Warning: a bit of heterosexual love and dead animals and characters.
Hermione woke to the sound of yelling, to voices she had never heard before. It prompted her to draw her wand and with an inhuman struggle, she sat up, threw the blanket from her body and set her feet on the ground. Every move was painful, her muscles were stiff and she felt tired despite having slept peacefully. As she stood up, she stumbled but kept herself from falling down nonetheless. It was then that she saw that all the other beds and chairs were empty, no one but she was in the tent. Panic rose, all sorts of thoughts went through her mind. She clenched her fingers around Bellatrix' wand and set out to find, and possibly defend, Harry and Viktor.
The first dozen steps made Hermione winch in pain. The burning and stiffness of her muscles gradually lessened as they got used to the motions, but it was still there when she drew back the tent flap. She had to blink several times for the sunlight practically blinded her.
What greeted her was far from what the Muggle-born had believed to be happening. For thoughts of a renewed war had first sprung to mind, one wherein escaped Snatchers and Death Eaters had returned to Hogwarts' grounds in order to renew the fighting.
The opposite was true.
Her wand pointed to the ground as she let her arm hang beside her body. There was no reason for panic, people were just having fun. And it was only as this information slowly came through her sleep alluded mind that she recognized the yelling as joyful shouting. Several people on brooms were playing a game above the camp. A ball was being tossed between them, whilst someone else tried to catch it. Her eyes followed the object that was thrown about, it reminded Hermione of being bound to other captives as they neared the haughty house and its... ruthless people living within it.
Shudders travelled up and down over her spine, yet she did not avert her eyes. It was only when a warm hand caressed her arm that she returned to reality. Her eyes met Viktor's dark ones. She smiled in relief and let a long breath escape from her lungs. With a single step, she closed the distance, wrapped her arms around his middle and laid her head on his chest. His warmth and scent calming her jumbled thoughts and easing her muscles from their tense fight-or-flight state.
"Good afternoon," he said in a contented voice and pressed her closer for a moment before he took a step back. "Do you want some soup?"
"Yes, please, I really need some food in my stomach," she squeezed his hand before letting go and watched her lover turn his attention to the cauldron above the fire, with a bowl and ladle in his hands.
Then her eyes fell upon Harry, who sat in the shadows of the tent. His hands busy with polishing a broom. A calm expression on his face. Hermione was about to sit down beside him when she realized that the only garment she wore was her underwear and one of Fleur's older shirts. She summoned the trousers she had thrown over the chair the previous evening. It may be damaged and bloody, but she could ignore that; she just needed something to cover herself with.
When she sat down gingerly, her muscles too sour to do otherwise, she bumped her shoulder against Harry's, who bumped her right back without taking his eyes from his work. The corners of his mouth were curled slightly downwards, a frown on his face.
Despite his mood, he murmured affectionately, "Hey, you."
"Have you been awake for long?" she asked.
He shook his head, "Only an hour or two."
From Harry's mannerism, she knew something was bothering him, but before she could ask what it was that troubled his mind her food had arrived. Viktor proffered her meal, a small smile on his lips. Hermione recognized the scent of the soup at once, it was a typical Bulgarian recipe. One that Viktor's mother was the best at cooking, in Hermione's opinion. However, Viktor's version was a close second. A grin split her stern features as she looked up at her lover, whilst she accepted the bowl and spoon. Her expression was accompanied by a twinkle of recognition in her eyes and a softly muttered 'thank you'. He kissed her cheek, for she already had a spoonful of the beverage in her mouth when he sat down opposite the duo. The soup had been kept on just the right temperature with the help of a charm.
Viktor updated her on the status of the camp and the castle. People from the camp were currently split into two groups. One half focussed on Hogwarts and was repairing whatever they could. The other made sure all was going smoothly in camp and in the forest, cleaning, cooking, building, etc. And some people, like the ones currently flying through the sky, took a breather. After all, people needed to relax and laugh for a bit.
In the early morning hours, there had also arrived a group of Aurors, of which a lot had disappeared into the woods at once. Likely in search of escaped followers of Voldemort. A few of the Aurors had stayed behind, in order to create the idea of security. They constantly patrolled the grounds. However, no one paid them any mind. None of the people of the camp was really impressed by the display of the Ministry's help, even though everyone knew this was Kinglsey's doing since he had taken the place as a temporary Minister. Still, people had bitter thoughts like 'where had they been when they had been truly needed', it nagged almost everyone.
The leading figures of the French and Bulgarian groups were currently in a meeting with Minerva and some other Professors about what would happen onward, how long their help was needed and together they planned things for the near future.
Hermione listened intently, whilst she observed her lover's lips move and his eyes wander over the camp. She knew he was one of the leading people of the Bulgarians, yet here he was. He had waited for her, just like he had promised. Warmth spread from her chest throughout the rest of her body.
When he was done she nodded and waited for a bit, till it was appropriate for her to announce her own plans for the day. "I need to go to Gringotts," Hermione said between the last bites of her soup, "preferably today. There are also some files I need to collect from the Ministry and St. Mungos."
Harry visibly tensed at the last words but said nothing. Viktor nodded and asked when she wanted to depart and if she wanted to go alone.
"I am going with," Harry said at once, running his hand through his hair after he had set the broom aside.
Viktor smiled in relieve at that, "Good, that is good."
"Shall we depart in an hour?" She asked and turned towards Harry.
He nodded and said, "Let's see how Hagrid is doing before we go, alright?"
Hermione agreed, happy to make a visit. Yet it was a feeling that faltered almost immediately when she remembered the sight of yesterday, of only Hagrid and Grawp. One being had been absent.
"I will stay here, make sure the camp stays safe and that people get the help they need."
The Muggle-born reached for one of Viktor's hands and held it with both of hers, caressing the back of his hand with her thumbs. Though her eyes were on the line of the forest, she was with her thoughts already with Hagrid.
Viktor squeezed her hand, a smile on his lips as he watched her. Yet a worried shadow was still in his eyes, but then he closed them and focussed on the sensation of Hermione's caress. They sat like that, not saying anything for some time. There was no need to look each other in the eyes to express their feelings.
