2 May, 1998.
Hermione turned her back on the wreckage of her beloved school and walked away from her friends that day. It wasn’t like her to allow her guts to lead, but her mind was chattering on in circles, failing to understand fully what had happened. She wished she could just turn it off, but she had been running on hyperalert for the better part of the past six months. Now that it was over her control was fracturing. The mist drifting in through the cracks in the wooden walls around her smelled of hot ash mixed with the choking sulphuric tang of Fiendfyre. It made her eyes burn and threatened to stop her throat, already clotted with grief. She emerged into the main room of the Shack, searching, and was shocked to find the place was already deserted. Her legs trembled in warning before buckling underneath her, sending her to the floor in a jarring heap.
What historians would later refer to as “The Battle of Hogwarts” had ended hours before. Harry Potter, her best friend, had emerged alive and victorious against all odds. She should have been happy, but while the others had cheered and wept, clinging to one another, she had drifted away, looking for something, she knew not what. Why did she feel like they had lost? Her entire world had tilted, throwing her off balance with the revelations made hours before. It was all too much. Knees drawn up against her chest, she wrapped her arms around them in an effort to still the tremors that shook her down to her wounded soul.
Dumbledore had planned to send Harry to his death, keeping everyone in the dark up until the last hour. Had he thought Harry’s courage would fail? In the end Harry went willingly, sent as sacrificial lamb to bleed his last on the altar of the greater good. Did Dumbledore know that Harry would survive? Hermione doubted it. And what of Snape? He had dedicated his life to keeping Harry safe from Voldemort, and in spite of all of his hateful behaviour had been harbouring a strange regard for Lily’s son. The staid Potions Master was horrified at what Harry was expected to do, that he would have to be the one to tell Harry, but not until it was “time.” As Dumbledore’s cat’s paw from beyond the veil, the brave man had thrown himself into his role without any support. He had played his part so well that only Lord Voldemort had shown concern for Professor Snape’s fate, although it was not enough to stay his execution. That creepy voice echoed in her mind, “I regret it.”
Wracking sobs of despair threatened to claw loose from her chest and she fought for mastery in this moment. She had survived, but for what? She, too, was disposable. Used up. She tucked her chin down and pressed her eyes to her knees to stop the tears. Slowly, she started to rock back and forth, her body offering comfort when her mind and soul seemed determined to tear her apart.
As her heart bled, Hermione’s eyes met the blinding power of sunlight as it poked through the chinks between wallboards, probing the relative darkness. Its sisters had joined the sweeping search and all were stained through with tendrils of smoke that still hung in the air. The pull of gravity seemed to be strengthening, and Hermione was hard pressed to resist.
This was the safest she had felt in what seemed like time immemorial. She was blessedly alone. She found this place comforting, for she had some vague sense that the Shack wasn’t empty - it had a presence. The floor beneath her was her anchor, a solid reminder of what was real. Its splintered boards had been washed in the blood of a man who had made a terrible mistake, and then had chosen to spend the rest of his days doing hard penance under the hard eyes of two disparate masters. She had not forgotten that he danced with the Dark Arts; he wasn’t a saint. Neither were Professor Lupin, Tonks, or Fred Weasley for that matter, but these had acted in the open. Her friends up at the castle could in contrast mourn them openly, and were probably doing so right now.
They’d be looking for her to fuss and carry on, and she just could NOT handle it. Her friends and their caring were now energy sapping and repugnant, and the idea of going back sent her into new paroxysms of fear. “Alone, just leave me...” Chest heaving, she choked out, “alone.” She was exhausted, so it was only a short while before her breathing slowed once more. Her fingers found the Time-Turner in her pocket. She intended never to use it again, but couldn’t make herself give it back after the disaster in the Department of Mysteries. Her fingers tended to spin the inner orbitals as a nervous habit, one that she knew was dangerous. She usually reset the thing every couple of turns to prevent accidents. The soft sound it made as it spun was soothing. Whirrr, click Whirrr…
Unbidden, her eyelids drooped, just for a moment. Her head jerked up, and she realised she was falling asleep where she sat, and that made her heart hammer again. Not good. Another shuddering breath broke the silence, unnaturally loud in her ears. A glance confirmed this was not a dream, and that was her own noise. Muzzy with fatigue, she allowed her thoughts to wander farther afield and she found herself considering the ghost of that wizard in her mind’s eye. Her lips curved up in a bitter smile as her imagination breathed life into that apparition.
He’d scowl at her and rightfully call her an idiot of the highest order if he came upon her here, but that unforgiving glare was what she craved the most. She didn’t want to be praised or pitied. Everything had gone to shit. Yes, they had won, but now that it was all over, what was left? Her friends were consumed with their own wounds, no one would want her troubles. She had served her purpose, as had he, and they were both spent with the cost of it. No one else could understand, she knew it. She would not burden Harry with her miserable, insufferable know-it-all self. Harry didn’t know what she had done, what had happened. No. She’d better stay here and wish herself into oblivion.
