A/N: By the way, if any of my writing is OOC, let me know and I'll change it, okay? :) Thank you for reading! Please review if you have the time, they make my day ^^
— — —
The cold and empty interior of 4 Privet Drive was both comforting and unnerving. Hermione found herself stuck in the doorway with her hand on the open door, unable to step inside.
Of course, it was empty as far as she could tell. She remembered Harry saying Dumbledore had found a way to get the Dursleys to leave, to go somewhere safe until the war ended. She wondered whether they were due back anytime soon now that Harry was dead, or if they even cared that he was dead at all.
Despite the fact that they would never know she was there, it felt odd when she finally entered the house and closed the door behind her.
Hermione walked into the sitting room which was without its furniture, just as she remembered it from when she had taken Polyjuice potion in the exact spot she was standing in right now. The memory of Harry's face when he'd seen everyone turning into him made Hermione laugh quietly to herself.
Walking into the kitchen, a room she hadn't seen before, she decided that she was going to set up camp in the small living area attached to it. It seemed to be the warmer of the two areas, perhaps because the sun shone through the conservatory's windows and doors during the day.
Out of curiosity, Hermione made her way upstairs. She soon found what she believed to be Harry's Aunt and Uncle's room and then the room which she thought would have been his cousin's room. Then she came to a closed door, the only door which had been closed out of all of them.
Slowly, she opened it to find Harry's room untouched.
His bed was against the wall, unmade as it had probably remained for months. There were photos of the three of them– her, Harry and Ron– adorning his dresser and a dancing picture of Harry's parents on his nightstand.
They were still smiling, dancing, happy, and it seemed to make the entire thing worse. Hermione saw a pair of Harry's jeans that had been thrown on the floor and a sock lying lonesomely next to it, the other one hanging off the edge of his bed.
The room looked so lived in, so full– it even still smelt like him– but as soon as Hermione slumped down onto Harry's bed, a cloud of dust enveloped her. It was the one thing, the one giveaway that the room had remained untouched for what felt like an age.
For a moment, Hermione debated setting up camp in Harry's room instead, curling into a ball under Harry's duvet. It seemed like such a good idea, but she knew it would only make her sad and in a way it felt wrong to disturb Harry's room like that. It was almost like disturbing a grave.
With a shaky breath, Hermione pushed herself up and out of the bed, feeling the cold of the unheated house bite at her as soon as she left the soft embrace. Without a second look, she left, closing the door behind her with shaking hands.
If she was correct, and she fervently hoped she was, the wards that had been put on the house to protect Harry from Voldemort and his Death Eaters should still be present. She needed them to be. After all, going after Bellatrix was risky and she needed somewhere to go, somewhere to hide if the dark witch decided she wanted to kill Hermione next.
Sitting downstairs in the kitchen living area, Hermione dug a sleeping bag out of her charmed bag and some cans of muggle food. She was exceedingly aware of the fact that she was underage and therefore still had the Trace on her wand. Any magic she did she needed to do in such a way to lead the Ministry away from her, should they come looking for her.
It was for that exact reason that she hadn't apparated directly to Privet Drive, instead dropping herself a few hours bus journey away. She had muggle money left on her which she had used for the fare and still had some left for other journeys or food.
She crawled into the comfortable bag in her jeans and hoodie, feeling colder at first with the cool fabric against her, but it quickly warmed to her until she was comfortable in the corner of the deserted house, looking out at the sky which was still lit up by the setting sun.
Knowing better than trying to challenge herself to sleep at such an early hour, Hermione pulled out her copy of Beedle the Bard and started to read.
— — —
Muggle London was busy, but the back alley Hermione had chosen was eerily quiet.
Walls towered high, making the narrow space seem smaller, the thin fog that had settled over the city making Hermione shiver. The back entrance to an old pub that had been cornered off with crime scene tape only seemed to add to the all-round creepiness of the alley and Hermione found herself wishing she'd chosen another meeting place.
This, however, was neutral ground. Muggle territory wasn't known to be Bellatrix's territory and this was a place that Hermione had no particular ties to. Knowing she couldn't meet the older woman in a place that was familiar to her without the risk of someone finding or seeing her, Hermione had plucked for somewhere she thought Bellatrix would feel just as uncomfortable in.
As she rounded the corner, to her surprise, the dark witch was already there. Her wand was in her hand, her fingers wrapped loosely around it, as she leaned against the red brick wall and smirked at Hermione as she approached her. To Hermione's disliking, she looked right at home.
