The curtains fluttered. Sound disappeared in a vacuum.
Behind Hermione's eyelids was an imprint of Draco's silhouette — his eyes on hers and his hand reaching out.
Hermione blinked, and it was gone.
There was a ringing in her ears as someone stumbled forward, grabbing her wrist and ripping the handkerchief away.
"Hermione." Ginny's voice trembled. "Hermione, you just…"
She didn't finish.
Hermione turned, dazed, to watch Ron tip over armchairs and overturn her coffee table. He stormed to the window and threw back the curtains, as if Draco was simply hiding.
Then he spun to her, wearing an expression she'd only seen when there was a locket over his heart.
"What have you done?" he whispered.
Hermione's gaze fell to the place Draco had been kneeling just heartbeats ago.
All these months, and she'd never asked him where it went. He might be halfway around the world right now.
But she'd gotten him out. That's all that mattered.
"Hermione, listen to me." Ginny gripped her shoulders. "Tell me where you sent him, and I'll fix this. No one has to know—"
Hermione's lips parted in a puff of air, but before she could speak, there were heavy footsteps in the corridor. Ginny turned her wandlight on the doorway just as Bill Weasley's scarred face appeared. He cast a quick glance at the three of them before speaking.
"Malfoy isn't here. I just sent a Patronus to Rome." He looked over the room. "Where's Draco?"
Ron's eyes flicked to her. "He—"
"There was a Portkey," said Ginny. "He managed to escape."
Bill cursed, running a hand through his hair. "Alright. Let's go. We have Narcissa ready for transport."
The room spun. Hermione's heart lurched. "Where is she?"
"She's been restrained," said Bill. "We have her downstairs—"
Hermione shot off like a rocket, darting out of Ginny's reach and barrelling through Bill. She bolted down the corridor, Ron's shouts echoing in her ears. A Stunning Spell just missed her shoulder.
"Don't!" screamed Ginny. "Hermione—!"
She raced down the stairs, tugging the cloak around her. There were people in the entry. Wandlight silhouetting bodies and arcing shadows high onto the portraits.
Hermione stumbled on the first landing as light filled her vision. Voices shouted at her in French and English, wands pointed in her direction.
The room was crawling with unfamiliar people. A row of trunks packed for travel against the far wall — the elves next to them, stunned. At the center, a woman in a dressing gown, her hands bound in front of her. On her knees, like her son had been.
"Hermione!" Narcissa's voice was frail.
Hermione flew, the yells fading beneath her heartbeat. She jumped off the last stair, and a shadow in the entry caught her by the arm.
"She can't hurt you anymore." said a strange man, in broken English. "You're safe."
Hermione grunted, trying to free herself.
Narcissa struggled against her bindings as a tall wizard loomed over her. "Where is Draco? Hermione, where—"
"Quiet!" A sharp crack as he struck her. Narcissa cried out.
"No!" Hermione ripped free, sprinting to Narcissa and shoving the guard aside. She threw herself down to her, shielding her with her arms. "Don't hurt her!"
Voices rose around them, arguing.
Narcissa jerked her head back to look at Hermione, her eyes wild and desperate. "Draco?"
"I don't know. I—I sent him away." Hermione's lungs struggled for air. "There was a Portkey. I got him out."
Narcissa sobbed, gasping. Her bound hands came up to clutch Hermione's.
And then she was torn from her as Ron's arms hauled her up and away.
Hermione strained, twisting and writhing. "Let go of me! Ron, get off—!"
The room spun, and then she was facing Bill Weasley in the wandlight. His eyes narrowed, sharp and assessing.
Her head was dizzy as she blinked back at him, drawing quick breaths.
The True Order was here. They were freeing the Lots and taking prisoners and she had to convince them not to hurt Narcissa. She opened her mouth to speak—
"Is it true?" Bill turned to his left — to Ginny. "She gave Draco a Portkey?"
Ginny let her fingers fall from her lips. "Give me a minute with her and I'll find out where. She's in shock—"
"Listen to me." Hermione tried to jerk free again. "The Malfoys aren't who you think they are. I have proof—"
"There's no time for this, Bill." A stranger stepped from the shadows — Roger Davies. "We have to prioritize Travers and Selwyn. We meet up with the Americans in an hour."
Bill's jaw hardened as he turned back to Ron. "Take her to St. Mungo's."
There was a pause that stretched lifetimes. Hermione swayed on her feet.
A bruising grip on her arms tugged her back.
