AN: slightly AU in terms of school not starting immediately on 1st September 1998. My take is that Hogwarts sustained so much damage that it is slightly more difficult to rebuild even with magic so the four months between Voldemort's fall and the next term were not enough and the Board of Governors voted that under age students were not to return to the castle until it was fully operational and safe. As such, 7th years over the age of 17 could optionally volunteer to help if they wanted but they could also opt out and start their final year in 1999.
Warning: this is heavy stuff here. Substance abuse and coping with withdrawal symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations.
„Bloody hell..." Ron groaned for the umpteenth time as Minerva related to them a heavily edited version of what transpired in those fifteen minutes, leaving out both the quasi-orgasm as well as the fact that Hermione had basically been on display. Well... she did not really tell the young men what had really happened. 'All they needed to really know about was the addiction...' The animagus internally rolled her eyes at Ron's inadequate response all the while refusing to acknowledge the thoughts that were creeping up on her as memory flashbacks assaulted her mind. 'Latter, much later still.'
"Do you have any suggestion where she might have gone to hide?" Minerva inquired, hoping that she could find the girl and salvage whatever was left of the young witch's sense of self-worth. Part of her was furious and believed that if this had been going on for months than Hermione had it coming. But her more compassionate and caring side dreaded the possibility that if Hermione was teetering so dangerously close to the edge this night might have only supplied the excuse for her to fall beyond hope.
Ron and Harry exchanged looks, silently reading each other. It was Harry who eventually spoke up, saying "Hogwarts. She's either hiding out at Hogwarts or her parents' deserted house."
"But… if she doesn't want to be found…she's not going to be there. She'd know those would be the first places we'd look." Ron objected.
Minerva had to admit that the boy's reasoning was sound. From one perspective. But the fundamental aspect in which Minerva disagreed was the notion that Hermione wish not to be found. Her behavior was screaming for attention and it was quite clear to Minerva that the young witch desperately wanted to be saved from something. Her only concern was that she seemed to be looking in the worst of places.
"I shall cover the Granger house and Hogwarts." Minerva declared. "As for the two you...go to her flat and start emptying it of absolutely everything related to potion making." Minerva ordered in her best no-nonsense tone. She had instantly picked up the foul smell of an intoxicating potion and knew that this problem would need to be addressed as soon as possible.
"What? Why? Wouldn't it be better to split up? We can help you cover…" Harry started to object.
"You will do no such thing! Harry Potter, for once do as I say?" Minerva snapped impatiently. In an attempt to calm her nerves she added "please" As an afterthought. "She's been abusing a goddamn potion that could ruin her within months to weeks if it hasn't already. Go to her flat and take every single magical item."
Both young men stared at her in stunned silence. She had meant to ease the boys into this knowledge more gently but time was of the essence. She needed to find the young witch.A persistent little voice at the back of her mind started berating her bitterly for the way she handled tonight. Guilt reared its ugly head and Minerva kicked herself hard for botching their mission. She was desperate to find the young woman, worried that in her utter mortification she might try to end her life. 'Merlin, just don't let her do something foolish before I can get to her…'
"Profess…Minerva. What are you keeping from us? How are you so certain?" Harry demanded. He never could quite take it in stride when secrets were kept from him.
"I'm an animagus Potter, I could smell it on her. Now GO!" Minerva ground out before she apparated from the scene, praying that for once in their lives the Golden boys would do as they were told.
'Oh god oh god ohghod...' The two words kept repeating in her head in panic. When Hermione's eyes connected with the shocked emerald green gaze of none other than Minerva McGonagall the younger witch begged whatever powers that were to open the earth beneath her feet and swallow her whole. She watched in paralyzed terror as her former mentor decked the sleaze-ball she had picked out for the night before instinct finally kicked in and she apparated away.
