A/N: I do not own any of these characters. They belong to the brilliant mind of J.K. Rowling. This story will in all likelihood be A.U. once "Deathly Hallows" comes out in about a week. My first fanfic ever, so please humor me, and leave a review. Constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated if there are things that don't quite match up. Cheers!

Hermione Granger quickly grabbed her cloak and headed for the front door. She paused briefly as she unceremoniously stuffed her wand into the cloak and stole a glance at herself in the mirror on her way out. Her reflection startled her, and she paused to scrutinize the woman staring back at her.

Gone was the seventeen-year-old girl that she seemed to recall so well. Her signature frizzy brown hair had long since run its course, and was replaced with long, thick curls that were almost as unmanageable as the frizz.

I really need to try Ginny's "Thick-Be-Gone" potion. I'm too busy to try and deal with 'The Beast' any longer.

Her hair was rightfully dubbed, 'The Beast', by herself, Harry, and Ron during their final year at Hogwarts. The memory brought a faint flicker of a smile to her lips. It quickly vanished. It never remained long, and was usually followed by a quick succession of tears. This moment was no different. Vaguely embarrassed, she batted at her eyes with the back of her hand and strode quickly out the door and into the night.

It had been a long six years since she left Hogwarts. Saying that her final year at school had been chaotic would be an extreme understatement. To her surprise, the school had re-opened after Dumbledore's death. McGonagall had insisted that it would show their enemies that they weren't defeated and that they would carry on. And so, with nothing to go on but the mysterious R.A.B. in her search of Horcruxes with Harry and Ron, Hermione insisted the trio return to Hogwarts for a second run through of the library.

"But Hermione," Ron had complained, "You already searched the library top to bottom sixth year!"

"Yes, but I very well could have missed something, Ronald. I didn't even consider the possibility that someone else could have had a book checked out-Malfoy, for instance. You never know. Besides, what else do we have to go on? And anyways, we could all use some extra help at Defense…well maybe, except for Harry."

Harry had been reluctant to return. After their visit to Godric's Hollow, there was little to do but ponder over who R.A.B. could be.

And so they entered their seventh year at Hogwarts. Hermione was, of course, made Head Girl-which was no surprise to the few students that had decided to return. What should have been a moment of elation and celebration seemed somehow insignificant when compared to what she was trying to help Harry accomplish. Harry and Ron showed their enthusiasm through it all, which was a true mark of their friendship. And for that, she was greatful.

The Head Girl private dormitory became headquarters for their research. It was completely isolated from the rest of the tower, and so they researched for Horcruxes without the prying eyes of fellow students and professors. But soon, all faucets of the library had been searched and exhausted-included the restricted section. There wasn't so much as a whisper of a Horcrux.

"I can't believe that there is absolutely nothing in the library," Hermione had muttered, slamming a book closed.

"Yeah, well, we came up empty handed last time as well, didn't we? It's okay, Hermione, it was worth a shot. At least we know now where not to look," Ron had replied with a grin.

"Thank you, Mr. Edison."

The trio periodically left the castle with a little help from the invisibility cloak. They, of course, left without permission from McGonagall, who most likely would have bound them to the benches in the Great Hall with the Muggle equivalent of super glue, to search for information on R.A.B., and anything else they could find on Horcruxes. Most attempts were led in vain, but finally during spring term Hermione uncovered the mystery that was Regulus Avery Black by some clever work, along with countless hours of research in the Ministry of Magic, and Slytherin's locket was destroyed by means of the Avada Kedavra curse.

"Only four more to go," Harry had said with a smug grim.

The graduation ceremony acknowledged Hermione as possibly the brightest witch to ever grace the walls of Hogwarts. The claim should have left her ecstatic, but did not. Across the grounds, she had seen Dumbledore's headstone gleaming in the sunlight, and the empty void in the pit of her stomach reared its ugly head once more. The reality of everything sank in, yet again, and she left the ceremony feeling the full weight of the task still to be completed by herself, Harry, and Ron.

The next few years went by quickly. Hermione, Harry, and Ron all took the required courses to become Aurors in the midst of their various other "tasks". It seemed that it was the best course of action to prepare them for battle and for the dealing with the remaining Horcruxes. And through all the difficulty in their training and coursework of becoming Aurors, with the combined challenge of locating the next Horcrux, they always had each other. Until one day, they didn't.

