East Hulltow was a remote village. Located deep in the Irish countryside, where the grass grew emerald and sheep grazed beneath the moon, it hugged a lone hill just north of the Bellakip River and just south of Old Head Beach. There was a single small market and a dirty tavern, and it was past these scarcely visited places that a backroad led to only three more buildings: a farmhouse, a barn, and a tiny cottage made of stone and thatch. Alas, to most, there were only two buildings. In the third, one of Hermione's oldest friends resided in secret, concealed by magic and protected by his own sheer brawn.
Unfortunately, the wards deterred Portkeys from guiding anyone inside, and thusly, the Unspeakable landed in a pile of muck.
Aching joints, knotted stomach. Her ears were ringing too. Vague surroundings spun around her for several seconds, but even in her haze, she knew that her companion was of the utmost importance. Through the spots of black and the navy semidarkness, she found her relief: A statuelike Hannah Abbott was lying beside her, indubitably even more furious and flummoxed than she was before. Unsure that she could yet trust the woman, Hermione ignored her cramping muscles, found her legs, and drew her wand.
Hannah's form levitated. In the black air of midnight, she was a rigid phantom.
Thunder roared overhead just then, urging Hermione onward. Weaving around the baaing sheep and endless pools of mud, she slowed only to glance beside her at Hannah. The spell propelled the girl through the threatening atmosphere.
Of course, the weather was hardly Hermione's main concern. As soon as she released Hannah from the curse, she would likely attack anyone that stood between her and Neville Longbottom.
Regrettably, there was no Neville Longbottom left.
Rain began to pour and with wet locks clinging to her face, Hermione finally saw the cottage in the far distance, bathed in starlight and burping smoke as Hagrid's hut once did. She let out a sigh of relief and forded on, Hannah still at her side. In the cottage, she would find a warm bed to sleep in, which was, after a miserable day, exactly what she needed.
Sadly, longing for sleep did not promise it. Hermione knew that nobody would rest well that night—not once Hannah learned of her late paramour's mortal end. After all, the death of Ronald Weasley tormented her still, and unlike Hannah, she had the uncommon privilege of saying goodbye.
Ministry raids had driven most couples apart.
Neville and Seamus Finnigan were sent to camp in Epping Forest while Hannah stayed at the Leaky Cauldron and Alicia Spinnet healed Cruciatus victims at St. Mungo's. Bill and Fleur lived separately too, despite the recent birth of their daughter. Some of the more involved professors even left Hogwarts to volunteer at Grimmauld Place, the Burrow, and the other Unplottable houses all around Britain and Ireland, breaking away from their commitment to the school. For the cause, they had all chosen endless loneliness and an uncertain future.
But there was none lonelier than Hagrid.
With her myriad of responsibilities, Hermione was not even sure when she had last heard from her childhood professor, let alone visited him in the East Hulltow cottage. She recalled snow upon the peak of Croagh Patrick.
According to her memo from earlier that day, it was the eleventh of July.
Poor Hagrid had been on his own, isolated from all but his beloved Bowtruckle, for at least five months.
She felt a pang of guilt as she raised her knuckles to the mossy, rot-stained door.
"Twice, once, thrice, twice. Twice, once, thrice, twice," she reminded herself.
Each of the many Order houses had their own unique knock meant to be used by welcome visitors. Few members of the Order knew them all, but as Hermione visited each and every one of them, she had memorized them perfectly.
Knock-knock, knock, knock-knock-knock, knock-knock.
She was quite certain that she had done it correctly. However, time bred doubt. After a few moments, she was growing concerned, so she prepared to rap on the door again, but before she could, it opened, and she was faced with the tip of a familiar pink umbrella.
"Hagrid! It's me, Hermione!"
"Awfully late fer a trip to Ireland, 'ermione."
"My business tends to run late quite often," Hermione pointed out. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to warn you ahead of time, but it's been a very long day and I have a lot of loose ends that need tying up, so if you wouldn't mind—"
"Now, you jus' wait a minute! You ain' goin' nowhere til yeh prove who you are!" Hagrid barked.
The wild look in his eyes was not foreign to her. Many times before, she had seen it in the irises of her friends—a darkness that only isolation could create.
