Chapter 6 : Chapter 5: What If I Just Try Not To Remember
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Would it matter at all?
What if I just try not to remember,
Would it matter at all?
– Would It Matter, Skillet.
Chapter 5: What If I Just Try Not To Remember?
November 1993 – Island
It was now into November and Hermione was just beginning to learn to use a bow. Halt wouldn't let her touch his, but after digging around in one of the many supply boxes he had stashed in the back of the cave, he came back with a curved object in a leather case that curled in on itself in the shape of a 'C'.
"Isn't a bow suppose to be, you know, not so curvy?" Hermione asked, gesturing at the object in Halt's hand as he slipped the bow out of the leather sleeve.
"Normally, no, but this is a reflex re-curve bow. It's smaller than the usual bow and more your size. It's more compact, so you can stow it in your pack when you're not using it," he said, pulling a string out of one of his jacket pockets. After he showed her how to string it, the curly piece of wood looked more like a proper bow. He started with having her draw the weapon and then relax the string, making sure the tension and draw length were right for her size and strength. After cutting down some of his own arrows, he set about teaching her how to shoot, and as she proved before with the training stick—she was a sucky shot.
"On für fickt willen!" Halt cursed as yet another of Hermione's arrows went wide from the tree that was her target and off into the bushes. "Well, go and get it," he barked, causing Hermione to sigh as she set her bow down on a nearby rock and slunk off in the direction the arrow had gone.
"Honestly, this shouldn't be that difficult. I can hit it with a Stunner at twice the distance," Hermione muttered to herself, kicking around the underbrush, trying to see where the arrow had landed. She finally found it stuck deep in a tree on the edge of a steep hill. Walking over, she attempted to pull it out without luck. Growling, she placed a knee against the trunk and pulled. The arrow tugged free suddenly, causing her to step back a few paces to keep from falling over, but just as her feet hit the top of the hill, the ground gave way and she was sent falling backwards.
"Girl, wake up!" Hermione groaned as she cracked her eyes open experimentally, only to wince as her head began to throb painfully; it looked like she had fallen all the way to the bottom of the hill.
"Girl, you dead?"
"Yes," Hermione yelled back, bringing a hand to her head. It came away red; she must have hit it when she fell. Pushing herself up on her hands, Hermione attempted to get to her feet when a sharp pain lanced through her thigh. With a yell, she fell back to the ground, snapping the shaft of the arrowhead that was now buried in her thigh. Rolling onto her back, she clutched at her injured leg, momentarily blinded as the pain in her head got worse. Once the initial flare of pain had subsided, Hermione looked around. From this position, she could see the ridge where she had fallen from. It looked to be a good twenty feet at a near vertical incline. It didn't look like she would be getting back up that way with her leg in its current condition. At the top, she could see Halt's gray head peering over the edge.
"I can't walk, my leg," she called up at her companion. He didn't reply, only disappeared from view. She lay there for a few minutes until she felt like she could move without screaming or passing out. Sitting up slowly, the lump on her temple was making her vision swim dangerously. Finally in a seated position, Hermione got a good look at her leg. It wasn't as bad as she first thought. The arrowhead had embedded itself in her lower thigh, luckily missing bone or anything vital. She took off the large button-up shirt she had taken to wearing over her raggedy T-shirt, as the evenings were chilly now that the sweltering heat of summer had passed. Hermione pulled the folding knife out of the pocket and began cutting off strips from the hem so she could bind the wound until she could get back to the camp and get it taken care of properly. As she was tying off the last bandage, something falling caught her attention. Looking up, Hermione saw Halt had gotten some rope and was currently lowering himself down the hill.
"Thought you said you weren't going to be saving me again?" Hermione said, a slight tease in her tone as she watched. The two had been together for nearly half a year now and she had grown to think of the grumpy older man as her friend. Even with his gruff demeanor, she was sure he felt the same.
"What can I say? You've grown on me. Besides, you're close enough to the camp, and you'll just talk my ear off before I'm forced to come get you. So might as well save myself the headache," Halt explained as he lowered himself down the hill.
Hermione chuckled and was in the process of putting her jacket back on when she felt something similar to a wasp sting bite in her good leg. Yelping, she slapped her leg reflexively as the sting began throbbing painfully enough to match her injured leg. Bringing her hand away, she found a large ant squashed against her skin. Looking around, she realized with dread that there were more of the insects crawling all around her, her movements having disturbed them. Hermione attempted to pull herself away from them using her arms, but it only seem to agitate them more as they began crawling up her hands and skin.
"Halt, help!" she screamed loudly as more and more of the creatures bit into her exposed flesh, racking her body with pain. Red welts began to appear where they had bitten. Dropping the rest of the way down, Halt ran over and hoisted her off the ground and began brushing off all the insects he could find, wincing at the few that bit into his hands.
"Bullet ants, nasty little bastards," he said, setting Hermione down well away from the colony. She could only groan in response, her arms and legs riddled in red welts.
"You are in for a world of pain, girl. Nothing to do but wait for the venom to wear off on its own," Halt told her before picking her up again and taking her back to their camp.
Hermione woke the next evening, having spent most of the previous day suffering as the ant's venom sent waves of throbbing pain through her body on top of having to go through the ordeal of having Halt remove the arrowhead from her leg and then stitch the wound closed. The effects of the venom had finally worn off after half a day, leaving her only to suffer with her stiff and tender leg and the now cleaned and stitched split on her forehead.
The rest of the month was spent with Hermione being confined to the campsite while Halt went out scouting. In the evenings he still insisted that she practice with her own bow. By the beginning of December, Hermione's leg had mostly healed and she was finally beginning to show some progress in her shooting, hitting some part of the target six out of ten shots now.
