Chapter 20: Past Imperfect
(incomplete: see Author's Note at end)
"Ready," Harry said, and pulled her hand into his own, which was warm and slightly sticky, as if he'd been eating sweets. Not expecting him to take this initiative, Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise, but before she could make out Harry's expression, the air went bright and glassy; she felt the molecules of her body unravel for just a moment before stitching themselves back together again, and the flesh of Harry's hand went briefly gossamer, then returned to its former mass.
They were not, however, back in Dumbledore's office. Nor had they returned to the present, it seemed.
They were in a soggy front yard; a torrential rain was falling, and if this weren't simply a memory, both she and Harry would have been soaking wet by now. The lawn that stretched out before them was littered with splintered boards and bent tree branches. A cardboard box was sent along by a brisk wind and rolled in front of Hermione's feet, loping like a stray animal.
"What is this place?" Harry asked, speaking up over the rainfall. "I thought you were sending us back?"
There was a broomstick abandoned at the foot of the tree they were standing near. An old Shooting Star.
Hermione started to shiver. Because it's raining. No other reason, she thought, and buttoned her cardigan up with shaking fingers, disappointed to find that it could offer no real warmth.
"I didn't send us here," she finally said, her voice cracking. "And I think we should leave."
But Harry was already turning around, surveying his surroundings. "It looks like there was an earthquake here, or a hurricane…" he murmured, using his trainer to toe at some wadded fabric that might have once been curtains.
Hermione shook her head numbly. "Wrong on both counts," she said, a tremor edging into her voice. Harry opened his mouth as if to respond, but before he could, they were both startled by shifting movements from the adjacent road-side. It was Albus Dumbledore and Cornelius Fudge, flanked by two other men that Hermione didn't recognise—Aurors, she suspected.
"There's no sign of the Dark Mark," one of the Aurors said, studying the damaged property. "She must have been imagining things."
Dumbledore frowned visibly. "Did you check the signatures?"
"Of course," the Auror said. "There's no sign of Dark Magic having been performed. What ever happened here appears to have been an act of nature, pure and simple."
Still, Dumbledore looked doubtful. "But a nearby Muggle family called the authorities and claimed they had sighted a U.F.O., lit in green and shaped like a skeletal face. Surely you can't deny that this sounds suspiciously like the Dark Mark?"
"Maybe so, Albus," Fudge shrugged, squinting through the effects of a water-repellant charm. "But Muggles are always seeing funny things, aren't they? Probably it was a You-Eff-Oh …whatever those are."
"Sir," the second Auror said, in a tone decidedly more serious than Fudge's. "I know it sounds like the Dark Mark…but we've checked the grounds several times over. There's no Dark activity here, and the Black couple appear to have been killed in the building's collapse—there were no curse marks on either of the bodies we found."
"Good," Fudge said, nodding hurriedly. "Then we should be on our way."
From between the two Aurors came an unexpected, hidden scream. "No!" A small girl was shouting, pulling herself loose from their grasp, enough so that Hermione could suddenly see her: short black curls plastered across her forehead; an unhappy yellow cat clutched to her chest. Hermione swallowed and pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. "You have to get that man! He was here...I saw him! He had a skull…a skull!" the child shrieked, her voice cracking with hysteria.
At her side, Harry breathed in sharply. "I don't want to see this," he said thickly. "I knew…somehow I knew that Voldemort must have killed your parents, too. But I don't want to see this. Hermione, please…"
Hermione nodded stiffly and raised her wand, Harry's clammy hand clutched in her own. She pulled an upwards gesture, but nothing happened. Rain continued to spray heavily down around them, thickening the mud where they stood.
"I can't, Harry…" she stammered. "It won't let me." She watched on in horror as one of the Auror's clasped a hand over the struggling girl's mouth.
Me. That's me. Hermione shook her head in disbelief, the whole of her body going clammy.
"Stop that, Murray. Let the girl be," Dumbledore admonished, his tone stiff and non-negotiable. "I would like to speak with her alone, if you don't mind."
"I don't want to see this," Harry repeated, his face white and smeary behind the sheet of rain.
You and me both…
Hermione didn't blame him for wanting to leave; he'd been too young to really remember his parents' murder and the aftermath that followed, and now the murder of her own was serving as a template for him to imagine what it was like to witness such a thing.
And even my own memory is full of more holes than I ever realized, she thought, watching her seven year-old self be led away by Dumbledore. The old wizard had never appeared in any of her nightmares—in her own memories she'd never even met the man until she arrived at Hogwarts. And yet here he was, grasping her tiny hand and gathering up the mewling bundle that was Ursula the cat, leading them both towards the tree where Harry and Hermione were currently standing.
