Hermione's feet fell noisily against the stone tile floor as she drove herself harder to get the the great hall in time. She didn't care about the sound giving her away, safely under the protection of a potent disillusionment charm. A curse flew at her from the left and took a chunk out of the wall in a shower of dust and shrapnel but it didn't slow her down for any greater length of time than it took for her to reflexively look at it's source.
Death Eater. Fuck.
She ran faster; he hadn't seen her, merely missed the boy who he'd really been aiming at. She knew by this point, Fred would already be dead. She had realised it with a sick feeling only a couple of seconds after she had materialised.
Focus, Hermione, that's not what you're here for.
She threw herself down the stairs so quickly she stumbled a few times, but the fear of being too late kept her from stopping.
Some things never change, punctual if it kills me.
Spell-fire could be heard from every direction, though the main body of fighters were concentrated inside the great hall.
Hermione halted to a forced stop behind a stone column near the entrance, her breath ragged.
Well, it's make or break I suppose.
The young witch mentally gathered together all the things which Snape had taught her over the last month and focused herself, her hands shaking from a mixture of fatigue and the magic that was slowly suffocating her life force from the inside.
The young witch closed her eyes and focused on the most complex piece of magic she'd ever learned. Within her practice sessions, Hermione had so far only been successful once, and the second Severus had found out the Potions Master had sent her straight to her dorm, cajoled by house elves, to get ready for the real thing- Hermione's time was ticking and they didn't know how much longer she had left before she would become too weak, and all her training would be for nothing.
A couple of tense seconds later and Hermione's world blurred and twisted in a way not dissimilar to apperating. Her eyes re-opened cautiously and relief flooded her as she gazed at her own paws, despite it still being an odd sensation. Her animagus form was still a lot to take in, though her favourite teacher had prepared her for that, too.
You'll get used to it soon enough. Severus had told her kindly. Hermione wasn't so sure.
It had been Snape that had suggested Hermione become an animagus. At the time of the battle of Hogwarts Hermione's animagus didn't exist, meaning that in this form she could both use her time turner and safely be seen- no one would know it was her. Not that that wouldn't have had to have been a pivotal part of their plan anyway.
Hermione took a deep breath and slunk around the corner into the main hall using the shadows and steadily mounting rubble to conceal herself. It was just as chaotic as she remembered; students firing spell after spell and death eaters firing just as many, if not more back.
Explosions shrieked all around, painful to her sensitive ears and smells of blood and death threatened to overwhelm her.
She wasted no time, she, herself and Snape had planned this to run like clockwork and she had already found her mark, dark curls dancing with the fight. Her heart lurched and pain crashed down the left side of her skull and shivered its way down her spine as she watched Molly Weasley round on Bellatrix like an animal, driven past the point of reason with grief for her dead son.
Hermione's muscles reacted to the adrenaline and suddenly she was out of the shadows and tearing across the great hall, much faster on four legs than two. People glanced at her from amid their own personal battles, some double-taking at the sight, but none had the luxury of being able to stare for the fear of being shot down whilst their back was turned.
The closer she got to the Weasley matriarch the angrier the brunette got. It wasn't a natural anger, but it was possessive and plentiful and Hermione struggled not to give in to it- the plan wasn't to kill the woman. Molly's arm drew back in an arc, her wand coming down in slow motion and Hermione knew this would be the spell to finally best Bellatrix.
Claws and an impressive weight hit the redheaded woman all at once as Hermione leapt at her, one massive paw clamped to her back, one across the far side of her face, right past Bellatrix's undeniably surprised self. Or was it exasperation she wore? Maybe both.
Molly hit the ground with a shriek and her wand scattered away from her into the crowd of fighting as Hermione roared. She felt so uncontrollably furious that Molly had raised her hand to Bellatrix which was ridiculous since Bellatrix was more than capable of looking after herself.
But not that time, remember?
It took a lot to lift herself from the unconscious woman's body without mauling her. She turned to find Bellatrix standing motionless in the spot where she should have died, dark eyes not betraying what she was thinking. Hermione stared back and for the first time since the last time she had been in this battle, found her body wasn't racked with pain. The relief was mesmerising and all of a sudden Hermione felt like she'd stared too long. Pointedly, she looked toward the door and back to Bellatrix again, desperate for her to understand. If the woman didn't take the opportunity to flee now, she'd be in Azkaban the minute the was was won. Hermione shivered and with one last glance at Bellatrix, she turned and ran from the great hall, weaving between the carnage and out into the corridor where she became herself once more, span her time turner, and disappeared from Hogwarts.
