She sat on the couch once with her parents two days after it happened, watched Bella's tearful face give a statement to the reporter on the news. She watched her lie through her teeth in a frighteningly believable dramatic display and her mother asked, "Aren't they friends of Tom's?"
She wanted to jump out of her skin. She wanted to burst into tears and tell them everything and she wanted to never speak to them again, she wanted to go upstairs and crawl into her bed and never see anyone again, she wanted to storm out the door and find Tom. She wanted to curl up into a ball and never speak again and she wanted to scream and scream and scream—
She did none of these things. Instead she said, "Yes, I met Bella and Rodolphus at the funeral."
"God," Her mother sighed, "Isn't it tragic?"
Hermione didn't respond. Her father changed the channel.
Bella went to France once the deaths were officially ruled a murder-suicide. She gave Hermione a call before she went, and through the sarcastic quips and the jokes made in poor taste, Hermione couldn't help but think it was her way of making sure she was okay.
And Hermione was. She was fine. She was alive and safe and happy and she was fine.
She split her time between Harry, Ron, Lavender, or the three of them together, and any moment that she wasn't with one of them she was with Tom. She scarcely spent a moment alone, in fact, and made a concerted effort to be out of her own home as much as possible. Her mother joked about it—"Who are you and what have you done with our homebody daughter?"—and Hermione would smile and roll her eyes on her way out the door, but the truth of the matter was, she felt better the more she could keep her mind occupied. Whether it was with Harry figuring out his college plans, with Ron helping him pick out a present for Lavender's birthday, with Lavender refusing to tell her what it was Ron got her, or with Tom. It was easiest with Tom.
When she looked at him she didn't think of that night, shaking with fear with blood on her hands, clutching at him like he was the only thing keeping her sanity in tact. Instead, when she looked at him she only saw her dearest friend, the person who had been there for her for almost her entire life.
The truth of the matter was, Hermione went the entire first month of summer without really dwelling on everything that had happened. She thought of it in passing or course, that moment with her parents for instance, when Bella called her to say she was leaving the UK for the summer, when Harry occasionally asked her how she was holding up or when Lavender hounded her for details of her first time with Tom. But she didn't dwell on it.
It probably wasn't healthy, to shove those memories away every time they tried to emerge. But it was easier, sometimes.
Tom bought a flat in Kensington. It was small, just a studio, but it was nice and bright and private and it had a large kitchen for its size. She tried not to spend too much time at his flat, because the more nights she stayed there the more her parents would hound her about safe-sex and responsible life decisions, but even still she could be found there more often than not.
She learned a lot about Tom in the time she spent with him in his flat that she was surprised she didn't know already. He could cook, for one, a skill he had apparently picked up while at university. And he was a bit of a snob when it came to food, something that she found endlessly amusing, especially with the amount of pointlessly expensive brands of food he had stocking his shelves. He was more relaxed there, he ran his hands through his hair sometimes and made irritated expressions at inanimate objects that didn't operate properly and acted like a right arsehole about almost everything without reserves, but she liked him that way. Open and honest and without the usual walls.
It was easy being with him.
Or at least, it was familiar. She wasn't sure she would ever put Tom Riddle and easy in the same sentence.
"Are you sulking?" She asked him one morning. He was cooking breakfast as he usually did, and she was sat upon the kitchen counter. She didn't always watch him while he cooked, usually busying herself with something else—reading, usually, but sometimes she'd find something else to do, whether it be watching the telly or talking on the phone with Lavender or Bella, the latter would usually include Tom very obviously listening in—but sometimes she liked to watch him. Especially breakfast. He was always handsome, but there was something about a sleep-mussed Tom shuffling around the kitchen, intermittently taking sips from a large cup of black coffee and setting it on the counter to focus on what he was cooking.
If he passed her where she sat to retrieve something from a cabinet or the fridge or otherwise, he would always reach out for her, his hand resting briefly on her thigh as he reached into the cabinet beside her, or his fingers trailing down her calves as he passed. That was her favorite part about watching him, about being in his flat in general. The distracted touches, the way he didn't hesitate in reaching for her when they were in private, in touching her for no reason, simply because he wanted to.
This particular morning, he didn't reach for her much at all. And he was, in fact, sulking. Even if he didn't admit it. When she asked, he scowled in her general direction and didn't answer.
"This is why I didn't mention it last night," She told him, her fingers curling around his mug of coffee. He didn't make enough for the both of them that morning—probably on purpose, since he was sulking—so she was stealing sips from his instead. "You always get like this."
He reached over and plucked the mug from her grasp, his other hand wielding a spatula and moving eggs around the pan. He still didn't answer.
"You are such a child." She told him. "Harry, Ron, and Lavender were there, and he just joined us for coffee. For christ sake, he's dating someone else now, I don't know why—"
"I'm not sulking." He cut her off, still sulking.
"Yes you are," She argued. He set his mug on the counter so he could lift the pan to scrape the eggs off the pan and onto two plates. "I suppose I shouldn't tell you that he says hello."
"I don't care if he says hello," He murmured, "I don't care about any of this. I'm not sulking." He was using that 'dangerous' tone of voice, the one he used when he was trying to intimidate someone. Hermione laughed.
"Hm," She raised an eyebrow in his direction, and her dismissive noise drew his eyes to her. "If you recall, I left him for you. There's really no need to be jealous."
"I don't give a fuck about Viktor Krum." He said, with the same tone of voice as before. He obviously wanted her to drop the subject. She pursed her lips to try to keep back a smile and failed miserably.
"Alright," She said, reaching for his mug to take a sip, "Of course. Obviously. So you must be sulking for an entirely different reason then—"
He moved toward her, taking the mug from her lips and setting it on the counter beside her as he moved between her knees. "How is he, then? Since you so desperately wish to speak about him," His nose brushed against hers and then continued across her cheek, "Still disgustingly in love with you?"
"Do you ever listen to anything I say?" She asked, but quieter now, she always went quiet when he was so near. It didn't feel right to speak at a normal volume. "He has a girlfriend. He's moving Manchester to play football. He stopped to have a coffee with all of us, not just me."
Tom hummed, pressing a chaste kiss to her cheek, and then to the corner of her jaw, and then an open-mouths kiss against her throat.
"And you think everyone is in love with me," She told him, "The only one disgustingly in love with me is you."
