Blessed Be the Burdens We Bear
Disclaimer: Wouldn't it be funny if I did own these characters? Then I wouldn't be all complainy about the university bookstore cheating me with a paperbook text that costs more than my spleen...But alas, I own nothing and the plot itself is inspired by others...How much would a spleen get you?
Blessed Be the Burdens We Bear
The unified cry of two masked strangers sent her flying into a bookcase. The impact caused the shelf to shower down upon her a torrid rain of books, each one thudding heavily onto her rapidly bruising body. In dazed horror, she watched through a curtain of unruly cinnamon locks as her two companions were sent violently across the room. One, a stocky boy with plain, round features, was thrown over a desk, disappearing from her view. The other, one of her best friends whom, it has now been proven, could get her to follow his green-eyed, black-haired, skinny arse to hell if he was so inclined to go, had his head slammed into the stone wall behind him.
She winced hearing a sharp crack, praying fervently that it wasn't Harry's skull being smashed open. *Oh Harry* she inwardly sobbed, scared and trembling to her core. What she wouldn't give to be able to just sit in the corner and alternate between screaming and crying and cursing. They were facing bloody Death Eaters. Murderers, torturers, lovers of all things evil. Monsters and man-eating plants were one thing. But there are no books whatsoever in the Hogwarts library to tell you how to defeat Death Eaters, especially if you were an underage witch with little experience with casting any Unforgivable.
*How can we possibly-Remain focused,* Hermione admonished angrily, mentally slapping herself. *See it to the end.* She inhaled deeply and slowly to sooth her erratic heartbeat and rising panic. *I need to be strong. I am strong.*
*Our power is yours.*
"WE'VE GOT HIM," yelled the Death Eater nearest to Harry. "IN AN OFFICE OFF-"
"Silencio!" she cried wildly, watching as her opponent continued to mouth words, slowly realizing he had been robbed of speech. Her stomach turned as he glared at her with intense rage, slashing and scarring her through the eye slits of his mask. He mouthed a word with deliberate enunciation, cruelty etched into each syllable. One word. She had quickly begun hating it on its first utterance in her presence. Every time she heard it, sensed it even, bits of her dignity never failed to just strip away. The identity she tried to build for herself, that place of belonging she only started to catch a glimpse of that day she got her Hogwarts letter, crumbling because of one little reminder that she was still a stranger to this world of magic. An outsider.
The Death Eater just laughed silently, mockingly, before licking his lips and making her feel as unclean as the name Mudblood could only entail.
"Petrificus Totalus!" Her attention was grabbed by Harry's sudden roar as the second Death Eater fell to the ground. She focused on the Boy-Who-Lived, noting that except for a few scrapes, he appeared well. She took in his wiry body, stooped a bit-probably from the impact with the wall-his robes were dirty, but his green eyes were brilliantly ferocious and glowing with powerful determination. And, she breathed in relief, his black hair still askew. His wonderfully, predictably, ruffled hair still attached to a breathing body gave her an unsupportable amount of comfort.
She could almost believe that they would get out of this alive.
"Good job, Harr-"
Her breath was ripped from her body and her vision blurred as she felt something pierce across her chest and through her heart like an invisible knife.
*You stupid cow.* Hermione cursed herself for forgetting the presence of the silent Death Eater. *Just because he doesn't have a voice doesn't mean he can't use a knife on you.* She looked down to see if she was bleeding, oddly concerned about having her shirt sliced open, only to see a small, but luminous, purple flame emerge from her chest.
"Oh," she mouthed. Potent little bugger, she thought numbly as shards of pain lanced through her. *Honestly, you let your guard down for a second...* she berated herself before swirling darkness engulfed her.
"HERMIONE!" she heard in the distance.
* * *
"Maybe she'll wake up if we pinch her. I think I should pinch her." Hermione heard an eager, but impatient and foreign feminine voice from somewhere above her.
"She probably won't even feel it," another accented voice, more soothing, replied. "Death numbs the skin."