Miraculously she had not splinched herself within an inch of her life in her current state, although she was not at her senses enough to actually understand that. Entering the closed construction area of the castle she blindly stumbled towards a safe place where she could hide. She was half-way through the mostly rebuilt hallways when noise caught her disheveled attention and she grabbed for her wand. Her hand was trembling badly enough that she had to hold onto her wrist with the other hand to be able to stabilize it.
Instinct told Minerva to start with Hogwarts. The vast castle was well on its way to be fully operational again but there were still quite a few 'hot spots' that the aurors and curse breakers were unable to deal with. For this reason, combined with the fact that apart from staff and voluntarily returning 7th years the building was mostly deserted, the castle promised much better hiding places than the small Granger house.
She also knew that even in her state Hermione would be aware that there was a potions lab at the school with every ingredient she could possibly need to brew the evil potion if the craving rose again. She first appeared in front of what the potions classroom but upon entering she found that both the work stations and the stores were undisturbed and not a soul was to be found there.
Hermione was shivering, partially from the cold she felt due to her half dressed state, but she was also suffering from the combination of shock and on-setting withdrawal symptoms. The last potion she had taken was wearing off, leaving her in a dreadful state of nervous uncertainty. When a random harmless cat walked into her line of sight she nearly screamed, assuming that it was Minerva coming after her to punish her. The young witch nearly hexed the poor creature who jumped and made a run for it after the first failed attempt.
'I... need a safe place to hide. I'm not safe here...she'll come after me.' Hermione thought. She thought of going to the Hospital Wing hoping to find a potion or other to fight the nausea but she found she could not enter. She had stood there some minutes but she dreaded running into Poppy. 'Not good...they're...there. Poppy's with them. I need to hide. Poppy would rat me out to Minerva...'
A loud crack announced the concerned animagus' arrival at the front door of the library. She refrained from apparating directly into the room lest Hermione should hear her and retreat before she had a chance to talk to her. The door was ajar which provided the animagus with some hope. 'It would be so much like Hermione to run to the library for solace even in her darkest hours.' Minerva thought with a bitter-sweet smile.
She transformed quickly and snuck inside, hoping that in her feline form she'd be perceived as less of a threat if Hermione spotted her first. The library had been one of the first rooms to be fully repaired as everyone was loath to let the books be ruined. Ducking behind shelves and crawling under tables to avoid detection she began scouting the area methodically, her ears rotating all the while, searching for the faintest of sounds.
'Where would I hide, if I did not want to be found…yet wished to be saved from myself?' Minerva mused. Suddenly she had a brilliant flash of an idea she scurried out of the obviously empty library.
Hermione's descent into the dungeon was relatively less adventurous as she had managed to avoid bumping into anyone. Although she failed to appreciate the fact that at three in the morning that was to be expected in a castle that barely housed a fraction of its usual population. She always thought that the dungeons were creepy but tonight they were especially so. Just before turning to the hallway that would lead to the potions classroom she was spooked by a moving shadow and ended up blasting a poorly aimed stinging hex at the wall.
After she reassured herself that no one was there she finally reached the potions classroom. She stood in the shadows, trying to pull the remaining shreds of her courage together to enter the classroom. 'God... I need another potion.' Vaguely acknowledging that she was taking further steps down the slippery slope she thought she could escape when she first drowned her frustration in the stuff, she could not find it in herself to fight it today. She vindicated herself by blaming it on Minerva. If the woman had not done what she had then she would not be in such a state. She'd have had those two shag the living daylights out of her after which she would have proceeded to pass out and be done with it.
Minerva paced impatiently before a segment of wall that she knew would normally reveal the Room of Requirement. To her astonishment her expectations were completely thwarted as minutes passed and the Room would still not reveal itself. She vaguely remembered that the curse breakers reported last week that they had had no luck in entering the Room but she had hoped that in the meantime they might have made some progress. Of course, being Headmistress did offer her a variety of alternatives. There were spells within her arsenal that forced the Room to reveal itself.
