“I want you,” she’d said. The way she always did. Maybe this time every part of her meant it. It certainly felt like it did. “I want you.”
“It doesn’t work that way!”
“What is your problem?”
“I never asked you to–”
“Well, you didn’t need to, did you?”
She swallowed at the thought, turning away from the memory.
Tell me you love me.
It had been such a desperate wish she could never quite voice, and he never did, or maybe she never heard it the way she needed to hear it from him.
You know I love you, ‘Mione.
Don’t be like that, love.
You know I love you.
“I want you,” he said looking down at her weeks after that fight, too deep into wedding plans to change, too far along in this farce they were both seemingly willing to go through with until they could safely call it quits.
Could she do this?
She saw it in his face when Harry walked her to him and let her go, handing her off like a prize. She saw it in his face. It was over and this could very well be the first day of the rest of their miserable lives, however much longer that would be. He lifted the veil over her head. They held hands. He put the ring on her finger.
She put the ring on his finger, and she smiled up at him as she slid it to sit at the base of his finger. Maybe they could learn to be happy together. Maybe they couldn’t. Did it matter any longer?
She had nothing.
Her parents– gone.
Her muggle life– gone.
Her future– gone.
Nothing but Harry, Ron, and the bonds they came with for however much longer she had to enjoy them. She didn’t even have herself. He cupped her face, and they kissed, but something was missing in this moment that should have been happy, something like reality.
She pulled herself back from the fantasy at the words of Kingsley presiding over the ceremony. They sounded grave, troubled, as if he too was hoping that they wouldn’t do this, or was that her imagination too?
“We gather here today…”
Ron’s expression changed as Kingsley spoke, and she swore he would do it, saw it at the corners of his eyes. It was so much easier this way, though, but maybe, just maybe he would do it and she wouldn’t have to do it years from now. Maybe they could learn to be happy, truly happy. Maybe it was and had always been her imagination anything could ever be that simple.
“The pair will now say their vows.”
Ron was speaking. She heard him, but her mind wouldn’t shut up enough to hear what he was saying exactly. Who cared besides her? Who cared? Did it matter? Were the words really hers? Maybe that was why. She heard so many voices in his words except his.
“Hermione?” Ron asked, his voice trembling.
“…tell me you love me.”
Ron flinched, “What?”
“I need you to tell me you love me.”
“You know I love you, ‘Mione.”
Around Ron’s shoulder, Harry’s green eyes looked between them and something like horror and awareness filled them. The smallest shake of his head told her everything she needed to know. It didn’t matter if no one else cared.
She cared, and it was time to start acting like it. For however much longer she had, she’d act like she gave a damn about herself.
Tell me you love me.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m not ready,” Ron had said once.
“I’m sorry,” he’d said some other time.
“I’m sorry,” she’d said some other time.
It’s easier this way. She knew that, but it would never be that simple.
In her mind’s eyes, she felt the ring in her hand, removed from her finger, and returned with a shake of her head. She saw him walking down the aisle and disappearing in a pop. She felt herself walking down the aisle, back straight, tears streaming and proud that he’d shown himself to be the Gryffindor she always knew he could be.
Yet, here they were at the altar, and he wouldn’t meet her gaze.
Tell me you love me.
Here she was walking away from him, from Harry, from all of their friends and his entire family, the formal induction into the wizarding world, the last people on Earth who knew her and cared about her. She walked with her shoulders back and a stiff spine away from everything that she’d managed to save.
She walked away from him.
She had to.
She had to do it, but not because he wouldn’t. That wouldn’t be fair. They were both to blame for this mess. Not because they couldn’t have sloughed through the rest of their lives together, but because they’d fought so hard to have the right to do so in peace. She’d fought so hard for every inch of space for herself in the world that needed and didn’t want her. She had never wanted to forget or pretend that wasn’t true. She had made her seat at the table as uncomfortable as it was for everyone. Would the seat beside him or any other wizard really be any more comfortable for her?
She refused now to take the easy route for everyone else when it would cost her so much. She’d sit in the seat she’d made for herself until she was well into her grave, damn it.
It would cost too much.
“I’m sorry, Harry.”
