A/N: Baby's On Fire belongs to Brian Eno. Hermione, Snape, McGonagall, Harry, Ron. . . they belong to J.K. I just own their sentimental sides.
Dedicated to Storm and Dia, my fellow PSS-- even though they never invite me along on the fun!-- because they're my HP fic idols.
Necessary for Her Learning
//Baby's on fire
Better throw her in the water
Look at her laughing
Like a heifer to the slaughter//
The metallic draught of blood, still fresh on his tongue. The cold, slippery surface he lay on-- grass, he realized dimly, wet with some dark stain-- he shuddered and withdrew his hand. The stench of fear and death combined infused into the air, and he shut his eyes, willing himself not to wake, not to see, not to see. The smell would penetrate soon, and he would feel his stomach burn and retch, facing the long nights of staring into empty eyes and cold hands.
But it was the laughter that caught him first, before he took his full breath or looked around the battlefield. Laughter. Not victorious, as they had all prayed for. But not the cold, high laugh of the Dark Lord. No, this laugh. . . he cringed back, knowing.
It was the laugh of a survivor.
Desperate, pleading, raw, and edged with hysteria. He reluctantly forced his eyes open, allowing his vision to only skim the horizon, searching for that laugh. Potter? It would be just like him, to stand and laugh at the defeat of the Dark Lord, ignoring all the other casualties. He forced a thin bitter smile to his face. Of course. The boy who lived would live again, and again, even with Albus Dumbledore dead, with so many dead beside him,
His eyes settled on a single figure, shaking and laughing in that terrible, broken fashion. Distinctly feminine, he noted dispassionately, rising to go to her. Her robes hung in torn strips on her slender body, and her hair hung about her face, matted with blood and dirt. She raised trembling hands to her face to push the soiled locks onto her neck, and he started.
She continued to laugh as he approached her, but it grew softer, more unsure, sometimes stopping altogether and replacing itself with quiet moans. He felt the sudden twist of aching empathy. Poor girl. Poor, stupid girl, finally made to learn one lesson never found in books. She knelt and tugged on a body lying near her.
Come on, now, she said, her voice terrified and ragged. Come on, Harry, he's gone.
He stopped behind her, and, with an unexpected throb of grief, looked down at the still figure beside her. So Potter was dead. He blinked back the sudden sting of tears. The boy who lived--
Harry, come on. Granger pulled harder on a limp arm, her fingers closing tightly around a clammy wrist. We have to go find Ron, Harry.
His brow furrowed, and he halted his movement. But Weasley was dead as well, was one of the first to fall. Granger had been there. He remembered, dimly, a sudden, wrenching scream from Granger when he died. He had strode on, his eyes focused on the next circle of Death Eaters, as Lupin sank to his knees beside the girl, holding her for a brief moment of solace before they both rose to follow him.
We have to go find Ron, Granger pleaded, and she swiped across her eyes with a dirty hand. Please, Harry. I don't-- I don't know where anyone is, we have to go get Ron. I don't know! her voice broke, and she began to pluck frantically at Potter's robes. I don't--
Granger froze at the sound of his voice, her entire profile turning to icy hatred. She crouched down beside Potter and wrapped her arms around her knees, humming a soft melody. The music was filled with frightened tension, a sharp-edged pattern of notes that she choked out.
She didn't respond, but began instead to rock back and forth, still whimpering that strange little song in her throat. Her lips moved slightly now and then, but the it was only the guttural music that filled the otherwise silent field.
he said again, kneeling next to her and placing his hands on her slim shoulders. Granger, look at me.
she said clearly, her gaze still focused towards Potter.
he agreed impatiently.
He's dead, she said absently.
He furrowed his brow at the sudden sign of lucidity. Granger's eyes shifted to meet his, and he knew then, that Granger understood. She lowered her lashes after a split second, but the haunted expression in those eyes lingered with him.
Harry killed him, she clarified, beginning to speak more clearly. Voldemort's dead. She gave a hoarse little laugh. We can speak his name now, he's really dead, she was speaking more quickly now, struggling to get the words out before her next tumbled over them. But-- Professor-- her hand closed around a handful of his robe. Harry's not responding, I'm worried that something's really-- really wrong, Professor. Can we-- can we do something?
