Chapter 5 : Blame
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The woodland creatures were not the only beasts residing in the dense forest that blanketed the Potter’s holiday cabin. Hermione desperately attempted to stop hyperventilating, but she found that she could no longer control the speed of her inhalation. She hadn’t seen those yellow eyes in many long years.
Fenrir Greyback stepped further out of the shadows, and Hermione gaped at his frail form. Once the most frightening, savage being in the wild, Greyback was a whisper of his former self. Though he always appeared more beast than man, his fearsome silver fur was white and coarse, and he ambled slowly. His back was stumped and twisted with arthritis, and his limbs seemed willowy and incapable of holding what was left of his emaciated frame.
“You’re the Weasley then, the mudblood,” he coughed, sending a spray of red toward the grass. Hermione backed up warily, stunned at his appearance.
“Yes, I suppose. I don’t want any trouble, and I will kill you,” she asserted, clutching her wand with confidence and authority.
“Hah,” he growled quietly, mustering the courage to move closer to her. “I don’t have trouble with you, insolent woman. It’s nearly the full moon anyway, I’ll be finding my keep in the forest tomorrow. That’ll keep those bastards away from me.”
Recognition registered quickly on Hermione’s face.
“You mean the zombies?”
“I mean whatever those dead eyed walking pricks are that killed the majority of my pack and made to come after me. Barely made it out alive, I’m embarrassed to admit. And I’m passing through here, and I see lights on at your place. So I knew it was either someone escaping or more of those loud pieces of shit. They make that awful noise when they are standing idle.”
A wind blew from within the trees, sending a chill through Hermione’s bones. The grass was beginning to dew, and the lasts whispers of the chilling onyx night were beginning to fade into the promise of morning.
“So you’ve seen them, then.”
“Are you stupid, mudblood?” She winced. No one had called her that for years. “No, I’m talking about the other groups of people that go around and feast on brains for fun.”
“Oh you mean like yourself?”
Greyback chuckled and sputtered some more, red spittle dripping from his crusted lips.
“I don’t eat brains, girl. I don’t fucking eat people. I’ve got high spirits when I’m a wolf though, very experimental. You can’t fault me for that. But I never bit a person who didn’t deserve it.”
“I think Remus Lupin--”
“Don’t you dare utter that traitors name in my presence. I don’t care how long he’s been gone, or how long that war has been over. I don’t tolerate hearing that name, I get a little more violent, if you know what I mean.” His tone was menacing, but the sight of him nearly made Hermione laugh in his face.
“Fine. Don’t worry. You’re looking worse for the wear, Greyback. Life rough after the war? I heard you spent some time in Azkaban?”
He bared his teeth like the wild animal he was, anger darkening his countenance.
“Just because I look like an old man doesn’t mean that come tomorrow night, I won’t find this house and destroy your family.”
“My family is already destroyed,” she spat, matching his indignation. “And you won’t touch my family. You go into your woods, and you enjoy your precious full moon. I’ve seen what these Zombies can do. So have you. If I were an old, dying wolf like yourself, I might think about making myself some allies, rather than antagonizing every person I come across.”
“We’ll see about that. Those fuckers attacked while we were in human form. I bet if they cross me during the full moon, there will be a lot less of them around.”
“Well, I hope for the sake of our community right now that you are right. Keep an eye out for us.”
“I don’t do favours for filth like you. You’re not worth wasting my breath on anymore.”
Greyback began to hobble away, into the dark recesses of the forest. Hermione sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, allowing her heart to return to its resting rate.
“Aunt Hermione?” Albus called from the front door.
“Yeah, I’m coming in. Sorry,” she said, squeezing her eyes closed quickly before turning to go back inside.
“Who was that?”
“No one. A wanderer. Come on, let’s get inside.”