It was Harry’s voice that followed her past the horrified expressions of his family, yet she couldn’t feel their wide and understanding eyes. She’d helped Harry find them in the hidden corners of India and upon hearing about her impending nuptials they had known. Little quiet glances and stolen moments to place a hand on her shoulder and smile sadly.
They had known within a few moments of seeing them. How had no one else seen what her heart was screaming?
“I’m sorry,” she said, or maybe she repeated. She couldn’t draw the line between her memories and the fantasy, the truth and what should have been. Her arm burned with those horrible letters, a clock’s ticking was shaking the walls of her mind. She had to get out of the area.
She had to leave. Now.
“‘Mione!” It was Harry’s voice still.
Could he not even come after her? Couldn’t he hear her heart screaming?
Tell me you love me.
Tell me you love me!
“It doesn’t work that way,” she gasped, stopping breathless and dizzy by a tree. Her eyes burning as tears streamed down ruining her make-up. “It doesn’t work that way, Mia.”
“I can’t do it,” she gasped, her breath rattling around in her chest, “I can’t do it.”
“What…” Harry cleared his throat, “What… happened up there, Hermione?”
She sniffled, “It doesn’t work that way.”
“What way, Hermione?”
“Me. Us… Marriage,” she shook her head and lowered herself to the ground sobbing, broken.
The pain was creeping up from a distance. The dam had broken. She’d already taken the maximum amount this morning, and it had barely been enough to get out of bed. Occlumency was best used when she wasn’t under emotional distress. Gods, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
“I wanted to call it off weeks ago, months ago. I wanted to tell him no then, but I–I couldn’t. Too cowardly, too scared, and I thought… I thought maybe he would call it off. The look in his eyes said he would, but he said nothing, or maybe, I just said it first.”
“Hermione,” Harry kneeled beside her, “What are you talking about? Oh, Merlin, your arm!”
She scoffed looking down at the gnarled mess of black coming through the glamor, tearing its way out of the glamor as it tore through her Occlumency shields.
“Hermione Granger!” Molly shrieked coming down the pathway, brandishing her wand.
A shield drew up around her and Harry as she cried, deflecting spell after spell without looking at her. What was she defending herself for?
“Mum, stop it!” Ginny cried, “You could at least hear her out.”
“Molly,” Harry cut in. “Please.”
She shook her head, thinking of that speech that Ron didn’t write. It sounded like Harry, maybe Ginny, maybe Molly too. It sounded like the wizarding world demanding just this one last thing for her.
To tell it that she loved it when all she wanted was a place she didn’t have to fight to have and keep.
Tell me that you love me, she’d begged, but she had never gotten an answer from anyone except for Harry. She couldn’t pretend any longer.
“They were beautiful words, Harry,” Harry gasped and his hand flinched on her shoulder. “But they weren’t his… The flowers, the arrangements, everything: it was all beautiful, but it was never us. It was never him or me or anything that it should have been!”
“Hermione, what is this actually about?” Harry said, stroking her back as she sobbed.
“I-I f-fought so hard. Struggled so much and I– I can’t give you this. I can’t give anyone this. I can’t give the wizarding world peace or whatever the rest of my life can be. I’m sorry!”
Harry said nothing as she cried and the black liquid oozing out of the ugly letters on her arm turned to gas dripping into the air and dispersing around them into a thick fog.
“I’ve never heard of anything so ludicrous!” Molly hissed, “You do what–”
“No!” Hermione screamed. A wave of power washed out of her pushing everyone except for Harry back. The fog turned sharp and crackled angrily. “No more, damn it!”
The burst of power had garnered the attention of the attendees who walked towards them as the cloud of black, scentless, smoke surrounded Harry and Hermione.
“Is everything alright?”
“What’s going on?”
Harry stood up, “If everyone would please–”
“Harry,” Molly said, “Don’t defend her! Or is that what this is really about?”
Hermione scrambled for her breathing as moments from writhing on the floor of Malfoy Manor flickered in her eyes.
Ghosts screeched in her ears, What else did you take you filthy little mudblood? Answer me! Answer me! Crucio!
They laughed and leered, You’re just the right size for a decent snack, love. More than a couple bites on you, aren’t there?
