Chapter 1: The Beginning
"Monsters don't care," Michael said. "The damned don't care, Harry. The only way to go beyond redemption is to choose to take yourself there. The only way to do it is to stop caring.”
Hermione wandered around the crushed rubble remains that constituted the Great Hall in an edgy daze, gripping bloody forearms tensely to her chest. Dust and ashes still swirled through the air, refusing to settle even after the battle had ended. Agitated, and paranoid that she was inhaling soot, her breathing was ragged and uneven.
She had expected some kind of relief to flood her senses from their victory, some manner of jubilation that might finally relax her overwrought nerves, but the tension in her limbs remained.
Instead, her head pounded, and there was a persistent ringing in her ears.
Instead, shocked and overwhelmed, she could only gaze at the utter destruction of her home-away-from-home and the rows of dead bodies in horror and disbelief.
She paced, trying to find some relief, but…
Maybe there was a reason she couldn’t relax. She refused to believe that this now familiar manifestation of anxiety was somehow permanent. She must be forgetting something. There must be some need she could fulfill, some means of distraction… But what? Harry was safe and preoccupied, talking to Professor McGonagall. Ron was with the rest of the Weasley hoard, trying to calm a distraught and slightly hysterical George. The dead had been collected, cleaned, and covered respectfully against the wall opposite, which Hermione tried desperately to avoid thinking about in too much detail. Even the Malfoy’s were accounted for, huddling in a corner and trying to look inconspicuous. Who was she….
Oh god, Professor Snape.
The realization hit her, and Hermione could feel herself pale just thinking about the bloody body sprawled out on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. While she hadn’t actually witnessed the man pass away, she very much doubted he was still alive. Not after losing so much blood. Still, learning about his true allegiance instigated a feeling of righteousness that encouraged her to retrieve his body. He was owed at least that much respect.
Hermione tried to convince herself that this was more about what he was due rather than her own pressing need to feel like she was accomplishing something constructive, and mostly succeeded.
She knew she had to hurry. By now, word of the man’s loyalties had probably spread after Harry’s very public announcement, and she wouldn’t be surprised if any lingering Death Eaters who had taken shelter in the Forbidden Forest felt the need to wreck retribution by desecrating his corpse. Or perhaps they would just take it before apparating deep in the forest to avoid capture by the recently arrived Ministry Aurors, and she would read about the defilement of his body in the morning paper.
A gruesome thought. Hermione felt the urgency of the situation increase, aided by a body and mind still thrumming with anxiety, as well as a deepening feeling of personal responsibility.
She stopped to take a deep breath. Tried to relax the grip she had on her forearms- This needed to be approached rationally.
Hermione wasn’t an idiot. She knew that attempting to cross the grounds-recently-turned-battlefield by herself was a fool’s errand. But she also knew that many Order members still held Severus Snape with enough contempt to be reluctant to help. After considering the harried and traumatized people around her, she saw two plausible options she could take. Drag an exhausted and magically vulnerable Harry into a still dangerous warzone- Harry, who had recently died, who hadn’t eaten or slept for 48 hours, who had just defeated the most powerful Dark Lord of their time and the one hope his followers had to a better tomorrow- that Harry. Or she could attempt to approach the Malfoys.
The Pureblood supremacists turned terrorists that supported and committed atrocious hate crimes. The boy who had teased and tormented her throughout her tenure at Hogwarts, and the parents who had instigated and encouraged that manner of behavior. The individuals who had never before given her a reason to think they might not curse her the moment her back was turned just for being what she was.
The family who, for reasons yet to be determined, helped them win the war. Who were also close enough to her former professor to name him the godfather of their child. Close enough to exchange an unbreakable vow. Close enough to ensure sacrifices were made in order to protect Draco’s soul. All of which spoke of at least some mutual degree of familiarity and loyalty.
Every part of Hermione’s intuition that had been cultivated during the war told her that it was a bad idea. She couldn’t trust that they wouldn’t use this as an opportunity to turn on her. Because they were the enemy.
