The entire world seemed to tilt violently to one side, and the sleeve of Ron’s jacket that Hermione had been clinging to was torn from her fingers with equal force. Everything she had ever known – the ground, beneath her feet; the sky, above her head – was yanked from consciousness, swapping places and whirling in a blend of sickeningly unnatural color.
And then, just as quickly, the earth seemed to fight back, and it righted itself, everything falling into place again. Sky above, ground below, a fiery horizon at all other cardinal points.
Hermione instinctively raised her arms to shield her face from the stone still left spinning long after she had stopped, forgetting until that moment, however briefly, about the break in her wrist; it was amazing, she thought absently, how it was so easy to forget something so large when the chaos of the world was even larger. She cried aloud in pain without quite meaning to, feeling the bits of rubble from the explosion pelt her face and her neck and her hands, any bit of skin they could reach, bruising the exposed parts mercilessly. There was dust and debris and it choked her, coated her throat, and she couldn’t see…
She couldn’t lose Ron; not now, not when the sting of Harry’s loss was still so freshly seared in her mind. It had been mere minutes – though it felt like days – since she had seen the body, the lifeless form of the Boy Who Lived. Irony at its finest. Her throat was still raw from the screams at realizing it, her ears still buzzing with the numbness that quickly ensued. But Ron had been there then, and he was not here now, when she desperately needed him to be.
“Ron!” His name was a croak from her lips, more animalistic than anything else, and she clutched at the ground for purchase, trying to ignore the searing, splintering pain shooting from her roughly-broken wrist. If she had her wand, she could do something, mend it at least temporarily – but where had her wand gone?
Hermione sat up a bit straighter and looked around, panic slowly welling in her chest as someone gave a scream that raised the small hairs on the back of her neck. Her wand, her wand, where was –
And there it was, lying innocuously on the ground in front of her, maybe four or five paces away. That sort of a distance seemed infinite to her now. She made to lean forward, straining to reach it, but just as the handle nearly brushed her fingertips, her eyes wandered upward, further than the carved wood she reached for. And across the grounds, her eyes locked on Ron’s.
One of his older brothers – it had to be Bill, the woman by his side had hair too silvery to be anyone but Fleur – had Ron’s upper arm in his hand and seemed to be dragging him somewhere: Toward the gates leading out of the castle, toward the possibility of abandoning all this hell. Abandoning her.
Hermione’s breath caught in her throat, and she held her wrist closer to her chest, as though maybe that would bring him back to her. He’s not leaving you, the logical part of her brain whispered harshly. He’ll come back for you, or he’ll send someone else to come back for you. Hermione had always been one to listen to logic, reason, and sense, and why should this time be any different?
But she watched, with a dull, numbing sort of horror, as though she was an onlooker into a dream – no, a nightmare – as Fleur grabbed Ron’s other arm, and he screamed mutely (was it her name on his lips, or was it only the distance between them that made her see it?), and then he was gone.
“Ron,” she cried again, sounding both more human and more broken this time around. There were pounding footsteps, and mad, erratic jets of light, and death was so close that she thought she must know what it felt like. And still Hermione could only sit and wait for Ron to come back to her, clutching her wrist while her wand lay tantalizingly close, because he had to come back.
There was another scream, louder, more pained, although different from before, and Hermione felt a bit of her former self return to her, in cracked, jagged pieces. She folded her eyes shut tightly against the world and forced herself to take deep, calming breaths. Her mind began compiling a list of tasks, willing itself back into motion.
Grab your wand. Fix your wrist. Get to the gates. Go anywhere, get out of here. And find Ron. It seemed simple enough, at the moment. And it might have worked; but logic had one simple failing that always managed to elude her, and that was that sometimes, the world just simply wasn’t as logical as her brain wanted it to be.
“Potter’s Mudblood,” a voice above her sneered, and she turned so quickly her neck popped in protest, wondering just when this man had come to stand beside her, and why it had taken her so long to notice his arrival. “Can’t say I’m not pleased to see you again. You’re a right sight for sore eyes, you know that?”
It was the Snatcher – the one who had apprehended the three of them in the Forest of Dean. Scabior. He grinned down at Hermione with small, pointed teeth that somehow contrasted oddly with the ruthless, merciless demeanor he otherwise emanated. His wand was held almost loosely in his hand, as though it was an afterthought instead of a weapon.