~One month earlier~
"Poppy I don't understand, what could be doing this?" Professor McGonagall's voice was an octave higher with stress.
"I've told you, Minerva, we have done everything we can, exhausted every option, tried every cure and we cannot find the cause as to what is wrong with her. I'm sorry. This is beyond me."
"And you're sure she hasn't been poisoned, something rare, harder to detect?"
"Professor, I'm sorry, I really am but the girl hasn't been poisoned. Her blood is fine, she is fine, there is nothing we can find wrong with her, yet…"
The professor looked down at the girl dying in her make-shift bed and prayed she would somehow miraculously recover. It had not been any longer than an hour since the battle had been won before Hermione had collapsed unconscious and barely breathing during a conversation about the recent victory with a beaming Hagrid. He had been a mess after such a day, his face, like most people's, was covered in dust and dirt, clean only where tears had cleared a path. There had been more tears when he had seen the trio again, though for happier reasons.
Hermione's ears were ringing. She had a blinding headache. She felt sick.
"Where is Severus when we need him?" Minerva sounded distraught.
"Professor Snape is currently in critical condition- he has been poisoned, virulently. Snake bite. That monstrosity that Mr Longbottom took care of, from the size of the bite marks. I expect he was intended to die, but he is clinging on. It's funny, they found a tattoo on him, as well."
"A tattoo. On his neck somewhere from what I hear. Say's 'always' or something or rather."
Minerva wasn't sure she understood. "What did you mean by 'as well'?"
Madame Pomfrey gestured vaguely towards Hermione but didn't say anything.
Pain cracked through her as her arm was moved and suddenly dropped. Professor McGonagall gasped in such a way that Hermione's eyes squinted open, a tiny amount. It was enough. Minerva's hand was over her mouth, shaking so much that only her index finger remained over her lips, the others wavering erratically back and forth. Hermione couldn't see what she was looking at without moving her head, which was out of the question, and she shut her eyes again. Her head throbbed. There was a long quiet.
"I… I believe I know what's afflicting her." McGonagall said quietly, eventually.
Hermione could hear Madame Pomfrey drop her things down hurriedly at the next bed. "What? What do you mean?"
"Bring her to the Gryffindor prefect's room, if it's still in one piece."
"Professor, she's not well-"
"She'll be fine, but you need to bring her upstairs so that I might speak with her privately when she comes around."
The nurse looked dumbfounded but did as she was bid anyway. Hermione felt herself being lifted up, and fell unconscious once more.
~29 hours later~
Hermione stirred early the next morning. It was just past half past seven and the second she opened her eyes a house elf that had apparently been sitting at the end of her bed apperated away with a pop. Her surroundings were unmistakably Gryffindor- Red, Gold and the occasional hint of Black. She sat up suddenly as memories of the fighting flooded back to her, her heart racing.
We won. We won!
A smile broke out on her face.
"Glad to see you are feeling better, Miss Granger."
Hermione jumped as the Scottish tones invaded her internal victory party. "Professor." She identified, her brain not sure what else to say.
The woman smiled weakly and Hermione immediately knew something was wrong.
Hermione tucked her hair behind her ear. "Is everything alright, professor?" She wondered where the boys were. Ron was probably still asleep. Harry might be up, but then, he might not be.
Minerva opened her mouth, closed it, and then slowly made her way around the side of the bed, setting her self down on the edge of the armchair beside her. "Make yourself comfortable, Miss Granger. I fear there is a lot to discuss."
Hermione struggled to sit up properly, her arms feeling oddly weak. Perhaps she had over exerted herself yesterday. She snorted at the stupidity of the thought. 'perhaps?' of course I over exerted myself yesterday, as did everyone.
Hermione looked half expectantly at her favourite teacher. McGonagall didn't move for long while, and anxiety began to set in Hermione's heart. "Professor?"
The woman peered over the top of her glasses at her student. "Miss Granger, do you remember how you got here?"