She felt her head sag once more, and she couldn’t fight sleep any longer. Her last coherent thoughts contained a new sense of betrayal. The ghost she had conjured spoke at last. “You are still an insufferable swot.” Then he pointedly turned his back on her, laughing cruelly as he walked away. Snape had abandoned this tortured mortal coil, leaving the scales of karma wobbling and unbalanced. He found her discomfiture amusing. Unfeeling bastard.
2 May 1998, later in Great Hall.
Minerva didn’t think she had any strength left in her, but when Ron and Harry came to find her in the midst of the Great Hall, among the long lines of the wounded, she felt a stab of fear. “What do you mean you can’t find Miss Granger? Wasn’t she with you?”
Ron had been sitting with George and his mother when Harry had found him. Harry reported, “We last saw her outside as she was helping the Malfoys get situated. No one has seen her since.” Harry looked out at the grounds, as if he expected her to emerge from the obscuring morning mists. “I sent a Patronus, Professor. It came back.” Harry added, “Three times, I did that.”
Professor McGonagall paled and grasped onto the edge of the staff table. She, too, had not slept in over a day. “Oh, no.” She swung her eyes around, looking for someone who might be able to find her cub. Hermione couldn’t be gone. She was alright, she had been helping the wounded before they had lost track of her. She let out an exasperated sigh. Hermione would be that foolish, wouldn’t she. “She might be unconscious, or hurt.”
Ron looked guilty. He had noticed that she wasn’t doing well, but who was? He hadn’t been able to get out from under his family, and he really needed to be there, with Fred’s loss so raw. “I’ll ask Bill. We’ll look for her. I just hoped she had been back up here.” That the teachers had sent her to rest, or on an explainable errand, or something. Without waiting for more, he trotted off, pulling Harry with him. Bill had the best chance of finding her, now that Remus was gone. Pulling Bill away from George and Charlie, he explained with urgency. “Bill, we need your help. No one can find ‘Mione. Not even Harry’s Patronus.” Harry had slipped over to Ginny, putting an arm around her, and judging by the way she clung to him, those two were not going to be particularly useful. Harry cast an apologetic glance over his shoulder to Bill and Ron with a half shrug. He had been looking for hours. It was someone else’s turn.
Shaking his head to clear the fog of weariness and grief, Bill’s eyebrows shot up. “Wait, what?”
Ron nodded. “You heard me. She was last seen tending to the Malfoys. I saw her setting Draco’s nose before I came back up here. The Headmistress doesn’t know where she is either, and she hadn’t sent her off.” Where he had remained for the past six hours until Harry had come looking for him.
Bill groaned, knowing what this could mean. “Are you sure she just isn’t in the hospital wing? Or off with her parents?”
Ron shook his head rigorously. “No. We looked there. And her parents… they are gone.” Ron swallowed the thick lump of guilt in his throat. “They’ve been dead for months, Bill. I thought you knew.”
Bill’s heart had dropped into his stomach with dread. Not another loss. Not another cub, alone. With a deep breath, Bill dragged up some miraculous reserve of energy and took off at a slow lope, calling on his wolf. He wasn’t a full fledged werewolf, but he did have certain advantages, including heightened senses. He had to get away from all of these people. The Malfoys had been sitting by the lake, so he headed that way first. It was hard to smell anything this close to the battleground, but he would give it a go. After circling the lake he found the scent of the Malfoys, Draco’s blood, Narcissa’s fear, and Lucius’ black despair, all unmistakable. Fortunately there was also the scent of Hermione. His nostrils flared and he swung his head side to side and followed the trail.
Hermione woke with a start. Her mind, still battle-fogged, screamed at her to run. Someone was coming. Oh Merlin. They’re coming for her. She staggered upright, her legs stiff underneath her. A toe caught on one of the boards below her, sending her sprawling to her knees. She’d had her Time-Turner tucked away, forgotten in her robes, but her fingers found it as she glanced around like a cornered rabbit. Snape’s blood hadn’t fully sunk into the boards, and her left hand came away shaking and sticky as the heavy steps got closer. Run! She had to run! Her fingers spun the mechanism on the turner, not knowing or caring to when so long as she was away. Black spots filled her vision as she disappeared from this timeline.
Bill heard the movement, the trip, the gasp. He knew she was there and called out, “Who’s there? Hermione? Are you…?” He emerged from the tunnel and looked around into the dim room, illuminated only by cracked daylight shining between the boards of the wall and roof of the shack. The stench of fear and blood was dominant, but Hermione’s distinctive smell, a mixture of magic and vanilla, was there too. She had been here. He prowled the perimeter of the room, finding her scent, strongest over there by the wall, but... it just... stopped. She hadn’t walked away. She couldn’t have Disapparated. There was no other scent here that overlapped the time frame, although Snape’s copper-laden blood was overwhelming. She didn’t go with anyone. After another turn around the room a frustrated Bill took out his wand and focused on his wedding. His Patronus, a wolf, leapt out to circle the room. Bill howled out the news, “Go tell Ron, Harry and McGonagall. Hermione was here, she was alive, but now she’s gone. Maybe a Portkey, but there is no trail. I’ve done what I can from here. We’ll have to wait for her to come back. See you soon.” The wolf leapt away, disappearing through the walls and heading back to the castle, its master taking one last thoughtful look at the stain before turning to follow his Patronus.