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The Grey Witch

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Chapter One - The Future- Blood Ritual

Where there had been so much noise, there was now a silence which rang in the ears of every self-styled warrior. It was as if a spell had been cast, but there was nothing magical about the dumb shock choking out all sound.

No. No .

Harry.

Hermione Granger dropped down to the snowy ground, hardly aware of the freezing water soaking through the ragged knees of her jeans. She crawled, one filthy, scraped hand dragging her forward. The other would not support her weight, and she didn’t try to convince it to.  Harry, she needed to go to him, needed to help him—

Even that was denied her. A masked Death Eater reached down and pulled her up by her braid. The pain registered distantly. She didn’t struggle, not even when the Death Eater’s grip transferred from her hair to her wrists.

Her gaze, like everyone’s, was glued to Harry Potter’s prone, lifeless form. His face was turned toward Hermione. His eyes were open, cold.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. They were supposed to find a way to Hogwarts from Hogsmeade, and then find the Diadem in the Room of Requirement and destroy it. They were supposed to go after Voldemort then. They never even got past Hogsmeade before someone raised the alarm.

She’d told him it was too dangerous, but Harry had been nearly mad in his grief over Ginny’s murder. He’d been furious with her for trying to stop him, and he’d decided that he was going with or without her. Hermione would have followed him anywhere, so she did.

For all the good their love had been, Harry was dead. He’d gone where she couldn’t follow.

The moment of hush had lasted only a few seconds. “This is your Savior? ” Voldemort called. “This is what you’ve placed all your hope in?” He cackled, and that harsh sound triggered laughter around the street. Death Eaters laughed with relief, at first quietly and just one or two and then growing.

Hermione watched as Voldemort placed his bare foot atop Harry’s face, over his cheek, and pushed his face in the dirt. Voldemort met her eyes as he did so, and Hermione wanted to wipe the gloating triumph from his snake-like face. Her fists clenched and unclenched. There was nothing she could do. Nothing.

A sob caught in her throat, but she refused to cry. She couldn’t look anymore.

Harry wasn’t the only fallen comrade. Some of the villagers had come to help fight once they’d discovered that their Savior, the Face of the Light, was out there. Most of them lay dead in the dirt. It was a testament to the brevity of the battle that Hermione herself was still alive. She didn’t suppose that would last for long, her being a Mudblood.

The wind picked up, and with it came another scent besides blood and dust. Hermione had only a moment to make her decision, but she trusted her gut. She tore out of the Death Eater’s grasp and ran against the wind, pushing through the crowd to reach open air.

At last she could make out the pounding of many footsteps, and Hermione’s relief was so great she could have burst. The teachers and older students of Hogwarts had come to join the battle, led by Professor McGonagall. Their wands were drawn. Hermione darted forward and into the safety of their ranks, gripping her own wand in a shaking hand. She kept to the front, although every instinct told her to take refuge in the middle.

“You’ve come too late!” Voldemort crowed, and kicked the throat  of the corpse at his feet. “Your precious Harry Potter is dead!” He seemed to take a perverse joy in the expansion of his audience, which didn’t surprise Hermione in the slightest. He’d always been one for theatrics.

Hermione watched Professor McGonagall in her peripheral vision. The older woman’s face crumpled, seeming to age before Hermione’s eyes, but she pulled herself out of her sorrow and hardened. She raised her wand and flicked her wrist, sending the first spell. As if that were a signal, the lightshow resumed, and through it all Voldemort laughed, high and exultant.

“Reducto!” Hermione cried, sending a spell of her own into the opposing mob. She and the Headmistress exchanged glances for a brief moment before moving together, bodies twisting to avoid the worst of the returning volley but never separating too far or too long. When Hermione could spare the thought power, she admired the precision and might  of Professor McGonagall’s spellwork.

As impressive as their leader was, it wasn’t enough. They were losing too many. Hermione knew it, the Headmistress knew it, but Hermione refused to let go. With a small army at her back she’d regained her determination, and with the rush of adrenaline came the boil of vengeance. She may not be able to kill Voldemort, but she might just be able to cripple his forces.