"I—all right, sure—erm—Ron and I once bought you a copy of Beasts of Beltane for Christmas... Harry and I helped your hippogriff, Buckbeak, escape execution... Your best friend in school was an Acromantula named Aragog—and—and Fluffy! Fluffy can only be put to sleep with music—"
"Well—well, that all may be true, but—but you could've learnt that, couldn' yeh have?" He jabbed her with the umbrella. "What was the name o' my dragon in yer firs' year?"
"Norbert," she said, matter-of-factly. "I was there when he hatched from an egg. Now, lower your weapon, please."
Apparently, her proof did not suffice. Hagrid pressed his lips together, almost like he was trying to decide whether or not an enemy could know such things.
"I—I brought company," she added.
Hermione gestured Hannah, who was floating helplessly beside her. If it had not been for the flush of color in the blonde's complexion, she could have been dead.
Hagrid's large hand flexed around the handle of his unlikely armament and the blackness of fear faded into leaden confusion.
"Izzat Hannah Abbott?"
"Yes, unfortunately," said Hermione. "I just fetched her from the Leaky Cauldron."
"Well, what's wrong with 'er? Ministry tossers get to 'er, did they?"
"If you consider me a Ministry tosser, then I suppose so." Hermione noted the furrowing of Hagrid's brow and elucidated, "I cursed her. If you'll let us inside, I'll explain everything."
Hagrid seemed skeptical, but lowered his umbrella, nonetheless. "Yeah, all righ'. Come on in...but lock the door behind yeh! There's a lad that comes through to check on the sheep and I swear he's been peekin' in the windas!"
"That's impossible, Hagrid. Muggles can't see Unplottable places."
"Unplot'able 'r not, that Muggle knows somethin' ain' quite right 'bout 'is land an' ain't no tellin' when he'll catch me comin' 'r goin'! He's always skulkin' about..."
"You shouldn't be coming or going at all! You're supposed to stay put."
"Yeah, well, I've gotta eat, don' I? The place might've been stocked up for someone o' normal size, but if yeh haven't noticed, I'm a bit above the average."
It had occurred to Hermione that the cottage may not be the best fit for him, but he was far too large to be seen somewhere as public as Grimmauld Place. Still, she should have had the sense to make some amendments. As he made his way down the narrow corridor, his broad shoulders brushed the eggshell walls, highlighting several holes where his frame had obviously busted through, and it was this image that made her realize just how little planning the Order had done for him.
The portraits that once hung were gone, likely more collateral damage from his incredible breadth.
"I'm sorry," she apologized. "I'll send someone out with more necessities. I don't know how soon it'll be, but—"
"Ah, don' worry 'bout it, 'ermione. I bin gettin' by jus' fine." He stopped in front of a wide doorway and gestured it with a jerk of his head. "If yeh jus' want to leave 'er on the sofa there, I'll get some tea started..."
With a nod, Hermione gently guided Hannah onto the old floral loveseat. Upon seeing the witch's legs hang over the armrest, she realized that it had probably gone unused for the duration of Hagrid's stay. It was quite obviously far too miniscule for her longtime friend.
Saddened by her own lack of forethought, she gave Hannah's frozen hand a squeeze and left her alone in the olive green sitting room. Just steps away was the kitchen, from which she could hear the clanking of dishes that she, relievedly, knew to be of fair size. The last time she had visited, she noticed the teacups were actually bowls that Hagrid had molded handles for with Piece-Together Putty, a rather clever invention of George's that the Order usually used for mending wands.
Hermione was pleased to see that he was holding the very same handled bowls in his gargantuan hands. They were burgundy with tiny yellow daisies, the type of dishes she might have expected her parents to buy when she was many years younger. She was desperate to know such innocence again. Lamentably, she never would.
"She doin' all righ'?" Hagrid asked, chasing away her thoughts and closing one of the mangled cupboard doors. "Ain' nothin' too serious, I hope?"
"Erm—yes and no, really. It's serious but—but she'll be okay."
She pulled out one of the oversized chairs and did her best to get comfortable, yet the tabletop nearly reached her nose and the chair itself was hard and misshapen. Still, she smiled politely.
"So," Hagrid began, pausing only to pick up the whistling kettle, "why'd yeh curse 'er, anyway?"
"Circumstances called for it. It was for her own good."
"For 'er own good?" Hagrid repeated. "What in Merlin's name was goin' on fer that to be fer 'er own good?"