His dark eyes flitted over to her wrist, and his tongue clucked in sympathy she could immediately tell he didn’t feel. “Dear, dear,” he murmured in an oily voice. “What have we done?” He reached out and, with the toe of his boot, prodded precisely the place he was searching for; Hermione gave a small scream, and immediately reached up to clasp her good hand over her mouth to stifle it. Appearing weak was a luxury she could no longer afford.
Scabior grinned nastily. “You know,” he said, stroking his chin as though pondering his next words, “I think there’s somebody who’d probably like to see you. Should I call her over?” He moved much more quickly than anticipated, stepping swiftly behind her and wrapping his fingers in her hair, pulling painfully to preempt any escape attempts. He craned his head, the tendons sticking out from the thin skin around his neck, and he lifted an arm towards someone Hermione couldn’t see.
But she could hear, and the voice sent chills even further up her spine; Scabior’s unwelcome appearance was nothing, nothing compared to this. Just the sound of it made her gasp and writhe, twisting fruitlessly away from his hold, even while she knew it was pointless.
Bellatrix Lestrange breathed a word in her ear, haughty and mocking. “Granger.”
Bellatrix cackled shrilly, evidently pleased with her victim’s knee-jerk reaction to the sound of her voice, and came around so that she was standing in front of where Hermione was awkwardly seated on the hard, wreckage-strewn ground, and tilted her head ponderingly to the side, tapping her cheek with the tip of her wand. “Well, isn’t this a lovely surprise? We’ve already got Potter, and he’s not around to protect you anymore… Then again,” she added, in a poorly concealed attempt at an afterthought, “the other one was always more interested in your safety, wasn’t he? The ginger blood traitor?”
Hermione made a noise deep in her throat and again struggled against Scabior’s deep-set hold on her hair, more to divert Bellatrix from talking about Ron than actually trying to get away from the pair of them. The tactic seemed to work; the tall woman’s lips popped closed, and her heavy-lidded eyes roamed over Hermione, drinking her in as a lioness would drink in a trapped piece of prey. They fell on the unnatural angle of Hermione’s left wrist, and a wicked, horrible smile spread over her face. Slowly, almost tentatively, she stretched forward and, with the toe of her boot, in a motion nearly identical to Scabior's, Bellatrix forced Hermione’s wrist back to the ground, in the opposite direction that it had broken.
White-hot pain seared up her arm, and she couldn’t help it; she screamed, high and wailing, tears springing to her eyes as the shout ripped from her soot-covered, smoke-roughened throat. Bellatrix only pressed hardly, her laughter mingling with Hermione’s voice until she finally let up. The break smarted and pulsed still with wave after wave of pain.
“Excellent,” Bellatrix cooed, stooping now so that her face was level with the girl on the ground. Hermione resisted the urge to spit in her face as her wrist ached at near-unbearable levels, and turned her face to the ground instead, willing her tears away, concentrating hard on a blade of grass that had, oddly enough, survived the ring of fire that had destroyed most of the rest of the grounds.
“The dungeons, then, Scabior,” Bellatrix Lestrange spoke at last, her tone laced with obvious and malignant dislike; she clearly was displeased by the fact that she couldn’t be the one to escort her there herself.
Hermione looked up angrily, her brows drawn low over her forehead. For a fleeting moment, any thoughts of worry, or panic, or fear fled from her mind; all she knew was anger. “You might as well just kill me,” she spat venomously, “and get it over with. Or are you as big a coward as Voldemort, hiding behind your –“
Her words were cut off in a violent gasp; there was a sharp sensation on her cheek, though nothing compared to the abnormal bending of her wrist a few moments ago, and something warm and wet trickled down it. Bellatrix towered above her, her wand still pointing at the girl’s face with a trembling hand.
“You will not speak the Dark Lord’s name aloud,” she hissed, the air eking from between her teeth like poison gas. Her dark eyes flitted back up to Scabior, and she jerked her head back in the direction of the castle. She felt the hand entangled in her hair pull hard, and began moving towards the doors leading into the entrance hall, back into the castle that had once been a home, and was now a hell.
The last thing she saw before Scabior wrenched her to face forward was Bellatrix’s boot, coming down hard on Hermione’s wand and snapping it cleanly in two.