"No!" The panic flew in like rushing water. Hermione screamed and kicked as Ron pulled her away. "Get off! Let go of me!"
Ginny stood frozen in front of the staircase, watching in silence.
"Don't hurt her! She's on our side!"
Bill Weasley lifted his wand, and the last thing Hermione heard was, "Stupefy."
She dreamt she was drowning.
Kicking through deep water toward a dark shore that drifted further and further away. She broke the surface and saw Draco on the sand, waiting for her.
She fought the waves, pummeling the water and running her body ragged as she tried to reach him.
His hand rose up, fingers extended, as though stretching for something.
Her legs thrashed, her breath sharp and shallow as she fought to stay above water. To stay with him.
A thin freckled hand wrapped around her ankle and dragged her down.
Hermione broke through the surface with a gasp, jolting upright. Her eyes spun wildly to find Draco—
She found a hospital room with mint curtains.
Ginny Weasley sat at the end of her bed, holding a wand. Hermione blinked at her once. Twice.
Her gaze was guarded, her legs tense. Hermione stared at her. She looked even smaller without hair, her blue jumper hanging off her thin shoulders.
A tear leaked from the corner of Hermione's eye. She brushed it away. "Ginny."
Ginny's smile was strained. "Told you I'd find you."
"St. Mungo's?" Hermione's throat felt raw.
Ginny nodded slowly.
Hermione moved to get out of bed, but a sharp pain in her side stopped her.
"Careful," said Ginny. "Your ribs were bruised when you arrived. They said you're still healing."
Hermione looked down at herself. She was wearing a pale green hospital robe. "How long have I been here?"
"A few days."
Her blood turned to ice. "Days?" She fumbled to toss off the bed sheets, but Ginny was next to her in an instant.
"Rest." Her mouth was thin as she pushed Hermione back down. "I'm sure you have questions. I'll tell you whatever you want to know."
A knot formed in Hermione's chest as she watched Ginny sit down again. It had been three days since Draco vanished from her grasp. Three days since she'd seen Narcissa, broken and desperate on the floor.
Her mind whirred, clicking through images of clouded marbles and cold blue eyes. A red Stunning Spell shot at her chest.
The room felt tighter, hotter. Hermione forced herself to breathe.
Her friends had made a mistake. But they'd been under immense pressure. She'd also made mistakes in the heat of the moment.
She willed her heart to stop racing.
It was just Ginny, and she could trust her. Once she had answers, she could tell her about the Malfoys. She could ask her for her help, and formulate a plan.
When she looked up, she found Ginny watching her.
"Alright," Hermione finally managed. "Where is Narcissa?"
"They took her to Azkaban at first, but the cells were overflowing by yesterday. They brought her back to Malfoy Manor last night. She's under guard there for now."
Hermione struggled to swallow. "So they've decided she isn't a threat?"
Ginny gave a tense shrug. "She's just not a high priority prisoner. She doesn't know much. They've already interrogated her."
Hermione's fingers twisted in the sheets. Narcissa was capable of deceiving even the most skilled Legilimens, but she couldn't tell Ginny that. Not yet.
Ginny shifted to pocket her wand, and Hermione's breath caught at the sight of its familiar markings.
The Elder Wand.
Ginny had killed Voldemort. But how?
Hermione's head swam as she glanced down at her arm. The tattoo had disappeared. Only Bellatrix's marks. She quickly glanced up at Ginny, who held her arm up with a raised brow. Clear as well.
But of course it would be. The True Order had gotten the antidote to Ginny and Ron that night.
"I'm told there was a potion in the champagne. At Edinburgh," Ginny said.
Hermione stared at her. She thought of Charlotte winding through the crowd, passing out flutes to every man, woman, and Lot.
"It had a delayed onset. Four hours, give or take."
The toast had been just after ten.
Ginny watched her piece it all together, an impassive expression on her face.
"Tell me everything." Hermione didn't have to elaborate. Nodding, Ginny pulled her knees up to her chest. She took a sharp breath.
"It couldn't have been more than an hour after Avery and I left Edinburgh. I was lying in bed, waiting for him to fall asleep so I could return to my quarters."
Something twisted through Hermione's belly.
"And I felt something… spark. Inside of me. My magic was back." The corner of her mouth tugged, then quickly fell. "Before I could decide what to do, something appeared next to me. I looked down, and the Sword of Gryffindor was laying on the mattress."
Hermione's lips parted in a silent gasp.
Ginny reached up, as if to tuck her hair behind her ear. Her fingers fluttered to her collarbone instead. She looked out the small window to the left of Hermione's bed.
