The First Offensive Of The Fourth War Against You Know Who
by alejandra

Draco still claims that he doesn't understand how Muggle appliances work, but Hermione knows that it's just so he won't have to make tea or supper or do anything for himself. He uses the lids of pots as hats when it rains and Merlin only knows where he's left any of them, so she wraps tinfoil tightly over the top of one to make rice. She knows he'll somehow manage to worm his way out of doing the washing up, even though she'd the one doing the cooking, so she lines a cooky tin with tinfoil and bakes the fish with lemons and a tin of tomatoes.

They don't have a House Elf, because the House Elves and the Goblins all disappeared during the Third War, after Voldemort declared himself the Ruler And Person In Charge Of All Things Wizarding, Etc. They're not allowed to use their wands, because all of the wands are connected to a general database of some kind now, and to use a wand would give away their position -- but it doesn't matter, because neither of them have a wand anymore. The Eight Battles Of Hogwarts made sure of that. Hermione's not sure what happened to Draco's wand, but her own was snapped into three pieces by Snape himself before he pushed a portkey into her hand.

Draco always complains about all the seafood they eat, but there isn't much else wherever it is they are. Tonight is no exception.

"Fish again?" he says as he sits down at the table. His hair is getting long; it brushes his chin and curls slightly. Her own hair is so long now that its weight has pulled it straight. They're by the sea and the air is damp, and still there's almost no frizz -- one good thing in all this.

"Would you prefer nothing at all?" snaps Hermione, and Draco picks up his fork. She closes her eyes for a moment before she eats, and thinks of all her fallen friends who aren't getting to have supper tonight. She lingers on Ron and when she opens her eyes, there's a scarred hand in front of her face.

It's a jolt, but it's not Ron's hand; all her wishing won't bring him back.

"Eat your food," says Draco, but not meanly. His hand smells a bit of sulfur -- he must have been playing with the matches again. He's so far burnt up forty-six books of matches, just watching them burn down to nothing. The last time Hermione walked into town to go shopping, she bought extra matches and hid them away, just in case they needed matches for something.

She didn't like to think about what they'd need matches for.

Despite his complaining, he eats every bite of the fish and rice and tinned tomatoes. His table manners are perfect; Hermione has cultivated hers to match his. Not because she's putting on airs, but because if they don't keep up appearances, they have nothing left. Hermione hates Draco as much as she ever did, but watching him lose it isn't as fun as Harry and Ron used to think it would be. She'd tell them that now, if they were around to tell; she'd tell them that watching your enemies cry is just as horrible as watching your friends cry.

Watching your enemies die is something different altogether, and Draco is no longer the dying sort of enemy. He hates her just as much as she hates him, she knows, but they're in this together -- Snape sent them to the same place for a reason, whatever it was. They're waiting, together, to find out.

The Third War ended with the Eight Battles Of Hogwarts. Hermione pushes the fish around on her plate; too many tomatoes, but they're lucky to have any at all. She's no idea how Wizards who weren't paired with a Muggle-born survive in their hiding places. She thinks about it sometimes -- who is with Neville? He was never any good at wandwork, and he's probably got a flourishing garden, if they're in a climate good enough to have one. If they're still alive. Hermione keeps thinking about starting a garden, but doesn't think she'd be able to bear it when winter comes.

And it's coming. The sky gets dark earlier and earlier. The sea grows wilder. The air is getting nippy. She's unraveled a few of the too-large sweaters that were in the bureau drawers and is using six skewers -- two sets of three, held together with rubber bands and some glue -- to knit herself and Draco each a thick scarf. Their money has to be conserved carefully; it's everything that was in the cooky jar in the kitchen when they arrived and it's running out faster than she thought it would, because who knew living was so costly when one couldn't just transfigure everything one needed, or ask one's parents for more money to trade in for Knuts and Galleons?

Draco scoffs at the money, calls it stupid Muggle paper, and Hermione has to admit that it's definitely funny colored, and doesn't look a thing like she remembers Muggle money, but maybe they're not in Britain. After all, their little cottage doesn't look like a British cottage and the people who run the general store where she shops -- where she never ever not once will take Draco -- speak in a flat accent that sounds kind of American, but not.