The house was warm and Hermione was relieved to be inside once more. She resumed her search for food, making sure that all the doors and windows were firmly secured. After settling on some cans of vegetables, she began the arduous task of preparing food. Purposely trying to ignore the conversation taking place at the back of the house, she focused on stirring the carrots, peas and broccoli, thankful that Ginny had thought to keep some stores of food.
Suddenly she was lost in destructive thoughts, her house swirling in hellfire, Davies and his reluctance to help, the loss of Ginny, her niece and nephews in the other room without parents. It had been so easy to forget that the entire nightmare was her fault and her fault alone. She felt the shame and worry wash over her, making her stomach feel like tight stone. How many lives had been destroyed because of her foolish plea for her best friend to live? Of all the people in the world, Hermione Weasley knew better than to play with magic, and yet she had let her guard down. How would she ever tell Lily that her father was a zombie because she had created him?
Mercifully she was pulled from the wretched reverie by the roar of emerald flames in the fireplace behind her. Startled, she nearly dropped the vegetables she’d been stewing to the floor. Removing the pan from the flame, she allowed her heart to slow down before approaching the living room.
Neville’s face flickered brightly amongst the discarded ash. His countenance was twisted in concern.
“Neville!” Hermione breathed, relieved to see the familiar face. “Hannah, is she...?”
“She’s fine. Everyone is fine. We’re bunkered here at Hogwarts. So far, the zombies have not been able to breach our walls. We’ve been in contact with the Ministry...or what is left of it anyway. The Minister has been killed, but we do have the Deputy here. Percy Weasley. We also have Teddy here-”
“--Oh thank Merlin,” Hermione sighed.
“He’s unharmed, but has been engaging the zombies in battle with the rest of the Auror team. They’ve lost a good number already. Hugo is fine, he’s at the castle asking for you. Hermione, Davies has done some preliminary testing... he has some results.”
“That arse! I knew he could get results faster than he was saying he could,” Hermione swore.
“It’s not good. The substances on the glass, some of them are common potion ingredients but some of them seem to be new creations. He was able to date the substances. Some of them are from the 1970’s, others are from the mid to late 1990’s.”
Hermione felt a stab in her temple as a particularly severe headache began to spread toward the back of her skull.
“Neville, you have got to be kidding me.”
“I’m not. You know as well as I do that during those times the Ministry was infiltrated with dark wizards, working on Merlin knows what. The room that the autopsies take place in, as it should turn out, is an old apothecary which was only remodelled and turned into a morgue about 15 years ago. Therefore, some of the older potions, particularly the ones that were interesting colours, were left in cases to decorate the walls, kind of as a nod to the room’s history.”
Hermione sat down on the old flowered sofa adjacent to the fire place and put her forehead in her hands.
“So what you’re telling me, is that whatever the chemicals were that mixed...”
“They were dark things, Hermione. Davies doesn’t even know what they might have been used for on their own. But together it’s just... a disaster.”
“And most importantly of all, it’s the work of Voldemort. Shit!” She swore loudly. “How is it possible that after all of these years, after all the things we’ve been through, that bastard still finds a way to destroy everything.”
“It might not have come down directly from him, but it’s definitely the work of the Death Eaters from the time. It could have been workers under the imperio spell, or it could have been Death Eaters that hid their agenda very well. But whatever happened, I can tell you that you are lucky to believe alive. Davies figures that exposure to several of the potions on their own might have killed you.”
“Well, they didn’t actually touch me,” Hermione admitted. “They were just drawn by the force of the magic for whatever reason... Which still doesn’t entirely make sense to me.”
Neville nodded. “It’s dark magic. We may never know the mechanism of action. It could be the electrical charge of the particles. Opposites charges attract, it could be something of a fluke.”
She could feel the panic begin to rise in her throat, the familiar realizations she’d just managed to keep down minutes ago forcing their way to the surface.
“How could I...how could I have done this?” she choked.