"I slit his throat. I cut my hair off when he was bleeding out." Her gaze was far away. "When it was done, I took his wand, and ran. I Apparated to Hogsmeade. I had the sword — I was ready to kill the snake, like you told me."
Hermione's heart pounded as Ginny continued.
"I was just breaking through the wards at the Hog's Head when I found Neville, doing the same." A small smile curled Ginny's lips. "He killed the Rookwoods with fire to their bed. Didn't even need a wand, though he was able to grab one of theirs before he escaped."
"He— what?" Hermione whispered.
Ginny turned to her. "You felt it, didn't you? When your magic came back?"
Hermione shook her head.
"Merlin, I've never felt it as strong. I could hardly contain it."
Ginny drifted again, her eyes glazing over. Hermione was silent.
"Neville?" she finally asked.
"Right. Well, he'd come straight to Hogwarts, like me. And when I asked him why, he said, 'I dunno, but Harry told me to kill the snake. So that's what I'm going to do.'"
A broken sound tore from Hermione's throat before she could stop it. She pressed her fingers to her lips, blinking back the pressure behind her eyes.
She'd been right. Harry had known he was a Horcrux. He'd told Neville about the snake before he walked into the forest. He'd left another in his place to help her and Ron.
Ginny looked down at her lap. "I gave him the sword, and we took the passage to the Room of Requirement. I charmed a coin I found in there — just like you used to do. That way Neville could tell me when the snake was dead."
Hermione waited until she could trust her voice again. "How did he get to her?"
"I told him how." Ginny's brow arched again. "I'd been to the dungeons where Voldemort kept her. I'd seen him cast the wards. I knew how many guards there were, and where."
Hermione's breath was short as she imagined it. How long had Ginny been preparing for this, a coy smile on her face as Voldemort handed her the keys to his destruction?
The Dark Lord's favorite pet.
"I waited until I felt the coin burn. Then I slipped into the Great Hall, and I killed him."
The words seemed to echo, catching on the walls. When Hermione could bear the silence no longer, she asked, "How?"
"The Killing Curse," said Ginny simply.
Her eyes flicked up again. There was a fire in them that reminded Hermione of another girl. One with strawberry blonde hair.
A war ravaged in Hermione's chest. She wanted to ask what Voldemort's face looked like as the Killing Curse hurtled toward him. She wanted to ask how it felt as she watched the light leave Avery's eyes. How it felt to breathe fresh air again.
She swallowed and refocused. "Where's Neville?"
Ginny pulled at a loose thread on her jumper. "On the third floor. Recovering."
"Nagini got her teeth in his side before he killed her. Right below his heart."
Hermione's pulse pounded, but Ginny's face was calm.
"I siphoned out as much poison as I could, and we took the passage back to the Hog's Head. The True Order was arriving just when we came through. I found Fleur, and she gave me a Portkey to Rabastan Lestrange's house. I got there just— just after they'd freed Ron."
Ginny cleared her throat. Hermione closed her eyes, imagining it. Ginny reconnecting with her brothers for the first time in a year, arms thrown around each other, faces held as they sobbed. Ginny showing Ron the Elder Wand, and telling him how she'd gotten it.
"And then we came for you."
Her eyes flew open to find Ginny watching her again. Her face was wistful.
Hermione's lip trembled. She wanted to tear out of bed and embrace her. Tell her how she'd missed her, dreamt of her, cried for her. But she was too afraid she'd lost that right, somewhere in the hallways of Malfoy Manor.
Ginny reached for a piece of toast on the tray at the foot of Hermione's bed, offering it to her. Hermione shook her head. Ginny sank back into her chair, tearing at the pieces with her fingertips.
"They want me to ask you where you sent Malfoy."
Hermione's legs jerked, her hands twitching on her knees. Ginny looked up at her, slightly pained.
"I don't know. He never told me where the Portkey went."
Ginny tilted her head, twisting her lips downward like Molly used to when confronting the twins. "But even if you knew," she said slowly, "you wouldn't tell us, right?"
Hermione let out a sharp exhale. "Ginny, I can't even imagine the things you've been through. And I know you must be sick of hearing this, but I'm sorry, Ginny. I'm so, so sorry." Hermione's throat spasmed. She choked it down. "I understand why you assumed the worst. But you have to believe me when I tell you it wasn't like that for me. Draco and I care for each other quite a bit—"
Ginny stood quickly. "I'm not— I'm not the best person to talk about this." She took a step backward. Widening the chasm between them.
