Sooooo…yeah. Hi.

I am so, so sorry. I have been…indisposed…for the past year or so, and I have failed you all. But I'm back. At least for now. Updates won't be as unnaturally speedy as they used to be, but I plan on having them out once every 2 weeks, at least.

This is a multichapter Tomione that has been teasing my mind forevvverrr. That said, I think it's time for it to become more than a figment of my imagination.

Also, I'm really struggling getting my words out as smoothly as I used to, because I'm so out of practice. So bear with me for a little while. It will get better. Hopefully.

Hold on to your seat. I'm back, bitches. ;)

Summary: "He watched as the air around her crackled with her magic, and it was so aggressive, so electrifying, that he wondered how this beautiful creature ever managed to evade his notice – how he so foolishly underestimated her from the start."

For the sake of this story, a few things have changed. The events of seventh year didn't culminate in the Battle of Hogwarts – in my story, the war keeps going, and there is a Second Battle of Hogwarts that happens in 2002, after a few hard years of war and loss on either side. Hermione is a bit OOC – she is still the champion of love and courage and all that rot, at least at first, but she has been through hell, and it has changed her. She is angry. She is sad. She does, on occasion, abandon logic for the sake of vengeance. She is not the quick-to-tears sensitive Hermione we see in the books. She is tougher. She is harder. She can be a bit manipulative, at times, in order to protect herself and the people she cares about. She owns her power and, as someone slightly older with far more life experience, she struggles to fit in with the other students. Her instincts are nearly unparalleled (Draco's, too) by years of fighting. She is still a competitive know-it-all, just less annoying about how she goes about it. She is still quick to jump to someone's defense, and still has that selfless, self-sacrificing streak that has not been at all diminished over the years. She is just jaded, and the trauma that she has experienced is so immeasurable that she suffers daily, entrenched in fear, loneliness, anger, and immense sadness. She's strong, but not always stable or consistent. She's also a Grade A badass, and has killed her fair share of evil Death Eater types; she doesn't have the moral qualms that you might expect out of Hermione Granger. And, one more thing – Hermione does have a dark side, one that grows more prevalent throughout this story. By the time this fic is over (and no, I don't know exactly when or where that will be) she will give the young Lord Voldemort a run for his money.

Draco is kinder. He has come to care about Hermione – a lot. The depth of their feelings for each other will be explored more throughout the story, though this is not, primarily, a Dramione story. Sorry, guys. I have plenty of those up my sleeve, but this one is the one clawing most impatiently at the walls of my brain. Things aren't always strictly platonic between the two – there is some tension there, believe me. And Draco is also a Grade A badass.

Tom will be…Tom. I haven't quite cracked his character yet. He's a work in progress. He is a Grade A BAMF, and a sociopathic megalomaniac that is reluctantly interested in the two time travelers, but especially Hermione because, well, she's a pretty girl, and while he likes to think he's above such things as silly teenage hormones, he's not immune. Sorry, Tom. You haven't officially crossed over into monster territory yet; you're 50% there, though, so keep trying! Or don't.

WARNINGS: general adult themes, language, violence, horror and gore and some creepy shit, and fairly explicit sexual content.

Anyway, on with the story. Don't expect too much. I have no airs that I am some great writer. I like to think that I don't suck at it, but believe me – I am under no illusions that I am hot shit. Especially when it comes to stringing along a multi-chapter plot (which I'm not very good at, to be truthful). That said, please review honestly, because I am always looking to learn more.


oooo

Only the dead have seen the end of war. -George Santayana

Wednesday, September 18th, 2002

10:32 A.M.

The Forbidden Forest

How terribly ironic.

Hermione chuckled as she ran, earning an exasperated look from the unlikely compatriot running to her left.

"What the hell are you giggling about over there?"

She grinned, panting. She hurled a curse over her shoulder, feeling a thrill of satisfaction when she heard a man shout and a body hit the ground. "Oh, you know," she responded breathlessly, wiping sweat from her forehead and leaping over a fallen tree with agility that could only be accomplished through years of soldiering. "I was just thinking how funny it is that I used to struggle so much in DADA in school. How I froze up during duels and got nervous during any sort of practical test. It was the only subject in which I scored an E instead of an O on my O.W.L.s."

Draco Malfoy – improbable ally, confidant, and friend – scoffed, turning nimbly to cast a quick Incendio towards the dry brush on the forest floor in an impressive display of magic, a wall of fire forming to stretch horizontally at their backs. England was in the middle of a nasty September draught, and the arid land needed little encouragement. Flames spread quickly behind them, halting their would-be captors in their tracks. They both smiled victoriously when they heard their pursuers swear viciously.