Hermione frowned. "I'm not sure I understand, professor."
"I mean, to this room, last night?"
Hermione was about to answer 'of course I do.' when it struck her that actually, she didn't.
The teacher shifted uncomfortably. "You were carried here after passing out during a conversation with the game keeper, yesterday night. Do you remember?"
Hermione swallowed nervously. "No, professor." She repeated quietly.
McGonagall looked painfully at her lap for a moment before composing herself.
"Madame Pomfrey called me to inform me that you had perhaps an hour to live. Your heart rate was dangerously low, you were unresponsive, too cold. However, they could not identify a single thing wrong with you. Just unrelated symptoms."
"But professor, I feel fine." Hermione was trying not to interrupt but it was true; she did feel fine. A little shaky, maybe, but certainly not on her death bed. She shivered. Had she really been so close?
"Yes. And you will do, for a time. Two days, I should think."
"What do you mean?" Hermione's voice was small. Did she have two days to live?
"Miss Granger, I want you to look down at your left wrist- you wont understand what you see but rest assured I intend to explain it to you."
Hermione slowly looked down at her wrist. "What the hell? Someone tattoo'd me!" She cried, rubbing furiously at the mark, hoping it would wipe off.
"I assure you they have not. What you see is a lotus."
Hermione stopped rubbing at the inky black shape and noticed McGonagall was right- it was indeed in the shape of a lotus flower, perhaps an inch wide. If it wasn't such an intense colour black she would have assumed it was a birthmark.
"Where did it come from?"
Hermione had to stop herself gawping as her teachers eyes filled up with tears.
"I'm sorry," She apologised sincerely, seeing the concern on the young girls face, "It's just, well, it is not the first time I've been asked that." She sniffed. "Hermione this is going to be difficult for you. I need you to try and listen even if you don't want to hear it- if ever you were going to prove yourself the best of your generation, this would be the time to do it."
Hermione just nodded, her wrist limp in her lap.
"Have you ever heard of soul magic?"
Hermione had heard of soul magic, but only the name. It was one of the main subjects covered in the few books she hadn't managed to sneak out of the restricted section.
"I'm afraid I know very little about it, other than it occurs naturally and exceptionally rarely. And that there are laws around it which give allowances to people under its effects, though I don't know what allowances, exactly."
Minerva smiled. "Still further ahead than most." She commented. "Yes, what you say is correct. Soul magic occurs within particularly powerful magical blood at birth, though it does not usually make itself apparent until much later on. Are you aware of what it does?"
Hermione wasn't sure, and she hated answering based on unreliable sources. "I heard it's where muggles get the idea of soul mates from."
Minerva nodded very slowly. "It is indeed. However, it is not merely an idea, but a truth seen so rarely that it has become just a fable. Soul magic occurs in pairs. When one child is born carrying the magic, another will be, also. They do not have to be born at the same time, necessarily, they can be years apart. If though, when they are of age, they find one another, the magic fuses and sets in motion a particularly.. volatile process."
Hermione nodded to say she was following. Actually, she was fascinated.
"This process bonds two people together for life in a way which many people cannot fathom. It is highly dangerous- people do stupid things for love as it is but this… well, it causes aggression, violence, unbidden and barely provoked from people who would never normally hurt a fly. It calms down somewhat, over time, and can be controlled more easily, but nevertheless it is seen to cloud an individual so much that the law, as you rightly pointed out, does make allowances for it. It is an instinctual protectiveness over ones partner when they are under any kind of attack, and it happens for good reason."
"Why?" Hermione wasn't sure where this was going.
"Because… If a persons soul mate dies, they will die too. It will be long and drawn out. Over a month, maybe six weeks. It starts with fatigue, passing out, and then gradually becomes more painful, more serious until one day…" Minerva trailed off.
Hermione blinked slowly, remembering back to the beginning of the conversation and the news that she had passed out and wondering what her teacher was implying.
"The mark, on your wrist." McGonagall gestured to Hermione's arm and the young witch looked down.
"It appeared during the battle I should think. I can't imagine why it took so long."
"I don't understand, professor." Hermione found herself shaking.
"The mark appears first on the carrier who is born first and then replicates itself onto their soul mate after they come into close contact with one another- proof to themselves, and the world that they are telling the truth. Many magical tests can be done on them. However, they are usually white. They turn black when… well, when… When one soul mate dies."
