You want somebody, just anybody
To lay their hands on your soul tonight
You want a reason to keep believin'
That some day you're gonna see the light
'Cause you're desperate
~lyrics from "Desperate" by David Archuleta
My thoughts were racing. These killers, these monsters, were finally going to get what they deserved. All the countless hours spent wallowing in guilt would now be over. I was about to avenge my families.
Ron saw the look on my face and smirked. "You're sure you're ready for this?" he asked sarcastically.
I playfully punched him in the shoulder before picking up my broom. "It would have been nice to have Harry here," I admitted.
Ron smiled sadly and nodded. There was something missing without our best friend by our side, some of our usual confidence and determination. Harry had brought all that. Neither of us really understood how he had kept himself motivated.
Or did we?
I thought about my sweet daughter, putting her to bed, spending countless hours playing with her, fussing over her first word, the first time she walked; my loving husband, always finding new ways to make me laugh, helping me around the house; my parents, always supportive, doing everything they could to make me happy, to help me have a good life; Katie, her whole life ahead of her, torn from her brother and harrowed by guilt…
I knew exactly where his determination came from.
I looked at the hill in the distance with solemnity. For perhaps the first time, I realized this wasn't about me at all.
It was about them.
With a newfound purpose, I mounted my broom. Nothing would keep me from the Death Eaters. There was no one who could stop me from completing my task.
No one else would die.
We only flew for a few minutes, but it seemed like hours. I was anxious to get there, to face the Death Eaters. Once we landed, I didn't even have my usual dizziness.
We were here.
Ron placed Disillusionment Charms on Alia and me, then I placed one on him. We slowly crept through the shadows of cave, looking for signs of life. Our object was to find out who the leader was, kill or capture him or her, and come back later with the rest of the Order as backup. We weren't crazy enough to think we could take all the remaining Death Eaters alone; they had undoubtedly recruited more.
Something struck me as odd as we walked through the dark opening in the hill. There weren't many charms of protection that I had detected, and we still hadn't come across a living soul.
We searched for hours. I didn't leave a single stone unturned. I couldn't find any concealment on the walls or floors, yet they had to be here somewhere!
I let out a groan and sat on the ground. I saw the air shimmer as Ron sat down as well. I didn't know where Alia was.
"They left!" I exclaimed, my face in my hands.
Ron shook his head (or I assumed he did). "They couldn't have, Hermione…"
"They did, Ron!" I said, making myself visible again. "They knew we were here!"
"How?" Ron challenged. "There's no way…"
"Why do you think Katie was here last night?" I asked.
Ron paused. I stood and began pacing.
"She was here last night to see them."
"Hermione, that doesn't make any sense…"
"She was angry!" I said, my voice cracking. "They were supposed to leave Nick and Lizzie alone; all they were supposed to do was kill me! Katie didn't have a clue who she was dealing with, so she came here to confront them…"
I felt my throat close with the oncoming tears. I thought of what her night must have been like. I could hear her screaming in my head as I thought of the word crucio repeated over and over, until she was unable to bear it any longer, until she decided death would be better than this torture. I felt her pain when the next person she had seen was me, the reason she had endured the abuse of the Death Eaters. I remembered her shrieks and her tears, the fear that encompassed her entire being…
I felt invisible arms surround me, and I realized I had been shaking. They caressed my arms slowly, then moved upward to my shoulders before one of them stroked my ear and neck. I closed my eyes, caught up in the sensations of my body. It was like Nick was there again.
But somehow it was stronger...
I gasped and quickly moved away. Ron took the charm off of himself and looked at me, puzzled.
"Nothing," I answered hurriedly, trying to not look in his eyes. There was something there, something I had never noticed...
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "I still don't see how they knew we were coming."
"One of them must have followed Katie when she left," I answered, still trying to calm my heart down.
"But why, Hermione? It doesn't make sense."
"She was running, Ron," I said. "Maybe she got away somehow."
Ron snorted. "From them? They would have just killed her on the spot. Besides, how in the world did she get that knife?"
I had to admit he had me stumped there. How did she get that knife? And how did she get away? She obivously had to have been here because of them; why else would she travel this far from home?
