Chapter 14

Depth Over Distance by Ben Howard

A/N: Big shoutout to my girl Primrue for being the 100th reviewer to this story. Also thank you all for your patience. Onwards !

Hermione had sought out refuge in Grimmauld's large library, ensconced in a large armchair, towers of books about the history of Uagadou encircling her. Remus had asked her to research their particular customs in the hopes that she might find something to help Harry and the others during their visit there. She was surprised by the number of books she had found on the subject, she couldn't imagine anyone in the Black family to be interested in the topic.

Ordinarily, Hermione would have loved to be given such a task, but spending time in the library no longer brought her joy. She had always counted on the almost reverential silence of the place and the knowledge hidden between the pages of a book to bring her comfort and solace, to distract her from all the problems surrounding her and most importantly to make sense of it all. This was no longer the case. Nothing, not even the most complex book could distract her from the swirling mess inside her head.

Hermione stared blankly at the page in front of her. She had read it through three times already, yet she wouldn't have been able to tell anyone what it was about. She sighed loudly, pinching the bridge of her nose in exasperation, her eyes trailing back to the top of the page. It frightened her to think that reading no longer brought her joy and instead filled her with dread, like a chore she was being forced to do.

The door of the library creaked open and Hermione kept her head down, trying to sink deeper into the large armchair she was sitting in, in the hopes of not being discovered.

"Mione?" Ron half whispered in that way that was so particular to him and which always managed to infuriate her.

She held her breath as the floorboards creaked under his weight as he made his way into the room.

"There you are," he said as he inched around the armchair she was sitting in. Hermione had to stop herself from sighing out in irritation. "I've been looking everywhere for you."

Hermione highly doubted he had been looking everywhere for her, she doubted he had even been looking for her for more than ten minutes. After all, he had the attention span of a flobberworm.

Her spitefulness caught her off guard and her eyes opened wide as the words came to her mind. She had noticed of late how irritable she was. The slightest word or movement would be enough to send her into overdrive, and she often found herself snapping at people for no apparent reason. Feelings of anger and resentment were constantly floating to the top like excess fat in a stew.

Today was not one of those days. Today had been a particularly trying day, and she had had to deal with more than one inane request from fellow schoolmates and even the solace of books hadn't managed to soothe her. It had done quite the opposite, it had made her irate.

"What do you want?" Hermione asked, closing the book on her lap with a snap and balancing it on the armrest.

Ron sighed and sat down on the coffee table in front of her, awkwardly rubbing his neck.

"I'm going with Harry to Uagadou," he said as he leaned forward, his elbows resting on his thighs.

She stared at him, her eyes blinking slowly as she slowly processed the words. As the seconds ticked away panic slowly started to rise in her chest, contracting her lungs until her chest was so tight she couldn't breathe. Her lungs felt like sandpaper gritting painfully against her ribcage.

"Harry needs someone with him. He can't go there alone," Ron continued, shrugging his shoulders, his eyes tightly fixed on the floor.

The realisation that they were both going, leaving her alone to fend for herself was too difficult to comprehend, too absurd. They'd always done everything together.

"I wanted you to come too. I asked Kingsley, but they didn't think it would be a good idea. Not after…" Ron didn't finish his sentence, instead, he let the words hang ominously in the air as if saying it would somehow jinx it.

"I can't believe you're leaving me too," Hermione said, a harsh edge in her voice. "We were supposed to do this together."

"Things have changed Hermione. This war is bigger than we expected and we can't keep running around the woods hoping for the best."

"I know that," Hermione snapped. "I'm angry that you didn't think it was necessary to include me in the conversation. The two of you have been avoiding me for weeks. Days go by without you even saying a word to me."

"That's not fair," Ron said. "We've been trying, but you keep pushing us away and there's only so much we can do."

"I haven't been pushing you away," Hermione said rolling her eyes at him.

"But you have Hermione, you have. After what happened at Gringotts, Harry and I would come and talk to you about what had happened and you'd just shut us out."

"Did you ever think that maybe I didn't want to talk about it," she interrupted, her heart beating faster at the mention of Gringotts.

