A Preemptive Strike

I own nothing except the plot, though for all you know this could be J.K. Rowling writing this fan fiction! Think about THAT!

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There is always some reason in madness, but there is also always some madness in love. -Nietzsche

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Hermione stood, her hair hanging in her face, as she peered into the steaming cauldron. Years of research, countless hours of her life, could all be boiled down to this one potion. If you'll forgive the pun. And it worked. Oh how it worked. It had taken extensive testing before she had deemed it a success, but it had passed every trial. She should be feeling triumphant, jubilant, utterly euphoric. She found that she could not muster the energy.

"It should be different," she said aloud. "It isn't fair." And observer might think she was talking to herself. But she wasn't.

"Whoever promised you life would be fair?" a familiar sneering voice asked.

"My mother, my father, Molly Weasley, Ron Weasley, Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter-," she cut herself off, knowing she could continue further but that it would do no good.

"All fools, I see," Snape replied coldly. A small victory for his side. If he had a side anymore.

"But pleasant ones," Hermione conceded his point and made her own.

"Dead ones," he snapped.

"Lucky ones," Hermione muttered.

The short silence was thoughtful "I believe that is the first time anyone has ever called me lucky."

Hermione approached the portrait of her professor, ally, friend, tormentor, and lover. "At least you're away from it all."

"There is that."

Hermione caught her reflection in the mirror. Her hair, cut short to facilitate potion-brewing, was lank and greasy looking. With the constant fumes from her often-acidic potions it was a waste of time to wash it as often as would be necessary to keep it clean. Once she might have cared enough. Now, lets just say hygiene was the least of her worries. She studied her face, pale from lack of sun and drawn from lack of sleep or proper food. She looked unhealthy… she looked like.

"Me," the portrait informed her smugly. "It's good to see my unhealthy habits are rubbing off."

Hermione smirked at the picture, leaving the mirror's gaze and moving closer yet to the frame. The spell was a work of genius. She should know, as she created it. It was perfected just before Severus had been killed in a particularly violent Deatheater attack. She had meant to make it a portrait of the both of them, but now it was his headstone. She glanced at the ashes of the complex man who had once wanted to marry her, in their black urn beneath his picture.

"How reassuring, that the one mark you left on me was a bad habit," she replied.

The picture became, if anything, even more smug. "I know for a fact I marked you with something a little more tangible than that."

"Indeed," Hermione said, reaching up and into the painting. Her hands translated into the picture, seeming to touch Severus' shoulders. It wasn't the real thing, but it was so close. He pressed his lips to hers, his kiss hungry and insatiable. He never could get enough of her and she never knew why he felt that way. She pulled away, sliding back into the real world. "I need a bath."

"Are you trying to be insulting?" Snape asked, his eyebrow raised.

"Of course I am," she replied, walking into the bathroom and shedding clothing as she went. For some reason she wanted to look nice when she drank her life's work. She wanted to feel beautiful. She scrubbed her hair, feeling her scalp finally free of the clinging scents that attached themselves to potion making. When she arose from the bath she felt strangely purified. Muttering a drying spell, she slipped into her best robes. Black, silver trimmed, and as voluminous as any Potions Master or Mistress could hope for.

A small bell rang throughout the room and she walked to the door. Peeking through the large crack in the door she saw a flash of red hair. Hermione opened the door. "George."

"Hermione-," he began, stopping himself when he saw what she was wearing. "Why are you in your good robes?"

"I'm going to a dinner party," Hermione told him in a tone as dry as the Sahara.

George blinked, managing a half smile. He hadn't laughed since Fred died. "Are you really going through with this?"

"No, your heartfelt and ultimately selfish pleas have changed her mind," Snape replied for her.

Now George's face was filled with the familiar irritation. "I don't know why you keep that bloody git's portrait around," he said angrily.

"It's because I'm in love with him," Hermione informed him calmly. She did everything calmly these days.

"Loved." George told her firmly, as he had a million times. "The man is dead and you are with me now." His voice was raised slightly. Hermione did not bother correcting him as she normally would have. She shagged George, but she screamed Severus' name. That was how it was.

"Why are you here?" she asked.

"I thought I could try one last time to talk you out of this bloody fool's mission," George nearly yelled. "There are more important things than trying to save your dead lover with a potion that hasn't been adequately tested. What if you fail and we lose you? You're the only advantage over You-Know-Who that we have!"

"I can see you still do not know me very well, George," Hermione told him in an even tone. "I'm not going to save Severus, at least, not in the way you think. I'm going to save us all." She idly ran a brush through her hair.

