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From the Ashes by indieheart [Reviews - 2]

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Disclaimer: All characters you recognize belong to J.K. Rowling, but they are trapped in a very different universe. Dismantle the Sun is rated M for violence and references to abuse.

ALLERFORD, SOMERSET, ENGLAND
ONE WEEK LATER
===============

Trills of a chaffinch songbird broke through the fog. The sky was just starting to light, the horizon a flaming orange easing into the stubborn navy of night. The temperature had dropped steadily during the dark hours and the small fire in the back of the cave had burned down to nothing but cold ashes. Hermione turned over in her uneasy sleep, trembling, chilled, and remained asleep only because of how completely exhausted and weary her battered body was.

Twenty minutes later, the continuous trilling broke into her unconsciousness and Hermione slowly opened her eyes. They felt like sandpaper every morning, and it took her a minute to focus. The fact that she was easy prey for someone while she was sleeping or waking did not escape her attention and Hermione groaned, coming to her feet with a few creaks and a supporting hand on the low cave wall. Her body was so worn out that she wasn’t really sure if she could properly defend herself against an unseen attack. Every time she stood up, blood would pound through her ears and it took several seconds before she could even hear anything over the roar. After her head cleared, Hermione leaned over slightly because of the low ceiling, several bones popping, and shuffled slightly. She exited her shelter carefully for the brilliant expanse of light outside.

The wind had died, thank Merlin, and Hermione groaned and then resumed stretching, eyeing her surroundings once more.

She had skirted the picturesque village of Allerford, Somerset yesterday evening, and she planned to go back for a raid today. It had been almost a month since she had last set foot in a house, raiding for food. Hermione rubbed her forehead, a sign of her weariness, as she briefly thought about the Weasleys and the Burrow. She hadn’t allowed herself to think about the failed trip very much for the past week. The disappointment had left her hollow but determined to move on.

Hiking through the woods, she stopped about half a mile away from the cave, where she had set a simple snare with the little bit of wire she possessed. It was empty. With a sigh, Hermione left the trap and hoped to find something caught in it on her way back. Her stomach protested, but she was well versed in going hungry and she focused on her surroundings instead, treading carefully.

She needed a new pair of shoes. The boots on her feet were three sizes too big, and though she wore two pairs of socks and kept them tied as tightly as possible, they were a nightmare for her feet. She also had to exercise a great deal of care to keep from any clumsy stumbling. She didn’t have very much in the way of possessions and what little there was didn’t technically belong to her, but it had been ages since she had felt guilty about stealing anything. As much as she hated to linger in a house, she had to consider the upcoming colder months and find warmer clothes to see her through. Oh, she was dreading winter.

The village was approximately two miles north and it took Hermione almost two hours to travel the distance. She had to go slower the closer she got to the houses along the outskirts. Along the edge of the village, there were a few houses that looked to have been built at least a hundred years ago. Hermione hunkered down in the forest line and waited, biting her lip. It was quiet. Time passed slowly as she eyed this corner of the small village, and by noon, the sun was high overhead. Except for a few birds, she hadn’t seen any movement.

Hermione held her breath as she slowly stood up, bending around the tree, still taking inventory of the scene before her. The closest house was completely dark and there were no sounds from it or the two smaller cottages nearby.

She inched forward, all of her senses firing off, and her breath hitched as she made her way towards the short fence. Her heart pounding, she slowly crept towards the rust-spotted white gate and shivered as she pushed the metal entry open and crossed through into the small yard. With a loud click, the gate locked back into place and Hermione froze but relaxed her shoulders determinedly a few seconds later when nothing else happened. She forced herself to walk at a normal pace up to the front door. The door was locked, which was to be expected, but a few twists with a few fashioned bits of wire later, a click, and she was in. Bless you, Fred and George, she thought. They would be highly amused that their attention to detail for anything mischievous had aided her in committing burglary for the past few years.

