Summary: Revenir: To Come Back, To Return. The death of a prominent Ministry official drags Hermione into Hades, from where she will change the world. Dark!Hermione. Extremely Dark Themes. Polyfic.
Disclaimer: I do not own the works made use of herein, none of the Harry Potter features or characters belong to me. I make no money from this work. (Basically, if you recognise it, it's not mine.)
Warnings: Rated M for situations, swearing, violence, sexual scenes, minor character death, graphic descriptions of murder victims, references to cannibalism, torture, abuse.
Part One: Chapter Six
"I don't know what you're talking about, I don't know!"
A lie, screamed to the heavens, almost a prayer. Her head was full of them, lies and prayers. Please, let me die, she cried, into the red and black. Don't let them know.
"Liar!" was shrieked back, venomous. Angry. The word pulsed violet behind closed lids as her spine arched to breaking point under the assault. Yes, she agreed, her thoughts bordering on hysterical. I lied. I always lie.
Years and years of lies, piling on her. She'd share those, she thought, but not the important ones. Those, she buried deep beneath the heap, hidden and safe. Nonsense began to muddle the air as she confessed; she set fire to that, she stole this, she broke him, she hated her. Her words ran together, babbling, until there was sobbing, just sobbing, but she felt lighter, happier, stronger for it - the secret remained, her mind impenetrable, her boys safe.
But the demanding voice, throaty and sensual, cut through, laughing. "Oh, no, girlie - don't you rest," it taunted, breath hot on her ear, intimate. "We're not done yet."
Another early start. Hermione had slept for less than an hour before her Floo was jingling once more, and to add insult to injury, the Muggle phone by her bed was screeching too. It seemed the Gods had something against proper sleeping cycles. Or, at the very least, hers.
"Another body?" she greeted the Floo-caller, opening the connection with a slash of her wand. The phone rang off as she pulled on a robe, but the bell picked up again seconds later. "At this time? I'm changing my bloody contract."
"Hermione?" A head appeared in the hearth, but not at all the one she'd expected. Hermione gaped as Susan Bones peered up at her.
"Susan - Merlin."
"I know it's late," the other woman said briskly, glancing around her at the one-room flat Hermione was staying in with confusion. "I just had to call. About earlier today-"
"Oh, Gods, Susan, I'm so sorry - I can't articulate how terrible I feel…"
Susan made an impatient gesture with her hands, cutting Hermione off. "I believe you, Hermione. About that, and about my aunt. You can be a vindictive bitch sometimes but never, I think, to me, or about this."
Hermione gaped. "Surely, you're not going to just…"
"Take your word for it? Certainly not. I called on Nossie, a Necromancer I know - okay, fine, the best Necromancer I know - that's where I've been all night, we just got back. He says - yes, Nossie, I know - he says that there has been some powerful magic worked on her grave recently. Necro magic."
Hermione was already in action, reaching for her coat. She'd never met a necromancer before, and this wasn't the best scenario for it, but she couldn't deny that part of the excitement running through her veins could be attributed to this. They were hermits, mostly; their power mysterious and morbid, most of Wizarding Society feared and loathed them until their specific talents were required. If Hermione had thought she faced backlash for cutting up their relatives, that was nothing compared to the men and women who could reanimate them.
"Can I come through?" Hermione asked, tossing a spare wand into her waistband and hiking her bag onto her shoulder.
"Yes, of course, I'll just clear the way - what is that noise?"
Hermione raised her eyebrows, then realised her phone was still ringing. It had been repeating for so long, Hermione had simply tuned it out. "Right, I'll just be a minute, keep the connection open."
"You have five minutes before the wards shut it down."
Impatient, Hermione crossed the room to answer with a sharp 'yes?'.
She frowned at the accented voice on the other end of the line, trying to place it. "That's me. Who is this?"
"I am Sanguini, Miss Granger. You recall me?"
"Hermione? What is that?"
Hermione flapped at Susan to bear with her before shutting herself in the bathroom, a sinking feeling in her stomach, no matter how hard she tried to shove it away. Yes, it was stupid o'clock in the morning, but when else would a vampire call? "Yes, sir. How can I help you?"
"You need not call me 'sir', little one," Sanguini purred. Hermione shivered. From experience, she knew their kind didn't mean to disturb her like this, but they just did, and couldn't help it. There was simply something… Unnatural, about them. Wrong.