Harry looked from one to the other before he busied himself with the broom anew.
Grawp sat at the edge of the forest, his back against a big tree and his eye closed. Snores came from his battered body and drool hung from the corner of his mouth. Had he not been as big as he was Hermione would have tenderly wiped it away with a tissue. Now she swished her wand and muttered softly. Once the drool was gone, she transfigured a wooden log into a blanket big enough to cover his body and feet. She watched the giant stir and waited for him to settle back, but he did not. He was as vigilant and tense as everyone else on these grounds; the battle had all beings still in its power. Grawp's not bandaged eye blinked open. Hermione made her way to him before he would move to stand up. The moment he saw her some fear seemed to dissipate from his features.
"Hermy!" He said enthusiastically, "Hermy safe! Hagger safe!" The Giant beamed with happiness at this point, though he winced as the motion hurt his head. With his hand, he covered the bandages as if holding them would lessen the pain.
"Hello Grawp," she said, "I am glad to see that you are alright, though I hope your head doesn't hurt too much?"
He did not verbally respond, instead, he looked at the blanket for a moment and then at her. After he had mentally processed the changes he reached out to her. She tensed, afraid for a repeat from such a long time ago, but then she noticed how careful he was. He had learned. All the time the trio had put in Grawp during Hagrid's absence and all the hours of teaching from all four of them, when Hagrid had still been there, were starting to pay off, now it was more obvious than ever. His hand enclosed around her body and she gripped his fingers for stability.
When he held her before his face Hermione had to fight to keep neutral features, his odour had not improved. One of these days she would ask him if he would like to learn how to swim.
"Hemry here?" He was calm and a smile lingered on his lips as he looked at the human in his hand.
Hermione stroked his thumb with her hand, grateful for his thoughtfulness whilst picking her up. "Thank you, Grawp, for being gentle with me." Though she could not help but to mentally repeat the hope that he would not suddenly tighten his grip. As she continued she answered him, her eyes travelled to the smoke that came from the cabin's chimney, "I came to see Hagrid. I wanted to know how he is doing and talk to him for a bit."
"Hagger here," Grawp said, but he did not give Hermione the impression that he would set her down on his own accord.
"Grawp," she said with a serious tone of voice, "you will have to set me down in a bit."
His smile saddened, but he did as he was ordered. That was also the moment when Harry walked up to them, he waved at the Giant and asked how he was feeling.
"Sleepy," Grawp said when Hermione was on the ground.
"I bet," said Harry as the duo watched whilst he settled back against the tree and tucked his arms under the blanket, "you handled yourself well in the battle. Thank you."
"Hagger," was all that he grunted and then he closed his eye.
Harry was the one that knocked on the door. From within the cabin, there came a stumble and a broken sob, the latter made Hermione fidget from one foot to the other. She was worried about the man, which had been why she had gone ahead to Hagrid. Instead of waiting for Harry to finish dressing.
The door opened and puffy red eyes looked at them before they teared all up and new sobs broke through the man. His tears disappeared into his beard as he threw his arms around Harry and Hermione. Who hugged him back as best they could.
After some time Hermione had gathered enough bravery to whisper her question between the half-Giant's heartbroken sobs, "Is it Fang?"
This only worsened the tears, but she felt a single nod from his head against hers. It made her gulp, in the hope to clear her throat from the painful knot that had appeared. She had feared this news since she had seen him without the dog the previous day, but having it affirmed was still like a slap to her face.
In her mind memories of the Bearhound surfaced. She had not known Hagrid from before he had Fang by his side, the dog had always been there. He had been a not so silent presence. The only times the loyal pet had been absent was during Hagrid's classes. Fang had always been friendly to them, always happy to be petted and a real comedian during his walks over the grounds. Sniffing all over the place, stumbling from the bushes, darting after a rabbit or two and splashing around in the lake. The trio had joined Hagrid during the evening walks often enough - especially Hermione, due to the period of time of her non-existent friendship with Harry and Ron during their Third year - creating enough memories to be able to say that she would miss the dog's presence sourly.
At some point Hagrid let them go and the duo followed him inside. His shoulders were hunched and he wiped his nose at the arm of his jacket multiple times. The fire in the hut had clearly not been lit yet, for it was cold inside. In an attempt to help Hermione conjured several sparks upon the wood in the fireplace and when she hung a filled kettle above it, a steady fire flickered proudly. Harry had sat down beside Hagrid and patted his shoulder awkwardly, but sincerely. All the while Hagrid had a large bundle in his arms. Fang was wrapped in a blanket made of dark wool. They did not say anything for a long time until it was Hermione who asked the question where he had found him.
"F-F-Found Fang... near the... near my c-cabin," Hagrid muttered between his sobs and clutched the bundle harder against his chest.
Hermione set a cup of water, for the tea was not ready yet, before him and said, "Hagrid, here is some water. Drink a bit of it, it will do you good."
Carefully the half-Giant set down the bundle beside him on the couch took the cup and slurped it all down in between his sniffles.
"We could stay with you, to help you bury him?" Harry said with a questioning glance at Hermione, who nodded at once.
"Yeah... I-I would like tha' a lot," Hagrid heaved a heavy sigh as he looked down at Fang's wrapped body.
Naturally, with Hagrid's current state of being and the burial of Fang, it took the duo hours before they Apparated towards Diagon Alley. Neither one was comfortable with leaving the half-Giant on his own, alas, they really needed to pay a visit to the Magical parts of London. They started with Gringotts, for that visit only contained giving information regarding Griphook's body and taking a bit of money out of their vaults. Something that could be handled in less than an hour, or so they thought.
When they appeared in front of the Leaky Cauldron Hermione tried to force herself to not think about the feeling of guilt as her eyes travelled over the facade of the store. Naturally, she failed. Their previous way of entering and disturbing the tavern and its inhabitants were all too clear in her mind. It was, after all, two days ago.
