hen sort of way. "It's Harry's decision. If he feels that he will be more useful on the front, than we must trust him. Besides, we have plenty of eyes and ears within Hogwarts, and that's hardly our prevalent focus at the moment."
Hermione's ears perked at this. "What do you mean?"
Sirius grimly rubbed a thin hand over his face. "Our primary focus at the moment, Hermione, is the liberation of the Purebloods residing at both Beauxbatons and Durmstrang."
Her eyes widened. "But—but…there are hundreds of students within those schools. Even assuming that we were able to get them all out, where would we put them?"
"That's not even our largest issue at the moment," Draco supplied, his normally jovial face lined with aggravation. He paused, seeming to mull over his words, before he spoke, "….Some of the Purebloods aren't exactly….keen on our cause."
Murmurs broke out around the table, the loudest of which emitting from Ronald and Harry.
"Aren't keen on it? Bloody hell, would they rather be abused and persecuted for the rest of their lives?"
"How do they expect us to help them if they don't even trust us?"
Draco raised his voice over all of the hubbub. "There are a few Pureblood's who completely support the ideals of Grindelwald; that is, they would rather be stuffed into two schools with their own kind than associate with Mudbl—Muggleborns and Half-Bloods."
The rooms seem to come to halting silence. Draco's eyebrows were furrowed as he surveyed them all, "Surely…I mean…surely this isn't news to you all?"
"So—so everything that Dumbledore spouts is true, then?" Tonks asked indignantly.
Draco's pale face—the side that had not been disfigured—turned a rather bright shade of pink. "No, of course not, we're not all like that, there's just a few left that—"
His words were washed out as chaos ensued again, several members of the ensemble, on the Muggleborn side, drew their wands in fury at Draco's words. Hermione massaged her temples, exchanging a glance of exasperation with Lupin across the throng.
"Silence." The voice cut through the pandemonium like a sharp knife, and two men who looked as though they had been about to duel hastily stuffed their wands back into their robes. Riddle strode into the room, looking rather miffed at having arrived to the site of a near-brawl.
From behind him several people emerged through the doorway: a very pretty witch with white-blonde hair and kind blue eyes—Draco's mother—and a tall man with nearly identical features—save for his eyes, which were the same shade of grey as Draco's—his father. After the two of them stood three more people that Hermione did not recognize.
"Riddle. So glad you could make it." Was Hermione the only one that heard the sarcasm laced in Sirius' tone? "I see you've brought your entourage."
He gracefully slipped into the seat exactly opposite Sirius, and waved a lazy hand in the newcomers' directions. "Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy, you know. I think you'll recognize Bartemius Crouch Jr. as well, and Antonin Dolohov, and of course, Rabastan Lestrange."
The first man was easily the youngest, looking not much more than two years Hermione's senior. He had straw-coloured hair and freckles, and his jaw was set and taut, as though he were clenching his teeth very hard. The next man, Antonin Dolohov, looked to be the oldest. He was a burly, thickset man, with a heavy brow and a wandering gaze. Hermione looked away quickly when his eyes met hers.
Rabastan Lestrange had black hair, indiscernibly dark eyes, and a seemingly ever-present frown upon his lips. He had a quiet sort of intelligence about him, but his handsome face looked to be marred with years of agitation and suffering; the lines around his mouth made him appear years older than he was.
"What did you bring them here for?" Ronald, with his remarkable tendency for indelicacy, voiced in a loud, intrusive voice. His mother immediately thumped him on the back of the head, hurriedly conjuring seats for the five of them, her face alit with warmth. Hermione had always admired Mrs. Weasley's ability to open her heart to anyone in need, despite their questionable backgrounds.
"Don't be silly, Ronald. They are, of course, welcome. We have some roast pork left over, if any of you are hungry-"
"We ate before our arrival, Molly, but thank you very much." It was Narcissa who spoke, her soft voice kind and gentle as she smiled at the harried witch. "Tom merely informed us that the matters being discussed at tonight's meeting were of great importance."
"And indeed they are, Narcissa." Arthur said quietly, his face very serious. "It has come to our attention that Dumbledore intends to increase the measures under which the Purebloods are persecuted."
"Increase it? How?" Harry had leaned forward in his seat, his palms flat against the surface of the table.
Arthur paused, seemingly hesitant, before glancing at Lupin.
The werewolf sighed, leaning forward as well and looking directly at Harry. "Dumbledore's commission is considering segregating certain areas from Purebloods-Diagon Alley, the Quidditch stadiums, maybe even the Ministry, and, they are even talking about servitude policies-"
If it had been disorderly before, the room seemed to erupt like some long-forgotten dormant volcano, swelling and building for centuries and centuries, unbeknownst to anyone, before it burst in an explosion of outrage and malice. Ron had flown at of his chair, his face so red that it clashed with his vibrant hair; Draco and Theodore both roared in indignation, cheeks flushed and breathing ragged. Lucius and Rabastan wore expression of rage, but their quiet fury was almost more intimidating than the three Pureblood boys' flagrant wrath.
"How dare they!" Draco bellowed over the commotion. "As if branding us wasn't enough for those bastards-"
"Draco," the disapproval was tangible in Lucius's voice as he glared at his son. "Sit down. Your petty displays aren't going to solve anything."
To Hermione's surprise, Draco glumly sunk back into his seat, seething silently as he glowered at the wall opposite him. She cleared her throat and asked timidly, "Draco, what do you mean, branding you wasn't enough?"
He looked sharply at her, his eyes seeming to search hers for something. "You-you mean you really don't know?" She shook her head, and he let out a disbelieving breath. He rose from his seat slowly, glancing warily at his father before looking back at her. "Dumbledore needed a way to keep track of us-just in case someone tried to claim that they weren't a Pureblood. He wanted to make sure that none of us could get around the system." He turned his back on her, and for a moment, Hermione wanted to ask him what he was doing, but then he pulled up the back of his shirt, and she gasped.
The taut muscles on his back were marred by a strange design. The flesh was pink and puckered, as though something very hot had been pressed to his skin. The design was huge, covering most of his back. A huge triangle made up the outside of it; on the inside was a single circle with a long, straight light running straight through the middle. Hermione recognized it immediately.
"That's Dumbledore's mark. He-he branded that into your skin."
Draco dropped his shirt, his face fighting to remain nonchalant, but his lip twitched as his eyes roved over her horrified face. "He does it to all of us. Every single one. As soon as we're born."
Hermione felt horror crawling across her skin as she blankly stared at her hands in her lap. She knew that Dumbledore treated the Purebloods badly, but she had no idea-
"The point is, it's time to take matters into our own hands." It was Riddle who spoke, and though his voice sounded unaffected, there was an anger burning in his eyes greater than Draco's, or Harry's, or even Lucius or Rabastan's. "Dumbledore cannot be trusted; for all we know, his next decree could be to kill off every Pureblood in our society."
"But there's a problem with that," Harry interrupted. Riddle's face turned stony, but Harry ignored him. "If the Purebloods have their own prejudices against Muggleborns and Half-Bloods, how are we going to get them to join our side?"
Riddle rolled his eyes. "Well, they're simply going to have to listen to us, won't they? All it takes is a little convincing, and you'll find I can be very...persuasive." Antonin and Rabastan shared a smirk that made Hermione's skin crawl. "We are going to rally the students at Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, break out our remaining comrades in Azkaban, and start a war."