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Chapter 13 : Jericho
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Hello everyone! Thank you for waiting so patiently for an update. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for all of your support; your emails and reviews that kept me sane while I was overseas. The idea that so many people care about this story is completely overwhelming. Thank you.
As a warning, I have raised the rating of this story to M. This chapter is not particularly graphic, but the undertones which will continue throughout the rest of the story are more serious and more grave than those in previous chapters.
This chapter was beta’d by the lovely alanapotter. She also created the chapter graphic below.
I have made you wait long enough for this chapter so I won’t try your patience with a longer A/N. I hope you enjoy it. Please read and review.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.
William Yeats (1865-1939); "The Second Coming"
He felt the tongues of flame licking his skin, devouring his flesh and searing his body; he could hear her pleading echoing in his ears. Blood poured from his head.
One step. Then another. The quiet sounds permeated the stillness, the vibrations lost in the stone floor. His fist burned in protest as he clenched it against chest. He did not cry out. Silence was the boldest form of dissent he could manage.
Cool air washed over him, releasing his lungs and unbinding his limbs. He was shaking.
The voice above him was cool and calculating. “You will try again, Draco.”
Hermione stirred, her fingers grasping at the cool fabric of her pillow. The darkness of her bedroom was complete, the blinds of the window blocking the shining stars from view. Her head felt heavy as she woke from her slumber, her senses clouded as she listened to the noises which were beginning to register in her mind.
Distantly, faintly, she could hear someone coughing, gasping. The sound was so quiet she thought she might be imagining it: a trick her semi-conscious brain was playing on her. Sitting up, she swung her legs over the bed, her feet meeting the thick white carpet as she tiptoed towards the door and into the hallway.
As she stood, frozen before the oak paneled wooden door of Draco’s room, she could hear him fighting to breathe. Her hand was on the doorknob without a second’s thought and the cool metal rotated easily at her fingertips.
Draco was lying on the floor beside the bed, his body curled, tears falling down his face. Shaking, biting down on his bottom lip in an attempt to keep silent, his legs were twisted in the blankets he had managed to extricate his body from as he fell to the ground. Lifting himself inches off the floor with the little strength he had, Draco retched.
Hermione quickly closed the door behind her before sinking beside him and pulling out her wand. His body was covered in sweat and burning with fever, his breathing hard and uneven.
She cleaned the floor with a flick of her wand, conjuring a bowl with another and placing it under his mouth before searching the bathroom for medicine and washcloths, cursing herself for never learning healing spells properly. He didn’t look at her as she moved his hair back from his face, placing the wet fabric over his forehead and unscrewing the bottle of Tylenol.
“Swallow them,” she whispered. He looked at her cautiously before taking two pills from her, barely managing to swallow them before leaning back over the basin to vomit. Hermione put a hand on his shoulder as his body convulsed.
“I’m going to take this off you, okay?”
He didn’t respond as she tugged his shirt over his head: his skin felt like it was on fire. She ran the other damp washcloth over his arms, his chest, his back, praying that it would be enough to cool him.
“Thank you,” he murmured, closing his eyes.
It took nearly a quarter of an hour for his vomiting to stop and another half hour for his breathing to become steady. In the darkness, Hermione watched him as he lay on his back, his left arm still braced against his chest.
Perhaps it was a trick of the little light there was, but for a moment, Hermione imagined that the skin of his arm was a dull purple.
“Sleep well, dear?”
Hermione looked up, running her fingers over her temples. “I slept fine, Mum.”
Mrs. Granger flipped another pancake onto the stack beside her. Hermione watched her absently. Long ago, she had attempted to learn the art of cooking; needless to say, her endeavors always ended in complete disaster. She remembered laboring for long hours over every recipe, determined to replicate her mother’s perfection. Every time, Hermione’s cakes collapsed and her icing became harder than a rock. Her mother always consoled her, telling her over and over that failure was an acceptable path to success. She had never believed her.
“Is Draco awake yet?” Mrs. Granger reached inside the fridge, grabbing a carton of orange juice for her daughter.
“I don’t think so,” Hermione answered cautiously. “He’s a bit tired after all of the exams…what with the end of term.”