"My Katya has a message for you. Some helpful information that she now sees fit to share." Better than the purr was the hardness in his voice then, more comfortable. "You had an unwelcome visitor in your workplace, yes?"
"Yes," Hermione responded, her eyes straying back to the door. The Floo wouldn't remain open for much longer, she really needed to go…
"I hear that you are busy, so I shall be brief. This person was an older woman, not sexually active, wearing cheap men's cologne. Katya could also taste the essence of crushed beetle carapace."
"A strong glamour potion," Hermione realised, not noticing that she had said the words aloud. "It wasn't Chisholm."
"I do not know who this person is, but I trust that you have some idea of how this fits."
Hermione felt an idea percolating in her mind, not quite ready to come into view but there nonetheless. She thanked Sanguini with more warmth than she had done moments earlier, and his voice was pleased when he replied. "I am glad to have been of assistance, little one. Be assured that there will be no such delay in the future. Rest well, Miss Granger."
"Thank you, Sanguini," Hermione murmured as she opened the door again, dropping the phone back into its cradle the exact moment the fire sputtered out. Groaning, she headed for the door.
Hermione pushed through the flames to step out into a well-appointed drawing room in Susan's luxurious London flat, inherited from her Aunt upon her death. The first one. The ceiling was moulded in the way of older buildings, and suspended perhaps three feet higher than Hermione's own, which in the daytime would work as a light trap but in the night gave the impression of standing in a well-furnished cave, a feeling only enhanced by the candlelight flickering on every surface. Heavy curtains blocked the night sky from encroaching, though Susan had one lifted in her hand, peering behind it as though the view might hold the very secrets of life.
She glanced over her shoulder at Hermione as she stepped from the hearth, a wordless vanishing spell cleaning the ashes from her robes. The redhead was pale, drawn, and a shadow of the bustling, powerful woman Hermione had met that morning. "Ah, you made it. I wasn't sure if you would find a way, and no-one was answering your Floo."
Hermione gave a wan smile, going to move closer, then stopping when she spotted the room's other occupant.
His clothes were so dark that they blended into the shadows dancing the outskirts of the room, his face a ghostly white that at first she'd assumed was another painting - the room was filled with them. If he hadn't moved, she wouldn't have known he was alive. He was tall and slender with bony fingers poking from the ends of his sleeves and a mop of dark hair that brushed his collar. This must have been Nossie, Hermione thought, though the idea that someone might have assigned so fond a nickname to such a ghoulish man was jarring. His very stillness spoke of the grave.
"I'm sorry about the dark," continued Susan, stumbling over her words. "Nossie can't bear much light, lately."
"It's no problem," Hermione turned a polite, professional smile on the man in the corner. "I'm no stranger to photophobia. Is it very bad?"
No response from 'Nossie'. Hermione waited a moment, then turned back to Susan, unfazed. "Now, you said you'd visited your Aunt's grave?"
Susan moved to a sideboard and began to fiddle with the decanters laid out there, her fingers nimble as she picked up one, then another, peering at their contents with pursed lips. "Yes, quite. Did you want a drink?"
"Water, please." It was more to give the woman something to occupy her than anything else, for her old friend was shaking slightly where she stood. Hermione eyed Susan with concern as she picked up a cut-crystal tumbler and poured from a nearby jug.
"Where were we-" Susan looked a little lost, stood holding the glass. Something had really spooked her.
"Why don't we sit?" Hermione suggested gently, indicating a nearby cluster of chairs. "You can start from the beginning, explain everything."
Susan nodded her head, glancing back at Nossie, who jerked forward in an ungainly fashion. The shadows clutched him as if fighting his exodus, but he managed to pull free, his footsteps stunted as he joined Hermione by the chairs. Susan was the last to reach them and the first to sit, primly straightening her trouser legs before crossing them at the ankle. Hermione sat mainly because Nossie looked as though he might stand forever if she did not. The group, she realised as she looked between them, was an odd one, with a pervasive chill hung in the air that she attributed to Nossie's queer presence. Certainly, she and Susan had never been this awkward together before, for all their unfamiliarity. But the coolness was too similar to the chill of the grave for Hermione to be uncomfortable, so she embraced it.
"You visited your Aunt's grave?" she asked, turning her body to the side to encompass the both of them at once. Susan and Nossie shared the couch perpendicular to her armchair, right at the end of each, but their body language was comfortable, as though they'd known each other a long time.