"I didn't know that," he responded, still able to manage a cool, cultured drawl even as he booked it alongside her over the thick roots of the Forbidden Forest. He managed to look good doing it, too, the stupid git, despite blood pouring down from his temple, staining his angelic halo of hair a dirty rust color. He laughed without humor, his lips twisting into a bitter smile. "Of course, the fact that 'struggling' for you is getting an E instead of an O on something is depressing. Nobody likes a show-off. But it looks like you got over that block pretty well, didn't you Granger?"

She hummed in agreement. "It's ironic that the one thing that I was once even remotely bad at became something that is now second nature to me."

A cloaked figure appeared through the trees to Draco's left. The metallic glint of a mask caught her eye. Raising her wand, she didn't hesitate. "Cerebrumiax," she muttered, slashing her wand down and to the right. A bright purple jet of smoky light shot from the end of her wand.

A tortured scream was torn from the figure's lips and she saw him crumple to the ground, holding his head. She kept running. She felt nothing but grim satisfaction.

Draco shuddered. "Ugh, I hate that curse, Granger," he said, nearly tripping over a protruding root the size of a small car. He vaulted himself over it and she did the same, landing hard on the dirt floor of the forest. "Don't get me wrong, the spells you invent are always kind of awesome, but at the same time disgusting to watch."

"Well, Malfoy," she replied, "Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching a Death Eater's brain leaking from his ears."

They both came to an abrupt stop as they reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest, scanning their surroundings before slinking around Hagrid's Hut and leaning against the far wall, stopping to catch their breath.

"You scare me, Granger," Draco admitted, bending at the waist and clutching the stitch in his side. He and Hermione were both at the peak of physical fitness, but no amount of training could prepare someone for the utter nightmare of battle and fleeing through miles of forest. "You sound bloody evil sometimes, you know."

She leaned her head back against the wall, breathing heavily. "Revenge does horrible things to good people, Draco. You know this better than most. It's warped me. I'm not the girl I was in school."

He sighed in response. "I know that, Granger. I can't claim to be unchanged by war, either."

She turned and looked at him, her eyes bright with adrenaline. "For the record, Malfoy – I like this version of you better than the last."

He grinned and chuckled. "Me too, Hermione. Me too." An explosion sounded from the direction of the castle. He scooted out from behind Hagrid's hut, watching, and then turned back to train his pearly silver gaze on her. "You ready?"

She nodded in affirmation, gripping her wand in hand. She looked down at it, taking in the slight curve of the foot-long walnut wand with a dragon heartstring core. It had taken Hermione over half a year of ownership to master Bellatrix Lestrange's wand. In the end, she didn't think it was the wand that adapted to her as much as she adapted to the wand. The thought used to frighten her – the prospect of sharing any traits with the more-than-half-mad Death Eater terrified her. But as time went on, and the casualties of what seemed a never-ending war began to pile up, she learned to accept the similarities between her and the woman who haunted her nightmares. And she learned to respect herself in spite of them. Because at the end of the day, despite the growing darkness in Hermione, she knew she would never turn into a woman like Bellatrix. She still fought for what was good, and right, and she still loved her friends and was unwaveringly loyal to them. She'd found it within herself to forgive people like Draco and his mother, people like Parkinson and Goyle, whose Slytherin self-preservation instincts had ironically saved more than a few Order members. She was still Hermione Granger, Muggleborn know-it-all extraordinaire, champion of underdogs and all things pure.

She was just a bit more ruthless in how she went about it, and tarnishing her own soul in the process was just an unfortunate side effect.

"What does it look like out there?" she asked her partner, looking at his broad back as he again twisted around to look at the castle. "Any obstacles?"

"A couple," he murmured. "One acromantula, two dementors, two Death Eaters that still have their masks on, and what looks like Rosier dueling Luna."

"Oh goody," she murmured sarcastically. "All of my favorites. But which to dismember first?" She leaned past him as he snorted in amusement, getting a glimpse of the action over his shoulder. "Look," she said in wonder, pointing. "Luna's kicking Rosier's arse."

