The deed was done. She had succeeded. No longer just a Potions Mistress and researcher that they used as a replacement for a traitor, she had finally been accepted as one of the Dark Lord's Death Eaters.
She had succeeded: that was why she was lying on the floor bleeding.
Dark Magic was notoriously hard to heal – she had learnt that in the Department of Mysteries. She had also been reminded of that several times in the past three months.
It turns out the rumours were true: taking the Dark Mark was an incredibly painful process.
After the Dark Lord had left her in the cemetery, she had Apparated back to the middle of the Forbidden Forest. Although the forest had a reputation for being infamously dangerous, she found that it had become much like a second home to her. Sometimes, she felt safer in her clearing that in the confines of her room at Hogwarts.
You see, once you strike a deal with the unicorns and centaurs, there is not much that can injure you in the forest. Being two of the most intelligent and fierce mythical beings, their protection pretty much granted you a free pass in the forest.
Her experiences had helped immensely when forming a relationship with the creatures, allowing her to display some form of empathy with them. The fact that she was aspiring to help bring down the Dark Lord that both kinds hated also worked out in her favour. The centaurs had been harder to convince (they didn't really like her after the Umbridge incident), but they respected fierce warriors. Besides, they had sensed her animalistic nature. Now that she was allowed on their territory, she had nothing to fear when she recovered from her injuries.
And so the process started again.
Walk to your torture. Be tortured. Heal from said torture in the forest. Make the torturous walk from the forest to the castle. Pretend everything is fine and previous torture never occurred.
Only today it had been so much worse.
She was becoming a cynic.
With all the energy she possessed, she heaved herself off the floor into a sitting position. She knew the scent of her blood would have informed her allies that she was back. Looking at her forearm, she assessed the damage that had been dealt.
Her left arm was a mangled mess of blood and flesh, the only distinct feature being the infamous Dark Mark. After casting a wandless Accio, her wand travelled from its hiding place in a hollow tree with only a moment's delay. It was not like the Dark Lord would have trusted her with a wand around him. No, every time she was summoned, she went wandless. It was the only way to prove her loyalty.
She had never been more grateful that her grasp of wandless magic was extraordinary.
There were not many tissue healing spells she could use – the Dark magic inside the wound ensured that. With practiced perfection, she magically bandaged her arms, hoping to reduce the bleeding. Another Accio brought her the necessary potions required. She drank the Sealing and Blood Replenishing Potions without even a mental complaint of their vile taste. Her very own creation, a Stimulating Potion, provided her with a well-needed bout of artificial energy. She would have to wait till she returned to her chambers to apply the salve that would help expedite the natural process of healing.
She waved her wand again, mending the bone the snake had broken. Casting an effective glamour, her arm now looked perfectly healthy to everyone else. Next, she disillusioned herself perfectly, becoming entirely invisible. Satisfied that it would be enough to make the journey back, she stood hesitantly, testing her aching muscles, ignoring the agonising pain that still burned through her body.
Slowly, she made her trek back to the castle.
To circumvent the areas where her schoolmates tended to congregate when breaking curfew, she circled around the Quidditch pitch. She used the secret passage by the dungeons to gain entry to the castle (she had a sneaking suspicion it had been created to help the Potions Master with his nightly duties).
It was a good thing that she was smart: sneaking around would have been impossible otherwise.
First, she cast a non-verbal, improved Silencio (that worked on objects as well) on her shoes.
Second, she aimed the same Silencio on herself, so that her breathing and rustling would not attract any unwanted attention. She was naturally stealthy: when she moved, she did so silently. However, the pain she was experiencing had made her motions louder than normal. The silence of the corridors only amplified any noises. She would not take a risk.
Last, she cast her creation, Animadverto Non, on herself, preventing any spying devices from noticing her. She did not want to answer to Harry when he saw her crawling around the castle after curfew on the Marauder's map. Helpfully, it also allowed her to walk through the several wards in Hogwarts completely undetected.
Confident that no one could find her, she continued to find her way through the castle.
She walked past the staircase that led to her and Draco's chambers. She could not return to her bed quite yet. Draco would have to be the sole Head student for a little longer.
There was something of severe importance to be done first.
Headmaster Dumbledore was a compassionate, patient man. Whilst he wasn't usually disturbed at night, he was only more than happy to help when a student approached him after hours.
Albus Dumbledore was also an unbelievably powerful wizard – some argued the most powerful since Merlin. He had been through two wars and was preparing for the third. Some would say he had seen it all.
However, nothing could have prepared him for what happened that night.
He had been in his chambers sleeping when his wards had erupted, all alarms blaring. Someone had broken into his office. Instantly awake, he had automatically Apparated directly into his office, his wand magically appearing in his hand.
