Title: Secret War
Pairing: Percy/Hermione
Rating: Hard PG-13 for wartime violence and some strong language
Genre: War Story, Romance
Word count: 3,000 (this chapter)
Summary: Not all wars are fought on the battlefield and not all heroism is obvious. A chance encounter gives Percy the opportunity to do something he thought impossible: make a difference.

"I told you we wouldn't find anything." Harry crossed his arms. If it wasn't for the scowl on his face, Hermione would have said that he looked smug. "Riddle wanted to forget the orphanage. He wouldn't have hidden one of his Horcruxes here."

Hermione shot a last look at the office block that now occupied the spot where the Saint Nicholas Home for Fatherless Children had once stood. She had inquired discreetly as to whether anyone in the neighborhood had seen a dark-haired man skulking about thirty to fifty years ago. No one had, although the elderly proprietor of a radio repair shop had assumed that she was some sort of undercover investigator and pleaded with her to do something about the "bloody teenagers breaking my store's windows."

"So, what do we do now?" Ron asked. "The only thing we haven't done is chat up You Know Who's old girlfriends for information. Assuming he had any old girlfriends." He looked as if the mere though made him queasy, and Hermione couldn't say she blamed him.

Hermione shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe we should pay Borgin another visit. The old man is an expert in Dark objects, and we know that he doesn't have any objection to dealing with Death Eaters. I'll wager he knows more than he's telling."

"Well, we've visited every haunt of You Know Who that we know about. I don't see why we're bothering. If an object has a bit of my soul in it and I wanted to keep anybody from finding it, I'd chuck it into the ocean or bury it under the ice in Antarctica. Wouldn't it be sort of stupid for him to put one in a place associated with him?"

Hermione glared at Ron. She had explained this particular limitation of Horcruxes more times than she cared to count, but he seemed no closer to understanding it. "Because he doesn't have a choice. A Horcrux must be an item that has some special meaning to its creator. The magic compels him to choose a place that's significant to him as a hiding place. Like the cave he visited as a boy or the Gaunts' shack."

They turned to walk back to the abandoned side street three blocks away. From there, they could Apparate back to the relative safety of the tent. Hermione didn't think the Death Eaters would follow them here -- the cars, Walkmans, and other trappings of modern life kept them out of this part of the city as surely as her protective enchantments would have -- but it was better safe than sorry.

"I still think he left something at Hogwarts. It was the closest thing he ever had to a home. He didn't want to leave. That's why he stopped the basilisk attacks, remember? And he didn't ask for the Defense job because he enjoyed teaching."

Hermione shook her head, but didn't bother to correct him. In his own way, Harry could be as irrational as Ron. Just because he and the young Tom Riddle had shared some superficial similarities, he thought they were alike in every way that didn't involve mass murder. Riddle had stopped the attacks, true, but only to avoid going back to the orphanage. Anyone in similar circumstances would have made the same choice. As for his eagerness to become a professor, he had wanted influence. What better way to shape the wizard world to his liking than become a professor and later headmaster? He could have influenced the course of Wizarding Britain as surely as if he had been Minister for Magic. It was simply impossible that he could have hidden a Horcrux there. The danger of it being discovered by an enterprising student or Dumbledore was too great. The magic of Horcruxes aside, Voldemort wasn't that foolish.

"Well, unless either of you have any other ideas, I guess it's back to the tent." Harry strode purposefully toward the Apparition point.

Hermione tried to follow him, but Ron clutched at her wrist. “Hold on a second," he whispered. "I want to talk to you." Hermione raised an eyebrow, and he stammered, "Do you think Harry knows what he's doing?"

"Pardon?"

Ron leaned in closer and ran his fingers through his hair. "Ever since we broke into the Ministry, we've been running around like hippogriffs with our heads cut off. We're no closer to figuring out where any of the other Horcruxes are or destroying the one we do have. I need to know that I'm not running around England risking my neck for nothing. I need to know that Harry knows how to win this."

Hermione blinked. She knew that Ron had been growing increasingly cranky and tired. They all had. She hadn’t imagined it spiraled this far, into doubt. "If Dumbledore didn't think Harry could do this, he wouldn't have told him to. We have to trust him. Harry's going to need our support if he's to end this once and for all."

Her words sounded hollow even to her. As much as she hated it, Ron had a point. They hadn't accomplished anything in the last few weeks except nearly starve. Muggle-borns were being forced into hiding, thrown into Azkaban or worse. Muggles were being murdered and didn't even know that they were being targeted. Shouldn't she, Harry, and Ron be doing something to help the resistance instead of enduring what seemed to be an endless camping trip? She had gotten rather good at protective magic in the last month. Shouldn't she be using it to protect someone besides the three of them?

Harry turned back and glared at them. "Are you two coming? We have to get back to camp. I know you two are frustrated because we aren't any closer to figure out where Voldemort --"

The color drained from Ron's face and his eyes bulged. "I've told you not to say that name!"

