Chapter One: Loss
Hermione crouched behind an outcropping of rocks, well hidden behind them, which was due in part to the nearly unbearable heat and light from Hagrid's house, which was in flames. She watched the battle for a moment, with an analytical mind, her eyes moving rapidly from one fighter to another, and shook her head in frustration. She was too far away to get a clear shot on anybody, as the main crux of the fighting had moved up the slope toward the castle, and there was no way to get closer to the fighting, not with the well-loved hut afire. The path she'd be forced to take would provide her no cover, and she knew she'd be cut down before she'd covered half the required distance. Her knee stung from where she had fallen, diving away from a curse, and her jeans were torn. There had been an unexpected attack from some other Order members after that, and the Death Eaters had evidently forgotten about her.
She slunk as far to the left as she dared, wondering if she could make the short sprint into the forest, using the trees for her cover, as she worked her way back toward Hogwarts. Her brow knit, and she absent-mindedly dashed a wayward strand of hair from her face, as she thought furiously. Her dirty fingers clenched a lip of rock, as she prepared to push herself upright and bolt for the trees. Before she could even move, however, someone landed unceremoniously next to her with a muffled grunt and wheeze, as he came in contact with the unaccommodating rock. Hermione let out a startled shriek, which she quickly bit off.
"Who are – oh, Harry," she said, lowering her voice to a guarded whisper. Harry smiled at her quickly, his long brown hair hanging down his back, coming loose from its ponytail. There was dirt and dried blood on one cheek, and he was favoring his left arm. "You've been hurt!" she said unnecessarily, and with some alarm.
"I'm all right," he assured her, in the voice that was and yet was not his. His brown eyes twinkled at her, despite the somber light that remained in them. She searched his face briefly, her eyes flitting from feature to feature, as she investigated whether or not he was telling the truth, finally deciding that he was. She turned to look at the field of battle again.
"It's going rather badly, isn't it?" she asked him, worry creasing her brow, as she leaned against the rock, savoring the warmth that it had leeched from the midday sun – now sinking behind the trees, leaving long shadows and making visibility difficult. There would be a chill in the air soon. She turned back toward him, when he did not reply immediately, and saw that he was taking a long pull from a silver hip flask, much like the one that Moody often carried. She waited for him to finish, smiling slightly when he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and made a face, shuddering almost convulsively.
"God, that stuff tastes horrible," he said, and her smile widened, for it was what he said nearly every time he drank the Polyjuice.
"Really?" she managed to crack briefly, "I rather thought you liked it." Harry had been vehemently against the idea of regularly using Polyjuice when she had first brought it up when graduation loomed, when it was clear that Hogwarts – the last bastion of protection for Harry – would no longer serve as such. Hermione had sold the idea to the remainder of the Order, over Harry's protests, and one night, some poor random Muggle on the street had lost his ponytail to a sneaky Ron Weasley and a sharp pair of scissors.
She looked at him again, thinking that she really missed his tousled raven-dark hair, piercing green eyes, and reluctant half-smile. Neither she nor Ron had seen him overmuch since graduation two weeks ago, since a new stranger suddenly seen hanging around with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger would fool no one – not that she and Ron had been doing much lounging around in public either. They had mainly been holed up in the new Headquarters, beneath Fred and George's shop, training, while Harry was secreted away in parts unknown, doing Merlin knew what.
"You've come from Hogsmeade, then?" she asked, her eyes flitting up to him and then back down to her filthy hands curled in her lap around her wand. She already knew the answer.
"They've taken it."
"Charlie?" Hermione's voice trembled. Harry clenched his jaw shut, as if letting out words would also let out emotion that he had to keep dammed up. He managed to shake his head jerkily in the negative. "Remus?" This time, Hermione's voice skidded upward awkwardly, with a half-smothered sob. Pain glazed over Harry's eyes, which still, Hermione realized, managed to look like Harry, even though they were dark.
"I – I don't know," he admitted, heavily. "He was fighting – the last I saw, there were four Death Eaters around him. And then – and then the Hog's Head blew up, and I – I didn't see anyone but them after that. I thought that – that I could probably be more use up here."
