A/N: As always, thank you for your encouragement and patience! I had a lot of trouble with this chapter, and I'm still not entirely happy with it, but I think this is as good as it's going to get so here it is.
The Grey Istari
"Hermione, wake up!"
Hermione jerked, looking wildly around her, trying to locate the person calling her. She couldn't see whoever it was anywhere. And how had she been sleeping? She was standing in the middle of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.
Something wasn't right. She didn't remember getting dressed, let alone packing her trunk for Hogwarts. But the red steam engine of the Express was blowing its whistle, so she gamely maneuvered the trolley with her trunk and pet carrier to a likely looking carriage. (And how did Prongs fit in that little basket? It wasn't as if he was a cat. Ah, well. Magic.)
She could figure out what happened to her missing memories later. It wasn't important. In fact, it seemed to happen rather often. Wasn't there a teacher who lost all his memories? And her muggle parents. (But not Ada, a voice whispered. Ada would never forget her.) Really she should be grateful that she'd only forgotten how she got to the train platform.
Getting situated in a compartment, she slid the door closed and then frowned down at her hands. Shouldn't they be larger? And why wasn't her skin glowing. She was fairly certain her skin should be glowing.
How old was she anyway?
Her contemplation was interrupted by the compartment door sliding open once more, admitting a boy with black hair. It was short and messy one moment, and long and wavy the next. His eyes too cycled between being bright green and clear blue, sometimes hidden behind thick glasses and sometimes not.
"Alright, Hermione?" the boy asked.
"Harry," Hermione smiled back, fiercely glad to see him. So much so that she thought her chest would burst. Her sweet, precious boy.
She hugged him and knew everything would be alright now.
The Welcome Feast was excellent as always, though it was odd that there were Christmas decorations. Or was that because it was the Christmas Feast? How odd she hadn't noticed time passing. And why hadn't she gone home for Christmas? Oh, but she remembered now. She could never go home.
"Too much green. Not enough meat," grumbled Ron. For some reason he was a dwarf with a braided beard. He must be wearing a costume since it's the Halloween Feast.
Hermione opened her mouth to tell him vegetables were good for him, but then Professor Quirrell came storming into the Great Hall, throwing the doors open with a loud crack as he screamed, "Troll! Troll in the dungeon!"
Harry stood even as the professor fainted, that familiar blaze of conviction shining in his face. "You have my sword!"
Hermione nodded and smiled at what a good man her sweet boy was, even as she reached for the bow and quiver of arrows strapped to her back. But they weren't needed. Professor Dumbledore had taken care of everything, raising his staff and shouting "The dawn take you all!"
Somehow Hermione knew that the trolls had turned to stone. Then she blinked and she was using a mirror to peer around the corner of one of the many halls of Hogwarts and catching the reflection of a great flaming eye that made the very air scream with malignance. Elvenqueen. My queen. Witch Queen, a soundless voice hissed in the eerie descants that denoted Parseltongue. How could she understand it?
Her body went stiff and she was in the infirmary, and a dark haired woman was nursing her. She was so beautiful. As beautiful as a star. Hermione wondered who the woman was, and why Harry looked at her with such longing whenever he visited.
"Any change?" Harry asked the beautiful woman.
The woman gave a sorrowful smile, and Hermione would have sighed at the loveliness if she could move. "Together Ada and Mithrandir have mended her physical hurts... but her spirit wanders, lost in dreams."
Harry gripped Hermione's hand. She could feel the warmth of his fingers. She wished she could squeeze back.
"The Fellowship leaves on the morrow, and my ada still insists on taking part."
"It is what she would want. You know that. She would hate you going into such danger without Legolas at your side. There is little he can do to help her, and much he can do to help you."
"It isn't right. Nana needs him! He should stay here."
"Safe, you mean?" The beautiful woman drew Harry away from Hermione, but not so far that Hermione couldn't see them embrace or hear their words, spoken in a beautiful fluting language that Hermione somehow understood. "Tell me, my dear Estel. If it were I lying in that bed, would you forsake your duty to remain with me?"
"You are your father's son. He can no more wait for others to fight this battle than you could. So he will go with the Fellowship and fight for all the free peoples of Arda and keep you in one piece so that your mother doesn't skin him alive when you both return. And I shall tend Hermione myself until she wakes. Not a breath shall pass her lips without me knowing of it."
