Chapter 8: Apprehension
Chapter Image by the incomparable Starryskies55
The crisp, mid-afternoon breeze presented a cruel, biting assault to her weathered face as Hermione perched herself next to the the placid waters of the Black Lake. She couldn’t hear the monotonous drone of the zombies looming outside the castle grounds, but with the exacerbated paranoia she was beginning to experience, their grisly faces might as well have been advancing toward her. Despite the fact that her eyes were heavy with exhaustion, she didn’t close them longer than to blink, because the risk was too real and omnipresent.
She still hadn’t had any contact with Hugo, but given his typical sleeping patterns, it was possible that he had slept until nearly noon. All classes had been cancelled until further notice, though the students were largely unaware of the circumstances behind the free holiday. He had always been safe at Hogwarts, that much was certain, but she could not truly rest until she saw his face.
In the last few days, it had seemed that no matter which way Hermione turned, horror, desperation and helplessness meticulously stalked her every movement. After Draco Malfoy tumbled dramatically into a bloody, unconscious heap on the virginal stones of Hogwarts’ entrance hall, Hermione had seen him to the infirmary and was promptly informed to depart the room. Since then, he had been quarantined and, as far as she was aware, was still unresponsive.
In addition to that debacle, there was a large faculty meeting taking place that she had not secured a formal invitation to. Though she had tried to argue her way into the secretive, restricted assembly by citing her firsthand experience and observations, it had been Neville that had stifled her request. He had been swift and uncharacteristically surly in his reply.
“Hermione. You haven’t slept well in days. You’re overextended, and you aren’t going to be any help to us right now. You cannot do everything. I promise that I’ll fill you in later today. Go and try to get some rest.” Hermione had been taken aback by his blunt assertiveness, and yet she respected it.
Instead of persisting to be involved in every aspect of strategic planning, she penned a letter to Hugo instructing him to meet her by the lake once he had eaten. She then checked in with Rose, who was comforting Scorpius as he awaited word about his father’s condition, before padding awkwardly through the throngs of curious students to the tucked away, silent solace the Black Lake provided her.
She tried to push the thoughts of zombies away, opting instead to imagine instances in her life that filled her with joy and happiness. She pictured the clear, gorgeous day on which she had pledged eternal matrimonial vows to her husband. Her hair had been swept up in perfect chestnut curls, and her timeless gown was folds of white satin and lace that spilled elegantly on the rose petal adorned aisle. Ron had been waiting at the altar, wearing charcoal dress robes and a handsome tie, so eager to begin the rest of their lives surrounded by those they loved.
Swirls of hazy reveries captured her, ensnaring her concentration as she absorbed the thin rays of spring sunshine. She thought of the day she had given birth to Rose, after 22 arduous hours of labour. Thoughts of Rose’s shiny, pink cheeks, the small tuft of blonde hair in the centre of her head that would eventually fill out and darken to auburn, and the loud consuming wail that issued from her slight frame warmed Hermione’s heart instantly. Hugo’s birth had been much shorter and less eventful, but still one of the most beautiful, treasured memories of her entire life.
Her children were truly the only force that sustained her.
She felt her vision blur as her eyelids drooped steadily downward, but she willed them not to close. Not out in the open, where anything could find her.
His voice was a quiet symphony to her senses ,which had been long numbed by fear, exhaustion, and sorrow.
“Hugo!” She breathed as her heart leapt gleefully at the sight of him. He was there, tall and lanky, all limbs just like his father. A mop of unruly brown curls twisted down just to his eyes, which were as blue as the depths of the clearest ocean. His wide, toothy grin could not hide the trouble lining his dark countenance. Hermione had never been so thrilled to see her only son. She wrapped the 16 year old in a tight hug, noting that he now towered over her 5’6” frame.
“Are you ok, Mum? I don’t know what’s been going on, they won’t tell us much. When I went to floo to Uncle Harry’s funeral, I went down to Professor Longbottom’s office and he told me it was cancelled, but not why. And when I got the note from you I... I knew something really bad had happened. And Rose is here too, I saw her on my way down but she said I should just talk to you...”
She could hear deeply rooted panic bubbling in his voice. He had so many of his father’s physical features but he truly was her son. Where Rose had the trademark red hair and legendary Weasley temper, Hugo was more mild mannered, very intelligent and always searching for answers.