Harry lead the way inside. Hermione, afraid for an ambush of well-wishers and hand-shakers, wished they could travel underneath the Invisibility Cloak, but knew that opening and closing doors without any plausible cause would only alert the inhabitants. They had to go inside and face the music. She took a deep breath and followed him inside, withholding herself from grasping Harry's hand. That would only look weak, which was something she of all people could not be, she was a member of the Golden Trio. A person who brought hope to the people.
When they entered the room the same deafening silence fell over the room as last time. However, this one was not charged with fear, despair or hatred. People started to smile, tip their hats, some stood up and made to shake their hands, others yelled their thanks. Harry's smile was forced as he nodded to some of the people, Hermione did not even bother, her expression as serious as her hand too was taken by strangers. She just shook their hands and kept close at Harry's heels.
Only when her eyes settled on Tom did she falter momentarily in her steps. He was beaming at the two of them, unknowingly smiling at the one that had hurt him the previous time she had waltzed through. She tried to smile back but knew that what she showed looked forced and then hurriedly walked away.
Once they walked over Diagon Alley they both let sighs escape them. Harry ran his hand through his hair and looked around. There were only a handful of people scattered over the street. True, they too stared and smiled, approached and thanked them, but at least these people were not in great numbers. The duo was soon walking uninterrupted over the cobblestones to their destination.
"I wonder when they will start renovating and repairing these buildings and shops," Hermione muttered whilst she looked up and down the street. Most of the houses were still as ravaged, cold and empty as they had been before. Though here and there a sign of life could be seen, people and families were already returning to their homes.
"At least someone got rid of all the Wanted posters," Harry responded nonchalantly. Though as she looked over at him she saw his tense shoulders, he was vigilant and not at ease in the slightest.
"I want to buy Hagrid a new dog," Harry said as his eyes fell on the parlour that had once sold magical animals, but which was currently dark and empty. A few cages still remained within the forgotten shop, the small doors unhinged and broken. Hermione stood still beside him and as she took it all in she wondered what had happened to the animals. She hoped desperately that they were safe, the possible alternatives made her shudder. She forced herself to think about something else instead.
"Would it not be better to wait for a bit? To let him mourn Fang?"
He shrugged, "Will mourning help him?"
"I don't know, but in the state that he is, he can hardly take the responsibility of raising an animal. Besides, there is Grawp to take in consideration as well."
Harry looked for a few moments longer at the abandoned shop and thought about her words. He was not wholly of the same opinion but did not think waiting a few more days would hurt anyone. He nodded and followed Hermione's lead.
All around the bank the surroundings were still very much ravaged. The stones of walls and streets were still blackened from the dragon's fire. Most of the houses still had sagged rooftops, and a few were even partially or wholly gone (though the latter two were not visible from their point of view). And everything which had been made from wood had been burnt to ashes, no matter how well the objects had been protected by charms or enchantments.
However, the place from where the Ukraine Ironbelly had emerged was unblemished and sturdy, not a single stone looked to be missing. Though the restorers had made sure to make it merge with the surroundings, the whole surface of the street was blackened. As if the dragon's fire had been spewed all over it as well. If one did not know of the specific place, they would never suspect that this part of the street had been broken and had been a direct entrance to the oldest and best-protected vaults in Gringotts.
The duo could enter the bank without so much as a glance from the Goblin guards, but what they could not see was the sneers the Goblins showed one another after they had entered the building.
What Harry and Hermione did see were the deadly glares they gathered from the workers inside. One or two Goblins even snarled as they walked past. Both of them ignored it as best they could, though it worsened the tension they already had in their bodies tenfold.
At the tall, wooden and overly decorated table, the duo halted and looked upwards to the Goblin that sat on the seat. His beady black eyes were mere slits as he had narrowed his eyes and glared at them.
"Potter, Granger," spat the Goblin as he looked with pure disdain from one to the other. Naturally, Bogrod had been replaced by another Goblin. He looked younger, yet his face was just as full of creases and wrinkles as all the elderly ones. The only difference was the number of hairs he still had on his head. "If you think we will let you near the vaults, then you are sourly mistaken."
"You can't keep us from visiting our own vaults," Harry stated irritably, an incredulous look on his face.
"On the contrary," laughed the Goblin, like it was a funny joke. A sneer forming on his lips as he continued, "For now we can, Potter. After all, you are responsible for the death of our Head Goblin and countless other brave Goblins, the escape of guard number 5 and damaged the bank and the surrounding streets and houses in your escape. Of which the costs of repair have been close to the sum of an eye-bulging 7 thousand galleons. And we are not even done yet. I don't suppose that you would be willing to pay that sum, now do you? No? Thought so." During his small speech of accusations the Goblin had started to smash his fist on the surface of his desk after every few words, the volume of his voice so loud it echoed through the hall.
The Goblin took a deep breath, smoothed his hair backwards and continued in a somewhat calmer - though certainly not less poisonous - voice, "And we haven't even had the time to start with the reinforcing of the enchantments and wards you -" and at this he jabbed an accusing finger at Hermione, "- have somehow managed to break. Thus, hereby I can conclude and inform you that if there is anyone we may deny entrance to their vaults it would be you."
Hermione listened with a stoic face, despite having the creature turn his wrath on her as he had pointed his knobbly finger at her. Accusing her of an achievement she was not entitled to. For it had been Bellatrix who had managed to find fault in the system of their wards, all Hermione had done was disentangle and demolish the trap the Death Eater had placed there.
After the Goblin had spat his words at the duo, he returned to the work on his desk and acted oblivious to the presence of the two before him.
Harry was silent, though anger simmered in his eyes and his jaw was set. He had literally given his life to defeat Voldemort, after having fought the bastard since the year he had enrolled in Hogwarts. Time and again had he, Harry, acted selflessly; he had headed straight into danger without expecting, nor wanting, help from others, afraid they would suffer for him, or, worse, die. And now this Goblin made him sound like he was the worst Wizard on this goddamned earth like he alone was the cause of all this destruction.
