Definition of Penumbra (from Summary) comes from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Note: AU, no magic. Tom Riddle lives in the same time period as the main crew.
Dim light struggled in vain to penetrate the tightly drawn curtains covering the dust-encrusted windows, the cloth blocking all but a tiny bit of light that lit the dim flat only enough to barely make out the strewn clothes and piles of discarded plates and cups scattered around the small living room and spilling into the kitchen and bedrooms. A thin layer of dust cradled everything, slipping into tiny corners and burrowing its way into the abandoned stacks of books piled high in every room.
Nothing stirred. There was no sign of life; the neighbors had long ago written off the inactivity as the owner's absence - she must be out on vacation, of course, no one could be that quiet, besides, no one had left that flat in weeks, there was no way she could have survived in there for so long -
The owner of this particular flat had never left. Indeed, she had hardly set foot outside of her bed, let alone face the world -
The world that was out enjoying the last few days of unadulterated summer, the world full of laughing children and crowded beaches and people who would only give sympathetic, horrified smiles before quickly changing the subject -
No, Hermione Granger was better off in her room, where at least she didn't have to face the pitying stares and whispers.
Hermione sighed from her perch on the rumpled bed, her gaze drifting for what seemed like the millionth time to the various newspaper clippings dating from two weeks ago pinned to the wall opposite her. Bold headlines blared out at her from articles that she had already memorized, forcing herself to read word after painful word until the very paragraphs were burned into her mind.
TRAGIC AUSTRALIAN PLANE CRASH.
HUNDREDS KILLED. FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED.
DEATH EATER SENTENCED TO LIFE TIME IMPRISONMENT - "I HAVE NO REGRETS. WE MUST PURGE THE WORLD OF THE WEAK."
It was odd, really, Hermione mused with listless detachment. One day you had loving parents, people you could always count on to send you off with a kiss and a reminder to brush your teeth after every meal...and then the next, they were gone. Yanked from life, from family, from friends, snatched away and never to be seen again.
At least not in this world.
She remembered the very day, the very minute, the very second she'd heard about the crash. She'd been filing away papers at her mindless job for the English government, categorizing the files alphabetically. Her job was mind-numbing, easy, requiring absolutely no intelligence at all. She remembered thinking spitefully that she almost wished everyone from her high school - Hogwarts - could see her. To show them that this was what the "Brightest Student of her Age" was doing, this was what she - the one voted Most Likely to Succeed - was using her famed brain for. Not discovering life-saving cures or fighting for justice in the court or even managing stocks - no, she was a paper pusher. Well, that and a coffee retriever for her boss, a rather foul man named Nott.
She'd almost accepted a position a position at a leading law firm in America, but she'd turned it down because she hadn't wanted to be so far away from Ron. She'd reasoned that surely there must be some job in London that was open, some reputable place to take her. The days had slipped by her until she found that the only job she could get was at a government office that dealt with traffic, of all things.
And so she sat at the small, plain cubicle assigned to her, methodically sorting the speeding tickets into alphabetical files.
It had been a beautiful late August afternoon. Outside the plain white government building the sun was shining, liquid gold pooling onto warm sidewalks covered with colourful chalk and the melted drippings of ice cream. Children laughed, splashing each other in the small fountain across the street while their parents looked on, chatting idly amongst themselves. A dog barked somewhere, followed quickly by an answering, higher-pitched yapping.
Then came the background droning of the small outdated television placed at the corner of the room. Someone had turned it on a few hours ago, but Hermione never payed attention to it; no, her mind would wander to far off places, to memories of spacious libraries, warm laughter by a fireplace adorned with red and gold ribbons, and lectures so passionate they brought shivers to her spine -
"Oh my God."
She remembered blinking, feeling utterly annoyed with the speaker for interrupting a rather nice memory of one of the many times she, Harry, and Ron had visited Hagrid, the groundskeeper at Hogwarts. It had been a simpler time, a time where Harry was paired with Ginny and Ron with Hermione. It had worked, two and two...
Of course, that had all changed when Hermione came home to undergarments strewn across their floor and noises coming from their room and -
Well, it had ended with yelling.