They kissed, and then pressed their foreheads together, taking comfort in their closeness.
"Elrond thinks she may sleep until the Ring is no longer part of this world," Harry whispered.
"Then you best destroy it quickly."
Hermione sat in the library idly studying books on dragons. The last one had been killed, so she wasn't sure why. Oh right, Hagrid was trying to hatch one. Norbert might steal the Arkenstone. No, no, the stone would be fine. It was on the third floor.
A shadow fell across her face. She looked up to see Malfoy standing there. He'd gotten very handsome somehow, his white blonde hair falling to the middle of his back and dimples in his cheeks. His silver eyes were sad.
"My heart will bleed 'til I see thee again," Draco told her, bending to press a kiss to her forehead, and then bury his nose in her curls. A few hot tears dropped from his face to hers, and their warmth spread, suffusing her limbs with a sensation of feeling that she'd only now noticed was missing.
Hermione tried to ask him to wait, suddenly not caring that he'd ever called her a mudblood, but then, as if merely thinking the word had conjured the scene, she was on the floor of the drawing room in Malfoy Manor, unable to scream as she was tortured.
Lucius Malfoy pushed Bellatrix out of the way and loomed over her, for some reason wearing a crown of thorns. "Not my family," Lucius said, picking her up in his arms and rocking her like a babe. "Not for duty, not for honor. Never again."
Lucius was joined by Narcissa, who looked like a young girl for some reason. "We are with you, Nana," Little Girl Narcissa said. "You just need to follow your heart."
Hermione cried and her tears formed an ocean. There was an island in the middle of it, haunted by shapes in black cloaks. She ran.
Fenrir Greyback cut off her escape. "Where are you going, Preciouusss? Gollum, gollum!"
"No!" Harry screamed, an anguished cry that shook her soul. Hermione looked up. Fenrir Greyback was gone, but Dumbledore was falling, yanked down into an abyss by a creature made of Fiendfyre. But they couldn't stay. They couldn't help. The Death Eaters were coming.
Hermione tried to help Harry, to give him her strength, but he couldn't feel her. And yet light was cast across the cavern, and Hermione turned to see Draco standing next to Ron, his skin glowing. "Your Naneth sensed my sorrow," Draco said to Harry. "She sends her love."
"She's awake?" Harry looked so hopeful.
But Draco was shaking his head. "No, she yet slumbers. But her heart is with us still."
Harry's expression crumpled, but a moment later he was pulling himself together just as he always had and always would. "Come. We must away."
"You must gather yourself," Professor McGonagall instructed Hermione. They were the only ones in the transfiguration classroom. Professor McGonagall was wearing her usual tartan robes and hat, but was young and blonde for some reason. Her voice was filled with the wisdom of ages, but that had always been true.
Hermione raised her wand, determined to master whatever new lesson this was.
"I know the horror, the confusion you face," the professor went on. "I too almost succumbed to the Ring. But I am older than you and have left more pieces of myself throughout the world. You must reach out - find those things that hold your power, that resonate with your touch, trace the bonds that anchor you. Only then will mind and body be whole once more."
Hermione frowned, a bit bewildered. This didn't sound like transfiguration.
Professor McGonagall looked to the left, to where the Malfoys stood with Harry and Ron and four little boys with hairy feet. "I have done what I can."
"I thank you for the boon, my lady," Harry answered. He was so polite. Hermione smiled at him, then frowned when she realized he couldn't see her. In fact, she was a tree for some reason. No, she was several trees. A forest.
The Forbidden Forest loomed around her, monstrous spiders - acromantula - rushing through the trees, trying to invade, to reach the palace at the center of the wood now that the wards surrounding it were weakened. Lucius Malfoy, wearing a circlet of shining silver this time and armor of the same metal, wielded two swords as he led an army against the spiders and werewolves and goblins that threatened his home.
"Help us, Nana," a voice called.
Hermione turned and she was within a shining cavern of carved rock and twisting roots looking up at a throne grown from a tree. And upon the throne sat Little Girl Narcissa, a wreathe of flowers upon her brow and an oak scepter in her hands. She raised the scepter, a look of determination on her face, and the very forest began to fight back against the invaders, trunks and branches whipping and lashing like they were all Whomping Willows.