Draco stretches before he leaves the table, and sighs, and that's all the thanks Hermione will get for cooking supper. He leaves his plate at the table, with his fork and knife and cup. He'll do what he does every night -- go into the library and read the Muggle books. Hermione will do the same thing when she's done with the washing up; they've split the library down the center so that they're not fighting over books all the time. Hermione gets the history books, and the mathematics; Draco takes the physics and chemistry. He was always, as much as it pains her to admit it, better at Potions than she.

It's not like they have much of a choice. The wireless doesn't pick up any signals -- Wizard or Muggle -- and they can't afford a telly, much less the antennae that would give them reception.

Hermione laughs every time she thinks about Draco watching a telly. His reaction probably wouldn't even be similar to Ron's at all -- she vividly remembers Ron, excited because it seemed like the Muggles had magic after all. The summer between Sixth year and Seventh, staying at her parents' house, stealing kisses in the basement and holding hands while they walked down the street, neither of them suspecting that the Second War was winding to a close -- not until Harry appeared with a loud bang, not at all the noise Apparating made, and grabbed Ron.

When he let go, Ron had a lightning-bolt scar on his hand, in the center of his left palm, and Harry was dead.

Harry would never have let go of Ron if he wasn't dead.

And the Order passed the scar around like it was some kind of bauble, and some wore it like a badge of honor and others wore it like a wound. Parvati had worn it like an accessory. Draco wore it like a curse. That Draco had it meant Snape was dead -- how many people did he get out of Hogwarts before he grabbed Draco? What did it mean that he'd paired them together? Hermione would never have answers to her questions, but that didn't mean she could keep them out of her head. She dreamed the questions in complicated Arithmancy, the curving lines creating worlds she'd never fathomed. Sometimes she draws the Arithmancy out in a notebook she'd bought at the store, with a ball point pen.

Draco sniffs at her crude implements; he collects feathers from the beach and makes ink from berries, crushed insects, and his own blood. "Just because you've succumbed to savagery doesn't mean we all must," is something he delights in repeating.

And she always replies with the same thing: "There's no magic in your blood."

And he always replies with the same thing: "Where else would the magic be?"

She has no answer to that, so he continues his experiments, convinced that somehow the right mixture of his blood on the rough, shockingly white Muggle paper will actually create magic on the page -- that a spell written out properly is equivalent to saying the words with a wand in hand.

Draco insists he will perfect wandless magic somehow; once, when she came home from a walk early, she found him trying to unlock the front door using one of her makeshift knitting needles. He's either going absolutely off his nut or he's cracking brilliant; she can't decide.

But wandless magic barely exists for the most powerful wizards in the world -- all of whom are now dead or evil. Fat lot of good wandless magic has done them all. For all Hermione knows, she and Draco are the last hope of the wizarding world. Unfortunate, as they hate each other and have a hard enough time working together to build a fire.

Hermione knows how to use a knife; Draco doesn't know how to use anything. Hermione can at least throw a punch -- without magic, Draco is utterly helpless. His brain, which he never bothered to use in school, is his only asset -- and he overtaxes it with Muggle theology and chemistry and physics.

"It's almost time," says Draco quietly. Hermione hadn't even seen him sit down in front of her, but there he is. "I'd like some tea, if you would."

That's the closest he's ever come to saying please. She gets up and puts the kettle on, and feels mechanical, like putting the kettle on and taking it off and pouring boiling water over tea bags full of dried mint is all she'll ever do for the rest of her life.

"I mean it," he says. She stares at the kettle. "Can't you feel it?"

"You feel winter -- the storm. It's autumn, Draco. Everything feels foreboding in autumn."

Draco snorts, and she glances at him. Her mouth is tight. It's been six months by the calendar on the wall in the mostly-empty pantry; six months with no word from anyone, if even anyone knows where they are. If anyone is even alive. She says that last part out loud, under her breath, and Draco hears.

"Don't say things like that," he says. "You stupid Mudblood. Don't you understand?"

"No, I don't understand!" she yells. "I don't understand any of this! I was just a normal girl and then I was a wizard and now I'm nothing at all!"