She peered around the rock again, just in time to see Mad-Eye Moody fall. The crusty old ex-Auror was surrounded by four or five Death Eaters quickly, and she shielded her eyes from the flash of green light that soon followed.
"Oh, God," escaped her lips in a kind of breathless gasp of disbelief and despair. Harry said nothing, but the muscle in his jaw worked violently, as he pressed his lips together tightly.
"I think we could make it to the forest," Harry said suddenly, eying the open distance between them and the welcome shadows of the trees. Hermione followed his gaze, wondering if the shimmering heat from the fire would obscure anything that watchers might think they saw. Their eyes locked, and she nodded with determination. "You go. I'll cover you," he said, sounding more like an experienced fighter than an almost eighteen year old, barely out of school.
She leapt to her feet then, running in a crouch as lightly as a cat. She heard the zing and hiss of wandfire, and flinched in preparation for impact, even though it was coming from further up the slope where the fighting was. She made it to the blessed early twilight under the trees, and knelt behind a particularly large one, cushioned by the earthy bracken underfoot, and waited for Harry to come.
He did not.
She inched her way closer to the edge of the woods, careful to move silently, maneuvering to where she could see the cluster of rocks where they had hidden.
No one was there.
Ignoring the sudden frenzied panic in her accelerated heart beat, she began moving in the opposite direction, up the hill toward Hogwarts, trying to get nearer to the battle, wondering if that's where Harry had gone instead. The shouts and clamor grew louder, as she approached, keeping behind the densest of the undergrowth. She tapped her wand on her head, casting a Disillusionment charm on herself, as she drew perilously close to edge of the tree line, spotting a cluster of Death Eaters, and hoping to hear what was being said.
She noticed with a sinking heart that the battle appeared to be over. One Death Eater was circulating around the green, using Avada Kedavra on the fallen. Hermione winced and quavered as if every flash of green light were a painful, physical blow.
There was a prostrate form in between her and the Death Eaters, the face turned away so that it could not clearly be seen. But the long fiery hair gave the identity away, as surely as if it had been shouted. It was Bill, and he did not move.
Hermione pressed a fist into her mouth to stifle the sob that wanted to rise from her throat, and the fingers of her other hand clenched tightly around her wand, as one Death Eater nudged his body carelessly with the toe of his boot.
She caught the phrase, "last bloody one left." Her eyes widened in astonishment and horror. They can't all be dead! She strained her eyes, peering desperately around the overgrown greenery, trying to find Harry. He must have left their hiding place, when he saw Bill surrounded, in a bid to save his life.
"Naw, we got another 'un," came a voice from further down the hill. "And look what he's got!" There was a figure struggling madly between three other Death Eaters approaching from near what remained of Hagrid's house. Hermione's heart cracked painfully in her chest, as she saw the Death Eater that had spoken wave a flask merrily in the air, the dying rays of the sun glinting off of its shiny finish.
"He Polyjuiced?" asked the one who had kicked Bill.
"Of course he is," came a new voice, also hidden behind a mask, but a voice that Hermione recognized instantly, a smooth, cultured voice, quite different from those rather uneducated-sounding louts that were evidently the "brute force". Lucius Malfoy, Hermione thought ferociously. "And he had Harry Potter's wand," he observed, a pleased note in his voice, as they drew closer. Lucius pulled the wand from the Death Eater's hand, and twirled it lightly between his fingers. He leaned down quite close to their prisoner, and said in a voice so low that Hermione could barely hear, "I wonder who that makes him?" Malfoy's head was cocked to one side, as he asked his question in a sing-song tone much like the one preferred by Bellatrix Lestrange.
In one fierce wrenching move, Harry had pulled himself free from his captors, knocking all three of them down with a wave of raw magic, even though he had been deprived of his wand. He whirled, lightning-quick, lunging for Malfoy, but the Death Eater, with a mere flick of his wand, had him frozen, his arms locked to his sides, and he fell hard, unable to catch himself in any way. There are too many of them, Hermione thought bleakly, even as she was startled by his sudden display of wandless magic. He has been training, she thought idly and irrelevantly.