So in mid-December it seemed like any other day. Hermione found herself standing in the clearing by their cave with Halt watching her practice when they were suddenly interrupted by a shrill whistle off in the distance.
"What was that?" Hermione asked, looking off in the direction the sound had come from.
"Not sure," Halt said, moving to collect his own bow from where it had been leaning against the cave entrance.
"We should check it out at least. It can't be good," he said before freezing as something in the bushes at the far end of the clearing moved. Halt nocked an arrow but waited to draw it. Hermione followed suit as something stepped into the clearing.
It was dog-shaped and almost as large as a small bear. It walked out of the bushes and sniffed about curiously. Its back legs were short in comparison for its size and were more akin to paws, as its front feet were longer and had a more finger-like quality to them. It had no tail to speak of and was covered in a golden brown color fur, a crest of long brown fur running from its head and all the way down its spine. Its oddly proportioned legs, giving it a hunched back, combined with its thick short neck and short muzzle, made it resemble a hyena.
"What is that?" Hermione asked, watching the creature as it watched her back with far too intelligent yellow eyes. When she got no reply, she looked over at her companion.
"I don't know, nothing I've ever heard of," Halt answered, drawing his bow back ready to fire. "Most likely it's something they cooked up in that lab. Whatever it is, it's not going to be alive much longer."
The creature whined, ears back in a submissive gesture, a back leg dragging on the ground uselessly before falling to the ground. Hermione watched it curiously. She had never seen or heard of anything like it and very much wanted to go and have a closer look at it, but its next move made her blood run cold.
"Herrp mer." The voice was deep and distorted by snarls, but the sound was clear enough; it could speak! It clawed at the ground helplessly and rolled on its side.
"Herrp, her-lp, helpr mee!"it whined, and Hermione found her arm relaxing on her weapon, the tip dropping from the helpless target, and she was taking a step forward unconsciously. The view was blocked by Halt's shoulder.
"Stay alert," he snapped, bow still trained on the creature. "You can't trust anything that comes out of that place." Nodding despite the fact he could not see it, Hermione moved out from behind him and drew her bow again.
The creature seemed to understand they were not going to come closer. With a huff, it stood un-bothered and glared at them. Pushing itself up on its hind legs, towering a good six feet in height, it let out a howl that was silenced moments later by an arrow through its vocal cords. It teetered for a moment before falling to the ground, but it was already too late. Out of the surrounding bushes came a chattering chorus of yips that sounded close to that of laughter as three more of the large hyena-like creatures came out of the bushes. The lead was a champagne color with a white crest followed by a russet with a black crest and a sable color with matching crest. The three weaved together, bodies intertwining and parting as they investigated their fallen pack mate. In unison, the three locked on the two humans.
"–birte ard breed–"
The voices overlapped in a chorus of broken words laced with vicious growls and snarls.
"Aim for the chest between the front shoulders when it raises its head. It's a bigger target and you're bound to hit something vital if your aim is off, " Halt told her, drawing another arrow without looking away from the three creatures."Or just behind the front shoulder if you get a broadside shot."
Hermione nodded, swallowing hard, her hand trembling slightly as she looked down the shaft at the russet-colored creature, noting the spots running down its flank as she set her sight just behind its shoulder. She took a deep breath and held it as she prepared to release. They both were so focused on the creatures in front of them they never saw the attack coming.
Lightning quick, two more of the creatures flanked them from either side. Halt managed to loose his arrow into the sable's shoulder, crippling it just in time to drop his bow and catch the head of the creature as it slammed him to the ground. It snapped at his face trying to get its teeth in him as he held it off by the sides of its face. Hermione was worse off. Not having Halt's reflexes, she had barely released her arrow, which managed to hit the russet in the gut, before she was bowled to the ground. Fangs latched onto her side as the creature sank its teeth deep before picking her up, undisturbed by her screams, and tossed her to the side.
"Get out of here!" Halt screamed at her as his attacker dug its claws into his shoulder, trying to bring its face closer, "Get up, run!" he called out as the creature sank its fangs in his opposite shoulder. Shaking its head viciously, it flipped itself around so that it was standing by his head rather than over the man before dragging him off out of sight into the bushes.
"Halt!" Hermione screamed, but he was gone; she was on her own. She tried to get up but only managed one knee. Her hand clamped to her side. Blood was running through her fingers in small rivers to the packed dirt below her. To the left, the creature that had attacked her watched, lips pulled back in a twisted snarling smile. Her blood was dripping from long jagged teeth and soaking into its black muzzle.
"Mine," it practically purred, blood and drool running from its gaping maw. A snarl was directed toward the champagne creature that was slinking up behind her.
It walked casually toward her like a cat playing with a particularly pathetic mouse. Its yipping laughter made it seem as if it was mocking her as it approached. Hermione managed to move a few feet before collapsing. The bite had fractured her hip, making running away about as impossible as walking was. Fumbling at her belt as she lay there on her belly, Hermione tried to draw her knife. Pulling it free, she rolled over onto her back, ignoring the flare of pain down her side. She waited as the creature stalked closer, teeth parted and tongue lolling out as it ran its cold nose up her shin, sniffing deeply, yellow eyes glinting in intellectual glee as its mouth opened wider, intending on picking her up by her side again. Hermione lunged upright, releasing her side so that she could drive her small knife into its eye with both hands.
The creature let out a feral scream as it reared up on its hind legs, pawing at the blade still embedded in its eye, trying to pry the instrument out with its finger-like claws. It only managed to make it worse, driving the blade further in before it collapsed in a twitching heap, its nerves still spasming even after death.