Pure-blooded. Slytherin. Death Eaters.
It was practically synonymous at this point. Engrained.
But the cold numbness currently spreading throughout her body and mind overrode the ever-present heated tension, and made her feel curiously detached about their situation (shock, she mentally identified). And it was this empty, freeing state of mind that allowed her to consider not what could happen if she did approach them, but what might happen if she didn’t.
One more refusal to breach the gap. So that maybe, a couple of decades from now, their families would avoid each other at Platform 9 ¾, and subtly encourage their children to stay within their family’s House. And nothing would ever change- the prejudices would remain the same. Poorly concealed conflict still thrumming below the surface of every conversation and interaction.
Change had to start from somewhere. She wasn’t overly optimistic- this could mean nothing- but there was a slight chance it could start here.
Was that enough of a reason to try?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But Hermione refused to enable feuds to exist that were strong enough to bring about another war for her children to participate in. Not if she had anything to say about it.
Hermione realized she had been staring in their direction when Draco Malfoy’s slated grey eyes shot towards hers, and then narrowed in suspicion. His mouth curled downwards into a sneer as she kept staring. This exchange continued until she made her decision, and Draco seemed to recognize the sudden determined set of her mouth. His expression twisted into a curious mix of prideful trepidation as she approached the small family of blondes.
She was nervous. She resisted the impulse to tug on her curls, knowing that by now her hair was probably a damp, matted mess streaked with mud and coagulated blood. Similarly, she resisted the need to grasp her wand, not wanting to present herself as a threat, and had to force herself to contend with the fact that it was easily within reach should she need it.
She stopped several feet away, and saw all three of them narrow in on her face. Draco was the only one demonstrating his guarded apprehension. Perhaps as a result of his youth, although Hermione expected it was at least partially due to familiarity that came with their shared past. His parents just blinked at her, their expressions a tired brand of dispassionate.
She stopped herself from biting her lip, but couldn’t quite contain the overly tense knuckles. “Good evening.” Her voice sounded rougher than she expected, but she pushed forward. “I was wondering if any of you would help me retrieve Professor Snape’s body.”
Lucius Malfoy was the first to speak. He somehow managed to look calm and collected, if a bit haughty, despite the inner turmoil she knew he must be experiencing given the precarious nature of his family’s future. “His… body?”
“You watched him die then?”
She frowned at his presumption. “Well, no. But unless he took a Draught of Living Death, I don’t see how he could have survived the blood loss.”
Lucius just made a humph noise as he stood that somehow managed to sound both derisive and judgmental. “It wouldn’t be the first time Severus nearly avoided death. Where is he?”
Hermione watched Narcissa and Draco rise with a bemused furrow in her brow, absentmindedly rubbing bloody flakes off her forearms. Their gazes remained focused on her face. “The Shrieking Shack.”
And then Lucius strode confidentially towards the doors leading out of the castle, and Hermione was left trying to make sense of his actions as his family accompanied him, trailing closely behind dirt-streaked billowing robes. He stopped, turning abruptly when he realized she hadn’t moved, and raised an aristocratic eyebrow. Hermione followed after a long moment of consideration, and used the extra time to grab spare bandages and a Blood Replenishing Potion that was miraculously unused at the makeshift first aid station. On the off chance that the man was right and her professor had somehow found a way to survive.
They marched together down the front lawn, and as they passed the Whomping Willow, Hermione realized the elder Malfoy intended to march all the way to Hogsmeade. She took another deep breath, attempting to find some of that Gryffindor courage that was supposedly her hallmark, and addressed the family. “Um, Mr. Malfoy? There is a secret passage nearby that leads directly to the shack. It would take less time, and probably provide a safer route.”
All three Malfoys spun to face her with varying degrees of suspicion and calculation. Eventually, Lucius nodded, apparently determining that the wisdom of traveling across the grounds unseen outweighed the slim possibility that she was either misinformed or leading them somewhere secluded in order to engage in some ill-conceived manner of vigilante justice.