Harry barely suppressed rolling his eyes. "Would you stop? Voldemort's a dark wizard, not the boogeyman. Saying his name doesn't cause him to pop up out of nowhere." He sobered. "Besides, Dumbledore was never afraid to call him by his name. I can't be less brave than Dumbledore.

"Lot of good it did him in the end," Ron muttered. "Dad used to tell me stories about the first war. You-Know-Who could find every hiding place, get past every protective charm. The people who were brave enough to say his name were the first to die, I guess because they were his biggest opponents."

Whatever response Harry was going to make was cut off by the unmistakable crack of Apparition. Four figures in long black robes appeared ten feet in front of them. Hermione's eyes widened in horror. She recognized these men: Dolohov, Yaxley, and the Lestrange brothers. The Death Eaters had found them.

No one moved for a long moment. Hermione was too frightened; the Death Eaters must have been too shocked. Then a malicious grin spread across Dolohov's face. "It's Potter! We've got him now!"

It was as if a Freezing Charm had worn off. Harry whipped out his wand. Expelliarmus!” Rabastian's half-drawn wand sailed through the air toward Harry. Hermione's terror receded from all-consuming to merely overpowering, and she put up a hasty Shield Charm. She, Harry, and Ron would have to either lose the three remaining Death Eaters or knock them unconscious. They couldn’t afford a repeat of their escape from the Ministry.

A jet of red light rocketed toward her. Her Shield Charm absorbed the brunt of the spell, but Hermione's knees still buckled from the force of it. She sent her own Stunner in return. Yaxley's shield was weaker than hers, and he fell to his knees. "Bitch!" he growled.

A couple emerged from a nearby restaurant. They watched the light of the curses and counter-curses ricochet in mid-air with puzzled expressions that bore only the slightest tinge of apprehension. "What is that?" the man asked. "Some sort of street theater?"

Hermione had no time to ponder Muggle reactions. Yaxley had pulled himself to his feet. He sneered. "You think you're so good with a wand? All the magic in the world won't save you against this! Avad --"

Dolohov was dueling Ron furiously, but he flicked his eyes toward Yaxley. "No! The Dark Lord wants them alive!" Ron took advantage of his momentary distraction to conjure a flock of birds that made straight for his eyes. Dolohov threw up his free arm to shield himself. "Get away you stupid beasts!" he shouted as the birds furiously pecked at his head. Hermione smiled inwardly. At least her jealousy of Lavender last year had turned out to be useful for something after all.

The Muggle couple clapped and laughed. "I don't know what it is," the woman said, "but it's very entertaining."

Yaxley scowled. "You hear that, Mudblood? They said they wanted a show. I say we give them one, no matter what the Dark Lord said. "Avada Kedavra!"

The sound of rushing wind filled her ears, and the Killing Curse seemed to travel toward her in slow motion. Hermione stood frozen to the spot. No matter how often someone tried to kill her, the terror never faded. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Harry whip his head toward her and shout "Duck!" It was enough to pull Hermione from her stupor. She ducked just in time, and Yaxley's curse fractured the lamppost behind her into a dozen pieces. The woman screamed and fled back into the store, presumably to call for help. The police would be useless against magic and only put more people in danger.

Ron must have had the same idea. "Just a thought," he said between pants," but maybe we should draw the bad guys away from the pedestrians?"

Harry nodded sharply. "Run for it!" Hermione didn't wait for him to finish the sentence. She ran down the street as fast as her legs would carry her. Ron was right. It was far too dangerous to do battle in a public place. Maybe they could lose their pursuers entirely, Apparate back to the tent, and avoid further fighting. They were tired and hungry, and it was foolish to give the Death Eaters any more chances to capture them than was absolutely necessary.

She ran for perhaps half a mile and ducked into an alley. Shuttered houses and boarded up shops lined both sides of the street. The buildings were tinged a sickly grey, as if they had been bathed in smoke. Shoots of grass spurted through cracks in the pavement. She leaned against a grimy wall to catch her breath, heedless of the damage to her clothes.

Hermione looked behind her. There was no sign of Harry or Ron. That shouldn't worry her as much as it did. They had probably split up in hopes of confusing the Death Eaters. It would be much safer to rendezvous back at camp, where her repelling and protective charms would keep away unwanted intruders. Then again, she would have staked her life on the fact that the sheer Muggleness of this part of London would have kept them from being followed, and look how that had turned out.

A shadow fell across her. Rodolphus filled the entrance to the alley. He looked her up and down. "There you are, my dear. I was afraid that you had given my colleagues and me the slip." Rodolphus did not scowl or sneer at her, or even have a psychotic gleam in his eye. He merely smirked, as if she'd been a naughty child who'd had no hope of running away. Hermione prepared to Apparate, but Rodolphus clucked his tongue and muttered something under his breath. Hermione felt a weight press down on her shoulders for a brief moment. "Dumbledore is not the only one who knows how to create an Anti-Apparition Ward. You cannot escape as easily as that. Come along now."