He balled his hands into tight fists, the anger warmed his body and for a moment he wanted to yell at the Goblin. Yet before he had even opened his mouth he forced his hands to open and hang loose beside his body, he took a deep breath and looked over at Hermione. Who studied him closely, though the moment their eyes met she showed him a wan smile. Having her beside him gave him the certainty he needed. He was not a bad man and it did not matter what anyone thought of him, as long as she, and the others whom he was close with, knew and believed in him.
With another breath Harry gave his verbal response, his voice neutral "Fine, we'll return at a later stadium."
"Make way, Potter, surely there are other places you have to be," the Goblin waved his hand dismissively in the air without looking up from his work.
The duo did not spend a moment longer in his presence. They turned around and started for their other objective. The fresh air that greeted them was a welcome relieve from the dead air inside the bank.
When they were far enough from the grand building Harry leaned over to Hermione and whispered, "Why didn't you ask them about Griphook?" Yet before she had the opportunity to answer he did so himself, "You don't trust them to give him the burial he deserves. Because they see him as a traitor."
She nodded, "Exactly. The charms and wards I put on his body should hold for a few more days, 3 at most, and I think I will be able to persuade Kingsley to make it possible for us to enter before that happens. Which leaves us with only the one obstacle: how to find our way back to Griphook."
"Any idea how?"
Hermione arched one eyebrow and pinned her gaze on his, she flipped her hair arrogantly and smiled slyly as she said, "Of course I do." It made Harry laugh out loud and she relished the sound, it had been a long time since she had heard it.
Harry and Hermione walked close to one another with the Invisibility Cloak draped over them. They had to manoeuvre through Muggle and Wizarding folk alike in order to reach the building which no Muggle would ever see or, in case they had a need of fixing after being in contact with magic, would not remember seeing.
From the outside, the building of St. Mungos looked as ordinary as ever, but once inside Harry and Hermione momentarily lost their foolish bravery. The building was close to bursting, humans were everywhere. However, there was no unnecessary yelling, pushing or anything. People sat if possible, kept to themselves or talked in hushed voices with the people beside them or the Healer or assistant who was helping them. Said Healers went from person to person without any visible haste. In short, it looked and felt like controlled chaos. There were too many people in need of medication, extra care or nutrition. Yet everyone did their best to attend to the victims.
Suddenly Harry pulled Hermione to the wall, she made a soft yelp of surprise. And, in a reflex, she covered her mouth with her hand, though it was already too late. A few heads of the people closest to them turned to look at the sound, but at seeing nothing in particular they soon returned to their work at hand. She watched several Healers rush through the masses of people, some walked through the space Harry and Hermione had just vacated.
She nodded as thanks and promised herself to stay on alert from now on. Her senses on a constant watchfulness of their surroundings and for incoming bodies. It had been a beginners mistake, one she did not want to make twice.
First, they had to find a map of the building, then they could discuss where it was likeliest where they needed to go. Hermione took Harry's hand and slowly they navigated through the masses of people. At times they were barely on time to dodge an incoming human without bumping into another. And they had to walk slowly because otherwise, their footfalls would draw attention, a Muffle Charm could only do so much, even with the constant murmurs, coughs and what not that filled the air with noise.
It was on the wall near the (unmanned) receptionist's desk where they found the floor map of the building. However, they could not get very close because four elderly persons sat between them and the map, but they made do with what they could see. Harry and Hermione pointed out possible places of interest to one another, all in the silence of certain glances and hand gestures. Though they had haste. The longer they stood there, the likelier it was for someone to bump into them.
Within a few minutes, they were headed to their first point of interest, the only room on this floor that could possibly contain cabinets with the information they wanted. They had to navigate through another hall filled with people; waiting, sleeping and eating. All was relatively calm. Despite this, the duo actually stumbled against a toddler, who fell backwards and on his bum. His cries had alerted the adults, but by the time the mother had gathered her child in her arms, Harry and Hermione were on the other side of the hall. They entered a corridor that would lead them to both the room and the staircase, in case the first room was not the one they needed.
The corridor was mostly empty, with only a few Healers walking from room to hall and from hall to staircase. It was only when no one else was there that the duo opened the door, and closed it when they had slipped inside.
It was a claustrophobically small room, with closets against all walls. However, none contained the documents they wanted, all that they found were cleaning tools and other handy objects, there were also crates filled with empty potion bottles and several battered cauldrons.
They were out of the storage within five minutes and made their way upwards, to the third floor. There, in the East wing, three rooms had caught Hermione's attention. For they were next to one another, all the same size. Definitely bigger than their previous room, yet still not enough capacity to house even two humans with each their own bed.
This time Harry and Hermione had to wait and plan their entrance into the first of the three rooms since this corridor was far more frequented by staff than they would have liked. At last, after waiting for more than half an hour, they saw an opportunity to sneak inside.
What greeted them was utterly useless. She wanted to groan out loud, frustration was oozing off of her. It was a room filled with hospital clothes for patients and Healer robes in all kinds of sizes, which hung from coat hangers and were stacked on shelves. Not a single dust flake was visible and the clean smell of freshly washed clothes hung in the air.
When they were outside again Hermione wanted to walk to the rooms on other floors and forgo the patience and frustration it would take to sneak into the two rooms that were left. These are just overly spacious storage rooms, she thought somewhat bitterly.
It was Harry's gentle touch on her wrist which kept her from striding to the staircase again. When their eyes met he shook his head and pointed to the other two rooms. Hermione let her shoulders slump and conveyed her doubt through her eyes. He shook his head again and together they headed for the second room.
Only to be disappointed once more when they entered and saw that the room was used as a drying room of sorts. Herbs, flowers and roots hung from the ceiling, potted plants stood on tables and shelves, with between them pots filled with eyeballs, teeth, feathers and other magical animal and human parts.
They were about to open the door when the handle went down. Hermione stiffened in shock. Harry pulled her to the side just as the door opened. A man in the regular white Healer robes walked over the threshold and by some miracle, he did not bother to close it when he was inside. The Healer reached for a bundle of roots when Harry pushed Hermione through the open door and followed her closely.