Hermione was briefly thankful that his decision didn’t seem to be emotionally driven, and wondered what it would be like to have friends that were less impulsive. She led them to the tree, which was already rearing up and preparing to strike the bodies that dared to invade its space. Hermione wasted no time hitting the notch with a stick and crawling her way into the tunnel. She didn’t stop to ensure she was followed, but soon heard three pairs of footsteps lightly shuffling behind her on packed dirt as she lit her wand with a nonverbal Lumos.
She was somewhat expecting to hear grumbling or some audible exclaim of disdain, considering they were crouching through a confined, muddy tunnel outlined in roots and defiled with insects. Hardly the poshest of locations. But none of the Malfoys had anything to say, following steadily in silence just a few feet behind her. Close enough to make Hermione paranoid about their intentions, but besides gripping her wand that much tighter, she attempted to ignore her darker suspicions.
As soon as they entered the Shrieking Shack and came within view of Severus Snape, Lucius sprang into action. He didn’t bother attempting to check for a pulse by pressing his fingers through the congealing streams of blood running down the sallow man’s neck, which was Hermione’s first impulse. Instead he waved his wand in several complicated motions and muttered latin under his breath, and Hermione waited. After a couple of minutes, the blonde aristocrat smirked in triumph.
“Still alive. Albeit barely. Nagini just missed the carotid artery. Granger girl! No time to dawdle! I saw you brought bandages?”
Hermione wasted no time handing him the supplies she had nicked on her way out of the castle. And then remembered she should have more supplies in her beaded bag. Kneeling on the floor, with half of her arm rummaging inside of the dirty purse, she found what she was looking for. The pitiful remains of her homemade first-aid kit, which consisted of a bezoar, several bandages of varying lengths, some Pepper-Up potion, and a few precious drops of dittany.
She held up the bezoar to Lucius inquisitively. “Will this be able to negate the poisoning from Nagini’s venom?”
He looked at the object in her hand, then back at her for a moment, his gaze intense and focused. “It is worth a try. I wouldn’t be surprised if he already had some of her antivenom in his system already, but he needs to be stable before we attempt to move him. Cissy, hold him down?”
Narcissa wasted no time grabbing her professor’s shoulders and pinning him to the floor, apparently oblivious to the red blood that was steadily seeping into her robin egg blue robes from the contact.
Hermione took another deep breath, trying to keep her rising anxiety at bay, and used those seconds to look back at Draco. He was barely recognizable. A dirty teenager in bloodied robes that hung off a too-thin frame. He appeared… stupefied. Overwhelmed. Stressed. Afraid. She felt confident that she recognized the expression, because it was how Harry had looked for a majority of their time on the run. Recognizing that the youngest Malfoy might not be in the best place mentally to help, Hermione edged around Narcissa, laying the remains of her first-aid on the ground as she reached around the blonde woman in order to grasp Professor Snape’s head with gentle fingers.
Lucius nodded at her proactivity with absentminded approval, and motioned for Hermione to open Professor Snape’s mouth wide enough to administer the bezoar. He cast a quick spell to clear his windpipe of blood and venom, and gave a grimly satisfied nod after he heard a gasp of breath. Then he forced the stone into the man’s mouth.
It was a challenge to get the bezoar down a throat that had a gaping, bleeding hole in it, but the esophagus and trachea were still apparently mostly intact, so all it took was a spell once it was past his tonsils. And then Lucius wasted no time replicating the procedure with the Blood-Replenishing potion. And then he was muttering healing incantations against her Professor’s neck, and Hermione watched with trepidation as the bite marks slowly decreased in size, the internal walls healing first. They didn’t disappear, but Lucius appeared satisfied enough to hand her several bandages, which she used to wrap around the sallow man’s neck.
They all stood up, preparing to leave. Hermione walked around the room gathering the remaining supplies, and Lucius cast a Levitation charm on Professor Snape’s unconscious body. They were about to turn towards the tunnel when the front door to the shack burst open and Avery Jr. appeared in the doorway. Hermione was closest to him, and he barely registered her presence before he shot off a spell. Hermione blocked it with a nonverbal Protego, and then realized her mistake as the spell rebounded and the house they were in started to crumble around them.
