Lily's breath caught in her throat. She couldn't – no, she wouldn't believe it. Not until there was some proof, not until she understood what was going on. Hermione, the sweet, mischievous, lovable and caring girl they'd met in their first day of seventh year was vanished from her memory and now all she could see was the small, hunched and sobbing form in the chair, broken and cold, blank eyes looking up at the group as most of them recoiled. Her hand instantly found itself in Remus', tears pooling in her eyes as they drank in the pitiful sight in front of her.
"Hermione, that was hilarious but… please. We need the truth," Marlene was laughing, almost hysterically, but as she looked at Hermione's sobbing form her cornflower blue eyes cleared and she suddenly became very serious. "But… why would you tell us all of this? You would have to go back into a future where everything was changed, maybe to the point of there being no Hermione Granger. Or you could be a slave or dead or worse – why would you tell us?"
She knew how Marlene was feeling. Lily wanted Hermione to burst out laughing at their facial expressions, to burst into tears, to do anything, but there she was, the same infuriatingly clear indifferent mask pressed onto her pinched, white face; she knew that she could trust her. Hermione was her best friend, the one with whom she could share anything, the one that had suggested, on the night that she had admitted her fears to Remus, she go and find him – it was at the point in time where Hermione was ignoring them, but she had just murmured something briefly before turning away, back to her desk. Lily had wanted, needed, to stay and talk to her, but she hadn't. There was no chance that Hermione would lie about this if she cared about them so much.
"You don't actually buy it, do you?" Sirius was shaking his head, on his feet with a cruel smirk on his face. Lily knew that he was arrogant, reckless and unpredictable in these situations, and she wanted to leap to her feet and stop him in his tracks, but she could see the tears in his grey eyes and she knew that he needed this ventilation. "She's a filthy little liar after all. I knew we couldn't trust her, from the moment we found out about the 'torture'. But now we'll never know if it was real or not, will we? Because you've lied to us so far, how do we know that you're not a Death Eater posing as Hermione Granger? Or is that even your name?"
"Shut. Up," Hermione growled, leaping to her feet and flicking her wrist; her wand slid out of the holster into her hand. "Don't you dare. I might turn a blind eye to the glares in the corridors, I might ignore the taunts of mudblood every time I turn around, but I will never ignore something so stupid. I've been fighting the Dark Arts since I was eleven years old, Sirius Black. My life has been threatened time and time again by that monster. I can ignore the stupidity that you just showed me. I can ignore you not trusting me and pretending it doesn't hurt. I can ignore you turning your back on me again. But I will never ignore you accusing me of being one of them. I've seen them at it. I've endured it myself. They rape. They kill. They take your innocence until there's nothing left of it anymore. They tear whole families apart. They break people's spirits beyond sanity and even insanity. I have never and will never do anything like that."
"Yes you have!" Sirius retorted, on his feet. Lily saw, with surprise, Remus and James nodding curtly from behind him. "We all saw you turning around and killing that Death Eater behind you."
Hermione stumbled. "You… you…" her eyes and her voice hardened, and her wand clattered out of her hand.
"You have never felt what it's like to run for your life. At every twist and every turn, there is always someone out to get you – always someone who wants you dead. You don't know what it's like to turn your wand on your parents and remove all memories of you from their minds, send them away to a foreign country where even you can't find them. You don't know what it's like to turn around and watch someone who is like a brother to you screaming as a wall flattens him to the ground. You don't know what it's like to see the ranks of the dead strewn out in front of you – faces you know, faces you should know, faces you recognise but never bothered to know. You don't know what it's like to be lying on the ground, with blood pouring out of you, but you can hear the voices of the people who you love and people who are like family to you scream your name because they need you – to want to get to them but you can't.
"I do know. I know what it's like. I have a family back home, but not by blood. Harry, Ron, Molly, Arthur, Bill, Fleur, Charlie, Fred, George, Ginny, Luna, Neville… they might not mean something to you, but each one of those names means something to me. I love them with every fibre of my being and I know that they hold me close despite everything. I left them to protect them. I shut the door to the Burrow the day after the war ended, leaving only a letter that they would never get the chance to read to explain the things they needed to know and how much they meant to me. They wanted me to stay, to keep me in the Burrow, but I wouldn't let them. I stepped from one war into another. I thought that I'd finally found a place here, where I belong, where people appreciate me for me and don't care that I'm a mudblood or that I have secrets to hide."
She sneered. "But I'm not the only one, am I, Marauders? Mooning around all over the place, walking with padded feet, not respecting anything but the prongs on your forks…"
Hermione glared at the dumbfounded looks upon the Marauders' faces; her eyes passed over James and softened slightly, before hardening again.
"Yes, that's right. I know."
