I disclaim any ownership of anything contained within this story. I'll let J.K. Rowling and Joss Whedon squabble over what belong to whom and just take myself out of the picture completely. Thank you.

Homecoming

By SJC

When Hermione watched the owl fly through her bedroom window, it carried both her hope and a roll of parchment. After she quickly scanned the message, both went up in flames- the letter only slightly more literally in response to a muttered charm.

The care with which she meticulously read every piece of information had been forgotten, and after the tell tale start- "Miss Granger, I regret to inform you.." -she had barely glanced at the rest. She hadn't needed to. It was only the last in a long line of letters from respected witches and wizards across the world telling her the same thing: that what she was attempting to do was impossible and that they could not offer any help, any information, or any advice other then to give up. But giving up simply wasn't an option for her, and she pulled out another piece of parchment.

It wasn't the next response that finally changed everything, or even the one after that. In fact, Hermione had lost count of how many letters she had sent before she had finally received the answer that would lead her to what she was looking for. And even then, it was a long shot at best. Still, something instinctual inside of her made her pay close attention to the brief mention of a coven of witches that might be able to help. The letter hadn't said who they were, or been more exact about where they could be found other then her home country of England, but she wasn't to be discouraged by the lacking information. Research was what she did best, and true to form it was less then a week later that found her on a train, heading to the equivalent of a magical reservation in the south of England.

What she would do when she arrived, she had only a few hours to figure out. Her plan so far hadn't developed farther then to appeal to their compassion. It was her Gryffindor nature, rearing its brave and foolish head that had her buying the tickets before she had devised any sort of plan. And it was that very same nature she blamed now as she tried to organize her thoughts. As they had for most of the past few months, they fell to the man she was trying to save, the boy she was afraid might already be lost, and the world that hung in the balance.

While she grieved for the passing of the brave, tormented man she had cared for, but never really known, she refused to mourn a death she didn't believe. Sirius Black may have gone from this world, but she couldn't accept that he had reached the next. While others turned inward to work through their pain, she had turned to the library, to the comfort of the small hope that burned still inside, fed by the knowledge hidden within the uncountable tomes, and by the certainty that it hadn't been his time, that somehow she would be able to bring him back. She had tried to share her hope with Harry, tried to offer some of her comfort, but the walls of pain built around him were too solid to break, and so it was alone she sat, pouring through book after book, until she found it.

It was hardly more then a paragraph, barely legible and bore no more information or use then to fuel the flame of hope bright enough to melt the ice that had numbed her chest and let her -for the first time since he was lost- breathe. She realized then that the help she needed wouldn't be found in the large library that felt so much like home because as vast as it was, the knowledge it carried was too particular.

It was one month until she first found the small passage, and the second found her on summer break, back at home and corresponding with some of the most talented and brilliant witches and wizards of the time on the subject. Now almost two and half months since he first disappeared, she finally felt she was drawing close to the answer.

But while she prayed that she would be able to save Sirius, she worried still that it was too late for Harry. So many tragic events had shaped his life in the short time he had been alive, and she feared the consequences of the latest. He had completely withdrawn into himself, and while they were becoming too familiar to his response to such intense pain, they were at a loss on what to do to help him out of it. He had never fully recovered from Cedric's death, never stopped blaming himself, and now to lose his godfather in such a way... She wasn't sure he'd be able to overcome this. And being watched by most of the world as the only hope to stop the very evil that had robbed him of so much was more then he could handle.

It was wrong to place such pressure on Harry. All he had ever wanted was a normal life with a family that loved him, and instead he was forced to play hero to the same world that stole his dream away. It was so very unfair to thrust such a responsibility on him when he had already been through so much. She hated what it did to him, and yet, she believed it too. One couldn't know him without placing their faith in him. If anyone could save them from the darkness Voldemort threatened, it had to be him. But Hermione had begun to fear even he wouldn't be enough. If he continued on this path of self-destruction, it wouldn't be evil that defeated the great Harry Potter, but himself. And she wasn't sure if the wizarding world could survive that.