It had started out as just another lead to the next Horcrux: that cursed black piece of Voldemort's soul; if you could call what Voldemort had, in fact, a soul. Hermione, Harry, and Ron had apparated to an abandoned Muggle museum on the outskirts of London, which Hermione believed housed Hufflepuff's Cup.

It's all my fault, she reflected ruefully. She was forcefully brought back to the present as she tripped over a large rock and continued on through the biting night wind.

Once they apparated inside the museum, Hermione had managed to locate the cup in the deep grime and dust which one was expected to find in any building christened as, "abandoned". But the moment the cup had touched flesh, dozens of Inferi burst through the wooden floors of the museum. An explosion of wood in every direction ensued, and Hermione had to cover her face to prevent her eyes from being ripped from their sockets.

Curses and hexes flew in all directions, creating a firework display of color and magic that reflected off each of their faces.

"Fire!" Harry had shouted, "The only way to force them back is with fire!"

Grasping the cup tightly, and brandishing her wand in the other hand, Hermione backed slowly the way they had entered, only to bump into a figure that immediately threw her off balance and to the floor. Hufflepuff's cup landed several meters from her with an audible "clang", while her wand skirted off to her right.

She raised her head to find herself staring directly into black, swirling robes. As Hermione continued to look upward, slowly…almost as if time stood still for a brief moment, she saw a person staring down at her behind a Death Eater's mask. Her breath hitched in the back of her throat. Her heart pounded so loud, she was absolutely certain everyone in the room could hear it, despite the shouts coming from Harry and Ron and the inhuman noises coming from the Inferi.

The Death Eater raised his wand, slowly, almost methodically, and pointed it straight at Hermione's chest. She closed her brown eyes for what she knew to be the last time, and waited.

Ron, just remember that I've always loved you. Always. And Harry, you were my brother. Finish what we started and kill the bastard for me.

As a million thoughts ran through her head, she continued to wait for the green curse that never came. And just as suddenly as time had slowed, in one brief moment, everything happened too fast. A shout from Harry, no Ron, was heard over everything, and Hermione didn't have time to blink as she was violently thrown to the side of the room. The shelf with which she crashed came down on her in one great crack, and she heard from under the antiques and rubble where she landed, a voice…

"Avada Kedavra!"

"Noooo!" Hermione had screamed. As she tried to remove herself from the pile of pots and vases that almost seemed to be suffocating her, she heard Harry yelling several curses of his own. But she couldn't see anything! After what seemed to be an eternity, she heard the distinct pop! of someone disapparating, and then Harry speaking frantically.

"Ron? No, no, no, no, no!! Ron, please no! Don't be dead! It can't be! No, please…. It…no, it can't…"

And then sobbing.

"Hermione? Where are you? Are you hurt? Talk to me, Hermione!"

A muffled noise from under the rubble was all Harry needed to scramble to his feet.

"Hermione, I'm so sorry…Ron he's…please, are you ok? Talk to me!"

She could barely understand him through his sobs as she managed to finally free herself with Harry's help. Her eyes scanned the darkness as they fell onto the lifeless form of Ron Weasley.

"Oh…please no…No."

She crawled over to where Ron lay with Harry supporting her weight. Her eyes immediately filled with tears and she screamed into the silence. The sound seemed to awaken the Inferi, who were momentarily stunned with the presence of the Death Eater.

"Hermione, we've got to get out of hear…", Harry was saying. His voice was so distant. Was he even really speaking? Was this all some bad dream?

This is a dream, it has to be. Ron's not supposed to die. None of us are. We're supposed to all find Voldemort together. But the ringing in my ear, and the blood on my face…please let this be a dream!

As Hermione clutched to Ron's lifeless body as though her own life depended on it, Harry screamed something at the Inferi and a bright flash erupted from his wand. She distantly heard him summoning Hufflepuff's Cup and her wand. Before she had time to think, she felt the familiar compression of apparition; then everything went black.

Hermione awoke a day and a half later to find herself at The Burrow, and in the arms of Mrs. Weasley. Tears poured down her face as she was rocked back and forth by her other mum.

"Shhh… Shhhh…dear." Mrs. Weasley had said.

And Hermione looked up into Mrs. Weasley's eyes to say something. Anything. But nothing came out at all.