*Wha-where am I?* Hermione felt groggy, her stomach rolled around and she fought the urge to gag. *Did she say death?* She frantically tried to get a grasp of the situation. *Whose death? Mine? I can't move. I can't move!* Her mind screamed hysterically. She fought to gain control of her body, struggling to move, but to no avail. Familiar feelings of despair, uselessness, and vulnerability forged together with a steel of fear manacled itself around her heart and squeezed; feelings that she had not experienced since being petrified her second year. Trapped, with little hope of escape. *Please...help me...*
"Don't worry, love. You won't miss the show," the soft voice assured her.
"I hope I get a prize in the crackerjack box. Let's go get seats before the bunnies take them all. Who invited the bunnies anyway? I requested this show be bunny free." The agitated women faded away.
*Wait,* Hermione internally screamed. *Help me! I don't understand. What happened at the Ministry? Where are my friends? Don't leave me alone!*
"Shh, sweetie," a lyrical caress, like a lullaby soothing her quivering soul. Her voice was a soft light to ease the impending darkness. "The Queen of Bees will come for you soon. She'll give you back what was taken away."
*Please, don't leave me.*
But all that she felt was silence.
*Hermione,* the wind called gently.
*Who's there?* She tried to squirm, her eyelids began to flutter. She opened her eyes only to stare in the face of a man looking down at her. His hair bleach blond and slicked back, vaguely reminding her of Malfoy Junior, except that his face looked strangely swollen and were those... fangs?
"You think you know who you are," he hissed before exploding in a beam of light.
She screamed and sat up.
"Ah, Miss Granger," she recognized that oily voice, "How good of you to join us. I should hope you had a lovely nap."
"I am so sorry, Professor Snape-I didn't, I mean-I-," Hermione stuttered. She hated being picked on by Snape in potions, almost as much as she hated being ignored when she had an answer for him in class. She heard the snickers of the Slytherins behind her but chose to ignore their presence, though thoroughly humiliated at being caught napping before class.
"The Brains are coming," Ron said from his seat to the left of her to Harry, who sat on her right.
"Not before the rain stops," Harry replied, twirling a quill between his fingers. Hermione looked at Harry questioningly.
"Harry?" she whispered.
"How did it go at the Ministry? I don't recall the end. Did we win?"
"Depends on who you ask."
"Hmm?" Her attention slowly drifted.
"Enough chattering, you ungrateful lot, take out your ingredients for today's potion." Hermione reached into her bag and pulled out a string of garlic and a bottle of holy water. She added them to her cauldron, already bubbling with some mysterious green goo.
"Oi, Hermione. The library's closing soon, you should really take that book back before the house-elves catch on fire." Ron pointed to the book beside her, letters bolding engraved on the leather cover. VAMPYR.
"Is that mine?" She stared at the book and then began staring at her potion.
"Is there a problem, Miss Granger?" asked Snape, his black eyes glittering. "Can not the great know-it-all of Gryffindor figure out a simple mosquito repellent?"
"I can't find my wand, sir."
"There are things in this world that don't require a wand, Miss Granger," Snape snapped in exasperation.
"You can never begin to comprehend the source of your power, Miss Granger, if you cannot move beyond what the realm of your own reality."
Snape let out a harsh sigh. "Very well, then. If you've lost something I suspect the Headmaster would know something about it."
"Oh, thank yo-"
"Enough. Class dismissed."
"But class just got start-"
"Ready to kill me?" Ron said to Harry, the both of them standing up wearing their Quidditch robes.
"Starting to be."
"Good. Fun. Great. Brace yourself."
"Wait!" Hermione called after he friends, frantically packing her potions. She looked at the book on her desk before running out the class. "Ron! Harry! Wait for me!"
She ran up stone slab stairs, her shoes clicking against the surface, and tried to catch up with them, but she couldn't see them anywhere. She pushed past heavy, wooden doors.
"Mum? Dad? Where did you go?"
"Shh!" Madame Pince hissed from her desk. She glared at Hermione before tsking and running after a big black dog making his way towards the Restricted Section. Hermione ran her fingers gently across the spines of the book in the stacks, loving the smell of paper and leather and must. *What was it that I was looking for?*
"Three blind eyes. Three blind eyes," a voice sang dreamily at her side. " Demons came after them with carving knives and cut out their hearts... " Hermione turned. There was Luna Lovegood, stroking the head if a thestral, crooning softly in its ear.