She shook her head, as if the physical action could clear away the worries weighing heavily on her mind, and tried to remind herself of the reason she was doing this. Bringing back Sirius was the only thing she could do to help and she prayed it would be enough. Harry needed him, and the world needed Harry. If only there was some way she could be sure she was doing the right thing. But there wasn't. And all she could do was trust her instincts.

The scenery outside her window was a blur of summer, streaks of green grass, and blue sky meeting at the horizon, but it hardly affected the troubled girl. Her thoughts were turned now to her destination. She had never met a wandless witch, only briefly studying them in History of Magic, and now she was heading to an entire coven of them. Opinions on them were mixed in the wizarding world. Some barely regarded them as anything more then muggles, others held respect for their ways, if not understanding. They treated magic more as a religion then a science. She hadn't learned in anything she read if they even could perform simple charms, only that they didn't. As far as was known, many thousands of years ago at the beginning of time when witches and wizards were first created, there was no division. But somehow, one day they split. Even the oldest documents found couldn't give much more insight or detail. Maybe it was a disagreement in beliefs that drove the wedge between the two, as would happen later in so many Christian religions. Whatever the cause, while the wizarding world grew and advanced and founded learning institutions, it drifted farther and farther away from the muggle culture whereas the others immersed themselves in it, working as hard to erase the difference between the magical and non, as the wizarding world strove to lengthen it. They didn't use wands, or attend magical schools, but instead passed the knowledge down through families. The once superficial differences grew deeper until they completely separated the two groups at the core. Those that left didn't show up on any magical lists, no invitations were sent to the children from magical schools, and by and large the magical community all together ignored them. That is, until Hermione Granger decided to ask them for help.

When the train finally reached its destination, and she walked the dirt path away from the small town to where the coven was located, she couldn't help but feel she was no closer to having determined what to say then she was when she first started her mission. But desperation drove her legs forward, even as her mind raced at the possibilities of what was to follow. It was some time before the path wound around a hill and revealed to her the first glimpse of the compound. It seemed more like a left over commune from the sixties then anything else; there were a smattering of small buildings in one direction, a large garden in another, and a quaint but functional well that the path took her past. It was there that she met her first wandless witch.

Hermione adjusted her book bag, which was for once not actually filled with books, and smiled nervously at the older woman. She looked nothing like any witch she had ever met before and had her clear, blue eyes not reminded her so much of her highly respected headmaster, she might have wondered if she was a witch at all. Her face was tanned from a life spent in the sun, but her smile came easy and her teeth were white- something that Hermione never failed to notice or respect as a consequence to being brought up by dentists. The older witch wiped her hands on her faded blue jeans and pushed up the sleeves of her flannel shirt that had been sliding past her elbow. She might have been in her mid fifties, but then again, being a witch, she could have been far older then she appeared.

"Are you lost, girl?" She asked with a kind voice, but as her eyes read into the younger witches she shook her head, "No, you're not, are you? But you're looking for something. It's been many years since I've last seen one of your kind."

"My name's Hermione Granger," she tried to keep her voice from betraying her. She had never been comfortable meeting new people, and the details of this particular situation didn't lend themselves to aiding her nerves. "I'm here to ask for help."

"You may ask, but I'm not sure how much assistance we will be able to offer." Another long assessing look followed and Hermione fought to not fidget under the scrutiny. "Come. We will talk more once we have eaten."

Hermione's nervous stomach rebelled at the idea of food. "I'm not that hungry, really. I'd actually like to speak to the coven as soon as possible."

"Very well." All traces of warmth and lightness were gone from the older woman that led Hermione into a small room in the largest building, and left her there with the instruction to wait for her return. Hermione wasn't sure what she expected, her mind briefly wandered to the high inquisitors room back at the ministry of magic, but when she finally was led into the large well lit gathering space, she knew it wasn't that. The room was bright and warm with thirteen chairs arranged in a circle. Eleven of them were filled, and she was brought to one of the two empty chairs before the woman guiding her filled the last one.