Hermione’s pulse was jumping in her throat and her hands started shaking. Anxiety from the closed space made her a little lightheaded. She quietly shut the door behind her, locking it from the inside, and inhaled and exhaled a few times, in through her nose and out through her mouth, until her symptoms began to recede. Her stomach was starting to cramp, and she tiptoed down the front hall in search of the kitchen. If she had to leave in a hurry, at the very least she could escape with a bit of food.

The kitchen was just at the end of the hall, through an open archway, and she walked in hesitantly. Forcing her hands to steady, she glanced around at the open shelving and began looking for anything small but substantial. A box of protein bars caught her eye and she took out four, putting three in the bottom of her purse and unwrapping the other. She ate it in two bites. She was careful to put the wrapper in her pants’ pocket. Underneath the sink Hermione found an old, clearly abused but still serviceable black duffel bag. Her hands shook as she smoothed it out on the counter and forced the zipper open. Inside were various tools for plumbing and tinkering, old but usable. Deliberating, she thought about leaving the tools under the sink. She didn’t need them and they took up more room than she would like…but to do so would be a telltale sign that someone had been here. But, the fact that all of it was missing would be as well. Hermione quickly took out all of the tools and placed them underneath the sink.

She had an old Swiss Army knife in her purse; if she could fill the duffel up with as many cans as she could carry, she wouldn’t have to worry about being hungry for quite some time. She tried to be careful when she could to cover her tracks and just take a few things here and there that wouldn’t be missed, but with winter closing in, the risk’s pros outweighed the cons to her. Once the bag was heavy with non-perishables, she set the open duffel on the counter and peeked into the refrigerator. She sometimes looked for a bit of something fresh, but what immediately caught her eye was a fizzy drink. A four-pack of glass Coca-Cola bottles. Hermione groaned and touched one and then drew her hand back, hesitating. Then, biting her lip, she finally selected one and slipped it into her purse, saving it for later. Her eyes fell on a large covered dish of banana pudding. Taped to the top was a handwritten note in shaky script: Thank you for fixing my roof. It’s so nice to not trip over pans of water. Maxine.

Hermione pulled it out carefully and set it on the counter, and then looked in the cabinets for a small, cheap Tupperware that no one would miss. She found one in the third cabinet that she tried and she opened drawers until she found a large spoon. Her stomach felt like it was going to jump out of her body and land in the cold pudding bliss. She even smiled a bit as she filled the small bowl up, careful to leave it as smoothed out as possible after she was finished. She washed off the spoon and replaced it and put the banana pudding back into the refrigerator.

She had already spent too much time in the kitchen. Hermione picked up the duffel bag and slipped it over one shoulder as she navigated through other parts of the house, looking for a bedroom and a bathroom. In the second door on the right, Hermione found a bedroom and stepped carefully into the very dim room. Heavy curtains covered the windows, and though light was scarce, it would do. No one could see her from outside and that was good. She didn’t dare turn on a light, though; she stood in the dark silently for a minute until her eyes adjusted.

The bed looked so warm and inviting, Hermione dallied for a few seconds, staring at it. With a sigh, she turned and stepped carefully across the room. First, she pulled apart the sliding closet doors—and after taking in the fact that this was a male’s bedroom only, she stifled a sigh and started looking for something that would work. She had been in the house for ten minutes already and it felt much too long.

Though the clothes were for a man, they weren’t but a few sizes too big for her, and she knew that with the belt she pulled off of a pile on a hanger that she could certainly make them work. Better for them to be too big than too small. There were several pairs of sturdy denim jeans and even a few pairs of dark navy overalls. She absently wondered if the man was a farmer. Biting her lip, she selected a sturdy pair of jeans folded in the back of the closet and a crisp pair of overalls. There was a pair of insulated coveralls, and she hesitated over them for a few seconds, but passed them up. There was only the one pair and if they went missing, he would be sure to notice. It was bad enough that she had already taken so much. There were several pairs of boots lining the closet floor, from cowboy boots to hiking boots to winter boots. They were too big, but one size smaller than the pair she was currently wearing.