Just then the door of their last room was opened, from whence a woman came. Said woman moved hastily and was about to close the door already when, without thinking it through, Hermione conjured a gust of wind from outside, it threw several windows open and flew through the corridor. It took the woman off guard, she clutched the documents she carried against her chest, despite this a few papers twirled from her grasp anyway. She let go of the door, which opened enough to allow Harry and Hermione to slip inside.
Immediately the two stepped further inside the room, away from the door. And with bated breath, they waited from their side of the room for what would happen now. They could hear the rustle of paper and parchment. And then the woman reappeared in the doorway, her hair dishevelled and with a suspicious expression on her face. She stepped into the room once more and the duo pressed themselves against the wall, despite the fact that they could not be seen either way. The woman studied her surroundings, her eyes narrowed.
She walked around the room, inspected the few shadows that were present behind and beside the cabinets and bookcases, however, when she found nothing she resorted to magic. Hermione recognized the incantations and grabbed Harry's hand to hold it tightly. She knew that in theory the Cloak could not be summoned by anyone, but it being tested was not something she enjoyed experiencing.
Nothing happened, the woman sniffed in indignation and swept her eyes one last time around. Her instinct obviously told her something was amiss, yet she had no proof. And, at last, the woman exited the room.
The duo looked at one another, they both wanted to say 'finally', but neither felt comfortable to make any unnecessary noise. What if she was listening at the door? They stood in the silence for several minutes longer, their eyes scanning whatever they could see. The contents of this room were promising.
At some point Hermione started to smile, one of relief and hope, for certain etiquettes had caught her attention. 'Documentation Employees', and it was alphabetized. Nameplates above every drawer showed which letters were inside.
The Cloak was taken off, it would only make them clumsy whilst they worked. And they had to work as fast as possible since the longer they stayed the likelier it was for them to get noticed. Both had a dreading feeling that the woman could reappear from thin air any moment right next to them.
They were like a well-oiled machine, Hermione thumbed through the files in the drawers, searching for the correct names and professions. When she had a document of interest Harry took the file from her and duplicated it with a charm. It was not long before they had a dozen dossiers copied. And the stack had grown with eight more files when the noise of a door handle being used made them freeze for a split second. Both turned to their files and stowed them into Hermione's shoulder bag.
"I knew it," the woman stood in the doorway, her eyes wide open as she surveyed the open drawers in the room. Then her eyes fell on the trespassers, "What the fuck?!"
Harry and Hermione had not wasted a second. The Muggle-born shot a wandless stupefy at the woman, whilst Harry threw the Invisibility Cloak over them. They ran to the door at once and jumped over the stiff body, which had garnered the attention of several other Healers by now. Some of them had their wands already drawn as they came rushing from the other sides of the corridor.
The Muggle-born Obliviated the fallen woman with practised ease, meanwhile Harry strengthened the Muffliato Charm that was already on their shoes. Then he tugged at her arm and they ran towards the staircase. Still, their footfalls could be heard and drew surprised - followed by angry - eyes in their direction even though they could not be seen. Soon "Thieves! There are thieves!" was loudly shouted thorough the corridor.
The status of the archive they had left behind was chaotic, with all its open drawers and randomly picked out articles and dossiers. For besides the dossiers of Mind Healers, both had also picked other files out of their cabinets and drawers. The duo hoped it would make it harder for the investigation - which was likely to be held - to pinpoint what exactly had been taken, or, in their case, duplicated, and for what purpose.
They burst through the last set of doors. People screamed in fear and surprise because of the suddenness of it. And it only intensified when one of the Healers belatedly yelled that 'the thieves' had escaped.
The air outside had cooled down since they had gone inside St. Mungos, daylight would soon make way for the shadows of the night. Yet they could not take much notice of the change. For the duo dashed over the street, dodging as many pedestrians as possible, some they even had to push out of the way as well. Since they could not pass otherwise. Needless to say, more screams filled the air and chaos followed them on their heels.
Harry and Hermione were like one as they made for the nearest alleyway. It was one they had spotted before going inside the building and had agreed upon going if their trespassing would be spotted. It allowed them the darkest of shadows, perfect for their escape.
Once in the shadows of the alley, Harry did not miss a beat and grabbed Hermione and his Cloak in both his hands and Apparated them to the gates of Hogwarts. Not willing to take any risks of being found the moment they would get out from under the Invisibility cloak.
They were still panting when the forest materialized around them. Neither bothered to take the Cloak off. Their eyes met, as they breathed heavily. Clear green and light brown. Then Harry closed his and leaned his forehead against hers. She closed hers minutely as well and asked between breaths, "How did you know it was one of the three rooms?"
He did not answer immediately. They stood for a bit longer like that before he opened his eyes, gave her some space and grabbed the Cloak to get it off of them. Hermione waited and watched patiently.
He shrugged, his eyes on the scenery of nature surrounding them, "I don't know, just had a feeling."
She shook her head, "Always the one that works on instinct." He looked at Hermione, frowning at first until he saw the appreciation in her eyes. The corners of his lips went upwards ever so slightly.
"I wonder if this will come in the newspaper, or if the Ministry will shush it down," Harry uttered to change the subject, whilst he put the Cloak away.
"If Kingsley wants to make a statement and show the Wizarding world he is any different from the previous and corrupt Head of the Ministry, he will let the newspapers in on the event and keep them up to date," she said and shrugged her shoulders. Her eyes on the files she was thumbing through, making sure they had not left a single paper behind.
"There were only a few Healers who saw someone, because they don't even know who it was," he countered good-naturedly, "surely, you don't believe they would make that much ruckus?"
Hermione shrugged again, "Word will come out, it always does."
When she was certain and satisfied that none of the files looked to be incomplete she turned her head up and towards him, "Harry, we did it."
"Yeah, I thought we wouldn't still have to sneak around, now that the war is over. Clearly, I have been proved wrong," he joked lamely.
Hermione bumped their shoulders, "I told you that if we would ask for the files formally it would probably have taken several months. Not only because of all the paperwork it requires, but also with all their current patients, there will be hardly anyone available to keep up with the post St. Mungos receives every day."