“Hermione.” The tone of Neville’s voice had changed, and he was speaking to her more like a worried student than an old friend. “You honestly think you are the first person that has ever tried to revive someone with magic before? It’s been tried millions of times, millions of different ways, by millions of different people. You trying to bring Harry back to us wasn’t malicious in any way. That could have happened to anyone, and given the state of the the chemicals, which according to Davies were extremely volatile, it most likely would have happened to someone even using a simple summoning spell. It was going to happen eventually. I don’t even think Voldemort himself would have predicted this to happen. Hermione, this is not your fault. You have not killed anyone, and you have not destroyed anything. So stop blaming yourself. You’re brave, and you’ve done so much already. Now, we’re still safe here so whenever you are able to, I would suggest coming here. Apparate outside the gates like normal and then come on in. Hogwarts will keep us safe.”
“I know, I’ve always known that much. I’m going to try to let the kids get some sleep and have some food, and then we’ll be off. I want to at least shield them from the questions as long as I can. Thanks, Neville. I needed that. We’ll be seeing you soon, yeah?”
“We’re holding the fort here. The kids are going to be waking up soon, and they still don’t know what’s happening. I think the Headmaster will be making some announcements soon. Stay safe. Speak soon.”
He was gone then, leaving the fireplace cold, dark and empty, just as it had been before. The short visit from Neville was encouraging, but now she felt unclean and just wanted to get away.
“Mum?” Rose poked her head around the corner from the hallway. “Are you ok?”
Hermione raised her head and stood to meet her daughter.
“I’m fine, dear. I’m just fine. I’ve got some vegetables made. It’s not much but it will at least keep our strength up for now. I want to stay here for the day, catch up on some sleep. I think I’m gonna shower first. Are your cousins ok?”
Rose brushed several stray strands of frizzy auburn hair from her face. Her normally bright blue eyes seemed dull as she answered.
“They’re fine. Lily is sleeping, and Albus is talking to James right now. I think James feels bad because he was drunk, but don’t be too mad at him, Mum. He is old enough.”
“Oh, I know he is, I’m not mad at him. He’s been through a lot lately. I just wanted him to rest and unwind. I kind of want everyone to do the same. Get James and Al to come have some food and then I want everyone to get a few hours sleep. Can you do that?”
Rose nodded, stepping further into the living room. She met her mother in the middle of the room, and then wrapped her into a large hug.
“I love you, Mum. Thank you for coming to save me. I probably wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for you, and James, and Al. I mean, Al just came out of nowhere. I don’t even know how he knew. I was really scared, but I tried not to show it. I’m just glad that you were there.”
“Oh Rosie,” Hermione murmured, kissing the top of her daughters head. “I love you too. Of course I came to save you. Now listen. You get everyone to eat, I’m going to jump in the shower. I’ll eat whatever you don’t and then I’ll be off to bed just like you lot.”
“Ok, Mum.” Hermione smiled reassuringly at her only daughter before vacating the room to have a shower.
The bathroom was small but functional, with modest fixtures and an average sized tub. Hermione turned the tap on and allowed the shower to run for a few minutes before stepping in. Dirt and grime dirtied the bottom of the tub as she washed the evidence of the night’s events from her exhausted limbs.
Once she was clean, she threw on some blue trousers and a red blouse she found in the chest of drawers in the guest room. She and Ron had stayed there some years earlier, and Hermione was grateful that the garments still fit. After she was dressed and had eaten some limp, under seasoned vegetables, she decided to attempt to sleep. Sunlight, bright and cheerful, poured through the windows, but Hermione ignored its call. She retreated to the guest room, tucking herself tightly under the pink and red patchwork quilt. Sleep did not come easily, but it did eventually come.
“Mum! Mum! Wake up! Please!”
Hermione jumped up, startled. She’d been tortured with nightmares about zombies, and her disorientation only further confirmed that most of them had been real.
“Mum, they are outside. There’s only a few of them, but they are here. James and Al are taking care of it, but there’s going to be more.”
Shaking her head, the first thing Hermione noted was that it was once again dark.
