WARNING! THIS STORY CONTAINS A SUBSTANCE ABUSE PLOT LINE AND THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS A CHARACTER DEATH. MATURE READERS ONLY!
Madam Pomfrey returned twenty minutes later and ushered everyone out of the Hospital Wing.
“Ms. Weasley needs to sleep now,” she ordered.
Not wanting the celebration to end just yet, Arthur and Molly relocated the merriment to the Burrow. Hermione didn’t want to go at first but Severus convinced her. He thought it would aid in her recovery to be around those she considered friends. She could have told him that all she needed was him by her side to accomplish that, but chose not to because she didn’t know how her former Professor thought about her. In all the years she had known him, she’d always felt he despised her. Yet, lately, she had been receiving different vibes from him.
If there was one thing that could be said about the Weasleys it was that they knew how to throw a party. Hermione was amazed at how many people turned up for the bash. What amazed her more, however, was the fact that they all seemed to fit inside the Burrow and remain comfortable.
Sitting in a corner off to the side, Hermione watched Molly and Arthur excitedly talk about their new grandson. An all too familiar pain arose in her chest and she had to divert her eyes to fight back the impulse to cry. At the other end of the living room, Remus witnessed Hermione’s turmoil. He put his drink down on the table next to him and joined her in the corner.
“Quite the celebration, wouldn’t you say?” he asked, attempting to strike up a conversation.
Hermione put on a brave smile and replied, “Yes, it is.”
“I was wondering if you’ve given any thought to what we talked about a couple of months ago.”
“Remus,” Hermione pleaded.
“The longer you keep this secret inside, the more it will eat at you. The only way you can truly put your past behind you is to face it head-on. Tell them.”
The tears she had tried so hard to force back broke through her defenses. Hermione asked, “What if they become angry? What if they can’t forgive me?”
“You won’t know until you tell them.”
“I can’t. I’m sorry, I can’t.” Hermione got up from her seat and fled from the Burrow. She didn’t stop running until she was at the gate to the garden out of which she, Ron, and Harry had tossed eager gnomes so many times. No longer attempting to keep her emotions inside, she collapsed to the ground. All of the pain and sadness she had suppressed for so long came rushing out of her like a pyroclastic flow erupting from a volcano.
She never heard him approach. Severus dropped to his knees and pulled Hermione into his arms. When her crying intensified, Severus pulled her into him more tightly.
“Let it all out, Hermione,” he said comfortingly.
“IT’S MY FAULT! I—I—I GOT THEM KILLED! I SAW HIM COMING TOWARDS ME AND I FROZE! I COULDN’T MOVE! THEY DIED BECAUSE OF ME!” Hermione exclaimed.
“Shhh. Many brave witches and wizards died at his hands. You were right to be afraid. You’d have been stupid not to be.” Severus gently cupped Hermione’s chin in his hand and tilted her head so she could look him in the eyes. Gently he wiped away a tear that was running down her soaked cheek. “Don’t blame yourself for their deaths, Hermione. Harry and Ron died for you, not because of you. Don’t ever think otherwise.”
“There you guys are! We were beginning to wonder where you two had run off to.”
Hermione and Severus looked up to see Molly and Arthur walking towards them with a tray of glasses. Severus helped Hermione to her feet. She turned away from their approaching friends so she could wipe her face dry and turned back around just as they caught up. Molly offered Hermione a glass of Firewhisky, and both she and Severus took glasses as Arthur held up his glass.
“A toast. To the next generation of Weasleys,” Arthur proclaimed.
All four of them touched their glasses together. Everyone but Hermione then took a sip. Molly was the only one who noticed the sudden remorse that surfaced on her face.
“You know, Hermione, Arthur and I were beginning to think you were avoiding us,” Molly said.
As if that was their cue, Arthur and Severus walked back to the house, leaving the two women alone. Hermione tried to put on a happy face, but Molly saw right through it.
“Being a mother, I can tell there’s something you’re afraid to tell me. Is there something you need to tell me, dear?”
Hermione suddenly found it very difficult to swallow. She put on the best smile she could muster; then, unable to look into Molly’s eyes, she turned away.
“When my parents were murdered by that monster you took me in and treated me like your daughter. You made me feel safe again – the way only a mother can make you feel safe. There is something that I need to tell you…that I want to tell you. But I’m afraid. I’m scared that if you knew the truth, I would lose you because of it.”
“Oh, Hermione. I do love you like you’re one of my own. Nothing you could tell me would ever make me stop loving you.”
“This might.” Hermione took a deep breath and closed her eyes as the evening breeze caressed her face. “That night I received the happiest and scariest news I’ve ever had.” She spun around to face Molly. If she was going to do this, she would do it face to face. “I was pregnant, Molly. I was planning to tell Ron later that night, but Voldemort surfaced and I didn’t get a chance. When Ron was killed protecting me, the shock of the spell threw me up against a wall, and the trauma caused a miscarriage. I’ve been scared to death to tell you because I didn’t know how you’d take the knowledge that I killed your grandchild.”
Hermione broke down in tears again as she waited for Molly’s wrath to descend on her. Much to her surprise, Molly broke down in tears too and pulled Hermione into a huge hug.
“You’re not angry with me?”
“Of course not. That night when Ron and Harry passed away my thoughts were, “Thank God Hermione’s okay.” To lose two of my babies in one night was painful. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the loss of a third.”
Molly and Hermione stood beside the garden in each other’s arms for a while in silence. Then they took a step back from each other and dried their faces.