"Ginny—" Hermione's throat closed again. Her fingers clenched in the sheets. "I know how this must sound, but he's not what you think. He's nothing like Avery—"
"Really." Ginny crossed her arms over her stomach. "Funny that the last night I saw him, he was negotiating with Avery for the chance to rape the two of us at once."
"That's not— it wasn't like that!" Hermione jerked her head. "He was there because I wanted to see you—"
The word slashed through her chest, ripping her open.
Ginny's face swam in her vision. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I just— I can't."
"I have to go," she said suddenly. "I'm expected in Greece."
There was silence. Hermione counted her heartbeats. "Greece?"
"On the front lines. That's where Ron is. I just came to check on you, but you should rest."
She moved to the door, slipping through her fingers.
"Wait." Hermione threw the covers aside and swung her feet off the bed. "Let me come with you. I want to help—"
"There's no need." Ginny swallowed. "You're still recovering, and I'm not authorized to bring new recruits anyway." She took a deep breath and reached for the door. "Just stay here and get better, Hermione. I'll come back as soon as I can."
"Ginny, please." Hermione's eyes stung as she pushed herself to stand. "You just got here, and I haven't— I have no idea what's going on—"
"I left the papers for you," said Ginny. Her voice was strangled. "They explain things better than I can."
Each breath came in quicker than the last. Hermione wobbled to her right, finding a stack of papers on her bedside table — and on top, a picture of Edinburgh Castle in ruins, smoke billowing up from the rubble.
Gasping, she staggered to the table. The door clicked closed as she snatched it, unfolding it with shaking fingers.
VICTORY AT EDINBURGH; TRUE ORDER ADVANCES ON ATHENS, MADRID
by Andy Smudgley
After three days of battle, Edinburgh Castle has finally fallen to the True Order and its American allies. Thanks to the ingenuity of its Magical Defense division, the True Order succeeded in repelling the Great Order's Mass Death Magic, which was released repeatedly over the last 72 hours in an attempt to stave off the incursion. Novel magical "missiles" provided by M.A.C.U.S.A. proved instrumental to the final victory. They were released early yesterday evening, and successfully penetrated Edinburgh's wards around 8 o'clock.
Casualties are estimated at a dozen for the True Order, and over 800 for the Great Order. As of this morning, six slaves and 33 prisoners have been extracted from the rubble. Insiders report that Death Eaters Alecto and Amycus Carrow, the so-called "Keepers" of Edinburgh, are among the survivors — now imprisoned. General Robert Pierre of France has declined to comment.
Chief Mediwitch Hazel Ohlson of Great Britain, who is leading the search efforts for survivors, confirmed that the body of Charlotte Selwyn, age 26, was located last night. The loss of Ms. Selwyn, a slave-turned-key operative for the True Order, is a devastating blow to the international magical community. For a full obituary on Ms. Selwyn, please see p. 8.
The True Order continues to deliver a crushing blow to the Great Order across Europe. Sources report that a surrender is imminent from Spain. Greece remains the last country officially within the Great Order's stronghold. More than 2,000 True Order soldiers are currently assembled outside of Athens, with more expected by nightfall.
The words blurred, the ink smudging as Hermione's tears spilled onto the parchment. She sank to the floor, a fresh sorrow springing in her chest.
Charlotte was dead. Her body was cold. Had she been smirking in the end, like Cho? Or had she screamed, like the strawberry blonde?
They could fill a graveyard with their bodies now. Headstones and headstones of witches and wizards and Muggles who had dedicated the past year of their lives to a future they would never see.
Swiping at her eyes, Hermione picked up the paper again. Determined to read about Charlotte and learn who she was before she'd been forced into a negligee and a silver collar.
She thumbed quickly through the pages, but her fingers froze on page seven. Three familiar faces stared up at her.
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
UNDESIRABLE NO. 1 — BELLATRIX LESTRANGE
UNDESIRABLE NO. 2 — LUCIUS MALFOY
UNDESIRABLE NO. 3 — DRACO MALFOY
Her eyes could only focus on Draco.
They'd used the picture of him that had been in the Prophet a few months back. His wand tip smoking, his eyes dead as he stood before the ruined Basler Münster.
Seeing him like this felt like driving in the knife already buried between her ribs. At first glance, he might look monstrous. But she could see the shadows beneath his eyes — the way his cheekbones protruded.
Heaving sobs wracked her body, like something was clawing its way outside of her chest. The Prophet fluttered to the ground as she pulled her knees to her forehead and wept.