The witches ranged in age and shape, most offering a smile of encouragement when she met their eye, and all attired as muggle-like as the first she met. Only one seemed out of place. She was young, barely a few years older then Hermione herself, with unnaturally dark hair and pale skin. She didn't smile when Hermione met her eyes, but frowned slightly, regarding Hermione with interest and confusion, as if trying to work out a difficult problem. She returned the look for a moment, before her attention was drawn to a different witch.

"You have come a long way to find us, and we are prepared to hear you. Speak, child, and ask what you may."

Hermione, who had been treated by her parents as an adult since she was first old enough to sit at the dining room table and listen to their discussions with an uncommon attention span and seriousness not found in others her age, and who since had always been annoyed at finding herself being treated any other way, held her tongue from releasing her particular views on the addressment to one of the witches she had come to for assistance. But a small smile on the elder's face almost seemed to suggest she had heard the words Hermione had held back.

"I have come to ask you for your help." She tried to resist the urge to shift in her chair. As inconsequential as it seemed, she had imagined pleading her case while on her feet, and the informal chairs had caught her off guard. When no one interrupted her, she continued. "A good man was lost to us two months ago, and with him, I fear the upcoming battle against the darkness was lost as well."

"He must be an impressive man to cause such a disturbance, but what would you have us do?" A different witch spoke up.

"I need your help to bring him back." Hermione surveyed the reactions of the assembly, and was quick to notice the glances directed at the young woman who had interested her earlier. One spoke up; looking away from the witch that unexplainably held their attention as much as Hermione did.

"You have come to the wrong place then. We," she glanced at the witch once more, "don't believe in altering fate. It is too dangerous, and too unpredictable. I'm sorry for your loss, but we cannot help you undo what the Goddess has done."

"But this wasn't fate. This wasn't supposed to happen." Hermione leaped to her feet, only barely noticing the witch that had captured everyone's attention earlier rise as well and leave the room. "I don't believed he died. It wasn't his time. I think he was somehow..." Here she paused, not sure how to phrase the suspicions in her mind. "I'm not sure, transported, I guess, to somewhere else. It wasn't anything natural. He fell into this- this, I'm not sure what it was, a portal or something, maybe, and just disappeared. How can he be dead if there is no body?"

The witches assembled exchanged unreadable looks, and Hermione searched their faces, trying to find one to appeal to.

"I'm sorry, my child. But we cannot help you. You are welcome to pass the night here, but I'm afraid that is all the assistance we are free to offer you."

"But you don't understand. We need him! The world needs him!" She was crying now, for the first time since that day tears streamed freely down her face. But while the coven offered her sympathy with their eyes, that was all they offered as they rose and exited the room. She stood there for a moment, alone and crying, before remembering the young witch and ran out after her. She burst through the doors and scanned the area before spotting her sitting beneath a small tree not too far away. Her face was closed off, and she seemed lost in her thoughts but looked up when Hermione approached.

"Is it wise letting them meet?" One of the two witches that watched from a distance questioned quietly.

"It is necessary." The old witch's voice was sorrowful as her eyes searched the unseen. "It is not an easy path that must be traveled, and heavier still is the burden to be carried by children."

"I saw the way they looked at you. You can help me, can't you?" Hermione didn't bother to hide the evidence of her tears as she begged to be heard.

"I can't."

"You can't, or you won't?" She questioned angrily. But when her query was met only by silence, her voice softened and she left herself fall to sit on the grass as well. "Please, please. If there is anyway, you have to help me."

"There isn't. Even if there was- I'm sorry. I've been where you are before. I know how you feel but you can't bring him back. It's not right. As much as it hurts, this is how it's supposed to be, how it has to be."

"No, it's not! It wasn't his time. There is a war brewing and his life could mean the difference between a victory and a massacre. You have to believe me, the world needs him."

"Even if that's true, it's not up to you or me to decide that. You heard the sisters-"

"They didn't hear me! Or if they did, they didn't understand." Hermione stared at the witch, starting to comprehend, "But you do- don't you? That's why they were watching you. You can do this. You can bring him back."