He nodded and pointed towards the fence, "I reckon you still want to visit the Ministry, despite the late hour, or can I persuade you to let it go for now with the promise of some warm food?"
The young woman smiled wanly, "Take the lead." Indeed, she would prefer to go to the Ministry, but Harry was probably right to want to call it a day, twilight was already settling over the land. And now that they were on their way she preferred to be back in camp before dinner was served.
When they arrived at the camp they were told that Ron, Ginny and Luna had visited and helped for a few hours around in the camp and with Hogwarts. But the three had gone home not long ago. Harry and Hermione regretted that they had not been here sooner to at least see them off. Hermione considered visiting Luna the following day.
Dinner was enjoyed at a long table, it was one of the house tables from the Great Hall, which had been placed outside for them. There were several announcements made during the meal. Most were not of real importance, but there was one that stirred Hermione's interest. Apparently, some people of both nations would return to their homelands to start preparing and making arrangements for the return of both groups. The Bulgarians, in particular, had a lot to organize, with their Centaurs making it such a large group.
It made the Muggle-born turn her worried eyes towards Viktor, who sat at the head of the table, with his attention glued on the current speaker. Would her lover return to his family at some point during the summer? She bit her lower lip and returned her attention to her plate. Then she sighed and tried to let the worries go for the rest of the evening.
In the fireplace wood cracked, it made sparks fly high. Yellows and reds danced and created flickering shadows thorough the tent. Harry was nestled in one corner of the couch and Hermione in the other, their legs and feet touching at some places. But otherwise, both were completely immersed in their own worlds. The Muggle-born with the letter she was still contemplating how to write. While Harry's eyes travelled over the words of the documents they had copied during their trespassing. Viktor sat in an armchair nearest to the fire, a Bulgarian book about dark magic in his hands and a piece of parchment to take notes on at his feet with a quill on top of it.
The Muggle-born tapped the tip of her quill against her lips, her eyes were glued to the parchment before her. She thought of the different ways to bring forth the subject to Charlie. In the end, she decided it best to be direct, pleasantries could be reserved for another time. Her fingers held the quill delicately, yet with the precision of one who had written many an essay in her life.
Together, her fingers and the quill, weaved letters and created words on the parchment, spilling not a single inkblot. She gave a detailed description of the Ukraine Ironbelly's physical appearance. She wrote of all the scars she had seen, which littered the dragon's body like it was part of its natural colour patterns. How the milky haze had clouded the eyes, and yet how well the animal had been able to locate the enemies in the cavern. Reminding Hermione of a bat's ability to live and hunt with its sonar. She also gave an indication, to the best of her abilities, of the direction in which the dragon had flown. Though, in all honesty, she doubted the latter would be much of a help, the dragon could have gone in any direction thereafter.
She had no idea how Charlie and his team would be able to search and find the Ironbelly. It felt like her letter was incomplete. That she had not written enough, that there was more she should tell Charlie about, yet she knew she had written all that she could. There was nothing more she could tell or assist with, no matter how bad she wanted to. At the end of the letter, she did ask how he was doing, also saying that she hoped everything was alright.
Hermione was already halfway with the sealing and charming of the letter when a sudden idea made her halt in her ministrations. In the spur of the moment, she wrote another few questions beneath the letter.
P.S. How is Norberta doing, has she found a mate yet? And would it be possible for us (Hagrid, Harry, Ron and me. Or only Hagrid, if all four of us would be too much of a strain on you or the dragons) to make a visit somewhere in the following weeks? I think it would do Hagrid good to see her; he has lost his dog in the battle.
She did not know if Ron would want to come, but she could hardly invite herself to visit Charlie without including his little brother.
Thereafter she did seal the parchment. Several charms would keep the paper from being damaged during the long flight the chosen bird would have to make.
"Would the Owlery still be in one piece?" Hermione asked to no one in general.
"Only one way to find out, don't you think?" Harry said and he pushed himself out of his couch corner and stretching his body. Hermione started to get up as well, though before she exited the tent she caressed Viktor's arm.
Together they made their way in companionable silence through the darkness of the night. They did not have difficulty to manoeuvre over the grassland, the moon lighted their way with only a few clouds to slightly obscure the fall of light. From the camp, which was by now behind them, came laughter and music. Sounds which soon had become mere murmurs on the breeze. The hoot of a wild owl came from the forest, its wingbeats practically soundless as it flew overhead in the direction of the lake.
Harry cleared his throat, eyes on the night sky and opened his mouth to whisper, his breath condensed in the air. "You know, we haven't... done 'that'... in a long time and maybe we-"
Hermione looked at him, her eyes twinkled as she interrupted him with an earnest expression, "Yes, let's do it."
He noticed with fascination how the brown of her eyes got an almost amber glow when the fires of the camp, despite the far distance, were reflected in her eyes. And before his very eyes, he witnessed, not for the first time, how his friend started to shrink. Magical energy he had always associated with electricity soundlessly crackled around and over her skin and clothes.
He followed suit before Hermione was wholly transformed, though he grew in length.
From low on the ground, she looked up, her ears twitched and turned as she got accustomed to all the sounds she was not able to hear in human form. With her nose high she sniffed the air and knew instantly why it had taken so little time for scavengers to appear after the battle. The grounds reeked of blood and the dead. It was disgusting, she swished her tail irritably.
Though the nudge of a big nose in her side made her avert her attention back to Harry, his antlers had grown since the last time they had been in their Animagus forms. And it made her wonder if her appearance had changed as well.
She yapped playfully at him and dashed forward. Her body light and agile, as she sped over the meadow. It was freeing to move like this once more.
Harry took his time speeding up his pace, it did not matter that Hermione would be far ahead of him and out of sight. Her scent was unmistakable and his hearing would do the rest. From the open meadow, he followed her trail to the forest, with a large scant of ground between him and the camp. Since his body, being as big as he was, was far less easy to hide.
He went from a walk to a trot and ultimately a gallop.
