In order to get out of a predicament, you must use a level of thinking higher than that of which got you into the predicament in the first place.
Darkness descended like a thick black blanket on the small village of Braxshire as the people extinguished their lights. Most were climbing into their warm beds, snuggling with their loved ones while the children slept peacefully without a worry in their head.
But if anyone would venture closer to these quaint houses outside of London, they would see a small golden light flickering in one of the windows on the second floor. Occasionally a shadow would glide by, pausing every now and then to cast a chary glance out into the darkness.
The house stood close to the end of the street and none of the villagers dared to go near it. Indeed, the house looked rather gruesome from the outside with the paint chipping away and large patches of the shingles missing. Weeds were threatening to take over the house while the shutters hung dangerously from a single hinge, some even falling to the ground below.
The villagers, if asked, would tell you how the house used to be the grandest on the block and, if you had a rather vivid imagination, you could almost see it. The people who used to reside there were exceedingly friendly by nature and kept their house in tip-top shape. Everyone loved them; not one person had an ill thing to say about them.
Yes, the Grangers of number seven Briar Street were the perfect neighbours.
Three years ago, all that had changed in a single night.
The neighbours had all greeted the Granger's only child- Hermione- when she arrived home from that private school in Switzerland that her parents were sending her to. She seemed like such a happy sixteen year old when she stopped by to chat, but some of them witnessed the sadness lurking in her eyes when she thought no one was looking. They wondered at that look.
She was only there for about a week before a strange young man with messy black hair and brilliant green eyes came to call on her. Being the good neighbours that they were, they slipped their curtains back just enough to watch as Hermione left- trunk in hand- with that unknown boy.
They wanted to ask, but refrained.
Only one week had passed before something completely strange happened within the house. It had been late at night when the neighbours had heard the intense screaming coming from within the house. They all scurried out of their beds to peek out of their windows.
What they were met with was simply unbelievable.
A strange white light flooded the house. Occasionally another odd colour would flash but would then quickly disappear. The screaming then stopped without warning as well as the light.
A Mr. Joseph Forrel was prodded by his wife to go over and explore the cause of all the commotion. He slipped on his robe and quietly exited his own private, safe house.
As his foot first touched the pavement outside, one tall man stepped from the Granger household. He wore a dark cloak that disguised his features perfectly…except his eyes.
Even from that distance, Mr. Forrel could see the sinister red eyes glowing in the night.
He watched as the man raised a long piece of dark wood into the air. A green stream of a smoky substance left the tip of the wood and shot into the air. The substance took shape, a skull with a hissing snake slithering from its mouth. It hung ominously over the house.
More neighbours had left their house to view this phenomenon, but Mr. Forrel was staring straight at the spot where the man had once stood. One moment he had been there and the next he had disappeared in a blink of the eye.
Without a second thought, Mr. Forrel bounded forward and barged into the house without taking time to knock. The sight he was greeted with was horrifying.
Mr. Granger lay in front of his wife on the parlour floor, his brown eyes now void of life wide open in terror. Mrs. Granger laid in a similar fashion, her one arm stretched out so that her hand lay against her husband's cheek.
The coroner could not give an exact cause of death. Nothing seemed wrong with them that could have caused their deaths. Since no clear description could be given on the strange man, there was no one the police could arrest for the murder of the two beloved dentists.
Two days later, Hermione returned with the two boys- one the same as before while the other had flaming red hair. Everyone watched from their windows as she walked straight back into the house with her head held high. The two boys followed her in slowly.
They were in there for only one hour which was surveyed closely by all the neighbours. Occasionally they would see a form drift in front of the window before disappearing again.
She left with only a few things in her hands with the two boys in tow. They walked down the street and turned the corner, disappearing from view. They hadn't seen her since.
Now it was three years later and the villagers were so used to the house that they paid no heed to the flicker of light from a beeswax candle in the window of the old Granger place. No one noticed it; they had turned their minds away from even thinking about the house.
However, someone was moving about on the second floor in a room that just happened to be in the spacious library. They were scurrying about from one side of the room to the other, grabbing books in a hurry while flipping hazardously through them.
The candle was beginning to grow weak as the wax burned out. Brown eyes darted quickly to the candle before returning to the book, scanning quickly.
"I know it's in here….somewhere…."
Another book crashed to the floor as the figure ran to the other side of the room, grabbing a large tome. The pages flapped as the book was shook.
Tears, harsh bitter tears sprang to the figure's eyes as the body shook slightly with a large sob. The large hood fell back to reveal bushy brown hair and the tired face of Hermione Granger.
Her knees began to buckle as she slumped to the floor, her body slowly giving out due to all the stress she had been experiencing lately. Tears fell freely as she curled up, furious and demanding sobs racking her body.
"I'm sorry," she whispered to the night, not differentiating who the apology was meant for. It was for no one specific person; it was for the world.
She had failed both the magical and nonmagical worlds. "I am so sorry."
