Right Outside Your Door

He was doing it again, hiding away in his music room not coming out for even dinner, let alone to talk to her. The sound of the guitar playing a lighter tune than usual drifted down the stairs. She still wasn’t sure what triggered it, and she was starting to think she never would. She hated these moments when all she could hear was a long hallway of doors slamming shut and the distance between them seemed untraversable. It was worse than when they put a full person’s worth of space between them in bed, worse than when she could only lock herself in the library or refused to wear anything more fitted than her old sweatpants from university.

It was crazy. 

They’d known each other for so long, longer than every married couple they knew had even been married, yet there were so many things that had remained unspoken between them. 

There were any number of moments in her history that she had never shared with him from her first disaster of a sexual encounter to the last. Those moments crept in and out of their lives when they were in their bedroom or any time that Harry decided he wanted to look at her for as long as she let him.

The time before Sirius adopted him was still just a glossed-over mess of half-truths and silent screaming in the dark. They felt like kilometers of despicable red tape around them keeping her from any other meaningful progress in their relationship, but she had decided to let it be and waited until he was ready to talk.

She hated not knowing and hated more he didn’t want her to know, but she had to be patient.

He knew everything about her from the way she fancied herself a fairy princess when she was five, granting wishes with her magic wand, to the boy she punched in her second year of university because he was being an arsehole. 

He knew how to get her million and four kilometers per second mind to a tire-screeching halt. He knew when she was frazzled, could tell when she was about to lose herself in her next project and forget to eat. 

He knew how much she’d struggled with her insecurities, knew how to get her to eat when she couldn’t think about anything but how much bigger she was now and how small she once had been. 

He knew about her relationship, or lack thereof, with her parents, the Grangers, their harsh words, and the need to make everything seem okay at any cost. 

Smile, Hermione. We raised you to be polite.

An intelligent girl will lose all credibility if she is not perceived so at all times.

Don’t be a child. You have too many faults to correct and so little time to do it.

Straighten your hair, Hermione.

Who did you get such bad hair from? Your sister doesn’t have hair like this.

She got the fat gene from your side, William.

Such a plain face, you should read more to make up for it. 

Hermione stopped and breathed at the sudden onslaught of her mother’s words. Gods, she hated her voice, the shrew-ish tone of her brittle, proper, British alto. She hated nearly every word that had ever come out of her mother and grandmother’s mouth as they raked hot, gaping, bleeding wounds through her psyche.

Seems like I passed on these horrible genes to you. Better to start early, dear. Here’s a bowl of berries.

She shut her eyes again and squeezed her hands shut to ground herself against the memory and the shame of knowing how profoundly that moment had impacted her life even now.

It had taken years of Harry sneaking around eating berries out of her sight for her to tell herself that she was being ridiculous and force herself to eat berries with breakfast and not go running to the bathroom from nausea.

The scent of Equal and Sweet n’ Low in white tea, however, still made her sick enough that she had to be excused from most Weasley family functions while Molly was on one of her diet kicks. The scent of relaxer and flat-iron burned hair made her dizzy. The sight of Multi-Intense and prenatal vitamins still made her nauseous, but none of that was unknown to Harry.

He knew everything about her it seemed, yet she couldn’t even get him to tell her what the symbols on his calendar meant and why she could never go in his music room. When she knocked, he always came out to her even if she just wanted to confirm what he wanted to order for dinner.

Probably because you’re fat.

She ignored that thought, stubbornly, and resumed chopping an onion for dinner. As nutritional label details scrolled through her mind and her stomach churned at how many calories it would add, she kept her promise and followed the recipe he’d taught her.

It was his favorite recipe, one that Sirius and Remus had learned from his father, James. James had learned it from his mother, and it had roots back to the Potter family house in Patna if she was right. 

Don’t sabotage everything we’ve done for you.

How do you think this will look? You end up in the hospital for malnutrition of all things? You’ll look incompetent!

Stupid girl. You stopped taking your vitamins, didn’t you?

Her hands shook as she swept the chopped onions together with the flat of her knife and began to transfer them to the pot. The oil sizzled and the scent filled the air drawing her out of one memory and pushing her into another faster than she could handle.

Her brother had come home for Christmas from his first year of university. There had been more food on the table to welcome him and his friends over than she ever remembered there being other than at family get-togethers. Her sister was the life of the party as usual. She had been in the library hiding, reading her books and pretending that David only had one elder sister, Juliette. What they told his friends about her, she didn’t know. The scent of onion drifting up the stairs made her stand and go to the door only to find it locked. She tried the door and pulled it, twisting the knob as panic set in, and soon heard her father’s voice hissing through the door.

Keep quiet, he’d said, They’ve arrived, and I won’t have you embarrassing your brother. We’ll let you out when they’re gone.