"Take him!" Malfoy snarled to the reluctant Death Eaters, who, eying their fallen comrades, did not seem terribly eager to lay hands on the Boy Who Lived, regardless of what he looked like. They moved with a jolt, at Malfoy's ferocious order, as if hit with an electric prod.
Hermione stood suddenly, still Disillusioned, but uncaring whether or not she was seen. Everyone was dead, Harry was captured, and she might as well go down trying to save him. She balanced on the balls of her feet, only seconds away from bolting into their midst and hitting as many of them as she could before they got her.
Somehow, from his prostrate position, Harry must have seen her, or perhaps sensed her presence, for she felt a tentative touch in her mind. Do not be seen! The words floated into her thoughts, with a surprising vehemence. Warn the Order! She pressed her lips together tightly, willing herself not to cry. Of course, Harry was right. She had forgotten all about those who were probably still fighting inside Hogwarts. But what hope did any of them have if Harry did not survive?
"The Dark Lord wants this one," Lucius said, with a curled lip, and Harry was finally hauled roughly to his feet by two Death Eaters. "You two come with me. The rest of you will be needed in the castle," he inclined his head toward Hogwarts.
Then the Order still fights! Hermione thought. She flung one last desperate glance at Harry's imprisoned form, which still managed to radiate fury and challenge. Oh God, oh God, Harry!
Go! She heard his actual voice in his head, clear as a bell, and could not help but wonder at his fortitude, performing Legilimency, knowing he was shortly going to be facing his destiny.
Then she heard the loud, crude voices of the other Death Eaters, and sprinted ahead of them, under the cover of the trees, hoping against hope that she could reach Hogwarts before they did.
The front gate of Hogwarts was being well guarded, and Hermione, still hidden in the trees of the Forbidden Forest, despaired of ever reaching the castle, or finding means to help those of the Light that surely – please let it be, there had to be – were left alive inside. The Death Eaters had apparently taken control of the castle, but Hermione couldn't help but think, with the last shred of hope left to her, that there were many hiding places in Hogwarts.
Something cracked in the darkness behind her, and she whirled defensively, facing nothing but blackness. There could be no one out here deliberately looking for her, she knew, what with the chaos of the recent battles, but the nightly noises made her very jumpy. The moon was a weak sliver, often hiding behind wisps of fast-moving cloud, and did nothing to aid her. Her Disillusionment had long since worn off, but she had not fixed it, cloaked in darkness as she was.
The windows of Hogwarts were shrouded and dark, and the place looked completely devoid of any life. Hermione had not yet seen the firing of a Dark Mark into the air, nor heard any sounds that might indicate some kind of Death Eater revel, so she clung to the feeble hope, that perhaps, possibly, Harry still lived.
Another crackle in the underbrush behind her – and then another – made Hermione turn again, her palms clammy and her throat incredibly dry. And you call yourself a Gryffindor, she thought derisively at herself. Yet she could not shake Dumbledore's warning from years gone by about these very woods, even though she had traversed through them many times.
There was a sudden clamor of voices, as the guard on the front entrance of Hogwarts evidently changed. Hermione tried to make out what they said, but most of it was lost on the wind. She crept closer, but knew it was hopeless. The open space between the school and forest was certain death. Maybe death would be preferable to this…being the only one left.
A rustle sounded behind her, and two hands grabbed her, one around her mouth and the other around her waist, before she could even scream, which she probably would have done on pure instinct alone.
"Do not scream," came a low voice in her ear, and her trembling body relaxed.
"Remus," she said in the voice that she despised, one that trembled and wobbled tearfully from gratitude and relief. It annoyed her immensely. "We – we thought – Harry said – " She caught herself suddenly, and sharply trained her wand on him, asking him in an acerbic voice what Tonks' Patronus was.
"A wolf," he answered in a low voice, and she could just make out his eyes from the way the weak moonlight glinted its twin reflections on them. An audible sigh escaped her, and she lowered her wand, apologizing as she did so. Remus put a light hand on her shoulder, and said kindly, "Do not apologize for the virtue of always keeping your wits about you." He nodded toward the castle. "How long have you been here?"
