Chapter 1: Silence and Wishes
The grounds of Hogwarts were silent and still as ash drifted down from the sky. Bodies of friends and foes, Light and Dark, littered the once-pristine green fields and the halls of learning beyond. Flashes of light, curses and hexes, slashed through the air as the last living member of each army dueled in the ruins of the Great Hall. The enchantment on the ceiling remained above even as the supporting walls crumbled, the illusion of a blood red sky blending with reality as the last battle wheezed its death rattle.
"Stupefy!" Hermione cried, red light shooting from her wand and connecting with the ragged black form of Bellatrix Lestrange. The older witch flew through the air, slamming her into the last standing wall. Her body disappeared beneath a pile of rubble, which settled with a last echo of thunder.
Hermione gasped for breath, turning quickly in anticipation of another attack. None came. She whirled again. Surely, at any moment, another Death Eater would appear to attack. They were like cockroaches, never dying completely.
After five minutes of waiting and listening, Hermione lowered her wand. For the first time in five years, since she had arrived at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and joined the forces of the Light, she was victorious... and utterly alone.
In the center of the Hall lay the bodies of her best friend, her heart's brother, and his most bitter enemy. The recoil from Harry's Expelliarmus and Voldemort's Avada Kedavra had killed both wizards instantaneously. Hermione wondered if that meant Harry's life after the war would have been merely survival instead of true life – Trelawney's prediction had proved correct so far, so she was inclined to believe that Harry would never have been truly happy. How does a sixteen-year-old move on and find new purpose when his identity had been defined by a successful murder?
Hermione chose to make certain of her solitude by searching the ruins, calling out for her comrades as she went. She counted nine motionless redheads, one dead werewolf, and a shock of pink hair near him. Luna's blonde tangled with the bloody remains of Neville's brunette. Sirius's tattooed fingers hung limply from beneath a large piece of fallen ceiling. Classmates, friends, allies intermixed evenly with the bodies of those who wished them, and the world at large, harm.
What was the point of all this?
Soldier first, student second, Hermione had been fighting this war since she was informed of her magical abilities at the tender age of eleven. In the first year alone she helped Harry Potter and his friend Ron Weasley both discover the location of the Sorcerer's Stone and save an innocent man, Sirius Black, from a fate worse than death. At the age of twelve, she was able to brew a more than passable Polyjuice Potion, had helped destroy the diary containing Voldemort's sixteen-year-old self, and begun the extracurricular study that led to her position as Chief Researcher for the Order of the Phoenix.
In their third year, when Remus Lupin came to the school to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, Voldemort had lured Harry and his friends to the Department of Mysteries. On that adventure, Sirius had (thankfully) escaped a deathless journey through the Veil. He was a great help to Harry during the (ill-advised) Tri-Wizard Tournament, a sort of mentor to Ron in the "we both know how it feels to be in the shadow of a Potter" way, and an almost older-brother figure to Hermione. On the nights when she stayed up late, due to nightmares or research, he was always there for her with a cup of cocoa and a joke. They had all grown so fond of each other...
Hermione dashed the tears away from her dusty face and hurried through the ruins of the school, calling out as her voice grew ever-more hoarse. The more emotional part of her mind, the one that urged her to cry and hold on to the corpses of her friends for as long as possible, cried out that this wasn't fair. This summer she should have been receiving her O.W.L. results, not combing a battlefield for her last hope. Viciously, she slammed those thoughts into a corner of her mind until she was ready to scold herself for having them in the first place.
After the death of Cedric Diggory and Voldemort's "coming out" (as Sirius always liked to call it), Hermione and her friends had left school to join the Order full-time. While Molly Weasley especially had protested at first, Dumbledore admitted that the need for capable soldiers was too great. Like the other members, the friends had received identifying tattoos somewhere on their bodies. Harry's had been red phoenix wings spread across his shoulders, Ron the same except across his chest. Hermione had been more subtle, opting for a small phoenix rising from the ashes just above her right hipbone. The tattoos burned when a meeting was called. She tried not to think about how this made them so similar to Death Eaters, with their Dark Marks and fear of disobedience.
