A/N: The title of the story is taken from Anastasia's fic, "Animated Night." It goes without saying that everything else you recognize belongs to J.K. Rowling. If I have seen anything at all, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants. My thanks, as always, to Anastasia and to the OWL staff.
Note to readers: This story, like A Walking Shadow, is a mystery. It will unfold fully, but not quickly - at least not in the beginning...
The wind was tossing the tops of the firs in the darkest corner of the Forbidden Forest and for much of the day she had watched them from the mullioned window in the Library, her eye distracted by the far-off motion that called her thoughts away, away from her research, the essays she was marking, and, finally, from conscious control.
She had had to force herself to concentrate, to focus, to finish her work. As the falling rays of a dying sun tipped up, illuminating from beneath only the very tallest branches, she set down her quill and sighed, blowing a loose strand of hair away from her eyes.
Twenty-two years ago, she had stood with Harry in Godric's Hollow as Voldemort fell. Twenty-two years ago, she had returned to Hogwarts to complete her education, passing her N.E.W.T.s with marks that surprised no one. Twenty-two years ago, she had accepted the Headmistress' offer to fill the post left vacant by Professor Vector, who had been unmasked as one of Voldemort's Inner Circle as her body lay, still, beside those of the Malfoys and Lestranges, to be removed and disposed of by Unspeakables, whose job it was to… yes, well. She knew more of that than she wanted to.
They all did, of course; she more than most.
For twenty-two years ago, she had assumed the responsibility of knowledge, of secrecy, and of loyalty.
For twenty-two years, she had kept her secret hidden lest it shake the foundations of the Wizarding world.
For twenty-two years ago, Harry had failed. Hers had been the blow that had felled Voldemort.
In her panic – with Ron down, the Order decimated, some Bound, impotent save their frantic, searching eyes, watching Harry struggle as Voldemort wrestled to control his mind, the one remaining separation of his soul embedded, entangled in the scar with which he had made Harry in his own image.
Because Harry had lived too long under his curse – the arcane curse of the Darkest magic, the mundane curse of being the Boy Who Lived – to be able, to be expected to be able, to throw him off fully.
Because Harry could not, in the end, defeat himself, and as his eyes glazed and his knees buckled, as he started to sway –
In her panic, her wand moved on its own, and it was her voice – silent, unheard – the voice in her mind had spoken, and it was she who had killed Voldemort.
She had no idea how she had done it.
The prophecy had been meaningless. The Unspeakables were at a loss.
There was, of course, a cover-up, and she had returned, obedient, to Hogwarts, donning once more her House robes, pinning upon them her Head Girl badge, changing them, literally, the day she graduated, for her teaching robes, the Ministry officials nodding their approval.
For twenty-two years, she had played her part – the brains of the Golden Trio, Harry's last standing supporter, the bereft young girlfriend of Ron Weasley – so tragic, so young – in silence.
Parchment before her forgotten, she gazed at the falling light in the wind-tossed trees until she realized that what she was seeing was her own face, bathed in lamplight, reflected, distorted, in the leaden windows.
The echoes of twenty-two years of silence pressed down on her from the vaulted ceiling, as if the bones of the Castle drew it from the very bedrock below, as if its roots, stretching endlessly through time, drew the deep vastness of eternity upward into the present to weigh on her, heavy, poised to fall -
She shook her head. She had felt such weight before, on nights unnumbered spent scratching with scarlet ink her countless neat comments in the margins of private research tomes, on endless student parchments.
And always she had brushed it aside, banishing it with an impatient gesture, her hand completing the motion by tucking the stray wisp of hair behind her ear.
Professor Hermione Granger always had a smudge of scarlet ink next to her ear. Everyone noticed, of course. But no one – not even the most incautious first-year – ever said a word about it.
For Professor Granger's temper was short, incendiary, and famous.
Professor Hermione Granger was the most feared person at Hogwarts.
And no one knew why.
"Professor?" As Hermione waved the last of her belongings into her bag, the voice of the librarian - bitter, polite - cut into her silence.
Hermione glanced up sharply. "What is it, Hannah?"
As always, Hannah Abbott flinched from the pause with which the professor always punctuated her lack of formal title. Clasping her hands behind her back as though she were still a student, she took a small step backward and dropped her chin. "I just wanted to… to know if…"
Hermione's eyes glittered dangerously. "If I was leaving?"
Hannah glanced at the ceiling. "Ye-."
Hermione cut her off. "Obviously," she said, standing and lifting her bag to her shoulder. She swept past the other woman as if she warranted less attention than one of Hogwarts' many statues.
Once the library door had closed behind the professor's cloak, Hannah exhaled, and thought, "She was always so nice at school." Hannah had had the same thought every night since she had replaced Madam Pince fifteen years before.
Had the professor known of Hannah's perennial lament, she would have said nothing.
But something in her eyes would have confirmed Hannah's semi-conscious suspicion that she didn't measure up.
Hermione's steps echoed with efficient finality in the stone corridors as she made her way to her rooms. The Bloody Baron drifted into her path, but she stepped through him, unseeing, insensible to the chill that always accompanied contact with any of the castle's many ghosts.
There were more of them now.
The last journey of the Hogwarts Express was the stuff of legend – the battered, blackened hulk of its former shining crimson engine dragging its broken tail to die half a league from Hogsmeade Station; the stunned, translucent forms of the few students whose parents had allowed them to board emerging hours later from the Highland fog, mindlessly obeying their last living impulse – to get to the Castle, the last stronghold of safety.
The attack on the train had been the final catalyst for Harry. The confrontation at Godric's Hollow had occurred less than a fortnight after they'd had word from the headmistress, who had closed the school and dedicated an entire wing of it to the teaching of her former students. "To ease their transition," she had said.
The Fat Friar had nodded his long-faced approval, and taken up residence with them. Some of them had faded, partially dissolving into stationary misty patches that the students instinctively knew to avoid when the school re-opened the following year.
Sweeping through the castle with her formal teaching robes rustling stiff around her swift footsteps, the professor thought nothing of that time, nor of the first seven years after the war, when all classes were smaller than they should have been and some went untaught altogether. But the castle was long since full, and she never admitted to nostalgia for the time when there had been fewer rules broken and fewer essays to mark. Only alone, very late at night, did her thoughts ever turn to the time before, and, even then, only in the shadowy moments before sleep when she was long past knowing her own name.
It was her favorite time of day.
Tonight her eye and mind were still drawn toward the trees, glimpsed from windows, through columned archways, backlit by the rising moon, their tops still swaying, darkly, silent, only the highest branches of the tallest trees, always first to steal the light from the sky, to sense the wind, heralds of night and of storms.
Tonight the wind was rising, and, from the place beyond her name, beneath her dreams, tonight she felt it rise.