He responded by sinking his teeth into the place her throat met her shoulder. She breathed in sharply, hooking her ankles together behind him so she could drag him closer. "Our breakfast," She reminded him as his hands slid up her bare thighs. He ignored her, his hands moving further up until they slid underneath the shirt she had borrowed from him in order to hook into the waistband of her knickers. Her hands gripped his forearms and she shook him lightly so that he would stop. "As happy as I am that you're through sulking, I really am hungry."
He rested his forehead on her shoulder and let out a tired sigh, then lifted his head to meet her eyes. "Don't see Viktor Krum again." He told her. Hermione snorted, a sound that quite clearly communicated she had no intention of listening to him.
"I'm not going to isolate myself from the entirety of the human race just because you're a possessive arsehole," She told him, but she softened her words by running both her hands through his hair. He closed his eyes as she did, and sh threaded her fingers together at the back of his neck, smiled, and said, "You don't need to worry, the only person I'm disgustingly in love with is you."
That's why it was easy to forget about things she didn't want to think about with him, because he was still the same Tom he had always been. He was difficult and short-tempered and she wanted to kiss him and strangle him in equal measure, and she knew him. Sometimes, when she dwelled on the state of things for too long, and she started to feel like she might not even know herself anymore, like she was different than she had been before, when life seemed broken down into a before and after centered around that night and the after was an unfamiliar nightmare and she felt lost and angry and alone he was still Tom, and that very fact brought with it a sense of comfort. That no matter what happened, no matter what had already happened, he would always be Tom.
She never told him any of this. She felt it would be unfair, somehow, to let him know how much she relied on him just to keep her from losing her mind.
Sometimes it was harder with Harry.
Harry was just always so impossibly earnest, concerned with the wellbeing of his friends and unwilling to let a subject go if he felt it was important enough, not to mention the degree of responsibility he placed on himself to ensure his friend's happiness. She was lucky that he was, for the most part, hopelessly oblivious to everything. But he had seen the aftereffects of the incident, had been there to comfort her through the worst moment of her life, and oblivious as he may be he wasn't an imbecile.
So he brought it up sometimes. Her only warning would be a concerned wrinkle between his eyebrows as he stared at her for a quiet moment before he inevitably asked, "So how are you?" or something of the like.
They were sat in his basement, mid-July, filling out applications for university. "It's a bit late to apply for this September," She told him, opening up his laptop as she took a seat on his couch. They were in his basement, his laptop in Hermione's lap as Harry sat beside her and peered over her shoulder. "Some universities might offer a January start, but I think you're better off just taking a gap year so you can decide what you want to do—"
"I know what I want to do." He said.
She turned her head to stare at him. "You do?"
"Uh, yeah." He said, rubbing the back of his neck, "I think I—well, I know—I uh, want to teach?
Hermione was quiet for a moment, and it seemed the longer she was quiet the more self-conscious Harry got about his answer. "What brought this on?" She asked.
He shrugged, and his cheeks went pink. "I don't know, just—a friend of mine mentioned it might be a good idea, and the more I thought of it, the more I thought…yeah. You know? Like…I could do that."
Hermione watched him for a moment, then smiled a bit bemusedly. "I think that's a good idea, Harry," She said, her hand on his shoulder. He smiled and shrugged, "What friend?"
"Uh—" His face went through a complicated set of emotions, "What?"
"What friend told you that?" She asked again.
"Uh—you know—you don't know them actually."
"Harry, I know all of your friends." She told him.
"No you don't," He argued.
"Why are you getting so cagey about this—"
"I'm not cagey—" He groaned, "Can you just help me with applications or something, isn't that what you came here for—"
"Okay, fine, keep them a secret if you want," She said, "Don't know why you can't tell me, but—"
"Hermione," he groaned, "Don't be like that."
"I'm not being like anything," She argued, turning back to the laptop, shrugging her shoulders in a way that was anything but unbothered, "I mean, obviously they're a close friend if you're basing life decisions on their opinion—" Harry groaned loudly, throwing his head back, but she just raised her voice so he could still hear her, "—but it's none of my business who you hang out with, really, I'm only your best friend, after all—"
"You just don't like them, okay?" He said, "That's all. You'll think it's…weird."
She narrowed her eyes, watching him for a moment. His cheeks were still pink, and he was scratching his cheek in a nervous gesture. She pursed her lips, set his laptop on the floor in front of the couch and turned to face him completely, crossing her legs on the couch. "I won't." She assured him.
"I think it's weird." He said. Hermione frowned.
"Is this the same person you were with when I called you?" She asked. His ears were pink now, too. "Is it a girlfriend?"
"What—no. No? No! Why would it be—why do you think—why does it have to be a girlfriend? I don't even—I mean—it's not even a girl, first of all—"
"A boyfriend?" She asked,, her eyebrows practically jumping off her forehead, "I didn't know you were—"
"I'm not—" He choked, and his face was bright red now. Hermione hadn't meant to embarrass him, had only asked out of genuine curiosity. "I mean—well, it's not like I can't appreciate an attractive bloke now and then—not that that has anything to do with—this isn't—I mean I don't even like blokes, really—and even if I did, maybe, sort of like—I mean this guy is an utter pillock, really, he's—" He lifted his hands to scrub at his face for a second, "It's Malfoy." Hermione's jaw dropped, "We're not—I'm not—he's not my—we just hang out now and then."
Hermione just stared.
"I mean he's still an arsehole," He said, "But I don't know, it's kind of nice to be around an arsehole sometimes, so we just—I don't know. Get a drink sometimes. And he acts like a prat the whole time. And it's—I don't know."
"Wow," She said, a slow smile coming to her lips, "You are so red, why are you blushing—?"
"Oh, sod off, Mione—"
"—Not like I can't appreciate an attractive bloke now and then—" She mimicked.
"Oh shut up, Malfoy isn't attractive!" Harry laughed, his cheeks were still pink but he was able to lean back and relax now, and his panicked ramblings had stopped. "He's…pointy. And blonde."
"He is both of those things," Hermione said, grinning. Harry took one look at her expression and rolled his eyes.
"It's not like that," He said, his voice suddenly soft. Hermione's expression softened. "He just…makes me think differently I guess. I don't know. He's alright."
"You could have told me," She said, "It's not like I would care. I'm just surprised, you always hated more than I have."
"I didn't hate him," He said dismissively, "I just hated that he was such a prat to you all the time."
"But you like prats, apparently," Hermione said.