"Well, if I hadn't, she'd be swarmed by Aurors by morning. This seemed the preferable alternative."
He poured the flowered teacups full of boiling hot water, skepticism not only written in his expression but also in his stature. "If that's the case, I'd agree with yeh, but wha' would they wan' with 'er, a lit'le thing like Hannah Abbott? 'asn't 'urt a fly, that girl!"
"Well, maybe she hasn't, but association matters, Hagrid. It matters a lot."
"Association? Association to who? Surely, they don' know she's with the Order!"
"No! Of course not, but—but her—her relationship—" Hermione's voice cracked. "Oh God, Hagrid, I—I don't know how long it's been since we've had a day this bad. The last time must've been when Ron died or—or when they took Harry away..."
"Oh, c'mon now, it can't be that bad," Hagrid reassured her. More clanking came from where he was standing, but Hermione could not bare to look at him long enough to know the source. "The only way it could've been is if we lost you, and beings yer sittin' right 'ere, we're in pretty good shape, I'd say."
"You don't understand! We—we tried something today. A plan. And it went abysmally wrong. And now everything is all backwards and—and terrible and—and I don't know how how much longer the Order has left after this. It—it could drive people to join the Ministry, Hagrid. It's that bad."
Her humanity was showing again. Too long, she had quieted its roar.
"'old on a minute there, 'ermione. Yer gettin' a bit ahead o' me with all this..." The ground rumbled as he crossed the room and set a cup of steeping tea in front of her. "What exactly 'appened today an' what's it got ter do with Hannah?"
"I'm sorry. It's just...there's so much to—to think about—so much to explain... I—I don't really know where to begin."
"Well, I ain' goin' nowhere, so why don' yeh take a deep breath now an' start slow, yeah?"
He blew on his tea and leaned against the table, which shifted in protest of his immense weight. He was usually such a comfort, but at that moment, Hermione only felt shame.
Uncontrollably, she trembled.
"Erm—yeah. Yeah, all right. I erm—well...I suppose it started two days ago. N-Neville abandoned his post in the forest and—and he went to the Rook House. He—he had an idea. It was...a bit mad, but if we managed it, it would've changed the tides of the war. We might've won, Hagrid. It could've been over."
"It was. At least...it seemed that way. I think—I think that we were all a bit blinded by the—the reward of it all, so maybe we didn't weigh out the risks... We were careless, and—and Neville—he paid for it."
"Well, two days ain' a lot o' time to make a big decision now, is it? An' Neville—he volunteered?"
"No, it's not a lot of time," Hermione said, heatedly, "and he did volunteer but it was a big enough decision the whole Order should have been involved. I asked but—but McGonagall and Charlie said time was of the essence. I didn't argue with them, and I should've. I should've told them it was too dangerous."
"Doubt it would've made much difference if yeh did, 'ermione. When McGonagall and Charlie got an idea, it seems to 'appen no matter what anyone else say." Hagrid dumped all too much sugar into his cup and stirred it, loudly clinking the edges of the ceramic with a bent spoon that was far too tiny for his beefy fingers. "So what was it, anyway? This big plan o' theirs?"
Hermione snorted, realizing how insane it sounded as she mulled over the words in her head.
"Breaking into Dolohov's office."
Hagrid choked on his tea. "What?"
"I'm aware it's stupid."
"It's more than stupid! It's—it's reckless! It's madness!"
"I know!" Hermione sobbed. "We never should've allowed it but—well, honestly, the Minister had a very full schedule and we've been talking about it for ages. All the Aurors were supposed to be on a raid in Bannockburn. It seemed like good timing! It just—it just wasn't."
"It was never gonna be good timin'!" Hagrid boomed. "A risk like that? And all over that bloody map, I reckon! The one that the entire Order decided wasn' worth chasin' after?"
"That decision was before they took Harry! We've been talking about ways to get that map ever since they hauled him off, so when Neville offered, it—" She sniffled. "It made sense. I'm tired of watching my friends disappear. I'm tired of having to go to work every day and wonder if I'll see one of them there being dragged into a courtroom or worse. McGonagall, and Charlie—I think they just saw a way out and—and maybe we all put too much faith in it. Maybe we shouldn't have, but—but that's the way we learned to win wars. The sorts of things Harry and Dumbledore swore on: courage, heroics, the usual nonsense we end up turning to when everything else seems too difficult... Maybe those sorts of things just don't have a place in our strategy. Seems it's all just rubbish, anyway..."
