Hermione woke up late that morning. A fitting start to the day, it seemed, for as soon as she walked into the Great Hall she sensed something was wrong. It was very busy, but there was no laughter - everyone was serious, some crying and some simply seeming away from themselves. She sat opposite Pavarti but there was no happy greeting.
"What's going on?" she asked. The girl passed her the newspaper then stared down at the wood of the table, unable to meet Hermione's eye. The image Hermione was greeted with woke her out of her morning slumber.
"How could this of happened?" she gasped, and Pavarti stuttered, unable to answer the rhetorical question.
'Muggleborn Massacre' stood in bold font at the top of the page. Beneath was an image of smoke smouldering from rubble, captioned 'Above: Remains of fire still being extinguished in early hours of the morning.' Beside it began the body of text. 'Authorities have warned caution towards all Muggleborns following an attack in the town of Lacksneed, village of Kettleston, village of Pilau and town of Gemberhan yesterday evening. It is confirmed that Death Eaters cast a powerful Fiendfire curse on the houses of known Muggleborns and their families, with 267 confirmed dead and 734 injured. The muggle parents of the victims were also murdered. The Minister of Magic is working with the Muggle Prime Minister to arrange a safety plan protecting muggles following the event.' Hermione couldn't read anymore. Tears had started to trickle down her cheeks, and she rose from the table to excuse herself. When she reached the corridor she heard her name called, and turned to find McGonagall following her.
"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry," she said, reaching for Hermione and holding her shoulders.
"So many dead. Innocent people, burned alive in their beds," said Hermione softly.
"I am worried for Muggleborns at this school. Hogwarts is a safe place for them, but I fear those who have returned home are at great risk."
"And my family," Hermione stated tearfully.
"Yes. That is the matter I wish to speak with you about. Please, come with me to my office." Hermione followed, grateful for the time to compose herself. They sat at the desk she knew well from Harry's visits to Dumbledore, and she held it firmly, holding herself strong with the knowledge of the the conversation they were about to have.
"I will be blunt with you Hermione because evading the truth will only lead to more hurt. You and I know your parents are in danger, especially considering your position in the War and relation to Harry."
"They are so unaware of the Wizarding World. I do not wish to destroy their livelihood."
"I have an idea that will allow them to continue living in peace, but..." McGonagall struggled to explain her plan. It weighed heavily on her, having to cause so much pain to her beloved student.
"What is it Professor?"
"You are aware of the memory charm? If cast on your parents, it would protect them from interrogation and help ease their worry for you. We can also move them away, to Australia possibly, so they are far from Voldemort's reach."
"They do like travelling." Hermione joked. There was no humour though - it was an attempt to trivialise the situation, to escape the reality they were discussing.
"Yes." She whispered immediately. "Though I will perform it."
"Of course," McGonagall replied sympathetically.
"As soon as possible."
"I shall go this evening, and return by the next."
"I'll have a member of the Order escort you." Hermione nodded.
"May I leave please?" she whispered. McGonagall raised her hand to allow her that, and Hermione all but ran from the room. She flitted down the staircases and across the site, but instead of heading for her room in the Gryffindor tower she headed to the lab. However, upon arriving at the door, she remembered she would be in Draco's company. She had grown fond of him but was in no way prepared to break down in front of him. Besides, she was certain he would not like that either. Requiring somewhere to calm down, she headed to the library. Deep within, past corners and bookcases, straight to her favourite armchair.
It was just as she'd left it, but the weather was lighter today - although drizzling, a gentle sunlight glowed in past the droplets, aiding greatly to calm Hermione. Bending down to remove her shoes, she noticed a hardback books under the chair. 'Bewick's History of Birds'. However it was not a history of birds this conjured. It was memories of home.
It was there she travelled at dusk, side-apparating with Arthur. Although it made her nauseous, she had not managed to eat since breakfast, so the spell seemed the best way to get to London. Alike her armchair in the library, the street always seemed the same and felt like her own space. Somewhere no one really knew about. She could spot her parents' cars in the drive, one a silvery shade of blue and the other a deep black. They were the types of cars you'd expect dentists to own.
"Would you like to speak to them first?" he asked gently. Hermione nodded, and he reached out and squeezed her hand reassuringly. They walked closer to the house.
"Could you wait just here?" she asked as they stepped onto the drive. He obediently offered to do so, not allowing his desire to see the Muggle house alter his decisions. He cared greatly about Hermione, and at this moment he focused solely on how best to do this.
The doorbell rang, and all Hermione could think was how this could be the last time she would stand on the doorstep or step into the house. A man with mute ginger hair answered and immediately greeted her with a hug.
"Hi Dad," she stuttered, emotion making the words stumble. She heard a cry from the living room before her mother ran round the corner and joined the embrace.
"Why aren't you at school?" she inquired, stepping out of the hug and reaching to hold her daughter's cheek.
"On a break."
"You're upset," her father observed with concern.
"I'm just happy to see you," she lied again, hating that this final conversation was not honest. Simply, she couldn't bare to tell them what she would soon do. Her parents too had tears in their eyes upon seeing her, so her excuse was understood, and it was slightly true - she was emotional upon seeing them... Just that wasn't the real cause of the tears.
"Come, come, would you like some tea?" asked her father.
"That'd be lovely." she smiled, walking into the living room and sitting on the sofa. Hermione looked around her and saw all the framed photos of the family at different times. Soft furnishings of beige and light blue were a contrast to her Gryffindor common room, but they created a peaceful atmosphere. The TV had been abandoned when she'd arrived but it was still playing the news just on a low volume. On the screen was the headline '267 dead after residential attack'. She looked away.