The world shimmered and darkled. Darkness swarmed and rushed her. She could smell Bellatrix’s hair and felt the weight of her slight frame on her chest. Her arm burned and achedShe heard the party turn to argue and scream at Harry. She even heard Draco coming to her defense then a voice broke out above the crowd.
Slowly, gliding footsteps crossed the path and people gasped as she raised her head and saw Severus there in his usual black cloak. Had he been among the wedding attendees or had he just shown up? She didn’t know, but he stopped before her, looking down at her. His eyes as dark as ever and his expression as placid.
“Miss Granger, stand up.” She flinched. “Stand up.”
Shakily, she rose to her feet, pushing the agony to the corners of her mind. He took her arm in his hands and frowned at the letters still oozing. The clouds of dark fog crackled with energy, and she winced at the glance of pain that went through her. She held her breath trying to hold on to the present and forcing herself to breathe and continue existing. She felt it tearing through her a little more and fought it.
The pain was coming on quicker than usual. The emotional upheaval of it all was only making it worse.
“You have not been taking good care of it,” Severus said, “I’ll be taking you to St. Mungo’s as soon as this catastrophe is remedied.”
He pulled off his cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders before turning to the crowd. She felt the weight of it, someone how anchoring her to the ground and this world, but it wasn’t doing much for the growing agony.
“Ms. Granger will not be marrying Mr. Weasley today, tomorrow, or any time after. I expect it as much of a relief to him as it is to her.”
“H-How,” Harry cleared his throat. She heard him, but she had to focus on not passing out as the pain burned through all the potion she’d taken that morning, “Hermione, what’s going on?”
She lowered her head, trembling as her stomach started to riot. When had she last had a real meal?
“Miss Granger, as you can see, is not in a position to answer your questions. You might find her much later at St. Mungo’s.”
She heard Draco coming closer, snarking and sneering as he went, “Severus, thank Salazar’s beard.”
Hermione lifted her head and looked at him, Harry, and the rest of the congregation, “Just Harry.”
Draco nodded, “Okay.”
Harry looked between them, and she hoped that he would understand as Severus apparated them to St. Mungo’s and rushed her to the desk. There was a flurry of parchment flying and swirling robes as she was hurried up the stairs to a private room to be examined. The whispers of the waiting room flitted around her.
What a picture she had to make bleeding black fog in her plain white gown.
“How long has it been behaving this way?” the healer asked and Hermione sniffled.
She looked grave before looking up at her, “You understand–”
“I know. Please just contain it if you can.”
Severus remained quiet standing beside the bed as the woman weaved a series of complex containment spells around her arm. She watched them, memorizing the configuration, and realized the woman had no experience with real dark magic. She would just have to wait for Draco to arrive to do it properly or do it herself.
“How much pain potion have you taken today?” Severus asked.
He cursed, “You will cease taking it for at least a week. You have taken to Occlumency too well if you have been doing so regularly.”
She nodded bitterly as he sat down and pulled her into his arms, “Brave. Foolish girl.”
“I… just… wanted someone to love me.”
Severus remained quiet as the tears returned. Soon, Draco arrived in his healer robes with Harry. When she gathered the courage to look at him, her heart clenched. He looked devastated, eyes red, and full of agony. In a breath, he was across the room and wrapping her in his arms. Trembling and holding her so tight as if he thought she would slip away if he didn’t.
“Don’t you ever hide something like this from me again,” Harry sniffled. “I’ll never forgive you, understand?”
She nodded silently, trembling as he stroked her hair and rocked her.
“No matter what, you’ll always be my favorite bookworm.”
She laughed, “Thanks, Harry.”
“We should write up your bucket list, and at the top should be searching for a cure.”
“Harry,” she sighed. “There is no cure.”
“There was no way to defeat the heir of Slytherin. Severus should be dead from Nagini, and I’ve lived through the Killing Curse twice.” She sniffled as he stroked her hair. “There is no such thing as no with enough will. We’ll search the world if we have to. I’m not letting you go so easily.”
“You’re not upset?”
“I’m cross with you for not telling anyone and keeping this all to yourself. I’m cross with myself for not looking closer.”
She squeezed him back, “I’m not ready to tell anyone else.”
Could it ever be that simple? She had no idea, but in Harry’s arms, she thought it might be.