"Rubbish? It's far from rubbish! Look at Harry—"
"Harry's in prison, Hagrid. And if courage paid the way we pretend it does, Ron wouldn't be dead."
The indigo in Hagrid's face calmed to its natural shade and he reached out to pat her hand with one of his enormous own.
"Yeh know, Ron wouldn' like ter hear yeh talk like that..."
"Ron's not here," Hermione said, darkly. "He's gone."
"He ain' gone. Yeh still got 'im in here," Hagrid said, softly. He pointed at the center of her chest. "And he wouldn' want yeh to give up. So we'll go get Neville. Just like we'll get 'arry. And then all together, we'll go after that sorry excuse fer a Minister and we'll teach that slimy—"
"—coward of a—"
"NEVILLE'S DEAD, HAGRID!"
The rant died on his tongue.
"No! No, it can't be... Not Neville..."
"It true, Hagrid. He's dead. The Minister killed him himself." Hermione hugged herself as she relived the horrific scene of which she was forced to bear witness.
"But—but why wouldn' they take 'im to Stafhelm? Like Harry! Like Arthur! It doesn' make any sense!"
"Because he's not Harry and he's not Arthur," she whispered, wiping her eyes. "As soon as they caught him with the map, they took him away—to—to the Red Chamber."
He gasped. "But that's—that's where..."
"I know what it is! I've been there myself many times, if you don't remember!"
"I—'ermione, I'm sorry—"
"He made me watch, Hagrid. He made me watch and he—and I—I didn't stop it. I just...stood there. I didn't do a ruddy thing to make it stop."
"Well, yeh couldn' 'ave, could you've? It would've put yeh both in danger!"
"I know," Hermione sniffled. "That's why I didn't but I—I still wish I would've. Because now, he's gone. He's gone and it was all for nothing!"
She kicked the leg of the table, but only managed to hurt her toe.
"It wasn' fer nothin', 'ermione," Hagrid said. "It was to help—to help all of us. So what it if it didn' work? Neville was fightin' for us, and now we gotta do right by 'im. That means we keep tryin'. No matter what, we 'ave—to—keep—tryin'."
"I—I guess. Actually...that—erm—that brings me to my next point..."
"And what's that?"
"I'm warning you, you won't like it."
Hagrid frowned. "All righ'... What is it?"
"Well...map or not, we have to get into Stafhelm. That means—that means we have to go back to the old plan—the original one."
"You don' mean..."
"Yes, the one we've all been avoiding. It's time to get Harry back, even if it means involving people we don't necessarily care for."
"But we don' even know if we can trust 'im!" Hagrid exclaimed. "That boy's a menace! Always 'as bin and always will be! If it weren't fer him—"
"I know what he is and what's he done, Hagrid. You forget you're talking to a Muggle-born." At last, she took her first drink of tea, but it was just as bitter as Hagrid's tea had always been. She fought the urge to crinkle her nose. "He was going to pick a side eventually. We're just making him pick sooner than he expected."
Hagrid sighed and shook his head. "There's gotta be some other way. We 'aven't thought of somethin'."
"Not to be rude, Hagrid, but I'm not sure we have thought of anything," she snapped, though she instantly regretted it. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean—it's just that a lot's been put on me recently, and I've thought about this nearly every second of every day for months now... I talked to Charlie and McGonagall...and they agreed with me. We all decided this was going to be our next best option if Neville failed—which he did."
"And if it doesn' work? If you end up in Stafhelm too?"
"It's the only chance we've got," Hermione said, firmly. "After all, we're down two members now, and you're going to be quite busy with Hannah, so it might as well be three. Plus, we don't have anyone at the Leaky Cauldron anymore and that loses us a lot of insight on what the Aurors are doing."
"Well, what abou' Laurel?"
"As if she'll speak to me after what happened today! You forget that every time one of you disappears by my hand, the rest of the world thinks I murdered you."
Being the Minister's Dealer of Death was exhausting. Not only had she gained insurmountable notoriety among neutral parties and the noncompliant, but she also had troves of paperwork forced upon her—as well as the Minister's scrutiny.
"Almos' forgot abou' that..." Hagrid glanced at the opening to the hall. "Hannah gonna be 'ere for good, then?"