“Retreat!” Professor McGonagall cried, and those who were still alive fell back. Hermione did not, even when Professor McGonagall stopped covering her back. “I said retreat , Hermione!” A hand grabbed Hermione’s arm with unearthly strength and pulled, and Hermione howled with rage as the Headmistress Apparated them both away.

*|II8II|*

It took days of gruelling effort, but they took back Hogwarts. That was a fair consolation prize to Professor McGonagall. The fraction of students who still lived were sent home, and only fighters remained. The castle was cold with its dearth of living beings, and even colder with the drastic increase in the dead. The ghosts were often confused and afraid, sometimes angry, and the first weeks of living in the castle were spent soothing them.

In the meantime, Hermione watched as the Light collapsed, family by family. They surrendered easily, and as much as Hermione wanted to she couldn’t blame them. Without Albus Dumbledore or Harry Potter the morale had disintegrated overnight. Professor McGonagall did her best, but it wasn’t enough.

The outside world had changed. Voldemort and his army ruled over Wizarding Britain, and within days the newspapers stopped printing about the people’s fear and started printing propaganda. Hermione read them anyway, searching for the bits of truth the writers may let slip.

Among those who spoke the truth, whether in whispers or in graffiti, Voldemort gained a new name. When he wasn’t called the Dark Lord, he was called the Cold One. His old monikers, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and You-Know-Who,  vanished from conversation. He was no longer an evil in the shadows. Everyone knew his face, now, and his word was law.

Most had given up, stopped resisting, in the hopes that their lives and their children's’ lives would be spared. It was, perhaps, the intelligent choice, but Hermione would never join their numbers. She had nothing left to lose. She would sooner die than bow her head to him. Even if she did, she didn’t have the advantage of good breeding. She would likely be killed either way. Voldemort’s world had no place for her.

At least she wasn’t alone. Many of her professors had stayed behind to fight at Professor McGonagall’s back, effectively abandoning the rest of their lives. She walked among them as their equal.

“Call me Minerva,” insisted Professor McGonagall shortly after the official Surrender. "You are no student, not anymore."

Hermione didn’t want to let that piece of her life go, but she accepted the offer anyway.

*|II8II|*

It was a lucky shot, from someone else’s opponent, and Minerva went down.

Hermione dragged Minerva out of the way of further damage. Tears dripped down her face and mingled with the blood on the stone ground as she tried helplessly to heal her. "Minerva? Minerva, stay with me. We need you here." Her voice trembled as she applied spell after spell.

Minerva died anyway. Hermione didn't know enough to save her. She never knew enough, in the end.

*|II8II|*

“Hermione? Please come out. You need to eat something.” Pomona Sprout knocked on the doors in a fluttery one-two-three, and Hermione looked up, wondering whether she should have revised her wards to block out sound. This wasn’t the first time someone had come by to check on her.

Pomona was likely just as frazzled as Hermione was. Hermione knew that, knew that she wasn’t alone in her grief, but it didn’t make her feel better. In fact, she hated it, hated that this emptiness wasn’t her burden alone to bear, hated that anyone else had to feel this way.

It had been days, and Hermione had taken that time to surround herself with books. The titles ranged from such benign topics as The Delicate Art of Healing to Blood Wards and everything in between. The wall was so high that Hermione could no longer see her surroundings, and she liked it better that way.

“Please, Hermione, you’ll waste away in there. I know you’re grieving, but you don’t have to do it by yourself. “

Hermione closed her eyes, ignoring how her eyelids felt like sandpaper. She was wrung out. There were no tears left to cry. But to crawl out of her hole and rejoin the world, to find another leader to follow, to look her comrades in the eye and have them all know that she hadn’t been able to save Minerva— it was a harrowing idea. She wasn’t ready.

“We need someone, Hermione. Please.” There was a new note in Pomona’s voice, a helpless plea. She sounded so small, so scared.

She was saying that Hermione wouldn’t need to find someone to follow. She was saying that Hermione had  been chosen to lead.

No, of course not. She couldn’t possibly accept that, couldn’t accept that responsibility. She wasn’t even nineteen! She didn’t know enough, wasn’t wise enough, she couldn’t lead them .

But it wasn’t up to her, was it? Who would take Minerva’s place if not her? Who would be able to lead? Who had that kind of strength?

