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Chapter 9 : Escalation
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Chapter image by Levana
The infirmary was dark, except for the long, spindly fingers of the waning crescent moon that crept through the aged windows and the erratic jump of flames atop several wax candles placed around the room. The last bed on the left held the only occupant. Next to the bedside was Scorpius Malfoy, his pale face devoid of emotion as he looked down at his father’s still form.
Hermione followed Neville up to the bed, noting the unmistakable rise and fall of Draco Malfoy’s chest. He was covered from the neck down by a thick woollen blanket, but her eyes were still drawn to the indentation where his right leg should have been. Draco’s eyes were open but vacant, seemingly locked on a random spot near the centre of the room. She glanced at Scorpius again, and noted quickly how very much he resembled his father. His stormy expression was cast down at the bed, with chunks of blonde hair plastered to his forehead in the exact same pattern as Draco’s.
“Scorpius. Are you ok?” Hermione asked, breaking the looming, suffocating silence.
“I’m fine,” he replied, not bothering to acknowledge her presence.
“How long has he been like this?”
“He opened his eyes and moved his head around a bit, so naturally we thought he was coming to. But instead he just…stopped moving again, and his eyes are focussed up at the ceiling and…he can’t hear me.”
Hermione felt a stab of compassion for the boy who loved her daughter, and she moved closer to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Neville stayed a comfortable distance away, his hands clasped in front of him.
“Draco?” Hermione whispered, her eyes darting around his body in case of any noticeable change. He did not stir. “Draco…Draco, wake up. Draco?”
It seemed as though Draco continued to confront the precipice between life and death with each passing breath. Hermione hesitantly moved her arm from her side to his forearm, resting it lightly on his warm, dry skin.
He blinked. Scorpius gasped, and hope filled Hermione as she watched his fingers twitch listlessly. His unseeing eyes blinked a few times, and finally a rough, low growl issued from deep in his throat. He began mumbling incoherently, a series of moans, syllables and fragments. Finally, it seemed as though he had settled on a syncopated pattern of noise, and Hermione was able to make out a word.
“Story?” She asked as she listened intently to his rambles. His hands shook slightly, as though he was having a fit, and his skin quickly began to perspire.
“What’s happening?” Scorpius asked, anxiety and fear bleeding into his steady tone.
“Story…story…story…” Draco repeated several times. Hermione glanced to Neville and back to Draco. Their shadows danced eerily against the gray walls, and she began to doubt Draco’s lucidity. His breath came in frenzied gasps as he slurred.
“Scorpius, what could he be talking about?” Hermione asked more forcefully than she meant to, whipping her head to make eye contact with him. She grabbed his other arm as well, trying to hold him in place while his body convulsed in the sheets.
“I…I don’t know, I don’t know!”
“We should call for the Healer, for Madame Rhodes,” Neville suggested calmly.
The mild tremor that had been wracking his body stopped suddenly, and for a second, Hermione feared he was lost. Then, without warning, he grabbed Hermione’s arm tightly, causing a sharp pain in the area of the pressure, and his eyes widened, his pupils constricted despite the absence of the bright beams of light. He sucked in a tortured breath, as though he hadn’t felt the tickle of oxygen in his lungs for ages, and muscles in his body all contracted at once, rendering him as stiff as the stones of which the walls of Hogwarts were constructed.
“Draco!” Hermione exclaimed, trying to wrench her arm free without success.
“ASTORIA!” He roared, his guttural scream filling the entirety of the infirmary. It reverberated off the walls, sending a chilling echo throughout the room. Hermione’s hair stood on end as she tried to pry his rigid fingers from her tender, aching flesh.
“Dad, Dad, it’s me, it’s Scorpius, you’re safe!” He tried to break in, tried to distract his father, but Draco was unresponsive. His steel gray eyes darted around without purpose, and his breath escaped in unrestrained gasps.
“ASTORIA!” His cry was louder this time, intense agony filling his voice as it broke. “ASTORIA!”
“He still thinks he’s being attacked,” Neville observed, grabbing his wand and holding it over Draco, who was beginning to convulse more violently than before. Blood began to seep out of the lacerations where Draco’s fingernails were lodged in Hermione’s skin. Her eyes watered in pain but she ignored it.