Deliberating quickly, Hermione chose one of the pairs of hiking boots near the back of the closet and tied the shoestrings together and slung them around her neck so that they would hang securely, should she have to make a run for it. They were heavy and uncomfortable, but it was a reassuring weight. She hastily selected two brown wool sweaters and one of the two raincoats in the back, the dark blue one, and one overlarge t-shirt with bleach stains. It made her nervous to take the raincoat, but since they had been jammed in the back of the closet, she decided to go ahead. It would make a huge difference for her this winter. After she stuffed everything into the duffel bag, it was full and she was starting to feel exhausted. She set the bag on the floor for a minute and closed the closet doors and hurried over to the bedside dresser. If she could get some socks and underwear, she could fit them into her purse and leave.

There were several pairs of socks in the top drawer and she made quick work of grabbing three thick wool pairs from the back and then checked the second drawer and exhaled slowly, relieved to have found something that would work. There were several pairs of boxers, and she chose a few that looked fairly new and tried not to think about it too much. Finished, she quickly patted everything down, making sure it looked like it had before. With her heart starting to thrum in her chest now that she was all done, she pivoted and grabbed the duffel bag on the floor. She slung the bag’s strap across her chest, trying not to grunt at the weight, and headed back the way she had come. Her nerves were telling her to hurry, hurry, hurry. She was about to unlock the front door when she noticed a newspaper wrapped in plastic in the corner. It must have slid back when she opened the door after someone had delivered it through the mail slot. With little grace, she bent down awkwardly, her body pulled by the duffel bag and boots still around her neck. Honestly, she almost toppled right over. She gripped the plastic and stuffed it into a deep mesh side pocket of the duffel bag and then carefully unlocked and opened the door. The door was heavy, solid wood, but it moved quietly, without any squeaking, and she was thankful for that.

She locked the door from the inside again really quick and then pulled it closed, peering out into the yard and front walk. It was still quiet; she couldn’t hear or see anything abnormal. Trying to act as casually as possible, she walked as fast as she dared down his sidewalk towards the gate. Looking around, there was no one about. Hermione unhitched the gate and clicked it back into place behind her and then walked, almost stumbling, towards the woods, her heart pounding a mile a minute. After she reached the canopy of the trees, she picked up her pace and tried to stop trembling. The duffel bag, heavy with food, bumped against her side as she walked, reminding her over and over that, for a few weeks, at least, she wouldn’t go hungry. She grinned and picked up her pace.

Even though Hermione wanted to collapse, she resolutely put one foot in front of the other until she made it back to the shelter of the cave she had slept in the night before. There was still plenty of daylight left. Hermione set the bag down at the foot of the cave and took off the boots slung around her aching neck. She rubbed her neckline for a minute before she bent down and settled on her knees to go back through and sort all of her supplies. She set everything in neat piles in front of her and counted all of her cans, quickly estimating how long they could possibly last. Ten cans. If she had one every three days, feeding off of anything she could find in the woods in the meantime, she could easily wait a month before she had to raid again.

She was used to not eating at all on some days. When she had food, she always made sure to eat in the morning and then lunch if possible, that way she had more energy throughout the day. There was no point in eating right before she went to sleep. But this evening, for once, she would splurge just a little.

She had checked the snare on the way back and it had still been empty. She would check it again before dawn when she left; she was too exhausted to move on right now, and since there was no guarantee that she would find decent shelter by sunset, she knew she would just have to bear it out tonight. It would be difficult to sleep, so close to the village, but she would be hard to see in the heart of the cave. Chances were if she moved on, she’d end up at the foot of a tree or somewhere just as conspicuous.

She was dying to go through the newspaper right away—she hadn’t read anything in so long. But she decided to eat first, then freshen up and change, make sure her camp was clean and looked natural, and then she would allow herself to rest and eat the pudding and have a fizzy drink as she perused the paper.

Hermione was almost content an hour later as she opened the Tupperware bowl and twisted open the glass bottle. She took a sip and cringed. She couldn’t remember anything tasting so strong, so hard on her throat. She kept sipping, though, as she pulled the newspaper out of its plastic and spread it out before her. She was poised to take a small bite of the banana pudding when she froze, shocked by the front page article.