Hermione pushed herself to her feet, feeling the frailty of her muscles as they barely managed to hold her up. She flicked her wand, sending the books back to their places. Her vision swam, but Hermione grit her teeth and dragged herself to the door. The moment she released the wards, Pomona yanked the doors open and caught Hermione in a motherly embrace.

Some time later, she woke up in the Hospital Wing. Madame Poppy Pomfrey bustled around her bed, preparing a set of potions. She was the only patient, so Hermione felt it was safe to assume that they were for her.

"Drink these," Poppy ordered, and Hermione complied. "Not too pleasant, I take it?" she added as Hermione shuddered. The taste was fine, but the texture was rubbery and she was sure that it squeaked all the way down her throat.

"No," Hermione agreed.

Poppy frowned. “I’m sorry. The Potions Master  traditionally brews my supply, but now that Horace is gone... well,  I was only ever taught efficiency.”

“There’s no need to apologize. We’re all so grateful that you’ve stuck with us. How our potions taste is the least of our troubles.” Hermione offered a reassuring smile, and Poppy returned it.

“Thank you, Hermione. You know, we need you here, too. You’re the last of... of...”

“The Golden Trio,” Hermione finished, her voice too steely.

“No, it’s more than that. With Minerva gone, you’re the last... the last one who can lead us.” Poppy turned away, wiping at her eyes.

Hermione could say nothing to that. What would she? That it was an honor, being chosen as the new Face of the Light? Their Golden Granger? It wasn't an honor. She wanted her friends back. She wanted to go back to being the brains behind the Golden Trio. The fighting and heroics were best left to Harry and Ron.

Perhaps that's why she was the only one left, she thought.

A few moments passed. Hermione leaned back onto her pillow, eyebrows knit together. Poppy was trying to get her tears back under control. "What were you reading, in there?" Poppy asked finally.

The half-truth came easily to her lips. "Healing," she said.

"Oh, my dear girl," Poppy murmured, and pulled her into a hug.

She tried not to, but Hermione clutched at Poppy desperately, pressing her face into the matron’s shoulder in order to hide her sobs. She was no longer at liberty to be forthcoming with her emotions or motives. She would have to hide part of the truth, because she was all that was left. Just like Minerva had been, and Harry before her, and Dumbledore before him, she needed to be pure and righteous and strong, worthy of being the general of what remained of the Light. No one could know anything more.

*|II8II|*

They were somewhere in a Muggle neighborhood, doing their best to protect the Muggles from a small assembly of Death Eaters. As far as Hermione could tell, only lower-level Death Eaters had shown up for this revel, and some hadn’t even had a Dark Mark.

It was the seventh battle since Minerva’s death, and Hermione’s fighters followed her cues naturally by then. There were so few of them left, and Hermione lost more every time they left the safety of Hogwarts.

Pomona stressed constantly about Hermione’s lack of regard for her own well-being. Hermione could admit that she did have a point; they couldn’t afford to lose their general. Still, Hermione refused to stay behind or hide. How could she live with herself if she put her fighters in the way of dangers she wouldn’t face herself?

She dispatched her opponent easily with a vicious Reducto through the head. The body dropped, and Hermione swore she saw the glimmer of his magic leaving him.

“Exentera!” she heard, and she spun around to block the sickly green spell with a shield which was perhaps overkill.

Occide , she cast without thinking. The curse left her wand before she regained her equilibrium, and she watched with some regret as her opponent’s molecular structure separated. The process was sadistically slow, beginning with his wand hand and ending at his heart. He couldn’t even scream, which was good for her. Casting such Dark spells where she could be seen by her comrades was a very, very bad idea.

Hermione looked away from the dissipating dust which was once a person and glanced around her. No one was facing her way except for—

Aberforth Dumbledore met her eyes from several meters away, sending dread coursing through her system. He’d seen what she’d done.

Later, once the battle was over (it was a victory, for once, and there were few casualties), Aberforth approached her. She separated herself from a small cluster of people, shaking her head. “Not where the others can hear,” she said as soon as she was out of easy earshot, trying to sound strong and confident.

“I know,” he said. He flicked his wand, casting a Muffliato. “I must congratulate you. That’s a difficult spell to cast under the best of circumstances. Have you been practicing?”