"Harry wouldn't approve," George said, obviously a last ditch effort.

"Harry was weak. He has not influenced a single decision I have made since seventh year; I doubt his memory will work any better." Hermione moved to the potion, checked the time and then began absently ladling it into vials.

"Harry was not weak," George protested. "He was overwhelmed, depressed-,"

For the first time in over sixth months, Hermione felt fury. She raised her eyes to the brotherless twin. "Harry killed himself, knowing he was the only one who could defeat Voldemort. He drank that poison knowing he had someone left to live for, but not caring. He was a selfish, coddled young man who took the easy way out. Do not dare defend him to me!"

George actually looked a little bit afraid, dropping his eyes from her rage-filled gaze. "He was Ron's friend, and Ginny-," he stopped, looking melancholy.

"He knocked up your sister and left her to fend for herself and the baby in the middle of a war," Hermione said cruelly. Honesty was the best way to stop George when he got like this.

George changed tactics. "I should stop you. For the good of the cause, I should stop you," he said, frustration coloring his every move. "I should inform McGonagall. I should bind you to your chair until you see reason and I should destroy that bloody potion," his voice was filled with determination and he reached for his wand. He was a little slow. He blinked, finding Hermione's wand between his eyes.

"Imperio." Hermione said lazily. She allowed her wand to dip slightly. "You will return to your quarters and get some sleep," she told him. He nodded slightly, his eyes glazed. "You will inform no one of my plans until I am gone." Another nod. "Go then." He shuffled from the room.

"Unforgivables, my dear?" Severus asked, obviously amused. "You have come a long way."

"If I am no longer as self-righteous as I once was, all the credit goes to you," Hermione said. She doused the fire under her cauldron and picked up on of the vials. It was still warm, burning her hand slightly though she clenched it all the tighter. "I'll see you around," she told the man in the picture as she downed the rather vile-tasting potion.

"I think not, love," she heard as the world around her dissolved, fading like a watercolor painting in the rain.

Hermione stumbled slightly as she reappeared. She was in her flat, but it was rather obviously no longer hers. It was done in pastels, covered in frilly furniture, and, thankfully, empty. She disapparated, headed towards a particular alley in London.

It was dark, though when she had left it had been mid-afternoon. She walked through the streets of muggle London, receiving a few speculative looks from the residents of Cheapside for her robes. She did, however, arrive at her destination without being accosted. Apparently the rather disreputable muggle denizens of this place had some sort of latent survival instinct.

She entered a rather worn looking building with the words 'St. Josephine's' on the side, easily disabling the locks with a muttered spell. She made her way up the stairs, hoping they wouldn't give way beneath her. She reached the first floor and simply began opening doors. The first door opened into a room full of young boys and girls, asleep in long rows of broken-down metal beds. The second led into a slightly more opulent room in which two not-so-young women slept in two brass daybeds. The next led to a garish, gaudy bedroom in which a rather old and wrinkled woman, who bore a striking resemblance to the two others, slept in a wide four-poster bed. She closed the door gingerly and moved on. She went through two more doors of sleeping or quietly crying children before she found what she was looking for.

The room was small and stuffed full of perambulators, changing tables, and old incubators. In each one lay a baby, though the age, sex, and nationality varied. A few fussed or cried quietly but none of them screamed. Evidently they had all been here long enough to learn that it did no good. Small name bracelets were attached to their wrists and blue or pink blankets were wrapped around the children. It took Hermione a good five minutes to find the one she wanted.

"Hello Tommy," she cooed, scooping up the baby boy. He opened his serious blue eyes, contemplating the woman who held him in silence. She sat down on the floor cuddling the child to her and rocking him softly. She kissed his little face and he gurgled happily. Hermione smiled; he was truly adorable. Pulling off his tiny socks, she tickled his feet to hear him laugh. He obliged her, a broad toothless grin suffusing his face. She put his socks back on and wrapped him back up in his blue blanket. "Goodnight, baby," she whispered, pulling her wand out and pointing it at the child in her arms.

There were no tears; there wasn't time for them.

"Avada Kedavra," Hermione said softly. The green light could hardly have missed at that distance. With barely a whisper and with no one to mourn him but one of his worst enemies, Tom Marvolo Riddle died. He had no greater destiny than to be declared a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome on a death certificate filled out by an impersonal muggle doctor. He would not be a lord, a wizard, or even a man. He would not be. As for Hermione, she had an appointment to keep at Malfoy manor.

End

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I'm thinking of writing an alternate ending in which Hermione raises Riddle as her own and maybe meets up with Snape again. It will depend on what my reviewers think.