“Neville, you have to stun him, you have to put him back to sleep.”
“ASTORIA!” His cries penetrated Hermione’s defences, she wanted to help him, to take away his terror, if only to stifle her own. He screamed her name again, enunciating every single syllable, his voice cracking as he sputtered and choked on his saliva. He began to wretch as thin, white foam began to leak from the corners of his mouth.
“Neville! He’s choking! Do something!” Hermione screamed. Scorpius had tears in his eyes as he called out to his father.
“Dad, please, you have to wake up, you have to calm down, it’s Scorpius, Dad, please!”
Suddenly he fell backward onto his pillow, and his grip loosened on Hermione’s arm. Gasping, she broke free and immediately opened Draco’s mouth, which had fallen slack from Neville’s sleeping charm. After concluding that his airway was clear and he was able to breathe normally, she turned to Scorpius and wrapped him into a hug as he began to cry into her shoulder.
“Scorpius, listen to me, it’s going to be ok. That was probably a reaction to the stress his body has been under. We probably forced him awake too soon.”
“You don’t know that!” Scorpius exclaimed, his voice fragile and child-like. “They had to amputate his leg because he might have been bitten. My mother is probably already dead or a zombie or something awful. It’s going to take my Dad too.”
“We are doing everything that we can to prevent that from happening. You just have to give it some time.”
“He’s fine. He’s breathing normally, he seems to be back in a deep sleep,” Neville reported solemnly. “Scorpius, I know that the healers are doing everything they can to keep him with us. Tonight just was not the night. You never know, he could be better tomorrow.” Scorpius nodded as Hermione released him. Her arm throbbed painfully as a shower of crimson droplets trailed down her finger tips and on to the floor.
“I need to get this healed. Neville, can you wake Madame Rhodes? Scorpius, you should be off to bed, I am sure that Rose wants to see you after this long day, yeah?”
She smiled at him, but his face was a glum reminder of the tragedy that had befallen their community. He seemed much more like a ten year old then, and less like the man he had grown into.
“Thank you, Hermione. Thank you for your help.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll be up to join you in a bit.”
Once he was gone and she was alone in the room, she took a seat next to Draco’s bed to wait for the arrival of the healer. Her own anxieties had calmed, and she closed her eyes as exhaustion stormed its way through her body. She heard the footsteps then, as Neville re-emerged and informed her that Madame Rhodes would be in shortly.
“Neville, what the hell was that?” She glanced back at Draco once more, just to assure that he was still asleep.
“I have no idea. It was almost like an altered state of consciousness, perhaps a hallucination of some sort. This really isn’t my area, unfortunately.”
“I know, I just… that was frightening. And for Scorpius, to see his father like that...” Hermione sighed and briefly closed her eyes, grateful for the pitch black oasis that greeted her. She heard Neville take a seat beside her.
“Hermione, I’m sorry I’ve been short with you, during our discussion earlier and just now. I don’t mean to be, I know you are just as stressed as I am.”
“This has been hard on all of us. And let’s be honest, I am just used to knowing information very quickly, to be on the research and development side of things. Waiting for information is excruciating for me, but it’s not your fault that you have to do your job. Part of me is just sitting here thinking… How did it all end up like this? I miss the days when… When everyone was so full of life, the summers where our kids would play together, and all of us adults would sit back, happy for a short reprieve. What happened to those days?” Her eyes felt so heavy that it was a tedious chore just to reopen them slightly.
“We had it pretty good. Harry and Ron, the two of them always cutting up or doing something to make everyone smile. Ginny cooking—“
“—she could cook just as well as Molly herself. She had a gift,” Hermione laughed, thinking of the ginger haired beauty, spatula in hand, shooing Albus and Hugo out of the kitchen while the rest of the kids played Quidditch outside. “I really was a shit cook compared to her, Rose always said so.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything...” Neville laughed, deftly dodging a punch from Hermione.
“Go on, laugh. Ron never said anything, but I know he didn’t care for it. He always ate three portions worth of food whenever we had dinner at Harry and Ginny’s. I knew all along he didn’t like my cooking, but after every single meal I made, he always said to me ‘darling, that was delicious.’ It always made me feel good about myself, despite the fact that I knew it was awful.”