Must have been a Bombardo, or the like. Draco edged quickly towards the tunnel, only for a wall to come down in front of it. Their only exit was the front door, and Hermione barely had a chance to get her thoughts together before she shouted a spell.
There was more power behind the spell than she had expected, probably from the stress and terror of attempting to escape a collapsing house. As a result, Avery Sr. was cut cleanly in half, his entrails and internal organs visible and bleeding, strewn gruesomely across the ground. As a result, the man was dead in seconds, and the five of them were out of the house just as it toppled behind them.
The Malfoy family stared at Hermione and her victim for a solid thirty seconds with varying expressions as the curly-haired teenager stood shell-shocked. Through the strange sense of unreality that seemed to tug at her self, Hermione thought she caught surprise, stark appraisal, and some degree of disgust. Hermione herself wrinkled her nose as a putrid smell arose from the split intestines. And then it seemed everyone needed a moment to collect themselves from their near-death experience.
Lucius was the first to recover. He casually dismissed the man’s death and once more took charge, eager to lead them to the forest line. He gently pushed Narcissa beside him, keeping a firm hand on the small of her back protectively, and they managed a nonverbal conversation before she nodded. Her face hardened with determination, and her wandhand was steady as she led them back to the castle.
Hermione immediately understood his logic, and clasped onto this bit of rationality with no small amount of desperation. Lucius was levitating the Professor, so his wife would need to be responsible for defending them against threats. She also understood why they were next to the Forbidden Forest. Out of the open, more difficult to spot, especially considering they were traveling in so large a group. But she knew it was a gamble, as other Death Eaters probably had the same idea.
A gamble that didn’t pay off. They hadn’t been walking for more than ten minutes when Augustus Rookwood appeared in the tree line, wand waving before the group could properly react. Hermione jumped in front of the Malfoys, acting on instinct and years of conditioning from protecting Harry, and cast a Protego Maximus. She was thrown violently backwards for her efforts when their spells collided.
She must have hit her head. The ringing in her ears increased, and everything else became muted. Colors blurred and settled into images like she was turning a kaleidoscope, and she found herself feeling along the forest floor with fingers that were reluctant to cooperate, desperately trying to secure her wand. Instead her right hand closed around something that flooded her body with magic, and Hermione carefully lifted the object a few inches so she could visually identify it. Through blurry vision she could make out… a rock? Some polished black stone shaped like a pyramid that glinted gold at just the right angle…
Hermione heard spells being cast and her fist clenched over the stone instinctively.
The three spells were shot off almost at once, and then Hermione was screaming in agony. The edges of the Confringo hit her hand and the odd polished rock exploded inside of it, along with her fingers and a great deal of her forearm. The pain shouldn’t have been worse than the Cruciatus, which played with every nerve in her entire body, yet somehow it was. The magic of the stone pulsed with an agonizing burn as the pieces of rock were seared into her flesh.
If she hadn’t been writhing in anguish, she might have wondered who muttered the expletive.
And then the screams stopped because she couldn’t breathe, and she could just make out snippets of conversation in the background through her distress.
“Cissy, levitate the girl. Be sure to collect her missing fingers. Draco, levitate Augustus. On the off chance the bloody chit dies, I refuse to be implicated in her death.”
Hermione heard rustling. Then-
“Where’s her pinky?”
Draco sounded sick to his stomach. “I have it.”
“She’s not breathing... Lucius! She’s not breathing!”
Lucius let out a noise of aggravation, and then, “Respirare!”
Something in her chest cleared, and she took deep breaths, greedy for air, ignoring the fact that her frame was shaking and her face was sticky and warm from blood and uncontrollable tears.
“To the castle!”
She must have blacked out from the pain, because the next thing she knew, she awoke to loud accusations in the form of an extremely irate Ron Weasley. “What did you do to her!”