The flame of the candle flickered out before she composed herself and rose from the hard floor. She brushed the tears from her face as she stood in the darkness of the room.
"I need help," she whispered as she looked over at the portrait on the wall. "I can't do this by myself."
If anyone had seen her addressing the portrait, they would have thought her crazy, but this was no ordinary portrait. While the rest of the house was in tatters, this single portrait remained in pristine condition without a speck of dust on it. Stranger yet is the fact that most of the time- except for now of course- the portrait remained empty.
The old man with twinkling blue eyes that stood in the frame smiled kindly at her. "It is here, Hermione," the portrait of the late Headmaster spoke, "you just have to look. Take a deep breath and look where your heart, not your head, tells you to."
Her eyes narrowed on him briefly before closing as she drew in a deep breath. The darkness swarmed her, suffocating her, drowning her in the dark pit.
Her eyes flashed open as she stepped closer to the portrait, her hand going out to lightly touch the dark frame. She ran her fingers along the smooth wood.
"He was scared of you."
The words were spoken softly enough but they seemed to echo around the room. Her eyes flickered to meet the blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore.
"And yet he was able to overcome me."
A small smirk appeared on her face as she considered his soft spoken statement. She began to shake her head. "No, he couldn't do it himself. He had to have someone else do it for him."
As she spoke, her words began to slowly transform from neutral to hate. The events of her sixth year still struck a sore spot with her.
She had trusted Severus Snape, the formable Potions Master. For years she spoke up in his defence to her friends only to be proven wrong later. The man was evil and vile. He killed Dumbledore with a slight flick of his wand.
But he had paid for it later.
Harry had been with the group that finally caught up with him. Harry had no sympathy for the man. He was now in a high security cell in the bowels of the Ministry.
Hermione shook her head slightly as she took another step closer. "No, he couldn't do it himself and yet he felt a small victory over you."
Dumbledore smiled at her from his portrait. His blue eyes surveyed her expectantly as her brown eyes moved over the newly crafted frame. His smile widened as she touched an abnormal knot in the bottom left hand corner.
"He likes power," she whispered, tracing the knot. "He embraces power and loves proving that he has complete control over other people."
She pulled on the small knot, noticing that a hole had been drilled into the frame in which a small piece of wood had later been shoved into. She pulled out the small piece of wood and smiled triumphantly.
"Yes," she smirked, "he likes to leave reminders of his power."
She pulled the aging slip of parchment out of the frame carefully, unrolling it to glance over it quickly. This was it; this is what they were searching for.
The calm settling in the air around her disappeared suddenly as the lights outside along the streets went out without warning. Darkness swallowed the small village of Braxshire as a pregnant silence wrapped around her like a thick cloak.
Hermione turned and rushed over to the window. A sea of Death Eaters were striding confidently up the street in her direction. In the lead was a tall figure. He was the only one of the group that did not war a mask to obscure his features.
She turned back from the window and quickly cast a look around the room. There was no time to clean up the mess she had made. She needed to get out of there quick.
She looked quickly towards the portrait of the late Headmaster. He seemed to sense what she needed in that moment. "Go," he ordered her softly as they heard spells start to hit the door downstairs.
She nodded as she closed her eyes and imagined the spot where she was supposed to meet Harry and Ron. She felt the familiar squeezing feeling of apparition before it quickly left. She blinked open her eyes to meet worried blue ones.
"Why can't I apparate?" she asked, her voice breaking with fear.
Though he was obviously worried, his voice remained calm as he spoke to her. "Just relax, Hermione. You're probably blocking the magical source needed for apparition. Just take a deep breath and relax. You have to be relaxed."
Just then the sound of the front door crashing open echoed throughout the house. Tears were streaming from her eyes as she stared at the front door, her hand tightly clutching the slip of parchment.
"Hermione, relax!" Dumbledore ordered.
Hermione quickly closed her eyes and tried to apparate again, but found that she was once again unable too. She fell to her knees, her heart pumping loudly in her chest. "I can't," she muttered weakly. She looked up at the Headmaster. "They must've put up an anti-apparition ward."
The footsteps were thundering up the stairs towards her. She stared at the door in unadulterated fear. Her mind flashed through pictures of her parents, her friends, her loved ones. She clutched the parchment tighter as time slowed around her.
The last Horcrux.
Tom Riddle's Hogwarts Letter.
Harry was depending on her; the wizarding world was depending on her.
She had failed. One mission, one chance, and she had failed to complete it.
"Hermione," Dumbledore pleaded with her as the footsteps neared, "you have to get out of her. Get up and run. Harry is depending on you."
She looked up at him, her eyes void of their normal sparkle. She was defeated in both mind and body as she kneeled there on the floor, shaking her head slowly from side to side. "There's no other way out," she whispered softly.
He simply stared at her as she resigned herself to her fate. The Horcrux still clutched in her hand served as the only reminder of her presence here.
"Destroy it, Hermione," he urged then. "Destroy it so that Harry can destroy him."