“Hugo, honey. I’m fine, Rose is fine, Albus, Lily and James are fine. There’s... there’s been a... a threat to our society. Several people who were, originally thought to be deceased... they are... well...not deceased. Not in that sense of the word anyway. They aren’t ghosts, they are more like... like...”
Hugo eyed his mother with intense scrutiny.
“Like zombies?” He asked incredulously.
“Yes, like zombies. The situation is dire. It’s like a horrible virus, and the zombies are multiplying so quickly we can’t...I had to find a safe place to bring everyone. Outside of Hogwart’s grounds is...a state of emergency.”
“Did you set them on fire and cut their limbs off?” Hugo asked, his tone deadly serious.
“I...well, yes, we did. We tried everything.” Hugo lowered his body to the grass and sat down, placing his chin in his hands.
“Well, there are tons of ways to kill zombies. Did you try to run them over with a muggle vehicle or hit them with blunt objects? That’ll work in a pinch.”
“Hugo, it’s not like we just had access to all of this. It’s..more complicated than you’re making it out to be.”
“Zombies are tricky, Mum.”
For the first time since the crisis had begun, Hermione had hardly anything to say. Her son had his eyes rolled backwards as he analyzed the situation.
“You have to destroy their brain, Mum. Just like a human.” Hermione gaped stupidly at her son opening and closing her mouth like a water-starved fish.
“Why do you know this?”
“Huh? Oh, video games. Christian--you remember him? I spent some time at his house last summer? He’s a muggle born, we played video games on the Xbox X class limited.”
“You played... video games...?” she trailed off, her tone flat and lifeless.
“Best training there is for the zombie apocalypse. The most fun way to get them is the chain saws, but I like running them down too. You do know what video games are, don’t you Mum?”
“Yes I know what video games are!” she snapped. “I’m just... I’m glad you’re safe, Hugo.”
“Well of course I’m safe, I’m at Hogwarts,” Hugo replied matter-of-factly, as though a suggestion otherwise would be ludicrous.
The wind began to pick up ominously, and only then did Hermione notice the sun was obscured behind thick stratus clouds.
“Come on, Hugo. It looks like rain, and I want to catch up with your sister. Maybe we can have supper in the Great Hall together this evening.”
Hugo smirked. “I don’t know if Rose will be hungry, she was pretty busy eating Scorpius’ face before I came out here.”
“Hugo! First of all, That is not funny given the circumstances--”
“--it was a little bit funny--”
“--And secondly, did you know about the relationship between your sister and Scorpius?” Regardless of her annoyance at his inappropriate remark, she was morbidly curious about the extent of their relationship.
“Of course I did. She wasn’t shy about it at Hogwarts. She told me not to tell you, so I didn’t,” he replied nonchalantly. Indignation quickly stormed across Hermione’s face. “Am I in trouble?”
“No, you’re not... in trouble. Come on then, back to the castle. Hugo, I’m... I’m happy to see you.” She snaked an arm around his shoulders and pulled his rigid frame into her own, ruffling his hair.
“Come on, Mum!” He moaned irritably, readjusting his tousled locks. “I’ve got a look I’m going for!”
She smiled warmly at her youngest child. He had succeeded at drawing her mind away from the grave situations and sadness that had occupied her for so long.
“Seriously, Mum, no one else’s mum is here. Be chill.”
“Alright, Hugo, I’ll try to ‘be chill.’”
The two began the walk back to the castle as stray droplets of rain began to fall from the heavy clouds.
“Oh, Mum... everyone’s ok, right? Teddy, the rest of the cousins, Aunt Ginny, and Gran and Granddad?”
He stopped walking and regarded Hermione intently.
“Hugo, there’s a lot I don’t know yet. I haven’t... heard from many of them yet.”
“Many of them? Does that mean you’ve heard from some of them?”
Hermione felt instantly weary as she came to the realization that she would once again have to explain Ginny’s death.
“Aunt Ginny... she... she didn’t make it.”
Hugo dropped his head, his eyes fixed on the ground.
“Oh,” he replied sadly.
“We did everything we could, but she just...”
“Are Al, James and Lily ok?”