Hermione choked back an anguished howl as the glass container smashed on the floor. She was about to add the last ingredient into the simmering cauldron when a sudden jolt, not unlike a tiny electric shock, informed her that the wards on her flat had been breached. She was so focused on her task that she was taken by surprise and she dropped the phial. 'Son of a motherfucking...' Knowing that she had just broken the last phial of elventoad saliva, which was the key ingredient to the potion she was craving, she angrily knocked the cauldron off the fire.
'They're ransacking my flat... they're going to find out. They're going to lock me up.'
To say that Harry was shocked at the state Hermione's flat was would have been the understatement of the year. 'Where have I been all this time to not notice the signs?' He and Ron arrived to a complete mess. There were empty liquor bottles strewn about the floor, a pile of pizza boxes containing half-eaten mouldy pizzas and the entire flat smelled like a rancid potions lab.
"When was the last time either of us visited Hermione?" Harry asked the obvious question. He knew he had been somewhat neglectful recently what with him planning to propose to Ginny but the state of this flat clearly indicated that Hermione had been having issues for far longer. He also hadn't expected that Ron would have missed this. All he ever could talk about was Hermione, he assumed that they were keeping more in contact.
"She told me she was going to Australia to find her parents." Ron replied, his voice thick with astonishment. Clearly Hermione had been lying to her. He accidentally bumped into Hermione about a month ago when he did notice that the young witch seemed unnerved at their chance encounter but he assumed that perhaps her parents were giving her a hard time for what she did. However, the flat looked like it had been unkempt for months.
They realized that something was off after they bumped into her on the street in the early hours of one morning about two weeks ago, completely wasted. At the time they just assumed it was a one-off thing. She slept for nearly a day at The Burrow after which she vanished without so much as a word. She had grown secretive. She avoided her friends, family, everyone. Both boys tried visiting nearly every day since but soon learned to grow weary of the witch after she nearly hexed them for voicing their concern. How the Daily Prophet was not covering the story front page was a mystery for both of them.
"Let's put this place back in order…" Harry said, taking out his wand, already weary of the Herculean task.
Hermione sat in a corner of the deserted Gryffindor Common room, hugging her legs close to her in a foetal position. 'Gods why did it have to be Minerva of all people?' She was fairly sure that she would never be able to look the woman in the eyes ever again. Violent sobs erupted from her throat convulsively as she attempted to gain some semblance of self-control but the hysterical crying would not stop. She unconsciously clawed at the scar on her forearm as she broke down, leaving angry red welts in the wake of her nails.
Minerva's vision blurred as her head connected with the stone wall she was blown into. She realized her mistake too late after she forced the Room to drop the heavy chains with which its doors appeared. The doors flew open from the pressure of hot air contained within the room with an explosion that sent Minerva flying. The still raging Fiendfyre showered the corridor with an orange hue just long enough for Minerva to glimpse at it. The sentient fire roared with a vengeance, taking the shape of a stalking predator, intent on spilling out of its containment but the Room's doors closed with a force that echoed for a full minute. 'That sounded like an I-told-you-so' Minerva thought, wincing at the resonating sound before her eyes rolled back into her head.
Hermione's head jerked up, her eyes alert the moment she heard the explosion. A year on the run during a war drilled reflexes into her that cut through even the deepest fog of her on-setting depression. She gripped her wand tightly but she could not budge. Whatever erupted with such force broke her trance-like stupor of self-loathing but she could not care enough to actually seek it out and do something about it. She had given so much of herself for this war. For this victory that did not seem to be hers. And what did she get in return? A cruelly disfiguring scar she could not heal, nightmares that blended even into her wake hours and an addiction she could not kick. 'Why should I give even more of myself? There's almost nothing left... And do I need yet another nightmare I would not be able to fight?'
Half an hour later….
Minerva came to with a mind-numbing headache. 'Of all the bloody stupid…' She cursed silently as she realized what just happened. The Room had clearly been trying to protect her. 'Well…at least I know Hermione cannot be in there.'