Hermione felt suddenly tired and drained. She had no idea of what time it was. Her watch had been smashed in her fall near the rocks. "A few hours?" She guessed. "They haven't left it unguarded."
"Then, there are people left alive," Remus whispered hopefully. "They're inventorying the dead, figuring out who may still be free. They're looking for us, hoping we'll walk right up to gates, searching for comrades. We shouldn't stay here."
"But – but the castle – if any in the Order still fight – " Hermione protested.
"Let's see if we can get to the Shrieking Shack," Remus said. "If we can get from there to Honeyduke's, perhaps we can see if anyone's left alive."
"Ron had the Marauder's Map, since he was with the group in Hogwarts," Hermione offered, finally managing to level her voice. "He might try to make for the tunnels."
"Good," Remus said decisively. "Come on. If we can make it under the Whomping Willow without being seen, we might be okay. So much of Hogsmeade is on fire, that we may escape any notice there." He searched her weary, traumatized face for a moment, peering closely at her in the almost nonexistent moonlight. "You mentioned Harry. Where is he?"
Hermione closed her eyes, as if she was unable to face Remus with the news that she bore. "They – they – they caught him, got his flask. Lucius Malfoy saw his wand – knew it was him. They took him to Voldemort."
Remus muttered something under his breath, and whether it was an oath or a prayer, Hermione did not know. "Then we're in more trouble than we yet realize," he said.
"There's been no Dark Mark yet. No celebration," Hermione hastened to say. "Harry could – could still – " She did not finish.
"Let us hope so," Remus said, as if he didn't really believe it, looking at her with a singularly world-weary look on his face. She wondered if he tired of living, when all those he loved continued to leave him behind. She remembered belatedly that Tonks had been fighting inside Hogwarts with Ron. He was as much invested in this as she was. But then she remembered Harry, and thought, No one is as much invested in this as I am. "They'll be looking for us," Remus broke into her jumbled thoughts. "We should go."
They walked in near silence, Hermione behind Remus, wands out, choosing their steps with care, and so moving nearly silently through the forest. Hermione could not shake the sensation that unseen eyes were watching them, and wondered if the centaurs would wait for wizardkind to implode under its own weight, as the humans warred with one another. At least they aren't hindering our progress, she thought, forcing her mind to focus on the small things, focusing on them because she knew she couldn't handle anything else, couldn't face the death and destruction that had rained down on this cursed day. Charlie, Bill, Moody…and where is Ron? Is he okay? The refrain moaned through her mind unbidden. She wouldn't think about Harry, couldn't think about Harry. Wondering whether or not he was still alive – and knowing that, in all likelihood, he wasn't – made it painful to breathe. She looked up at Lupin, watched where the darkness of his silhouette occasionally crossed patches of the slightly less-dark sky, which had the faintest of glows to it, like an unearthly and premature dawn. Suddenly, he ducked behind a tree, pulling her alongside him. He peered around it cautiously, and Hermione could just see the knobbly, spiky outline of the Whomping Willow at the edge of the forest.
"Wait here," he hissed in a barely audible voice, and slipped smoothly away from the tree. Hermione felt the rough bark under her hands and clung to it; it was tangible, real, something she could touch, something familiar in this alien world of blackness and silence and solitude and despair.
The slightest of rustles alerted her that Remus had returned.
"It's clear," he said. "I've frozen the tree. Let's go. I'm going to unfreeze it after you're in the tunnel, so that no one will follow us." Hermione nodded, though her brow creased with worry that Lupin might somehow be injured once the Whomping Willow was active again. The least Gryffindor part of her was too ashamed to admit that she was really afraid of his leaving her, and being alone again…everybody's dead rang through her mind like the inexorable tolling of a bell.
She followed him out, slinking slowly and carefully around the Willow's massive trunk, and slipping gracefully into the tunnel, smelling the pungent aroma of packed earth, and remembering the last time she and Lupin had been in this tunnel…with Harry. Lupin scrambled into the tunnel, a moment later, breathing heavily, but looking unscathed.
