A/N: Everything but the plot belongs to JKR. No copyright infringement is intended.
This is canon through GOF, but Cedric is NOT dead. All will be explained, so keep your shirts on :)
This is, as of yet, un-beta'ed, so please bear with me. I'm in the market, if anyone's interested.
Day 1: Monday
The perpetual numbness which had shrouded Hermione's heart for nigh six years receded only to be replaced with the sharp pain of said heart nearly stopping dead in her chest.
Sirius Black Caught After 13 Years! The headline read. Beneath it in smaller letters: To Stand Trial in Two Weeks.
At some point during her stunned perusal of the article, Hermione dropped her mug onto the dingy linoleum floor, shattering ceramic. She was heedless of the scalding hot coffee spattered across her bare legs like black blood. Each word made it harder and harder to breath. Each sentence ripped open wounds she was so sure had healed.
This can't be happening. He's dead.
But it was. Complete with a photograph of the skeletal inmate. The years had not been kind to Sirius.
Vision blurred with unshed tears, Hermione raced to the loo and vomited.
Hermione did not know how long she sat on her kitchen floor staring at the 31 July, 2006 edition of the Daily Prophet. Having dropped it in the puddle of coffee, the rough paper now held a sick, yellowish hue.
It was ironic that the announcement was made on Harry's birthday. He should have been twenty-six today. Those dumb fucks at the Prophet probably thought they were paying their dead war hero tribute by telling the world that the man who betrayed his parents had finally been re-apprehended.
Hermione thought it was cruel. She was the only person alive who truly knew how much Harry had loved Sirius, knew how much it had broken Harry's heart that he had never been able to clear his beloved godfather's name. Just like it had broken Hermione's heart to have the three people she loved most be stolen away – one of them before she got the chance to tell him just how much he meant to her.
She had spent the last six years gluing her heart back together, picking up pieces of herself all over Europe. After moving three times, Hermione finally settled in Prague where she had a tiny loft all to herself and a job as a receptionist at the British Consulate. She was a far cry from happy, but at least she wasn't hounded by press, having the deaths of so many wonderful people shoved in front of her continually.
Three days after the cataclysmic final battle, Hermione had simply vanished from her hospital bed at St. Mungo's without looking back. The hospital was thoroughly scandalized when it was leaked that they lost the body of the famous Hermione Granger, best friend to the Boy-Who-Triumphed-But-Didn't-Live. There was nothing in Britain for her but constant reminders of those dearly departed. So she left.
And now she had to go back.
She lost him once; she could not bear to lose him again.
She was the only one who could save him.
Hermione sighed heavily when she stepped out of the Floo into a mercifully vacant Leaky Cauldron. The heavy nostalgia nearly crushed her with the weight of her own memories. Memories of the summer before her third year when Sirius had first escaped. If only they'd been able to bring Wormtail to justice thirteen years ago she would not be doing this right now.
Her reverie was interrupted when Tom, ever the barkeep, a memorial to what once was, entered the dining area from the kitchen. He was studiously wiping a glass with a semi-clean rag, humming to himself. Hermione didn't recognise the tune – a testament to her lengthy absence from the Wizarding world.
Not realising the presence of another, Tom went to the bar where he stowed the glass and began wiping down the counter top. Hermione cleared her throat.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Tom apologized, looking up at her. "I didn't hear the Floo. What can I – Merlin, Circe, and Morghana! They said you were dead," he finished in a whisper.
"Hullo, Tom," Hermione said wearily. She seated herself at the bar and dropped her valise on the floor at her feet.
"I've always been rather adept at Memory Charms, you know. Those Healers never saw what hit them."
The ordinarily effusive barkeep gaped like a fish at Hermione's unheralded return and glib conversation.
"I'll be needing a room for two weeks and a rather large Firewhiskey, if you will."
Tom shook his head as if to clear it before pulling a tumbler from beneath the bar and a bottle of dark amber liquid from behind it. He poured her a double and slid it towards her. She caught it easily, and immediately swallowed half the contents. It burned all the way down, but the feeling was not unwelcome. Hermione needed a reminder that she was actually in the Leaky Cauldron avoiding the eyes of a dumbstruck Tom and not in her flat having a very surreal, very bad dream.