Ginny had left her, Ron had shunned her. The Malfoys were lost. And one of the only people who could have helped her prove what Draco had done for the True Order was dead.
The fissure inside her grew deeper, rawer, until there was nothing left.
When her tears were finally exhausted, she stretched her legs out. She leaned her head back against the door and stared up at the ceiling, focusing on the quiet of the room.
The war outside was almost won. Her battle had barely even started. There was no time for despair.
She'd help punish the guilty. She'd share everything she knew to make sure they paid. But she'd also defend the people who had saved her, and helped the True Order in ways they could scarcely imagine.
She'd made a promise to Draco that she would exonerate him, and she intended to keep it. It was more than just loving him. It was the right thing to do.
Fresh energy pumped through her, narrowing her mind and pushing her forward. She reached for the paper, ignoring the pain in her ribs, and began to read.
Bellatrix Lestrange was last expected in Hungary. The last reported sighting of her was at Hogwarts Castle on the evening of 2 May. Lucius had disappeared in Italy, his last known location a bunker where Berge and Constantine Romano were found dead. And Draco Malfoy… could be anywhere. Evaded capture in Wiltshire, the paper said.
A reward of 10,000 Galleons for information leading to the capture or discovery of each.
Hermione's temple throbbed. Bellatrix was dead in the Forbidden Forest. Lucius hiding out somewhere — most likely safe. Draco was Merlin knew where, wandless, without a shirt on his back.
Her lips trembled. She felt herself threatening to unravel again, like a string tugged too sharply. She tried to tuck him on her shelf, but it was like grasping water with her bare hands. Taking a ragged breath, she forced her thoughts to shift to Narcissa — the only Malfoy with known whereabouts. She could start with her first, and worry about Draco and Lucius later.
Narcissa was being kept at Malfoy Manor. Hermione's mind clicked with the possibilities. Lucius's memories were there. The evidence of brewing the antidote was there. There were piles of notes beneath her bed that attested to her treatment — hand-written spells that could only be performed with a wand. Narcissa's wand.
Beyond her logic, her heart clenched with the desire to see Narcissa again. To make sure that she was being treated fairly, and assure her that she had everything well in hand.
With a final burst of energy, Hermione stood. Her muscles protested, but she grit her teeth and walked to the closet across her room. It was empty, except for a pair of soft-soled shoes. She slipped them on and tread quickly to the door, poking her head out of her room. Noise washed over her — distant, but frenzied. The corridor itself empty.
With a sharp breath, she stepped out of her room. She followed the echoes of rushing feet and agonized screams down two corridors until she turned a corner and found the chaos. Lime-green clad mediwitches and mediwizards rushed about the room, attending to at least fifty men and women laid out on gurneys. Their black uniforms were splattered in blood and dirt.
Hermione froze in horror. A pale-looking girl screamed as an Acid Hex ate away at her calf. An older man nearby was writhing, his eyes rolling back in his head. A panicked weeping filled her ears — a young man across the room, jerking as he coughed out red spray. Against the far wall, a girl with a hole where her arm should have been. She was chanting something in French.
Hermione swayed. Her vision tunneled. Her eyes fell to a pair of bloody footprints smeared down the tiles. They disappeared at a gurney with an unmoving body atop it.
Just when Hermione was about to step forward, and try to do something — anything — there was a commotion behind her. She stepped to the side just as a dozen Healers ran past her, moving quickly to assist the injured.
Time slowed to a crawl as she watched them perform diagnostics and cast countercurses. They clutched hands and pressed palms to foreheads. The boy stopped coughing; the girl stopped screaming. A mediwitch bent over the older man.
Hermione's senses were finally beginning to return to her when a shadow blocked her path.
"What are you doing?" he hissed. "Go back to your room!"
Hermione jerked backward, her mouth falling open. "I was just… I was hoping to help. If there's a spare wand, I could provide basic Healing—"
The Healer's scowl morphed into shock. "Miss Granger." He swallowed and looked around, as if for assistance. "You shouldn't be here. We're dealing with overflow from the third floor—"
"I want to help."
She meant it, she realized.
He seemed to assess her. "That won't be necessary. Perhaps I can call a mediwitch for you?"
Frowning, she shook her head. "I'm quite alright, really. I don't require any assistance."
"Then I'll escort you back to your room."
Before he could move, a man just behind him shot up straight on his gurney and began gurgling, foaming at the mouth. The Healer spun on his heel and sprinted to him.