"As a matter of fact we did," Ron answered, his tone of voice only grating on Hermione's nerves further. "We stopped mentioning Gringotts to you, instead we would talk about Quidditch, mum being overly dramatic, the goblin wars. But nothing seemed to interest you. You just refused to talk to anyone."

Hermione felt a twinge of remorse at Ron's words. She hadn't realised just how much she had been pushing Harry and Ron away. She had been so preoccupied with trying to ignore her problems that she hadn't realised she had also been pushing her friends away.

"That's not true. I talk to people, you just… you don't understand," Hermione said, hitting her hands against the cushions in frustration.

Ron's face fell at her words and he sighed loudly, running his hands through his hair, defeated. "You're right Hermione. I don't understand and you don't want to explain it to me. So why should I stay here, it's not going to change anything. You clearly don't want my help."

He stood up and walked around the table to stand behind the opposite armchair, his features were pulled tight and his face, that had been tan from living out in the open, had taken on a sudden pallor that emphasised the bags under his eyes. Hermione felt a wave of anger surge through her. She might have been a bit guarded, but they hadn't tried enough to help her, to support her. They had abandoned her at the first hurdle and were running away as far away as possible so as not to deal with her. A small voice inside her head tried to convince her that she was being ridiculous, these were her friends they would never do anything to hurt her and would support her, but she quickly brushed the thought away.

"You're right," Hermione said, watching as Ron's eyes widened in surprised. "I don't need you here." His face fell and he visibly recoiled from the sheer spitefulness of her words.

"I don't need anyone around me who doesn't understand me. So leave with Harry, I don't care. I'll be better off without you."

"Mione," Ron moaned, staring at her with uncomprehending eyes.

"I said go. That's what you wanted isn't it?" She snapped, picking up the book she had been reading and opening it to where she had left it.

Ron stood staring at her for a while longer before he slowly shuffled out of the room. Hermione didn't look up as he left, her eyes blankly staring at the words on the page, her heart beating frantically in her chest.

Hermione crept into the empty room on the fourth floor, glancing over her shoulder to make sure she wasn't being followed. The one benefit of working with Remus was that she always knew which rooms were empty and for how long. With the constant coming and going of people in the house, it was useful information to have, especially when you wanted a little quiet time like she did now.

She hadn't seen or spoken to Ron since their fight, two days ago. She had gone too far and had regretted her words almost instantly, but by that time the mistake was already made. In a way, Ron had been right, they needed the space after having spent so long together in such tense environment something was bound to give. The revelation surprised her, when had Ron become the sensible one? How had their roles changed so drastically that she was the one getting hot headed.

She shut the door behind her with a soft click before making her way to one of the chairs using the dim light of her wand to make her way, not wanting to attract anyone by turning the lights on.

"You're going to have to find somewhere else to hide Granger," came the impeccable drawl of Theodore Nott. "I got here first."

Hermione jumped back in surprise, almost dropping her wand in surprise as her heart hammered in her chest. She took a deep breath to steady herself as she lifted her slightly trembling wand at him.

Theo was sprawled on the large double bed, a glass of Firewhiskey carefully balanced on his thigh. Hermione's eyes carefully scanned up his body, taking in his wand carelessly thrown across the bed and ending on his face.

She winced at the sight of it, even through the dim light Hermione could still make out the damage inflicted there. His left eye was swollen shut and the skin around it was a dark shade of blue. There was a deep gash above his eyebrow and a trail of blood had dried to a dirty brown down the side of his face.

"You should see the other guy," Theo said trying to smile despite the split lip that hindered him.

"What happened?" Hermione asked, her curiosity getting the better of her. She eyed the distance between her and the door as she tentatively took a seat on the small bench at the end of the bed.

It seemed reckless to stay alone in a room with an ex-Death Eater. But given the choice, she'd rather stay here than go back out and face everyone else and their sympathetic looks.

"I took Kingsley's offer and this," he said, lifting his glass and indicating his face, "is to make my story more believable to the Dark Lord. McLaggen took great pleasure with his task. Can't say the same about Macmillan, he was a bit of a wet blanket. Typical Hufflepuff if you ask me."