She had, but that was besides the point. “How do you—”

"Don't take me for a fool, Granger," he interrupted, raising one bushy eyebrow. "I may be Albus's brother, but I'm nothing like him."

"Yes, of course. I'm sorry," she said automatically. "So you've... you've studied it, too?"

Aberforth shrugged. "What? Dark magic? I've lived through more wars than this one. I've picked up some things, things that you won't be able to find in books."

Hermione blinked, hoping she was catching his drift. “Are you offering to teach me, then?” She was uneasy hearing the term “Dark magic” from his mouth, spoken so matter-of-factly. Although it was the truth, Hermione didn’t want to connect it to her. Her intentions weren’t Dark, after all. She wasn’t Dark. Nevertheless, she had never been one to run from an opportunity simply because it would be unpleasant, and now wasn’t the time to break the trend.

“Come to the pub,” he said, more succinctly than Hermione liked, and canceled the Muffliato with a flick of his wand.

Ignoring what was left of her squeamishness, Hermione visited him that night. He taught her almost every night since.

*|II8II|*

"Getting tired, Mudblood ?"

Hermione didn't respond, because she was. She needed to conserve breath. Carnificor , she cast nonverbally. Blue light shot toward her opponent, Dolohov, and he narrowly dodged it. A grunt of rage reached her ears. It was probably too much to hope that the Death Eater would be consumed with fury and make a mistake. Dolohov wasn't the type.

Dolohov was a gifted fighter, more because of his creative spellwork and stamina than his magical talent. Hermione wasn't half bad either, despite originally being only average in dueling. Practice forced her to become talented. It was either that or die, and Hermione didn't plan on dying anytime soon.

She dodged the familiar green Avada Kedavra spell with relative ease, but she didn't see the blue light behind it until it was too late. It hit her squarely in the chest.

It was not painful in the way that the Cruciatus was painful. It felt more like something something was being pulled out of her. Perhaps it was her soul, or her heart, or something so intrinsic to her sense of self that she could not survive without it. Hermione fell to her knees with a strangled sound. She saw Dolohov approaching from the edge of her vision, and she knew that he would kill her. That couldn't happen. She wouldn't allow it.

The first blow landed in her stomach. All the breath left her lungs at once, and she tried to curl in on herself. He closed his fist around a huge chunk of her hair and pulled her up before kneeing her in the face. Somehow, some way, she'd managed to keep ahold of her wand.

" Petrificus...Totalus ," she whispered, so low she could barely hear it herself. What little energy she had left was drained, and Hermione couldn't move as Dolohov's arms snapped together and he fell forward onto her. His eyes followed her movements as she pushed him off of her with no little effort.

She didn't have much strength, but she had enough to stand and kick the Death Eater in the side of his head. The light left his eyes, but she knew he was merely unconscious.

Hermione didn't have much time. She needed to get back to the Hog's Head. Without her magic, how would she do that?

There were several options. She could attempt Apparition, but she wasn't sure she would manage not to Splinch herself. The Knight Bus was no longer safe for a warrior of the Light, so that was out. The creation and use of Portkeys were highly regulated by the Ministry, so she and Aberforth hadn't been able to create one prior to the mission and she certainly couldn't make one then. Even if the Floo system weren't also incredibly unsafe for her, there wasn't exactly a fireplace anywhere nearby. She was in the middle of the woods, after all.

Perhaps... Perhaps her magic would allow her one last spell. "Accio broom," she incanted, fixing an image of one of the school brooms in her head. Details would be bad, in this case, as the more vague her request the more likely she was to get the closest magical broom rather than a specific one.

It took a little longer than she was used to, but finally a broom zoomed into her hand. It looked old and shabby, with much of the polish worn away and the bristles standing out at right angles. As long as it was functional it could have been covered in slime for all she cared.

Hermione sat on the broom gingerly, bracing herself mentally for the long trip ahead of her. Merlin, she hated flying.

Would it even get into the air? Harry would have been able to do this, no problem. She kicked off of the ground as she'd seen Harry do so many times. Despite her doubts, the broom did begin to rise. It lurched slightly at first, but became more steady once she rose above the treetops.