They exchanged glances, and proceeded down the tunnel, wands still out by mutual unspoken consent. After all, Snape had known about this tunnel, and he had not been seen or heard from since that dreadful night over a year ago.
Hermione and Lupin reached the Shrieking Shack without incident, and Hermione noticed the odd tint of the night sky was more prominent here. She suddenly realized that it was caused by the fires of Hogsmeade. There was a tightness in her chest that had been present since she realized with Harry that their battle had been lost, and it squeezed her now as they cautiously stepped outside the dilapidated building to see the orange glow that had once been Hogsmeade.
Hogsmeade…where she, Ron, and Harry had spent so many carefree hours, where she and Ron had had their first date, where they had secretly snuck food to Sirius… and now it was destroyed. He destroys everything, she thought somewhat bitterly, but the desire to thwart him, to ruin his plans by any means necessary surged through her, and she found the hidden will to keep fighting that had been buried under her fear.
They kept to the rears of the buildings in Hogsmeade, slinking along a tiny rutted track that cut between the town and the forest. The roar of the devouring flames was loud, and occasionally they heard a crack or rumble that indicated another falling building, but they discerned no human noises.
Have they all gone up to the castle? Hermione worried, is everything lost? When they got to Honeyduke's, it was burning, but they were able to clamber through a broken back window. A hiss of pain slid through Hermione's teeth, as she cut her palm from thumb to little finger on a dagger of glass protruding up from the windowsill.
"Are you okay?" Remus whispered, turning to help her through the window, and flipping her hand palm up to examine the wound. She grabbed a towel of questionable cleanliness from the counter and wrapped it firmly around the width of her hand. She couldn't flex her fingers at all, without sending smarting pain through her palm.
"I'm all right. We shouldn't linger here," she told him softly, her brown eyes dark and somber. The back of her throat already stung from the smoke, and her chest heaved with the reflexive need to cough. Lupin nodded, and they made their way down the cellar steps carefully, every sense on alert.
As they clambered through the trapdoor, Hermione went first, facing the tunnel, and hissed up to Lupin that it was clear. Remus Accioed some boxes in a hasty spell, as he closed the trapdoor, so that the boxes slid partially atop it. Hermione heard Lupin test the door, as if to ascertain that he would still be able to open it, should the need arise.
They made the long meandering walk back to Hogwarts in complete silence. Hermione thought that she must be functioning on some kind of automatic pilot. It seemed years since she'd awakened this morning, before dawn, and somehow she just kept putting one foot in front of the other. She'd seen more death than at any other time in her young life, and somehow her mind refused to deal with it, shunting it aside, so that she could keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Lupin had been walking in front of her, with just the palest glimmer of light emanating from the tip of his wand, when he doused the light wordlessly, holding up a hand for Hermione to stop. She did so, without question, thinking that they must now be near to Hogwarts.
Then she heard the voices.
"…got to try," someone argued in a low voice that still managed to carry down the tunnel to them.
"We've no way to know … down there…a trap," wafted another voice, and this was one that Hermione recognized. Ron! Her heart leapt with joy at the thought that there were still others alive.
Lupin had returned to her side.
"I'm going to send my Patronus," he said. "If something goes wrong, I want you to run like hell." He turned back toward the Hogwarts end of the tunnel, and Hermione shielded her eyes from the sudden brightness of the silvery creature of mist. They stood there for an infinite moment, poised for flight, waiting for a response.
Two silver creatures bounded back toward them: a silver-white wolf and a Jack Russell terrier. With a glad cry, Hermione ran the remaining distance to where a small, sad group of people sat.
The tense muscles in Ron's face melted into a smile when he saw her, standing quickly and catching her in his arms. She squeezed him tightly, as her gaze danced over the faces of those that remained: Ron, Tonks, and McGonagall. Ginny lay prone and unconscious on the earthen floor, obviously injured somehow.
"Hermione!" Ron said in a dazed voice, and looked up as an exclamation from Tonks alerted him to Lupin's presence. The redhead looked like Christmas had come early. "Where are the others?"