“Oh honey, I understand,” Mrs. Granger replied cheerfully, passing her a plate stacked high with chocolate chip pancakes. Hermione grabbed a fork from a drawer before seating herself at the kitchen table. She had left Draco at six o’clock that morning, once his fever had broken, placing a note with dosing instructions on his dresser. Then she had gone and taken another shower, scrubbing herself with a bar of soap until it broke into pieces.
Mr. Granger sidled into the kitchen, kissing his wife on the cheek before straightening his tie. He was wearing a suit and he beamed at Hermione.
“Your mother and I have a dental association meeting today – our practice is in the running for a research grant. Will you kids will be alright by yourselves?”
“Of course,” Hermione replied flatly.
Mr. Granger’s face fell, his cheerfulness momentarily sidetracked. “Did you two get enough sleep?”
“Yes, Dad, don’t worry,” Hermione answered automatically. The science of sleep fascinated her father; every summer she would return home to find her room littered with newspaper clippings, all categorically stating that the brain development of youth would be permanently damaged by sleep deprivation. Hermione always shoved these articles in a drawer. School came before sleep. It was as simple as that.
Mrs. Granger’s mind was evidently on the same track as Hermione’s. “Please don’t start that this early in the morning, for heaven’s sake.”
Mr. Granger shrugged, smiling slightly as he took the carton of orange juice from his wife. “Suit yourselves,” he laughed. “But don’t call me when the neurons of your cerebral cortex don’t regenerate.”
“I won’t,” Hermione muttered. She closed her eyes, trying to dismiss the pounding headache beginning to reach the surface of her mind. Then she remembered the package for Clara.
“Mum, could you mail something for me?”
Mrs. Granger smiled. “Certainly, darling. We can drop it off at the post office on our way.”
Hermione excused herself from the table, quickly running up the stairs to her room. After retrieving the parcel from the depths of her trunk, she seized a piece of notebook paper and a pen from her bedside table.
I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season! I wanted to thank you for the compassion and kindness you showed to me in the fall- I cannot hope to repay you for your benevolence. I would write a longer letter but I really must send this on its way if I want it to reach you during such a busy time of year at the post office. I will certainly remember to write more frequently. Please pass on my regards to Ernie.
She read the letter twice, trying to see it from the point of view of a wizard, but it was completely benign. She placed it inside an envelope and sealed the package with packing tape, affixing the address onto the front of the box. When she returned to the kitchen, her mother had changed into a beautiful black dress and was taking her keys off the table.
“You look wonderful, Mum.”
Mrs. Granger turned, allowing the full elegance of the dress to swirl around her. She beamed at Hermione. “Thank you dear. Here, I’ll take that out to the car, your father’s waiting.”
She took the package from Hermione’s hands. “Now, if you need anything, call my cell; the number’s on the fridge. The emergency numbers are by the phone-”
Hermione laughed and embraced her mother awkwardly, the package between them. “I’ve got it, I’ve got it.”
It was a command, not a request. Hermione smiled. “I will.”
She watched from the window as her mother walked out into the driveway and stepped into the car, remaining at her vigil until her parents drove down the driveway and out of sight.
When Hermione creaked the door open, light had enveloped the room. Draco sat on his bed, his hair damp and his clothes changed. His face was pale, paler than Hermione had ever seen it, and his eyes flitted to her face as she entered the room.
“Good morning,” she began tentatively. She took another step forward, trying to keep her voice casual. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you.” He answered quietly, his voice even. She began to fidget with the edge of her sweater. His gaze darted to it and she stopped at once.
“But you still look ill, perhaps I should-”
“You need sleep and-”
“Hermione, stop it,” he growled.
She stopped talking abruptly, her gaze snapping back to his face. His voice was so defeated, so frustrated that she felt paralyzed. The silence that fell between them was almost tangible; it pieced through her like a blade.
“You just don’t understand,” he murmured finally. In his agitation he stood and began to pace back and forth, never close enough for Hermione to touch. She tried to think of what he meant but she couldn’t.
“What’s there to understand?” she asked slowly. He threw her a sharp glance but she shook her head. “You were sick. You aren’t invincible, Draco.”
“Don’t lie to me, Hermione.” His fists clenched.
