As always, all characters and settings herein are the property of J. K. Rowling, whose shoes I am not worthy to shine.
On her twentieth birthday, Hermione Granger went to Hogwarts to say goodbye.
She Apparated into the empty streets of Hogsmeade, thinking wistfully of all the times she'd told her friends that this couldn't be done at the school itself. Passing the silent shops, smelling dry weeds and dust on the wind, she trudged up the ancient path until she reached the silent castle. The spells that protected Hogwarts, obeying their own obscure logic, apparently still recognized her as a student and let her in without resistance or reproach.
Grass was growing tall in the courtyards; Hermione was pretty sure that Argus Filch still lived at Hogwarts, but it seemed that his heart wasn't in grounds maintenance these days. She could hardly blame him. But otherwise the castle still looked tidy; she inferred that the House Elves continued to work. Idly she wondered whether they still prepared meals even when those meals went uneaten. There were more ghosts than before, but that was to be expected. Some of them she thought she recognized, but it wasn't clear whether they recognized her. She didn't feel like asking.
Not really by choice, more by old habit, she entered Gryffindor Tower; the portrait of the Fat Lady didn't bother asking her for a password. The common room looked as comfortable and comforting as ever it had, even in the resentful silence. But she was not comforted.
The last witch in Britain sat down in an old armchair to brood.
Hermione had identified the spell, but it was Harry who insisted that they use it and that Hermione herself perform the anchor charm. Hermione had pleaded with him, saying that DeCamp's Reflective Curse always obliterated not only the target but also the initiator. He'd be killed, she cried, and probably Ron would too.
He'd said, "This is how we have to do it. The Horcruxes may be gone, but there's no other way of trapping and destroying a wizard as powerful as Voldemort. The Reflective Curse is all we've got, and this may be the only chance we'll get. You have to be the anchor; you're the only one with the skill to handle it."
So she had given in, kissing Ron on the lips and hanging onto Harry as if she could keep him alive with her arms alone, begging them to take whatever precautions they could. Then she'd stepped back, got control of herself, and at 2:03 p.m. (Universal Time) on Sunday, 21st June 1998, she cast the anchor charm for the Reflective Curse.
And it had worked. Voldemort had vanished in a flash of pale blue light. And so had Harry; and so had Ron. Taking in their victory and her loss in one great moan, Hermione had sat upon the ground to weep, swearing that she would tell the whole wizarding world of their sacrifice.
But there was no one to tell.
DeCamp's Reflective Curse seeks out and obliterates humans with magical abilities. It is a wizard-killer. The mandatory caster of the anchor charm is safe because of the inertial vectors of the spell, but all other witches and wizards within its range wink out of existence. In the recorded history of its use, no single invocation of this curse had ever claimed more than two or three victims. But no one had ever tried to use this spell with two wizards as powerful as Harry and Voldemort; no one had considered that the range of the charm might increase with the magical potential of the initiator and the target. In hindsight, Hermione calculated that the radius must increase as an exponential function of their combined power level.
There were no wizards left in Britain: not a wizard, not a witch, not a magical child. The Weasleys were gone. Hogwarts was empty. Nearly everyone she'd met since the age of eleven had vanished without a trace. The Muggles had noticed the mass disappearances – colleagues, friends, children gone of a sudden and forever – but never connected them with magic. There was talk of kidnappings, political conspiracy, terrorism, plague. She who might have given them the truth had been in no frame of mind to say anything. And if she had, who would have believed her?
They had destroyed Voldemort – and committed the genocide of wizarding Britain.
Her parents had taken her back into their house and cared for her. For the first few months she found it cruel even to get out of bed in the morning, and she'd spent her time thinking up ever more creative and pointless ways of punishing herself. She knew that no amount of research would have uncovered the disastrous exponential impact of the spell, but she found it hard not to think of herself as a murderer. She alternated between bone-cold grief and nauseating guilt. Being awake and remembering who she was, was almost too much to bear.
Very slowly she'd begun performing the occasional spell to help around the house; there was no one to enforce the Statute of Secrecy now. She'd give her mother the occasional weak smile, although she never laughed. Finally, sitting before the fire one cold night in March, failing to drink from the mug of hot chocolate her father had put in her hands, she'd started to try to think of what to do with her life.
Overjoyed that their daughter had begun to speak of the future as something she might consider inhabiting, Mum and Dad had tried to talk her into reading Dentistry at university, or reading History and becoming a professor. Although she hardly saw the point, over time these plans seemed as good a way of holding back the darkness as any other.
But first, she'd decided, she had to face her ghosts, take leave of her old life. She had to do it in person.
Well, if she was going to say goodbye, she wasn't going to do it by spending the whole day in the common room. One by one, as one might visit the pages of an old photo album, Hermione visited all her old haunts: the Transfiguration classroom where she had shined; the Great Hall where she'd had so many delicious rows with Ron and Harry; the Astronomy Tower, where she'd spent evenings wondering about all the people who had ever looked at the same stars she was seeing and all the people who'd ever see them; and of course her beloved Library. She wandered the aisles, caressing the spines of the books into which she had poured so much of herself. She thought about how she could spend years just drinking their contents. But to what end?
With some hesitation, wondering about her motives, she went to the Headmaster's office.