Hermione's smile faltered and fell off of her face, as she and Lupin exchanged almost guilty glances. Tonks paled and McGonagall's lips thinned. Ron merely looked at the two new arrivals without comprehension.
"Where are the others?" he repeated. "You came from Hogsmeade," he directed this at Remus. "Where's Harry? Where's Charlie?" And whirling on Hermione, he added, "Where's Bill?"
"Ron," Hermione spoke with effort, her jaw trembling and her voice cracking. She reached out as if to touch him, but he shied away from her hand. "Bill and Charlie are dead." An almost animal-like whine of despair rattled in his throat, and he shoved shaking hands into his pockets. Hermione noticed absently that his left arm had been badly burned, but was glowing pinkly with a healing charm.
"H – Harry?" he choked out, barely able to say anything at all.
"Lucius Malfoy took him to Voldemort," came Lupin's detached, dull-sounding voice. A muffled sob erupted suddenly from Tonks, and Ron sagged so quickly that Hermione moved to his side, afraid that he was going to fall.
"And everyone else?" McGonagall asked, her lilting brogue still sounding melodic, even through its forlorn words. Lupin just shook his head, and the Headmistress lowered her eyes to the ground, looking uncharacteristically defeated.
"Your team?" Lupin asked in response, although the answer screamed at them in the dim tunnel. There was no one else. Tonks looked slightly stunned, her eyes glazed as she replied in a monotone.
"They were using the Killing Curse like it was a Lumos charm." So that's it then, Hermione thought.
"Have you heard from the Order members fighting at the Ministry? Diagon Alley?" Lupin asked, and McGonagall shook her head. Ron and Hermione drew away from the conversation, closer to Ginny.
"Is she going to be okay?" Hermione asked gently. Ron gazed at his sister without really seeing her.
"If we could get her to St. Mungo's, she'd probably be fine." Ron's voice testified that he didn't really think that was possible. "We don't even know who's got control of it." And then, abruptly, "Mum's dead."
The disinterested way he spoke made a wave of nausea wash over Hermione, and she tried desperately to stem the rising bile in the back of her throat.
"I'm so sorry," she croaked inanely, wondering if anything would ever be all right again. He finally looked at her again, and his blue eyes were iridescent with tears.
"Was Harry – did Harry – ?" he stammered.
"He was alive when Malfoy took him," Hermione said evenly, calling on all her control for Ron's sake. "He took down three Death Eaters with wandless magic before Malfoy Petrified him." She sounded proud. "Malfoy said the Dark Lord wanted him. He – he – he was alive when – when they left," she repeated, as if convincing herself. When she stopped speaking, she was startled to realize that the three adults had halted their conversation and were listening to her. "He told me to go, to warn you," she said, directing this toward Tonks and McGonagall. "He used Legilimency. But I couldn't get into the castle. They – they were watching." She spoke in a plaintive voice, as if she was apologizing for failure, and began to shake violently, and this time it was Ron who put the steadying arm around her.
"Honeyduke's was clear; we just came from there," Lupin said, addressing the group from the school. "If we can get back there, we can Apparate to the Shop."
"Mr. Weasley brought us down here," McGonagall said. "It's kept us from being detected by the Death Eaters so far, but we weren't sure if Hogsmeade was safe."
"Hogsmeade has been all but burned to the ground," Lupin informed her. "But the Death Eaters obviously think they've killed everyone there. They're not watching it. I think we can make it safely to the twins' place."
"We're not going to be able to stay there long," Tonks put in. "We can't stay any place that – " Lupin was giving her a warning look, and she glanced furtively at Ron and Hermione before stopping abruptly.
"Any place that Harry knows about, you mean?" Hermione said suddenly, with an accusing note in her voice. A silence fell over the group as they thought of the implications of that…that Harry was perhaps alive, perhaps being tortured into giving information that would make Voldemort's victory just that much more complete.
"Why would Voldemort do that?" Ron asked. "Wouldn't he just – just kill Harry and have done?"
"There's been no Dark Mark yet," Hermione pointed out.
"This is a war," Ron countered. "And they certainly haven't been taking any prisoners so far."
