A/N: Hi, this is my first fanfiction on here, so I will greatly appreciate any feedback you can give :)
I need to thank NotesFromTheChamber (previously known as MeltingSunlight) for helping me get back into writing. I stopped writing for a couple of years and this story has been my way back. Without her help planning and editing, and her all-round awesomeness, this fanfiction would not exist. So thank you, Notes, you're amazing and I love you.
Anyway, I won't drone on too much, I just hope you enjoy it.
— — —
In retrospect, it had been a long three days.
There was little, Hermione had found– if anything at all– she could do to blot out the blunt shock of Harry's death, or the still-lingering feeling of nausea she had felt when Ronald had finally subdued her enough to carry her back into the castle.
Deserted as it was, the Gryffindor common room still held an amniotic feeling of warmth and safety, but the comfort Hermione could salvage from it was fleeting. Even the fire struggled to make a dent in the cold that had settled over her.
For the first twenty-four hours, Ron had ground himself to dust against her muted defences, tirelessly going from tactic to tactic in his attempts to reanimate a girl he was quickly realising had served as his rock for a long time. Whether it was because he truly cared, or because he just didn't know who he was without her constant corrections, scoldings and guidance, Hermione wasn't sure. She wasn't sure of anything anymore.
By the time the sun rose over the great lake on the second day, the assaults had stopped. Ron had run out of willpower almost insultingly quickly, Hermione had thought, but perhaps that was unfair under the circumstances. Did grief do that to people? Or had she always been unfair to him, only now able to see it through this new lens?
Whichever answer rang true, the redhead had began to drift when he realised that his friend wasn't 'going to be better in the morning' as he had predicted the afternoon before. His halfhearted attempts at conversation had gradually faded and ceased, the half-hourly check-ups following suit. He left her alone and grieved similarly. Hermione felt it was for the best. It was, in fact, one of the only things she felt.
She had later taken a bath to force herself to move over the genuine need to, dimly aware of how much energy it had taken out of her when she later collapsed back in bed. Everything took energy, by then. Even the idea of basic activity was enough to drain her.
Now, the sun was almost as high as it would get in the sky a whole three days later, and Hermione was still holed up in her Dormitory, faced with a silent, empty head for the first time in her life.
Ron had gone back to the Burrow early that morning, leaving behind a sense of relief for Hermione. Ironically, for the first time now, knowing she wouldn't be risking running into him and any attempts he might have left to crack the glass of the fishbowl she had plunged herself into, she felt as though she could breathe. She finally felt steady enough to venture out of her den.
She pulled her robes on over her pyjamas, not sparing a single thought for her usual levels of properness, and took a deep breath. If she was fast enough, she might be able to make the tail-end of lunch in the great hall, which would at least help to put McGonagall's mind at rest. She knew the professor was worrying over her, and it would be nice to eat outside of the silence of the common room without relying on an elf to deliver her every meal.
The portrait hole swung open, and the familiar smell of stone and parchment rushed through Hermione's hair and into the stuffy room behind her.
Speak of the devil. The brunette thought, immediately feeling bad for relating her favourite teacher to the devil.
"-and far be it for me to disagree with the minister, but to let all the students go early and create more speculation? He clearly drowned, and the level of dishonesty in that rag of a paper-"
"Indeed." Snape deliberately cut the older woman off as he noted Hermione watching them, and McGonagall's eyes went from agitated to understanding as she, too, clocked the reason for his abruptness.
Hermione watched the two teachers silently, Minerva's pitying gaze and Snape's bitter equivalent, before the Slytherin house leader pressed his lips into a thin line and stalked away without another word.
The Gryffindor's eyes fell on her favourite professor again, but Minerva only smiled sadly at her and followed Snape down the hall.
So they're saying he drowned, she thought and her mind started to wander.
— — —
The library was quiet, very quiet, in fact. Hermione furiously pulled out books and flicked through their pages, putting them back in the wrong order, which was much unlike her. Across the room, sitting quietly to himself with a quill and some parchment was Draco Malfoy.
Every now and then he'd look up, only to wish he hadn't, when Hermione– now on the verge of sweating due to her hurried attempts to get through book after book– graced his line of sight. It was only when Hermione would feel his gaze and her eyes would snap up to meet his that he'd hurriedly get back to writing.
By the time Hermione left the Library for the Dorms once more, the blonde was even closer to breaking a sweat than she had been. The library's general reading had brought up nothing interesting, as much as Hermione had hoped it would.