Hermione felt her throat constrict as the warm, sweet memory bubbled to the forefront of her mind. Neville nodded and patted her hand as Madame Rhodes, the healer who had replaced Madame Pomfrey some years ago, hurried in through the doors.
“Where’s Hannah? Isn’t she here?” Hermione asked suddenly. Neville nodded, rising so that the healer could have a place to examine her patient.
“She’s here, in one of the spare rooms. She’s in charge of setting up the castle as a place for refugees, and has been tottering around the castle all day. I think she retired early though, you’ll probably see her at the large meeting tomorrow. Which I haven’t told you about yet, right, because of this whole mess with Draco. Now that the Aurors have returned, there’s going to be a meeting tomorrow, to discuss taking up arms against the zombies. And… Davies did tell me one other thing while he was in the room.”
“Sorry to interrupt, but what happened?” Hermione’s eye flicked to Madame Rhodes, who was regarding her with all the concern of a grandmother.
Madame Rhodes was in her late sixties, a plump woman with mounds of tight, gray, ringlet curls. Her pale green eyes swept up Hermione’s arm and then glanced over at Draco’s resting form.
“Draco awakened suddenly. He started screaming his wife’s name, and his whole body went rigid. He grabbed hold of my arm in the process, causing these wounds. It appeared to be some sort of hallucination or vision. He was not fully conscious but did foam a bit at the mouth, causing him to choke. Neville put a sleeping charm on him to send him back to sleep, and we made sure his trachea was clear, to allow for proper breathing,” Hermione recounted in case documentation of the matter would need to be made.
“It’s most likely a reaction due to the trauma his body has incurred, though it could also have something to do with the poison in his body. It is too soon to tell if the affliction will spread to his central nervous system, which will render his mental faculties useless. We had hoped earlier in the day that he would recover fully, and had some positive signs. His blood pressure stabilized to 109/72 after originally yo-yoing back and forth and his body temperature settled at 37C after spiking to 38.5C. I recorded a respiratory rate around 14 breaths per minute while his heart rate held steady at 74 BPM. After we removed the damaged tissue, we healed the incision, and now we are looking at options to regrow the tibia and fibula in his lower leg.”
Hermione nodded during Madame Rhodes list of vital statistics and cringed as the warm, prickly sensation of healing magic trailed up her arm.
“So you’re going to try and regrow the bones, then? What about the skin tissue, the muscles, the nerves?”
“There have been several documented cases of wizards with amputations before, especially in the elderly. While their bodies are usually too frail to deal with the intense pain and metamorphosis that comes with regrowing a limb, we believe that Draco might have a better shot at it, given his age. While it’s true that he will never be able to use his leg like he could before, it is possible that he could walk again with an assistive device such as a cane.”
Within seconds, the spell was finished and Hermione’s forearm was once again in pristine condition. She thanked the woman for her help and then turned back to Neville.
“You were saying?” She asked, running her fingers over the smooth, flawless patch of skin that had been mangled not minutes earlier. Neville nodded and waited for Madame Rhodes to finish her quick assessment of Draco before turning in for the night.
“This is not going to be easy to hear. But it’s something that we are going to have to face, knowing that it could get much, much worse.”
“Just spit it out, Neville,” Hermione sighed impatiently.
“Remember when I told you that Harry in particular seems to have the gift of raising the dead?” A chill ran down the length of Hermione’s spine.
“Yes. What has he done?”
“Davies spoke to Teddy Lupin. Before you got here, we sent them out on a mission to fly over the zombies, collecting as much information as we could about their habits, their killing style, whatever they could come by. The Zombies do indeed become dormant during the day, which is a great advantage for us. The only exception to that rule is those that have been resurrected. They are impervious to the daylight, and they are much more dangerous. And Hermione…”
Neville seemed to choke on his words. He was visibly uncomfortable, and it sent Hermione’s heart speeding away from hope.
“Teddy said that outside the town of Hogsmeade, he saw a tall zombie that…had a long white beard…half-moon spectacles…eyes as red as hell itself…”
Hermione clapped a hand to her mouth, suddenly feeling faint. Her arms felt rubbery and useless, her head swimming in horror and dread.