How about, ' I'm sorry that I killed your son. I'm the reason he's dead. I led him into that damn building, and he had to give his life to save mine. You should be proud of him. But don't look at me like I'm innocent. Like you're happy I'm here. It's MY fault that your son is dead.'

There wasn't much Hermione could recall about Ron's funeral. She remembered she wore a black dress. She remembered Ginny hugging her. She was vaguely aware of Harry standing beside her, grasping her hand as they lowered Ron's casket into the ground. She remembered it was raining.

Was a phoenix singing?

And that was about the extent of her recollection. She didn't remember what the Minister had said. She was too numb. Numb. She couldn't feel anything. She selfishly was glad she couldn't feel. She didn't want to. Ever again.

The next chapter of her life after Ron's death also seemed a bit fuzzy. Hermione knew that Harry had destroyed Hufflepuff's Cup. He had told her that he did something different to destroy it, and vaguely recalled something about having to use his blood as a 'sacrifice' to the Horcrux, but Hermione had blocked out much of what had happened over those months. Before long, months had turned into years.

Immediately after Ron's death, Hermione had walked around like a zombie, eating little, and speaking to no one, save Harry. But as time wore on, and the intense pain of losing Ron began to subside to a dull throb in her heart, she threw herself back into work. She hardly slept, but researched vigorously, and accompanied Harry on any little whim either had.

Revenge.

Hermione's revenge for Ron's death would be to find the remaining Horcruxes, destroy them, and the plunge a dull knife into the space where Voldemort's heart should have been. It was that visual that gave her the first smile since before Ron was killed.

But the work was tedious, slow, and every lead that Harry and Hermione followed seemed to end up at a dead end. She would not be discouraged, though, and continued on at a maddening pace.

They had moved into a descent sized cabin-like dwelling that was in a thick forest in Northern England. Harry emphatically refused to return to number 12, Grimmwauld Place and Hermione had never argued. She remembered the place to be dreadful and it contained too many memories of Ron.

There was little Muggle or wizard activity in the surrounding forest of the cabin, and Harry felt they were sure to be unnoticed. Walking to the cabin often led Hermione to think of the Forbidden Forest, and a wave of nostalgia would often sweep over her, unbidden.

Order members were at the cabin so often that it was rapidly becoming the new, unofficial headquarters for The Order of the Phoenix. Hermione had enjoyed seeing Lupin, Tonks, Hagrid, and even Moody when he wasn't on one of his tirades. McGonagall had come occasionally, bringing news of Hogwarts and anything else interesting for The Order.

Between hunches, and the scare leads that they rarely enjoyed, Hermione spent much of her days dueling with Harry in the forest, and studying the little information there was to be had on wandless magic.

"Can you imagine, Harry? Having such a resource at your disposal? The possibilities of using it in battle…if one was ever to be captured…," Hermione trailed off, eyes lost once again in an ancient looking book.

"Yes, but Dumbledore told me once that it's extremely difficult to master. Only a few wizards and witches in history have ever been known to do it," Harry had retorted from the kitchen.

"Is that a challenge?" Hermione had called back, "Just because it's rare and not in history books doesn't mean that there are witches and wizards out there that haven't done it. I suspect there are more out there than the books let on. I mean, imagine the attention you would receive… It's the element of surprise that is most useful. I bet they just want to keep it hush, hush."

"Are you implying that there are things to be learned out there that do not come from books, Hermione?" Harry asked, as he reappeared from behind a cabinet.

"Watch it, Harry," Hermione warned.

And so they dueled. Hermione had attempted wandless magic on several occasions, only to become frustrated and discouraged. Harry never lost one of their duels. That was not to say that Hermione knew nothing about Defense-their sessions were long, exhausting, dangerous, and Hermione usually gave in due to fatigue.

"Don't go easy on me, Harry," Hermione had told him on one such night, "You think that the Death Eater's will go easy on me?"

With that comment, Harry had sent a nonverbal hex her way with such force that he was certain that if it hit her, she would be knocked back half the distance to the cabin.

Hermione felt the force of the hex coming at her, but instead of making the necessary moment with her wand, she merely held out her left hand, and closed her eyes.

Please, let this work.