"Then maybe she wasn't followed…" I mused.
Ron exhaled slowly. "Why did they leave then?"
I shrugged. "Maybe they had somewhere to go. Another house to attack—"
Another house to attack...
The realization of what I had just said hit me. I stopped breathing. If Katie had truly been here the night before, there was only one house I could imagine them bringing all of their power and destruction to. There was one house where they were intent to punish...
Ron dashed to my side. "Hermione, are you all right?"
I shook my head and began running towards the exit. Ron followed and soon caught a hold of my arm.
"Where are you going?!"
"They went to the Rollins'!" I shrieked, shocked by my volume. "They're going to kill them!"
Ron gaped at me, but soon recovered. We were running side by side until he stopped again.
"What about Alia?" he asked.
"You find her!" I snapped impatiently. "I'll go to the Rollins'!"
"You can't go by yourself, Hermione—"
"If you care about Alia, you'll have to find her alone! She's not important to me!!"
Ron blinked. I didn't realize the harshness in my voice until after I had already said it. His jaw was slightly dropped in surprise.
Before he or I could say anything else we would both regret, I fled the cave. My only object was to get there, to protect the family I had left…
I didn't bother with a broom. I ran until I was sure I could apparate, then did so. In my haste, I was about a block away from their house, but I could already see the flames, and the mark in the sky.
Neighbors were gathering in front of the house; I apparated to the front of the group, probably sending a few muggles into shock. I didn't pause, but immediately ran through the burning door. Shouts of my madness followed me, but I didn't care. Those people meant nothing to me.
I was greeted immediately by the corpse of Mrs. Rollins. She hadn't had the luxury of meeting death by the Killing Curse—there was a knife in the back of her neck, and she was slumped over the couch, fear frozen on her face.
I wanted to stop, but I knew I couldn't. If there was even one person still living in this house, I needed to save them. I couldn't let myself be distracted, no matter the pain I felt in my heart.
The rest of the ground floor was empty. I apparated to the top of the stairs (since they had already fallen down) and there met Mr. Rollins, his eyes rolled into the back of his head.
By this time my tears were enough to douse the entire fire. I entered the first room, Katie's, and found it empty. Next was the spare room, also empty, then the parent's, then Rachel's—all were completely vacant. Then I rushed into Eliza's room, praying her and her sister had gotten out of the house safely…
Eliza was lying on the ground, her head in Rachel's lap. Rachel was sobbing softly. Eliza, however, would never be able to cry again.
Rachel screamed when I entered, but soon recognized who I was. Immediately she began wailing, letting out all the pain and sadness she had been keeping in. I discerned that she was trying her best to be quiet, to make sure any remaining Death Eater's wouldn't hear her and realize they'd left one alive, but as soon as she saw me it was impossible. I was someone who could feel her pain, who was currently feeling her pain.
She rolled over onto the ground, burying her face in the floor. Knowing that the house was falling apart, I put aside my own mourning and tried to pick up little Eliza. Rachel screamed when I did so and raised herself up, grabbing a hold of her sister.
"NO!" she sobbed. "YOU CAN'T TAKE HER!"
"We need to get out of here, Rachel," I yelled, trying to be heard over her wails. "We can't stay. I need you to help me—"
She slowly let go of her sister and covered her face in her hands. I persuaded her to help me carry Eliza to their father in the hall, then apparated downstairs with the two bodies and Rachel to get their mum.
Ron was waiting for us when we appeared in the living room, though there was still no Alia in sight. He had just arrived, for he was staring at the body of Mrs. Rollins in unbelief. He saw me and Rachel, as well as the two others claimed by Death Eaters, and seemed to choke in shock. He began shaking.
We stared at each other, and although it was only for a moment, it felt like eternity. The sorrow in his eyes about equaled mine, and he had never met anyone in this family (unless you count Katie...). In them I could also see something else, that strange emotion that I can't describe, as he looked at me. Memories came flouding back, of his appearance in the woods near my house, his arms consoling me, his lips whispering against my ear in comfort...