Panic raced through her. She readied her wand. "I think not. Stupefy!"

Rodolphus flicked his wrist. A shimmering silver mist enveloped him. The curse bounced off it and sailed harmlessly into the sky. He chuckled. "Foolish girl. Frank Longbottom was the greatest Auror of his day, and I reduced him to a gibbering shell of his former self. What makes you think a half-trained Mudblood like you will fare any better? Severus always said you were the most clever of Potter's allies, but it turns out you are merely another foolhardy Gryffindor."

Hermione said nothing. She would not rise to his bait. That would expend mental energy better served in discovering a way to defeat him. She had never seen a Shield Charm like the one he was using, but they all worked according to the same principles. They absorbed magical energy. If too much energy was thrown at a shield, then it "overloaded" and dissipated. The remaining magical energy hit its target as a weakened form of the spell that was cast. All she needed was a sufficiently powerful spell that would incapacitate Rodolphus -- or at least buy her time to get away.

The answer hit her like lightning. She had a sudden vision of Draco Malfoy, his face a bloody mess, lying half-dead on the floor of Myrtle's bathroom. Sectumsempra would do nicely. Even in a weakened form, it should distract Rodolphus long enough for her to make her escape. It was undoubtedly Dark magic, but she knew better than anyone that sometimes one had to do questionable things to win a war. In any case, Rodolphus would do far worse if he caught her. The fact that the spell was Snape's creation was merely a delicious irony.

Hermione slashed the air with her wand as if it were a saber Sectumsempra!" She felt the power surge through her and then exit her body through the wand, leaving her feeling slightly drained. Her books had been right. Powerful Dark Magic really did take its toll on the caster. She would have to rest for a few moments once she got away from Roldolphus if she wanted to do anything more difficult than turning a guinea pig into a guinea fowl.

The mist quivered for a moment, then vanished. Rodolphus hissed in pain and slapped a hand to his cheek. Hermione bolted in the opposite direction, praying she would be fast enough. She wasn't. "I have endured far worse pain than that in my Master's service," he called after her. "I admit that your technique is very good for a Mudblood, but there wasn't anything behind the spell. A word of advice: do not call upon the Dark Arts if you're not prepared to use all of your rage and hate to fuel them. That is what they require."

Hermione rounded on him, wand still drawn. She lacked the power to mount any serious defense, but there was a possibility that Rodolphus hadn't figured that out yet. Dark wizards could be so cartoonishly stupid sometimes. If she could just goad him into making a mistake, she might have a chance. "Thank you for the advice. I'll remember it if I ever decide to sink to your level."

"You're welcome. Not that you'll get the chance. I'm not nearly as stupid as Yaxley or as... impassioned as my dear wife. This ends now. "Mutilo!"

Hermione screamed. Thick, ropelike welts crisscrossed her palm and fingers. Stabbing pains lanced through her hand, as if a dozen tiny knives were hacking at her. Her wand slipped from her grasp and clattered uselessly to the ground. The only thing that made the agony more endurable was that it was mercifully confined to her hand. She clutched her hand and fell to one knee.

"My Master taught me that," Rodolphus said calmly. "Not only does this particular curse cause most terrible pain, you will find that you have lost the ability to make the fine motions necessary for most wandwork. Even if you attempt to use your other hand, you will find that the magic will not flow as easily for you." He stooped and picked up her wand, and never taking his eyes off her. "So, you see that you have neither power nor hope. Give up now, and you will live. The Dark Lord is most merciful."

Hermione bit back a whimper and staggered to her feet. Think. She had to ignore the pain and think. If there was one thing that Harry had taught her, it was that there was always a way out. You merely had to find it. Rodolphus advanced on her, a gleam of triumph in his eyes. She could see the lines time and Azkaban had etched on his face. A moment more, and he would be on her. Capture was not an option. Somehow, she had to find a way to defeat one of Voldemort's most powerful servants -- without magic.

And there it was. Hadn't she once told Harry that wizards tended to depend so much on magic that they forgot logic and non-magical ways of doing things? Rodolphus had probably been using curses and hexes for so long that he had forgotten that there were methods of self-defense that didn't rely on a wand. If not... No, she wouldn't let herself think about it.

Rodolphus grabbed her by her good arm. "There's a good girl," he murmured and leaned over her.

Hermione seized her opportunity. She did the only sensible thing and kneed him in the groin. Hard. Rodolphus grunted and doubled over. Hermione shrugged him off, grabbed her wand, and sprinted in the opposite direction, silently blessing an overprotective father who was determined that his only daughter would be able to defend herself.

When she was almost out of earshot, Rodolphus called after her. "You can't run for long. The pain's only going to get worse. Eventually, you won't be able to think of anything else, even running."

Hermione did not look back. She couldn't think of the pain or Rodolphus' words. All that mattered was finding Harry and Ron.
Chapter Two will be posted August 11.

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