The Slytherin swirled the amber liquid in his glass before taking a sip, setting the glass down on the bedside table with a bang. Taking a deep breath he pushed himself into a more upright position, wincing as pain shot through his body at the effort.

"Why did you say yes?" Hermione asked. His decision went against everything she knew about Slytherins and their self-preserving ways. "You could be in a safe house away from all of this."

Theo picked up his glass and took another sip before pressing the cool glass to his sore eye. "Us Slytherins might not run recklessly into a situation to save someone like you Gryffindors do, after all, we value our lives too much. And who wouldn't, I mean look at me, it would be a shame to disfigure this face. But we protect those in our House, especially those we care for." Theo paused and took another sip from his glass before continuing. "Because if we don't who will?"

Theo's words took Hermione by surprise. She had never thought that there'd be more to Slytherins than their inherently evil and cruel reputation. She had judged them based on preconceived knowledge, had never tried to find out if what she had been told was true or not. She prided herself on not being fair but that wasn't the truth, she was just as bias as they were. Only she didn't go around spewing hatred.

"When I was captured, I left people behind who I promised to look after. If that means I have to go back and play nice with that maniacal snake face so be it, as long as I get them back,' he said with an air of fatality.

"Did you ever think that things would have been simpler if you hadn't joined them," Hermione asked, self-righteousness dripping out of every word.

"For a lot of us, following the Dark Lord was not something we ever wanted. It was something we were told to do. We were never given a choice. If we disobeyed we were killed. And only if we were lucky. There are some things that are worse than death."

The weight of his words hung heavily on Hermione's mind. She knew better than anyone the truth of that statement. The two of them sat in silence, his eyes fixed on the opposite wall, his eyes unfocused.

"Are you still responsible for your actions when someone else is making the decision?" He finally said, breaking the silence. Hermione was unsure if he wanted her to answer or if he was just voicing his thoughts.

"There are things that I have done and things that I have seen that would make anyone sick. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it. I thoroughly recommend drinking," he quipped, tipping his glass at her and emptying its contents in one gulp.

"It's not that easy for others though," he continued, his face taking a dark turn. "Daphne isn't dealing with it well. The memories, they haunt her. She wakes up every night screaming from the nightmares."

Hermione bristled at his words, retreating into herself. The conversation was moving into too dangerous a territory and it made her feel uncomfortable.

"When we are marked, they make us do all kinds of things to see if we are really worthy of joining their ranks. Whatever they made her do was enough to traumatise her for a lifetime. She was never the same after that. She wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming, her sheets soaked in blood from having clawed at herself in an attempt to escape whatever her dream was about. For a long time, she refused to talk about it, going around pretending that nothing had happened until it got so bad, she couldn't pretend any longer."

Hermione felt uncomfortable with the direction in which the story was going. She shuffled further down the bench until she was almost falling off.

"We sat her down and made her talk about it. It wasn't going to make it all go away but it meant that she didn't have to deal with it on her own, and we could try to help her through it. She was too embarrassed to admit that she wasn't coping. The thing is, none of us are, not really. Nobody should have to shoulder that kind of burden on their own."

"Why are you telling me this?" Hermione asked, an ominous feeling pervading her senses. "It's got nothing to do with me."

Theo snorted into his glass. "Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that one night, not long after you and the two bright sparks you call your friends broke into Gringotts I walked into Dolohov and a group of others making full use of the Malfoys Firewhiskey stock. Dolohov was bragging about the attack and how he had managed to corner and torture the 'Mudblood bitch.'"

Hermione visibly recoiled at his words as if they too held the power to inflict pain.

"He told everyone how he had used a Muggle techniques on her," Theo continued even after having noticed her reaction, he wasn't here to coddle anyone. "He told them how he had made the bitch scream out in pain, how he had made her cry, how he had made her beg. How he had Crucio'd her and then drowned her over and over again."

"Stop it !" Hermione yelled. STOP IT!" Her hands flew to cover her ears as she rocked herself back and forth, the images of that day flashing through her mind as Theo brought them to life.

Tears filled her eyes making the room look blurry. She jumped to her feet, stumbling slightly, as she rushed to the door, not noticing Theo attempting to push himself upright. Only knowing that she had to away from this conversation, this room, this nightmare.