"Shut up," He laughed, and though his cheeks were still pink, it looked like a pleased sort of flush now. He wasn't tense any more, his body was loose and languid and Hermione couldn't help but think he hadn't looked like this talking about any of his other friends before. It was an odd thought, mostly because it had to do with Malfoy of all people, but she didn't want to make him uncomfortable, so she didn't press it. "It's just," He continued, "Ever since that night, I don't know. Even when he's a total arse, I can't help but see him as…I don't know. He just doesn't seem that bad anymore."
Hermione felt uncomfortable suddenly, knowing the night he was referring to. She swallowed thickly and just said, "Yeah,"
Harry looked at her for a quiet moment, just watching. Hermione picked up his laptop again, and she knew it was coming. He had that concerned crease between his eyebrows. She prepared herself for the inevitable question.
"You know, I think the worst part is my parents," He said, and it was so unexpected that Hermione couldn't help but turn her head to face him, even though she had resolved herself not to look at him. "My mum was happy I wasn't joining the force. My dad was a bit disappointed, but you know, he's my dad, so he doesn't really care, so long as I'm happy. It's just…not being able to tell them why. Knowing what's happened and…not being able to explain any of it. Kind of makes it all feel like a lie, you know?"
Hermione suddenly and without warning or explanation felt like she wanted to cry. She swallowed back a lump in her throat and nodded, and said, "I know."
Silence hung between them for a long time, but it was Hermione who spoke first.
"It's not the secrets, for me." She said, "It's…sometimes my parents say something like…they're proud of me and I can't help but think that if they knew what I did—"
Harry shifted suddenly, his body tense as he leaned in close to Hermione, laying a hand on the side of her neck to urge her to look at him. She did, and he said, "Hermione, you didn't do anything wrong."
"I know," She said quickly, but the truth was she didn't, she just didn't want to argue. "But I still feel like that."
Harry frowned, but he didn't push it. He seemed satisfied, at least, with the little she had shared, and truthfully it was more than she had shared with him ever before. It was more than she had shared with anyone since it happened, she kept those feelings shuttered tightly away for this very reason, because she knew the moment she shared it people would start telling her it didn't matter, she did nothing wrong, and she would know that was nothing more than a lie.
It was the lies that bothered her, more than the secrets. She would keep it all a secret until the day she dies and not be bothered. It was the lies that settled in her stomach and burned like poison.
"Well," He said, "So, Universities?"
Hermione smiled gratefully and turned her attention back to the laptop. "Do you want to teach primary or secondary?" She asked.
"I have no idea."
She laughed, "We'll figure it out,"
They moved on, and Harry didn't bring up their conversation about their parents again. He didn't even ask if she was alright with his tone dripping with concern. She didn't feel any better for having shared what she felt, but she found that she didn't feel any worse for dredging it up, either.
She thought maybe that was a good thing. Maybe it was getting better.
"Did you know Harry and Malfoy hang out now?" Hermione asked Tom over dinner. They were both sat on his sofa, he had already eaten by the time she got to his flat, but he had saved her something, so she had her plate balanced on her knees while they sat on opposite ends of the couch. He was reading, and it had been mostly quiet until she broke the silence.
"Why would I know that?" He asked.
She shrugged, "They're friends apparently."
He raised an eyebrow. "So?"
"So don't you think it's weird?" She pressed. He blinked, and narrowed his eyes as if to say why would I have any opinion on this? She rolled her eyes, "I mean, Harry can hang out with whoever he wants, I just don't understand why he wants to hang out with Malfoy—"
"This bothers you," Tom observed, looking far more amused than she felt was justified.
"No," She disagreed, "It doesn't," Tom raised an eyebrow. "It doesn't, I'm not like you, I don't get mad when people speak to other people."
"I don't," He argued.
"Yes you do."
"I get mad when you talk to other people." He corrected.
"Oh my god!" She threw up her hands, her plate almost toppling to the floor but Tom lunged forward and caught it before setting it on the table. "That is such an irrelevant distinction!"
"Would you like me to pretend I care about Potter and Malfoy?" He asked. Hermione scowled and pinched his arm in retaliation, and Tom smiled and slid his hand under her knee and pulled her so that she was straddling his lap. She scowled down at him. "I have something for you."
She hesitated, but her interest was peaked and she didn't feel it was truly necessary to draw out her irritation, so she said, "What is it?"
His arm circled around her midsection so that he didn't tip her off when he leaned forward to grab something off of the table. When he relaxed against the couch again she saw that it was his wallet, which he opened and reached inside to pull something out. She couldn't make out what it was before he was grabbing her hand and pressing it into her palm. She frowned, looking down at her hand.
It was a key.
Warmth curled in her chest, and she asked, "Is this a key…to the flat?"
"I'm looking for an internship," He told her, "For when I graduate. This is so you can still get into the flat."
"Very practical," She teased, and his lips twitched upwards before he nudged her chin up with his nose and kissed her neck. "Where are you thinking for your internship?"
"I haven't narrowed it down," He answered vaguely.
"Well, surely you have some idea," She pressed. He slid his hands underneath her shirt and pulled her closer, pressing open mouthed kissed up her throat to her chin until he caught her lips. She still had the key held tightly in her palm, and her other hand was pressed against his neck. She pulled away from the kiss, "Why are you trying to distract me? Is this a secret?"
"I haven't decided, Hermione," He said irritably, threading his fingers through her hair and kissing her again. She pulled away again.
"Well, don't you think that's irresponsible? You can't just apply everywhere, you have to have some idea—" He more or less threw her off his lap , his body quickly following hers so he was pressing her into the couch, his mouth was moving down her neck again, and his fingers were undoing the button on her jeans. "You know, I'm trying to have a conversation with you." She told him, but she lifted her hips for him to drag her jeans off.
"No, you're trying to have a nag." He said.
Her hand which wasn't gripping the key had already thread through his hair, so she closed her hand into a fist and pulled hard. He reached up and grabbed first that wrist, then the other, and pinned them together above her head. He looked up, noticed the hand that still held the key and his lips twitched upward at the corners. Carefully, he withdrew the key and set it on the table, and when he leaned back toward her he caught her mouth in a bruising kiss.
She hummed against his lips, testing his grip against her wrists, but he held them tight. When he pulled his lips away she said, "You're trying to distract me." His hand was already slipping past the waistband of her knickers.
He scoffed, "Trying."