It was at the edge of the forest where he found her. She sat with her eyes closed and waited patiently for him to catch up. One ear turned towards him, the other moved constantly to listen to all which happened around her. Her nose twitched every now and then. It gave him the feeling that, despite her enthusiasm, Hermione was not wholly comfortable being in their Animagus form, which was not that surprising with so many people and Centaurs nearby. Especially the latter could prove troublesome if they were to pass or cross paths with them.
He slowed down and when he was only a few metres apart from her he grunted softly in greeting.
She opened her eyes and stood up. Hermione looked expectantly up at him, suspecting that he had some form of entertainment in his head. Harry had been the one who had longed to transform into their animal counterparts, after all. Not that she had objected. It was just that it had been a while and she was not comfortable with this many Centaurs in the forest, even though they were some distance away still.
Yet when he came to a halt before her and lowered his head to nudge her again, one she sidestepped, it was clear to her that Harry had acted on his desire without a second thought. Hermione laughed inwardly despite herself, an emotion that she could not really give a voice to in her current form.
A chirp did come from her throat before she started to trot, this time she relished the way her paws and body felt as she moved around with no hesitation through the darkness.
Together they weaved between the many trees. At times they ran after small rodents together, other times they chased each other. They passed the time like this until they arrived by the lake. Once there they splashed around, swam in the water and tried to make the other wetter by jumping around in the shallow parts of the lake (something Harry obviously won). In other words, they had their moment of silliness, with no one there to judge them other than themselves. And they both loved it.
Needless to say, it was a considerable time later that the letter was sent with the strongest, most capable-looking owl from the still intact Owlery. Hermione had hope that it would arrive within a week's time. And they made their way back to camp on their two legs, obviously not about to share the news with everyone that they were unregistered Animagi.
It was not until she saw Viktor's worried face that she thought about the time. They had taken hours for something that would not even have taken half the time at most. By now it was past midnight. Though when he saw them the tenseness of his body lessened immediately, his lips forming a relieved smile.
The moment she had seen his worried state Hermione had feared for a repeat of the outburst from a certain quarter-Veela after her infamous walk in the dunes. Though when he smiled she knew her fears were unnecessary. No belittling words, frowns or questions came from him either. He took her hand in his and kissed the back of it. Fondness sparkled in his dark eyes.
This was one of the (many) reasons why she was still so overly smitten with him, he had never acted like her protector. She was no damsel in distress in his eyes.
Minerva was seated behind her desk writing a letter to send to the Head Auror, when the delivery of the Daily Prophet halted her fingers minutely. With a mindless flick of her unoccupied hand, the window opened and the owl hopped inside. From the windowsill, it flew on the edge of her desk and neatly set the paper down on its surface.
The woman finished a few more sentences before she set her quill aside, knowing from experience that she could only ignore the bird for so long until it would go on a rampage in her study. Then she sat back, took her squire glasses from her nose and laid them on the letter. Her eyes focused on the barn owl, who stared unblinkingly back at her. Until it took a step forward and made a soft clicking noise with its beak, all the while still staring at the woman.
The corners of her mouth turned upward ever so slightly. And, at last, she reached out to gently stroke the breast feathers of the owl, who - finally - closed its eyes to relish the attention. It clicked its beak rapidly, this time the sound was soft, barely audible for human ears.
"Thank you, Gràinne, for this display of your endless patience," the woman spoke, at last, sarcasm barely refrained.
Said owl chattered in return. Minerva arched an eyebrow, watched the creature bask in the attention and shook her head slightly, whilst her fingers still caressed Gràinne's feathers. A name Minerva had given to the owl herself. Since the office whence it came from never took the liberty to inform people of the names of their personal deliverers.
This owl had been assigned to Minerva only a little time ago and, truth be told, she missed the far milder personality of her previous deliverer. Though, not one to wallow in self-pity, Minerva took the replacement in stride.
To her left, a tray with tea, milk, a cup, saucers, a spoon and a piece of meat appeared. The smell of the latter being the cause for the sudden opening of Gràinne's eyes. Her wide-open eyes now glued to the piece of food on one of the saucers. The first time the owl experienced the arrival of such a treat there had happened something akin to an 'it is mine and I want it now tantrum'. Of course, such behaviour was not appreciated in the slightest and Minerva had made this very clear. Ever since, Gràinne had gradually learned some self-control, though it was far from perfect.
She poured herself a cup of tea with a few drops of milk before she took the saucer with meat and set it at the feet of the owl. Who leaned forward, snatched it and gobbled the treat down.
"I suppose we could work on your table manners next," Minerva said dryly, though she found humour in the barn owl's behaviour. It was quite endearing to watch it walk over her desk, inspecting all that was inside the room from a distance.
However, there were more pressing matters at hand than to watch a barn owl prance around in her study. She cleared her throat and pointed at the open window when Gràinne turned her head towards the source of the noise. The owl was obedient and flew to the windowsill, hopped through and spread its wings wholly to start its journey back to the office. The window closed softly behind the barn owl's exit.
Minerva put her cup back on its saucer, set her glasses back on her nose and took the quill in hand to return to her correspondence. And she would have, had the massive lettering on the Daily Prophet not garnered her attention: "Is break-in in St. Mungos linked to attack in the suburbs of London?"
With the sun high in the sky, Hermione knew that it would be some time before she could go to bed, she ran a hand through her damp hair and sighed as her eyes travelled over the meadow between the camp and the castle.
The Muggle-born felt like sleeping was the only thing she wanted to do at this point. For she had not taken a Dreamless Sleep Draught last night and the nightmare had returned to her in full force. Even though Harry had been in the same room, his presence - of which she had been aware; the same awareness she had had with Luna and Fleur - had not helped against the haunting images and sensations. Unlike before, when their presence had brought Hermione some form of peace during all the horrifying illusions she was put through repeatedly. Needless to say, the little rest she had gotten had been nothing but tiring. And she felt extremely on edge ever since she had awakened at about 3 o'clock in the morning.
Hermione had occupied her time with some of Viktor's books until Harry finally awoke from his equally fitful sleep. And with one glance at her, he had known of her state of mind and nodded, "Let's get out, we can both use some exercise."