"Now you're a normal girl again," he says. "Whatever that means." The kettle whistles and she pours him tea. "It's coming. It's not just winter, you romantic Gryffindor."

He still says the word "Gryffindor" like it tastes bad. That's okay; she can't bring herself to say "Slytherin"; she thinks and thinks and thinks and has yet to come to any sort of rational explanation for why anyone would be obsessed with their House after they've left school.

Their school isn't even still standing for all they know.

"How do you know it's coming?" she says, and pours tea for herself. Pours hot water over a bag, anyway. She sits down. He's wearing one of the too-big sweaters, and it hangs over his bony wrists and shows the lines of his clavicle. She's too skinny, too; she's not even getting her period anymore. Neither of them are interested in eating; why would they be? She knows, intellectually, that they need to keep up their strength -- just in case. But just in case seems so far away, and it's hard to be interested in eating when at any time they could be dead.

So just in case isn't far away at all. It's immediate.

Draco's hand is on the table, palm up. The scar is red. She runs a finger over it, and it's hot to her touch -- almost as hot as her mug.

"Oh," she says. Her eyes meet his. "How do you think --"

Draco shakes his head. "I don't know," he says; that must have cost him. To admit ignorance.

"Will you tell me now?" she asks. "What happened -- before?"

"No," he says. "You can imagine it well enough, can't you?"

"No, I can't," she says, and she's angry and tired at the same time. "How could I? One day you're a stupid git on the wrong side and the next day you're a stupid git on the right side."

"There is no right and wrong sides," says Draco. He sips his tea carefully. "There is the side that killed my father and there is the side that did not."

"Harry killed your father," says Hermione. She didn't see it, but that's what she was told when the Order came to collect Harry's body, only seconds after he'd transferred the scar to Ron and died on the pavement.

"Exactly," says Draco, and Hermione doesn't understand. "You could never understand. It's a matter of honor."

"Then how did Harry understand?" Hermione's tea burns the roof of her mouth, and then the back of her tongue, and then her throat. She feels it all the way into her stomach.

"How did he --" Draco stops and chuckles a little. "Stupid Gryffindors."

"Shut up," she says, and dumps her tea into the sink. She leaves the room, goes into her bedroom. The bed is smaller than her bed at Hogwarts was, but she's gotten used to it, almost likes it -- it makes her feel safe and enclosed. She sleeps with her back to the wall.

She lays down, with her back to the wall, and her head on the pillow, and stares at the window. It's more dangerous to board the windows than it is to leave them unboarded -- it would be too suspicious. She hears the door open and Draco's footsteps.

"Don't be childish," he says from the doorway. She doesn't look at him. He kneels at the head of the bed and stares at her. "I have a surprise for you."

"Kill me fast," she says. "Don't let me get to the kitchen knives."

When he first arrived at the cottage, she had been attempting to keep her head from spinning by making herself tea. She had been slicing lemon. She sliced his upper arm -- deep enough that once he showed her the scar on his palm and convinced her that he wasn't double-crossing their side, she had to find a sewing kit and sew a layer of muscle before she could sew the skin.

Draco bit on a dishrag while she did it, and sweated, and took four paracetamol without complaint or nasty comments about primitive Muggle drugs.

She still doesn't feel badly about it. He has a scar marring his stupid perfect Pureblood skin, and she put it there because he was an arse. Draco smiles at her and rubs his arm -- a bit ruefully, she thinks, and he's probably remembering, the same as she is.

"Watch," he says, and reaches out his left hand. The blanket comes up and hovers over her before settling down gently. He reaches to the door and it closes. He reaches to the window and it opens, letting in a cold wind. He closes it again. The scar is burning so hot she can feel it from where she lays, and it's even redder than before. "It's almost time."

"Teach me how to do that," she says, and sits up.

"Aren't you going to congratulate me?" he asks. "Aren't you going to say, 'Oh, Draco, wandless magic! You're my hero!'?"

"Don't be an idiot," she says. "How did you do it?"

He stares at her for a moment, and she returns his gaze -- almost defiantly, she wants to think, but she doesn't know that she really has the energy for defiance. She'd settle for spirited. Or even interested.

"I don't know how," he finally says, and to her dismay her eyes fill with tears. "If you cry, I'll chuck you right out of the window. Death by defenestration."