“Dumbledore…” she trailed off, understanding immediately the horrifying, delicate nature of the situation.
“As soon as he saw that, he flew to the island of Dumbledore’s tomb. It was cracked…and empty. Apparently, the zombies that have resurrected are not afraid of water. Those that are turned whilst living avoid it, but the others will walk through it without thought.”
“You said Dumbledore’s tomb was empty. Completely empty?” She prayed it wasn’t true, hoped that it couldn’t be.
“It was empty,” Neville admitted.
“The elder wand,” she whispered. “No, Neville… no…”
“Even if the zombie who created him, which is believed to be Harry, has it, there’s no telling that he could even use it. He’s dead, remember.”
“But he’s the master of the elder wand! And there’s some part of him that is living, just not his brain! Neville, this is catastrophic. Harry put the wand back there because he wanted no one to find it, to use it for evil again. And now this creature that he has become very possibly could control the most powerful wand in the world. And there isn’t even a damned book I can use to research this, it is unprecedented.” Exasperation crept into her voice. Books had always been her crutch, even in the days when she was fighting alongside Harry and Ron against Voldemort. But now, not only was her world shifting into untold nightmares, but she couldn’t even lean on the trusty guidance of books to see her through it.
Despite the grim news, Neville looked mildly amused.
“We’ll get through this together. As a family.”
Hermione nodded and tried to smile despite the fact that her carefully crafted façade was beginning to crack down the centre with this new information.
“You’re right. Let’s turn in for the night, it’s late and I want to make sure that Scorpius is ok.” She smiled and Neville nodded, following her lead out of the infirmary.
“Everyone please quiet down so we can start the meeting. My name is Teddy Lupin, I have been heading a research team of Aurors for the past day to better understand the threat that we are facing. To my right is Headmaster Flitwick of Hogwarts, to my left is Minister of Magic Percy Weasley. This is going to be a quick briefing about the state of the country, and then we will get into our general plan.”
It was midday, and everyone in the castle was crowded into the Great Hall, students and refugees alike, to listen to the words of the Aurors and the Minister. Along with the arrival of several more Aurors, around thirty witches and wizards from the nearby areas had been collected and brought to safety. Hermione hadn’t had a chance to see if any among them were family.
She was standing on the left side of the room, with Hugo and Lily crowded in beside her. The large number of people stuffed into the normally spacious hall made the general atmosphere seem hot and sticky, and she could not help but feel slightly claustrophobic. Pushing the awkward, uncomfortable stems of panic aside, she listened intently as handsome Teddy Lupin, with his father’s big eyes and his mother’s easy smile, began the briefing.
“First, I would like to introduce Headmaster Flitwick, who has a message for the students.” The headmaster was very advanced in his age, but he still had a powerful presence that commanded undivided attention. He cleared his throat and gazed pointedly at the students, who were organized by house.
“Students, we have suspended all classes until further notice. Despite this, we are enforcing a strict curfew for all students under the age of sixteen in this building. You are to be in your common rooms promptly after dinner ends at seven PM. This has never been more important. Those of you who are over sixteen, please listen closely to the presentation. Those of you who are guests here are welcome to our castle and our provisions, but please be advised that there are young students that are here, so mind your behaviour and your language. No one is allowed outside the walls of the castle. This includes going outside for any reason at all. The entrances to the castle will be blocked and guarded at all times. Please understand how dire this situation is. We want to keep everyone here as safe as possible.”
Even though his words were painfully serious, Hermione couldn’t help but notice that Headmaster Flitwick’s voice still had the musical quality to it that had always made his classes such a joy to attend. She felt a quick pang in her heart for the past as he vacated the centre of the stage, and Percy Weasley took his place.
Now in his late forties, Percy Weasley looked a far cry from the curly headed pain in the ass he’d been at Hogwarts. Deep lines were etched under his eyes, and it appeared as though he hadn’t slept in days. Hermione surveyed the crowd quickly, searching for her nieces Molly and Lucy. Lucy was a year below Hugo, in Gryffindor, and Hermione spotted her easily. Molly, however, was Rose’s age, and she was nowhere to be found. Nor was their mother, Audrey, who had been happily married to Percy for years. It felt as though a large bony hand had clasped itself around her stomach. What of her other nieces and nephews? Hermione had become slightly distant from the extended family since Ron had passed, but all the different factions of the Weasley family were so busy with their own lives, it wasn’t uncommon for them to only unite during the holidays or summer months.
