Well, that last bit's being accepted a bit more than I had hoped. Sorry that you didn't like the ending. I felt the chapter was quite long enough and wanted to continue later. I am pleased, however, that the ones who have responded so far seem to have liked Hermione's family. I will admit that was the idea. If that makes me an evil sadist, oh well.
Again, I own nothing except the plot. The rest all belongs to J.K. Rowling. While I'm on the subject, please refrain from hating the woman simply because the release for Order of the Phoenix has been pushed back again. Honestly, the new one is reported to be as large as the last, and that's no easy task. Also, there was that law suit she had to fight and she's newly married less than one year with a baby on the way. Cut the poor dear some slack.
Save some thanks for Aly. She's been invaluable in helping me with these chapters. She catches things I miss because I'm too close to the story itself to see them. I think she's doing a lovely job.
What had followed had all been a blur. She remembered Harry holding her down until she stopped struggling and ceased screaming against his hand. Then she thought she remembered him pulling her to her feet, still gripping her by one arm and pulling her into the shadows. He produced his wand from an inside pocket of his jacket, and she had started to giggle. Part of her was certain that she worried him with that, but couldn't he see the irony of it? Her, the brilliant and talented Hermione Granger, ready for anything, hadn't taken her wand with her when she left the house. Why should she have? She was in her neighborhood and close to the bosom of her family. What could possibly touch her here? No doubt having someone like Voldemort after you had made Harry paranoid enough that he was never without his wand.
He had pulled her behind him to the other street and waved his wand in the air. She knew he had spoken to her, but he sounded muffled and far away. There was a buzzing inside her head like white snow on the telly after the station had signed off. There was a sound like a bang seemed to come from three streets away, but then a large purple bus came to a stop before them. She had stared, unblinking, as the conductor came down and Harry spoke to him urgently, motioning to the other street. The man's face had paled, looking at the greenish glow shining from over the rooftops, then to her, then to Harry. He nodded his head and motioned for them to board.
Had she not been so detached at the moment, she might have wondered at the sight of beds rather than benches. She didn't feel it as she was pushed down onto one of the beds. She didn't feel anything. She had gone completely numb. Harry was talking to the conductor again, their voices a distant hum, unable to be heard over the voices playing inside her mind. Fred's troublesome teasing; Alice's squeal of delight when she had unwrapped the locket her parents had bought her, Aunt Helen's gasp as she opened the crystal vial of perfume Hermione had created for her at school. Her mind was so busy replaying the day's events she could even smell the fabulous dinner and hear Fred and George quizzing Harry about Quidditch and its rules. She could see her mother as she ran her fingers over Harry's head and taste the creamy chocolate of Aunt Helen's excellent pie.
Something or someone was bullying her into a sitting position and there was a pressure of something pressed against her lips. She sipped obediently, and then almost became sick as the too sweet taste of hot chocolate interred her mouth. The scent of it made her throat clamp down and she turned her head away. She thought she heard Harry ask someone "Now what?" but it could have been her mind playing tricks on her. They let her lay back down and she was distantly aware of Harry speaking to her and holding her hand. She imagined herself as being trapped inside a glass box, hammering to get out but not wanting to, because inside her box her home still stood and her family still laughed. Inside her box she wasn't alone.
She thought the bus came to a stop, and it must have, because now she was being bullied back up off the bed and led towards the door. They were somewhere she'd never seen before, a neighborhood somewhere in England. Harry pulled her up the walk to the door of a house and began to bang upon the door furiously. He was yelling for the people inside to get up. The lights inside began to come on and shadows could be seen moving in the side panels flanking the doors. The door was yanked open by a heavy set man with no neck and a large mustache. His face was purple with annoyance as he glared at them. She barely heard him starting to yell at Harry only to shut up as the boy pushed him aside and pulled her into the house after him. Somewhere inside her head she finally put a name with the man's face, Vernon Dursley, Harry's uncle. He had brought her to Number Four Privet Drive.