“Thank you for telling me, Hermione.”
“Can you forgive me?”
“You’ve nothing to be forgiven for. Come, let’s return to the party.”
For the first time since before Ron and Harry’s deaths, Hermione truly smiled. Molly put an arm around her and led her back to the party.
The cloaked man pulled his cloak in closer to him as the morning rain hammered down on him. He quickly stepped into his cottage and closed the door behind him. He sat down in his chair at the table and pulled a rolled-up newspaper out of his cloak. On the very front page was a huge picture of Hermione Granger.
Hermione Granger Makes Full Recovery Hermione Granger, current Transfiguration Professor at Hogwarts, was admitted into the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry three weeks ago for unknown reasons. Earlier today it was confirmed that Ms. Granger was a victim of an adolescent prank gone wrong. Sources say that one of her students, upset over being given a detention, used a clever variation of a simple sleeping draught to incapacitate his Professor. Overcome with guilt, the student confessed to Professor Snape. With the aid of the student, Professor Snape was able to brew an effective antidote. Miss Granger is expected to make a full recovery.
The cloaked man, overcome with more rage than ever before, violently upturned his table, causing all of the dishes on it to crash to the floor. He bolted up out of his seat, kicking it across the room in the process. Roaring at the top of his lungs, he stormed across to the west side of his living room and tipped over his bookcase. Books rained down on top of one another before the shelf hit the ground. He picked up the chair he had kicked across the room and swung it wildly, systematically smashing every window and mirror in his cottage.
Once his rage died down he opened the closet and pulled out a large duffel bag. He stormed out of the cottage, not bothering to close the door behind him.
Hermione woke the next morning feeling the happiest she’d felt in a long time. She looked out the window and reflected on how beautiful it was outside. Her eyes came to rest on the Whomping Willow and she thought about Sirius. She needed to talk to him.
She got dressed and exited her dorm room. She walked out of the still-quiet castle and headed toward Hogsmeade. As she walked down the main street of the wizarding village she decided to look for Sirius in the Three Broomsticks first.
When she entered the pub, many faces turned to look at the newcomer. Hermione surveyed the den, searching for Sirius Black. There were a lot of people at the Three Broomsticks today, but just as she was about to give up and move on to the next place, she caught a glimpse of him tucked away in a corner.
She briskly crossed the distance to the table he was sitting at and sat down opposite him. He looked up at her for a moment and then returned his gaze to his glass of butterbeer.
“Where have you been? You missed a great party last night,” Hermione said.
“Yeah, I know. I just needed time to myself,” Sirius replied.
“Do you mind explaining to me what happened last night?”
“I truly thought I was in love with you. I know now that isn’t entirely true. I do love you, but not in that way. I guess I thought I could pretend to love you like that if it meant keeping you in my life.”
“But I am in your life, Sirius.”
“No, you’re not. Not really. We’re friends, yes, but friends grow apart. They lose touch and eventually they disappear out of each other’s lives. I wanted to keep you with me always. I sincerely thought you were the last link I had to Harry. Last night Remus reminded me that I also have Ginny’s and Harry’s baby. Last night, when I heard her introduce her son and then asked Snivellus to be his godfather, I felt like every last trace of Harry was being taken away from me. I guess it was just meant to be.”
“Sirius, no one can take Harry away from you as long as you keep him alive in your heart. You of all people should know that.”
Sirius looked up into Hermione’s eyes, and after a tense moment of silence he laughed loudly, causing everyone in the pub to turn around and look at him.
“You are absolutely right, Hermione. Thanks for reminding me. This wallowing in my own self-pity really doesn’t suit me, does it? From this moment on I vow to be the best friend I can be to Ginny and young Albus. I’ll even try to be nice to Snivellus.” Sirius slid his glass across the table and stood up, stretching.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve got my first Animagus lesson in forty-five minutes. Unless I want to be late, I’d better leave now.”
“May I walk back with you?”
“I’d be hurt if you didn’t.”
Hermione rose from her spot and the two of them exited the pub. The main street was less crowded than usual as the two of them casually walked towards the castle.
“I told Molly last night,” Hermione said matter-of-factly.
“Really? How did she take it?” Sirius asked.
“Better than I did. She told me I’d done nothing that needed forgiving.”
“I told you so.”
“Yes, you did.”
“How are you feeling now?”
“You know, I haven’t felt this good in a long time. When I woke up this morning it was like I was seeing colors I had forgotten existed.”
The two of them stopped in the middle of the street and faced each other.
“You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that, Her – ugh!” Suddenly a green flash of light shot out of a dark alley and hit Sirius in the chest. He dropped to the ground, lifeless.
Hermione dropped to the ground with him and immediately started shaking him in a fruitless attempt to wake him. “Sirius? OH, MY GOD! SIRIUS! SOMEONE HELP!” Hermione screamed.
The cloaked man, now wearing a Death Eater’s mask, emerged out of the dark alley from which the green flash had originated. Walking purposefully, he quickly approached Hermione.
Acting on instinct, she raised her wand to curse the shrouded Death Eater. The man was much too quick for her, however, and he disarmed her before she was able to get so much as a syllable out. Quickly closing the distance between the two of them, he balled up his fist and hit her across the face, knocking her out instantly.
He picked up the unconscious Hermione and looked around. Several shoppers had witnessed the entire attack and were staring at the cloaked man with shock and fear. Beneath his mask the man smiled; then he turned and Disapparated with Hermione slung over his shoulder.