"It's not working," She told him, tilting her hips up to get more of his fingers as he slipped two inside her.
"Isn't it?" He murmured at her ear, and she groaned when he caught her earlobe between his teeth and curled his fingers inside of her.
"You're horrible," She told him, but it came out breathier than she meant for it to. She writhed beneath him, and as much as she claimed to hate how quickly he could turn her into a incoherent mess beneath him, she always loved everything he did to her. She let out a breathy sigh as his fingers dragged in and out of her, and his other hand tightened around her wrists to the point that it hurt, but it only made everything feel that much better.
"You're beautiful," He said in response, lavishing her neck with open mouthed kissed full of tongue and teeth.
"You're a bastard," She said, because she was still a bit annoyed about him avoiding the subject. He bit harshly at her neck, and Hermione cried out and her hips jerked against his hand. He let go of her wrists so that he could thread his fingers into her hair and pull, forcing her to bear her neck. She moaned, a low, guttural sound from deep in her throat as he slipped a third finger in and his thumb pressed against her clit. "Tom—"
He lifted his head so that his could kiss her again, catching her lower lip between his teeth before closing his mouth over hers. Her hips were undulating, trying to keep up with the pace of his hand, she felt flushed and hot and overwhelmed. He slipped his fingers out of her hair and wrapped his fingers around her throat, pulling away from her lips so he could watch her come undone, pressing her into the couch by her throat. Her hands curled in to the fabric of his shirt and she tried to pull him closer.
When she came, he curled his fingers and kept them there, his thumb still moving in circles around her clit, his other hand still wrapped around her throat. She groaned, her hands grappling at his sides, her nails digging into his back through his shirt, and as she was coming down she smiled, breathless, and said, "I want you to fuck me, and then I want you to tell me your considerations for your internship."
He huffed a surprised laugh against her lips, his grip loosening around her throat and his other hand withdrawing from between her legs. She reached for the waistband of his pants, undoing his belt. "You're impossible." He said. "I haven't narrowed it down."
She leaned up and slid her hands under his shirt as he was undoing his jeans and pushing them down his hips. "Liar," She said, smiling against his lips.
Sex was easier, the more they did it. Nothing was ever quite like that first time, the tenderness and the gentleness, the passion and the care and the love. Often now it would be rushed, to the point where neither would actually fully undress, too eager to get properly naked. She found she preferred it now, the way Tom let himself be rough with her, didn't hold her like she was going to break if he touched her the wrong way. He liked to leave marks, whether he was sucking them into her neck or leaving bruises on her hips or sometimes his nails would leave tracks down her sides. Sometimes they would bleed, and she was surprised that she liked it when they did.
She knew what she was doing. She knew what she liked and what she wanted and she liked that she could have those moments, Tom slamming her against the wall with a hand at her throat or dragging bloodied scratch marks down her thighs, but she didn't need to give up moments afterward, the softer moments, like early in the morning with Tom's face pressed into her neck and their legs tangled together, or the way they lied down to go to sleep, Tom's hand dragging up and down her bare back until he drifted off to sleep.
It was something about the contrast, the way he could look at her like something to be defiled and something to be protected.
He reached for his wallet, withdrawing a condom, ripping the packet open and sliding it on and in another moment his arms wrapped around her waist and he lifted them up so that he was straddling his lap again, and then he was inside her, his arms still wrapped around her back, nails digging into the skin between her shoulder blades and at the base of her spine. She wrapped her own arms around her neck, threading her fingers through his hair as his mouth moved down her neck to her chest. They moved together, and neither said a word, nothing but the sound of their breath fulling the space between them. And when he came, his head fell back and she leaned forward to press tender kisses to the column of his throat as she rode him through it, her fingernails scraping his scalp as she dragged her hands through his hair.
They didn't move for a while afterward, his fingers tracing over the marked his fingernails left on her back, Hermione's hands repeatedly running through his hair, Tom's face was pressed into her neck and her nose was pressed into his hair, breathing him in.
Her phone is what interrupted the quietness of that moment. Hermione pressed a kiss to his forehead and pulled away. His hands followed her, as if he was annoyed that she wasn't ignoring the rest of the world in order to pay more attention to him, but she moved away and walked toward the kitchen counter where she had left her phone, wearing nothing but the blouse they hadn't managed to remove earlier.
She heard him move behind her as she picked up her phone, glanced at him briefly to admire the sight of him as he moved to the waste bin to dispose of the condom and slide his briefs back on, then she looked back at her phone.
"It's from Bella." She said, and cut her eyes to him to see his head fall back in an overdramatic display or irritation. He stared at the ceiling for a moment despondently. "She's in London." Hermione continued pointedly. He sighed through his nose. "You knew she was in London?"
"No." He answered, obviously a lie.
"Why didn't you mention it?" She asked, walking back to her clothes discarded by the couch in order to slide her underwear back on. He doesn't answer, and when Hermione looked back up at him he glowering at nothing. "Oh my god," She started, and he turned his glare to her, "You are such a child. What do you think is going to happen, that I'm going to run away with her or something?"
"No." He said, rolling his eyes. Hermione didn't bother putting on her jeans, but she did carefully fold them and place them on the table before sitting down on the couch, stretching her legs out across the cushions.
"You're ridiculous." She told him.
"I just don't like her," He said, moving toward the kitchen and angrily preparing a cup of coffee. Hermione couldn't help but laugh, even if it only seemed to sour his mood even further.
"Yes, you do," She told him, "She's practically you're only friend."
"Why do you insist on calling people I can barely tolerate my friends?" He said sharply,
"Because I know you are horrendously ignorant on the subject, so you wouldn't be able to figure it out on your own." She said happily. He shot her a dirty look. "Can you make me a cup?"
He didn't answer, but he did reach into the cabinet in jerky movements and retrieve a second mug. Hermione bit her lip to try to hold back a smile, but it was no use. She waited until he finished making the coffee before she said anything else, until he was standing over her with her mug in hand. She took it, cupped her hands around the warm mug, and said, "Sit down."
He did, although he didn't look particularly happy about it. She scooted closer, draping her legs over his lap and holding the mug with one hand so she could wrap her other arm around his neck. He sighed, put-upon, but he wound one of his arms around her back. He held his coffee between his knees for a moment so that he could pluck her phone out of her lap and toss it uncaringly onto the table away from them.