"There's no Headmaster and no students," she told the guardian gargoyle. "You might as well let me in." Apparently the statue agreed, for the door opened and the revolving staircase was revealed.
The office was just as she remembered it, save for some touches that Professor McGonagall had added during her tenure. The portraits were all sound asleep; no one had spoken to them in over a year. Many of Dumbledore's old gadgets were still popping and whirring in various nooks.
The Sorting Hat was on a shelf. When she entered, the familiar tear opened up and it spoke, making Hermione jump.
"Hello, Miss Granger," it said. "It's a pleasure to see you again."
"Hello," she said uncertainly. How did one strike up a conversation with a hat? And did one want to? But it was there, and it was someone – or something – to talk to. "How are you? You must have been lonely for the last year or so."
"Not really; there's lots of company inside my 'head,' as it were." Hermione didn't know what to say to this; she actually resented it a little.
"What will you do now?" she asked. It was a pointless question to ask. In the silent office the question bounced back at her off the walls.
"Oh, I'll just wait for the next Sorting," said the Hat placidly.
Something snapped inside of her; the floodgates opened.
"You stupid Hat!" Hermione found herself shouting. "There won't be a next Sorting! Never again! Never, never, never – " She collapsed into the Headmaster's chair and wept into her arms on the desk, wept yet again for all she had lost, all she had loved that had deserted her.
As usual, she felt a little better after she'd cried her eyes out. She pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve and blew her nose, looking dully around the room. In the corner she saw a bookstand with a thick book and a quill sitting on it. She didn't remember ever having seen it before, but it must have been here, mustn't it? Her curiosity getting the better of her even at a moment like this, she approached the corner, still sniffling a little, and looked at the cover:
Register of Students Accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
This was the book, then: the book in which all their names were written as they were born, the book that magically predicted their attendance at school. She wondered idly whether a name was erased when the student finally began to attend school, or when she left, or when she died. If the latter, then Hermione's would be the only name there. She opened it with some trepidation.
There were names going back a thousand years – tens of thousands of names written in tiny quill-scratches. A name, a birth date, a date of matriculation, over and over for hundreds of pages. Hermione was fascinated in spite of herself. The early entries appeared to be written in Latin; then, as history progressed, they were written in increasingly modern styles; those from the 20th century looked entirely contemporary. She paged through the heavy volume, stopping to look at famous names she recognized, then the names of her teachers, then the names of her friends. Somehow she was able to detach from her loneliness and see all these names as part of the great chain that stretched back to the four founders, and ended – with her.
Then she turned to the last page:
Roger Lancelyn Barton Born 17 July 1998 Enters 1 September 2009
Her brow furrowed in confusion. Born July 17th? she thought. But we performed the curse on June 21st! She read further:
Mary Chanter Song Born 1 August 1998 Enters 1 September 2009
Melinda Leona Scribe Born 15 August 1998 Enters 1 September 2009
David Jonathan Blanchette Born 30 September 1998 Enters 1 September 2010
Hermione's eyes widened. There were sixteen more names that apparently were to "enter" in 2010.
The last entry said:
Thomas Howard Maddstone Born 18 September 1999 Enters 1 September 2011
"Born yesterday," Hermione breathed.
Like the first glimmer of the sunrise over a foggy hilltop on a cold morning, understanding came to her: magical abilities regularly appear as a rare but viable mutation among Muggle-born children. Although every magical man, woman and child within the radius of the spell at the moment of the disaster had been erased from the world, nothing stopped new ones from being born.
New magical children; children like her. The castle was registering them as students, although the teachers were all gone. Hermione put her hand over her mouth in astonishment.
"I think you may need our help, Hermione," came a sleepy voice from behind her, startling her again. Recovering, she turned around and saw the portrait of Minerva McGonagall, looking bleary-eyed but smiling at her.
"What?" Hermione asked stupidly.
"We are pledged, you know, to serve the current Headmistress," beamed McGonagall, stifling a yawn, as if this were the most natural thing in the world to say.
Hermione's heart beat more loudly and she felt dizzy when she realized the import of her old teacher's words. She stumbled back to the chair behind the desk and sat down with a thump.
She looked at her hands. Three students would be ready to enter in 2009. Seventeen would be ready in 2010. More would be ready in 2011. There was no one left to teach them.
No one but she.
She clenched her hands into fists. Potions, Transfiguration, Arithmancy, all of it? It seemed impossible, overwhelming. When the school was founded, she thought frantically, it had four teachers. She was only one.
For a long moment, nothing in that room moved.
Gradually, like a flower opening on barren soil, her hands unclenched; the blood flowed back into her fingers.
She had nine years and 347 days in which to prepare.
This story, in a shorter form, won First Prize for Fan Fiction in the Phoenix Rising Challenge sponsored by The Sugar Quill, The Leaky Cauldron and FictionAlley. The prompt for the Challenge was: A phoenix moment is a moment in the Harry Potter series, real or imagined, when someone displays one or more traditional traits of the phoenix, whether transformation, loyalty, heroism or something else. This expanded version is somewhat richer in texture and detail than the original. As always, thanks go to my betas, Frelling and Ilovecats, to Sovran, who helped me untangle a thorny problem of geography, to the members of my Friends List on Live Journal, who also made helpful suggestions, and especially to St Margarets, who prodded me into writing this story to begin with.