Hermione gasped in pain, rolling back over on her belly and tried to crawl back to the cave. She did not make it far when the champagne creature pounced on her, driving its claws into her back. The last thing she knew was the pain of teeth locking around her calf as she was dragged into the woods, her head striking a passing tree and a high pitched whistle filling her ears before consciousness left her.
When Hermione woke next, all she could see at first was a bright whiteness. As her vision cleared, she saw she was in a white room with a bright overhead light. Blinking her eyes a few more times caused more of the room to come into focus. She was in a bare white-walled room, save for a rolling tray of what looked like medical tools and the bed she lay on. Attempting to sit up was met with resistance. Hermione looked down and found that she was held to the table by thick padded straps and was wearing nothing but her underclothes. In her arm was an IV dripping a clear solution, and her injured side seemed to have been healed in a non-Muggle fashion as the teeth marks were pink with newly grown flesh and the pain in her back was dulled, telling her that her back had received the same healing treatment. She lay there in the bright white room for a while, drifting in and out of consciousness. The IV sedative made it hard for her to stay awake for longer than a few minutes at a time. It was when the bag was nearly empty and she was beginning to get some of her senses back that someone finally came in.
Cracking her eyes open at the sound of the door, she saw a middle-aged man walk in, looking over the clipboard in his hand. He took no notice of her while she observed him. He was of average height and slightly stocky in build. His short brown hair was beginning to turn gray and he had a pair of brown square-rimmed glasses perched on his nose. Behind one ear was an intricately carved wooden stick. Looking up from his note-taking, the wizard caught her stare, and he smiled, which was not comforting at all.
"Ah, you're awake, good," the man said, pulling out a small flash light from the pocket of his white lab coat and forcibly opening her lids in turn, flashing it in her eyes before writing something down on his clipboard.
"Wha—" Hermione croaked out before licking her chapped lips. Her throat was parched, and it was making it hard to talk.
"What's going on? Where am I? Where is Halt?" she asked in quick succession, struggling against the straps holding her before being reduced to a coughing heap. He merely chuckled in mild amusement at her attempts as he continued to write. He ignored her coughing fit in favor of prodding her newly healed hip and jotting down a side note, before he replied without even looking up.
"Your friend is currently paying the price for interfering with my research, but I wouldn't worry about him; he won't be a problem for much longer."
His tone brightened with expectation as he looked her over. "As for you, my dear, you are going to take part in my ground-breaking research. I'm sure you got a good look at the end result."
"Those dog things?" Hermione asked, her voice still hoarse and raw.
"Yes, quite magnificent, aren't they? " He seemed almost wistful at the thought. "I'm rather proud of them, took me years to get it just right, you know. I have created a whole new species of Therianthrope," he boasted pridefully, complete with an open arm gesture as if it could magnify the importance of his words. "While true that they are incapable of retaining their human forms, they are no longer restricted to certain phases of the moon. They possess great strength, speed, and stamina, making them quite lethal creatures. They are the perfect combination for a living weapon. Also unlike their cousins, they are trainable, highly intelligent, and adaptable. They planned and executed that ambush all on their own."
"They are related to werewolves?" she asked, trying to get her muddled mind to take in and sort through the new information. This was obviously the wizard Halt had told her about.
"Yes, I'm sure you're finding this all hard to believe but werewolves, vampires, magic — it's all real. I would probably be in a lot of trouble if anyone found out I told a Muggle like yourself, but if all goes as planned, it won't matter."
His friendly, bordering on indifferent, attitude seemed to dissolve into the briefest look of pure insane malevolence. Just as quickly, the innocent, friendly mask was back in place.
"Of course... if it doesn't–" he shrugged nonchalantly, pulling his wand from behind his ear, "well, it still won't matter." He ran a diagnostic charm over her, paying close attention to her newly healed hip. He then ran through a multitude of different charms. Hermione only recognized a word here or there, but it was too much for her to take in. All the while, he continued to chatter in between spells and writing down the observed effects they had on her, like he was simply talking about work over a leisurely spot of afternoon tea.
"You see, while infecting someone with the werewolf virus is easy enough, the condition is simply too unstable to be of much use. The tricky part was getting a hold of a Primal Hyena, a nearly extinct species. Primals, in general, are a highly intelligent magical creature broken down into a few select animal sub-species. Most of my research has gone into locating the Hyena branch, and it has taken years. They were hunted for sport and fur by wizards and Muggles alike, the fools," the wizard stated with disgust.
"A Primal Hyena's true value is in its spirit. Primals are unique creatures who, with the proper ritual, can transfer their spirits to a human host. They allow a human body to possess all the instinctual and sensual advantages of the animal while not having their human mind completely overwhelmed, as the werewolf transformation does, if not treated regularly. On their own, they are unique enough — capable of mimicking human speech to lure travelers from safety and even formulating complex attacks that are amplified greatly by their matriarchal pack society."
"A perfect catalyst for regulating a werewolf's overwhelming instinct to do nothing but hunt and infect. The problem is that the Primal Hyenas, once transferred to a host, are still restricted to a human body, and alone, the Lycanthropy virus is restricted by the phases of the moon." He continued his explanation without comment or prompting as he set down his clipboard and wand in favor of a needle off the tray.