Leading her into the house, Harry steered her into a den and pushed her down onto a sofa. The voices about her were angry but muted as he bickered with his uncle. Hermione watched with glassy eyes as her friend stood his ground against a man several times larger than himself. A scrawny, bony woman came in, knotting her bathrobe and her hair in curlers. She looked from the two men arguing to Hermione, obviously unsure of what to make of it all. There was a large form poking around the corner behind her, a grossly overweight boy with a cruel face. That must be Dudley. She had never seen him before, or Harry's aunt Petunia. She had only seen Vernon Durlsey when he met the train to pick up Harry at the end of term, and that was all she had ever wanted to see of him.
The argument must have been getting more and more heated, because Harry's face was darkening in anger as well. Vernon raised a meaty fist above his head, but it was Harry pulling out his wand and leveling it at the man that made someone inside her snap. "Harry." Her voice was rusty as though from disuse, and it didn't sound like more than a whisper, but both men froze and looked towards her. "No, Harry."
It seemed to have worked, because both of them lowered their arms. For a little while, voices seemed clearer as Harry turned to his uncle. "She just lost her family. Her entire family. They were murdered tonight, and the only thing they ever did was to shower her with love and encourage her to excel in everything she ever did. They were good, decent people, ordinary people like you and Aunt Petunia, and now they're gone! Now, if you cannot be of any help, then kindly GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!"
Vernon backed down, uncertain of what to say. He made a few false starts, then turned away to stalk back up the stairs to the upper floor. Dudley continued to hover around the door as Petunia dared to come further into the room. "She can stay in the guest room until you can send word to your school and let them know where they can fetch you." Harry seemed to protest this, not wanting to let Hermione out of his sight, but the woman moved across the room to urge the girl onto her feet and steer her up the stairs and into a neat little guest room with a full sized bed. "Out, both of you. I doubt she'd like you two in here when she's changing clothes. Dudley, go down to the laundry room, there's a basket of clean clothes there. Bring up one of the night gowns."
Petunia Dursley was sharp and efficient in her movements. There was no gentleness or sympathy as she helped Hermione out of her clothes and into a gown that was too long for her, and then urged her under the covers. She put a box of tissues on the bedside table and advised her to cry as much as she needed, but please keep the noise down while the rest of the house slept. Hermione didn't respond, only rolled over to her side, pulling her legs up close into her body as she stared blankly at the wall.
Leaving her alone was not the best thing they could have done for her. She could not seem to force herself to close her eyes and sleep. There was still that numb, detached feeling about her, as though she wasn't real. She felt like another person watching a twisted dream from the outside, but no matter how she longed for it to be true she wasn't another person. This was her reality, cold, empty and horrid. Some part of her knew that she had to cry, that she needed to cry. Tears were cleansing, they helped you put yourself back together, but her eyes were dry and empty. Her whole body felt dry and empty. Somehow she had gone from a happy, shining girl to someone who was beyond pain because there was no possible way for the human spirit to measure that much sorrow.
The only way she knew time had passed was by the room growing lighter as it neared dawn. The sunlight coming through the window was cold and pale, falling upon the light blue of the coverlet. She was somewhat aware of the door to the guest room opening and someone coming in. "Hermione?" It was Harry, his voice soft and uncertain. She heard him pad over and sit down on the bed beside her, her back to him. Something reached out and smoothed her hair. "Aunt Petunia's making breakfast. She said you don't have to come down if you don't feel up to it, but I doubt she'll bring you anything up here." Food? She wasn't hungry. She wasn't anything. She supposed she should answer him but she couldn't get her lips and tongue to work. "Hedwig came this morning, with a note. It was from Snape. He didn't sign it, but I know his handwriting well enough. All he asked was 'Where are you?' I sent her back with a reply. I suppose he got her out of the owlery, knowing she'd be able to find me."