Harry looked on, wide-eyed, and screamed at her to duck, but just before the hex hit the flesh of Hermione's palm, she thought in her mind, "Protego!", and the curse rebounded loudy off her hand, and into a nearby pine tree, which in turn, exploded.

There was complete silence for several seconds.

"Hermione…", Harry breathed finally, deeply as looked at the shattered tree, then back at Hermione, who was still kneeling, and looking very keenly at her left hand.

"How did you? I mean….you just used…", he started.

"Wandless magic," she interrupted simply, as though it were the most obvious answer in the world.

"Hermione! That's incredible! You did it! How many witches and wizards have been known to do it, again?" Harry asked, partly to himself, as he walked over to Hermione, helped her to her feet, and brushed off her robes.

"Dumbledore could," Hermione replied, still examining her hand, and looking for the first time in a long time, rather pleased with herself.

"Okay, so that's one…" Harry trailed off. He was secretly begging her to go off on one of her 'Hermione tangents'. What he used to find quite annoying when he was back at Hogwarts, had easily become one of his favorite things about Hermione, and unfortunately since Ron's death, she had been less enthusiastic about that part of her personality.

"Well, according to Hogwarts: A History, the number of witches and wizards that can do wandless magic is quite small, due to the fact that…"

As Hermione continued talking animatedly and at a rapid pace, Harry smiled. This was what he missed. This was Hermione. And he was extremely impressed that Hermione could master a skill as difficult and as advanced as wandless magic. But at the same time, if anyone could put in the time and dedication to figure out how to accomplish such a phenomenon, it would be Hermione Granger.

"…and Merlin is said to have been able to do it, along with Godric Gryffindor, of course. It was Merlin's insatiable thirst for knowledge that was said to give him that skill, which is…"

"Exactly like you," Harry interrupted.

Hermione stopped talking and looked at Harry with a small smile.

"Whatever happened to your theory of the limitless, superior information out there that is not found in books?" Harry questioned with a smirk, then added quickly, "It's good to see you smile, Hermione."

Hermione had started to retort, but immediately the smile vanished, "I shouldn't be smiling."

"Why not?"

Hermione stared into the darkness of the forest, saying nothing, but crossed her arms across her chest, and stood like a statue, as the wind blew her hair into a fury.

"Hermione," Harry started gently. All thoughts of the amazing achievement of wandless magic were gone. He turned her around to face him, "Ron would want you to smile. He would want you to go on with your life. To laugh, to live, to…" but he was cut off.

"We've got to find those Horcruxes, Harry," Hermione said, "And I'm not ready to talk about Ron."

It was the first time he had mentioned Ron since the funeral.

"Okay," he merely stated.

And with that, they both walked back to the cabin, though Harry at a slower pace. It was difficult for Harry to bring up Ron as well. Ron was his best mate. He deeply missed the summers that he had spent at The Burrow with Ron. The smell of the place, Ron's constant snoring in his tiny room, and pestering Hermione to no end with never ending talk of Quidditch were some of the things he remembered most. He never forgot, however, when Ron had told Harry that he would be with him to the very end. Tears sparkled behind Harry's glasses as he recalled the grin on Ron's freckled face in that moment, the friendship that was almost tangible in the air, and the pat on the back he had given him as he strode off to go to the end of term feast.

Harry arrived at the cabin to find Lupin, Tonks, and Hagrid talking animatedly with Hermione. He greeted and embraced his friends and started discussing possible tactics for upcoming attacks, but he and Hermione avoided the subject of their latest research. It was most difficult to keep information from Remus, and Harry was more and more convinced every day that Remus knew he and Hermione were keeping something from the rest of The Order.

Hermione had shared her information with Harry on wandless magic, but he was unable to perform it with the level of proficiency that Hermione was rapidly gaining. Harry was slightly annoyed that Hermione could accomplish such an incredible task, while he could not, but all thoughts of jealously soon fled when he realized that it would be an invaluable asset to Hermione, should she lose her wand in battle.

It will keep her safe.

The next week, The Order began to organize another raid on Malfoy Manor, courtesy of Alastor Moody, in a last effort attempt to find anything on either one of the Malfoy's, the Death Eaters, or Voldemort. It was the third visit The Order had paid to the manor in the last year alone.