It was bitterly cold. Hermione's hands turned numb and she could no longer feel the wood against her skin. The wind played havoc with her hair, blowing it over her face and whipping it around. The ground was so far below her... How long would she have to do this?

She managed it. An immeasurable time later, she spotted the lights in the village of Hogsmeade. Only luck had kept her upright at several points, and when she touched down in front of the Hog's Head she felt the urge to kiss the ground.

The Hog's Head was a pub in the quiet wizarding town of Hogsmeade. Aberforth Dumbledore owned it, and had for as long as anyone could remember. It had gone out of business once Voldemort took over, but Aberforth kept it as a residence and their headquarters.

"Aberforth?" she called upon entering the pub. It was completely devoid of customers, as it had been for more than two years.

He was in front of her immediately, leading her upstairs to his room. They both sat on his bed. Aberforth healed her with unusual care, and then demanded to know what had happened. "Perfect," he stated once she was done, a rare grin on his face.

Hermione waited patiently for him to explain.

"There's a ritual," Aberforth announced. "I hadn't wanted to use it before, but the circumstances are near-perfect as of now."

The young woman waved her hand in a "get on with it" gesture.

"I would have had to drain your magic, then use that and multiply it." Aberforth's eyes were shining. He was truly excited, truly happy, for the first time since the Surrender four years before. Hermione was reluctant to ruin it, but she had to point something out.

"But the magic isn't here to use," Hermione said.

Aberforth didn't stop smiling. "And that's good. The more magic you rip from a wizard, or a witch, the more damage there is, both physically and mentally. There's also the chance that you don't take all of it or that you take more than just magic. It's very hard to pull off, especially with the more powerful."

Hermione's mind finally decided to be useful. "And because I have less than half of my magic left, it would be almost guaranteed to work, or, at least, not leave me a vegetable." Hermione shared his smile, starting to feel more confident in the ritual. "Wait— what would my magic levels end up being, after?"

He patted her hand. "It's called 'Thousand-fold', but that's not entirely accurate. It's only roughly a third of that."

The witch was speechless, for the first time in a long while.

"That's… a lot," Hermione finally said.

"If magic were a value, and your original value was one hundred, we could estimate that your 'magic value' would be about thirteen-thousand, if we assume you have forty percent of your original. Roughly, again. That would be... about a thirty-two thousand percent increase, give or take five hundred percent."

That was another thing that Hermione hadn't guessed about Aberforth: he loved mathematics, and they were his favorite way of explaining things.

"Of course, we don't know any exact numbers, but we could assume that your magic would be, well, very, very advanced."

"What's the catch, besides possibly becoming mangled and insane? Why hasn't it been performed by Voldemort, at least?" Hermione bit her lip. Perhaps there was something in his tone, or in his expression, or just plain instinct, that told her that something was missing here. Something vital. Something possibly deadly.

"It also requires having an intact soul. And copious amounts of the Object's blood. And pure intent. See?"

She nodded determinedly. Her mind was still pinging at her, but she put it down as paranoia and a lack of studying the ritual in question. Aberforth had never given her reason to doubt him, even if this was Blood Magic.

"Also, Hermione- the earlier we do this, the better. Your magic will already be trying to regenerate."

"Mm."

Aberforth went to retrieve the athame, then cut very deep into her arm.

The agony was blinding. When her vision cleared, Aberforth held up a cloth, hopefully clean, to use as a gag. This told her that more pain was coming. Hermione nodded her assent, and opened her mouth. The old man stuffed the cloth into it. It tasted like dust and salt, but Hermione didn't care. Nothing was worth being found here.

Words in languages that Hermione had never heard flowed from his lips. The pain grew exponentially worse with every breath, until she couldn't hear, either. It ramped up, higher and higher, until it reached its peak. At that moment, it began to fade, ebbing away.

She could hear again, and she could see. Hermione immediately wished that she couldn't.

Bellatrix Lestrange's eyes looked deep into her own, full of fierce glee and her trademark vicious sadism.

"Crucio!"

If Hermione's little cousin had ever been wrong about anything, it was that fighting was fun. Hermione could have told him firsthand that no, it really, really wasn't anywhere close to fun. His grinning, impish face appeared in the darkness beneath her eyelids, and he raised the twig in his hands in a salute. She'd laughed back then, laughed and told him to be careful that he didn't put out someone's eye.