Hermione felt like she was going to be sick. Her head was spinning. After all this, all their work, they won, they won and she was going to die in six weeks maximum because… She trailed off in her thoughts. Because who had died?
"I know this must be a lot for you to take in, Hermione, I'm so sorry…"
"Who was it?" Hermione's voice was cracking. Why did she feel such a sense of loss? "You know, don't you?"
Minerva winced. "Perceptive as always. Yes, Miss Granger, I do know. However… You may not want to. It is your choice."
Hermione couldn't think what could be worse than a death sentence. "Tell me."
"Tell me, please."
"Bellatrix. Molly Weasley killed her in a duel." The teacher said quietly.
Without any warning Hermione felt her heart wrench in fear and she felt the overwhelming urge to break down. She couldn't love someone like that, not a murderous, vindictive psychopath.
My murderous vindictive psychopath though, apparently.
The young witch couldn't breath. "How do you know it was her? It could have been anyone that died in there."
McGonagall smiled sadly. "Because she came to me, at the same age as you, holding her wrist out and demanding to know who had managed to tattoo her so thoroughly that she couldn't remove it. It runs in her family, soul magic. We didn't even test it, it was obvious what it was. A little white lotus flower… I had never thought any more of it until yesterday."
Hermione felt hollow. "What do I do?"
McGonagall sighed. "The best person to ask would be Severus. I trust Potter filled you in about him?"
Hermione nodded vaguely. There was a long moments silence.
"It is going to be a difficult time, Hermione," The professor said kindly. "I'm sure I can imagine the solution Severus will suggest."
Hermione's eyes drifted up to her teachers. She couldn't process everything she had heard over the last half an hour and she was sure she couldn't take much more if she tried but still she couldn't help but ask.
"What would that be, professor?"
McGonagall sighed. "With you interests at heart, the only way I can see of getting around this would be to use your time turner to prevent Bellatrix from ever dying. Which as you can imagine will not be simple seeing as no one would be allowed to see you and she was killed in a very crowded hall. Plus there's the moral and ethical issues around bringing someone as dangerous as Bellatrix back. But that will, unfortunately, be on your shoulders to decide upon."
"Condemn myself to death or save myself and Bellatrix and raise hell." Hermione said blankly.
The professor sat silently beside her in an equally somber mood.
"You should get some rest, or at best take some time to think about all this… mess. This room is yours now- the elves will be around if you need anything and I," Minerva said with some strain as she rose from where she had been perched, "Am always in my office."
"Thank you, professor." Hermione's voice was a dry whisper. "Professor." She added just as McGonagall was about to leave. "Can I tell anyone?"
Minerva sighed. "Whilst it would be better not to, it is your choice. Be careful, Hermione. Bellatrix has few friends in this world and many people out there would go to drastic lengths to keep her gone."
With one last sad look, the older woman left Hermione to her thoughts.
Hermione spent the rest of her day contemplating her fate, staring at her wrist. At first, she had cried- she had cried until she couldn't cry any more and had simply lay still with her face buried in her pillow, breathing shallowly. Afterwards, she had felt more logical. She went through it all again in her mind until she had simplified it into a short bullet point list that she could repeat when everything over-crowded her mind at once.
-We're apparently joined by some ancient magic
-It's now killing me
-Do I try to bring her back or do I give in and die?
The only thing she couldn't box up and categorise was what she felt about Bellatrix. She would be the first to admit she was terrified of the woman, her arm still bore the scars her knife had left. But despite the fear and the suppressed hatred she felt for the woman there was a dull hurting in her heart when she thought of her being gone. Maybe the magic bond was forming regardless of Bellatrix being dead. The thought put the fear of god into Hermione. She couldn't imagine being in the same room as the woman voluntarily, let alone… She refused to go there.
Her heart resumed its dragging sensation again. Hermione sighed. She felt tired again. A house elf brought her some red grapes and a butter beer which she had accepted gratefully, but now all she wanted to do was sleep.
Bellatrix is a vicious, evil person and she needs to stay gone, whatever that means. She told herself as she cuddled her duvet over her. A voice in the back of her head disagreed and she fell into a dark dream about poisoned lotus flowers.