"Not my first guess, I'll have to admit."
"I'm sorry?" Hermione frowned at the dark witch, fingers wrapped tensely around her wand.
"Draco would never have sent Borgin's bird."
"How'd you know it was Borgin's?"
"What? That old thing?" Bellatrix laughed, pressing her hand holding her wand to her abdomen as she let out the short cackle. "It's a bit difficult to miss. The poor thing looks like it's been dunked in a cauldron of Living Death gone wrong."
Hermione was silent.
Killing Bellatrix was something that she knew a lot of people would give their right arm for and now she had the chance, but she wanted to know if the Death Eater was responsible for Harry's death first. She felt the anger grow stronger as she thought of Neville's parents and Sirius, amongst others who had suffered at Bellatrix's hands.
"What do you want?" Bellatrix sounded so bored, as if this situation had already happened to her a thousand times.
"I had some questions," Hermione said warily.
"And I'm supposed to answer to you?" Bella's voice was laced with disgust, her gaze belittling.
Hermione gritted her teeth as Bellatrix's lips stretched into the same smirk she'd worn when Hermione had arrived.
Choosing not to rise to it, Hermione carried on like she hadn't said anything at all. "I saw you by the Great Lake the other night. I want to know how you got into Hogwarts."
Hermione's dismissiveness seemed to vex the Death Eater further and she glanced down at Bella's wand hand to find the once relaxed fingers balled into a tight fist around the wood.
Hermione carried on when Bellatrix said nothing. "Why the Great Lake? Why where Harry was found?"
"Coincidence?" Bellatrix offered with a small shrug as she pushed off from the wall, posture now more relaxed– but the tight fist remained around her wand, knuckles as white as the top of a snowy mountain.
Hermione couldn't contain the exasperated sigh that escaped her lips. The laugh that echoed from the dark witch was confirmation enough that she was winding her up on purpose.
"Are you going to answer me or not?" Hermione was growing impatient and part of her wanted to tap her foot but, considering who she was standing in front of, she didn't believe it would get her very far.
"Why don't you tell me why you're so hellbent on knowing?" Bellatrix mused.
"That's none of your business," Hermione knew it was a brave thing to say to Bellatrix and she coiled internally as she waited for the Death Eater to lose control and snap at her, to become the woman she was in the Department of Mysteries.
But she didn't.
"It's amusing. You think you're going to get what you came for," Bella scoffed, "and for the brightest witch of your age, you're being incredibly stupid. You came here with nothing to hold against me and no means to get the answers you want out of me, barring boring me to death."
"I know you're an unregistered Animagus," Hermione said, voice strong and unwavering.
"Do you now?" Bella chuckled, "and you have proof of this, of course."
"It's the only way you could get inside the castle grounds without help."
"And your proof of me being inside the castle at all?" the smug smile on Bella's face widened.
Hermione was silent.
"As I thought."
The stance the witch adopted should have given it away but it was only when she waved her wand that Hermione saw it coming, the spell building on Bellatrix's tongue before she cast it.
"Protego!" Hermione reflected the spell without even realising what the dark witch had cast and she looked into Bellatrix's eyes as she found herself getting sucked into a world that wasn't her own.
It took her a minute to realise that she was in Bellatrix's head and that the spell that had bounced off of her Protego was Legilimens. Unable to focus at first, Hermione found that everything was very blurry. But as she calmed down, she started to make sense of the things around her.
They were flickers of thoughts that Hermione could only see for a second, as if they were being torn quickly away from her. It was only then that the brunette realised Bellatrix was trying to block her out.
Hermione didn't need to be told twice, she was happy to leave. A lot of Bellatrix's thoughts didn't make sense and Hermione didn't want to be enlightened, but before she could retract from the dark witch's mind, she saw something that chilled her to her very core.
It was a man, or rather what was left of his lifeless corpse. His eyes and lips were black, and water dribbled endlessly from his mouth.
"Get out!" Bellatrix screamed, shoving her away.
Hermione fell backwards, stumbling before she gained her balance again. Shock left her speechless as she panted for her next breath.
Before she could return to reality, the back of a hand connected with the side of her face, making her fall to the floor as the pain throbbed through muscle to bone.
"How dare you!" Bellatrix spat, circling the fallen girl.