And she was. They watched as, with a dreamy smile on her face, Luna danced out of the way of Rosier's killing curses and sent a barrage of various spells back at him, ranging from the tickling jinx, Rictusempra, to one of Hermione's very own creations: Sanguinulcus, a nasty hex that brought the blood to a boil within half a minute and would cause death not long after. Luna was unfailingly peculiar, even whilst fighting for her life. She made it look like she was doing nothing more than hosting a tea party. With finality, she slashed her wand, muttering under her breath, and a brilliant green jet of light shot from the tip of her wand to hit the hulking blonde square in the chest. He fell to the ground.

Dead.

Hermione and Draco lunged forward at the same time as their perpetually preoccupied friend twirled away, unaware of the dementors looming behind her. They cast at the same time, patronuses bursting from their wands in a brilliant display of powerful positive magic. A snarling lioness raced a roaring Antipodean Opaleye across the field, each slamming into a different dementor, driving them into the trees. Their job finished, they dissipated into the approaching dusk sky.

"A dragon, Malfoy? Really?" She laughed, delighted, realizing that she had never before seen Draco's patronus. "How fitting."

Luna smiled dreamily, killing a masked figure with a quick Avada Kedavra. "He is named after the dragon constellation, Hermione," she commented, flouncing over to them, her long blonde hair streaming behind her. Blood soaked through her khaki shorts and trickled down her pale leg from a wide but shallow gash on her upper thigh. She seemed not to notice.

"Don't make fun, Granger," Draco warned. "I could easily say something along the lines of 'A lioness, Granger? Really? How appropriate,' and you would sneer at me. Besides, what ever did happen to your otter?"

As Draco cast a nonverbal Sectumsempra at the acromantula, severing all of its limbs and causing it to squeal in pain, she chuckled and used a robust Flipendo to knock the remaining Death Eater into the very rock she had once punched Draco against. She heard his bones crack audibly, and when he slid down she spied the bloodstain smeared on the stone from where his head had split open. He crumpled to the ground, still.

"My otter was replaced," she said darkly, walking briskly up the stairs towards the castle. "The lion took its place sometime after September nineteenth, 1999, I imagine. My twentieth birthday. It took me two months to be able to conjure a Patronus after I got home, remember? And when I finally could again, the otter was nowhere to be seen."

Draco and Luna were both silent after that, dogging her heels up the steps towards the castle. Before they reached the top, Draco pulled on her shoulder, stopping her. He turned her towards him.

Her eyes were dry, but her heart was full of anguish. "Hermione," Draco said, using her given name. "Look at me." She stared at his no-longer-pointy chin, turned square with age and stress and muscle. "Look in my eyes."

She reluctantly complied, burnt sienna hesitantly seeking out granite. Draco ran his hands from her arms to her shoulders to her neck and then up to cup her cheeks. "You can't think about that right now, Granger. You can't afford to be distracted by your grief. There's a time for all that, and it isn't now." He barely flinched as Luna blasted a lurking acromantula across the grass. "Potter needs you at a hundred percent. The Order needs you at a hundred percent. Luna and I are counting on you to watch our backs. Do you understand?"

She let out a shaky breath and nodded, closing her eyes. When she opened them, she felt her resolve harden. "I'm ready. It's out of my mind."

Draco squeezed her shoulders. "Good. Now let's go. We've got work to do."


oooo

When they reached the castle, all was chaos.

Somehow Hermione had gotten separated from her two compatriots, and ended up fighting back to back with Dean Thomas. She screamed in outrage when her dark-skinned friend put an arm around her and swung her around, sacrificing himself for her by taking a green flash of light to the back and falling at her feet. Furious, she sent a nasty, powerful Expulso back and watched the black-robed body explode into pieces, sending bloody chunks of flesh flying across the courtyard. She felt the hot thickness of it splatter her face and neck and arms and legs, felt the heaviness of it in her pulled-back mass of curls.

A familiar shout drew her attention and she turned to see Draco get hit with a smoky spell that had him dropping to the ground. Bellatrix cackled. Enraged, Hermione charged towards her, dodging one of Greyback's werewolves and hurling herself onto the dark witch's back, grabbing her by the hair and jabbing Bellatrix's very own stolen walnut wand into her throat, focusing her anger and rapidly firing off the spell for the slowest and most painful death she could think of.

"PROBILLIUM!" she roared, a ripple of hate-fuelled red-orange energy seeping from her wand into the neck of the woman in front of her. Shrieking in agony, Bellatrix flung the younger witch from her form. Hermione landed hard on her side. She grunted in pain as her wrist crumpled, pinned beneath her weight and pressed to the cold stone of the courtyard.