“What are you talking about?”
But she had sensed it, and she felt a growing sense of foreboding as his eyes met hers. He lifted up his left wrist, his sleeve falling past his elbow to reveal cuts and bruises covering his pale skin like murals on the whitest plaster.
Her breath caught in her throat. It was as if the ground had fallen from beneath her. It was as if every reference point had been erased from the map. It was as if a bomb had obliterated her mind. But nothing had changed.
And every second she waited to answer him was another second he would be punishing himself for showing her just how tangible his past could be.
Hermione hadn’t realized she was walking over to him until she reached him. He had dropped his arm, the sleeve falling neatly over the abrasions once more. She wasn’t aware of reaching for his hand until she had slipped hers into his.
“What’s happening to you? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because,” he stepped away from her, tearing his hand from her grasp, “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does,” she began hotly, but he interrupted her.
“To me.” The words were torn from her in desperation as he walked around her, making for the door into the hallway. He paused but did not turn to look at her.
“Are you ever going to hold me accountable for anything, Hermione?”
Her feet felt glued to the floor and as he disappeared, her throat constricted. She did not call after him.
The marks on his arm were still vividly etched into her mind. Marks that had not covered his skin at the top of the Astronomy Tower.
Hermione had stacked her schoolbooks upon her bookshelf. She pulled her Defense Against the Dark Arts book from the highest shelf before sinking onto the floor. She flipped to chapter twelve, quizzing herself over the Inferius, realizing that she would have a test several weeks into the new term. She hadn’t prepared.
She tried to pretend that he wasn’t downstairs with an arm that was ripped apart.
The Inferius thrive upon darkness, preferring enclosed spaces without sunlight, particularly those near large bodies of water. Reanimated by a dark wizard’s spell, they are mindless creatures who are neither truly alive nor dead; it is this which makes them truly dangerous, for they must be destroyed without being killed.
She threw the text against the opposite wall, gritting her teeth in frustration. It fell to the floor with a thud as she drew her knees to her chest, placing her head in her hands. The textbook had made it sound difficult, to be destroyed without dying.
Death was not coalesced with destruction. Death was beautiful, strong, potent, and irrefutable. Destruction involved losing all power. Hermione clenched the roots of her hair with her fists, knowing which of the two alternatives she was approaching.
The floor of her bedroom began to vibrate beneath her feet. She started, believing herself to be caught off guard before realizing that the waves were emanating from a rising garage door. Her parents were home.
Hermione pelted downstairs, and as she reached the bottom step her suspicions were confirmed: her parents were entering the front door. Mrs. Granger laughed at her look of anticipation while Mr. Granger feigned ignorance while taking an inordinate amount of time to hang up his coat
“Did you get the grant?” Hermione asked excitedly, dividing a look between them, “Did they elect to give you the money?”
Mrs. Granger’s gaze flicked to her husband as she hesitated, but a moment later she had run over to Hermione, folding her into a warm embrace. “Yes, they did!” she chanted into her right ear. Hermione’s jaw dropped.
“Enough to expand your research?”
“And hire a dozen new employees,” Mr. Granger announced cheerfully. He sighed as his wife and daughter began to jump up and down as if drowning in glee, torn between fascination and amusement.
Draco appeared at the top of the stairs a moment later, a smile fixed upon his features. “I’m sorry for missing you both this morning,” he trailed off, as if embarrassed, watching Hermione and Mrs. Granger dancing around the foyer. “I had several late nights before the end of term.”
Hermione froze but Mrs. Granger chuckled, walking over to the closet to place her coat beside her husband’s.
“That’s quite all right Draco,” she replied cheerfully. “Would you two like some sandwiches? We stopped at the market on our way home."
His eyes were unfathomable, but his smile was still fixed in place. “Yes please, thank you for offering.”
Mrs. Granger shot a perplexed look at her daughter, who was suddenly standing like a statue in the middle of the foyer, looking at the floor. “Hermione, why don’t you go with Draco and I’ll call you both when the food is ready? You can walk around the pond behind the house.”
Hermione didn’t respond but Draco immediately descended the stairs, nodding to Mr. and Mrs. Granger before pulling her from the house with him. As soon as the door had closed behind him and he had dragged her beyond view of the windows, he rounded on her.