His hands closed over the fistful of robe Granger held. Her fingers were oddly warm under his, warm with unwanted life and shuddering with repressed emotion. Granger looked down at his hands and raised her face to his again.
You have long fingers, she said then, after a moment. Artist fingers. That's what my mum calls them. She's a dentist, you know. They're always worried about me. She sighed deeply, the action taking all the defiance from her slender shoulders. I'm Muggle born.
That's all right, he replied.
Granger gave a sob that was half of relief, half of some tearing sadness, and her head sank down to rest on their intertwined hands. He pulled her close to him so they huddled on the cold ground together, and she wrapped her arms around his waist. He noted dispassionately that she didn't appear to be going through shock, which was a good sign-- all the mediwizards would be otherwise occupied when they arrived.
A faint part of his mind reminded him that this was Granger in his arms, the second most annoying creature in the school--following, of course, the much-vaunted Potter. But Potter was dead now, and the girl. . .the woman curled near him had suffered enough today.
//Baby's on fire
And all the laughing boys are bitching
Waiting for photos
Oh the plot is so bewitching//
She did not cry, as he had rather hoped she would. . . the emotional release, he knew, would be messy but workable, but Granger merely clung tightly to the loose fabric of his robes, staring off at the field and the bodies that littered it. Eventually he took her chin and turned it to face his chest, holding tightly to her all the while. The best thing he could do for her was to keep her safe, away from any leftover attacks and her own demons. There would be time enough for her to face the memories of the final battle in the coming days.
He became conscious of a certain softness in the skin beneath her robes, a gentle warmth that flowed into his own body. He had rarely held another woman in a matter that was not sexual-- and even those perfunctory encounters had ceased entirely in the past years. But this . . . embrace, he supposed, was not passionate, but nor was it paternal. He imagined, briefly, that this would how a husband would lay by a wife. This quietness, a stolen moment of rest.
He'd never wanted a wife, he realized, tucking his chin on her matted hair, idly stroking the frizzy locks with a slim hand. Too much of a bastard, the rest of the world would say, but for his part, too little of one. He liked things to be remote and cold, potions that simmered like ice in glass bottles. Sex was some sweat-stained, awkward reach for ectascy.
It was too grasping, too desperate, too animal. He thought of a cold space in a bed, huddled on the edge of the mattress, elbows turned sharply out.
He thought of a woman, thin black hair feathering the curve of her shoulder. He remembered half-fumbled, nervous kisses, and the fire-wet trails of a tongue edging themselves into his mouth. He thought, strangely, of a slim young girl with bushy hair and white palms, carefully shredding herbs and scattering over a potion. They superimposed themselves in his mind, inky hair fading into ashy blonde, pale grey eyes darkening to almost-black.
Granger's breath softened, becoming a little more even, and he wondered vaguely if she would push away, horrified at the thought of being cradled by the old bastard of her Potion's teacher. The idea caused him a pang so sudden that it startled him from complacency, and he realized that it would hurt to feel those slim young arms scrambling away from him. The feel of her awoke old senses, long since dulled by the constant odor and texture of boiling poisons. He thought he smelled a light herbal scent beneath the sharpened smell of blood. Aloe and peppermint, tea tree oil burning beneath them both. The soft lushness of skin, the fine breath of hairs grazed across her arms. He felt-- and waited for Granger to pull away.
She did not.
//Rescuers row, row
Do your best to change the subject
Blow the wind blow, blow
Lend some assistance to the object//
It was he who eventually released her when the rescue team arrived. How many hours too late, he questioned silently as Granger submitted to a prodding examination. He'd suffered several blows himself, and tried to ignore the knowing looks of the medical team. Yes, he'd survived through sheer damn stubbornness. It was a very Gryffindor-like quality, he reflected sourly, and one that he'd thought Potter would cling to for the last. It'd been so very wrong, he thought grimly, to have expected that child to save them all. He'd defeated the Dark Lord, but gods, he had been a child.
Granger had been a child once, he remembered dimly, thinking of the silly girl in Potions class, laughing with Potter and Weasley after lessons, charging through the school yet another idiotic stunt that brought victory. Perhaps. . . perhaps if they'd failed, just once, if they'd been injured too much to finish just one quest, they would have learned how to play on the battlefield without losing.