And she whirled around, slamming one hand on the doorknob, moving to open it but pausing. "Please don't follow me. I…. Look, I love you all, probably more than I should with only a couple of months being here, and you guys are probably the best thing that's happened to me since the war finished – but I need to be away from the people who don't trust me anyway."
The door slammed, silence reigned upon them as Sirius sat down. Lily's eyes filled with tears and she looked at them – she really looked at them for the first time. James, Remus and Sirius were emotionally distraught boys with no one to turn to but their anger – their feeling of misery and despair was driving them to ends she thought they would never go to. Their desire to blame someone had led them down the wrong path… but it was her they should blame, not Hermione. Hermione hadn't struggled for her. Hermione had been captured trying to protect her. Hermione had stood in front of her. Peter had taken the killing curse for her.
"You made a mistake," she said softly, shaking her head. "Hermione wasn't to blame. There's no way that she is to blame."
"Lily, she's the reason Peter's dead," James snapped. "If it weren't for her letting herself get kidnapped we'd never have even been there."
"Did anyone mention that Peter was there even without us?" Cassandra cut in. "That's what I saw. That's why I screamed when I saw him in the hospital wing. I'd seen him there, watching Hermione tortured again, and he'd heard Lily. He was there without knowing that Hermione was there – he got himself into that mess and he got himself out. He was the Death Eater, not Hermione."
"Hermione didn't let herself be kidnapped, either," Lily added. "I was there. Were you? Last time I checked, the only reason she stopped struggling was because they threatened to kill me. She looked at me, and I just remember seeing the determination there – the love there, and the complete trust. Because despite the fact that you possibly ruined our friendship, James, she'd looked at me with the same look that someone might look at a sister with. She's honest, pure, brave, selfless and beautiful… would you have gone against me like that? Would you have gone against Marlene or any of the girls in here like that? What makes Hermione so different?"
Sirius' head was still held high, but he was looking doubtful. "I wouldn't, I know," he admitted, shaking his head. "I wouldn't dare. But Hermione… we've only just met her."
Marlene sighed. "You forget that despite the fact that we've only just met her, I feel like I've known her since before we were born – she's one of my best friends even after three months, with one of those months apart from her. Every day she was gone it was like a knife to the gut for each of us."
"And I know that you say she's lied… but has she really?" Dorcas added. "She told me that she'd been in a war, that she'd lost her family and that she'd skipped out on her seventh year to take Voldemort down – how do we know those aren't true? She never denied that she was from the future. She didn't lie to us. That implies that she'd told us she wasn't. She just… she just twisted the truth a little."
"But how do we know she won't kill us like she killed that man?" Remus asked.
Lily felt like she'd been slapped in the face. Her face paled and she stood up, wrenching her hand from his; Lily couldn't find the strength to glare at him. "He wasn't a man, Remus. He was a servant of the most despicable man that I've ever met; and why are you defending them anyway? A month ago you would have killed to protect her yourself. She only killed him because he was trying to threaten me. Are you saying you wouldn't do the same? Are you saying that you'd let someone you loved die? Are you saying that you would let me die to preserve your innocence?"
"No… of course not," Remus shook his head. "I wouldn't…"
"What makes this any different?" she was near yelling. "What makes Hermione so different? She's not to blame! You're looking for someone to blame and because you know her the least you've turned around and put it on her shoulders! How would you feel, coming right out of a war, being given the chance to walk into another one for the greater good?"
"I would do it," said the three boys in unison. "To save lives."
"Imagine how Hermione feels. She alone knows the outcome of this war and despite having seen people die and fighting since she was eleven she's come back to save you. Do you plan on repaying her when she's on the battlefield, risking her life for you despite what you've just said?"
There was silence as the three boys didn't answer. Lily felt tears pool in her eyes as Remus made another attempt to grasp her hand, but she wrenched it right back. "No. Get away. Not until you realise how much of a git you are."
She turned her back on them and looked at Dumbledore. "Sir, with all due respect towards your position, I'm going after her no matter what you say. I'm going to help her with whatever she needs help with. It doesn't matter to me how long I've known her – she's risked her life to save me many times over the past week – she duelled Lord Voldemort for me… I'm going to repay the favour in any way I can."
Lily Evans opened the door, sliding out of it without a word and slamming it shut behind her.
Dumbledore smiled, a twinkle shining in his eyes. "That is what I meant to do," he murmured softly, triumphantly, just as the door clicked shut.
And then chaos broke out.
I'm sorry. My only excuse... um... is that my finger broke. It honestly did. I was drumming in music, probably very badly, and my finger... smashed into the drum a little bit too hard and... it kinda snapped - fortunately for you and for me, it didn't take too long to heal as I can now type - albeit a little slowly.
If I'm all forgiven, which I hope to God I am, then there is one more thing I'd like to say.
COME ON, THE BUTTON IS LITERALLY RIGHT THERE.
YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.