Hermione laughed, wrapped her arm tight around his neck to pull him close enough for her to kiss his cheek, then took a sip of her coffee and watched him do the same.
She didn't text Bella back until much later.
Bella was only visiting for a week, after which she would head back to Paris for the rest of the summer, and although Hermione knew she would be able to see her then, she had missed her over the short month she had been gone and was insistent on meeting up at least once while she was in town. Bella was agreeable to the idea. Tom was less so.
"I've been enjoying her absence," He told Hermione when she mentioned meeting up with Bella.
"He'll just ruin our fun anyway," Bella had said when Hermione relayed his message to her.
So one rainy Thursday in July saw Hermione and Bella, sans Tom, meeting at the National Gallery the day before Bella was set to head back to Paris. Bella arrived looking as she usually did, dressed to the nines in an outfit that probably cost more than Hermione's entire wardrobe. Hermione arrived in sneakers and jeans from Primark.
"I really must take you shopping one day," Bella said when she first saw her, pinching the fabric of Hermione's blouse between two fingers and lifting it to examine it as if she was looking at something carrying a contagious disease. "You should visit me in Paris sometime, we can fix this abysmal state of affairs."
"My wardrobe is just fine," Hermione scoffed, slapping her hand away, "Although I'm not against visiting you."
"If you think I am letting you set foot in the streets of Paris looking like this, you're demented," Bella drawled, and then a slow smile spread across her face. "Although you could always just wear my clothes." She said, and she had a way of making the strangest things sound sultry, suggestive. Hermione eyed Bella's tall, slim figure and wrinkled her nose.
"Your clothes will not fit me." She said.
Bella laughed, a low, raspy sound, and slid her arm around Hermione's waist as they started down the corridor of the museum. "Maybe not." She said, and Hermione might not have minded the affectionate gesture, if it weren't for the fact Bella then slowly drew her hand down over the curve of her hip. Hermione slapped her hand away and sent her an exasperated look and Bella laughed again. "I'll buy something for you before you come."
"Bella, do not buy me clothes."
"All these years of your life and you still dress like a twelve year old rummaging through her mother's closet—"
"I do not look like—"
"You are lucky you're so cute," Bella told her, arching an eyebrow in her direction before turning to step through a doorway that led to a room of paintings. Hermione followed. "Otherwise I wouldn't dare be seen with you."
"You would still be seen with me even if I dressed like a color-blind circus performer." Hermione muttered, a bit distracted by the paintings to be completely invested in the conversation. The museum was quiet, and in response both of them had dropped their voices to a hush that matched the setting.
"God that's true," Bella said, "What have you don't to my standards, you wretch?"
Hermione smiled and said, "Times like these I can see the relation between you and Draco, you know?"
Bella's jaw didn't exactly drop, but her expression did go rather slack. Hermione couldn't help but laugh at how similar her expression was to Tom's when he got offended. At her laughter, Bella's eyes narrowed and her mouth stretched into a smile once more, and she darted forward to loop her arm through Hermione's and tug her into her side. Hermione laughed and allowed it, and as they spoke they continued to stroll through the museum that way.
"Draco is unfortunate looking and hopelessly in love with your equally unfortunate looking friend," Hermione wrinkled her nose, "The one who punched Tom." Bella clarified.
"Harry is handsome." Hermione defended, and was just about to continue when Bella interrupted.
"Harry looks like he got into a fight with an army of woodland creatures and the casualty was his hair."
"That's what I look like." Hermione corrected. Bella pursed her lips and cooed.
"No," She said, taking her arm from where it was linked with Hermione's ignorer to thread her fingers through Hermione's curls, "You're beautiful."
"Stop it," Hermione said sternly, but not angrily, ducking away from Bella's hand. "What are you talking about in love? It's not like that with them."
"Oh God," Bella laughed rather cruelly, winding an arm around Hermione's waist and speaking into her ear, "You are so adorable naive—"
"Bella." Hermione snapped. Bella pulled away, but kept her arm around her waist.
"My nephew is practically salivating at the possibility of your friend having some kind of gay-crisis—"
"Is Malfoy gay?" Hermione asked. Bella laughed, a high-pitched, short sound that echoed in the small room. Hermione quickly shushed her, though a quick look around showed no one was looking their way.
"Darling," Bella drawled, and her condescending tone had Hermione shooting her a warning glare that Bella happily ignored, "That boy is gayer than the front row at a Barbara Streisand concert—"
"What does that even mean—"
"The moment he gets even the slightest hint that your friend is gay, he'll be so overwhelmed he'll flee the country."
"Harry isn't gay." Hermione said. Bella made no move to correct her, but Hermione still paused and pursed her lips in thought. "I mean, he's never shown any interest in men. There was that obsession with Oliver Wood when he first started football…and then when Cedric Diggory asked out Cho before Harry could I did think he got a bit too invested in their relationship…and then he's always been horrid at talking to women—"
Bella laughed abruptly, "Oh this is wonderful," She said, "Let's not tell Draco. I rather like seeing him suffer."
"There's nothing to tell." Hermione said sternly, "Harry hasn't come out as anything."
Bella rolled her eyes, "But we both know—"
"We don't know anything because he hasn't said anything." Hermione snapped. Bella tutted, but didn't argue. "Has Draco come out, then? Or are you assuming?"
"Oh, god, yes." She said, "It was a right scandal, with his father being the way he was."
"Are you close then?" Hermione asked, "To Draco?"
"No," She answered, and her tone suggested it was outright ridiculous to assume so, "But his mother is a horrible gossip. Not to mention she feels guilty for ignoring me for the first eighteen years of my life."
Hermione wasn't sure what to say to that, so she didn't say anything at all. That thread of conversation died rather quickly after that, but the silence they were left with wasn't uncomfortable. Bella's arm had already unwound itself from Hermione's waist at some point in the conversation without her noticing, so the two of them drifted from room to room, admiring the art. Hermione stopped to read every description available while Bella mocked the depictions of babies and animals and pointed to increasingly ugly depictions of the devil saying they remind her of Tom.
Overall it was nice, and Hermione appreciated the change in routine that it brought. Sometimes it felt a bit overwhelming, the normalcy that she had created for herself, it felt suffocating in a way she couldn't explain. Bella's visit was a pleasant break from that, even if Tom texted her every twenty minutes to either insult Bella or complain about Hermione's choice too spend time with anyone other than him.
You were invited, she reminded him.
No, was his only response.