“They’re sad, honey. We all are. It’s not just our family, it’s everyone’s family. Many of your classmates, they don’t even know what’s going on outside the walls, let alone that their parents or siblings maybe dead. There’s just... there’s a lot of questions right now. I know that’s a lot to take in, but please don’t spread this around. We don’t want to create widespread panic. I thought you should know about your Aunt though, in case Lily or Al wants to talk about it.”
“Okay.” He began walking again, and Hermione did not press his feeling further. She knew that if he wanted to talk, he would, and her prodding would not help.
Several hours later, Hermione occupied a deserted corner in a long corridor outside Neville’s chambers, awaiting his arrival. She’d spent the rest of the day with her children, and hadn’t felt so relaxed since before Harry had died.
However, the curiosity of the secret meeting had gnawed on her subconscious all day. As soon as her children had retired for the evening, she made the quick trip to see her old friend. Every evening he had a shift of night duty in order to assure the security of the castle, and the job was now more pertinent and important than ever.
After 10 long minutes, she began to hear the faint echo of footsteps advancing toward her. Alert, she staggered her stance, a defensive habit she had developed over the last few days. The heavy footfalls drew closer, and the shadow from a glowing wand tip became more apparent in the otherwise consuming darkness. As the owner of the brightly illuminated wand turned the corner, a sharp yelp escaped his lips.
“Sssh! Neville, it’s just me.”
“Jesus, Hermione! You scared me!”
“Well, I... I haven’t had a chance to talk to you since this morning, and I thought--”
“--it’s fine. Just... come in.” He unlocked his door and Hermione traipsed behind him, feeling bad for startling him.
“Tea?” he asked distractedly, bumbling clumsily around his room.
“No, thank you. I stayed away like you asked; I spent the day with Rose and Hugo. It was a beautiful day. I think I needed it.”
“You did,” Neville interrupted, nearly dropping his kettle from the fire. Hermione’s sharp gaze met his.
“Well, regardless, I am calmer and more rested now and I’m most curious about Draco’s condition.”
Neville poured his tea and settled in beside his guest. She eyed him expectedly.
“Well, first of all, Draco is still unconscious but alive. He’s been bitten on his leg by a zombie.”
“My God,” Hermione whispered. “Will he... is he...”
“They’ve amputated his leg in order to stop the progression. Once he wakes up, we’ll go from there. Of course, if he shows any signs, he’ll be executed immediately.”
Hermione nodded absentmindedly, staring uncomfortably at her hands.
“Do we have a plan for a counter offensive attack against them?”
“We have a few options we’re looking at. They can’t be killed by normal magical means, according to your research and testimonials from others. Nothing that directly affects their biology, which means they are killed by fire, external forces, or blunt force trauma.”
“Neville. This is information I already know,” she lamented impatiently.
“I’m telling you what happened in the meeting. Just... please.”
“Sorry.” Hermione clasped her fingers together impatiently, somewhat put off my Neville's official attitude toward her. She figured it was most likely due to the stress of the situation, and the fact that, for all intents and purposes he was supposed to be privy to more information than her given that he was a part of the faculty.
“What we’re looking at right now is basically... think like a muggle.”
“Think... like a muggle?”
“Well, with the help of magic. Obviously, fire is our best option so far. It's a fallible plan, granted, but that's honestly the best we've come up with so far. We’re exploring the option of using fiendfyre.”
“Fiendfyre? Neville, that’s dark magic. Plus, as stated in Dark Magic: An Advanced Guide to Protection, Fiendfyre preys on living creatures and hunts down its prey. If we use fiendfyre, not only will it destroy everything in its path and be virtually impossible to extinguish, it may not even target the zombies.”
“We’re just exploring the option, no decisions yet. Other options include equipping wizards with beater’s bats for protection, in case they lose their wands.”
“Beater’s bats? How are beater’s bats going to fend off an entire group of them? We need to educate the masses, Neville, whatever masses are left! We need to throw everything we have at them. What about an army, what about contacting people who are left?”
Neville pursed his lips slowly and took a deep breath.
“We’re currently sending out patronuses to all living wizards. We’re going to try to make a perimeter around Hogwarts where people can apparate safely. Headmaster Flitwick is in contact with some of the top Ministry leaders and we’re going to set up shop here. We’ve been able to locate some of the current Aurors, who have been dealing with looting and widespread vandalism while trying to protect themselves from the zombies. It’s complete anarchy outside these walls and we are going to reach as many people as we can.”