He didn't know what he expected entirely – it was a very unusual occurrence. Maybe he had been hoping it was merely a Death Eater searching through his drawers; maybe he feared it was Voldemort himself, ready for a final duel.
He definitely hadn't expected to find Hermione Granger calmly sitting in an armchair facing his desk, turned slightly towards the warmth of a roaring fire he had not lit.
Shocked would be an understatement.
"Good evening, Professor," Miss Granger greeted calmly, as if the circumstances were no different than a common Head Girl meeting. "I apologise for rudely awakening you. However, I needed to discuss something of the utmost importance."
Gesturing to his own chair behind his desk, she asked cordially, "Would you care to take a seat?"
The irony of a student inviting him to his own seat in his own office would not have been lost to him if the situation hadn't been so surreal. Here he was, in his night robes, being ordered by his student, who was draped in tousled black robes that seemed to have a bit of grass and dirt sticking to them.
Silently, he took his chair, resting his elbows on his desk as he leaned forward towards his star student. Staring at her intensely with bright blue eyes, he tried to gain a greater understanding from her of what was happening.
He was refused entry.
She had blocked his Legilimency.
Her mind had been masterfully guarded, in only a way an experienced Occlumens could accomplish.
He couldn't have been more confused. Even if she hadn't smiled knowingly, acknowledging that she had felt him pry.
For the first time in a very long time, Albus Dumbledore was completely clueless.
"Miss Granger," he started, finding it hard to find the right words, "might I ask what has brought you here tonight in such a dramatic manner?"
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Professor," she continued in the same calm tone she had used before. "But I had to take the necessary precautions to make sure I wasn't noticed or my appearance documented. To do so, I had to slip past your wards. I apologise for the abrupt alarms I must have caused once I let down my spells."
He didn't know which part of that sentence he wanted to question the most. Instead, he chose to simply file it away for later, dealing with the more important matters first.
"What was it that you wanted to discuss, Miss Granger?" he asked kindly, with no anger in his voice She was glad that he didn't seem too annoyed at her boldness.
"Before I can tell you anything, Headmaster, I must insist that this conversation be kept strictly between the two of us," she stated, her eyes almost challenging him to say otherwise.
"I can assure you, my dear, that I will keep your confidence if you so ask."
She looked at the sleeping portraits pointedly, revealing the true meaning of her request.
Nodding at her, he cast a Muffliato to prevent their conversation from being heard.
After expressing her gratitude, she stood from her chair, walking to the front of his desk.
"If you wouldn't mind, Headmaster, it would be much easier to show you what I wished to discuss."
"Miss Granger, right now, anything that might ease my confusion would be appreciated," he replied, his curiosity and concern increasing with every passing second.
Without a word, Hermione rolled up the sleeves of her left arm, revealing her pale skin. With a wave of her hand, she dropped the glamour on her arm, revealing the blood-soaked bandanges. A second later, they too disappeared, bearing the Dark Mark in all its morbid glory.
The previously warm atmosphere turned cold. The Headmaster's sharp inhalation was the only sound that passed for a few moments.
Deliberately, he stood from his chair, walking around the desk to come to a stand in front of her. Gently, he cradled her scarlet arm, staring at the black that claimed it.
"My child, what have you done?" he asked in a haunted whisper.
"I did what had to be done, Headmaster. For the greater good," she replied confidently, seemingly unfazed by his clear anguish.
He dropped her hand carefully, re-bandaging it with a wave of his wand.
"Hermione," he said after she had returned her arm to her side, "it seems you have a lot to tell me."
"That I do, Professor, that I do." She replied, sitting back down in her seat casually.
"By the fact that you have yet to raise a wand towards me, am I right to assume that you are still on the side of the light?" he asked, uncertain what he would do if he was wrong.
"Of course, Headmaster! I would never betray Harry!" she replied passionately, something finally breaking through her smooth mask.
"Then why have you taken the Dark Mark?"
"I thought it would have been obvious, Headmaster. I wish to replace Professor Snape as a spy."
Stunned, he rested his body against his desk, leaning against it for support.
"Ever since the end of last year, when the Dark Lord was alerted of Professor Snape's true allegiance, we have had a gaping hole in our war effort. I know you have been aware of it, Headmaster," she answered, her voice no longer that of an innocent student. He noticed her deeper timbre, an authority and confidence shining through her mere presence.
Once again, he was baffled by the enigma in front of him.
"Since the night on the Astronomy tower, when Professor Snape refused to kill you or allow Bellatrix to do the deal, we have had little to no information on how to defeat Voldemort. Although Professor Snape helpfully detained five Death Eaters that night, we have lost the upper hand in this war with no outside information," she continued.
"I sought to correct that."
"Hermione, if you had such concerns, why did you not come see me? Why not inform the Order? We could have done something. Why carry this burden?" he questioned vehemently, deeply upset that one of his students – his best student – had felt the need to take matters into her own hands.