"A nice little spell I picked up in Haiti, Bellatrix," Hermione shouted from the ground. Crawling over to where Draco lay with his eyes closed, she watched with sick fulfillment as Bellatrix Lestrange met her end.

The eldest Black daughter screeched in anguish, clawing at her neck as the skin there began to disintegrate. The infection spread, eating away at the epidermis on her chest and face until she was writhing on the floor. Hermione saw her hands begin to turn red and smoke. It was as if acid had been injected into the woman's skin, eating away at her flesh. It continued to work until nearly nothing was left. Bellatrix stopped screaming. Many people in the courtyard, on both sides of the war, had stopped to watch in horror as her form crumpled in on itself. She convulsed, skin rotting off to expose raw, bloody muscle. Her eyes, no longer protected by eyelids, collapsed in their sockets. The flesh and muscle around her jaw decayed rapidly, exposing the bone beneath. Her hands melted, tendons stretching and blood pooling. She thrashed once, and then went still.

It had taken less than two minutes, but all that was left of Bellatrix Lestrange was a sticky pile of blood, bones and hair.

Hermione's sense of contentment didn't last long. As Rodolphus Lestrange cried out in fury and charged her, Harry appeared through the smoke, firing off a stunner that hit the older man in the back. Then, with a flourish, he sent the Killing Curse towards the stray werewolf who, in human form, succumbed within seconds.

"Harry!" she cried. A great wave of relief rolled right through her at finally seeing her oldest and closest friend, even if he was covered in blood and dirt. He still looked a sight better than she did, anyway. She cast a shield behind him just in time to deflect an orange jet of light racing towards his back.

"Thanks, Hermione," he breathed, wrapping an arm around her neck in a side hug. She tugged him over to where Draco lay, crouching behind a column and putting their backs to the wall. "What happened to him?" he asked of her, laying his fingers against Draco's neck. His pulse was faint, but present.

"Bellatrix," Hermione said darkly. She looked over to where the evil woman's remains lay, still steaming. Harry's grass green gaze followed. "But I took care of it."

Harry shuddered and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Just be careful," he said, his eyes kind but concerned. "That spell is dark, 'Mione. You heard what the shaman in Port-Au-Prince said about it – that it does worse things to the soul than the Killing Curse."

"I know," she replied, feeling properly chastised – and ashamed. "I just…I wanted her to suffer, Harry. I wanted her to really suffer."

The Boy-Who-Lived-Twice exhaled heavily. "I know. Believe me, I know." He used the sleeve of his shirt (how he wore long sleeves in this heat, she didn't understand) to dab at a long cut on the side of her face before aiming his wand at a deep cut on her thigh and muttering a healing charm, albeit a weak one. It staunched the bleeding some, but didn't close the wound.

He grimaced. "Sorry, Hermione, you know I'm rubbish at healing spells."

She gave him a gentle smile. "That's alright, Harry. I've suffered through your botched attempts many times, and I always live," she said cheekily, elbowing him in the side. No matter how dark and dismal things were in their lives these days, the two always strived to have something to laugh about, even in the face of great danger. It was a sweet reward when her solemn friend grinned, his perpetually sad green eyes flashing with brief mirth.

"Have you seen Moldy Voldy yet?" she asked, her tone light and teasing despite the seriousness of the question.

Harry smirked, but his eyes were worried. "Only once, from across a distance." His voice got quiet. "He's so powerful, 'Mione. I just…I don't know if I can do this."

"We've talked about this before, Harry," she said, laying a reassuring hand on his shoulder. She stood, pulling him up beside her. "Don't go doubting yourself now, while we're so close."

He smiled tightly. "What's a hero without a little mental breakdown right at the end, Hermione?" he asked cynically. "Self-doubt and identity crises are what I'm all about. Hero, remember?" He gestured to himself, puffing up his chest comically.

Hermione, despite her exhaustion and wounds (her wrist was so swollen it was unrecognizable, and the burn on her shoulder blade and back felt like her skin had been ripped off, doused in acid, set on fire, trampled, set on fire again, and then put back in place), giggled uncharacteristically at the Chosen One's theatrical stance. "Oh, come off it, you idiot."

Draco groaned softly from his spot on the ground, and suddenly Hermione realized where she was, and what was happening, and that one of her closest friends was suffering from an unknown curse that could very well kill him where he lie. She sobered quickly, taking stock of her surroundings, and that was when she noticed it.

Complete silence.

Everything was frozen in space and time – not even the wind blew. Smoke had ceased to rise, and fires had ceased to spread, and people and creatures everywhere had ceased to move. Rubble that had been blasted into the air hung there, suspended, as if balancing precariously on some unseen surface. It was as if the world had taken a breath and had forgotten to exhale.