She'd heard before that obscure memories came out when one is in a lot of pain, or in life-threatening situations.

It certainly seemed to apply.

Hermione wanted to just fade out of consciousness, fade out of existence, for all she cared. Anything to make it stop would be just fine by her.

Her arm hurt, badly. Worse than anything Bellatrix was doing to her.

Bellatrix bent down and grabbed her hair, pulling Hermione up to her feet. The younger girl didn't struggle; most of the fight was gone from her.

"Aww, you're no fun anymore," Bellatrix pouted, staring into Hermione's blood-covered face. Wasn't she too old for this? Pouting was not an expression one would expect from a woman who was well on her way to half a century.

Merlin, I just want a shower, Hermione thought. It was hard to keep her mind focused. Her vision blurred and smeared at the edges, a vignette framing Bellatrix's sneering face.

It was a defense mechanism, she supposed. Think of anything but what you really have to.

Bellatrix pulled back on her head harshly, and Hermione's mouth opened in a silent scream. Sound tried to escape, but it was choked into nonexistence when Bellatrix pulled out a knife and showed it to her, tracing it over her cheek without drawing blood. Hermione could do nothing to keep the maniac from bringing the knife down and carving designs on her neck.

The pain was so intense that Hermione couldn't keep from thinking about it. How she'd gotten there. What she'd done. How long it had been. All the things she was trying so hard not to think about.

Ron had gone first. Poor Ron Weasley, with the red hair that made it near impossible to win at hide-and-seek, one of her best friends, and the boy she'd been so close to loving. He was buried in some forest somewhere, with only a stone to mark his grave. They'd tried to find a pretty one, at least, but the best they could come up with was a rock the same color as the soil around them.

Then it was her and Harry, on the run again. What should have been their seventh year at Hogwarts came and went, camping in forests and in caves, trying to hide from everyone. The Locket Horcrux made them both irritable and thinking rationally became harder. They turned eighteen, and everything went to shite.

Ginny died in her seventh year, and Harry couldn't wait any longer. Hermione wanted to warn Harry not to go, but who was she to look into his feverish, grieving eyes and tell him that he shouldn't end the war? That was how it would have sounded, to him. So they invaded Hogwarts, just the two of them, and watched as more lives were taken, helpless to save anyone.

One death changed everything, and that was Draco Malfoy's. He died at Rodolphus Lestrange's hands for betraying Voldemort by harboring the two remaining thirds of the Golden Trio. One thing that no one anticipated was that Draco would have been the Master of the Elder Wand, and Voldemort took action immediately, killing the new Master.

But he and Hermione hadn't known about that. Her best friend left in the world challenged Voldemort with vengeance blazing in his eyes, and died with an almost betrayed look in those same, now cold, emeralds.

Aberforth Dumbledore was quite possibly her only ally, now. They worked together to make a plan, taking tiny actions to help it along. The pair became quite skilled at killing without implicating themselves. She'd made a mistake. She hadn't killed Dolohov, and they traced her back here. She was an idiot.

Bellatrix huffed and plunged the knife into Hermione's stomach, shattering Hermione's already-strained focus. The real world appeared in front of her again in too-sharp relief.

Aberforth was barely holding his own, Hermione saw. She desperately wished she could help him, but she was absolutely useless at the moment, even if her magic hadn't been gone.

But, watching this, Hermione felt her cause return to her. She would kick, scratch, and bite her way to freedom, for her and for the entire bloody Wizarding world— if only she could move.

There was the Cruciatus again. It wasn't even close to the pain from the ritual, but it was still pure and undiluted. When she heard the sound of her own scream, she realized that the gag was gone.

She watched her partner-in-crime suffer under the same spell, falling to his knees and then further, until his face pressed into the floor. She didn’t watch Bellatrix point her wand straight at Hermione's heart.

"Blue citrus goat dander!" Aberforth gasped loudly, writhing in clear agony. His voice cracked, but he managed to get the words out.

Hermione felt a spot over her heart glow white-hot, and then she was gone, from consciousness and from that time.