"Luna," Hermione stared at the strange creature nuzzling against Luna's hand, "have you seen Ron or Harry? They're off somewhere, and I think we had plans to do something... I just can't seem to recall what it was..."
"She's changed the rules of the game, you know. Now you get to play too."
"I don't even like Quidditch all that much. I'm afraid to fly and brooms don't seem to like me at all."
"Doesn't matter." Luna's voice was more forceful than she had ever heard it. "You'll learn. You'll want to. No matter what you've been told, you won't have a choice. Not a real one, anyhow. They'll drag you in and have you drowning in blood."
"The eaters of death will dine with the drinkers of life and together they will feast upon the souls of their enemies. On the blood of those deemed unworthy. The untouchables. You unsociables. Can you feel them braving an embrace? Will you be ready? Are you ready to be strong?"
Hermione backed away, frightened and shaken by Luna's words. She raised her hands as though the ward them off. "I don't-I can't - Tell them to come back another time. I'm not prepared enough. I haven't studied. I'll fail this exam and I don't even have a time turner. I-I'll fail." She took a shuddering breath. "I need Harry and Ron. I need to find them."
She turned and ran.
*Where's your Gryffindor courage, my little lioness?* A voice cackled mockingly.
*It's gone, gone, gone away. May come back another day. Young Hermione wants to play.*
"Snuffles!" Hermione gasped in relief at the sight of the familiar, large, black haired dog.
"Woof!" He leaped passed her.
"Wait! Why is everyone leaving me behind? Snuffles! Where are you going?" Hermione paused as the dog slipped under a curtained door at the end of the corridor. The fabric flowing and swaying, though she felt no wind.
"Snuffles," she called out fearfully, hearing nothing but muffled whispers from beyond the veil.
"Thought you could run, my lovely little Mudblood?" Hermione froze at the sound of footsteps. She had no way to defend herself from the masked Death Eater she knew stood at her back, her wand left and abandoned somewhere in the darkness. She whipped around to attack anyway, instinct lowering her to a defensive crouch.
Except he was ready for her. He sent a familiar purple flame through her heart. Only this time there was no pain. Just numbness.
*Damn,* she thought as the impact of the flamed forced her to fall in through the veiled passage.
She landed on her back, hitting a cool linoleum tile floor.
"Ohh." She winced, picking herself off the floor. *Merlin's beard-* She checked behind the flowered shower curtain to make sure the basilisk didn't follow her. She was relieved to see her mother and father sitting at the table, drinking tea, just a step away from where she stood. She closed the curtain and shut her eyes sighing.
"How much power did she have in her little finger?"
"Enough to change the world." Hermione craned her head back to observe the blond, who had spoken so heart wrenchingly tender, sitting under the towel rack and leaning against the wall.
"Took you long enough," the irate brunette sitting on the closed toilet seat snapped impatiently at her. "It won't start without you, you know, and you can't leave before you witness it." She smiled smugly, "The bunnies told me."
"I thought you didn't like rabbits."
"Well, they can't hurt me now can they? Plus, they are curiously full of information."
"Am I going somewhere?" Hermione asked, sticking up her hand, a little confused by the two-Americans, were they? -conversation.
"Well," the brunette snorted, "you can't stay here."
"We've got no room for you yet, sweetie," sad and apologetic she was." And there are others that are joining us."
"Oh. Anyone I know?"
"Shouldn't you lovely ladies be going now?" Sirius asked from where he sat on the edge of the tub.
"Aren't you coming?"
"Sorry, Hermione love. But keep an eye on your male lead. He may flounder and forget his cues."
"Alright. What about him?" Hermione pointed to the sandy-haired man with the large scar running across his neck, looking out the mirror.
"He's waiting for someone in the second act. She's an understudy in the spotlight," Sirius said.
"Well, if I see her, should I let her know that you're here?" Hermioned addressed the stranger.
"No," he replied wistfully, as though wishing his answer were anything but. "It will just give her stage fright to know that I'm watching." His soft grey eyes met her in the mirror. "She can get on without me. You can't hold moonlight in the palm of your hand."