Hermione slowly opened her eyes, trying to breathe through the pain, still feeling rather dissociative. Madame Pomfrey’s brow was furrowed in concentration, and she was muttering diagnostic spells over Hermione’s trembling frame. The older woman looked worried. That didn’t bode well. Hermione turned her head and saw the Malfoy family was being confronted rather aggressively by the Weasley family. And she decided on the off chance she didn’t live, they didn’t deserve to be persecuted for crimes they had not committed. It became apparent that the charge was being led by a grieving, upset, emotionally distraught Ronald, and she couldn’t trust him to act rationally.
“Not-” Her first attempt to speak was rather pathetic, but it at least drew their attention. She licked her lips, suddenly aware she was hyperventilating, and tried again. “N-not their fault.”
Ron argued with her. Of course he did. That seemed to be the only consistent part of their relationship. “What do you mean, it’s not their fault! They’re Death Eaters! And they brought you into the castle falling to bloody pieces…”
“Rookw-wood,” Hermione tried to say, and mostly succeeded. She saw the Malfoys turn towards her, and noted that their disposition seemed especially dispassionate standing next to the Weasleys, who were expressively displaying varying degrees of confusion, grief, anger, and exhaustion. Ron remained primarily indignant, but he was interrupted before he could speak again.
Madame Pomfrey appeared to be completely uninterested in the ongoing feud. She tutted, cast a few spells over her patient’s chest, and then addressed the Malfoy family, sounding almost distracted. “Do any of you know where these stone shards came from? I was able to reattach her fingers, but these pieces refuse to separate from her skin and are interfering with the healing process.”
Lucius tersely jerked his head in the negative, and the Matron frowned.
Harry spoke up from her bedside, and Hermione startled badly, not realizing he was there. “Let me see.”
Madame Pomfrey obliged to his slightly demanding tone with little fuss, and Hermione turned towards her best friend just in time to see his face pale dramatically. The drained and visibly weary matron made an educated guess. “You recognize it.”
He spoke slowly, as if reluctant to confirm her fate. “It is,” he stopped to correct himself, “was the Resurrection Stone.”
Ron gave the Boy-Who-Lived-Once-Again a disgruntled look. “You’re still on about those bloody Deathly Hallows, Harry? We never found the stone.”
Harry looked at his best friend with a frown. “How do you think I’m alive? Dumbledore had it hidden inside the snitch.”
Ron grinded his teeth, reliving the months of frustration that accumulated from their time on the run. “Are you fucking serious? We had it all along? Why didn’t he-”
The Matron interrupted him before he could continue his squabbling, turning to the bespectacled, dirt-streaked boy clinging to the side of Hermione’s bed with an exhausted grip. “You mean to tell me that Miss Granger has the broken pieces of some kind of mythical magical artifact melted into her skin?”
Harry frown deepened, and he looked almost betrayed. “It’s not a myth, Madame Pomphrey. I saw my parents. And Remus, and Sirius. They gave me the courage to die.”
The Matron just scrubbed her eyes with bloodied hands and gave an exhausted sigh. “I suppose it wouldn’t be the first extraordinary thing I have ever witnessed. Would someone fetch Minerva? Severus would probably have a better idea of what to do, but I doubt he’ll be conscious anytime soon.”
Professor McGonagall wasted no time coming up to Hermione’s bedside. “What is it Poppy?”
“According to Mr. Potter here, Miss Granger has pieces of the Resurrection Stone stuck to her skin. I don’t suppose you would have any ideas about how to remove the pieces?”
Her professor visibly started. “The Resurrection Stone? You mean… from the The Tales of Beedle the Bard?”
The Matron nodded tiredly. “That is what he said.”
Their professor turned to look at the still trembling Hermione and grim-faced Harry with obvious concern, noting the deep purple bruises under their eyes and the dried blood stuck to both of their heads. Hermione wondered if she was considering the likelihood that either of them were brain-damaged. “Unfortunately Poppy, broken magical artifacts are not something I have much experience in. I suggest we floo St. Mungos.”