Slowly she picked herself up off the stone floor checking for further injuries but it seemed that the slight concussion might be the only harm. She could survive a concussion for a bit longer. Wandlessly she cast a charm that would stave off the more bothersome effects until she could find a minute to visit Poppy. But she needed to find Hermione first.
'Where ARE you Hermione…? If not in the library… or the Room of Requirement…' Minerva was at a loss and in a desperate attempt stumbled towards Gryffindor Tower.
"Dammit, I am sick and tired of cleaning up all of this crap." Ron exclaimed in exasperation. His Hermione was out there somewhere, Merlin knew doing what and he did not take kindly to being forced to do housework of all things. "If she's really THIS unwell we should be by her side."
"If Minerva told us to stay away she must have had a good reason to do so." Harry ground out, growing impatient with his best friend's ranting. He didn't like being here any more than Ron did but he had a gut feeling that the situation was delicate enough to warrant paying attention to the older witch, despite their general tendency to do exactly the opposite.
"I don't bloody care what McGonagall said! I want Hermione safe!" Ron had had enough. "You can stay if you want but I'm going to check her parents' house." The moment the last word left his lips he was gone with a loud crack, forcing Harry to follow him.
The Fat Lady's portrait came to life when she saw Minerva approach, putting a finger silently in front of her lips. Minerva's heart rate doubled at the notion that the Lady might be implying that Hermione really was inside.
Her hopes were confirmed when the Fat Lady whispered. "She's in a terribly foul state, Headmistress. Do be careful with the child." And with that she allowed Minerva inside.
The animagus tried to creep into the Gryffindor common room as silently as she could, but in her state she was not particularly stealthy. Nor did she dare turn into her animal counterpart, never having done that before while recovering from a head injury. Her vision was still not perfect but she was fairly certain she could see a tangle of bushy hair just behind the currently unused fireplace.
"I could just hex you, you know…obliviate your mind" Hermione said suddenly, startling Minerva into a stop. The older witch gripped her wand just a fraction tighter.
"I suppose…" came the careful reply. "But… the Hermione I know would never willingly hurt a friend who was obviously injured…" just as she expected that earned her a glance.
Taking in the sight before her Hermione noticed the torn robes and the fact that soot covered her from head to foot. There was also a rather nasty looking patch of drying blood on her cheek. Part of her wanted to ask what happened but she was still so ashamed and angry that her entire being was consumed fighting herself not to flee. So she kept silent, face averted from what she expected to be a reproachful glare. "You're not even real, are you?" She suddenly asked. "I've been having hallucinations you know... I bet you're just one of them... Professor McGonagall is probably disgusted with me right now..." She said in a self-deprecating tone.
Minerva, felt a pang of pain at the harsh words. 'Merlin if only you knew...' The animagus ever so slowly approached the girl, weary of spooking her. "Hermione…you're not well." She said. No response. She was a mere two steps from her. "I am not disgusted with you. I am worried for you." Not daring to take the final steps, she crouched so their eyes could be level. That is, if she could somehow get her star pupil to just look at her.
"You need help." She tried again. This earned her the stiffening of shoulders. She mentally prepared herself for the storm that was likely to come. "Let me help you."
"I don't need help". Came the defiant reply. Her voice was oozing self-loathing and she still refused to look at her. "Why would you want to help me anyway…?"
"Because I care about you. More than you would know." Minerva attempted to put every last ounce of love and care into those words, willing the young witch to understand that she did not have to fight her demons alone. She had always been protective of all of her cubs but she never denied that this specific little lioness was one of her absolute favourites. And she knew what it was like to survive a war, she was sure she could help the young woman deal if only she would let her.
Hermione attempted to brush her off with a huff.
"The excessus potion will not take away your pain." Her shoulders stiffened again. 'Good.'
Contemplating what to do, Minerva slowly raised a hand and put it on Hermione's shoulder. They barely made contact for a fraction of a moment before Hermione jumped away as if Minerva's touch had burnt her. "Don't touch me!" She hissed, scrambling backwards to get away.