Hermione finally managed to focus her blurry vision as Bellatrix pointed her wand at the brunette's head.
The sound of footsteps caught both of their attention.
Something about them was familiar and it was only when they spied Snape rounding the corner that they both suddenly ducked and crouched behind one of the blue industrial bins in the alley.
"What is he doing here?" Bellatrix hissed.
"I'm underage," Hermione whispered, getting down on her hands and knees to peer under the small gap between the bin and the cobbled stone.
She could see his shoes as he paced, obviously looking around. Hermione was intently aware of the Death Eater who was standing dangerously close to her, so close she could hear the dark witch's quiet and even breathing, but she didn't dare make a sound or move from her position.
She didn't understand why Bellatrix was hiding. After all, Snape was with Voldemort.
It dawned on Hermione as she watched the Slytherin House Master's shoes walk away again that if she was correct and Bellatrix had killed Harry, it was most likely that Voldemort was after her for taking away his glory.
As she stood, she met Bellatrix's gaze. It was cold and hard, intense, and Hermione opened her mouth to ask her about her new hypothesis but the dark witch had her in a headlock with her hand over Hermione's mouth before any noise could come out.
Hermione struggled for a moment but soon found that there was no weakness in the grip. Shaking with fear, she resigned herself to the possibility that she might not live past this encounter.
"Shh," she pressed her lips right next to Hermione's ear, voice so quiet that you wouldn't have been able to hear if you were any further away, "he's still here."
Hermione was sure he'd left, but the faint crackling sound confirmed that Bellatrix had been right. Slowly, a second later, Hermione was released.
She took her chance, apparating as soon as she could wrap her fingers around her wand which she'd stashed away in her pocket, the sound of Bellatrix's hiss of protest echoing after her.
— — —
Hermione stood in the shadows, unseen as she watched Harry's funeral take place in Godric's Hollow cemetery.
Ron was there with all the Weasleys. Minerva was there, too. Even Snape stood next to her. The Dursleys were nowhere to be seen, but that didn't surprise Hermione. She found comfort in the fact that Harry was buried next to his parents and she felt the tears slip silently down her cheeks as they lowered his coffin into the ground.
Over the past few weeks, Hermione hadn't done much except look into the symbol that was drawn into her book. She hadn't found anything, despite extensive research in various wizarding libraries, one of which she had to use Polyjuice potion to get into. As Hermione turned her attention back to the ceremony, she couldn't help but feel a slight pang of guilt for the librarian who she'd left to wake up in the broom closet after she knocked her out.
She had to stay hidden. She was still technically missing, since she disappeared from Hogsmeade, with only the Trace on her giving her friends and family any indication that she is alive.
She was still having to be perplexingly careful about using magic. Apparating always landed her hours from her true destination to be safe and the Dursley house was so cold without heat charms that what little sleep she did get she ended up waking from because she was shivering so much.
She hadn't realised how much she relied on magic until now.
The ceremony came to an end and everyone paid their respects before branching off one by one, leaving Ron behind on his own, standing over his best friend's grave.
"You know, I thought I could do this," his voice was thick with sadness from what Hermione could hear, which wasn't much at the distance she was at. "I knew I had Hermione and I knew we'd be able to move on. But she's gone, too. I don't know where, no one does. Minerva and Snape have been pushing the Ministry but they can't find her, either. We're worried about her– I'm worried about her."
For the first time since leaving, Hermione felt guilty. As she watched the redhead finish his speech and walk over to where his family waited by the gate to the road, she snivelled and wiped the tears from her eyes.
Somewhere behind her, a twig snapped under a boot, but she was so wrapped up in crying that she didn't hear it. It was only when she heard the voice that sent chills down her spine that her eyes widened and she pivoted to meet Bellatrix's gaze.
She turned to leave again, but Bellatrix saw it coming this time and grabbed Hermione's arm, holding her firmly in place. She struggled but Bellatrix was surprisingly strong for such a small person. Hermione couldn't even apparate without taking Bellatrix with her, which she assumed was the dark witch's aim.
She looked up from the hand on her arm and glared and the Death Eater instead, jaw set and hands in fists. She didn't have the patience nor the energy to deal with Bellatrix's shenanigans today, especially after Harry's funeral, but instead of threatening her, Hermione was surprised to hear Bellatrix's words come out softer and calmer than she had ever heard them before.
"Listen to what I have to say and I'll let you go."