“Is this your plan?” he asked through gritted teeth. “To treat me like a pariah?”
“No,” Hermione began softly, forcing herself to look up at his face. “You just can’t spring things like this on people and expect them not to react!”
“Nothing warrants a reaction,” he answered flatly, turning away from her and beginning to walk ahead of her around the perimeter of the water. “I’m very effective at Occlumency, Hermione. Last night, I was careless.”
She had absolutely no idea what he was talking about but she kept pace.
“It’s a magic which protects the mind from external penetration. But it can be used to block out dreams as well."
The pond was completely pristine, a thin layer of ice glistening at the surface. She tried to absorb some of the tranquility of her surroundings but her heart was racing. He stopped walking once the house was out of sight and she stopped beside him.
“I don’t understand.” She had meant her voice to be as even as his, but the shaking notes quivered in the air.
Draco felt a stab of guilt wash over him: her voice was almost pleading.
He shook his head. “I’m so sorry, Hermione.”
He was scaring her.
“Quit saying that,” she looked up at him, her eyes blazing. “I just want to understand what’s happening to you. This-” she reached for his hand and this time he didn’t stop her, “this isn’t new…..”
“No, but I never seem to wake up. It’s been weeks but each time I never feel it.”
Dizzying relief overwhelmed her. She steered her mind back to pragmatism. Of course he hadn’t tried to hurt himself. He was always prepared for a fight and he valued his physical abilities too highly to damage his chances.
His dropped her hand and she could tell that her thoughts had shown on her face. He realized how she had interpreted his arm.
“My God,” he walked over to the water’s edge. “You didn’t-“
She could lie but he wouldn’t believe her. Hermione tried to find her voice as he sunk onto the frozen ground, his head in his hands. She didn’t know how long she stood there before he spoke.
“I should have explained,” he murmured softly. “Hermione, I never tried to kill myself. I don’t want to die.”
He let out a cold laugh. “The only time I’ve carved into my arm, it was a skull. I was five and I didn’t understand why my parents had one and I didn’t. I felt like I didn’t belong without one.”
Hermione watched as his shoulders shook slightly, but a moment later he had mastered the impulse. She sunk onto the frozen mud beside him. He didn’t look at her. His vocal cords were constricting but he forced himself to keep talking.
“My mother found me with the knife. She took it from me and healed my arm. She made me promise never to do that again. Never to take the Mark. I didn’t understand why she wanted me to promise. I wanted it more than anything.”
Hermione felt her eyes sting but knew that if she cried, Draco would quit talking, either from sympathy or disgust. She felt as if she was picking up the pieces of fragmented images and sounds, fitting them together in a puzzle.
“What happened last night?” she asked quietly. He closed his eyes and exhaled sharply.
“I dreamed about the night she died-”
“Lunch!” Hermione turned to see her mother’s form emerging from behind the row of trees blocking the house from view. She was smiling but Hermione felt her heart drop. Something was wrong; her grin was forced.
Draco stood in a moment beside Hermione, thanking her mother politely, but Hermione didn’t hear him. She had eyes for no one but her mother. “What’s wrong?”
Mrs. Granger faltered, looking from her to Draco.
“Would you mind if I spoke to Hermione?” she asked. Draco excused himself and began walking back towards the house. As soon as he vanished, Mrs. Granger turned back to her daughter.
"I've afraid I have some bad news, honey.”
Hermione’s heart dropped like a stone. Her mother’s eyes were glazed and she was already half extending her arms as if waiting to enclose Hermione in them, her voice filled with concern. Hermione felt the panic rise in her throat.
"What is it?"
Mrs. Granger hesitated. "Did you happen to read the paper this morning?"
Hermione’s eyes narrowed. "You know I don't get it delivered anymore. The Daily Prophet can be such rubbish-"
"No, honey. Our paper. Oh dear, I'm so sorry, but we didn't check our mail before we went to the post office. We didn't know-" Her skin was growing colder with every word her mother spoke.
She didn’t like apologizing. Draco had apologized. Her mother was apologizing. And something was badly wrong.
"What didn't you know?” she interrupted sharply. “Mum?"