They had duelled fiercely for hours until exhaustion made continuing impossible. Hermione was grateful for Harry's no-questions-asked-attitude. She had known he would not, for he knew exactly how she felt. Harry had and still experienced enough of nightmares in his lifetime. And talking about them was often not the thing one wanted to do after experiencing them, even though in most cases it could help just as much - if not more - as spending pent up frustration and energy in a battle.
And even now, after all the duelling and her long shower, Hermione still felt like slivers of the nightmare clung to her. Much like the blood of enemies and her own that still darkened the sweater and trousers she currently wore, despite the throughout washing both had gotten. How was she ever to give them back to Fleur, with all the spots on it? Then again, at this point, she wondered if she would ever again have a normal conversation with the older woman.
She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. From where she stood she had a perfect view of the repairs that were currently in progress at the clearing where Voldemort had held his last speech. Soon, walls would once more stand proud and create the corridors that had been there for hundreds of years.
But that was not where Hermione's mind was, she was stuck in the speech and what had happened during and shortly after it. Nagini had slithered over and around the man, only to be sliced in half by Neville when the snake had attempted to attack. Though the Muggle-born knew this only because she had heard the story last night whilst sitting around the campfire during the storytelling. Because during that time of the battle she had been dragged inside the castle by Harry. Followed by half of all the Death Eaters and Snatchers, or so it had seemed.
Had Bellatrix been one of them, or had she stayed with her Lord?
A throb settled in the letters on her underarm and she uncrossed her arms at once. It was not painful, but the prickling was evident and she knew that any form of pressure on it would make it painful. The wound had reopened - like it always did - when Harry and she had duelled this morning. And Hermione had tended to it during and after her shower, cleaning it thoroughly and putting fresh bandages over it. But it was not enough, it never would be.
For the hundred time, she wondered if she could ever get rid of it. She desperately wanted to. At this point she did not care if the word would be forever in her flesh, she just wanted the wound to heal and not be as oversensitive as it was.
Yet she doubted there to be a remedy that did not include Bellatrix' own goodwill. Something the Death Eater would have never given, had she still been alive. Not unless she could kill Hermione afterwards or give an even worse wound.
She had watched as the woman had fallen, pushed backwards by the force of the curse Molly had shot. Yet before Bellatrix' body had hit the ground it had been reduced to ashes. Through which many a person had unceremoniously walked afterwards; most, if not all, without even aware of it. One of the greatest insults to the Death Eater Hermione could think of. And it gave her no satisfaction to know that it had actually happened.
Bellatrix had acted so strangely during their confrontation, Hermione was still certain that the woman had not duelled to her full potential. Otherwise, Luna and she would have been far more battered. There was something strange about the controlled anger the Death Eater had shown and it puzzled Hermione to no end. For she had never thought Bellatrix to be one to keep check of her emotions, especially not during a fight.
Hermione looked down at the ground before her feet and put her hands in the pockets of Fleur's sweater, careful that her left underarm did not experience the slightest of pressure, whilst she scuffed the nose of her shoe in the dirt. The sand was easily disrupted and soon she had a small heap of it.
In her mind thoughts about Bellatrix' ashes mingled with her cause of death. Somehow it did not sit well with her, the death scene did not make sense. It did not fit with Bellatrix, who, proud as the woman was, would never be defeated by a housewife, least of all Molly Weasley; matriarch of a family of 'blood traitors'.
Her shoulders tensed and her stomach cramped painfully as a theory formed itself in her mind. An absurd theory; one that was so blatantly obvious to anyone with knowledge about the Unforgivable Curses, it could hardly be true. The sudden fear made adrenaline rush through her system. "I am going to the castle," Hermione said out of the blue and turned around to look at Harry.
"Okay," he said unfazed, he put away the kit he had been toying with and started to get up from the table, as to accompany her.
"I want to go alone."
This made him look at her in surprise, his response came slower, "...Okay." It was obvious he was not a fan of the idea. He sat back down and looked up at her, his eyes conveyed a silent question.
The Muggle-born shrugged, she did not think that spilling her motive was a wise decision, since she had no proof, yet. Though she was aware that her dearest friend knew something to be amiss. Thus, in the end, she elaborated in words, "Harry, I need to be certain of its possibility first. For all I know it is a false lead."
He nodded once but said nothing and watched her intently.
She let her shoulder slump, opened her hands and showed her palms to him. Communicating that she was sorry. Then Hermione started to walk towards the castle. She had to pay attention to the pace at which she set her steps, not wanting to alert others and have their attention turn to her. Though her fear of the truth increased her desire to run. As if knowing the truth sooner rather than later would change anything.
The Muggle-born passed a lot of people, all working hard to repair and strengthen Hogwarts to its former glory and beyond. She made an effort to look no one in the eye, she did not even bother to approach people when called over. She merely raised her hand and waved, never faltering in her steps. She needed to go to the library, gather all books about the Unforgivable Curses from the Restricted Section and delve into their information.
Yet her legs made a detour, for she found herself on the same spot where she had stood when Molly had shot the Killing Curse. Her eyes searched for anything unordinary and if there were any remains of the battle that had been fought. However, she saw nothing. The Muggle-born knew she should walk closer to the spot if she truly wanted to be certain, but she could not. Something held her in place, though it was not fear. Hermione's eyes stared into oblivion, still they were glued to the spot whereupon Bellatrix' ashes had descended. The place the Death Eater had died.
Her inner focus was on the images that replayed over and over again in her mind's eye.
"Ah, Miss Granger, I have been meaning to talk to you," a Gaelic brogue lilted through normally perfected English. Hermione ripped her eyes from the patch of stones and turned them to her Professor. She instinctively knew that something must be wrong, in no normal circumstance would Minerva let her Scottish accent be this (if at all) present in her voice.
'Gràinne', pronunciation: Grawnya, is a traditional Gaelic (Irish and Scottish) name. On the internet, there are differing meanings and origin given to the name, though this is the one I fell for: she who inspires terror.
Reviews are treasured.