"I can't believe we're back at this hell hole," Harry had muttered to Hermione. Malfoy Manor was exactly that-not a hell hole, but an extravagant manor. The manor had been abandoned for several years, and dust and time had crept over what once may have been a dark, but elegant place. But time, ever present and continuing, had reduced Malfoy Manor to have the appearance of what Muggles might term, a 'haunted house'. As far as anyone knew, no one had returned to Malfoy Manor since the night Draco Malfoy had attempted to murder Dumbledore.

"A hell hole it may be, Potter," spat Moody nearby, obviously overhearing his comment to Hermione, "but one can never be too careful. Death Eater's and the like could have come back at any time. This would be a perfect place for their headquarters."

Hermione rolled her eyes, "Yes, it would be perfect, despite the small fact that we seem to come hear once a week. I would say that would be quite a deterrent to having headquarters here."

Moody's rolling eye shot right in Hermione's direction, "All right! Everyone split into pairs, I want the kitchen searched thoroughly! Watson! You and Reece take it. Potter! You and Granger, check the upstairs drawing room! Lupin!..."

Moody's shouts could still be heard while Harry and Hermione headed up the rickety stairs.

"You'd think that he was the head of The Order, the way that be barks at everyone," Harry observed disdainfully. Harry had considered Remus as something of a father-figure, and it was Remus that had been voted as the head of The Order of the Phoenix since Dumbledore's murder.

Hermione only smiled ruefully as they continued upwards. "He's just paranoid, Harry. Remember fourth year? I suppose I would be a bit on edge if I was locked in my own trunk for a year."

"I know. I was just saying."

"I know."

When they reached the upstairs drawing room, they both pulled out their wands, and with a quiet "Lumos!", the room became visible.

"Has it always been this cool in here?" Hermione questioned, pulling her cloak more tightly around her.

"It's just the feel of the place. If anything, I'm getting hot because I'm thinking of Malfoy, and all the different ways I could curse him if he'd ever show his slimy, Slytherin face," Harry stated through gritted teeth.

That comment got a small smile out of Hermione. "I still find it odd that the Death Eater's don't seem to know anything about him either. All the ones that were questioned in Azkaban act as though they haven't seen him since just after he tried to kill Dumbledore."

"They're obviously lying for him," Harry retorted.

"Under Veritaserum?"

Harry merely shrugged and made his way down the dark hallway, stopping to look at a portrait that was obviously Lucius during his younger years, sitting astride a black horse. His resemblance to Draco Malfoy at this age was almost scary. Harry chuckled, "Remember what you told me about Napoleon, Hermione? Maybe Lucius was compensating for something as well."

Hermione glanced up at the portrait and watched Lucius Malfoy prance around on a large, dark steed with the ever present Malfoy smirk across his face. "I'd bet so," she replied with a grin, and continued down the hallway.

"Although," she called over her shoulder, "I find it surprising for a wizard such a Lucius Malfoy… 'Mr. Pure Blood' himself, to be seen in a manner that is so obviously Muggle in it's conception."

"Uh huh…" Harry muttered, as he studied the painting more closely.

Hermione continued down the long hallway until she it came to an abrupt end. She had been down this hallway on every previous visit to the manor, and each time it left her troubled.

This was always so strange. Why would the hallway just end like this? It obviously appears to be leading to something, but to where? To what? …And then it's just…nothing. Another dead end.

"It's architecturally unbalanced…" she spoke aloud to herself. Those implications alone surely would run Lucius into a fit. Everything connected with that retched family was meant to be pure, untainted, and balanced.

As she ran her nimble fingers across the alabaster stone that marked the end of the hallway she abruptly pulled back with a small shriek. Her fingers burned.

Harry was immediately running down the length of the hallway, wand drawn, and a frightened expression on his face.

"What? What happened?" he demanded, looking her over in what looked like hysterics.

"My fingers…", Hermione trailed off as she looked up. Where her fingers had touched the alabaster, a message was magically written in what appeared very much to be like blood:

MALFOY PRIVATE LIBRARY
NO ENTRANCE MUDBLOOD!

Hermione stared at the writing, as Harry was frantically leaning over her fingers, trying to pry them open and deduce if any harm was done.

"Harry, touch your hand to the stone wall," Hermione ordered.

Harry straightened and looked down at her with a quizzical expression.

When did you get so tall? Weren't we always the same height? Wasn't Ron the tall one?

"What are yon on about, Hermione?" Harry asked, still holding her burned fingers.