“When was the last time we got outside word?”
“A few hours ago. The estimated domestic zombie population is around 18,000---”
“Yes. That still gives us quite an advantage. As far as I am aware, there have been no confirmed cases in other parts of the world. Given that our country is an island, they haven’t spread beyond our borders. However...many of the surrounding countries are reluctant to send aid.. One of the main concerns right now is the muggles. Obviously it has trickled into their population as well, and pretty soon it’s going to be broadcast worldwide.”
“Our whole community...” Hermione trailed off as she tried to grasp the enormity of the situation. “This is...this has the capacity to destroy the safety and anonymity of wizards everywhere.”
“It’s not come to that yet.”
“No, I know that it hasn’t come to that yet. We have to find a way to destroy this before it gets to that point. We have to eradicate these zombies, and we need to do it without help from anyone. It’s been several days, have the muggles sent out any transmissions, anything at all?”
“There have been several calls of distress. I believe the Muggle Prime Minister has declared the country in a state of emergency and the muggles have been completely taken aback. But, from what I have gathered, the surrounding countries are... they are not offering much aid. In fact, I believe that France, Ireland, Spain, and Germany have all individually declared Great Britain to be a quarantined war zone. They are refusing to send people in to evacuate those that are still healthy.”
“Then they condemn millions of people to certain death!” Hermione exclaimed loudly.
“The Ministry officials are working with the Muggle government at this time. They are appealing to as many people in the world that they can but... it doesn’t look good. People are absolutely terrified of this, as they should be. Hopefully they will see the error of their ways and come to our assistance.”
“So what’s our plan, then? Sit here and await our fate? Wait until Harry Potter the zombie comes to turn us all? Where is our army?”
As if on cue, there was a deafening strike at Neville’s door. Hermione jumped as Neville drew his wand. Roger Davies spilled into his room, seemingly out of breath.
“The first of our contacts is arriving. Auror Teddy Lupin and his wife Victoire have arrived, back from the mission they were sent on the day before last. So have several of the other Aurors, Greene, Brooks, and Schwartz.”
“Excellent news,” Hermione responded, drawing Davies’ eye toward her. Neville nodded curtly, closing his eyes slowly and sucking in a deep breath.
“Glad to see you’re about, Hermione. Missed you in the meeting today,” Roger frowned insincerely as he caught his breath. Hermione wrinkled her eyebrows disapprovingly but said nothing. “Hope you don’t mind, I’ve got some official Hogwarts business to discuss with Neville. Only a second. You understand.”
“Right,” Hermione replied coolly, standing up. “I’ll catch you in a bit, Neville, I’m just outside the room.”
“Okay, Hermione, this will only be a minute.”
She knew that it was perfectly within Davies’ rights to ask her to leave, but she’d never been more annoyed at his seemingly childish antics. As the door clicked shut behind her, she felt a cool breeze from the hallway and shivered. The information she’d just gained wasn’t all that shocking to her, yet had really unsettled her. Her heart beat a little easier with the information that Victoire and Teddy were both safe and in the castle. It would hopefully only be a matter of time before others began showing up too. The army was assembling.
Hermione knew that James would want to fight, and that Albus probably would too. She also knew that she would spend every ounce of energy she had trying to dissuade them from enlisting. As she devised a strategy in her head to discuss this with Albus, the door cracked open and Davies walked out, a smug look on his face.
“Have a nice evening, Hermione. We’ve got it all under control.”
“I’m sure you do,” she snarled, marching back into the room where Neville was pacing in front of his fire place.
“--Draco’s awake. Let’s go.”
First and foremost I want thank everyone who nominated me for a Dobby award and voted for me. That means so incredibly much, you have no idea. I really appreciate it.
Secondly, I have a few people I have to thank. As always, my beta Acciohpff who, despite being an SLSA always reads my chapters and gives me good feedback.
And of course, the lovely girl who made my CI, Ms. Starryskies55, who is absolutely brilliant and I'm in total love with her creation! Check out her story, Honour Among Thieves, if you get a chance!
Finally, to Mihali1432 who is always excited for an update, even if he's already read the whole chapter.
I know this was a boring one, but the end had a lot of good info and you'll see a return to action next chapter I believe :) Thanks for reading, and please review!
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