Susan sipped the drink she'd poured for Hermione absently. Hermione didn't begrudge the woman it - obviously she was very shaken, and needed something to hold on to. It was a familiar sight among the families of victims. "I went alone after work. It sounds fantastical now - I might have been imagining things, really. But…" she took another sip, then looked at the glass as if she wasn't sure how it had gotten there. "Usually I visit her when I'm having trouble, or I need advice. Just being close to her seems to help put my thoughts in order, give me solutions I would never have thought of on my own. That's what it was like when she lived, you know. She'd never wanted children of her own, and we didn't always get along, but she was always there with me, always pushing, always wanting the best from me."
Susan wasn't a crier, but she brushed a tear from her eyes at her reminiscences all the same. "It sounds so ridiculous, but after what you said - I just didn't feel her, today. It was like the grave was empty."
Hermione looked across at Nossie, who stared blankly in Susan's direction. On the cushion between them, Susan's hand strayed towards him. "So you called-I'm sorry, but what should I call you? 'Nossie' seems very personal."
"Edmund." The word was so low, one sharp syllable, that Hermione didn't catch it at first. It was only after her mind had turned over the sound - more like a gunshot than a word, in actuality - that she realised what he'd said. Her eyebrows twitched upward marginally.
"We call him Nossie," Susan explained with a food look to him. "Ever since I was a kid. Like Nosferatu - my dad thought it was hilarious, apparently. You know, allergic to the sun, barely eats, generally sinister reputation?" This was obviously a speech she'd given a few times for it flowed much more naturally than the rest of her words, and she even punctuated it with a little laugh.
Nossie - Edmund? Strangely, Nossie, for all of its cutesy kitchness, seemed to suit him far better - didn't seem offended. His manner was almost paternal as he smiled back at Susan, though it was not a pretty sight at all.
"You called Edmund from the cemetery?" Hermione confirmed, resisting the itch in her fingers that cried out for a quill.
"I sent a Patronus, asking him to come by. I'd been considering it since I left your office, but it seemed premature. I suppose I thought that, if I went to the grave and all seemed well, then I could write it off as a cruel joke." She gave Hermione an apologetic look. "Maybe I hoped that would be the case."
"That's understandable," Hermione agreed, shaking off a brief stab of offense. "And Edmund arrived shortly after?"
"As soon as he received my message," replied Susan, somewhat presumptuously. How did she know that, after all? Nossie could easily have received the message, then taken the time to finish a sandwich, write a letter, walk his dog, wank - stranger things had happened, to Hermione alone.
She bit the inside of her cheek in irritation. There she went again; picking at things that were none of her business. It pushed the line from curiosity into obsession. What did it matter to her how long it had taken for the Necromancer to arrive? It was hardly prudent.
"Ten minutes," Nossie said, as if he could read her mind. "I was in London."
"Thank you," she breathed, more relieved to have the answer than she should have been. If she'd been able to ask the question and then not received an answer, the not-knowing would have been less frustrating, for some reason. It was probably a remnant from her school days. "And then..?"
"I have the ability to sense the dead," Nossie informed her in his abrupt way. "There is a body in that grave - that of the Honorable Lady Amelia Bones, of this I am sure."
Hermione sensed a 'but' coming, and it did.
"However, her essence was missing - not her soul, you understand, which had passed long ago, but her essence. The imprint of her on this plane. This would usually be attached to her body, able to come and go, but the tether-" he made a sinister snipping motion. "Snapped."
Hermione frowned thoughtfully. "What does that mean?"
"Put simply, it means that someone has moved the connection elsewhere." Nossie was in his element now, his long, thin fingers steepled on his knees as he spoke about his craft. "At length, it is more complex."
"Do, go on," encouraged Susan.
Nossie seemed to settle in for a long lecture. "Common knowledge is that a person's soul departs their earthly shell upon death; this is true. Where they go, I do not know; I am no Medium. The dead are my specialty, and a soul cannot die. It is irrelevant. What remains, forever, is the essence: a shade of the person who has died, an imprint of their memories, their person, their emotions. Such is why Susan experiences such enlightenment upon visiting Amelia's grave, such is why people the world over go there for peace, reassurance, a reminder of that love.
"This is not the real 'person', but a mere echo. An echo, however, is still a sound, and so the essence remains a part of the person. It can be manipulated, just as the shell itself might."