Hermione nodded. "For the foreseeable future, at least. As far as the world's currently concerned, she's gone for good."
"Aye, aye, Dealer of Death an' all that rubbish."
"I hate the name, but it comes with the territory. Speaking of which, I guess I better go tell her... The sooner I have that conversation, the sooner I can procure my Portkey for the morning."
"Morning? That soon?"
Hermione gave him a forlorn smile. "The world can't wait for me to rest, Hagrid—as much as I wish that it could."
Back in the sitting room, Hannah Abbott lay motionless. She would have seemed a corpse if her eyes did not pinball about with each movement that Hermione made around her, but Hermione knew that the woman was lying in wait. Prepared for the worst, the Dealer of Death knelt beside her friend and released her from the undeserving curse.
Immediately, Hannah lunged for her.
Struggling against her newly acquired bindings, the blonde shrieked and bared her teeth.
"How dare you—"
"I'm sorry, Hannah, but you have to listen to me! Neville—he's—"
"Dead, thanks to you!" the bound woman cried. "You evil, lying, self-righteous—"
"Things don't always go as planned, Hannah! If this was in my control, do you think that I would've allowed it? D'you think I would've just let something like this happen?" Tears were streaming down Hermione's cheeks. She missed Neville. She missed Ron. She missed Luna and Arthur and Harry and when all was right with the world—but mostly, she missed when she was not the enemy. "If I could've saved Neville, on Ronald's grave, I would've. But if we want to win this war, sacrifices will be made, and I'm sorry, Hannah, but Neville was apparently just meant to be one of them."
Hannah's teal eyes flashed with rage.
"I'm sorry, I—"
"Shut up, Granger, and take my wand before you release me because I swear if I can get my hands on it, I'll kill you."
Under normal circumstances, the Hufflepuff would not stand a chance in a duel against Hermione. Alas, the circumstances were far from normal.
"I didn't mean for it to come out that way, but if you want to make this more difficult than it needs to be, we can," Hermione spat. Effortlessly, she snatched the wand from inside Hannah's disheveled robes. She waved it in front of her with a smirk. "That's why I'll be leaving it with Hagrid until I leave in the morning."
Hannah was seething.
"On that note, welcome to Hickaby Cottage." Hermione tucked the confiscated wand into her robes. "I know it's small, but I hope you start to like it here. Hagrid will really like the company and it'll give you somewhere to clear your head through...well, all of this." She raised her eyebrows. "Get as comfortable as you can. I recommend you stop with the struggling or else you'll just be sore tomorrow."
Then, despite her colleague's livid screeches, she stepped out of the sitting room and stumbled through the darkness to the spare room across the hall. There, she withdrew her own wand and wiped away the remainder of her tears.
Somewhere in the depths of her heart, there was a joyful memory. There had to be.
She closed her eyes.
Suddenly, she was by the sea. The air was crisp with salt and the wind was whipping her hair in every direction. Somebody squeezed her hand. The fingers were familiar and calloused from spending months on the lam, from spending months running from the world as it was.
They had nearly escaped. Back then, she was so disillusioned that she thought they had.
If she could focus on that moment, and not everything that followed, surely she could manage to—
Her otter emerged, though it did not seem as jubilant as usual. The memory, as lovely as it was, could never be as happy as she wanted it to be. Perhaps, it was because it was useless.
"Go to the Rook," she instructed. "Tell the cat that I'm in need of arrangements. Tell the cat that I need to go to the dragon's lair."
Author's Note: Very sorry for the holdup on this one. I promise the next will be out sooner. I accidentally saved the wrong draft copy and the software I was using doesn't save previous copies (I sure learned my lesson!) I spent ages trying to get the draft to its original glory and I'm not sure it's quite what I remembered it being, but I hope you all enjoy, nonetheless!
With that being said, I'm looking for a beta reader! With this chapter excluded, I update often, so I need someone that is able to check it out quickly. I also need that person to be a perfectionist - because I am. I imagine it should be someone fairly experienced, as I'm looking for improvements in dialogue, flow, and to have an eye for ugly word repetition.
On that note! Join my Discord! Every month we pick new reads (we do two Dramiones a month, as well as other ships and non-romance). Plus we talk Harry Potter, life, fanfic writing. Join the fun! :) You'll need to remove the spaces and put it in your URL bar:
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