Cleaning her arm with an alcohol swab, he said, "Once I had both species, it simply came down to experimenting with the Masai Ritual to transfer the spirit into a new host and then infecting them with Lycanthropy. There were some complications, of course, but there always are with these things. Sometimes the host body could not handle the change or the hyena did not regulate the wolf properly. Finally, there was a breakthrough. The only down side with this breed of Therianthrope is, while the males have a higher survival rate, they are virally sterile. Only the females can pass the virus on, which is quite a good thing for a living weapon. It would be poorly planned if one was set loose in the field, only to be allowed to multiply unchecked. I only have the one female at the moment, but that will change soon," he said smiling widely at her as he rubbed the swab on her arm. "I have been greatly interested to see if, despite the males' bites being sterile, they are capable of producing young. They, after all, would be more ideal for training purposes than an infected adult."
"No, don't," she said attempting to struggle, but was held fast by the straps and her drugged body as he stuck the needle in her arm.
"No, don't fret, my dear, this will only hurt a moment," he said as he drew out three phials of her blood and placed them in a rack on the tray. "You are a perfect candidate for my research; young, resilient and female as an added bonus. Only about one out of every four of my candidates make it through the transformations and ninety-five percent of my candidates are male. I've never had a candidate so young as you; you have my highest hopes of surviving the transformation," he said, returning his wand to behind his ear before tucking his clipboard under an arm and taking the phials of blood with him as he left.
Hermione lay there in the silence, growing more and more panicked as her fog-wrapped mind cleared. She tried to think of a plan. She had to get free first, but then what? She needed to find Halt; he had to be some where in the compound if the dog things had brought them both back, if he wasn't already dead. She shivered at the thought before banishing it. Thinking like that was not helping. She would find Halt, then, together, they could escape. It was not much of a plan, but at least it was something.
The door opened again as another man came in, only staying long enough to replace her IV bag before leaving. Looking at her arm, she uttered a quickly muttered levitation spell and removed the needle from her arm. She couldn't risk being drugged up again, not if she wanted to escape.
After about twenty minutes of trying and failing, she was finally clear-headed enough to use her magic to undo the buckles of the straps holding her to the bed. Once free, she searched the room quickly, looking for something to use as a weapon, but there was nothing other than a few menial items. She did find a pair of extra scrubs in a cabinet that had been out of her line of sight till now; she quickly pulled them on and rolled them up to fit her small frame.
Clothed properly, Hermione peeked out of the door to find a long empty corridor. They were obviously not too worried about her escaping. Sneaking down the corridor, she found herself led to an open staircase that went down into a large, open room filled with all manner of cages and tanks of varying sizes. After checking that the coast was clear, she padded down the staircase, her bare feet silent as she walked on the cool metal steps. Passing through the room, she paused every once in a while to read the labels on the enclosures, finding a mixture of magical and non-magical animals; a goblin shark swimming laps in an aquarium, a blindfolded cockatrice perched on a roost inside a cage, a spider wasp in a terrarium, a bridled Kelpie pawing in the murky water of its tank.
Coming to one of the larger cages, she found it contained three typical-looking spotted hyenas. Pausing to peer in at the mundane-looking creatures, she noted that their eyes did hold a keen look of intelligence in them. They stood and began pacing agitatedly along the edge of the cage at her approach, one even pausing to give her a quizzical look.
She hurried passed the cage into an open space dominated by a row of metal tables pushed along one wall. Taking up three of the tables were the Brown, Russet and Black werewolf-hyena hybrid that had been killed in the attack on her and Halt. Passing these creatures, she found the Sabel were-breed sleeping in a lone cage, looking heavily sedated and bandaged. Passing yet another large cage, she saw the two beasts that had dragged her and Halt away from their camp. Next to them in a separate cage was an even larger were-breed that was a greyish-white. Hermione could only guess that this was the female that the wizard had spoken of. Continuing past this cage, she caught sight of a door that had a sign labeled 'Holding Cells' above it.
She made her way through the door and came to another staircase, moving down it cautiously. At the base of the stairs was a short hall lined by small iron-barred cells. Peering into each, she found Halt in the second to last. He was restrained, held upright by heavily chained cuffs on his wrists leading to a metal ring in the ceiling. He was stripped to his pants and covered in a multitude of bite and claw marks, some looking fresher than the ones he had gotten at the camp. Opening the door with a quick unlocking charm, Hermione moved in. He was so still he didn't even seem to be breathing.
"Halt,"she whispered, skirting her bare feet around the pool of blood that had gathered under his dangling feet. "Halt," she said again, tears leaking down her face.
"You should have run when you could, girl," Halt said groaning, head lolling to one side before letting out another pained groan, even as Hermione let out a sigh of relief.
"I couldn't just leave you here," she said, attempting to get a better look at the cuffs around his wrists, touching his bare arm in the process.
"Leave me," he snarled out, yanking his arm from her grip, causing his blood-slick feet to slip out from under him and putting all his weight on his mangled wrists.
"Halt!" Hermione cried out and with a quick unlocking spell, she had him free and was supporting his weight as she lowered him to the floor. Ripping strips of the hem of her scrubs shirt, she began binding his bleeding wrists before a large hand stopped her in her work.
"Leave it, girl, you've got a better chance of getting out of here without me."
"I'm not leaving without you," she said adamantly, her Gryffindor stubbornness showing through as she locked eyes with him. Finally Halt gave a resigned sigh.
"As you wish."
The two made their way out of the prison sector and back through the animal room. They exited out another door that Hermione had not seen before, but Halt seemed to know. It wasn't long before they came across their first guard. Halt was able to sneak up on the man, and before he knew what hit him, Halt had him in a choke hold only moments before snapping his neck in one practiced twist. Snagging the guard's jacket and gun, he gave Hermione the knife that had been on his belt.
They wandered the halls, encountering two more guards before the pair finally found an exit. Slipping out of the building, they were met with the sound of a blaring alarm; someone had finally noticed the trail of dead bodies in their wake.