With ample amount of time before dinner, Hermione decided to have a bath and browse critically through the first chapter of one book that had actually piqued her interest in the library, to see if she deemed it worth reading all the way through. It was an adventure novel, one she surprisingly hadn't read yet. Once the water and the bubbles had risen sufficiently, Hermione shrugged off her robe and pyjamas and climbed steadily into the prickling heat of the bath.
She decided rather quickly that the book wasn't going to be the best she had ever read, but that it wasn't shaping up to be a disappointment either. Even if it had been terrible, shoddy writing felt like a small pain to endure for the offer of immersion into a world other than her own right now. She checked the time after each chapter until she was sure she couldn't fit in another without making herself late for dinner, at which point she finally put the book down with little time to dry and dress.
Slowly and resentfully, Hermione pushed herself out of the water and dried herself with a spell. She changed into the first pair jeans she found in her wardrobe and the same sweatshirt she'd brought to the bathroom with her, before making her way directly to the Great Hall, clutching the book to her chest like armour.
Since there were so few students and teachers in the school now, everyone sat at the teacher's table. This apparently was something that happened during the holidays too, when everyone else had gone and it was just the select few students who stayed. Hermione could tell that Draco was used to the set up due to the fact that, on the first day after everyone left, he took his place casually at the far left end of the table before Minerva had even breathed a word of the arrangement to the others. Hermione made a point of sitting at the other end of the table, furthest away from him, every mealtime.
There was a lot of chicken for dinner this time, but Hermione's appetite was lacking. She ate a small portion of food and poked at a dessert uninterestedly with a fork. When students started to filter out of the Great Hall, she followed suit, making her way to her dorm yet again where she planned to wait until curfew to continue her search.
— — —
Her trip to the Restricted Section was lacking to begin with. With a lamp on a table so she could read and her wand to light the way when she went looking for another title, Hermione spent hours pulling out books and examining different articles.
Somewhere under the lamplight, she found a mention of the Giant Squid, but no record could be found of it hurting people before. From what Hermione already knew about it, it was a rather placid creature. She also read a small article about merpeople, so without a second thought she branched out her search to other sea creatures but nothing was even close to Harry's death, much to her disappointment.
Shoving the book she'd been reading away from her in a blind rage, it slid across the desk and made a very satisfying thumping noise as it hit the bookshelf behind it. Hermione felt a twinge of guilt for treating the book with such little care– she was usually so gentle, so caring– but it was quickly washed away by more pressing, demanding emotions such as frustration and determination.
She leaned back in her chair, head back, running a small hand thought her hair to rid herself of the tangles she'd accumulated during her frantic search.
If only there was a way to rewind time, she thought.
Of course, she'd thought about using her Time Turner, but McGonagall had already warned her about the dangers of using such a tool to correct something as final as death. She remembered the teacher visiting her in the Common Room on the second day after Harry's death, after Ron had started to drift, and had told her not to act impulsively. The words were far and few between, but Hermione knew exactly what the house mistress had meant.
Again, Hermione found herself feeling guilty.
She was so incredibly deep in thought that when Crookshanks leapt up onto the table, she jumped.
"You," she closed her eyes, exhaling shakily, "you've got to give me some warning, you know."
The animal meowed as Hermione pulled the ball of ginger fur into her lap and, despite his growls of protest, ended up purring when she rubbed behind his ears.
"What do you think, hm?" Hermione thought aloud, something she often did when Crookshanks was around and they were alone. She continued to ponder all the possibilities, all the things that she knew of that could have killed her best friend, weighing up which ones were most or least likely.
"-and I just don't think…" Hermione trailed off as something caught her eye.
Poking out from the page in the book she'd shoved across the desk was what looked like a piece of paper. Reaching across the desk to get it, Crookshanks jumping up onto the table again to give her more room, she opened the book at the page it marked.
The page was entitled The Water and it explained the element's various uses in spells, potions and other aspects of spellcraft. She glanced over the page and, seeing that there was nothing there that she didn't already know, turned her attention to the newspaper clippings which were now in her right hand.
There were two of them, stuck together and faded with age. Slowly peeling them apart revealed the first clipping, a long article that was hard to read past the stains and fading, and the second clipping, which showed a small paragraph with a sickening photograph.
It was of a man, his eyes and lips covered with black patches, his skin swollen and sore, and water dribbling from his mouth uncontrollably as if it had a never-ending source. Hermione couldn't help the small gasp that escaped her lips, the tears that welled in her eyes, as she thought of Harry lying on the shore of the Great Lake with similar symptoms.