"Harry is revenge," Hermione said, growing more certain that she was right with every word she spoke. "Harry is the culmination of everything Voldemort has fought for and dreamed of. He's going to try to break him first." Ron's face turned pasty as he thought of what that meant.
"And if he doesn't succeed? If Harry doesn't break?"
"Then Voldemort will come after us, try to use us to break him," Hermione replied, and a kind of fire flickered in her eyes. "We've got to rescue Harry before that happens."
"Hermione, you're crazy!" Ron said. "We don't know where he is, and we especially don't know if he's even alive." Hermione's face hardened at his harshly spoken words.
"If there's even the smallest of chances that he is alive, we owe it to him to try," she said stubbornly. Ron opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by Lupin.
"This is neither the time nor place for this conversation. We're fortunate that we've not yet been caught. Let's go." Properly chastised, Ron and Hermione fell into file, after levitating Ginny between them.
Lupin and McGonagall Apparated from Honeyduke's cellar first, while the others remained crouched and hidden under the trapdoor. It seemed like hours before they returned, but Hermione knew that they had been scouting the Shop to make sure it was safe, and to strengthen the wards around it. They had been unable to ever use Grimmauld Place again, since Snape had known about it, and it looked like they would be unable to stay in their newest hideout for much longer. Hermione thought again of Harry in pain, being asked questions over and over again, and somehow managed to squelch the rising desire to throw up.
Finally, there was a scuffle above them, and the trapdoor opened again to reveal Lupin. He and Tonks exchanged the obligatory security questions, and they handed Ginny out to him. He Apparated away, and a moment later, everyone followed suit.
Hermione was pathetically glad to see the familiar, bunker-like surroundings of the Shop. Accessed by a hidden door that moved around periodically in the Weasley twins' laboratory, which was already barred from most visitors by many charms and hexes, it had been tunneled out underground using magic. There were several bedrooms – small ones containing multiple bunks – a couple of bathrooms, a kitchen, a library, and what Ron liked to call the War Room, where they conducted training and strategy sessions. It was usually empty, except for a table and chairs in the corner, and several large maps of England on the walls.
Ron had made some kind of glad, wordless noise, as he saw one of his brothers seated in the War Room, staring into the fireplace, which had a secure Floo connection.
"Where's George?" Ron asked, his mouth moving before he saw the dead look in his brother's eyes. Hermione saw his throat quiver, as he swallowed hard, and she wondered how much more her best friend and boyfriend would be able to take.
"Fred was able to make it back here, and revamp the wards around the Shop. If he hadn't, they could have very well discovered this place," Lupin said, his eyes going gently to Fred's dazed face. It seemed clear to Hermione that Fred had spoken to Lupin about wishing he had gone with George, but had somehow felt obligated to the duty of protecting the Order's headquarters.
"Have you heard from Dad?" Ron asked, hesitantly. Arthur Weasley had been at the Ministry when it had fallen under attack. Fred shook his head woodenly.
Mr. Weasley was probably dead too, Hermione thought dully. Everybody's dead, all of them, all of them are dead; it was a sing-song refrain in her mind, and she wondered detachedly if she were going mad. She had a sudden mental image of Harry, his furious, determined face – his real face, this time – smeared liberally with his blood. And then he screamed.
The vision seemed so real that she started, and looked around warily to find all eyes in the room on her. She wondered if she'd made some kind of exclamation out loud.
"Miss Granger, are you quite all right?" McGonagall asked gently, and, to her horror, Hermione heard a hysterical, high-pitched laugh bubbling from her lips. She clamped her mouth closed, abruptly muting the disquieting sound, and nodded at the Headmistress apologetically.
Tonks had moved quickly to Hermione's side, clearly going into Auror mode, even though she tripped over the edge of the rug. She put one soothing arm around the younger girl, and spoke in a clipped voice, addressing everyone in the room.
"Everyone needs to get some sleep. This place is warded; I think we've enough security to allow that at least. I'll take the first watch. I've had the most training," she said, overriding Lupin's pending protest, before he could even voice it properly. "The rest of you, get a shower, maybe some food, and then some rest." She exchanged an unreadable look with Remus. "There's going to be a lot to do tomorrow."