Stumbling backward, Hermione hurried back the way she came. Her head felt light, the images burning behind her eyelids. When she turned a corner, she braced herself against a wall.
She couldn't help them — she had no wand. And even if she did, the Healers didn't want her help. Given the injuries she'd just seen, she couldn't blame them. Her rudimentary Healing skills might be a liability.
Taking a deep breath, Hermione zeroed in on her most pressing problem. She needed to leave St. Mungo's and get to Malfoy Manor. There had to be someone else who could help discharge her.
The noise grew dimmer as she found her room again. She moved past it, finding more doors with small windows like hers. Around the next corner, another corridor — the first door on the left cracked open. Hermione peered inside it, and gasped.
Oliver Wood lay on the bed in a hospital robe. She slipped inside, closing the door behind her.
He was curled away from the door, staring out his window.
"Oliver?" She struggled to keep her voice even. "It's me, Hermione."
His shoulder twitched once. Turning over, he sat up and looked at her blankly. "Hi."
Her legs felt as heavy as lead as she stared back at him. If Oliver was here, then Theo had to be in Azkaban with the others. Her temple began throbbing again.
She should have acted sooner. Should have insisted that Draco give Oliver's antidote to Theo the day they went to Grimmauld Place. Maybe they could have run together.
Blinking, she forced a smile and moved around his bed, taking the chair just next to him. "Are you alright? Are you—" Her eyes flicked over him quickly. "Are you injured?"
A scathing laugh puffed out of him. He shook his head.
Guilt bubbled and pricked at her, twisting in her gut. "I'm sorry, Oliver. I wish I'd worked more quickly for you and Theo."
Her hand shook as it reached for his. "I'm going to clear their names, Oliver. Draco and Theo both. I'm going to make sure the True Order knows how Theo helped me with the tattoos. And everything he did to protect you." She squeezed his fingers. "I'm not sure how long it will take, but I will get him out of Azkaban. I swear to you."
Oliver stared at her, unblinking. His hand was clammy and limp.
Like ice water splashing down her back. Her lips parted on a silent gasp. She released his fingers as though burned.
"What?" A hammering in her ears.
He swallowed and looked away from her. "He didn't even fight, Hermione. He got out of bed, put his hands up, and they killed him."
Black spots filled her vision. "No. They wouldn't..."
"And the way they looked at me when I cried. Like I was broken."
There was a pinch behind Hermione's eyes, and a sinking feeling, like the walls were closing in.
"Malfoy's in Azkaban?" Oliver asked. His eyes were distant — clouded over. "I was sure they'd have killed him, too."
She shook her head violently. "He—he got out. I got him out." She could hear her voice rising, and she dug her fingernails into her palms. "Why are you at St. Mungo's, Oliver?"
His lips twisted in a smile. "Same reason as you, I suspect."
She blinked at him, her eye twitching. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Haven't figured it out yet?"
When she said nothing, he laughed — a dark, dry sound she didn't recognize.
"We're damaged," he said finally. "We can't be trusted."
The fine hairs on the back of her neck prickled. "I'm sorry for whatever they did to you, Oliver. But I think there might be some confusion." She tried to swallow. "I'm recovering from an injury. I only woke up an hour ago."
"Took them that long, huh?" He shook his head. "They knocked me out, too. I've been awake for two days. Every time I mention leaving, they excuse themselves, or go deaf."
Her lungs seized. Her legs jerked as she swiftly stood.
"That can't be. It's not safe out there right now, I'm sure—"
"Hermione—" Oliver paused, studying her. Looking more like himself. "Have you noticed what floor we're on?"
"I have to go. I'm—" She started toward the door. "I'll check back with you."
She bolted into the corridor, turning sharply to the left and running toward the lobby area. She passed her room, and her knees almost gave out when she saw the sign on the wall.
Janus Thickey Ward
Adrenaline pumped through her veins as she moved on. She recognized it now. The hallways she, Harry, Ron, and Ginny had gotten lost in while visiting Arthur in St. Mungo's.
Oliver was wrong. This could just be where there happened to be open beds. What had the Healer said? Overflow from the third floor?
The corridor opened up into a large windowed room with couches and chess tables. Hermione halted at the sight of two mediwitches standing on either side of the room, watching over people in mint hospital robes. Two girls played Exploding Snap. Another sat by the window, her blonde curls hanging limply as she stared outside.
The blonde turned, and met Hermione's eyes. Penelope Clearwater.
She quickly looked away.