She nodded and rose the parchment up as well as her wand. For Harry she would do this; for her late parents she would do this…
The door to the library banged open as her worst fear stepped through the doorway, his red eyes flashing sinisterly. Behind him flocked his faithful followers, each with their wands trained on her as they advanced.
The two words that comprised her name came out as more of a hiss as the being stepped closer to her. His eyes never left hers and, though he held his wand, it was not pointed at her.
"I've been hearing some rather interesting tales about you, Hermione Granger. Severus was merely one of many who spoke of your remarkable intelligence."
Her brown eyes narrowed with hatred as he spoke calmly of her former Potions Master. Her thoughts flickered to the parchment she held in her hand. She was going to die anyways; she might as well destroy the Horcrux before he destroyed her.
One long, pale digit shot out to trace her cheek, coming to a rest just under her chin. He forced her head up so that she had to look at him.
"Amazing," he whispered while his eyes roamed the details of her face, "a full mind block. I have only met a few who are skilled and controlled enough to do one and usually it crumbles within the first few minutes."
Hermione turned her face away; away from him, away from his eyes. He laughed, a bitter sound in the harsh silence of the room as it vibrated through her.
"Oh yes, your mind block is exceptional." he leaned forward, his face just a breath away from hers. "But your eyes, Hermione Granger, your eyes betray you."
The corner of her lip twitched up in a sneer that could have rivaled Draco Malfoy's. "Did you honestly expect me to hide my contempt for you?"
The Death Eaters close enough to hear drew in an enraged breath and raised their wands but their master only smirked at her. "Such passion in one so young. You can only be what? Nineteen?" He fingered a wild tendril. "I held the same passion in me when I was about that age."
She chose not to respond which seemed only to serve to provide him further amusement. He rose back to his full imposing height and stared down at her.
"Yes, you are exactly as I imagined you to be: intelligent, passionate, as well as loyal. Tell me, Hermione Granger, do you love your friends so much that you'd be willing to die for them?"
She didn't even need time to consider as she quickly answered, "Yes."
The Death Eaters all laughed while Voldemort merely stared at her thoughtfully. She ignored them all; only the two of them existed at that moment.
Red and brown, two contrasting colours and yet they swirled together easily on the pallet before them.
"Yes," he finally said, cutting his Death Eater's laughter short, "I see that you would easily and willingly die for them." His gaze flickered down to the parchment in her hands. "Dying for them is a waste of yourself, Hermione, truly it is. You could do so much more."
He turned and walked to the now empty picture frame where Albus Dumbledore previously stood. With a flick of his wand, the canvas burst into flames, the eerie glow of the flames dancing on the walls of the small room.
He turned back to her slowly once every trace of the portrait was gone. In a few short strides, he was standing directly in front of her once more.
"You are a mere sacrifice to them. Yes, they acknowledge your intelligence but you are nothing more to them than a brain when you could be so much more. They knew this was a death mission, your precious Dumbledore knew this was a death mission, and yet they still sent you."
Tears were once again swimming in her eyes but she refused to allow them to fall in front of him. The sharp crack of his words against her skin hurt her much more than she cared to admit.
It came out as a strangled sob, one which caused the masked men standing behind Voldemort to chuckle at her weakness. Her lower lip quivered slightly but she didn't look away from the man in front of her.
Lord Voldemort leaned down once more, his breath tickling her skin. "Throughout your school years, did your friends not use you for your intelligence? Did you not ensure that they would pass without trying that hard? Was it not your intelligence that allowed them to escape from some rather sticky situations? Was it not you that lied and covered for them?"
She turned her head away from him then but he wrenched it back to face him. "And how about after school? I am told that you are the brains behind the Order now with Dumbledore is out of the way. Was I misinformed? Did you not personally figure out what the rest of my Horcruxes were and provide Potter with a detailed description of how to destroy them?"
Her low lip quivered slightly once more as the biting sting of his words imbedded itself into her skin. He gently wiped away a tear as it fell from her eye.
"Am I wrong, Hermione?"
She didn't want to answer him, couldn't answer him, so instead she looked up at him through misty eyes and softly asked, "Why?"
A slow smirked formed on his face as he didn't' even try to misunderstand her inquiry. "It is rather simple really. Each of my Horcruxes represented power. I chose your house simply because I was determined to hold power over you."
As he allowed his words to sink in, he rose to his full height, towering over her. His sinister eyes surveyed her as if she was a surprise. "However, it was all a delusion. You, I see now, will always have that stupid Gryffindor naivety. Even though they are willing to sacrifice you, in the end you are ready to sacrifice yourself for them."
She turned her head slightly and closed her eyes as the tears dried, her will resolving itself in her as she considered his words. She was doing this for them…she just had to remember that…
"Love is a weakness, Hermione Granger."
As he raised his wand, her natural instincts kicked in and she raised the parchment up in front of her like a shield. As the beam of green light struck the parchment, an intense pain seared through her body.
The last thing she remembered before darkness clouded her world was red eyes filled with something she never thought possible of him…