Silence after a storm
For an early August morning, it was eerily quiet. The usual wind announcing the approach of fall lay slack, almost still, and the normal hum of insects and animals was missing. No birds sang from within the nearby wood, no squirrels bickered with one another. It seemed that even the small stream was afraid to babble.
The small cottage nestled in the tree line was normally bustling with life, but it too was quiet. The window hinges didn't even squeak when the light wind pushed softly. Only the hitched breathing could be heard from the young woman sitting in the parlor with her knees clutched to her chest. Tears ran down her pale cheeks. Her mother lay on the floor, looking up at the ceiling with frozen fear.
Hermione had seen that look before; the look of someone who knows that death is imminent. It was the look on every victim of the killing curse. Her father wore the same expression, though she couldn't see it. He was lying face down, only a few feet from her mother, in a pool of his own blood. Their hands were close, as if they were reaching for one another. Hermione found it poetic; her parents had been very much in love, and it showed, even in death.
Shock laced her veins, and she couldn't move. She wanted to run, to cradle her parents close and shake them until they woke. But nothing could make her move from her position against the wall with her knees drawn up and her chin tucked in the fold. Nothing could make her take her eyes off of the figures lying so forlornly. She knew the mark rose above her childhood home. She could imagine the snake smiling so maliciously at her, laughing. The skull would stare, asking why she hadn't been able to save them.
She remembered running through the wood, practically flying in her mad rush to get home. She had heard her mother's piercing scream soon after entering the wood separating her home from the nearby village. But she had known something was wrong before that: she'd felt some kind of wrongness as soon as she'd stepped out of Mrs. Melwick's floo. Hermione had been in such a hurry she'd tripped over a branch and fallen, shattering her wand. Pieces had splintered and wedged into her skin, drawing blood. She didn't care, scrambling to pick herself back up and sprint home. There were no trees to cover the Dark Mark hovering over her childhood home once she reached the edge of the wood. Two cloaked figures stepped out of the cottage, and she hurled herself behind a thick trunk before they could see her. She angled her head to see them bicker for a minute, and then they vanished and left the silent house. She hadn't wanted to go inside, knowing what she'd find there.
If only I could have done something…
Hermione wanted to curse the bastards to hell and back, but now she gazed at the useless wand she held, and knew that it would have been suicide. What could a young, wandless woman do against powerful wizards?
Her parents didn't have magic. The Death Eaters had come seeking her. She had known it was only a matter of time before they targeted her family. If she had been there, maybe she could have fought them off, but if not they would have either killed her outright or captured her then so Voldemort could kill her later.
Either way, my parents are still gone.
It was both a blessing and a curse that she'd gone to visit Harry and Ron at the Burrow.
"Granger! Miss Granger, where are you?"
The voice sounded faded to Hermione, a thread of sound that only just made sense in her mind. She considered answering, but found she couldn't. Her mouth refused to open and make the words she thought to say. Her tongue remained unresponsive.
Her name. She knew that the voice belonged to someone that wouldn't hurt her, but she almost wished that the Death Eaters would come back and finish what they'd started.
"Hermione! Dammit, answer me!"
Hermione heard him, his voice closer. Then she felt hands on her shoulders, her cheek. She stared blankly, uncaring.
"Hermione… Come on, look at me." Hermione was unable to make herself think. His fingers tilted her chin and she met dark, searching eyes. She knew this man, but she didn't care. She wanted to sit there and be left alone, but she had no strength to fight him. Finding that she either couldn't or wouldn't move, he pulled her into his arms and carried her outside.
Severus Snape had no idea what had called him to the little cottage. It had been years since he'd visited the home of the Grangers. Although he would never tell anyone, he secretly liked the family that occupied the home in Cedarcrest, and he felt his magic pointing him there. He kept a Portkey that would take him far enough into the nearby woods to be unnoticed: a small English tea pot that Rachel Granger had given him years ago.
He'd seen the Dark Mark unfurling over the cottage, and he thanked whatever God existed that he had been able to find Hermione relatively unharmed. But he felt her terrible loss: he had befriended the Granger couple soon after taking the Dark Mark, though he hadn't kept a close relationship with them. Holding Hermione in his arms, he Apparated them to his home at Spinner's End.
When he'd settled her on a bed, he took a moment to really look at her. She stared blankly, tears running in a constant stream down to her chin where they fell onto her shirt. Her face was red. She clutched splinters in her hands, which he recognized had once been a wand.
"Hermione, honey, look at me," he commanded, uncaring that the endearment had slipped out. She slowly turned her head to him, though it was half-hearted.
"They're… gone." Her voice was frail.