She cracked her head against the stone wall in her attempt to put some distance between herself and her Transfiguration professor but Minerva was not about to let it go so easily. She grabbed an arm as Hermione struggled to get to her feet. She herself stood, effectively pulling the girl into a standing position.
"Hermione, I am serious. I am not letting you go. You need help. Let me help you." Minerva pleaded.
"Screw you! Let me go, I don't need your help!" Hermione lashed out, tugging at her arm, all the while keeping her face averted, not bearing the sight of her former mentor.
The words stung Minerva but she knew it was a rouse. The girl would have pushed anyone away at this point. She grabbed the other arm before the girl could reach for her wand.
"Hermione! I am not about to let you ruin yourself! Running from reality is the answer of a coward!" Minerva chose her words carefully. She wanted them to sting. If pleading didn't work then she needed something to break through the girl's walls, something to penetrate deep enough to allow her to start working through her pain.
"A coward, Minerva?" Hermione hissed, finally turning her head to stare into impossibly green eyes. "Is that what you think of me?"
"That is the picture you are painting of yourself…" Minerva said. "Excessus potions? Public sex like a common whore? Is this really better than asking for help?" Minerva could feel her facial expression hardening upon the memory of Hermione's outrageous behaviour.
"Who the fuck do you think you are, judging me like that?" Hermione spat, struggling against the iron grip of the animagus.
"I believe I used to be your teacher. And had high hopes to be your friend in the future." Minerva said truthfully. Hermione was one of the very few students whom she had wanted to befriend after they were released from their professional bond.
"Yeah I guess that went south when you saw me dripping wet on a dance floor, and filling your ears with obscene noises, didn't it?" Hermione said bitterly. It was clear that she was not pleased with herself.
Minerva's face flushed in embarrassment as the mere mention of that episode brought up vivid images she could not clear from her mind. This time it was she who averted her eyes. That was an image she seriously considered getting obliviated in the future.
Misinterpreting Minerva's lack of answer for guilt Hermione scoffed in angry disgust. "You liked that, didn't you? Is that it? Wanted a piece of ass after you saw me, eh?" Hermione hissed cruelly. The shame she felt after the events at the club was warping her mind and she lashed out in anger. She lunged at Minerva and captured unwilling lips in a crushing kiss.
Minerva's mind reeled at the sudden development of events and without thinking tore her lips from the desperate kiss and slapped Hermione hard across the cheek. 'Merlin, she was making this harder than it already was.'
Seconds ticked by as silence fell upon the room and a very clear, bright red imprint was becoming visible on Hermione's cheek. Both witches stared at the other in shock for a moment before Hermione redoubled her efforts to free herself from the death grip Minerva now had on her wrists. "LET ME GO! LET ME GO!" She screamed at the top of her lungs, putting up such a serious fight that Minerva contemplated putting her in a full body bind. The only reason she did not do so was because she did not wish to violate the girl's trust any further than she had already done.
To her utter shock Hermione managed to free a hand and actually pulled her wand from its hiding place, seemingly about to hex her in an attempt to escape. Acting more instinctively than anything, she twisted the wand from her hand and using the sheer physical force of her slightly larger frame she effectively sandwitched the girl between herself and the stone wall. Minerva winced as their bodies collided, her own head rocking painfully upon the impact but a moment later she magically knocked the girl unconscious. 'So much for not violating her trust...'
A mixture of relief and shame washed over her as she watched the younger witch's eyes roll up into her head as she passed out, slouching lifelessly into the arms of an exhausted Transfiguration Mistress. With the last of her strength she apparated them both to the only location she could think of.
Like it? PLEASE REVIEW! I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you think this is progressing.
AN2: I had a review on the last chapter from an anonymous guest so I could not reply unfortunately. Thank you for taking the time to point that out to me, it made me think about it for quite some time. I'll admit that I was completely oblivious about such ethnic stereotyping (I've never lived in America so I don't have first-hand experience) and had absolutely no intention of being disrespectful. I'm sorry if any unintentional stereotyping on my part was upsetting.