"Hello! Granger?" an accented voice called out.
A brunette girl stood from her game of Exploding Snap. Her eyes were dark-circled and wide. Hermione staggered into a nearby pillar as Giuliana Bravieri rushed over to her.
"Granger!" She grasped Hermione's hands. "What happened to you? Where did they take Blaise? Is he alright?"
Hermione's chest felt like it was collapsing as Giuliana squeezed her fingers, firing off questions. From the corner of her eye, she saw the mediwitches watching them closely.
"I'm fine," Hermione managed. "Just a minor injury to my ribs."
"The Healers say I'm sick, but I don't feel sick!" said Giuliana. She pressed her lips together. "Blaise? Hermione, do you know what—"
"I'm not sure." A shadow fell across Giuliana's face, and Hermione's heart pumped faster. She tried to give her a reassuring squeeze. "How were you separated?"
"They caught us in Norwich. They took Blaise and the girls, but they brought me here." Giuliana's lip quivered. "I tried to stop them, but they wouldn't listen."
"I'll find out," she said faintly. "They're probably in Azkaban—"
"Azkaban! But he didn't do anything wrong!"
Hermione struggled to stay standing as the room tilted beneath her. Like a fog was lifting, she stared at the fifteen-year-old's shining eyes, seeing herself reflected in them.
"—certain he's completely innocent! Please, I love him! You have to help him!"
Stockholm Syndrome. That's what the Muggles called it.
Tearing her hands free, she ran down a different hallway, Giuliana's calls echoing in her ears. Her breath was short as she scanned for the lifts or stairs. She had to get out. She needed to get to the Manor.
Hermione whipped around corners until she finally found a reception area with a woman in a white nurses' hat at a desk, ruffling through paperwork. The lifts were behind her. A stairwell off to one side.
"Miss, can I help you?" The witch eyed her, taking in her mint green robe.
We're damaged. We can't be trusted.
"It's been a while since I've had fresh air. I fancied a walk."
The witch studied her. "Perhaps I can call for one of our mediwitches to escort you."
"No, thank you." Hermione wiped her palms on her gown. "I have a friend on the third floor. I was hoping to visit him."
She heard the lift arrive on the fourth floor. The witch's eyes widened at the slew of visitors rushing in.
"Let me just call a staff member to join you." She flicked her wand and a rabbit Patronus shot out of it, hopping down the corridor.
The visitors swarmed her desk, and Hermione slipped between their frantic questions and into the stairwell. She flew down the stairs, passing the third floor and sprinting to the first landing.
They couldn't keep her here. It was a violation of her rights. All she needed was a wand or some Floo powder, and she'd be off.
Jumping to the bottom of the stairwell, Hermione paused. She slowly pushed through the door, moving against the wall as she entered the first floor of St. Mungo's.
She ducked her head, but then her eyes caught on two Healers in white coats, standing next to the Welcome Witch. They spun to face her. Expecting her.
She froze as they approached her. One was rotund and mustached. The other was taller than Ron, with watery eyes and thinning hair.
"Good evening, Miss Granger. It's wonderful to see you up and about, but your injuries are not quite healed," the tall one said.
Lifting her chin, she tugged at her robe. "I need to speak to someone about being discharged."
The tall one stepped forward and said, "I'm Healer Tamor, and I'm helping with your care. Your ribs are still healing, and you recently had mild concussion—"
"I'd like to speak to the Head Healer, please." Her heartbeat was skyrocketing, Oliver's words rattling inside her head.
The men exchanged glances. "Miss Granger," the shorter one said, "you are still being treated by our staff. Now, if you come with us back to your room, we can talk—"
"Who is responsible for my treatment?" When they were silent, she continued, "Per our laws, any patient who is deemed incapable of their own care has an authorized individual who can—"
"Yes, we know." Healer Tamor cleared his throat. "That would be Bill Weasley."
"Summon him, please." Her nostrils flared as she breathed deep, curling her hands into fists. If Bill Weasley was keeping her here, he would answer for it.
The shorter one let out a barking laugh. "We can't just call Bill Weasley and ask him to..." He trailed off at her expression. "Miss Granger, Bill Weasley is a very busy man. I believe he's in Greece at the moment—"
"If he's responsible for my 'care,' he has a duty to come when important decisions are at stake. I'll wait."
Spinning on her heel, she dropped into a chair near the reception desk. She fumed as she tapped her slippers against the tile.
The mediwitches sent her anxious looks, and the Healers whispered behind their clipboards. The minutes passed, and Hermione focused on a single thought, repeating it over and over until everything else burned away.
