Disclaimer: I own none of this; I just like playing with them. I promise to return them as unscathed as possible when I'm done.
It was relatively quiet, almost eerily so as he sat at his desk, fingers rubbing his temples as Fawkes' soft breathing could be heard to his left. For so long Albus had been the foundation, the strong one, the one whose optimism, however manufactured, kept spirits up and determination focused for those fragile lives being torn around him. Children facing demons when such nightmares should never be on their young shoulders, for that was what they truly were, Harry and the others; and yet, the fate of them all seemed to rest solely on that single innocent soul.
Perhaps it was finally getting to him, the pressure, the façade of confidence, and the aging body. That, perhaps the guilt of putting young Harry in this position and encouraging him, pushing him closer to the destiny that seemed to be carved for him. Albus wasn't sure, but despite the reason, he felt the strongest wave of apprehension, a mixed melancholy and fear, he had ever experienced wash over him.
He had been reading over papers from the governors, the day beautiful outside, an air of blessed forgetfulness as to the real nature of their world at the time drifting through the school like the welcome breeze it was for the students when it assaulted him. His back suddenly felt weighted down, his chest clenching tight as he dropped the parchment he had been inspecting as his hands began to shake nervously. It came without warning.
Why it struck him, especially now, was lost on him. He had received no ill news, yet he felt the growing tinge of fear crawling through his veins until he recognized it for what it was.
Something terribly wrong had happened.
Not waiting a single moment longer, he dropped his hands to the desk, flinging aside the parchment in a wave of yellowing paper as he grabbed his wand that had inadvertently been buried under the layer and dashed off toward the door. Practically jumping to his feet, his heavy layers of robes swishing behind him as he swept past the desk in a fashion even Severus would admire, he failed to notice one small detail…
The change in the photograph sitting on the edge of his desk.
Albus moved quickly, the phoenix stairs ascending back into position behind him as he exited the entrance to his office. A few students noticed the worried look on their rushing Headmaster's face as he approached, and stepped further against the walls of the corridor to free his way. He wasn't sure how or why he seemed to know exactly where to go, but he did. The Entrance Hall.
"What do you mean she just up and disappeared?"
Even from half a corridor away, Albus could tell Minerva was utterly furious. Her Scottish brogue was clinging to the edges of her words as she barely restrained herself. A fleeting thought passed through his mind as to who she was, but being more intent on arriving at the scene, he brushed it aside. Quickening his step, he turned the corner to find a rather interesting collection standing in attendance.
Harry and young Malfoy in torn robes, faces red and eyes glaring at each other between glances to the pile of books beside them, scattered on the floor like they had been unceremoniously dropped and the Gryffindor Head separating the two. Ronald was pale as a ghost, kneeling on the ground beside the books, his mouth opening and closing slowly like a suffocating cod fish while the rest of the crowd, a mix of Gryffindors, Slytherins, and a few curious Hufflepuffs stood a few feet away whispering amongst themselves and pointing at the scene, all of them oblivious to his arrival.
"Well, that's what she did Professor! Malfoy pushed her aside, she fell to the floor, and she just vanished!" Harry said through gritted teeth as his eyes bored into Draco who stood there, arrogance painted over his features as only a Malfoy could, his appearance disheveled as it was.
"Granger got in the way," Draco began, his tone bored. "It's not my fault she went missing."
Harry lunged at Draco but Albus was having none of that.
"Harry," he roared, causing the students in his way to disperse hurriedly, leaving only Harry, Draco, Ronald, Minerva and himself in the hall as exiting footsteps echoed around them. At the sound of his voice, Harry paused; his anger still evident on his face as he restrained himself despite the grin Draco cast him. "What has happened Minerva?" he asked, moving his gaze to his friend as he drew closer to the four and then the books Ronald was quietly gathering and stuffing back in the satchel beside him.
"She's gone," Ronald suddenly mumbled, his hands seeming to move of their own accord. "Hermione's gone and she's left her books. She never leaves her books," he added as an afterthought as he continued as to work in an odd trance.
"Oh, how pathetic! Getting soggy over her ruddy books!" Draco cut in, shaking his head.
"Mister Malfoy, unless you wish to cost your house every last point, I suggest you keep your comments to yourself," Minerva said, her brogue inching itself out more with each word. Turning back to him, she began to explain. "Mister Potter and Mister Malfoy thought it wise to start a physical brawl, to which Miss Granger apparently tried to intervene. Mister Malfoy knocked her to the ground and as Potter puts it… she just disappeared."
Albus was at a loss. Hermione Granger… gone? Never had he heard of such a thing.
He knew he stood there several minutes, gingerly fingering his beard as his thoughts whirled around, but he didn't care, nor did he pay any mind to the four before him as he ran possibility after possibility through his thoughts. But he did suddenly take note of the Entrance doors opening behind him, and that turned his blood to ice.
Without turning, he knew whose footsteps were falling behind him. Somehow, he knew and only one thought could then be heard in his mind…