"I know," he replied, letting the silence fall between them. What else was there to say? Severus was out of his element. He was never the one to comfort, and so he didn't know what he could do for this poor child.
She fell towards him, crashing into his chest. He felt her grip his black robes despite the pain it must have caused and cry. He closed his arms around her, enfolding her in an embrace that he never would have thought himself capable of. Her sobs wracked her body and his, but he held her through them. After a while, her breathing evened out, and her grip loosened. Severus gently pulled away, leading her head to the pillow as she succumbed to sleep. He conjured a blanket for her to keep from having to reposition her under the covers, then conjured a chair so he could work on her hands.
A charm had the slivers of wood out of her flesh, but the healing was better left to a potion. After summoning one and sealing her fingers and palms with bandages, he left her to sleep. He needed to notify the Order of the attack.
"Arthur! Arthur, come to the fire, quickly!" Severus shouted to the empty room.
"Severus?" Arthur asked, running in and kneeling by the fireplace. "What's wrong?"
Severus had immediately called the Burrow, knowing that Arthur would be able to scout Cedarcrest and find out what he could. "Death Eaters visited the Grangers." Snape said. "I found Hermione, but I didn't check her parents. I assume they are dead, but I didn't confirm it. I needed to get Hermione out."
"Where is she? Is she hurt? Is she safe?" Molly cried. She'd followed her husband into the room and scrambled to the fireplace. "She was just here!"
"I have her here with me. She's sleeping upstairs," Severus answered, giving her a nod.
"She's probably sleeping off the shock. She needs someone familiar to be there for her. I'll come through—"
"I am watching her, Molly," Severus said, suppressing the contempt that threatened to saturate his words. "Thank you, but I will take care of her."
"The Death Eaters must have visited while she was here," Arthur said, pulling out his wand and summoning his coat. "Tonks and Kingsley are nearby, I'll ask them to come with me." He left the room, and Severus started to leave the fire when Molly stopped him.
"You'll bring her here when she wakes up, yes?" she asked.
"No, I will keep her with me. You've already practically adopted Potter, and you have your own children to worry about."
"Oh, it's no trouble Severus. We love Hermione like a daughter—there is always room for her here," Molly answered, pushing him. "Besides, she's going to be distraught when she wakes. She'll need comfort and compassion."
"That may be so Molly, but she needs to be here, with me. I cannot fully explain right now, but trust that it is best. I will be here for her." He tried not to let the annoyance show in his tone, but Molly was testing his patience.
Severus ended the floo call, trusting that Arthur would inform the rest of the Order. Severus had other things he needed to do. He threw another handful of floo powder into the hearth and soon found his head in the Headmaster's office.
"Albus?" Severus looked around the office, finding it rather empty.
"Severus? This is unexpected," Albus answered, and moved so that Severus could see him. His eyes twinkled in that strange way that only Albus' eyes could twinkle.
"I know Albus, but there's been another attack. The Grangers have the Dark Mark above their home." Severus recounted what he'd seen as the headmaster listened intently. "I have Hermione with me now, and Arthur is going to check on the Grangers and investigate."
"Good, I trust Arthur to be cautious and find out what he can, though it probably won't be much. Alas, it is sad that the Grangers were caught in this war; they were good people."
Severus was quiet for a moment, agreeing with the Headmaster. "Albus, Molly wanted to take Hermione," he said, catching his friend's attention. "I told her I would keep her."
Albus considered this, then nodded. "That is for the best. After all, if the Death Eaters came for her, they probably know the secret." Dumbledore paused to think. He rubbed his temples with wizened fingers, looking much older than he had previously. "We will need to tell her, Severus. Soon."
"Then I will go and watch over her, Albus. Tomorrow, when she wakes, we can discuss it." Severus didn't look forward to the looming conversation, knowing that accepting her parents' fate was enough stress for the young witch sleeping upstairs. What Albus and he had to tell her would crush her entire world.
"Very well, my friend. See to it that she's ready for it."
A/N: So there you have it. This is the first edited chapter, and we'll continue in that vein through the end. Then we'll start with new stuff (YAY!)
My new Beta, Maleday, helped me realize that the timeline wasn't very clear in previous versions of this chapter. I've helped align things a bit, but more will come with future chapters. BEAR WITH ME! I promise, things do get explained. For now, just know that the Trio is going into their seventh year at Hogwarts, Dumbledore is very much alive, so we're a little out of cannon, and the trio is NOT out hunting horcruxes. Pretend those don't exist.
If you've already read this story, I encourage you to read it again-things are changing, and it's dramatic. Be prepared.
I send love to all my followers-you inspire me to keep this story going. Thank you for reminding me that it needed to go somewhere. *hearts*