At least her parents were coming home tonight; they'd been away for a two week second honeymoon in Australia, and they always knew how to cheer Hermione up. She planned on visiting them in their house just outside of London as soon as she got off work at six.
"How horrible - those bloody terrorists are insane - what are they called again? They have some funny name - Death Devourers? Kill Consumer?"
Unable to lose herself again in her memories, Hermione had looked up, shooting an annoyed look at the brunette woman speaking. She - Pansy Parkinson - had been in Hermione's year at Hogwarts, but they'd never gotten along.
"Oh God, those poor people - can you imagine?" she continued, blind to Hermione's annoyance. What ever was she talking about? Something about the Death Eaters - the Death Eaters were a terror group led by the infamous and elusive Voldemort that had gone in and out of the public eye for the past few years, spreading hateful messages about "survival of the fittest" and killing anyone they disliked, using the excuse "they wouldn't have died if they were strong" to justify their despicable actions. It was all very medieval, Hermione had always thought - it was almost similar to the whole Salem Witch Trials in that women were drowned to test if they were witches, going by the idea that witches would supposedly float - of course, the innocent women all died anyway.
Still, the Death Eaters had been strangely - and thankfully - quiet over the past few years, and they hadn't had an incident for a while now. Had they resurfaced again? Finally giving in to her curiousity, Hermione looked up from the tickets - she was on F for Fletcher - and glanced at the television. A pretty woman with skin the exact shade of the coffee Hermione had taken to drinking every morning was speaking directly at the camera, her dark eyes serious and professional.
"-foul play is suspected. Investigators are examining the crash as we speak. We have Rita Skeeter live at the scene -
"Thank you, Sandy. Now, as you can see behind me, we have the wreckage of Sky Australia flight number 1737 - there seems to have been an explosion at the tail end followed quickly by another explosion towards the front of the plane, at which the plane crashed nose first into the English countryside. The plane was bound for the London City Airport from Sydney, Australia. So far there are no signs of survivors, although firemen are examining the wreckage as I speak -"
Her heart stopped, icy hands gripping her heart and squeezing it mercilessly, sending shards of ice shooting up to block her throat, her brain, her body. She was frozen, dread pooling at the bottom of her stomach.
Sky Australia...that was the airline her parents were flying on! What had been their flight number? Had it been 1737? God, she hoped it wasn't - but the logical side of Hermione moved on mercilessly, whispering that Sky Australia was a relatively small airline so it wouldn't have more than one Sydney to London flight a day...
She lurched forward without realizing it, the neatly stacked pile of traffic tickets spilling to the ground. Stepping forward blindly, she approached the television, stopping only when her nose was almost touching the small screen.
Ignoring the protests behind her, she stared on blindly, numb to the world, as Rita Skeeter - oh, how she absolutely hated this woman, whoever she was, for continuing to speak, for continuing to be so calm, almost gleeful at the news - she should be crying, sobbing at the atrocity that had occurred - continued speaking, her curly blonde hair managing to stay perfect even in the rough winds that whipped the smoking trees in the background.
The small, off-white plane was split almost in two, thick, dark grey smoke billowing from the wreckage. Small crackles of red flames appeared sporadically through the haze, the air rippling above the fires.
"-Oh! Folks, there seems to be something occurring behind me - the firefighters are shouting, running away - there - oh my goodness, there's some sort of explosion - oh - oh!"
Hermione strained to make out specific details in the blurry plane pictured on the screen. There was a flash of emerald green, so bright it was burned into her eyes, before a firework soared to the sky, one bullet of searing light against a backdrop of heavy, heavy grey -
And then it burst, sending out sickly green light -
A shape formed. A skull, a long, sinewy snake writhing, slipping out of its mouth -
"The Dark Mark," Hermione breathed.
"What?" came Parkinson's shrill voice from behind her, and she tried to shove Hermione away but she would not let her, she was frozen to the spot, staring blindly at the horrors in front of her -
Hermione was never a particularly religious person, but at this moment she found herself praying fervently, muttering feverish pleas under her breath for God, any God that her parents were okay, that they had somehow managed to survive the crash and were somewhere under that rubble, just waiting to be discovered healthy and whole -
"The Dark Mark has appeared, ladies and gentleman! The police have arrived and are investigating the crash as well - it appears this is the work of the infamous Death Eaters. Is Voldemort back after a five year absence? Wait, something seems to be happening -"
Another muffled boom, then the three policemen emerged from the haze, grappling with a blood-splattered man robed in black -
"They were weak, undeserving of life! My Lord has deemed them unworthy of taking valuable resources from the strong, the powerful! Only the best deserve to live - they are the UNDESERVING!"