"Touch the wall, and see if it opens! If you can get in…if it knows you're not muggleborn…I bet there are loads of dark books in there, maybe something about Horcruxes…don't you see? This is what we've been…"

But Hermione's little revelation was cut short as Moody, Lupin, Watson, and Tonks dashed up the stairs and galloped down the hall to see what the commotion was about.

"What's going on?" Moody demanded.

"Is anyone hurt?" Lupin asked, concerned.

"Hermione just…", Harry started, but was immediately cut off by the very witch of whom he just spoke. She moved, quite forcefully in front of the alabaster stone, blocking the message.

"I just tripped on the rug here and landed on my hand. Really, I'm fine. Nothing to fret over. Now, if we can just leave this dreadful place and go have a butterbeer, I think that we'll all feel better."

"A fire whiskey, would be more like it," Watson mumbled.

Harry glanced over at Hermione, who was in turn, trying to shoo everyone down the hall and kept glaring daggers at Harry. As everyone walked ahead, Moody kept turning around every few seconds, eyeing the pair of them suspiciously.

"Hermione, what the hell?" Harry demanded.

"Oh hush!" she whispered, "Do you honestly want them knowing what we would be looking for in a library full of dark books and magic? Moody would be in for a field day! They would know the second we started looking for anything remotely similar to a Horcrux that something was going on…especially Lupin."

Her voice calmed a little, "I feel most badly about leaving him out. He could be such an asset… I know that Dumbledore said that only we should know, but seeing how Ron's…er..gone, do you think…?"

Harry looked down at Hermione as they paused on the rickety steps. It was the first time that she had willingly brought Ron up.

"I don't know, Hermione. It's not that I don't trust him, it's just that Dumbledore specifically told me…" he trailed off and watched her look down at her hands, tenderly grazing the burns with her wand. "…We are, however, running out of ideas…maybe if this library thing doesn't work out, we should tell him."

Hermione looked up, with something of gratitude in her eyes.

"I think that would be a good idea. Or well, you know, there's always Ginny…" She started.

"No."

"Harry, I just mean that…"

"Absolutely not. We've had this conversation before, Hermione. Just drop it, okay? I'm not going to change my mind. It's my decision to make. I love Ginny too much, all right? The less involved she is, the better."

"Okay," Hermione resigned quietly.

That was earlier that evening. Now, Hermione was dashing through the forest, maneuvering deftly around the thick trees. Her breath could be seen to the few deer that stood frozen nearby, startled as she continued on in the darkness. She was breathing harder now, and picking up her pace she started in a full out run for the apparation border.

Harry and the rest of The Order had set up apparation boundaries around the cabin. They had made a rather large circumference for added protection, by Hermione's own orders. Now, however, she cursed loudly at the large area as she stopped running, bent over holding her legs, and panted loudly.

Hermione knew that when Harry found the note that she left for him, he would be irate. He never let her go anywhere alone, and she knew that when he found that she had left for Malfoy Manor by herself, he would be furious. It was almost a little demeaning-she certainly could take care of herself, but she eventually always softened because she knew he was just worried about her.

In all fairness, I asked him to kindly stay with me, instead of gallivanting off with Lupin to Grimmwauld Place. If he would have just stayed, he could have come along…

Harry and Lupin had left not an thirty minutes ago to go to number twelve, Grimmwauld Place, to pick up a few additional supplies. Hermione had sat in the large sofa by the fireplace and had a silent debate with herself. In the end, her curiosity got the better of her, as well as the prospect of exploring new books in a new library that could possibly contain information about Horcruxes. The anticipation of discovering something to aid in defeating Voldemort outweighed any yelling that Harry was sure to do when he found her again.

"What supplies?" Hermione had asked, irritated that Harry was refusing to stay behind so that they could discuss the Malfoy Library, and the infinite possibilities that would surely lie beyond.

"Just some stuff that we left there. Not a big deal, Hermione. Just relax here until we get back," he had mumbled as he threw his cloak on and walked out the door with Lupin.

The "stuff" of which Harry spoke was in Hermione's mind, no doubt, the remainder of Harry's Quidditch hoard that they could not all carry over the first time they had emptied Grimmwauld Place.

And so, not ten minutes after they left, Hermione had grabbed her cloak, and was heading out the door and into the forest night.