Hermione finished her drink in one gulp and set the glass down on the counter with a hollow thunk. "How much do I owe you?" she asked as she slid off the barstool.
He waved his hand absently, not bothering to hide his slack-jawed stare. "On the house."
Hermione swallowed her grimace and forced a smile. She did not want special treatment, but she also knew there was little point in arguing with the old barkeep.
"If you insist," she said, hoping she sounded gracious. "I'm going to use the Floo; would you bring my valise to my room?"
"I think I can, Miss Granger."
She nodded her thanks and retraced her steps to the fireplace from which she'd re-entered the Wizarding world a mere five minutes past. Throwing a handful of the silky powder into the fire she shouted, "The Atrium!"
With a sigh of resignation, Hermione stepped into the green flames.
The Atrium had been rebuilt after the battle into an exact replica, but Hermione did not – could not – notice. The blood rushing forcefully in her ears successfully drowned out all of her other senses. She hadn't set foot inside the Ministry of Magic since the night Harry, Ron – and Sirius – died. The urge to turn and jump back into the Floo was intense; the surge of emotions the vaulted room brought was too much.
She spun around to do just that only to collide headlong into a tall man with sandy brown hair who was exiting the Floo behind her. With catlike reflexes, he reached out and caught her before she fell. Hermione berated herself for her childish behavior; running like a scared little girl.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled quickly. "Excuse me." She tried to extricate her arm from his firm, calloused grip, but he held fast.
"Do I know you?" he asked, curiously studying her face.
Cautiously, Hermione met the man's startling blue gaze. Recognition hit her like a ton of bricks.
It was Cedric Diggory.
Not trusting her voice, Hermione shook her head, and prayed to any and every deity who would listen that this conversation would end with her negation.
Cedric looked at her skeptically, as if willing her lie to reveal itself. "My mistake," he said slowly, "you reminded me of a girl I went to school with. Forgive me."
"No harm done," Hermione replied with a nervous smile. She cursed herself soundly for her anxiety. She was about to announce her return to the whole world, what difference did it make if Cedric Diggory knew or not?
Cedric reached inside his robes and withdrew a white business card. She accepted it and read it swiftly. Hermione was a little surprised to learn that Cedric had become and Auror. Had he been there at the same time she had? She had never pictured the former Hufflepuff in law enforcement.
"If you ever need help, miss, let me know."
"I will, thank you." She slid the card into her jeans' pocket.
Cedric gave her one more appraisal before nodding his adieu and sweeping gracefully off towards the lifts. Hermione released a breath she had not realised she had been holding. She just wanted to see Sirius and get the hell out of there.
Steeling herself for the encounter, Hermione walked to the other side of the gaudy fountain and queued up for the front desk. Five minutes later, she stepped up to the counter and waited for the unattractive witch at the desk to acknowledge her.
Name and destination," she said in a terribly bored, scratchy voice. Dorothea – or so her name plate read – did not even look up from the stack of parchments she was stamping with a large 'REJECTED' in red ink.
"My name is Hermione Granger, and I'm here to see Sirius Black," she said, mustering every ounce of confidence she possessed and pushing it into her voice.
Dorothea snorted. "Nice try, miss. Hermione Granger had been dead for six years."
"I assure you, I'm quite alive," Hermione responded with a wry smile.
The grumpy witch finally tore her eyes away from her work, prepared to tell Hermione off. However, the annoyed expression melted clear off her heavily made up face. Her thick base was creasing in the lines surrounding her mouth and her garish eye makeup was an exact match to the royal blue robes which clung precariously to the older woman's scarecrow frame.
"My file number is MLE-AD-HG190979-96," she said, matter-of-factly. "See for yourself."
Dorothea's eyes widened perceptibly before spinning around in her wheelie chair and scooting over to what looked like a mail slot in the wall. She scribbled something on a slip of parchment and shoved it down the slot. A moment later, a mechanical chime was heard, and Dorothea opened a small cupboard next to the slot. Inside was a thick manila folder with Hermione's file number stamped across it in large block font. Gingerly, Dorothea laid the folder on the table in front of her.
"Moment of truth, miss," she said. Her voice grated on Hermione's already frazzled nerves. "What's your password?"
Hermione pulled out her twelve inches of vine wood and dragon heartstring and tapped it to the file.