His last words rose into a blood-curdling scream as he seemed to become obsessed, the whites of his eyes contrasting starkly against his soot-stained skin as he snarled, his fists flailing - another policeman ran to help the others, limbs flailing, shouting -
Hermione wasn't completely sure what had happened after that. She could vaguely remember stumbling backwards into something before swaying slightly and crumpling to the floor, her eyes still wide open in disbelief.
She'd woken up in a white hospital room to pitying faces. She hated those wary, false smiles. So she'd left as quickly and quietly as she could, accepting the "Oh, hun, I'm so sorry for your loss" through gritted teeth before escaping to the blessed solitude of her flat.
And so here she sat two weeks and three days later. No one visited her; the only people who would take the effort to put up with her were hundreds of kilometers away. Harry and Ginny had gotten married recently and had gone on a month long honeymoon backpacking their way through Europe. She had no idea where they were right now, but she was glad they weren't back - she knew what they would think, what they would say if they saw her like this.
Hermione sighed, pushing a matted clump of greasy, hopelessly-knotted brown hair out of her eyes. The week after her parents' deaths had been a numb whirlwind of lawyers passing in and out. She'd blindly signed all the papers she'd been asked to, blindly agreed to sell the house - there were too many painful memories there anyway - to pay off the expense of the funeral and debts, and blindly thrown away each and every sympathy gift sent to her flat.
The flat smelled like the decaying lilies that she hadn't bothered to take out, the sickly sweet scent choking the air and intermingling with the toxic scent of spoiled milk emanating from the half-drunken jug left overturned on the counter.
Hermione wasn't normally a slob - far from it, actually. She'd always been a firm believer in the idea that a cluttered room resulted in a cluttered brain...but she just hadn't had the energy to do anything lately.
It was all she could manage to drag herself out of bed just long enough to nibble on some stale bread, dried cereal, anything she could find, really -
In a small corner of her mind she knew what she was doing wasn't healthy, that she should be ashamed to be letting her grief overpower her like this - wasn't she a Gryffindor? Weren't Gryffindors proud of their brave nature, their stubborn refusal to balk at anything, even the most life threatening of dangers?
She laughed bitterly; yes, she mused, she was glad Harry and Ginny weren't here to see her.
And Ron? Who knew where Ron was. After breaking up over a year ago, contact had been scarce between the two, and the last she'd heard of him he was happy with his profession as a policeman - he hadn't had to give up his job to be with her, she caught herself thinking bitterly - and happily engaged to Lavender Brown, a pretty model with a promising career in film.
Yes, Hermione Granger was perfectly content to wallow in self-pity alone, thank you very much.
A knock sounded, the sharp noise ringing through the otherwise silent flat. She froze; who could that be? Maybe that person would go away if she just kept quiet -
She stayed silent, her head tilted as she listened carefully for the visitor. Her heart beat quickly, her palms sweating at the possibility of having to face another pitying face, another curious person wanting to see someone who had been personally affected by those "dreadful Death Eaters."
Another knock, this one more persistent. It was soon followed by a loud, "Hermione! Are you in there?"
Her breath caught; she recognized that voice -
Standing up in resignation of her fate, she sighed wearily and padded slowly through her room on shaking legs weak from disuse.
She paused a few feet from the door, mentally steeling herself for what was to come.
"Hermione! It's us!"
Hermione struggled to straighten her sweat-stained pajamas and tame her bushy hair into something that actually resembled hair, but it was no use - weeks of listless wallowing had left her smelly and obviously unkempt.
She opened the door.
Twin gasps sounded as the man and woman stared at her, their mouths dropping open at her appearance. She swallowed before opening her mouth.
"Hello Harry, Ginny. How was your honeymoon?"
AN: Thanks for reading! What did you guys think? c: Please review - all reviews will be returned with my (eternal) gratitude and a teaser of the next chapter! ;D