"Come on." The blonde clasped her hand around Hermione's, leading her to the door.
"Hurry up already." The other female pushed her through when she hesitated.
Hermione stopped herself from falling over the edge of a cliff. "Where am I now?" She hated the tired, whiny quality that echoed back to her in the dark caverns.
"Standing at the mouth of Hell. If you get too close, it will devour you whole."
"Muddy blood and all?"
"Meh. It's not that choosy."
"Look. It's begun."
Hermione watched in horror as the caverns filled with hideous creatures, marching though fires and the dense stench of rotting flesh. *Freedom,* their eyes gleamed.
"How do we stop them?"
"We don't. They will." The blond pointed to an army of females, a myriad of youth and colour, rushing head on into the demons' path. Their trepidation, their doubts, were so tangible, Hermione could almost taste it in her mouth. Feel it as if it were her own. Despite their fear, these warriors, she could see, would not back down.
Weapons at the ready. Hearts and mind set on the kill. The blood willing to be shed.
"So many of them do."
"Who are they?"
"Who are you?"
"A girl. I'm just a girl."
Her eyes riveted by the petite blond leading the pack. So strong. So bright. Yet so tired and resigned.
"As are they."
"But I have a gift of magic and a talent for books and cleverness."
"And you've become even more special."
*How?* Hermione wondered. The svelte blond Amazon with an axe confronted her own doppelganger, only to fall, blood seeping from her side. Hermione walked to her and knelt over her cautiously. She appeared deep in sleep. Hermione let out a startled yelp when the warrior's eyes flashed open and she grasped her hand.
*In every generation, one slayer is born... because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule.*
She let go of Hermione's hand and glanced at a red-haired woman, sitting and chanting amongst the carnage.
*They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined.*
The sun-kissed woman stood and offered Hermione the axe in her hand. Hermione hesitated before reaching out to touch it.
*So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer will be a slayer.*
Hermione almost retched at the sight of a skinny girl, roughly about her age, getting sliced in two. She pulled her hand back and stepped away.
*Every girl who could have the power...*
"Well, this is a crappy prize." The brunette was suddenly standing at Hermione's side, offering the offending loot, nestled between pink candied kernels.
*...Will have the power.*
It was a wooden stake.
*Can stand up.*
Hermione began shaking her head in refusal, but stopped. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a familiar image burning and curdling the sky. Under it, her parents waved at her.
*Will stand up.*
She saw Ron and Ginny, and the countless others that she had met and befriended since starting Hogwarts, battling their own demons.
She saw Harry. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and see in his face the innocent wonder that mirrored her own seeing Hogwarts the first time, so long ago. Instead she saw a face covered with dirt. Wounds gaping. Death, determination, and righteous, angry hatred gleaming in his eyes. She saw Harry confronting his ultimate destiny, the one that scarred and marked him when he was just a baby...
*Every one of us.*
*Make your choice.*
Hermione looked once more at the stake inside of that innocent box. The sharpened point luring her like a spindle on a spinning wheel...
"If I prick my finger, will I fall asleep?"
"No," said her soft voiced guide. "Quite the opposite."
*Are you ready to be strong?*
...And she reached in to accept it.
"Oh... my... goddess..."
The light blanketing her was brilliant and warm and oh so invigorating. She felt its strength bursting throughout every molecule of her body.
* * *
Hermione opened her eyes groggily, her body aching and her breathing hitched. It hurt too much to be awake... *Go back to sleep*...A touch on her arm. Her eyes adjusted slightly and she hazily looked at the smiling faces of Professor Dumbledore and Madame Pomfrey, worry and sorrow etching their faces like quill marks on parchment. She mumbled in embarrassed greeting before tentatively snuggling under the covers, desperate for warmth.
Dumbledore placed a comforting aged and worn hand on her head, smoothing back her hair gently.
"Welcome back, Miss Granger."
~A/N~ Welcome to my first bit of fanfiction...was it good for you? Any constructive feedback would be most welcome...I'm a little nervous, though, any mistakes on my part will get my ass kicked by the diehards and sticklers of both fandoms...I bruise easily.