He smoothed the coverlet over her. "It's all right if you don't want to talk right now. I understand. Besides, someone will be here for us soon. I'm sure of it." She still didn't respond, even when he leaned over her and hugged her awkwardly through the thick blankets, placing a soft kiss at her temple. "They'll get theirs, Hermione, I promise you. I won't let them get away with this." He left her then, shutting the door behind him. Brave, noble Harry, always willing to take on the great evils of the world. How she wished she could knock some sense into him sometimes.
More time passed, and yet she lay unmoving. Her body was stiff from its many hours of being held in this half-fetal position, but she had neither the desire nor the strength to shift around. Instead she lay there, still unmoving. From the way the shadows shifted about her she guessed it was some time after noon when the door opened again, but no one came into the room this time. "She's been like that since last night, Professor. I don't think she even slept." Harry again, and not alone. Perhaps the headmaster or Professor McGonagall had come for them. They didn't enter the room, though, just closed the door and left her alone again.
She wasn't alone forever. The door opened again later, but this time someone did come into the room. She felt the bed shift underneath the person's weight as he/she kneeled beside her. A strong hand slipped underneath her shoulder, up underneath her neck and cradled her skull before it began to urge her to turn over. "This way, Miss Granger." It was the soft, silky voice of the Potions Master. Her body moved for the first time since she had been placed beneath the covers, obeying him without question. Her brown eyes looked up into his steely black ones as he elevated her before placing a vial to her lips. "Drink this, it will help you." He tipped the vial forward and something bitter and foul hit her mouth. She started to turn away but his voice was demanding. "All of it."
"What is it, Professor?" Harry stood in the doorway, watching.
"Dreamless Sleep. She cannot sleep because her subconscious is aware of the nightmares that await her. This will allow her to rest somewhat from her ordeal and grant her the strength she needs to face what happened when she wakes." He persisted with the potion until she had downed it all. It moved quickly through her system, already tugging at her eyes. "There will be plenty of time for nightmares later." His voice faded off at the end as she was enveloped in blackness.
Being under the influence of a dreamless sleep potion was much like she felt when she was awake. Her mind was a black, empty nothingness. Not the best type of sleep, but the professor was right about feeling somewhat stronger when she woke up. She didn't feel all together there, but she did feel stronger. She lay against the pillows for a long moment before forcing herself to rise. Sitting up, she looked around herself at the room. It was pretty and perhaps a bit too feminine for her tastes. A painting of brightly colored flours hung on a wall and the comforter resting atop her was light blue with little flowers all over it. She wrinkled her nose at that. She had never liked sugary, girlish things. They had always seemed ridiculous to her.
Her clothes had been cleaned and were waiting for her on a chair by the door. She got up and walked over to them, noting that someone had put several travel sized items atop them. There was shampoo and conditioner for her hair, a tiny tube of toothpaste and a collapsible toothbrush for her teeth, a wrapped bar of soap, two towels and a washcloth. There was also an inexpensive comb and brush set. Looking about her she spotted another door beside the dresser and went to investigate it. Sure enough there was a small guest bath attached to the room. Gathering up her clothes and hygiene items, she decided to at least start her day out right.
She kept turning down the cold tap and turning up the hot in an attempt to feel something, but her skin still had that strange lack of sensation. Finally, judging by the steam that it had to be close to right, she climbed into the shower and began to scrub. She used all the contents of the tiny bottle of shampoo, washing her hair at least three times, and then emptied the contents of the conditioner. She lost count of how many times she soaped herself down before finally giving up. Rinsing off, she used one towel to wrap up her hair and another to dry off her body, unable to feel the nap of either. She brushed her teeth until blood mixed with the foam when she spit it out, then used the tiny bottle of mouthwash included in the little kit until it, too, was empty. Guessing she was clean enough, she dressed, worked the snarls out of her hair, and then left the bathroom for the main part of the guest quarters.
The bed was still rumpled. She had forgotten to make it up. With all the fire of an automaton, she began to smooth the sheets and blankets back into place, banishing wrinkles from the surface. She watched her fingers as she tugged and straightened the fabric, just as she had done with the heavy, pristine white table cloth she had draped over the dining table.