"Defenestration?" she repeats, and starts to laugh through her tears.

"Listen, I have no idea how I did it, okay? It just -- it just happened."

"What were you thinking about?"

"I don't remember." He stood and she heard his knee pop. The bad knee, the one Neville had shoved a Muggle pencil into when Draco had first left the Death Eaters. It never healed properly; by then they didn't have medics anymore, just a bunch of scared kids, Snape, Madame Rosmerta, and Bill Weasley. And Remus, but not for long; the Death Eaters, when they came to claim Draco, killed him.

That was when Parvati gave the scar to Bill.

When Hermione realizes that she's stopped listening to Draco, she also realizes that she's been tracing the scar, holding his hand in both of hers. He's looking down on her and not saying anything and he doesn't even look smirky.

"Sorry," she says, but doesn't let go of his hand.

"It's all right," he says. "This time." Now he gets smirky, so she rolls her eyes and stands up.

"Come on," she says. "You need to teach me this."

"I can't teach you what I don't know," he says, but lets her guide him to the door. His hand is still in hers; the scar is burning her palm -- but it's the wrong palm, the wrong hand. The scar only transfers to the left.

"We'll figure it out," says Hermione, and turns off the light. She sounds more confident than she feels, but if Draco's managed to figure out wandless magic of any sort, they aren't worse off than they were ten minutes ago.

When they reach the library and let go of each others' hands, she looks down.

"Draco?" she says, and he turns from a book that is so thick it's almost bursting from its binding. "Draco!"

"What?" he says, and comes back to her. "This is the book I was reading when I realized I wasn't actually turning th --"

"What does this mean?" asks Hermione, and Draco shakes his head.

"There's no -- I mean. I'm not dying," says Draco, and looks down at his own hands. The scar on his left palm is burning just as hotly as it was before. He looks at Hermione's hands, then into her eyes. "Any guesses here, Hermione?"

She couldn't stop short at her name coming from his mouth instead of "Gryffindor" or "Mudblood" or "HEY" because on her own palm -- the right palm, though, not the left -- was a set of eight scars, all burning bright red, all in the shape of Harry's lightning bolt. In a circle.

"I knew the tingling couldn't be from you," she says to him, and he leers at her, but it's half-hearted, because he's just as distracted by her hand as she is, and besides -- she's a Mudblood and he's a Pureblood. It's funny how it seems to matter more now that they're fighting alongside each other.

"What do you think it is?" she asks, and he shakes his head.

"You know what it looks like?" he finally says. "It looks like a constellation. Of a peculiar sort, obviously, but --" He stops, traces the marks with a finger. "Do you think it's a map?"

"And we're being called?" Hermione raises her eyebrows. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

"Like any of this makes sense?" snaps Draco. "Use your head. We're wizards. We're not going to send each other notes when we could do something that makes more sense, that the enemy can't capture."

"Oh, right," says Hermione, and rolls her eyes. "You're wizards --"

"We're wizards," Draco says, and pushes her away.

"We're wizards," she repeats, and rolls her eyes again. "Therefore everything must be made entirely too complicated and complex for any rational being to understand it."

"There must be a reason why we were sent here, of all places," says Draco, and slams the book down onto the desk. "We were sent here and we were given these particular books to read. Not one novel. Not one wizarding book. All of these Muggle books about history and p-sikology and fysicks. What do you think that means? Weren't you the smartest witch in our class? Use your bloody brain!"

And by the end of that speech, Draco is shrieking, and the foreboding he felt before is coming over Hermione.

"Bloody hell," she says as pieces slip into place.

"Exactly!" says Draco, and kicks the desk. "FUCK."

"Do you think that's it, then?" asks Hermione. "It's us and a few others and --"

"Since everyone else is dead," snarls Draco, "that's exactly what I think."

Hermione walks across the room and sinks slowly into her favorite armchair. She stares at him.

"Okay," she says. "You're the one with the scar. It's time for you to start acting like it. You always hated Harry because he got all the attention. Now there's no one to give anyone any attention."

"Who cares about Potter at a time like this?" says Draco.