And now Granger was left alive. Perhaps she was the best of the three to have survived-- the life of a survivor would have haunted Potter, and Weasley would have faded away, too much to distinguish the once-forgotten boy. There had been rumours, he remembered, of Granger and Weasley, of soft looks traded between their arguments.
There would be no more rumours.
It was Minerva, half her hair burned off, her fingers heavily bandaged, wrapped tightly in some blanket. Her eyes met his, and he nearly stepped back, so stunned at the despair that still lingered there. Life would end here for many of those who had fought-- some were already dead, the rest would exist until they joined them.
he said curtly, jerking his head towards the silent figure, now standing alone.
Oh. . . Minerva's eyes squeezed shut under the pressure of tears, and he watched as a single bead of water slid down her weathered cheek. Minerva, so strong and compassionate. She would be a decent successor to Albus, he thought. She would raise up the bloodied children of today into tomorrow's innocents. She touched his hand, briefly, and he was left with the momentary impression of warmth until it fled.
I'll go speak with her, she promised, and hurried over to the girl. He watched the two of them for a moment longer, wondering if he had done the right thing. Minerva would put her arm around the girl, tuck her head close to a slumped shoulder, try to tell her of flaming victory when all the girl could see were ashes.
Take your time she's only burning
This kind of experience
Is necessary for her learning//
Life eventually returned to normalcy, as it must. A few of the recent graduates stayed on at Hogwarts, healing and keeping counsel in hushed corners. Granger, strangely, began coming to his classes, preparing his materials, occasionally demonstrating for him. But mostly, she stood in the shadows of the dungeons, stirring thick liquids for healing potions, her eyes blank and empty. Occasionally she would hesitate, and glance around, struggling to understand why she was here in this dank stone room. Her eyes would flick to him, and he would watch as her brows drew together, puzzled as to why she was watching him, why she kept thinking a fleeting embrace on a field wet with blood.
People came to talk, and he would study her as they did. He learned her frightened pose of a straight back and hands neatly folded in a lap, her carefully mouthed answers and tiny smiles.
Yes, she was quite well where she was, thank you.
No, she didn't particularly wish to discuss the last battle. Yes, it was still painful to think of.
Yes, she was considering a position within the field of Potions.
Professor Snape and she had formed a nice understanding, thank you for your trouble.
He began to watch her continually, memorizing the sway of her hair against the back of her neck. She raised her slim fingers to her neck as she read, nervously tapping against her skin as if she could feel his gaze burning there. She lingered after class to speak with him, her eyes falling to study his hands as they discussed potions. Occasionally a strange look of appraisal would cross her features, and she would open her mouth as if to speak.
He waited for her. He would not be the one to close what had opened on the battlefield-- no, he would leave the choice in Granger's . . .in Hermione's hands. He carefully ignored the strange awakening that her presence wrought in him, the miniscule softening of his voice, the gentle way he chopped ingredients before the fire. They stood together, their shoulders occasionally bumping, sending unwanted thrills at the contract through him.
He would wait, he told himself.
Watch and wait for her, and if she came. . .
//But baby's on fire
And all the instruments agree that
Her temperature's rising
But any idiot would know that//
She did, one cold night when she slipped down to the dungeons, shivering against the sharp brush of night air in her thin cotton gown, her hair falling in gingered contrast to her white shoulders. She rested a slim hand against the post of his bed, watching him with those maddening, haunted dark eyes.
he began, sitting up and feeling very thankful that he'd worn his heavy black nightshirt that night. He couldn't help feeling that this was wrong, that he was robbing her from happiness with the conspiracy of fate--
Just hold me, she said harshly, and slid into bed beside him, arranging it so her hair fell across his chest, her hand snaking into his.
He held her, and wondered how many more nights they would have of this before she tired of remembering. Perhaps, this too would come to lips, meeting in some desperate need for release, the need to forget and remember at the same time. Maybe they would find the courage to push aside the thin barriers of cloth and terror, and touch each other, trying to find spaces to shove themselves into to join. Perhaps they would hold onto each other until that was all they needed, and then it might turn to something greater.
But that was later, and all he could do tonight was hold her. Hold her and watch the fire burn, casting reflections of flame onto her skin.