I shivered and the spell was broken. Ron took the body of the fourteen-year-old girl from my arms and the hand of her mother. Rachel protested loudly, but I assured her he was all right, that he was a friend, and she soon forgot him and returned to her grief.
The two of us apparated, without consulting where we would go. It only seemed natural that we return to where all of this pain started, to the place where my daughter and husband were killed the same way. We appeared in the trees, just beyond the place we had buried Nick and Lizzie. Rachel fell to the ground and she, too, vomited. I let go of my father-in-law's hand and stumbled a few steps before crumbling to the ground. I saw Ron appear, and in an instant he was holding me.
I would have been absolutely content to stay there forever, if it hadn't been for the presence of Rachel, the only survivor of this tragedy. She was hardly recognizable with her tears and the soot covering her body. As Ron carressed my arms and rocked me back and forth, I realized that I wasn't the one who needed comfort just now. For once, I wasn't feeling all of the pain.
I struggled out of his arms and crawled to Rachel, pulling her into my arms. She buried her head in my shoulder, her beautiful brown hair falling out of the bun in the back. We cried together, not caring how loud we were. It was at least an hour before our tears became silent.
When Rachel shifted slightly out of my arms, I noticed a deep red stain on my shirt, one considerably newer than the ones from Katie's attack. Quickly, I forced her to sit up and, sure enough, there was a large gash across her forehead, still sprinkling out blood.
I heard Ron's sharp intake of breath behind me. "I'll get a bandage from camp," he said, and a 'pop!' sounded as he dissapparated.
"How did this happen?" I asked, ripping the sleeve of my already ruined shirt and placing it on the cut.
Rachel winced. "One of them attacked me," she answered slowly, wiping her eyes. "I was in the bathroom. He—he pointed at the mirror and it shattered…I was lucky…"
Although it seemed like an unlikely story for a cut of this size, I decided it was better to leave it alone for now. "Let me stop the bleeding—" I said as I picked up my wand from the ground.
"No!" she screamed. Her arms raised themselves to protect her face, and she scooted away from me slightly. "Please! I hate those things!"
I sighed and stored my wand in my back pocket. Rachel relaxed.
"How did you survive?" I asked, now seeing the bruises and smaller cuts that were spread over her body. "Why didn't they kill you?"
Rachel shook her head sadly. "I—I pretended to be dead. The man had lifted me into the air with some sort of spell or something after he blew up the mirror, and I couldn't breathe, so, I decided my best chance was to stop struggling and give up. I went limp, and he took the spell off! I kept as still as possible when he came over; I didn't blink, I hardly breathed. And—he left."
I stared at her in disbelief. The Death Eaters I knew would never just assume someone was dead—they would make sure.
"That's really what happened?" I asked.
Rachel nodded, and suddenly stood up. "We need to find Katie," she said quickly. "She said she was going to a friend's house to spend the night…"
At the look on my face, Rachel went silent. She could tell something was wrong, and it made her very nervous.
"Do—do you know where she is?" she asked.
I wanted to tell her the truth! She should know everything that happened the night before, but I couldn't bring myself to tell her…
I sighed. "Katie—didn't make it to her friend's house."
Rachel stared at me, not comprehending my words. Her visage became extremely worried and she knelt down next to me.
"Is she okay?" Rachel asked, longing in her voice.
I choked back the tears. "No."
Rachel's hand went to her throat. "Where is she?"
"Where is she?!"
"Is she alive?" Rachel pleaded, taking my hands in hers. "Tell me she's alive, Hermione, please!"
I sighed and looked away, shaking my head. I couldn't bear to look at her, to see all the pain she was feeling.
It was all because of me.
If it weren't for me, this family would never have been involved in any part of this war. They would all still be alive and happy, without a care in the world.
I was responsible for their deaths.
I heard Rachel scream as she realized the truth. She fell on the ground next to me and curled into a ball. I realized that breaking down with her would accomplish nothing, so instead I tried to comfort her. Not knowing I was the person who killed her sister, she welcomed my embrace.
I wanted to die of shame.
This young sixteen-year-old had been stripped of her entire family in two weeks time. She was completely alone.
All because I fell in love with her brother.