"Do not take my actions as an insult to your competence, Headmaster. Since the Department of Mysteries, I was aware that we – by that I mean the younger generation – were nowhere near prepared enough for this war. Within the war generation, I was the only one preparing, training for the inevitable."
Leaning forward, she continued, begging for him to understand. "Cedric's death and the Dark Lord's resurrection was proof that something needed to be done. I only sought to reduce the bloodshed in this war. How many will die, Professor, in the Final Battle against the Dark Lord? How many innocent lives, both adult and children, will be lost?"
An eerie fire of determination shone in her eyes as she explained her actions with a new confidence.
"Too many, Headmaster. Too many. If we went into this blind – if we allowed the Dark Lord to dictate the terms of the battle – I'm not sure there would be a sufficient Wizarding Britain to rebuild."
Leaning back, she spoke next with a frightening flippancy, as if discussing something as trivial as the weather. "I must admit, when I trained, I had expected to be a warrior. Another soldier on the battlefield. But with Professor Snape's former position vacant, it seemed I would be far more useful as a spy.
"Regardless, Headmaster, we can catch up on the events leading up to this moment later. I merely wished to inform you of my position and wanted to offer my services to you. Merlin knows that the light could use it."
Stunned, he nodded absently. He was calculating.
Whilst what he had witnessed today had proven that Hermione Granger was an exceeding powerful witch, he refused to leave her helpless. He stared at her, trying to determine the best course of action.
Staring back, she couldn't help but notice that his bright blue eyes had lost their characteristic twinkle.
"What if I say I do not want you to go back?" he inquired.
"I would say, Headmaster, that it is an unfortunate truth of life and war that we don't always get what we want."
"And if I forbade it?"
"After all I've done, Professor, nothing will stop me."
"If I bound you to the castle, Miss Granger?" he tried again, determined to exhaust all possibilities before he conceded.
"I would find a way out. I've already been sneaking out since last year. I don't doubt I could continue," she replied with an assured authority.
Before he could question her further, she raised her hand, silently expressing her wish to answer first.
"Headmaster, I have been the Dark Lord's follower for over three months now and the Order had no clue. I had been training vigorously for over two years and no one noticed any difference. If I want to continue as a Death Eater, and I do, I do not see how you would stop me without wasting far too many unnecessarily resources that should be fighting for the light.
"I will continue as a Death Eater. I have no doubt he will call again once the Dark Mark has healed and settled, and I will answer when he does. The only question I pose to you is whether you would like to make use of my position and the information I can provide you, or whether I should find someone else in the Order who will."
Sighing, he leaned back into his chair, defeated. Sending a silent prayer to the gods above to protect his student for what was to come, he surrendered.
"Very well, my dear. You shall liaise with me. However, I have one condition," he ordered, hoping to salvage at least some part of this situation.
"What is it, Headmaster?"
"You must work with Professor Snape. I wish for him to help and train you. If you insist on sending yourself to death's lair, I insist for you to have the best teaching for your task. Who better than the former spy himself?"
Hermione did not like it. She did not wish to be coddled, judged or patronised. She only wished to continue doing her job, which could not be done without Dumbledore.
Reluctantly, she agreed.
"If I must, Headmaster, I will. However, I do not wish to inform him of the situation."
"I shall explain everything to him myself."
"I also ask that no one else in the Order must know of my position, Headmaster." Whilst it might have seemed like a request, the weight in her words made it far more commanding.
To that, he nodded. Satisfied, she looked out the window, admiring the red streaks that were lighting the clouds, marking the start of dawn.
"If you agree, Headmaster, I would like to return to my chambers. I am exhausted and would appreciate the opportunity to rest after tonight's events."
She watched his blue eyes widen as he realised that the she had not rested since the induction. Nodding at once, he stood from his chair to see her out.
"Why did you not say anything sooner, Hermione? Of course, you may. Rest up, I will make sure no one shall disturb you tomorrow."
"Thank you, Headmaster. Good night."
Turning around, she headed out of the office, swiftly casting all the precautionary spells on her way. His voice stopped her before she could leave.
"After everything we have discussed tonight, my dear, I think it would be appropriate for you to refer to me as Albus."
Looking back, she smiled softly, her wise eyes warm. Looking at the weight in her eyes, he berated himself for not noticing her transformation sooner. The young woman in front of him had not been a child for a very long time.
"Thank you, Albus."
With that, she walked out, heading straight to her chambers.
Merlin, she couldn't wait for a warm bath and a long sleep.
She only hoped Draco was asleep and she didn't have to deal with him too.
AN/: Hope you enjoyed it :) Please let me know what you think. Getting reviews not only makes my day but also makes me write faster ;)
In case anyone was wondering, Animadverto Non is Google Translate's latin for notice not. I know, it does not sound nearly as impressive in English.