She’d spent the whole night and most of the next day locked in the library and had only been let out when her brother went out to meet up with friends. When her father opened the door, he hustled her through getting cleaned up, packing her things, and shoved her into a taxi for her winter internship. She had barely been able to use the bathroom. She remembered him calling to say stay away from the house until her brother and his friends were gone and spending the rest of the break in a hotel far cheaper than they would have deemed acceptable if they’d done anything but transfer what they figured was an acceptable amount into her account for lodging.

She’d used the excess to buy herself a Christmas gift, get around, and buy at least one meal a day. It had been the only break she’d come home and she never let herself think that commuting from the Granger house would ever be better than staying in a hotel again. 

Every year after, she did anything she had to not to come home and face them until, eventually, she didn’t even bother to tell them that she wasn’t coming and just expected them to know. 

Not that they cared.

She wiped her face and ignored her burning eyes as a small gasp of shame came with the next memory. 

The next time she saw her brother was at his graduation party though she had graduated at the top of her class two years before, gave her valedictorian speech to a crowd full of people, received the resounding standing ovation, but hadn’t seen one face there to celebrate her personally except for the few friends she’d managed to cultivate in school. 

Her brother had seen her around her father’s body at the door as he hissed at her. Maybe there had been a bit of shock in his face, maybe it was a sneer, she couldn’t even remember any longer as she held his graduation gift in her hands and stood on the front porch.

Why are you here? Don’t come back until we tell you.

Her father had taken the gift, closed the door in her face and through the door, he heard announce that a courier had arrived with a gift for him. A brand new watch she’d thought would fit him as a young new doctor, a watch her parents couldn’t afford to buy him. Looking back, she still couldn’t puzzle out why she thought it was a good idea. 

What good was showing them how well she’d done for herself if they still hated her existence beyond what it could do for them. 

You could have just gone to work for them.

She shook her head and corrected herself. It would have never worked. She would have died in their office, and they would have told the world that she’d been kidnapped on a business trip never to be seen again. 

Harry knew a lot, but there were even some parts of her battered and bruised soul that she couldn’t bare to him. Until she could, she wouldn’t push him, wouldn’t badger him, she’d wait until he was ready. She owed him that much. He had the patience of a saint dealing with her; he deserved the same from her. 

After all, the things he knew, the darker parts of her that he’d encountered, hadn’t come out because she’d been brave enough to tell him. He’d figured it out at her hospital bedside when he’d come back from a trip their second year out of university. 

She’d collapsed in her apartment after her doctoral defense and her neighbor, Luna, who’d come around to bring her celebratory pudding had called the hospital. She and Harry sat at her bedside and listened to what the doctor had to say about her condition as he was the only person who had answered the first time the hospital called.

Hermione woke up to them both holding her hands and telling her that they were there for her. It had felt something like support until her parents showed up the way they usually did when she needed understanding: too busy and too concerned about their image to say anything but the harshest things that came to mind. 

Do you enjoy making a fool of yourself? What will your doctoral board think of this, you stupid girl?  

Harry and Luna had been shocked into silence, and Hermione begged them to leave while she dealt with them. The words had cut deep, the ridicule that came with her silence cut deeper, but it was the knowledge that they could both hear the conversation right outside the door that hurt the most.

She remained in the hospital for two weeks and Harry had all but moved into her apartment with her to keep an eye on her until her lease was over and he could move her into his place. He’d been so patient, just holding her hand after they left hissing about how best to cover it up without a word of kindness to her. He’d held the millions of questions she knew he had until she was already breaking down in his spare room with a book in her arms that held no comfort.

The incident had brought her and Luna closer. Luna had struggled for years alone with her demons. She’d gotten Hermione into the same program she went through, and it was one of the best decisions Hermione had ever made. Harry hadn’t said a word then, hadn’t done anything more than be there for her in ways she had never acknowledged she needed. 

Standing in front of the door and keeping her in the house when he knew she hadn’t eaten anything before working out, prying her out of her library and her memories, taking her out no matter what she could force herself to wear, looking at her as if she was the most beautiful soul he’d ever seen– just being Harry. 

I love you, Hermione. 

You’re so beautiful.

You’re brilliant.

The notes of his guitar came drifting down the stairs as soothing as they always were as she finished making the curry she’d planned for dinner. It smelled great, but it turned her stomach, made her mouth dry, and sent her mind spinning. 

Rather than deal with it, she put the cover over the pot and turned everything off before heading to the library on the second floor of their home. With her mind and stomach this unsettled, she needed a minute, or she’d just throw it all up and need to lie down. She set a timer on her phone for an hour and found a book, a thick adventure story she hadn’t started yet, got comfortable on her couch and started to read. An hour would be enough, just enough to calm herself and do exactly as she promised.

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