Draco could not look away from his parents, much as he desperately wanted to. He knew he should be looking at the Dark Lord – proper etiquette and years of rules being firmly drilled into him demanded such – but he had never seen either Lucius or Narcissa Malfoy like this, not in all of his nearly eighteen years of life. Before his sixth year of school, they had been calm, self-assured, superior. Up until this point, they had been tremulous, cautious, hanging from gossamer thread that was only too willing to snap.
Now, they were scared, terrified, petrified. And they had given up.
His mother stared forward at nothing, wide-eyed and even trembling slightly; one of Draco’s hands was clutched between both of hers, and he didn’t know when it was that she had become so thin and frail. Lucius was clinging hard to the crumbling ledge of security among the Dark Lord’s followers, and was pressed as closely to Voldemort as he could manage, surveying the battle with sightless eyes. But every so often, he would look at Narcissa and Draco, and Draco knew that they were done. The Death Eaters had won this battle, but the Malfoys were finished.
From Narcissa’s other side, one of the Death Eaters shifted restlessly, his hands fisted and shoved into his pockets; his hood was drawn over his face in such a way that Draco had no idea who was under it. “C’mon, c’mon…” he muttered, as though nobody else was there. “Kill him, there’s no use in saving him…” From between the slits in his mask, his greedy little eyes flitted over the battle hungrily. Draco swallowed down the bile that rose in his throat at that.
Narcissa turned to look at the speaker with frightened eyes, but she wasn’t seeing him – not really. Draco couldn’t help but analyze her as she turned away, noticing every wrinkle, every imperfection she wouldn’t have dared to let show until recently. When had she gotten so old? Or was it just him who had grown older, his eyes losing the blindness that childhood provided?
Panic rose in his throat, and he yanked his hand from between his mother’s; she didn’t even seem to feel the gesture. He tore with soot-edged fingernails at the collar of his robes, but even doing that didn’t seem to be providing him with any air. That was it; he could see now the faults of his family, of the life they had chosen, and what was more, he could see that his mother and father saw it too. That was perhaps even worse: Knowing that much of how he had been raised was a lie…
He didn’t even register himself doing it, and was hardly aware of choosing to in the first place. But at the next moment, he had backed away and turned, and was walking briskly, as fast as he could without running full tilt, through the thin trees on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, away from his family and all they stood for. One or two voices called out his name in sharp, shrill cries, but they might as well have been whispers for all the attention he paid them.
There was something silvery through the trees ahead, caught on a low branch; he reached for it blindly, without thinking about it. It was fabric, watery and fluid while still retaining its solid properties, and he recognized it as Potter’s Invisibility Cloak. Potter, now dead, at the hands of the men Draco was supposed to revere… Potter was dead…
He took the Cloak unthinkingly and stuffed it into his pocket. And then he began to run.
Draco’s lungs burned with the sprint; his breath escaped his mouth loudly, but he had never been taught to be one to blend in among a crowd, had he? Tears burned in his eyes, though whether it was from the smoke or his own shame, he wasn’t quite sure. His arms pumped with the frenetic energy of running (one, two, one, two), and the great iron gates leading out of the castle loomed up before him –
And out of nowhere, a tree root lifted itself from the ground, just where his left foot had just sought to find footing. His balance lost, Draco twisted and crashed to the ground, skidding along his back, feeling pebbles grind into his shoulder blades and causing him to cry aloud. Miraculously, he managed to maintain a grip on his wand, though his mind had gone blank; he couldn’t remember even the simplest spell. For an idle moment, he wished the stolen Cloak might have broken his fall – but then all thoughts of it flew from his mind in an instant.
From somewhere near his feet, a figure loomed up, the face indistinct – though not from a hood, Draco noted internally, as though it was important that he register this man’s difference from the one who had stood beside his mother. A sagging face was framed on either side by lank grey hair, and he was smiling in a bitter, humorless sort of way. When he spoke, there was no triumph in the words – only coolly-masked vengeance and disgust.
A/N: As slightly horrible as it might sound, I really, really loved writing this chapter! High-stakes, emotional chapters are ones I tend to eat up, and I wrote this very, very fast. Of course, it's rather a dark chapter (not that the rest of the story hasn't been a bit grim), so I am a little nervous about it. But the responses to this story already! I am seriously so blown away. You're incredible, all of you.
If you wouldn't mind letting me know your thoughts on this chapter, that would be so, so appreciated. Special thanks to Sarah, Mel, and Rin for being so supportive and inspirational where this is concerned, too!