Confused, Hermione lifted her hand from Harry's still shoulder, eyes scanning as she crouched next to Draco's silent form. And then she heard it: something beautiful, something strangely and distantly familiar, as if from a dream – something that she had not heard in a long time and had never expected to hear again.

Phoenix song.

Looking to the sky, she saw the bright speck of color that was Fawkes, gliding through the frozen smoke towards her and her two companions. She gaped in disbelief.

"But…how?" she mused to herself, confused.

It was widely known that phoenixes were nearly impossible to domesticate (there had been only two known to history), and when they were tamed as pets they were unfailingly loyal. When its master died, a phoenix would fly away into the wild, mourning, and was never seen again. The fact that Fawkes had come back to Hogwarts, his home while he had belonged to Albus Dumbledore, was highly unlikely. That he were to come back now, at this time, during this final battle, to the place where Dumbledore not only lived but also had died, was…almost bordering on impossible.

She was dreaming. She must have been. But as time continued to stand still, the speck got clearer and clearer, closer and closer – and was headed right for her.

"Fawkes!" she called out, confused but still happy to be able to see him again. She waved in greeting, and continued to crouch next to Draco's body, hoping that Fawkes could somehow heal him. What fortune! What a strange stroke of luck! Hope stirred within her chest.

As he got closer, however, wings of vibrant orange and vermillion plumage pumping furiously, Hermione grew cautious. His legs were…on fire. The flames travelled upwards on his body until all but his intelligent black eyes were covered with them, and Hermione could feel the intense heat of the fire from even fifty feet away. Fawkes picked up speed, and Hermione could do nothing but lodge herself more firmly against the wall, trying simultaneously to shield Draco's body with her own. She tried pushing Harry aside, but his form would not budge.

"What are you doing!?" she screamed at the approaching bird. She shielded her eyes from the heat. "Fawkes!"

When he careened into her, she was knocked violently against the wall, shrieking when Fawkes' fiery body continued to push until he had somehow melded to her. She screamed in pain when she felt the impact in her chest. It felt like her heart was burning, about to explode beneath her sternum. She looked down to find that her shirt was seemingly unaffected, but her chest glowed with a strange orange light, as if she had swallowed a jack-o-lantern only…brighter. Hotter. So, so hot. Scorching. She groaned, laying her head down on her blond friend's stomach, almost fainting from the pain. And then pleasure melded with the pain, so intense she thought she might cry. It was not a sensual pleasure; it was simply blissful, like a perfect day out in the sunshine, or sitting with a mug of hot cocoa in the winter, or laughing with friends, or cuddling with a lover. It was taking a hot shower after a day stuck outside in the chilly, polluted air.

Pleasure and pain ripped through her body in tandem, as Fawkes' body seemed to fuse to her own. She could feel him, his distinctive magic, throughout her whole body. Blinding light flashed behind her eyelids.

Then there was an almighty CRACK, and she was suddenly squeezed tight and whisked away into darkness, the taste of fire on the back of her tongue.


oooo

Monday, September 18th, 1944

11:12 A.M.

Hogwarts

Dumbledore sat quietly in his office, reading through an essay by one of his younger Ravenclaw students. He rubbed his temples, attempting to stave off the approaching headache that he felt was inevitable. Sighing, he set the parchment down and took off his glasses, resting his eyes for just a moment. Perhaps he would indulge in some tea. A cup of Earl Grey sounded lovely.

Of course, his moment of peace didn't last long, and his plans for a cup of tea were forgotten as his door reverberated with the sharp rat-a-tat of a knock.

"Come in," he said tiredly, attempting to put on a happy façade. He dropped it immediately, however, when one of his oldest friends stepped into the room.

"Galatea," he said, slouching in his chair with relief. "Thank Merlin. I honestly don't believe I could stand to even look at another student for the rest of the day, much less field questions. At least I don't have any afternoon classes today. What brings you to my office?"

Professor Galatea Merrythought, instructor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, stepped into his office, coming to stand behind the chair in front of his desk. She tugged on her long, graying braid and sighed wearily. "I just thought I'd ask if you wanted me to bring you something from the dining hall," she said, her voice sounding just as tired as her face looked. "I'm going to grab some lunch and bring it back to my office, and I figured you might want to do the same."

Albus smiled at his fellow teacher. "That would be lovely, Galatea, thank you," he said. "You know just what I like. I trust you to pick out something tasty on my behalf."