"You've had a difficult night, haven't you Helena?" Dumbledore said, and a large umbrella burst from the tip of his wand and floated overhead, serving as temporary shelter. He spoke to the girl kindly, but without the usual condescension that adults reserve for children. Recognizing this, Helena blinked up at him in wonder, tears fast-drying on her cheeks.
"I want Mum and Dad," she said, her chin wobbling ever so slightly.
"They're gone, child. I think you already know that," Dumbledore said soothingly, and the girl swallowed hard.
Cry. Why didn't I cry? Hermione wondered, ignoring the faint moaning noises that were coming from Harry.
"Will you get them?" The little girl pled, tugging on Dumbledore's robes. "That bad man and his friend. Kill them for me, okay?"
Harry let out a gasp that echoed Hermione's.
Please…oh please I didn't just ask Dumbledore to kill Voldemort. No, I couldn't have done that.
"Justice will be served in time, child. I can promise you that," Dumbledore said, his brow furrowing in concern. "Right now I want to ask you about the skull that you saw. Where was it?"
"Over there." Helena gestured placidly at what was left of the destroyed house. "It was big."
"Yes." Dumbledore nodded slightly. "Where did the skull go?"
"I got rid of it," the little girl said simply, shrugging her shoulders.
"How?" Dumbledore asked, incredulity creeping across his features.
Helena pulled a pencil-sized wand from her pocket. Lazily, she waved it in a figure eight, then did an about face and pointed it towards the wrecked house. "Reducto," she intoned, then dropped her arm at once, that flattened expression never leaving her face.
"You got rid of it with your school wand?"
"Yes," the girl said, sliding the wand into the pocket of her sweatshirt.
"Why are you lying to him?" Harry said, speaking up suddenly from her far right side.
Hermione frowned. "But I wasn't lying…I don't think."
"Well, you must have been in shock, then…" Harry said, his face crumpling in thought. "Ron once told me that school wands are little more than sticks or pencils. Used for waving techniques is all. No magical substance in the core, so I expect there's no way you could have erased the Dark Mark with that wand."
"But I did—" Hermione broke off, her frown deepening. She watched as Dumbledore led Helena back to Fudge and the Aurors, looking thoroughly perplexed. Just as he opened his mouth to speak to Fudge, Hermione found that she could no longer make out his words--the rain was too deafening. And even as she struggled to catch a scrap of the conversation, she felt the ground liquefy beneath her.
"Quick! Grab hold!" Harry shouted, clutching her hand at once.
"No, wait…" Hermione mumbled, trying to break loose. I have to see this. I have to remember. I have to—
The air went bleach white, and was swiftly followed by complete blackness.
A few minutes later, Hermione opened her eyes to the dim light of Dumbledore's office….not to mention one doozy of a headache. She was sprawled on the stone floor with Harry directly at her side, his hand still loosely wrapped around her own.
"Ouch," she groaned, shaking Harry's hand free and stretching a bit before getting to her feet.
Not surprisingly, Dumbledore was watching them from his armchair, an inquiring expression on his face.
"I suppose you were responsible for that detour," Hermione remarked, shaking her head slightly.
"Excellent guess," he said calmly, bringing an ivory pipe to his lips.
"Why would you do that?" Harry asked, looking dismayed. "That was…awful." He pulled his cloak from the floor and wrapped it around his thin body, clearly shaken. In that moment he reminded Hermione of the boy he'd been at age eleven—emotionally vulnerable, but rather lost and overwhelmed by his own surroundings.
"Shh, Harry," Hermione said, though gently. It was they, after all, who had used Dumbledore's pensieve without permission; if he had indeed disrupted their sightseeing, she couldn't help but feel that he rather had the right to do so.
Assuming this was the case, she went ahead and spoke up: "My home, Albus......If you were there, and I was there, then our memories of that night would have been the same, wouldn't they?"
Dumbledore chewed on his pipe, regarding her with an expression of mixed curiosity. "Harry," he began, eyes darting over to where Harry stood, huddled under his winter cloak. "Perhaps you should leave Hermione and me to sort this out. I believe your Godfather is expecting you in his quarters."
Harry nodded dully, though was alert enough to flash Hermione a quick, searching look before he gathered up the rest of his things and exited the Headmaster's office. In the wake of his absence, Hermione felt oddly young and exposed--her resolve somehow deflated. She came forth on uncertain feet, finally lowering herself at Dumbledore's side.