HELLEBORE TERRORIST RING LEADER EXECUTED AT DAWN

One family of known terrorists is no longer a thorn in the World Ministry’s side. The last member, the elusive patriarch, Arthur Weasley, was apprehended two weeks ago and has finally been brought to justice. After extensive questioning, Mr. Weasley was executed for his crimes against peace, including but not limited to: several murders, attempted murders, terrorism, insurrection and seditious conspiracy, treason, and failure to register. Unfortunately, no more vital information about the terrorist ring has been brought to light. For more information about the hearing, see page 5A. For more information about the capture and reward for any member of the terrorist ring, Hellebore, see page 7A. For a list of what to do to protect yourself if a terrorist threatens you, see page 7B.

Above the article was a full-page photograph of Arthur’s corpse lain out, looking cold and ash-grey. The paper shook badly in her left hand and Hermione stared down at his dear face in shock and horror. The implications from the article were just as sickening. ALL of the Weasleys gone? Every one of them? The thought was too terrible to contemplate.

Hermione gently set the paper down on the ground and set the bowl of pudding on top, to keep the light pages from flying away. She stood up, clutched her stomach, and swayed to the side as dizziness threatened. She breathed unsteadily. She took a few steps, and then a few more, and then she was running.

Several minutes later, gasping for breath, Hermione grasped a large oak, dry-heaving and expelling the protein bar and the harsh Coca Cola. When she caught her breath, she wandered off again, stumbling over the undergrowth. She never noticed the scratches she was collecting. She lost sense of time as she wandered through the forest aimlessly. Finally, her clunking boots tangled in a vine, and she fell to the ground. She caught herself on her hands, cutting one on an unfortunately placed sharp rock, but she didn’t notice the stinging pain.

Hermione leaned her forehead down against the ground, and cried.

She couldn’t believe that they were gone. Arthur, Molly, Ginny, the twins, Charlie, Bill, and Percy. All of them? It was bad enough that Ron was gone. No, she couldn’t accept it. It couldn’t possibly be.

How was she going to survive the outcome of the war? The cold truth of it was that she wasn’t. She couldn’t make it forever in the woods. It was a miracle, honestly, that she’d lasted this long. She curled up into a ball, and eventually the only sound she made was hiccups, as slow, hot tears burned down her cheeks.

The sky grew dimmer as Hermione laid there. Infrequent bird calls and shuffles through nearby leaves broke up the silence every now and then. The temperature was dropping, but Hermione barely noticed. She felt frozen, inside and out. Her hand gradually made its way to cover her eyes. Her tears eventually dried up, but she spared no time worrying about dehydration. She shook slightly with dry, shuddering grief, and for the first time in a long time, she let herself really remember how life used to be. The Hogwarts Express, the castle, becoming friends with Harry and Ron, her first visit to the Burrow, getting to know Ginny, the equal amounts of affection and exasperation she felt for Mrs. Weasley and, to a larger extent, the twins, how adorable and kind Arthur was…. It hurt. The pain was excruciating. She curled up into a ball, hugging her arms tightly to her chest, and closed her eyes, remembering, until she finally fell asleep.

When she awoke, several hours later, she felt sick all over. Evening light filtering through the branches hurt her eyes in every possible way. With an aching head in one hand, her injured hand clasped between her knees, Hermione dry-heaved and then fell on her back as she struggled against the pain. She squeezed her eyes tightly. How many of her dear friends, exactly, had been tortured and killed? Were they all gone now? And what had they endured? Ginny, oh Merlin. A Weasley and the girl that Harry had loved—worry about what Ginny would have been forced to withstand haunted her for the millionth time. What would they have done to her? She shivered uncontrollably and forced the thoughts away.

She drew breaths in through her nose sharply, trying to keep the dry-heaving at bay. She opened her eyes and grimaced at the daylight, then shielded her eyes with one hand. If she looked at the base of the trees around her and the bushes and leaves, the throbbing wasn’t quite as bad. After a few minutes, Hermione weakly reached for her purse. She felt around blindly until she found the water bottle and slowly, with a shaking and feeble hand, brought it gently to her lips. She sipped slowly, drinking about half of it in an hour between small bites of one of the protein bars. Thankfully, the migraine and shakiness began to ease.