"No one." Hermione studies her hand. The scars aren't moving -- they're locked into a position she doesn't recognize from any studies she's ever done of the sky. "No one cares about Harry. That's my point. We need to -- move on. Start thinking differently. What's this about? What's the point of this war?"

"The point of this war is that You Know Who is going to destroy the world," says Draco, and he sits in the chair behind the desk, puts his face in his hands. When he next speaks, his voice is muffled. "So we have to stop him from killing everyone? I don't think I care enough about Muggles to do that."

"Do you care about yourself?" says Hermione. The scars are a bit raised, like Braille lettering. She wonders if she could press her hand into the tops of sugar cookies and imprint the map -- if that's what it is -- onto them.

"Of course I do," says Draco, "but --"

"But what? But now that your parents are dead and everyone is dead and we're going to die, you're not sure the world is worth it? Newsflash, Malfoy -- everyone dies. We're all dying, from the moment we're born."

"I read that one, too," says Draco. "And the Hegel, about how everything --"

"Sod your bloody Hegel!" says Hermione. She throws herself out of the chair and slaps her hand down on the desk. "What have you read that's helpful?"

"Nothing," says Draco. "There's nothing helpful in anything. We've been given all this crap for a reason and we don't know what the reason is and we can't reason it out because we don't have any clues except your scars and my scar and that's not enough."

"It's going to have to be," says Hermione. "This was the book you were reading? This is it?"

"Yes," says Draco, and turns it around so she can see the lettering embossed on the thick leather cover.

"The Mysteries Of The Universe That Will Remain Unexplained: The Prophecies of Nostravinci," she reads out loud. "What the hell?"

"It's a bunch of gibberish," says Draco. "Listen: sshmmmt wuhmwuh andranno avanti dalle stele mmmmtuhtuh io hhhhhuttttt sssswunn ee prophets triangolo."

"I would agree with you," says Hermione drily, "except the scars on my hand just moved position." She rested her palm on the pages of the book; instead of a circle, they were now in a triangle. "I suppose you're going to gloat now."

"About what?" Draco looks confused, and Hermione wants to smirk, but refuses to let Draco win.

"Apparently, when you read magic out loud, it works," says Hermione, and leans forward to look down. "Some of that looks Italian."

"And some of it looks like nonsense," says Draco, and he sounds frustrated, but Hermione is thrilled.

"We'll create a codex," she says. "We'll write it out and translate the Italian as we go. See -- where you read? Avante dalle stele -- stele is star, right? Or stars? Dalle?"

"Do you even speak Italian?" asks Draco, and he sounds like he's making fun, but the expression on his face is deadly serious.

"No, but I speak and read French, Greek, and Latin, so Italian shouldn't cause too much consternation," replies Hermione. "The closes thing to dalle in French is pavement, or paving, or -- well, this could be road."

"Avante?" says Draco. He squints at the book. "I don't think dalle is road."

"Road of stars?" says Hermione.

"No -- avante..." Draco goes to a shelf and pulls down a dictionary.

"Whatever this means..." Hermione trails off and stares at the book. It's written half in the language that sounds Italian, and half in a script she's never seen before -- a script with no vowels that only vaguely resembled the letters Draco had sounded it out into. "Whatever this means, if we can figure it out, we have a chance, right?"

"Ava -- avan -- avanti," says Draco. "Ahead."

"Ahead of stars? Ahead to stars? Ahead road star?" guesses Hermione.

"Constellations?" says Draco, and flips through the book again. "Nothing."

"Try star?"

"Stella," says Draco automatically, and Hermione nods. "So this isn't modern Italian, but..."

"What's the other language?"

"I have a better question for you," says Draco, and sits back down at the desk. "Who's Nostravinci? Not a wizard, or we'd have heard of him."

Hermione scoffs. "There are so many wizards we've never heard of --"

"But if he prophesized -- we'd know. They'd be -- it's not fair to make us do this!" says Draco.

"There's no one else," says Hermione practically, feeling grounded for the first time in four years. She takes the book from him and bends her head over it, and begins to read to herself, ignoring the pain in her hand.

"Come on," she says when he just sits there. "Quinto giorno venti del secondo anno della quarta guerra. That's dates, I think -- anno is year -- translate this --"


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