Hermione tried to clean the clippings up with a spell to make them more legible, but nothing seemed to work, so she did her best to read what she could. They were both roughly the same, naming the victim and listing the symptoms. It included a small amount about the victim's personal life but didn't stretch beyond how devastated the family was to find their loved one in such a state. She had hoped to find a little more about them, but unfortunately there wasn't much to go on.
What really caught Hermione's attention, however, was the way that the writers each implied that the victims were murdered.
Hermione started pulling out other books about water and sea creatures, even broadening her search further by looking into spells and potions. She even hoped to find another newspaper clipping, but nothing came up.
Feeling that she had exhausted all options in the Restricted Section– and exhausted herself– and believing that she might have better luck elsewhere, she pocketed the clippings she had and hastily put her books away before she left.
Hermione was on her way back to her dorm when she spied Snape. In a blind moment of panic, not wanting her least favourite teacher to catch her wandering around the castle at such a ridiculous hour, the brunette ducked into the first room she could touch the door to. She soon realised that she was in the old girls' bathroom.
Letting out a sigh of relief as she head Snape's footsteps come and go, she was about to take her leave when she heard the sound of an all too familiar giggle, making her turn.
It was only then that she managed to take a proper look at the place and, with a small smile, she remembered successfully brewing Polyjuice Potion in her second year on the floor. Now, however, standing in the exact spot that she'd positioned her cauldron, stood Myrtle.
"It's been a while since I last saw you," the ghost said.
Hermione stepped forward, smiling slightly. "It has."
"I heard the news," Myrtle floated around the sinks, snivelling quietly. "It can't be true, can it? Harry's not dead. I clearly recall inviting him to share my bathroom, and he's no where to be seen."
Hermione watched the pale figure curiously as she replied. "It's true. Sorry." Her apology was closer to a question.
"Tragic," her voice echoed throughout the bathroom, the sound of water dripping intensifying. "But if you should come across him, let him know from me that the offer's still- open." The ghost pushed a cubicle door open pointedly and disappeared inside with an annoying giggle.
Hermione didn't want to talk about this.
"I think I'll be going," she muttered, but the ghost had to get one last word in before she could leave.
"You'll be welcome, too, if you ever get bored. Or killed. Or both." She called.
"You're disgusting," Hermione spat, quickly making her escape, the ghost cackling behind her.
The young witch sighed. The thought of going back to the Gryffindor Common Room was draining in itself, so she instead made her way to the bridge that overlooked the Great Lake.
It was, for some reason, always a longer walk than expected to the bridge, but it felt longer in the misty chill of the night. Hermione's breath plumed out in front of her and over her shoulders as she walked, not using her wand to illuminate her path for fear of being spotted from the castle windows.
When she arrived at her destination, Hermione felt hot tears prick at the sight of the great lake and its fateful shore, and buried her face in the arms that she had folded on soft-worn wooden railing.
What she wouldn't give to be able to go back, stop him from leaving when they were standing on the Astronomy Tower or at least go with him when he did, made sure he got to Hagrid's safely.
The giant had said he'd never made it there, that he hadn't even known Harry was coming to see him at all. That wasn't unusual, of course– Harry often turned up unannounced at Hagrid's. He had followed them up to Dumbledore's old office before the decision had been made to send the students home early, and the owls had been sent to tell the Ministry what had happened. He seemed to blame himself now even more than Hermione was convinced she was going to blame herself in the future if she didn't get to the bottom of what had happened that day.
For the first time since leaving her dorm that day, and a long time by her new standards, Hermione cried. It wasn't just a few tears or a snivel, she cried so her sobs could be heard from the ends of the bridge. Harry was dead and there was nothing she could do about it.
She didn't know how much time had passed when she finally lifted her head, the cold air quickly drying her tear-stained cheeks. She looked down at the lake again only for her eyes to narrow as she strained to see something that she hadn't seen before.
It was a person, black cloak billowing in the wind. Hermione could see the unruly black curls fall across the comparatively ghostly paleness of the witch's face. After the battle in the Department of Mysteries, Hermione would be able to recognise the Death Eater from a mile away. She watched for a moment, but Bellatrix just seemed to be standing there, looking out at the water.
How did she get past the wards? Hermione blinked, the gravity of what she was seeing hitting her square in the chest. Panicking, she tore her eyes from the woman and ran as quietly as she could from where she was standing to the grassy banks that sloped down to the water's edge, peering to get a closer look before raising the alarm.
But the figure of Bellatrix Lestrange was gone.