Then suffer :), she replied.
Bella was easy to talk to, in a way that Hermione was sure no one else would find easy. She was argumentative and contrary, looked for any way to make Hermione uncomfortable, and found a way to insult everybody and everything that fell into their discussion, but Hermione liked it. She held her own, knew which comments were better to ignore and which comments she should respond to. They didn't talk much more about Harry and Draco, but they did talk about Hermione's other friends, like Lavender—'the annoying one, with the tits' Bella had called her, based off of what she had seen from Hermione's tagged photos on Facebook—and Ron. When Hermione mentioned they would probably get married when Lavender was finished with school, or at the very least move in together, Bella had made some dismissive comment about monogamy that boiled down to more or less 'men are only worth putting up with if they can give you something' and Hermione very pointedly did not respond to that comment.
They talked a bit about Bella's life, but she was cagey about it, tended to avoid certain topic like her parents and her relationship with her siblings past her frequent phone calls with Draco's mother Narcissa. Hermione got the distinct feeling they weren't particularly close as a family, at least not in the way she was with her parents, or Harry with his, or Ron with his.
They had made their way around most of the museum, and were entering the impressionist exhibit when they got on the subject of Hogwarts.
"It just seems so horrible there," Hermione said, "I mean, I can't imagine being surrounded by people like…well, no offense, but—"
"Oh please," Bella scoffed, "Everyone in Hogwarts isn't like us. In our department certainly, but we're just full of snakes." She smiled at Hermione in a way that made her feel like there was a joke she was missing out on. "You should see the humanities department," Bella added, "God, they're so…squishy."
"Tom made it seem like everyone there was a hyper-competitive, scheming arsehole."
Bella raised a bemused brow.
"Including him." Hermione clarified, "I thought he fit in quite well, to be honest."
Bella laughed, "He attracts a certain type," Then, sparing Hermione a lingering glance, added, "Usually." She continued before Hermione could respond, "Rodolphus—" She continued, and the name settled like ice in Hermione's veins, "—liked to think we were the only students there. The only ones of any value anyway. But I like the other departments. They're like house pets."
Hermione was quiet.
"There was a reason Tom and Rodolphus got along so well," Bella continued, undeterred by Hermione's silence. "Until they didn't."
This time, when Hermione still didn't respond, Bella turned her narrowed eyes upon her. "You're quiet." She said, and something in her tone told Hermione she was enjoying this.
"Stop it, Bella," She warned.
"Does it still make you uncomfortable?" She asked.
"Please, just drop it." Hermione said tiredly, fixing her eyes on a Van Gogh painting instead of looking at Bella.
She felt Bella's hand on her arm, uncharacteristically hesitant, but still wouldn't look at her. When Bella spoke, it was so quiet Hermione could scarcely hear her. "It's over now. You know that right?" She said, "None of this will ever touch you."
"That's not what it's about." Hermione said, but she didn't elaborate.
"You didn't do anything to feel guilty about," Bella told her, "That's what Tom and I are here for."
"It's…" Hermione turned to face Bella, and was momentarily thrown by how earnest her expression was. "It's not about guilt."
But it was. Guilt for what she had done, even accidentally, guilt for dragging Tom and Bella and Harry and even Malfoy into her mess and her secrets and lies, guilt for what Tom and Bella had to do, guilt for what the Lestrange family must have been going through ever since. But most of all she felt guilty for how much she didn't feel guilty, for the way her life didn't change in the slightest, the way everyone could tell her that she had done nothing wrong when all of this was her fault.
But she didn't say any of that. She couldn't say it in a way that anyone would understand, so she didn't say it at all.
"I just want it to be over." She said, "I just want everyone to stop talking about it. I don't want anything to do with the name Lestrange again and I just want everyone to just leave it alone."
There was a long stretch of silence between them, before Bella finally said, "You must be angry with us then."
Hermione turned to face her, confused, and said, "What do you mean?"
"Tom and I." She clarified. Hermione shook her head and furrowed her brow, still unsure of what she meant. "The internship."
"The internship." Hermione echoed. The only thing she knew about an internship was that Tom was looking for one.
And that he wouldn't tell her where.
"Where is the internship." She asked lowly.
"At the Lestrange's company." Bella answered, and when Hermione's features collapsed into shock, Bella's eyebrows rose and she said, "Tom didn't tell you."
Hermione felt a vicious sort of anger curling in her belly, one that she hadn't felt in a long time. She was hyperaware of her heartbeat, the way it slammed against her ribcage, and she gritted her teeth as she replied, "No, he didn't tell me."
"Well." Bella said, and uncharacteristically said nothing more.
"Are you two out of your minds?" Hermione asked quietly.
"It's an important opportunity." Bella said, "With Rodolphus and Rabastan gone, it opens up a space for—"
"You—" Hermione snapped, but stopped herself before she could finish. It really wouldn't do well to shout 'you killed them' in a public museum. "I have to go." She said instead. Bella pursed her lips as Hermione pushed past her.
"Give him hell, then," She said.
"I am just as angry with you as I am with him." She told her, pausing on her way out of he museum.
"At least I told you the truth." She fired back.
Hermione didn't dignify that with a response.
"Call me if you need a shoulder to cry on!" Bella called after her.
"Fuck you," Hermione called back.
The pounding of her heart and that choking feeling didn't leave, all the way back to Tom's flat.
Hermione used the key Tom had given her to let herself in to his flat, slamming the door open so hard the door bounced off the wall beside it. Tom, who was sat upon the sofa with his laptop on his lap, twisted in his seat to see her, his brow puckered in both confusion and annoyance.
"You're back early." He said.
"You got an internship," She replied, slamming the door shut once more, "At Lestrange?"
Immediately, his expression changed. It shuttered, and his face went frightfully blank the way it always did when they got into a fight. Without taking his eyes off her, he shut his laptop and set in on the couch beside him, then eh rose to his feet to face her at the door.
"Bella told you." He said.
"I asked you," She told him, "I asked you where you were getting an internship and you lied to me, and then distracted me with sex—"
"This is exactly why I didn't want to tell you." He sighed, as if she was being unreasonable.
"Because you knew I'd be angry!" She erupted, "Because you know it's a stupid, horrendous idea—"
"It's beneficial to both mine and Bella's future careers—"
"Oh, beneficial, is it?" Hermione sneered, "Never mind that its wrong. Never mind that the position only opened up because the previous people who would have taken it are dead."