"I don't remember you being there," she said, her voice coarse as she struggled to hold herself together. Why was she feeling this way? It was just a memory. It was all the past, and it shouldn't matter anymore.
But it does. Because it's not *my* memory…..and yet I feel as thought it should belong to me. Just me.
"Are you surprised? On a night when your whole life changes, why should you remember one old man?" he asked, a tendril of smoke leaking from the corner of his mouth.
She closed her eyes, saw that little black-haired girl who seemed nothing like herself. "How did I get rid of the Dark Mark, Albus? I was only seven. My wand wasn't even real…...just a school wand."
"Remember Galway's book, Hermione," he suggested, coughing once.
She did so, snippets of words coming back to her as her headache gradually faded away.
A moment when the will or self is at a critical breaking point...… Only surrender from order can call the nameless. The Aneamus….
"So you're saying my will broke down. That's why the nameless—the Aneamus—came to me? That it was they who banished the Dark Mark?"
He frowned. "There is no they Hermione. The 'nameless' is just another word for raw, unformed and untapped magic. Magic before it's been shaped by incantation or potion. It's the kind of innate magic that every Witch or Wizard is born with—all sentient creatures are born with it, and though not all choose to use or recognize it, it's what our very bodies and minds are made of."
She studied him carefully, noting the way in which he seemed to be avoiding her eyes. "So it's a weakness, then. A weakness of will. Not a special power at all."
He looked at her sharply, a strange light snapping forth in his eyes. "Sometimes letting go of one's will is the only choice available, Hermione. Have you ever heard stories of Muggles who have been in terrible accidents, only to find that they were somehow able to survive….even against tremendous odds? Perhaps they were lost and starving for weeks, or perhaps they somehow freed themselves from the heavy wreckage of a burning vehicle. Muggles like to chalk this up to miracles, though less religious ones sometimes blame this phenomenon on something called adrenaline—but it's really just another form of Anaemus. The human will, under extreme duress, can lean on the supporting elements and manage to perform tremendous feats, Hermione. It is not a weakness, it is a matter of survival."
"Fine," she said, already feeling weary by this conversation that was leaving her with more questions than answers. "So I survived and my parents didn't. But that doesn't explain why I managed to hurl a curse at you all those weeks ago. I didn't fear for my life then, so why did my will collapse?"
He paused, and she had a sudden, overwhelming sense that he was working towards revealing a big something….something that he'd been waiting to tell her, biding his time until she was ready to have this conversation, to have the gaps in her past fleshed out and made whole. The old Headmaster stroked his beard thoughtfully, and as she watched, a memory came back to her. No….it didn't just come back, it dropped back, sliding into place like a picture into a frame. Dumbledore—such a funny old man, his beard had reminded her of fluffy spun sugar, and if she hadn't been so very sad, so very young, she might have said something to him about it. Instead, she asked him to kill Voldemort. He was a strong Wizard, a good wizard, and she could tell because he looked her in the eyes instead of looking at the top of her head like those others did—the Aurors.
"They obliviated my memory away….those two Aurors," she said. "I wouldn't stop screaming about the Dark Mark, so they just…took it away. Or tried to, anyway. But I never really forgot."
He nodded. "I was against any tampering with your memory—such spells can easily damage a child, after all. But you made Fudge very nervous. He didn't want to believe that Voldemort was attacking pureblood families, you see. He was then as he is now; far better at damage control than he is at any sort of true order."
"Why was Voldemort interested in my family anyway? That's something I've never known. My parents were nothing special—just an ordinary Witch and Wizard. They didn't even work for the Ministry. Mum taught at the village school and Dad worked for the local Apothecary. How could they be a threat to anyone?"
"That I don't know, Hermione. Later, I wondered if it had something to do with Lily and James—or with Sirius, for that matter—but no such connection was ever confirmed. I can only assume that the truth still lies with Voldemort and his followers."
"And why no Avada Kedavara?" she continued. "That was his usual modus operandi, wasn't it? Yet he killed my parents with an environmental curse…why? To cover his tracks? But in that case he wouldn't have put up the Dark Mark, right?" She felt her face redden as she spoke faster, all the questions she'd held in for years finally boiling to the surface.
"Voldemort was fond of all three Unforgivables, but he usually ordered that a Death Eater cast them." Dumbledore said, his expression souring. "But he had a creative side, as well. He enjoyed inventing untraceable, destructive curses. Deranged as he was, he occasionally saw Avada Kedavara as a little too easy. A little too predictable."
"Molto Windaro," Hermione murmured, realising she had no idea what those two words meant. They weren't even Latin, as many incantations were. "That's the trigger, isn't it? When you cursed me, you used the words…."