“I love you, Hermione, and one day you will too.”
She nodded into his shoulder.
“While this is touching,” Draco drawled, “You’ll need someone who is actually decent at healing charms and at least as smart as Granger. You’re rubbish.”
“Are you offering up your services, prat?” Harry asked.
Draco’s lips twitched, “I owe you both a debt. I intend to repay it. Don’t look at it as anything more than that.”
Hermione scoffed but said nothing.
“How much longer do they think you have?”
Hermione turned her face into his chest.
“Hermione?” Harry tried to pull back, but she didn’t release him. “Hermione?”
She couldn’t tell him, but she didn’t have to.
Harry got her into every magical specialist in the world, throwing his name around, within a week. As she told him, none of them could be of any help. It had been so long since anyone had actually taught the sort of curse breaking necessary to even begin to understand the way the curse worked, let alone break it. Harry’s eyes refused to accept defeat. When she grew too weak to get out of bed most days, he moved her into Grimmauld Place and barred the entire Weasley family from the premises.
Draco came every few hours to check on her, carting books to read. He’d pillaged the Black Family library for cursed spell books as well as his aunt and uncle’s vaults. There were so many it was near impossible to read them all, but it made the time pass easily.
Severus plied her with various potions for pain and to stave off the damage, but without the glamorous in place, it was clear they did little to help. Aside from that, he spent many hours at her bedside when neither Draco or Harry were available, lecturing on the finer points of alchemy and potion theory.
Not once did he call her insufferable, no matter how many questions she asked. It was almost nice.
She woke up one day surrounded by darkness, hearing Harry weeping at her bedside, holding her hand.
“Please, Hermione… Please.”
She smiled and stroked his hair, “You’ll be fine, Harry.”
Draco entered, waving his wand and casting another binding spell over her arm. The curse hissed and crackled against the bands that snapped and broke, but Draco was determined, casting wave after wave.
Hermione thought it funny. The young boy who had once wished her dead was pushing himself to magical exhaustion to prolong her life. Perhaps he loved her too.
She smiled, perhaps he loved her too.
“Tell me…?” Hermione gasped.
Harry squeezed her hand, “I love you, Hermione. Please… please don’t leave.”
She squeezed his hand, “No, Harry… tell me you’ll be okay. Tell me… you’ll be happy.”
His eyes widened and his jaw trembled. Tears rushed down his cheeks, and he let out a shuddering breath.
“I’ll…” He squeezed her hand. “…I’ll be okay, Hermione… I’ll be happy.”
Hermione nodded, “I know.”
Then, he was screaming. Draco’s voice joined Harry’s, rattling the room and shaking the darkness as she closed her eyes and slipped into the dark fog filling the air. For a moment, she saw Draco screaming at her unmoving body, and saw the dark ugly crack carving through her arm in a large open wound.
“No! No! No!”
She watched her body start to evaporate and vanish into the walls of Grimmauld Place. Then, she felt larger, spread out and mingling with such a vast darkness, lost in it and mingled with a long complicated history she could have never imagined. She saw Sirius as a child and Bellatrix, Andromeda and Cygnus. She saw James just once and someone with wild black hair like Harry’s.
Days passed and Harry had not left the bedroom she’d once been. Severus came by often attempting to prod him from places, but Harry didn’t move.
You promised, Harry.
Sometimes, he lifted his head and turned searching for her before his shoulders slumped. Sometimes, Draco came by and threatened every portrait in the house for answers, but the longer it went on, the clearer it was that they were giving up. Harry and Ginny had a long conversation about their relationship. Then, he and Ron spoke. There were so many people present for what she assumed was meant to be her memorial service.
How many of them had loved her?
Viktor was there as was Cormac, red-eyed and regretful. Perhaps there were words they should have exchanged before she no longer could, but it was good to see them.
Weeks and months slipped by. Harry and Draco redecorated the house, including a portrait of her that told Harry to take care of himself every day. Draco came over with Astoria sometimes. Harry’s girlfriends changed every so often, before settling on a sweet looking woman who made the perfect treacle tart.
She watched Harry carry his bride into the house, smiling before nodding and settling beneath the floorboards into a deep sleep.
Bellatrix could have this victory.
Hermione had hers.