Under the tutelage of Alastor Moody, the so-called Golden Trio had accelerated their fighting abilities far beyond the expectations of fourteen-year-old dropouts. They could draw their wands in a blur and fire off spells quicker than thought. Hell, Hermione didn't even need her wand or words to do some magic. She knew more about the Dark Arts than she ever thought she would be inclined to learn – as Chief Researcher, her motto had been "know thy enemy". After hours of research and teaching some of the Order herself, the group was much more prepared than they would have been otherwise. Some spells were so Dark and ancient that no counter-curse had ever been found. In the years since leaving Hogwarts, Hermione had devised many counterspells after long evenings in the Grimmauld Place library with Remus and Tonks.
A smile flitted over her bloodied face, remembering the frantic camraderie the three had shared in those late hours. The unusual couple had been like a second family to Hermione, more of a sibling relationship than a parent-child one, after the death of her parents in her second year. An enterprising Death Eater, realizing the threat that Hermione posed to the Dark Lord's future plans, had taken it upon himself to organize a raid on her home. Hermione had been safe at headquarters, but her parents were not so lucky.
She had killed the Death Eater, Macnair, herself.
It took her an hour to circle the castle, to confirm that no one else remained alive. Satisfied and heartbroken, Hermione returned to the Great Hall to carry out Dumbledore's last request. She slipped her wand into its thigh holster, strapped over her black skinny jeans, and withdrew the device from the pocket of her black leather motorcycle jacket. Everyone in the Order had long since taken to dressing in dark colors when they could help it – made one less of a target during battle.
Cradling the black candle in her hands, Hermione slowly called on the fire within her soul to light the flame. With all her might, she concentrated on one thought: preventing the macabre scene. She would do anything, anything at all, to prevent what had happened here today. In a flash of golden light, Hermione vanished from the present and the grounds of Hogwarts were silent as the grave they had become.
At sixteen, war and death were all she had ever known. And now she knew where that led: to an empty school and a burning sky. Perhaps it was time to give something else a shot.
Lily Evans was fed up. Really, she had had it up to here with James Potter and his snotty friends. Yes, fine, she wasn't actually that fond of Severus anymore (he did hang out with the worst, most racist pigs she'd ever had the misfortune to meet), but that didn't give them the right to behave like the arrogant toerags they were.
Maybe Mum's right, she thought, idly picking at her dinner plate. Maybe we are just all idiots at sixteen.
The Welcome Feast would have been a joyous occasion for the newest Gryffindor prefect, if it hadn't been spoiled by James asking her out every five minutes and the jealous glares from the other girls in her year that his attentions drew. If she found another frog in her bed tonight, so help her Merlin she was going to hex the pigtails right off Honoria Watson's head. The stupid blonde thought James was hers and shouldn't be flirting with anyone else.
Lily rather viciously speared a piece of chicken. Stupid Potter.
To her right, Marlene McKinnon elbowed her gently. "Are you all right?" she asked, concerned for her friend. Marlene came from a very old, influential pureblood family, but that hadn't stopped her from befriending the Muggle-born considered by many to be the brightest witch in their year. Lily sighed expressively and took out her feelings on an unsuspecting dollop of mashed potatoes.
"Just wish Potter would leave me alone. That something would happen to distract him, or something."
A dirty and bloody girl, dressed all in black, appeared in a flash of golden light not two seconds later, right between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables. She appeared to have chunks of rock in her bushy brown hair. The strange girl whirled to face the Head Table, freezing when she saw every member of the staff had drawn their wands on her. The stranger raised her hands in the universal gesture of surrender, while every student in the Hall burned with excitement and curiosity.
Marlene leaned over and whispered to Lily, "Looks like you got your wish."