Hermione sat up slowly, grimacing. She had to hold onto the tree behind her to stand up and her knees were still knocking when she looked around. She stared around for awhile, and then sighed. She wasn’t sure which way the cave was, with all of the food and the extra clothes that she needed. After a moment, she bent down and arranged some small rocks into the first direction that she would take. If she ended up going in a circle or getting lost again, she felt certain she could backtrack and try a new direction. There was only a few hours of daylight left, so she knew she had to be careful to pay attention for signs of water, to refill her bottle when possible.

She chose to go north first, and she walked through the woods, taking her time, trying to see if she recognized anything at all. She had not been paying attention to anything at all, though, and after thirty minutes of nothing standing out to her, she turned around and backtracked to where she started. She felt a little nervous, because it was getting later in the evening, but when she finally made it back to where she started, she decided to give it one more shot, and this time she wouldn’t walk as far before turning around. She made another arrow out of small rocks, this time pointing east. As she walked through the woods, she didn’t notice any signs of nearby water, but she did think that perhaps a few logs and a tree halfway fallen over looked familiar. A few minutes later, and she was sure that she was going in the right general direction. There was a hornets’ nest a few minutes later that stood out to her, and while she gave it a generous berth, she kept looking for more things that looked familiar. She was starting to shake again, and as she walked, she kept flexing her fingers to try to help the trembling, but it was persistent.

When the sun was just beginning to lower, she knew that she was almost there, and she picked up her pace. She recognized these woods, and a few minutes later, she reached the large rock outcropping that hid the cave from immediate sight. Relief flooded her and she hurried around to where the cave was, and reached for the bowl of pudding and the newspaper still lying on the small boulder in front of the cave’s entrance.

Her thrumming heart almost jumped out of her throat when someone nearby cleared their throat. Turning slowly, as if in slow motion, Hermione’s eyes widened when she came up short to the long barrel of a rifle.

A low baritone groused out at her, harsh but almost with good humor. “Wallll, nice ta meet ye dere, girlie. Ye one ov’em terrorists they’re always complainin’ aboat?”

Hermione brought one shaky hand up to her forehead, closing her eyes for a second, and held the other one out in front of her in surrender. “Please,” she croaked and then tried to clear her throat. “I’m—” She cleared her throat again, her nerves not helping the rasping. “I’m not a threat,” she finally managed.

The old man grunted. He did not lower the gun. He stated the obvious. “Ye didnae answer me question dere, lass.”

Hermione hesitated and bit her lip. Her mind ran through a series of lies that she could use, but she wasn’t a liar. She finally asked, “May I—do you mind,” she coughed and cringed, then pointed at the purse at her waist. “Water?”

His huge, fuzzy, caterpillar-like eyebrows arched over his narrowed sea green eyes for a second. Hermione had never seen eyes like his before. He shifted the rifle to one hand and rested it on his thigh, still pointing it at her, and reached into his own shoulder bag and pulled out a bottle of water. He tossed it to her and shifted his rifle back into a more commanding grip.

Hermione tried to catch the bottle, but it slipped through her fingers and she bent over slowly and picked it up, telling herself not to make any sudden moves. She guzzled down the first half of the bottle quickly and noticed that his eyes seemed to soften, despite his stance. “Thank you, I—I appreciate it more than you know. I...” she faltered and tried for a simple summary of the truth. “I’m not a...terrorist--but I have been in trouble.” Her voice cracked on the last word and her cinnamon brown eyes welled with tears. Aghast, she blinked rapidly and squared her shoulders.

“Wallll, shoot.” The old man lowered the gun quickly and slung it over his shoulder by its nylon strap. “Thought I caugh’ meself a spunky rebel.”

A startled, short laugh escaped Hermione and she stared up at him.

A/N: Devilish Motives and Davros Fan are fantastic betas and I owe them a lot! Thanks too to you for reading! Being able to share this story keeps me going!


From the Ashes by indieheart [Reviews - 2]

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