"This way," Halt said, dragging her around a building. He knew the layout of the compound well enough to navigate their way to the closest exit. When they rounded a corner into an alley between two warehouses, the gate came into sight. The guards posted there were already beginning to lock down the exit. Shots and shouts came from behind them as Halt pulled her down behind some crates.
"Can you disarm some of them?" he asked, checking his ammo.
"I think so."
"Good, disarm them, set them on fire, anything to keep them occupied. I need to get that gate open," he said gesturing to the gate house where the controls to open the gate were. "Keep them distracted until I get there, then I'll cover you. We'll need some of your magic-y mojo to get in."
"O-okay," she said her hands shaking as shots struck the crates at her back.
"We're going to get out of this," Halt said gripping her shoulder reassuringly. "Now I need you to cover me, okay?"
Hermione nodded before taking a breath to steady her shaking nerves. Turning around to peek through a gap in the crates, she began to cast disarming charms, Leg-Locker Curses, Jelly-Legs Jinxes, anything she could think of. Many found their weapons ripped from their hands while others fell to the ground as their legs were impaired; one particular man found himself bent double vomiting slugs violently.
"Alright, come on, girl!" Halt called from his spot behind a small set of stairs leading to the gate house. Taking a deep breath, the witch ran out from behind the crates and across the open area between the warehouse and the gate house. She could hear shots being fired but she couldn't tell if they were from behind or in front of her. All she could focus on was getting to cover.
Halt met her at the bottom of the stairs and he shoved her up them where they could have some cover between the concrete railings.
"Unlock the door, we can't stop here," he said, firing off a few rounds before ducking into cover beside her. Hermione took a moment to catch her breath before crawling up the stairs to the door. After a quick unlocking charm, she found herself pushed behind Halt as he opened the door and killed the two guards inside. The sound of metal grinding on metal followed shortly after as he triggered the gate controls.
"Come on," he said, pulling her to her feet and behind him as he fired off more shots at the regrouping guards. Running clear of the gate, Halt shoved her toward the forest, "Keep running and don't stop."
"Wait, what? No, you have to come with me!" she cried out, pulling up short when she realized he did not plan on following her.
"No, this is where I stop. I don't intend to live long enough to become one of their hounds," he said opening his jacket to show the newer larger bite mark on his shoulder overlaying the one he had gotten when they were captured. "It's too late for me, but I can buy you some time at least."
"No," she pleaded shaking her head, "We can fix this, you have to come! I can't do this by myself."
"You're a clever girl, Hermione. Even you know your magic cannot stop this. I can already feel it working under my skin, and you got a better chance of getting off this island alive without me." His voice was softer than she had ever heard, and he seemed to grow older before her eyes.
"Promise me one thing, girl. Don't let them take these things off the island. Blow this whole place to hell if you have to, but don't let them get off."
"I promise," Hermione said, closing the distance between them and hugging the man as if her life depended on it. Halt briefly returned the embrace before shoving her off.
"Go now and don't turn back, just keep running." Hermione took one step, then two and before she knew it she was running toward the trees. She didn't look back, not when she heard Halt screaming in pain or when she heard the gunshots stop. She kept running;,the scent of blood and gunpowder in her nose and the sound of Halt's screams ringing in her ears long after he had gone silent.
August 1993 – Home Base, Hook Norton
Hermione woke with a start, a cold sweat coating her skin causing her over-sized t-shirt to dampen and cling. Her breathing was labored as if she had just run a marathon. Drawing in deep calming breaths, she tried to relax and get her heart to stop trying to beat its way out of her chest. She sat up further and tossed the knife clenched in her hand, previously retrieved from under her pillow, on to her side table so she could card her hands through her damp curls and out of her face.
With a tired sigh, Hermione untangled the blankets from around her foot where she had kicked them in restless sleep. Standing to pick up the bundle of blankets from the end of the bed where half had fallen off, she tossed them back on the bed before pulling on a dressing gown and leaving the room. The sun was just rising, and the house was still dark and silent. In the room opposite hers she could hear Sirius's light snores through the door.
Heading to the bathroom, she turned on the tap, and splashed cold water on her face trying to drive the dream from her thoughts, yet the grey fur and familiar eyes persisted in her mind. It wasn't often she dreamed since her Occlumency shields blocked out the worst of them, just as it shielded her thoughts from others. Still, there were nights when her worst memories would slip through in the form of vivid nightmares. Turning on the shower, she slipped into the warm spray, breathing in the fogging air and emptying her mind of thoughts and checking over the strength of her shields before going about getting herself cleaned up and ready to start another day.
Sirius found her later that morning in the kitchen making breakfast. In the days since Sirius had begun living with her, she had taken to checking in on Harry and making sure he was safe. A letter from him a few days later had filled in what had happened after she saw him leave on the Knight Bus. He had met with the Minister of Magic as soon as he arrived at the Inn and was instructed to remain at the Cauldron until school started. He was sure to have a number of people keeping an eye on him, both the Minister's and Dumbledore's. He would be safe enough, and she had taken to keeping track of his doings with frequent letters posing questions on his trips into the Alley rather than risk one of his watchers getting suspicious of her tailing him everyday.
"We're going shopping today," Hermione said, dishing out the omelet and hash browns she had made onto two plates. "I'm sure you're itching to get out of here."
"Sounds great, I'm starting to go a little stir crazy," Sirius said, digging into his food with new vigor at the prospect of going out. He had taken a few trips to explore the small town over the past few weeks as a dog, but he had been feeling stifled lately due to being stuck either in animal form or inside the house.
They both finished their breakfast in relative silence before getting ready to leave. Hermione waited by the back door. The high garden walls made it a perfect Apparition point and since she was the only one keyed into her wards, only she could Apparate from or onto her property.