"Halo Windaro," he finished, closing his eyes briefly.
"And since that moment, something in me has remembered. My will—whatever that is—remembers that moment of weakness now. That's why I was able to avoid Roland Nott's stun, down in the dungeons. It's also why…." she trailed off, cold horror washing over her, gorge roiling in her stomach. What had she seen under the hallucinogenic atropine?
Oh yes…myself, stabbing Macnair over and over again, splashing in the blood, licking his wounds…
"I killed him," she whispered, her voice cracking. "I didn't mean to, but it was me, wasn't it? My will was broken; the magic turned on me…turned the knife around in his hand…"
"Self defense, Hermione," Dumbledore said, his voice quietly resonant. "And your will is not broken--it is simply not closed off to the suggestion of nameless, raw magic. Like it or not, a conduit was opened inside you on the day your parents were killed. That conduit remains there still."
"But I have no control over it," she said, her throat tightening. "I will hurt people—I already have." A million realizations were washing over her at once; was this why Dumbledore had sought her out? To keep a tight reign on this weakness—this Anaemus—that he knew she possessed? She felt as if a wildfire were beginning to burn just beneath the surface of her skin; if she didn't douse it, it would soon overpower her, shriveling her up until she was nothing more than a body of bright ash. One gust would send her scattering.
"Your lack of control can be dealt with," Dumbledore said, suddenly stern. "This is why I've shown you your lost memory, Hermione. I've long protected you from the truth, but as soon as Sirius arrived, I knew that old questions would resurface in your mind—whispers of what happened to your real family…the one you once dreamed of avenging. I wanted you to finally reconstruct your past, so that you might be able to focus on the future. And only there can you learn to control what lies within you."
"What happens if I don't control it?" She asked, feeling her lower lip tremble with the question.
"I imagine it would eventually snuff you out. Like a moth to a flame, you'd burst with the burden of all that concentrated energy."
She laughed, and the noise sounded strained and odd, even to her; "Snuff out"--the metaphor suited the way she was feeling…all that fire racing under her skin. Dumbledore quirked an eyebrow, concerned, and she clamped her lips shut. She'd heard stories of people who'd burst into flames before—spontaneous combustion, their hearts burning from the inside out until nothing was left but a few fingers. Sometimes there was nothing left other than two feet laced up in perfect, un-burnt shoes. But maybe Dumbledore was speaking of a type of mental combustion; she couldn't deny the burn she felt behind her forehead.
"Yes?" To her own ears, her voice sounded young—the same voice she'd had at age seven. Helena's voice.
"Another difficult night, is it?" He said, his brow crinkling in that familiar way.
"Albus," she said, her voice cracking. "I don't know what to do."
The headmaster nodded slowly, his face grave. "The Death Eaters sense your importance, Hermione—just as they sense the importance of Sirius, Remus, Severus…and everyone else who is willing to fight against Voldemort's uprising." He paused for a beat, seeming graver still. "I fear they will do their best to ruin you at the inquiry, Hermione. They don't know what role you play, but they will want to silence you just the same."
I'm posting this mainly because even though this fic has sat without updates for nearly a near, I still get reviews and questions about it.
Here's the story: I began writing Mine Protector about 2 days after I found out that Fanfiction even existed. I wrote sporatically, making things up as I went along, and basically without any concept of there being a "fandom canon" of fics that already existed. Once I started reading more fanfic, I realized that I had made a number of missteps in writing this, both in characterization and plot. I eventually grew uncomfortable with continuing the story and wanted to start anew with a brand-new concept that reflected my now-thorough knowledge of HP fanfiction. This is how Faster Mudblood! Kill! Kill! was born. FMKK is, in my opinion, is a much better and more worth-while piece of fanfiction. MP, while good in its own way, is for me like looking at a picture of myself from highschool. It's awkward and funny and doesn't look the way I want it to look. FMKK is multi-shipped, rather than being purely S/H, and contains both het and slash. There is a developing S/H relationship, but it is moving much more slowly—and more authentically, I think—than the S/H in Mine Protector. Nevertheless, fans of MP seem to be uninterested in FMKK. I'm not sure why this is, except perhaps because it does not immediately gratify those who are seeking fluff and romance.
At any rate, I'd like to offer readers this incomplete chapter 20 of MP, which was written almost a year ago, in hopes that it might sustain you for a time. I'm afraid I can't pick up on MP again unitil I have FMKK completed and out of my system. And if I ever do pick up MP again, you can probably expect it to undergo a vast and extensive re-write.
Until then, enjoy and take care!