She smiled and the increasingly deepening lines around her eyes crinkled. "Of course. I'll see you in a few minutes."

He sat back in relief, once again taking his spectacles off with the intention of closing his eyes for a few minutes. Once again, he was interrupted.

This time, however, the interruption was far more unusual.

It started with Fawkes soaring in through the open window, warbling a high-pitched, melodious song that was, unfortunately, just as loud as it was beautiful.

Nothing so unusual about that…and then, quite suddenly, it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. He was suddenly hot, uncomfortably hot, as if he was sitting in an enclosed room with a blazing bonfire. As he started to stand, gasping for breath in the oppressive heat, there was an almighty CRACK and a blinding flash of light. And then the air cleared, and Dumbledore blinked away the spots that were floating in front of his eyes.

When his vision cleared, he gently slid his wand from his robe. He could see two figures clearly from where he stood, moving slowly towards them as if in a dream. A man in dark clothing lay stretched out on his back on the floor, eyes closed. A woman knelt by his side, breathing heavily, wearing bizarre clothing – a sleeveless shirt (which he guessed had been white once upon a time) with a pair of olive-green pants that were cut to end well above the knee.

But what was most interesting about this strange couple was that it was glaringly obvious that they were covered in blood.

The boy's hair, which Albus could see had once been a very fair shade of blonde, was heavily stained with blood at one temple and at the nape of his neck and covered in grey dust. The knee of his trousers, though pitch black in color, shone with the stickiness of blood. The ankle of the same leg was obviously broken, and his breathing was shallow and irregular.

The woman seemed to be in a similar condition, though it was hard to tell. Her shirt, though it still shone a dusty white in some places, was nearly soaked all the way through with blood, turning it a vivid shade of burgundy. What he could see of her skin was shaded in red, splattered and streaked with drops and smears of crimson. He thought perhaps that most of the blood wasn't hers. The bright scarlet liquid poured freely from a nasty looking gash on her left thigh, running down one long, golden leg and soaking through her sock. The opposite leg was unmarred by injury, but her calf had obviously been clawed by some creature at some point, rather recently, he'd guess, because the gouges were long and pink and puckered, still healing.

In her right hand she clutched a long, dark wand in a white-knuckled grip; the entirety of the back of her hand was missing a thick layer of skin, which had obviously been scraped off by a slicing hex and now hung limply from her wrist, exposing the tender red flesh beneath. She cradled her left wrist to her chest, and he could tell by the swelling and the way she held it that it was badly broken. He caught a glimpse of something on the inside of her forearm – an old scar, it looked like – but it was hard to make out with all of the blood, and the angle in which she held her arm made it impossible to see clearly. A simple gold chain hung around her neck, but whatever pendant hung from it was hidden underneath her shirt, resting between modest cleavage that was nonetheless inappropriate for day-to-day wear. Her slim shoulder blade, which he got a look at when she twisted her body around to take in her surroundings, sported a severe burn. His eyes traveled up the length of herneck, spotting another whitish scar, and scanned her face.

Despite not being a typical "beauty," she was rather stunning, he noticed objectively. Her face was heart-shaped, her nose small and graced with a smattering of light freckles. He could not make out the color of her eyes from where he stood, especially since they were constantly roving, but he thought they were dark. Her hair, though pulled up into a ponytail and matted with blood and grime, was obviously long and curly and some shade of brown, though the layer of dust covering the odd pair made it hard to tell. A long, thin gash ran the length of her temple, and the opposite cheek boasted yet another scar, a white line scored into her high cheekbone.

What was perhaps most intriguing, though, was something that Albus would have missed if he hadn't been studying her in great detail. A strange orange light flared under the skin of her chest and rippled quickly through her body, gone before he could get a better look. He watched her shudder with the light's movement, closing her eyes briefly before snapping them open again.

She looked straight at him, tears running down her cheeks and making tracks through the dust and blood. Her eyes were dark, pleading, unfathomable. Equal parts compassion and suspicion swelled within his chest. He frowned.

She wiped blood and dust from her eyes to get a better look at him; and then shock and confusion registered plainly on her face. Her bottom lip quivered.

"Dumbledore?" she said, her voice small and weak. Then, curiously, she looked over at Fawkes the phoenix, training those enigmatic dark eyes on his beloved pet. "Oh Fawkes," she said, tears running heavily down her face. She shook her head. "What have you done?"

Meeting Albus' eyes once more, she fainted.