But it did not come easily to Little Narcissa. Her face was going grey, the light of her skin dimming.
"Help us!" the little girl called again, her white curls flying around her head as her eyes zeroed in on Hermione.
"I don't know how," Hermione answered, her hands shaking. She couldn't remember any spells. Why couldn't she remember any spells?!
"Follow your heart! You know the way!"
"I don't know how!" Hermione said again, shouting this time. Frustration and despair made her eyes leak with bitter tears. She couldn't remember any spells or how old she was or why Draco was handsome or why her skin should be glowing but wasn't.
"The Third Floor Corridor is off limits," Professor Umbridge said, nine dementors drifting in the air behind her. She was wearing Slytherin's locket, and there was something wrong with her eyes. They were red. Hermione was fairly certain that they shouldn't be red.
"Of course, Professor," Hermione agreed. She didn't want to get detention. Though she did wonder… what exactly was on the third floor? It was something important, surely. Something that had to be protected. But if Professor Umbridge was here with dementors, that meant that Professor Dumbledore was dead. Yes, he fell. I remember now.
And if Professor Dumbledore was gone, there was nothing stopping …. Someone…. From getting to whatever was protected on the third floor. Why couldn't she remember what was there?
She went to find Harry, to tell him they had to do something, but he was busy riding in a boat. Was he just now starting Hogwarts? That didn't make sense. Ah, he was going down a river, not crossing a lake. Perhaps he was on holiday. Well, if he was on holiday he wouldn't mind Hermione borrowing his Invisibility Cloak. Not when it was so important.
Hidden from sight, Hermione crept toward the locked door on the third floor, opening it with a whispered, "Alohomora."
The door clicked open, and Hermione was falling.
It was dark and deep and full of terror. Evil and hatred thickened the air. And there, on the slick black floor of cracked lava rock, lay the broken body of Dumbledore.
Hermione ran to him, choking on her sobs. Her tears touched his mutilated flesh, and to her increasing horror he began to dissolve.
"No!" she shouted, trying to hold onto him even as he disappeared between her fingers like smoke. "No, no, no, no, please don't. I need help."
"Help will always be given to those who ask for it."
And suddenly it was light. The cavern was gone, replaced by a soothing nothingness that formed itself into a spectral library. A wash of calm relaxed all of Hermione's muscles, drying her tears and making her feel clean and new. Reborn.
She turned around and saw -
"Olorin," she addressed the Maia, knowing exactly who he was and remembering herself. "Mithrandir."
He smiled at her, or so Hermione thought. Neither of them had a body at the moment, so it was more of a sensation than anything.
"Ah, the name given to me by the elves. I'd almost forgotten." He laughed. "It seems we're both rather scattered, my dear."
Hermione snorted. "So scattered that I didn't realize it myself until you found me."
They walked together, or so it seemed, Olorin leading her toward a pair of doors that had appeared at the end of the row of bookshelves. Above them various texts floated, flapping their pages like birds.
"And yet we must pull ourselves together, for our time on Arda is not yet through. That is, if you choose. It's entirely up to you."
Hermione nodded. "I should have died, but I didn't."
"No. That wonderful protection spell of yours could not be defeated by darkness of any sort, anchored with the love of your family as it is. It was the shadows that already lived within you that caused such harm. It is those shadows you will have to overcome and cast away if you choose to go back."
Hermione looked up, and up, and up, for in that moment Olorin seemed taller than a mountain. "Just as yours have been burned away in fire."
"Yes." He gestured to the two doors. "The question remains. Will you go on, or will you go back? You do not have to return. You could remain at peace, and see the friends of your old life in the Halls of Mandos."
"The battle can be won without me."
Everything slotted into place within Hermione's mind. Her memories, her history, her self restored. She smiled, reaching for the door that would take her back. "Books and cleverness. I've never been the hero of the story. But that doesn't make it any less mine."
"I thought you might see it that way," Olorin said as Hermione opened the door.
They had bodies again. A tall man with a long beard and a slender elf with wild curls. Looking back over her shoulder, Hermione inclined her head. "Fare thee well, White Wizard. We shall meet again soon."
Olorin bowed. "Swift travels, Hermione the Grey. I shall see you at the turning of the tide."