Characters: Hermione Granger, the Weasleys
Rating and Warnings: R for character death, violence, and disturbing content. Dark!Hermione
Summary: "Hermione knew exactly how long it took for a human body to burn."
Hermione knew exactly how long it took for a human body to burn.
In a bout of thoroughness during the summer before third year, she looked it up as a gruesome bit of background research for an essay on why "Witch-Burning in the Fourteenth Century was Completely Pointless." The answer had been "surprisingly long." The body contained a lot of water, and did not ignite readily. First, the skin charred and crispened before splitting apart. A brief burst of flame followed as subcutaneous fat was mobilized to feed the fire. It took even longer before blood boiled, flesh melted, and bones turned to chalky ash. Shuddering as she closed the Muggle medical text, Hermione thanked God that a simple Flame-Freezing Charm had kept generations of witches and wizards safe and alive.
That was back when she still had unshakable faith in her teachers and her friends and above all, her books.
But then she had learned to read between the lines, and nothing made sense any more. If Muggles were no threat, then why had the Wizarding population plummeted time and again during periods of intense persecution? Why did the worldwide magical community go into hiding in 1692? And why haven't they revealed themselves since? She remembered the Quidditch World Cup and laughed at the Ministry of Magic's paranoia. Surely it had been excessive for five hundred employees to labour for a full year, solely to prevent a few Muggles from glimpsing fourteen people on broomsticks!
Months later, Hermione stumbled across a few banned history texts, and the world began to make sense again. Throughout history, Muggles had carried out wave after wave of bloody genocide against wizards. And while a wand may be powerful, it wasn't always enough. Not when non-magical folks have always outnumbered the magical ones by at least a hundred to one. The International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was a last-ditch effort to save witches and wizards from extinction. Hard as she tried, Hermione could not refute how well this explanation fit the facts. How it was the only explanation that could.
She had been sickened for days. It was the first time Hermione felt ashamed for being a Muggle-Born; it was also the first time she ripped apart a book in anger. Those books had brought on a lot of firsts.
Finally, she had consoled herself with the knowledge that all of this was centuries in the past. That Muggles today were no longer fearful and vengeful peasants, but reasonable and enlightened people.
All of that changed during Christmas vacation at the Burrow. Late one afternoon, Mr. Weasley had been called away to resolve a standard case of Muggle-baiting. Between preparing dinner for nine, calming down the restless ghoul, and keeping Pigwidgeon out of the newest batch of Nosebleed Nougats, nobody had spared a glance for the grandfather clock in the hall. As they sat down to dinner, the clock gave an odd rattle. Eight pairs of eyes looked up just as the hand with Mr. Weasley’s face on it swung out of the “in mortal peril” slot, made three rounds around the clock face, and fell to the floor with a clatter.
All of them stared at the fallen clock-hand in stunned silence, as though time itself had stopped. Then Perkins had stumbled out of the floo in blood-spattered robes, and time re-started with a sickening lurch.
Hermione could only remember the next moments as disjointed flashes of sight and sound.
“…the Muggle asked if we were the same type of freaks who made his steering wheel grow teeth and screwed up his heist…”
Mrs. Weasley’s mouth opened and closed but no sound came out.
“…he had one of those firearms, and Arthur was just about to explain when he pulled the trigger…”
Fred slammed his fist into the kitchen table so hard that a jagged splinter pierced through the tablecloth.
“I’m so sorry Molly, he’s gone.”
Ginny buried her face in Hermione’s shoulder and began to cry in broken sobs. All the questions and doubts that had plagued Hermione for months suddenly crystallized into a single, clear purpose. As gently as she could, she wiped away Ginny’s tears, and excused herself from the table.
A few hours later, Hermione watched as the wind scattered a pile of greasy ashes, and smoke billowed heavenward like dark incense. Muggles were surprisingly easy to incinerate. After all, waterproof fires had always been her specialty, and magical flames burned much faster than conventional ones.
What a pity.
A/N: Much thanks to Lianne and L.B. for editorial help and encouragement.
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