She knew it was too early to give up hope entirely, but she couldn’t help but drown out part of Percy’s speech while she searched the crowd for familiar faces. There was Victoire, standing next to her husband, her face gaunt and translucent. Of Bill and Fleur’s other two children, Louis was standing in his Ravenclaw robes across the room, but Dominique was absent, as were her parents.
Lorcan and Lysander Scamander, Luna and Rolf Scamander’s children, were standing next to Louis in their seventh year Ravenclaw robes. Their parents were also noticeably absent. Hermione’s heart leapt suddenly as she made eye contact with George Weasley and nodded in his direction. He returned the grim gesture, pulling his wife Angelina closer. Roxanne and Fred, their children, were both accounted for, standing next to them. Molly, Arthur, and Charlie Weasley were all conspicuously missing.
“—All of us have lost someone. Parents, children, aunts, uncles. Many of your relatives could still be alive, and we are going to pull together and make sure that we rescue as many people as we can. These zombies outside, they are relentless and they will hunt down anyone that tries to challenge them. While fighting them with brute strength and numbers is our most plausible option right now, we also need to brainstorm some concepts in order to try and come up with creative ways to fight them. My job is to keep the order and collaborate with the muggle government to come up with an effective offensive strategy against them, while also dealing with foreign governments to try and obtain aid and assistance. I will now be turning the floor over to Teddy Lupin, who is going to discuss some of the tactics that have already been devised.”
There were some quiet mumbles throughout the audience, and Hermione felt Hugo move a little closer to her. She put her arm around her son, filling her lungs up with his slightly spicy scent. In another lifetime she might have told him to go a little easy on the cologne, but instead she pulled him close, and he did not object.
“Those under the age of sixteen are now asked to return to your dormitories with your prefects and stay there until dinner.” There was some mild protesting, but most of the younger children looked relieved to be dismissed from the heavy subject matter. Hermione wanted to push Hugo and Lily out the door, but they were both of age, and there was nothing she could do to stop them. Once the hall cleared out, Hermione felt some of her tension melt away as she gained more room to move freely.
Pointing his wand at his throat, Teddy Lupin cast a sonorous charm, and addressed the remainder of the crowd.
“Like Minister Weasley stated, these creatures cannot be killed by normal magical means. Throwing an unforgivable at them will not even cause them to trip. Despite the horror and fear they inspire, they are most easily killed with fire. They can also be killed with blunt trauma, which often comes from a variety of muggle means. We are tasked with coming up with creative ways to use magic to ward them off.
“There are two separate types of these zombies. They can be turned straight from a living person, or they can be resurrected and appear much like inferi. The first group is easily overcome and is the easiest to kill. Those that have been resurrected from persons already deceased formally were witches or wizards in life, and are usually turned specifically by the ringleader of them all, or the alpha zombie as we have been referring to it as. These zombies are amazingly resilient but can be overcome. They also have powers that the others do not. Looking straight into their eyes renders the victim completely unable to move. This allows them to turn people more easily and without a fight. It is important to never look in their eyes whilst fighting them.
“Despite their histories as witches or wizards, none of the zombies appear to exhibit magical powers or any type of rational, active thought. They do not have any control over their higher brain centres and appear only to use their brains to execute gross movements and motor functions. They do not breathe, they do not think. They are completely consumed with turning humans into walking wastelands. The one exception to this may be the alpha zombie. We are aware that he has possession of a wand, but we have not yet located him.”
Hermione felt a burning sensation throughout her limbs as her panic began to build. She tried to ignore it, to lock up the expansive feelings of guilt and sorrow in some remote part of her brain and never remember them again, but the sensation of complete and catastrophic failure overwhelmed her. She felt her eyes water as she tried to concentrate on taking slow, steady breaths, but still the weight of it all, despite what Neville had told her a few days ago, was too much to bear.
“Mum, are you ok?” Hugo was staring down at her, concern thick in his deep voice.