"Ready to go?" she called up the stairs. Her Emma-look was in place; glasses on and hair up in a bun with her wand stuck in it like a decorative hair accessory. She was wearing a pair of tight jeans and a tank top, a partly open button-up blouse over it with the sleeves rolled to her elbows, not bothering with a glamour for her scars today.
"Yeah, I'm ready," Sirius shouted back, walking down the stairs, slipping on the leather jacket she had given him, over a worn T-shirt coupled with an equally worn pair of jeans. "So what am I supposed to call you, anyway, is it Emma or can I keep calling you Hermione?"
"Emma's fine, I'd rather you not use my real name in public. No one can know who I am as it would cause all manner of problems," she said, looking him over. With the regular meals and potions the man had filled out since she had found him. He was still thin but no longer looking like something that had been half starved, then dragged through a ditch.
"Here, hold still a minute," she said, pulling an elastic band from her wrist, and began wrangling his wild mane of shoulder length black hair into a neat tail at the base of his neck. Circling back around him, she placed her fingers on the exposed flesh just below his collar bone and moved upward over along the side of his neck — a muttered spell,l and the Azkaban tattoos faded slightly. The magic in them kept her from hiding the brand with magic fully, but now they stood out less until she could find something to cover them up with; she added 'stop at the makeup section' to her list of things to get today. Removing her hands from his neck, she moved to place them on either side of his face, finding having contact made casting wandless glamours much easier. Another spell, and Sirius's signature, Black family blue-gray eyes had turned a muddy ordinary brown.
"There, that is all I can do for now, but that should get you by unnoticed for a bit," she said, releasing him.
"Why don't you just cast a full glamour on me and call it done?" he asked, shifting uncomfortably, rubbing at the back of his neck, unused to having his hair tied back.
"Because, Mr Black, that is exactly what they will expect you to do. We are giving you a whole new look today, the Muggle way. It will be safer, and then we won't have to worry about the glamour being removed if someone were to suspect you. You'll look exactly the same if anyone chose to remove all active spells," she said, gathering up her beaded bag. "Now you need a name; I can't go around calling you Sirius Black. That just defeats the purpose of the disguise."
"What about Reginald or Percival?" Sirius offered.
"You're supposed to be blending in," she said bleakly. "You need something simple, common and preferably Muggle. How about Mark or Gary?" She nodded for a minute in thought. "Gary Watson fits."
"Not very flashy," the convict said, sulking, "You sure I can't at least be a Rupert, and why Watson?"
"It's not supposed to be flashy, Gary," Hermione said, giving him a deadpan look. "Well, Granger wouldn't work, seeing there already is a Granger. Watson was my mother's maiden name, a good old-fashioned Muggle name with no connections to Blacks or wizards other than me," she stated with a shrug before heading out the back door.
The pair Apparated near a shopping center in the middle of Muggle London. Hermione remembered going to it with her mother a few times when she was younger. Sirius could only stand there and stare at all the Muggles going about their business.
"What is this place?" he asked, transfixed by a large screen in one window display that was showing the sales in the store.
"This is the Muggle equivalent of Diagon Alley," she said with an open-armed gesture. "We call it a mall."
Sirius peered around in wonder at all the non-magical merchandise dominating the window displays and billboards.
"Okay, first stop is the salon," she said, looking at her shopping list before glancing around to get her bearings. Locating the proper direction, she linked arms with him before he could drift off too far. She very nearly had to drag him onto the escalator, only to have to drag him off it when he wouldn't let go of the railing. Luckily the electronic staircase helped her with that task, forcing him to let go or risk being dragged to the floor and having his hands crushed.
"Come on, Gary," she said, tugging him after her. "We can look around after we get what we need done."
"What is this place?" he whispered as they entered a shop with mirrors lining one wall and sinks along the other. Chairs were set up at intervals and were bolted to the floor. "Some kind of Muggle torture room?" he asked, eyeing the chairs with suspicion.
"No, it's a place Muggles come to give themselves a new look. That's what we're here for. Just stay quiet and let me do all the talking," Hermione whispered back before going to the check-in desk where a younger woman had been sitting chewing on her pen cap, with a name tag labeling her as 'Cynthia'.
The blonde made no move to hide the fact she was giving Sirius a good look over from head to toe with a critiquing eye, as if trying to see past the ill-fitting clothes and unkempt hair. She had pegged him as one of those recluses that avoided such establishments, given his ill-maintained appearance and dubious looks around the shop. She had seen it time and time again; sons, brothers and husbands being dragged in by their family members in hopes of making them presentable for an upcoming date or social event.
Cynthia was broken away from her aesthetic musings when his brunette companion approached. The two chatted for a long minute, Hermione periodically gesturing toward Sirius, who still lingered reluctantly in the doorway. After making clear what she wanted done, another more senior woman was called over. Bedelia paused at the desk to get the basics before advancing on Sirius.
"Emma, really I–Hey, stop that, I can take off my—No no no no! Emma, bad idea!" Sirius panicked at the woman's approach. She was quite an intimidating sight, stern-faced and a head taller than him with an equally large frame. Sirius swore she must have some giant blood in her as he was forcibly removed from his jacket, then hauled to one of the revolving chairs without much effort on her part. Bedelia's strong hands kept him in the chair, even as he kept taking every chance to rise from said chair.
"Relax, Gary, they aren't going to do anything horrible to you.," Hermione said, not bothering to hide her amusement at his expense, and he reluctantly slouched back in his seat, arms crossed petulantly in a blatant sulk.