And the dam broke.
Her hand stopped, fingers starting to twitch. Her lungs began to burn from lack of air since she had stopped breath, and her body started again in raw, ragged gulps. Her knees started to tremble as if turning into jelly and tears began to pour from her eyes. A sound reached her ears, low and mournful, then beginning to grow in volume. It was full of pain and sorrow, but it sounded utterly inhuman. It wrapped around her as her knees became unable to support her weight any longer and she fell to the floor, her face burying into the thick coverlet. As the sound became muffled she realized it had been coming from her.
Foot steps came towards her and the door to the room slammed open. Someone approached her and reached for her, digging fingers into her shoulders. "Potter! Get out!"
"What's wrong with her?!"
"Get Out!" Through her wails she could tell it was Professor Snape. The door slammed shut as he lifted her up, hooking one arm beneath her legs and scooping her up into his arms so he could sit down. He held her in his lap, arms wrapped about her. He didn't rock her or murmur soft words, just held her as she screamed between her sobs. She cried until her throat was raw and sore, and then reduced to hiccoughs and sniffles. Still, there was a terrible pressure deep inside her chest, like someone was constricting her heart. He seemed to realize it as well. "Still more, I think, Hermione. You have to let everything out."
Everything? Did he know what else was there, inside her? There was sorrow and grief, of course, but did he know about the pain? Did he know about the rage and the hatred? How could even begin to fathom? How could he? He hadn't just had his entire family obliterated. A houseful of loving, wonderful people gone in one night, all because someone had some stupid prejudice against a witch being born to Muggle parents. Did he really want her to let everything go?
She pounded once on his shoulder with a balled up fist in a weak attempt to show him some measure of the agony she was in. Then she gave another blow, then another. Soon she wasn't just hitting, she was scratching, pulling, tearing, anything to try and inflict some little bit of pain upon him. She wanted someone else to feel as she felt, she wanted someone else to suffer. She no longer cared if this was her teacher, someone she should fear and respect. He was the one foolish enough to remain here with her. She continued to attack him, but he was far better skilled at fighting than she was. He easily deflected the most damaging blows, letting only those that would cause little damage connect. Finally he caught both her wrists in his hands, leaving her to resort to teeth. She struck hard and sunk her jaws into the cloth at his shoulder. She heard him bite off a curse, but he didn't try to break free.
Then she began to wail again, a high pitched, keening sound. His robes muffled it as her teeth bit down into him. But the pressure, the horrible pressure about her heart was lessening. She still hurt inside, but it was at last becoming bearable. She felt that she might be able to function again, at least. Eventually, she let go of his shoulder and turned her head, her cheek resting on the wet spot her mouth had made. Her breathing was still ragged, but it was steadier. Her tears still fell, but they were mostly quiet tears. Now that she was no longer trying to break free, he let go of her wrists and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer. Sometime during their struggles she had ended up straddling his thighs, her calves tucked underneath. It allowed him to pull her in closely enough that she was no longer sure where he ended and she began.
Long, elegant fingers curled in her hair. "That's better. That's much better." He sounded pleased, but she wasn't sure by what. His breath was warm on the outer edge of her ear as he spoke to her. "You will survive this. They cannot touch you." His voice didn't only sound pleased, it sounded smug. It sent a strange shiver down her spine. Deep in her mind was a tiny voice warning her that the Potions Master was devising some possibly fiendish plot with her in the center of it. Still, at this moment, she felt as though he was the only one who understood her and truly had no desire to move away.
He turned his head and placed a brief, dry kiss at her temple just beside her eye. "They tried to break you, but you will show them all. My brave, beautiful girl, you will show them." Fiendish plots aside, he made her feel safe and secure, made her feel like something precious and loved. His voice was soft and entrancing, wrapping around her as she let her eyes begin to close, weary from her grieving. She was slipping into a normal sleep when his voice whispered again.
"You will be the death of them all."