She had to get to Malfoy Manor.
The clock on the wall ticked an hour. Then two. It was shortly after ten in the evening when the Floo burst to life behind her, and she turned to see Bill stepping through, ragged with exhaustion. She stood as the two Healers greeted him.
"Bill, I need to leave." She struggled to keep her voice even. "Apparently they believe I shouldn't leave. Tell them I'm fine, please."
Bill glanced over her mint robe, his eyes tired, but still sharp. "Hullo, Hermione. Give me a minute, yeah?" He moved a few yards away, muttering lowly with the Healers. Hermione's blood boiled as he reached for a medical chart Healer Tamor handed him, flipping through the pages.
She stormed up to them. "As you can see, my ribs have been tended to, and I'm walking just fine. My head has never felt better. So, I would like to be cleared to leave."
Bill handed the chart back to the Healer. "That isn't a good idea. As you can tell"—he gestured at his bloody robes—"the war is still being fought. I was expecting an emergency when they summoned me. Maybe you aren't aware—"
"I've read today's Prophet. I have a perfectly good idea of what's going on. Athens is going to fall soon, whether you're there or not. Don't you dare use that as an excuse for holding me against my will." His throat bobbed as she stepped into him, jabbing her finger at his chest. "Tell me why the man who Stunned me against my will has been given responsibility for my care when his brother or sister would be far more suitable—"
"That's enough, Hermione." Bill's mouth was hard, but his eyes filled with some strange emotion. "I know this must be difficult for you, but you're not well. Neither Ginny nor Ron can handle seeing you like this."
"Like what, exactly? I'm not sick!"
Her voice rattled through the antechamber of St. Mungo's, drawing the attention of every visitor, Healer, and patient.
Her chest was heaving as Bill turned his eyes back on her chart. "Have you started the testing?" he murmured to Tamor.
"What testing?" Hermione felt unsteady again. "If I'm being 'tested' for something, I have a right to know what."
"It's part of your treatment," Bill said softly. He stared over her ear for a moment, avoiding her eyes. "Hermione, I'm sorry. Truly. We can explain in time, but please, just try to cooperate for now." Hermione's head jerked back. He gently grasped her shoulder. "I may not be Ginny, or Ron, but all of us just want the best for you. I hope you believe that."
Panic began clouding her vision. "Bill, just take me with you. Discharge me to your care if you're worried. I'll go with you to Greece. I can't stay here any longer—"
"That's not in my power, Hermione."
A icy chill raced down her spine. She stared at his face, his eyes identical to Ron's, the curve of his mouth just like Ginny's. And she knew he wasn't lying.
She swallowed, her eyes roving wildly as Bill gripped her other shoulder, saying something to calm her. She wouldn't be kept here against her will.
The portly Healer's wand was sticking out of his coat pocket. He wouldn't be quick to draw.
Her fingers twitched as she breathed deep, focusing on summoning her magic.
No buzz in her veins, no hum across her skin.
The flow in her veins… was gone.
Bill looked at her sadly.
"You suppressed my magic?" she whispered. Her eyes pricked. "Bill… you let them take my magic?"
Bill released her shoulders and exhaled sharply. He ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Hermione. It's just a precaution while you're healing."
She couldn't run. She couldn't Apparate. No magic. They may as well have inked her arm again and tied her to the property.
Bill looked like he might reach for her shoulder again, but she turned sharply away.
Hermione let her eyes rest on the tiles. "Healer Tamor, I'm quite tired." She was. Exhaustion throbbed behind her eyelids. "I'd like to go back to my room now."
A long pause — and then Healer Tamor shuffled forward. "Of course, Miss Granger."
"I'm sorry for taking you away from Athens, Bill," she said flatly. "Send my love to the others."
Bill said nothing, staring as she walked past him, following Healer Tamor to the lifts. The doors opened. They stepped inside, and he pressed the button for the fourth floor — Janus Thickey Ward.
Her mind was numb as he returned her to her room, promising to check on her in the morning.
She thanked him. The door clicked shut. And a moment later, a locking charm was cast.
Hermione stared down at the Prophet, the remains of Edinburgh Castle boring up at her as she thought over her options.
She could look for careless mistakes and escape routes. Try to sneak out with Oliver in the dead of night.
She could walk out in the daylight, her head held high. Show them that they'd underestimated her will to fight.
Hermione drifted over to her window, looking out at Muggle London.
Once they've underestimated you — strike.