"How do you live on such a moral high ground?" He snapped, "Isn't it exhausting to constantly police everyone you know on the morality of their actions?"
"Not to mention dangerous!" She snapped, "They died a month ago. You two are responsible! What if they found out? What if you—"
"Do you think that Bella and I discuss at length all of the illegal things we've done?" He snapped, "We have a coffee in the break room and talk loudly about all the people we've killed."
"You would have me pass up an opportunity like this for no reason other than it makes you uncomfortable?" He asked.
"No, you—you can't do this Tom!" She cried, and she felt her eyes welling with tears. She wasn't sure if it was out of anger or sadness, "You can't do this every time—people aren't expendable. You can't just kill people they're inconvenient to you—first your father, now—"
"Don't you dare," He cut her off, taking a step toward her, "pretend that this is anything like with my father."
"It's exactly the same." She said firmly. She watched the way he clenched his jaw, his eyes blazing but his face otherwise blank.
"I killed my father for me, because I hated him and I wanted him dead, you can hate me for that." He told her, "But I killed Lestrange for you."
"I don't want you to kill anyone for me!" She cried, "Much less use their deaths for your benefit!"
"You're making pointless distinctions." He told her.
"You're irresponsible and heartless!" She snapped back.
"You didn't seem to mind me having killed Lestrange that night," He reminded her. His meaning was explicitly clear. "You seemed quite delighted, in fact."
"You're a bastard." She spat, "How dare you stand there and tell me that you killed them for me when you're twisting everything back into your favor!" There was a shift in his posture, the barest tilt of his head, but she didn't notice it, too caught up in her rant, "And just when it seems like everything can go back to normal and we can move on you have to go and work for the people whose sons you've killed. That's not for me. None of that is for me."
"Them?" He asked, and she furrowed her brow in confusion. The corner of his jaw twitched, and when he spoke his tone was quiet but pointed. "I only killed one."
Hermione felt like he may as well have slapped her.
"That—" Her throat was too dry, she tried again, "That's different."
"You took his life," He told her, "Whether it was accidental or not. He died by your hand." He took slow, measured steps toward her, and Hermione was so angry that she couldn't even move away, or tell him tog et away from her. She just watched him, shaking on her own words. "And then you called me, you let me kill him to clean up your mess," He was right in front of her now, and she glared up at him furiously through unshed tears, "And then you had me tell you exactly how I killed him and then you begged me to fuck you."
"That doesn't sound like the actions of someone so disgusted by what had happened."
"Stop it, Tom."
"I should have told you," He said, and somehow it was that admission that finally had a tear spilling from her eye, her mouth twisting into a grimace. His hand cam up to wipe the tear away, a frightfully gentle motion compared to the harshness of his tone of voice. "I shouldn't have lied. But you can't judge me for what happened that night when you are no more virtuous than I am."
She slapped his hand away from her face. "At least I'm not benefitting off of their deaths." She spat.
"You avoided a murder trial that the Lestrange's doubtlessly would have put you through and now you get to continue your perfect life as if nothing ever happened." He spat back. "Are you certain you saw no benefit?"
She could feel her emotions welling up in her throat, but she was so angry at him she didn't want to let him see her cry. Furiously, she shoved past him and made her way to the bathroom, slamming the door shut and locking it.
She turned on the shower and then let the tears come, the noise of the rushing water muting the sound of her quiet sobs. Once the tears started coming they didn't stop, pouring down her face faster than she could wipe them away, so she stripped off her clothes as quickly as she could and jumped in the water so that the shower could wash them away for her. She stuck her face in the spray of water and cried and cried and cried and she couldn't stop.
She was angry. She was angry at Tom for lying and at Bella for telling her. She was angry at herself for thinking for a moment that everything was back to normal, for believing that she deserved it. She was angry at Harry and Bella for always telling her she did nothing wrong, she was angry at her parents for trusting her, she was angry at Rodolphus Lestrange for starting all of this bullshit, but most of all she was angry that she couldn't even be angry at him, because he was dead.
And she killed him.
She realized, as the tears started to subside, that this was the first time she had really cried since it happened. She had worked so hard to keep it from her mind, to push it all away and pretend everything was okay. She really thought it was okay, for a while. She thought she could move on and be happy and forget, but now her chest felt like it had been torn open again and all she wanted was for Tom to hold her but she was so fucking angry at him she would rather punch him in the face.
He shouldn't have lied, but in a way she understood why he did. She was certain he would have rather she never found out, just to avoid this conversation, to avoid this fight. They had a good thing going so far, the time they spent together was filled with disagreements, littered with little arguments about everything and anything, but nothing like the fights they used to have. Nothing like this. And she still felt like she had a right to be angry, a right to feel upset that he could care so little about what they had done. It didn't seem fair that she should have to shoulder all of the guilt for them, that she should deal with this all alone just because he and Bella didn't seem to care.
She stayed in the shower until it ran cold, and thens hut it off and sat on the toilet for a very long time. When the tears stopped, the anger faded too, replaced with a painful ache in her chest and a cold sort of loneliness that settled in her bones. She was almost completely dry by the time she finally got herself dressed and came out of the bathroom.
Tom was cooking. He didn't look at her when she opened the door, and she drew in a shaky breath and quietly walked toward the small kitchen, hoisting herself up on the kitchen table. She didn't speak, just watched him as he worked. She didn't know what to say. She didn't know how she felt, if she was still angry or if she was something else. She didn't know what she wanted.
"I thought you would leave." He said, the first to break the silence. He didn't look at her.
"Do you…want me to?" She asked.
"You always do," He told her, "When we fight like this."
And she did, she realized. It always happened that way, she would distance herself, stop speaking to him until something inevitably drew her back in. She hadn't realized that it had become a pattern until now, but the truth was it had never crossed her mind to leave until this moment. It hadn't even seemed like an option, and even now, presented to her, it seemed so ludicrous and so unfathomable that she couldn't believe it used to be so easy.
"I don't want to leave." She told him, and he turned his head to meet her eyes. His face was still blank, and she hated that he still looked like that, like he was gearing up for a fight. She had cried enough that it felt as if there were no tears left, at least not tonight, but she still felt the emotion welling up in her throat. "I just—" She lifted her hands to rub over her face tiredly, and when she spoke it was into her palms. "I think about it all the time."