Over the next two hours Sirius Black had come to one decision: Hermione had lied to him, this was a room of torture. He had been okay with the hair washing, but when the overbearing woman, Bedelia had brought out the scissors and begun hacking long chunks of his black locks off, he could only look at Hermione in utter betrayal. Even when he was young, he had always worn his hair long and could not remember a time when it had not been so. It had been pure torture watching his black locks fall to the floor in clumps.
Then had come the foreign object that attached to the wall with a long cord she called clippers and began to cut even more off. He had nearly lost it then and there and was even on the verge of bolting for the door when his mind drifted back to Azkaban and he stilled. He could grow his hair back out as long as he wanted when this was over, but he could not go back to Azkaban, not again. So he sat there silently.
When they had finally finished meeting all of Hermione's requirements, she having stood nearby the whole time watching while the woman had worked her own sort of magic, his chair was spun in place so that he could look in the large wall-mounted mirror. The man that looked back at him was nothing like Sirius Black.
He had short stylishly cropped brown hair, showing off the slight natural curl he had always possessed, but his previously long hair had made it too heavy to show off. His face was now clean shaven, making him look a good ten years younger than he had when he'd entered the salon.
Sirius kept running his fingers through his hair, or lack thereof, as they exited the establishment, trying to come to terms with his recent loss.
The next store the pair entered was for eye wear. After covertly removing his eye glamour, she went about getting him what the Muggles called 'contacts'. He found them quite fascinating as some were worn to help Muggle eyes like glasses, while others were worn simply to change the wearer's eye color. Hermione selected a set of brown ones for him, a similar color to what she had glamoured his eyes earlier as well as a dull green pair for herself. It took a while to coax the wizard into putting them on, but after he got over the fact he was going to have to touch his eye to get them on and off, he was able to master the art quite easily.
Hermione bought him a supply of the kind that he could wear for a month without removing for convenience and safety purposes. He was grateful for that since it meant he would not have to remove them very often, since she had insisted he wear them all the time just in case. Her own she got simply as a precaution to add an extra layer to her own disguise even if it wasn't one that would be maintained full time like Sirius's own.
To make up for all the discomfort she had put him through that day, Hermione took him to the local ice cream shop in the food court on the way to lunch before showing him the wonders of the electronic store.
The next series of stores to be visited were to get him a new wardrobe of Muggle clothes. While momentarily distracted looking through the various Muggle styles of clothing, Sirius didn't find it near as interesting as the electronics store and began to wander out of the men's department. Hermione was left searching alone for things that would fit him more properly than his current clothes and when it came time for him to try them on, she was forced to search him out.
Ten minutes later found an exasperated and red-faced Hermione dragging the dog out of the lingerie section by his ear where he had been quite vocally commenting on which articles he fancied on a woman the most. She kept him on a short leash after that, but even so she could still see some of the shop keepers casting sheepish glances at her and Sirius, making it clear most of them had heard at least some of his loud monologue.
Arms loaded with bags from various stores, the pair left the mall and slipped into a secluded alley to relieve themselves of their purchases into Hermione's extended purse before walking the half block to pick up some Chinese takeout. She slipped off momentarily, leaving Sirius to wait on their food and returned with a paper bag from the small bakery next door.
Back at Hook Norton, Sirius seemed to like the teriyaki chicken, something quite different from the usual British wizarding cuisine, but had a hard time eating it with the provided chopsticks until Hermione took pity and got a fork out for him.
"What was the one food you missed most while you were incarcerated?" Hermione inquired before taking a bite out of an egg roll.
"Fish and chips," Sirius said with a satisfied sigh. "Golden, flaky crispy-mmm." He pushed his empty takeout carton away and leaned back in his seat contentedly.
"What about you, what did you miss eating most while you were on that island?" he asked curiously. She had told him very little of her time stranded on the island, only that she had been stranded after a shipwreck and managed to get picked up by chance by a group of college kids out for a cruise years later. There was more to it than that, he knew, but she had yet to enlighten him further on the details.
"What I missed most," she mused, taking out a paper bag she'd gotten earlier from the pile of takeout containers and pulling out a cookie, "was chocolate," taking a bite out of the sugary treat and savoring the chunks of chocolate as they melted in her mouth before offering him the bag.
As August finally began to come to an end, the date when she was to meet with her friends was fast approaching. It would be the first time in years — for her — that all three of them were going to meet up. When Sirius heard she would be meeting Harry and Pettigrew's owner in Diagon Alley, he insisted on coming as well. Hermione had said 'no' at first, but, after days of having a large black dog follow her around whining like a kicked puppy, she finally agreed on the conditions that he remained out of sight and did not approach either Harry or Ron. Additionally, under no circumstance was he to attempt to go after Pettigrew.
The day before she was to leave for school, Sirius was up early and ready to go long before Harry and Ron would have even considered getting up on a school day, let alone on one of their last few days of summer break.
"Come on, we're going to be late," Sirius called up the stairs, folding his arms over his chest, garbed in the new wizard robes provided by Hermione.
"We're not going to be late, so hold your horses."
"I don't have any horses," he stated, not amused.
"Never mind," Hermione snapped, coming down the stairs in a pair of jeans and sweater, a full glamour on, making her appear to be thirteen years old, and her hair left loose and untamed about her head.
"You look—" Sirius started before thinking better at the look she was giving him, daring him to finish the sentence.
"Let's regress you to when you were thirteen, then you can finish that sentence," she threatened, fingering her wand looking him up and down critically. "I bet you were all awkward limbs."
"I was not," Sirius defended, before thinking better, eyeing her wand, "but that doesn't mean I would want to relive my teen years."