The folder flipped open. Hermione found she was staring down at an upside-down, much younger, much happier image of herself. She hardly recognised the woman in the photograph, but there was no doubt in Dorothea's mind that Hermione was who she said she was.
"Merlin's beard," she said under her breath.
"Fantastic," Hermione bit out, not appreciating the wonderment on the older woman's face one bit. "Now that we've established my identity, I would be very much obliged to you if you would tell me where Sirius Black is being held."
"I'm sorry, Miss Granger, but no one is allowed to see Sirius Black." She spat his name like it left a foul taste in her mouth; Hermione's blood boiled.
She huffed her frustration, but stood up straighter nonetheless, owning her full five-foot-five stature. "Is Kingsley Shacklebolt still the Chief of the Auror Division?" she inquired, sure she sounded sufficiently imperious.
"Yes," Dorothea answered slowly. "He's in his office, bu-"
"Call him and tell him I'm on my way to see him," Hermione interrupted. Before the receptionist could reply, she stormed off purposefully towards the lifts.
When Hermione reached the floor which housed the whole of Magical Law Enforcement, she walked down the all-too-familiar hallway to the last door on the left. The plaque on the open portal identified it as the Auror Division offices. The large room was a labyrinth of cluttered desks through which Hermione navigated with ease. Some things never did change.
She paid no attention to the curious eyes of various Aurors who tracked her progress all the way to the very back. When she reached the door that had K. Shackelbolt inscribed in large gold letters, Hermione threw the door open without hesitation and marched into the office. Her former boss was seated comfortably at his desk, reclining in his chair with his fingers steepled pensively in front of him. The mannerism reminded her of Dumbledore. He looked up at her arrival, as did the man with whom he was conversing before her intrusion.
"I want to see Sirius, and I want to see him now," she demanded.
The silence that hung in the room was palpable.
"Ah, Auror Granger. I see dead people are cropping up everywhere this week. Wouldn't you agree, Diggory?"
Hermione's eyes darted toward the other occupant. She flushed scarlet when she met Cedric's piercing blue gaze. Her heart skipped a beat.
"Aye," he said, simply, belying the quiet intelligence Hermione saw reflected in his eyes. He was calculating the situation even as it developed. Hermione squirmed uncomfortably, feeling exposed.
When did Cedric become so…intense?
"I came to see Sirius, and I'm not leaving until I do." She felt like a broken record.
"I'm afraid I cannot allow that, Granger."
"Why the hell not?" she ground out.
"Because, regardless of whom you are, he is still Sirius Black. The warrant issued for his arrest – and approved by the Wizengamot – states that no one is to have contact with the prisoner until his trial other than his guard. He's a dangerous man, and will be treated as such."
"How can you say that?" she asked in disbelief. "You knew him. You fought beside him. How much-" Hermione had to stop; her throat constricted painfully and her eyes were threatening to spill hot tears down her cheeks. She swallowed hard. "How much evidence do you need to believe he's innocent?"
"My personal opinions and my duties are often two very different, very exclusive things," Kingsley said, sternly. "Come back in two weeks. I'll see what I can do then."
Hermione glared at the none-too-subtle dismissal before storming from the room, slamming doors behind her. She needed to get out of the building post-haste before she did something even more idiotic than going there in the first place. Of course they were not going to allow her to see him! He had escaped once and then evaded them for thirteen years. She was a security risk; the one person left who still maintained his innocence.
Hermione was almost to the lift when a firm hand on her elbow spun her around. "What is it?" she hissed.
Cedric was unfazed. "Why?"
"You're going to have to be a bit more specific," she bit out.
"Why do you want to see him so badly?"
"Because," she said, passion stirring in her breast for the first time in years. "I have lived the past six years of my life believing he was dead. I have to see him; I have to know he's real."
Not wanting Cedric to see her shaking, Hermione turned back to the lift and pressed the button. She felt like an idiot, wearing her heart on her sleeve like that in front of a man she hadn't seen since she was fifteen years old.
"Where will you go now?" Cedric asked.
"Home. To bed."
Hermione sighed impatiently.
Where's the bloody lift?
"For the next two weeks – the Leaky Cauldron."
A moment later the lift finally arrived, and when Hermione stepped inside, Cedric was nowhere to be seen.