“I’m fine, Hugo. I’m just fine,” she replied steadily, willing the emotion out of her voice. She tried to focus on Teddy’s presentation again, anything to take her mind off her thoughts.
“Those of you that are sixteen or older are allowed to volunteer to help. We are making important connections with the muggle government right now to get the military involved, and possibly collaborate with them. Right now, our plan revolves around strikes during the day. While they do not openly seek victims at that time, they will fight back when provoked, and can be more dangerous in that capacity. Our mission right now is to eliminate as many of them as possible. One strategy that has proven effective so far, but which has only tested a few times, is using a group of wizards on brooms to bait the zombies into a large circle, where they can then be set on fire. While this is effective, we need to focus on strategies to kill large numbers of them at one time.
“What we need at this time are people. We need volunteers to help us to contain and eliminate this threat. Know that it is not without danger and there will be no heroes. It isn’t just our country that’s under attack, but it’s everything that we hold dear. Once we get a group together, not only will we be setting out to kill these zombies, but we’ll be searching for survivors: muggles and wizards alike. We need adept fliers, we need an air team, a land team, those skilled with a wand, anyone that knows how to work muggle weapons. If you wish to help out with this effort and any reconnaissance missions we do, we need you to place your magical signature on the parchment here at the front of the room.”
Hermione glanced quickly to the right and saw Albus leaning forward as he drank Teddy’s every word. His expression was a mix of fiery intensity and anticipation. She feared for her nephew and wanted to keep him at the castle, just to protect him from his own stupidity. As Teddy finished his speech and a line began to form, Hermione broke free from Hugo and jogged over to Albus, who was moving forward to sign up.
“Albus, wait!” She cried, catching his attention. Albus pushed his dark hair out of his eyes and crossed his arms, as though he knew exactly what she was about to say. “Doing this is not going to bring your parents back.”
“I know that,” he spat indignantly. “But I have to do something. I can’t just sit here at the castle and wait, hoping that someone is going to do a job that I know that I can do better! Besides that, as I’ve told you before, I am older than my father was when he conquered Voldemort. I am not letting some sixteen year old kid jump in front of me to do this, Aunt Hermione, and you can’t stop me.” His voice was so cold and firm that it slashed through Hermione’s resolve.
“Albus, if you would just listen to me—”
“—you are not my mother!” He yelled so loudly that several people in the room turned. Hermione flushed as his words penetrated her, provoking the already raw nerves that were twisted with guilt. “My mother is dead.” His voice was suddenly softer, cloaked with extreme sorrow and pain. “I love you, Aunt Hermione, I do. But this is my destiny. This is what I have to do. I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t.”
“I know. I know, Al. I was just… I was just going to tell you that your father would be proud of you. And please, just… please be careful. I love you, and I know you’ll use your best judgement when you are out there.” She couldn’t bring herself to say what she truly wanted to, because telling Albus not to be the hero would not be beneficial at this stage. He simply nodded and, without another word, turned to rejoin the line.
Deciding that she should go and speak with George, she turned to walk away when she saw him in line. George, Angelina, Roxanne and Fred, followed by Rose, Scorpius, and Hugo. Her baby Hugo, signing his life away to fight against a foe that she had created, an evil that she had unleashed. All she could think of was the lives she had ruined, the horrors that these brave volunteers would meet. She had caused this, and they would suffer, possibly even die, because of her actions. All of it, all because of her greed and stupidity. She had always been the smartest witch of her age but now she felt bitterly stupid. The zombies; Harry, Ginny, Ron, all dead. Everything was unraveling, everything was ruined because of her.
“Mum?” Hugo asked, as all pairs of eyes in the line focused on her swimming with concern.
“This is all my fault,” was all she could manage to choke out, before running out of the room and to a hiding place where no one could find her.
A/N: Well of course I have so many people to thank for this. First of all, to Levana who made my fabulous chapter image. And as per usual, to accioHPFF my great beta who helped me a lot with this chapter. And to Giola who helped me out in a tough spot as well.
Next chapter I think we're going to see a return to the action, so thank you to all those who have stuck around and are reviewing, especially all the kind reviews I got during the christmas review exchange. You guys are all amazing
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