Madame Pomfrey pursed her lips, before slowly nodding. “Very well. In the meantime, perhaps you can move Miss Granger up to the Hospital Wing? Along with Severus and Remus, and the students I have lined against the far wall over there? I’ll be along shortly.”
Harry started, and looked towards the older woman in confusion. “Remus? But he’s dead! I saw him through the stone!”
The Matron sighed. “Brain-dead, Mr. Potter, no doubt from his fall from the tower. But it’s standard procedure to wait until after the full moon before euthanizing individuals with lycanthropy. The unique nature of their condition complicates properly assessing their levels of consciousness.”
Harry looked cautiously hopeful. “You mean he could still be alive?”
“Time will tell, Mr. Potter,” the older woman stated in a no-nonsense manner, before she headed out of the Great Hall. The Weasley family carefully approached the space the Matron had left.
“Hermione, are you sure the Malfoys didn’t do something suspicious?” Ron asked as he walked up to her bedside, across from Harry.
She didn’t bother to hide her irritation, still in an incredible amount of pain. And realized with some relief that Madame Pomfrey must have done something, because it was much easier to speak compared to before. “They were doing me a favor by helping me retrieve Professor Snape. And then they brought me back to the castle after I was attacked. They have been more than helpful.”
She noted surprise on more than one Weasley face. And she wasn’t surprised to hear Arthur speak up with quiet concern, “Is that so?”
“Mmhm,” she ascertained, nodding almost absentmindedly as she looked over all of the Weasleys individually. And then she violently started when she found one more red-head in the bunch than she was expecting. Narrowing her focus, she noticed that the young man was not quite as solid as the rest. And when he stepped a few steps closer, just behind Ron, Hermione was able to see the extensive damage that had been dealt to his torso and limbs. A gaping hole in his chest exposed bits of bone, stringy remains of sinew and muscles, and dark pieces of organs oozing questionable bits of liquid down his frame. Even through the macabre presentation, the young man managed a mischievous smile in her direction that was somehow more devastating than the visible broken bones and pieces of brain.
It was barely a whisper, stated through tears, and Hermione found herself shuffling back into Harry, away from Ron and the startling apparition.
“Hermione?” Ron sounded hurt.
“Hermione?” Fred echoed, sounding astonished. “You can see me?”
She wasn’t left a lot of time to consider how to handle confronting the dead twin in front of his still alive family, because there was soon the echo of a maniacal cackle bouncing off the walls just within her hearing. Hermione froze, turning white.
“No.” She thought the word to herself, trying to force the denial, unaware she was speaking out loud. “No, no, no, no, no….”
“Hermione?” Harry asked from close behind her, his voice soft with concern.
Hermione wanted to answer, wanted to seek comfort from the friend that had become her rock, especially in the last year, but… But then she appeared, a head full of black riotous curls framing a sadistic, bloodied smile. The woman’s skeletal frame outlined in dusty, austere robes swept closer, and her cackle turned into a laugh that creaked like a rusty door hinge. Hermione looked back at Fred in desperation, hoping the woman wasn’t real, surely he couldn’t see her too… But he was looking directly at the approaching Bellatrix Lestrange with a snarl marring his still handsome face, and Hermione couldn’t stop from hyperventilating.
“Hermione!” Harry spoke louder, with more obvious concern. Professor McGonagall barely stopped him from reaching an arm out to touch her. “What is wrong with her, Professor?”
Suddenly dear Bella was so close, so so so so close, and Hermione’s body remembered how it felt the last time she spent any quality time with the she-devil. Or perhaps it was a panic attack gone awry. Either way, every muscle in Hermione’s body started to tense, and agony rippled from her injured arm down to her toes, and Hermione couldn’t stop screaming like she was on fire…
It hurt- it hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt, make it stop make it stop make it stop please please please please-
“Please!” She was crying, screeching through tears, and her eyes had fallen shut in fear, and she refused to open them, afraid of what she might see-
Her vision faded out.
To be continued. I have the next chapter written, I am just obsessive about editing. Expect it sometime tomorrow.