"Good answer, Mr Black," she said, putting her wand away, flipping her wildly bushy hair over her shoulder as she strolled past to get her shoes.
"I was just going to say you grew up nice." A shoe was sent flying through the air, one of his, at the area his head had been. "It's a compliment, damn woman, do you always have to be so violent?" Sirius yelled from the kitchen doorway he had taken shelter in.
"Alright," she said, ignoring him and continuing with what she had originally been going to say when she had come down, "so I will be staying at the Cauldron tonight and be leaving with the Weasleys tomorrow. You will be on your own for now. There is Muggle money in the canister in the kitchen, so buy what you need from the store next door. I'll meet you in Hogsmeade at the Shrieking Shack when the school visits. Don't come early since the dementors know what your soul feels like and will know it is you as soon as you get close. The village should be clear of them, though, when the students are visiting. While we are in the Alley, be sure to pick up an owl, then if you need to contact me, you can. You know how to get back here without Apparition, right?"
"Yes, Mother," Sirius replied sarcastically, causing Hermione to shoot him a dirty look as she finished lacing up her sneakers.
"Come on," she said, hauling her school trunk out the back door.
Seeing Harry and Ron again was a surreal experience, watching them chat with each other at Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlor. It was like reliving a dream you've had a million times, only to realize it wasn't a dream this time and they were really there. It took her a good ten minutes to work up the nerve to finally approach them, and by then she was well past their assigned meeting time.
"Hermione," Ron called, catching sight of her and waving her over, making it impossible for her to stall any longer. "Where have you been? We looked all around for you."
"I was – I –" Her voice faltered. She had imagined this meeting in her head a thousand times, and now here she was and her mind had simply gone blank.
"Something wrong, Hermione?" Harry asked, a spoon of ice cream paused on its way to his mouth.
"No–no everything is perfect. Just perfect." Her voice had tapered down into a whisper as she closed the last few feet between them and pulled them both into a fierce hug. "Ron, Harry, it's so good to see you."
"'Mione, we can't breath," Ron gasped out awkwardly.
"Oh, I just—sorry, it seems like ages since I have seen you guys. I just didn't realize until now how much I missed seeing you," she said, wiping at her face as tears threatened to fall.
"It's only been a couple of months, Hermione." Harry said, giving her a one-armed hug, his quick reflexes having kept his spoon out of the way when she had pulled him into the hug.
"Yeah, no need to get all teary-eyed on us," Ron piped in.
"Sorry," she muttered before wrangling her emotions back under control. "So what do you two want to do? It's our last day before school starts, after all."
"Well, I was going to have someone look at Scabbers; he hasn't been himself since we got back from Egypt," Ron said, pulling the rat in question out of his pocket. Across the street, Hermione could see a familiar head of short cropped brown hair turn in their direction and stiffen.
"He does look a little ill, Ronald," Hermione said, turning her attention back on Ron and his rat. Covertly she glanced back over at Sirius, who locked eyes with her; her glare said all that was needed. He relaxed and went back to milling about the Alley. Now wasn't the time for rash decisions, and she wasn't going to tolerate it from the convict.
"—take him to Magical Menagerie; they might be able to do something for him." Harry's voice brought her back to the conversation as the boys finished off the last of their ice cream.
The group then set off toward the magical pet shop. Inside, Hermione was browsing the selection of pets, not really looking for anything, only to bear witness as a large orange creature launched itself for Scabbers, who was sitting on the counter being looked over by the shopkeeper. While Harry and Ron ran out of the store after the rat, Hermione looked around for the ginger beast that had set its sights on Scabbers. She found him lounging on top of a stack of empty cages, and he immediately hopped down at the sight of her, beginning to weave himself about her legs, purring contentedly.
"Well, I'll be a nug's uncle, seems Crookshanks has taken a liking to you. Finicky, that one. Been here for years, he has," the owner said when he caught sight of the contented cat Hermione had picked up.
"You should get him, seems he doesn't like that rat as much as us," Sirius said, coming around the corner of an aisle and leaning against the wall in a relaxed manner.
"What are you doing here?" Hermione hissed, tugging him behind a shelf full of Kneazle treats and out of sight of the shopkeeper and front door.
"Getting an owl," he said innocently, lifting the cage holding a tawny barn owl.
"You need to keep your distance. Harry and Ron might not notice you but Mr Weasley works for the Ministry and he's here specifically to make sure you don't get near Harry. We can't risk you being seen around him."
"Alright, alright, I'm leaving after this. But you should really look into getting that cat. Could be useful," he said before heading to the front of the shop to pay for his owl and leaving. Looking down at the cat in her arms, she let out a sigh.
"You better be worth it, and I want no dead things turning up on my pillow, you hear me," she said sternly, taking the cat up to the counter. She left a short while later, running into Harry and Ron on her way out. Much to Ron's dismay, she had her new cat sprawled across her shoulder like a living fur shawl.
"What are you doing with that beast?"
"Crookshanks isn't a beast, Ronald. My Mum and Dad said I could pick out a pet this year. Isn't he perfect?" she said, stroking the feline's head as she lied through her teeth, the first of many that were sure to come. She only hoped when this was all over, her friends could forgive her for the deception.
Hermione ignored any other complaints Ron might have had about her cat as they made their way back to the Cauldron. If Scabbers died from a cat-induced heart attack, all the better, but she would have to make it clear to the cat that he couldn't eat him. She couldn't very well prove Sirius's innocence if her cat ate the proof.
Next Chapter 6: I will not be drawn into the past again, Decembers were never meant to be our graves. –Young Hermione and her first days truly alone on the Island, Older Hermione heads back to to meet some of Black's old friends and old friends of her own.
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