"How's the term been going?" her mother asked from beside her on the sofa.
"Oh, as usual, lots of work." Hermione muttered.
"It's been fine. How's everything at home?"
"Well, your dad had a nasty chest infection for a few months but that's cleared up now."
"Coughed on a few patients, so had to resort to near constantly wearing my face mask." he yelled from the kitchen, making Hermione smile.
"Edward got a promotion," her mother continued, "and Susie was fired - as you know." Hermione nodded; her mother had mentioned of her cousin's problem in the last letter they sent.
"Where's Ed now?" she asked.
"Oh, some management position in London - we're all very chuffed though." Hermione nodded thoughtfully.
"I'll just go help your father with the tea," she stated, before moving to the kitchen. At this Hermione glanced at the window and saw Arthur stood nervously. He raised his eyebrows, and Hermione knew he was suggesting she ought to act sooner rather than later, so as not to worry McGonagall by her absence. Even in the last moments with her parents she sacrificed the luxury of extra time - something she later regretted, though at the time was the result of an altruistic attempt to ensure those at school were not worried.
Hermione stepped round the corner and was faced with the backs of her parents.
"Obliviate," she whispered. Pale light streamed from her wand and flowed around the room. Letters on the fridge became blank, and gaps emerged in pictures on the windowsill; gaps where she used to be. The house became devoid of all trace of Hermione, and she turned and ran out the front door, finding the changes unbearable. She didn't want to see the expression on her parents faces when they saw her as a stranger. Arthur stood outside and looked at her with a sad, disjointed stare before striding forward heavily and hugging her tightly. She whimpered but soon pulled away, rubbing her eyes and hurrying from the patio.
"Hermione-" Arthur called, but he found her now watching distractedly through a window on the side of the house.
Inside her mother and father each held a mug yet seemed confused. Her father picked up the extra mug of tea on the side that he'd prepared, poured the contents down the sink, placed it into the dishwasher then walked to the living room. Hermione yelped and hurried to Arthur.
"Please let's go." In a hurricane of magic they apparated and arrived again in McGonagall's office. Before she could hear what they had to say, Hermione ran into the corridor and as far from them as she could. Knowing her roommates would be asleep and the library cold and locked, she ran to the lab, confident she would be alone. Once inside she stumbled to the table and held onto to it. However she was shaking so heavily the vials on it began to rattle and her legs crumbled beneath her. Two arms awkwardly propped her from falling to the floor, and she looked down to see pale hands holding her up. Pained sobs began to fill the room.
With slight struggle, Draco held Hermione and walked her to her chair by the fireplace. Her body folded inwards on the cushions but her hand stayed out, holding to his with indomitable force.
"Are you alright?" Draco internally scolded himself for such a stupid question; of course she wasn't. It took a few minutes of crying for her to subdue enough she could manage to talk.
"My parents," spoke Hermione carefully. Due to the laconic explanation Draco found himself thinking up so many possibilities of what had happened, and began to fear for the worst.
"Not dead, are they?"
"No," Hermione stuttered, finally unraveling herself to look to him. Draco was knelt on the floor in front of her, holding her hand whilst the other was placed gently on her knee.
"They're... Gone, though." She spoke softly, focusing on the feeling of his thumb rubbing circles soothingly on her hand.
"How are they gone?"
"They're gone because I, I-"
"I... I wiped their memories," she cried, "I went to see them, and when their backs were turned I cast the spell. I'm gone Draco, lost from them."
"Oh." he whispered. His mouth remained in a small O shape as he pondered what to do. Suddenly Hermione pulled herself down to the floor with him and held onto him, hugging him as she cried once more. Although Draco was uncomfortable from the girl slumped across his lap and making the back of his shirt wet, he found himself oddly comforted by having her so dependent on him, and he in being able to help her.
"Why did you do it?" he asked softly.
"To protect them - following the murders in the paper," she replied, and Draco gave an understanding hum. "McGonagall thought it wise to obliviate them, protecting them if people had tried to ask them about me; with Harry being so prominent with Voldemort, we were both concerned they'd use my parents to get to me and so to him."
"She didn't force you into a decision?"
"No. I had thought along those lines previously anyway. It just became more immediate." She had stopped crying now and leant back against the bottom of the armchair, though still sat on his knees, so she could see him as they spoke.
"I'm cold," Hermione began, "inside and out. I don't think I can bear this." She reached out a hand to hold his cheek as she spoke, her fingers resting in his hair, mimicking the motions of her mother. "They're gone. Just... gone. I feel so alone. I know they're out there, somewhere, just not with me. And I remember the time I spent with them, growing up and then each summer. I can think of those moments, but I just want more and more and more. More time to be with them, to do ordinary things with them. I want to go back to the past; just to feel warm once more."
The pale face afront her held a notable expression in his eyes. It's like the grey was more than grey. Her hand lapsed down but he caught it with the other one. Holding them like a therapist, holding them like a friend; she didn't care. She just wanted to be with someone... With him, even.
"How about I promise you will never be cold again." he whispered staring at her deeply. All the while he raised her hands to his lips, planting a gentle warm kiss. The action seemed to plant a seed that grew and blossomed around her, wrapping her in a love she hadn't realised was there.
"That'd be nice," she replied timidly, pushing her hands over his shoulders and pulling him to her. She rested her head on his collar, watching down his back, feeling herself gradually grow warm in his hold. It was like being wrapped in a duvet in your room - serene, warm, comfortable... At peace.