"I can't."

"You've never sat for one of those before, have you?" Hermione's mind was racing, pieces finally falling into place. "This is the first time they've asked you to sit for the coven, isn't it? Don't you see? They wanted us to meet. They want you to help me."

"Or maybe they want me to talk you out of it. Maybe they want me to keep you from making the same mistakes I have."

"No, I'm right about this. I can feel it. You're supposed to help me." When she felt the words were starting to affect the other witch she raced on, "Look, I don't think he's dead, not really. If he were dead, his body would still be here, wouldn't it? But it's not- all of him is gone. I know it sounds crazy, but I think he's alive, just in another world or dimension or something. I just need to know how to get him back."

"It wouldn't be easy."

"I never thought it would."

"Don't think you can just wave your magic wand and expect to pull him out of a hat or something."

"I know."

"But, there might be a way."

"How? Tell me, please."

"Everything here is connected, tied together by invisible bonds." Hermione watched as a small stem poked through the earth beneath the other girl's outstretched hand and wove between her fingers. A bud formed and grew larger before it opened to reveal a small fragile white flower. "What is born of the earth," she paused as before their eyes the flower wilted and died, retreating back to the soil, "must return to it. If he's truly gone from this earth, you might be able to use that bond to find him, and possibly bring him back. He won't be the same, he'll be changed, and it might not even be possible but..." She sighed. "Look in the library at the Watcher's Council. If the information you need is anywhere, it'll be there. I'm sorry, I can't help you anymore then that."

Hermione still had a million questions flying through her head, but she expressed her gratitude by keeping silent. Despite the late hour and the sisters' offer to stay, she set off back toward the village in hopes of being able to catch the last train back that night. Her head was too full to even attempt any sleep, and she was anxious to start her search of the Watcher's Council library, even if she didn't know where to begin to look for such a place.

Being less then completely trusting of the Ministry of Magic, the events of the past year having shattered any faith she had left in them, it was with some trepidation that she entered the Directorial Building. In contradiction to the large space, there was only one single desk in the otherwise empty room. Centered between two gold elevators and pulled a good distance away from the wall, it was a tall, cherry receptionist's desk complete with a young, thin wizard sitting behind it.

"Directory assistance, how may I direct you." His tone was as bored as his voice was nasal, somehow making his question a statement. She approached him, quite self-conscious of the loud sound of her shoes clicking on the tile in the silent room. Once she was quite a bit nearer, she couldn't help but notice the strange similarity between his looks and one Percy Weasley. Other then his dark hair, they might have been twins, and as he looked down at her through the glasses perched precariously on the tip of his nose, she was suddenly not so sure they weren't.

"I'm looking for the Watcher's Council Library." She said finally, in answer to his question.

"The Ministry of Magic is not affiliated with the Watcher's Council. The Watcher's Council is not a Ministry approved organization and thus the Ministry can't authenticate any information you may find there. The Ministry of Magic disclaims any responsibility for the actions of the Watcher's Council and does not endorse nor recommend the use of said institution. Can I direct you to the Ministry's library instead?"

"No, thank you." She tried to smile at the pompous wizard before her, "It's just that my friend heard that their library was twice the size of the Ministry of Magic's, and I told that she must have heard wrong because no library could be bigger then the one here but I'm sure you know how some girls can be. I just want to be able to show it to her so she'll believe me."

"Well, we're not actually supposed to know where the Council is..."

"But I'm sure you do, don't you?" She smiled at him until he blushed slightly and knew she had her answer. She had found its location, but at the cost of her lunch.

Remarkably, finding it had been the most difficult part. The different excuses she had stored in the back of her mind weren't even needed, as she wasn't stopped once inside the large building. She imagined her luck had something to do with the multitude of teenage girls that roamed the halls alongside older, tweed-covered counter-parts. Whatever the reason they were there, she was thankful, as it let her slip without notice into the library.