"Honey, at the post office they were selling papers. And well, honey, your father picked one up and was reading it while we were in line to mail your package. And darling, the woman you were mailing the box to, whose address you taped to it-"
Hermione felt sick. "Clara?”
"Yes, well, the paper said that she was found….dead….early this morning with her husband, a man called Ernie. They were found on their farm when a neighbor came to ask for firewood."
Hermione couldn't breathe, couldn't think. No, no, Clara couldn't be dead. She couldn't be. No. Her mother had to be mistaken. This couldn't be right. This wasn't happening. But the dread, the understanding, was coming and Hermione felt paralyzed.
"How did they die?" she choked. "How did it happen?"
Mrs. Granger spoke faster, as if it would be easier for Hermione to hear these details quickly.
"I'm so sorry, but the police don't know. There aren't any signs of damage. No signs of stabbing, gunfire, heart attack, drug overdose, or any type of physical injury. They also did a blood test. Apparently the woman just returned from a vacation to visit her daughter in France, so they thought maybe it was a virus she had picked up there, or someone she met had followed her home-"
They had killed her. They had killed her. They had killed her. They had killed her.
Mrs. Granger stepped forward but seemed to think better of it. "Honey, I'm so sorry you had to find out this way. Was she someone you knew?"
Her mind couldn't cope. She couldn't think. She knew in every fiber of her being that they had killed her, but she couldn't see why. It had been months.
“Yes, I knew her.” She wasn’t crying. She didn’t allow a sob to escape her. Her voice was utterly expressionless. She turned her back on her mother and walked back towards the house.
Once she entered the kitchen, she passed the sandwiches placed on the table. She passed the living room and ascended the stairs. She passed her parents’ bedroom and entered her own, shutting the door before she collapsed onto the ground.
She wanted some sort of emotion to surface but she felt nothing. The uproar was too deafening, folding in upon itself. Hermione sat on the carpet, staring blankly at the wall, waiting for the pain to come. For her mind to acknowledge that two innocent people had died because of her.
A soft knock echoed on her door. She considered not answering, but she hadn’t locked it: feigning absence would be futile.
"Come in," she whispered.
It was Draco. He stepped inside, his eyes searching before he saw her on the ground.
"Hermione, what's wrong?" He sank down beside her. "Hermione?"
"They got Clara," Her voice was so calm, so quiet. She felt as if she was in a separate reality, completely untouchable. “Draco, they killed her. They killed Clara."
A small part of her marveled over the fact that, for once, she was calm when he was agitated. But she couldn't make sense of his response: he had tensed.
"When?" he repeated. His voice was urgent, demanding. His jaw was set and his eyes flashed.
"This morning. My mum just told me. It was in the paper. Draco what's wrong?" He was already at her door and then he was gone. In several seconds he was back, his wand in his hand. She had gotten to her feet.
"Draco, what's happening?" He was terrifying. His gray eyes were fierce.
"Hermione, get your wand. We have to get out of here. Now."
"Damn it, Hermione, McGonagall said the Order was protecting her!"
"They're supposed to be protecting us! Get out your wand. We have to get out of here." And then Hermione understood what he was saying. But before she could move, before she could even touch her wand, she heard a loud cracking noise from downstairs. Then another. And another. And then a piercing yell.
In that second, as Hermione felt her heart turn to ice, as her world began to spin, she felt an iron grip close around her wrist. It pulled her forwards, forcing a wand into her right hand. She tried to scream but he had moved behind her, placing a hand tightly over her mouth. He was pulling her to the window as tears started to fall down her face and she violently tried to throw him off.
She could hear them moving downstairs. All her senses were caught in a whirlwind; she couldn't differentiate between what she was seeing and what she was hearing.
A deafening blast echoed around them, the vibrations nearly knocking her backwards. Draco had blasted open the wall. Screams echoed from downstairs. Yells. Confusion. The cold air was hitting her like knives. She saw that the edge of the icy pond below them but she already couldn't breathe.
Hermione tore his hand away from her mouth and screamed.
And then Draco had pushed her outside, away from the house, as far as he could. He still had her wrist.
The darkness engulfed her. She felt the blackness pressing in against her and then she was hurtling through time and space.
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