Hermione had quietly obeyed the Auror, for once pathetically glad that there was someone else 'in charge,' someone to give her clear and well-defined instructions to follow. She had meandered back to an empty bedroom, but at the sight of her filthy, sooty face, and the grimy, rust-stained towel still clenched, forgotten, in her bloody fist, she decided that a shower might first be in order.
She cast a Healing charm on the livid looking cut on her palm, before climbing into the small, antiseptically white shower stall, one of three situated in the womens' lavatory. She closed her eyes, standing directly under the steaming stream, letting the water cascade off of her in all directions. When she opened her eyes briefly, and saw the grayish-brown water swirling down the drain, she thought briefly that she was going to be sick again.
The image of Harry screaming and bloody flashed in her mind again, with a suddenness and reality that made her jump and her elbow collide painfully with the unyielding wall of the stall. Suddenly there was no solace in the comfort of the warm water streaming over her; there was no peace to be found in cleanness, fresh pajamas, and soft sheets. Abruptly, she reached up and turned off the water with one forceful motion.
After getting dressed, deciding to sleep in soft flannel pants and a sweatshirt, in case of any middle of the night moves that might be deemed necessary, and casting a drying charm on her long, snarly hair, she padded down the hall, looking askance at the room that she had shared with Ginny in the past.
It was dark there, and she noted a beam of light trailing out from another room, followed by the sound of muffled voices of concern. McGonagall and Tonks were obviously working on Ginny. I wonder if she knows that her mum is dead, Hermione thought, standing motionless in the hallway, not really wanting to go into that empty, dark room alone.
She took a deep breath, and knocked on the door to the room where Ron and Fred would be sleeping, poking her head inside. The two boys were sitting on a bottom bunk, side by side, clad for bed, neither moving nor speaking, staring at something that Hermione couldn't see. She immediately felt like she'd intruded, and backed up, stammering something that sounded sort of like, "I'll see you in the morning."
"What's wrong, Hermione?" Ron said, blurting out the question with a perceptiveness that unnerved her.
"I – I – " she stammered, groping for words, while her mind screamed irately. What's wrong? What's wrong? How long have you got? Everything's wrong; it's all gone to hell, and I couldn't fix it, couldn't stop it. Harry didn't save us, and we didn't save Harry. The entire world has been irrevocably altered, and I don't know how to face it! No, she couldn't say any of that to her best friend, the lanky redheaded boy that had just lost most of his family, even though she knew that he was probably feeling the same things too.
"I didn't want to sleep by myself," she finally said, shuffling her feet a little self-consciously. Ron and Fred both stood, in a gesture of welcome, and without further words, they each took one of her hands, and helped her up to the bunk above the one on which they'd been sitting.
For one brief, shining moment, Hermione thought it was like something Harry and Ron would have done, and she smiled, as she reached down to hug both boys, wishing them a good night, automatically, even as she realized how hollow such words were. She pulled the sheets up around her, as Ron and Fred doused the light, and got into their own bunks as well.
Then she remembered the reality, and turned over in a restless, unhappy movement, pressing her mouth against the clean-smelling pillow, hoping that it would be enough to stifle the worst of her sobs.
The sound of Harry screaming – a memory that she could only suppose she had invented to torment herself – rang in her ears as she fell into an uneasy sleep.
Okay, I'd really like some reviews for this one. I know I'm an idiot for posting another new story, but this one won't leave me alone. I am still working on "Isle" and don't anticipate any untoward delays on an update (although it is probably starting to feel like my redheaded step-child).
Anyway, I know exactly where I want to go with this one, and am really curious to know what everyone thinks. I'm sort of ditching the Horcruxes, although they'll probably be mentioned, as a "they already did that before our story began" kind of thing. Other than that, I'm trying to move from book 6 canon.
This is going to be mostly a story about Hermione, and I'm going to try to keep it from her point of view. It will probably be darker than what I've done before, but hopefully not overly so, especially once Harry's been rescued – by Hermione, of course.
Please let me know what you think. I wouldn't have already posted it, but I'm dying for some feedback.