The first day she spent four hours exploring the stacks of books, feeling more like a kid in a candy store then the young woman on a mission that she was.

The second day found her there twice as long, skimming, reading, and making notes until her eyes demanded she stop, blurring the lines into a soft fuzz and making further research impossible.

By the third day, she was certain that the fellow researchers that shared the library with her knew she wasn't there for the same reason as the other girls she had seen in the halls, but her quiet, studious nature did nothing to disturb their environment and so they let her remain.

On the fourth day, she finally was able to narrow down the section where her answer waited.

The fifth day confirmed her beliefs and produced the text that would lead her to the solution.

It was half way through the sixth day when she found her answer.

And on the seventh day, she rested.

The answer had come in the form of a spell. Not broken down components of a spell, like a charm or potion, but an actual, complete spell.

A wandless spell.

Which, quite frankly, had Hermione more then slightly concerned. She had a wand for a reason, and no idea if she could perform magic without it. Still, it didn't seem all that complicated. Light a few candles, burn some select herbs, chant a bit of Latin and poof, Sirius would be back... What could possibly go wrong? Oh, if only she had the time to make an itemized list of all the possibilities...

But she had read and reread the spell, she had collected all the ingredients and even double-checked -for the third time- the set up of the three candles, and she couldn't think of anything else to stall it any longer. She initially felt a cemetery would be more appropriate for her purpose, but had settled for her own back yard. If she did somehow pull this off, she would have enough to worry about without trying to sneak Sirius home from across town.

She kneeled in the center of the triangle created by the three candles and lit each in order, glancing once at the book lying slightly ahead of her. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, before drawing a circle in the soft dirt around her. In one hand she held the bundle of herbs she had prepared earlier, and with the other set fire to them. She dropped it into the small clay bowl and watched the smoke rise and with a shaky voice she began to chant.

She couldn't be sure how long she knelt in the dirt, but her knees ached and the smoke had cooled to a slow trickle and still she chanted on. For the first time in her life, she felt as if her body, mind and soul were united in one goal and in that instance, the earth rose to answer her call. In one fluid moment, reality bent in on itself and snapped, spitting out a dark figure as a sudden wind extinguished the candles. And then all was still.

Later, Hermione wouldn't be able to remember how she managed to throw the supplies into a bag and levitate his prone figure into the house and up the stairs to her bedroom. She wouldn't know where she found the strength to follow, or to climb into the bed and wrap her arms around him, or even how she managed to make it through the night, listening to him cry out in his sleep, and feeling him shake against her.

But she did.

And the morning came.

She wasn't sure if she awoke, or if she had simply never fallen asleep, but suddenly his figure was bathed in the sunlight streaming through her window and a new form of peace settled over her. She lifted a hand to brush the hair out of his eyes and gasped as they shot open.

The madness that had lurked behind them as long as she had known him was disturbingly close to the surface. He jerked away from her, scrambling backward across the bed until his back hit the wall. His breath was coming out in short ragged gasps and his eyes were darting around. She was reminded instantly of a caged animal and realized the danger of her situation.

"Sirius," she kept her voice soft and even, and her movements slow as she cautiously sat up. Feral eyes watched her warily. "It's ok, Sirius. You're safe. I'm not going to hurt you. It's me, Hermione. You know me." Her last sentence seemed more like a plea then a statement. His eyes cleared fractionally, and his mouth moved, as if trying to remember how to speak. And then he did, in a voice hoarse from ill use.

"Hermione?"

I'm not sure where exactly this came from. It's not as if i'm not behind far enough with my other fics but it seemed like a story that needed to be told. I can't guarrentee this will be all fluffy and happy, in fact, i'm almost positive it won't be. And i'm not sure if anyone will even want to read this... But still, I've put it out there and hopefully pacified my relentless muse for the time being. I don't know if its worth continuing, or what anyone might think about it. Comments either way would be most highly appreciated. Help me make some sense out of my muddled head. It's late and I'm tired and i'm sure this is riddled with mistakes but... meh, what's done is done. Thank you.