“What happened?! You let me sleep all day?” She asked shrilly, throwing the covers off.
“We all slept, Mum. James woke up first. He heard them. Lily’s in the back of the house. There’s going to be more. I can hear them.” Rose shivered.
Hermione leapt up from the bed and grabbed her wand. Her heart had already quickened its pace as she pictured the two boys fighting alone. She sprinted through the house and burst out the front door. Three dead zombies were piled at James’ feet. They were decapitated, and Albus was preparing to set fire to the remains.
“Are you alright?” She asked, taking stock of the situation.
“There are more. They aren’t here yet. It seems that they might be more dormant during the days.”
“We need to go, we need to get to Hogwarts.”
“Mum!” Rose called from the house. “I can’t find Lily! She’s gone!”
“What?!” James roared. “Where the hell did she go?”
“She was here one minute...and now she’s gone.”
“Well she can’t have gone far!” Hermione panicked, frantically checking her surroundings.
“Lily! Lily!” Albus called, starting to search around the perimeter of the property.
“Albus, you stay here. I’ll go look.”
Suddenly there was a blood curdling scream from the forest.
“LILY!” Albus yelled.
“James, come with me. Albus, stay here with Rose. Albus...Albus, NO. You will stay here with Rose!” Hermione snapped at her nephew, who had been actively ignoring her instructions. “I mean it. I need you to stay here. Do you understand? Answer me!”
“Yes!” he snarled angrily.
“Good. James, come on.”
James nodded and took off, sprinting into the unforgiving darkness of the forest. Hermione followed behind.
“Over here!” A scream issued loudly and James veered to the right. The droning hum began to get louder, and Hermione knew that a fresh wave of zombies were close by. She skirted past a couple of wide tree trunks before catching up to James, who was crouched next to Lily’s small frame. She was knocked clean out, with a bloody lip and what looked to be a broken wrist. James grabbed his wand and muttered “Reinnervate.”
Lily’s eyelids fluttered before finally opening wide.
“What were you doing?” He asked her, picking her up.
“I...I couldn’t find you, there was no one in the house. I just kept walking and got lost. But James..there’s a..a..a...”
“Werewolf,” Hermione gasped. She heard his growl before she picked out his face. His fur was completely white but saliva dripped menacingly from his sharp teeth. Greyback. He moved with all the grace of a freight train, unstable and just as wobbly as a wolf as he had been as a man. His eyes were cloudy with cataracts, and he limped so horribly it was debatable whether or not he could be considered a werewolf at all.
“Son of a bitch,” James cursed, staring at the wolf’s aged form. He adopted an athletic stance, waiting to engage the beast in battle.
Strangely enough, the wolf did not appear to be interested in the three delectable, warm blooded humans. He spun quickly and sauntered off, towards the direction of the zombies. Hermione could see them now, hundreds of them, stumbling over tree roots and into thick patches of brush. Her mouth was agape as she watched Greyback charge toward the mob. It was as though he was forty years younger all of a sudden, as he began to rip limbs off with his bare teeth.
“He’s saving us...” Lily trailed off.
“No, he’s saving himself. Come on, we’ve got to get to Hogwarts,” Hermione instructed. She was grateful for Greyback’s intervention, despite the fact that his actions were self serving and foolish.
Ten minutes later, they were back in front of the cabin, the sound of the improbable battle providing an eerie soundtrack to their departure from the forest.
“Lils!” Rose screeched, greeting her cousin with a hug. Albus appeared to be relieved, if not disgruntled.
“We’re not waiting any longer. Come on. We’re off to Hogwarts.” And with that, the group disapparated in hopes of finding a more calm environment to plan.
A/N: Hey everyone!
This time around I've of course got to thank my Beta and Skype BFF AccioHPFF for being so amazing and awesome. He made the chapter image, beta'd the story, and over all is a great friend and has always been there when I need him. :ashandscott:
Also, to Giola Because she made my day today, so she gets a dedication.
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