She dropped her hands into her lap and looked at him again. He was still watching her, his expression still the same, and she continued, desperate for him to understand, "I don't care that he's dead. I don't care. Not even Rabastan, and I—I don't think he even wanted to kill me. I think he would have, but I don't think he wanted to—but I don't care. I'm glad they're dead. I don't care what their parents think, and I don't—I just care that we did it. I care that it happened, and—and now I don't know what will happen next, and I just keep thinking what if someone finds out, and you go to jail, or what if—what if it happens again, and…and everyone keeps telling me it's not my fault and I did nothing wrong and it makes me want to scream."
Tom didn't move, and he didn't say anything.
"I know I killed them, I know it's my fault, I know that my parents would hate me for it if they found out, and I don't—I can't care, because if I could go back in time I would do it again." She watched Tom, desperately, half-crazed and feeling like she was on the edge of a mental breakdown, "If I had the chance to go back, I would do it exactly the same. And what does that make me?"
"It makes you powerful." He said.
She shook her head and looked away. She heard the scrape of a pan as he moved it off the cooker and then moved toward her, standing in front of her so she would look back at him. "You did what you had to do to survive." He told her, "You and I both know they would have killed you if we didn't kill them. They weren't good men. We acted in the only way we could, and you didn't allow yourself to bow down to the pressures of morals at the expense of your life."
His expression had changed, no longer shuttered behind a mask of indifference. He looked a bit angry, but not at her, it was the way he got when they argued about the food in the pantry or about a book she was reading, when he was passionate about something. "Do you think it's wrong?" She asked him, and she didn't know what she meant exactly, but he seemed to understand regardless.
"How could it be wrong when it gave me you?" He asked her, and she felt such a strong rush of affection for him it nearly overwhelmed her.
"We aren't the only two people in the world Tom," She said lightly, almost smiling but not quite.
"That's what you think." He said. She swallowed thickly, and looked down, watched the way his hands looked as he rested them on her thighs, his pale fingers stretched out around them. She thought of how they arrived here, from two children with no friends banding together in some bizarre friendship built off of her insistence on fighting him to prove her strength or something equally ridiculous. She thought of everything they went through together, ever stupid teenage drama and every heart wrenching and terrifying thing that Tom went through—she briefly thought that if she had met anyone else, if she had grown up with anyone else in the world, it wouldn't be this dramatic. It somehow felt to her like everything just happened to Tom.
But she also found she didn't mind it. She felt, selfishly, like she would take every horrible moment if it meant she could have this in the times in between. The whole rest of the world could die if it meant she had him. She hadn't felt like that about anyone else before.
"You'll find some way to find balance," He told her, his voice quiet, "You'll found some non-profit for wayward orphans or something equally disgusting," She let out a watery laugh, "You will always be good." She lifted her eyes back up to meet his, "But you will never be weak."
It didn't make that feeling disappear from her chest, but it did ease the pain. She reached up, winding her arms around his neck to pull him close so she could embrace him, and his hands moved from her thighs to wrap around her back. She breathed in the scent of him, found comfort in the way he could see everything she had done and hear everything she had said and still see good in her, still want her despite everything that had happened. It seemed inevitable, somehow, like he had always been there and he always would be. Inescapable and unshakeable and forever.
It felt like a new beginning, in a way. Gone were the carefree days of their childhood, where their biggest concern was convincing her parents to let him walk her home from school. Before they knew it their school days would be over, and she couldn't even begin to wonder what would come next, where Tom would work, what other horrible people he might meet. She wondered where she would go, where she would work, what she would do. It was scary, terrifying in a way that made her stomach flip over on itself until she wanted to throw up, but it felt less scary with him, with this feeling, like even if the afterward was nothing but horror, he would still be there. It made it easier somehow.
She pulled away, and he looked softer somehow, all his harsh edges blurred. She ran her fingers through his hair and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth, and he let her, and she thought yes, this is easier.
It was easier with him.
oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god ugh od oghdo god oh dogged ooh godohd god dhgod ohs ought ogdho hgodhgodhg odhg odhdg
ahhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH IM SORRY?
literally…LITERALLY i don't even know. i don tKNOW?. idk man. this is it. THIS IS THE END AND I HATE MYSELF. IM SORRY I MADE YOU WAIT SO LONG. I CHANGED THE ENDING SO MANY TIMES. WELL ID DINT CHANGE THE ENDING BUT I CHANGED THE WYA I WAS WRITING IT. SO MANY TIMES. AND HERE IT IS. THE FINAL PRODUCT.
I HATE ENDINGS. I HATE THEM. THEY ARE ALWAYS TERRIBLE. THIS IS SAPPY ADN CHEESY. BUT I NEED THEM TO BE HAPPY OK? FUCKING FIGHT ME. IS IT A WEAK ENDING? MAYBE. FUCKING MEET ME IN TEH JUNKYARD AND SQUARE UP FAM. I DON TCARE.
i m just kidding no but really i just hate endings thats why this took forever I KEPT PUTTING OFF WORKING ON IT BECAUSE I WAS FREAKING OUT I WAS LIKE EVERYTHING I G. IS ALL WRONG. ITS WRONG AND I HATE IT AND I HATE MYSELF AND HTE WORLD.
well this is the longest story i have written. AND NOW ITS DONE. and here i am. dyin.
THANK YOU SO SO SO SO SO MUCH TO EVERYONE WHO STUCK BY THIS STORY ADN SUPPORTED IT AND TOLD ME WHAT THEY THINK. thank you to all of you who faved and alerted it! thank you for the love and support and reviews! i did not expect this much love for this story and i am honestly so humbled and flattered that it received such a warm response. you are all wonderful and i can only hope this ending did you proud, and did the story justice.
thank you also to everyone who mad fanart/edits on tumblr! i genuinely fuckin EXPLODE every time people make shit like that for my stories and i was blown away by the talent and creativity that people used to make those beautiful edits!
so thank you! it was very fun writing this and seeing everyones reactions and I'm happy for those of you who enjoyed it all the way through!
let me know what you think of this chapter. i didn't proofread it. sorry but thats my brand now so
i love you all! you're all so nice!
PLEASE COME SEE ME ON TUMBLR I LOVE MAKING FRIENDS
COME BE MY FRIEND LITERALLY SEND ME A MESSAGE SEND ME A MEME SEND ME A TUMBLR POST I DONT CARE COME BE MY FRIEND RIGHT NOW