Nossie looked directly at Hermione for the first time, and she realised that his eyes were green. For some reason, that particular detail struck her as inexplicable. "Inferi are created by removing the essence from a corpse and replacing it with Dark Magic and will. Reanimation occurs when one forces the essence to return to the body and boosts the system with Death Magic. So on and so forth."
"But her body remains in the grave," Hermione pointed out.
Nossie nodded sagely. "Which leaves a few necromantic options open: creating a ghost; summoning a spirit guide; to name but a few. Considering, however, the appearance of a body, there is only one real possibility."
He stopped speaking as if that was the sum total of what he had to say, and Hermione had to stop herself from snapping at him. He obviously had very little experience socially; she couldn't hold that against him, considering what he was. "What is it?"
Nossie blinked as if surprised that she needed to ask. "Why, a golem, of course."
Of course, she snarked in her own mind. Why on earth didn't I think of that? Oh, wait.
"Golems don't exist," Hermione informed him with slitted eyes.
"Neither does your second corpse, apparently. And yet, all signs point to both as truth." Nossie raised a thin eyebrow. "Golems are rarely used nowadays because of the sheer amount of magical power needed to create one, and their life is not long enough to be of use. Their creation requires a mix of blood magic and death magic, and the first must be given willingly. Very few witches are powerful enough to bother."
"Witches?" questioned Hermione, curious. Most wizards, after all, barely used the word unless they simply had to, preferring to refer to all Magical people as 'wizards', to all magic as blanket 'wizardry' (see: Wizarding Britain, Wizarding World), and tended only, in familiar interactions, to use 'witch' as either a possessive pronoun - "My Witch" - or an expletive - "that utter witch!".
"Creating Golems is another way of fostering life, which is a solely feminine area," Susan murmured quietly. "Dark or light, few men are able to create a vessel for consciousness that has its own beating heart."
Hermione nodded as if this meant something to her, and made a note to look it up. This, along with Sanguini's news, made the likelihood of a female perpetrator extremely high - now, if only she could grab a werewolf to bring into the lab to sniff around a bit, she could solve the whole mystery, even if none of it would be admissible evidence before the Wizengamot. After all, werewolves, vampires and necromancers made up the unholy trinity of the Wizarding World - or, as a certain past Minister with a penchant for old-fashioned headgear would say, the 'scourge'.
"How certain are you that this is what happened?"
"One hundred percent," Nossie replied easily, pulling a bundle of velvet from his pocket. "I found this by the headstone."
Using the tip of her wand, Hermione pushed the top two flaps of fabric away from the centre, and the whole thing fell open. "Oh," Hermione, startled, said dumbly. "I see your point."
Lying in the centre of the square - possibly a handkerchief - sat an old signet ring, the type that a man would wear on his ring finger but a woman on her thumb; a dried posy of flowers, purple and red; a half-burned picture, out of which a young boy waved merrily; and finally a lock of hair, copper-red and soft, tied with a pink bow. This, all mixed with a grey ash as soft-looking as the hair.
"You see?" Nossie pointed out tonelessly. "Sections of bone, to anchor the essence as it moves; items of sentiment, as a lure; the picture-"
"Symbolic. Severed ties." Hermione stared for a while at the heap before her, not noticing Nossie's chastened expression until she glanced up. "We covered it in the rituals module of Ancient Runes," she told him apologetically.
"Then you know the basics."
"Quite." With a flick of her wand, Hermione bundled it back up and cast a protection ward about it to keep it intact. "We'll need this as evidence."
There was no quarrel from Nossie, but when she turned to Susan, the woman was pale. "What's wrong?"
She shook her head soundlessly, then leaped to her feet, darting out of the room. Hermione heard her feet on the stairs, then a wail from above. Hermione moved to go to her, but a hand from Nossie stilled her. After a moment, the sound of footsteps came back downstairs, and Susan reappeared, looking nauseous.
"They were in the house," she gasped, shivering. "Recently-that picture used to be on Auntie's desk. It's gone. But it was only there last week!"
"You should leave, now," Nossie ordered abruptly, getting to his feet and crossing the room to join Susan. "Keep the bag."
Hermione climbed to her feet, still watching Susan. "I'll let you know if I-"
"Yes, yes, do so," Nossie snapped impatiently, still standing half a foot away from Susan. Hermione didn't want to leave her obviously distressed friend the the company of this emotionally stunted man, but clearly he wasn't going to let her stay. Biting her tongue, she shook her head.
"I'll be in touch," she assured Susan, ignoring Nossie's warning look. Then she took the Floo home.